Top 5 Ways Not to Pick A Listing Agent

Over 30 years of selling property has shown us that selecting the right agent may be the single most important step to a successful sale or purchase.

Unfortunately, experience also has shown us that most sellers pick their agents for the wrong reasons, and they pay a huge price for that mistake.

A while back, we listed 5 of the most common mistakes sellers make in choosing an agent. Today we’ll identify the top 5, starting with one we’ve seen a lot of in the last two years, picking their agent based on:

5. Past performance as a buyers’ agent, in an easier market, or in another area. These might be good reasons to consider an agent, but they don’t prove anything about selling your property in today’s market. We could give dozens of examples from our experiences, but we’ll settle for just one, from baseball:

Just because Tim Salmon played great outfield for the Angels three years ago doesn’t mean he can play shortstop for them today. Let alone Center for the Lakers. Get the picture?

4. “She works my neighborhood.” This is called “farming,” and we do it ourselves. It’s a good way to get to know a neighborhood over time. But the number of notepads left on your porch or postcards mailed to your home proves neither competence nor integrity.

Until the agent’s been “farming” your neighborhood for at least four years, it proves nothing. In this market, you’d need to go back 17 years to get to the last major downturn!

Even with 17 years experience, you’d still want to investigate track record, and speak with sellers who’ve worked with him or her. The fliers or postcards may only tell half the story.

“Neighborhood specialists,” or “listing farmers” are like preachers, car salesmen, or Realtors as a whole. Some are ethical, competent, and diligent, but many others are not.

3. Lots of sales. This could be good or bad, but it raises a red flag. Most high volume agents operate with what they euphemistically call a “team,” which can also be good or bad.

We have a team- Blair, a transaction coordinator who is shared with several other agents, and a number of affiliates from escrow officer to termite inspector who are the best we can find. But other teams consist of several licensed and unlicensed assistants who pretty much do all the work for the named agent. You often never see the “superstar #1 agent” again after you’ve signed the listing.

At one seminar I recently heard the superstar speaker describe running into some poor seller of his in an airport. The superstar had “sold” his home a few months earlier, and he was actually bragging to us that this was the first time he’d ever actually met his “client.”

One more true story. A few years ago, the buyer for one of our listings was represented by one of those superstar top producers. When it came time for the walk-through I showed up to keep an eye on things. When the buyers came to the door (alone), I introduced myself as the listing agent. The buyer literally hugged me! “Oh my God! A real, licensed agent–not just an assistant!” she exclaimed. “We haven’t spoken with one since we signed the purchase contract seven weeks ago.”

Turns out, everything had been handled by unlicensed “assistants,” which were pretty much part-time kids. We’ve seen the same thing with sellers. They were “working” with top producing agents, but they rarely saw them, and weren’t happy campers.

2. Great listing packet or presentation. This doesn’t prove anything, either. Just because a politician’s a great campaigner with good commercials doesn’t mean he or she will make a good president or governor. It probably just means they bought a good listing presentation software package.  To get an idea of what they actually do, take them to your computer and ask them to pull up their listings on the web.  Read the remarks, check out the pictures, see how complete the data is.  Then ask to see the web sites for their current listings.  (For comparison, Blair and I buy a separate, appropriate internet “domain” name for each listing and then shoot our own virtual tour.  For example, check out, which we shot July 24, 2008.

In fact, most agents know they can easily get any listing if they dress nice, are friendly, have a persuasive presentation and, most important if he or she . . .

1. Tells you what you want to hear. Works every time, and most agents know it. There are even terms for it in the business. When an agent tells you what you want to hear about price, it’s called “buying the listing.” Happens all the time–then the listing sits for months while the agent tries to get a price reduction. Worked in ’04’s up market, but not today!

Sellers have words for it, too. “Great rapport!” “We felt so good about her!” “We just really clicked!” “She was so bubbly!”

It’s kind of like interviewing three doctors about your medical condition, then going with the one who tells you every thing’s fine. Tempting, but not real smart. Better to go with the best doctor, regardless of whether you like with his diagnosis or not.

Telling you what you want to hear (instead of the truth) is amazingly effective. It appeals to the sellers’ pride as well as to their wishful thinking. Kind of like flattering them while promising to make their dreams come true. Not that different from how most politicians operate, and you know how good they are at keeping their promises.

If two people agree on everything, one of them is not necessary. If an agent agrees with you too much, they’re either lying or incompetent, or you don’t need an agent at all. It’s probably one of the first two.

You need an agent who knows and tells you the truth. I remember telling an older seller who was “interviewing” us that they really needed to remove the velvet flocked red wallpaper they loved. I knew they didn’t want to hear it, but it was the truth. A few days later I got the call. “Dave, we decided to go with Suzy Q. We just had such great rapport, and she really loved our decorating.” Guess I’m glad somebody did.

If you want to feel good, go find a friend. But if you want to sell your house for top dollar in any market, especially today, go find an honest, experienced, diligent agent who will tell you the truth.

If you missed the first half of this post, just click here for numbers 6 – 10 of the most common mistakes sellers make in choosing an agent.

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2 Responses to “Top 5 Ways Not to Pick A Listing Agent”

  1. Robert Jones Says:

    ” Tells you what you want to hear” This is universal to every business and many sales are generated this way. Awesome tips!

  2. Melanie Says:

    The most important thing when either buying or selling a home is to select the right real estate agent, but people usually go about it backwards. They read a newspaper or get one of the home magazines in the supermarkets, and they call about a home they see advertised. They should first select the real estate agent — one who will understand what they need and can navigate the system for them.

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