The pain of over pricing and poor photos… and how not to get bit by them, 9+ questions to ask your listing agent.

I’ve noticed a trend in my business lately.  Several consumers are contacting our team for help in re-listing their home after having a poor experience with a prior agent.  While it is true that selling activity in Puget Sound is lower this year than last, there is still some positive selling activity occurring with some areas of Puget Sound continuing to grow in housing values.

So, with there still being some sales activity why is it that these folks are contacting us?

What I’ve seen as key factors in the lagging sales of these homes is poor pricing and presentation of the properties.  In one case the price had been overinflated by hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus it had poor presentation in photos and staging, so the home languished sitting on market for over a year.

In the majority of these situations things could have been handled differently with the past agent.  And, while I believe that me and my team provide a higher level of service than many others, we know we aren’t the only game in town that can figure out the right mix of marketing, presentation, and pricing for a property.  However, in these instances, I do believe the former listing agents could have done a better job – for certain – but, as a seller, it is also up to you to do a good job of interviewing a prospective agent.  A few good questions by the seller might have led to a different decision about how the house was marketed and led to a better discussion about what impacts the value of a home.  This, in turn, could have led to a more informed decision about where to place pricing.

So, to try and help those of you out there who are considering putting your home on the market, here is a list of 9+ questions you can use to qualify and interview your prospective listing agent.

1.   What methods of advertising do you use, and why?  Can you tell me which will likely be the most effective?  How comfortable are you using Internet advertising methods?

2.   Do you think my home will need prep work or staging to get it ready for market?  What types of things do you suggest for sellers and why?

3.   What is the typical timeline for selling a home that you have represented and how does that compare to the local marketplace?  What percentage of selling price do you typically get compared to list price?

4.  Do you offer any particular programs or services for each home that you sell such as a home warranty, professional photos, etc?  Does your fee determine whether additional services are included or not?

5.  If you don’t provide these additional services yourself – do you at least have companies you can refer me to that if I choose to use them directly to prepare my home more effectively, I can do so?

6.  Are there any special considerations I should have while selling my home such as security, prep for showings, etc?

7.  How often will you communicate with me about the sale of my home?  What kinds of reports can I expect?

8.  Will I get a chance to review and approve any of your advertising or marketing materials such as the flyer, MLS ad, or otherwise?  If not, why?  If I am not satisfied with a piece, will you work with me till I am?

9.  How will you determine the price that should be advertised for my home?  Will you include me in those pricing decisions and explain to me any reasoning for a price above or below my own estimate?

This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive but it will definitely open up a lot of good (or what should be good) conversation between you and the agent you are interviewing.  If the agent is unable to respond to any of these questions then you should seriously reconsider whether or not you will use him/her regardless of if it is a “family friend” or otherwise.  In today’s marketplace it is important that you make the right choice the first time, if you can.  The buying public is much more sophisticated today than even 10 years ago because of the Internet and because of the onslaught of home focused television shows and channels like HGTV.

16 thoughts on “The pain of over pricing and poor photos… and how not to get bit by them, 9+ questions to ask your listing agent.

  1. Pingback: Zoomf Blog - UK Property Blog » Blog Archive » Friday morning links…

  2. Pingback: Team Reba Real Estate » Good advice on tips to interviewing a listing agent…

  3. I just did one of my weekly bike rides around Lake Sammamish today and couldn’t help but notice that some homes have had for sale signs up for nearly a year (I notice since I religiously count the signs every week on my ride). In fact, several of these homes have now went through multiple realtors. I wonder if the realtors in these cases just aren’t being firm enough with their clients?

    Then again, if the owner isn’t in any desperate need to sell, then why not just keep the place listed indefinitely until they get the price they want?

    By the way, our neighbours (in East Bellevue) put their home up for sale a little over a month ago and only had one offer, which they considered “insulting”. Seeing as how they are now carrying mortgages on two homes (i.e. they moved out of state for a new job), I wonder how long it will be before they think that “insult” wasn’t so bad after all?

  4. Sniglet, sellers always seem to think it’s their agents fault when their house doesn’t sell … that’s why it’s nice to be the sellers THIRD listing agent! By then, they are starting to get the idea that price matters, and that the agents don’t have a magic wand to sell an overpriced property.

    And your last paragraph is true – the first offer is often the best offer.

    These are lessons from the 1980’s not from today.

