A cozy one-story ranch with a freshly painted and decorated nursery. Three bedrooms and at least two bathrooms. A bouncing baby girl (we hoped!). Barbecues in the spring with friends to celebrate our new home.
These were all the things I envisioned for my life at the start of my homebuying experience. Like many first-time buyers, we were struggling to find a house in this low-inventory seller’s market, especially one that met our unique needs (I use a wheelchair, and my boyfriend is over 7 feet tall).
We couldn’t understand why we couldn’t even get a listing agent to call us back. We were motivated buyers. We had a baby due in April. And then, just as my article expressing all our frustrations published, our situation got real.
Pre-eclampsia hospitalized me, and we learned the baby was coming sooner than we thought, possibly that day.
She came 17 days later, on Dec. 29, and with this blessing came a huge amount of concern. We now had a premature baby, who would likely have special needs when released from the hospital, and a crappy two-bedroom apartment.
While we waited for the baby to come, we tried to make little strides toward becoming homeowners (17 days is a long time to wait, especially on bedrest). We asked friends for referrals on agents and lenders.
Here is the rest of the story — our journey toward getting our dream home that wouldn’t have been possible without the real estate professionals who did right by us. Hopefully, they will help you in your business as well.
1. Build trust, follow up and work closely with exceptional partners
With a premie, it’s pretty normal for the baby to stay in the hospital until the original due date, which for us was April 4. We knew we had less than three months, and the clock was ticking.
We finally turned to a friend who is in the restoration business and flips houses on the side for a referral on a lender, which is where we felt we should start.
We wanted to make sure our credit was in order and see what we were pre-approved for before we started visiting houses. We simply didn’t have the bandwidth to waste time on houses we couldn’t afford.
Our lender was amazing. I made an initial call to the lender’s office and left a message. His assistant followed up quickly, and I let her know we were super motivated and why — as well as what our timeline looked like.
The lender’s office made several attempts to call me. I was unable to return the calls due to the various distractions of my and the baby’s health. In one week, our daughter got really sick, my dad had a triple-bypass surgery, and we lost a beloved family pet. I was distracted to say the least.
Our lender followed up and kept us on track with the pre-approval process the entire time. He earned our trust in a big way, and because of that, we jumped on the opportunity to work with the agent he recommended.
I mean, if the lender impressed us, the people he works closely with are going to do the same, right? That’s how a homebuyer thinks.
Takeaway: Build trust, follow up consistently and have good referral partnerships with people you can count on, particularly lenders, because many people start the homebuying process worrying about their credit.
2. Make sure you’re familiar with your clients’ circumstances
Both our lender and our agent were compassionate about our circumstances. They often asked about the baby and asked to see pictures. On top of that, anyone we spoke with on either team knew our situation and also asked how our family was doing.
It sounds like such a simple thing, but this was so key in making us feel like more than just another client to them.
Takeaway: Know your clients’ situation, and make sure your team does, too. It goes a long way in building relationships.
3. Set up systems so that clients know what’s going on every step of the way
As I’ve mentioned, we were a little busy during our homebuying experience. Every day, we trucked it to the hospital to see the baby after, or sometimes during, work.
Had we had the time to be a little more neurotic, we probably would have been those buyers who constantly emailed, texted or called our agent with questions.
However, our agent made this pretty much needless. Each step of the process was by the book. When we first sat down with him, he explained exactly what to expect using a handy binder full of buyer information.
Then as we completed each step (the acceptance of our offer, completed inspections, loan commitment and successful closing), we got emails that told us where we were, and what was next.
It was clearly a templated email with options to add notes, and it did just the trick. With everything else we were worried about, it was a godsend not to have to worry about what was next.
Takeaway: Have set systems that make it easy to keep the buyer informed of each step of the process. Automate your systems where you can. It will cut down on your communication time in the long run and free you up to focus on other tasks.
4. Be available and flexible
Our inventory here in the St. Louis area was looking a little bleak. We were living about 30 miles west of the city in the land of the two-story American dream, so finding that one-story ranch with main floor laundry was tough.
We were really starting to explore options like installing a stair lift in a two-bedroom with a finished basement for my office and looking at houses that needed some serious updating in areas that weren’t our first choice.
We finally chose four houses to go see one Monday. Our agent had taken the time to schedule all of the showings in an order that made sense logistically, which I know took a lot of time and effort. And we weren’t even that excited about any of them.
