How to Pick the Best Real Estate Agent for You

Take personality into account, and don't always go for the person with all the listings in your neighborhood.
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You've got to sell a piece of property to sell, and you're determined to do so during the current real estate wasteland, where it seems that every house on the street is an "open" and buyers with a decent down payment and credit report are more scarce than milkmen.

You need some professional help.

In selecting an agent or a Realtor to handle the sale, a friend recommends a guy he worked with who knows the neighborhood well, spends time getting to know your property and even brings home-baked cookies to hand out during open houses.

Your other option is a woman whose face is on billboards and bus stops, and while you're still in the first minute describing the property to her she tells you she has three buyers desperate for a house like yours and will guarantee to sell it in a month.

So who do you go with?

Whether you're buying or selling, picking a real estate agent may be your toughest decision.

"It's really about personality and who you trust will work in your best interests," says Stephanie Gieseler, a Honolulu Realtor. "The one who promises the moon and the stars may not be able to deliver, but your B.S. meter could be turned off because you want to sell so badly. If you can, take some time to pick the right person for you."

Here are some tips to help:

  • Look at the names on the local "for sale" signs. Hopefully, there are at least a few pros who specialize in your neighborhood and compete against each other. If one name dominates the rest, he or she isn't always the best choice. Your property could get lost among all the other listings. Look for an up-and-comer who might be hungrier to make a sale.
  • Total honesty in a real estate agent or Realtor is critical. If you're selling a house in Brookline, Mass., you want your agent to tell you that all the New York Yankee memorabilia in your den should be boxed up, lest it offend a Red Sox fan/home shopper who'd otherwise be inclined to buy.
  • Place a call to the local board of Realtors. Many can let you know about members in good standing and those who have been receiving complaints.
  • Realtors often have an alphabet soup of designations on their business cards that show added training they've received. Some of these focus on the types of properties sold such as selling and buying vacation homes or advanced marketing. Others concentrate on client needs, which can be important. A senior real estate specialist, for instance, focuses on clients who are usually buying or selling into retirement. "That's really very critical," says Gieseler. "For many of these people it's not just a business transaction, it's a changing of their lives. If you're helping parents with a move, it's wise to look for someone with that training."
  • Odds are you've got to make a killer presentation to earn someone's business. Why should a real estate agent be any different? If he or she walks in, looks around, throws out an estimate of the selling price and hands over the listing agreement for your signature, make sure you ask how they got that price and show you the comps to prove it. A good real estate pro might know instinctively what a house will go for, but he or she should be able to break it down for you before the paperwork is signed.

Overall, find someone who fits your style.

"If you're detail-oriented, you won't do well with someone who's laid back," says Gieseler. "And a detail-oriented Realtor might make a laid-back client crazy. It's a big transaction, which is why finding the right person is so important."