Mr. FAF and I decided to look into buying our first home in the summer of 2015.
At first we just wanted to look at houses and weren’t sure if we wanted to invest our savings into such a big purchase.
We didn’t tell a lot of our friends and just went ahead to do our own thing.
Part of the reason is that we didn’t want our friends to think that we had all that money. We didn’t.
Our parents helped us out with part of the down payment.
Although we were grateful for that, we were too embarrassed to admit that we had to rely on our parents financially for our first house.
→ Lesson # 1: Tell your family and friends early in the process, and take their advice and referrals into consideration.
The first question that popped into my mind was “How can I find a realtor?”
As an avid follower of the Dave Ramsey show, I learned that his website offers recommendations for local real estate agents.
I went online, entered our zip code and other info, and immediately got a response from a female realtor.
→ Lesson # 2: Just because you find a realtor from a trusted website doesn’t mean they’re of top caliber.
I told Mr. FAF that I had found us a realtor. We just emailed back and forth to set up a time and just couldn’t wait until that day.
Mr. FAF and I met our realtor at a real estate office. She was super nice and friendly. As we drove around to see our first house, Mr. FAF told me: “I feel like we can trust her. She looks trustworthy.” I agreed.
→ Lesson # 3: Don’t decide to stick with one realtor too soon, especially only after one meeting.
She asked us to sign an agreement that we would stick with her and would have to pay $500 if we switched to another realtor. Having no experience and not knowing any better, we just signed it, thinking she was just the person we needed to work with.
→ Lesson # 4: Don’t sign any agreement without reading it carefully and not at the first meeting.
Our realtor was gentle, soft-spoken, and was willing to answer any questions that we had. We found all of the houses we went to see online.
The realtor said that she would look up houses for us, but she never sent us anything. We thought it was normal. Our rationale at that time was: “She must be very busy.”
→ Lesson # 5: If your realtor is not actively sending you listings and leaves you to your own devices, you should consider switching to another realtor.
Whenever we checked out a house, Mr. FAF and I would do all the exploring while our realtor was standing at one place, waiting to see if we had questions.
As we got more serious about the house search, we told our friends and reached out to them for advice.
We got so many realtor referrals but decided not to follow up with any of them just because our realtor was too nice and we had already signed an agreement with her. We’d feel really bad breaking that commitment.
→ Lesson # 6: Don’t work with a realtor just because they’re nice. They need to be experts in their field as well.
It wasn’t until we decided to change our preferred location to another state where our realtor didn’t have a license that we realized she was a nice person but not a great realtor.
She referred us to another agent who was also nice but much more proactive and knowledgeable.
Whenever we went to see a house, she would walk around with us, using the flashlight on her phone to check every nook and cranny to tell us what was wrong with the house.
She could even give us an estimate of how much it would cost to fix those things up. She told us she had followed so many inspectors for house inspections that she had a good idea of what the problems were.
It was just like a breath of fresh air for us. That’s something our firstrealtor never did.
→ Lesson # 7: Try to find an experienced realtor who knows the fundamental problems of a typical house and can give you a quick inspection analysis on the spot.
Overall, we were happy with the second realtor. But looking back, there are so many thing we could have done and will definitely do differently the next time we buy a house.
Overall, buying a house was a big learning curve for us in terms of finances and real estate knowledge. Although our first realtor was a nice lady, we later found out that being nice in real estate wouldn’t get us very far.
We needed someone who was proactive in guiding us through the process – from scouring for listings to inspecting the property. We felt lucky to have met and worked with our second realtor.
If we were to buy another house in the same area, we would definitely want to work with her. Even if we want to buy a home in a different location, we now know what criteria a realtor needs to meet in order to work well with us: reliable, proactive, and knowledgeable.