By Nancy McQuisition, Real Estate Center at Texas A&M, Mar 27, 2012
How much did you know about the home buying process when you bought your first home? When you had questions, who did you turn to?
Before I bought my first home in 1989, I knew absolutely nothing. Luckily, instinct compelled me to sign up for a community education course aimed at first-time homebuyers. The woman who taught the course was a licensed real estate agent, and she knew her stuff.
Enthusiastically and patiently she guided us through the basics — how to figure out how much house we could afford, what to look for when viewing properties, the negotiating process, types of financing available, what the sales contracts look like, what they say and who generally pays for what.
A few months later, everything I learned came in handy as my search for a home began. When I didn’t understand something, my real estate agent would explain it to me. Although the process of finding a home, making an offer and closing was still nerve-wracking, it was certainly less so because of the help she gave me.
Last year, I was again in the market for a home. Remembering the lessons I learned from buying my first house, and thanks to my job editing manuscripts written by real estate researchers, I felt more informed this time around. Escrow, easements, interest rates, fixed- and adjustable-rate mortgages, flood plains, property taxes, hazard insurance — I knew enough about these to make decisions with relative confidence.
So why, asked a friend, was I using a real estate agent? Why didn’t I save myself the commission and buy a house without using a real estate professional?
Good question. The short answer is that I’m smart enough to know how much I don’t know. And when it comes to real estate transactions, that’s a lot. The long answer is, well . . . long.
I chose to work with an agent because when I needed information, my agent had it, or, if she didn’t, knew where to get it.
She connected me to the wonderful world of real estate on the Internet. New listings in my price range appeared in my e-mail every day. Often, the listings included photos, saving me both time and aggravation.
She listened to my ramblings. In fact, she listened to me better than I listened to myself. Early on in the process, I asked to see a particular home. She told me she didn’t think I’d like it because it didn’t have the open floor plan I wanted. Until she said that, it hadn’t occurred to me that the common element in the few homes I’d found appealing so far was an open floor plan.
Early in the search, I found and fell in love with a new home in a development deed-restricted to people 55 and older. I’m 47. My agent contacted the developer to see if there was any “wiggle room” in the age restriction. She told him I was “in the neighborhood” of 55, but he thought 47 was a bit too far off to warrant an exception.
She helped me formulate Plan B: find an affordable lot and build a house. Again, she was hard at work on my behalf. She phoned lot owners to ask about square footage restrictions. She went with me when I sat down with a builder to talk dollars and cents.
Eventually, I decided not to build. Instead, I revisited a house I’d viewed earlier in my search. It looked better the second time around. The Veterans Administration had foreclosed on the owners, however, and the governmental wheels were grinding spectacularly slowly. The house wasn’t on the market, but would be “soon” according to the VA officials my agent spoke with.
This, I decided, was the house I wanted. My agent learned everything she could about the VA bidding process. Then we waited for the house to come up for bid.
We waited. And we waited. Five months later, a full eight months after I first viewed the house, the bidding opened. I’d had plenty of time to figure out how much I wanted to bid. But a massive case of nerves set in. Was I bidding too low? Too high? A conversation with my agent calmed me down. We conferred. I made my decision. She carefully entered my bid online, following the VA instructions exactly.
I won the bid. I was ecstatic. My agent was, too, and not just because she could close my file and bid me farewell. She seemed genuinely pleased that she’d helped me find a home I would be happy in.
Her work wasn’t over, however. She still had to negotiate her way through the closing on a VA property, with added hoops to jump through and unusual complications. She made literally dozens of phone calls to the VA, the title company and my lender to ensure that all the paperwork and processes would be completed according to the VA’s required timeline.
Closing day ended our long adventure. As she had been throughout, she was there answering my questions. When I walked out, “thank you” seemed inadequate to express my gratitude.
Why did I use a real estate agent?
Because it was in my best interest to do so. And because some old sayings are true. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And two heads are better than one.
Michelle Castle provides mortgage loans to all of North Texas and Southern Oklahoma. Call Michelle Castle at (903) 892-1998 if you are looking for a home loan in North Texas and Southern Oklahoma.