If you are a first-time homebuyer, you may not understand the need for a real estate agent or where to even find one.
Real estate agents help buyers find and purchase homes day-in and day-out. Many even specialize in helping servicemembers. They can shorten the time you spend looking for homes, and coach you through the offer and counter-offer process.
Most are in the business for one reason. “We really like to help people,” says Lauren Nash, a real estate agent at Howard Hanna Realty in Norfolk, VA. You’re looking for someone who’s accessible, and communicates in the manner you prefer (phone, text, or email).
“Buying a house is not a simple process,” says Tara Powell, a broker with the NC Coastal Team and RE/MAX Ocean Properties in Emerald Isle, North Carolina. “Be sure you connect with this person on a deeper level so they really understand your needs.” For AAFMAA Members, especially, former military experience or being a military spouse gives them an understanding of PCS moves, and how to pitch a VA offer to sellers.
So whether you’re buying your first home — or if you’ve bought and sold a dozen homes — here are a few tips for working with agents.
1. Interview many to select one
By specializing in certain niches, real estate agents find clients faster and deliver better results. Some specialize in commercial transactions, others in residential. Some help sellers, others buyers. Some will specialize in helping members of the military, and maybe were former military themselves (that’s a bonus!).
How do you find them? Ask your friends and coworkers for referrals. “My husband vouches for me on his ship, and that’s a great source of referrals,” says Nash, who is married to a naval officer.
You can also go online and search on “military realtors” and read through their websites. When you find a few that seem interesting, contact them and ask if they specialize in any niche, how they like to communicate, and about their credentials. There is a designation, “Military Relocation Professional (MRP)” you’ll see after some last names. That’s a credential agents can earn from the National Association of RealtorsⓇ.
“But be sure to talk to several before you sign for an agent to represent you,” Svenja Howerton, an agent with Century 21 Liberty in Fayetteville, North Carolina, advises. “This is a very large transaction, and you’ll want someone you trust with plenty of experience.”
2. Convey your expectations and needs
Real estate agents are not psychics so don’t expect them to automatically know your needs and preferences. They will ask about your income and monthly expenditures — and suggest you speak to a lender — to determine how much house you can afford and what you’re looking for in that home. A large kitchen for entertaining? A great backyard? A walkable community? Being downtown or, conversely, outside of town?
Even if you’re overseas, you can help your agent by thinking through these parameters before you start to look at homes virtually, so they can narrow the search to listings that match what you’re looking for. Once you find it, be prepared to move fast or that home will be under contract with someone else. “They sell pretty fast around here,” says Nash, whose sales territory includes areas near Naval Station Norfolk.
3. Respect the agent’s time
Most agents are already working evenings and weekends to accommodate the schedules of their clients. If you’re buying from overseas they may be answering your texts in the middle of the night too. Let your agent know what times to communicate work best for you, so he or she can meet your needs. Having a schedule upfront for weekly or daily communications can help both you and your agent make the most of your time together.
If you’ll be going to homes with your agent, practice safe etiquette. And if they give you advice on when to make an offer or when to move on, listen. “We have a fiduciary responsibility to act in your best interest, so you’ll want to be very transparent with us, and we’ll help guide you through,” says Howerton, who works with clients from several bases near Emerald Isle.
4. Know your agent’s limits
You may have a lot of questions about neighborhoods and school districts, for example, that your real estate agent is not allowed to discuss with you. Know that you can find your answers online or by speaking with friends in the area. The off-limits topics may surprise you. “In Virginia, we aren’t allowed to mention anything about crime because it could be considered ‘steering’ clients away from or toward certain areas,” she says. "It is important for the client to do their research if that is a concern for them.”
We’re Here to Help
Whether you’re just thinking about buying, ready to start home-shopping in earnest, or thinking about refinancing, an AMS Military Mortgage Advisor will be happy to provide you with an honest and fair comparison of your mortgage options, including a wide range of low-rate and low-cost mortgages designed to meet your needs.
Ensuring AAFMAA Members obtain the best mortgage possible is our mission. Get your free mortgage assessment today or give us a call at 844-246-7930.