Brief Buyer's Guide
Here are some resources that I’d like to point out as you consider a home search that have been helpful to others in the past.
1. Area Quality
4. Finding homes actually available is harder than it looks
5. Additional Factors to Consider
1. Lenders (Excepting Cash Buyers)
3. Programs to Reduce Home Cost
6. More Detailed Guide
7. What I Can Offer Buyers
8. More on What a Buyer Needs
Price, neighborhood, and condition are the primary factors that sell a home, and it is important to keep resale in mind when making a home purchase.
While a homeowner can change the price and condition, they cannot change the location, which makes knowledge of the area a critical component of your home search. It also happens to be the least obvious in a general online search. One interesting matter also to note is that there are “steering” laws, in which real estate agents are not legally permitted to tell you if an area is “good” or not. What agents who operate ethically can do is to point you to sources where you can determine for yourself whether a neighborhood is “good” for you or not by looking at the evidence directly about various factors. When looking at homes from a list of possibilities, it’s easy to just look at the listing itself, without considering the area.
Many first-time home buyers make this mistake, and it is very easy to do so, as listings are more geared toward details about individual homes than about the areas that surround the home. There have been many times where I buyer has told me that they drove by the home, and are no longer interested based on that drive by and the area that they found the home in. If they had done a bit of research first online, they would often not have needed to make that drive. Even if you do your homework on the area, it can still happen, but by viewing the area first online, it can eliminate a number of possibilities due to area qualities where are ones that you do not desire.
It is very important to consider the area since the area helps to determine safety, quality of life, proximity to where you want & need to be, school districts (whether for yourself or for resale), crime rates, tax differences, and otherwise. Lower value neighborhoods in the worst school districts with the most crime are neighborhoods in which you could get an incredibly appearing house for a price that you can’t get elsewhere, but the area unique sacrifices made in order to make that happen is one that I don’t normally advise.
It is very important that we set up a search with some of those factors in mind, to exclude areas that you would not consider desirable. I am the only agent that I know of who has spent a great deal of time copying down the Trulia crime maps in order to exclude areas of crime. Keep in mind though that even if you choose to exclude crime zones, it is still important to pay attention to crime and other factors. Even though I have spent over 10 hours copying down the crime maps, it is not 100% of what is available on Trulia for crime zones.
In addition, It is still important to look at the other factors involved. Also, some people do not mind being in crime zones. In the past month at the time of this writing, when I warned someone about a crime zone about a particular house that I had just shown them, they reminded me that they had a concealed carry permit, that they had lived in a very bad area before, and that the crime zone where I was showing them a house was like a cakewalk by comparison, and that they were more interested in getting a good deal than avoiding crime. If that is you, that would be good to know as well. Below is a video that I made about exploring areas online. I hope it’s helpful in the search process. For more on finding a home, click here.
Here is a property finder of the main MLS for Hampton Roads where if you'd like, you can give me access to seeing what you are searching. There are a few features that are nice about that, including the fact that it's directly from MLS, thus more accurate information than sites like Zillow, you can zoom in on a map to reveal flood zones, and you can draw a shape around precisely what area you'd like to look in. That finder does not have many of the search features that I do as an agent, so it’s important that I set up some searches for you as well. Some features that you can set up would also take a lot of time, whereas I already have them readily available through past clients’ desires that I have saved in searches for future use, such as excluding areas of crime, looking in USDA eligible zones, looking only at schools rated 7 or above on GreatSchools, etc. Here is a video about how to explore the Matrix portal.
Detailed searches are of critical importance when finding a home. Most buyers do not have the capability of going into this process with search templates, whereas agents have the ability to search with templates. While many do not use their capabilities with templates, I use templates extensively in much of what I do. In the case of my templates, they have been the development of years and are constantly growing in number and power as more buyer needs become apparent. Because of templates, what a single buyer would have no idea about setting up, and even if they knew how would not want to take the time necessary to put forth that effort, I have sometimes set up. In one hour, I can use templates to set up a search for a buyer where the templates could have taken over 10 hours to put together months or years prior. I can start with templates I have saved from past experience (or from what a buyer states as their preferences that I do not have yet but that I know other buyers in the future will want as well), and then tailor a search to a buyer’s preferences in much less time than a buyer trying to set them up themselves. To see some examples of what I’m talking about, click here.
