Real estate agent search-finding the right personI’m often asked how to find a great real estate agent. The answer couldn’t be simpler: Use the six steps I outline below and you’re sure to a great real estate agent to assist you with buying or selling your next property.

But let me first explain why I think every home buyer and most home sellers should use an agent.

My mother, Susanne Glink, has been a top real estate agent in Chicago for nearly thirty years. She has seen the same single-family houses, condos, co-ops, and townhomes come on and off the market many times over those years. She has watched properties get fixed up, torn down, rebuilt, and renovated. She has also watched not-so-nice neighborhoods be transformed into lovely family-centric communities.

The expertise my mother (who in an average year closes twenty to thirty transaction sides) has developed is hugely valuable. The fact that she has done well, year over year, in a business that rewards its hardest, most innovative workers, is a testament to the value she and other top agents bring to the table. Their clients do well because they have a great agent guiding them, helping them understand what “true worth” is in their neighborhood of choice.

But I understand how a home buyer might imagine he or she doesn’t need any expert help. The Internet is filled with millions of real estate-related websites. There are listing sites, mortgage sites, home-valuation sites, and mapping sites that show you everything from school district boundaries to the location of the nearest Starbucks.

You can see photos and videos of homes for sale. You can play with interactive floor plans and read reviews of homes by folks who visit open houses. You can look up tax bills and liens filed against the property and search out any news that includes the house address.

The only things you can’t get on the Internet are perspective and the experience of working with hundreds of buyers and sellers over the years. That’s what a great real estate agent has to offer.

So how do you find a great real estate agent? It isn’t all that difficult. Follow these simple steps:

  1. Ask your friends. If you have friends who have recently bought or sold a property in your neighborhood of choice, ask them if they had a good experience with their agent. Ask them to be honest about the agent’s performance and what they’d change about the working relationship.
  2. Find out who works regularly in your neighborhood. Sellers often say (with dismay) that open houses are a way for their listing agent to get new clients. But it’s true. So visit local open houses and meet the listing agents. Chat with them generally about the property and their experience.
  3. Call your local association of Realtors. Realtors are real estate agents who are members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Each local association recognizes the top agents each year based on total number of sales and dollar volume. Get hold of this list and find out which of the top twenty or thirty agents work in your area.
  4. Interview a variety of agents. You’ll want to talk with someone from each of the biggest real estate firms that work regularly in your neighborhood of choice. Don’t have a name? Contact the managing broker of the firm and set up an appointment to chat about what you’re looking for.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask the agents for a résumé. Ask for contact information for past or current clients so you can follow up with questions about how the agent works. Ask if the agent is full-time and has at least five years in the business. Ask about the price range and specific neighborhoods the agent works in regularly. And be sure to ask who the agent’s typical buyers and sellers are so you can find a good fit.
  6. Do your homework. After you’ve asked all your questions, go back to the Internet to check the agents’ reputations. Search each agent’s name, address, and firm to see what comes up.

Remember to get back to the agents you don’t select to let them know you’ve opted to go with someone else. You never know who might be the listing agent of the property you fall in love with down the line.

Ilyce R. Glink is the author of several books, including 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask and Buy, Close, Move In!. She blogs about money and real estate at and at the Home Equity blog for CBS MoneyWatch.

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