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Find an agent who can target your house's selling price
The couple, both prize-winning writers, had long aspired to buy a house in a faraway state where three of their four grown children lived.
Their patient search paid off when they found a Mediterranean-style utopia with a multitude of windows and a majestic view. They embarked on a no-holds-barred quest to buy the place.
To compete with other bidders, they would first need to orchestrate the sale of their redwood contemporary house, where they'd lived for 27 years.
They were confident about its price potential. Though the house was somewhat dated, it was surrounded by a 2-acre parcel that virtually adjoined a cluster of "mega-mansions," as the locals called the customized homes nearby. Another asset: It was adjacent to a leafy nature preserve.
Before listing their house, the sellers called in five agents. All were optimistic about the sale, assuming that the dated redwood house would be torn down and that another customized mega-mansion would be built in its place. They were convinced that the couple's unique parcel would command strong interest from buyers.
Still, the couple faced a quandary. The agents all recommended divergent listing prices for their unusual property. Indeed, the highest proposed listing price was nearly double the lowest. Who were they to believe?
"In this scenario, setting the right list price was especially crucial for the sellers. If the price had been unrealistically low, they would have been short on the proceeds they needed to transition to their dream home," says Joan McLellan Tayler, a former realty company owner who advised the sellers on how to proceed.
Tayler urged them to avoid rushing to judgment, making sure they selected an agent with the knowledge and background to prepare an expert pricing analysis. They followed the listing agent's guidance. And, in the wake of their successful sale--which resulted in higher proceeds than they expected--they're now packing boxes for the move to their dream home.
For all home sellers, but especially those who can't make the move they want unless they gain the highest possible market value for their home, pricing is crucial. Here are several pointers on finding an agent to zero in on the correct value of your home:
- Look for a listing agent who tracks local real estate trends closely. "Most agents have a strong sense of ethics. They're not going to recommend that you price your property too high just to flatter you into hiring them or too low just to make a quick sale," says Robert Irwin, author of "Home Seller's Checklist," a McGraw-Hill book.
How can you tell if agents you're considering for the job are attuned to the market? One test of good candidates is their ability to cite basic statistics about neighborhood sales trends without resorting to computer research.
Also, Irwin says an agent should be able to cite figures on the average number of days it currently takes for homes to sell in your area, relative to previous months.
To find an expert agent, search for someone who is very active in selling your type of property in your area and who tours new listings as they come on the market. Eliminate any agent who hasn't sold homes in your neighborhood during the last six months to 12 months, Irwin says.
- Find a listing agent willing to put his pricing perspective on paper. "The price evaluation should absolutely come in writing," says Tayler, a real estate author. The agent's recommendation should arrive soon after you've interviewed the candidate for the listing agent's job. And it should also include print-outs on comparable recent sales, as well as a offering prices for nearby homes still on the market.
But thorough agents won't stop there. They'll also provide a written interpretation of how they've used the comparable sales to come up with their conclusions, Tayler says.
- Consider obtaining advice from your listing agent's broker. Suppose you're close to hiring one of several agents on your list. His estimate of your property's worth seems well-grounded. Still, given the stakes involved, you shouldn't hesitate to seek a second opinion from the agent's own broker.
You'll feel reassured if the broker comes up with the same pricing recommendation as your would-be agent. You'll have had a reliable second opinion at no extra charge.
- Contemplate an appraiser in particularly unusual situations. "Most appraisers don't make commissions off the sale of houses. So they tend to be very objective," Irwin says.