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With so much uncertainty in the housing market, it's a good time to seek insight from real estate leaders who have their fingers on the pulse of the market.

We recently sat down in a question-and-answer session with Kim DiBenedetto, the 2009 president of the Monterey County (CA) Association of Realtors to get some advice for homeowners, home buyers and home sellers.

DiBenedetto, also a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Del Monte Realty in Carmel, CA, says there's no time like the present to have a licensed, association affiliated real estate agent on your side.

Q: The housing crisis is on the minds of everyone, especially homeowners who are struggling to pay their mortgages, potential home buyers and those who want to sell their home. What does a real estate association do to help homeowners keep their homes?

A: We educate our members so that they may better assist home owners and home buyers make the right decision for their situation. Working with our legislative representatives, we are advocates for private property rights.

Q: Likewise, what can home buyers expect from the association?

A: Not only will buyers get a licensed agent to represent them in a professional and ethical way, they will also have access to the latest legal issues, new legislation, new forms, the most current market information and the latest on the ever changing REO (bank owned) and short sale processes.

Q: How does the association assist homeowners who want to sell their home?

A: In addition to the advantages of professional representation, our Web site (like that of many associations) is helpful for both buyers looking for homes and owners who want to sell their home. The site offers listing services, consumer information, the latest statistical information, a weekly open house list, and community lifestyles information.

Q: There have been some complaints from the real estate industry that the media is not fair in its coverage of the housing crisis. How can the media assist the association and the public in terms of reporting about the crisis and other housing issues?

A: The most important factor is that all real estate is local. It really doesn't matter what the real estate market is doing in Bakersfield or Chicago or Baltimore if someone is thinking of buying or selling in Monterey County. To highlight state or national figures really makes no sense. We need to focus on what is going on here in Monterey County and more specifically in each individual area of the county. Local markets are so segmented that there are different price ranges and different levels of activity in each city. It's not the media's responsibility to be real estate experts. That's what we at MCAR are here for -- to be the source of the most reliable real estate information.

Q: What advice do you think home sellers need most in the current housing market?

A: Just because your neighbor's house sold a year ago or even a month ago for a certain price doesn't necessarily mean you can get the same price. Every niche of the market has different activity. Sellers' pricing strategy has to be precise or your home will sit for longer than it should. That could diminish it's value. Sellers need reliable market information that Realtors provide.

Q: What advice do you think home buyers need most in the current housing market?

A: Again, the most important thing is to have current market information along with a skilled negotiator. I know a Realtor whose client found a home she liked at an open house but when the Realtor assessed the situation for her, they decided to keep looking and ended up getting a larger home in a better location for almost the same money. Without his expert knowledge the buyer could have purchased a lesser home in a less desirable location.

Q: What advice do you think homeowners most need in the current housing market?

A: Real estate has always been a long term investment and, over time, it's still the best investment you can make. Even if your home is not worth what you paid for it at the moment, with time it will bounce back. The key is to remember that a home is more than an investment, it is a lifestyle.

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