In December, I wrote a story about finding a great real estate agent. I received many comments from different agents, some angry, some funny. But one agent took a different tact.

She divides up real estate agents into active agents and passive agents.

Denise Kelly, a real estate agent with Prime Realty, located in Ft. Pierce, Fl., characterizes passive agents as those agents who sit in their offices and wait for someone to call them, place huge ads in newspapers and yellow pages and sit and wait and wait and wait and wait for someone to call.

Sound like anyone you know?

On the other hand, there are active agents. Kelly says active agents are great salespeople, who prospect daily looking for buyers and sellers.

That might include cold calling, holding frequent broker and general open houses, advertising and various types of marketing for the property.

(Kelly actually thinks open houses are what passive agents do — they hold open houses and then sit around waiting for someone to show up, but many active agents believe that putting the house out there is an important step toward encouraging buyers to see it.)

Active agents don’t rely exclusively on lockboxes (a lockbox is an electronic box that hangs on the door of a property that is for sale) to sell their listings for them. Instead of allowing a buyer and his or her agent to walk through a property unescorted, an active listing agent meets them at the property and shows them through the listing, then makes sure the property is locked up, with the lights off, afterward.

Active agents also stay in fairly frequent touch with their buyer or seller. There should be enough phone calls and emails so that the buyer or seller doesn’t feel the agent has abandoned him or her.

As a buyer or seller, how are you supposed to know whether your agent is “active” or “passive” a tough call. Agents can easily pretend to be something they’re not during a phone or even a face-to-face interview. It’s not as if you’re going to go to their office, and be a fly on the wall for a day, watching how they work.

Because even a day of sitting around might not mean that an agent is active rather than passive. Real estate ebbs and flows, and the weeks have a certain rhythm. Mondays and Tuesdays might be dead days, whereas Wednesday and Thursday tend to be busier days in the office, as agents start mapping out their weekend showings.

The best thing to do is take the time to interview various agents and ask them to talk about their typical day. Ask them when they talk to their buyers or sellers, and how many buyers and sellers they work with. If they work with more than 5 to 10 listings at a time, ask how they manage all that work. (You don’t want to be just another listing that the agent has to “deal” with.)

And remember, companies do not sell houses. It’s the individual agent’s activities that sell homes, Kelly wrote to me in her email.

“A good agent should be a great salesperson, a good listener, possess a high degree of integrity, and be energetic and positive,” she adds.

Follow Kelly’s advice, and you won’t go wrong with the agent you hire to help you buy or sell a home.

Clarification: In a past column, I said that an individual can borrow up to $10,000 from an IRA account for the purchase of a first home. This is incorrect. What I should have said, is that an IRA holder can redeem up to $10,000 from an IRA to purchase his or her first home. You will avoid the 10 percent withdrawal fee, but you will have to pay taxes on the redemption. Amy Leanne Brown, who works for a financial advisor in New Castle, DE, caught the error.

February 6, 2004