Finding a Realtor that's right for you

When it's time to sell their homes, more than 80 percent of Americans turn to a Realtor to get them the best deal with the least hassle.

That's what Wells Sampson did when he decided to sell his house in Winchester, Mass.

Initially he planned to sell it himself to a buyer he knew, and save himself the realty commission.

A neighbor across the street had just sold her house herself in one day for $80,000 profit.

But then a Realtor told Mr. Sampson that the neighbor had lost out, and that she could get $30,000 more for his house.

In just three days, the Realtor drummed up three offers for more than the asking price.

Even after the commission, Sampson made $15,000 more than he would have gotten had he sold it himself.

Finding the right Realtor isn't always so simple. You shouldn't necessarily turn to the same Realtor to sell your house whom you bought it from, says Eric Tyson, co-author of "House Selling for Dummies." Some Realtors work better with buyers, some with sellers.

You should interview at least three Realtors. All three should arrive at your house with a list of "comps" -recent sales of comparably sized and priced houses in your neighborhood to base a listing price on, says Lou Hrono, a Realtor with Re/max associates in Medford, Mass.

Their estimate of your home's value may vary wildly, and most sellers are tempted to hire the highest bidder. Don't.

The three worst reasons to choose a Realtor, Hrono says, are: They present the highest asking price, charge the lowest commission, or say they already have a buyer waiting who's looking for a house like yours.

For starters, setting a higher asking price is often a mistake, and a lower price will bring more money in the end.

Second, most Realtors charge a commission in the range of 4 to 6 percent of the final sale price. Realtors who charge less, says Mr. Hrono, may save money by not advertising as heavily - hardly a way to find the most willing buyers.

And third, the prearranged buyer may not exist. Even when they do, many home sales fall through for unforeseen reasons. So having one buyer who wants to tour your house is not a big accomplishment.

Make sure you hire a full-time Realtor who knows the local area well, says Marianne Vitaly, manager of Century 21 Gundaker in St. Louis.

Someone in the business part time may not be willing to meet buyers with busy schedules and may not be available anytime you have questions. Likewise a generalist who covers lots of markets may not be able to answer buyers' questions about school districts, shopping, and the community.

If the Realtor charges a commission of 6 percent or higher, be ready to negotiate. Realtors often lower their commission to keep a listing.

Faced with the prospect of her client selling his house himself, Sampson's Realtor offered to lower her commission from 6 percent to 4-1/2 percent.

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