Real estate agent Marina E. Mulinos comes across as a hard, tough lady who has more than survived the competitioe rigors of her profession. She has been in it for 15 years - mostly as a commissioned agent for H.A. Gill & Son in Georgetown - and finds herself "in the grand and glorious stage" of her career.

A strikingly attractive woman in her 40s with jet black hair, Mulinos says her work as one of 38 licensed agents affiliated with Gill is "never ending," a fulltime job in which private moments are stolen between business engagements.

"It's a very hard, tough business," she says. "It's hard on agents; it takes its toll. We don't toot our horns enough - we're almost unsung heros."

Mulinos is a member of that large fraternity of free enterprisers making a living from transactions between others - the buyers and sellers of buildings and land. Approximately 6,000 persons in the District are licensed real estate brokers and agents who work for brokers.

Originally from New York City, where she worked for the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, Mulinos came to Washington in 1962 after "living and working in Europe."

She was drawn to real estate, she said in an interview in Gill's Wisconsin Avenue NW office, "because you are very much your own man, as it were. . . . It's a self-starting occupation."

Among the larger firms, there is also much cooperation, with one company selling another's listing and dividing up the commission. This common practice "facilitates the sale of a house more readily," Mulinso asserted. "The object is to sell the house. It's just the way it's done."

Most real estate agents have oral agreements with the brokers they work for, and the usual split of the commission on a house sale is 50-50. The going rate on commissions in the city is 6 per cent of the sale price, but Mulinos insists, "All commissions are negotiable. Put a circle around that." She won't say, however, whether she has ever settled for less.

Most realtors don't, however, and the industry seems to frown on less than the going rate. One Northern Virginia firm that began offering discounts on commissions for multiple listings has been drawn into a protracted dispute with the real estate fraternity in that area.

What do you get for your 6 per cent? "As an agent," Mulinos said, "I list, price, contract. After a contract is accepted by both parties, I prepare and take it to settlement. I do the whole ball, the whole package. . . .

"I'm available to you when you need me (for an) important question at an odd hour. This is a never-ending business. It's never over. . . .

"Technically, we work for the seller, but in a sense we wear two hats," she said. "One may go back and forth between the buyer and seller once, twice 10 times. . . . You become a mediator. I becomes shuttle diplomacy. . . ."

Anyone can sell his or her own house and save the real estate commission, but the real estate agent does all the nitty-gritty arranging and paperwork with which most sellers don't want to be bothered, she said.

The first step is the "listing" contract between the agent and seller, and agreement to pay a commission for the sale at a price the agent and seller agree upon. But, Mulinos insists, "We don't go in and tell someone what to sell their house for."

The listing contract may also contain certain ground rules the seller requests - whether the property will be advertised, whether it will be "held open" on weekends, whether the sale is to be straight cash or mortgage.

Mulinos likes to talk to prospective buyers before they see the house. Then, there are variations in the way agents show houses."I'm a very quiet shower," Mulinos said. "I don't babble on. I give my client some credit. I'm attentive to reactions."

Mulinos will often help the purchaser in writing a contract to include "standard things that equalize it between both buyer and seller . . . An agent might suggest that certain requests might be abrasive to an owner, but it wouldn't preclude your putting it in. . . . Sometimes an agent might say, 'If you want me to move forward on this I will but this is just going to set a fire under the seller.' It's a very human business. You're dealing with people, you're dealing with emotions . . . It's emotionally volatile."

For this season, Mulinos said, "It's very easy to throw a left curve at you, but it's unfair and it shouldn't be done. I think that some agents create a feeling of crises. Well, it's crises-ridden enough as it is . . . You have a fiduciary relationship with these people, the buyers and seller."

After the contract is signed, Mulinos will accompany the buyer to the bank if he or she wishes. "I've never lost a contract because of financing, even in hard times," she said, "because I know where the money is, I know the credentials of my buyer and seller. . . . I don't write up offers that don't usually float . . . Generally, my offers are written to go forward . . . You (the agent) have a responsibility to know if money's available where it is."

(One Northwest resident who bought a house through Mulinos at the depth of the recession had a different recollection of how the agent works, however. The client recalls that after exhausting conventional mortgage sources, Mulinos suggested that the client's boss (who was not in financing or real estate) might ask his own company's bank to make the loan. When the client rejected that idea, Mulinos shot back, "Well, if you really wanted this this deal to go through you'd do it." A few days before the contract was to expire, the house's owner agreed to take back the mortgage.)

Mulinos is neutral on whether you should have a lawyer review the contract or be present at settlement. "If the client wishes it, by all means," she said. "The lending institution usually gives the purchaser a list of title companies . . . I'm usually very thorough in my input to the title companies, to the lending institutions."

Mulinos' self-described "area of expertise" is Georgetown, which she describes as "a market unto itself" where for $100,000 or "a tad under, you get a very small house." She would be off shortly to confer with a prospective buyer seeking a $200,000 Georgetown home. The Gill firm handles properties "in the better residential areas in and around Washington," she said.

But a funny thing has happened to the local real estate market in the last 18 to 24 months: "Many people are considering housing a commodity . . . as they would oil, gold, beans, coffee, and they're keeping houses that ordinarily would have been offered for sale (when the owners move). They're keeping them for their children, who are either in school or working in New York, but they want to secure a house for them. Or they are keeping houses for sale at a later date when they may need the cash.

"It has nothing to do with the mortgage money market, but with the mortgage money market, but with the housing market in its own right. It is very much hooked into the inflationary thoughts of people."

While the market may losen up in the spring, there won't be a great number of houses available, she predicted.

What will this mean for agents like Mulinos? "I think that one will have to be on their toes even more," she said. "You will have to be very responsive to what's available, to what you her, to take the time to predetermine logistics with the client."

She is confident, however, that even in the depths of a Great Depression, Marina Mulinos will sell houses. "Good professional agents," she said, "are always busy."

Next: Discount commissions.