Commoditizing the real estate industry – are all listing agents created equal?

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A few days ago, I wrote a post Meet the new real estate agent… same as the old agent.”  The article was posted on here in The Westchester View and on  Active Rain which caters to the real estate industry.  Based on the lively comment thread on Active Rain,  some agents misunderstood what I was trying to say.   The article was not meant to imply that all listing agents were the same and that it didn’t matter at all who the homeowner picked.   That is most certainly not true.

What I was emphasizing in that first post was that an agent can not defy market forces.  If prices are down and the market is a bear  which is the case for most of Westchester homes for sale, then  even the most stellar agent will NOT be able to get you a 2006 price in 2011.  The notion that the “right agent” will get the seller “their price” is a fallacy which dies a slow hard death for many sellers.

The Expired Listing Gold Rush:

The real estate industry created this urban legend in many ways.   Let’s take expired listings as an example.  If you are a home owner who had a listing expire – you know what I mean.  The minute your listing expired, seemingly  thousands of agents came out of the woodwork trying to convince you that they could do a better job.   They descend upon sellers like sharks in a feeding frenzy.  Sellers don’t like to think about their homes a chum – but sadly, that’s the reality.

Many claim that they have a “new approach” that will work its magic.  They will not only sell the home for top dollar, they will do it above market value in record time.  They have created a secret formula that the others are too cheap or lazy to execute and their hyped up marketing  will be a gold mine for the seller.   If you believe that – then I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell….

Making unrealistic claims does our industry a disservice.  It  creates mistrust – and with good reason.   The public then comes to think of us as a commodity.   If one doesn’t work try another…. but a good agent is worth their weight in gold.  So before you change agents – let’s make sure you aren’t discarding gold for coal.   You need to know whether or not your agent was doing their job!  The problem is that the public really doesn’t understand what our job is…So here are some tips….

Has your listing agent offered advice even though it may not be what you want to here?

Certainly this applies to pricing. Taking an overpriced listing almost guarantees failure.  An agent who said “sure, I can sell your home for that” when three other agents said that they could not is a warning sign.  If that agent took the listing and immediately started asking for price reductions – you may have an agent who” bought” the listing to bait buyers.   This is not to say that markets can’t change suddenly and viciously.  They can – and I have lost listings when the market was a falling knife.  The sellers must of thought I was full of it.  But if your agent is telling you to lower the price a week after they told you that price was “no problem” there may be an issue.

Other bones of contention can be with regard to necessary repairs and primping as well as  staging. These things cost money – but in this market they are no longer optional.  A good agent will tell sellers the truth.  Whether or not the seller takes the advice is up to them.  Much of an agents value is showing the seller what will and will not fly in the current market.

Does your listing agent KNOW this market?

Ideally the agent should have know  your market.  They need to have to have knowledge of what has closed and for how much and how long listings are taking to sell.  They should know the general direction of your market and markets immediately surrounding and have knowledge of where the market is trending.   The agent should be close enough to  service the listing but they don’t have to live in the same town to be effective  (that’s another urban legend).   One big exception to this rule is if you are a short-sale – local is less important than someone experienced in negotiating with banks.  Then I don’t care how far away they are.  If you are selling short, a  person skilled at negotiating a short sale is pure gold.  (I do not do short sales but know people who specialize in it. )

Did the listing agent put together a well-thought-out listing on the MLS?

This would seem a ridiculously obvious thing to do, but I am convinced that many sellers have NO IDEA how poorly their property is represented on the MLS.  And for all the hype about marketing the property well,  the MLS is still the biggest arrow in an agent’s quiver.   The MLS presentation is the meat and potatoes of a listing.  The rest is the gravy.

Of particular importance  is accurate information.  If the home is listed in the wrong town (Yes, I’ve seen this!) it might  be hard for agents and buyers to find it.   Inaccurate information  such as taxes can come back to haunt you later in the process…so agents need to get it right the first time.

Good photos are not optional.  I can’t emphasize this enough.   Some of the worst photos I have ever seen in my life are on the MLS.  Pet peeves include photos of furnishings and window treatments and not ROOMS.  Poor lighting, blurry photos and photos that have tons of clutter in plain view.    When inventories are high, buyers narrow the list down by looking at the photos.  If they don’t like what they see – they simply say ” “NEXT!” Agents often use the same method.  Some agents can’t take good photos.  If they can’t, they should hire a good photographer.  Photos are eye candy and eye candy drives traffic and traffic gets you closer to a sale.

Did your listing agent give you the basics?

The basics include the sign in the yard and brochures.  Sometimes I put these outside, but if they start to get scattered to the wind littering the neighborhood, they go inside.  Yard signs and brochures should include something to lead the buyer to further information. Personally, I’m starting use QR codes that lead  buyers to a page that can load onto their smart phones as well as a domain name that leads to a web page I created for the listing.  This is literally the least that can be done.

Did your agent have a slide show, video  or virtual tour prepared?

A slide show or video are other MUST-HAVES in this market.  In the Westchester-Putnam MLS  and, the video can be linked directly to  the listing page for easy consumer access.  So this can  now be an integral part of the listing and is no longer optional in my opinion.   Once again – its eye candy.  All of this effort  drives traffic  to the listing and traffic sells the home.

Everything else is gravy – and it can be very expensive gravy with limited returns:

Don’t get me wrong – there should STILL be a marketing plan in place.  But recognize that these offerings do not have the teeth of all of the above.  In Westchester homes for sale, print ads are probably the most expensive and least effective form of advertising for a listing that there is.  Second to last are post cards.  Both are very expensive, but its the limited effectiveness that has made agents more reluctant to use these venues.   Note:  different local markets may have varying results with these venues.

Home sellers need to learn the difference between smoke and substance and the limits of marketing:

Are all listing agents equal?  The above shows that the answer is a firm “NO!” But there are many pieces of the puzzle that agents don’t control.  Sellers need to understand the difference between smoke and substance.   We can help you sell your home  – by showing you the appropriate price range, helping you with staging and de-cluttering, painting and repairs ( also not optional).  The list goes on and on. Along with all of that agents need to  market your home to its best advantage.   But marketing has its limits. 

The bottom line for agent performance is this:  Did your home get traffic?

If you are thinking of replacing your agent because you got few or no offers or no sale, you might want to ask whether the listing got traffic from agents in the MLS as well as through open houses or other means.   If your home had 50 showings and you didn’t get a sale, that has something to do with the price, condition, location, current market conditions or some other factor that had nothing to do with the agent. If the traffic was strong – your agent did their job.   In that case you need to look at WHY there has been no sale and adjust the conditions or/and the price. Firing an agent that has secured that much traffic makes no sense.  Just think of what they could accomplish if you fixed the real issue that is holding up the sale!


© Ruthmarie G. Hicks – – All rights reserved.


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