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Choosing a real estate agent to help you navigate the treacherous waters of purchasing a home is one of the best moves you can make. You’ll want the best – but how do you know which you want with all of the real estate agents out there clamoring for your business.

The first thing you should do before choosing a real estate agent is to chat with recent clients (if possible). You can ask the potential agent to give you a list of what they’ve sold (and listed) within the past year and be sure to include contact information.

You’ll learn what the asking versus the sales price was for each sale which is valuable when assessing their negotiating skills. You should also find out how long the agent has been in the real estate business by simply asking the agent. Five years is considered a learning curve for agents, so you may want to consider someone who has been in the business longer.

Check out a potential agent’s current listings. You can do this online by accessing the agency’s website or other sites. Determine if the agent’s past listings are like or similar to the type and price range of the home you want to purchase.

Be sure your agent is licensed by the state they’re practicing in. You can check to see if the real estate agent is licensed by contacting your state’s regulatory body. That will also reveal if the agent has any complaints or if there are disciplinary actions against her.

A real estate agent should have the right credentials – just as lawyers. Notice the lettering after the agent’s name to get more information. For example, a Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES) indicates they’ve had training to directly assist buyers and sellers who are 50 years and older.

A Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) means they’ve had additional classes in buying and selling residential properties. If an agent is an Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR), you’ll know they’ve had further education in representing a home buyer’s transactions.

Mainly, an agent who is listed as a Realtor (capital R) is a member of the National Association of Realtors, who has pledged support to the Realtor’s code of ethics. Check out awards and recognitions she’s been given – especially by her peers.

The “Realtor of the Year” award is presented by the local branch of the NAR or by the state and it means a great deal and is quite an honor to be chosen by your peers. You can be assured that she’s respected and looked up to by the business.

One trick to choose an agent who knows her way around is to ask about a property in the area that has recently been put on the market or sold. If the agent immediately knows the property you’re talking about, it’s a sure thing she knows the area and the market you’re considering.

Choosing a real estate agent who’s going to carefully guide you along one of the most important and expensive journeys of your life. Even if the real estate agent doesn’t meet all of the criteria for choosing an agent, consider your gut instinct about the person. Sometimes, that’s the best rule of thumb.