How to choose the best real estate agent for yourself

  • After careful consideration, you have finally decided to move. You will now need to sell your property with a real estate agent. The next step is to decide who to choose.  

It may seem like a no-brainer – choose the agent that sells the most. Surely many cannot be wrong?

Unfortunately, such a mindset often ends up with vendors choosing agents that are simply unsuitable and therefore often leaving money on the table.

Choosing who gets to list and sell your property should be a decision that is well researched – selling your most valuable asset can be a stressful process which can stretch across a long period of time. Like any professional service provider, a good working relationship with you is critical. Just because you have seen them driving around in the Eastern Suburbs, heard their advertisement on radio or keep getting their flyers in your letterbox does not make that agent a great agent for you

Choosing an agent that works for you and with you is everything. 

This step-by-step guide is designed to assist you in making the right decision in my honest opinion. At the end of this article, you will hopefully have everything you will need to know to make the right choice. (Disclaimer: I am a real estate agent with Ray White Remuera). 

Understanding what makes a great agent

Before delving into the actual steps, you must understand the characteristics that separate the good agent from the great. When comparing real estate agents, you need to look for the following traits. 

  1. Professionalism in a real estate agent is paramount. Given that what you are selling is likely to be your most valuable asset, you will want someone that acts in a professional manner, knows what he or she is doing and comes off as someone who is well-prepared and competent. Your real estate agent will be representing you and your property so the image you want to portray to potential buyers is extremely important.

  2. Passion – many real estate agents claim that they are passionate about real estate. The truth is easily discernible because passion often is infectious and can be seen through the enthusiasm and energy of that agent. If that agent is passionate about the property and excited to bring that property to the market (and carries it off in an appropriate manner), you can be sure that potential buyers will view the property in a different light as compared to an agent that is aloof or indifferent.

  3. Honesty – it goes without saying that a great agent will be honest in both deeds and words. Such an agent will always act in your best interest and will not hesitate to provide honest advice even if such advice is against his or her own personal interest and might possibly antagonise you. Such a core value will be important because presumably you want to work with someone that plays by the same rules as you do. More importantly, your agent has a large informational advantage over you (hence the rules) – they talk to the buyers and other agents and can easily choose to present only less favourable offers (to you) if they think it will get them the most commission (yes it can happen) and you will usually be none the wiser. 

  4. A great real estate agent will have strong communication skills. Selling real estate is a very personable process and a great agent can communicate the right words at the right time in the right environment to elicit the appropriate response from the buyers. Similarly, such an agent will update you appropriately on all aspects of the selling process from the get go till settlement, so being able to speak with clarity is critically important.

Step By Step Guide To Choosing The Best Real Estate Agent For Yourself

1. Choose a person who best works with you

I strongly believe in choosing an agent who works for you and with you. You will, over the selling process, spend a lot of time with that agent and you need to be able to work with the agent. Every seller hopes that a sale can be a fuss-free process but there will often be issues that arise along the way and need to be discussed. In such situations, you will want to be discussing them with a trusted and valued advisor, and not someone that you can barely tolerate. Choose someone personable, relatable, real and share common values or traits that you value. 

Chemistry is key. Choose well for yourself and the house will surely sell. 

2. Choose an agent for his/her expertise, not just based on experience or friendship

Many people equate experience with expertise – that is not necessarily true. Some agents have been doing the same thing for long periods of time and have not caught up with the new rules in real estate or understand that the rules in real estate have changed. 

Consider this: If you wanted a professional to do something for you today, would you want someone who has been doing it the longest or someone who does it the best? 

Typically, most people would choose the latter. Just think about this for a minute, if you were to have brain surgery, would you simply pick the oldest surgeon or you will do your own research and make sure that surgeon is the most up to date with the latest surgical technique and technology? In medicine, it’s a different world today than it was 20 years ago. In real estate, it’s a different world today than it was 5 years or even 5 months ago. 

