Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Tips for Picking an Agent When Selling

For those wishing to sell a home this coming spring, expectations are exceptionally high.

On the one hand, the new administration in Washington promises to promote housing with a proposed $15,000 tax credit for first-time buyers, among other steps. Meanwhile, home values are still ascendant, inventories are tight and demographic demand is strong.

Yet on the other hand, uncertainty abounds as the nation navigates uncharted waters both politically and economically. The latest worry: Mortgage rates, though still very low, are beginning to creep upward.

“The traditional spring selling season was a bust during the initial months of the outbreak in 2020, though the market recovered nicely later in the year. Sellers should still have a lot of leverage this spring, but they can’t afford complacency,” says Eric Tyson, a consumer advocate and co-author of “House Selling for Dummies.”

Most housing analysts are optimistic for 2021 sellers.

“While we can expect to see lingering effects of COVID-19 resurgences and subsequent shutdowns in the early months of 2021, vaccine distributions and stimulus actions should revitalize economic activity and keep home purchase demand and home price growth strong,” says Frank Martell, the CEO of CoreLogic (, which tracks housing markets across America.

Still, Karen Rittenhouse, a real estate investor who’s bought and sold hundreds of properties, cautions sellers against overconfidence. In particular, she urges them to select a listing agent thoughtfully.

“Who you pick as an agent is a really big deal because you’ve got a lot of money riding on your sale. You need to ask for referrals, check references and interview every agent you’re considering,” says Rittenhouse, author of “The Essential Handbook for Selling a Home.”

Many successful agents hire assistants for 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 offers come in.

“There’s nothing wrong with assistants handling a lot of the day-to-day work, like arranging showings or holding open houses. But good agents perform the key functions themselves,” she says.

Tyson says it isn’t always easy to determine in advance whether an agent will give your listing the attention it deserves.

“The last thing you want is an agent who disappears the day after landing your listing. So before you sign a listing agreement, you’ve got to investigate,” he says.

Here are a few pointers for sellers:

-- Examine a potential listing agent’s selling record.

Maybe the agent you’re thinking of hiring is known for being a prodigious seller. Even so, this could be the wrong one for you.

“Just because the agent is a ‘big producer’ in sales volume doesn’t mean they have expertise selling in your specific area or your type of house,” Tyson says.

He recommends that sellers obtain 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.

Agents don’t just specialize in particular areas -- they also specialize in certain price categories.

“You wouldn’t want an agent who’s earning most of their commissions from suburban houses worth over $1 million to list a condo worth much less than that. In that case, your condo might fail to get the attention it deserves,” Tyson says.

-- Consider the implications of hiring “partner agents.”

Some agents, including married couples, like to work as a professional team. They bill themselves as two interchangeable parts of a qualified whole.

“In theory, such a partnership has big advantages for clients because you get a doubling up of talent, with two people devoting themselves to your sale,” Tyson says.

But in practice, the two-agent arrangement is only advantageous to sellers if both partners are fully committed to their work.

“Sometimes the two halves don’t equal a whole, and the clients are shortchanged,” Tyson says.

-- Make sure the agent you select is responsive.

Starting the day your property goes up for sale, you need to get 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 your home is 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 your agent gives you whether they got regular feedback. Plus, you can insist that your listing agreement specifies 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