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Steve McLinden, the Real Estate AdviserSelling home long-distance? Dial up a pro

Dear Real Estate Adviser,
I need to sell my parents' old house -- functional but in need of cosmetic repair -- from afar. Do you have any insights about interviewing real estate agents for this type of sale or any other suggestions?
-- Dee Camp

Dear Dee,
Since trust is such a big issue here, get agent recommendations from friends and family in your parents' town, then try to interview at least three agents. If you do end up cold-calling agencies to find one or two of those candidates, specify you will only consider an agent who has done this type of sale before and who would be comfortable with you calling the shots from out of town.

Make sure the prospective agent has ready access to the property since you can't be there. Later, ask the agent for an estimate on a negotiated sale price under current market conditions, anticipated time on the market, etc. Emphasize you don't want a rosy picture painted for you. From there, inquire about the agent's marketing plan for the property.

Since the place is in need of repair, a good Realtor will have suggestions about the house's condition, whether to sell it "as is" or invest in a few cosmetic or functional changes to gussy it up a bit. Invite these. Also, discuss whether it would be more beneficial to market the place with some of the furnishings and décor left in it or to just show it empty -- assuming your parents are no longer living there.

You should also determine if the agent is willing to check on the site periodically if listed with that firm. Also ask, "What do I need to know that I haven't already asked about?"

Realize that you will need to be accessible at the drop of a hat, so it's very important that you establish a clear communication channel with the agent. Make sure you can be reached by cell phone, work phone or home phone at odd hours, should an offer be proffered or a concern arises.

If a deal is in the works, insist you get advance copies of all documents you will need to sign and (or) approve before closing. In most states, it's relatively easy to close by power of attorney so you needn't be present.

In the meantime, try to keep the house's basic utilities on and arrange to have one or two folks look in on the place from time to time, flush the toilets, turn the faucets on and off, leave a few lights on, run the fan or air conditioning unit and dust up a little before a showing so the place doesn't have a stale smell. Lawn care would be imperative during growing months and a cleaning service would be an excellent idea.

Since some of this country's softening sales markets are simultaneously becoming strong rental markets, it might make more sense to rent out the place for a year or two until the market stabilizes and you have more selling leverage. Of course, securing the right friend or professional, to look after the place and do this, is of paramount importance since you aren't around. The tenant-screening process, say landlords, is the most important part of the rental equation. One wrong choice and you might have an undesirable inhabitant on your hands who may trash the place, skip out without notice or -- worse yet -- stop paying rent but refuse to leave.

Good luck on your decision.

To ask a question of the Real Estate Adviser, go to the "Ask the Experts" page and select "buying, selling a home" as the topic.'s corrections policy -- Posted: Oct. 28, 2006
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