If you let me know the details to put together a search for you, it will not be coming from my normal email address. Instead, I will be sending you links to the searches I am going to set up from VAB@mlsmatrix.com.
While most homes for sale are on MLS, there are a few ways of finding the homes that are not on MLS. Those properties are typically For Sale By Owner properties even though some For Sale By Owner Properties are on the MLS. Some of the best websites to go to find FSBO homes are https://norfolk.craigslist.org/, https://www.militarybyowner.com , https://www.forsalebyowner.com/ , & Zillow.com. The more 3rd party home sale sites you go to, the more FSBO properties that you will find. Each has unique FSBO homes that are not present on the other sites. With FSBO properties, keep in mind that the seller has no listing agent helping to be a voice of reason representing them, they often will not offer a buyer's agent commission, & have no listing agent's reputation to uphold which leads to higher tendencies toward dishonesty, lack of disclosure, & fraud. Because of that, it is especially important to have thorough inspections, solid contractual contingencies, buyer's title insurance, and a good buyer's agent, even if you have to pay extra.
Below is another video I have made about using the Matrix portal where your MLS property search links will lead including looking to see if a property is in a flood zone, which is a concern in certain parts of Hampton Roads. All of Hampton Roads have the capability of being negatively impacted by Hurricanes. It is important to be ready when hurricanes happen.
A lot of that in Hampton Roads can be avoided if you ideally have the right search set up with a Realtor or if you are searching yourself to never even have these properties come into your search criteria.
Secondarily, for any property that your agent doesn't send you that you find, there is a step that you should be integrating that I am about to show you in the following video. Keep in mind though that while a Realtor's search can weed out most homes under contract that appear to be for sale on public websites, and this extra step can do the same thing, even if you follow this step, while it eliminates more than 75% of the homes that are under contract, you might still find that some homes are either under contract or under verbal agreement even if they don't list either on MLS at the time you are searching.
Additional Factors to Consider When Weeding Through Properties:
It is important to do thorough research about a property prior to making an offer, but not so thorough that you lose out on the property. Some of the best properties that are priced well last less than 24 hours on the market, even those that are poorly marketed. I once helped a buyer purchase a gorgeous home in Coventry that had only 1 picture, and that picture did not even encompass the whole front of the house. It still went under contract with the buyer I was representing for above asking price within 48 hours of hitting the market in a multiple offer situation. That is one of the reasons why it is critical to have automatic daily updates as new properties hit the market if you really want to get updated on the best properties.
It is a good idea to check on permits of homes as well, which can sometimes be done on the city website, and sometimes you have to contact the city to find out. Norfolk, for instance, has the permits for the past 3 years, and beyond that, you need to contact the city.
While I’ve worked with various cash buyers, from investors to the rich, to the frugal, the majority of those that I work with use a lender. Rather than just going with one lender all the time, it is best to tailor which lender you choose based on your situation. I generally recommend a local lender over someone online, keeping in mind the programs to reduce home cost that they have available, the types of loans they have available, their interest rates, how helpful they tend to be in the process (such as boosting credit scores), their ethics, and their knowledge in the industry. I also recommend showing me prospective lenders' rate sheets before making a decision. In the past by showing me a rate sheet, buyers have decided to go with a completely different lender than they were originally planning on using because they did not see the holes in the rate sheet which made the sheet appear deceptively significantly better because of inaccuracy. The deceptive lender was not one that I recommended to them originally but was an out of town lender. Out of town lenders have a much easier time with deceptive practices because they do not have as much of a reputation to uphold, especially if you cannot find a significant amount of reviews on that individual lender.
No lender is perfect. Some lenders will be rather unresponsive, others will be uninformed, others will have poor ethics, and others will not have a program that you want to use to save on home costs. While no lender is perfect (I point out some that tend to be worse than others that I do not recommend in this link), to see some potential lenders, including some of their strong suits, click here.
I recommend looking into programs to reduce home costs before getting credit pulled by a lender. Certain lenders are able to do different programs than others. When getting credit pulled by lenders, I suggest doing all of the hard inquiries on the same day. That way you minimize the impact on your credit score and have all the lenders pulling from similar base rates for comparing the various lenders’ rates.
