How to Help Your Agent

Special to The Times

Why is it that some home sellers absolutely love the same agent other sellers have erased permanently from their address books?

The difference isn't necessarily just the agent. More than likely, the

sellers' own behaviors and attitudes were part of the equation.

Getting great service from a real estate agent isn't just a matter of

luck. On the contrary, sellers who know how the business works

and how they can motivate their agents to achieve peak performance have a

definite edge.

Here are some tips from realty pros on getting top-notch service from your agent:

1. Understand the importance of commissions.

Real estate agents are salespeople, and that means they naturally

devote most of their effort and resources to homes on the market that

present the best opportunity for a full commission.

Although a 6% commission often is cited as standard in the industry,

commissions are negotiable. Many agents accept 5% and others are willing

to work on a sliding scale (i.e., the agents earn more if the home sells

for a higher price).

Agents say a 5% commission isn't necessarily a disincentive, but 6% is

definitely a stronger motivation. Below 5%, motivation, marketing and

client service tend to diminish markedly.

Even if the listing agent agrees to accept a lower commission, some

buyers' agents won't bother to show a home offered at less compensation.

"I honestly don't look [at the commission being offered], but a lot of

agents will start [showing homes] at 3% for their side, then go to 2.5%.

If you are really motivated [to sell your home], you should make it as

sweet as possible," said Murray Weisberg, an associate manager with Fred

Sands Realtors in Brentwood.

Agents also say a higher commission gives them room to renegotiate

later to bridge a price gap between the seller and a prospective buyer.

Although the agents aren't obligated to kick in a portion of their

commission, they may be more willing to do so if they're starting with

6%, rather than 5%.

Before you sign a listing agreement, it's OK to ask the agent how he

or she feels about taking a cut later in the negotiations.

2. Offer a bonus to the buyer's agent.

Another motivational strategy is to sweeten the pot for the buyer's

agent by offering a bonus on that side of the transaction.

"I'm a big believer in giving the bonus to the agent bringing the

buyer as an incentive to get my listings sold," said Andrew Manning, a

Realtor-associate with Fred Sands in Studio City.

"If the seller pays a little extra money, they might get a buyer who

might not normally be shown that house. If [the agents] see that [the

seller] is offering a higher commission, they'll probably add that house

to their list," he said.

3. Price your home to sell.

An overpriced home profits neither the seller nor the agent because it

probably will sit on the market for a long time and eat up the agent's

advertising budget.

"I lose interest if the home is so overpriced that I know I'm just

spinning my wheels," Weisberg said.

4. Understand the relationship among price, commission and marketing.

If you insist on overpricing your home, the agent might insist on a

higher commission to cover the added marketing expenses.

"[Sometimes, I will say to the seller], 'My commission depends on who

sets the price, you or me. If you set the price considerably higher than

what I perceive the current market value to be, it's going to cost me

more time and resources to move it,' " said Judith Scott, an associate

broker with South Bay Brokers in Manhattan Beach.

5. Get a written marketing plan.

According to Scott, here are some of the most important questions a

seller should ask a prospective agent:

• Do you have a marketing plan and what does it encompass?

• Do you have a time frame within which the marketing will be done?

• Who do you think the target buyer is for my house and how do you

propose to reach that audience?

A written marketing plan sets specific standards of performance for

the agent and agreed-upon goals and objectives the agent is obligated to

meet.

6. Get your home in top condition.

A house in good shape is more appealing to buyers and, consequently,

easier to sell than a fixer-upper. That's why agents give more attention

to the most attractive and best-maintained homes on the market.

"Your home needs to be in tip-top condition. It needs to sparkle and

shine because people buy [homes that are] clean, white and bright," said

Wanda Alley, a broker-associate with Seven Gables Real Estate in Anaheim

Hills.

If you can't afford to get your home in top condition, you should at

least keep the home clean and clear a path through your clutter.

"You can't sell what you can't see," said Manning. "I'd rather [the

sellers] have a garage full of stuff than have a house full of stuff.

Buyers can imagine what a garage looks like, but they can't imagine what

a bedroom or living room looks like when stuff is stacked to the

ceiling."

7. Make your home available for showings.

"Selling your home is a painful process because nobody likes to have

their privacy invaded," Alley said, "but inaccessibility really ties the

hands of the agent."

Access includes marketing strategies as well as showings. "A number of

sellers don't want a For Sale sign, which eliminates about 40% of the

telephone calls. Or they don't want any open houses," Weisberg said.

"Some of my sellers can [get ready] for a showing in an hour. Others, if

the wind is blowing the wrong way, forget it. If you want to sell your

home, make it available."

As does a low commission, an inaccessible home turns off buyers'

agents, as well as the listing agent. "If the agents have too many

problems getting in to show your property, unless it's the only one, they

will show other properties and forget about yours," Weisberg said.

8. Communicate with your agent.

Agents do not like being left in the dark any more than sellers do. "A

lot of sellers will stew over something for a week before they pick up

the phone and call the agent," Manning said. "Communication is a two-way

street.

"A lot of times, the agent isn't even aware the seller is not happy

because the seller may be afraid to express that directly to the agent.

You need to call the agent the moment you are not satisfied with the

service you're getting."

If you get any calls about your property or anyone stops by or fails

to turn up for a scheduled showing, take names and telephone numbers and

pass them along to your agent.

Demonstrate your eagerness to cooperate and your willingness to keep

the lines of communication open. If you run into a complete communication

breakdown or your agent just disappears, you can ask the sales manager or

broker to give your listing to another agent. Use this tactic only as a

last resort because you don't want to get a reputation among the agentsas a difficult seller.

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      Marcie Geffner is a Los Angeles freelance writer.

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