When I talk to someone who felt that their last real estate agent was awful, I usually find that the amount of time the person spent looking for their real estate agent was minimal. Often they just used a real estate agent referred by a friend, or looked them up in the phone book, and that was all they did to qualify the agent. Referrals are great and can mean a lot, but if you want maximum value, you still need to spend a little time sorting through your options before you make a decision. Often people assume they don’t know enough about the business of real estate to be able to identify a great real estate agent. This is not true! Real estate is not rocket science; it is the passionate, creative application of experience, common sense, people skills and hard work. This article was designed to give you some ideas on what to look for, and how to find a GREAT real estate listing agent in Santa Rosa, Windsor and the surrounding area.
A good real estate listing agent can bring tremendous value to the real estate transaction. They can help you identify the correct market price for your home and help you sell it faster, and they can be a tremendous reassurance during the escrow process.
A bad real estate agent on the other hand, can make the experience painful and can even stop you from selling your home for the maximum value. Unfortunately with the crazy real estate market we had a few years ago in Santa Rosa and the surrounding area , far too many people became licensed real estate agents for the wrong reasons. Some of them really don’t know real estate at all. I’ve met a few that can’t even spell it. It is my expectation (and hope) that many of these real estate agents will disappear now that the market has cooled off. Meanwhile, YOU have to be careful, and PICKY.
To begin with, if you have used a particular listing agent in Santa Rosa or the surrounding area previously, and you felt the agent did an exceptional job handling your transaction, I recommend that you consider using that agent again. If their performance was “Good” (not exceptional), keep them on your list but look around for a possible upgrade. If your last agent was less than good, take them off your list. I don’t care if they ARE related to you, because you deserve a great real estate agent and they really do exist.
As you start your process of finding a real estate agent, a great way to get insight to the agent is simply from visiting the agent's website and reading about their philosophies. Beware of agents websites that lack personal and creative content. What percentage of the agent’s site is devoted to “selling” you something and what percentage is for helping you learn about real estate? If everything on the website is just a corporate shell, or "copy and paste" kind of information, you will not learn any relevant information about the real estate agent. Ideally, the agent will have a personal website and hopefully a BLOG giving you plenty of opportunity to judge the agent’s understanding of real estate, experience, and personal approach to issues.
I have met listing agents that barely know how to pull-up a listing in the MLS. They can’t post a property photo without help and don’t even know what Microsoft Excel is all about. For the vast majority of real estate agents, the computer is where all the market data and number crunching is analyzed. The truth is, real estate agents with strong computer skills can help you identify the best price for your home and help you sell it faster than most agents without computer skills.
Ask a potential listing agent if they download data from the MLS, use Excel analytics, RELAY, and digital form management. The Santa Rosa MLS is a huge repository of important market data, but (my personal opinion) it stinks for property analysis. I want to see data trends at the neighborhood level, graphs for activity and relative percentages, I want great property analysis. The Bay Area MLS won’t do this for you, it will only give you the raw information and you have to be really good on a computer to do a great property analysis.
The Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) is one tool that a Santa Rosa listing agent will use to determine the proper listing price for a home. Remember, however, that the data used for any market analysis comes from SOLD homes. Therefore, we are looking at "what has happened in the past". Of course, what we are TRYING to find, is some kind of a predictor for what is going to happen in the future. For this reason, it is the interpretation of the data that makes the CMA a powerful tool, not the data itself. This skillful interpretation of the data is what makes the CMA as much an art as it is a science.
One of the first mistakes a novice Realtor© or real estate listing agent often makes is a poorly done CMA. Too often the novice, or a For Sale By Owner, thinks that simply comparing the subject properties in a side-by-side fashion is all there is to a CMA. This often causes the owner of the property to over or under-price the property. The strong seller's market we had in Santa Rosa, Windsor and the surrounding area in recent times, brought with it a huge increase in new agents. Some thought the real estate business was easy, and at that time, it was easy.
During the last seller’s market, if a real estate listing agent overstated the value of the property, it was only a matter of time before the market caught up to them and they were eventually able to sell the home. They never really needed to learn how to perform an accurate CMA. Today a correct analysis is critical and requires more than simply lining up other same-size-same-bath properties and taking a stab at the value. Often, these same real estate listing agents make the problem even worse by avoiding the difficult conversation with their clients about a price drop in a timely fashion. These delays simply mean that the market has gotten that much worse and the correct pricing adjustment is comparatively painful.
