Purchasing a home is a convoluted process that can leave buyers feeling lost – even when they have an experienced agent. In a market like Austin, Texas' where transactions occur at a blistering pace, it's essential to know what to ask so you can make the decision that's best for you.

"Find out as much as you can before submitting the offer to structure it strategically. Get all your questions answered, and if it fits your needs, go for it," says Brandy Guthrie, Realtor at Sky Realty and president-elect of the Austin Board of Realtors.

To help you maneuver through the complexities of buying a home, U.S. News talked to some of Austin's top real estate agents, as listed by real estate technology company Agent Explore (a U.S. News partner), about important questions buyers should ask their agent.

[Read: A First-Time Buyer's Guide to Austin.]

What do I need before I write an offer?

Before searching for homes, speak with a reputable lender about your credit score, down payment and price point. Then, secure a preapproval letter. "I like to send my buyers a list of lenders who've been great with our clients. Also, shop lenders and rates because buyers think what you see is what you get, but lenders will negotiate their fees," Redfin real estate agent Andrew Vallejo says.

Since lenders have strict deadlines, confirm you have access to your earnest money (a deposit made to the seller that shows how serious you are about the transaction) and option fee (more on that below). With your money and preapproval letter in hand, review each section of the contract in addition to the buying timeline with your agent to alleviate hiccups.

Because Austin's market is competitive, Jaymes Willoughby, owner, broker and sales counselor at Metro Austin Homes/The Jaymes Willoughby Team, recommends establishing a rapport with the seller and sending a heartfelt letter about who you are and why you're interested in the home to stand out from other offers.

Are there offers already on the home?

"How do I win this house?" is one of the most common questions Willoughby hears.

"It's not unusual that there's more than one offer. An experienced agent explains different points that make buyers look better so that a seller would be inclined to take their offer even if it's less money," he explains.

By communicating with the listing agent, buyers can gather additional information, like the amount of interest that the property has attracted, to help organize their offer, Guthrie says. If you know what's on the table going in, you can submit your final offer while catering to the seller's needs. Ensuring you're offering something closer to what the seller wants than your competition is can be key to inking a deal.

What's the option period?

In Texas, when escrow starts, there's an option period – where the buyer pays a fee for a certain number of days to inspect the home and negotiate repairs. Both the option fee and number of option days are negotiable. But you need to ask your agent how much money you should offer, when is it due and when does it become nonrefundable.

"If issues arise during the option period, the buyer can either walk away from the transaction if they're not comfortable or negotiate with the seller. I set the expectation that if something comes up, it's fair to go back and negotiate," Vallejo says.

What should my pricing strategy be?

To get a feel for what you should pay, review a comparative market analysis with your real estate agent. "I'd want to know the home value the same way an agent would do it for a seller. I'd like to see an analysis on the property to prove to me that it's worth what they're asking," Willoughby says.

[Read: 100 Best Places to Live in the USA.]

Offering a higher earnest money deposit, proposing to lease the property back to the sellers if they're not ready to immediately move out, or changing the amount of the option fee and number of option period days are a few items to include in your pricing strategy that increase your offer's strength.

Vallejo says he checks in with the listing agent to see why the owners are selling the house, how long they've owned it and what upgrades they've made. He can factor this knowledge into his buyer's offer as well as use it to negotiate price.

What's in the seller's disclosure notice?

Austin requires that sellers disclose to the buyer what they know about the property. "If there's anything not in working condition or repairs that have to take place going in, you may want to construct your offer differently to manage that," Guthrie explains.

Sometimes buyers can also gain access to the survey of a home, which shows the boundary lines of the property. Guthrie mentions if you're thinking of adding a feature like a pool or playground, the survey lets you know if the property fits those needs before you go under contract.

What if I get cold feet about the offer?

"I tell them upfront they're going to have the jitters. During the process, I ask how they're feeling because then they realize it's a normal reaction on a big ticket item," Willoughby explains.

