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real estate

No Time to Go It Alone

Now more than ever, you need someone in your corner to help you fight for the sale.

Now more than ever, you need someone in your corner to help you fight for the sale. A good relationship with a good agent is essential. Start with referrals from friends and family members, and interview at least three agents. The right one for you will be able to answer all your questions candidly. Find out about their background and experience. Have they sold homes in your neighborhood before? Do they work full-time? If they work part-time, will they be available to meet or talk with you on your time schedule?

A top priority is marketing -- you want to get the attention of buyers' agents. The Internet is a must-use tool these days (see the list of sites), and agents who don't have a Web site "could be missing hundreds of potential buyers," says Ciara Lascano, of Re/Max Allegiance, in Burke, Va.

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Discuss your needs and expectations frankly with potential agents before getting into the nitty-gritty of the listing contract. A typical commission is 5% or 6%, split between your agent and the buyer's agent, and paid out of the proceeds of the sale. Commissions are negotiable, but if a "full service" agent offers a big discount, make sure you get in writing the services he or she will provide. Discount brokers offer a specific set of services for a reduced commission or a la carte prices, but in a strong buyer's market, you may miss the extra hand-holding of a full-service broker. By the same token, for-sale-by-owner sales require a lot of work in even the hottest seller's markets. In a buyer's market, unless you price your home very low, you may not attract much interest.

In setting the terms of your contract, give your agent enough time to make a sale, but allow yourself room to bail out if you're not getting results. A listing of 90 days, which you can extend, gives you the most flexibility. -- Jessica Anderson

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