Q: My wife and I want to sell our home in Oklahoma because I have started a new job out of state. We have talked to 3 agents and they all use the same standard listing agreement form. I feel that the listing agreement is heavily biased towards agents and gives the seller few options. I pointed out the sections I disagreed with and made suggestions as to what terms would be agreeable to our family. Only one agent seemed willing to accept any changes to the listing agreement that would actually involve adding or removing specific clauses. The other agents refused to give us any way to end the contract, or take our house off the market under any circumstances. Another major sticking point was that we would still owe the agent a commission if the buyer backed out of the deal.

If we did make changes to the listing agreement would we need to have it drawn up from scratch, or just write in the changes on the standard agreement?

Would we be better off taking the listing agreement to a real estate attorney and letting him modify it to our needs? I’ve never dealt directly with lawyers and would not know where to start in finding a good one.

A: Listing agreements are subject to modification. I wouldn’t use a broker that stated outright that the agreement can’t be changed. Call your local bar association for a referral to a real estate attorney who can help you throughout your deal. As for redrafting the agreement, it isn’t necessary. Just scratch out what you don’t like and write in the new language. And remember, no listing agreements for longer than 90 days no matter what.

Q: I enjoyed your column and found several useful tips. We have a home to see on 2.7 acres — 3 years old, many extras – tile, oak trim, custom cabinets, etc.

Any thoughts on who or how I get the right realtor to help us sell it at a fair price.

A: You’d want to find an agent the old fashioned way — through referrals. See which of your friends or relatives used an agent they liked and with whom they had a good experience.

If you can’t get a referral, find out which agent does the most business in your neck of the woods. (Check out the numbers of signs for a particular agent or firm). Visit local open houses to chat with the seller’s agent and see how good a job he or she is doing. (Of course, if he or she is talking to you instead of showing the house, you’ll have to assume this is how he or she will behave when conducting your open house.) Finally, invite three different agents from three different firms to do a comparative marketing analysis of your property. They should look at comparable sales data and come up with a suggested list price and marketing plan for your property.

I suggest you pick up a copy of my book, 100 Questions Every Home Seller Should Ask so that you understand everything a seller should know to sell successfully.

Q: My wife and I are in the process shopping for our first house. We jumped into the process somewhat quickly. We have been renting for the last few years basically on account of some uncertainty as to where our jobs might lead us. Things in that arena are a bit clearer now, so we feel a strong imperative to stop throwing money away on rent and have a place that’s somewhat our own that we can work to improve and beautify.

Anyway, as I said, we leapt in fairly quickly and started looking for a home (in the car, on the internet, in the paper). We contacted agents who were either the listing agents for houses, or buyer agents. We never really committed to working with any of them. We were in touch with them and just asked them to call or email us if something they thought we might like surfaced. We were pretty ignorant about the whole process (about establishing a relationship with a buyer agent, the advantages of this, about the legal responsibilities of the seller agent, etc.).

Finally, I sort of realized that we were stumbling in the dark a bit, and bought a your book, which I feel was a truly worthwhile purchase. It’s been very helpful.

My problem and question has to do with dealing with a seller agent. A house that we are pretty strongly interested in we were shown initially by the seller agent, without being represented by a buyer agent. Now we feel somewhat stuck, as, if I understand the process correctly, she sort of has the right to be the one to deal with us now, without us being represented by a buyer broker. So we really have no one to guide us as to whether the price that they are asking for the house in reasonable, what are the normal steps in the negotiating and buying process in our area (Rhode Island). The seller agent seems nice enough, but as you spell out in the book, her legal responsibility is to the seller. I asked her for some comps, and she sent them, but I’m a little hesitant to make my judgment about the value of the house based on them, as she selected these comps, and I’m sure it’s possible that she, probably not really consciously, could have chosen ones that would best serve her seller’s interests. So, basically, we wish we had representation in this deal. Is it too late to bring in a buyer agent? If it isn’t, what would be the best way to broach this subject with the listing agent? If using a buyer agent is out of the question for this house, what would you suggest? A real estate attorney? Also, is there any way we can gain access to local “comps on our own?

A: You should find a buyer’s agent or ask the managing broker in the seller agent’s firm to assign you to someone in the office who can represent your interests in the transaction. If the seller’s agent gives you a hard time, be prepared to walk away from the deal. After all, half a commission is better than no commission.

Q: I am a private seller and am in the beginning stages of negotiating with two buyers and their bids. One person is going through the agency that I listed my property with, and the other person is someone who was interested in the property before I was contacted by the listing agent who offered her services to me at a later date.

The person who privately contacted me is offering 5,000 more on their first bid than the other bidder. Neither is close to the price I want for my property, but I am willing to come down. I want 62,000 for my property, and the bids are for 50,000 and 55,000 respectively.

How should I handle this I don’t want to lose a sale, but I really want something closer to my 62,000. My property was listed way higher (89,000) but I did overprice it since I wasn’t desperate to sell. Now I would really like to sell it but get a good dollar for it. It has been listed for a year and 8 months.

One of the bids I need to respond to is for noon Saturday (June 2). Can you offer some of your expert advice to this novice?

A: Unless you excluded the private buyer formally in your listing agreement, you probably owe your agent a commission anyway. So consult with your attorney on the legal ramifications, or be upfront and honest with your agent. If she get a full commission either way, she will be much more likely to help you negotiate a better price.

Q: We are purchasing a new home from a developer contingent upon the sale of our current residence. We are about 70 days from expected close of escrow on the new home and we have made deposits of over $3000 toward upgrades on our new home.

On Nov. 22, 2000, we signed an agreement to list our current home with a broker who also represents the developer we are purchasing from. We felt this broker would be motivated to sell our house to facilitate the purchase of the new home. Our contract with him expires on March 31, 2001 (escrow on the new home is expected to close March 3, 2001).

Our home has been on the market for over 6 weeks now and we have had 6 showings. Our broker has been unable to get any feedback from the other realtors he says. His plan was to simply place our home on the multiple listing and said other agents would show it. There is a sign in front of our house with some fliers on it. He says it is advertised in "Harmon Magazine" and promised me (on 12/22/00) that he would provide me a copy of the ad as well as a copy of the multiple listing — he has done neither. There is an agent’s name on our sign whom we have never met and who, we believe, has never been inside our home.

I have notified the broker immediately whenever the house has been shown. The broker only calls me in response to messages I leave him. On 12/22/00, I spoke to him about my concerns about no action and time becoming short. We discussed the possibility of lowering the price, but he feels its too soon. He assured me that things would start happening the beginning of Jan. — no one has walked through since 12/23/00.

I’ve asked him what I can do, and he advises patience. Am I being unreasonable? What should we do? My husband and I are considering doing open houses ourselves, listing the open houses in the local paper at our own expense — but somehow that doesn’t really seem like what we should have to do when we do have a broker who claims he wants to see us in the new home.

I would like to hear your comments and suggestions. We really would like to be able to purchase the new home (and are not anxious to lose over $3000 in deposits!).

A: Have an immediate conversation with the managing broker of your agent’s firm. Let him or her know how displeased you are with the service you have been receiving. Your contract to sell your home is with the company, not the individual agent. Try to switch to a more motivated seller.

You’ve made a few mistakes here: You should have interviewed several agents, and had them do a comparative market analysis of your home. Your property may be overpriced, or you may just be suffering because the market has slowed somewhat.

Still, interest rates are down and you should get traffic and an offer if the price is right.

I’d move on this tomorrow — it could take 6 to 10 weeks to close on your current home. Good luck and thanks for listening.