- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

For-sale signs will soon start to sprout in area neighborhoods in anticipation of what promises to be a busy spring buying season, but it takes more than a sign in the yard to sell a home for top dollar. More than anything else, the success of a sale is tied directly to how well the listing agent performs.
Industry experts across the Washington area say that while most sellers realize an agent can help them show and work through the sale of their home, most don't know that having a listing agent might be in their best interest.
The listing agent is a Realtor who acts specifically in the best interest of the seller. Besides marketing the home, the agent is responsible for recommending improvements, arranging showings and offering closing support.
Because the listing agent is looking out for the best interest of a seller, it makes it all the more important for the seller to choose the agent wisely. A good start is understanding agency relationships and terminology.
"Very important when selecting a listing agent is to make sure that the person is really a Realtor," says Amy Ritsko-Warren of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors. "You can find out by making sure that they use the word 'Realtor,' and not something else, in their literature. Realtors are members of the National Association of Realtors and must abide by its code of ethics."
Then, the industry experts suggest, begin by selecting an agent who is familiar with your neighborhood.
"When picking a listing agent, look at the real estate office closest to your house and ask who the top selling agent is," says Tammy Burns of Century 21 in Gaithersburg. "Stick to someone close to where you live. If you list with a Realtor out of the area, you're going to lose, because they may list too low so they won't have to have to bother with traveling out of their way for a long period of time, or they may list too high and the house just sits."
DeAnn Buss of Hyattsville has put her historic bungalow on the market. She says she narrowed her selection of listing agents by meeting with Realtors whose names she had seen on yard signs throughout her neighborhood.
Ms. Buss says that after living in the neighborhood for six years, she had a pretty good idea who the most productive agents were. "We picked three people and interviewed them," Ms. Buss says. "In deciding, we looked at things like who returns our calls on time and what were some of the different ways they would market our house."
"It's very important to interview the listing agent. This is the person who will be responsible for marketing your house properly," Mrs. Ritsko-Warren says. "Find out what types of services they will offer and what they specialize in."
"I'd recommend that people interview at least three Realtors and have them make a listing presentation. Have them name four or five things that they'll do other than list the home in the system," says Lloyd Bernard of Weichert Realtors in Bowie. "Some agents just put the home on the system (the Metropolitan Regional Information System or Multiple Listing Service) and that's it. For some homes that may be enough, but most homes need more than that."
Besides listing homes on the system and putting up yard signs, listing agents say marketing techniques can include newspaper advertisements, Web site listings, home magazines, direct mail, telephone hot lines and open houses.
"Personally, I like open houses because it gives people a chance to see the home immediately and ask questions," Mr. Bernard says. "Many people look on Web sites like Realtor.com, but by the time they inquire about the house they find out that it was sold weeks ago because that information is not always updated."
Area industry observers say listing agents should be able to provide a detailed comparative market analysis that includes a report on other homes sold in the area, to help determine the most effective asking price.
"A good agent will let you know what you can get for your home by comparing it to other homes in the neighborhood," Mrs. Burns says.
"When our agent showed up, he had paperwork to back up his suggested selling price," Ms. Buss says. "We also liked that at the first meeting he didn't come in with a speech but was more open to questions. He split his visit into two trips and on the second visit he proposed to us what the house was worth."
Realtors agree that a good listing agent also will help prepare a home to be placed on the market. This can include recommending interior and exterior improvements.
"You want someone qualified to tell you what needs to be done to your home," Mrs. Burns says. "If a listing agent has a reputation for having a good home to show, Realtors will remember that and want to show your home."
Ms. Buss says her Realtor "helped with visual improvements like moving furniture around to make it more open and offered suggestions to give the home more curb appeal." A neighbor frequently parked a truck in front of the home, so Ms. Buss' listing agent suggested visiting the neighbor to ask him if he could find a different parking space so the truck wouldn't interfere with the view of the home from the street.
Realtors caution against basing your selection of listing agents strictly on popularity or by affiliation with a big-name agency.
"Going to a big agency doesn't necessarily mean better service," Mrs. Burns says. "You also don't necessarily want to look only at agents who have big names," she says. The most popular agent might be hard to get in touch with, or might not be able to offer personalized service, Mrs. Burns says.
"Time is of essence in the real estate business, so you want a Realtor who is going to be involved in the whole deal," says Suzan Hall of Jobin Realty in Manassas. Ms. Hall says sellers need to know whether their listing agent is a full-time or part-time Realtor. It makes a difference.
"Some people are just doing it while they have another day job," Ms. Hall says. "They may only sell for family members or co-workers. Real estate is a profession where you have to be available around the clock."
She also cautions sellers to be wary of listing agents who don't give clients a home phone number.
A listing agent's reputation how he is perceived by other Realtors is one of the most significant factors, regardless of what company he works for, Realtors say.
"Reputation is very important. Sometimes people mistakenly think that if an agent has a nasty personality that they will be able to make them a better deal," Mrs. Burns says, "but for an agent who doesn't have a nice reputation, people won't want to show their house or deal with them because the agent is so unpleasant to work with. Referrals and word of mouth are also good ways to find a listing agent."
"It's about personal relationships, and recommendations by a friend are always good," Mr. Bernard says. "If possible, drive through the neighborhood and talk to homeowners about how happy they are with their listing agent."
Ms. Hall agrees. "Word of mouth is the best way to find a good listing agent. I've been in business 10 years. I haven't done any advertising, and my phone is always ringing," she says.
Sellers who have searched for listing agents and Realtors suggest preparing a list of questions to ask before meeting with the agent.
"I did a search on the Internet and found helpful sites with questions to ask during the interview," Ms. Buss says.
Common questions: How many years of experience do you have? How long have you sold homes in the area? Will you be handling all aspects of my transaction? What are some of the ways you will market my home? Do you have any references? What fee do you charge?
"The bottom line is that you want someone who can tell you what you can do for your home to make the most for your dollar," Mrs. Burns says.

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