By VICKI HOLDER, editor Weekend Herald Real Estate



So you've decided to sell your property. If you want to maximise your investment in your home, you need to think carefully about how you're going to sell it. Most importantly, who will you choose for the task? Doing a bit of research before you sign an agent's listing form can make a huge difference to your ultimate satisfaction.


Why use a real estate agent?


Most people go to real estate agents because they offer professional service, have experience in the process and they know the market. There are many advantages to selling a home through a real estate professional. They'll save you time, leaving you to get on with your own responsibilities. And they can take the stress out of navigating your way through the complexities of the various selling methods.



They know what's happening in the marketplace. Agents track sales in your area and measure trends. They can counsel home owners on the best pricing and marketing strategies.



They know where to go to gather data such as title searches, land information reports, codes of compliance and easements that will facilitate the sale. And they also know how to interpret such documents. Many legal issues are involved in real estate transactions and real estate salespeople can help you manoeuvre safely through the process and refer you to legal assistance when required.

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Negotiations are one of the most crucial stages in the process of selling. Most people feel uncomfortable negotiating head-to-head with buyers. Real estate agents have the negotiation skills needed to ensure your best interests are met.



The right person for the job


Picking the right real estate agent is imperative. A lot of people are willing to help you. There are around 5100 real estate salespeople in Auckland, and most would be keen to get you to list with them. But they may not be the right agent for you. It pays to shop around before you choose.



Barry Thom, of Unlimited Potential, Remuera, says referral is the best method of choosing an agent. "It's not a lot different from employing a plumber, lawyer or dentist. You want to go to someone who is able and capable. Experience is essential.



"Alongside that, you need to know they bring the ability to market and present your home. They need to be able to demonstrate effectiveness, with a sales record that relates to that effectiveness. You want to see they have experience selling properties of a similar type and nature to what you are asking them to sell. Get them to give you case histories."



Mark Sumich, of Cahill Real Estate, agrees: "The best criteria is personal reference. It's critical to get someone who you can trust, especially when the market is difficult, because you could be in for a three-to-four-month relationship. Ask your friends who they have had a good, trusting relationship with.



Sumich cautions against taking on any real estate person without checking them out first. He suggests you don't call a real estate agent's office and simply ask the receptionist to refer you to a sales person. Why leave the sale of your house up to a receptionist?



"Don't get hooked by the first person who says you should list with them because they have a buyer for your home. And don't take a general listing, expecting any agent to come along and sell your house. What agent will bother when they are putting all their energy into building relationships with exclusive vendors."



Leila McDonald, of Barfoot & Thompson, Remuera, who was New Zealand's top real estate sales person for 2000, says it's important that both vendors and purchasers trust her. They do so because she is 100 per cent honest. People like her "black and white approach," she says. "I am very direct in my answers. People know me for that."



Denise Pollard, Harcourts' top residential sales person, has also found favour with her straightforward, honest approach. "I'm really straight up with the good, the bad and the ugly. If a property isn't worth it, I would rather tell them what they need to know. I'm not there to stroke their ego."



"Treat it like a job interview," adds Stanley Armon, of Barfoot & Thompson, Epsom. "Leave no questions unanswered. If I were a vendor I would ring those references. Do a check-up and ask them whether they would re-employ the salesperson. Were they happy with every aspect of the sale?"



Thom adds: "Don't just treat your meeting with a salesperson as a professional interview. It's more of a conversation. You need to see that you're on the same wavelength. You'll be with them for 40 to 60 days. And with any luck they'll be on your doorstep every other day. So ask yourself, 'Do I feel comfortable about trusting this person to sell my house for me?'"



Joanne Mimmack, of Ray White Realty Solutions, Mairangi Bay, recommends a bit of legwork to narrow down your options. "Look at operators active in your neighbourhood. Drive around and check out the agent's visibility, indicated by the signage outside homes. Note the 'solds' as well.



"Skim through the community property media as well as the Herald, to see who is placing real estate advertising. When real estate fliers come through your mail-box, check the agent's name and the effectiveness of their promotion.



"Go and introduce yourself to the agents that seem worthy of your consideration. Tell them you are looking to sell and you would prefer to deal with someone who has good knowledge, even someone who lives in your area."



She suggests people should look for highly visible offices and a good, clear, well-organised window display. "Check the hours they open and close. If they open early and close late and are also prepared to work flexible hours, you'll know they're keen to do their best for you. Make sure offices are consistently manned with a good office manager."



Once you've narrowed down your agents, says Mimmack, talk to people in your area and look for personal recommendations. "Consult people who have bought and sold property in your neighbourhood. Word of mouth is a useful guide to establish performance."



Go to their open homes, she says, and check how they present somebody else's home. Do they just stand at the door or do they explain the home's features and benefits? See if they follow up the potential sales lead you have given them. How do they come across to you, the potential buyer? You can learn a lot about a sales person when you come across them as a prospective purchaser.



While this process gives clues about the salesperson's ability to present and market a property, you will also form a more instinctive impression about that person. "Above all," adds Mimmack, "a vendor must trust and feel comfortable with the consultant they choose. If you have good rapport with a salesperson, you can form a relationship of trust. Then you can work alongside one another and achieve the most rewarding result for both parties."



A lot has got to do with attitude, says Ross Hunter of Harveys. "How positive are they about getting a result? They have to be results-driven. A proven track record gives confidence, but if the salesperson is brand new and hungry, it can be an advantage, so long as they have good back-up team support. Experience is important, but desire gets the job done."



Barry Thom says people need to feel they are getting a champion for their home. "When you interview somebody, you get a feel for their motivation. Ask yourself, 'Do they believe in my property and are they prepared to work hard on my behalf?' It's the intrinsic attitudinal approach that you buy into. They must have a genuine enthusiasm for your property."



A working relationship


Vendors should feel certain that their real estate person is doing their utmost to sell their home. Real estate people who work hard for their clients quickly gain a reputation for that commitment. Pollard says she often talks to her home owners every day. "It's a very close working relationship. I have a personal assistant so that allows me to work a bit more than the average Joe Bloggs. She does all the paperwork. And I get out there and face-to-face a bit more. I am religious about following up. And I'm really strict about written reports."



Says MacDonald: "I work hard for clients. I look after people. And I am always available to them."



Home owners want to be treated as if they are your only client, says Armon. That means always returning phone calls promptly, and giving them your absolute best. "I am pedantic to the nth degree. I go that extra mile, making sure I have 99.9 per cent of the answers."



The personal touch


"The best agent," says Sumich, "isn't the one with 43 offices. It comes down to the person with their name on the sign, who is talking to your buyers. That's the most important person."



Thom says to pick the person first, the company second and a process third. It's the personal relationship that counts most.



Coming from smaller agencies, Sumich and Thom might seem biased. But Hunter, who is from Harveys, an agency with many branches scattered around the country, agrees. "When vendors take on an agent, they decide on the person, not the company."



People are sometimes drawn to the larger agencies with a network of branches, in the belief that they have ready buyers on their databases. But Thom argues that all agencies, no matter how small, have databases with potential buyers. And they might all be the same buyers.



"Buyers don't have loyalties because they are product-driven. They don't care where they go. They will buy from Mickey Mouse Real Estate. We don't have to find the buyers. They find us. That's their job. People become buyers as a result of seeing a house that appeals. Our job is to create buyers by presenting homes in a way that's exciting."





* We welcome your comments and ideas. Please send them to Real Estate Summer Feature, The New Zealand Herald, PO Box 32, Auckland.