What to expect from your listing agent

Make sure you know what services you need and what an agent is prepared to do for you before you sign a contract.

The moment you decide to sell your house, you're faced with a long list of decisions and chores. A listing agent can help you through the process, from listing to closing.

You're putting a major financial transaction into his or her hands. And once you sign a contract, you must stay with that agent or firm for the duration, typically two to six months. You will pay a pre-agreed commission of four to seven percent of the sale price of your home or a flat fee stipulated in your contract. So meet with several listing agents and ask about their plans for marketing your home. Here's a guide to what you can expect a listing agent to do for you.

A competitive market analysis
After doing extensive background research, an agent should present you with a detailed and free competitive market analysis (CMA). The CMA compares your house to similar homes in your area that have recently sold based on size, features and market data, including current economic conditions, crime statistics and school information. Using this information, the agent suggests a listing price.

Recommended improvements
The listing agent tours your home and suggests improvements that will increase its appeal to potential buyers. Buyers are attracted to houses that don't require much work and your agent may recommend you do some minor repairs, install new carpet, redecorate or paint.

Marketing plan
Go over an agent's detailed marketing plan thoroughly before you sign a listing contract. Here are a few common marketing techniques you can expect an agent to include in the plan:

  • the "For Sale " sign in your yard, which should identify the agent, the agent's company and give a phone number. Make sure that there will be somebody on the other end of that number from morning till night, seven days a week, to answer any questions from house-hunters.
  • fliers that include a picture of your home and a description of its size and features. A box of fliers can be attached to the For Sale sign. Your agent may also distribute fliers to other real estate offices in the area, which may have clients who are looking for a home like yours.
  • a preview of your house for other real estate agents. The tour usually takes place within the first week or two your house is on the market. Ideally, the agents will return with clients. You may want to offer a perk such as food or a raffle to entice agents to attend.
  • a listing in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which is a database of all the homes in a given area that are listed by registered users (which includes the vast majority of agents). Your listing agent will write up a listing that details your home's qualities and attach a photo. Other agents will see it when searching the database for properties that match their clients' criteria. You may want your house to be listed in several MLSs, as some areas overlap.
  • advertising in local newspapers, magazines and the Internet, which can generate viewings of your home by house-hunters. According to a 2003 survey of homebuyers and sellers conducted by the National Association of REALTORS, 93 percent of homebuyers use the Internet to search for homes.
  • open houses, which -- like ads -- are meant to generate traffic through your home and create some word-of-mouth interest.
  • showings of your home. Your listing agent should coordinate times to show it to potential buyers and for other agents and their clients to see the house. Your agent should give you enough warning that viewers are coming so that you can tidy up the house. He or she should also give you feedback from the people that tour your home, which will help you improve it for the next showing.

Offers and closing
Soon after your home goes on the market, offers should begin to come in. Your listing agent can ensure that potential buyers have adequate financing, though you may still require buyers to have pre-approval from a lending institution. The agent can also accompany the inspector when he or she examines your house, help you negotiate a sale and estimate closing costs.