If you’re thinking of selling your house this spring, you’re in the middle of interviewing real estate agents.

You probably know that the ‘secret sauce’ that agents use to sell houses isn’t their local connections, or their amazing abilities with creating printed listing sheets.

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The one thing that sells a house is getting it onto the multiple listing service (MLS), which is the local database that collects listings from agents and feeds them into big listing sites like Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com. (USRealty is a national agency that belongs to 110 local MLS systems, so we’ve got national coverage. We list houses in all markets across the U.S., and get them onto the listing supersites that are seen by all buyers, across the U.S.)

So for what are you giving up three percent of the sale price of your house (and more of your actual equity – a lot more) if the main value that the listing agent provides is access to the MLS?

Good question. And listing agents are more willing to negotiate on their 3% commission than you might think. But they won’t do the same work for less. If you want to pay less in commission, you’ll get less. Here’s how to negotiate like a pro so you know what you’re getting.

  1. Ask the agent about the ‘average days on market’ for her listings. Not for the agency’s. Not about how hot the market is and about the house on the next block that sold in one day. You want to know what the norm is. That’s average days on market. How long does it usually take her to sell one of her listings?
  2. Ask the agent about the ‘average days on market’ for the multiple listing service for your area. How does the agent’s average days on market line up with the overall average days on market? Do her houses sell more quickly or does it take her a long time to sell?
  3. Ask the agent what she will do differently, or less of, for a lower commission. If she won’t take listing photos, figure if the $300 it will cost you to hire a local pro is worth the effort to save, say, one percent of the sale price of the house.

For a $200,000 house, one percent of the sale price is $2,000. Say you get the agent to take a 2% commission and you directly pay for the photos ($300) and for a staging consultation ($200). You’d pay $500 for those services a la carte and still come out $1,500 ahead.

As the commission comes down, you’ll be doing more of the work that the listing agent normally would do. That’s when it’s time to consider listing with a service like USRealty.com, which gets your house on the MLS for a low fee.

Once you’ve taken stock of what you get, and don’t, for a reduced commission, you’re in a position to make a smart decision about what type of agency you want to list with. The way to not lose equity to the commission is to get your house on the MLS with minimal hassle at a reasonable fee. After all, if you’re going to be doing some of the agent’s work, you should keep what agents usually earn.