Q: I’m a low-income earner, about $4,300 gross monthly together with my wife. We have two children, 8 and 9 years old. We want advice on how best to go about buying a house. How do you find the best lender? How do you know a good house? Is it the newer ones built in the 1990s or the old ones built in the 1950s? How do you make an offer? Above the listed price or below?
I understand right now there are more buyers than sellers. Is it true the prices are higher now and might go down later in the year once more houses are released by the banks into the market? Do I go for short sale or bank owned or even the government-owned houses? Or even an auction? How do you tell a good agent?
Please could you address this and any other pertinent issue.
A: That’s a lot of questions, with no one-size-fits-all answer to many of them. But I can give you the absolute best answer to each of them by answering only one of your questions.
In many ways, buying a home today is far different than, say, six years ago. In others there’s no difference at all.
So let me tell you how to get all of your questions answered in a way that is tailored to your particular situation.
First and foremost, you need a Realtor to guide you through the process. Period.
Look, I get no commission by telling you to get a Realtor. It’s just a fact. You neither have the time, experience and particularly expertise to buy a home without a Realtor guiding you through the process.
I’ve been a real estate attorney for a long time and I assure you, I wouldn’t buy a home without having a Realtor represent me.
Besides, since your Realtor gets their commission out of the sales proceeds, all of that professional work and experience comes to you absolutely free.
So let’s talk about your most important question; how to choose a Realtor.
Not all Realtors are the same. In fact, I’ve never found any two of them to be the same. Even though they may work for a large real estate firm, the truth is they are all independent business people. Nowadays, the busy ones are working double-overtime to make a living. That makes each of them entrepreneurs who construct their professional practice in a manner as unique as each of them is personally.
Sure, there are those with more expertise than others, but that’s not the only difference.
Two equally proficient Realtors can approach their very complicated job from two very different angles.
Some are better at nurturing and hand-holding. And believe me, that’s a great thing for many, many buyers and sellers. Buying or selling a home can be an absolutely frustrating and exhausting experience.
Others are less nurturing and more down to business. Many people feel more comfortable with this type of agent.
Some Realtors are high energy, others aren’t. Many are in constant communication with you, others only bother you when something needs to be discussed.
And of course, there is an unlimited number of shades of gray between any extremes.
So how do you pick a good Realtor for you?
My advice is to take a two-step process.
First, ask friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives — anybody — and ask if they’ve had a good or bad experience with a Realtor. Good personal references are absolutely the best way to find anything; be it a Realtor, lawyer, doctor or local restaurant.
Then interview two or three of the Realtors people have referred you to.
During the interview, ask your questions. All of them. Get a feel for the different answers given by the different Realtors.
By the time you’ve talked to three Realtors, you’re likely to get a sense of who you’re most comfortable with. Who matches your personality, seems to understand your concerns and mostly instills the most confidence in you.
Then go from there.
Short sale verses foreclosure, Lender A verses Lender B, old home verses new home, and especially current market conditions are all within the expertise of your Realtor. Your questions are then most appropriately answered by your chosen Realtor as he or she guides you through the process.
So the very best advice I can give you is to start working on finding the perfect Realtor for you, then utilize all of their knowledge and skills in finding the perfect home for you.
Tim Jones is a real estate attorney in Fairfield. If you have any real estate questions you would like answered in this column you can contact him at [email protected]