    So many agents under the age of 35 have likely NEVER experienced a difficult real estate market, either as an owner or as an agent. Think about it, someone aged 35 was born in 1973, was 20 in 1993, and only 30 in 2003 …. they’ve likely never even seen their parents struggle very much, at least if they are from Seattle.

    Age has it’s wisdom :-)!

  5. Hi Sniglet, you are right about the mindset and it is unfortunate that those sellers thought it an insult to only receive one offer. Granted, if it was a really low one and they weren’t yet in the mindset to reconsider their pricing, perhaps they felt justified. But, feeling justified and being practical and business-like about selling a home are often far afield of each other. That’s part of the coaching agents have to do with clients – attempting to keep the personal/emotion out of the transaction. It is a business transaction, no doubt about it, with lots of possible repercussions for either side if things go wrong.

    Leanne, I don’t think you have to have age on your side to know and/or understand the history of the field you work in. True, if a younger agent isn’t seeking out those details they may not “get it” but I was born in 1968 and I am more than familiar with a lot of historical references to real estate going back 100 years. If you’re interested in what you do, you learn about it. No one has to have personally gone through the pain of high interest rates that my and many other people’s parents went through in the early 70’s. I’m not negating the experience that others have – in fact, my mother has been an agent for 20 years – but I’ve learned more about the field by being an owner and an agent than I ever would have learned from her since she rarely talks about family finances and she doesn’t talk about her work in the same way that I do. But that’s okay, because we all work in different ways and I still respect her experience.

  6. Mark, the answers are going to vary depending on what you’re looking for in an agent and what your local marketplace demands in terms of marketing a home and the sophistication level of the prospective buyer. If I worked in Newton, KS (where I grew up), I would have an online presence, but local marketing in papers and flyers might be more important since a lot of homes can’t afford computers and many people there aren’t as Internet savvy as the folks I encounter in the Seattle area. In our area, I expect to do a lot of online marketing because more people here are online regularly and because of local companies, like Zillow, we have a more sophisticated clientele in terms of what they see and know about their own market. The same would be said of the Bay area, NYC, Boston, etc.

    Each agent is an independent contractor so each person/team will have a different marketing plan and rate of success. You have to ask the questions to learn about the person and how they answer these questions will tell you a lot. Some of it will be in the form of their ability to present, think on their feet, demonstrate value, and savviness of their marketplace and advertising/marketing in general.

    If you’re happy with someone that provides minimal service or skills for the fee you’re willing to pay – then more power to you. Since I consider myself a “full service” agent, I provide what I believe the client will consider full services and that is a blend of our marketing, advertising, negotiating skills, financial savvy, contacts (professional services such as CPAs, attorneys, service providers, etc), as well as preparation of the home and tools we use to help get it ready for a great online experience.

    If you’re reading the list it should get you thinking critically about what you expect, and that in turn should help you derive the way in which you want/need to see the answers presented to you from the agents you interview.

    I’ve been shocked to have clients that work for graphic design firms not have a high level of expectation from even just a flyer and the online photos. They’d never allow the shoddy work that I’d seen from their prior agent be used for one of their own clients so we talked a lot in our initial meeting about how you can apply your own knowledge and expectations of how you see other products and services to engaging an agent to sell your home.

    You’d be amazed how many people are intimidated by the process that they sort of throw away what they inherently know from everyday life when it comes to selling their house. A lot of people get bullied or guilted into using others that may not be the best person for the job because the agent happens to be a friend, family member, or the first person they talked to about the job. And, it is a job. I frequently spend months with clients on prep work (mind you, with no pay during any of this time) and then it builds to a frenzy just before going on market, and then there is the long haul part of it of on market and the eventual contract period. Agents are what we are truly labeled as in the workplace – independent contractors. Which isn’t much different than the contractors that work at Microsoft or otherwise. We accept risk being on 100% commission – but, like the stock market, where there is risk there is also the potential for reward. If I can’t sell your house then I cannot make a living and pay my staff or any of the other costs of running my business.

    Being an agent is an oddball living that is both vilified in the public and press but yet an industry that a large majority of the population believes that they can and want to do. Just look at the large numbers of people who dive into the business when they think it is easy money. The questions I’ve provided above should help you separate the wheat from the chaff and give you a proper start for building a good business relationship with your agent.

  7. Reba said: “it is unfortunate that those sellers thought it an insult to only receive one offer”

    To be clear, they weren’t insulted with having just one offer. They were insulted that the price was lower than they thought reasonable (they didn’t tell me the price of the offer was, so I have no idea).

