Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Customer Service: A Must in this Day and Age

What ever happened to customer service? In today's world, it seems to be lost, as hard to find as a Dodo Bird or one of those old deep fried McDonald's cherry pies (you know the ones... the kind that were light and flaky on the outside but had that molten lava center that gave you a third degree burn on your lip after you bit into it).

Nothing burns me more than when I have an issue with some goods or services. Seems to be happening more and more these days. Then when I try to get some satisfaction, all I get is the run around and the overall attitude that it was my fault the problem exists.

It always surprises me when I get bad "service" just trying to do my job with other professionals that are in the same business. How does one sell a house when one does call back an agent who is trying to set up an appointment to bring a buyer through their property? Why would I have to make numerous calls to a mortgage broker to get an update on a deal in progress? What can I do to get a call back from someone I leave a message for? In this day and age, everyone has a cell phone attached to their hip. Why is it so hard to get in touch with people?

I could waste brain cells trying to decipher the answers to these questions, but it wouldn't do any good. My time would be better spent tooting my own horn.

With an economical climate that we are in now, it is a no brainer that the best way to ensure people will use your services or purchase your products is to guarantee excellent customer service. To be quite frank, it really costs nothing to provide this. I don't like to brag, but I pride myself on the service that I provide my clients. The high level of care I take with those I represent is something I take satisfaction in.

When making first contact with a new client, I always let them know about how I operate. Allow me to break down my rules here. Some may say, "Mike! Why give away your secrets of success?" and I would answer, "Because it would make my job a whole lot easier if everyone operated this way!"

I operate in this fashion:
  • If you call me on my cell phone, I will answer. IF I do not answer and the call goes into voice mail, leave a short message. The reason I did not answer is because I am either on the other line or with a client (I never answer my phone when with a client... I give my people my full attention, just as I would for you if I was in your presence. Answering the phone while with someone, I feel, is rude). You can be sure though, that I will be returning your call as soon as possible. I make it a goal to do so within an hour. It is a rare occasion that I cannot.
  • My cell (just like everyone else these days) is always on my person and always on. The only time it is not is when I am charging it. IF I am charging it, that means I am asleep. By some chance you call and I am asleep, you can be sure that I will be returning your call as soon as I wake, even before I have that first cup of coffee.
  • I keep long hours so you can call me at any time. Don't call me at midnight thinking you'll just leave me a message because I will answer. I love it when I get that surprised response, "OH! I didn't think you'd be up." Yep, sure am... and probably working on your purchase or sale!
  • Many people like to communicate through e-mail and text message. I will do so if that is what you prefer, but I like to talk on the phone, if not face to face. Intentions and meanings can be misconstrued otherwise.
  • If an open house is scheduled for your property, then I will be there to hold it. I do not enlist other agents to hold my opens. You hired me to sell your property, so I will be there to do so. I will point out all the attributes of your home that you take pride in.
  • I do not use lock boxes. I am present at all showings of your property for both selling and security reasons. 
  • Follow up... I do it. I like to give my clients feedback on the showings of their home. 
  • Communication is key. I regularly contact my clients to let them know the state of affairs in regards to the buying or selling of their home. I'll call even if I have nothing to report which brings to the table two things: 
    • I haven't forgotten about you and am doing my best to work for you.
    • Maybe we need to evaluate our buying/selling strategy to bring about the desired outcome. I'll have suggestions.
  • If you are purchasing, I'll be at your closing (Sellers usually arrange to sign papers ahead of time and at the leisure, but I can be there too). In all the years that I have sold real estate, I have not been present at only four closings and that was because they were done via mail. Do I need to be at closing? Not really. 99% of the time I am just there looking pretty, but there is always that 1% possibility that something may not go according to plan, and if I am there, I may be able to squash the problem before it holds up the process.
  • When placing a purchase offer, I try to personally present the offer to the seller. Most agents will do the "Scan or Fax". Whenever possible, I try to make the offer personally. The selling party is not obligated to have me present it, in fact it rarely happens, but if the agent doesn't ask then the answer is already "no". Many agents don't do this... maybe they are scared, lazy, can't be bothered, but I do. I relish the opportunity to give the solid pitch and negotiate the hard sell.
There are other ways I provide exceptional service, but if I divulged them here, that would give away too much! I don't want my competition to know ALL my secrets...

