Is My Real Estate Agent Doing Enough to Sell My House?

A few questions can help you know if your real estate agent has the skills to sell your home at the right price.

U.S. News & World Report

Is My Agent Selling My Home Right?

Upscale modern house for sale

Your agent not only needs to market your home well online, but make it stand out compared to other similar homes nearby.(Getty Images)

In a strong real estate market, even unseasoned real estate agents could sell a home for a good price. Many sellers hired their relative or a friend, and if the property was decently priced and photographed well, it sold itself.

In a more challenging market, whether due to oversupply, lack of consumer confidence or a host of other reasons from tax code changes to interest rate fluctuations, it is important to hire an experienced, creative and enterprising real estate agent to sell what may be your largest asset.

Once you decide to sell your home, choosing the right agent can be a tough decision. Not only do you want to hire someone you like and respect, but the agent needs to convince you that he or she is the right person for the job. Sometimes, we are taken with attractive marketing materials, plagued with guilt to hire an inexperienced friend or relative, swayed by a flashy suit and hairdo or seduced by an unrealistic asking price.


How to Buy a House ]

So how do you know if your agent will do or is doing enough to sell your house? Here are four key areas you want to ask about when talking to a real estate agent:

  • Digital presence and making your home stand out.
  • Market knowledge that goes beyond data.
  • Property flaws and workarounds.
  • Ability to close the deal.

Digital Presence and Making Your Home Stand Out

In an age when people shop for everything online, digital presence is a big one. Did your agent hire a professional to take properly staged and well-lit photos of your home? Or did he or she come at night and take photos with a phone, catching the reflection of a shoulder in the mirror, overlooking exposed lamp wires or leaving the toilet seat up?

In today’s market, the online listing is the first stop for every buyer, and many buyers will pass over a great home if the photos don’t present it properly.

Not all homes lend themselves well to a video presentation, but many do. If your agent creates a video, is it just a montage of the photos with voice-over or captions? The video should add another dimension to attract buyers, ideally with high production value and some personality. If there are limitations with access to the home or if potential buyers do not live nearby, a virtual tour is a valuable tool.

Although a slick video won’t sell the home, it will help with publicity and the buyers who do come will be more serious about your home. If your home hasn’t sold, make sure that your agent has not only exploited all digital marketing opportunities, but smartly positioned your home among its competitors.

“An agent needs to have a decently sized online presence so that their listings come up in searches which might include keywords like ‘equestrian’ or ‘lakefront’ or ‘ski-in/ski-out’,” says Camille Duvall, vice president and managing broker of Sierra Sotheby's International Realty in the Lake Tahoe area of California. “Buyers are not just looking at the aggregators to find listings these days, they are looking for property-specific features.”

Market Knowledge That Goes Beyond Data

Data is important, and most agents have access to a ton of it, as do buyers and sellers. Various websites show supply and demand numbers over specific periods of time, based on price and neighborhood. But data and knowledge aren’t the same things. As important and relevant as data is, don’t let it become an obsessive pitfall, as it can be for many numbers-oriented clients, as well as for green agents. The numbers might not take into consideration the drawbacks of a specific block or the design flaws of a property, but an experienced agent should know how to overcome these challenges.

“Don’t discount time behind the wheel, because an agent’s personal resources, network and time-tested know-how can make all the difference in the world, especially in a down market,” Duvall says. “If your agent doesn’t get on the phone, but conducts business solely by email and text, that’s not good.”

She adds, “A phone call can go a very long way. They should know who sells in the area, and who might have your buyer. An inexperienced agent won’t have this network of industry colleagues with whom they have been making deals for years. A seasoned agent will also connect a client with the right attorney, escrow agent or lender to create a seamless team package, which is that much more important when banks tighten their standards.”

Furthermore, an experienced pro brings years of knowledge from working through many different housing market peaks and troughs. They should be able to sell in a tough market, not just in the salad days when a home sells itself.

Property Flaws and Workarounds

It’s important to have a frank conversation with your agent about your property’s flaws. Your agent must anticipate the criticism that potential buyers will have and be able to address these issues.

The age of a renovation can surely be a challenge in a home’s ability to sell quickly, and in the last decade or so, staging has become an omnipresent marketing tool to update and often disguise a home. But staging can get expensive, and a good agent should understand how to market your home on a budget, while still achieving results.

“When I sold our starter house, I knew we needed to 'zhuzh' it up,” says Louise Spinner, a Los Angeles-based entertainment executive. “In keeping with how the neighborhood had appreciated, the house needed to look like what current buyers expected. My agent was astute enough not to give me a one-size-fits-all approach to staging. She thought outside the box to hire an inexpensive but savvy friend who staged the house on a tight budget. I placed my trust in her and her team, and the house sold at asking in just two weeks, without my having to spend much money on staging. An agent with fewer logged hours might have given me an overpriced and pre-baked solution to staging, and that would not have worked for me.”

Unfortunately, certain drawbacks in any property cannot be surmounted except for a price concession, and while your agent needs to be honest with you about this, you also need to be realistic. Some agents will promise an inflated price to win the listing, only to then make price reductions after the home has been on the market. Overpricing can be a great disservice to the property. Trailing the market downward with small reductions is never a good idea – it’s “like death by a thousand papercuts,” Duvall says.

Ability to Close the Deal

An agent's eye for design or ability to market him or herself may help to get eyeballs on the listing, but what about navigating a bidding war without making others mad? The business has become increasingly complicated in every submarket, and a new agent can’t pull from years in the trenches to navigate the often complicated aspects of shepherding a deal.

The attractive marketing materials that many real estate agents employ show the glitziest aspects of the job – even unattractive homes can be made to look great. But all of this front-end stuff isn’t the meat and potatoes of negotiating a contract and bringing opposing parties to the closing table. Self-promotion and marketing are important, but your agent’s skills will be put to the test during a contentious negotiation or a complicated financing environment.

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