The real estate boom may have made it seem like buying a house is as easy as falling off a log, given that a record percentage of the U.S. population is now homeowners. But the fact is that the home-buying process has gotten more complicated in recent years and there are plenty of places along the way where buyers can get stumped.
One of the trickier aspects concerns the idea of agency, the designation for who represents whom in the deal. For many years, real estate agents nearly unanimously were agents of seller, or acted as subagents of the seller under realty board rules, leaving confused buyers to fend for themselves. In the 1990s, the concept of a buyer's agent began to take hold, in which agents pledged exclusivity to their home-buying clients.
But there also grown a nebulous middle ground of dual agency, in which one person represents both the buyer and the seller in the transaction, presumably after getting the permission of both sides to do so. That turns the process into something akin to a spy novel in which you are left to wonder just where the loyalties of the double agent lie.
In our lead story, housing writer Lew Sichelman tackles the question of dual agency and warns buyers why they should not allow themselves to be dragged down that path. Read his Realty Q&A column, plus see why even a "Survivor" winner can't withstand the challenge of the IRS and check out Chuck Jaffe's warning about an energy stock that will be nothing but trouble for traditional utility investors, on Friday's Personal Finance pages.
Hiring an exclusive buyer's agent to help you through your home purchase is like hiring a native guide to take you through the desert: You need somebody at your side who knows where the quicksand is.
Steve Kerch, assistant managing editor/personal finance
Don't let agent force dual agency on you
I'm about to make an offer on a three-unit property, but before I do anything the sales agent wants me to sign a dual-agency disclosure. I informed her that I'm not comfortable with that and I'd like exclusive loyalty. She then said that if we go through with the deal or offer, I'd have to sign it anyway. Is that true? Why would I have to sign that anyway if I'm not comfy with it? I would rather do a designated agency. See Realty Q&A. TAXES
First 'Survivor' winner sentenced to 51-month prison term
On the "Survivor" season finale Sunday Aras Baskauskas won $1 million. Instead of congratulations from show host Jeff Probst, Baskauskas received this valuable piece of advice: "Pay your taxes." Why would Probst spoil a perfectly good victory celebration by bringing up taxes? Ask Richard Hatch, the winner of the first "Survivor" reality show. See Tax Watch. INVESTING Dynegy has no power as traditional utility stock
Al in Bonita Springs, Fla., had a simple question: "I got a call from a broker I made some trades with who said I should buy stock in a natural-gas company called Dynegy. I like utilities and he said this one is cheap, but I have never heard of Dynegy and it doesn't pay a dividend, so I'm not sure what to do. What do you think? Aside from thinking that Al might want to give the broker his walking papers, I believe Al doesn't know enough about Dynegy Inc. to recognize it for what it is, a Stupid Investment of the Week. See Chuck Jaffe. The benefits of income investing
Income investing -- buying securities that pay out regularly -- isn't just for retirees or the risk-averse. It's part of a diversified portfolio, along with bonds, and can bolster your returns. If you're looking for a (fairly) steady paycheck from your investments, consider the following: See Marshall Loeb's Daily Money Tip.
At closed-end funds, payouts shrink and rate picture murky
Closed-end mutual funds, a quirky corner of the investment world, are facing some of their biggest challenges in years. See Fund Track. The stock market as bucking bronco
The stock market's correction over the past week hasn't been pretty. But it has given us valuable insight into advisers' underlying sentiment. The sentiment picture that has emerged is largely good news for the bulls. That's because, in the wake of the last week's correction, the average investment adviser has beaten a fairly hasty retreat. We're seeing very little of the stubborn bullishness that is typically seen at market tops. See Mark Hulbert. CAREERS Executive resumes must speak volumes
Has it been a while since you sent out a resume?
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