By Carole Moore
Mortgage rates recently hit all-time record lows, giving consumers plenty of incentive to buy a first home or sell the present one and move up. Cash-strapped buyers often shop for the best value -- but should they do it all themselves, or spring for the services of a real estate pro?
Although commissions can add up, real estate professionals say their services routinely extend far beyond what the public expects. Real estate agents can:
Determine the value of your home. A real estate agent will tell you even if you're not a client. Realtor David Welch of RE/MAX 200 Realty in Orlando, Fla., says he's happy to help homeowners figure out how much their homes are really worth. He prepared a comparative market assessment for one couple that purchased their home during the peak of the overheated market a few years ago, he says. "They were convinced the assessment on their home was overstated, since values had started to decline." They were able to use Welch's assessment as proof to score a county tax break.
Locate your ideal neighborhood. Agents know what makes a neighborhood your kind of place, says Michael Lebout, a Realtor in Colorado Springs, Colo., who is regional vice president of the National Association of Realtors. After all, being a reliable conduit of information brings them repeat business, and since the U.S. Census says the average American moves 11.7 times in his or her lifetime, it makes good sense to know where the parks and schools reign supreme.
Find some help mowing your lawn. Real estate agencies routinely help their clients keep their property clean and yards manicured — a real plus when selling from a distance. Lebout's Colorado Springs is home to a large military population, where people often move before their houses are sold. Having someone to keep the property in tip-top shape makes life easier and a sale more likely.
Think like an advertising whiz. Tech-savvy buyers now expect more when they're perusing the Internet for a new place. "In a market flooded with inventory, having an effective, well-crafted video tour can be the difference between buyers scheduling a viewing or summarily dismissing it as not meeting their needs," says Alex Cortez of Island Sotheby's in Maui, which specializes in high-end properties.
Help you cash in on local deals. Many real estate professionals have local connections offering discounts, coupons, and other goodies to those buying into a new area. Lebout says it's good business for everyone.
Develop your home's designer potential. Home staging has come into its own, and many real estate pros offer this service without charge or at minimal cost to the seller. Realtor Peggy Palms of Boone, N.C., says: "The best surprise is how gorgeous the house can look and how fast the buyers will write an offer when they see your 'model home.' "
Be a friend for life. A top-notch agent doesn't stop helping once the ink dries on the sales contract, but stays in touch with clients and their needs, says Lebout. "Selling the house is only part of it." He himself remains on call for his clients years after a sale is completed, he says.