Q: We plan to sell our house this spring and are now in the process of trying to determine which real estate company we should use. Although we know that you often suggest that owners should attempt to sell their own houses, our time considerations are such that we must use the services of a real estate company. How do we go about selecting such a company? Is the availability of multiple listing important? What is the difference between a broker and an agent?

A: Selecting a professional to assist you is a very difficult process. You should not take this matter lightly, but should enter into the decision-making process thoughtfully and carefully.

Perhaps the most important factor in determining which company to use is the personal relationship that you develop with the agent or broker who will be principally concerned with selling your house.

A real estate agent works for a real estate broker. Although the agent does much of the preliminary work, shows the house to prospective purchasers, and assists in the mechanics of attempting to find financing, the broker is the primary person responsible for the transaction. The broker is, in effect, the captain of the real estate team.

Thus, you should meet with the broker as well as the agent when you are selecting a real estate company. The final decision-making for the company will be made by the broker, and at least, you ought to meet the broker before signing up with his or her company.

There are large companies and small companies. But size alone does not guarantee a sale of your house. The most important factor is the willingness of the agent to work on your behalf? How busy is the company? If they have a number of listings, they may not be able to give you the personal attention that is needed.

Often, the smaller real estate firm will be most anxious to get your listing, and will work harder for you.

Is multiple listing helpful? There is no doubt that by putting your house on the multiple listing service, there is wider exposure to the other real estate professionals. But all too often the availability of multiple listing is nothing more than a sales gimmick to attract potential clients.

Many real estate professionals rely too heavily on the availability of the listing through the computer. Once the listing has been obtained, too many sellers have found that their agent has not spent the time needed in marketing the property. After all, once the seller has signed a listing arrangement with the broker, the commission will be earned whether or not the broker sells the property or some other company picks it up on the multiple listing computer.

Indeed, the Federal Trade Commission is currently looking into the value of the multiple listing service to the consumer.

Another consideration in selecting the real estate company is the commission that you will have to pay. Recent Supreme Court cases have clearly suggested that real estate fees cannot be fixed among the real estate industry. Fees are -- or should be -- negotiable. There may be some houses that are difficult to sell, and they should command a higher commission.

Other houses are extremely saleable and you should try to negotiate the fee. There are discount brokers who should also be contacted, to determine whether they are interested and capable of assisting you in the sale of your property.

Finally, when you select a brokerage company, read the listing agreement carefully. You may want to limit the commission to those situations where the broker not only finds a buyer who is "ready, willing and able," but where the settlement actually takes place.

The listing agreement if a legal document, which should not be taken lightly.