Your real estate agents are your guardian angels, magically leading you through the intense home-buying process, from open houses to offer letters to closing costs. So what happens when they go through the home-buying experience themselves? Do they employ all sorts of unique inside-professional home-buying tips and shortcuts, much the way that doctors do about surgical procedures and litigators do about Trump University class-action lawsuits?
In a word: yep. While agents always strive to provide top-notch service to their clients, they have a few secret strategies they use by default as a result of their vast knowledge of the housing market.
Here, Realtors reveal how they bought their houses -- and how you can use some of their techniques.
Use online tools to narrow the field
California Realtor Jose Tijam began his home search by using practically every Google tool there is.
"It saves time by eliminating homes that you know you're not going to like," says Tijam. First, he used Google Maps to view what the available lot looked like from above -- "Is there a dumpsite or club next to the house?" Next came Street View to check out the neighborhood -- "Is there graffiti?" -- and Google Earth to get an idea of "what the traffic will look like throughout the day." Only if a home passed the Google checks -- and an online crime map to determine how safe a neighborhood is -- would Tijam visit the property in person.
Don't obsess over cosmetic details like countertops
"One of the big differences between agents and the average home buyer is shopping for true value," says Realtor Morgan Franklin of United Real Estate in Lexington, KY. Most of Franklin's clients first look at superficial aspects -- namely "those granite countertops." Franklin, on the other hand, "shops for value first and amenities second." In other words: "cosmetic" eye candy pales in comparison to what really matters: a well-built home in a good neighborhood at a competitive price.
Get your spreadsheet on
Franklin used an impressive spreadsheet to keep value at the forefront of his search. After plugging in basic parameters like ideal number of bedrooms, square footage, location, and total budget, he exported the resulting list from the MLS to an Excel format. Then he'd do some side research with comps to find out exactly how much the homes were worth, then added that in its own field. From there, Franklin was quickly able to see if any of the potential homes on his list were a deal.
Next, he'd look at online pictures of the houses that he thought he could buy.
"After about a month of doing this every day, I finally found one," says Franklin. He knew the home was a great value before he'd even set foot inside -- and luckily, his wife fell in love with the home as soon as they walked in. They made an offer that day.
Don't get caught up in the hype
Tijam finally purchased his single-family residence after looking for three months. While this may seem like ages for someone with constant access to new properties, realty experience prevented him from getting sucked into the local housing frenzy.
"The California market I was buying into is very competitive, and other home buyers were willing to overpay," says Tijam. He never let himself get carried away; he kept his emotions in check and waited for a true deal before he bit.
Act fast when it's right
Gillan Abercrombie-Frame, an associate at Partners Trust in La Caada, CA, had coveted the property behind her old house for years. She could see the barn and the old ranch house in the distance beyond her fence but had never been inside. One day, the owner called to say they were moving and asked if Abercrombie-Frame wanted to buy it. As soon as they agreed on a price, Abercrombie-Frame ran to her office, wrote the offer, and was in escrow by the end of the day.
"Had we hesitated, it would have gone on the open market and gone crazy."
Use your imagination
Richard von Ernst, an associate partner in Pasadena, CA, saw what other buyers couldn't when he purchased his home. Built in 1927, it's one of 16 Spanish casitas built as an artist colony in what is now Pasadena's Marguerita Lane Historic District. While the home had "amazing original character," von Ernst says an unfortunate renovation done in the mid-1970s made the property show poorly. While most buyers couldn't envision the potential, von Ernst looked beyond what the house was toward what it could be. The result?
"I was able to get it at a very reasonable price." He poured the extra money he'd saved into renovations that fit his dream home vision to a T.
-- -- -- -- --
Watch: The Features That Help a Home Sell Fastest