This is the second article in a series called, Buying a Home 101: Everything You Didn’t Know You Needed to Know Before You Buy Your First Home. This step-by-step series will take you through the entire home-buying process — from finding a buyer’s agent to settlement day, plus a bonus section on maintaining your home after you’re all moved in. Make sure to tune in for the next few weeks!
The first item on the agenda when you’re looking to buy a home is to choose a real estate agent that is the best person to represent you and your unique needs.
Not only will this person be helping you make the largest financial decision of your lifetime, but you’ll also be spending a lot of time with this person. You really need to make sure this person is right for the job!
Not every real estate agent is created equal, and not every agent approaches the home buying process the same way. Keep this in mind when reading my advice below.
This article is NOT your typical “find the best real estate agent…oh by the way that’s me” piece. Nope, I have a very unique way of helping buyers. My approach is not for everyone.
For example, my brokerage is the only brokerage in DC, Maryland and Virginia that specializes in first-time home buyers. And because of that, I think slow, steady and methodical is the way to go.
Sometimes that’s too slow for people. Sometimes I get requests to help people in a location I know nothing about. Sometimes I am the right person for the job, and sometimes I’m not.
The purpose of this article is to arm you with the right questions to ask me and any real estate agent so you can confidently make this most important decision — who is best to guide you through your home-buying experience.
Let’s get started!
Recommended by friends, family, and co-workers.
First start by asking the people you know who they used and what they thought about their experience.
They’ll give you honest, unfiltered feedback on what they went through and if they’d go with the same agent again (a key sign!). These word of mouth recommendations can be a good starting point.
Then check out that agent’s website to see if they are active and passionate about working with buyers. Some agents focus on a particular price range (such as a high-end market) or neighborhoods, so even a great agent for your friend may not work for you because of your different needs and budget.
Remember, you don’t have to go with the first agent you meet. Just like when you choose a doctor or other important advisors in your life, you want to check around first and see if this is the best choice for you and your goals.
Specializes in the type of home, area and/or the type of buyer that corresponds to your goals.
It’s better to narrow down your search to real estate agents whose expertise matches your criteria.
If you’re a first-time buyer, then those agents who deal with first-timers most of the time know how to provide more guidance and have more patience to let you go at your own pace. They also should be up-to-date on the type of financing options that will make your buying experience a financially smart one as well—things like loan programs, assistance programs, renovations loans, whatever you will need to make sure the financing side is done right.
If you’re a condo buyer, then an agent specializing in condos knows the intricacies of dealing with this type of purchase and condo associations. Whatever it is you are looking to buy, just make sure your agent is experienced in that particular segment of the market.
Makes you comfortable.
Your gut will tell you if this is someone you can work with for a period of time, and if you will feel at ease when asking any questions or expressing your concerns. You’re going to have a working relationship with this person and it will be stressful and exhausting at times.
Go with someone who can reduce such tension, has a sense of humor at times, and doesn’t scare you even if buying a home is a scary endeavor for you.
Think of your real estate agent as your real estate buying coach (and sometimes therapist and sometimes cheerleader and all the other things you might need along the way!).
Takes the time to listen to you and to help you realize your needs and wants.
You should never be forced or feel like you’re forced into anything at any time! A good agent has the skills to help you realize what you need and want by asking you questions and listening to your answers. Questions ranging from, “Do you want to walk or bike to work?” to “Do you want a large yard or green space nearby?” will help you uncover your wants and needs.
This process can take time but it’s an important step before you even start visiting homes. An agent who has your best interests at heart will know that you’re not looking for just a house or a condo but a place you will call home. And most importantly, focuses on finding the right home for YOU and no one else.
Respects your time AND your timetable.
Your agent knows you’re busy so it’s important they are organized and efficient when it comes to house hunting. They’ll ask you what days and times work best with your schedule.
Even more importantly, your agent shouldn’t rush you if you’re not ready to buy (especially if you think you want more time to explore a neighborhood, etc.) or just get cold feet (that’s okay!). But a good agent also knows when you’re ready for that nudge forward if the market dictates quicker decision making.
Communicates clearly and regularly.
Make sure your agent is easily reached via cell phone, text, or email; and gets back to you in a timely manner. And, on the flip side, that the agent keeps in touch with you on a regular basis with updates on listings and other information on your home search.
A good agent will communicate and guide you step-by-step along the way when buying a home, from getting a mortgage to the final closing. Having explanations upfront on what’s expected next will help decrease any anxiety and stress since you’ll be informed and prepared. Ask about an agent’s communication style from start to finish in the home buying process.
Negotiates well and has your back at all times.
Buying a home is a business transaction and your friendly agent also needs to have negotiation skills that will benefit you and your offer. The entire transaction should ultimately be a win-win for both the buyers and sellers (you never want to play dirty!), but a good agent knows when to be assertive in order to get the deal done.
Find out more about your agent’s past experiences and tactics at the negotiating table, especially when dealing with multiple offers.
Knows the local market inside and out.
Go with an agent who really knows the local market in terms of inventory and pricing, the vibe of different neighborhoods, and just stays on top of listings so you can jump in before the crowd. Some agents are more attuned to what’s going on and this can be a big plus when homes are selling fast.
Also your agent should have a network of other reliable professionals, such as mortgage lender, home inspector, title company, etc. that you may need along the way. Your agent should be suggesting them to you, and not you to them.
Looks at real estate as a financial tool that can empower your life.
This will be one of the biggest purchases of your life and you don’t want to have any regrets. Your agent should respect how real estate can change your life for the better and see the possibility it has for your economic stability and security.
A good agent knows that buying this home can be a stepping stone for your next home and so on. Your agent should want you to dream big, but still help you find ways to stay on budget.
Starts with a meeting, not a showing.
You want an agent who first asks you to their office to get to know what you are looking for before they start showing you homes. Why? Because how do they know whether the home you want to see is the very best option for your budget and your criteria.
I always ask my clients to carefully go through our “Thoughts to Dwell On Before We Meet.” It’s a list of questions that most people never think about when it comes to buying a home, but are crucially important to making sure that you end up with the best home for your price point. Click here for a copy of things you can start to think about.
Never says good-bye.
Your agent shouldn’t view this one purchase as the end of your relationship but just the beginning — expect them to be there for you over the long-term and ready to work with you when it’s time to sell and move on. They should be someone you can trust to turn to with any of your homeownership concerns – a real estate resource for life!
Come back here for next week’s article in my Buying a Home 101 series. I’ll be talking about how to narrow down your needs and desires so your house hunting list is realistic, attainable, and gets you a home you love with the location and price you desire!