Here are 5 signs that the right real estate agent is selling your home

Selling a home can feel like taking one of your most personal possessions and largest assets, and tossing it into the air, hoping the right buyer catches it. Nothing, it seems, is as emotional, financially important and puzzling as putting a residential property on the market.

No matter how long it’s been since you last sold a house — typically, it’s been eight years, says the National Association of Realtors — a lot has changed.

The last three years, especially, have been unlike any other. Low inventory and panicked pandemic moves created a frenzy that drove some home shoppers to ignore their carefully considered list of must-haves and enter quickly into escalated bidding wars.

Retirees who planned to downsize into condos in the city stayed put in their suburban dwellings with yards, thwarting a throng of millennials in their peak home-buying years and ready to stop renting and set down roots.

Rollercoaster mortgage interest rates dropped to historic lows below 3%, then crept up toward 6% on new financing, sidelining more buyers and cooling the once red-hot housing market.

Listings lingering for sale longer have sellers fearing they missed out, even though the Portland metro market remains robust. The median sale price for July was $566,000, up 8.4% from a year earlier, according to local real estate listing service RMLS.

While prices are still high, increases are declining month by month, and experts are seeing a shift from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market. Sellers are having to recalibrate their expectations — and drop their asking prices — to match the changing market and the end of summer, a traditionally high selling season.

Where does all of this leave owners contemplating selling? Most will hire a licensed real estate agent or broker, who has deeper legal knowledge and training, to guide them through the complex, stressful process of getting a fair price for a home.

Only 7% of U.S. home sales in 2021 were for sale by owner, and the majority of those sellers, 57%, knew the buyer, according to the National Association of Realtors.

For owners who will hire a real estate professional, which ones are best?

Here is advice from experts on hiring an agent who will prepare you and your home for a sale, and then navigate you through the highs and lows until the day you sign over the deed.

A modern mansion in Dunthorpe sold for $7.9 million on Aug. 23. “We executed the plan perfectly and the market reacted,” said Justin Harnish of Harnish Properties in Lake Oswego.

A modern mansion in Dunthorpe sold for $7.9 million on Aug. 23. “We executed the plan perfectly and the market reacted,” said Justin Harnish of Harnish Properties in Lake Oswego.Jones Media Shop

Last year, 82% of sellers contacted only one real estate agent before signing a contract, says the National Association of Realtors.

The agent hired could have been someone the homeowner trusts from a past transaction and who continues to specialize in the area. Or it could have been a new face.

Don Jones of John L. Scott Real Estate, who earned his real estate license in 1978, has so many repeat customers in the West Portland and Beaverton area that he laughs when he says he has sold five different Rock Creek properties four times.

In 2016, his daughter, Casey Jones, also a broker at John L. Scott, teamed up with Don to represent their clients, who are buyers and sellers.

They say their longevity — they now represent the adult children of Don’s longtime clients — is based on the principles of working hard, knowing the local market and supporting their clients every step of the way.

Don shakes his head when he hears people hire an agent based on an out-of-the-blue phone call or mass mailing.

“It surprises me how many people entrust their most significant asset to someone they have not property vetted,” he said.

Sellers who don’t have a past broker they trust in the area can ask for referrals from friends, family and neighbors who had good local representation. Experts advise interviewing at least three agents in person before making a decision.

In the interview, ask about commissions, which can be negotiated. The traditional 5%-6% commission, which is split between the seller’s and buyer’s agent, is paid by the seller.

More important, see if you agree with how the agent will represent you. Make sure you’re comfortable discussing your needs and having hard conversations as you would with your doctor, lawyer or accountant, said Don Jones.

Justin Harnish, who is a second-generation broker with 21 years of experience at Harnish Properties in Lake Oswego, said real estate is about the person, “they’re the business,” and a seller needs to know how the broker operates.

One question to explore: What’s the agent’s experience and success in a difficult market?

When the inventory of homes for sale in the Portland area hit rock bottom in 2021, people thought a real estate agent’s job got easier. Just stick up a sign. But the frenzied months were complicated.

Sellers received multiple offers along with never-before-seen deal sweeteners.

Agents were explaining offers with a signing bonus if accepted quickly or an escalation clause, where the offer rises incrementally to exceed others.

“People would put out a number to be in first position, then renegotiate once accepted,” said Harnish. “I tell my sellers, we are not looking for the highest offer; we’re looking for the best offer.”

Questions to ask during an interview with an agent:

  • Who will be communicating with you most of the time? Will you receive personal, concierge-level service from the agent or the team member who answers the phone? Ask yourself: Does that relationship work for you?
  • What’s the marketing plan? “We know who the potential buyers are,” said Harnish, who orchestrates interest before one of his multimillion-dollar listings is on the market and continues to promote it with professional videos, targeted emails and photo spreads in real estate publications and websites. At the top of his sales is a modern Dunthorpe mansion that sold fast in August at $7.9 million. “We executed the plan perfectly and the market reacted,” said Harnish.
  • Does the agent walk through every home for sale in the geographic area to propose an asking price? Relying only on online photos and descriptions won’t reveal if the occupant is a hoarder or smoker, or if the neighbor is off-putting.
  • Is the business investing in its team’s knowledge and reputation, and will it be around in the future? Harnish suggests asking a broker about the properties that didn’t sell and what the broker learned from that experience. “You don’t win every time, but where did it break down?” asked Harnish. “This is a relationship. Go into it with eyes wide open.”

