1. Do I really need an agent?
Unless you want a hole in the head, yes you do! Shop for an agent before you seriously shop for a house. It’s a complicated process under the best of circumstances, and you’ll need an expert negotiator and experienced advocate on your side who knows how to play the game.

2. How should I choose an agent?
Interview three agents to see how knowledgeable they are about the area and the market. Ask them what they will do for you, how many clients they work with, and how much time they will have for you. What is their sales record? Ask for references. And, pay attention to how you feel with them personally. You may be trapped in a car with them for hours, days, even years! Yikes!

If you want to buy a house in a certain hot neighborhood, check out agents at nearby Open Houses (that is why they are there, to meet new clients), or call the local real estate office and ask to interview some agents.

Good agents will meet you for an initial consultation to talk about what you want and need, the house buying process, and how they work. Agents are bound by law to give you a copy of the Law of Real Estate Agency which lays out what their duties are to you. Don’t get lured into their car and whisked away without deciding that you really want to work with them. Remember, this is your choice.

Once an agent starts showing you houses, they are in a relationship with you and owe you all the duties of a buyer’s agent. You are not bound to them, however, unless you have a Buyer Agency Agreement. Many agents, including me, work exclusively with Buyer Agency Agreements as I’m committed to my clients and expect them to be committed to me.

3. How will you look out for me during the home-buying process?
First, I meet with new clients for an initial consultation to see if we want to work together. My goal is to educate you about the process so that you will feel in control. We can discuss the numerous contingencies that will protect you and the loop-holes that can get you out of a deal should you decide to bail. I have an excellent list of resources to help you make a wise decision about the house you are considering. I will keep a strict eye on time frames too, so that all contingencies are met and you get to move into your house on time.

4. How available will you be for me?
If you’re new at this, you need to understand the house-buying process, and I won’t leave that to an associate. I only work with a few buyers at a time, so I am very available to show you houses. Once I have met with you and we have seen what is on the market, I will preview as much as possible to weed out the dumps. My goal is to save you time and despair.

5. Can you help me decide whether a house is a good buy or not?
When I look at a house, I am very candid about its good and bad points. Because I look at houses all the time, I am not drawn in emotionally. I tend to look past the cool paint colors or trendy staging and focus on the structural elements of a house that will cost you money, i.e., the roof, foundation, electrical panel, wiring, and plumbing…

Ultimately it is your decision, but I will help you to feel informed and excited about your purchase.

When you find a house you love, I will also provide statistical information, so you can make an informed and smart decision about what to offer and feel comfortable about your financial investment.

6. Do you have a specialty?
Yes, I work mainly in Central and South Seattle as I know those neighborhoods inside-out. However, I have listed and sold houses all over Seattle.

7. How can I learn more about buying a house?
A good agent should educate you on the process of house buying, especially the loop-holes. You may also want to take a class at a community college or through a lender. (Remember, agents offer these classes to pick up clients—but you don’t have to fall for that!) There are also many good books available, such as Seattle Homes: Real Estate Around the Sound by Jim Stacey, as well as Home Buying for Dummies and The Idiot’s Guide to Buying and Selling a Home. Most books, however, will not adequately inform you about specific locations or individual state laws. It really is best to rely on an experienced professional for that kind of information.

8. How do I get the best mortgage?
There are lots of predatory lenders out there offering really low rates—with lots of catches, like hidden fees or balloon payments. I have experience with highly competitive, ethical lenders who will give you plenty of options and get the job done. It is not just about getting the absolute best rate, but about getting the deal closed in a timely manner. (If you do not close on time the seller has every right to back out of the deal altogether.)

9. Can you recommend a good inspector, lender, therapist, dog sitter?
Yes, yes, and yes. I have lots of highly reputable resources (including a pet physic who will find out if your pet likes the house, too!). Contact me today for Serena’s List of handy and reputable resources.

10. How should I choose an inspector?
You’ve all probably heard horror stories of bad inspectors, like the one with cataracts, or the one who kept winking at the realtor. You will be dependent upon the information you get from your inspector and it will most likely determine whether you buy the house or not. So here are some questions to ask when looking for a good inspector:

  • Are they affiliated with ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors)? They have very high standards and provide ongoing training. At present, Washington State does not require inspectors to have any formal training – a scary prospect. There are plans in motion to change this.
  • Make sure they also have a pest license with the State of Washington. This will save you money and time should those pesky varmints be living rent-free in your new home.
  • If the house is very old (by West coast standards) and has a brick or pier-and-post foundation or a lot of settling issues (i.e., sloping floors or bowed walls), you may want to find an inspector who is also a structural engineer. Again, this will save you money should structural issues be called by an inspector.
  • Will they give you estimates for repairs that need to be done? (Some will, some won’t.) This can be helpful, but remember, they are just estimates.

It is important to know that inspectors are generalists, not experts in particular fields. Should problems be reported, it is always wise to get a specialist, time permitting. Your realtor (i.e.: me, me, me!) should be a good resource for this.

A thorough inspection will take between 2 and 3 ½ hours. It is important for you to be there, as you will learn a lot about the house. It costs between $400-550 and is well worth it. Hopefully, you won’t have to do it more than once. The inspection report is a great bargaining tool to have problems fixed, get money towards your closing costs, or reduce the sales price of the house.

I have experience with a number of inspectors who have proven themselves to be thorough, knowledgeable and honest. Please see my list of resources for my recommendations.

11. Should I be worried about homeowners’ insurance?
Some insurance companies shy away from Knob and tube wiring, but not all. It is always best to start with who insures your car (if you have one) as they often will give you a package deal.

12. Is there anything you can do to make this experience less stressful?
Well, I do make a good cup of tea (a well-known panacea in my homeland of Great Britain).

I think the more informed you are about the process, the less stressful it will be. Knowing the safety valves—like the inspection contingency—can also help you feel less trapped in a purchase.

If you’re still feeling stressed, please follow my Anti-Anxiety Tips for Home Seekers.

13. Where should I go for more information?
At the Windermere site you can find articles on buying and selling houses and mortgage information.

I also recommend MSN Real Estate, which provides handy calculators, planners, search tools, and more for homebuyers.

Buyers’ FAQs