How to Hire a Real Estate Agent

by George Herman

Now that you have decided to hire an agent to help you sell your home, you are faced with the question of who to choose.  A competent real estate professional will help market your home and manage the sale, provide you with negotiating expertise, knowledge of your local market, and cost management.  Also—and important for us Garden Stagers—is that hopefully your agent will assist you in maximizing home value by suggesting necessary repairs and fix-ups, making your home attractive to prospective buyers.

Competent real estate agents know their business. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What is the profile of potential buyers for my home?
  • How will you protect my legal and financial interests throughout the selling process?
  • How will I obtain the maximum price for my property in the shortest time?

Hopefully, in response to this last question, the prospective real estate agent will encourage you to stage your home.  Staging increases market value and your final selling price while reducing its time on the market. A thoughtfully staged property will sell for more money and quicker than one that is sold in its “lived in” condition.

Staging goes beyond the interior of the home. In fact, buyers decide how they feel about a property as soon as they see it from the street.  On the day of the open house, many agents watch ruefully from the kitchen of the unstaged house as cars pull up along the street only to speed off again, not even setting foot inside.  This phenomena, referred to by some as “slow and go” has taught them that the exterior of the home should be inviting, or they risk missing out on a buyer. Real estate agents also know that a potential buyer who does walk through the door, willing to look at such a home,  is going to expect a discount on the price.

The good news is that any home will demonstrate perceived higher value with thoughtful improvements. In fact, the return on investment can be high. It has been determined that the landscaping of a property contributes between 5 and 11 percent of the home’s value. For example, if a property is valued at $500,000 with bad curb appeal, the landscaping contributes about 5% or $25,000. If the curb appeal is improved, then the value of that same home should be $530,000 or a 6% increase. Usually landscape staging can have good effect for less than a third of the available $30,000.

In order to maximize the full scope of service that you are paying for, it’s important to understand that you may well find that you resist the advice given by your real estate agent. Selling a home is a very emotional time, stressful, and complicated.  If you are like most of us, you probably think your house is worth more than what the market allows.  Be prepared to hear as much from your agent, if you have made a good choice.  A good agent will provide you with the data to demonstrate what you can realistically expect for your house.   Finally, a good agent will be able to speak to the reality of the situation, even when you don’t want to hear it.

Mental Preparation for Selling a Home

From an emotional point of view, selling home is tough.  When we look at our homes, we see more than brick and mortar–we also see memories of our past.  The driveway where the old Volvo station wagon used to sit, dinged up from all the kids learning to drive; the entrance that had been variously decorated for the Halloween trick-or-treaters, the birthday parties, and homecomings; the kitchen where everyone crammed down breakfast before heading off to school and work.

Not all the memories of home are necessarily pleasant, however.  Some of them are of leaking roofs, a rat caught dead behind the refrigerator, a crack in the patio cement that got bigger every year from the roots of a misplaced ficus.  Given our blood, sweat, and pocketbook, it’s also not surprising that we hold certain attitudes about our homes that may not fully correspond with reality:  Typically we all think our own home is the best one on the street.  We also often take the position that if something is amiss, and we can live with it, so can somebody else.

Given such strong attachments and attitudes, both good and bad, it’s easy to understand how, once we’ve made the decision to sell, we don’t want to put any more energy into our homes.  Not a dime more.  The thought of spending after all those years on remodeling, landscaping, or staging is about as palatable as being asked to wash your own dishes after eating at an expensive restaurant.

But–here’s the kicker–if we can get past our emotional responses to our homes and look at them more objectively as what we propose they become–houses/ commodities–the financial reward is likely to offset the exercise in detachment.  Consider your home from the buyer’s point of view.  Whereas you see memories gone by, the buyer is likely to project possibilities for a happy future.  What you don’t want to do is color those thoughts with the possibility that the garden party gets cancelled.

I cannot speak with any authority about the interior of a house, but I can speak to the landscape.  Typically, the effect of the landscape on price ranges between five and eleven percent of the total cost of a house. (If you want the academic references for these estimates, send me an email.)  This means that for a home worth $300,000, the landscape is typically contributing between $15,000 and $33,000.  That’s a range of eighteen thousand dollars.  It’s easy to see that given this scenario, investing a couple thousand in the landscape, even when our emotional response to the extra expense tells us to run for the hills is misguided.

George Herman clinging to home

My advice is get the house up to snuff so you can maximize your enjoyment of it well before you plan to sell.  But if you are one of those who has let the fruit trees languish, the weeds invade the lawn, and the ficus push up the sidewalk, and you are thinking of selling–grit your teeth before you call your real estate agent and consider your prospective buyers first and yourself second.

The Moral of the Hammock

Is there a moral to a hammock?

There is if you want to start a bidding war in Lemon Grove over a nine hundred square foot house.

Dynamic real estate agent Brenda Childress recounted the story of a certain macrame hammock in her client’s yard.  The house needed some work, but the yard was terrific.  And there was the hammock . . . Stretched between two Coulter pines so that when it warmed up the pine scent would descend upon the lucky lazybones below, no one who visited the house seemed to be able to refuse giving the hammock a try.  The last couple was out there– screened discretely, as it were, by some aptly placed westringias–for over twenty minutes.    And when they came back inside, they offered cash.

The cash and the hammock won out against several other bidders, and the whole affair took one day.  If you would like Brenda Childress to help you with a similar arrangement at your own home, you can reach her at (619) 277-1304.Image

Staging Case Study: Does Staging Influence Selling Price?

Landscape before staging

What is the effect of fixing up a fixer-upper prior to selling?  A test case for this is now on the market in College View Estates, where three genial agents have been in charge of polishing the wooden floors, tidying up the breakfast nook, and setting off the Swedish stretch of glass in the dining room for a night of Campari and prawns.    Marisa Papitto, Cynthia Lingg, and Dustine Gallagher of Papitto Real Estate took on the challenge with the assistance of stager Colleen Lacombe of Infusion Home Design, who did the interior staging and Blue Rose Gardening who staged the landscape.  The results, if I don’t say so myself, are dramatic.  In terms of price, the home was specced originally in the upper three hundreds, and now, with the energy all concerned breathed into it, a bidding war led it into the upper fours.  And it’s worth it!  You can visit the house yourself at 5309 Redding Rd., San Diego, CA 92115.  You can reach Marisa Papitto at 619-993-1565.

Take a virtual tour of the interior of the house at

After staging the landscape