Marketing

Why the best advice on how to choose a real estate agent is all wrong

Broker Notebook

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As an industry, most of the advice we give consumers about how to choose a real estate agent doesn’t make sense. No wonder some clients are unhappy with our services.

For example, I recently read that home sellers should choose an agent who has an assistant or maybe several of them. I can’t find any evidence those agents who have assistants do a better job than agents who do not. They seem to handle more business, which is nice for them, but I am not sure how that helps individual homeowners sell a home. Their listings don’t sell any faster. Just because I don’t have an assistant doesn’t mean I do everything myself, that I am overworked or that I never hire help. It just means that I work with fewer clients at a time and rely heavily on technology to lighten my workload.

Consumers are encouraged to ask us how many listings we have. I suppose an agent with a lot of listings looks busy, but it is also possible that the agent has a lot of listings because he is unable to sell his listings. When homes sell in a day or two, it is hard to have a lot of listings.

I just love it when homeowners ask me on average what percentage of the listing price I get for my sellers. That really does depend on how overpriced the home is, and since it isn’t in my best interests to overprice, I have to say it is almost always the homeowner who talks me into going too high.

What do they expect? Why do home sellers take the advice that they read online about what kind of questions to ask when interviewing an agent but won’t take my advice when it comes to pricing their home correctly?

The homebuyers who interview me want to know that I will save them money, so when they ask the question, they would like to hear that on average, the buyers I represent pay 10 percent less for the homes they buy.

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It would be fun to make a claim like that if it were true, and it would help if I just stopped writing offers and completing in multiple-offer situations. If I find a bargain for my clients, it is likely priced at or below market value, and I don’t see it as a professional weakness if they end up paying the asking price.

Home sellers will ask me what the average days on market are for my listings. They are looking for someone who will sell a home quickly. I can honestly answer that question with “it depends.”

Homes in certain price ranges and in some locations (and especially during the holidays) take longer to sell. Occasionally, I’ll take on a one-bedroom home that no one wants; those can take a super long time to sell, and the sellers will ultimately end up accepting 85 percent of the asking price, which screws up my numbers — but my clients are happy with the end result.

During the great recession, I had a lot of listings. In fact, I had to buy more lockboxes and brochure boxes to keep up with the demand. For a time, it seemed like I could not give away a downtown condo. But this past year, I cannot find enough of them to sell, and the last three I had on the market didn’t even last through the holidays. I must be getting better at selling condos than I was in 2009!

When I am asked the question about teams or large franchises, I like to explain how I outsource the tasks I cannot handle and use technology — and I talk about how many husband picks up the slack. Technology has changed how real estate agents work, but it has not changed the standard sales pitch.

I know some see real estate as a team sport, but I have never understood how a group of people or even two people can sell a home better and faster than one person can. Using that logic, if it takes one woman nine months to have a baby, then shouldn’t nine women be able to do it in a month?

Teams can handle more business at one time than I can. That is wonderful for the team and the real estate company, but the benefit to the client is unclear. Maybe they sell more homes than I do — but I sell them better.

Sometimes working with a team means that no one knows what is going on or can answer a question except for one team member who never answers his phone because he works on a team.

There are some big brands in town, and they tend to promote the brand. I did some research, and I don’t see any evidence that big brands do a better job selling homes than small brands do. Buyers don’t care which logo is on the sign when they find the right house. Big brands do a far better job of promoting their brands than I could ever do on my own.

I am the very best agent for some homebuyers and sellers, and they may not even know it because they don’t know what to look for in an agent, what questions to ask the agent or what they need from an agent. I see it as my job to educate my clients so their home doesn’t languish on the market because some team is in the business of accumulating listings instead of selling them.

I just love being in sales!

Teresa Boardman is a Realtor for Saint Paul Home Realty in Minnesota. She also blogs at StPaulRealEstateBlog.com.

Email Teresa Boardman.