Deciding between a boutique and a Big-Box Brokerage in selling a house

Deciding between a boutique and a Big-Box Brokerage in selling a house
Published on April 14, 2020,07:00 am by Joe Boylan for Forbes.com

When it comes time to list your home, one of the first questions that comes to mind is, “Which real estate agency should we use?”

As you’ve probably discovered for yourself, there are plenty of options and lots of choices when it comes to finding an agent. With so many agencies to choose from, it can be difficult to know who to use. Do you go through the one that’s been around the longest? What about the one that has the lowest fees? Is a big-box chain agency the way to go?

At the end of the day, you want a real estate agent with the right level of experience and motivation, one who’s built up their reputation through hard work and knows how to get results. This is where it often pays to consider looking at smaller, more boutique real estate agencies. While smaller agencies are sometimes overlooked in favor of the bigger franchises, don’t be so quick to rule them out.

With this in mind, consider the following differentiators between a boutique and big-box brokerage when selling your home.

Pros:

• They’ll work harder for you.

With a boutique agency, you can be certain that they’ll work harder for you.

When it comes to larger companies, there’s always the risk of complacency. If something goes wrong, they’ll still have their brand name to fall back on. Smaller boutique agencies, though, will be committed to upholding their local reputation because they know that word of mouth travels like wildfire.

• They’ll be knowledgeable about the local area and community-minded.

You just can’t beat local knowledge. Small agencies are usually familiar with the local area and how things work there. There’s also a good chance they’ll be neighborhood experts and extremely knowledgeable on the areas they’re serving.

Keep in mind that at the end of the day, your community is also your boutique firm’s community. Many local brokerages are committed to a strong, healthy neighborhood — and always happy to serve their local customers. To see if your brokerage is committed to your community, take a look at their website to see where they’re volunteering their time. Local causes are a good sign that they’re committed and thinking about their community.

• They’ll be driven to offer better customer service.

In my experience, one area where we smaller firms really excel is customer service.

Larger firms usually have team structures that enable them to handle transactions by taking an “assembly line” approach, with clients passed on from one person to the next at different stages of the process. Not so with a boutique agency, where you’ll have one point of contact the entire time — from the start to close of escrow.

As the managing principal of one brokerage, Adam Frish, wrote, “At a larger company, clients may be left in the hands of less experienced agents who are juggling numerous other people at any given time. However, agents at smaller firms often help their clients to feel as if they are truly being taken care of by providing each individual with personalized treatment.”

Cons:

• They’ll have fewer staff members.

With boutiques, you’ll largely be working with one agent throughout the entire process. As I mentioned, sometimes this can be a tremendous benefit, and many home sellers appreciate having one point of contact from start to finish. In other cases, though, this system can slow things down. For instance, if your agent is out of the office, you may have to wait until they’re back at their desk to speak to them.

• They may not have as many resources.

Large companies also have the ability to rally around each other in slow markets. If an agent in a larger company asks for help with more showings, agents in that office will often help out — although it’s important to note that more showings doesn’t automatically equate with a faster sale. Sometimes these showings will be to people who are genuinely interested, but other times they’ll simply be doing the agent a favor and hoping that the prospective buyer will like the house in spite of the fact that it isn’t really what they are looking for. For this reason, it’s important that agents have a vetting process to weed out candidates who aren't serious before they agree to a showing.

• They may have less reach.

Big-box office agencies usually have greater marketing reach. These days, boutiques have access to many of the same tools that large companies do, but there are exceptions. When it comes to luxury properties, for example, many clients start their search by looking through higher-end publications. In these cases, you may be better served by looking for an agency that has maximum reach — often something that larger agencies have.

When it comes to selling a home, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always apply. Some people appreciate the flexibility and attention to detail that smaller agencies are able to provide, while others prefer the streamlined consistency that bigger agencies offer.

There are a number of factors to consider before choosing your agency, especially if you’re selling a home with any particular challenges, or during difficult market conditions. Your best option is to look for a company that’s highly reviewed and also has the specific experience and expertise that you need. Then, get on the phone, and give them a call. Have a list of questions ready to run by them, and try to get a feel for what they specialize in. How they treat you on the phone will give you a good indication of the level of service they provide, and how they run their company — it’s a great way to assess their capabilities and customer service.