What level of service would you expect from someone you paid $6,000? For that kind of money, you'd probably demand personal attention, prompt responses to inquiries, expert insight, and a daily foot massage.

That's what you should expect from a real estate agent, since -- based on a $200,000 home and the standard seller's commission of 3% -- he or she stands to make several grand of that once the transaction is complete. (You probably won't get a foot massage, but it might not hurt to ask.)

So, what are the characteristics of agents earning their keep? An excellent agent:

  • Stays on top of deadlines with home repairs, inspections, appraisals, and paperwork.
  • Helps prepare your home for sale. The agent provides honest and helpful insight about what will be a turn-off to potential buyers and offers to help spruce up the place. (This is known as "staging" in the business; a good agent will even have props such as lamps, pictures, plants, and moonbounces.)
  • Returns calls and emails quickly and answers questions completely.
  • Will consider negotiating the commission, especially if he or she is handling the sale of one home and the purchase of another.
  • Evaluates all aspects of a house you're interested in, including the size of the water heater, the type of heating source, the ages of the appliances, and suspicious stains.
  • Continues working for you even after the deal is done. The agent makes sure you get your checks from escrow, gets you copies of all important documents, and answers questions after even banking his or her commission.
  • Is a vigorous but fair advocate. A real estate agent (or buyer broker, or selling broker) is your guide and counsel during what can be a lengthy, complicated ordeal. This person defends your interests without offending the other party.

If your agent fits this description, congratulations. If not, strongly consider hiring someone else. Why pay thousands of dollars for anything but the best?

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