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7 tasks to tackle before calling a listing agent

When you sell your home, you’ll likely get an earful of advice about finding the right agent. You’re less likely to hear what you should do before your first meeting with that agent. If you don’t prepare, you could suffer financial consequences, according to Herman Chan, a real estate broker in San Francisco.

“Anything you can do to make (the agent’s) job easier is going to benefit you during the process and when sale time comes,” Chan says. “What’s important to remember is that you’re mostly likely going to be working very closely with this person on a very big transaction, so it’s a good idea to be prepared and ready to provide them with as much information as possible right off the bat.”

Here are seven things the seller needs to do before contacting and hiring a real estate agent.

Research nearby home values

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Most sellers have an idea of what the home should list for, but the savviest sellers check comparable home values before meeting with a listing agent, says Rory Bolger, an agent with Citi Habitats in New York City.

“Give yourself a quick refresher on your local market, as conditions have likely changed since you bought,” he says. “The goal is for you and your agent to be on the same page in terms of the value. Sometimes you’ll find conditions will be in your favor, and sometimes you may be disappointed with the current market, (but) regardless of what you discover, your research will help you and your agent create a realistic plan for selling your home.”

Bolger advises sellers to look at recent comparable sales (known as “comps”) in the neighborhood. Sellers can find that information through online real estate sites. Sellers should be realistic, using homes with comparable square footage, the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and a similar level of amenities. It’s also important for sellers to consider their home’s condition relative to the comps.

Check the mortgage

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You have a rough idea of what you owe on the mortgage. Before meeting a listing agent, pull your loan documents and turn that estimate into a precise figure, says Chan.

Bankrate’s amortization calculator allows you to create a chart that shows how much you have paid and how much you still owe, based on the original loan amount, interest rate and when you got the loan.

“Knowing your loan amount upfront will help a Realtor know what strategy to take with your home,” he says. “If the amount you owe is more than the market value, then you’re underwater. Selling a short sale is totally different than an equity sale.”

Even if your home is in the black, Chan says it’s important to work with precise dollar amounts to help get a better estimate of what you stand to make from the sale. Depending on what the agent thinks you can get in the current market, that information might also make the difference between listing and waiting it out.

Find the lowest mortgage rate offered in your area.

Identify liens and disputes

Identify liens and disputes © Guy Shapira/

The easiest property to sell is unencumbered property. But that’s not always possible, according to Chan, who says the more a seller can tell him in advance about any liens and other issues that could hold up a sale, the better.

“Agents want to know about any issues like liens or property disputes so they can deal with them before the house hits the markets,” says Chan.

Think about any tax issues, disputes you have had with contractors or other problems that could have allowed a creditor to put a lien on the house. Likewise, Chan says, be upfront about disputes with neighbors, especially if they regard property lines, because it’s easier to settle those matters before listing the property. And if you’re selling a property that belonged to a deceased relative, Chan says, make sure the house has a clean title before contacting an agent.

Clean up the place

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It should go without saying that you want an agent to walk into a clean home. Believe it or not, some sellers have missed the message, according to Chantay Bridges, a senior real estate specialist with Clear Choice Realty & Associates in Los Angeles.

“Think of it as making a great first impression,” she says. “If the Realtor believes your home is fantastic, they will be persuaded to market it at a higher value. If they are convinced it’s a dump, they may be more likely to express feelings that make you feel they want you to give your home away.”

So what’s a seller to do? According to Bridges, it’s important to clean the home as if you’re having your relatives over for dinner.

“You wouldn’t have clothing on the floor or piled high if your in-laws were coming over,” she says.

But you shouldn’t limit your cleaning to inside the home.

“Curb appeal is major,” Bridges says. “You want the agent to have a mental picture of your home being a prize, so if you need to mow the lawn or prune the bushes, do it.”

Hold off on making improvements

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While it’s tempting to add value to your home ahead of listing, it’s better to hold off on improvements, at least until you’ve hired your agent.

“What you think is going to net you a return on investment may not be what’s trending in the market,” Chan says. “Your Realtor will know what the buyers in your area are asking for, and more importantly, what they will pay a premium for.”

But the danger isn’t just making the wrong upgrades, says Chan, who points out that most buyers have a limited budget for improvements.

“If you only want to spend a little money to fix up the place, that’s fine because an agent can work with that,” he says. “But if you’ve already spent that money, there really isn’t much that can be done.”

Working with an agent to determine what upgrades to make also has the benefit of objectivity, according to Chan.

“Sellers are always tempted to go overboard, but they shouldn’t because they’re moving,” he says. “If you run those decisions by an agent, they’ll help you stick to what’s necessary and keep you from making choices that are specific to your tastes, which might not appeal to buyers.”

Take stock of your upgrades

Take stock of your upgrades © Artazum and Iriana Shiyan/

While sellers shouldn’t make improvements in advance of hiring an agent, they should have the details on any upgrades they’ve made.

“It is very helpful as a listing agent to be provided with a list of upgrades or improvements that have been made to the home during the course of ownership,” says Clair Lee, an agent with Amanda Howard Real Estate in Huntsville, Ala. “These improvements can range from major expenditures such as additions, to smaller investments such as new carpet or flooring. But knowing about these updates can help us price your home correctly and market it effectively to buyers.”

But while Lee says listing agents want to know about the improvements, they don’t need to know what you spent.

“The price of updates is not as important as the fact that they have been made,” she says. “Real estate professionals will know what value is added to the home with the upgrades, and in most instances it’s more than the initial investment.”

Check your schedule

Check your schedule © Peter Bernik/

Sellers should give some advance thought to their schedules, according to Ziad Najm of Cedar Real Estate in South Orange County, Calif.

“Sellers should consider their daily schedules because that will help maximize the potential time that their property could be shown to prospective buyers,” Najm says. “Your agent should make recommendations for ideal showing times given market conditions, but the key is to be ready for the potential change in routine, if needed.”

In many cases, sellers may have to make some small adjustments to their lives during the listing process. Work schedules may need to be changed slightly to accommodate showings. And if a pet lives in the house, the seller should be prepared to put up the animal with a friend or neighbor for the day, especially for open houses.

“It comes down to scheduling and planning, but an agent needs to know your level of flexibility in order to make the listing work,” Najm says.


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