Diving In

After getting a better set of data to work with and going over the numbers a few more times, yesterday I came to the conclusion that I was finally ready to seriously start looking a buying a house. It’s been a long time coming, starting with paying off all of my debt, then saving up an emergency fund and a down payment. It’s a goal I had been working toward for a long time, but when I finally made the decision that I was ready, something happened. I freaked out.

No, not crazy running down the street waving my hands in the air freaked out, but I could feel my heart rate quicken as the reality of what I was committing to set in. Saving money was easy. I’d been doing it for a while. Now that it’s time to act, all of the homework I’ve done on houses and the buying process and real estate agents and mortgages and home inspections seems like not enough. I guess that’s why there are professionals that do this for a living.

That brings me to the first “real” decision of the buying process, choosing a real estate agent to work with. Buying a house is a big deal to me and I don’t want to just go with the first person I see. It seems like just about everybody knows or is related to someone who has a real estate license, which makes asking for recommendations tough because I’ve already been inundated with “my mom has her real estate license” recommendations. Since I’m a Dave Ramsey fan I put in an inquiry on his website to see who he endorses in the Lehigh Valley.

Three agents came up in the search results, representing two different real estate offices and I was promised a contact from each of them within 24 hours. Sure enough, I got an email from one agent within a few hours, but something about it rubbed me the wrong way. Instead of introducing himself or asking questions about me, the email immediately dove into the search process asking what my budget was, how many bedrooms, things like that. It was a huge turnoff. Maybe this was how all agents did things, so I figured I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. I clicked on the link to his website and saw a quote that confirmed that this was not the person for me.

…the most technologically awesome real estate experience on the whole interweb!

That kind of language may be funny in a tweet, but if I’m going to trust you with the largest purchase in my entire life, I want a professional. That agent may be wonderful, but I have to go with my gut and it’s telling me I need to keep looking. I got a phone call from the other office Dave Ramsey’s team recommends and got a much better impression. It was the lead agent of the office and she introduced herself and the person who would be contacting me from her team. I was eating dinner when the buyer’s agent called me, but the message she left was also very professional and left me with a good feeling. I tried calling her back, but got her voice mail. I left a message and also followed up with an email asking when would be a good time to meet.

In addition to the Dave Ramsey recommended agents I also reached out to a few people I know who are real estate agents. I have been up front with every person I’ve contacted that I am evaluating who I want to work with, and that the purpose of contacting them isn’t to “get down to business” right away, but to see if we’ll be a good fit. I don’t know all of the questions I should be asking a potential agent, but I have a pretty good starting point. To be fair, each of the agents I’ve followed up with have been provided with a list of questions and after talking with some friends who have experience in buying a home I’ve got some more if and when I continue the conversation with an agent that I get an initial good impression from. While I have a pretty good idea of what kinds of questions I should be asking of a real estate agent to decide if they’re right for me, I have almost no idea how to shop for the two other important things that I know I will need to deal with.

Since I’m not in a position to pay cash, a mortgage is a necessary evil in this process. A ballpark figure on rates is pretty easy to locate on various websites, but aside from that, I don’t know what kinds of questions I should be asking a potential lender. About the only things I know that I want are no PMI, I want to be able to make additional payments to principal without penalty and I would prefer not to have to escrow taxes and insurance. While I’ve used a few mortgage calculators to get an idea of how much I can borrow, I need to get pre-qualified or pre-approved so I know exactly how much I can spend. In fact, every real estate agent I’ve spoken with so far won’t even begin showing houses to someone who is not at least pre-qualified. What I’m hoping for is that the agent I choose will teach me how to shop for a lender, not just give me their list of recommendations.

The other professional I know I’ll need to work with is a home inspector. I’ve seen enough episodes of Holmes Inspection to know that getting a home inspection is not optional. Even if I’m going to buy a house “as-is” I want to know what I’m getting into. I’m actually hoping to find a house that needs some work so I can get a good deal, but I’d prefer not to have too many surprises after the sale.

I’m not in a hurry to buy. I have a pretty good idea of what I want and what area I’m looking to buy in. Hopefully within the next week or so I’ll be able to select an agent to work with, but I’ll ask you, do you have any tips for choosing a real estate agent, mortgage lender or home inspector? Are there any questions you would be sure to ask of a candidate? Are there any questions you wish that you had asked when you were buying your home?

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