Secret to Choosing the Right Listing Agent

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] know what you are thinking. You must expect this article to be totally biased. I am running a brokerage, after all, and I have all the incentive to tell you to list your home with our agents, right? To many people’s surprise, I face the same problem as you every day: “Where can I hire a great real estate agent?” Because I deal with this every day, I do believe there is merit in what I have to say.

As a cofounder of a boutique brokerage, hiring great agents is one of my primary responsibilities. Our agents are the most direct way clients perceive our brand. National brands like Century 21, RE/MAX, Keller Williams, Sotheby’s and Coldwell Bankers are primarily interested in having as many agents as possible (that’s how they create brand awareness, by having lots of people talking for them), and thus they’d hire anyone with a real estate license who is not a criminal. Being a boutique brokerage, we represent the other end of the spectrum. We create brand awareness with quality, not by quantity. In fact, our brokerage does not hire anyone who comes to us; we hire agents by invitation only.

There are so many real estate agents out there. Some real estate agents brag about their experience as a Realtor. Some agents appeal to sellers as “new-generation” and “tech-savvy.” Some like to compete by charging lower commissions. So how should you choose?

Before I became a real estate broker, I had been acquiring, renovating, developing and selling residential properties full time. I have hired many real estate agents and have seen the pros and cons. Therefore, I also speak in the shoes of a home seller, not just as a brokerage co-founder.

Choose experienced agents?

As we’ve talked about in a previous article, many experienced real estate agents are holding on to the old way of doing things and not open to creative strategies. In this fast-paced age of innovation, we have seen plenty once-successful brands failing (Sears, BlackBerry, AOL, Blockbuster, Kodak, you name it) for being

complacent and not opening up to new ideas. Coming from a tech background myself, I’d stay away from real estate agents that are too experienced. You probably won’t believe it. I have seen real estate agents printing out multiple digitally signed PDF documents and then scanning them again. I was quite puzzled about what they were trying to achieve. As it turned out, they didn’t know how to combine multiple PDF files into one and printing and scanning was the only way they knew how. =.=’ No wonder they need to charge a higher commission “for being experienced;” it takes them twice the time to do the same task. A common sign of these agents is they are still using personal email addresses from decades ago ( or email addresses).


Choose young agents?

So how about younger agents? They are more tech savvy and more open to new ways of doing things. That’s very true. Unfortunately, real estate is the kind of industry where you can’t serve your clients without enough firsthand experience. I’d argue one can’t be a good real estate agent before owning three homes himself. If you meet a young agent, ask him how many homes he has owned in the past. One that frequently buys and sells his own homes tend to have keener market vision and is usually more of a doer rather than a talker. Sadly, they are few and far between. One valid concern many have with young agents is that they may not have made enough mistakes to steer their clients away from the same hazards.

Choose discounted agents?

Some real estate agents charge a lower commission to attract sellers, both experienced and young. I am sure you can understand why young agents offer a discount. They don’t have a lot of experience yet, and without a creative business strategy and differentiation, discounting their (limited) expertise is the only way to compete. I’m less forgiving of an experienced discount agent. I’d ask, “Are you so desperate because your former clients never return or refer you to others?” That’s worth pondering.

My mentor once made this analogy: If, God forbid, you ever need brain surgery, would you hire a brain surgeon that offers you a discount?

Choose a friend’s referral?

If you have a friend who has hired over 10 different agents in 10 different transactions (buying or selling) and ended up using one agent for another 10 real estate transactions, you should listen to your friend. Otherwise, a referral from a friend that bought or sold a single home is just luck of a draw. Probability-wise, you end up about average. That’s exactly why I’d never recommend any appliance brand to clients. I simply have not had enough broken refrigerators to qualify as an expert in appliances. Yes, I bought lots of refrigerators for my renovation projects, but they were all new and within warranty. If you’re looking for refrigerator advice, you’re asking the wrong person. I always refer people to independent testing labs, such as ConsumerReports. Unfortunately, there is no independent test lab for real estate agents in this world. As an insider, I know each agent review site has a way for agents to improve their own ratings. That’s how the site’s developers make money and keep the site going.

Choose Excellence

By now, I hope I have convinced you that experience, age, cost and referral should not be your focus in hiring an agent. What you should look for is the trait of excellence. Excellence is a broad word, but exploring all the elements of excellence (honesty, integrity, hardworking, intelligent, etc.) isn’t the goal of this article and I’ll leave the definition of excellence to the readers. Instead, I’ll focus on how to look for it.

Let’s be realistic, real estate is a second career for many real estate professionals. I have never seen an agent graduate from college and get their first job as a real estate agent. More often than not, people turn to real estate during their quarter-life crisis or mid-life crisis. During those crises, people are unsatisfied with their lives and are looking for a change. There is nothing wrong with changing careers. I actually think it’s better for society as a whole if everyone has the courage to change careers and pursue the job they are good at and enjoy at the same time.

Ever since I started practicing real estate, I paid close attention to what made an agent great. Here are the common traits I found among those with whom I’ve had the privilege to working (outside of my own brokerage). They all became agents as a second career. Instead of being eliminated in their prior careers, they were rock stars and top performers. They CHOSE to use their skills in the real estate field they love. Excellence is a trait that follows a person. A person of excellence would do their best no matter what field they are in.  To them, being in a less-than-perfect career is simply not an excuse to be average.

At the risk of sounding like a braggart, I illustrate with my own experience. My prior career was in software. I was one of the 1% of engineers selected to work on a highly complex system. I had industry-respected publications and was a patent holder and at the age of 20 and 22. I started to invest in real estate because I spotted the market opportunities and had loved architecture since I was a child. I got my license to become a Realtor, not because I needed to make a living but because my friends found out I knew way more about real estate than their real estate agents and I wouldn’t be able to help my friends without a license.

The easiest way to identify prior excellence is to read an agent’s profile. When you read a profile and find satisfaction and pride in a real estate agent’s prior career, that’s usually a good sign. If you can hardly find an agent’s prior career in the profile, his prior performance was probably lackluster. Keep in mind this is a rule of thumb and there are always exceptions. However, if I were you, I probably won’t bet on exceptions.

The inherent desire for excellence is what I look for when hiring real estate agents. So should you.

In the end, if you want to see a live example of excellence in real estate, you are always welcome to contact us at the Cal Agents.

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