Finding a good agent or agents to help you buy or sell a home can vastly improve the quality of your experience. Ideally, you want someone who is professional, trustworthy and diligent.

It’s impossible to predict at the outset exactly how a purchase or sale transaction will play out. But, invariably there are bumps along the road. Good rapport and mutual respect make it easier to work through problems should they arise.

Even if you don’t run into difficulties, there are a lot of decisions to make along the way. So, select an agent or agents who have good communication skills.

When you find an agent you like, it’s tempting to envision using that agent for all your residential transactions. In many cases, that makes good sense. You have an established relationship that works for you.

Repeat home buyers who are selling one home and buying another one in the same location often find it easier to use the same agent for both transactions, particularly if it’s someone they had good experience with in the past. Coordinating the two transactions can be easier if you’re working with one agent.

However, if you’re buying in a new housing development that doesn’t cooperate with outside agents, you may have no other option than to use the developer’s sales staff. Also, there are agents who work only with buyers. In this case, you’d need to use a different agent to sell your home.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Sellers who sell a home in one location and want to buy elsewhere should find an agent who specializes in that area. Some sellers are so attached to their listing agent that they want that agent to represent them in a purchase even though the agent has no expertise in the area. This should be avoided.

Be aware that there are some agents, particularly in the current sluggish market, that will offer to represent you in an out-of-area purchase. If the agent has no past experience selling homes in that area, he or she could be doing you a disservice. Instead, ask your agent to find you a superb agent to work with in the new location.

Usually, it’s best to commit to working exclusively with the agent(s) you select. You’re likely to get better service from an agent who is 100 percent committed to you, and who knows that you won’t use the agent’s time and then buy through someone else.

Sometimes, however, the inventory of the kind of home you’re looking for is so scarce that you may need to let more than one agent know what you’re looking for. Also, you may look in several areas at once and be best served by using more than one agent.

Some agents require buyers to sign a buyer representation contract. Before signing such an agreement, make sure you understand it. If it’s an exclusive agreement, you could end up owing the agent a fee even if you were to buy a home through a different agent.

Also make sure that you can cancel the agreement without penalty if it turns out that you made the wrong choice and the agent is not doing a good job for you.

Even if you don’t enter into a contractual agreement with a buyer’s agent, you could find that what you thought would be a good working relationship turns out not to be. In this case, it’s best to have a candid discussion with your agent about what’s not working for you.

At that point, you can either end the relationship or you can give the agent a chance to improve the quality of service.

THE CLOSING: Never forget that you are in the driver’s seat.

Dian Hymer is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide," Chronicle Books.

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