Q: How do I find out who is a successful agent in my area with a strong track record? –Patricia, Minnesota

A: My advice to home sellers often includes a recommendation that they find, work with and rely on the advice of a listing broker or agent in their area who has a strong, recent track record of selling homes, so my guess is that you’re asking me to clarify how you would find such a professional.

There are a number of ways to connect with agents, but two in particular that I recommend as highly effective at helping sellers (or buyers, for that matter) find agents who are both (a) highly competent, and possess the local market and transactional expertise necessary to get the deal done, and (b) a good fit, in terms of personality and communication style.

The first? Referrals. Asking your friends, colleagues and relatives to hip you to the real estate professional who helped them buy or sell their home is probably the best place to start. And, ideally, look for an agent who gets rave reviews from your contact. You want an agent they loved, not just liked.

You also want someone who you know has the stuff to close deals in today’s market, in which positioning a home successfully against distressed properties, understanding and overcoming the financing strictures that frequently obstruct transactions, and even pricing and marketing homes are much more complicated and difficult than they were a few years ago.

If you’re looking to sell, seek referrals from people who sold their home as recently as possible. If you’re looking to buy, get referrals from those who recently purchased a home.

The second means I recommend of finding a successful agent to represent you in a real estate transaction is to head online to one of several vibrant online discussion communities. Find local agents who are actively blogging or answering questions on the major real estate websites.

Read their blog posts and past answers they’ve posted to consumer questions. Take some time out to pose questions yourself — tag them for your local market — and see who answers your inquiries. Then, drop a few of the agents an e-mail explaining your real estate plans and asking to meet with them. The ones who answer back quickly and are responsive may be great prospective candidates for your business.

(Note — if you’re a phone person, you might want to give prospective agents a ring and see how quickly they get back to you, as this is likely the experience you’ll have throughout the transaction.)

If you’re listing your home for sale, the sensible approach is to find at least three agents and set listing appointments with them. They will come to your home, evaluate it and brief you on their marketing plan and opinion as to your home’s value and the ideal list price for your home (which might be two different numbers). Most agents will also introduce themselves and brief you on their track record.

This is your shot to ensure that the agent you end up with has a history of not just of listing properties in your neighborhood for sale, but of getting them sold. When you set the listing appointment up, ask the agent to come prepared to discuss her recent sales in the area. You’ll want her to provide addresses, list price, sale price and the number of days the property was on the market.

You’ll also want the agent to brief you on the average number of days a home like that stays on the market in your area, and document it.

Get the names and numbers of at least a couple of recent sellers as references that you can check to get a firsthand account of their experience working with the agent in question.

Finally, if you find an agent who has stellar references and a strong track record, but you dislike her pricing recommendation for your home because it’s too low, get over it. The agents who are actually selling properties are successful because the homes are priced accurately, and buyers are biting.

If you fully vet the agent, you lose all benefit of that vetting if you go against her advice. So, once you do the work of finding an agent who knows her stuff, give her the chance to set you and your home up for success by following her advice, in terms of property preparation, showing, marketing and — most important — pricing.

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