Buying a House? Pick the Right Pros

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Real estate pros can make home buying easier and, ultimately, cheaper — if you pick the right ones. We talk to two experts to see who they'd look for if they weren't experts themselves.

Buying a home is still the American dream, even after the worst housing bust in our nation’s history. But with mortgages becoming harder to get, home-buying can easily become a nightmare – especially for first-timers.

Buying the right house at the right price with the right financing requires a thorough understanding of the local market, the home-buying process, and the facts on funding. If you don’t have this knowledge, no problem. Just build a team that does.

We recently sat down with an experienced mortgage broker and real estate agent and asked what qualities they would look for in their peers. For their advice on how to pick people you can trust, watch the video below. Then read on for more advice.

The mortgage pro

As you saw in the video, the first person you need – unless you’re rich enough to pay cash – is a mortgage expert. A mortgage professional will find out how much mortgage you qualify for based on your credit, and offer advice if your credit needs help. Once you’ve got that credit score as high as possible, they’ll take you through the pre-approval process so you’ll be ready to pull the trigger when you find that perfect home.

Your mortgage expert’s job is to provide you with three numbers: the mortgage amount you’re able to qualify for, the cash you’ll need to close, and the monthly payments you’ll ultimately pay. Mortgage pro Rob Hurst says, “Once you know and accept those three numbers, you’re more comfortable writing a contract” because you know exactly what you’re getting into.

So how do you pick a mortgage pro? Here’s Hurst’s advice:

  1. Talk to several. “I would get three good-faith estimates from three different reliable lenders and compare and shop in terms of rates and fees,” Hurst says. 
  2. Be wary. “I would ask if there’s any upfront fees,” Hurst suggests. He adds that the company he works for doesn’t collect anything until the buyer has a contract, and that “anybody who wants a higher-than-normal application fee or up-front fee, I would stay away from them.”
  3. Ask questions. While interest rates and fees are obviously important, so is working with someone experienced. So do what you (hopefully) do with any professional before hiring them: Ask about experience. The paperwork involved in closing a mortgage loan can be daunting, and problems aren’t uncommon. Someone who’s done 1,000 transactions is better than someone who’s done 10. And if possible, sit across the desk from them. “It would mean a lot to me as a buyer to have that face-to-face interaction,” Hurst says.
  4. Get recommendations. Ask your real estate agent for recommendations – they should know who’s good. “Let’s say there are two [mortgage professionals] that are identical,” Hurst says. “If one of those two has a relationship with my agent, that’s the one I’d pick.”

Of course, recommendations work both ways – a local mortgage professional may be able to help you find a good real estate agent too.

The real estate agent

A real estate agent isn’t essential: You can buy a house directly from an owner. And many buyers like it that way, since that saves the seller thousands in commissions, which means a potentially lower price.

But a good real estate agent can help in major ways. Real estate agent Denny Grimes says, “A lot can go wrong, from an appraisal issue, to a negotiation issue, to an inspection issue… Everything along the way can cost the buyer a percent or two, and that adds up.” Having someone to help you find the right house at the right price may well be worth it, if you find the right one. Grimes’ advice:

  1. Ask open-ended questions. Aside from asking about experience and recent transactions – both critical – Grimes says he would quiz the agent with open-ended questions. “I would ask, ‘Please give me your evaluation of the market.’ If they start to spout headlines versus local data, or they’re a little bit uncomfortable with that question, that suggests to me they have not adapted to local market dynamics,” Grimes says.
  2. Focus on qualifications, not personality. Everyone wants to deal with someone they feel comfortable with, but take  comfort from winning credentials, not a winning smile. “For a lot of people, it’s relationship-based instead of professionally based,” Grimes says. “The best agent for you may not be your best friend.”
  3. Request referrals. In addition to asking mortgage pros and agents about each other, get in touch with past customers. The personal feedback, along with the sheer number of referrals they offer, may say something about the agent’s experience. “If you’re looking for a pedigree, I can provide more satisfied customers than probably any other agent in town,” Grimes says. “If you ask for a satisfied customer and they only have one on their list – and it happens to be their mom – you might want to look elsewhere.”

Bottom line? Team-building is the foundation of any successful venture. The more your team knows, the less you have to know. The more trustworthy they are, the less stressed you are.

For more on the home-buying process, check out some of our other recent stories:

Stacy Johnson

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