Mood of the Market

By Tara-Nicholle Nelson, Inman News®

In this day and age, one can easily get educated about homebuying  online, on your couch and in your pajamas — and while watching “House  Hunters International,” no less! Yet there are still nuances and insights  on the process that are best communicated one to one, from a human professional  who has been through this process dozens or hundreds of times. Accordingly,  first-time buyers are frequently given the sound advice to vigorously interview  agents before hiring them, and lists of interview questions are all over the Web.

That said, in the Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers  recently released by the National Association of Realtors, 81 percent of  first-time buyers said the benefit of having an agent was that the agent helped  get them educated about the buying process, and more than half of all buyers  said their agent pointed out features or faults of a property that they would  not otherwise have noticed.

So, I think it’s time for a list of questions to ask your  agent after you hire him or her, during the homebuying process, to max out the  advantages you have from having this person on your side — here are some  starters:

1. Do you know a good mortgage broker, inspector, stager, painter, CPA, etc.? The NAR  survey showed that 46 percent of buyers thought they got a better list of  service providers from their agent than they could have come up with otherwise,  and 20 percent found their agent’s mortgage provider referral to be a benefit.  Local agents simply know people you don’t, and they have worked with them  enough to know who gets the job done, well, and who doesn’t.

To boot, vendors that work repeatedly with your agent may  offer you faster turnaround times, discounted pricing or other VIP treatment  you wouldn’t get on your own, like doing an especially great job because they  want to continue getting business from your agent.

2. What should I  expect? Managing your expectations is essential to having a smooth homebuying  experience, especially when it comes to the recurring themes of timing (e.g.,  how long something will take, when you need to do something, and when you can  expect various milestones to happen) and cost.

This particular question and its cousins, “What happens  next?” and “What’s the margin of error on this cost estimate?”  are questions you can and should ask over and over again, from the day you  first “interview” your prospective agent, to the moment you sit down  at the closing table.

3. What are the  different ways to look at this? This, too, is a question you might want and  need to ask often. During inspections, you might need to turn over the  inspection report and any issues that arise in your mind to get a sense for how  to react — do you ask for more money, ask for repairs, get more bids? A good  agent will help you explore the possibilities. This can also be helpful in the  realm of negotiations.

For example, your agent can help you understand what you  should be asking for in your offer, as he probably has a better understanding  of all the possibilities and the various contract terms than you do. In the  same vein, if you and the seller are at a price deadlock, asking your agent how  else you can look at this might get you more creative suggestions about  counteroffers and deal structures to propose.

While, ultimately, every decision is yours to make, if you  have a good agent, you aren’t all alone in trying to process the facts in front  of you and factor them in. Related questions to add to the list: “What are  the pros and cons?” and “What can I ask for?”

4. How do you buy a  house? This one is pretty self-explanatory, but it bears stating that most  of what you’ll read in books and online about homebuying is neither customized  to your local area nor is it tailored to your personal financial and lifestyle  needs. The education your agent can give you is tailored in these two, really  important ways.

5. What have I  forgotten to ask? This wild card question really asks your agent to harness  his knowledge of the market and his experience with buyers to position you to  see what he sees. You’re giving him carte blanche to be the expert (which  agents appreciate!) with the result that you might be alerted to issues with  the home, the financing or the transaction that you might not have otherwise. It’s  really just another way of asking the question, “What do you see that I  don’t?”

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of “The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook” and “Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions.” Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website,