How to choose a real estate agent after interviewing several?
January 23, 2008 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Help me choose between realtors to sell a condo.

We have about six months to sell our condo, and have interviewed three real estate agents. All have experience in the area and a good sales record, all market with detailed listings on the main sites, but have somewhat different approaches. How do I decide?

Realtor #1 specializes in our neighborhood, is well-known here, and has sold condos in the building before. Our decorating style is somewhat idiosyncratic (lots of video games and gadgets, bright colors) but she liked it, says the place looks "fun" and the buyers are mostly young and looking for that sort of thing. She recommended some sprucing up and decluttering, but minimal redecorating, and talked a lot about the type of buyers we were likely to get and what they'd like. She was the friendliest of the three.

Realtor #2 was the opposite, not charismatic but "data-driven." He talked about the percentage trends in our area, the type and amount of traffic it takes to sell a typical home and how he monitors it. He advised us to repaint in neutral colors, declutter, and bland-ify our unit as much as possible. He works in a much broader area, and most of his listings are located pretty far from ours. He also uses a third-party showing service (probably for the best since he wasn't really that personable.) All had similar selling price estimates but his was the most pessimistic by a small amount.

Realtor #3 was somewhere in-between: she advised some bland-ifying and offering a credit for other renovations, and her listings are mostly located near us but not in the same neighborhood, like #1's. She was the youngest and seemingly most tech-savvy, promised constant contact via phone, email, text and anything we'd want. She was probably the closest to the realtor stereotype: friendly but very professional-acting and perfectly groomed.

So - what should I base my decision on? Expertise in a narrower geographical area? Facility with data and numbers? Charisma and interpersonal sales skills? The highest level of pessimism about the market? Just pick the one whose personality clicks best with mine?
posted by Mr Bunnsy to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You detailed your observations pretty well. It would seem that you should go with the one you feel most comfortable with. The unknown variable here is the personality of the potential buyers. They're the ones who will be more influenced by the character of the realtor than you.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:35 AM on January 23, 2008

Realtor #1 specializes in our neighborhood, is well-known here, and has sold condos in the building before

AAAANNNNNDDD there's your answer. I would want to speak with a former client of hers just to make sure, but sounds like she is the one who knows her market.
posted by konolia at 8:39 AM on January 23, 2008

Do you have any personal recommendations from the agents? Especially from people you know, if possible.

If not, I'd have to say my gut would go with number 1. If she's right, you sell your place without much renovation. If she's wrong, you bland that puppy up (which is definitely the safe conventional wisdom - most people are not good at imagining what a place could look like). I like agents who know the area, who know the buyers that look in that area, and a known name is always a good quantity.

Here's what will really sell your place: location, price, and the buyers finding it. As long as your agent does a good job of getting your condo out there in the listings, in the appropriate print and online areas, and talks to agents, then you should be in good shape. That being said, it is generally a down market. Don't be surprised if you get no or low offers on your place, and be aware of that if you are in a time-pressured situation to sell.

Data is good, I love data, but beyond figuring out the price and how quickly a place sells on average, it won't get you far. People don't buy on numbers, they buy on that gut reaction when they drive up to a place and walk in.

Personally, that seems to be the biggest obstacle for the moment. I'm a real estate agent for a custom home builder, and he has at least half a dozen people ready to start a new house, but they can't get their current home sold.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:41 AM on January 23, 2008

Are you moving to another area, or staying in town?

Can you stop by these realtors' other open houses? You can be "looking for a new place", but secretly be on a reconnaissance mission to observe how the realtor conducts their open houses, interacts with potential buyers, etc...

Might give you another data point.
posted by jpdoane at 8:44 AM on January 23, 2008

The odds of your agent selling your condo directly to one of her other clients is fairly low. So from that standpoint, his or her sales personality is not that important. In my experience, his or her reputation among the other agents in the area is a big deal though. If you can get any sense for how well he or she works with the larger agent community that should be a major factor. Look at experience and time in the market. A long and consistent track record of success is a pretty good indicator that he or she is well though of in the agent community. In the end, they all want the commission check, but if your agent is a PITA to work with, other agents will be motivated to steer their clients towards properties where they know the selling agent is easy to work with.
posted by COD at 8:49 AM on January 23, 2008

Some clarifications: we are moving far far away; we are very flexible on pricing, renovations, anything that gets this place sold on time; we are first-time sellers and want an agent who will boss us around when necessary.

The goals here are to maximize the money we walk away with, and minimize the frustration. We picked this place up pretty cheaply and have all kinds of other stress, so minimal frustration is probably more important than an extra couple of thousand bucks.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 8:49 AM on January 23, 2008

On post-view, I agree with konolia once again.

