“What you do speaks so loudly, that I cannot hear what you say”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
While the Internet has proven to be an invaluable tool for any first-time home buyer, the wealth of information posted on the Net can cause a new buyer stress. The Web has countless sites that target new buyers, and all of them claim to offer the most accurate data. And what about e-mail? It’s both a blessing and a curse. E-mail is a fantastic medium, of course, for Realtors and their clients, although it can never replace the value of face-to-face communication. Where e-mail becomes problematic for new buyers is when it creates an information glut. Consumers who have been surfing the Net for information about home-buying may unwittingly find themselves placed into large databases for e-mail. These victims of “spamming” arrive home each night to as many as 50, 60 or more ads in their Inbox. And while some of them advertise legitimate businesses, just as many of them don’t.
The bottom line is that new home-buyers are deluged in a sea of information. Some of this information is presented in alarming terms, making it seem as if new buyers are up against considerable odds, and behind every corner during the real estate transaction is a disaster waiting to strike, not the least of which is mortgage-induced financial doom. Perhaps its little wonder, then, that many professionals in their late 20s and early 30s are a bit hesitant about buying, even if their finances would allow it. What is unquestionably a complex process seems that much more daunting thanks to this information glut. Which questions is a new buyer supposed to ask? What elements are critical in a residential real estate transaction? How does a buyer protect his or her own best interests?
One of the best lines of defense you’ll have during the real estate transaction is a trusted Realtor. Sounds simplistic, and yet, its so vital to ensuring that your interests are protected. Like any other field, loyalty to one’s friends is often expected in real estate, and falling victim to that burden can cost you. Consider this chapter pulled from my own home-buying storybook: When choosing a Realtor, I had the option of selecting 1) an acquaintance with 15 years of experience and an outstanding reputation, and whose services a colleague had used and praised wholeheartedly; or 2) a close friend who just eight weeks before made the decision to pursue a career change and become a Realtor. I chose Number 1, and it cost me Number 2. But when you’re a first-time buyer preparing to make the most significant financial commitment of your life, you’d better make sure you’ve got a Number 1 on your side to guide you through the process.
A question you need to ask yourself is what you absolutely must have in a home, what you’d like to have and what you can do without (but, of course, it would be nice if the home had those amenities). You’re probably going to find that as you get into your home search, that list of “must haves” is going to shrink. Nevertheless, you’ll help yourself and your Realtor save considerable time in the home-search process, so that the both of you can spend more time looking at homes that present real potential. It’s a good idea to have a discussion with your Realtor about your lists, too. Although you may not have written “extra bedroom” on your “must-have” list, your Realtor will probably advise you to choose a home, if it’s financially feasible for you, that has at least two bedrooms — mainly for resale purposes. So your Realtor can help provide you with some perspective on that list, which you may want to reorganize after your discussion.
Know What You Need And What You’ll Concede. What is essential to one home buyer may be of no value to another. Creating “need-to-have” and “nice-to-have” lists can be helpful. Your first “need-to-have” list may be very different from your final version; still, it serves as a starting point for you to discuss and decide upon those features that are the absolute essentials. For instance, public transportation to shopping areas might be a “need-to-have” if you do not own a car, while it is another person’s “nice-to-have.” If someone in your family is disabled, a one-level home with wheel chair access may be a necessary feature. However, you may decide that adding a customized ramp after the home purchase is more cost-effective. Identifying what you want and what you need helps your real estate agent pinpoint your ideal home.
If you don’t understand the mortgage process, by all means, ask for help both from your Realtor and your loan officer. If you’re a first-time buyer, “mortgage-ese” is going to sound like Greek to you, and while it’s sometimes difficult to admit your lost, the sooner you ask for help with translation to English, the better. Once your loan has been approved, closing soon follows, and you’re going to want to keep those lines of communication open among yourself, your Realtor and your loan officer during that process. It’s complex, it’s expensive, and you have a right to know what you’re signing — even if the title company representative is flying through your closing (you’re probably one of many clients that day). Don’t be afraid to ask questions before, during and after the closing. Rest assured that your questions are ones your Realtor and loan officer have heard before and are quite used to answering.
The average first-timer will have more questions than the ones raised during this article and its preceding piece, but this gives you a good starting point for moving forward with your transaction. The best insurance you have is to align yourself with a Realtor in whom you trust your future. If they have an excellent reputation and seasoned experience in your market, he or she will have the connections you need to complete the your transaction, and will stand by you during and after the home buying process. When it comes to home buying, it is, indeed, a jungle out there. You don’t need to be paralyzed with fear, but you do need to find yourself the proper Realtor and demand the answers you’re seeking. It will make the difference between a positive first-time purchase and one filled with regret.