Note: This is the second of a multi-part series about buying a house. Read Part 1 before this post.
So now you’ve figured out how much house you can afford, and have saved at least 20% of that amount. You might think this is the time to find a real estate agent and have them show you some houses, right? WRONG! Don’t get an agent just yet.
First you’ll need to decide if you even need a real estate agent. An agent can be helpful in finding you a house, but all agents work on commission. If you play your cards right (and you’re willing to do a little homework), you can get the house cheaper without a real estate agent. Instead of paying them a commission, you get to take that price off the purchase price of the house.
That being said, choosing an agent does have its advantages. They will look up houses that fit your criteria, and can sometimes find them quicker than you can on your own. Most agents have a strong network of other agents built up to where they can find out about properties before they even hit the MLS, which is all you have access to on your own. They also do a lot of work at closing for you, which makes the process go much smoother.
If you end up working with a real estate agent, and they show you multiple houses and do a lot of work for you, don’t take their advice and cut them out of the equation. This is how they earn their living, so if you go down the road of using an agent, include them the whole way (including closing). Don’t take their advice, have them find and show you several properties, then go behind their back and buy without them. If you use them as a resource, pay them for that advice. That’s the service they provide.
Ok, back to the subject at hand. Now you’re at the step of starting the process of trying to find your new home. This is the fun part! Start at sites like Zillow (my favorite), Realtor.com, and Trulia to try to find homes that fit your location/criteria. Find a few that you like, and contact the realtor for that property. Simply ask them if they can show you the property. You still need a real estate agent to walk you through the property, but they aren’t doing much work for you at this point in time. When you go through the house, get a feel for the property and the real estate agent. Once you’re done, get the agent’s card, and take some notes about the pluses/minuses about the house. It’s always a good idea to take a camera and take some pictures too, so you can refer to them later.
Continue that process for a while, so you get a good feel of the houses in your price ranges and the real estate agents you can work with. When choosing a real estate agent, look for both the personality and how you feel they will do in getting you the best deal on the house. Ask them for some references, and try to find some reviews online (just type the agents name and the word reviews after it in any search engine).
If you find an agent that you like more than the others, and decide to use a realtor, start contacting that person to show you the houses. Tell them what you’re looking for, and they’ll help you find even more houses to walk through. Keep looking online though, because you might find something your realtor could miss.
If you decide you aren’t going to use a realtor, just keep contacting the person for each house listed on the online site. This way, you won’t waste much of their time. You can even mention that you are not using a realtor, and you appreciate them simply showing you the house.
Once you find a house you want to actually make an offer on, remember to not get your heart set on it. There are plenty of houses out there that will be a good fit for you, and you will most likely end up getting a bad deal if you get set on just one house.
If you choose to go with an agent, this is the time where they will really provide you with the biggest benefit. They will do a lot of homework to find a fair price for the house, and work with you on what offer you can make. Take all the information in, and make the best informed decision you can. Remember, you can still offer whatever you want on the house, even if your agent doesn’t agree with you. But they are the experts here, and have a good idea of what the house is probably worth in your particular area, so I’d recommend listening to their advice. And remember, if you don’t get this house, there’s plenty of other options out there. It’ll just take some more time to find them.
If you decided the agent’s not for you, I’ll cover the work you need to do to find out the fair market value for the property in Part 3.
No matter what you decide, always make sure to get a home inspection done. I’ll cover that in Part 4.
See, now aren’t you learning a lot about buying a home? There’s a lot more info to come, so stay tuned.