Most agents have nearly complete control over the scope of services that they will provide to a homeowner who lists their home with the agent. Any reputable agent will put your listing in the Multiple Listing Service (with one picture) and a sign in the front yard, but what other services could a full-service agent provide?  

You'll find a wide variety of services offered. You may find that in a tough market, agents cut back on the amount they spend on marketing each listing and try to be a "jack of all trades" to save their money. 

You can click here to read my blog post about 5 common mistakes listing agents make. 
There are a few things to consider when interviewing agents:
  • Is the agent a full-time agent?
  • Is the agent well educated and trained?
  • Does the agent have business experience? Negotiation skills? Training in marketing?
  • Does the agent seem responsive? (Test this!)
  • Do you feel comfortable with and trust the agent?
Regarding your specific property: 
  • Does the agent have an online marketing plan, including dedicated websites, to capture the 80% of buyers that search online? Does the plan include social networking sites and manually updated sites like CraigsList? Or is the property listed only in the MLS?
  • Will the agent be taking photos, or will a professional photographer be hired to showcase your home in the best light? Ask whether the agent uses a wide-angle lens so that you have pictures of the entire room. 
  • Will the agent be staging the property, or will a professional stager be hired with interior design experience?
  • Will the agent be holding the property open on a regular basis? More and more buyers start their search without an agent, and find properties online. Many buyers don't like the pressure of calling an agent to see the property. Open houses are a must in the current environment. I've had homes sell from someone seeing it at the open house. 
  • Finally, be aware of the three most common misconceptions. Do not select an agent based on:
    1. The volume of properties they have sold. The number of properties an agent has sold does not necessarily speak to the agent's quality of work. Quantity does not equal quality. Instead, you will want to ask the agent what types of services they offer their clients, and how often they will communicate with you. The services that agents offer can vary widely, and you should make sure you understand what they are providing, and that you trust the agent's knowledge and business skills. 
    2. Their claim of specialization in a specific neighborhood. An agent "specializing" in a specific neighborhood might not be the best person to market your home. After all, the buyers will most likely come from a different area, so the property has to be marketed with an open mind to a wide audience. It may be more important that the agent has worked with buyers who are the target market for your home.
    3. The price they claim your home is worth. When interviewing an agent, most sellers want to know the price at which the agent can sell the home. In the housing market, like any other market for goods and services, the owner decides the asking price, and the market will determine if the price selected was correct. The agent should, however, provide a comprehensive overview of market conditions in your area, as well as a comparative market analysis of similar properties, and should keep you updated at least weekly on changes in market conditions--including changes in your "competition," that is, the houses similar to yours that are also for sale. That comprehensive overview should include visiting properties in person and making calls to agents that have bought or sold similar properties.

I suggest you sign up for a free automated comparable market analysis, to monitor the recent sales in your neighborhood--simply email me to set up a search for you.

Working with Katie - What to Expect Throughout the Process

For every property, the process is a little bit different, but in general, you can expect these steps when you work with Katie.

Initial Meeting
Meet with Katie to discuss pricing and review/sign the listing agreement. (If we don't agree on a reasonable price, we may not be able to work together.) Determining the appropriate list price may involve reviewing data and even visiting other active listings in your area. We will discuss your selling costs (closing costs) and your "net" proceeds.
Sample Listing Agreements: DC    VA

Try to have prepared and available any paperwork related to the home: title insurance, deed, loan information (account number, lender, lender contact info, condo/homeowners' association contact info, condo/HOA dues, and any info on pending special assessments.

Also helpful is any information about updates you have made to the property and when they were done. If any appliances, HVAC, plumbing, or mechanical systems (e.g., windows, doors) do not work completely and fully as intended, discuss with Katie. Better to list those items "as-is" now than to give up a credit to the buyer later. Identify any items that do NOT convey (curtains, hardware, chandeliers, custom-built pieces, etc.).

You will need to complete a property condition disclosure form: DC Sample  VA Sample
You'll also need to complete a Lead-Based Paint Disclosure

Contact your condo association to determine the approximate turnaround time on a "Resale Package." Discuss with Katie about when to order it. Resale packages cost the seller approximately $150 to $300. 

Have a duplicate set of keys available.

Preparing the Property
Get the home ready. This is primarily the responsibility of the homeowners. The #1 suggestion is always to "de-clutter." We all have a lot of stuff in our lives, but the home we live in looks very different than the home we need to sell. Take out at least half of what's in every closet. Clean off kitchen counters (the only thing you can keep on the counter is something you use every day). Religious, political, and most personal items (e.g., photos) should be put away. They're distracting for buyers and may lead them to make incorrect assumptions.

Give the entire property a thorough cleaning, especially the kitchen and bathrooms. Make small repairs. De-cluttering is the most important thing you can do. Err on the side of packing things away (preferably off-site) or otherwise disposing of it. This is a perfect time to sell or donate what you don't want to move. Each room should have just one purpose--take the desk out of the bedroom, take the treadmill out of the office, etc. If there's no logical "home" for an item, then take it out of the house. 

Often Katie will bring in a stager to make additional suggestions. The stager may make suggestions on rearranging furniture, painting, minor cosmetic repairs, etc. She will also provide estimates for projects, which we will discuss.