The best way to avoid this is to get a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) from several potential Realtors© or agents within your local area. Good agents do this all the time and there is no obligation on your part. Once you have done this, don’t just pick the listing agent with the highest price; use the one that appears to have put the most work into the CMA. Who has the best data? Who made the most compelling case to support their finding? This small effort on your part is one of the biggest windows you will have on the agent’s future performance. Finally, ask the real estate listing agent what they think about listing your home at 15% more than the CMA shows. What is the agent’s answer? If the agent says “I think that listing price is too high, but we can give it a try and see what happens”; you have a problem. A good listing agent should be able to confidently show you why this price won’t work and aggressively strive to help you become comfortable with a proper listing price. This is one of the main things that you hire them for. Read my article on “How to price your home” to help get a feeling for how important this is.
Despite the fact that the Internet has become as pervasive in the real estate business, as it is in every other part of life, the truth about real estate is that it is a "local business". There are countless internet sites telling you that they can help you buy or sell a house. They say they are experts in every market in the country. Some of them even offer vacuum cleaners, and “free” college degrees. How handy is that? Big problem is that most of them are not LOCAL.
One of the huge benefits a real estate agent can provide to you is knowledge of the LOCAL market in Santa Rosa, Windsor and the surrounding area. In my opinion, any real estate agent that is trying to suggest that they are an expert for all of Sonoma County is highly suspect. Personally, I don’t know of any real estate agents that are (or could be) experts for all of Sonoma County. I do know great real estate agents who literally specialize in specific neighborhoods within Santa Rosa, Windsor, or Rohnert Park, etc. Any listing agent that makes it to your "short list" should be living and working in your area, not two counties away.
One of the questions you should ask a potential Realtor© or listing agent is "how many active listings do you currently have? More often than not, a real estate listing agent is proud to boast that they have a HUGE number of listings. I know of agents that have had more than 30 listings at one time in the Santa Rosa /Windsor area. Even if this agent works a 60 hour week, each property will only get an average of two hours per week. That is if the agent does nothing else all week long. You do not want a 2-hour per week agent. The fact is, the more active listings that an agent has, the less attention that you will receive. They have to divide their available time over each of their clients. Personally I think a maximum of four or five active listings in a buyers market is about right, perhaps six in a sellers market. It’s all about the attention and time you have available to SELL the property, so go ahead and ask.
Oh, yeah. Ask for referrals from people you know that have actually USED the agent they are referring and then check the referral out. Ask why the person is referring the real estate agent. If their referral is because they “like” them or because the real estate agent is their cousin, be cautious. What you are really looking for are people who have bought or sold a home in the Santa Rosa area using a particular real estate agent and liked the job they did for them. This means a lot. Great real estate agents truly care about creating long-term relationships with clients and will work really hard to keep them happy.
When evaluating a Realtor© or real estate listing agent, be sure to ask whether or not the agent will provide you with a detailed marketing plan, specific to your particular property. Also, do they intend to sign this document thereby committing their performance as stated? This helps avoid “agent hype” where the moon is promised, but all you get is a big round cheese. The marketing plan for selling your home should have specific tasks and dates for completion. When properly implemented, the plan really helps all parties see exactly where they are in the progression of the sale.
One of the most important things you can do to help sell your Santa Rosa or Windsor home, is to stage the house. In its simplest form, this might consist of a good housecleaning, clutter removal, and rearranging some furniture. A more in-depth staging process might include removing some furniture from the home and placing it in storage, changing the color scheme in certain rooms, or updating the exterior and front entryway.
If you have watched the many television programs showing home makeovers, you have also seen the dramatic improvement in the buyer’s perception of the home. These same results are often possible in Santa Rosa with a properly staged house. Therefore, part of your real estate listing agent selection process should involve a conversation about staging. What are the agents staging plans? Will a professional stager be involved in the process? Is there an additional cost? Does the agent have any particular education or certifications with regards to staging?
