If you’re planning to purchase a home in the Washington area this spring, you may face competition from other buyers for the still-limited inventory in the market.
Homes that are in good condition and priced appropriately may garner multiple offers, so the better prepared you are as a buyer, the more likely it is that you’ll be scheduling movers sometime later this year.
The first steps in your house-hunting journey are finding a lender, getting prequalified for a loan and determining your budget. If you’ve done that and know how much you can spend, you’re ready to begin your search for a real estate agent who will represent your interests and help you become a homeowner. Some buyers choose an agent before finding a lender — either way, it’s important to line up a team of professionals as soon as you’re ready to buy a home.
“A good Realtor can help guide you through the financing part of buying a home by recommending a good lender,” says Karen Brown, an agent with Long & Foster Real Estate in Reston. “In fact, a prequalification from a lender that your Realtor can vouch for can be an asset during the buying process, especially if you’re competing with other buyers for a home. I work with a lender who I know will answer calls on the weekends and evenings and make sure the transaction gets to closing, so that’s something I can share with the listing agent to make my buyers’ offer stronger.”
Brown recommends lining up a lender and an agent at least six months before you buy a home. She sometimes works with buyers for as long as a year .
Why you need an agent
“Some people think they can buy a home without a Realtor, but this is a challenging market with lots of moving parts,” says Suzanne Des Marais, an associate broker with the 10 Square Team at Keller Williams Capital Properties in Washington. “You need a Realtor to help you manage it. You need someone who’s invested in educating you about how to buy a home and can help you interpret the local market while giving you some nitty-gritty advice like making sure you have some liquid cash available before you start looking at homes so you don’t have to wait to make an offer.”
Des Marais says that buying a home is a three-part process, including looking for property and arranging financing, negotiating a contract and then getting to settlement. She says an agent can provide advice and insight during each of those phases.
Says David Bediz, an agent with the Bediz Group at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Washington: “Realtors can sometimes show buyers properties that they didn’t think they wanted to see but that work for them. Realtors have the knowledge and connections to push an offer or to make sure it’s written strongly enough to compete with other offers when there’s competition. When there isn’t competition for a property, an experienced Realtor can make recommendations about how much to offer formulated on evidence of the actual home value.”
Bediz points out that because agents’ commissions are paid by the sellers from the profit of the sale, buyers get the guidance for free.
“There’s almost never a reason to buy a house without the representation of a Realtor,” he says.
Des Marais says experienced, full-time agents see so many properties that they can help buyers understand the value in different homes and be realistic about the condition of the property and potential repair costs.
“If you’re looking at a For Sale by Owner, it’s even more important to have an agent representing you because you need to know whether the house is priced appropriately,” she says. “You need someone to coordinate the appraisal and the contract contingencies and the closing. D.C. is a very agent-driven market, unlike some other places like New York, where attorneys write real estate contracts.”
If you plan to buy a new home, Brown recommends working with an agent who’s experienced with new construction and familiar with local builders to represent your interests.
“The sales agent on site works for the builder and your own agent can help you with negotiations, inspections and choosing options,” she says.