Q: My mother has had her house listed for the past three months. Unfortunately, she’s had one offer that fell apart and nothing since then.

She is worried that her real estate agent has lost interest in her house. The agent recently signed onto represent a big new housing development. At the same time, she’s suddenly pushing Mom to lower her price.

Does that mean she has lost interest? When do you know if you should hire another agent?

A: After three months without an offer, any good agent might suggest lowering the price point in order to sell. Whether or not you need to do this will depend on how fast your local market is moving.

Simply suggesting that your mother lower her price isn’t grounds to fire the agent. The real question is what else has she been doing to market the property? Has she held open houses for the public and for brokers? Has she advertised the home?

If the answer is that she hasn’t done anything for three months except ask your mother to lower the price, then a conversation is in order. Your mother should do her agent the courtesy of asking what plans she has for the marketing of the property and ask her to provide the sales data for homes similar to hers in the area over the past three months.

If the conversation doesn’t go well, the next thing to do is look at the listing agreement. When does the listing agreement terminate? What kind of notice does your mother have to give the agent if she decides to switch agents? If she signed a 90-day listing agreement, it should have expired by now and she would be free to interview other agents.

Any agent can go stale on a house. When that happens, it’s usually because he or she thinks that the house is overpriced for its own physical condition or the changing local market conditions or another project is drawing the agent’s interest. (It can also happen if something has changed in the agent’s personal life making it hard for him or her to concentrate on work.)

If you decide to change agents, your mother should start the interviewing process from scratch. That means finding three agents, asking each of them to prepare a comparative marketing analysis (CMA), interviewing them about what they sell and what kinds of clients they have, and asking about the marketing plans they have for the property.

When all that’s done, your mother should decide which agent is right for her. And don’t be surprised if she decides to lower her price and stay with her current agent.

Q: My boyfriend and I will be looking for a home in the near future, and we want to see if we can find a lender or mortgage company that we can walk-in to rather than trying to get prequalified or preapproved over the Internet.

We live in the suburbs of Chicago, and were hoping to find a place where we could sit down and talk to someone who is knowledgeable, but not pushy. We also want to do this before we sit down and talk to a real estate agent.

Can you recommend a loan officer for us to talk to who could help us but wouldn’t require all of the personal information all of the Internet sites want?

A: First, any lender worth his or her salt is going to want to take a look at some very personal information, including your credit history and credit score, your income and your bank and brokerage account statements.

To get preapproved for a loan – which is the way you want to go – you’ll need to actually apply for your loan and provide all of the documentation the lender needs to verify your income, liabilities and assets.

As far as recommending specific lenders, it’s the long-standing policy of this column not to directly recommend lenders. I’m sure you can understand the reason: If something goes wrong, I wouldn’t want you to be angry with me because I recommended a particular person.

On the other hand, I do think it’s a good idea to learn how to shop around and compare lenders. The easiest way to start is to go to www.BankRate.com and check out lenders working in Chicago. Next, make some appointments, and go in to the bricks and mortar lenders around town. You should try big, national lenders, local lenders, and a well-respected mortgage broker or two.

Once you know the lending landscape, and you’ve had a chance to interview the loan officers, you can start to make an intelligent decision about who to use, and what kind of deal is being offered.

Sept. 23, 2004