Here is a collection of frequently asked questions that we have put together to assist you. If you have any other questions, not listed here, feel free to call or send an e-mail.

What is the difference between a real estate agent and a real estate broker?

Most states require real estate sales professionals to be licensed by the state, so that they can control education and experience requirements and have a central authority to resolve consumer problems.

The terminology used to identify real estate professionals varies a little from state to state.  Brokers are generally required to have more education and experience than real estate salespersons or agents.

The person you normally deal with is a real estate agent or salesperson.  The salesperson is licensed by the state, but must work for a broker.  All listings are placed in the broker's name, not the salesperson's.

A broker can deal directly with home buyers and sellers, or can have a staff of salespersons or agents working for him or her. 


I want to buy a house. I know the property and the seller has an agent.  Do I need my own agent or can I negotiate a lower fee if I act as my own agent?

If you have to ask this question, you probably don't have the necessary knowledge to properly represent yourself.

The seller pays the real estate commission, not the buyer, and real estate commissions are already set in the listing contract. It doesn't cost you anything extra to have your own agent represent you because the seller is already paying for it.

If you don't have your own agent, the seller's agent will often represent both you and the seller as a "dual agent" or just represent the seller. This means the agent either has divided loyalties or is working for the seller, not you.

In this situation, since there is only one agent to be paid, sometimes you can get a reduction in price by getting the agent to accept a lower commission from the seller. However, you have to realize that you are interfering in what is essentially an agreement between the agent and the seller -- and something that has already been negotiated and agreed upon.

The seller can net the same gain on a lower price if they have to pay less commission. At the same time, the agent is not going to be willing to cut the commission totally in half because - since you don't have an agent - they are going to be doing some of the work that your agent would normally be doing (whether you realize it or not).

And you'd better know what you're doing Ė because the listing agent isnít going to be on your side. If your offer causes them to reduce their commission from what the seller has already agreed to -- that agent isn't going to be real happy with you.


What is a buyers agent, what does this specifically do for a buyer and who usually pays this "buyers agent"?

On most transactions, there is usually a listing agent and a selling agent. The selling agent is sometimes referred to in media as the buyer's agent, because he works on the buyer's behalf and it easier than explaining each time that the "selling agent" is not the listing agent and is actually the buyer's agent.


There are some agents that market themselves as "buyer's agents," "exclusive buyer's agents," buyer's representatives," and so on. Mostly it is just marketing. At the same time, part of it is because they want to accentuate the reasons a buyer should not go directly to the listing agent when they purchase real estate. This has to do with agency.

See, if a buyer goes directly to the listing agent, they are dealing with an agent that has conflicting responsibilities. Their job is to get a good price for the seller and they may not zealously represent the interests of the buyer. Those who market themselves as "Buyer's Agents" indicate they are only working for the buyer in a real estate transaction.

The commission is still paid by the seller, no matter what they say in their marketing (with extremely rare exceptions). They either get paid directly by the seller or set up the transaction so that the seller provides a "credit" to the buyer for how much the real estate commission is -- then the buyer pays the commission.

Like a Realtor I once knew said, "No matter how it is set up, the buyer still walks away with the house and the seller still walks away with 94% of the purchase price."


My home has been listed with an agent for over three months and Iím not happy. What options do I have?

All listing contracts have expiration dates. When is yours?

If it is not coming up soon, tell the agent and/or his manager that you want to cancel your listing. Often they will let you cancel easily, since they do not want to build ill will in the community.

If they won't, you can always pull your home off the market until the listing contract expires.


I have to make a choice between an updated home in an older neighborhood or a newer home in a more modern neighborhood. The home in the older neighborhood has almost everything I want and is much larger, but which makes the most sense as an investment?

If your goal is to buy a home for it's resale value and the one you are thinking of buying in the older neighborhood is at the upper end of values for that neighborhood, then it may not be the wisest choice. If it is similar or lower in price to the others, then there should be no problem, because pricing should be considered in relation to the local neighborhood and not compared to homes in other neighborhoods (for the most part)

Plus, is it a neighborhood on the decline, or are others going to be fixing things up, too, so that it is a neighborhood that is improving? It could turn out to be a very good deal as long as you don't "overpay" because of the recent improvements.

Remember that you also buy a home for it's value to you as a "home," and that is something else you should consider. Which neighborhood would you AND your family feel most comfortable in?


When buying a new home, what upgrades should we go for? What holds the most value? Do we upgrade the lot? Pick more square footage in the house? Add an extra bedroom?, etc.

A lot depends on why you are buying the house. Are you buying it mostly as a home or mostly as an investment? There is a difference.

For the most part, upgrades are high-profit items for builders. They aren't designed to enhance the value of the house, but make you happier with the house you do buy.

