When Choosing a Real Estate Agent

Since 85% of all homes sold were listed by a real estate agent (the other 15% includes builders, friend/relative transactions, FSBOs and foreclosures) it is important to hire the right agent. And hire is the right word – you are employing a person to do a job for a significant amount of money. So how do you find a good agent?

For many sellers, a referral from a friend is the way to go (40%). But even then you want to be sure the agent can and will do what is needed to sell your home. Amazingly, with the variables in quality and experience out there, 64% of sellers only interview one agent and another 20% get a second opinion. While I could just suggest you call me (great idea!) if you do not me or the market you should interview three or more agents – it does not cost you anything and it can be an eye-opening experience.

Questions to ask an agent

Are you a full-time agent?

If the agent does not take this business seriously enough to work full time you need think hard before entrusting the sale of your home to him. Who is going to handle conflict/showings/inspections/etc. during the ‘work day’?

How long have you been doing this?

Everyone has to start somewhere. But you need to determine if your prospective agent has the background, life experience, customer service skills and money to actually list, market and sell your home. She might be pleasant, she may be your friend’s daughter – but can she do the job?

What is your annual production – both in units and dollars?

If an agent sold $2 million last year but they were all $500K houses that means they did little in numbers. Are they prepared to market your $175,000 house? The median home price in Chattanooga is $124,600. An agent who is productive across many markets should average a per unit sales price approaching $200K. Which means he would have more experience in your market.

Do you work as an independent or on a team?

The big idea here is – when you call your new agent, is she going to answer the phone or someone you never met? When you have a problem are you getting all that experience you paid for or is a new agent on phone duty? These are not small issues – be sure you are comfortable with the ‘team’ concept and will accept any team member being your agent.

Where does your company rank globally, nationally, locally?

Brand recognition is important – your buyer may be coming from out of state or even out of the country. And the agent’s office should be doing significant production locally, which is what matters to you. I personally do not take listings well outside my market area because I don’t feel that I can adequately represent those listings. Any agent in Tennessee can list a home anywhere in Tennessee – but you want someone who is doing well where you live.

What can you tell me about my market?

The agent should have done specific homework on your area or even your subdivision. Do they know what is going on locally? Are they familiar with the schools and other important features of your area?

What is your marketing plan for my home?

A plan should be well thought and based on facts. It should not be the three ‘P’s of real estate – Put a sign in the yard, Place it in the MLS and Pray. There are specific reasons home sell, and decades of market data to back up those reasons. An agent that has failed to plan is planning to fail.

Are you technologically enabled?

An agent in this market needs the full power of technology to compete. For the house to get maximum exposure on the internet takes resources and know-how. The agent should have a website, smartphone, reliable e-mail, internet FAX, virtual tours, mass email capability, and more. And know how to use it all.

Can you justify your commission?

It takes real money to be an agent. Franchise fees, office space, equipment, licensing – all those fees are paid by the independent agent because he is self-employed. My fixed expenses are over $2,700 per month, whether I sell anything or not. And what that means is I am running a business and making sound business decisions on how to market your home – because I only get paid when we close!

Is your commission fixed?

State law prohibits fixing commission for real estate. Most folks don’t know that and most companies would rather you didn’t know it. One company even famously preprints their forms with 7%. But, like the price on your house, everything is negotiable. I prefer to list all my listings as ‘Variable Rate’, which gives me the option to reduce commission if, for instance, someone calls my sign and does not have an agent. We can than make a better deal for everybody.
The most important thing in the search for an agent is that you feel comfortable that your agent is competent, trustworthy, and that you can work with him or her. As the chart shows, when the smoke clears that is what matters.

Steps to Sell Your House

Preparing Your Home for Sale

In today’s highly competitive market your home has to stand out – especially to get the greatest return on your investment. Dollars spent on prepping for market will result in better showings, more realistic offers, and a larger final sales price

Basically, you must:

  • Do all those minor repairs you have been putting off – consider a pre-listing Home Inspection
  • Neutralize paint colors – at least in the main living spaces
  • Curb Appeal is King! It is listed as the number one attracting feature for buyers.
  • De-clutter. And then De-clutter some more.
  • Stage the primary spaces – living, dining, kitchen
  • Clean out the garage – make it useable as a garage.
  • Clean the carpets and refinish hardwood floors
  • Deodorize – especially if you have a pet. If needed, call a professional like SERVPRO.

How To Price Your Home For Sale

Who Sets the Listing Price? Very simply – the seller does. Hopefully that decision is made with input from a real estate agent using legitimate data. The agent will provide an analysis of that data along with insights on the local market and both parties – the seller and the agent – will arrive at a realistic listing price.

Comparative Market Analysis: In a CMA the agent searches the multiple listing service (MLS) to find useful comparable sales. These comps should be similar in age, type, square footage, etc. to provide useful data. Also, an appraiser is going to do the same thing so it’s a good idea to see what the market really looks like. 

Tax Records: We also use Courthouse Retrieval to access tax records. In this system the software will do an automatic search of comps and give some other projected sales prices based on different formulas. This is useful as a check tool against the CMA.

Appraisal: A licensed appraiser has the training and tools to dig deeper and arrive at an appraised value that a mortgage underwriter would accept. An appraisal is still just an opinion – but an opinion based in historical fact.

All of these tools are useful at showing past values and guessing at present value – but how do you price to actually sell? Sometimes we are tempted to price it high and if it doesn’t sell we can always reduce it. The problem with this is you will miss many potential buyers who may have looked at your house but passed it by because of price. There is always a pool of buyers in the market for a given price range at a given time. Our goal in pricing is to capture them as soon as we hit the market.

