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How to Do It: The 10 questions a first-time seller must ask a real estate agent

Selling a house for the first time can be a bit daunting — and emotional. That house became a home as more and more cherished moments happened there — moments you’ll remember the rest of your life. Detaching yourself from that bond can be a difficult proposition. That’s where a professional real estate agent can help. And, selecting one who can maximize your investment is essential. Start with these questions to ask an agent when selling a house.


1—Do I need to work with a real estate agent at all?

The best real estate agents are trained and skilled in marketing your property and maximizing the value of your house. They are backed by experienced colleagues with a network of contacts that will deliver sales opportunities. They can connect you to professional services that may be needed to prepare your house for sale. Agents can access local market conditions and comparable market analysis (CMA) reports are essential to establishing the optimal sale price to attract buyers, while also evaluating offers and handling all the necessary paperwork. (And there is a lot of paperwork.) Since what is likely your largest investment is at stake, leave it to a real estate professional to navigate all aspects of your selling journey. Insider tip: Ask for a record of their sales performance to help determine their productivity.


2—What is your experience and what are your qualifications?

Get more information about how long an agent has been selling real estate; if they do it full- or part-time; and how many homes (and what type) they’ve sold in the past year. You may even want to get into more nitty-gritty details, such as the average length of time their listings take to sell and their list-to-sale ratio — that’s the percentage of the original asking price that a home ultimately sells for. (A top agent’s ratio? Well over 90 percent). All of these metrics will help you measure their success and understand if their experience is right for you and your home.


3—Do you have experience in my area or neighborhood?

Most real estate markets are hyper-localized, so having someone who understands your neighborhood is critical to getting the best price for your home. Find someone who specializes in your specific area, to ensure they know the ins and outs and have a pulse on exactly what buyers are looking for. That way, they’ll also have a good sense for what price will help you quickly sell your home, without leaving money on the proverbial table.


4—When should I sell my house?

Especially in the luxury realm, spring and fall are the traditional seasons to put your house on the market. What’s more, since families are concerned with enrolling their children in school by the end of the summer, spring is an especially ideal time to view homes that can close after the summer break. As a seller, the curb appeal of your house will be enhanced by sunnier days, blooming flowers and new foliage. (Although, crisp fall days and colorful foliage — when it happens — have their appeal, to be sure.)


While the season matters, local market conditions can vary. That’s where the special knowledge of an agent is invaluable in identifying the optimal time to put up the “For Sale” sign and commence the marketing plan, employing social media, digital advertising, open houses and more. If possible, coincide your sale with a seller’s market, when demand is outstripping supply and prices are at their peak.


5—How much should I sell my house for?

Establishing a realistic price is essential to attract offers. Your agent can provide you with the aforementioned CMA, which will provide the data you need to make the pricing decision, bearing in mind your agent’s advice. The CMA shows the historical sale value of comparable houses in your area based on square footage, lot size, upgrades, location, age, amenities and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms.


6—What is your marketing plan?

Once you choose an agent, that’s when the real work starts for them. The best agents make a clear plan of action that will help drive interest in your property and get the word out to prospective buyers. Simply listing your home on popular real estate sites isn’t enough. It takes a custom strategy employing many facets.  


Understand from your agent what other marketing materials they’ll put together, including high-quality professional images and a video. Perhaps they’ll also develop marketing materials such as flyers or direct mailers. Ask them about their social media strategy for your home, and what national or international sites your home will be listed on, because of the brokerage they are with. Experienced real estate agents with established brokerages, such as Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty, should be able to easily answer all of these questions — and more — about their marketing practices.


7—How long will it take to sell my house?

Recent statistics (October 2023) show that a house is on the market for just two weeks. That’s incredibly quick. Naturally, the timeline of a sale depends on many factors, including your local market and the home’s preparedness. Consider whether your house is move-in ready. Are there repairs required? Does it need a decorating update? Your agent can tell you what may need to be done to be ready for the market.


8—Should I stage my house?

Staging your home is a must. Statistics show that staged homes garner, on average, 20 percent more in price and sell quite a bit faster. At the very least, removing all of your personal effects allows buyers to imagine themselves in the home. The living room, kitchen, main bedroom and dining room take priority.


9—How much does it cost to stage my house?

Costs vary, but one thing is for certain: Staged homes sell much faster and for 20 percent more, on average. Of note, home staging usually requires a three-month contract, regardless of how quickly your house sells. Your real estate agent can put you in touch with professional stagers. With that potential to add 20 percent to your asking price, the cost-benefit outcome is clearly advantageous.


10—How can I increase the cost of my house?

Everyone wants to get a premium price for their home. Ask your real estate agent to assess the best value-added improvements that will increase the cost of your house. Curb appeal and interior upgrades can be expensive, but there are also some low-cost ways to enhance the value of your house. Even a new coat of paint, both inside and out, is an excellent way to give your house a facelift. Another fairly easy hack? Update lighting fixtures and door hardware for a more modern look. Consider replacing countertops or vanities. Refinishing your floors can make a big difference, especially if they are dated.


Inexpensive landscaping improvements include power-washing your siding and walkways as well as planting fresh flowers. If you have a wood deck or patio, make sure it’s in good condition. These are all things that potential buyers will notice quicky — and appreciate.


Move forward with excitement — and perhaps a handsome profit

Selling your first home will almost certainly be a sentimental journey. But, by getting answers from your agent to the 10 questions to ask when selling a house, you will be well-prepared to reap the rewards of your first real estate investment. You can confidently look ahead to your next adventure, when a new story will be told — and the new memories have a great new home. Contact Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty for experienced help in navigating the steps to a stress-free, successful, first-time sale.


More from our exclusive 'How to Do It' series, here.


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