How To Pick A Real Estate Agent In A Down Market

With our apartment now on the market we’ve been thinking a lot about real estate lately – both selling and buying. Back when it was a seller’s market it wasn’t that hard to sell your place for a decent amount. But now things are different and the broker you choose can make an enormous difference.

Case and point someone in our neighborhood listed their place with a downtown broker for $799K last July. It’s 1.5 bathrooms and two small bedrooms. Simply put that apartment was never worth that, but the downtown broker didn’t have the experience in our neighborhood to know that. As a result the apartment didn’t sell. Had it been priced right and sold quickly it could have been in contract before the financial disaster on Wall St, but that huge opportunity was lost. The owner (and agent) now appear desperate to sell and it’s priced at $399K – half the price of the original listing price! The problem is the property became stale because it was on the market too long at the wrong price. To me the whole thing shows gross incompetence on the part of the agent. Unfortunately, in this market, if you don’t pick the right agent a similar situation can happen to you and it can be a very expensive mistake.

To avoid financial disaster selling your apartment I’d recommend using the following criteria to pick your real estate agent:

  • Pick a agent that lives or works very close to your property. You want to make sure showing your place it’s difficult. If it is, they may not show it as often. I was on the subway the other day and a real estate agent was telling friends how he just came from showing an apartment and the buyer’s probably won’t buy, but it took 2 hours out of his day to show with all the travel time.
  • Pick the agent that’s going to work the hardest. Some agents are just “hungrier” for listings than others. Give all the agents a list of things you want to hear in their proposals and see how hard each one works to answer those questions. If they can’t work to get your listing, they’re not going to work hard once they have it.
  • Pick the one with the best marketing plan – both comprehensive and targeted marketing. These days it’s all about getting your property exposure and having it stand out. But it’s also about getting the right people to see it, so look for a marketing plan that’s specifically targeted to the features of your property.
  • Don’t give any weight to “personality” brokers that are marketing themselves, not your property. We had some agents who talked about how much they were in the press, but it was unclear whether that meant any real exposure for our apartment.
  • Pick the agent that understands your neighborhood the best. There’s nothing quite like local knowledge. Don’t pick someone who isn’t intimately familiar with the neighborhood.
  • Pick the agent that understands your property the best. If your property is pretty average this isn’t such a big deal. But if you have unique renovations make sure the agent inherently understands them and knows how to talk about them to buyers.
  • Pick an agent who’s a home owner. Definitely give credit to whether the person owns their home or not. If they own a home in your neighborhood or building that’s a big plus.
  • Don’t give extra weight to friends and family. While you may want to give the listing to a friend or family member it’s often not the right choice. If they are the best agent they’ll stand out in all the points above. At most a friend or family member should just win a tie if there are two best agents and you can’t figure out which to go with.

Even with a great broker it’s not always easy to sell in this market. Be careful with your choice!

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