Sometimes we are tempted to price low just to get the house sold. This may be useful in a distress situation – divorce, imminent foreclosure, illness – but you still should price at a realistic price for your particular market. Pricing too low brings up as questions in the buyer’s mind about what may be wrong with the property. It also leaves no room to negotiate.

Pricing is part science, part gut. It is important to listen to the agent who is actually working the market. And it is just as important to price your home right, right from the start.

Marketing Your Home For An Upcoming Sale

“I may not be the agent who sells your home, but I will be the reason your home sells!”

The primary function of your listing agent is to market your home – to fully expose it in the best light to as many potential buyers as possible. To do that the agent must understand how buyers find a home. Fortunately, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) has spent decades collecting and analyzing data to provide reliable information for agents.

How Buyers Found Their Home

  • 36% A Real Estate Agent found it for them

  • 36% Found the home on the Internet

  • 12% Found it by seeing the Yard Sign

  • 5% Bought straight from the Builder

  • 6% Got their home from a Friend/Relative/Neighbor

  • 2% Found the home in a Newspaper Ad

  • 2% Bought directly from the seller – FSBO

  • -1% Found it in a Home Book or Magazine

  • -1% Found it by Open House

Source: 2009 NAR Buyer’s Report

If the data is accurate then it would appear many agents are aiming at the wrong target – buyers are NOT buying homes from Open Houses, Newspapers, Magazines. They are using the internet. In 1995 less than 2% of buyers used the internet to look for homes. In 2009 it is up to an astounding 90%!

So the agent’s marketing focus needs to be on Agents and Consumers using the most powerful internet tools and resources available. When we list your home I will show you specifically how we will accomplish that. is the single most searched home site in America. It is worth a look to see how agents market your home to this valuable resource. Go to and search a ZIP – say, 37379, and notice the differences in how listings are showcased, how many pictures are available, how virtual tours are presented, how well the write up was done. That is what home buyers are seeing.

Now You Have An Offer On Your House

You prepared your home to show, priced it correctly, we’ve had showings with good feedback… and now we have an offer! What happens next?

The Net Sheet: The first thing I do as your agent – remember, I’m on your side – is take the specifics of the offer and translate them to a cost breakdown on an Excel spreadsheet. We call this Seller’s Net. Typically I will also add several columns to show “what ifs” of a potential counter. The net sheet shows you were you will be if you accept the offer as presented. This step also helps us keep emotion out of the transaction – this is business. Let’s not get insulted but instead try to turn their offer into a closeable transaction.

Choices: You have three choices with an offer:

1) Accept – take it like it is written. If the terms are close enough this action turns their offer into a contract and we start heading towards closing. In a perfect world of reasonable heads all around this would be the simplest scenario.

2) Counter – send back a counter-offer. Here we can tweak all aspects of the transaction and counter any of the terms of the offer. That includes price, closing costs, repairs, “gimme’s” (the fridge, the porch swing) closing date, etc. This helps you protect your net – the bottom line. It also gives the buyer a chance to walk away because they do not have to accept your counter. Ideally they take the counter as a chance to reassess the situation and perhaps make a more reasonable counter offer. There is not a limit to the number of counters as long as both sides stay in the game.

3) Reject – say no to the entire offer. This should be rare. Even in a low-ball scenario we should still counter back towards a more reasonable solution. I do not like to reject as some buyers feel the need to see how much they can get away with and then settle close to sales price. I have seen buyers come up nearly $100,000 and in the end all parties were happy.

Under Contract: Assuming we were able to counter our way to an agreeable deal we are now under contract and start working our way through the contingencies. Contingencies include:

1) Inspection – the buyer hires an inspector to check out your home. This is usually the first step. After inspection the buyer can walk away or make a Repair Proposal. Just like the offer, we can counter that proposal. Of course, the buyer can actually accept the home in its current state.

2) Wood Destroying Pests – the buyer hires a licensed pest inspector to check out the home for termites and fungus. If evidence is found the transaction cannot close and it will fall to the seller to remedy the problem. If you choose not to, the deal will fall-through and you (and I) will be obligated to disclose that information to future buyers.

3) Financial – the buyer applies for a loan and produces evidence that they believe the loan can be closed. At any time the loan may fail. The buyer may have new information come up, they may lose their job, and their funds to close may not be adequate.

4) Sale of Existing Home – the buyer may need to sell their home in order to close. In that case we continue to market the property and have the right to offer the buyer a “first right of refusal” (we will have established this in the offer phase). If they cannot sell theirs or close without selling theirs we can sell to another buyer.

5) Final Inspection – the buyer gets one last chance to make sure the property hasn’t changed negatively since the contract. As long as you have kept the home in “the same or better condition” this is a very simple contingency.

There may be other things spelled out in the offer and I, along with the selling agent, will coordinate them and keep the transaction heading to close.

Title Search: As outlined in the contract a title company that we have mutually agreed on will conduct a search, prepare the deed, coordinate with the buyer’s lender and get the transaction ready to close. As long there are no defects in title (very rare) this step is usually smooth sailing. The title company will be in contact with you to obtain loan payoff information.

Prepare to Move: Once all contingencies are met you can get ready to move. In most contracts the seller is expected to be out of the house on the day of closing. After all at that point the home belongs to the new owner. I will coordinate with the selling agent the transfer of utilities and other details that need to be done for an orderly transfer of title.

Close: This is the Big Day. All parties show up at the title company and do stretching exercises for your signing hand – there are plenty of signatures needed all around. You will need a photo ID and that’s about it. The title company will distribute the HUD-1, the closing document, and we will compare the figures with the contract and make sure that both sides are getting what they agreed on in the contract. After all forms are signed and we get final clearance from the bank they will distribute the checks and we are closed!

My responsibilities in all this are diverse and many. Basically I keep the offer moving to a contract and the contract moving to a closing.

Ready to sell your home?
Brandi is ready to help. 

Contact Brandi