Getting the right agent is crucial when putting your home on the market.
When you hire an agent to sell your home, you spend quite a bit of money at closing, but what are you actually paying for? It really depends on who you hire and how they perform their duties. Unfortunately, many sellers end up hiring what we refer to as “real estate secretaries” – someone who enters the listing into the MLS, puts up their sign, (maybe) answers calls, fills out a contract, and shows up at closing to get their check. When sellers see bare-minimum service like this, they ask “Why am I paying them thousands of dollars to do so little?” and they are right to question this.
Being well represented as a seller goes beyond not just getting your value out of your listing commission in the form of great marketing, communication, and follow-up. The process of selling a property involves multiple parties, legally binding contracts, and many complex steps before closing, so it must be executed diligently, to avoid the risk of large expenses and even lawsuits. It is your agent’s knowledge, advice, guidance, and experience (or lack thereof) which will make the difference here. This is where the value is found in information that you can’t just get from Google and wing it. A seasoned, thorough, detail-oriented agent will have those skills, which prove to be priceless in many situations.
While these concepts all sound good, let’s look at a real life example which came up very recently. The seller of a property had some previous title work done with a title company and was under the impression that if the buyer used their title company, then the seller would save significant closing fees. So, the seller told the listing agent to mandate that the buyer must close with their title company. First of all, the seller was mistaken about the closing costs, since most closing costs are the buyer’s responsibility and a seller’s fees typically only run $250-$500 at closing, and often less. Far more important however was the fact that by mandating the closing company, the seller (and agent) were actually violating the Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act (RESPA), a federal law that governs the sale and purchase of residential property. This law “prohibits a seller from requiring the home buyer to use a particular title insurance company, either directly or indirectly, as a condition of sale.” (Reference: HUD RESPA Section 9) Violating this section of RESPA allows a buyer to sue the seller for up to 3 times the amount of the title insurance, so with a typical title insurance cost of $800-$1200, the liability to the seller is $2400-$3600 (probably in addition to attorney fees etc), all to try to save at most $500.
Not only was I concerned about putting everyone in the transaction in a position to be sued if something were to go wrong with the title, but I also wanted to have a different set of eyes on the title work to be sure that it all gets processed correctly. I emailed my concerns to the listing agent, citing the federal law and the liability vs. potential benefit for the sellers, and the sellers decided that it, indeed, was in their best interest to not push this issue with my buyer. All of this happened in the background without upsetting my buyer and causing them unnecessary stress.
“Real estate secretaries” will not anticipate issues such as this one, and often lead the seller into dangerous territory, where expensive litigation or other financial losses could result. So, when you interview and choose a listing agent, keep in mind that the discount commission charged by an inexperienced agent or one who rushes through everything very superficially can ultimately cost you far more than an agent who has the experience, knowledge, and skills to keep you out of trouble and to maximize your profits at closing.