Choosing the Right Real Estate Agent to Sell Your Home - tips from top insiders

Date: 22 September 2017


We kiwis love giving something a go ourselves to save some dosh. “I sold our last place myself in 2 weeks and saved $35 grand in commission” is often heard when telling others you’re thinking of selling. But for every story like this, you can bet your bottom dollar that there’s a long trail of untold stories featuring wasted advertising spend, lengthy delays, unrealised pricing potential and disappointment on both sides of the equation.

Unless you have extensive experience selling properties, enlisting the services of a real estate agent to sell your property is recommended. Why? It’s often our biggest asset. It deserves a professional approach.
How to choose your real estate agent:

Choosing who sells your property should be a decision that’s well researched. This isn’t the time to call some-one just because you’ve seen a billboard or keep getting their flyers in your letterbox.

We spoke recently with Nicki Cruickshank and Billy Bell of Tommy’s Real Estate, two well-regarded Wellington real estate professionals who provide some insider tips on how to pick the right agent to sell your home. Cruickshank has been in the game for 13 years, and is a go-to media commentator. She’s seen the market through every single stage and has sold hundreds of homes so she knows what she’s talking about! Bell is newer to the game but has an outstanding track record already, is extremely responsive and noted for his social media skills.

1. Word of mouth

Ask. Just ask. Getting a personal recommendation should be your first step to finding a real estate sales agent. Cruickshank comments:

“Selling a home involves a lot of trust in us as agents. If we deliver a cost-efficient marketing campaign, secure multiple offers; manage everything professionally and in an extremely responsive way to achieve a great price - the personal recommendations that flow from that are the best form of advertising I could ever hope for. It’s credible, it’s proven, and it’s how I secure 80% of my listings”

Bell advises to dig deeper too: “Don’t just ask who they’d recommend, ask why. What specifically made them happy to recommend that agent? Ask if there were any tricky parts of negotiations and how they were overcome. Ask if they thought the marketing spend was justified”.

2. Look local

Beyond personal recommendations, take note of local reported sales and who sold them. Check out the current listings in your area - who is selling them? But more importantly, track what happens: do they sell? Do they get taken off the market? Do they get relisted by someone else?

You want an agent who is likely to have a pool of prospects on tap that have missed out on other properties. The right agent for your property might be based in another area, but have a proven track record in the location you’re selling.

3. Attend their open homes

Once you’ve got a few potential real estate agents in mind, go to some of their Open Homes and mystery shop them! See how they sell someone else’s home before you let them sell yours. Observe their selling techniques; see how it feels as one of their ‘prospective purchasers’.

Watch how they welcome people and talk to them: are they polite and helpful or detached, indifferent or rude? Do they ensure all attendees have provided contact details? Do you actually hear from them after the Open Home? If they’ve had to leave a message for you, do they ever follow up? Do you get confirmation of any questions raised?

Cruickshank comments: “Agents get paid by the vendor to secure the best price possible. Achieving that requires professional relationship management and sales skills - you want prospective purchasers to feel completely welcome, that the whole process is being managed professionally in a responsive way”. Cruickshank also notes that discretion should be guaranteed: “If some-one asks why the home is being sold, they’re often fishing for information to use in negotiations. If you ask this question and get told something other than ‘the owners are relocating’, you shouldn’t hire them”.

4. Test their knowledge

Take it one step further ask some specific questions about the property - either at the Open Home or after the fact. That will give you an idea of how much the agent has bothered to learn about the house, their level of professionalism and commitment to the sale.

Pay attention to remarks they make to yourself and other Open Home attendees. Are they acting in the best interests of the vendor? Because if you select them as your agent, that vendor will be you.

5. Check the real estate agent’s sales record

Look at the sales records of the agents you’re considering. It’s not just about how many listings they have - that’s only half the story. Look into their sales history and actively check that the agent is actually selling those properties.

6. Look at how fast the agent sells a property

Do some further research and see if any patterns emerge: Take note of how long their properties are on the market.

