What do you call it when the temperature fluctuates between 40 and 70 degrees daily, the long lines reappear at the local car wash, and the dreaded Deadnettle weeds are in full bloom in D.C. yards as far as the eye can see?
In the real estate world, we call it Spring Market, when sales agents are gearing up to meet and greet a new crop of homebuyers.
Some buyers are self-avowed experts and others have a purchase or two under their belts, but many are wide-eyed novices ready to soak up advice wherever they can find it. And yes, we hope they are not finding it on cable television shows or on public search engines where information may frequently be out of date.
Why? Because one of the main jobs of a real estate agent is to help a client set realistic expectations in a hyper-local setting.
Seeing what a similar home costs to buy in Baton Rouge or to renovate in Houston, or what your favorite condominium last sold for 10 years ago has no bearing on today’s market in the DMV. What your money will buy inside and outside the Beltway varies greatly.
On HGTV, buyers who are dissatisfied with the quality of homes they are shown that are purportedly within their budget seem to just wave a magic wand and find another $50,000 for their purchases or renovations when needed. That option is seldom available to most people.
In addition, contracts written for D.C. properties may be quite different from those written in Columbia, Md., or Ashburn, Va. Negotiating strategies and norms may also vary from area to area, and sometimes, as in D.C., even from community to community.
The length of a home inspection contingency, the amount of a deposit, the timing for an appraisal, and how the mortgage process works are some of the items that may differ by area and circumstance, so asking your family, your business associates, or even your best friend who just bought a house last week about their experience can result in answers that simply don’t apply to your situation.
So who and what can you rely on?
Your trusted real estate agent is the best source of information, so choose wisely. During your first meeting, she should explain how she can represent your interests and how and when you must, by law, solidify your relationship in writing. She should also explain her limitations and responsibilities as your representative, as well as yours as her client.
After that, your agent can assess your wants and needs against the housing stock in the local area and show you homes that meet as many of your criteria as possible. None will meet them all.
She can discuss how fast homes are selling in each neighborhood and provide any information she learns that might benefit you during negotiations, all while helping you determine how to best structure an offer to meet your goals or beat the competition during multiple offer presentations.
To ensure your financing is completed before settlement, your mortgage loan officer will tell you exactly what documents you need and when, and will share a list of actions you must avoid during loan processing that could jeopardize your ability to close.
Items on his avoidance list may include changing jobs, opening or closing any credit or bank accounts, paying bills late, buying a new car, making additional charges on your credit cards, co-signing on any loans or leases for friends or family, or otherwise altering your financial picture between the day you submit your loan application and the day you go to settlement.
Your home inspector can identify potential problems and teach you how the systems work in your new home, and your settlement agent or title attorney can explain the intricacies of title insurance and surveys while translating copious amounts of paper from legalese to English.
Do your own due diligence. If you want to know what a neighborhood is like, visit it at various times of day and talk to the neighbors. If you are given a document to sign electronically, read it and ask questions about anything you don’t understand before signing. Invest your time and energy in the process for the best results.
And above all, like an NFL draft, hire the best agent to coach and guide you, assemble a talented team of players to work with, and develop a game plan to win the home you desire.
Valerie M. Blake can be reached at 202-246-8602 or at Valerie@DCHomeQuest.com. Each Keller Williams Realty office is independently owned and operated. Equal Housing Opportunity.