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posted: 5/4/2013 5:30 AM

What to ask when selecting a real estate agent

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Q. We are going to sell our condo this spring and intend to follow your advice and interview three Realtors. We are not sure what probing questions to ask. Can you please advise us?

A. I asked a couple of experienced brokers what they'd advise. One suggests asking, "How many homes have you sold in this area in the past year? How would you market this property? Open houses? Advertising? What advice can you give me now, and what do you do after the sale?"

The second one would inquire, "What is your marketing plan?" and "How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?"

The questions I'd ask were a bit different: "How much have buyers been spending in this neighborhood lately and how does my condo compare? What should I do so the place will show well? Do you think any repairs might be required by a buyer's mortgage lender?" and, of course, "What would you suggest as an asking price?"

Q. I read and enjoy your column every week. I am, however, very troubled by your continually saying consult an attorney regarding title questions in estate planning. You do not mention transfer on death or pay on death accounts. Lawyers hate this type of estate planning as it cuts them out of future revenues from these transactions. I feel your answers in this matter are more of a way to cover your bases than sound advice.

A. Here are a few reasons I don't recommend specific legal procedures (beyond making a will, which everyone should do): I'm not a lawyer; I don't know the reader's whole situation; my field is real estate, not estate planning; and finally, this column appears in many states, not all of which offer the same legal options.

You may be interested in this letter I received:

"I am an Elder Law/Estate Planning/Residential Real Estate attorney. Your recent column may be my all-time favorite, especially your response regarding the importance of consulting with an attorney.

"It amazes me that so many people think that a real estate transaction is a simple matter with little or no likelihood of unintended consequences. I cannot count how many times I have seen a simple quitclaim deed cause grief in terms of unintended tax consequences, Medicaid eligibility denials and inheritance issues, all of which might have been avoided with a consultation with an attorney who discusses those potential issues in advance.

"Your column should be required reading for anyone involved with real estate!"

Q. We are considering buying a house that we will ultimately use as a retirement winter home in nine years. Should I do it now when costs are still low or wait until I retire? We wouldn't rent it out; we would just use it a few weeks a year until then.

A. Things change. And they can change a lot in nine years. I don't recommend buying retirement property until you're within a couple of years of really using it. What you spend on taxes, insurance, repairs and upkeep over the years will add considerably to the cost of that home, compared with buying it at a higher price later. If I were you, I'd wait.

Q. We used a broker when we relocated, although all the homes we liked were those I found online myself. The broker is well mannered and helpful. However, we ended up buying a home I found myself.

We do not have a contract with him but liked him. He knows we are interested in another move but never contacts us with suggestions. He phones us on our birthdays and he has offered to send us listings of possible interest but has not done so.

Should we find something we'd like to buy, would we have a financial advantage in dealing with the seller's agent alone? We don't mind paying for services of someone who takes initiative, but it seems silly to call someone in to handle a sale in a situation where we have already done our own due diligence (checking past sales, comparable homes in the neighborhood, etc.) and we could cut the seller's commission in half.

A. You are free to switch agents any time, unless you are bound by a signed agency contract that says otherwise. You may deal directly with the sellers' agent or any other agent you may prefer. But the amount of commission has already been agreed upon between seller and broker and is not really your concern. It won't be discounted even if no other broker is involved and the seller's agent is doing all the work.

• Edith Lank will respond to questions sent to her at 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester, N.Y. 14620 (include a stamped return envelope), or readers may email her through askedith.com.

2012, Creators Syndicate Inc.

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