Due to the large number of agents in Austin, Texas, it can be difficult to know whom to trust with one of your largest financial transactions. How can you tell during an initial interview whether an agent is well-qualified and the right fit for what you're looking for?

“You should always look at the hard data and what the agent’s past performance has been,” says Shawn Culhane, CEO, broker and owner of Culhane Premier Properties. “Every agent is No. 1 at something. No. 1 at what, though, is the question.”

Before you sign any contracts, you need to know you’ve found the real estate agent who best complements your list of priorities. U.S. News spoke with some of Austin’s top real estate agents to help you determine if the agent you’re interviewing is a champ or chump.

[Read: 5 Things to Do Now Before Selling Your House in Austin This Spring.]

The agent has data documenting past performance.

Culhane believes the best way to predict future success is to look at past success. “We bring statistics like number of units sold in the past 12 months, the dollar volume sold in the past 12 months and our list-price-to-sales-price ratios,” he says. This kind of data will show the agent’s previous performance while offering a way to foresee what he or she could accomplish for you.

Hilary Herrin, Realtor with Mueller Silent Market, Turner Residential, also thinks information about an agent's production speaks volumes, especially if the agent has at least 25 to 30 transactions per year over a number of years. However, always ask if the agent acted as a buyer’s agent or listing agent during these deals. You want to make sure your agent has specific transaction data in buying if you’re looking for a home, or in selling if you’d like to put your home on the market.

The agent specializes in your area.

“It’s extremely important to know the agent specializes in the location that you’re looking in and they’re aware of any specific quirks or issues that the neighborhood is known for,” says Redfin real estate agent Andrew Vallejo. Also, asking where agents' last transactions occurred, what neighborhood they live in and how long they’ve lived in Austin can help weed out the contenders from the pretenders.

If you’re a buyer who’s interested in the current market situation and appreciation rates, having an agent with extensive local market experience who can make the right comparisons is critical. For sellers, an agent who has sold many houses in your area will know average sale prices and possibly the buyer’s agent, which can help you broker a better deal.

[Read: 5 Things to Know About Selling a Home in Austin.]

The agent has references and reviews.

Many top real estate agents keep a list of references, sometimes 40 to 50, on hand at all times to help back up their data and customer service claims. Reach out to former clients and colleagues on that list to gauge each agent’s qualifications and what he or she is like to work with.

Check out their digital presence, too, on sites like Yelp, Trulia, Zillow or Realtor.com to see reviews from clients, as well as where agents specialize, where they've sold before and whether real estate is their full-time profession. By seeing what previous buyers and sellers have to say about their experience, you’ll be able to verify whether each agent might fit your needs.

The agent communicates like you do.

Whether it’s through email, text or phone calls, you should be on the same wavelength as your agent about how to communicate. When you meet with agents for the first time, ask for their preferred method of communication and how often they like to communicate. Make sure the answers match your expectations.

Culhane suggests asking what days and times they're available to speak, how often they’ll relay feedback and whether they're part of a team or operating as a lone agent. It’s essential to know if you’ll be speaking with more than one contact to help communication go smoothly.

[Read: The Best Places to Live in the USA.]

The agent connects with you.

“The right agent is the one who asks the question of what your wants and needs are throughout the transaction,” Herrin says. “You’ve found a good agent when they’re able to connect with and understand you.” From the initial interview on, your personality should complement your agent’s and you should feel comfortable working with that person for several months.

Vallejo recommends touring a house or having a coffee meeting before agreeing to work with the agent full time to assess his or her knowledge of the neighborhood and whether you’re a good fit for each other. Ask agents about themselves and why they’re in the business to see if they’re passionate about their job. Also ask whether they're working in real estate full time or on the side. If you’ve signed and the connection sours, frankly tell the agent why it’s no longer a good fit, review the cancellation policy, and proceed either by solving any issues or finding another agent.

Looking for a real estate agent in Austin? U.S. News' Find an Agent tool can match you with the person who's most qualified for the job.

Tags: Austin, real estate, housing market, home prices, new home sales, existing home sales

Mandy Ellis is an Austin-based freelance writer who has contributed to the real estate, travel and loans sections of U.S. News since 2016. She has lent her expertise to publications including AFAR, The Costco Connection, Realtor Magazine Online, FSR, QSR, Restaurant Business, Restaurant Hospitality, Pizza Today, Tasting Table, Yahoo Finance and CultureMap Austin and for the brands eBay, LendingHome, Brit + Co, SolarStory and Hey Cupcake.

Ellis graduated cum laude with a bachelor's in English from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!) and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Texas Freelance Association, Freelance Austin, and Women Communicators of Austin. You can find her on LinkedIn and her website, or email her at mandy@mandyellis.com.

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