All licensed real estate agents in California are required to perform their duties under the supervision of a California licensed real estate BROKER. The experience, education and licensing requirements for a broker are much more difficult than they are for a real estate agent. In Santa Rosa, a California licensed real estate broker is able to work independently, without supervision. There are some great real estate agents in Santa Rosa who simply don’t want to hassle with a broker license, so it is not universally true that a real estate broker will have more knowledge and experience than a real estate agent. However, I do think that more often than not, a BROKER license is a big plus. Brokers are available in two different flavors, "Independent Brokers" and "Broker- agents". Broker- agents are licensed real estate brokers who have completed all the requirements for a broker's license but they still work under the supervision of a company broker. This is common in the larger real estate franchises in the Santa Rosa area. Independent brokers have typically started their own real estate brokerage company. I find that the smaller brokerages are able to provide more personal, client-specific service than the larger offices, AND it is MUCH easier to avoid Dual Agency with the smaller brokerage. As a Broker myself, I am of course completely biased in this opinion.
Look at the Realtor© or agent’s current or past listings for property in the Bay Area MLS, what do you see? If you see there are just a few photos of the property, or the photos are poor quality, there is a problem. I have seen Santa Rosa listing agents post photos that were so bad you could not even tell what you are looking at. The verbiage in the listing should also be compelling, not corny or lazy. The MLS (IDX) provides far more exposure to your home for sale than any other advertising vehicle there is. This is the single most important advertisement you will have and this is where all the action happens, so your listing should be GREAT. The very first thing a cooperating buyers-agent will do to locate a property for a client, is to jump on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and look to see what is out there and how it is priced. In my opinion, any agent who doesn't spend the small amount of time required to take maximum advantage of every advertising aspect of the MLS, is NOT the agent you want to represent you.
There are many, many different professional “designations” which a real estate agent can earn. Sometimes a real estate agent’s business card looks like a hodge-podge of abbreviations. One question worth asking is; “Do the real estate designations mean anything? Well, in my opinion, the answer is; “Yes, but only sort of”.
I agree with many other real estate professionals who feel that too often the required proficiency of the subject matter included in some designations is so minimal as to make the actual designation meaningless. That nasty little bit of truth aside, I do agree that the very fact that the real estate agent went to the effort to earn the designation is a good thing, in and of itself. Honestly, the California Department of Real Estate requirements for a real estate license are not terribly demanding. I am not saying that a monkey can pass the real estate test, but there sure are a lot of banana peels floating around the DRE test site. Anyway, the fact that a Santa Rosa or Windsor real estate agent has invested the time and effort to increase their knowledge about real estate is a good thing. It is an indication that they have worked to improve their skill set.
The point is; I have met or worked with a few "licensed real estate agents" that didn't have the first clue about real estate. If they don't understand the fundamental essence of the business, adding little designations on top of this ignorance isn’t going to make them a great real estate agent. So, in my opinion, the designations are nice, but they do NOT relieve you of the responsibility of thoroughly checking out the real estate agent . You should ask a potential agent what makes them great. If the only answer they have is “I have some designations”, then dig deeper.
Another difference between real estate agents is their professional and civic activities. Agents that display the REALTOR© logo are members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and have agreed to be bound by a written code of ethics that is higher than the minimum requirement. In addition to the NAR, there are also state and local associations such as the California Association of Realtors (CAR) and the Santa Rosa Chapter of Realtors. There are of course many other professional and civic organizations that a real estate agent could be active in. All these memberships and activities indicate the agent is involved in their profession and community, both of which positively influence their performance as your agent.
Listing agents in Santa Rosa and the surrounding area can work for large companies or small companies, and there always seems to be a pride battle between the two. The larger firms’ stress that they have the ability to buy big advertising spreads in the local papers and other publications, the smaller companies stress their expertise and individual attention to the client.
To some degree, both are true. The question really is; which has the greater benefit to a person selling a home? My own completely biased opinion is that the large advertising budgets really don’t do much for the Seller. Statistics show that very few (less than 5%) of people who purchase a home, found that home in the print media. Most new properties hit the Santa Rosa market through the Bay Area MLS and savvy buyer-agents check several times per day for new properties that meet their clients’ needs. People do not use the printed versions much any more because by the time a property has finally gone to print (one to three weeks), if the property was really HOT, it is gone by the time a buyer sees the ad. Buyers are always looking for the HOT deals first. The National Association of Realtors statistics show that 80% of people begin their real estate transaction on the internet. Not in the printed media.
