The Seller's Agent

By Sandy Sessink

The equine marketplace can be an intimidating environment of uncertainty for the buyer, seller, and even the agents. Just as there is no “Blue Book” to assist in determining the value of a horse, there really is no rule book that addresses the process of buying and selling horses.

If you are one of those people who thinks this is simple, you may be part of the problem. When you’ve been buying and selling horses for years, it’s easy to forget that many clients are newcomers and they are commonly overwhelmed, or too embarrassed to admit that they don’t know what to expect, or what is required of them. Education, transparency and communication are essential.

What are the responsibilities of the agents involved in the sale of a horse? In very simple terms, they represent their client, whether it’s the buyer or seller. But we all know it’s much more complicated than that. Those sellers who think it would be simpler and cheaper to circumvent involving the trainer to avoid paying a commission usually don’t understand the intricacies or importance of what the agent does.

In the case of the seller’s agent, his job begins before the first contact with a buyer is ever made. Settling on a listing price is as important a conversation as an agent will ever have with his client. It’s often difficult for owners to be realistic about what they might get for their horse. Just watch one episode of “Million Dollar Listing” on HGTV, and you’ll see at least one perfect example of an unrealistic seller.

So, the very tough job for the agent is to carefully analyze the many factors that go into pricing a horse, and share that information with his client in an honest and forthright manner. The most challenging situations for an agent arise when the client has overpaid for a horse and has not come to terms with that reality. This is where trust plays a big part in the client/trainer-agent relationship. If the owner trusts his trainer’s experience, knowledge, intelligence and honesty, then it only makes sense to consider his counsel. Ultimately, the owner and the agent must agree on the official asking price, or any number of unpleasant situations could occur. Commissions should also be discussed and agreed upon prior to putting the horse on the market. (in a future article, we will address commissions in detail) 

It’s rare to find a horse trainer who has an MBA from Harvard, but many do have marketing skills appropriate for the horse business. And most have a diverse and abundant list of contacts to call on when trying to broker the sale of a client’s horse. So, when the time is right to market the horse, a successful agent will log quite a bit of phone time spreading the word, without coming at people with a sleazy horse trader type of approach.

Many training stables, small and large, have web sites on which they will maintain a list of horses for sale. Also, a successful agent has a handle on how to effectively use the type of comprehensive, yet breed specific web site. It is often the trainer/agent who has the keenest eye for choosing the best photos and videos for these kinds of advertising platforms. Short of hiring a marketing firm to do it, the seller’s agent is often the most experienced at handling internet marketing methods.

Once a connection has been made with a perspective buyer, the trainer/agent should be the one who arranges a showing. After all, if the horse is stabled and trained in his barn, he will be the one preparing the horse. It is his stable that will need to stop normal activity for a time to accommodate the showing.

Make no mistake, this part of selling a horse is an art, just as performing in the show ring is an art. This is not to say that you can’t be honest, or that the art is in covering up a horse’s flaws. But, you do want to present the horse’s best assets, personality and level of training. It is at this point that the level of trust between the trainer and owner is imperative. When the trainer is completely transparent about every detail of the possible transaction, the owner is less likely to feel the need to be present during the showing. Leaving this part of the process up to the professionals is almost always the best way to go.

Assuming the showing goes well and an offer is made, the agent has a responsibility to inform the seller of the offer, regardless if he thinks it will be accepted. Offers are often made to be contingent on a pre-purchase veterinary examination that is satisfactory to the buyer. So that no conflict of interest can be questioned, choosing the veterinarian for the exam is up to the buyer and his agent. Of course, the cost of the exam is also the responsibility of the buyer.

Once the buyer and his agent have satisfied themselves as to the soundness and suitability of the horse for their purposes, and the sale price is nailed down, a contract, sales agreement, or at the very least, a bill of sale is in order. A good seller’s agent has access to equine sales contract forms that can be modified to suit the situation, or the ability to write an appropriate agreement himself.

Anyone that has been an active participant in the equine marketplace for a significant amount of time has undoubtedly encountered transactions that were so easy, you could almost say they were textbook. However, some deals seem to be as capricious as the personalities involved.

One thing is for certain in the sale of any horse, agents who are fully transparent and honest, who sincerely have the best interest of their client at heart, are fundamental to the equine industry. The business end of the horse world may not be what is at the heart of why people get involved in the first place. But you can bet your bottom dollar that eventually, for every horse owner, the success of the horse business as a whole is going to matter a great deal!


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