Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

How to Find a Responsive Listing Agent

As a homeowner facing the need to sell your place in 2016, your trepidation could be palpable. After all, the direction of the economy is uncertain and the future is all the more confusing in the year of a presidential contest.

Even so, this could be an excellent year to sell, says Dorcas Helfant, a past president of the National Association of Realtors (realtor.org).

But Helfant, the co-owner of several realty offices, cautions that the strength and speed of your sale could be heavily dependent on whether you select a seasoned agent who knows your local market and is a highly responsive communicator.

As it happens, some listing agents who tout the high volume of their sales are less responsive to their clients than they should be, says Michael J. Connerly, the author of "How to Win With Real Estate," who addresses sellers on his website: usahomebuyerguide.com.

"Although most agents are good, some are playing a numbers game. They take lots of listings, but don't give each one the attention it deserves," says Connerly, who sold property for 20 years and limited himself to no more than 10 listings at a time.

Here are a few pointers for sellers on agent selection:

-- Take a close look at the agent's track record.

Perhaps the agent you're planning to hire touts an impressive record of annual sales. Still, this agent might not be the ideal one for you, says Eric Tyson, a personal finance expert and co-author of "House Selling For Dummies."

Tyson urges prospective sellers to obtain an "activity list" from any agent they're considering. This should itemize all sales closed in the prior 12 months and should include the property location, as well as the list and sale prices.

Why is this roster more revealing than information on an agent's aggregate sales volumes? Because, as Tyson says, an activity list tells you if the agent is routinely selling homes of a similar type and with a similar market value as your property.

"Suppose you're selling a small condo in a nondescript location and the agent is making most of his commissions from classy waterfront houses worth at least $1 million. In that case, your transaction could easily get overlooked by the agent," Tyson says.

Conversely, if your property is at the higher end, you should steer clear of agents who deal mostly with starter-level properties.

"Like professionals in any other field, people in real estate develop a specialty and skills to match," Tyson says.

-- Find out about an agent's vacation and travel plans.

Like everybody else, real estate agents enjoy getting away now and then. But it could be unwise to hire an agent who plans a break during the first two to four weeks after your place goes up for sale -- when buyer excitement should be at its peak.

Some agents rely on backups when they're away. But Tyson says this isn't the ideal option for clients, especially if the agent will be gone for more than two to three days.

It's unreasonable to expect listing agents to reveal their travel plans for a full year ahead. But Tyson says you should expect full disclosure about any lengthy absence that would occur within the initial weeks of your listing.

-- Avoid an agent who's unresponsive to you.

From the moment your home goes on the market, you'll need your listing agent to keep you in the loop on your sale.

If your agent stages an open house for real estate professionals in your area -- known as a "broker's open" --you'll want to receive their comments about the price and condition of your property. Likewise, you'll want timely feedback from prospective buyers who tour your place.

Why is feedback vital to a successful sale? Because it permits you to make course corrections quickly, even after your property hits the market. For instance, it would let you drop your asking price by a notch before your home gets branded as "overpriced."

Your listing agent should be the one giving you feedback on a regular basis. To ensure this happens, you need someone who is conscientious about gathering comments about your place and passing them on.

Helfant says one way to help identify a responsive agent is to ask the person's references if they received regular feedback. Also, before signing a listing agreement, make sure it stipulates how often and under what circumstances your agent will call, email or text you with updates.

"For strong agents, good communication is the lifeblood of their work," she says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)