Number three sounds fine as well, but I would be wary about that being a new agent in the business - not to say a bad one, certainly, but check some recommendations. Constant contact with your Realtor is not as big a deal as you would think. They will call you when they have someone to show, and you should certainly call with any questions or concerns, but it really isn't a daily thing. If it is a daily thing, you're expecting far too much from the home-selling process.

It is very important that your place is easy to show. Once you have it set up, keep it tidy! You never know when someone will be driving through the neighborhood and wants to see the place within the hour. I have actually shown houses with the "underwear laying on the floor" story, and people don't like that, surprisingly enough.

It takes one little tiny (often stupid) thing to turn someone on or off a place. I just finished talking to an agent whose client chose one home over another because when you came in the front door and took two steps in, stopped, and looked to the right, there was the guest bathroom door down the hall. The big concern - the buyer didn't want her pastor walking in and the first thing he sees is the toilet. And she used some froofy word in place of toilet, because apparently it is offensive and pastors don't poop.

I kid you not.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:50 AM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

With that update, the time issue is the only thing that would concern me about a quirky place. I'd say leave the major elements that would require a lot of effort, but put the time into making your place fairly minimalist in terms of gadgets and clutter in the house. "Stuff" distracts people, and less of it always makes the place look more livable and bigger. If you have extra furniture in the living space, consider taking a piece or two out so you have more room and it can be arranged nicely. Put any extra non-daily items in closets or storage. Keep your kitchen counter tops almost completely empty. Email me if you have any questions.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:57 AM on January 23, 2008

Ask for references from all three. Find out what their commission percentages are going to be. Generally, you can negotiate their cut, especially in this market. Feel free to mention that you are interviewing realtors and comparing their fees, etc to them.

Decluttering is good advice in any instance. Makes the place look bigger, enables potential buyers to envision their crap in your house. The color scheme in the house... I don't know there are varying levels of what people consider idiosyncratic. Are all your walls lime green and purple or did you just do a tomato red accent wall? Are there cables everywhere from video games and entertainment centers or is your house just simply wired?

Does Realtor 1 have buyers in mind? Are people looking to get into your condo building?

If Realtor 2 seems uncharismatic to you, consider that he's representing you even if he uses a third party to show the place. Plus, you still have to deal with him.

Realtor 3... Meh. What she's bringing to the table isn't much different than what any realtor worth their salt should bring to the table. My thought on it is, if you price the place right, you shouldn't have to offer credit for renovations.
posted by jerseygirl at 9:11 AM on January 23, 2008

It takes one little tiny (often stupid) thing to turn someone on or off a place. I just finished talking to an agent whose client chose one home over another because when you came in the front door and took two steps in, stopped, and looked to the right, there was the guest bathroom door down the hall. The big concern - the buyer didn't want her pastor walking in and the first thing he sees is the toilet. And she used some froofy word in place of toilet, because apparently it is offensive and pastors don't poop.

I passed on a house kind of like that, where the first thing you saw entering the house was a perfectly framed view of the toilet through the bathroom door, glowing in a shaft of light from a skylight.

I would use realtor #1, because she has sold in your building before (though if possible do speak to someone involved and see how happy they were with her). I wouldn't use a new agent in a market that is tough in many areas, and the #2 agent seems like he might be a bit trickier to deal with -- less approachable, using a service rather than dealing with things himself, etc.

When I was looking at houses, I was really put off by cluttered spaces, because it was hard to see things like the condition of the walls and floors, the number of plugs, and so on. I don't think "decluttered" has to mean "bland," at all. But I think a lot of people underestimate how cluttered their spaces really are -- we get so used to our possessions that we don't even really see them any more. But add it all together, and it can be a lot of crap -- the buyers aren't buying your stuff, they are buying the space, and you need to declutter to the point where the space can actually be seen.
posted by Forktine at 9:15 AM on January 23, 2008

We definitely plan on decluttering, hiding cables, etc - I'm a minimalist in any case and we have a lot of open space. Plus we need to get rid of most of our junk for the move and might as well start early. I do understand that buyers like to see a blank slate. I'd just rather not repaint the whole place beige and move all the furniture against the walls if it will sell anyway.

How would I go about getting references? Or finding out agents' reputations in the real estate community? That seems like the key differentiator when the data (sales records, commissions, experience) are similar.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 9:20 AM on January 23, 2008


Enthusiasm and market experience/knowledge are the deciding factors.
posted by Doohickie at 9:45 AM on January 23, 2008

You can always ask your potential agent for recommendations, they can give you a name and number or show letters of reference. For independent sources, you can often find people who have their homes listed now and ask them directly - although understand that these people may blame their agent for the current housing slump, which is certainly out of our hands.

