What Homebuyers Need to Know

When it comes to buying a home, it’s important to know exactly what you’re buying, its condition, and all the expenses you’ll be expected to cover. Real estate transactions can be complex and often require the expertise of many different people, from lenders to licensed contractors.

Realtors can help you navigate the whole experience, providing support within the scope of their license, and referring you to others as needed.

Because a home purchase is usually the biggest investment you’ll ever make, it’s important to be fully involved in the process—and not to depend on your Realtor or anyone else to make important decisions for you. In December, the California Association of Realtors published a new form called the Buyer Transactional Advisory to help buyers understand the obligations of Realtors, and their own responsibilities as buyers.

For example, a Realtor will draft a purchase agreement, share inspection reports, and provide you with disclosures, but it’s up to you to read them all and ask questions about any concerns you may have. This is the only way you can know if the property in question is appropriate for you in all regards.

Realtors are qualified to answer questions about real estate, such how many properties are for sale, the average sales price, and what’s trending in the housing market. Realtors don’t dictate price; they provide market statistics so you can make an informed decision.

Realtors are qualified to do a visual inspection of a property and flag concerns—but not to identify the cause or remedy. (I had a leak in my kitchen ceiling right next to my skylight, so I thought I the two were related. Upon inspection, we discovered the problem was with the condenser coil on the air conditioner. Who knew?!)

Smart Realtors know their limitations and will use their legendary networking to provide you with access to people who can help. Need a lender? An inspector? A contractor? A real estate lawyer? Your Realtor can give you a list of several to choose from.

The best way to get the most from your Realtor is to share every bit of information relevant to this purchase. What must you have? What would you like? What information are you getting from your lender that might impact which houses you can afford? Are you handy with a hammer and willing to do your own repairs or does the house have to be in great condition?

Your communication with your Realtor needs to be extensive and frequent—you to them, and them to you. Don’t wait to share concerns or ideas. Give your Realtor as much lead time as possible to solve potential problems. Let your Realtor know how you plan to use the property you’re buying so they can help assure there aren’t any restrictions in the way.

I know of a client who planned to have horses on their property but failed to mention this to the Realtor until they’d toured several properties with less than the required acre of land. This wasted everyone’s time. When you get serious about buying a property, look into city and county ordinances as well as covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs)—these can limit your use of the property.

Make sure your Realtor understands your real estate history and level of knowledge. Just like your schoolteachers used to say, “There are no stupid questions.” Ask your Realtor to confirm assumptions, clarify concerns, and answer questions. Realtors adjust their service depending on their clients’ needs, providing far more guidance to a first-time homebuyer looking at a fixer-upper than to a contractor buying their fourth fix-and-flip of the year.

If you’re thinking of renovations, be aware that rules and situations change. The county adopts new building codes every other year, and extensive remodels may be subject to today’s building standards as opposed to the standards in place when the house was built. You may have to add sprinklers to the whole building, for example. If you share your intentions with your Realtor, they can help you avoid nasty surprises.

If you have questions about property management or real estate, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery.

Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 45 years.

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