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Finding a real estate agent in a buyer's market: 6 keys

In much of the country, house sellers have gone from strutting to sulking. At the rate that homes were resold in October, it would take about seven-and-a-half months to sell all the houses on the market. A year before, there was less than a five-month supply of houses for sale. Buyers now have the advantage, as millions of "for sale" signs rust forlornly in front yards.

"There isn't that stream of buyers like you had a year and a half ago, where people were waiting in line," says Jim Merrion, regional director of RE/MAX Northern Illinois.

For sellers, the cyclical return to a buyer's market means that it's important to choose the right real estate agent.

Hiring a real estate agent
Experts offer some advice on finding your real estate agent:
6 keys to finding your agent
6. Determine the right asking price.

1. Weigh the pros and cons of selling it yourself. First off, you have to decide whether to go the FSBO, or for sale by owner, route. "You have to be crazy to start out with an agent in a market that's a buyer's market," says Colby Sambrotto, chief operating officer of ForSaleByOwner.com, a no-commission real-estate marketplace that helps FSBO sellers market their properties. "It's downright financially irresponsible to start out with a 6-percent agent."

If you're selling in a buyer's market, you have to price the house competitively, "and if you also have to tack onto that a 6-percent commission to an agent, you're hurting," Sambrotto says.

That's one way of looking at it. Another way is to conclude that you need all the help you can get when trying to sell a house in a difficult market. "With the market right now, the sellers are much less inclined to go FSBO than they were before," Merrion says.

2. Find and interview would-be agents. If you decide to hire an agent, the first thing to do is find and interview at least a couple of candidates for the job. You might want to start out by calling an agent who has been "farming" the neighborhood -- mailing postcards every few weeks, giving away magnetic calendars to stick on the refrigerator, driving around in a distinctive vehicle.

"It's a tried-and-true technique, and that's good," says Elizabeth Razzi, author of "The Fearless Home Buyer" and the forthcoming (in February 2007) "The Fearless Home Seller." Razzi adds: "The only thing is that just because this agent chose your neighborhood doesn't necessarily mean you should choose that agent."

Next: "When people bluff, they tend to get into trouble."
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