Q: My mom is a senior citizen interested in selling her property in Chicago. A real estate consultant for a mortgage company told my mom that he knows of an interested buyer who would be willing to pay my mother what she is asking for the property.

The consultant would charge my mother a 4 percent commission for putting her together with the buyer, and my mom could stay in her home for 4 months while looking for another home.

In addition to that, her neighbor had expressed interest in buying my mother’s property as well, although I’m not sure the consultant is aware of this.

I feel uneasy about all of this activity. Am I wrong to feel this way? What exactly do real estate consultants do? Where are the red flags, and how should I advise my mother? Thanks for your help.

A: The “real estate” consultant is acting as a broker for the transaction without being a licensed real estate agent. This should raise red flags. I would immediately hire a real estate attorney (real estate attorneys are commonly used to close residential real estate deals in Chicago) to help you and your mother evaluate the offers, facilitate the negotiation, make sure your mother complies with Illinois law in terms of disclosures, and that she is protected legally and financially.

When searching for an attorney, I would specifically not ask the real estate consultant for a recommendation. Instead, go to the Chicago Bar Association and ask the head of the real estate committee for some top names. Many bar associations have free lawyer referral services that you can use.

I’m assuming that this property is your mom’s single biggest asset. She should have the property appraised so that she isn’t asking too little (and knows exactly what the property is worth). She can hire an independent appraiser or she can ask several agents to come in and do a comparative marketing analysis of the property.

If she ultimately decides to allow the real estate consultant to put her together with a buyer, she should negotiate the “fee.” The typical real estate broker’s commission is 5.1 percent. But if she’s selling by-owner (which she is), then she would only pay an agent who brings the buyer 2.5 to 3 percent. I can’t see why she’d pay this guy 4 percent, and get nothing other than an interested buyer in return.

If your mother can make the deal with her neighbor, she’ll may be better off. First, she’ll save on all of the commission or “finder’s fee” that the consultant will charge. Next, the neighbor will probably still be able to give her enough time to stay in her home until she is ready to move.

This is a complicated deal and you’re right to be concerned. It would be extremely easy for your mother to get scammed. But with you by her side, I’m guessing she’ll be fine. Good luck.

July 25, 2005.