Ali Rogers -- my favorite real estate writer on the planet and the author of the very excellent Diary of a Real Estate Rookie -- has joined the newly-launched MoneyWatch.com as its real estate expert.

In one of her first blog posts for the site, she tackles the subject of real estate commissions: Real estate agents have watched their earnings fall as sales prices and volume have tanked in many markets. But, she says, commissions have gone from 5.02% to 5.2% between 2005 and now.

In areas where homes tend to sit on the market for a long time, finding an aggressive, connected, savvy real estate agent is more important than ever. And getting a good agent at 6% vs. a mediocre one at 5% could very easily pay for itself in the form of a shorter time on the market or a higher selling price.

But that doesn't mean you can't negotiate. Rogers suggests that "If you interview three real estate agents and ask them about their marketing plans and their commission structures, and ask each of them for a discount, you'll probably get one. A Consumer Reports survey that came out last year had respondents reporting that if they asked for a discount on real estate commissions, they got one 71% of the time."

Even if you're thinking about going the for-sale by owner route, it's worth talking to some agents and getting a feel for how low of a commission you can get. Many advocates of FSBOs calculate the savings using a 6% commission: But 6% is considerably higher than most home sellers pay, and even if you decide to sell it yourself, you'll likely have to offer a commission to a buyer's agent to get in the MLS and market it to a wide variety of prospective buyers.

If you offer 2% to the buyer's agent instead of hiring a full-service agent at 5%, you're only saving 3%: a savings that can quickly evaporate when you realize that most buyers expect to get a discount when buying a FSBO. Add in the negotiating/administrative experience of an experienced agent and it gets even more lopsided, especially if your home is relatively inexpensive.

Follow Rogers' advice: Interview several agents and don't be shy about negotiating the commission.

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