7. Short-list the potential agents

Once you have short-listed a handful of agents, call them. A few won’t call back, which will straight away narrow the list further and you may decide over the phone that a few aren’t quite what you’re looking for. Busy agents may have a message service - that’s fine as long as you do hear back within a reasonable timeframe.

8. How do you want them to work?

Before you make the calls, determine what kind of client you want to be and communicate that to the agent to see if they’re able to work with your request.

For example: do you want to be kept updated at every step along the way, or do you want to have as little to do with the selling process as possible and don’t need the agent to run every single detail past you?

9. Get an appraisal

Of the remaining potential agents, request an appraisal. An appraisal is an estimated selling price for the property and it should be free.
The results may vary, so make sure that the agent can justify the figure they are presenting to you. Some may come back with a much higher price but this doesn’t necessarily make them the best agent because the price they’ve set may be completely unattainable, which only sets you up for unrealistic expectations and disappointment. Reference the appraisal figure against an E-Valuer report on and pay attention to the agents reasons for their appraisal figure.

10. Presentation, Presentation, Presentation

The appraisal stage will often create jobs for you! De-cluttering, gardening, storage, fix-it’s such as painting, carpeting and plumbing. A good agent should have contacts for these and possibly also have negotiated special rates. Who do they use for photography? What about property styling/home staging? Presentation costs can add up, so it’s definitely worth asking for recommendations and discounts.

11. Achieving the best possible price

Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about their selling technique. Will they auction the property or sell it by tender? Will there be expressions of interest? Do they recommend ‘buyer enquiry over’? Do they advertise without pricing? How often will they conduct open homes? Make sure you 100% understand all the options and don’t be afraid to question any industry terminology: if you’re unsure, ask.

Focus also on their advertising strategy: Do they incorporate digital components or just traditional advertising? Do they provide tracking of advertising spend? Can it be tweaked mid campaign? Which social media channels do they confidently use? Like their pages and follow their activity. Are they responsive? Which formats do they utilise? Just photos? Video? 3D models? Floor plans? Bell comments: “A smart social media marketing plan will utilise multiple creative approaches across multiple channels. I’m not just talking Facebook. Done well, it will put your home in front of a much wider audience, create opportunities for quality engagement with potential buyers and convert to many thousands of views on your property’s online listing. Anyone actively looking for property knows just how time consuming it can be - part of your agent’s job should be getting your property easily seen by your target audience in a place they’re already spending time. This can absolutely be achieved with the right targeting and creative approach. I know exactly how many people are attending my Open Homes directly as a result of social media campaigns - there’s a reason it’s a major part of my marketing campaigns: it works!”

12. Negotiate commissions

You can certainly haggle, just be wary that a lower commission should definitely not be your main selection criteria. A great agent with a proven track record in achieving the best prices possible is worth every percentage. Remember the old saying: ‘If you pay peanuts, you’ll get monkeys’.

Cruickshank comments: “If the agent is willing to reduce commission easily, it could be a sign of poor negotiation skills. Just imagine them doing the same when negotiating on your behalf in the property sale! Poor negotiators earning lower commissions will also need to be moving properties faster, which means less opportunity to achieve the best price on your property”.

12. Trust your instinct

Finally, don’t ignore your gut feeling. If you have a particularly good or bad feeling about an agent, don’t discard that - it’s just as valid as other selection criteria when making your final decision. Cruickshank explains: “Real estate is all about trust. Great agents have in inherently. Yes, presentation and behaviour helps, but actually it’s all about how they naturally are as people. It’s their approach, the way they communicate, their transparency and honesty with you. It’s very much something that is earned through demonstrable behaviour, which is why personal recommendations are so important”.

The right agent can sell your home faster, with less stress and for the best price. You have to do some research and invest some time when choosing the right agent for you and your property, but that effort is so worth it to know you’ve made the right decision for what is often your biggest capital asset. Good luck and don’t forget to check out our guide for presenting your home for sale.

Tags: Property, CoreLogic, Auckland, Wellington, Housing, Real Estate, Property Market, Buying