How to hunt for the right real estate agent before hunting for a home

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How to hunt for the right real estate agent before hunting for a home

By Michele Lerner, Published: February 20 | Updated: Friday, February 21, 7:15 AM

If you’re planning to purchase a home in the Washington area this spring, you may face competition from other buyers for the still-limited inventory in the market.

Homes that are in good condition and priced appropriately may garner multiple offers, so the better prepared you are as a buyer, the more likely it is that you’ll be scheduling movers sometime later this year.

The first steps in your house-hunting journey are finding a lender, getting prequalified for a loan and determining your budget. If you’ve done that and know how much you can spend, you’re ready to begin your search for a real estate agent who will represent your interests and help you become a homeowner. Some buyers choose an agent before finding a lender — either way, it’s important to line up a team of professionals as soon as you’re ready to buy a home.

“A good Realtor can help guide you through the financing part of buying a home by recommending a good lender,” says Karen Brown, an agent with Long & Foster Real Estate in Reston. “In fact, a prequalification from a lender that your Realtor can vouch for can be an asset during the buying process, especially if you’re competing with other buyers for a home. I work with a lender who I know will answer calls on the weekends and evenings and make sure the transaction gets to closing, so that’s something I can share with the listing agent to make my buyers’ offer stronger.”

Brown recommends lining up a lender and an agent at least six months before you buy a home. She sometimes works with buyers for as long as a year .

Why you need an agent

“Some people think they can buy a home without a Realtor, but this is a challenging market with lots of moving parts,” says Suzanne Des Marais, an associate broker with the 10 Square Team at Keller Williams Capital Properties in Washington. “You need a Realtor to help you manage it. You need someone who’s invested in educating you about how to buy a home and can help you interpret the local market while giving you some nitty-gritty advice like making sure you have some liquid cash available before you start looking at homes so you don’t have to wait to make an offer.”

Des Marais says that buying a home is a three-part process, including looking for property and arranging financing, negotiating a contract and then getting to settlement. She says an agent can provide advice and insight during each of those phases.

Says David Bediz, an agent with the Bediz Group at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Washington: “Realtors can sometimes show buyers properties that they didn’t think they wanted to see but that work for them. Realtors have the knowledge and connections to push an offer or to make sure it’s written strongly enough to compete with other offers when there’s competition. When there isn’t competition for a property, an experienced Realtor can make recommendations about how much to offer formulated on evidence of the actual home value.”

Bediz points out that because agents’ commissions are paid by the sellers from the profit of the sale, buyers get the guidance for free.

“There’s almost never a reason to buy a house without the representation of a Realtor,” he says.

Des Marais says experienced, full-time agents see so many properties that they can help buyers understand the value in different homes and be realistic about the condition of the property and potential repair costs.

“If you’re looking at a For Sale by Owner, it’s even more important to have an agent representing you because you need to know whether the house is priced appropriately,” she says. “You need someone to coordinate the appraisal and the contract contingencies and the closing. D.C. is a very agent-driven market, unlike some other places like New York, where attorneys write real estate contracts.”

If you plan to buy a new home, Brown recommends working with an agent who’s experienced with new construction and familiar with local builders to represent your interests.

“The sales agent on site works for the builder and your own agent can help you with negotiations, inspections and choosing options,” she says.

Buyer agency

Although the details of the laws vary slightly between D.C., Maryland and Virginia, all three jurisdictions require a signed buyer-agent agreement to be in place for an agent to write a contract for an offer on a home. Agents are expected to explain agency rules to buyers at their first consultation so they understand when and how their interests are being represented. Many Realtors work as buyers’ agents and as listing agents for different transactions; some work with a team on which some agents work only with buyers and some work only with sellers.

An exclusive buyer agency represents only buyers and never lists homes for sale.

“Our company only represents home buyers, which eliminates any conflict of interest for the company and the agents, since there’s no possibility that the company will represent the seller and the buyer in any transaction,” says Mary Richeimer, broker/owner of the Buyers Best Realtors in Urbana, Md. “Traditional agents sometimes represent buyers and sometimes represent sellers, but I always represent buyers.”

In Virginia, Brown says, all agents technically work for the seller unless a buyer-agency agreement has been signed.

“For instance, if you’re showing a house to a buyer you’re not supposed to disclose any adverse things about it to the buyer unless you have a signed agreement,” she says. “If a buyer is uncomfortable about signing the agreement, we always explain that the buyer can cancel the contract at any time. We’ve never had anyone cancel the agreement, but buyers need to understand that if they’re unhappy they can end the relationship.”

Before signing a buyer-agency agreement, be sure you understand your responsibility under the contract and how either you or the agent can cancel the agreement.

Finding an agent

Agents say the best way to find someone trustworthy to represent you is to ask friends and colleagues for recommendations.

“You need to find someone you can trust and someone who’s smart and understands the local market,” Bediz says. “It’s important to do some legwork and research on agents even if they’re recommended by a friend, because you don’t want to choose someone who’s a nice person and a fun drinking buddy who may not be a great agent.”

He says you should check out the agent’s Web site and ask for references.

