Whether you’re buying a home out of town, state or country, chances are you’ll be working long distance with a real estate agent you hardly know or have never met to find and close on your new digs.

How do you identify your best match in a remote agent? The answer is three parts homework, two parts networking and one part chemistry.

Homework: How to Narrow the Field

If you’ve never bought a home out of state, you may not be aware that real estate agents must be licensed to sell in the state they’re in. Logistically, licensed agents tend to further limit their practices to specific cities, counties or even neighborhoods where their market knowledge adds the most value for their clients.

For long-distance moves especially, that local expertise can prove priceless to you, given your limited knowledge of your destination. Unfortunately, that’s where the similarities between agents often end.

“A Realtor has to be licensed, but there’s a big difference in how they work,” says Cindi Hagley, broker/owner of the Hagley Group in the San Francisco Bay area. “There are active and nonactive Realtors. In the state of California, the average Realtor sells like 1.8 listings per year, while others will sell 20, 30, 50 or more.”

To narrow your search, you’ll want to look for a full-time, experienced Realtor with solid negotiating skills who works in your target communities and has the online tools (Skype, FaceTime, National Association of Realtors E-PRO) to meet and work together remotely.

Networking: How to Use Here to Get There

How do you source these skills remotely? Here are several ways:

  • Realtor referral: Not all real estate agents are Realtors, members of the National Association of Realtors trade organization that sponsors continuing education courses, hosts national conferences and generally holds its members to a higher standard. “Talk to a Realtor you trust where you currently live and ask for a referral,” Hagley suggests. “The top local Realtors in any market are going to be wired nationally, because we attend conferences together three or four times a year and want to learn from each other.” Oh, and don’t feel like you’re asking a huge favor; most agents who gain clients by referral return that favor to the referrer with a small slice of their commission.
  • Local agent referrals: Start with local agents you know and regard highly, poll a few friends about their picks, then contact this short list and ask each if they can recommend agents in your destination. You may improve your chance of success if some prospects work for national realty brands such as Century 21, Coldwell Banker, Keller Williams and RE/MAX.
  • Remote candidate media profiles: Do an online search for Realtors in your destination city, note the handful of names that are featured on local and national newspapers, broadcasts and podcasts, then search each one’s listing to gauge their media presence. “Chances are, if they’re being interviewed by local media, they have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in their communities,” Hagley says. “And if you can’t get them, get somebody on their team.”
  • Professional highlights: Once you locate a candidate’s online bio, make note of their credentials, testimonials, references, years in real estate and whether they are relocation certified (corporations use these agents to spearhead employee moves).

Once completed, how should you proceed with these probes?

“The best approach is to use them all, then compare your findings,” Hagley suggests.

Chemistry: Channel Your Inner ‘Bachelor/Bachelorette’

In an ideal world, your next and final step would be to visit your destination, meet your finalists separately, then spend an afternoon touring active listings with your top pick to make sure they understand your goals and possess the skills to help you achieve them. If that’s not possible, use online tools to guide your choice.

But beware that online tools may tempt you into considering an unwise choice.

“One thing I would recommend they not do is, they find a house online, they find the listing agent, and they say, ‘Hey, would you represent me?’” says Hagley. “Well, guess what: with dual agency, the only person who really wins in a case like that is the agent themselves (because by working for both buyer and seller, they wind up working for the sale, not you). So I would avoid that.”

Otherwise, there’s more than a remote possibility you can use actual face time or FaceTime to make your match.

“Like everything else, it just comes down to relationships,” says Hagley. “It’s exactly like dating; you’re going to have to go through a couple duds before you find somebody you might want to see for more than a month. But the goal is to find a Realtor you’re comfortable working with who is going to specifically represent you and will look out for your interests – especially because you’re not there.”

Jay MacDonald