While many do not consider the ethics of someone they are hiring for a real estate transaction of critical import, ethics are absolutely essential when making hiring decisions involving what is most people’s largest asset. Someone with a high level of ethics is more likely to treat your best interests in mind, whether they are required to or not. For instance, in the past month or so at the time of this writing, I spoke to a mother of a disabled adult who was looking to purchase his first home. She excitedly told me that her son had been preapproved. When I looked at the pre-approval, I was immediately disappointed at whomever their lender was from their own bank, a person I had never met. The reason was that their lender had preapproved them with an Adjustable Rate Mortgage. An adjustable rate mortgage helped them to get a higher purchase price, and a higher purchase price usually means a higher commission for the lender. What the lender failed to communicate to them was that most educated people in the industry stay away from ARM’s. The reason why is that we are currently near historic interest rates (at the time of this writing). The only place where rates are realistically going is up. While an ARM will always be lower than a fixed rate initially, when considering the fact that you are near historic lows, and that rates have been over triple what they are now in the past, an ARM, in my professional opinion, and in the opinion of many other real estate professionals, is NOT a good idea. While it might mean a higher initial purchase price, which is helpful to a lender’s commission based profit margins, it is a recipe for greatly increased monthly costs which could lead to foreclosure if the buyer is not able to keep up with those increasing costs as interest rates rise. The fact that the lender did not inform the buyer about this matter of great concern regarding her disabled child is, in my opinion, clear evidence of that lender’s lack of ethics, as he would be much more familiar with ARM’s than the unsuspecting mother who was just trying to help her son and saw her son’s ability to purchase a higher priced house with the ARM that the lender presented, with negligible if any discussion regarding the potential pitfalls of an ARM to educate the mother. In my opinion, a lack of ethics always corresponds with a lack of wisdom, whether one can see the wisdom and positive traits in ethics always or not. In this case, he might be able to make a quick buck off of someone if I had not warned the mother about ARM's, but when the disabled child had rates that went through the roof, the mother could become very disappointed with the lender for not warning them and that is not the kind of person that they would refer to other buyers.
2. I also can give you free advice on boosting your credit scores if they’re below 760 (the point at which it doesn’t matter whether you have a 762 or an 850 as far as rates are concerned because you will be getting the same rate from a given lender for anything above 760) and you’d like to increase them to get the best interest rates available if you are not planning on purchasing with cash. To see more on how I can help, click here.
3. I have always liked the idea of being relatively financially conservative & getting a good deal (see my general "Even More on Credit & Finances" for examples often not specific to homes), so one of my specialties naturally is programs to reduce home cost. For instance, when I purchased a home in 2017, I received the majority of my down payment from a down payment assistance program and the majority of my closing costs from the seller. With the lowest interest rates possible on my loan since my credit score was above 760, and PMI rates that were less than 25% that of lower scores, I purchased a home through a conventional renovation loan. The equity I was able to obtain through the deal of that purchase was one in which I put down less than 2.5% and gained around 25% equity with the after repair appraisal. Granted, it took a lot of work, as renovation loans do even if hiring out most things to contractors, but I was satisfied with the end profits and the deal I was able to achieve. While most buyers I work with are not looking for a full renovation, nor a renovation loan, it goes to show you my satisfaction in the art of the deal. Once I hear more details about you and what you are looking for, I can better know if one or multiple programs can be combined for your home purchase, like the down payment assistance which was an immediate gain of thousands of dollars that I never have to repay, which was not taxed, which did not have a plethora of restrictions attached to it, and which went right into the equity of my home to sweeten an already good deal. You would not believe how generous some of these programs can be. My down payment assistance program was substantially less than some of the options available to me because of my preferences for resale in which I wanted a greater degree of flexibility, such as being able to use the conventional renovation loan that many down payment assistance programs do not allow as an option. There are a number of limiting factors that narrow down eligibility, and there are often various requirements in order to use those programs. Some of those options for certain programs include literally half off already discounted homes through 1 government program and 0% interest loans through 1 non-profit program. Here are 3 cost-reducing options if you have not owned a home in the past 3 years and otherwise meet certain restrictions including income limits that you might be interested in if you haven’t already looked into them. Keep in mind that some of these may also be restricted by the kind of acquisition you are looking for:
Down payment assistance (3-3.5%):
10% down payment assistance (This program is pretty restrictive with income, and your income might be too high, but if it’s not, it can be a great one to get if you plan to be in your new home for 5 years or more):
Mortgage Credit Certificate Check out this program as well if you haven’t already which you can add onto a conventional, VA, or FHA loan and often add it to down payment assistance. It is a tax credit for 20% of the interest that you pay for a loan for the life of the loan as long as you live there, where the remaining 80% remains tax-deductible. There are some restrictions involved. I am not an accountant and thereby cannot give tax advice.
