Is there something your agent isn't telling you?


January 10, 1993|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

As a home seller, are you the victim of a ducking agent?

After your home had been on the market for several months, did your agent go incommunicado -- failing even to call you back when you leave an earnest message?

Real estate experts dub the problem -- which drives some sellers wild with frustration -- as "call reluctance." They say it often sets in after a house has languished on the market for several months and the listing agent has little good news to offer.

"You know that you should be calling that valuable client and yet you can't get your hand moving over to press those seven digits to call him," says Gene Gallagher, broker-owner of ERA Gallagher Realty in Bethesda.

Phone calls -- and other regular communication between seller and agent -- are more than just a balm for the seller's bad nerves. They're a crucial element in an effective home-marketing strategy.

"Feedback is essential to keep the home seller in touch with the market," says Carolyn Janik, author of "How to Sell Your Home in the '90s." A good agent will keep his client abreast of the public's reactions to a property -- even when those reactions are tough for the sellers to take.

"It's very hard to call and tell people what they don't want to hear," says Mr. Gallagher.

The bad news that agents are reluctant to deliver are about unpleasant realities -- about how the price, condition or decor are proving a turnoff to the buying public. Often the listing agent fears that delivering the news will doom his relationship with the client.

Mr. Gallagher remembers a Bethesda couple that had invested a couple thousand dollars on wall-to-wall carpeting "of a very nasty burnt orange color." The couple's home went unsold for months before the listing agent got the nerve to call and tell the couple that the place would never sell until the carpet came out.

Other curable defects of decor include unusual paint and wallpaper selections or unconventional furnishings. Maybe the sellers need to know that box-loads of toys are making the family room look cramped. Or maybe they should hear that the smelly cat litter box is a problem.

A sharp listing agent will not only actively seek out reactions to a property from prospects who visit but also will keep the seller posted on such reactions so that adjustments can be made.

"The agent should be coaching the seller regularly on what they need to do to improve the saleability of their property," says Mr. Gallagher, the Bethesda broker.

Even though some home sellers are tempted to "kill the messenger," successful agents know it's in their long-term interest to stay in touch with clients. At the same time, savvy home sellers know that tracking the performance of an agent is impossible when he ducks calls.


Realty specialists offer these pointers:

* Set out your expectations for communication when you first engage your listing agent.

"This hardly ever happens because, at the beginning, everybody is friendly-friendly. They only become unfriendly after the process drags on for a while and the seller feels he's in limbo," Ms. Janik says.

Still, setting communication standards at the outset can prevent problems. And an agent who knows he is expected to call a particular client regularly will tend to be more active in marketing that client's property -- in part so he'll have something to say when he calls.

What are realistic demands in terms of communication? The agent should contact the seller at least weekly -- ideally each Monday -- to pass on information about what happened to the property during the weekend, experts say.

In addition, an agent should be expected to return the clients' calls, or have a surrogate do so, within 24 to 48 hours. (The exception is when the client is making a pest of himself -- calling with unusual frequency or without good reason.)

A good agent knows that regular communication has a calming effect on sellers' nerves.

* Keep a brief diary of what happens during your home sale.

Throughout your listing period, jot down notes on when your agent calls and what he reports about marketing activities done on your behalf, Ms. Janik suggests.

"This way, when it comes to the end of your listing time, you can say rationally what your agent has done for you," she says.

* Change to a new agent if your current one fails to communicate.

The usual three- to six-month listing agreement period should be plenty of time to judge your agent's performance.

Changing agents need not always involve changing real estate companies. If your dissatisfaction is with the individual agent alone, Mr. Gallagher suggests you go to the realty office with which you have been working and ask for a meeting with the sales manager. Voice your complaints, and don't be timid about asking for a new agent.

"Remember that a real estate agent is a replaceable commodity," he says.

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