There are two magic words every consumer should know when considering a real estate agent and I almost never hear them. The two words form a question rarely if ever asked; in 2008 only one client of mine (I have 40+ listings) made the inquiry. I was only to happy to answer, because it gave me the segue I was looking for in my listing presentation. Very powerful question, too. But I had to wait until Novermber of this year to hear it for the first time!
The two words are: "How Many," as in "How many homes have you sold in the past year?" or "how many homes in our area have you sold this quarter?" This is the full monty of credentials.
I can't imagine how much stress and heartache (to say nothing of money lost) that could have been averted if consumers had asked this question of the horde of inexperienced and new agents who flooded the market in the hot market of 2002-2005 who raised screwing things up to a high art. This damaged our profession's reputation and made things harder for everyone. It was quasi-understandable to list a home with Aunt Flo or Cousin Ralph in the hot market when a sale was almost a certainty, and troubleshooting and due diligence weren't on either the neophyte agent or seller's radar. Of course, they'd find out later that the shed or bathroom were out of compliance, or that the buyer wasn't qualified. An experienced agent catches these things before they present a problem.
What got me thinking of this is the rising number of agents who now tout themselves as "short sale specialists," which happens to be a transaction type I do in large volume. OK, short sale specialist, HOW MANY short sales have you successfully closed the past year? Does anyone ask? They must not, because I have witnessed first hand some specialists of one variety or another cutting their teeth on my dime. And what is galling is that they got the listing by obfuscating facts ("My office/company sells lots of homes!") or getting the consumer to buy what they say at face value ("I've been selling real estate for 35 years!")
It goes beyond that, though. Prospective sellers should, but seldom ask "specialists" or "top producers" HOW MANY transactions they have closed in their category. How their team or office does, or how long they've been around don't cut to the heart of the matter. Here are a few unfounded claims I have seen just in the past 24 hours:
- Short sale specialist ( never closed one, but attended an office seminar)
- (Location) specialist (no listings in <Location>)
- Investment/Multi-unit specialist (no listings, period)
- Condo/co op specialist (none listed)
- Award-winning producer (in 1998)
- Top producer (top of what?)
- Multi-million dollar producer (utterly misleading, could mean as little as one sale in my market)
I really see nothing unfair about asking a guy how many short sales, multi-family, or downtown Shlabotnikville homes he's sold if he claims to be such a heavy hitter. It separates the contenders from the pretenders, and it might be fun in a sadistic sort of way to see him squirm if he knows he has no juice. And there is no prerequisite for big numbers, either. There is nothing wrong with an agent without flashy numbers to say "I don't sell a house a week. I have a few clients I work with at any one time and I focus on their service. Here are three references who closed with me in the past 6 months." That is impressive to me, and I DO sell a house a week.
So if you are consumer, and you are evaluating an agent, ask "How many?" and demand a specific answer. It will most likely save you lots of trouble down the road.