Make sure your vacationing agent provides backup



It's a muggy summer night and the message captured by your home answering machine is disconcerting: "Hi, This is Tammy, your real estate agent. I'm off on a cruise for two weeks. Call you when I get back. Click."

If your home has been on the market for a while and its sale is crucial to the pursuit of your life plans, the last thing you want is a listing agent who drops the ball due to a summer vacation, realty specialists say.

"It's important to keep your property alive during the summer. You water your lawn in the summer. You should also keep your property green and bright by making sure your agent works for you during the vacation season," says Carolyn Janik, the author of several real estate books.

Of course, your agent is entitled to take a vacation. But you, as a home seller, are also entitled to first-class service when your agent is absent. That means the agent must lay careful plans for the sale of your home before venturing off on vacation.

"Everybody needs time off. But it's a matter of taking a responsible approach to that time off," says Ms. Janik, co-author of the forthcoming book "Careers in Real Estate," to be published by John Wiley & Sons.


Here are pointers for summertime home sellers:

* Question a potential agent about his vacation plans before you engage him.

If you're embarking on a make-or-break home marketing campaign and your agent is embarking on a lengthly safari in Kenya, you're headed for problems. Selling a home in the summer can be hard enough without having your prime marketing person out of the picture for a protracted period.

"A week to 10 days of vacation is going to float. But beyond that, there could be problems," Ms. Janik contends.

Your agent may have earned the right to a monthlong African safari in July by exhausting himself helping home sellers the rest of the year. But if your home must go on the market July 10 and be sold by September, having the agent out of town during a key period for your listing could cost you the potential of a timely sale. Under the circumstances, it would be unwise to engage such an agent -- even if he's a marketing star.

* Make sure your listing agent has a backup person to cover for him when he's away.

Having your agent go away on vacation for a brief period could be acceptable -- so long as he's designated another reliable agent to cover for him in his absence. But if your agent has no effective backup person, there can be many dangers, says Jack Bateman, an agent for the RE/MAX Advantage office in Columbia.

Suppose your agent, Sam, is away on a four-day fishing trip when a potential buyer, Ms. Lansing, calls to ask specific questions about your swimming pool. If Ms. Lansing is frustrated in her attempt to learn more, she may move on to buy another home. Ditto, if Ms. Lansing's agent is thwarted in her attempt to find out more about the property than what's spelled out on the listing card.

Who is a good backup in your agent's absence? The right person will be another agent at the same office who is familiar with your property, can capture calls from interested parties or is motivated to try to sell you house.

If Sam is a good listing agent he'll make detailed prearrangements with the covering agent before he heads out on his four-day fishing trip. In practice, that means that if Ms. Lansing decides to buy your house before Sam returns, the backup agent will seek to bring you a sales contract without waiting for Sam.

To make sure the backup agent is prepped to serve in Sam's absence, he should meet you, the seller, and tour your property before Sam leaves. That way he can answer any questions the prospective buyer might have.

* Attempt to find out whether the backup agent has the right financial incentives to sell your house.

Experienced agents often team up to cover for each other. That means that every time Sam goes away fishing, Marianne will serve as his backup. And every time Marianne makes a trip to the beach, Sam will take care of her listings.

Agents who have a reciprocal relationship may be motivated to sell each others' listings simply because such back-scratching is in their interest. But a more powerful incentive for a backup agent is to get a piece of the commission that comes with the successful sale of your home.

Would your agent's backup get paid if she sells your house while your listing agent is away on a fishing trip? The question is worth looking into if you're a homeowner anxious to sell and want to be sure your interests are being protected.

* Relieve an agent who goes away and abandons the marketing of your home.

Tammy might be a top-flight agent when she's in town. But how much good is that going to do you when she's taking a two-week cruise around the Caribbean? Even if the cruise lasts just one week, you could be sunk if there's no one at Tammy's office who has been designated to take responsibility for your listing and potential buyers fall through the cracks.

You may like Tammy and wish her "bon voyage" on her cruise. Still, her failure to safeguard your important interests as a home seller when she goes away is reason enough to let her go, in Mr. Bateman's opinion.

"There's no excuse for an agent taking off without having someone to cover," he insists.


(Ellen James Martin is a columnist for The Sun.)

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