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Margaret M. Kelly

To make it through the current housing downturn, real-estate agents will have to rely on a combination of old-fashioned customer service and cutting-edge techniques to thrive, according to national executives with one of the nation's biggest real-estate firms.

Dave Liniger, co-founder and chairman of the board of RE/MAX International Inc., said that the current housing market presents some good opportunities for real-estate professionals, if they are willing to work hard and meet the specific needs of their clients.

"We try to teach the agents that the houses are in a price war and a beauty contest at the same time," he said. "It's important for the seller to price their property properly and stage it properly."

He said over-pricing a home in today's "buyer's market" with so many homes available presents a hurdle that is "impossible" to overcome. He added that people are not inclined to purchase a home that is not in good condition.

Liniger and RE/MAX chief executive officer Margaret Kelly were in Salt Lake City on Thursday to conduct a strategy session for local agents at the Marriott University Park on the University of Utah campus.

Liniger said that when the market was extremely hot a year or two ago, even inexperienced agents were able to get homes sold, but that circumstance has changed.

"What the consumer has to do is be much more selective with the listing agent," he said. "Make sure they have lots of experience, make sure they know how to handle themselves in this market. Ask: How many other families they helped in their career? What kind of professional designations do they have? And do they work and sell in your price range?"

He noted that the National Association of Realtors had 1.4 million dues-paying members a couple of years ago, and in the last 90 days, that number has decreased by about 200,000. He said that 80 percent of people who become agents fail in the first two to three years in the business, and this latest downturn cycle will likely eliminate those agents who got into the industry hoping to make a quick buck.

Kelly and Liniger say the best plan for agents as the housing market progresses in the coming months is to communicate vigilantly with their clients to help them set realistic expectations about their property in order to get it sold in a reasonable time-frame and at a fair price.

"The market you see right now is probably the market you're going to see through the end of year," Kelly said. "Now is the perfect time for agents to educate themselves, get those professional designations and really get on top of the game, because when the market turns, those are only going to benefit you."

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