Q: I’m preparing to list my home, and am starting to research listing agents to represent me. Besides being comfortable with my broker, what is the most important quality I need from them: negotiating skills or marketing skills? Both are very important to me. Frankly, I’m afraid of being "roughed up" by aggressive buyers in this market. –Michelle

A: You’re spot on, Michelle. Both marketing and negotiating will be uber-important to have in the broker or agent you choose to list your home and get it sold.

Some might see marketing as the most important because, to put it plainly, if your home is not exposed widely and aggressively to prospective buyers, you’ll never have the buyer viewings and offer(s) that must come in for you to even be faced with the high-class problem of negotiating the price and terms of a sale.

However, I don’t see marketing skills as the requirement so much as your listing agent having a clear, comprehensive marketing plan that she is able to present to you with case studies or specimens of marketing she’s done for recent properties somewhat similar to yours. It’s critical that an agent’s marketing plan for your home include details such as:

  • how she would help you prepare or stage your property for sale;
  • what her plans are for listing the property on the local multiple listing service(s) and publicizing it to other brokers;
  • what onsite marketing she would recommend (i.e., yard signage and/or open houses); and
  • how and where she would place your home’s listing online, down to which sites she’d list it on and how many pictures she would include.

All essential.

But negotiating is essential too — especially if you’re very concerned about being bullied or taken advantage of.

Ultimately, though, when it comes to negotiations, you’re going to be faced with making the ultimate decisions about what your bottom-line price and other terms are, including whether you’re able to offer incentives like closing-cost credits or whether you can afford to contribute to any repairs the buyer’s inspectors require.

What I suspect you want is to feel like you’re protected, which will come from having an agent you trust who’s "got your back," but also has the experience and knowledge of local standard negotiating practices and buyer psychology that comes only with experience — and I mean recent experience getting homes sold in today’s market climate.

I cannot emphasize enough that one efficient method of finding such a listing agent is to get referrals! Look to any family members, friends, work colleagues and neighbors whose homes are on the market now and ask them if they would strongly recommend their agent, and why.

If it’s tough to get referrals, go into the various online real estate websites and their local discussion boards, and see which local agents are giving sensible, knowledgeable answers to consumers’ questions in those forums. During your interview process, ask for references — and call them! Speak to their recent past seller clients, to see how happy they were with the agents’ service.

And I’d suggest you look for several other items beyond marketing and negotiating skills, or even trustworthiness and experience.

If I were listing my home one of my top priorities would be to find an agent who seems to have nailed the art and science of pricing their listings — I’d want to find an agent whose listings regularly sold quickly, relative to other homes in the area, and for sales prices that were at, near or even above the asking prices.

That’s an agent whose pricing recommendations you can trust, and an agent who likely has another strong skill you need: the skill of being able to have frank, tough conversations with their clients about what their homes are worth, and can support those list-price recommendations with facts and sound reasoning.

I’d also prioritize an agent with strong relationships: with their past clients; with mortgage professionals; with other agents in the area; with property preparation vendors (like stagers, painters, handymen/women, landscapers and such); with inspectors, engineers and contractors; and with local escrow companies.

And, if I were listing my home as a short sale, I would absolutely limit my listing agent search to agents who have a strong, proven track record of getting short sales closed — ideally short sales that involved the same bank or banks as my mortgage lender.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions to ask and traits to seek in your listing agent candidates, but these are certainly where my top priorities would lie.

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