If you are looking at your home as an investment, then you buy from the smaller to medium size in the tract and spend only a minimal amount on upgrades. If you are looking at your purchase as a home, then you select upgrades that will enhance your quality of living.

One rule of thumb is to always upgrade the carpet and padding.


I need to buy a house with a good resale value. How do I determine if my house will increase in value within the next five years so that we can upgrade? I can buy a smaller house in a great location or get twice as much house in a good location. Which is a wiser decision?

It's like buying stocks. How do you really know which ones will increase most in value over the next five years? As with any investment, there are risks.

The most often quoted rule is that location is the most important factor.You want to make sure that the house does not back to busy streets and is as close to the interior of the tract as possible. Avoid corners and intersections. Choose the middle of the block or a cul de sac. You'll want to be sure it has at least two bathrooms (if you are buying in an older area).

Sometimes it is just timing that works out best for you. For example, if you buy a home before a major surge in local prices.


My house recently went into escrow that was supposed to last 60 days. One week before closing we were notified by the real estate agent that the house did not appraise for the amount agreed upon in the sales contract. The buyers are refusing to obtain another mortgage company or another appraisal at my cost. Do they forfeit their 2500.00 that is in escrow to me, or is it a technicality and they get their money back?

First, look at your purchase contract. Most Realtors put deadlines in the contract during which certain things must occur, such as appraisal or loan approval. Review the contract to see if they lived up to those types of terms in the contract. Second, press to find out why it took 55 days to get an appraisal. This just seems wrong. Request the name and phone number of the appraiser so your agent can make inquiries.

Youíre probably not being given the true reason for cancellation.

Escrow normally cannot release the deposit money without the permission of both sides. Continue to press until you feel you are being given the real reasons for not closing the transaction.

Keep in mind that if you are asking for legal advice, that can only be obtained from a lawyer.

We were set to close and the seller now wants to set up new closing date. Can I get them to come down off the price of the house and anything else you think that would help me?

The seller may have had legitimate reasons or perhaps not. You can attempt to renegotiate the price if you choose to, and this can be looked at several ways. Once you make your offer to purchase the house at a lower price, this can be looked at as a new offer, which can nullify your original offer.

Most likely, you are going to just have to decide whether you like the house enough to go ahead with the purchase.

The seller is unable to find a replacement property by the time the sixty day escrow closes. They have requested an extension of thirty days. If we do not agree to that extension, will we lose the appraisal fee, the home inspection fee, and our deposit?

You'll probably get your deposit back, minus a small cancellation fee. However, the appraisal and home inspection have been done and those guys don't work for free, so that money is gone. Since both the appraisal and home inspection were done for that specific property, if you choose not to extend and buy a different property you will have to pay those fees again.


Do you want to extend and wait around another thirty days and find the seller still has not purchased something? Remember in your purchase contract that you had time conditions placed upon you. For example, it may have been two days to apply for a loan, seven days to review the disclosures, fourteen days to get a home inspection, and so on.

One hour before closing I signed an addendum to remove tires from the property. There were about 6 to 8tires that I had removed. Mysteriously, about 30 tires have appeared on the property. Am I responsible for their removal? I have witnesses that can state they were not on the property on settlement day.

It just goes to show you how crazy real estate can be, doesn't it?

Most real estate contracts detail exactly when you are to turn over possession of the property to the seller. Turning over possession usually occurs sometime after the transaction actually closes. Often this is three days after closing. If the tires showed up before the transfer of the property (as stated in the contract), you should probably remove the tires.


When buying a home, if there has been flooding that results in damage and it has not been fixed, must that be disclosed to the buyer? Does this need to be disclosed if 1. The buyer does not ask about flooding. 2. the Buyer does ask about flooding?

Disclosure rules vary from state to state, but most require the seller to disclose any problems he knows about. However, the rules on disclosure vary according to whether the seller is an individual or a bank, and whether they are represented by an agent or not. Rules on disclosure are not as strict for bank-owned properties and FSBO's.

If you received a "Transfer Disclosure Statement" from the seller, then you probably live in a state that requires disclosure. Go back through your documents and see if you have such a form. Whether the buyer asks about flooding should be immaterial - if a seller knows about a problem, they should disclose it.

If the real estate agent representing the Buyer knows of a flooding problem, must they disclose this information to the buyer? Is it unethical if they do not?

Real estate agents are not going to be as familiar with a property as the seller. If you received a Transfer Disclosure Statement and either the listing agent or the selling agent knew of a problem not listed by the seller, they should have added it to the form. It is generally required that they do so. However, they may not have known - and they cannot disclose problems they don't know about or that were concealed by the seller.



Where can I find a Real Estate Agent "Code of Ethics," if there is such a thing?

