Westport's real estate market, along with the rest of the country, has certainly evolved (to say it nicely), over the last few years.

After a great run, with prices having no place to go but up, real estate values have leveled off and, in many cases, gone down.

Comparisons reveal that current values are similar to those in 2003. This is great news if you are buying now, but a bit less rewarding if you purchased your home in 2004.

So, what can you expect during these trying times?

First, you should expect top service from your real estate agent. The finest and the smartest are still in the business. They know how to survive this tougher market. The weaker, "lazier" agent will be out of the industry.

With fewer units selling now than five years ago, agents will have to be on their game now more than ever.

Top agents will share their knowledge and statistics with their clients, to enable them to negotiate the most advantageous deal.

Agents are offering more "hand-holding" than in the past, due to the myriad of obstacles that come along with this tougher climate.

Clearly, the Internet has changed the way most buyers and sellers look for real estate. A client has access 24-7 to inventory, maps and photos of homes available for sale.

Top quality photos are essential for all listings that feed to the Internet; however, quantity is paramount, too.

A buyer or seller can get a good sense of a home's attributes and condition with a few clicks. It is more efficient, and often opens the door to a home that otherwise may have gone un-visited. Online viewing also saves time -- for the buyer, seller and agent.

Real estate agents are now more accessible than ever. Between e-mails to our blackberries, cell phones that rarely leave our side and websites that answer more questions than you can imagine,

immediate responses are the norm.

Deals are being negotiated through scans, texts and instant messaging across the country and across the ocean. What used to take a week to work out can take just a few hours now.

The bottom line, there are great opportunities available to buyers and sellers alike. One should have high expectations in regard to professionalism, accessibility and exposure.

Mortgage wrap

Craig Ellinwood, a mortgage banker with Atlantic Home Loans in Westport, reports that mortgage rates as of June 28 are as follows:

30-year fixed -- 4.500% (4.570% APR)

15-year fixed -- 4.250% (4.275% APR)

5/1 ARM -- 3.750% (3.342% APR)

Conforming/Jumbo to $708,750 (Fairfield County)

30-year fixed -- 4.750% (4.781% APR)

Jumbo: $750,000 to $1,500,000

30-year fixed -- 5.375% (5.407% APR)

15-year fixed -- 4.625% (4.668% APR)

5/1 ARM -- 4.125% (3.567% APR)

Linda Skolnick, a Realtor with Prudential Connecticut Real Estate in Westport, can be reached by calling 246-0088 or through her Web site, www.GoAskLinda.com