There are many good agents out there, yet ask yourself this question: How long did it take my agent to get back to me the last time I left a message on the cell phone that they always have on them? If you don't like the answer, give me a call. The only way I will not answer or call you back in a timely fashion is if I am either dead or I dropped my phone in the toilet. Right now, I don't know which scenario would be worse! Roc and Roll, people!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Home Inspection 101

During the process of searching for a new home, I often get the question, "How would I find out if there is something wrong with the house?" As your agent, part of my job is to point out areas or items that I recognize as a possible concern, but it is in your best interest to do a home inspection.

Here are a few questions I get regarding this part of the process:

When do I do the inspection?

If you find a house that you really like, the first thing we need to do is put in a purchase offer. In the offer, we have the ability to put in a contingency stating that we would like "X" amount of days to do an inspection. I usually set it at 7 days from the offer being accepted so that we have time to coordinate everybody's schedules. Once the offer is accepted, we set up the inspection to take place within that time frame.

Who does a home inspection?

You want the inspection to be done with a trained and licensed professional Home Inspector. If you do not have a person in mind, I have a list of inspectors that I have worked with in the past that I have found to be both good at what they do and competitively priced.

Often I get a client that states that they have a brother, father, etc. that was a contractor or handy-man and they would like them to do the inspection. I strongly urge against this. You want someone who is recognized as an inspector, licensed by the state (unless not required in your area), and does home inspections professionally. If for some reason there is an issue with the home, we would need their professional opinion and report to bring to the seller to back up our requests.

Who pays for the inspection and how much does it cost? 

The price for an inspection varies from inspector to inspector. Some charge a flat rate, others charge by square footage of the home. Regardless of how they charge, it is the buyer who pays for the inspection at the time it is performed.

What does the Inspector actually do?

When an inspection takes place, the inspector will check out the home for anything that may be a concern. The scope of the process usually entails checking the plumbing, the electrical service, the structure and foundation, the roof, the furnace, and the water heater. They will get into the attic or crawlspace to make sure there is nothing unusual there. Basically they will check over the home like a doctor gives a person a physical.

What will an Inspector NOT do?

A home inspection is NOT a code inspection. They will not be making sure everything is up to the local codes. A pre-existing home will have been built to code at the time of construction, but over the years, codes change, and they vary from area to area. They may find something that blatantly screams "not up to code" and make note of it, but on the whole, they are not checking for code compliance.

The inspector will also inspect only what they can gain access to. They will not be punching holes in walls, digging up foundations, removing appliances or cabinetry. If you buy a house, then find an issue inside the wall while you are doing renovations, it is not something that the inspector missed... it is just something that was not in the scope of their duties. At the time of the inspection, you do not yet own the house, so you can not have someone come in and tear it apart.

I don't like something that the Inspector found. What now?

Once the inspection is complete, we will be issued a report (usually with photos) stating the condition of the home. If there is something in the report that you do not like, we have the option of bringing the issue to the seller and negotiating a solution. Each case is different.

In some instances, the seller will agree to take care of the issue and the sale can continue. In other cases, they will split the cost of the repair with the buyer. I have also been involved with deals where the purchase price has been altered to reflect the amount of the repair or fix (in the past, credits at close have been made, yet that practice is going away and is frowned upon on the whole).

It also happens where the seller says "Too Bad". They are not obligated to fix the issue, it depends on how they would like the deal to continue. Once you put on paper in the Removal of Inspection Contingency that you would like something taken care of by the seller, it is just like making a counter offer on the house. The seller has three options... Agree to the terms, negotiate the terms, or reject the terms. If they reject the terms, that could be a deal breaker.

Should I ask for repairs in the Removal of Contingency?

It depends. The probability that the Inspector will find something is quite high. The answer to this question hinges on what you are comfortable with. If it is discovered that the furnace is damaged you may want to see if you can have the seller fix or replace it. If you have a cousin that is an HVAC installer and can get you one cheap, then it may not be a concern for you. If the electrical box is found to be a potential fire hazard, you may want to have that taken care of by the seller, but if your profession is Electrician, then maybe not.