Times have changed, and along with that, how buyers buy and how sellers sell have evolved. In the past, buyers and sellers relied primarily on print advertising for all their information. Now, most people use the internet. Marketing is thus done differently. If you want to get the best result for your house (top dollar in the shortest amount of time and with the least hassle), then you need to choose an agent who is up to date with all the latest technology, strategy, techniques to sell a house. 

You need to pick an agent who is not stuck in his/her times and still believe in the old ways without empirical examination that those methods work. It is your advertising budget and your most expensive asset at stake after all.  

3. Word of mouth from the right sources

Getting a personal recommendation from the right source should be your initial step to finding a real estate sales agent. This means asking (1) who to recommend and (2) which characteristics in that person makes him/her a good agent. I have seen people asking online for a good agent in Auckland, not understanding that the key question was more of why that person was recommended. 

What may be a good agent for one person (for example because he was not a timewaster) may not be good to another (because some people prefer more hand holding and advice). “Because he/she sold my house quickly at a good price” is not a good answer – what is a “good” price is subjective (often depends on initial expectations of sellers) and what is “quickly” can often be a function of the market, along with the particular seller’s motivations for selling. 

When selling in the Eastern Suburbs, I have come across many sellers who express frustration at their current or past agents. When asked why they picked these agents, the common answer is because X or Y recommended him/her but they could not name a particular trait that came with that recommendation. Many of these agents subsequently turn out to be a poor fit for those sellers, leading to an unhappy selling process. 

Similarly, just because your friend knows that agent does not mean you should necessarily work with this person. Remember that difficult conversations may come up during the selling process, and both of you will want to be able to speak frankly and freely in absolute confidence. You can obviously be friends with your real estate agent and that definitely helps in the selling process given the familiarity, but be aware of the possible pitfalls too. 

It all goes back to point 1 – ensuring that the chosen agent is the right fit for you. 

4. Look local but do not be afraid to look further

After personal recommendations, you should consider locally reported sales and who sold them. You may want an agent who (1) is likely to have a pool of possible buyers who may have missed out on other properties in the same area or (2) lived in, and is therefore familiar with, that particular area. That is perfectly reasonable. 

However, in this age where (1) property information is readily accessible to everyone and (2) buyers are global (i.e. may not be based in the same area or even in Auckland!) and often proactively shortlist properties based on their own needs, the ‘local agent’ factor can somewhat be overstated. The right agent for you may be based in another area but can have a proven track record in the same area as your property. 

A professional agent (even if he or she does not live in that area: it is a personal choice!) will also do their homework for each property and understand the key features and amenities to highlight. 

Think about your own buying experience – which agents left a good impression and why? Do you even remember that they sold properties in a specific area? It will be silly to think that buyers will not visit certain properties just because a ‘non-local’ agent is selling them. 

5. Attend their open homes and judge their performance

Once you have shortlisted potential real estate agents in mind, go to some of their open homes and mystery shop them! See how they sell someone else’s home because that is likely how they will sell yours. Observe their selling techniques – see how it feels as their ‘prospective purchasers’ – and judge it from an objective point of view (not everyone likes a talkative or flamboyant agent). 

Watch their interaction with people: are they polite and helpful or indifferent or (horrors!) rude? A good time to visit is when properties do not sell at auction and they have to run open homes after the auction. Do they make sure every attendee has left his or her contact details? Do you actually hear back from them after the open home (and how quickly) to suss your ‘interest’? If they promise to send you information, do they follow through with that promise? Are they able to answer even the trickiest of purchaser queries (be careful of those who brush off these queries or provide obviously wrong/vague answers without checking because that may demonstrate a lack of professionalism), or take note of those questions and follow up later? 

Ask some specific questions about the property you are visiting – either during the open home or after. This will often give you an idea of the level of professionalism of that agent – how much the agent has bothered to learn about the house – and his or her commitment to the sale. 

Finally, pay particular attention to comments they make to you and other attendees – for example, did the agent immediately direct you to another listing rather than understand and deal with any objection to the property? Consider whether these comments serve the best interests of the seller or the agent (who is trying to land a sale regardless of the price)? Remember that when you select them as your agent, that seller will now be you and you will suffer the impact of such comments.

