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How To Be Sure Your Real Estate Agent Is A Winner

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We hire professionals for their expertise, experience and commitment to do the job to our satisfaction. If there ever was a situation that warrants having the right pro for the job, it's when you're buying or selling a home. After all, this person is going to successfully guide you through one of the biggest personal financial transactions you'll make in a lifetime. However, many homebuyers struggle to find the right agent for their needs.

My Move asked readers, co-workers, family and friends to share their experiences with real estate agents -- heroes or villains. We heard the best and worst agent stories and some journeys that began horribly but had a happy outcome.

My Real Estate Agent Was the Best!

Business coach Quinn McDonald of Phoenix, Arizona had a great real estate agent experience in a scary, falling housing market. "I'd been looking for a new home with my agent, and my current house began to drop in value," says McDonald. "I panicked, she didn't. She stuck with me, showing me houses in the new price bracket. Each time the value of my house dropped, she re-set the field." Just as McDonald was giving up hope there was a house she could still afford, and after looking at 53 houses in eight months, she says they found a great house in a wonderful neighborhood. "I bought it the next day, two days after my old house closed. Now that was an amazing real estate agent!"

Kim Hine, the marketing director at My Move, was moving with her husband and two children from Connecticut to Massachusetts in 2008. They fell in love with Lexington, Mass. and lived in a temporary arrangement while figuring out what part of town they wanted to buy in. Based on the school district and the new friends they wanted to live close to, they were targeting a very narrow area -- one-sixth of the town. "Our agent showed us every property in our price range and we didn't find anything that was perfect," Hine says. "Then our agent remembered there had been a home on the market several months prior that had not sold and was taken off the market. She called up the seller's agent of that home and asked if he would show it to us. He did, the seller agreed to sell it and accepted our offer. We have lived happily in it for the last five years!"

Carolyn McKibbin, the editorial director at My Move who moved to Needham, Mass. in April, found that working with a buyer's agent, who represented her interest rather than the seller's, was a perfect fit. "Our agent, Liane Parness of Redfin, was always enthusiastic, on time and knowledgeable about neighborhoods," McKibbin says. "Liane calmed our nerves during a stressful bidding war and helped us make a competitive offer that reflected what the house was worth. She reassured us our offer was strong and fair -- and we won!"

My Real Estate Agent was the Worst!

Joe, who chose to provide an alias, describes his experience with a real estate agent as "sketchy." When his agent was walking him and his wife through a home, the agent was unable to answer any of their questions because it didn't appear she had a copy of the listing. The home had electric heat and the agent searched for the furnace -- which you'll only find in homes using gas or oil. "She eyed a computer in the home office," Joe says, and proceeded to look up the listing to answer their questions. "She did not know the homeowner, and we saw this as a major privacy violation and stopped working with her that day," he says.

Account manager Margaret Menotti and her partner purchased their first home in Uxbridge, Mass. when Menotti was pregnant with their first child. The condo developer filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy after the Menottis had signed the purchase-and-sale agreement; the couple had to rent the condo prior to closing because their lease at their old home was up. "While the closing went fine," says Menotti, "the developer dragged his feet on niceties like air conditioning. We moved all our stuff and set up a nursery on the hottest day in July at eight-and-a-half-months pregnant!" Whereas the best agents would have stepped in to help her client avoid this stressful scenario, "My agent did nothing to finesse the process," Menotti says.

We Learned the Hard Way

Michelle Snyder Seitzer and her husband were looking for a home in York, Pennsylvania and worked with a real estate agent recommended by friends they didn't know well. "What I remember most was looking at a house that was just awful -- a garage that opened to a cemetery about 25 yards away and a dive bar around the corner," she says. "He tried to tell me I 'just wasn't able to visualize the potential.'" Their concerns about his dedication were confirmed when the agent didn't show up for the closing.

"As first-time home buyers, we learned our lesson the hard way and now feel much better prepared to choose wisely the next time," Snyder Seitzer says. They are planning to sell their current house soon and have a real estate agent "who is worlds away from the first. He has followed up with us consistently and is always accessible via email and phone. Now that's a guy I can get behind."

5 Tips for Choosing the Best Real Estate Agent

Finding the right real estate agent can make house hunting, buying or selling your home a less stressful process, especially for first-time home buyers. Of course if you end up with the wrong real estate agent, it can be a disaster. Not only does a bad agent cause anger and frustration with the process, it can sometimes make or break a deal.

Starting with the right real estate agent who's also a good fit turns this rollercoaster ride into a positive experience. It also affects factors like how long it takes to buy or sell your home. You can locate an agent through referrals from trusted sources, like family and friends. Or you can use an online searchable database, like Mountain of Agents, which utilizes a rating system based on consumer insights. According to CEO Michael Becker, "Our system is unique and unbiased because it has no affiliation with the real estate industry."

Real estate agent Joan Camerlengo is broker/owner of Camerlengo Realty in Staten Island, New York. With her 18 years experience in the industry, she offers the following tips for choosing your agent.

1. Experience counts. Buyers and sellers cannot expect a brand-new agent to have the same knowledge and problem-solving capabilities as a seasoned agent or broker.
2. Go local. Use a full-time, local agent. This person has experience and knowledge about your market.
3. Find the right match. Hire someone whose skillset matches your needs; for example, someone who has a basic understanding of technology and knows how to communicate in other ways besides using a phone.
4. Use a specialist if needed. Some sellers need specialists. If you need to do a short sale, then you should engage an agent who has experience in this area. Senior buyers or sellers might best be matched with a senior's real estate specialist--someone who has been trained to understand seniors' needs and can interact with family members.
5. Communicate. Camerlengo believes good communication skills are essential in a real estate agent, but it works both ways. "Sellers (and buyers) should be very clear to communicate what expectations they have of their agent insofar as showings, feedback and other responsibilities."

For more insight on working with real estate agents and home-buying tips, download My Move's Home Buying Guide for free.

What are your best and worst real estate agent stories?