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When selling a home sellers often make emotional or impulsive decisions that cost them money and time. Choosing the right Realtor to market a property and negotiate the sale is the most important step in the process.

If you think buying or selling a home is a simple matter of cruising open houses or posting a “for sale” sign on the front lawn, consider the following: Do you have access to every home for sale in the neighbourhoods you’re interested in? Do you have the time, energy and resources to research the housing market? Can you market a property effectively? Can you read real estate contracts and, if selling a home, do you understand your legal obligations toward buyers?

Buying and selling real estate can be complicated, not to mention the biggest financial decision most people ever make. With so much at stake, working with a professional real estate agent can help locate the right property at the right price, or negotiate the best deal possible on your home sweet home.

When it comes to choosing a real estate agent, consumers who do their homework can save thousands of dollars and experience a smooth financial and physical transition. Here are a few helpful hints for choosing a real estate agent that is right for you:

• Ask friends and family members for referrals. Most real estate agents stay in business because satisfied clients refer them to friends, family, neighbours and coworkers. Ask the people around you who they have used and ask them to describe their experiences with this real estate agent. Successful agents make customer satisfaction their number one priority and put their customers’ needs before their own.

• Do they know the neighbourhood? Is the agent familiar with the housing market in the areas you’re looking to buy or sell? Agents with a history of transactions in neighbourhoods that interest you will know what’s available and in what price range. If you’re listing your property, a good agent will know the market well enough to set an optimum asking price attractive to both seller and buyer.

• Keep in mind when choosing a real estate agent that he or she has access to a powerful tool — the Multiple Listing Service (M.L.S.) that inventories all available properties by region. A skilled agent can use the M.L.S., plus their own experience, to locate homes in neighbourhoods matching your property wish list — such as a quality school system, convenient shopping or close highway access.

• What level of customer care will you receive? A real estate agent is your business partner in a huge financial undertaking, so you’ll want to choose a real estate agent that is always ready, willing and available. Be sure that communication stays open and phone calls are returned.

• Know what you’re signing. Take the time to read through all of the fine print if asked to sign a working contract with an agent.

Who’s Working For You?

It is important that you understand who the REALTOR® is working for. For example, both the seller and the buyer may have their own agent which means they each have a REALTOR® who is representing them. Or, some buyers choose to contact the seller’s agent directly. Under this arrangement the REALTOR® is representing the seller, and must do what is best for the seller, but may provide many valuable customer services to the buyer.

A REALTOR® working with a buyer may even be a ‘sub-agent’ of the seller. Under sub-agency, both the listing brokerage and the cooperating brokerage must do what is best for the seller even though the sub-agent may provide many valuable customer services to the buyer.

If the brokerage represents both the seller and the buyer, this is dual representation.

Seller’s Agent

When a real estate brokerage represents a seller, it must do what is best for the seller of the property.

If you are selling your home you may want to “list” your property for sale with a real estate firm. A written contract, called a “listing agreement”, creates an agency relationship between the seller and the brokerage and establishes seller representation. It also explains services the brokerage will provide, establishes a fee arrangement for the REALTOR’s® services and specifies what obligations a seller may have.

A seller’s agent must tell the seller anything known about a buyer. For instance, if a seller’s agent knows a buyer is willing to offer more for a property, that information must be shared with the seller.

Confidences a seller shares with a seller’s agent must be kept confidential from potential buyers and others.

Although confidential information about the seller cannot be discussed, a buyer working with a seller’s agent can expect fair and honest service from the seller’s agent and disclosure of pertinent information about the property.

Buyer’s Agent

A real estate brokerage representing a buyer must do what is best for the buyer.

A written contract, called a “buyer representation agreement” creates an agency relationship between the buyer and the brokerage, and establishes buyer representation. It also explains services the brokerage will provide, establishes a fee arrangement for the REALTOR’s® services and specifies what obligations a buyer may have.

Typically, buyers will be obligated to work exclusively with that brokerage for a period of time.

Confidences a buyer shares with the buyer’s agent must be kept confidential.

Although confidential information about the buyer cannot be discussed, a seller working with a buyer’s agent can expect fair and honest service from the seller’s agent and disclosure of pertinent information about the property.

Dual Representation

Occasionally a real estate brokerage will represent both the buyer and the seller. The buyer and seller must consent to this arrangement in writing. Under this dual representation arrangement, the brokerage must do what is best for both the buyer and the seller.

Since the brokerage’s loyalty is divided between the buyer and the seller who have conflicting interests, it is absolutely essential that a dual representation relationship be properly documented. Representation agreements specifically describe the rights and duties of everyone involved and any limitations to those rights and duties.