 

Remember: A great agent is passionate about real estate, likes dealing with people and can get results by attending quickly to requests. By delivering great service, he or she can convert ‘passive’ or ‘hesitant’ purchasers to enthusiastic ones. 

6. Check out the full background of the shortlisted real estate agents

By now, you should have narrowed your list of shortlisted agents. The next step is to consider their background. This will include the following:

  • Number of current listings – you may think that an agent who has lots of listings on their books is a successful one. But will that agent be a right agent for you is an entirely different question. Do you think you will be satisfied with the service of an overworked agent who will run through the motions and rush off to the next listing without properly attending to the needs of each buyer? Many of these agents focus on the numbers – the more listings they get, as long as a certain percentage of those listings close, they will do fine for themselves. Do not be part of their unsuccessful statistics. The number of listings often ebb and flow over time, and some agents may have more listings on their books at any particular time but what is lasting is the personal qualities of an agent. Another possible reason to consider for a large number of listings at any particular time is that the agent simply cannot sell them for one reason or another – this may of course not be the fault of that agent (for example unrealistic vendors or problematic properties).

  • Which agency does that agent belong to – Do you go with a well-known brand that has withstood the test of time? What about a boutique agency? Different agencies provide different level/type of support to agents (and by extension, their sellers), along with different remuneration models. (Ray White Remuera is the Number 1 Ray White Agency worldwide (including New Zealand) of course. You want to go with an agency with such a track record, backed by a large pool of buyers)

  • Sales history – you want to consider their sales history and check that they have a number of SOLDs under their belt. This shows that they can close the deal and not just obtain the listings (which is often the case for agents with many listings). (A little sales pitch here – I work closely with Rita Lan and Lindi Chemaly, experienced agents who have worked with countless buyers and sellers when selling in the Eastern Bays and central suburbs of Auckland for over 20 years.)

  • Team – Does the agent have a team behind to support him/her? No one person is good at everything. Can you find an agent who can speak English, Mandarin, Cantonese and French, have an indepth knowledge of design, law and the building industry, and relate to people of different race, age and background? That is going to be a challenge. However, you can find that in a team and that allows you to have the full benefit of all the skill sets and cater to a wider group of buyers. Remember- you’re paying the same amount for a single agent!
Some suggest that the speed of sales (turnover) is an important criteria when choosing an agent. I personally believe that such a view is questionable from the perspective of the vendor – there are always buyers when the property is priced cheap enough. The speed of a sale is much more important to an agent than the vendor because he or she can pocket the commission and move on to the next. This often means that the agent will seek to press the vendor down on price. In a hot market, this can be relatively easy to achieve when the ‘fear of missing out’ mentality is prevalent among buyers. However, in a stable or declining market, achieving a good price for the vendor may necessarily take longer given the reluctance of buyers who will come to the table. 

If in doubt, remember point 1 – the fit of a particular agent is everything. Anything else can be worked through.  

7. Time for that appraisal meeting

Once you have shortlisted a few agents, give them a call or email them. A few will not respond, which should immediately eliminate them. Busy agents may not respond immediately – that should be fine as long as you do hear back within a reasonable timeframe.

During that initial call/email, it is important to outline the type of client you are and communicate with them appropriately. You may also leave that to the initial ‘get to know you’ meeting in which you can assess them in person and see if he or she is a right fit. This is important as this allows you to see if they will work with what you are comfortable with. For example: are you someone who wants control and therefore want to be kept updated at every step along the way, or do you have little time and therefore want to have as little to do with the selling process as possible and do not need the agent to run every single detail past you? You will want to be particularly careful around agents who promise the world and more during the initial meetings (especially with busy agents) without being realistic. 

After the initial meeting (or if you have decided to ask them for an appraisal straightaway), these agents will then present you with an appraisal on your home. An appraisal is an estimated selling price for the property and it is free. This will give you a broad perspective on the market and what they think is your likely sale price and the best way to sell your home.

