There are well over a million real estate agents now licensed in the U.S., so most home sellers can choose among multiple candidates. But deciding who to hire can prove a daunting task.
Eric Tyson, co-author of "House Selling for Dummies," says the selection process can be challenging because top agents often handle a number of listings simultaneously, making it more difficult to command their full attention.
He says it's crucial that your listing agent be intricately involved in key parts of the sale, such as the negotiation phase.
Dawn Rae, a veteran real estate broker who solely represents buyers -- and takes no listings -- cautions sellers against hiring a listing agent who's a family member or close friend.
"It can really challenge your relationship to do business with someone close to you. It's better to hire a person with whom you have an arm's-length relationship," says Rae, president-elect of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (naeba.org).
Rae also recommends that sellers choose a listing agent who has a strong website, which can be a definite plus for marketing your property.
"Most people -- including nearly all young buyers --start their search online. So you need an excellent web presence that will display your place in the best possible light," she says.
Here are a few pointers for sellers:
-- Review a potential listing agent's track record.
Maybe an agent you're considering touts an impressive sales record. Even so, this individual could be the wrong one for you to hire, Tyson says.
"High-volume agents can be extremely well-compensated. But the important question is whether they're selling your type of house in the area where you live," he says.
Tyson recommends that sellers obtain an "activity list" from any agent they're considering. This list should itemize all sales closed in the prior 12 months and include the property location, as well as the list and sale prices.
"Such raw data is extremely helpful," Tyson says.
Why is this roster more telling than information on an agent's aggregate sales volumes, or all the plaques, trophies and medallions on display in his or her office? Because, as Tyson says, an activity list tells you if the agent is regularly marketing similar homes in the same price range as your property.
"Suppose you're selling a basic starter home in an inexpensive area and the agent makes most of his commission dollars off properties worth $1 million or more. In that case, he might not give your sale the kind of attention it deserves," Tyson says.
-- Inquire about the agent's travel and vacation plans.
Everybody likes to take a vacation. But it might be unwise to hire an agent who plans to take a break during the first month after your property goes on the market, when buyer excitement is normally at its peak.
It's true that some agents rely on backups when they're away. But Tyson says this is far from ideal for their clients, especially if the agent is going abroad or is leaving town for more than two to three days.
It's not reasonable to expect an agent to tell you all their travel plans for a full year in advance. Even so, you should expect full disclosure about any lengthy absence that would occur within the initial weeks of your listing.
"Make sure you ask about their plans. If they're a genuinely strong agent and you're somewhat flexible on the timing of your sale, you could choose to postpone your listing to accommodate their schedule," he says.
-- Consider carefully before engaging "partner agents."
Some agents, including husband-and-wife teams, like to double up professionally. They present themselves as two interchangeable and equally qualified parts of a whole.
"In the ideal world, this arrangement is a good deal for sellers. But that's only true if both agents are equally committed to their profession. If both agents are mediocre, then two halves don't make a whole," he says.
-- Make sure the agent you select is responsive.
As long as your place is on the market, you'll need your listing agent to keep you abreast of news about the listing. For example, if your agent stages an open house for real estate professionals in your area, known as a "broker's open," you'll want to quickly receive their comments about the price and condition of your home. Likewise, you'll want timely feedback from prospective buyers who tour your place.
Fresh feedback is vital to a successful sale because it lets you make course corrections quickly, even after your property hits the market. For instance, it would let you reduce your price by a peg before your house gets stigmatized as "overpriced."
To ensure that an agent will give you fresh feedback on a regular basis, you need to know that the person you hire is conscientious enough to communicate these comments without prodding.
One approach to finding a good communicator is to ask an agent's references if they received regular feedback. Also, before signing the listing agreement, make sure it stipulates how often -- and under what circumstances -- your agent will call, email or text you with news, Tyson says.
"Real estate is a service profession. So the importance of good communication can't be overstated," he says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)