Seller and agent: Love helps

Success: Short of love, a blend of respect, rapport and communication may ease tensions and help sell that house.

January 17, 1999|By Adele Evans | Adele Evans,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's a relationship that's not unlike others, but a special bond has to evolve.

Like any marriage there will be highs and lows. Stress and tension. Suspicion. Perhaps, even anger. But when it comes time for the seller and the real estate agent to part ways, both parties hope the only emotions they'll remember will be joy and satisfaction.

Yet when a seller and agent are contractually bound, how should the two interact to avoid situations that may cause a split or a divorce?

Brokers and agents say it is a blend of communication, rapport and respect.

The relationship between seller and agent is critical to the sale of a home. Sellers often don't know what to expect from their agents -- or what will be expected of them. If communication breaks down, it can result in sales stagnation and ill will. As with any relationship, there are indications that things are going downhill.

"When you don't feel like anyone's willing to listen to anyone anymore, there's no longer goodwill there, it's time to change agents," said D. R. Grempler, president of Coldwell Banker Grempler Real Estate Inc. in Towson. "[Problems are] usually from unreasonable situations and people. People become very upset with real estate. It's one of the most upsetting situations other than a death in the family."

Similar to the dating process, phone calls can be a sign of a strong or weak rapport with real estate agents. If the agent is calling regularly, usually weekly, with feedback from showings and updates, it's a good sign. If your calls aren't being returned, it's a warning.

"When you don't have communication, there's a sixth sense about it," said Adam Cockey, a veteran manager with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA at Wyndhurst. "Cut bait. No phone calls from the agent indicates the first wave of disinterest. You may not have to dismiss the agent, but call and ask the agent the plan from here on. Agents should create answers even if you don't know questions."

"I've inherited listings where I told the seller the same thing as the old agent, but, because the chemistry was there, they listened and the house sold; it's like any other relationship," said Marc Witman, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and an associate broker with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc.

Every question the seller has should warrant a proper answer, said Susanna Gutberlet, an associate with Riley & Associates.

"If the house isn't getting any bites, why? If the agent expects a certain commission, why? If it's estimated that the house won't sell for six months, why?" she said.

Sellers must also share their agendas with the agent from the onset.

"Don't hide the fact that you're leaving in 60 days or that you want top dollar," Witman said.

The experience of an agent also is important to success.

High-profile agents are going to be busy, and you may get a feeling that you're not a top priority. If a licensed assistant handles showings, paperwork, inspections, and even some phone calls -- sellers shouldn't panic, Witman said. Witman compares the division of labor to a dental technician doing your teeth cleaning, or a paralegal preparing routine documents.

"A top-producing agent's primary job is to negotiate and keep the deal together until the sale closes," Witman said. "We earn our money from the time the offer is submitted to the closing table -- and evaluating the offer, too."

On the other hand, some sellers say top producers are too abrupt and impersonal.

"They may be wrong for you," said Arthur Davis, president of Chase Fitzgerald & Co. "If your agent is seasoned and knows the area and has the respect of others, you may have one who doesn't do $10 million a year."

Although a prestigious Baltimore real estate company had successfully sold their first two homes, when Erik and Christine Fyrberg decided to sell their most recent home near Hampstead, they switched.

"We had a country property, and we'd met Cindy Riley [president of Riley & Associates] when we first bought the property," Mrs. Fyrberg said. "She seemed like someone more local, who knew the area -- the small piece of the market we were dealing with here in Baltimore County."

Riley also had extensive knowledge of wells, septic systems and other testing requirements necessary in rural parts of the county. With a good marketing plan, they had a contract in hand within two weeks.

One of the most delicate but important issues for sellers and agents to discuss is price -- and many times it can lead to the most tension. Most agents will say that a reasonable and realistic price will lure a buyer. But many times a seller wants to go for the gusto.

Darrell String of Parkton tried to sell his house for $239,000 three years ago without success. When he recently gave it another try, he followed his agent's advice and priced it at $229,000. A buyer turned up in three weeks.

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