Some real estate agents are members of the National Association of Realtors, which does have a code of ethics for their 720,000 members. It is located at http://www.realestateabc.com/codeofethics/

I have reason to believe that the seller's agent was not truthful about the opposing bids for a property. I'm suspicious he made up bids to drive up the price I eventually offered. Do I have the right to demand proof of the opposing bids?

An agent or a seller is not obligated to divulge details of competing offers. You can ask for it in a counter-offer, but you may be taking a risk on losing the property altogether. If you feel you were a victim of fraud, you should consult with an attorney and ask him or her for advice.

Can a broker sign an Exclusive Buyer Representation Agreement with a buyer when that broker is representing the seller as a dual agent? Isn't this a conflict of interest?

There are a few different forms with similar sounding names. The form you signed probably means you agree to use that agent exclusively and will not go out looking for another agent.

The other form with a similar name does what you suggest. It means the agent will only represent you in the particular transaction.

Read what you sign. Get copies.

I am an out of state owner and made a deal to sell my vacant lot. The buyer was a licensed real estate agent who within a week (and before we closed our transaction) had sold it to someone else for $50,000 more than what they paid me. Is this legal or ethical?

It sounds like you are asking if you have a legal case to sue the individual. For that you need to consult with an attorney. If I were you, I would certainly be talking to an attorney.

Is it legal for an agent representing the buyers in a deal to lend money to their client for the down payment on a home?

This is not legal advice, so don't take it as legal advice.

Most mortgages don't allow the borrower to borrow money for the down payment. If the borrower conceals the fact that they are borrowing money for the down payment, then the borrower is committing fraud against the lender.

Is the Realtor doing anything illegal? From the lender's point of view, the borrower is the client, not the Realtor. The application specifically asks if any part of the down payment is borrowed.

But this is supposed to be a forum about the 'real' world of real estate, and the truth is that things like this do happen without any consequences. If every loan and every purchase was done strictly according to the rules, many fewer homes would be sold and fewer loans would be originated. No one is supposed to say that, but it is true.

This is not to say that such a practice is "okay" - just to say that it occurs.

If it is brought to the attention of the lender in some way, however, they may "call" the loan, which means the borrower would have to refinance the loan and get a new mortgage.

If the borrower gets into serious financial trouble because they took on too many obligations (including the borrowed money from the agent) - and they blame their Realtor - lawsuits could begin flying and sometimes have disastrous consequences.

I listed my house with an agent with the understanding that if one of two friends buy my property, she would be compensated at 3% commission. One of my friends has made an offer. When my agent sent me the estimated pay out from the transaction, she put in her commission as 6%. Her explanation is that the original deal was only good until she listed the house in MLS. Is this ethical? Or legal?

Sounds like...well, it doesn't sound ethical, does it? Since agents generally list a property in the MLS immediately, it doesn't sound like a genuine explanation. You should have made sure the listing contract contained this stipulation, but that is looking backward. One explanation is that she found it difficult to tell her manager of her agreement with you, and now that she is stuck, doesn't know how to fix it.

I would call the Realtor's manager and start out very nicely and tactfully about your verbal agreement with the agent, and how that seems to have become "confused."  Normally, the desire to build good will in the community will convince the manager to acquiesce and adjust the commission appropriately.



Can you negotiate the price of a bank owned home?

Everything in real estate is negotiable. However, banks are more sophisticated about pricing than they were years ago. So those "Get a great deal on a foreclosure!" days aren't what they used to be. Lowball offers generally don't go very far.

How would I go about finding someone to finance a sheriff sale property?

You don't.

You have to show up with a cashier's check or certified funds. I suppose if you had another asset that you could borrow against AND you could get a loan large enough using that asset as collateral, you could do it that way. But you're actually financing the other asset and not the foreclosure property.


For Sale By Owner

Iím selling my home "by owner," and a real estate agent who wants to show my home to a buyer said something about "agent protection." What does this mean?

This probably refers to the agent wanting to protect their right to a commission should you elect to sell to their client. In our home selling library, we have an article on types of listings. One of those is a "one time show." This is something the agent will probably come in and get you to sign before bringing in their clients. It identifies the client, the commission, and prevents you and that buyer from negotiating directly at a later time, with the intent to cut the agent out of the deal and not pay a commission.

On a FSBO (for sale by owner), what is financial obligation, if any, to sell to client with buyer agent?

When a buyer's agent has a client who makes an offer to buy your home, the offer will also ask you to cover the agent's commission - either directly or indirectly. Since the traditional arrangement usually includes two agents and the customary commission is approximately six percent of the sales price, the commission asked for in this transaction should be approximately half. There is only one agent involved.

On the one hand, you save money over traditional agent marketing. On the other hand, you don't make as much as if you sold the home at its full market value. Then, on the other hand again, sellers working with agents usually get a higher price for their home than seller who work by themselves. It is a difficult decision for you to make.

