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Fees charged by real estate agents vary be region, workload
By Edith Lank | Columnist
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Published: 10/2/2010 11:18 PM

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Q. How much do Realtors charge for listing and selling a home?

A. Agents usually work for a percentage of the eventual sale price. Although, it's perfectly possible to agree on a flat amount, or as with most lawyers, an hourly fee.

There is no standard rate, and each company is free to set its own charges. While upfront fees are possible, the brokerage traditionally waits to be paid at the end, out of the proceeds of the sale, if and when the property actually changes hands. Payment is made directly to the company, not to the individual salesperson handling the property.

The specific percentage rate is determined by agreement between agent and client, and it can be any figure they agree on. Like the price of gasoline or milk, though, charges for real estate services tend to cluster around the same figure in any given community. I've had readers from different areas mention "the usual 7 percent," "a standard 5 percent," or "as always, 6 percent."

A brokerage might charge more when working with vacant land that will take a long time to sell and require more driving to show, or with inexpensive property that might not otherwise pay for the effort and advertising costs. A reduced commission, on the other hand, might be negotiated for a very expensive property, or something listed at a bargain price for a quick sale.

When property is listed by one company and sold by another, the fee is divided according to agreement between the brokers, with no extra charge to the seller.

All I have is a house that is not paid for yet. I would like to know how I would leave it to my daughter when I die. Should I put her name on it now?

A. Without knowing more of your circumstances, I'd guess that the simplest and best way to leave your house to your daughter is to say so in a will. Find yourself an attorney who specializes in elder law. He or she will know if some other arrangement would suit your circumstances better and will take care of any needed paperwork.

I owe $45,000 on my home and it was recently appraised for $126,000. Should I try to get a rent-to-buy or sell it? It needs some work that I can't afford.

A. Are you saying you want to move out? If so, it sounds as if you'd be better off selling the house outright. Negotiating a rent-to-buy contract is no job for an inexperienced landlord, and it's easy to end up in trouble. It wouldn't solve your repair problems anyhow.

Call some local real estate brokers and ask about putting the house on the market as is. The agents will know if you can sell the house in its present condition. If you can't, they'll have better advice than I can give you sight unseen.

My husband and I are retired and ready to downsize. We have a unique property: a geodesic dome and a 2,000-square-foot shop building on 26 acres. We know this will take some time to sell.

We would really like to talk to someone knowledgeable about the real estate market and who can guide us as to the timing of putting the house on the market. We are leery of contacting a real estate agent before we are ready to commit; previous experience has shown us that once an agent is involved, we will be pressured to list immediately.

Specifically, we are thinking to list around next March in order to take advantage of people looking during the spring months. But does the unusual nature of the property mean we should perhaps list as soon as possible, because the sale will take more time than a more traditional home?

How do we find someone who can discuss the ins and outs of this without immediately jumping into a contract? Do you think we should we call an agent?

A. Don't call an agent. Call every agent you can find. Get in touch with every brokerage that's active in your town and ask them to send someone over.

You can always make it clear that you won't list with any agent who pesters you. But you'll get lots of good advice, and you may well meet a broker who inspires confidence someone who seems to do business in a way that feels right to you.

Meanwhile, assuming you don't mind the neighbors knowing you may be moving, word will get out that "The Dome" may be for sale, which can't hurt.

I need advice in prepaying the remaining mortgage loan (nine years of 15 years left at the rate of 5.375 percent). Can you let me know the steps to do it, to make it foolproof and perfectly legal?

A. Ask your mortgage company for a payoff statement. It will calculate exactly how much you would owe on a certain day in the future, including instructions for how to make the payment.

After that's done, your mortgage company should issue a certificate of satisfaction stating that the debt has been cleared. This important document must be entered in your county's public records office. Most lenders will do that, and then it may take a few months the certificate is forwarded to you. It should carry a stamp indicating that it's been recorded. If not, contact your records office to double-check. If it's not on file, you can take it down there and enter it yourself.

You are also entitled to a refund of any money left in your escrow account (if you have one) because that's your money. And from now on, you'll be paying your own taxes and insurance bills directly.

• Edith Lank will respond to questions sent to her at 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester, N.Y. 14620 (please include a stamped return envelope), or readers may e-mail her at

2010, Creators Syndicate Inc.