Monday, January 11, 2016

Buying a House Part 3 and 4: Find an Agent, Check Out Houses

[I wrote this post last year as part of my attempt at a series on the house-buying process. Never published it for whatever reason, so here you go.]

Buying a house is a complicated process. Unless it's your job to know how to communicate with sellers, write contracts, get in touch with the professionals to examine a house, set up the loan process, and get all of the correct paperwork submitted to the right people at the right time, you should probably get an agent who can do most of that stuff for you. And hey, it will probably be free!


 A good seller's agent will generally have your best interests in mind, mostly because they want you to feel completely comfortable buying a house since they don't get paid unless the deal goes through. Basically, at least around here, their services are included in the final cost of the house, so you don't have to worry about them trying to rip you off on the seller's behalf. The negotiations come down to your agent and the seller's agent hammering out the details, and your agent wants to make sure they're giving you a good deal so you'll actually make the deal.

That's how I would describe a good agent, anyway. I felt like I had a pretty competent, knowledgeable agent helping me through the home-buying process, but he's the only real estate agent I've ever worked with. Based on his communications with the seller's agent, it seemed like the seller's people may not have been nearly as competent. He also got us in touch with a loan officer who seemed to do her job very well, to the point where the title company sounded downright relieved to see her name attached to the deal. So, I feel like we lucked out all around.

So, how do you find a good agent? Well, if you know anyone who's bought a house recently, it would certainly help to talk to the about their experience to see if they had good agents you can look up or bad agents you'll want to avoid. Beyond that, you might be able to find a Yelp-like service that rates real estate agents. Angie's List comes to mind.


One of the primary benefits of having an agent, beyond the whole "they probably know what they're doing better than you" thing, is that they can provide easy access to most any house listed on the MLS. You've just got to work with them to find houses you want to check out, and they'll meet you there to explore them. Listed houses will have a device containing the house key on their doors. Agents can open these devices and let you in so that you don't have to contact each seller directly every time you want to check a place out. It also makes it marginally less awkward if you're checking out a place that's occupied, since the agent is probably more comfortable snooping around an occupied house than you are.

Once you're in, a good agent will proceed to tell you about the house based on what they're seeing. If they're doing their job right, they will point out not only the house's positive features but its negative ones as well so that you know what you're getting into. Likely they've seen plenty of houses in their time, and they know some basic things to look for--and they're not shy about opening every single door in the place to examine it, either.

My agent looked for many things that might have never crossed my mind. He could look at a roof and estimate when it was last resurfaced. He checked the dates on the major appliances--water heater, HVAC, etc. He checked vents, showed us how certain features worked (like how to open barred windows), and always kept an eye out for double-paned windows since those are super-important for keeping your house cool during Tucson's summers. And if the seller or anyone else was around, he would reserve his concerns for when you got outside in order to avoid the awkwardness of criticizing the house in front of its owners.

Looking at houses is the funnest part of the process, but you'll want to strike a balance on how long you spend on it. Laura and I lost out on a house because we didn't jump on it fast enough, and though everything worked out for us in the end it was also a lesson in taking opportunities when they arise. Good houses don't stay on the market for very long, so if you find one that's exactly what you want, let your agent know right away, even if you want to keep looking a little longer. They'll monitor the availability for you and alert you if someone else starts showing an interest in the place.

Once you're ready to get serious with a house, you'll want to have some money ready to stake your claim, which I'll get into if I ever finish this series.

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