Given all you'll go through together, finding the best agent for your needs is critical.

Find the Best Real Estate Agent
You don’t want just any referral; you want a referral to someone who has outperformed.

Your real estate agent has many unofficial jobs: therapist, design consultant, chauffeur — and that’s in addition to the hard work of selling your home or helping you find a new place. There’s a lot involved when closing one of the largest financial transactions of your life! Given all you’ll go through together, it’s critical you find the best agent for your needs.

Of course you want someone who will get you a good deal and consider your financial well-being, but that’s not always enough. You also need someone you’re comfortable working with and can trust. How can you find an agent with great judgment, diplomacy, and the all-around ability to be your coach, cheerleader, and sales representative?

Here are six tips.

1. Collect curated referrals

It’s easy to ask your best friend for the name of his or her agent — but perhaps you shouldn’t. You don’t want just any referral; you want a referral to someone who has outperformed. Watch your entire network and pay attention to positive indicators, such as the length of time a friend’s house sat on the market, or the level of enthusiasm he expressed for his great buying or sales price. (Facebook status updates are a great way to get a sense of this.) Then ask that person for a referral — even if that person is only a casual acquaintance, rather than your best friend.

2. Look for specialists

Did you know that real estate agents can specialize in certain areas, such as working with seniors, assisting with short sales and foreclosures, or helping first-time buyers? Run a Google search for the name of your city, town, or neighborhood, plus the words “real estate,” and then your special circumstance (e.g., “senior”). You’ll find a few who possess special designations like Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES) or Accredited Buyer Representative (ABR). Alternately, call a brokerage that has a major presence in your community and ask for a list of its agents with designations, or check out the Trulia Agent Directory.

3. Consider brokers of all sizes

To find these, expand your search to include agents housed by smaller brokerages. Many people might tend to call the big-name brokers: Keller Williams, Century 21, Berkshire Hathaway. While these are great choices, don’t overlook some of the smaller brokers in your community, including the one-person or two-person operations.

4. Focus on neighborhood experience

In real estate, location is paramount (you may have heard about this). You’ll want an agent/broker who holds specific neighborhood knowledge and experience. Look at the “For Sale,” “Open House,” or “Sold” signs in your community. By law, this signage must feature the broker’s name, and these signs will give you a sense of which brokers or agents are most active in your specific neighborhood. Likewise, you might also spot “teams.” For example, you may see a Re/Max sign that notes that this house is sold by the “Zack Team” or the “Palmer Team.” This is also an indicator that there’s a subset of agents, housed by a larger brokerage, that specializes in representing this particular geographic niche.

5. Look for peer awards

Run a Google search for a list of agents in your area who have won awards from the local or state branch of the National Association of Realtors. These types of peer awards strongly indicate that the agent has high standing within his or her community — and probably is going to represent you well.

6. Ask a few questions

When you first meet the agent, ask questions such as:

  • Do you work full-time or part-time?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • In what niche do you specialize? (Could be geographic area or circumstance.)
  • Can you tell me about homes for sale in (a particular) neighborhood?

That fourth question isn’t just to obtain information about that neighborhood — it’s to gauge how well the agent can respond on his or her feet. You want someone who is already knowledgeable about the area. Use these questions to really get to know each agent. Before you make your final decision, think about whom you could comfortably work with and who gives you the confidence you’ll close a great deal.