The biggest issue (in my opinion) with the larger real estate companies is the increased chance you will be stuck in a Dual Agency situation. This is strictly a law of numbers and the more agents a company has, the higher chance that a buyer that likes your home is working with that company. This is Dual Agency and you should read my article “Dangers of Dual Agency” (Click Here to read) to understand why this is a bad, bad thing. Using a smaller agency still gives you access to that exact same buyer, but allows you to avoid the problems with Dual Agency.
I also think there is a much greater chance of getting an inexperienced real estate agent from a large company. All real estate agents have to start their career somewhere, but the smaller firms tend to have fewer, more experienced real estate agents just to survive. Some of the larger real estate companies rely, to some extent, on having a large number of real estate agents cycle through their organization. The theory is that if they hire enough people, some of them will be good agents. This of course means that some of them are not good agents. It’s a bit of a toss-up as to which one will you get for your transaction.
It is just a numbers game. If they have 1,000 real estate agents and each agent only brings one client per year, the company will still have 1,000 transactions to pay the rent. The smaller company, on the other hand, could not survive with only one client per agent per year. The smaller companies must work extra hard to hire talented agents and make sure they keep every client happy to maximize the chance of a referral or repeat business. At the smaller companies, you are not client number 958, you are probably client number 15. The small firms really tend to be very client-focused and in many cases your real estate agent will be the owner of the company. With David Harts Realty, you always work with the Owner/Broker.
In the Santa Rosa area, I have not found a direct correlation between how long a person has been in the real estate business, and their ability to be a great real estate agent. Certainly the longer a person has been working in real estate, the more experience they should have which could be used to your advantage in a real estate transaction. Unfortunately, I often find this experience is offset by an unwillingness to embrace change, or a lack of enthusiasm towards the real estate profession. Real estate is CONSTATNLY changing. New laws, new technologies and younger clients are pushing these changes.
Newer, often younger real estate agents in the Santa Rosa area, lack the years of experience to help them solve the inevitable problems which occur in every real estate transaction. Sure they know what a “pod-cast” is and how to web-enable your phone for listings, but sometimes they don’t know do-dah about selling real estate. That said, there are times when this inexperience is offset by a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, fresh ideas, energy for hard work, and sometimes great success, simply because they didn't know they “should” fail. Youth has it’s advantages.
Personally, I think that years of experience has an edge over energy and enthusiasm, I also know that the most accurate predictor of talent is the research that YOU do to find a real estate agent, combined with your own "common sense" interpretation of the information that you discover.
I suggest that you identify at least two listing agents whom you would consider working with. Be sure that at least one of these agent possibilities is not a friend or relative. This is not to say that your friend or relative isn't capable, but rather that stretching a friendship to include advice on something as important as selling your home, can often have disastrous consequences on the friendship. Selling a home in the Santa Rosa or Windsor area is going to be a lot of work for you and you want the best resources available for your use. Anyway, now that I have made your Cousin Vinnie upset, pick your top two favorites (including Vinnie if you want) and contact them to schedule an interview. I highly recommend that this interview be face-to-face, NOT over the telephone. You can learn so much more about a person by speaking with them first-hand than you can learn over the telephone.
As long as I am making your relatives mad at me, let me say one more thing. Do not even consider using a “part-time” real estate agent. You want a full-time real estate agent that lives and breaths real estate. Honestly, even with 26 years of experience in the real estate business, I still learn new things every single day. A part-time agent simply is not exposed to the constantly changing real estate market frequently enough to really know the best deals, and how to get them.
It is very important that the real estate agent’s personality and viewpoints about real estate are comfortable for you, the client. In all probability, you will be spending a fair amount of time working with this person as you sell your home. If this is an unpleasant experience for you, or if you keep thinking that your real estate agent "just doesn’t get it", this process will seem endless. What you are looking for, is someone you can trust and whose personality and viewpoints on real estate are in sync with your own. Have a conversation with the real estate agent about their business, professional experience, and client goals.
Write down as many questions you can think of about how the Realtor© or agent will perform their job. Theseshould include details about theMLS listing, yard signs, company website, single-property website, print, postcards, email, magazines, and brochures. You should ask the agent about their perspective on the real estate market in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. You should also ask about how they perform open houses, and how often. Will there be a virtual tour or slide show and if so, will this cost extra? Who takes the property photos and what do samples look like? What suggestions does the agent have for easy improvements to the property that can be done before the listing? What hours (and days) is the agent available to show the home? Honestly any question about your property that you can think of is OK. There are no dumb questions.