Back in 2007, I decided it would be a good idea to become a real estate agent. Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking.
Okay, that’s a little misleading. I can tell you exactly what I was thinking. I saw the average commission an agent gets for selling a house, and was instantly attracted to the business. I also liked the flexibility, the ability to set my own hours, and getting the chance to show off my impressive (at least, in my mind) knowledge of the business.
Flash forward to 2010, when I quit the business after 3 years of pretty lackluster performance. I made a living at it, but I never took that next step. It wasn’t that I didn’t know anything about the business; rather, it was because I was terrible at getting new clients. I wasn’t nearly as aggressive as I needed to be.
So as an ex-Realtor, I think I’m fully qualified to point out some things to watch out for when you buy your next home. Here are three that are particularly important.
1. Seller has your money
When I was in the business, at least once a year I’d hear about a house that had spiffy, high-end appliances when the buyer first looked at the place, and then were switched out for crummy ones by the time possession day rolled around. Without evidence, it’s hard to prove what appliances were there on what date.
This brings up something that, in my opinion, is the biggest pitfall to a potential buyer. When the deal closes, the seller gets their money before the buyer has a chance to inspect the property. Am I the only one who sees something wrong with that? Usually it’s something seemingly minor as the property not being professionally cleaned (or stuff being left behind), but still. The seller isn’t honoring the contract.
What’s the buyer’s recourse? Well, not much. They can either a) put pressure on their Realtor, who then puts pressure on the seller’s Realtor or b) legal action. At that point, the seller isn’t going to be too motivated to do the right thing. After all, they’ve got the buyer’s money.
How to avoid this: Insist on a clause in the contract that schedules a walkthrough of the property a day or two before closing. It’s easier to deal with these things before money has exchanged hands.
2. Dual representation
It’s only natural for a Realtor to want to show you her own listings. After all, she has sellers to keep happy, and every listing she sells is money in her pocket. But is it really in your best interest?
The answer, of course, is a resounding no. There are rules in place to ensure Realtors don’t share your confidential with sellers (and vice versa with the seller’s info), but they’re often ignored to get a deal done. If you’re in a situation like that and give your maximum price to your Realtor, I just about guarantee you’ll end up paying that. Remember, Realtors are paid to get deals done. They’re not looking out for your best interests.
How to avoid this: Calmly explain to your Realtor that you don’t feel comfortable in that kind of situation at the beginning of the whole house hunting process. And if you get into it afterwards, be very careful of the amount of information you disclose to your Realtor, especially about price. Assume it will be used against you.
3. Stretching affordability
The majority of the time, folks go out looking for a house with a set budget in mind. They’re trying to be smart about it, and then the Realtor will inevitably show them something that’s a little out of their price range. It ends up being better, and the buyers have a choice to make. Is it worth it to stretch our budget to get a nicer place?
This isn’t really a nasty trick on the Realtor’s part. She legitimately wants to find a house you’re happy with, and the extra commission on, say, $20,000 isn’t a big deal for her. She just wants the deal, even if it’s for the original amount. But if she finds you a nice place, chances are you’ll call her in five years when you’re ready to sell.
How to avoid this: There’s two ways to go about it. You can either put your foot down and demand that your Realtor not show you a property above $x price. Or, you can go about it in a more subtle way. If your actual budget is $300,000, explain to the Realtor that you’ve only been approved for $270,000. That gives you a bit of wiggle room if a better property comes about.
It’s much easier to deal with these after you’ve already figured out what some of the common tricks are beforehand. For most folks, buying a house will be the biggest financial transaction they’ll take on. It’s best to go into it informed.