In this day and age, one can easily get educated about homebuying online, on your couch and in your pajamas — and while watching "House Hunters International," no less! Yet there are still nuances and insights on the process that are best communicated one to one, from a human professional who has been through this process dozens or hundreds of times. Accordingly, first-time buyers are frequently given the sound advice to vigorously interview agents before hiring them, and lists of interview questions are all over the Web.
That said, in the Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers recently released by the National Association of Realtors, 81 percent of first-time buyers said the benefit of having an agent was that the agent helped get them educated about the buying process, and more than half of all buyers said their agent pointed out features or faults of a property that they would not otherwise have noticed.
So, I think it’s time for a list of questions to ask your agent after you hire him or her, during the homebuying process, to max out the advantages you have from having this person on your side — here are some starters:
1. Do you know a good mortgage broker, inspector, stager, painter, CPA, etc.? The NAR survey showed that 46 percent of buyers thought they got a better list of service providers from their agent than they could have come up with otherwise, and 20 percent found their agent’s mortgage provider referral to be a benefit. Local agents simply know people you don’t, and they have worked with them enough to know who gets the job done, well, and who doesn’t.
To boot, vendors that work repeatedly with your agent may offer you faster turnaround times, discounted pricing or other VIP treatment you wouldn’t get on your own, like doing an especially great job because they want to continue getting business from your agent.
2. What should I expect? Managing your expectations is essential to having a smooth homebuying experience, especially when it comes to the recurring themes of timing (e.g., how long something will take, when you need to do something, and when you can expect various milestones to happen) and cost.
This particular question and its cousins, "What happens next?" and "What’s the margin of error on this cost estimate?" are questions you can and should ask over and over again, from the day you first "interview" your prospective agent, to the moment you sit down at the closing table.
3. What are the different ways to look at this? This, too, is a question you might want and need to ask often. During inspections, you might need to turn over the inspection report and any issues that arise in your mind to get a sense for how to react — do you ask for more money, ask for repairs, get more bids? A good agent will help you explore the possibilities. This can also be helpful in the realm of negotiations.
For example, your agent can help you understand what you should be asking for in your offer, as he probably has a better understanding of all the possibilities and the various contract terms than you do. In the same vein, if you and the seller are at a price deadlock, asking your agent how else you can look at this might get you more creative suggestions about counteroffers and deal structures to propose.
While, ultimately, every decision is yours to make, if you have a good agent, you aren’t all alone in trying to process the facts in front of you and factor them in. Related questions to add to the list: "What are the pros and cons?" and "What can I ask for?"
4. How do you buy a house? This one is pretty self-explanatory, but it bears stating that most of what you’ll read in books and online about homebuying is neither customized to your local area nor is it tailored to your personal financial and lifestyle needs. The education your agent can give you is tailored in these two, really important ways.
5. What have I forgotten to ask? This wild card question really asks your agent to harness his knowledge of the market and his experience with buyers to position you to see what he sees. You’re giving him carte blanche to be the expert (which agents appreciate!) with the result that you might be alerted to issues with the home, the financing or the transaction that you might not have otherwise. It’s really just another way of asking the question, "What do you see that I don’t?"
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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