Note: I first wrote this about eight months ago, just as I was getting ready to purchase. I’ve left the post largely unedited to capture what was going through at the time.
The past couple of weeks have been so stressful, it’s been a nice break to blog about times I was more organized and thoughtful about everything. Last week was all about making sure all my finances were in order, and this week was the final walkthrough, a visit to the lawyer, getting all my final arrangements made with the movers and utilities and all that fun stuff, and ensuring everything is ready for the move. The move stuff is the most difficult part, believe it or not, in part because everything’s basically been in storage for a couple of years. Trying to think ahead and plan out where things will go is tough when you have boxes and boxes of “mystery stuff.”
Anyway. My former rational self.
Up to now in the search everything’s been pretty hypothetical – what would I want, what would it cost, etc. After doing all that researching and thinking, I was ready to bring in a professional to help actually search. This timing coincided, of course, with being financially ready to make a move. In March, I began reaching out to a couple of realtors and was on-the-hunt by April. By June, I’d found my house.
Before I get into what to look for in a realtor as a buyer, I think it’s important to point out why you should work with a realtor, as a buyer. The reason comes back to why I called out to the Facebook Hive Mind – most people don’t have a lot of experience on their own in buying and selling real estate. Even if you’ve bought a house or two, compare that to the amount of experience you have in other things – for most of us, with home buying, it’s not a lot. A realtor deals with this all the time and helps guide you through stressful, emotional, and a financially critical process. And – they do this with no direct cost to you as a buyer; the seller pays realtor fees, not the buyer. Check out howrealtorshelp.ca for more on why you should hire a realtor.
I met up with my now-realtor, who was a contact I had from a personal referral – we chatted about what I was looking for, what their strategy would be, and it really didn’t take long to know that it would be a good working relationship.
Maybe don’t hire someone like Lionel Hutz or Gil Gunderson…
There are a few things to talk about with a potential realtor – before making my decision formally, the things I wanted to know about were:
- Details on past experience; how long have you been doing this, how well do you know the communities I’m interested in?
- Details on the strategy and approach for both the search and for negotiations
- Details on how we would stay in touch throughout the process (we mostly texted and phoned, I was always responded to essentially immediately, no matter what day or time)
- Details on managing my expectations – including a discussion around the list-to-sale-price ratio
One other consideration was how does this work – contractually speaking. Did I need to sign anything? Several realtors I spoke to – including mine – did not require anything in writing to work together until it got time to work on a deal, and the term of that arrangement could be as short or as long as I liked – in other words, once I found a house I wanted to buy, we could do the paperwork such that we were only formally working on that deal. If that deal didn’t work out, I wasn’t stuck. Not all realtors work this way, however – and it’s important to understand what you are (or are not) signing up for.
Once I had made my decision about the realtor, it took no time at all before I was being e-mailed listings. This is something that the realtor sets up with/for you through MLS. Basically a bunch of search criteria that you discuss are set up and then when new listings match that criteria you get an e-mail – and so does your realtor. The critical thing here, in competitive markets, is that by working with a realtor you’re getting access to information before it goes on the MLS website publicly. So does everyone else working with a realtor who has the same sort of search criteria that would make that listing pop up, but it was definitely helpful getting that early heads up.
Once you find some listings you are interested in from these search criteria, you start going to look at the houses. It’s so much different – and so much better – going with a realtor to a house than going to an Open House. We started out by going to all kinds of things – several listings at a time – and then were a little more targeted in our viewings. My realtor was great at pointing out things that I had no idea about – like efflorescence in the basement, signs of poor maintenance, and of course things that maybe didn’t look amazing right then but had potential and were worth thinking about. The important thing for me was that I never felt pressured in any house – there was never a sense that I was being pitched on every house we went to; in fact sometimes I would look at a house and go “I love this!” and my realtor would remind me of little things like how difficult it was to get in and out of the driveway and other things that you might think in the heat of the moment aren’t THAT big of a deal but ultimately would probably grate on you.
At any rate – work with a realtor, and make sure it’s someone you’re comfortable with, someone who gets what you want and what you don’t, someone who is very responsive – and someone who can remind you of potential, seeing past what’s immediately obvious, when that’s called for; as well as someone who brings things back to reality when needed, too.