One of the most critical factors to consider when selling a house or apartment is choosing the right real estate agent. Yet many vendors limit their options by signing an exclusive sales contract without shopping around.

This approach can produce dividends, of course, especially if you have a good working relationship with an agent based on earlier dealings. But in other cases you run the risk of paying an above-market sales commission rate and not achieving your price expectations.

It’s crucial to know the present state of play of the market in your area. The communications manager of the Real Estate Institute of Victoria, Robert Larocca, says one of the best ways to gain this knowledge is the ”old and true method” of interviewing three local agents.

”If you speak to three agents and compare their offers, you can’t go wrong,” he says.

”Even if the first one you speak with is the one you go with, the worst thing that can happen if you speak to three is that you will know more about your options. You actually learn about the process of selling and of dealing with a real estate agent by having those conversations.”

A greater proportion of residential properties sell by auction in Melbourne than in other capital cities. This promotes transparency and efficiency in sales. It also explains why Victoria has some of the most research-and-networking-focused agents in the country.

Victoria’s status in property sales was on show last month at the Real Estate Institute of Australia’s National Awards for Excellence in Canberra. Four of the five top sales gongs went to Victorians or Victorian companies.

Tim Heavyside, of Fletchers, was named residential salesperson of the year. His company also snared the award for large residential agency, while the medium residential agency category was taken out by Jellis Craig Doncaster. The commercial agency of the year was the Victorian arm of Colliers International.

Mr Heavyside is a consummate networker. Although a director of Fletchers, he spends time attending open inspections and talking to buyers. Knowing who is buying in an area and who is selling is vital.

You need an agent who knows their territory and can quickly match up buyers and sellers. These days, this is achieved both through personal contacts and by using customer relationship management (CRM) software.

The powerful role that client databases now play in property sales has been highlighted by a strategic merger of Jellis Craig and Bennison Mackinnon, which will launch four

co-branded offices on Monday. Jellis Craig Bennison Mackinnon (with offices in Armadale, South Yarra, Richmond and Sorrento) joins nine Jellis Craig-branded offices.

Bennison Mackinnon chief executive Andrew McCann says the combined group will have access to a significantly increased referral network, client database and technology platform. Used well, a CRM system maximises buyer numbers and prices. By qualifying buyers in a detailed way, agents get an early indication of potential price.

When you sell, you compete directly against other vendors in your suburb, so hiring an agent who is a fleet-footed networker and can produce buyers is a must.

”An agency with a good database is simply an agency which puts a lot of time and effort into developing their knowledge base that you are hiring,” Mr Larocca says.

Posted by Chris Tolhurst – The Age on 13th April, 2013