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.
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.
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 email@example.com.