Whether you’re buying a home or selling one, having a good real estate agent by your side can be the key to a smooth and pain-free property transaction. Great agents understand the conditions in their local markets. They advocate for their clients when it’s time to negotiate, and guide their clients through the entire home buying (or selling) process.

But there are a lot of real estate agents out there. Finding a really great agent is easier said than done. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re on your search.

Referrals Are Key

If you’re looking for a real estate agent, ask your friends, colleagues and family members for recommendations. Ask people you know and trust if they’ve worked with a great real estate agent in your area.

Keep in mind, the “worked with” part is important. You want to ask people you know about real estate agents with whom they, personally, have done some business. “My cousin Jeff is a real estate agent,” might be useful, though it doesn’t tell you much about how good Jeff is at helping someone buy or sell a property. “We worked with Janet when we bought the condo last year and she was amazing,” tells you that Janet successfully helped some people close on a property, and that those people were happy with the experience.

Ask for Details

If you do get a recommendation, ask for specifics about the experience: was the agent knowledgeable? Did he or she communicate clearly? Were they available and responsive when you had questions? Were there any red flags or difficulties throughout the process?

Communicate Clearly

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Once you’ve obtained the names of a few real estate agents, set up a couple of interviews. You want to get a sense of both how knowledgeable your potential agent is, and how comfortably and effectively you’ll be able to communicate with one another. Ask about the agent’s experience, and don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions. After all, you are looking for someone who knows more about this process than you already know. An agent who isn’t knowledgeable won’t be very useful.

Make Sure Your interests Are Aligned

Be sure to ask if the agent represents just buyers, just sellers, or both. Laws vary by state, concerning potential conflicts of interest. But you want to be sure that your real estate agent is representing your interests.

Don’t forget that real estate agents are commissioned salespeople. Unfortunately, that means there are some agents who are willing to tell you just about anything to make a sale. You’re going to want an agent who is knowledgeable and realistic about the potential hurdles and roadblocks you may encounter. If the agent you’re considering promises you the moon, it’s probably best to look elsewhere.

Ask for References

Ask the agent for a few references who would be willing to speak with you about their experience working together, even if you found the potential agent’s name through a personal recommendation. A seller’s agent should have a list of recently sold properties to show you. A buyer’s agent should be able to give you contact information for some happy recent clients.

Before signing any agreement to work exclusively with an agent, ask about the agent’s credentials. Double-check their licensing: most states have online registries where you can quickly check that an agent’s real estate licensing is in order.

Now that you know everything about choosing a real estate agent, have you thought about choosing a neighborhood? It’s something you should think about carefully. Here’s our guide to picking your best area to live in and our tips for house hunting.