Expect hard work from your agent, but not miracles

SMART MOVES

August 15, 1993|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

The Cedarcroft townhouse was full of upgrades: an enormous deck, recessed lighting fixtures and a club room with lots of built-ins. So, owners of the two-bedroom home expected their agent to find a buyer who would pay as much as three-bedroom properties in the neighborhood had commanded.

It didn't happen.

"We can't perform miracles. They had overly high expectations," says John Strand, the agent engaged to sell the house.

All too often, real estate specialists say, sellers believe that an agent can work miracles to sell an over-priced house, to obtain contracts for a rundown house, or to hasten a sale in a slow market.

"Frequently, people expect us to produce buyers on command or to sell a property for a higher price than the market is currently able to support," says Mr. Strand, who sells homes through Coldwell Banker's Charles Street office in Towson.

But a conscientious agent can go only so far in marketing a property priced higher than the market will bear, he says. Because the Cedarcroft couple insisted on pricing their townhouse $2,000 higher than comparable properties, they waited five months for a contract -- and still received less than the asking price, he adds.

What can you expect of a good real estate agent? Here are some guideposts:

* Don't expect an agent to get back every dollar of your home improvements.

Granted, Mr. Strand says, the Cedercroft couple had done a superior job maintaining and decorating their townhouse. Besides the expensive light fixtures, the oversized deck and the club room's built-in cabinets, the couple had spent a small fortune on designer draperies and wallpaper. They also paid the tab for professional landscaping.

Those shopping the Cedarcroft area were impressed by the home. But they were unwilling to pay the premium the couple sought.

In fact, the couple had spent too much on the two-bedroom home -- raising it over neighborhood standards. No matter how good the agent, such sellers aren't likely to get back all of their investment.

If you're uncertain whether your price or your agent's performance is inhibiting a sale, Mr. Strand suggests that you request a midterm review. Ask your agent for a list of similar homes that have sold recently in your neighborhood. Have homes in the same condition sold more quickly than yours? Then the price, not the agent, could be your problem.

* Don't expect an agent to call you after every showing.

You can expect a weekly call from your agent -- and it's smart to set a regular day for this. Such status reports will keep you current on shoppers' reactions and allows you to make needed changes in the home, says Carolyn Janik, the author of several real estate books.

But it's a waste of the agent's time to call after every showing, she says.

* Expect your agent to show your home to all the agents who work at his or her office.

When a prospective buyer calls the office to inquire about your house, chances are good that your agent will be out. That means the agent on "floor duty" (responsible for answering the phone) is likely to tell the caller about your home. What if that agent has never seen the house and can't talk enthusiastically about your country kitchen or custom fireplace?

"People sell houses. They talk them up. But if they've never seen your house, it's just a piece of paper to them," Ms. Janik says.

Once your house is listed, your agent should arrange for his colleagues to tour it as part of a "caravan" to the office's new listings. Don't let the agent shortchange you by saying that there's nothingdifferent about your home.

"Every home has something special -- even if it's just the yard, the new carpet, or the special shower head in the bathroom. 'Unique' is a word that really applies in real estate," Ms. Janik says.

* Expect your agent to bird dog your neighborhood market.

Has the sale of a home two blocks from your house just been consummated? Your agent should know about it. Likewise, your agent should stay posted on nearby properties that have come on the market, or changes to your neighborhood -- such as the announcement that a nearby school will close.

An agent who is not abreast of current sales and selling conditions is turning in a subpar performance, Ms. Janik says. "That's what you want in an agent -- a thorough knowledge of your market. It's expertise that you're paying for."

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