What I do recommend is that you do not ask for small items. I had a deal die once because the buyer and seller could not come to agreement on the installation of a Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter by the kitchen sink.The buyer lost out on the house over an estimated $25.00 repair. There was another buyer waiting in the wings to purchase the home for asking price (the first buyer's offer was less than asking). That was an extreme case, but it did happen!

My advice is to only ask for items to be replaced or repaired if they are something that if not addressed, you do not want the house. Do not use the inspection contingency as a negotiating tool to get more than what you originally bargained for. That is not what it is there for. This contingency is put in place to protect you from buying a house that has issues that you were not or could not be aware of just by walking through it.

What if they do not accept the terms?

If they do not accept the terms, unfortunately the deal could die. If you love the house and decide that since they will not do the repair you still want to proceed, it IS POSSIBLE that it may be too late. Keep this in mind. As I stated before, there may be another buyer waiting to pounce.

Everyone walks away from the transaction if you can not come to an agreement... the house continues to be marketed for sale and the buyer continues the house hunt. Typically, if there are deposits, then the monies are returned.

Can I do an inspection before I place an offer on a house?

In most cases, you will perform the inspection after an offer is placed on a home. There have been instances where an inspection was done before putting in an offer, but I do not recommend it.

The "contingency" is put in place to protect the buyer. Doing an inspection before putting in an offer will possibly waste your money. If you find something you do not like, like a cracked heat exchanger in the furnace, you do not have any bargaining room to have the current owner repair it because you do not have an offer riding on the work being completed.

The only benefit of doing an inspection before placing an offer is that you can save time and just walk away... but you are then going to find another home, and do another inspection... 

Do I have to do an inspection?

No, but I strongly suggest it. Years ago, some agents were using the bargaining tactic of not performing a home inspection to entice a seller to accept their offer. Buyer beware at that point. If you have the option of checking out a used car before buying it, wouldn't you?

Hopefully this answered some questions regarding the Home Inspection. If there is something that is bouncing around in your head which I did not cover, I encourage you to add it in the comment section at the bottom. I will be happy to respond to your inquiry.

Roc and Roll Homebuyers!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

To Quote the Guy with the Giant Clock Necklace...


With all this banter on the news programs about "Possible-Double-dip-this", and the talking heads preaching "Economic-Terrible-time-that",  I am a bit confused. Why am I befuddled? It is because I am just as busy as ever, man!

This is the time to be buying. In the Rochester area, home prices are down a tiny bit. Combine that with the low interest rates, a qualified buyer can get more house for their money right now. The savvy consumer is acting now.

The time to act also applies to sellers. "But Mike", You may be asking,"You just said that home prices are down a tiny bit. Shouldn't I wait so I can maximize my profit?" No... get that house listed! The buyers are out there, and the inventory is dwindling because they are gobbling them up. The best way to maximize your profit is not waiting for a "better time", it is to make sure your house is in pristine condition and irresistible to the buyer. To get the most money out of your home, you need to have multiple offers competing for the same property. If the house is priced properly, in great shape,  and staged to appeal, then you will get the amount you are looking for and in a pretty quick time frame.

I am including a link today to the recent report from the National Association of Realtors regarding the current state of the market based on their latest research results. NAR President Ron Phipps was quoted in the article saying, “Given the levels of inventory we see today, we believe that traditional homes in good condition have held their value.”  You may read the entire article here:


In the text, you will find that the purchasing of pre-existing homes has risen during the month of January and that the inventory is down... the lowest since December 2009. You do the math! Inventory down, demand is up! With the incentive for buyers to get in on the low rates, it is a perfect storm for real estate right now!

Now is the time to act! Contact me and I can fill you in more on the status of your neighborhood! Until then, Roc and Roll!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Clear to Close!!!! Wait, What Does That Mean?

