Choose agent carefully before going into real estate market

When you decide to sell your home or buy one, you will probably want a real estate agent to help you through the maze of barricades, traps and missteps that can loom in the offing.

Some people may drive around and choose the agent whose name appears on the most signs. Some might look for the largest ad in the phone book, and some might just throw darts at the newspaper's classified real estate section.

Checking with friends and finding a recommendation is a good way to find an agent.

If none of your friends has a recommendation, then the sign trick might not be a bad idea. If an agent's name pops up more often than others in the neighborhood you like, then that person is likely to know the neighborhood, its amenities and special conditions.

Do your homework

Don't hire an agent you meet by chance or discover through advertisements or on the Internet without thoroughly checking their credentials, experience and practice.

In fact, begin by doing your own homework. Learn the homebuying/homeselling process, from credit scores and mortgages to close of escrow. This information is available on the Internet, classes, seminars and counseling workshops.

Learn about financing, your legal rights and how to evaluate comparable house prices. The more you know going in, the better you can work with an agent and the better your experience will be.

If you are buying a house, be ready to tell your agent the kind of neighborhood you want, what size and style house you need and what amenities are absolute necessities and which would just be "nice to have."

Find the right agent for you

Make a short list of agents and check their credentials and practice through the Internet and official sources like the Better Business Bureau. Then make appointments with the ones you want to meet.

Ask them personally about their experience, whether they work at real estate full-time, if they are available during regular office hours and how to reach them after-hours.

Does the agent belong to a professional organization, like the Realtors, that have established standards of conduct? Has he or she won any professional awards or been recognized some way by his or her peer group?

Does what he or she says square with what you learned in your research?

Compatibility is important because you will spend a lot of time with your agent. Is this an agent that you feel comfortable to be around? Is this person a good listener who will hear you out before making recommendations? Does the agent have recommendations that make sense to you? Does the agent understand what outcome you expect?

Find out how much the agent will charge and how he or she expects to get paid.

Your agent

Not too many years ago, every agent - even if they spent a lot of time and energy showing you around - represented the seller as a matter of law. That is no longer true. Today, there are buyer's agents and seller's agents.

So what is the difference?

The buyer's agent works for the buyer. The agent who understands his buyers will avoid taking them to houses that are obviously unsuitable and looks for problems to bring to the potential buyer's attention. The agent will check the listings to see how long a house has been on the market and check with other agents to see how motivated a seller may be to make a deal.

The seller's agent works to sell the house. This agent recommends a selling price, advertises the house and makes sure other agents know about the house and its great features. This agent will help assess the reactions of potential buyers.

A third kind of agent is the "disclosed dual agent." This agent works for both the buyer and the seller. Working for an agent with two masters may not be in your best interest.

So get out there, meet some people and good luck! Remember the prize is a home that you will enjoy for years to come.

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