For families looking to sell their home, what are some tips to get started with the process?

Sumant Sridharan: First and foremost, you will definitely want to hire a proven real estate agent in your local neighborhood. The National Association of Realtors reported that in 2015, homes sold without an agent received roughly $60,000 less than those sold with the assistance of a real estate agent.

But don't just go with the first agent you meet either. It's easy to find an agent these days but it's tough to find a great one. Selling your house is one of the largest financial decisions you're ever going to make in your life, so you shouldn't leave any part of that sale up to chance. At HomeLight, we take a data-driven approach to assist homeowners in evaluating agents based on their actual sales performance.

Once you have your perfect agent picked out, the rest of the process should be relatively straightforward. They will make sure you price the home right, get it prepped and ready for showing, and work hand-in-hand with you through to close.

What do you look for in a good agent for your home?

Who you choose to handle your sale makes a world of difference in completing a successful transaction. We recommend that you interview at least 2-3 different real estate agents in your area before you sign any listing agreements. When you're evaluating these agents, look for those who have a proven track record of success selling properties like yours.

First, evaluate their past performance. Nothing is a better predictor of future success than past performance. Identify critical data to evaluate your real estate agent, including answers to questions such as “Have they sold a lot of homes nearby?” and “How fast can they usually sell homes like yours?” Make sure to get a complete picture of what your agent has achieved in the past year around your neighborhood.

Second, check their client histories and get references. A top real estate agent doesn't just have a good historical data; they also have real feedback from past clients. While many sites have reviews of agents, nothing can replace direct conversations with past customers. Ask your agent for at least three references from clients they have worked with over the past six months. 

Third, assess their ability to do the job. The best agents are sophisticated marketers who understand your neighborhood and how to attract buyers to your home. Additionally, they are successful networkers with a rolodex of the most important real estate contacts you need: photographers, stagers, contractors, and more. Make sure to receive a detailed marketing plan from your agent before you sign up with them and hold them to it.

How can homeowners use technology in order to make the process of selling a home easier?

Fortunately, there are an increasing number of companies that are making it easier for consumers to sell their home. Home valuation tools can help you understand how the market appraises your house. Companies like Walkscore and Soundscore allow consumers to feature the best qualities of their home. Social media sites like Facebook and Pinterest are great ways to market your home to a targeted audience. The technology landscape is changing rapidly, so it would be advisable to retain a real estate agent that keeps up to date with the latest trends.

What is the number one piece of advice you give to new homeowners looking to purchase their first home?

Think about what your mid-to-long term objectives are. If you're looking for a starter home that you will outgrow in five years, a fixer-upper may not be the best choice and you may want to consider the housing cycle and fluctuating interest rates a bit more. However, if this is your family home for the next 20 years, stretching to get the house you want may be a good option as it will give you time to grow with your family into the home of your dreams.