Q: My wife and I are getting ready to purchase our very first home. Can you give any pointers to help us in our search for a competent real estate agent?

A: Here are several questions you and your spouse can use when hiring a Real Estate Agent or Broker to represent you. Keep in mind these questions are answered more honestly by the agent's actions than by his or her words:

(1) Does the agent/broker's motivation reflect a sincere desire to serve?
Does he have a frame of mind and heart to put your best interests at the top of the priority list, even above his need to earn a living?

(2) What business is the agent or broker in? Is he in the real estate business? The money-making business? Or is he firmly grounded in the trust business, making earning and keeping your trust and confidence his highest goal?

(3) How well does your agent/broker communicate? Is he articulate in explaining how the home-buying or selling process works? Is he prompt about returning your phone calls? Is he approachable? Do you feel you can call him nearly any time you have a question or a concern that needs addressing? Is he sensitive to your frame of mind and possible apprehension? Does he encourage you to ask lots of questions or do you feel like an idiot after asking him?

Is frequent communication with you a top priority or relegated to a lower position?

(4) Is he customer-service driven? Does he ensure your appointments are structured around your schedule or do you feel you're primarily accommodating him? Does he meet with you face-to-face often or are your interactions primarily via telephone, e-mail, or fax? Does he hand-deliver documents so he can explain them in person or do you receive paperwork in the mail that leaves you scratching your head in bewilderment?

(5) Does your agent-to-be have integrity? Is he up front with you? Does he look you straight in the eye when answering your questions? Does he remember your name? Does he have a firm and hearty handshake or is it wimpy and non-committal? Is he candid and forthcoming in answering your questions or do you feel you can't get him to give you a straight answer about important issues? Does he ever say "I'm not sure" or "I don't know"? Being honest is risky sometimes as people don't always want to hear the truth. But above all else, that's your agent's job to tell you the truth.

(6) Does your agent/broker have a positive, "Let's make it happen" attitude? Is he best described as a problem-solver or a problem-maker? Is he creative in finding ways to make things work instead of looking for reasons why they can't?

(7) Ask your prospective agent/broker for references from previous clients, both buyers and sellers. Get several names and telephone numbers. Then follow up with those people. Ask, "Would you work with this agent again? If so, why? If not, why not?" How someone conducts himself with others in the past is a good indicator of how he'll probably treat you in the future. Don't be afraid to probe a little. Ask, "Do you feel your Agent had your best interests in mind at all times?" "Do you trust your agent?" "Why or why not?"

This set of questions and action items should help you find a true professional by ruling out those who simply don't measure up. Remember that this is probably the single largest investment you'll make in your lifetime. Be selective, be careful, and listen to your intuition. Bestow the honor of your trust to one who earns it, not to just anyone who managed to pass the state licensing exam.