This week's blog comes to me after reading some advice from Trulia, the online real estate search engine. If you are visiting an open house without your own buyer's agent, never fear. This actually gives would-be buyers the opportunity to speak directly to the seller’s agent and possibly get answers to questions that buyer's agents are typically allowed to ask (for ethical reasons).
The best way to take advantage of this personal meeting is to be prepared Get the inside scoop by asking these ten questions (written by Virginia C. McGuire, a free-lance author for Trulia.com).
1. How many offers have been made? Does the agent look suspiciously happy? They might have received word that an offer is coming in any minute. If they’ve received offers, they’ll probably be eager to tell you, in hopes that you’ll bid as well and drive the price up.
2. How stable has the price been? Your agent can find out how many times the price has changed since it was first listed, but the seller’s agent will likely jump at the chance to explain why. Perhaps the price dropped because the seller has to move on a tight timeline. Info like this might even clue you in that the list price is somewhat flexible.
3. Why do the sellers want to move? If the sellers are moving because the area is unsafe, the schools are terrible, or the neighbor practices the drums at midnight, their agent is unlikely to tell you. But ask this question anyway, and try to read between the lines.
4. How long has this property been on the market? You can find this information yourself on Trulia, or by asking your agent to check the local multiple listing service, but the seller’s agent will be able to put this information in context. Perhaps it’s been on the market for a long time, but only because the sellers received an offer from a buyer whose financing fell through. Or, perhaps the house went on the market this week, but the sellers have had a lot of interest and expect it to sell quickly. All of this is useful when you’re deciding whether to make an offer.
5. What issues does the house come with? The seller is required to tell potential buyers about any known structural problems or code violations. It’s standard to ask for a written seller’s disclosure, so request one – and if you’re lucky, a talkative agent might reveal more in person.
6. When was the house last updated? Clearly visible updates, like new appliances or a fresh coat of paint, are easy to identify. However, features like the age of the roof and wiring which can’t be easily seen, are equally as important and need to be asked about.
7. How much do utilities cost? Know what you’re getting into before you make an offer by asking to see recent utility bills. If you’re moving from an apartment into a house, you might be surprised at the impact utility bills have on your budget.
8. What’s the seller’s timeline? Sometimes sellers choose a buyer’s offer simply because of timing. Perhaps they want to sell quickly, or delay the sale so their kids can finish the school year. The more you know about what the sellers want, the more easily you can work around it — and put together a tempting offer while getting a good deal on the price.
9. Where can I get a bite to eat? Getting directions to a local eatery or coffee shop will tell you a lot about your neighborhood. If there’s a retail strip close by that locals frequent and feel proud of, chances are you’ll love it too.
10. What are the neighbors like? Is the neighborhood kid-friendly? Are there lots of retired people? Is there a thriving bar scene on the weekends? Some people are fine doing their own thing and don’t require (or want) a tight-knit neighborhood community. But other people are much happier if they’re surrounded by kindred souls who are in a similar stage of life. The seller’s agent will be able to give valuable information about who you’d be rubbing shoulders with, if you choose to buy.
And don’t forget: while open houses are great venues to ask questions and listen, be careful not to give away more than you want about your own situation. Being discreet about your finances and how much you love the home will benefit you when it’s time to bargain for a good price.
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