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Buying a home can be stressful, especially if you’re a first-time homebuyer. The experience involves many steps and a lot of money. 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 of the Realtor, at each step along the way, including before hiring them, once you’ve found a house, when you’re ready to make an offer, and when a seller has accepted your offer.
What to ask the Realtor before you hire them
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.
1. Do you specialize in a specific type of home/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.” You should also confirm that your prospective Realtor specializes in representing buyers (not sellers).
2. Can you provide client references?
As with any professional you’re considering hiring, it’s always smart to ask an agent for a few recent 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. During these conversations, make sure to ask the references how they felt about the Realtor’s communication style, how long it took them to find a home, how helpful the Realtor was at every stage of the process and whether or not they’d hire the agent again.
3. 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. Similarly, if your Realtor is part of a real estate team, make sure that you’ve spoken with (or at least know how to contact) the other members of the team.
What to ask the Realtor 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.
4. 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.
5. Do you see any potential issues?
It’s easy to miss important details when you’re touring a home, especially if you get wowed by details like the view or the state-of-the-art kitchen. Your agent, however, looks at prospects 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 purchase and sale agreement only to discover major problems – like a damaged roof or broken furnace – in a home inspection.
6. 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. Utility costs vary quite a bit depending on the specific property and its location, so make sure to ask your Realtor about the estimated costs for things like water, sewage and electricity. You’ll also want to find out how you access these utilities – for instance, are there municipal water lines, or will you need to maintain a septic tank?
There’s also homeowners insurance to consider. For example, you’ll need to figure out the right type of homeowners insurance to get (especially if you’re in an area that’s vulnerable to floods or other natural disasters), as well as how much to buy. 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.
What to ask the Realtor 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 if the property is particularly hot or the market is a competitive one.
7. 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 hungry and more willing to negotiate 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
What to ask the Realtor 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.
10. What should the purchase and sale agreement say?
A good buyer’s agent can advise on contingency clauses your purchase and sale agreement with the seller should include.
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.
Similarly, you might want to have the right to back out of the deal if you run into issues with securing financing or selling your current home. Talk to your Realtor to ensure that all of these contingencies are outlined in your contract so you’re protected in case a serious problem arises.
11. 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.
12. What should I bring to the closing?
The closing is the big event: It’s where you’ll sign all of the legal paperwork, including the final purchase agreement, 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.
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.
Before interviewing any real estate agents, it’s best to get preapproved for a mortgage and understand how much house you can afford. That way, when you hire your Realtor, you can start viewing homes within your budget right away. If you’re buying a home with your spouse or someone else, it’s also smart to get aligned on your expectations for your future home and the buying process, so you can share those with your Realtor as well.
When interviewing a Realtor, your goal is to learn about the agent’s experience, working style, and industry knowledge. At a minimum, ask the Realtor how long they’ve been in business, how often they like to communicate with clients, and how they negotiate with sellers.
You can also ask about their availability for showings, the number of properties they recommend that you view during the buying process, and how they would approach a bidding war.
There are a few ways to gauge your Realtor’s performance. For starters, consider their communication style and frequency. Do you feel like they’re keeping you in the loop on home viewings and market updates? Are they providing helpful feedback on how to package your offers to sellers? If so, that’s a good sign.
A good Realtor will also have a deep understanding of the market, as well as your goals and expectations for the home-buying process. They should present you with properties that align with what you’re looking for and listen to your feedback when a home doesn’t quite meet your standards.
Finally, your Realtor should also advocate for your best interests. They should handle negotiations with confidence and with the right market knowledge to submit offers that will earn serious consideration from sellers.
Additional reporting by Taylor Freitas