[Read: 5 Up-and-Coming Neighborhoods in Austin to Buy a Home.]

To lessen that initial emotional reaction, Guthrie recommends re-evaluating with your agent whether the home checks your necessary boxes. If you're still unsure about the purchase, the option period always allows you to walk away from the transaction.

Looking for a real estate agent in Austin? U.S. News' Find an Agent tool can match you with the person who's most qualified for the job.

Tags: Austin, real estate, housing market


Mandy Ellis is an Austin-based freelance writer who has contributed to the real estate, travel and loans sections of U.S. News since 2016. She has lent her expertise to publications including AFAR, The Costco Connection, Realtor Magazine Online, FSR, QSR, Restaurant Business, Restaurant Hospitality, Pizza Today, Tasting Table, Yahoo Finance and CultureMap Austin and for the brands eBay, LendingHome, Brit + Co, SolarStory and Hey Cupcake.

Ellis graduated cum laude with a bachelor's in English from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!) and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Texas Freelance Association, Freelance Austin, and Women Communicators of Austin. You can find her on LinkedIn and her website, or email her at mandy@mandyellis.com.

Recommended Articles

How to Become a Real Estate Agent

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 18, 2019

Follow these steps to start on the path to being a successful real estate agent.

How to Find a Real Estate Agent

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 18, 2019

Here's how to find a real estate agent to help you confidently navigate a home sale or purchase.

How to Break Your Apartment Lease

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 18, 2019

Five options for you to end your rental contract before time is up.

How to Back Out of a Real Estate Deal

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 18, 2019

Here are your best options for bowing out of a home purchase or sale without ruffling too many feathers.

The Best Places to Live in Florida

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 18, 2019

See how the most populous metro areas in the Sunshine State compare to each other.

6 Tax Breaks for Homeowners

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 16, 2019

Keep these deductions in mind as your prepare for your next tax filing.

How to Tackle Major Home Winter Repairs

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 11, 2019

Avoid a bigger disaster when faced with freezing pipes, a broken window, power outage or roof leak.

Clever Tricks to Rejuvenate Your Home

Sally Forster Jones | Jan. 9, 2019

Simple improvements that will make your living space feel new again on a small budget.

The Best Places to Live in Tennessee

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 9, 2019

Find out how the largest metro areas in Tennessee compare.

The Best Free Interior Design Apps

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 4, 2019

These apps help you brainstorm, plan, budget and even set up your next renovation or room design.

2019 Millennial Homebuying Trends

Maryalene LaPonsie | Jan. 4, 2019

Millennials have a reputation for shunning homeownership, but that may change this year.

6 Great Tiny House Communities

Devon Thorsby | Jan. 3, 2019

People are attracted to tiny living for different reasons. Find out what makes these communities flourish.

The Best Places to Live in Texas

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 21, 2018

See how metro areas in the Lone Star State stack up.

How Do Real Estate Agents Get Paid?

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 20, 2018

Whether it's by commission or a flat fee, you should know how your agent is compensated.

What to Do With Real Estate in a Divorce

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 19, 2018

Consider these options before making a decision that could leave you financially or legally strapped.

How to Build a Wine Cellar at Home

Sally Forster Jones | Dec. 18, 2018

Before you start building wine racks, keep these important details in mind.

Why You Should Sell Your Home in 2019

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 14, 2018

Housing markets may not be as hot as previous years, but selling now could be your best bet.

The Best Apps for House Hunting

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 12, 2018

These apps will have you scrolling and swiping listings to your heart’s content.

Curb Appeal Tricks to Attract Homebuyers

Sally Forster Jones | Dec. 11, 2018

These simple home improvement projects will have people excited to tour your home.

Housing Market Expectations in 2019

Devon Thorsby | Dec. 7, 2018

Changes in mortgage rates may cause homebuyers and sellers to hesitate about jumping into the market, while renters benefit from higher homeownership rates.