real estate

7 tips for picking a real estate agent

Woman handing over house keys
Highlights
  • Ask recent real estate clients about their asking and selling prices.
  • Find out if the agent is licensed and has had no disciplinary action.
  • Is the agent a Realtor and does he specialize in any type of home sale?

Ever wish you could see through the hype to hire the best real estate agent for buying or selling your home?

When it comes to choosing real estate agents, "we don't have the information that we have about other service professionals," says Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, in Washington, D.C.

However, there are things you can do to pull back the curtain and accurately assess a real estate agent's past performance and potential success with your home. Whether you're the buyer or the seller, here are seven ways you can find out more about your agent before you hire.

1. Talk with recent clients

Ask agents to provide a list of what they've listed and sold in the last year, with contact information, says Ron Phipps, president-elect of the Chicago-based National Association of Realtors. Before you start calling the names, ask the agent if anyone will be "particularly pleased or particularly disappointed," he says.

With past clients, "I'd like to know what the asking price was and then what the sales price was," says William Poorvu, professor emeritus at Harvard Business School and co-author of "The Real Estate Game: The Intelligent Guide to Decision-making and Investment."

And, if you're the seller, ask if these past properties are similar to yours in price, location and other salient features, Poorvu says. What you want is someone who specializes in exactly what you're selling.

Another good question for sellers is: How long has the home been on the market?

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2. Look up the licensing

States will have boards that license and discipline real estate agents in those states, says Phipps. Check with your state's regulatory body to find out if the person is licensed and if there have been any disciplinary actions or complaints.

Some states, including Virginia, Arizona and California, put the information into online databases that consumers can search. "But I think very few people do," says Robert Irwin, author of "Tips & Traps When Buying a Home."

3. Pick a winner

Peer-given awards count, says Phipps. One that really means something is the "Realtor of the Year" designation awarded by the state or local branch of the National Association of Realtors.

"These agents are the best as judged by their peers," he says. "That's a huge endorsement."

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