You have an accepted contract, a mortgage commitment from your bank, and you've packed up all your worldly possessions into cartons and boxes that once shipped food products, office supplies, and/or electronics. The close date you put on the purchase offer is drawing oh so near... So what should you expect now? There are so many questions running through your head! You feel unprepared! Well read on, Conqueror of the American Dream! Hopefully the next passage will ease your troubled mind.

When should I schedule my movers and take time off from work?

DO NOT (and I stress this) schedule movers, rent trucks, get time off, tell the cable guy to come, etc. until your attorney has confirmed a closing date. The purchase offer you placed on the house has a date written on it, and all parties are going to try to make that date happen, but many times you will not close on this date.

Many factors are involved with a closing. Schedules, making sure all parties have reviewed what they need to review and are cool with it, money being in the right place, etc. are all things that need to be coordinated for the closing to happen. The date you are anticipating is good as a target, but you may close before or after what is on the written page.

I know it is hard, but patience is a good practice with a closing date. Scheduling a time to close is like conducting a ballet, and all the key players must be in place and ready for their cue. Your agent should act like the director, making sure everyone has had enough "rehearsal" and are ready for the "curtain to rise". 

Your lender may give you a "clear to close". That is great! That means that your lender is satisfied with everything they have, but they are only one part of the equation. It does not mean you will be closing tomorrow. Once again, it will depend on if all the players are set and ready to go. 

The date is approaching fast... how much money do I need to bring with me?

When you apply for your mortgage, you will get a "Good Faith Estimate" which will include a pretty good idea of what you should expect for closing costs. More often than not, you will not get the exact amount you will need to bring to the table until less than 24 hours prior to sitting down to sign the final papers. You will be notified by your attorney what amount you need to bring. They will let you know as soon as they know.

Once you have that exact number, you will need to go to your bank and get a certified check, money order, or official bank draft... You can not bring a personal check. Your bank should be able to do that on the spot. Don't worry, they are accustomed to it. 

What you should not do "on the spot" is transfer money into the account you wish to draw from. Transfer any monies you need for closing in advance. I usually recommend at least one week prior to the date on your purchase offer. Often, a transfer will take a day or two (sometimes more) to register... so be proactive and do it in advance, and transfer enough to have a cushion. If the closing amount comes in higher than expected, you want to be ready!

Where will the close take place?

On the contract, it states that the closing will happen at the Clerk's Office of the county you are buying in, or at the office of the attorney that is representing your lender (Yes, your lender has an attorney, too! Not just you and the seller!).

Of all the closes I have ever done, I have never had one happen at the Office of the County Clerk. Ninety percent of the closes I have been associated with have happened at the office of lender's attorney. You will find out the exact location when you get the call for the date and time of close. That call will come from your attorney.

When can I get into my new house, and when do I need to be out of my current residence?

This is a question that has many possibilities. It all depends on how the contract is written.

The usual way it happens is that once you sign the papers at the closing table, you can have access to your new home. Your attorney will give you the keys and you can go strait there if you wish! There are exceptions and I will list a few of them here:
  1. Your agent negotiates a pre-possession arrangement for you, which means that in the purchase offer you have an agreement with the seller to live in the house prior to close. Usually this will be accompanied with a rent payment to the seller, or a flat fee determined between the two parties. 
  2. The seller arranges a post-possession agreement, which works the same as above but in the opposite fashion. Rent or a predetermined fee is usually negotiated in advance.
  3. There is an issue that arises at close that all parties agree upon which limits your access to the property. This rarely happens, but it is a possibility.
Getting out of your current residence is also a variable. If you are renting, you will have to coordinate your move out date with your landlord. In these instances, I usually try to set a close date for mid month. The standard is that renters pay for the month on the first. Since you have already paid for the month and you have your new house in your possession, you have the time to move and clean (both places) at your relative leisure.

If you are selling another property, it will most likely depend on the close of that property. Most times, a seller will need to close on their current home to make the close of their new property happen, so it can be a busy day of paper signing along with truck loading! Each situation has a different set of negotiated conditions, usually making sure that nobody is pressured, put out, or homeless for a day (hopefully!). Working with a good agent (one like myself...wink-wink)... can guarantee that all goes smooth! 

