In many neighborhoods, the backlog of foreclosed properties is now clearing, and home-selling activity is picking up dramatically. Meanwhile, buyers who've been waiting on the sidelines for several years are finally jumping in the fray.
"We're hearing about appreciation for the first time since 2008. That's causing a lot of people to hurry up and make a purchase before they're priced out of the market," says Karen Rittenhouse, author of "The Essential Handbook for Selling a Home."
Rittenhouse, an investor who heads her own realty firm, says buyer eagerness is prompting more wannabe sellers to plan a springtime sale this year. That, in turn, means leading real estate agents are juggling more listings.
But Rittenhouse urges sellers to exercise extra caution when selecting an agent during this busy spring season, to make doubly sure their listing commands the personal attention it deserves.
"You need to ask for referrals, check references and interview every agent you're considering. Like hiring a cancer specialist, you don't want to just pick someone out of the phone book," she says.
Many successful agents hire assistants to handle much of their routine work, and Rittenhouse doesn't necessarily disapprove of this practice. But she says it's important that your primary agent handle such core functions as negotiating on your behalf when an offer comes in.
Eric Tyson, a personal finance expert and co-author of "House Selling for Dummies," says it isn't always easy to determine in advance whether an agent will give your listing the attention it deserves.
Here are a few pointers for home sellers:
-- Review a potential listing agent's track record.
Maybe the agent you're thinking of hiring is a superstar, having won numerous awards for sales volume. Even so, this could be the wrong one for you, Tyson says.
"Just because the agent is a big producer in sales volume doesn't mean (he or she has) expertise selling in your specific area or your type of house," he says.
Tyson and his co-author of "House Selling for Dummies," Ray Brown, urge would-be sellers to get an "activity list" from any agent they're considering. This should itemize all sales closed in the previous 12 months and show the property locations, as well as list and sale prices.
"You can't beat this raw data when you're sizing up an agent," says Tyson, who says an activity list is more revealing than all the awards an agent has won in the past. That's because it tells you how the agent is now performing on a day-to-day basis.
Agents don't just specialize in particular areas, they also specialize in certain price categories, and you should find someone whose focus aligns with your needs.
-- Ask the agents you interview about their vacation plans.
Obviously, agents like to pull away for vacations from time to time. But real estate experts caution against hiring one who plans to head for vacation during the early weeks of your listing period. That could hinder your sale at the time when buyer excitement about your place is high.
Often agents rely on backups when they're away. But Tyson says this is a poor option for clients, especially if the agent is gone for more than a couple of days during the period when offers are most likely to come in.
He says it's unreasonable to ask agents to forecast their travel plans a full year ahead. But a couple of months in advance, it's fair to ask about any lengthy absence that will occur shortly after your property goes on the market.
-- Seek out a responsive listing agent.
Starting the day that your property goes up for sale, you need to start getting a regular stream of feedback from your listing agent.
For example, if your agent stages an open house for real estate professionals in the area -- known as a "broker's open" -- you'll want to receive their comments about the price and condition of your home. Also, you'll want timely feedback from potential buyers who come through your place for showings.
Why is timely feedback essential to a successful sale? Because it allows you to correct course quickly. For instance, immediate feedback that your home is overpriced would let you adjust your price before it's stigmatized.
Your listing agent should be the one giving you feedback on a regular basis. To ensure this happens, you need an agent who is meticulous about collecting comments and passing them on.
You can increase your chances of finding a conscientious communicator by asking the references that your agent gives you whether they got regular feedback. Plus, you can insist that your listing agreement specify how often, and whether by phone, email or text, your agent will contact you.
"When it comes to selling your home, good communication with your listing agent isn't a luxury. It's crucial," Tyson says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)