These are just 3 possibilities among many to help buyers save and qualify. Additional possibilities include 0% interest loans, up to $40k in down payment assistance, loans where "credit score is not considered", literally half off homes, and otherwise. In fact, I have found so many possibilities for reducing property costs that I offer $100 to anyone who has more programs on reducing property costs than I have compiled without copying my list, whether an agent, lender, buyer, or otherwise. No one has ever taken me up on my offer.
4. “Your Realtor’s Role” explains a bit about working with a Realtor to help you find a property. Whereas the listing agent represents the seller’s best interest, the buyer’s agent represents the buyer’s best interest. As is shared in the buyer’s guide, buyers do not pay their realtor in most cases. While the vast majority of sellers offer a buyer’s agent commission, in the rare chance that a seller is not initially offering a buyer’s agent commission, a commission can sometimes be negotiated. In the vast majority of cases, the agent representing the buyer who has a duty to represent their best interest at all times is paid for from the proceeds of a sale by the seller. For instance, I can recommend service providers, point out potential pitfalls in a property you’re considering, assist in contract negotiation, legal obligations, let you know an approximation of the value of a particular property when tax assessments and Zestimates can be over 50% off at times, etc.
A written buyer brokerage agreement is an important legal element of working with a buyer's agent. Without a buyer brokerage agreement, I can give you publicly available knowledge, but I am not supposed to give you advice, such as advice about what price to offer on a property. Any agent who gives you advice like that without a buyer brokerage agreement in writing is not abiding by the code of conduct for agents & could lose their license. In addition, if your intent is to buy, a listing agent can show you their own listings as a representative of the seller, but an agent is not supposed to show you properties of other companies without a written buyer brokerage agreement.
There are both exclusive buyer brokerage agreements and non-exclusive buyer brokerage agreements. Many buyers do not know about the latter, in part because many agents will not do the latter and some companies won't even allow their agents to offer it. GRP does not prohibit it, and while I mostly engage in exclusive buyer brokerage agreements, I also engage in non-exclusive buyer brokerage agreements. With an exclusive buyer brokerage agreement, you are committing to work with a certain real estate agent with whatever house you buy for a certain period of time. With non-exclusive buyer brokerage agreements, you can work with multiple agents if you'd like to. While I recommend exclusive agreements for most buyers, there are others where it makes more sense to use a non-exclusive buyer brokerage agreement, such as those searching across a very broad geographical area, like VA & NC. Also, some buyers have had bad experiences with deadbeat agents, and are scared to get locked into that scenario again. If you are in that scenario now, I recommend contacting that agent to get out of it, and if they will not release you, I recommend contacting their principal broker who should be on their company website to let them know about the situation. When searching for another agent, I recommend looking for one where multiple reviewers have said specifically that the agent "works hard" or something along those lines, which multiple buyers have said in publicly visible reviews about me, for instance.
5. To see examples of the kinds of forms that contain much more information that need to be signed prior to purchasing, click here. To see an example of the form used for an offer, click here. Looking at those can give you an idea of the sorts of things that are signed prior to a home purchase. Further along, when that time comes, I'll be able to fill these out and use digital signatures to expedite the signing, but it's a good idea to get familiar in the meantime.
6. For a more detailed guide, if I have not already sent you one, you are welcome to request one. While I wrote this page, and many of the links involved, I did not write the more comprehensive guide, and the author does not want it to be posted publicly.
7. What I can offer buyers: If you’re interested in knowing more about what I can offer buyers, click here for my page on that subject.
8. To see more of what a buyer needs to buy, click here.