Reader Question: My husband and I will be selling our third home soon. In all of our past buying and selling transactions, we have experienced some degree of angst somewhere in the process. After three purchases and two sales, we want everything to go smoothly from start to finish this time. We are looking for a real estate agent that ensures the entire process goes well. Is it unrealistic for us to hold this expectation?

Monty’s Answer: The realm of service businesses extends to every facet of our lives, from medicine to public utilities and everything in between. We depend on others for help with most everything we do. We, humans, have a common fault, we all make mistakes. In the real estate transaction, there are many different people involved that the consumer does not interact with, but whose tasks or decisions can influence outcomes, many of which can throw a wrench into the process. Perfect real estate transactions happen, but many associated conditions can create some angst along the way. Here are a few insights regarding the practice of real estate that may help you attain a smooth transaction.

1. Look for three qualities. The key attributes for success with every person in any service business, including real estate, are honesty, knowledge, and efficiency. Lacking one of the three characteristics increases the odds that something will go wrong. A good real estate agent anticipates problems and structures checks and balances into their practice to catch errors or omissions before any damage occurs. They put the client’s interest ahead of his or her own.

2. Post-licensing education. In what real estate education, such as an appraisal course, have your candidates invested? The licensed physician spends years, not hours, in learning about the body, disease, treatments and much more. They also spend considerable sums of money for that education. In Wisconsin, which I suspect is very similar to other states, a license for a cosmetologist requires either 1,550 classroom hours or a 4,000-hour apprenticeship. A real estate salesperson who handles your largest single financial transactions must have 72 hours of education to receive a state license; if they make a mistake it can cost thousands — but your hair grows back.

3. Be cautious of the production myth. Many people believe that real estate production is the key factor to look for when you are seeking your real estate agent. This myth has been perpetuated by the real estate industry for decades, in part because from the broker and agent point of view; production is everything. Dear Monty considers this opinion as flawed. While there are agents capable of balancing high output and quality customer service, they are the exception. Many top producers will do almost anything to “make a deal.” From a technical point of view, high production requires compressing time. Ignoring phone calls (especially calls from what they see as “high-maintenance” customers), missing home inspections, not reviewing contractual fine print, not explaining the pros and cons of each decision the client is required to make achieves that compression. These are just a few examples of many agent time-savers that demonstrate poor customer service. So while high production is good for the broker and the agent, in many cases, it is not right for the client.

4. Employ a proven selection process. Most experts will agree that picking a good real estate agent is the main ingredient in a successful operation. Even the best agents see bumps in the road because many things that happen in creating a real estate transaction are outside the control of both you and your agent. The challenge in picking a good agent is identifying, interviewing, and engaging one. Selecting an agent is a challenge because many home sellers only interview one agent. There are many reasons we only talk with one agent. They are a friend, relative or co-worker. They are familiar to us through shared activities, or an acquaintance told us they were a good agent. None of these reasons ensure this person is honest, knowledgeable, or efficient in their work. The very best way to pick your agent is to follow proven techniques in identifying, vetting and researching three, not one, pre-screened candidates. Each one will have a different opinion on your home’s range of value. Which one presents the strongest case their range of value is most accurate? With only one opinion, if it is low you lose equity and if it is high your home languishes on the market.

— Richard Montgomery gives no nonsense real estate advice to readers most pressing questions. He is a real estate industry veteran who has championed industry reform for over a quarter century. Send him questions at DearMonty.com.