Top real estate questions asked of experts

As your humble correspondent, I am asked a lot of questions about real estate. The topic of real estate is always great cocktail talk, as it involves neither religion nor politics, and most people have a vested interest in their home.

So here are the top questions that I get asked, along with my stab at answers:

Q: Will the housing market ever recover?

A: If you mean will prices ever recover, then I believe the answer is yes. Unless we balance the budget and pay off the national debt, I see inflation ahead, meaning higher prices. But yes, I believe the market has to recover eventually.

The last time I checked, there were 305 million people in this country, and most of them prefer to live indoors.

Now, if you are asking if we will ever again see the day of "below construction cost prices" coupled with 30- year fixed rate loans below 5 percent, I think this is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Q: What's my house really worth?

A: That's a tough one. Fair market value is often defined like this: The price that an interested but not desperate buyer would be willing to pay and an interested but not desperate seller would be willing to accept on the open market assuming a reasonable period of time for full market exposure.

That raises more questions than it answers. But the bottom line is that we can't know what a buyer might offer unless we put it on the market and try to sell it.

Q: OK, but really, what's my house worth?

A: An appraiser would look at all sales of similar homes over the last year in nearby areas and try to make a guesstimate based on square footage and amenities, among other factors. A real estate agent can give you a "competitive market analysis" showing some of the same data.

Q: Who is the best real estate brokerage firm in Atlanta?

A: Different firms have different personalities and offer a wide variety of services at differing price points. Some buyers and sellers want more services than others, so no one firm can be labeled "best." Add area specialization to the mix, and the answer becomes even more difficult.

Q: Are you a Realtor?

A: No. My first editor at the AJC thought it might be a conflict of interest for me to be a member of an organization that I might write about, so I resigned in 1991. I am a licensed broker.

Q: Why are real estate commissions set so high?

A: Each brokerage firm is free to set minimum commissions that it will accept, and each client is free to shop among brokers for the right combination of services and fees that he wants. Furthermore, buyers and sellers are not required to use the services of a real estate broker.

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John Adams is an author, broadcaster and investor. He answers real estate questions on radio station WGKA (920am) every Saturday at noon.

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