Ever wanted to take a peek inside someone else’s home buying journey? Well, you’ve come to the right place. We’re lucky that Carrie S. Nicholson, one of the 15 partners in the Down Payment Movement has agreed to share her own story as she begins the process of buying a home. This is Part 2 of her story.

After making the move to Colorado two years ago, my husband and I recently started our journey to purchasing our first home. We began our home search by looking at sites like Zillow and local real estate websites in our area. We also spend time on weekends driving around, taking stock of the neighborhoods, and attending open houses.

After looking for homes in our area on our own for the past 3 months, we decided it was time to find a good real estate agent. We were frustrated by the fact that most of the homes we looked at were outside of our budget. It was time to talk to a professional!

Using a Real Estate Agent vs DIY

After going back and forth about whether or not we should use a real estate agent or DIY, we made the decision to work with our good friend, Katie Albee, a Coldwell Banker Realtor. And I’m glad we did!

In just one day, we noticed a big difference between working with a real estate agent versus doing it ourselves. With a few hours of meeting with our realtor, we had 4 new listings in our hands that we hadn’t seen online yet.

Katie explained to us that a great perk about working with an agent is that “you can get into a home to see it whenever you want.” A real estate agent is equipped with the ability to offer private tours to potential buyers. On the flip side, if you aren’t working with an agent, you’ll most likely have to wait for an open house — and not all listings offer them.

In our current housing market, Katie told us that and “some listings, especially in this seller’s market, end up going under contract even before the open house rolls around.” This alone is a big reason we decided to use a real estate agent versus DIY.

Avoiding the Zillow “Game”

But what about sites like Zillow, or Trulia? Can’t you do a lot of online research for buying or selling a home these days? Well until recently, sites like Zillow used to have nearly every available property listed on the site. Unfortunately though, things have changed and this is not true anymore.

The reason for this is that not all sellers and realtors want to play the “Zillow” game — so you’ll actually find more listings through an agent.

The way that Zillow makes money is by, “having Realtors spend large amounts of money to be listed as a Premier Agent,” explains Katie Albee. “When you look up a listing on Zillow and see three Realtors on the right-hand side of the page, these are typically not the listing agents but Realtors who have paid a lot of money to be there.”

This can be confusing to both buyers and sellers. Not to mention that a lot of the listing agents are frustrated by this since they put a lot of work into their property listings, only to have someone else’s picture show up.

Another thing to note about Zillow specifically is that their Zestimates can be off by as much as 20%, explains Katie. “Therefore, a Realtor is a much better choice when it comes to wanting to know what’s available on the market and what the true value of a home might be.”

Saving Our Time

Finally, another reason that sealed the deal for us to work with an agent is the amount of time it takes to research and vet out properties. Since my husband and I are both self-employed, we don’t have a lot of time to spend digging around online. We also don’t have access to the resources that a real estate agent does when it comes to finding new listings.

Since we’ve only lived here a couple years, we don’t know the area that well. But our real estate agent can share information about specific neighborhoods, foreclosures, property values, history, school districts, and lots more.

Finding a Good Real Estate Agent

When starting our home search, my husband and I are fortunate enough to have some good friends who are real estate agents. Still, we wanted to make the best choice — and we believe we did!

Whenever possible, ask family and friends for recommendations of trustworthy realtors. Once you’ve narrowed down possible real estate agents, here are some qualities to look for.

Are they trustworthy?

When looking to buy a new home, we wanted to work with someone we trust, even if they didn’t have as much experience as another realtor might. Yes, experience as a real estate agent is an important quality, but how comfortable you feel working with them is also an important factor.

Your real estate agent is likely going to be working with you for several months, and they will be privy to your financial information. You want someone who you can trust and feel comfortable with. For us, our good friend Katie Albee is the perfect fit.

What is their background?

It’s important to make sure your realtor has the qualifications and credentials needed to be a trustworthy real estate agent. Check to make sure they have a valid license and/or are working with a reputable firm.

A quick online search can provide a lot of the results you’re looking for. To become a licensed real estate agent, you must complete pre-license education (which is different for each state), and pass the state real estate license examination.

Do they have any added skills?

What other skills can your real estate agent bring to the table? Knowing this can help give you an edge when you’re buying a home.

For example, our realtor Katie, has a masters degree in economics and finance, which makes me feel comfortable since we can connect through our mutual finance backgrounds. She also has a background in interior design and home staging, which comes in handy.

These added skills mean she has a really good eye for the details as well as the condition of the home. This is a great asset for our real estate agent to have, especially if we plan to sell our home in the future.

What is their knowledge of the area?

One of the first things we looked for when finalizing our real estate agent, is that they needed to have knowledge and experience of where we want to live. Boulder, CO and the surrounding areas have a very unique real estate market.

Not only does she work to help both buyers and sellers in the area, she personally owns property here too. She lives in the area, and is even renovating her own home!

She’s also super detail-oriented and loves numbers, market analysis, and is knowledgeable about financing. This is super helpful for us since I’m not a native of Colorado and this market is pretty foreign to me.

Starting Our Home Search

One of our favorite neighborhoods in Boulder is Wonderland Lake Park. It has a beautiful lake with a small cluster of mountains right beside it. The homes in this area are pretty established and are mostly out of our budget. But in the past few years, builders have added more affordable townhouses and condos.

Katie assured us that we can definitely afford a townhouse or condo within our $400,000-450,000 budget. This was a big fear of mine since I didn’t think our lower budget (for the area) would allow this.

Another concern of ours, is that we’re starting the home search too early. Our current apartment lease is up at the end of August. But Katie assured us that in this current market starting the house hunt earlier can give us a bit of an edge.

In fact, she recommends starting the home search here at least 6 months in advance! She informed us that the market moves very quickly here, and homes can often sell for over asking — within just a few days. So getting a jumpstart will allow us to get a feel for the market and also gauge what homes are listed for, compared to the selling price.

Sticking to a Budget

One of the tips that Katie shared with us is that aiming to buy a home at the end of summer could put us in a great spot to land a good deal. She noted that there are usually a lot of buyers at the beginning of summer, who are looking to get into a place before the next school year starts.

This often means that it’s a sellers market at the beginning of summer since there are so many buyers looking — which can drive up home prices. There’s also a lot more competition, which could mean losing out on bids since we have a lower budget to work with.

However, towards the end of the summer season, some sellers may see that their prices are too high and become more open to sell at a lower price. This could give us the opportunity to find some really nice deals as the summer ends!

Katie also gave us some tips on managing our money so we can afford to have a really strong offer! Since we’re in a very competitive market and homes can sell for over asking price, it’s important that we have our financing squared away.

Sellers want to see a good history of credit, decent down payment, and as few restrictions on your offer as possible. So that’s what we’re working towards over the next several months. We’ll be sharing more about our improving our credit and getting pre-approved for a mortgage in the coming weeks!

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