Buying a home can be stressful, especially if you’re a first-time homebuyer. The homebuying process involves many steps. It’s complex, but your real estate agent or Realtor is a licensed professional who likely has helped lots of other people through the process. That makes them a great resource for information on buying a home. Here are some essential questions you should be asking at each step along the way.

Questions to ask before hiring a Realtor

Finding the right agent is essential to ensure a smooth homebuying process. Before you settle on one, you should interview several candidates to see who fits your needs best. Ask each one these three key questions.

Do you specialize in a specific price point?

Some agents have lots of experience with transactions involving expensive luxury homes, while others might focus on more affordable starter homes. The last thing you want is someone who tries to show you properties way over your budget or too small for your needs. According to Julie Upton, a Realtor with Compass in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s a good idea to “ask the Realtor if they specialize in the area and price point.”

Can you provide client references?

As with any professional you’re considering hiring, it’s always smart to ask an agent for references. Warner Quiroga, founder of Prestige Home Buyers in Long Island, New York, says the information references provide will “show your Realtor’s working relationship with previous clients” — and help you determine whether they’re a good fit for you.

Are you a full-time or part-time agent?

Many part-time agents do a great job, of course. But full-time agents tend to have more experience and more transactions under their belt. In addition, clients like you are a full-time agent’s sole focus: They can dedicate more time to be responsive to your needs. You don’t want to have to fight for a limited amount of attention.

Questions to ask once you’ve found a house

Found a home you like and are thinking about making an offer? Great! Your agent is there to serve as an advisor as you consider all the pros and cons. Let their experience guide you through the decision — start with these questions.

Is this home well priced?

Not all homes on the market ask their exact fair market value. Some sellers will overprice or even underprice their homes. Your Realtor will have a good sense of your local market and be able to pull comps of similar homes to determine whether the one you like is properly priced. That can inform your decision of whether to make an offer — and if so, how much.

Do you see any potential issues?

It’s easy to miss important details when you’re looking for a home, especially if you’ve been shopping for a while and are desperate to buy. Your agent, however, looks at things through a more professional lens. It’s their job to notice things that you might not and make sure you understand what you’re getting into. No one wants the experience of signing a contract only to discover major problems in a home inspection.

How much are the monthly costs?

In some areas, utilities and property taxes can make up a significant portion of a home’s monthly costs. There’s also homeowners insurance to consider. A Realtor will be able to help you determine these costs and how much they will impact the home’s affordability. An agent can also help you untangle complicated HOA fees and other potential costs.

Questions to ask when you’re ready to make an offer

Once you’ve decided that a home is the right fit, it’s time to make an offer. Asking the right questions first can help make sure your offer is accepted — especially in a market as competitive as this one.

How long has this home been on the market?

If a home has been on the market for a relatively long time, the sellers could be more willing to move on the price. That means you might be able to get a good deal — but it could also be an indicator of something wrong with the house. Consult your agent to weigh your options.

What is the seller’s timeline?

Your agent will be able to talk with the listing agent to get more information about the sellers and their timeline for selling the home. For example, some sellers might be looking to buy another home while selling their current one, meaning they won’t want to move out until they have somewhere new to live. If you are flexible about timing, that won’t be an issue. However, if you need to move urgently, it might be.

What offering strategy do you recommend?

Realtors know the local market and can provide specific advice based on market conditions. For example, they’ll know if many buyers in your area are choosing to waive contingencies or add escalation clauses to make their offers more competitive. They can give you expert advice to help your offer rise to the top of the list.

Questions to ask when a seller has accepted your offer

Once the seller has accepted your offer, you’re in the home stretch. Still, there are a few last things you’ll need answers about before you can close.

When can I schedule the inspection?

Assuming you didn’t waive the home inspection during the bidding process, you’ll want to get this scheduled right away. Your agent will work with the seller’s agent to help schedule the inspection. It will identify any potential issues with the home, giving you the opportunity to negotiate the price to offset the cost of repairs — or, if the problems are major, even to walk away from the deal.

What happens if something goes wrong during the final walk-through?

Shortly before closing, your agent will accompany you on a final walk-through of the property you’re purchasing. This is your last chance to make sure all is as it should be, and that all of the agreed-upon conditions of the sale are in place. However, you can sometimes encounter a bump in the road at the last minute. Your agent will know what to expect, and what to do if you do find issues.

What should I bring to the closing?

The closing is the big event: It’s where you’ll sign all of the legal paperwork to buy the home and walk away with the keys. Your agent will help get it scheduled, and can brief you in advance on who will be there, what will happen and what you need to bring.

Bottom line

Your Realtor is your guide through the homebuying process and can help you navigate the various steps involved. Asking the right questions will help make your purchase as smooth as possible.