Other suggestions:
Outdoors: Buy plants for the patio/outside areas. Make sure the outside is welcoming. Buy a new doormat.

Living/Dining Area: Eliminate all clutter and personal effects (including family photos, degrees, etc.). Consider getting rid of some furniture, especially if it's a small area. If you have a pet that sheds, vacuum often and make sure there are no odors. (Ask someone you trust about whether there's an odor--it's often difficult for owners to notice.)
Baths: Hang fresh towels. Consider new throw rugs. Remove everything from countertops.  Make sure the bathroom is ALWAYS VERY clean and neat.

Kitchen: Make sure there are no dirty dishes in the sink. Counters should be as empty as possible, as well as cabinets. If you have too much stuff in there, buyers will think there's not enough storage space. (Same for closets--they should be at least half-empty.) Take out the garbage often so there's no chance of odors.
Bedrooms: Make the bed every day. Empty out closets as much as possible. You should take out at least half of everything you have in each closet.
Photographers: Katie hires professional photographers who will come in once the home is ready.  These photographs (about 30 of them) go into the MLS and onto professionally printed brochures. They will also be on a dedicated website (see for a sample).
Web sites: On a Tuesday or a Wednesday (ideally) the property and its photos will go into the MLS and other syndicated sites (Googlebase, Trulia, etc.), as well as CraigsList.

Signage: A sign will be placed in the front yard (approval required for condos).

Brochures - Professionally printed brochures will be placed in your home. Here is a sample

Home Warranty: Katie may purchase a home warranty for your property to give potential buyers added assurance. This home warranty also covers repairs that may be required if an appliance or system breaks while the unit is listed for sale.
Open Houses & Showings  
Open House: Open houses are typically held the first weekend a home is on the market and every four to five weeks after, depending on if or when there are price reductions. It's best if you're not home during the open house. I believe that agents should hold houses open regularly. Read more here.

In some cases we mail out postcards to the neighborhood a week in advance announcing the open house. Neighbors are great cheerleaders when a nearby home is on the market! Ads for the open house will be placed online. 

Showings: Unless otherwise discussed, a lockbox will be placed on your property. Agents have an electronic key assigned to them with a private password that allows them to open the lockbox and get the keys to your home even when you're not home. The lockbox registers which agents access the property and when they visit. 

You will get calls from agents who wish to have their buyers view the property. Most agents try to give at least a few hours' notice, but sometimes they will be right out front when they call. Try to be as accommodating as possible. Often if they can't get in when they want, they won't make an effort to come back. 

When an agent tells you when they'll be there, make sure the home is as neat and clean as possible, turn on all the lights, and open the shades. When possible, leave the home when it is being shown. If you must leave your pet there, it's best to have them crated (dogs). Leave a sign if there are special instructions (e.g., don't lock bottom lock, turn off all lights when done, don't let cat out, etc.). If you must be in the home, sit quietly in one room or wait outside while the buyers look around with their agent. Refer any inquiries to Katie. 
Each agent should leave a business card. You should email Katie the agent's contact information each time you find a card at home so that she can follow up. Often there are delays in the lockbox data registration so it's best to let Katie know right away to ensure timely follow up. 

Weekly Updates: You'll receive weekly email updates from Katie describing any changes in the local market or competing listings, feedback from showings, and suggestions on next steps.
Offers, Negotiations, and Inspections
Offers: As offers come in, Katie will review the terms with you and proceed accordingly (accept, counter, reject). We will carefully discuss and manage any buyer contingencies such as financing, appraisal, and inspections.  
Post-Ratification: Once the contract is ratified, the buyers will likely conduct a home inspection. Discuss with Katie how to prepare for the inspection. Basic to-do items include making sure all the lights work, replacing the furnace filter, making sure the electrical panel and other infrastructure items are accessible, tightening all doorknobs and railings, and making sure windows and doors all open and close correctly. Make sure all of the appliances work. Run the whirlpool tub if you have one and don't use it often. It's also helpful to leave a list of any updates to the home and when they were made. If possible, have available the instruction manuals and any warranty information. You should not be present for the home inspection. Ask Katie for the link to more specific tasks to prepare for the home inspection.  

If your home has a pool, hot tub, fireplace, well, or septic, there may be special inspections for those. There may also be a termite inspection. You do not need to be present.

The buyer's lender will send an appraiser to the property. You do not need to be present, though Katie will sometimes meet the appraiser to discuss comparable properties. 

Pre-Settlement: The buyers will do one last walk-through just before settlement to make sure any negotiated repairs were completed, and also to make sure all appliances, plumbing, and HVAC are working normally. Check these before you leave the property. The property needs to be in "broom clean" condition and free of debris. 

Settlement: Katie's office will help coordinate settlement at a time convenient for you. All owners need to be present or provide a power of attorney. You will be contacted by the settlement company to obtain your loan information so they can pay off the loan(s) on your behalf at settlement. You may need to provide wiring instructions if you want your proceeds to be electronically transferred. A day or two before settlement you'll receive a HUD-1 form detailing your closing costs and net proceeds. Bring a picture ID. And Congratulations!