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.
[Read: 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.
Improving real estate transactions with tech
Buying or selling a home is an easier process with the help of technology – specifically apps that offer quick communication and lots of information for research. Mobile access to details, documents and professionals doesn’t only help homebuyers and sellers, it also makes just about any real estate-related process faster, benefiting property managers, real estate agents and anyone planning a home renovation. Read on for apps that can make your real estate research and transactions easier, faster and more accurate.
Corrected on March 4, 2020: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the credit reporting agency partnered with Zumper. TransUnion works with Zumper to provide credit information.Best for finding a rental: Zumper
Best for finding a rental: Zumper
(Courtesy of Zumper)
If you’re searching for your next apartment or rental home, Zumper offers a database catering to those looking to lease rather than buy. Zumper is best suited for people in major cities, since the widest variety of available rentals are found there, but users can find ample information on rentals in smaller markets, too, such as Charlotte, North Carolina, and Boise, Idaho. Additional features in major cities include the ability to book tours and make an offer to a landlord through the app.
Best feature: Through a partnership with TransUnion, you can run a credit report and submit it with a rental application directly through the app.Best for buying and selling: Zillow
Best for buying and selling: Zillow
(Courtesy of Zillow)
Zillow is one of the most recognizable brands for property information and has more than 100 million homes in its database. The company has expanded into instant offers for fast sales, mortgage lending and real estate broker services. The Zillow app is a mainstay for those seeking homes for sale or rent, and if you're a seller, you can use it to update the property description and list of home features as well as add new photos to showcase the property.
Best feature: If you’re looking to both buy and sell, the Your Home tab allows you to store your current property’s details, update information and track its estimated value over time.Best for real estate agents: DocuSign
Best for real estate agents: DocuSign
Electronic signatures on key documents are becoming the norm in real estate transactions, and DocuSign is one of the most popular platforms for creating, sending, receiving and organizing documents. The app is aimed at professionals and business owners, so you likely don’t need to download it if you’re a homebuyer, seller or renter who only needs to sign a few documents to seal a deal. However, you may recognize the DocuSign logo when you’re sent a form for an e-signature, which means your real estate agent, attorney or landlord likely has the mobile app.
Best feature: While this isn’t a feature exclusive to the app, DocuSign offers special plans and pricing for those in the real estate industry, including a $20 monthly plan for members of the National Association of Realtors.Best for reaching real estate pros: Redfin
Best for reaching real estate pros: Redfin
(Courtesy of Redfin)
National brokerage Redfin offers property and listing information for homes throughout the U.S., and it also has agents in more than 90 markets to represent buyers and sellers. Redfin's nontraditional model allows for lower commission fees and the convenience of working with multiple people who can help market your home, host open houses and take you on home tours.
Best feature: You can schedule house tours with a Redfin agent through the app without having to make phone calls or send emails to ask for available times.Best for renovating: Houzz
Best for renovating: Houzz
(Courtesy of Houzz)
When it comes to interior design and renovation projects in your home, the Houzz app helps you plan, seek advice, find professionals and furnish the space when your project is complete. Save inspiration to your own ideabooks on the app, which make it easy to organize different projects throughout your home.
Best feature: Looking to work with professionals? You'll have access to profiles, information on their expertise, photos of previous work and reviews from former clients. While you can contact professionals directly through the app, their websites are also linked on their profile pages to help you find even more information.Best for property managers: Buildium
Best for property managers: Buildium
If you're a property manager or landlord, access to property information, vendor payments and tenant details helps you stay organized and on top of tasks. You have to subscribe to Buildium to use its services and mobile platform, but there is a free trial option if you’re interested in trying it out first.
Best feature: Buildium covers everything from tenant background checks to online rental payment and payments for contractors. Everything is accessible on the app, so you can reference details as needed.Best for learning the lingo: Real Estate Dictionary
Best for learning the lingo: Real Estate Dictionary
(Courtesy of Farlex Inc.)
The real estate industry is full of jargon that you may not understand if you’re not an insider. By keeping the Real Estate Dictionary app by Farlex on your phone, it’s easier to have in-depth conversations with real estate agents, home inspectors and contractors.
Best feature: Real Estate Dictionary’s platform is set up so you can search real estate-related terms. When you type in a word, related words and phrases come up to help you narrow down the right term.Best for neighborhood information: Trulia
Best for neighborhood information: Trulia
(Courtesy of Trulia)
Most users of the Trulia app are looking for their next home and are interested in property details. Trulia's individual property profiles provide photos, listing information and home features, as well as statistics and local opinions about the neighborhood – for example, whether it’s dog-friendly or if neighbors tend to decorate for the holidays.
Best feature: Neighborhood data on the app includes reviews from local Trulia users who live there, plus how many other homes in the immediate area are for sale, crime and local school statistics and more.Best for calculating a mortgage: Mortgage by Zillow
Best for calculating a mortgage: Mortgage by Zillow
(Courtesy of Zillow)
This app offers calculators for monthly payments, the total cost of a home based on your budget and refinancing options. It also provides information on current mortgage interest rates across multiple lenders. The ability to both calculate information for your own mortgage and shop around for the best mortgage option makes it superior to other apps of its kind.
Best feature: It’s a simple detail, but the app menu displays the current average 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage interest rate, with a line graph showing how it’s changed over the course of a few months.Best for planning your home: magicplan
Best for planning your home: magicplan
Whether you’re trying to figure out how to arrange furniture in a room or looking to design an addition to your home, the floor plan design capabilities on magicplan offer a user-friendly experience with a heightened level of detail. You can include the location of electrical outlets, different styles of windows, appliances and furniture to make a rendering and realistic plan for your space. Contractors can also use the app to estimate pricing based on completed floor plan designs.
Best feature: Once you’ve created your floor plan, you can export it as a PDF and even get an online 3D model for use outside the app.The best real estate apps to download in 2020 include:
The best real estate apps to download in 2020 include:
- Best for finding a rental: Zumper.
- Best for buying and selling: Zillow.
- Best for real estate agents: Docusign.
- Best for reaching real estate pros: Redfin.
- Best for renovating: Houzz.
- Best for property managers: Buildium.
- Best for learning the lingo: Real Estate Dictionary.
- Best for neighborhood information: Trulia.
- Best for calculating a mortgage: Mortgage by Zillow.
- Best for planning your home: magicplan.