An important note about the appraised price of your property

The appraisal figure may vary between agents but there really should not be much variance, so make sure that each agent can justify the figure he or she is presenting to you. Some agents may be conservative, preferring to err on the side of caution. 

Many will often appraise your property with a much higher price than the rest in order to win the listing – you should strongly question the basis for such a price and ask them about concrete plans to achieve that particular price. This does not at all make them the best agent. In industry speak, this is calling “buying the listing” whereby the agent will win the listing at a much higher appraised price, set you up for disappointment and focus on conditioning the vendor (i.e. you) after undergoing an expensive marketing campaign (or even promising to cover such an marketing campaign on a successful sale) and achieving much lower-than-expected offers. Such a strategy is often dishonest (remember the key characteristics of a great agent!) and to your detriment. You will often be better off going with a realistic price to attract multiple offers and generate competition between buyers – and happier after achieving a higher than expected (or even your expected) price. 

Marketing strategies

There is often no right or wrong way in selling a property. It is, however, important to adapt to changing times and successful marketing strategies today incorporate digital components. A smart social media marketing plan will utilise multiple creative approaches across multiple channels. Your agent should make sure that your property can be easily seen by the target audience in a space they are spending most of their time on given the many demands (and distractions) today on active buyers’ time. This can be achieved with the right targeting.

Negotiating commissions

You would not expect your doctor to treat you for free. It is the same for the real estate agent who is often working hard for his or her commission and is only paid upon a specific result – a successful sale. 

You may view agency commissions as exorbitant (I wrote an article that goes into the differences between a private sale and an agency sale) and you will certainly want to negotiate. This is absolutely understandable but do remember my 1st point – the fit is critical. A lower commission should never be your main selection criteria (and I am not saying that because I am a real estate agent). A great agent who can achieve the best possible price is worth every cent.

Think about this – if the agent is willing to reduce commission easily without explaining or justifying his or her fees, just imagine them doing the same when negotiating on your behalf in the property sale. Agents earning lower commission will often need greater turnover to maintain overheads and this definitely impacts negatively on the achievement of the best sale price. 

Remember: ‘If you pay peanuts, you’ll get monkeys’. 

Getting ready to present your property in the best possible light

Like a bride on the wedding day, you will want your property to look its best during the marketing campaign. A competent agent will suggest improvements and jobs to do in order to achieve the particular appraised price. Examples include de-cluttering and fixing simple issues such as painting, carpeting and plumbing. (Read more here about how to add value to your property on a budget when preparing for a sale!) 

A good agent should have contacts for all these tradesmen whom they have dealt with previously and maybe also have special rates or priority access (especially if your property will be for sale soon). Presentation costs can quickly add up, so do not hesitate to ask for recommendations, deals and discounts.

Conclusion: trust your instinct (& remember point 1)

When choosing your agent, do not ignore your gut feeling or that niggly voice at the back of your head. If you have a particularly good or bad feeling about an agent, do not brush that aside and seek to have it resolved to your satisfaction. Communicate well with your shortlisted agents at the start and start on a solid footing. 

Yes, experience and results matter to a certain extent but choosing the right real estate agent to sell your home is all about how they are as people. A property will always sell at any price. But how an agent approach the property, you (as seller) and the buyers matters in the process and the final sale price. Their transparency and honesty with you and everyone else matter. Hard-earned reputation – earned through demonstrable behaviour – should matter to them and to you.

The right agent will be able to sell your home with less stress and for the best price achievable under your unique circumstances. You have to do some research and invest some time when choosing the right agent for you and your property, but that effort will be well worth for the peace of mind you get knowing that you made the right decision for what is often your biggest capital asset. 

Here is me, Ruoxi, wishing you all the best in your successful search for the best real estate agent and final sale.

Found this post useful and have more questions or just want some advice?

Please get in touch and I am happy to have a chat over coffee! (Contact details below)

Talk to Ruoxi Wang

Ruoxi Wang, Eastern Suburbs' Specialist, ray white, orakei, mission bay, kohimarama, st heliers, st johns, glendowie, top real estate agent
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