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5 questions to ask your realtor when buying a home

Woman talking on phone important questions for realtor

You have saved for years and searched for months.  And now you finally found a home that reflects your needs and fits your budget. You immediately phone your real estate agent, who sets up a showing for that night. To prepare, you have your agent send you information on properties in the area that were listed recently or sold within the last month. “Great,” you think, “I have everything I need.” Not so fast. There are more questions you must ask your realtor when buying a home.

Realtors are industry experts. Getting paid by commission means real estate agents are working to help you buy the right home for the right reasons.  That includes information that is not so easily accessible. Market comparisons are one aspect of this, but so are answers to other pressing concerns.  For example, you will want to find out how the neighbourhood has changed over time.  You will also want to know why the seller is choosing to list their home at this point in time?  You will want to understand how the home buying process works, beginning to end.

“As a consumer today, there is a great deal of information out there,” said Zolo-founder and West Vancouver agent, Barry Allen.  The key, adds Allen, is to really use your market expert so that you can make the best decision for you. How should you do this? Jot down these five important questions to ask your Realtor.  Take full advantage of their expert advice to make the most of your home buying experience.

Question #1 “Tell me everything about the home buying process?”

This sounds like a rather general question.  But it’s a good way to get the discussion flowing, while you brainstorm questions to ask your Realtor. Your Realtor might have general information that you don’t know. Your Realtor will also be able to keep you up to date on the latest real estate trends.  When you ask this question it will prompt the agent to share all information.

For instance, you know the current list price but do you know what strategy the listing Realtor is using? In hot markets the seller and listing agent may under-price a home in order to initiate a bidding war.  At other times, the home for sale may be part of a divorce settlement.  In this situation you need to give the sellers ample time to discuss and come to an agreement.

These are all vital pieces of information that you simply can’t Google, says Allen. “But a good realtor can get this type of information for the buyer.” Having a realtor who can provide you additional information helps you make better buying decisions.

Question #2 “What is your opinion on this neighbourhood?”

This is one of the top questions to ask your Realtor in order to get their expert opinion on specific neighbourhoods. You might already have a good idea of the neighbourhood you plan to buy into.  Or maybe you’ve done a ton of research.  But not all details and neighbourhood characteristics can be found through an online search or by looking at statistics.

For instance, just because a school gets a good score in various school rankings, such as the Fraser Report, doesn’t mean it’s right for your child, explains Allen. “What the ranking can’t tell you is how many resource teachers they have, whether or not the staff is overworked, or if this particular school needs an injection of funds and resources in order to help the students.”

Getting deeper information about a community is critical.  One of the best experts to provide this information is your Realtor, explains Vancouver mortgage broker, Atrina Kouroshnia. She adds, the information you get from your agent may end up affecting your house-buying decision.  Are there popular walking trails in the neighbourhood?  Are there off-leash dog parks nearby?  “If you plan on renting the property out later on, or getting a pet, you should discuss this with your realtor.”  Your Realtor, she adds, “can help you decide if these future goals are achievable in this neighbourhood or that house.”

Question #3 “What are some future developments that I should know about?”

real estate investors in Greater Vancouver

Another important question to ask your Realtor is about future developments in the neighourhood.  You will want to know what’s planned in the community. Ask what the community will be like in five to 10 years?  Ask your Realtor to consider how the neighbourhood is growing and developing.

“If there are plans to build a Whole Foods store next to the building then chances are your neighbourhood will thrive and grow, which is great for anyone concerned about future property values,” says Allen.  On the flipside, any future developments that end up blocking a beautiful mountain or downtown view will detract from a property’s perceived value.  It’s for that reason you will want to ask your real estate agent about possible significant developments that may be on the horizon.  “In the world of stuff that a realtor should know — short-term to mid-term development in the neighbourhood is critical,” explains Allen.

Question #4 “What have previous properties in this neighbourhood sold for?”

Most home buyers are not currently able to access this data on their own.  So this is an important question to ask your Realtor. Knowing what similar properties and even not-so-similar homes sold for can help you make a better buying decision. “We all know that the home on the corner was listed for $1.25 million,” said Allen. “But the next day when the ‘for sale’ sign disappears, and the listing is removed from MLS, we have no idea how much it went for.” Your Realtor will have that information readily available.  Knowing that a home recently sold for under asking price or that multiple properties have gone above asking price is valuable information for a buyer considering an offer.

Question #5 “What’s a reasonable offer price?”

Knowing what other properties sold for in the neighbourhood is good information.  But you’ll also want to know what a realistic offer will be for the property you are interested in — and this really depends on the hyper-local market, says Allen.

“In a heated market, you want to present a realistic offer that lets the seller know you are serious,” said Kouroshnia. “A good agent will work with you and come up with a purchase price that matches that market.”  A good agent will understand the motivation of the seller and how negotiable they may be.

Of course, jaded criticism about the role of a Realtor argues that agents only care about pushing the price higher and higher, but that’s simply not accurate. The best strategy, according to veteran agents, is a winning strategy.  That doesn’t always translate into the highest price. To close a deal, an agent needs to balance the buyer’s needs with the market expectations.  A great agent will work hard to make this happen. These five important questions to ask your Realtor will help arm you with as much information as possible before making a critical and expensive home buying commitment.

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Alyssa Davies

Alyssa is an award-winning personal finance blogger and founder of MixedUpMoney.com. She writes about being a mom, overcoming personal debts, and how to get away with affording your ridiculously expensive latte habit. A new homeowner, Alyssa brings her real-life knowledge of the Canadian real estate market and smart money matters to this growing brand.