How to Help Your Agent (By Marcie Geffner ; Reprinted with permission from The Los Angeles Times)

Do you want the most from your Realtor? Getting great service is not just a matter of luck.

Why is it that some home buyers and sellers absolutely love the same agent whose name has been erased permanently from other buyers' and sellers' address books?

The difference isn't necessarily the agent. More than likely, buyers and sellers own behaviors and attitudes were part of equation.

Getting great service from a real estate agent isn't just a matter of luck. On the contrary, buyers and 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 how you can get topnotch service from your agent:

Tips for Sellers

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 took [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.

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 I 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 toget a reputation among the agents as a difficult seller.

Tips for Buyers

1. Get pre-approved for a mortgage.

  • Agents don't spend much time with buyers who haven't demonstrated their financial ability to purchase a home. But that doesn't mean you must bare your financial soul to your agent.
  • Get a mortgage professional to bridge the gap by preparing a simple loan pre-approval letter, which tells your agent (and the sellers) that you are a ready and able buyer.
  • "As a rule, the buyer does not feel comfortable sharing personal information," Alley said, "and the Realtor really hasn't earned the right to ask those questions."
  • "I always recommend at the beginning of the process that the buyer be pre-qualified by a lender. I tell buyers to tell the lender anything they tell God because the lender's job is to get them a loan and not have any surprises."
  • "I don't put anyone in my car until they have talked to a lender."

2. Be loyal.

  • Agents work harder for loyal buyers. If you stop by an open house, sign in and disclose your agent's name and phone number.
  • If you see a new For Sale sign or a new advertisement in the newspaper, ask your agent to find out about it. If you call yourself, mention your agent's name. Don't work with multiple agents in one area at the same time. If you decide to switch agents, be upfront with both agents about your decision. And if you're house-hunting with two agents in two distinct areas, tell both of them.

3. Know your own priorities.

  • There is a saying among agents -"Buyers are liars" - that isn't meant literally but which expresses agents' frustration with buyers who can't give straight answers about what they really want in a home because they don't know themselves.
  • Before you start looking at homes, make a list of your priorities and discuss it with your agent.
  • "One section of your list is what you absolutely must have that's not negotiable," Alley said. "The other section is amenities you would like to have but could forgo."

4. Keep an open mind.

  • Agents work harder for buyers who see beyond dead landscaping and hideous wallpaper.
  • "We're a tract area, so we have houses that look alike. Sometimes, I take buyers into one house and they love it. I take them to the house next door and if it needs new wallpaper, they say, 'I don't like this one,' even though it's the same house," said Terry Moerler, a broker with Re/Max Professional Realtors in Thousand Oaks.
  • Use your imagination. Ask your agent what it would take to make an unappealing house meet your standards. The perfect home for you could be hiding behind a decor you can't stand, and your agent may know it.

5. Communicate what you like and dislike.

  • "Buyers are very clear about what they don't like [in homes they've toured], but they're not so clear about what they do like," Scott said.
  • " [If I were a buyer and I wanted to motivate my agent], I would be as specific with my feedback about showings as I possibly could be. [Agents] only learn [what the buyer wants] by having the buyer talk. We don't learn anything when we're talking."
  • The more you can pinpoint what you need and what, the more motivated your agent will be to find the right home for you.

6. Be ready to act fast.

  • "Some buyers want to move in by Christmas. Some are starting two years ahead of time," Scott said. "The people starting two years ahead aren't going to get much of my attention to begin with. They're going to be sent to open houses and asked for feedback."
  • "The buyer who wants to move in before he leaves town next week will be attached to my hip."
  • Buyers who aren't encumbered with a home they need to sell also get more attention from agents.
  • "If the buyers have to find [the home they want to purchase] before they put their existing home on the market, and they can't buy without selling that house, that's a dilemma for the agent," Alley said.
  • "Buyers who are ready to perform when you find the right property go to the top of the list."