Design & Home

Ask a Pro: What You Need to Know Before Buying a Home

Local realtor Erin Mendenhall shares her top tips for first-time buyers.
Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

The first time you do anything can be a bit tricky. But throw in a mortgage, a contract, and a potentially life-altering decision? That’s a whole new level of scary. We checked in with local realtor Erin Mendenhall of McLean’s Mendenhall Properties, and she shared her expert wisdom on what to know when you’re first setting out on the house hunt. The number one thing to remember: “Your agent should make you look good,” she says. “Just like a Hollywood agent lands celebs dream roles, or an NFL agent can take a college athlete to the big leagues—you want your agent to make you look good and to fight for you.” Noted. Read on for the rest of Mendenhall’s advice.

1) Get help. “A licensed real-estate agent is like both a matchmaker and a lifeguard—they’ll hook you up with your perfect home and throw you a lifeline to help guide you through the tricky process. But don’t just rely on us. You should also consult with your local bank, and seek a different opinion. Treat this decision as if it were a medical decision. You financial health is just as important. So many people go online to see how much they think they can afford. But if you broke a bone, you wouldn’t go on WebMD—you’d see a doctor.

2) Ask for a personal recommendation. “This business is all about who you know. So—who do you know? Have any of your friends recently bought a condo? Ask for their agent. Your agent is someone you need to trust. You’re going to have a million questions throughout this process—so make sure to think about that when choosing the right fit for you. Will they respond to text messages? Will they e-mail you back within an hour? Or will they make you feel like you work for them? That’s not the way it should work. Remember that.

3) Know what to expect from your agent. “At your first face-to-face buyer consultation meeting, your agent should explain to you the different representation agreements for Virginia, Maryland, and DC. Yep, all those agreements are different. This meeting should be about you: What’s your ideal home? What are your financial concerns? What is your timeline? You should leave that meeting with concrete steps that you’ll make along the process. Think of it as a syllabus of sorts with a college professor at the start of a semester.”

4) Be smart about your loan. “Your agent should fight for you with a lender, and your agent should represent you in a face-to-face meeting with your lender. If you’re taking out a loan, your agent should know before the meeting how much you can afford. Do not let the lender oversell and overpromise how much you can afford. Consult with your bank ahead of this meeting. And whatever you do, don’t use an online website (cough, cough, Lendingtree.com) to fill out your financial information.” 

5) Prepare, prepare, prepare. “Remember when you were applying for colleges? You had your SAT scores, letters of recommendation, and a résumé. This is more important. Have two years of tax returns, two months of bank statements, and two months of pay stubs.”

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