Tips for consumers: Know thy realtor

Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2002

Nearly 80 percent of all home sales nationwide are made with the assistance of a real estate agent or broker. Both home sellers and buyers enlist the services of real estate professionals to help them with real estate transactions.

If you're selling your home, a good real estate agent or broker can help you determine how much your home is worth, devise a strategy to market the property, help judge whether prospective buyers are financially qualified to purchase your home and coordinate many of the financial details involved in closing the deal.

For the prospective homebuyer, the real estate agent/broker can help in negotiating a price for a home, but only up to a point. Unless you have entered into a separate agreement in which the agent agrees to represent you, the agent you are working with is working for the seller. It does not matter if he or she is the listing agent or not.

The agent can also offer his knowledge of the market, write up a contract that presents your buying offer and any conditions or contingencies on the sale that you may require, such as the sale of your home or home inspection. The agent cannot, however, tell you what the seller's bottom line is, even if he or she has that information.

When choosing a real estate agent or broker, ask friends, neighbors and co-workers for referrals. Check to make sure the agent or broker you select is properly licensed to practice in your state. Also contact your Better Business Bureau for a reliability report on the agent or broker.

Some homebuyers do not feel comfortable working only with an agent or broker who is receiving a commission from the seller, therefore they hire a "buyer broker" to represent them. As with the seller's broker, a buyer's broker can research the area and type of house you're interested in.

Beyond that, a buyer's broker can suggest sale prices and terms that may differ greatly from listing agreements, since he or she is obligated to represent the buyer's interest, not the seller's.

If you have a complaint against a real estate agent or broker, go on-line at plaints/lookup.asp.

Al Tobin is CEO of Better Business Bureau of Alaska, Inc..

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