Thanks to house flipping shows and online marketplaces like Redfin and Zillow that report trends and sale prices, people are more informed about real estate than in past decades, say local brokers.

“We are no longer the gatekeepers of what our clients will see,” said Don Jones.

“A broker’s work is to manage the process,” said Harnish.

The process is complicated. An offer that was once handwritten on one page decades ago is now dozens of pages of documents and disclosures. And marketing the property for sale involves the agent paying a media company to create cinematic-style 3D virtual tours.

Casey Jones, 29, posts information helpful to first-time sellers and buyers on social media along with photos of new listings. The Jones’ most common listings are single-family homes in the $500,000 to $1 million price range.

“There are people my age who are just getting into the home-buying process. It makes you empathic, because it can be overwhelming,” she said. “If you’re representing people properly, when the transaction is over, they don’t feel beat up.”

Don and Casey Jones preview and tour properties in the area they know best: The west side of Portland to Beaverton. “We are big believers in market specialization, deep market knowledge,” said Casey Jones. “A Realtor needs to know the area.”

The broker you hire to sell your home can refer you to a similarly professional broker in a different locale where you want to buy. The referral comes at no cost to the customer.

“If you’re selling your home in Bethany to buy a home nearby, you can have the same broker for both transactions,” said Don Jones. “But if you want to move to West Linn, Gresham or Oregon City, I can help you find an agent there. It takes a lot to know a market’s values and schools.”

For a client moving outside the Portland area, Don Jones calls the office manager of an escrow or title insurance company in the new area to ask which brokers they would recommend to their own family. He then interviews two or three agents, and shares the information with his client.

In August, 2022, Sophia Rosenberg of Portland Inspired sold a 2018 modern house in Northeast Portland's Concordia neighborhood in three days at full price.

In August, Sophia Rosenberg of Portland Inspired sold a 2018 modern house in Northeast Portland’s Concordia neighborhood in three days at full price.Portland Inspired

Broker Sophia Rosenberg of Portland Inspired has a background in architecture, design and marketing. And it shows.

Homes she lists for sale not only get makeovers, but she personalizes each one by explaining the backstory and the lifestyle offered to a new resident.

Finding the right fit with a real estate agent is critical. Knowing if you’ve succeeded can be summed up in these five ways, said Rosenberg.

They’re excited about your home: You want an agent who walks through your house and is visibly and audibly excited by what they see. You want their energy to excite you about the prospect of selling your house. They’re selling a product, your product, and should be jazzed about doing so.

Their digital marketing and social media resonate with you: Social media has become an effective way to reach buyers and lets sellers see an agent’s personality and style.

Half of Rosenberg’s business came from social media this year and the other half from referrals, she said.

Social media marketing is critical in attracting buyers, especially those from outside of Portland, she added.

Marketing tools like measurable floor plans and virtual tours became standard during the pandemic when open houses were canceled and people were looking faraway for a home.

Nearly all buyers, 95% of those surveyed by the National Association of Realtors, use online tools in the search process.

They understand the importance of branding and photography: Do your real estate photos say “buy me?”

Since the start of the pandemic lockdown in March 2020, photos, videos, 3D tours and floor plans that accurately portray a property have helped online home shoppers (90% of those in the market) know if they want to take a second look.

“It pains me to see any listing represented with iPhone photos,” said Rosenberg. “Every listing, regardless of price, should be styled, professionally photographed and video graphed.”

She provides staging notes specific to each property, offering suggestions on items that should be removed and what she can bring in prior to the photo session. All listings that are not occupied are staged, she said.

On average, staged homes sell 88% faster and for 20% more than non-staged homes, according to Realtor.com.

They prioritize you, not the transaction: Real estate agents can have a reputation for being too pushy or self-serving, she said. It’s important to ensure the person you are working with has your best interests in mind.

For most people, this is the largest sale or purchase of their lifetime and it has the ability to also be the quickest way to build wealth. Trust and the ability to be totally transparent with your agent, and vice versa, is important to help reduce stress, because it can be stressful, she said.

They are a trusted source: People select agents randomly, through an algorithm or without much research, said Rosenberg, who launched the online resource PAIRE to match buyers and sellers with agents across the U.S. based on communication styles and design and architecture styles.

“We send clients a list of two to three preferred agents, allowing them to have a curated list from a trusted source that leads with design,” she said. “For sellers, we make sure that the agents matched are well versed in branding, marketing and design.”

— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072

[email protected] | @janeteastman

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