If your agent is on top of things, he or she will be keeping you updated on the progress of the transaction. If you are informed on a consistent basis, then you will not be surprised by an alteration in the date and time of the close. Before, I stated the agent is the orchestrator of the process, so take to heart that a good director will insure that all players involved are up to speed on the happenings and are ready for opening night.

As always, I hope this addressed some of your concerns. If you have any questions, I welcome them in the comment section at the bottom. You can guarantee a quick response! Roc and Roll, amigos!

There is a House in Steuben

If you are unfamiliar with my area, there is a county to the South called Steuben. A good majority of the county is rural... a beautiful place to take a relaxing Sunday drive.

It is not unusual to have a client that is searching for the delightfully rustic home away from the the Rochester urban center. Since I service Western NY, I often find myself in Steuben, usually trucking over acreage, checking out old farm houses and cabins... even climbing into the tops of barns. After a few times doing this, I decided that when showing some properties of this nature, my attire would have to change. I have ruined many pairs of pants and shoes.

Whenever I am showing homes, I usually dress in a suit, pressed shirt, tie and my hard black dress shoes. This one client of mine, who was looking for a Steuben home with some land, always ribbed me about my attire. When we would meet, he would often quote a line by Arnold Schwarzenegger from the movie "Predator".

"What's this 'bleeping' tie business?" He would say in a really bad Austrian accent.

I would reply with thick sarcasm that his greeting never got old, and we'd chuckle about it. On this one occasion, it was the same. I pulled up to a vacant farmhouse that we were going to take a look at. He pulled up right behind me. He was early which was a first. I had contemplated stopping to get gas because I was on empty, so it was a good thing I opted to stop after this appointment (I always get to the houses early because I never like my clients to be waiting for me).

As we met in the drive he commented on my clothing. We laughed for a bit, exchanged some other quips, then discussed the potential home.

"This is a house that has been vacant for a little while", I told him. "The current owner moved in a couple of years ago and wanted to fix it up, restore it back to the charm it once had. Unfortunately, it wound up being more of a chore than he expected and it didn't end well. According to what I was told, his funds ran out. His wife was so upset with him that they wound up divorcing and now they live apart. She moved back to her hometown in Georgia... even took the dogs with her. When we go inside, you'll see that there are some projects that he finished, and some that are in various stages on completion."

This was fine for my client because that was exactly what he was looking for. He was a handy guy, and wanted to basically do what the current owner wanted to do.

With excitement, we entered the home and began our tour. Indeed, the house needed work, but the items that were finished were really well done. The empty house really had potential. My client was in love... We spent a good deal of time in the home, looking over all the improvements and investigating what still needed to be done.

"I don't know, Mike. This may be the one," he said as we walked around the first floor. "I'm actually leaving right from here and heading back to Ohio, so I will have the drive to think some things over."

He was in the process of relocating to Rochester for his job. His wife and kids were still in Ohio, waiting for him to find a home and get settled. On weekends he would head home to see the family, do some laundry, and relax before heading back to Rochester on Monday morning. I really wanted to find him a home fast so that he could stop making this weekly trek, so to hear that this house was a contender was good news.

As we stood there talking, my client swatted his arm as if to kill a mosquito. I thought nothing of it. He continued to talk, but then began investigating the area he just slapped on his forearm. I asked if everything was okay.

"Something bit me, " he said. That's when I noticed little black dots on his shirt.

"Come here and turn around, " I asked him. Upon doing so, I discovered he was covered in tiny black bugs. FLEAS!

We started looking ourselves over and we were both covered in the critters! We immediately left the house and began swatting the things off of us.

"I hope they are not in my hair!" He said. We brushed ourselves off, getting rid of the ones we could see, but there were probably more. Apparently, these buggers were starving since the dogs left, and us walking into the place screamed "buffet"!

"Well what are we going to do?" he asked, " I don't want to be driving for four hours with fleas."

I agreed, "Yeah, and I don't want to track these back to my office or home."

The decision was made that we would have to change. Fortunately, since he was heading back to his home, he had a suitcase filled with clothes.