Says Richeimer: “Some agents are better at listings or at representing buyers. When you get a recommendation you should find out whether the agent was representing the buyer or the seller.”

Des Marais recommends looking for an agent who’s very familiar with neighborhoods where you want to live and your price range.

“You can look for open-house signs and ask people who live in the area for names of Realtors,” she says. “You need someone who understands how to interpret the market and how offers work in different areas.”

An open house can be an excellent place to meet an agent and ask questions, Bediz says, but he says buyers should do their homework and find out more about the agent. The agent at the open house represents the seller of that property, but if you aren’t intending to make an offer on that home, you can hire the agent to represent you.

Once you’ve identified a few potential agents, you should interview them over the phone and then meet one or two in person. You’ll be spending a lot of time with your agent and trusting that he or she will represent your interests, so it’s important to take your time to find the right person.

Agent interviews

Brown suggests meeting a prospective agent at his or her office so you can look for awards and meet the agent’s team members.

Says Bediz: “You should treat choosing a Realtor with the same perspective as if you’re the boss and you’re hiring a new employee. Find out the agent’s qualifications compared to other applicants and then do some interviews.”

Your agent will be key to the success of your home buying experience, so it’s important to take your time to choose the right one.

Lerner is a freelance writer.

What to ask your potential real estate agent

?How long have you been in business? How many transactions did you have last year?

?Are you experienced working with first-time home buyers? Can you explain the buying process?

?Can you tell me about state, local and federal programs for first-time home buyers?

?What neighborhoods do you specialize in?

?What price range do you usually work in?

?Can you provide me with a list of references?

?What is the fastest way for me to reach you if I have a question or think I have found a home to buy?

?How often should I expect to hear from you while I am looking for a home?

?Will you be able to give me advice about future home maintenance or improvement projects that could help my house retain its value?

via How to hunt for the right real estate agent before hunting for a home – The Washington Post.

5 questions buyers can ask about a flipped home

Flip5 questions buyers can ask about a flipped home

Here’s how to tell if it’s wise to buy a home that has been fixed and quickly put back on the market.

By MSN Real Estate partner 20 hours ago

By Dana Dratch, Bankrate.com

Buying a flipped home is like negotiating a Cold War treaty: Trust, but verify.

Flippers often make just a few cosmetic changes before they resell a house. With fresh paint and new appliances, what’s not to love? Frequently, flippers target projects the next buyer would have had to tackle anyway. Buying a home with a smaller to-do list is a plus.

In some cases, flippers renovate or make structural changes. That’s also good, if they do it right. Not so hot if they make a hash of it. And, in rare instances, a less-than-scrupulous? soul might disguise a home’s flaws with paint or well-placed wallboard.

While buying a flipped home isn’t a bad thing, a smart buyer wants to know that upfront and ask a few extra questions before making an offer.

Here are five questions that the pros in real estate, construction and renovation recommend you ask to determine whether the home was flipped, and what its true condition is.

1. What’s the home’s history?

You want to know how often the house has been sold. Were there any quick sales with a big uptick in price?

A home that sold on the low side of market value, then was resold six months later at the high end of the spectrum, could indicate a flip, says Patricia Szot of Keller Williams Realty Lake Cities in Garland, Texas.

Also, if the sellers have flipped a few homes, they have a track record, Szot says. So get the names of earlier buyers and talk with them. Ask the buyers if all the home’s systems worked when they moved in and whether they discovered hidden problems.

2. Is this an older house with a new interior?

One big clue that a house is a flip: “It’s an old house and everything is brand-new,” says Pat Vredevoogd Combs, past president of the National Association of Realtors and vice president of Coldwell Banker AJS Schmidt Realty, in Grand Rapids, Mich.

With a flipped home, “typically, owners are looking to sell it as soon as possible and not have to carry the expense,” Szot says. In some cases, they’ll put the home on the market before they’re finished updating, she says.

Some flippers will give buyers a stipend to “choose what they want” for things like flooring or wallpaper, she says.

That can be a great way for potential buyers to personalize the house, but it’s not always a great deal, Szot says, because sometimes those allowances cover only inexpensive materials.

Check out how much that stipend is and what it will really buy ahead of making any agreements, Szot says.

3. What changes have you made to the house?

Some states such as Texas are “full-disclosure” states, says Szot, who lives in the Lone Star state. A full-disclosure policy means that sellers have to tell buyers everything they know about the house, including changes they’ve made.

That makes it easy to get a list of the work an owner has done to the home, she says.

Even if you don’t live in a full-disclosure jurisdiction, you can still ask the current owners for a written, detailed report of all the changes they’ve made to the property — and ask them to sign it, Szot says.

Permits, and other documents related to work or upgrades, should be available to prospective buyers, says Mike Holmes, contractor and author of “The Holmes Inspection: The Essential Guide for Every Homeowner, Buyer and Seller.”

Check with the permitting authority to make sure that work passed inspection once it was completed, he says: “The more you do your homework, the better.”

4. Am I hiring an independent inspector of my choice?

“Often you don’t know if the people who flipped it did a surface job or dug deep and did a great job,” Combs says. The solution is to hire a professional home inspector.

