When buying a house is high on your priority list and you spot The One—the house that has everything you've ever dreamed of and more—it can be tempting to put pedal to the metal and close the deal as quickly as possible. But slow down!
No home is perfect beneath the surface, and few know this better than your real estate agent. And that means it's time to sit down with this professional and pepper him with questions about the place you're hoping to make your own.
And while certain questions seem rather obvious—should you offer full price, how soon can you close—there are many others you may not think to ask an agent at this pivotal juncture. But you should!
Here are six questions to ask a real estate agent to flush out what he's truly thinking, that could help you figure out if this place is really right for you.
1. ‘Would you buy this house?’
This question may be the ultimate litmus test of whether you should purchase a home. If your agent would have reservations about buying the house for himself, that’s a waving red flag. So if you get the sense your agent isn't as enthusiastic about the home as you are, ask why. His answer might give you pause, too.
2. ‘What is the sales history of this house, and how would it affect my offer?’
Before making an offer on a house, ask your agent for the property’s sales history, says Chris Dossman, a real estate agent with Century 21 Scheetz in Indianapolis.
Was it previously an expired listing? Was it leased? Was it ever a bank-owned property or other type of distressed home? These factors could suggest a home has been a struggle to sell—which could mean you could snap up this home at a bargain-basement price.
3. ‘What contingencies do you think are worth getting—and skipping?'
“When buyers and sellers get cold feet about the purchase or sale of a home, they sometimes think they can just back out,” says Linda Sanderfoot, a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker in Neenah, WI. But when a seller accepts a buyer's offer, both parties sign a legal and binding contract—an official document that requires the buyer and seller to execute the transaction.
So how binding that contract is depends on the details. Some contracts have contingencies built in that enable the buyer or seller to walk away from the deal without penalty. And contingencies are often included for a home inspection and an appraisal.
But note that having too many contingencies tends to turn off sellers, so make sure to strike the right balance by asking your real estate agent for guidance. For instance, you might be OK waiving a home inspection contingency if the home is newly constructed, whereas it's more essential with an older home that might need extensive repairs.
4. ‘Are there any upcoming condo or homeowners association assessments?’
When you purchase a condominium or a home within a homeowners association, you’ll receive the HOA's financial documents, which outline important information such as reserve funds and CC&Rs (covenants, conditions, and restrictions).
These condo docs and disclosures can be hundreds of pages long—which could overwhelm home buyers, who could forget to check if there are any upcoming assessments. Assessments are periodic one-time payments made to the HOA above and beyond the monthly fee, usually to cover capital improvements or repairs. Since they will affect your monthly housing expenses, you'll want to know whether they could go up anytime soon—and your agent is adept at navigating these documents to pinpoint the answer.
5. ‘What's happening in this neighborhood, and how will that affect home prices?'
Good real estate agents hear everything about what's happening in the communities where they do business. And although federal fair housing laws prohibit real estate agents from commenting on a neighborhood’s demographics, your agent can still give you advice on whether you’re making a solid investment based on local housing market trends and economic factors that affect home values.
So go ahead and ask: Are the neighborhood’s home prices rising or falling? Are there new amenities (e.g., parks, shopping, public transportation, Whole Foods) being built in the area?
These are all important things to consider before buying a house, and a real estate agent can help you cut through the noise and really tell you what's up.
6. ‘Can you recommend a home inspector/handyman/real estate attorney in the area?'
Local expertise matters not only with the real estate agent you hire, but also the other professionals you could meet while negotiating this real estate deal. So if you need recommendations for a home inspector, handyman, real estate attorney, or anyone else on your home-buying journey, make sure to ask your agent for recommendations to boost the odds of smooth sailing.