There are many things to look for when choosing a real estate agent to buy or sell your home. Like other licensed professionals (such as financial planners, doctors, or lawyers) you are hiring someone to help you solve a technical problem that requires specialized knowledge and training. Although you can buy a home without a real estate agent-just like you can treat your own medical condition or represent yourself in court-most people choose a professional because they want real help. It is typically not worth the time to train yourself for a transaction you will conduct only a few times in your lifetime. After participating in hundreds of deals as a Boise real estate agent, I believe there are three key criteria to consider when finding help to buy or sell a home. I have written in more detail on this subject elsewhere, but for this article, here is a summary of the key issues. First, you need to choose a representative who is legally authorized and professionally competent. While there may be hundreds, or even thousands, of legally authorized agents in your community, not all of them are professionally competent. For example, according to Boise MLS records, there are about 2300 licensed real estate agents in Boise, Idaho. Surprisingly, nearly 900 agents (40%) did not represent a single seller last year in a completed transaction-and only 167 (7%) represented more than 10 sellers last year. Put another way, if you simply choose a real estate agent from the phone book as your listing agent, you have a 4 in 10 chance of selecting one that did not even sell a single home last year. Find out about your potential agent's background and experience. Discover how many transactions she has completed within the past year and in her career. You may want to talk to three or four of his past sellers (and make sure they are not related to him). Many agents are selected only because they are a friend of a friend. Not surprisingly, those clients are often disappointed, but once an agent is selected, it can be awkward to de-select them . Next, find a real estate agent you are personally comfortable with. Is he or she someone you could confide in without embarrassment? You may ask, "Why does that matter? If they get the job done, why would I care if I like them or not?" Besides the obvious answer that it's just more fun to work with someone you like, finding that person, may also be the difference between getting what you want and settling for disappointment. Some agents may have a tendency to hurry you along and make you feel guilty or incompetent if you question them. It's easy for a professional in any industry to use their knowledge to manipulate you and to leverage your inexperience against you. Make sure the professional you choose is one you can trust and confide in without worrying about offending them. Of course, many agents pass these first two tests. There are certainly plenty of competent realtors and most are easy to like. (It's hard to survive in real estate if you don't pass these two tests.) Finally, is your potential realtor someone who can help you strategize? For example, a good lawyer knows the law well enough to keep you from doing something illegal or improperly filing your claim. However, a great lawyer will be able to help you develop a winning strategy-taking into account issues such as actions by your counterparts, interaction with the judge or jury, and other factors that may have an impact on your success. When buying a home, you probably want more than just an order-taker. You want a sales professional who can help you not only write a legal offer, but also help you do market research, interact with the seller (or buyer), negotiate ethically and strategically, help you qualify for a mortgage, and most importantly guide you toward a specific goal. So how do you find a competent, strategic-thinking realtor you can get along with? To determine competence, simply ask your potential realtor how many deals he/she has done in the past twelve months. Are they like yours (short sales, bank-owned purchases, acreage, etc.) Let him prove to you that he has actual experience dealing with transactions like yours. Ask him/her for at least four referrals from clients within the past two months. Secondly, you can answer questions two and three (relationship and strategy) with one easy test. Does he/she take the time to find out what you want? Does she ask you about your goals, why you are buying, how long you plan to keep the property, what kind of financial strategy you have, etc. If he quickly launches into a "sales pitch" he just failed both tests. There is no way he can give you good advice if he doesn't know your situation and if he is more interested in talking than listening in the beginning, he will probably be the same way when it comes time to discuss your offer.