For community reputation, you can call up your local board of Realtors and see if you can get a current newsletter or publication. It doesn't mean they are good or bad agents if they're in it or not, but it will show you if they are actively participating in Realtor events and activities. That being said, unless your agent is amazingly hated in the community, other agents will do what they need to do to make a deal. They should always represent the client's interest, regardless of personal opinion, and that doesn't include turning down a potential deal.
posted by shinynewnick at 9:47 AM on January 23, 2008

Go with #1. I interviewed a guy like your #2, top 1% nationally, etc., and he was 100% confident that my house would only sell for $175 based on his thousands of data points. I listed at $199 with someone who lived on my street and it sold for $190.
posted by underwater at 9:57 AM on January 23, 2008

Pessimism is good - I like #2 - he isn't blowing smoke, he gives you the hard facts. For example, he told you what kind of traffic it will take to sell. In 2 months, #1 or #3 will talk about "let's try another open house, maybe we'll get lucky" whereas this guy will point to what he told you.... "I said we need 50 showings in 2 months, we've had 10, that's why it hasn't sold".
posted by thilmony at 9:58 AM on January 23, 2008

Whoever buys your place is going to be doing their own renovations to suit their needs.

I say go with #1. I have serious regrets that I did not buy my place in the condition it was when I first saw it instead of letting the owner of the building( the place had formerly been a rental) make incompetent renovations which I am still in the process of correcting.

I live under a penthouse which had been in the style of a gorgeous Roman villa. The previous owner took a year and a half to turn it into a modernist nightmare (when it only needed restoring), had it profiled in Architectural Digest, then sold it to someone else who is now into his fourth month of extensive remodeling. GRRRR!
posted by brujita at 10:09 AM on January 23, 2008

For selling, nothing substitutes for a good knowledge of the local market. Go with #1.
posted by jefftang at 10:38 AM on January 23, 2008

Get a list from each of them - the number of listings they have taken in the past 2 years, the number they have sold, the starting and closing amounts of each sale, and the average # of days between going on the market and closing for each sale. Also, number of units they have repped that have not sold. Then, find those numbers averaged for all sales in your area.

Pick the agent who sells the most, fastest, for the best price.

If you want to play hardball, ask for detailed timelines of their last 10 sales - what price did the unit start at, and when, when did the price drop, and when did the sale happen.

Nothing else matters - find an agent who can close sales in a bad market, and do exactly what they tell you to do.
posted by kristin at 11:09 AM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

There is a huge shakeout going on in real estate. Kristin's right - compare them on who has sold the most condos and other homes, who has the best "days on the market" numbers and who has the best agency support behind them. Then ask them to take a reduced commission. Even a 1% reduction saves you enough money to cover moving costs.

As far as decorating and staging, it's not a science. De-clutter as much as possible, which is a good idea since you're moving anyway. Make sure things are in good repair with good paint. Make sure it's incredibly clean, and smells nice. Smells nice - not in a cheap scented candle way, but in a just baked gingerbread cookies way.

I just agreed to sign w/ an agency, and they readily agreed to a reduction in commission if they represent the buyer, too. I'm asking them to take a reduction if it sells for less than 95% of asking price. And they agreed that if I'm unhappy w/ them in 3 months, I can exit the contract early.
posted by theora55 at 2:35 PM on January 23, 2008

And they agreed that if I'm unhappy w/ them in 3 months, I can exit the contract early.

This may vary from state to state, but here in Missouri the represented client of a real estate agent can cancel a listing or buyer's agency agreement at any time. That being said, you can't just cancel a contract and then secretly sell the house to a buyer brought by the real estate agent and not pay a commission. They can sue you for that, usually if it happens in a set number of days after cancellation as stated in the agency documents.

Example: Real estate agent Bob lists a house that Buyer Jim looks at while under listing contract. Seller Sam cancels listing agreement with Agent Bob and then sells the home to Buyer Jim without a real estate commission being paid. If stated in the agreement that Seller cannot sell to clients brought by the agent within 90 days after cancellation of the listing, Seller Sam still owes Agent Bob his commission.

I don't know how clear I made that, but just wanted to say read the fine print, you should be able to get out of a real estate agreement if you are unhappy with virtually no penalty. Check your local laws, call your state's governing board to confirm (The state government, not the state Realtor's association - although they should be able to tell you as well).
posted by shinynewnick at 7:31 PM on January 23, 2008

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