A good agent is key to selling your home

Interview: When seeking an agent to sell your home, experts agree, a thorough interview is critical.

May 07, 2000|By Rachel Brown | Rachel Brown,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Dr. Auther Hannon and his family put their Havre de Grace home on the market last year they brought in a real estate agent who they thought would be able to do the job.

They interviewed the agent before signing the listing agreement and waited for the right offer to come along. But their relationship slowly deteriorated and, after five months, they became frustrated with how the agent was handling the selling of their home.

"She'd call five minutes before showing up at the house and tell us: `I need to show it right now,'" he said. "We've got three kids, a dog, and two cats -- give me a break," Dr. Hannon said.

He also became miffed when he saw a number of buyers tour the home even though they didn't have the financial capabilities to purchase their home. "Her clients weren't in the same financial bracket as us and shouldn't have been looking at a $250,000 house," he added.

Then there was the For Sale sign that was in constant disrepair (the agent told Hannon he should fix it himself) and the box with the sales flyers outside the home would go empty for weeks.

Finally, they changed agents and brought in Diana Hirschhorn -- a top producer with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA in Forest Hill -- who sold the house in four months.

Trying to find the right agent to sell your home can be a daunting task. Should it be an agent from the nearby real estate office? Or, how about the friend who's in the business or a relative? There are many factors to consider when making the choice. And there are many approaches that agents will use to gain a seller's favor. For example, Linda Langrall markets herself by claiming: "100% Satisfaction or My Commission Back."

"I'm putting my money where my mouth is -- every Realtor should do this," said Langrall, who works out of the Reisterstown office of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA.

Langrall admitted that this is the first time she's made this offer and that she'll back it with a dated, signed subcontract. "I'm confident that I won't have to give back any money," she said.

Karen Dunn, her office manager, applauds Langrall's offer and doesn't think she'll have too many complaints. "But this is very unusual, and it sounds a little scary to me."

Most real estate agents do not make money-back guarantees, so how do you find a qualified agent to sell your home?

Real estate experts typically recommend that homeowners interview two to three potential listing agents, and they all stress that it's not a good idea to turn to friends or relatives who are in the business.

"This is a business transaction, and you're going to be too soft with a friend or family member," said David Desser, an associate broker with Prudential Carruthers Realtors in Pikesville.

Instead, seek referrals from homeowners who have sold homes in your area or neighborhood, or consider using a broker who is currently listing several homes in your area. "Look in your local newspaper -- every couple of weeks, it'll list the top-selling agents in the area," Hannon said. "The top- selling agents tend to be the pros."

Hirschhorn also recommended studying real estate publications. Said Hirschhorn: "Which agents are in there week in and week out?" she said. "Who's constantly changing their inventory? Are they accessible? Do they list a cell phone, pager, e-mail address?"

Most of the Realtors interviewed did say, however, that it's best to go with a full-time agent rather than a part-time agent. "You don't want someone who spends 50 hours a week at another job selling your home," Desser said.

Another key decision is whether to use a small neighborhood real estate broker or a large national firm. Several real estate experts questioned whether small shops had the marketing dollars, the technological savvy (for example, do they have a Web site?) or the support staff to do a good job of selling your home.

Many also said larger firms can assign another agent within the office if you're dissatisfied with your current one.

"Most people don't realize that they list with a brokerage, not with an individual -- call the branch manager if you're unhappy," said Cindy Ariosa, the Timonium branch manager for Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc. Several agents said they allow listing agreements to be cancelled on 24 hours' notice, but added that few clients have ever invoked that release.

However, Patrick J. Kane, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and vice president of Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty in Towson, said he isn't too enthusiastic about the 24-hour cancellation clause. "If someone can drop you in a day, how much effort are you going to put into selling that house?" he asked.

The next step is interviewing potential agents.

"You're essentially hiring someone to sell one of the largest investments in your life, so you need to have a good interviewing process," Kane said. "Think of it as a job interview."

Doug Poole, broker/owner of RE/Max Preferred in Hunt Valley, said the interviewing process starts before the agents even show up at the meeting.

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