At first, I thought it was amusing. But when I learned there was a widespread belief that I charge real estate agents some sort of fee to be quoted in my columns and articles, I figured it was time to clear up this misconception.

The topic arose a couple of months back, when I was working on a "Town by Town" piece about Cherry Hill for the Sunday Business section. I interviewed Nancy Pearl, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, who has lived in the township for 25 years.

Let me take a minute here to reemphasize that "Town by Town" is not a travelogue. At the beginning of each is this statement: "One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities."

That means I interview real estate agents, developers, buyers, sellers, and others who can tell me what's for sale, what the current prices are like, how the market compares with the past, and why people live in that place.

More often than not, in the three days I have to work on each "Town by Town," I come across something that makes the community different: emerging boroughs, low taxes, walkability, and, in the case of Laurel Springs, its centennial.

But it's real estate, nothing more - our effort is to dissect the market in each of the 500-plus municipalities and myriad neighborhoods of the Philadelphia region.

One of my criteria for agent interviews is that the Realtor live in the focus community, to provide perspective. It doesn't always work that way, but in Pearl's case, it did.

The day after the Cherry Hill article was published, someone in Pearl's office asked her how much I charged to quote her. The questioner wasn't being sarcastic, but was serious.

When she reported this, I laughed and jokingly replied that I'd expect $5 in the next mail delivery.

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach agent Chris Ryan called the day after Nov. 17's Francisville "Town by Town" to tell me that he had been at an event that Sunday night and "at least 50 people came up to me to tell me they had read the article and seen my name."

I couldn't help but ask if other real estate agents and readers generally thought one had to pay to appear in my stories - still thinking it was funny.

Ryan said, "Yes, they do." He was dead serious.

I have a notebook of sources that I have compiled just in the last two years that fits into my back pocket when I am on the road.

There are nearly 500 more on my computer contacts list - not just agents and developers, but also readers who have helped me navigate this job - from "Town by Town" to my "Your Place" columns, and beyond.

When I call, some sources - Weichert's Noelle Barbone, Fox & Roach's Kit Anstey, Century 21's Dave Marcantuno, among others - provide contacts in places outside where they sell, even if those agents are not with their real estate groups.

Those quoted frequently are knowledgeable about their areas and get me answers to questions they cannot answer themselves, and when I e-mail them to set up a time to talk, they come up with non-real estate sources I should consult to help me compile the data used with each week's the "By the Numbers" charts.

Sometimes getting their names in the newspaper results in business for them, other times it doesn't, but that doesn't seem to matter. They are there the next time I need them, as are a growing number of others who help in my quest to interpret the ever-changing real estate market and its complexities.

So when I call you out of the blue, get back to me.

No charge.

aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472 @alheavens