“I Will Focus” Before meeting with an agent, you should have a fairly good idea of what you are looking for in a new home, especially the essentials. Number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, monthly payment you can comfortably afford (including taxes and insurance). After a few trips out with your REALTOR©, you should have narrowed down your options further--the style of home you prefer, your amenity must-haves (two-car garage, finished basement, swimming pool, etc.) Don’t waste time in the wrong price range: if you have $500,000 tastes and resources, don’t fool yourself that you’ll be happy in a $350,000 home or that you will find a $500,000 short sale or foreclosure in perfect condition selling at $350,000 (banks want to make their money back too!). On average, a good agent should be able to find you the home that suits all of your stated criteria after three trips out or twelve homes. If not, it’s time to sit back down and reevaluate.
“I Will Prioritize” One of the best lessons a home buyer can learn early on is that there are three main elements to real estate: location, condition and price. The secret is, you can have only two. And that makes sense—the house in the best location and condition won’t be the cheapest on the market. Sellers lower their price to attract buyers to a shabby home in a great location or a mint condition home in a less desirable part of town. Decide which two of the three are musts for you. Don’t cling to the notion of the perfect home. Just like the perfect man or woman, sadly it does not exist (Only dogs are perfect.)
“I Will Be Prepared” Some top agents won’t even meet with potential buyers unless they have been pre-qualified or pre-approved by a mortgage professional they know and trust (and not someone who just takes the information down over the phone or the Internet.) This is to your advantage—you won’t fall in love with a home you can’t afford and in a multi-offer situation, sellers will give preference to buyers who have had their financials thoroughly examined. Also understand that if you must sell your current home in order to buy, many sellers will not consider your offer. Put your current home on the market before seriously house hunting (with the proviso that the sale is contingent on you finding your next home) so that you become a better prospect in a seller’s eyes.
“I Will Be Exclusive” Traditional buyer’s agents do not work on salary and charge nothing upfront for the time and energy they spend showing you homes, negotiating deals, offering advice. This can amount to fifty hours or more per transaction. They get paid only when you close on the home they have negotiated for you. Which means an agent’s only currency is their time—the time they spend with you is time they could have been spending with another client. Top agents will expect you to sign an Exclusive Buyer’s Agreement, which states that you will work only with them and if you choose to buy a home they’ve shown you, you will buy it through them. If there is dissatisfaction on either side, the agreement can typically be cancelled, but it’s a show of good faith that you won’t be working with several agents simultaneously, of all whom, by the way, normally have access to all of the same properties in the Multiple Listing Service.
“I Will Make Realistic Offers” As a buyer’s representative, your agent isn’t privy to the thoughts and motivations of the sellers (and even if they represent both sides of the transaction, they can’t share the confidential information of the other party.) So we don’t know that seller’s bottom line and even the owners of a home that’s been on the market for several months might not be willing to budge a penny (which is probably why their house has been on the market for several months.) Understand that most houses will have some give in price (typically no more than 5%) and that a top agent will do a Comparative Market Analysis of any property of interest to advise you of the right price to bid. Do not constantly low-ball sellers and then be surprised when you don’t get the house…or when your agent discontinues your relationship because it’s become clear that you won’t buy a home that’s priced at market value.
“I Will Price Sensibly” Before agreeing to market your home, a seller’s agent will do an analysis of what homes like yours are selling for in your neighborhood and school district. They will also take into consideration your home’s location and condition. Listen to them. Remember, you can’t change your home’s location, so if you live on a double yellow-lined street next to a cemetery, buyers aren’t going to flock to your door if you are priced the same or higher than homes in private cul-de-sacs. You also can’t substantially change the condition of your home without spending a lot of money—especially if new baths or a new kitchen is needed, or if there is functional obsolescence (five bedrooms, one bath, for example.) And we can’t roll back the clock to 2005, when your home was worth thousands more. When it comes to price, don’t fight for the price set by your Uncle Charlie (who is an REALTOR© 2,000 miles away) or argue that the house down the street went for $50,000 more two years ago (in a different market.) A top agent will walk away rather than list a home at a price that won’t sell in today’s market, since overpricing would mean lying to you and injuring their reputation at the same time.
“I Will Make My Home Presentable” Selling a home is different than living in one. Make the inexpensive cosmetic changes your agent suggests (fresh paint, new linens, mowing the lawn, depersonalizing the home by taking down photos, and storing items of personal taste like your gun collection) and keep the home in showing condition at all times, since you never know when an agent might call with a relocation customer who’s only able to look at homes today. That means keep beds made, put the dirty clothes in the hamper, and don’t leave dishes in the sink. If you have animals, ask your agent to honestly tell you how your house smells (as pet owners, we don’t always notice their odor.) If you smoke, stop smoking in the house and air the home out for several days before listing the home. You’d be surprised how many buyers won’t even enter a smoker’s home.
“I Will Make My Home Accessible” If you are listing your home, let people know and don’t make them jump through hoops to see it. Allow the agent to put a sign in the front yard (you never know who’s passing by and who really cares if the neighbors know you’re selling!) and a lockbox on the door. Homeowners who expect their agents to be present at every showing hurt themselves because if your agent is unavailable at the time a buyer is in town, you could lose a potential sale. Likewise, homeowners who insist on being present at every showing or open house, stifle buyers who can’t feel free to take their time and really picture themselves living in the home.
“I Will Be Flexible” When an agent quotes you a selling price. don’t Super Glue yourself to that number. Top agents will give you a range of what homes like yours have sold for in recent months. But remember, we only interpret the market, we don’t set the price—the buyers do. If during the first few weeks on the market, you receive many visitors but no offers, you are likely priced 3%-5% above where you should be. Few visitors, no offers, 8%-10% too high. If you really need to move, you need to be willing to make the adjustments that will allow your home to sell. And don’t tell your agent, “We’ll price high now, test the market and reduce later.” You are shooting yourself in the foot. The key is to price right during those first critical three weeks on the market, when the home is fresh and unsatisfied demand is strong.
And for both Buyers and Sellers:
I Will Respect Boundaries: We are real estate agents. We price and market homes. We negotiate deals. We understand and respect the fact that a property purchase or sale is perhaps one of the most important transactions in your life. In fact, our code of ethics requires us to put your interests above those of our own. But while we know the basics of real estate law, we cannot provide legal advice and while we know a bit about financing, we are not mortgage professionals or accountants. Asking us to act outside our realm of expertise could cost us our licenses.
We also can't advise you on school districts or crime statistics or tell you "who lives in this area" because even if we knew, it's considered "steering" and is a violation of fair housing laws. (We can, however, point you to information on schools, crime and demographics on the Internet.) Likewise, we are not marriage counselors, psychologists, home contractors, babysitters or maids. Please don’t put us in the uncomfortable position of asking us to act as such.
And please understand that we are not available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We value our time with our families just as you do, so don’t get angry if we don’t answer texts at 9pm on a Saturday night.
That being said, here’s wishing you a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year! If, in 2016, you have real estate needs in Rockland, Westchester, Orange Counties in New York or Bergen County in New Jersey, please call/text me at 845-893-0173 or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would be happy to help.