Dear Ray,

We’re planning to sell our home in a few months, and we’ve interviewed several agents. The agent we like works at a small company. I’m concerned that we might be better off going with a bigger real estate firm. Will our home have more exposure and more showings if we hire the big, well-known company?

— T.C.

Your question raises two separate issues: hiring an agent and choosing a real estate company. I’ll address both issues.

There’s a famous cartoon from the New Yorker magazine: Two dogs are sitting at a desktop computer. One dog says to the other, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” It’s like that with real estate companies on the Internet: Nobody can tell if you’re with Big-Name Realty or Tiny Boutique Real Estate.

In the past, Big-Name Realty could purchase the largest newspaper print ads, forcing Tiny Boutique Real Estate to the back pages of the real estate section of the newspaper.

Today, Tiny Boutique Real Estate can obtain premium placement on the Internet, equal to or even superior to Big-Name Realty. That’s why you’re seeing an increasing number of agents “branding” themselves. More and more, agents are using their own name on the yard sign and Internet advertising, and de-emphasizing the name of their brokerage.

In little more than a decade, the Internet has become the agent’s most-important marketing tool. You might say the yard sign has been replaced by the Internet: The Internet has also all but eliminated real estate print advertising.

So, to answer your question; you will not necessarily receive better marketing or exposure for your home from a big real estate company. In 2014, every real estate agent has equal access to the Internet. And there are literally thousands of real estate websites available to market your home. Some agents use one or two websites, while some agents use dozens of websites — it all depends on the agent. When hiring an agent, inquire which websites he or she uses and why. 

The necessary skills

While the size or name of the real estate company has become less important, the talents of the individual agent are increasingly important. Today, the No. 1 factor in selling your home is the agent’s skills.

The listing agent’s job has grown more challenging as real estate transactions have become more complex. That’s one reason the average age of agents has increased in recent years. The average age of a Realtor is 57 years old; the average age of an American worker is 41 years old.

Although the Internet has leveled the playing field for agents, not all agents are equal: The Internet cannot make up for a lack of skills. A listing agent who writes terrible ads will continue to write terrible ads, but he or she can now display those poor marketing skills on dozens of websites. So, skilled or not, every listing agent has the same access to the Internet as a big, well-known real estate corporation.

When choosing a listing agent, you’ll want someone at the top of his/her game, with the experience necessary to handle challenging negotiations. For example, a bidding-war can test even the most experienced agents. I was called to assist when an inexperienced listing agent bungled a bidding-war, losing all three offers.

Today’s listing agent needs superior marketing and communication skills. Your agent must understand your home, be knowledgeable of the local real estate market and be able to present your home to the broadest audience of buyers.

To develop a marketing plan for any home, you need to identify the audience you’re trying to reach. Who is a potential buyer for your home? How will your agent target his/her marketing to reach that buyer? Ask each agent how he or she plans to market your home’s unique features.

The right fit

If you’ve met with several agents and found one you like, with demonstrated marketing skills, then that’s the agent you should hire. Don’t be concerned about the name on the sign in the front yard, or whether the agent works for a small brokerage.

Hire your agent for his or her experience and the skills they’ve demonstrated to you.

Don’t forget to ask for references. An experienced agent will have many glowing endorsements from past clients.

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.