"I'm going to change into some dirty clothes, " he said, "I have a few pieces of clean stuff I can loan you till I see you next." That was fine with me. I felt like they were all over me! We would take turns changing in the garage of the house, then seal our contaminated clothes up in plastic bags so that we would not carry any of these things back to our homes.

He retrieved his luggage from his car, opened a suitcase, and tossed me a bundle of clothes. He pulled some out as well and we changed in the garage in shifts. Using some duct tape and garbage bags that I had in my car, we bundled up our clothing and made sure they were sealed up tight.

As we finished, my client looked at me and laughed. There I was, wearing a pair of tight grey shorts (he was a bit thinner than I, so the sizes were a bit snug}, a pink t-shirt advertising some restaurant from his town, no socks, and my hard black wing-tip shoes. I looked like John Travolta from that one scene in "Pulp Fiction" right after Quentin Tarantino hoses him and Samuel L. Jackson off in the back yard. I looked ridiculous.

"You look ridiculous," he said laughing.

"They're your clothes!" I said in retort.

"It wouldn't be so bad if you were wearing different shoes, " he added, "Unfortunately I don't have a pair for you to wear."

I laughed, "That's okay, I'm heading directly home from here. I don't think anyone will see me like this."

With the drama now over, we began to part company. Despite the fleas, he was still interested in the home. We said our goodbyes with the plan that we would talk on Monday. He got in his car and headed back to Ohio.

"Dear God," I prayed, "Please don't let anyone see me looking like this."

Climbing into my car, I threw my bag of clothes in the back seat and turned the ignition. It was at that point that I realized I needed to stop for gas.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Problem with Pictures

In this day and age, a good majority of house hunting is done without leaving the house. With more and more access to listings at their fingertips, buyers are surfing the list of possible homes on the Internet and making some decisions without even stepping foot inside the properties. Although this new technology is a great tool, I would like to offer some advice to help you eliminate the possibility of missing out on your dream house.

If the home has everything you want... 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, perfect location, etc.... but the pictures on-line are terrible, DON'T rule it out. Instead, place the listing into the "Maybe" pile. Have your agent do the same. The next time you go out on a home tour, have that home added. It doesn't hurt to at least take a look in person, does it? You may "waste" some time (What, a half-hour at most?), but you at least know it is definitely not a contender.

Yet, you may be pleasantly surprised!

Have you ever gone into a house and said the words, "Oh, this looked so much better on-line"? It is a phrase I hear all the time when escorting buyers through potential homes. There are agents out there that have a good eye and prowess with a camera. They can really make a clunker of a house look good on film. Unfortunately, talent in photography is a two way street.

There are some people that just don't have the skill with a camera, so it is possible that the pictures they snap may be not up to par. Dark shots that make it hard to decipher what exactly you are looking at or pictures of non-important features of the house like the staircase to the basement are common. Color imbalances that make a paint color look wild and crazy can deter a potential buyer. Even photos taken with a camera-phone can make the house look unappealing to the average person.

Including these homes in the property tour is a practice I tend to employ when putting together an itinerary. Some times the houses are indeed not what they are looking for, but more often than not I am told that the houses really surprised my buyers. "I wouldn't have considered this house from what I saw on-line, but I really like it", is something I hear quite often. Would you be surprised to hear that roughly half of those people wind up placing an offer? On a house that they nixed from pictures on-line? It's true.

There are some instances though, where what you see (or don't see) on the websites is accurate. An unfortunate truth when talking about photos on-line deals with the lack of pictures. If there is a listing on the Internet without pictures of the interior, that is often a giant red warning flag. There are reasons for this. It could be a brand new listing and the photos haven't loaded yet. In other instances, the agent wants to get the best pics, so they give the seller time to clean and stage their home or the agent is waiting for a nice sunny day to maximize the interior light. The absence of pictures can also be at the owner's request or the property is being used as a rental and the agent has yet to been given access to shoot the interior.

These are all possible reasons for not having pictures on-line, but I find the biggest reason is that the interior is so unappealing for one reason or another, the agent feels it would be a detriment to take any inside shots. Think of it this way, if you have a great house, wouldn't you want to showcase it? Wouldn't you take as many pictures as possible to entice more people to come and see it? You can't sell a house that nobody comes to see, right?

