Trying to buy or sell a home? One of the most critical decisions that you can make is choosing the right real estate agent.

Your Coldwell Banker real estate agent is the staunch ally who stands by your side, advocating for you every step of the way. He or she can help you find your dream home and/or prepare your home for a quick and high-dollar sale. She’ll negotiate on your behalf, tackling every topic from sales price to repairs and improvements to closing costs and other concessions. He’ll help you navigate the murky waters of the inspection, appraisal, lending and closing processes.

How can you find an agent who will make the home buying and/or selling process as easy as possible? Here are a few tips.

1. Ask Your Family and Friends for Referrals
Get referrals from friends, relatives, neighbors and other acquaintances, advises the National Association of Realtors (NAR). After all, these are the people you go to regularly for all sorts of other recommendations, whether it’s for a good doctor or a place to eat, you value and trust their experience and opinion.

Start asking around. Put out feelers at family barbecues, while talking with the other parents at your kids’ soccer game, even on Facebook. You never know which of your acquaintances might have a solid lead on a great real estate agent for you.

2. Ask Agents About Their Experience
Call a few agents and ask them about their experience – not just in sheer number of years that they’ve been on-the-job, but also in terms of what areas of specialty they cover.

Do they primary work with owner-occupants or investors? Do they specialize in particular neighborhoods, districts or communities? Do they work with clients who might have particular or specialized needs?

What supplemental certifications do they hold? Agents hold designations that reflect specialized training in areas like short sales, home staging, relocation and other topics. Ask potential agents what type of specific training or certifications they carry, in addition to their standard license.

3. Contemplate Buyer or Seller Specialists
Depending on whether you’re buying or selling a home, you might want to work with either an Exclusive Buyer Specialist or an Exclusive Seller Specialist – designations that indicate that an agent holds a high degree of training and experience serving either buyers or sellers.

However, there are pro’s and con’s to choosing an exclusive specialist. Some clients prefer to work with an agent who specializes on one side of the table. Other clients prefer to work with an agent who has experience on both sides, since the agent may benefit from that breadth of experience.

Neither conclusion is ‘wrong’ or ‘right.’ Interview several agents and see who feels like the best fit.

4. Check Out Their Online Presence
Whether you’re buying or selling, the Internet will play a crucial role in your process. According to NAR, 89 percent of home buyers use the Internet to search for properties. If you’re a seller, this means your potential buyer will be scoping out your home online. If you’re a buyer, this means that you’ll be able to access plenty of listings on the web.

How comfortable is your potential agent with effectively using the Internet? Do they have an attractive and modern website? Are they active on social media? How quickly do they reply to emails? You’ll want to pick an agent who’s comfortable navigating online listings, uploading photos, replying to emails and performing other web-based tasks.

5. Ask for Referrals
When you’re talking to potential agents, ask for the names and phone numbers of at least three previous clients. Ideally, request contact information for clients who performed the same function (buying or selling) that you’re trying to achieve.

Call these prior clients and ask about their experience working with the agent. How responsive was the agent? How quickly did they purchase and/or sell a home, and how closely did the final sales price reflect their intended target price? Did the agent “go the extra mile” with small gestures?

Don’t rely solely on testimonials that may appear on the agent’s website, but do search for the agent (or their brokerage) on Yelp to check out reviews.

6. Look Up Their License
The state real estate commission licenses every agent. Ask any potential agents for their license number, and use that number to look up the agent within the state’s database, which you can access online. You’ll see whether or not their license is in good standing, and you’ll also see if there have been any disciplinary actions taken against that agent.

Finally, look for an agent who you will get along with. You’ll be spending a lot of time with this person, so make sure that you enjoy talking to and conducting business with your agent. A friendly, open and honest agent can make all the difference in the world – and can make your home buying or selling experience feel much smoother.