In today's feeble housing market, home sellers need the guidance of a qualified real estate agent more than ever, says Judy Moore of Re/Max Landmark Realtors in Lexington, Mass. "You wouldn't go to an amateur to perform an operation on someone," she says. "It just doesn't make sense." Moore, a regional vice president of the National Association of Realtors, spoke with U.S. News about the value that real estate agents bring to property transactions and insisted that they are an indispensable part of the home-selling process. Excerpts:
Why would a home seller need an agent?
I've been in this for more than 22 years. So I've worked with a lot of people who thought that they might want to do it on their own. And it's much more complicated than just putting an ad in the paper and showing your house and having someone buy it—especially in this market. The value that a Realtor brings to the transaction is that they are able to provide services on so many different levels—things that sellers can't even anticipate in many cases—because they have that kind of professional experience. The first thing is getting the best and highest price that the market will bear.
Why would an agent be able to get a higher price on a home?
The reason for that is because all real estate is local. The Realtor is the neighborhood expert. We can walk through a property and see right away what needs to be done to [get it sold]. We can advise the seller on what to do and what not to do; how to use money wisely, how to get a return on something as simple as paint, which usually can go a long way. Or there might be some other safety things that we know will come up in an inspection that could really jeopardize that transaction. A Realtor has access to a number of different avenues so they are able to move that property much more quickly than the homeowner would be able to on their own.
How can an agent help set an appropriate price for a home?
That's actually one of the hardest things to do. And you can go to different [Web] sites and try to figure out what the value is, but you're not comparing apples to apples. There are nuances, there are things that agents know: if the house has four bedrooms, three bedrooms, two baths, compared to another house that has the same thing. This first house might be a busy corner, it might have a smaller lawn, it might have an untidy yard—all of those things affect what a buyer will do. And then there are subtleties as far as presenting the home properly: the staging aspects, decluttering if necessary. There are all kinds of tricks of the trade that will make the home more appealing.
What other benefits do agents bring to the home-selling process?
There are all kinds of liability issues that a seller could potentially face when they are dealing one on one with a buyer. You can make statements, for example, "There is hardwood under all of the wall-to-wall carpeting." Now, maybe the seller thinks there is and they never really checked over the years, and then the buyer comes back to sue them. You have to be careful, at least in my part of the country, about advertising. You can't use certain words like executive neighborhoods, things that are discriminatory in any way, and for sale by owners are not aware of that.
What about security issues?
The other thing is you don't know who you are letting into your home [as an independent seller]. I've dealt with people over the years who might try for sale by owner, and then after a couple of weeks they give it up quickly. They tell me the worst thing was they would hold a public open house [and] they had no idea if the people were qualified, who they were, or if they would try to rob them later on. It's a very scary kind of thing.
How would that situation be different if you had an agent?
You have a qualified buyer looking at the property. They are accompanied by the Realtor. You are not tied to your house while selling it, which is, I know, one of the other difficult things FSBOs have told me that they would never deal with again.
What specific challenges do independent sellers face in today's slow housing market?
It's a buyer's market, and [the buyers] are tough. They have done their research, and they have done their homework. They are tough negotiators. And negotiating is not something that all sellers know how to do. That is something we are trained to do. We take classes on how to negotiate with different types of buyers, and that's a hard thing to do on your own. It's hard to do that with your own property, particularly if you are not a professional.
Have the online real estate tools now available to independent sellers made agents obsolete?
That was the theory when the Internet first came out, that it was going to replace Realtors. But if anything, it has become a major tool—and especially for someone who is relocating to different parts of the country, and also for marketing. The advantage of a Realtor is that we get the properties listed on Realtor.com, which has more far-reaching access to market that property—with over 3 million properties on it—than the for-sale-by-owner sites, which have tens of thousands. [Independent sellers do] not have access to Realtor.com.