Buying or selling a home is a major life decision. It is imperative to locate a reputable and capable real estate agent when you are purchasing a new home.

Choosing the right home for your family, lifestyle and budget is one of me most important decisions you will ever make; not one to be entrusted to your brother-in-law or cousin Bernie. The agent should have experience buying and selling homes in your area of interest and be able to professionally guide you through the complexities of the purchasing process including finding the best loan rates, loan application, and approval.

When selling your home, it is equally important to form an association with a seasoned Realtor with proven experience in your neighborhood. Your home represents one of your largest life investments. When selling, you want the home sold quickly at the highest possible price.

Whether buying or selling, the question is how can you find a reputable real estate agent? The relationship with your Realtor is one that must be built on confidence and trust. During the process of buying or selling a home you will reveal to your Realtor a great deal of highly personal information; your income, life plans, your credit history as well as personal details about your family structure. When tendering a purchase contract or considering accepting an offer, you need to be able to ask your Realtor, “is this a fair and realistic price” and be able to trust and rely on their answer. If you do not feel confident in the competency of your Realtor’s financial advice, they are of little use to you and you should look elsewhere.

Keep in mind that the best agent for your needs is not the agent that makes the most sales or works for the largest brokerage. It is not the agent that has paid to have their name and photo plastered on billboards, television and newspaper ads. The busiest agents may not have the time to pay personal attention to your needs. If you meet an agent and are handed off to an associate, look elsewhere.

When selecting the best agent for your real estate needs, look for an agent that really listens, knows the local market and has a proven track record as an experienced professional that handles all of their transactions in an “above-board” ethical manner. A knowledgeable Realtor is conversant with local zoning laws, subdivision restrictions and covenants, property taxes, schools and housing trends.

When choosing a real estate agent, make sure to select a licensed Realtor. Realtors are members of the National Association of Realtors and have pledged to follow the NAR Code of Ethics. Realtors are committed to a higher standard of conduct than typical business practices or the guidelines of the law. While all Realtors are licensed to sell real estate as a licensed agent or broker, not all persons with a real estate license are Realtors.

It pays to do the research and be informed. Donald R. Brenner, professor emeritus at American University notes, “Owning property is very important, and when you deal with someone who is going to help you buy or sell a piece of property, you’d better find someone that knows what they’re doing. If you pick up the phone book and choose from the yellow pages, you won’t make a better decision than if you picked up the telephone book to choose a brain surgeon.”

Brenner explains, “You must make inquiries before you sign with an agent or broker. Commissions are usually substantial, so some real estate agents will try to sell you anything. They’ll tell you every house is the best house they’ve ever seen, every room is the prettiest, your kids are going to love it, and your dog is going to bark nicely. They’ll tell you anything!”

Ask a lot of questions. Talk to your mortgage broker or banker for a recommendation or critique of the Realtors you are considering. A successful Realtor builds their business on referrals from satisfied clients. Ask family, friends and co-workers to describe their real estate experiences and if they can recommend an agent of merit. Question if the Realtor specializes in any particular market. Some agents focus on selling new homes only while others target a particular neighborhood, price range or architectural style.

Drop in on open houses in your neighborhood to meet agents in their working environment. Note if the agent is prepared with business cards and professionally prepared promotional materials about the property. Does he/she appear professional, personable and knowledgeable? Does the agent engage customers, pointing out the best features of the home and neighborhood or sit on the sofa reading a book? Observe their interaction with potential customers and note how they follow up with their contact with you.

“If you’re selling, your property may be the most valuable thing you own and it is of utmost importance to find an agent you can trust,” Brenner advised. “A real estate agent has a high fiduciary duty — a duty of trust and confidence. It is the most important duty of any salesperson or broker in real estate. An agent must disclose all the material facts of any transaction — everything they know about the property, good or bad. If a salesperson knows there are three inches of water in the basement every time it rains, he is obligated to disclose that fact.”