Dear Ray,

I’m planning to sell my home in 2014. What is the No. 1 skill I should look for in a listing agent?

— G.H. 

Selling a home requires more than putting a sign out front. To paraphrase a well-known late-night comedian, “a monkey on a rock” can pick up the phone and order the for-sale sign installed in your front yard, but not every agent has what it takes to be a listing agent. 

Although any real estate agent can list your home, an agent who specializes in listings will possess a specific set of skills. 

First, there is no instruction manual for real estate agents. Realtors are independent contractors, and every agent has his or her own style. Much of what we do as agents is learned by on-the-job training. Therefore, experience ranks among the top qualities you want in a listing agent, or any agent for that matter. 

A simple but overlooked question for every agent is, “Do you devote more of your business to buyers or sellers?” 

Personal skills

There is no substitute for experience. It’s important to understand that no two houses are alike; likewise, no two clients are alike. 

Adding yet another layer of complexity is the fact that every real estate market is unique. And real estate market conditions change rapidly, sometimes in a matter of days. 

Look for an agent who has been through several economic cycles and has learned to adapt his/her business model to the ups and downs of a changing real estate market. 

Communication may be the most important skill required of a successful listing agent. Communication is an under-appreciated talent. The ability to think on your feet and have a sense of humor are skills an agent can use. 

Your agent needs to be able to communicate effectively with you, with other agents and with buyers who call to inquire. If an agent doesn’t communicate easily and effectively, it’s best to interview other agents until you find one with whom there is an easy flow of communication.

A listing agent needs good people skills. Your agent must be able to communicate effectively with a variety of agents who are working with potential buyers. 

Although your goal as a seller is the opposite of the buyer’s goal — you want the highest sale price, and the buyer wants the lowest sale price — your agent needs to keep the communication positive and constructive. 

Real estate negotiations need never be adversarial. There’s a 70-percent chance your home will be sold by someone other than your listing agent. Therefore, add good people skills to the list of qualities to look for in a listing agent.

Technical skills

Technology plays a big role in the real estate industry. The best agents stay abreast of the newest technology. For example, Realtors were using cell phones years ahead of the general public. 

Today, Realtors are blogging and utilizing social media. Tomorrow, we’ll conduct virtual tours with aerial drones. Choose an agent who is familiar with the latest real estate technology.

Superior marketing skills are among the most valuable skills an agent can possess. A poorly written ad will result in fewer showings; a well-written ad will generate more showings, often resulting in a quicker sale. Many agents can’t write an effective ad. 

Most agents go overboard with the use of adjectives, believing they need to jam-pack a simple real estate ad with as many flowery words as possible. Adjectives merely waste space in real estate advertising. When interviewing agents, ask for samples of marketing materials they’ve written.

Listing agents need to be at the top of his/her game when an offer is received. For example, your listing agent may need to manage multiple offers, each one requiring a different response strategy. 

Ask, upfront, how will the agent handle a multiple-offer scenario? Do they welcome or discourage escalator clauses? (Personally, I’m not a fan of escalator clauses: They’re bad for buyers, but worse for sellers. I’ll devote a future column to escalator clauses in purchase and sale agreements.)

Best tip: Don’t rely upon online agent reviews and websites featuring star-rating systems. Third-party real estate websites can be manipulated to reflect positive feedback. 

Just ask the agents you’re interviewing for references, including an email or contact phone for their clients. If an agent has happy clients, they won’t hesitate to provide you with references. 

RAY AKERS is a licensed Realtor for Lake & Co. Real Estate in Seattle. Send your questions to ray@akerscargill.com or call (206) 722-4444.