How to Choose a Listing Agent

new listing sign
Real Estate Pictures Choosing the right listing agent can make or break the sale of your home. See more pictures of real estate.
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Trying to sell a house can be a huge undertaking. Especially in a slow real estate market, you can't simply put a "for sale" sign in the front yard and expect eager buyers to come knocking down your door with offers. Selling a house quickly and getting the best price takes marketing and sales know-how. A listing agent can bring that expertise to the table and help you get the best possible price for your house, whether it's a five bedroom behemoth or a tiny bungalow.

Listing agents are real estate agents who specialize in selling houses. Among other duties, they will attract potential buyers through print and Web advertising, hold viewings to show off the property, present you with offers, and help you negotiate with buyers and close a deal. Some homeowners decide to sell without the assistance of an agent, a process known as "for sale by owner." But according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), homes sold with the assistance of a listing agent sell for 3 to 11 percent more than homes sold "by owner" [source: Riddle]. Agents do charge a commission for their services, typically 5 to 6 percent of the final sale price.


An experienced listing agent can simplify the home selling process by taking the brunt of the work off your shoulders, and increasing exposure to the listing for your home. They have access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), a database of current listings for sale that can help attract buyers and their agents. Their marketing skills and contacts within the real estate business can also attract buyers who normally wouldn't stumble across your house and give it a second look.

With so many agents to choose from, and with so many agents hungry to get your listing, selecting the right agent for your property can be a daunting task. Read on to find out how to find the right listing agent.



What to Look For in a Listing Agent

It won't be hard to find a listing agent. They're sales people at heart, so they are usually very aggressive about seeking out clients to represent. The hard part comes in choosing the right agent for you and your house. Start by asking relatives, friends, neighbors and coworkers that you can trust. Maybe they sold or bought a house recently, and had a good experience with a certain agent. You might also ask real estate lawyers, mortgage lenders and home inspectors. They will often have certain agents whose work they respect, and others they would turn you away from.

It's a good idea to look for an agent who specializes in properties similar to yours. Look at the "for sale" signs in your neighborhood, or attend open houses. Also check neighborhoods close by, or across town that have houses of similar size and value. If you are selling a condo, look for an agent who sells condos. If you live in a rural area, there are agents who specialize in rural and tract land. Most of that information should be readily available on agent profiles on Web sites. That's another good way to weed out prospective agents early. If they don't have a solid Web site, chances are they don't have the marketing and tech savvy to get the most out of your listing.


Don't go too far overboard in expecting your agent to have wide exposure. We've all seen the bus ads and billboards for that local, high-volume agent with the catchy slogan. Those celebrity listing agents aren't for everyone. You may not get the personal attention you would like from those agents. Instead, you could be dealing with the agent's associates and assistants the majority of the time. The high-volume agent might be a good fit if your property is in a particularly affluent area. They often have contacts with the types of buyers who can afford more expensive properties.

You shouldn't be afraid to look into independent agents or agents with small realty firms, especially if they have niche expertise. There are bad agents at some of the large brokers, and great agents who work in one-person shops. Your focus should be on their experience and credentials, not on the size of their agency. Continue to the next page to find out how to evaluate agents once you've done some preliminary research.


Picking the Perfect Agent

From asking around, canvassing the neighborhood for "for sale" signs, and checking Web sites, you should have a list of a few promising agents. Before hiring one, you should conduct an in-depth interview with three or four. Call ahead and make appointments, letting each agent know that you would like to see a comparative market analysis (CMA) for your house, and a list of their most recent sales (sometimes called an "activity list").

Do some research into the real estate market in your city before you meet with the agents. Web sites like and are useful resources for guesstimating your home's value. At the meeting, the agent should present their CMA, a suggested market value for your house based on recent comparable sales. Comparable sales (or comparables) are homes that have sold recently and are similar to yours in size, location, age and amenities. The agents you speak to should come up with CMAs that are in the same ballpark.


Remember: You're not looking for the agent who presents you with the highest selling price. Often, agents will attempt to "buy a listing," or promise an unrealistic price high above market value to lure you into giving them your commission. You want to see a CMA that seems reasonable based on your own research, and that includes homes that are actually similar to your own. You don't want an agent who presents homes extremely different in size and location from your own in a CMA. They either don't know the market, or worse, could be trying to manipulate the CMA to get a higher value.

The agents should also show you activity lists that represent their recent completed sales. You want to look for quantity, to make sure they can move multiple listings at a time. You should also look for quality. Good signs include listings that sell quickly, and final sale prices that meet or exceed the listing price. Also, ask the agent about their marketing plan for your house. They should be willing to put ads online and in local papers, offer ideas for showing your house and not be afraid to spend money on marketing to make a sale.

Finally, personality is important. Remember that you'll be working very closely with this person on one of the most important decisions of your life. You shouldn't pick someone you can't stand to be around.


Choose Listing Agent FAQ

What is a listing real estate agent?
A listing agent is a real estate professional who represents the seller in a real estate transaction, working on their behalf to sell a property for a desirable price under an obligation called "fiduciary duty."
What does a listing agent do?
A listing agent handles everything that has to be done in order to sell a property. This includes, but is not limited to, coordinating the professional photographing of a house, gathering the information needed to create an online listing, working with the sellers and a knowledge of the market to determine a listing price, marketing, coordinating viewings with potential buyers, accepting and presenting offers to the seller, and assisting the sellers as they accept an offer and close on the house.
How do you evaluate a listing agent?
An agent should be able to present you with comparable sales (comps) of homes in your area. If they can't do that, or they attempt to "buy a listing" by promising a selling price that isn't backed by true comps, move on. Good signs include the agent having proof that they've held listings that have sold quickly at final sale prices that meet or exceed the listing price. Ask the agent about what marketing strategy they'd use for your house. Finally, choose someone with a personality you like. Sales people can be pushy, but you're going to have a lot of contact with this person, so don't choose someone you can't get work with.
How do I find a listing agent?
Start by asking relatives, friends, neighbors, and coworkers if they have a recommendation. They may have sold or bought a house in recent years and had a good experience with a particular agent. This is one of the best ways to find a good agent, as many will work extra hard to ensure that you too will refer future business to them.
Can you contact a listing agent directly?
If you're looking to connect with an agent who you're interested in listing your house through, contact them directly by phone or email. If you've heard good things about a particular real estate company, but don't have a particular agent in mind, use the company's "Contact Us" form or directly call the office to talk to someone about being matched with a listing agent.

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More Great Links

  • Bissonnette, Zac. "Selling Your House? Don't Be Bamboozled by a Listing Presentation." Wallet Pop. June 9, 2009. (Nov. 4, 2010)
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  • Tyson, Eric, and Ray Brown. "House Selling for Dummies." Wiley Publishing. 2002.
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