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Working With A Real Estate Agent for Sellers: FAQs

  1. How do you find a good agent?
  2. Do I really need an agent?
  3. How much does my real estate agent need to know?
  4. What questions should I ask an agent interested in selling my home?
  5. What is the most common type of contract for listing properties?
  6. What if I am not happy with the listing agent and want to terminate the contract?
  7. Is the commission negotiable?

How do you find a good agent?

Getting a recommendation from a friend or work colleague is an excellent way to find a good agent, whether you are a buyer or a seller. Be sure to ask if they would use the agent again.

You also can call the managers of reputable real estate firms and ask them for recommendations of agents who have worked in your neighborhood.

A good agent typically works full-time and has several years of experience at minimum.

If you are a buyer, you don't usually pay for your agent's services (in the form of a commission, or percentage of the sales price of the home). All agents in a transaction usually are paid by the seller from the sales proceeds. In many states, this means that your agent legally is acting as a subagent of the seller. But in some states, it's legal for an agent to represent the buyers exclusively in the transaction and be paid a commission by the sellers. You also can hire and pay for your own agent, known as buyer's brokers, whose legal obligation is exclusively to you.

If you are a seller, you should interview at least three agents, all of whom should make a sales presentation including a comparative market analysis of local home prices in your area. The best choice isn't always the agent with the highest asking price for your home. Be sure to evaluate all aspects of the agent's marketing plan and how well you think you can work with the individual.

Do I really need an agent?

Most home sellers hire real estate agents to list and sell their homes. Most of those who do not are known as For Sale By Owners, or FSBOs. They market and sell their homes themselves. However, a small number of people sell without marketing their homes. They include homeowners who transfer property to family members or landlords who directly offer tenants the first right to purchase property before they place it for sale on the market.

In the end, most FSBOs eventually hire an agent because the agent will handle all the details of a successful home sale - including the contract, forms, and disclosure statements - and expose the home to the widest range of prospective buyers through the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

How much does my real estate agent need to know?

Real estate agents would say that the more you tell them, the better they can negotiate on your behalf. However, the degree of trust you have with an agent may depend upon their legal obligation.

Agents working for buyers have three possible choices: They can represent the buyer exclusively, called single agency, or represent the seller exclusively, called sub-agency, or represent both the buyer and seller in a dual-agency situation.

Some states require agents to disclose all possible agency relationships before they enter into a residential real estate transaction. Here is a summary of the three basic types:

  • In a traditional relationship, real estate agents and brokers have a fiduciary relationship to the seller. Be aware that the seller pays the commission of both brokers, not just the one who lists and shows the property, but also to the sub-broker, who brings the ready, willing and able buyer to the table.
  • Dual agency exists if two agents working for the same broker represent the buyer and seller in a transaction. A potential conflict of interest is created if the listing agent has advance knowledge of another buyer's offer. Therefore, the law states that a dual agent shall not disclose to the buyer that the seller will accept less than the list price, or disclose to the seller that the buyer will pay more than the offer price, without express written permission.
  • A buyer also can hire his or her own agent who will represent the buyer's interests exclusively. A buyer's agent usually must be paid out of the buyer's own pocket but the buyer can trust them with financial information, knowing it will not be transmitted to the other broker and ultimately to the seller.

What questions should I ask an agent interested in selling my home?

Interview at least three local agents who sell homes in your community. Grill them about the following:

  • The worth of your home. The agents should inspect the home and prepare a written comparative market analysis.
  • Marketing plans. These are a must. Make sure they include regular newspaper ads, the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) - which gives your home maximum exposure to all local agents - and Internet marketing through the agent's Web site.
  • Length of the listing agreement. A 90-day listing is reasonable for marketing your home. Experts advise against signing a listing for more than 90 days unless it contains an unconditional cancellation clause. If you like, you can always extend the contract later.
  • Number of listings. Find out how many listings the agent now has and how many she normally sells. Too many listings - more than a dozen - with a low sales rate, may not be a good sign.
  • Get references. Ask for the names and phone numbers of recent home sellers. Call them and ask if they were satisfied with the level of service delivered by the agent.

What is the most common type of contract for listing properties?

The exclusive right to sell. It gives the real estate broker the exclusive right to sell your home during the term of the listing. If a sale occurs - even if you sell the home yourself - the broker gets a commission. The broker may share the listing with other brokers on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to get the widest possible exposure for your home. If you request that the property not be listed on a multiple basis, only the broker named in the contract and his or her sales agents can market and show it.

What if I am not happy with the listing agent and want to terminate the contract?

Experts say unhappiness is not a legal reason to terminate a valid home sale-listing contract. Legally, to cancel a listing, you must be able to prove the agent's lack of "due diligence." This means the agent isn't taking the normal steps to properly market your home, such as putting your listing into the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), advertising on the Internet and in local newspapers, and posting a for-sale sign on the property.

If your home is overpriced, perhaps you need to consider reducing the price to spark buyer interest. Otherwise, you may need to meet with the listing agent and his or her supervising broker to discuss the problem. If the agent is doing an awful job, you might suggest the listing be transferred to a more effective agent within the same brokerage firm.

Remember, limit the listing contract to 90 days, in case you become unhappy and would like to get another agent after the contract expires.

Is the commission negotiable?

Yes. There is no standard commission. They are not set by law and vary depending on service, customer needs, and company policy. In general, agents charge between 4 percent and 8 percent for full service. Some agents prefer not to offer sellers' the option of paying a fee for an individual service.

If you insist on overpricing your home, an agent may well insist on a higher commission to cover the added marketing expenses and time that are needed to sell it.

Think of a commission as a point you must negotiate and evaluate.