Should you avoid a property if there aren't any pictures on-line? No, you should still look at it, just be cautious. You never know what you will find. There are always exceptions. In fact, I just closed a deal last week where there were no pictures on the website and it even stated in the listing that the place needed work. Combined with the extremely low price, we set up a showing but were weary of what we were going to find. Upon going in, we discovered a perfectly fine home and exactly what my client was looking for!

So what am I trying to say with this passage? Basically, the point I am making is the only way you should rule out a potential home is to see it first hand. The Internet is a great tool, but nothing beats being there in person. Pictures tell a story, but is that story fact or fiction? Check it out, step foot on the property, and determine that for yourself.

Well, I have to wrap this up... I have more of Rochester to sell! Until next time, Roc and Roll!

Monday, February 21, 2011

FAQ's of the First Time Home Buyer: Question One

As I sit here at the computer, sipping some fine coffee out of my "I Heart Rochester" mug, I'm thinking about my first time home buyers. One of the best parts about my job is working with the first timer... they are so excited! It's refreshing to see people get as much enjoyment out of house hunting as I do! I try to make the whole process as fun as possible.

In addition to making the home search entertaining, I also try to educate the buyer on the process. Many people do research before attempting the big task, but there are some things that you just can't get from a book or a website. That's where I come in.

I get asked about numerous topics and all are important, so I have compiled a list of frequently asked questions to help assist if doing some research of your own. There are too many to list in one blog entry, so I will attempt to cover as many as possible in multiple posts. This will be "Part One".

So as I refresh my cup o'Joe, I wonder about where to start... Which answered my question immediately!

Question #1: How do I get started?

The first thing you need to do is enlist a good agent. If you do not have an agent in mind, then ask around... Ask friends and family. It is possible that they have worked with someone in the past that they feel very positive about, or they may have an acquaintance that is in the biz. You can also contact someone blindly from your local brokerage, or from a website, but wouldn't you like to have a testimonial from someone you trust?

Once you get the name of an agent, do something that most people do not do... INTERVIEW THEM! This is a person that will be working FOR you. Make sure you are comfortable with them. This is someone you will be spending some time with. This is someone that is going to be negotiating one of the biggest purchases of your life. Ask them about their past, their transaction history. How well do they know your target area? Find out what differentiates them from other agents. What can they bring to the table? If you don't like what you hear, then move on to someone else and interview them. Keep going until you find someone that you're happy with.

At the same time, find yourself a lender. You can check with the bank that you currently have a checking/savings account with. Often, if you are already a customer, you may get some benefits if you utilize them. There are sometimes fees involved which may be waived. You may also take your business to someone that was recommended just like when searching for an agent. In addition, your agent may have suggestions for you... some options of lenders that they have worked with in the past and found to be good at what they do. Yet again, no matter who you decide to go with, interview them as well! Once you settle on a lender, you will need to get pre-approved.

Pre-approval is where the lender does a preliminary check on you to see if you are a good risk to for a mortgage. The lender will ask you some questions regarding your "debts" (items that you pay per month like auto loans, credit cards, etc.), compare them to your income, and will also run a credit check. Based on their findings, they will hopefully issue you a pre-approval letter. This is a very important piece of paper.

The pre-approval letter is a great tool when you are searching for a home. First, it will typically give you the max range for price. It would be terrible if you found your dream home only to find it was out of your price range. Second, this letter is great for when you place an offer on a potential home. It shows the seller that you have already begun the process on obtaining a mortgage, and the bank thinks that you are a good candidate. If there are competing offers, that may give you a leg up over the other offer if they have not yet completed this step.

Mortgage pre-approval with a lender you feel comfortable with as well as finding a Real Estate Agent that will work for you is the first step in getting you into your dream home. That is how you get started!

Now if you want a GREAT agent, you should contact me... I would be happy to come in for an interview! HA! I hope this was helpful. Keep an eye out for Part Two of FAQ's of the First Time Home Buyer where the plan is to tackle "Contingencies". If you have any questions, enter them into the comment section at the bottom and I can address them in the next blog instead. Until then, Roc and Roll!