If you're in the market to buy or sell a house, chances are you'll want a real estate agent to guide you through the process. Most people don't have the time, expertise or motivation to go it alone, and finding a good real estate agent becomes essential to enjoying a smooth real estate transaction. Here, we take a look at ways to find the best real estate agent for your next home sale or purchase.

Get Referrals

While some may say it's easy to get a real estate license, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to stay in business. The agents who make it tend to have satisfied clients who send more business their way through referrals. Talk to your friends, family, neighbors and colleagues to find out who they recommend (and who you should stay away from). Try to ask open-ended questions that encourage full answers: instead of asking, "Did you like your real estate agent?" try "What are a few things your agent did really well?"

Find a Local Expert

Find an agent who specializes in the market where you'll be selling or buying a home. Local experts are more familiar with particular neighborhoods, the local scene, schools, daycare facilities and other amenities, and will have a better idea regarding the prices that actually buy and sell homes in the area. In addition, local experts will have connections to other professionals and services in the area: lenders, contractors, appraisers, etc. Ask the brokers-in-charge at several firms for their top agents where you're buying or selling, or look through local real estate magazines to find agents who have a lot of listings in the area.

Look for Experience

This can get tricky since new agents aren't necessarily bad agents (they have to start somewhere, after all), but experience is often a better bet. Experienced agents tend to be better negotiators - getting you a higher price when selling, or a lower price when buying. Agents who are very familiar with a market and who have closed a substantial number of deals are also better equipped to guide you through the process and respond quickly to any bumps along the way. Keep in mind that quantity doesn't always equate to quality, however, and consider: How close is the agent's average listing price to the sales price? How many price reductions had to be made? How many listings didn't sell?

Get Connected

Technology is a vital part of modern real estate, both for buyers/sellers and agents. A good real estate agent will use a number of tools to help organize and promote their business (thereby assisting you with your home sale/purchase), including contact management systems, agent websites, marketing software, electronic signature software and real estate apps (e.g., House Hunter and Open Home Pro). Being connected also means that you'll be able to reach the agent - either by phone, email or text. Find out which tools they'll be using to help buy or sell your home, and how you'll be able to connect with them.

Go All In

The housing market moves quickly, so it usually pays to have someone who is a full-time real estate agent working daily on your behalf. Full-time agents are generally more experienced and focused on getting the job done (and done well). In addition, it can be challenging and frustrating to schedule showings, meetings and closings around an agent's other job schedule. Find out ahead of time how much time/focus your agent will be able to dedicate to your home sale or purchase, and make sure their availability coincides with yours.

The Bottom Line

Buyers and sellers now have access to much of the same property information that agents do (online and via mobile apps), and today's successful agents set themselves apart by being experts in a local market, great negotiators, and staying connected, both to other professionals and through technology. If you're in the market to buy or sell a home, take the time upfront to find a qualified, experienced and professional real estate agent who can help ensure your transaction goes as efficiently and favorably as possible.

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