This is the 2nd in a series of ten FAQ questions and answers for real estate buyers.
Answer – If you didn’t do this in step one - get a good real estate agent (or agent team) to help you. Remember that you pay nothing directly for this support. The real estate agent makes his/her commission off the seller at closing. Some agencies charge an administrative fee for work that the agent did for you during the search, but that is usually not collected until you close on a house and is normally only a couple hundred dollars – which is nothing in the big scheme of things. Other than driving some neighborhoods to get a feel for them and for driving distances, it's a waste of time for you to drive around looking for signs in front of houses. (CLICK HERE FOR MORE ON WHY TO USE A REALTOR®)
Let your agent do the MLS (The Multi-List Service that real estate professional use) searches for you. In Michigan, your agent should take the time to go over an explanation of the forms of Real Estate Agency with you and have you sign the form that indicates that he/she has done so. The agency form is not a contract; it's just a form that states that you have been informed about agency. This is not only a good practice; Michigan Real Estate licensing law requires it. Make sure that your agent is a Realtor, which is a designation for a member of the National Association of Realtors and which means that the agent has agreed to do business following the Code of Ethics of that Association. To read more about the concept of Agency, click here.
Use the power of the Web! Statistics tell us that 89% of people looking for a house see it first on the Web. There are several very good search sites - in this area good sites to start with are www.huronvalleyrealtor.com , www.themilfordteam.com , and www.movetomilford.com ; or in Michigan in general at www.moveinmichigan.com , www.realestateone.com . Outside of Michigan www.realtor.com , and national sites like Zillow and Trulia might work best for you. These Web sites can't replace the work done by a good agent and some can run anywhere from days to weeks behind the MLS that your agent will use. They do provide a good way for you to look at houses in the areas and price ranges that you may have in mind. The Real Estate One site has a nice map-based search feature that you might want to try.
In today's mobile-oriented world it is also a good idea to download a good interactive real estate app on your smartphone. Two of the best that I know of are the Real Estate One App and the realtor.com app, mainly because they work off data that is kept up to date. Here’s a link to a video about the Real Estate One app. Certainly, you can also get mobile apps from Zillow and Turlia. Most mobile apps are location aware and interactive, which lets you see what is actively for sale in the area around your current location. There are also tons of real estate booklets around. Most of them are weeks to months out of date and most don't have any of the critical information in them; but, they are fun to read over a meal and let you get a feel for different style of houses.
If you have time, when you get a list from the Web or from your Realtor, drive by all of them and make notes about the neighborhoods and anything that you notice from the outside that you may need to ask your agent to look into for you. Just doing drive-byes will eliminate a number of houses that might have looked good on the Web or on paper. You may also want to get report cards for the school districts that you would be in and get profiles of the communities. You can find links to research site about school and community profiles on my site – http://www.movetomilford.com.
If you see a house that you want to visit, call your agent and have him/her arrange for the visit. Remember that your Realtor can represent your interests in any house, even those that are "For Sale By Owner." If you should decide to stop by an Open House that you may see, let the agent that is in the house know that you are already working with a buyer's agent and that they will be representing you on any offer made on that house.
If you're out driving around and see an Open House that yo want to stop at, keep in mind that the agent at the open house represents the Seller and not you, so be cautious about what information you share with that agent. Anything that you tell that agent the Seller will end up knowing and that could put you at a disadvantage in later negotiations. Remember to bring along the House buying checklist form that I recommended in the first installment. Visiting multiple houses can get confusing very fast unless you have some way to take notes and make comparisons later.