Lew Sichelman

My cousin is getting ready to sell her house and has already met with an agent twice. Twice, and the agent still doesn’t have a listing agreement.

During the two visits, one relatively short and the other lasting over an hour, the agent explained the selling process from A to Z. She went through the whole house, advising her not-yet client on how to declutter the place and stage it so it shows well to prospective buyers.

Once Cuz goes through that process, the agent intends to have a professional photograph the house and use those photos for her marketing materials. She will also perform a comparative market analysis so the house can be priced to sell at its optimal value, as quickly as possible.

The agent is going to get the listing. No doubt about it. But so far, she’s done all this out of her own pocket on blind faith – faith in herself as a top-notch professional and faith that her would-be client can see how good she is.

And you think real estate agents don’t earn their commissions?

Deep Market Research

To be fair, many don’t. But the good ones go to great lengths to bring a deal to fruition. And much of what they do is behind the scenes, so you’ll never see it.

I am not an agent, so I don’t pretend to know everything they do. But their trade group, the National Association of Realtors, has a booklet, “179 Ways,” that lists the things agents do to help their clients. While I doubt any agent performs all 179 steps in the booklet, excerpts from the list are illuminating.

For example, to create their listing packages, agents research property tax records, ownership and title records and the property’s land use codes and deed restrictions. They also verify the property’s legal description and the legal names of the owners.

They then research all comparable houses currently listed, sales activity over the past few months and average days on the market for similar houses that recently sold. Again, this is all before the first face-to-face meeting where they attempt to officially obtain your listing.

During that session, they’ll present all their research, tour your property, discuss your goals – target price, when you want to close, etc. – and explain their availability (which often includes nights and weekends).

They’ll explain how they screen potential buyers and separate the tire-kickers from those who are serious and qualified for financing. They’ll explain their fiduciary role, if they have one, and go over the listing agreement to explain all clauses and addendums. Finally, they’ll ask you for your signature.

All Kinds of Preparation

Once the listing contract is signed, they’ll measure every room to determine your home’s total square footage, confirm the size of your lot and prepare showing instructions so cooperating agents will know exactly when the house can be seen. They’ll also verify your homeowners association fees, if any, and obtain copies of the bylaws and covenants.

They’ll prepare a detailed list of the property’s amenities – a pool, a detached garage, etc. – and a list of what conveys with the property (the freezer in the garage, perhaps) and what doesn’t (the dining room chandelier that’s been in your family since the 1800s).

Next, they’ll put up yard signs, which they paid for. They’ll get those professional photos taken and add them, plus all the necessary information, into the multiple listing service. They’ll create print and electronic ads to market the property.

They’ll return all calls and email inquires, even though many will turn out to be duds. For those that hold promise, they’ll coordinate all showings and likely attend each one. They’ll ask for feedback from every visitor, adjust the asking price if need be and update the listing to reflect any changes.

Making the Deal Go Through

When you finally accept an offer, your agent must record and promptly deposit the buyer’s earnest money and deliver copies of the fully signed contract to you, the buyer and their lender.

Most importantly, your agent must be on hand to assist the buyer and their agent, should that agent not live up to their own responsibilities.

Your agent must also make certain the buyer meets their obligations – namely, applying for financing and obtaining a home inspection and an appraisal, all within the allotted time limits. If any deadlines are missed, your agent will sit down with you to figure out your next steps and then bargain on your behalf. Ditto if an inspection or appraisal turns up any surprises.

Jumping ahead to the closing, your agent should attend the session – if only to protect their commission, which isn’t cheap. For example, at 6 percent on a $400,000 sale, the commission would be $24,000. But your agent only receives half of that, with the other half going to the buyer’s agent. On top of that, most agents have to split their half with their brokers, meaning your agent might only net $6,000 for all those months of work.

But who’s counting? A great agent is worth every penny.

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at lsichelman@aol.com.