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How to choose a real estate agent
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Getting started
Whether you are planning to buy or sell a home, follow the guidelines below:

Ask friends for referrals.
Choose the broker or real estate agency first.
Consider choosing an agent who is a Realtor.
Avoid "dual agencies."
Choose an agent that handles homes in your price range.
Choose an agent who listens to your needs.
Choose an agent who can and will provide other services.
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Ask friends for referrals. Friends can give you a starting point, but don't hire an agent solely on a friend's recommendation, says Brenner. Don't choose an agent based on personality alone, but make sure you can get along well.

Choose the broker or real estate agency first, then ask the agency to recommend a couple of their best agents. Then stick with her. If you see a house for sale and call the agent listed on the sign, that agent's first concern will be representing the seller, not you, the buyer. "Sometimes the broker is associated with a franchise, such as Century 21," says author O'Hara. "If you select a franchised broker, you have the advantage of national name recognition and usually a strong national advertising campaign." But beware. "You aren't guaranteed a great agent just because you selected a well-known real estate franchise. You should select a firm based on that office's reputation -- not the reputation of the national firm."

Consider choosing an agent who is a Realtor. In addition to being licensed by the state to sell real estate, Realtors belong to the National Association of Realtors and must abide by a strict Code of Ethics. Brenner says, "The National Association of Realtors has a code of ethics that will knock your socks off, and they are very strict in dealing with people who don't abide by them." Also, only Realtors have access to Multiple Listing Services (MLS) through which members share listings and have access to many more properties than non-members. You can locate a Realtor in your area at www.realtor.com.

Avoid "dual agencies." These are agencies that represent both the buyer and the seller. "This is not a good idea," Brenner says. "The same person cannot equally represent both the buyer and the seller. "

Choose an agent that handles homes in your price range. Some agents specialize in high-end properties and won't give their best effort on properties under a set value. If they usually deal in fixer-uppers, they won't have the experience to navigate "Millionaire's Row".

Choose an agent who listens to your needs and takes the time to explain things you might not understand. Real estate transactions can be complicated and the terminology confusing. You need an agent who will both know the answers to your questions and takes the time to explain them. "It's extremely important to find an agent whose personality you like," explains Purcell, whose firm helps people find professional, trustworthy agents. "You want them to be bright, professional, trained, and someone who works in the business full-time, but personality is important. You're going to spend a lot of time with this person whether you are buying or selling. If you hate the agent and the agent hates you, you may be too far along in the process to correct it."

Choose an agent who works on your time schedule. If you can only look at homes on Sundays and your agent doesn't work that day, look elsewhere. If a listing agent doesn't work on weekends, consider who will be responsible for showing the house on weekends or holding open house. When buying a house, adds O'Hara, "Your agent will set up appointments for you to tour different homes and will accompany you on the tour. You should ask your agent a lot of questions; after all, she is the expert. Ask her opinion of the home."

Choose an agent who can and will provide other services. Will they help arrange a house inspection, refer you to qualified lending professionals and real estate attorneys, and conduct a study of the property's value?

Next: "Find the agent that will work the hardest for you."
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