While getting an inspection is a smart move for any homebuyer, it’s especially important if the home was flipped, Holmes says.

An experienced inspector “will just point out things that were done wrong or improperly,” says Michael Hydeck, past president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and owner of Hydeck Design Build Inc. in Philadelphia.

If you love the home but find problems, you can ask the owner to fix them or negotiate for a lower price, he says.

Make sure the inspector is licensed, accredited, insured and has been in business a long time, Holmes says. Don’t pick the first name you find or select anyone connected to the sellers, he says.

5. Is the work properly permitted?

Whether your work is done by a professional or yourself, anything more complicated than paint or wallpaper likely requires a permit.

One sign of a flip: “The real estate agent says ‘all new,’ and there’s no evidence of permits,” Holmes says. “When I hear ‘new, new, new,’ I want documents to back it up.”

Look under the sinks, Holmes advises. A good pro won’t tie old plumbing into new kitchens or bathrooms, he says. Check the electrical panel. Wiring should be clipped and tidy, not messy, he says.

Scan places where unfinished space meets finished space: basements, mechanical closets and under cabinets. You should find good workmanship — “neat and professional” — whether the area is designed to be seen or not, Holmes says.

Then compare the list of permits granted to the address with the work that’s been done.

Unpermitted work is a red flag, Szot says. “There’s a huge chance it isn’t up to code,” she says.

Along with safety concerns, a house that doesn’t meet code can be risky when it comes to getting insurance or even financing, Szot says. And you want to know before you make an offer, she adds.

via 5 questions buyers can ask about a flipped home – MSN Real Estate.

More Developers Want Your Next Home to be a Micro-Unit

2014-01-11 Micro Unit(Roger K. Lewis for The Washington Post)

More developers want your next home to be a micro-unit

By Roger K. Lewis, Published: January 16 | Updated: Friday, January 17, 7:45 AM

Given the potential market for affordable apartments, particularly in urban locations, developers increasingly are interested in building “micro-unit” projects.

Near the District’s Logan Circle, developer Brook Rose is planning an eight-story apartment building containing 38 units, of which 32 are micro-units ranging in size from 280 to 350 square feet. Rising behind three existing rowhouses on Church Street NW, the project might not include parking if the Board of Zoning Adjustment approves — in which case any tenant with a car will not receive a street parking permit.

The former Latham Hotel at 30th and M Streets in Georgetown might be transformed into a mixed-use building containing more than 100 micro-units. And the JBG Companies, according to a company source, is exploring several future projects in which micro-units would be included.

You might be thinking that “micro-unit” is just another term for “efficiency apartment.” Why this new, trendy terminology?

A micro-unit is, in fact, a very small apartment, typically smaller in floor area than a one-bedroom apartment and smaller than many efficiency and studio apartments. A micro-unit can be comparable in size to a hotel room.

One-bedroom apartments rarely are smaller than 500 square feet, while efficiency apartments usually range in size from 350 to 450 square feet. Micro-units commonly encompass 250 to 350 square feet. It’s worth noting that under District regulations, the floor area of a dwelling in a multi-unit building generally must be at least 220 square feet.

Clearly, compactness characterizes the micro-unit trend. But other attributes differentiate micro-unit development from conventional apartment development.

As a Google-based mosaic of images shows, micro-unit interiors can be more inventively configured and elaborately designed than many efficiency apartments. Intended to accommodate one and perhaps two individuals, micro-units often include built-in furniture and storage systems, plus a complete bathroom and efficiently configured kitchen. With greater-than-average ceiling height, a micro-unit can feel relatively spacious and offer a sleeping loft floating above a small portion of the space.

But the most noteworthy attribute is the potential for prefabricating micro-units entirely in factories, then transporting them to a building site. There they would be lifted into place to form new apartment buildings or attached-housing structures. Such a construction technique can save time and money and ensure quality, but only if micro-unit designs are standardized and production volume is sufficiently high and reasonably steady.

The micro-unit market is basically the same as the efficiency apartment market: singles of all ages, but especially younger generations preferring to live near the heart of a city, or well-adjusted couples who can amicably cohabit cheek-by-jowl. Residents make do with minimal wall space, virtually no free-standing furniture and limited resources for at-home entertaining. They must be willing to accept less space in return for a favorable location and lower rent.

In light of the limited dwelling space, thoughtfully conceived buildings composed of micro-units need to include communal areas — including cooking and catering capability — where residents can informally socialize, organize events or host parties. And a shared business office for the building, with a couple of copy machines, wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Of course, affordability drives the market: A 250- or 300-square-foot unit will cost considerably less than one with 500 or 600 square feet. However, a micro-unit will cost more than half the price of an apartment twice its size because it still requires a bathroom and kitchen, a relatively fixed cost for apartments of all sizes. And micro-units with more built-in storage cabinetry entail an additional building cost.

Is there a micro-unit in your future? Not if you have furniture you can’t live without, love the artwork displayed on your current home’s walls and throw frequent dinner parties If that’s the case, you’ll need to consider other options.

Roger K. Lewis is a practicing architect and a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland. To view his cartoon, go to washingtonpost.com/realestate.

via – The Washington Post.