  8. The way you worded it, it seemed to suggest they were insulted by only one offer. Not the price of the offer. Understood. I’ve had clients have the same problem since there are a lot of people “fishing” in today’s market. They don’t all stick, but I’ve seen a few that have with other listings. Motivation of the seller is key, I’m sure.

  9. Hi Reba, wouldn’t you say there is a lot of difference in life experience and expectations for someone aged 40 vs someone aged 30?

    I think my post was colored a bit by a party I went to last week, and a pretty young, quite obnoxious new agent was there, running around passing out his cards to everyone, and assuring the house of guests that the Seattle real estate market was invincible, and it was all a matter of attitude … and he was Mr. Attitude. It was worse than awful, and after he left everyone had a great time poking fun at him, which was pretty funny in it’s own way of release.

    I met a woman there who is losing her house, and we sat outside and discussed her situation, and I found out that she hadn’t discussed it with anyone else, partially because the only real estate agent she knew was the daughter of a friend, and she just couldn’t bring herself to discuss her finances with someone young, and the daughter of a friend to boot.

    I think as agents we forget, or in some cases, have no idea how to understand, how truly painful and difficult it can be for people to share their fears, and face bad situations, since what we nearly always see are people enthusiastically sharing with us their excitement and hopes, and dreams.

    And, truly it isn’t simply an age thing, but age is a factor for many sellers – they just may be very reluctant to share their financial stress with someone they think is ‘too young’, or too ‘gung ho’ enthusiastic, even if the seller is quite young themselves.

    I think agents need to realize that we now have a new role, in some ways we become a bit of a grief counselor, and we need to be able not only to help our clients thru a difficult transaction, but also to do it in a sensitive as well as professional maner.

  10. Hi Leanne, from that perspective *I get it* when you’re saying having empathy trounces other factors. I’d probably have had a tough time watching a young “gung ho” agent do the same thing you saw and would understand this other woman’s concerns in her situation. You are correct in that we act as counselors but I’d say we aren’t in a new position – we’ve always been in this position.

    I can think of this from many angles from helping first time (and sometimes not first time) buyers figure out what financing terms really mean and their long term impact on their budget and ability to lead the life they want. To talking to foreclosure clients and the myriad of concerns that they will have. Even going through the motions of working with clients who are divorcing or perhaps a family in grief because of the loss of a loved one and now the family member’s home is being sold. Each of these requires a level head, empathetic and/or sympathetic listener, and a person who knows how to be a problem solver when those difficult items and roadblocks come up – and they will come up.

    I like to think of it more from a maturity level rather than an age level – partly as I look at my own career and the amount of responsibility I carried at the age of 28 that many younger people today don’t have, want or know how to handle. We do the younger generations a disservice when we let them think “it’s all about them” which is often what I notice.

    So, point taken. And, I think one of the points we can pass on to younger, newer agents is that they can make a better impression on others by learning skills from mentors and putting their energy into developing a working persona that builds rapport and trust with clients.

  11. Exactly right, Reba. I see so many young people today that do operate in the “it’s all about them” mode, not only agents, but buyers and even young sellers. In that regard, I once in awhile have to get first time buyers to step back a bit, and consider if their “wish list / must have list” is reality … since no one should expect their first home to be perfect with 3 bedrooms, 2 baths and a 2 car garage, and less than 10 years old, and and and …

    Lucky me, 99.9% of my clients are NOT like that at all!

    While I think what we do in all markets requires both skill and empathy, but that we will see more and more people who have been hurt, and damaged, and that will require more maturity and sensitivity than some agents will be able to provide. That’s sort of what I meant by the ‘new role’, since the foreclosure part of our business has been very, very minimal over the past 10 years or more.

  12. I make my living as a home stager and Know from my everyday experience how amazingly important prep work is for the seller, yet I go online for research and am appalled that some agents are spending time and money showing empty or cluttered homes to a prospective internet, or indeed any buyer. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why anyone would spend time and money doing that when for just a fraction of their first reduction they could have a wonderful inviting appearance. I can assure you, I do work miracles on outdated decor and empty hollow rooms.
    I would very much like to reproduce your 9 questions for my clients who are looking at staging their homes and have not yet listed with an agent.
    Thanks a bunch, that was a great article.

  13. Hi Susan, If you are going to use the list, please, be sure to reference the source. This is my own personal writing and not something I took off a sheet provided to me. All of it has come from my own experience in working with clients.

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