Anyway, the offer will ask you to either pay the commission directly to the agent and their broker, or apply a "credit" to the buyer so that the buyer can pay the commission. Either way it comes out of the proceeds of your sale.

We are thinking about selling our home on our own. If a buyer comes in with a Realtor do we still have to pay their agent the 3% commission?

That depends on whether you choose to "cooperate" with agents or not. If you do not, agents will not bring buyers to your house. If you do cooperate, some agents will bring buyers, but if their client makes an offer and closes the deal, they will expect to earn a commission. A three percent commission is customary, but you can attempt to negotiate, too.

Before an agent brings a client to your house, they will probably stop by and ask you to sign a "one time show" agreement. This prevents you and the buyer from negotiating directly in an attempt to not pay the agentís commission.

How do I sell my house by owner?

You want a quick answer? People write entire books on this topic and one of the better ones is "Sold by Owner," by Robert Irwin.

It's like golf - it sounds easy. You just whack the ball a bunch of times until it goes into the hole.  You may land in a sand trap or go out of bounds, but if you keep whacking at it, the ball eventually goes in the hole.

Buying and selling real estate is the same way.  If you are willing to do all the work, you can muddle through and get it done.

Infomercial Claims

Iíve seen these "No Down Payment" plans on late night television and want to know if they are real or just a scam?

The guys in the infomercials make a lot of money, but not in real estate. They are in the business of selling books, plans, seminars, etc. It's easier selling you those crazy schemes than it is for them to actually do what they are advocating in their programs.

If it was so easy, they would be buying real estate that way, not putting out infomercials.

Consistently making money in real estate requires a lot of hard work and a lot of hours. It isn't a "get rich quick" scheme, though sometimes the market turns at just the right moment and you can get lucky enough to make a quick buck.

Sometimes you hear about the "late night gurus" being charged with fraud. Those telling their "success stories" are often just actors.


Income Tax

What, precisely, can be claimed as a tax deduction when you buy a home?

This is really a question you should ask a local CPA or whoever does your taxes. We encourage you to follow up with a professional tax advisor as we are not qualified or authorized to give advice in two areas - legal matters and tax matters.

Briefly put, providing you itemize deductions, own and occupy the home, you can deduct both property taxes paid on the home and interest paid on your mortgage. You can deduct the points and prepaid interest you make during the actual purchase, whether you pay them or the seller pays them on your behalf.

There are certain limits and restrictions which do not affect most people, but this is another reason you should contact a tax professional regarding your question.



How can I find out how much my house is worth? There are no comparable homes in my area.

This may be a bad sign for you, especially if you think your house is worth more than other houses in your neighborhood. Homes maintain their value better if the neighboring properties are fairly similar.

In your situation, you may actually have to talk to several Realtors, get their opinions, and come up with some sort of consensus. Without knowing why there are no comparable properties in your area it is difficult to give another suggestion. If your lot or home is over-improved for the area, that means the value will most not likely be what you think it is. If your home is much larger, you might not get the same cost per square foot as other homes in the area.

So I would talk to a bunch of Realtors and get their opinions. I would not recommend hiring an appraiser, however, even though a lot of books recommend this. Appraisers are better at "justifying" a price than in determining market value.

Where can I get information about the asking prices of properties that have sold during the last six months? I have found information on the selling prices, and would like to compare them to the asking prices.

The only place I can think of where you can obtain that information is the Multiple Listing Service. For that, you need to be a member, but you could ask an agent to obtain the information for you. I cannot think of any reason why an agent would not be willing to give you that information, so just ask one.

There really is not a concrete value in knowing the asking prices. There are different strategies in developing an asking price, plus a lot of properties start out over-priced to begin with. Comparing properly priced houses to over-priced houses, then lumping them together in some sort of analysis would skew your figures.

I can see how you could intend to use such knowledge for the purposes of negotiation, but with an informed listing agent, it should be a fairly ineffective strategy.

For example, recently I saw a web site where the agent was hawking his ability as a listing agent. He said the average home in his area sold for 93% of asking price, but his average listing sold for 97% of asking price. The implication was that he got more money for his sellers.

The truth is probably just that he priced his homes correctly to begin with.

How do you know whether the price of a home per square foot is reasonable or if you are about to make a bad decision?

Though this seems like an easy question, it is not as simple as it sounds.

Keep in mind that much more goes into the market value of a house than itís square footage. For example, two houses next door to each other can have the same square footage, but if one has two bathrooms and the other has only one, guess which one will probably be worth more? It will also cost more per square foot.

However, if you compare recent sales of similar homes, the cost per square foot should be similar to those properties. You can ask your agent to provide you with comparable sales data.


Should you have any other questions, please feel free to contact the Real Estate Group 845-639-9800

Instant Home Value