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Finding a real estate agent in a buyer's market: 6 keys

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Another technique for finding an agent is to go the indirect route. Pam O'Connor, CEO of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, suggests calling a real estate brokerage and asking for the relocation director. This is a salaried person who feeds corporate leads to the broker's agents. Relocation directors "have a lot of good sense of who does a good job and who does not," O'Connor says.

3. Assess candidates' knowledge, experience. After you have identified two or more prospective agents, you have to conduct the job interviews. First up: assessing their knowledge and experience.

Merrion suggests asking for some hard facts that a good agent should know by heart: the average time that houses have been on the market -- in the neighborhood and in the metro area -- and the average time that agent's houses have been on the market. "The other thing I would ask is: Tell me about your track record. What kind of transactions have you had? Tell me about what you've sold," Merrion says.

Experience is a subjective matter.  It's not always about how many properties the agent has sold, but "their ability, willingness and energy," says Phyllis Pezenik, director of sales and leasing for DJK Residential in New York City.

Knowledge isn't so subjective. "If a buyer says to you, 'You know that building at the corner of 72nd and Lenox?,' a good agent does know something about that building," Pezenik says.

4. Get a communicator. On the other hand, Pezenik says, "a good agent, if they don't know, will be honest. They'll say, 'I don't know but I'll be back to you in an hour or so with an answer.' When people bluff, they tend to get into trouble."

You want an agent who will communicate with you. When interviewing agents, tell them how often you want to be contacted and how -- by e-mail, cell phone, carrier pigeon, whatever. Some agents can't be called directly, but only through a switchboard -- like a doctor after office hours. If that's a deal-breaker, you need to know before you sign a contract with the agent.

There are two basic reasons for an agent to contact you. One is to let you know that the agent is still alive and working. The other is to set up showings, relay offers and counteroffers, and to pass along reaction from potential buyers. An alert agent will tell you quickly if, say, buyers consistently object to the chartreuse walls in the guest bedroom, so you'll know to repaint it.

Merrion says he recommends that his agents tell sellers how many page views they've had on their online listings. "We think metrics are very important to give the seller a true picture of the market and help them make educated decisions when an offer comes in," he says.

Next: "What do you have that's different or better than the next agent?"
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