With the abundance of real estate information on the internet and the rising popularity of home improvement shows in recent years, homebuyers and sellers are more tapped into the market than ever. But having greater access to housing data and home listings doesn't necessarily mean it all makes sense without a professional there to translate the particulars for your situation.
As real estate information becomes more accessible to homeowners, the role of the full-service real estate agent has taken on new meaning.
Real estate agents have traditionally provided home sellers with a complete service throughout the transaction, from the initial consultation and marketing to showing the home and negotiating with the buyer's agent. But particularly in the last decade, companies and agencies have begun offering a la carte alternatives to full-service agents, giving sellers the opportunity to choose what they need help with, from marketing to assistance preparing for the closing process, while collecting a flat fee for each service.
Amid the rise of a la carte options, full-service agents have in many cases been ramping up and expanding their reach to better serve clients, offering not only professional photography, staging and other key marketing assistance, but also setting sellers up with contractors for repairs and even driving clients' children to afterschool activities in some cases.
Of course, not every real estate agent goes that far. But as the role of agents evolves, it's important to take advantage of all the services they provide for the same 6 percent commission standard in the industry, unless you choose an agent who collects a flat fee.
"You'd be surprised how many people I run into, from either the buyer or seller side, where they're like, 'Oh, my agent didn't even go to my closing,'" says Tom Hall, a team leader and broker associate for Keller Williams Realty Elite in Oklahoma City.
To get the best benefit from working with your agent, aim to strike a balance between minimal service and your Realtor practically moving in with your family. Here are four tips to find an agent who can meet your needs.
Get your money's worth. Gone are the days of real estate agents simply listing a home, printing flyers and holding an open house.
With the ease and preference of online advertising in today's real estate market, a thorough agent will go beyond a simple photo and description in your local multiple listing service to make a compelling statement about the home to potential buyers.
"A good real estate agent is going to offer professional photography, professional videography -- and not just virtual tours," Hall says, noting that the automated slideshow of a home set to elevator music is already seen as dated.
Consider your unique needs for a successful home sale and seek a real estate agent equipped to provide them. Gennady Perepada, for example, is a luxury real estate agent in New York who specializes in working with international buyers and sellers.
Because many of his clients live primarily outside the country, Perepada additionally offers a luxury concierge service to clients, taking care of property management, maintenance, checking in on construction projects and even arranging rides from the airport for family members.
"They call me and say, 'Can you take care of this?'" Perepada says, noting tasks as small as tending to a malfunctioning appliance are part of his job.
Outside of luxury real estate, many agents are more than willing to help their clients by taking on extra tasks, particularly when it comes to prepping the house for market. This can include letting painters in the home during the homeowner's work hours, keeping track of renovations and even doing a bit of gardening to spruce up the front yard.
Be reasonable with your requests. A heightened level of attention can be expected from a full-service real estate agent, but unless you're paying handsomely for above-and-beyond perks, don't expect them at the every level.
Anslie Stokes, a Realtor at McEnearney Associates Inc., a real estate firm covering the District of Columbia metro area, stresses that a good real estate agent should focus on providing top-quality service specifically to sell the home. "It's really important to stick to the basics," Stokes says.
Those basics often include determining which improvements will increase the home's sale price. For any maintenance or renovations needed, an experienced agent will typically guide you to a trustworthy helping hand.
"Any good real estate agent should have a general contractor -- not just a handyman, but somebody that can handle a wide variety of tasks," Hall says.
Stokes notes that some local laws place requirements on how real estate agents can provide referrals, in hopes of reducing the chances that the homeowner hires an unqualified contractor or businesses are given an unfair competitive advantage. Montgomery County, Maryland, for example, requires an agent to provide information about multiple professionals capable of doing the job, and all must be licensed.
Find the right help when it's needed. The reason for your move can determine the level of assistance you need.
For a homeowner's last move, whether to a senior care facility or after the individual's passing, additional services are often required to manage any vendors, from estate planners and attorneys to psychologists, and the family's needs and concerns, says David Howell, executive vice president and chief information officer at McEnearney Associates, a firm with agents who specialize in final-move home sales.
"That experience is very different, where you do get involved and ... help [the homeowners] figure out things, and working with their heirs or family members in dealing with that last move," Howell says.
Other situations can call for different levels of attention as well -- a family moving across the country can work with agents in both cities that specialize in relocation, and for buyers looking to revamp a fixer-upper, agents with a focus on renovation properties can be a good fit.
Ask for advice, and accept the answer. You may have a better understanding of the real estate market now than you did 10 years ago, but an industry professional is going to know much more. You should not only seek their expertise, but in most cases you should listen to it as well.
Some particularly difficult situations improve greatly from a professional who can offer an unbiased opinion and know where to begin. Howell says there have been a few occasions when his firm has sold a home occupied by a hoarder.
"Those can be pretty tough situations, and sometimes it takes the agent to be that sort of independent third party, where a family member can't do that on their own, or it's hard to do that on their own," Howell says.
Beyond extreme cases, it's still imperative to hire a real estate you feel confident with and who feels confident he or she can meet your needs as a client. "[An agent] should have a good sense after the first meeting or two of what their needs are going to be, and are you well-positioned to meet them or not," Stokes says.
More From US News & World Report