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How to choose a real estate agent

The decision to buy or sell a home is one of the most important financial decisions most people make, yet many give little thought to finding the real estate agent best suited to their needs.

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Agents are often chosen solely on the recommendation of a friend or an ad in the newspaper. But choosing the right agent can save you time, effort and aggravation in finding the perfect home at a price you can afford or selling your home quickly for top dollar.

"Real estate has always been a mark of independence and freedom in this country," says Donald R. Brenner, professor emeritus at American University. "Owning property is very important, and when you deal with someone who is going to help you buy or sell a piece of property, you'd better find someone that knows what they're doing.

"If you pick up the phone book and choose from the yellow pages, you won't make a better decision than if you picked up the telephone book to choose a brain surgeon," says Brenner.

Shelley O'Hara, author of 'The Complete Idiot's Guide to Buying & Selling a Home,' says, "When you announce your desire to purchase a house, you may be surprised at the number of real estate people who want to represent you. Agents come out of the woodwork. You won't have to worry too much about finding an agent -- you do need to worry about finding a good one."

Paul Purcell, a partner in Braddock & Purcell, a real estate advocate in New York City, agrees. "Buying a house is the most important financial transaction most people will make in a lifetime," he says.

"The most important thing when either buying or selling a home is to select the right real estate agent, but people usually go about it backwards. They read a newspaper or get one of the home magazines in the supermarkets, and they call about a home they see advertised. They should first select the real estate agent -- one who will understand what they need and can navigate the system for them.

"Advertising is designed to make the brokers' and agents' phones ring. Typically no one buys the house they called for, but from that point on, they're joined at the hip with a real estate agent they don't know anything about -- whether they are good, bad or indifferent or new to the business. They need to find an agent before they find house."

Brenner explains, "You must make inquiries before you sign with an agent or broker. Commissions are usually substantial, so some real estate agents will try to sell you anything. They'll tell you every house is the best house they've ever seen, every room is the prettiest, your kids are going to love it, and your dog is going to bark nicely. They'll tell you anything!

"If you're selling, your property may be the most valuable thing you own and it is of utmost importance to find an agent you can trust," Brenner says. "A real estate agent has a high fiduciary duty -- a duty of trust and confidence. It is the most important duty of any sales person or broker in real estate. An agent must disclose all the material facts of any transaction -- everything they know about the property, good or bad. If a salesperson knows there are three inches of water in the basement every time it rains, he is obligated to disclose that fact."

 
 
Next: "Ask friends for referrals."
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