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How to Find a Real Estate Agent to Sell Your Hawaii Property

In preparing my business plan for the coming year, I’ve been reviewing the sources of my business for 2012. Doing this around Thanksgiving seems especially appropriate because I feel tremendous gratitude for the sellers who entrust me with their listings, and the buyers who seek my advice in their search for the perfect property in my corner of the Big Island of Hawaii. If you are looking for a real estate agent to sell your Hawaii property and wondering how to find the right Realtor (R) for you, maybe this list will help you in your search.

The Best Real Estate Agent For You: What Are Your Criteria?

First things first. I recently ran across a website that offers to help property owners find the right real estate agent. What I like about this site is that it asks a series of questions:

  • Where is the property located? It seems obvious you would want an agent geographically near your property. It mystifies me when I see banks list REOs with a foreclosure agent from another island!
  • How much is the property worth? We spend more money prepping and marketing luxury listings and not every agent has a large enough base of business to afford to properly present a high end property.
  • What is your priority? Do you need to sell quickly? Maximize your price even if it means taking longer to sell? Or is your priority more to do with your relationship with the agent rather than their marketing or negotiating skill? For example, you may want an experienced agent with a sympathetic ear to guide you through the process if you need to do a short sale.

Once you have a picture in mind of both the professional attributes and kind of personality that would fit you and your property, now you can gather names.

#1. Personal Referrals: The “Sphere of Influence”

Over half of the sellers whose properties I list were referred to me by someone who lives in their neighborhood – or used to. In a small community like Kohala (Hawi and Kapaau) where everyone knows everyone, that’s probably not surprising. Even with second home and resort properties, however, owners tend to meet other owners on their visits and your first step might be to inquire with your neighbors.

I recently read an article that made an important distinction between name recognition and reputation. Sometimes the agent whose done the most advertising or been around the longest has the greatest name recognition, but that does not tell you whether they are a good agent for you, based on your criteria. The benefit of talking with people who have personal knowledge of both you and the real estate agent is that you will get a better sense of both their reputation and the fit.

If you don’t know your neighbors, reach out to professionals who deal with a lot of real estate agents in your neighborhood. For example, I’ve had referrals from mortgage brokers, rental managers, on-site staff at resort condos, and even home inspectors and carpet cleaners! (And by the way, a big mahalo if you are reading this and are one of those precious sources of referrals.)

#2. Local Expertise: Postcards, Letters and Blog Posts

Before there was the Internet, there was snail mail. “Farming” or the direct marketing agents do by mailing homeowners in a neighborhood their newsletters, “just listed” and “just sold” postcards, and “Dear Homeowner” letters, still generates phone calls for agents, which is why you are inundated with mailings.

Interestingly, mail response accounted for 14% of my listings in the past 12 months…but BLOG POSTS were almost equally a source of listings. In other words, it is not only buyers who are online seeking real estate agent’s local knowledge. And what’s cool about searching online for agents with local expertise is that unlike the marketing we do to you directly, if YOU can find the agent online by typing in what you think what a buyer for your home would search for…so can buyers.

Cartoon courtesy of Wix.com

#3. Comparison Shopping: Real Estate Websites

Remember that saying “On the Internet, nobody knows if you’re a dog”? If my Weimaraner had his real estate license and enough money he could hire someone to create a brilliant website about luxury properties for sale in Hawaii and optimize so it shows up on the first page of your search. But would that make him a good listing agent for you?

About 20% of my sellers find me via some sort of third-party website. In addition to websites that display listings like Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, there are now a number of sites devoted specifically to helping consumers find a real estate agent. On the surface, it would seem like these would be a good, unbiased sources of information, unlike a website created by an agent or brokerage. Let’s look at how these sites work.

A site like Zillow or Trulia grabs listings via an MLS feed. How they make money is by selling exposure advertising to agents. By paying them a monthly fee, an agent’s listings show up first in the search results, and their face shows up next to listings in zip codes they’ve purchased.

I personally stopped paying for the exposure after evaluating my sources of listing inquiries, but my ears perked up when I heard that Zillow was going to begin allowing consumers to rate agents. Click here to see what Zillow reviews look like: Beth Thoma Robinson reviews. The idea of consumer reviews in the real estate business is not nearly as robust as in other segments. It won’t be truly useful until consumers begin routinely reviewing real estate professionals the way they do restaurants, hotels, and books.

For example, clients of mine recently posted reviews of me on Yelp as has become more common in their home markets: Beth Thoma Robinson Yelp Reviews. I used Yelp last night to decide whether to book a Mauna Lani resort closing dinner at the Canoe Club or Brown’s. Plenty of reviews, and they give the good, the bad, and the mediocre. The problem is if you search Yelp for real estate agents in West Hawaii zip codes, you come up with lots of names and almost no reviews.

The website from which I took the list of questions above is Homelight. Very cool idea, that they will help match you with a real estate agent. They have 2 million agents in their data base, but it won’t help you find someone to sell your Hawaii property – yet. Of course, developing the metrics will be tough. For example – sell your home fast? The metric for that is different if you are a luxury agent dealing in $15 million properties or a HOVE agent with $150,000 listings.

Next week I will be closing escrow on a third referral from a site called AgentMachine, which screens agents and sends you three names to interview. Their criteria are pretty minimal, but at least you know you are interviewing agents with some longevity in the business and a minimum 8-figure annual sales volume.

#4. Social Networking: Finding Your Agent on Facebook or Pinterest

My personal opinion is that social networking is just an extension of #1 above: a way of communicating with your sphere of influence. I think the problem with Facebook business pages is they are pretty much like any other kind of advertising – generated by the real estate agent themselves. 

I do not have a Facebook business page, but among my Facebook friends are acquaintances and friends of clients-turned-friends. Some of them have researched me via Facebook and then messaged me regarding listing their home. If you are on Facebook, Linked-In or Twitter, you can expand your connections for getting real people’s opinions of agents they’ve worked with.

At one point a Facebook friend suggested I try stik.com. When I click directly on that link, I find my Facebook friends have left some generous testimonials, but I have no idea how the general public finds them. Do you?

One social networking site that seems like a natural for the real estate world is Pinterest. After all, putting appealing photos of homes online is what a listing agent should be doing! While I’m not sure Pinterest offers any advantage for you in finding an agent, I do recommend that when you evaluate an agent, you look at how and where their listings are advertised – especially online, since that is where over 90% of real estate buyers begin their search. What is the quality of text and photography in the MLS? On their website? In other media?

How did YOU find the real estate agent who sold your Hawaii Property? Perhaps readers could share their experiences in the comments below.

A hui hou,

Beth Thoma Robinson, R(B)
Direct: 808.443.4588
Email: beth@hawaiilife.com

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Brad Haeger

December 11, 2012

Mahalo for the professional real estate insights.

Brad Haeger

December 11, 2012

Mahalo for the professional real estate insights.

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