There are three methods to gaining wisdom. The first is reflection, which is the highest. The second is limitation, which is the easiest. The third is experience, which is the bitterest.Confucius
Thanks for sticking with us this far! Since you are back for more, let me tell you about buying my first house. It was the spring of 2016 and I was finishing up a school in Saratoga Springs, NY: home to the popular Saratoga Horse Racing Track and less popular Nuclear Power Training Unit Ballston Spa. It was the last leg of training prior to arriving at my first submarine; culminating almost two full years of classes, oral boards, tests and operating an active nuclear reactor. I was ready to finally contribute to the Fleet and feel like a real adult! At the top of my list of adult things to do was buying a house. I figured it was the wise thing for a responsible adult to do.
Prior to heading down to Norfolk, I primarily used Zillow and Trulia to develop a feel for the area: locations and neighborhoods attractive to families, areas that would attract single adults due to the proximity to nightlife, tourist areas, school zones, etc. On one hand, real estate websites offer a vast amount of MLS listings: single-family homes, multifamily homes, foreclosures, REOs, auction deals and more. On the other hand, online market data can only go so far to provide the complete picture of a property. For me, I needed to be boots on the ground with an experienced guide who knew the area like the back of her hand; I needed a realtor. But how do you find the right one?
Finding the Needle in the Haystack
I tried Googling the “best realtors in the Hampton Roads area” and I came up with some hotshot names that dealt with millions of dollars of real estate a year and had a team of agents running around researching properties, giving tours and driving for dollars. While that may work for some people, I wanted a personable, hometown realtor that cared more about MY interests, wants and criteria than solely their commission. There had to be a better way to sort through the hundreds of realtors in my area.
If you are pursuing purchasing a property and you are a military member, I highly recommend you look into United States Automobile Association’s (USAA) Real Estate Rewards Network. Not only do you have access to stellar realtors ranked by other USAA members based on their experiences, you are eligible to earn a cashback reward based on the price of the house; I received about $500 back after my closing.
Outside of USAA, there are plenty of options to find a realtor. The best way is referrals from other who have bought a home similar to what you are looking for. Just like finding a contractor or deciding on a restaurant, personal reviews can make or break our opinion, save time and prevent a possibly sour experience. Another option is to look up properties that match your criteria on Trulia, Redfin or Realtor.com and contact that realtor. Chances are, if they list a multifamily home, they may specialize in multifamily homes. Once you find them, how do you know they are a good fit?
Holding the Job Interview
How do you know this realtor is actually good at their job? That they are not just out to get you to buy the most expensive home to make the highest commission they can. There are definitely realtors out there that are absolute vultures when it comes to their commissions. Having interacted with both kick-ass realtors and cutthroat realtors, my advice is that you need to meet them and vet them. There’s nothing like a face to face interaction and a gut feeling to make or break a business relationship. Think of the interaction as a job interview because that is exactly what it is, but you are the boss!
Don’t know how to vet your realtor? Take a look at some questions to ask below:
- What neighborhoods do you primarily work in?
- Will you be working with me directly or passing me to someone else in your office? [Some realtors have teams of less experienced, but knowledgeable assistants that cover the more mundane tasks of the job and may be your main point of contact.]
- What type of homes do you typically deal with? [single family, multifamily, luxury, townhomes, beach homes, apartment buildings, etc]
- Do you work full-time or part-time as a realtor?
- How many houses have you closed in my area recently? Have many have you closed overall?
- How many buyers/sellers/clients do you represent?
- What is your educational or real estate experience background? Do you own your own home?
- Are you a real estate investor? If so, what type of properties have you bought?
- Can you provide me with a list of names and phone numbers for past clients?
I’m a little embarrassed to say it, but I only contacted one realtor mainly because she “seemed” to have a lot of experience and was a nice lady when we talked on the phone. We had a great conversation talking about my price range, the specific areas I wanted to focus on, and school districts. I thought I hit the realtor jackpot. She sent me a MLS list of properties all over the Hampton Roads to start perusing before I traveled to the area. That should have been my first red flag: she didn’t listen to ANY of the areas I wanted!
House Hunting Begins
March 2016 rolled around and it was time to drive down and hunt for a house! To say I was excited is an understatement. I was both terrified and exhilarated. Buying a house is one of the biggest decisions in a person’s life. Hindsight being what it is, I was underprepared for buying that first house. No lender, no insurance agent, no inspector; I literally had no one else on my team besides my realtor. I put absolute faith in her to steer me right and make sure all the ducks were in a row. I’ll cover this in a later post, but your TEAM will absolutely make or break your business.
During my 10 house hunting days, we visited 20-40 different homes from a dingy townhome to an upscale house a few blocks from the beach. We wasted an excessive amount of time looking at houses that didn’t fit my criteria and I became exceedingly frustrated. I should have moved on to another realtor but I had invested so much time with her that starting afresh with a new realtor was unappealing.
In the end, my realtor did not find me my house; I found it! I had Zillow and Trulia emails alerts set up and one day in late March 2016, Zillow told me there was a new house on the market in the Kempsville area of Virginia Beach fitting my desired criteria: 3 bedrooms, quiet, nice neighborhood, great school district, under my price range and fenced in backyard. Perfect for a family to live when I moved out eventually. When we went to tour the house, it was definitely quirky but it had an open concept downstairs and the plenty of space for the bedrooms. It even had an extra “bedroom” that I could use as a workshop and storage for all my woodworking tools. It wasn’t love at first sight but at that point I was just so frustrated with the whole process that I just wanted to buy a house. Using a 0% down VA loan, I closed at the end of April 2016 and became the owner of Glenville Circle!
Lesson learned: hire slow, fire quick. Do not be afraid to vet multiple options when building your team. If your realtor, lender, or contractor is not working out, fire them and get a new one. It may hurt and be awkward in the moment but in the long-run you save yourself from wasted time and stress over something you can nip in the bud now.
Stay tuned for more blogs on networking, the renovations on Glenville, our second property and more! Every other Thursday we aim to bring you new content and lessons learned from experience. Please also feel free to contact us or mention in the comments topics that interest you!