Then, magically, the Saturday night before, we saw a listing come on the market on realtor.com with an open house that Sunday. We got in touch with our agent immediately to let him know. We decided we’d go see it, and if we liked it, he said he’d go check it out for us.
We fell in love (we’ll come back to the reasons why in a bit). But just to be sure it was the one, that Monday, we went to see one of the other listings.
After that, we were sure, and we put in an offer on the last-minute house we found.
Takeaway: Be ready for clients to find something better at the last minute. With apps like realtor.com and Zillow on everyone’s smartphone, clients will be keeping tabs on everything that comes on the market. A savvy agent won’t get flustered at having to change a schedule.
5. Create the most competitive offers for your clients — and let your clients know it
This is a no-brainer. Clearly, it’s a competitive market, so making the best offer possible is a given. We went back to the office that day and constructed what we thought was a great offer. We offered full asking, double the standard earnest money and included an escalation clause.
We also sent a buyer’s letter. I knew that the sellers were selling because they wanted to open a preschool; I had asked their agent when we went to the open house. I could tell the home was well-cared for by the way everything had a place, and that place was almost always labeled.
One strategy with buyer’s letters is to honor one’s audience, and I think we did just that by letting them know that we’d care for and raise our family in their home.
The buyer’s letter wasn’t long. It wasn’t complex. It simply said:
We saw your home on Sunday and uttered a huge sigh of relief; after months of searching — finally a home that meets my family’s needs. My future husband and I have needs on opposite ends of the spectrum, and the market simply isn’t conducive.
You see, he’s 7-foot 2-inches tall (loves the vaulted ceilings), and I’m a wheelchair-user after a spinal cord injury 14 years ago.
But the true reason we love your home so much is that we envision raising our daughter there. She was born three months early, on her daddy’s birthday in December, and has been living in the NICU at Mercy ever since.
She was due in April, and that’s likely when we’ll bring her home to finally live with us (which is when that main floor laundry will be especially needed).
We are eager to bring her home to a house rather than our apartment, and we have been frantically searching for the right fit. She is the love of our lives, and we can’t wait to be a family together, hopefully in your home. Thank you for considering our offer.
We wanted our offer to be appealing, but we also wanted it to be fair to us, so we also asked the sellers to cover closing costs.
They countered with fairly minimal adjustments, asking for half of the closing costs (which our earnest money ended up covering) and a couple grand more in fear the appraisal would be off. We decided to accept and moved forward.
Takeaway: Employ the tactics that work best in your market whether it’s an escalation clause, higher earnest money or a buyer’s letter. And if your buyers do write a buyer’s letter, coach them on honoring the sellers.
6. Have a ‘rolodex’ of service providers at the ready
Our agent referred us to an inspector he trusted and also had other referrals along the way that made the process much easier, such as homeowner’s insurers and lawn care professionals (see closing gift).
This was especially helpful because we didn’t have the time to shop around for insurance quotes.
Takeaway: Have a list of service providers who will care for your clients the way you do. If they aren’t good with follow-up, cut them from your list. Constantly update your service provider list, so that you work with the best.
7. Go through the inspection carefully with clients
When we got the inspection report, we carefully went through it and decided what we thought we’d want. Then we talked to our agent, and he let us know what was generally accepted and what we should be asking for. We got through the inspection process with a home warranty and some repair credits as well.
Takeaway: This was probably the most nerve-wracking part for us. No buyer wants to buy a lemon of house or not ask for enough concessions. Take the time to go through the inspection report with your clients and calm their nerves.
8. Give a closing gift that speaks to your clients’ needs or wants
On closing day, my boyfriend simply mentioned that he’d have to cut the yard soon. And that day, our agent had lawn care specialists tending to the yard. It wasn’t a fancy trinket that we’d never use or something we’d hang on our wall. It was a closing gift that was practical and helpful.
Takeaway: Listen to your clients and get to know their needs and desires. An on-point closing gift can ensure that your clients remember you and refer you to their friends.
We officially closed on the house on April 20. My daughter came home less than two weeks later. We had 12 days to nest and get the home in a livable condition, and we couldn’t be more thankful for our real estate professionals who took care of us from the first phone call to the first lawn care treatment.
Author’s note: Many of you in the real estate community reached out and offered help after reading my last article. Many thanks for the optimism you instilled and the support you willingly gave.