How should you go about choosing a real estate broker or agent? Don't just sign up with the one who promises you the highest price for your house -- he or she may not be able to deliver on that, and if you have to lower your asking price, that doesn't look good. Similarly, if you're looking to buy, it pays to choose an agent carefully. Here are a few tips:

  • Ask your friends and neighbors for referrals if they live in the general region where you're searching.

  • If you don't know anyone in the region where you're looking, contact the Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce and ask for the names of several agents who are members. It's good to call at least five of these agents and to meet with at least three.

  • Interview agents. Ask each one about her background, training, and experience. Ask about homes in the region. See what questions she asks you and how well she listens. See whether you trust her. You're looking for a strong agent with experience and good negotiating skills. Make sure she'll be able to recommend a few settlement lawyers and building inspectors if you anticipate needing them.

  • Ask to be shown one house. See how the agent shows it to you and how comfortable your rapport is. Is he or she showing you the kind of home you're looking for?

  • Evaluate what kind of information the agent is able to give you. You don't necessarily have to be the one digging up the scoop on local schools and neighborhoods. A good agent might have handouts at the ready, or at least a lot of information stored mentally.

  • Keep looking. If you don't find someone you like at first, take the time to continue looking. The more agents you check out, the greater the odds that you'll find one you really like who serves you well.

If you're thinking of buying or selling a home -- or an investment property -- spend some time in our Home Center, which features lots of money-saving tips and even some special mortgage rates.

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