Before the holidays, we talked about what a seller has the right to expect from his or her listing agent in exchange for what is often a healthy commission. These were the first four items on this 'seller's Bill of Rights:'
Straight talk about EVERYTHING,
Advice and guidance,
Access, feedback, and follow-up.
Agents have a couple of other obligations to the seller's who employ them. Perhaps the last one is the most important.
5. Effective marketing.
Ads are expensive, and real estate offices are anxious to save a buck. Still, you have a right to expect that your house will be advertised on a regular basis in those publications common in your area. This might mean a display ad in the local paper on 'real estate day' (often a Thursday), and a classified in the Sunday edition of the large metropolitan paper serving your area. If there is no metro paper, then you should expect your agent to increase local advertising appropriately. If your house lingers on the market your agent will probably want to cut back on the frequency of advertising. While she is motivated by cost savings, an occasional pause in advertising is not necessarily a bad idea. People who read real estate ads regularly may begin to wonder about a house that is advertised week after week after week. For the same reason, you should expect your agent to rewrite the ad for your house every few weeks rather than running the same 25 to 30 words over and over.
Ask for a yard sign. A surprising number of potential buyers call on a sign when they spot an appealing house. Your agent should provide and maintain a clean sign (no rust or dents) with a clearly visible and readable phone number and no other junk hanging from it. Drivers are lucky to note the phone number; ads for the company's mortgage services, promotions for the listing agent, or an advisory about upcoming open houses are distractions that don't help your cause.
Broker inspections or open houses are not common in all areas, but where they are, there is no better way to inform the brokerage community about your property. In some localities it is customary that light refreshments be offered to cooperating agents as an enticement to drop by and see a house. If this is a custom in your area, make sure your agent does it.
Conventional wisdom says that public open houses don't sell homes; they merely allow the listing agent to market herself. Don't believe it. Many potential buyers, particularly new Americans, are reluctant to align themselves with an agent and do conduct their home search through the Internet and open houses. This is one dumb approach to buying, but you are selling, so encourage the concept. Some agents hate open houses but, if you want one, you are entitled to have one. Just tell your agent to get over it.
By far the most effective marketing is through the local Multiple Listing Service. Insist that your agent enter your home onto the MLS data base immediately and that he promptly records any changes in price or showing instructions. Ask to review a print out of the listing ' the one that is available to cooperating agents, not the one for the general public.
6. The Number 1 position
You have a right to expect that your agent will put your interests first, above his own self interest and any consideration to prospective buyers of your property.
In the real world, this means:
Keeping your property secure, even if it requires offending a buyer. Unruly children and insensitive adults should be kept in line, even if they leave in a huff.
Assuring your privacy. The reason you are selling your home is nobody's business. Public knowledge of a divorce, illness, financial problems, or a sudden relocation can create a fire sale atmosphere and damage your bargaining position. Anything and everything of a personal nature, whether you confide it to your agent or she merely surmises it, must be kept confidential unless you explicitly grant permission to reveal it.
Advocacy: You are entitled to your agent's total loyalty. You are THE client, and if your agent has an offer from a buyer with whom she is working, you are still THE client. This is particularly critical if there are multiple offers on the table or even the prospect of same. If you have any doubt about your agent's loyalty speak to the office manager.
An absence of ego. Selling a house is about the seller and the house. It is not about the agent's perceived image of himself. Everyone likes to be liked, and every agent is called upon to be a tough guy once in a while, but an agent who is always trying to build or reinforce an image, naughty or nice, is not serving his clients. The goal is to sell a house to the best possible buyer at the highest attainable price. Giving in to or throwing a hissy fit over every buyer demand is the mark of an egocentric agent.
You should demand that your agent observe this Bill of Rights in return for the commission you are paying, but there are certain things that you have absolutely no right to expect.
1. 24/7 availability
A good agent has flexible office hours and most accept evening and weekend work as inevitable. Still, every professional has the right to draw a line. If your agent values Sunday church attendance, reserves a regular evening for family, or blocks off time to attend to personal matters, you must respect those boundaries. Nothing is so important in marketing a home that it cannot wait an hour or two, maybe even a day. Your agent is a professional and will monitor her voice mail and get the job done in a timely manner.
2. Ethical compromises. Realtors', and hopefully your agent is one, subscribe to a Code of Ethics. No client should expect an agent to violate any part of that code. Some of these ethical requirements, like fair housing and full disclosure, are also backed up by the force of law.
You cannot, for example, employ an agent, whether a Realtor or not, and then refuse to rent or sell to any member of a 'protected class.' This is a clear violation of Federal and most state fair housing laws.
Nor can you expect an agent to lie about or fail to disclose a material defect in a property. If there is a major highway about to be built across the street, if the septic system has repeatedly failed inspection, if fresh paint in the living room hides water stains from a leaking roof, you cannot expect your agent to cover up or lie about these problems.
Agents have a Bill of Rights too and we will write about your obligations to the agents you employ in an upcoming article.
In the meantime, have a happy and prosperous New Year.