The local real estate season is in full swing. Listings hit the market and (sometimes) in a few hours, a fortunate buyer has a new place to call home. But going from "thinking of buying" to actually getting those keys can be a daunting task, especially for first-timers. A few weekends ago, we followed two local real estate agents who frequently work with first time homebuyers to get an up close view of what someone will have to go through when they start out on the property ladder. The Coldwell Banker agents Amber and Sammy (or "Samber" as they are called) were our guides and what follows is a rundown of our day, complete with all the questions we asked.
9am: In the real estate world, weekends are when the action happens. So the morning starts too early. We meet with Sammy to talk about the day's game plan. Because these agents cover nabes all across the region, we were going to be on the road all day.
10am: We arrive in SW near the booming Waterfront and check out a building to see about some commercial property for a client that Samber has worked with before. While the SW Waterfront doesn't have the foot traffic of more established nabes, there is a lot of activity is the area and will probably look and feel very different several years down the road. Whether we're talking about residential or commercial properties, Amber emphasizes, "You've three primary factors when purchasing a home: price, condition, and location. And eventually, you'll have to compromise on one of them." So unless you've plenty of greenbacks, expect to make some compromises when searching for your first home.
11am: From there, we head out to check on homes for another client. We view a beautiful property in LeDroit Park, yet another area that's hot, hot, hot for homebuyers. You've got quick access to U Street, Bloomingdale, and Shaw and lower prices than what you'll find a few blocks to the west. Asked about safety concerns in the nabe, Sammy replies, "What is a 'safe' neighborhood? That's something each person needs to decide depending on his or her comfort zone." Even though there are few more listings to check out, we're hungry and head to Logan Circle for lunch.
12pm: At lunch, it was a great time to talk with Samber about major concerns that first-time homebuyers have. Amber puts it succinctly: "Buying a house is a process of elimination, not a process of selection." But for buyers, it's important to not feel overwhelmed. As Sammy explains, "Buying a house is like smelling perfumes. I only show 6 or so at a time because after that, they all start to smell the same." And cultivating a relationship with your agent is also paramount. Because this can be an emotionally-charged period (on par with planning a wedding), you'll want to find an agent (or agents) you are comfortable with. "Agents don't stop being agents after the contract is signed," Amber says when discussing the qualities of a good agent. And Sammy agrees, "Agents are like referral services for clients. Our services go beyond selling a house."
1:30pm: Following lunch, we headed back to the office where we sat-in on a conversation between Samber and a first-time home buyer. The buyer had a general idea what she wanted and what her price point was, but clearly direction was needed. And Sammy jumped right in, "Who lives with you? What lives with you? These questions need to be considered when looking for a new home?" Pets limit where you can buy. Large pieces of furniture limit what kinds of layouts you can purchase. But more importantly, when having your first conversation with your agents, as Sammy says: "It's the questions you don't know to ask that need to be answered."
3pm: Samber takes us to an open house in Columbia Heights. Now this is something we at Curbed DC always enjoy: walking into a new listing, mentally arranging the non-IKEA furniture, and imagining have friends over and talk for hours about the local real estate market. Samber walked through the house with the first-time home buyer highlighting what fits his vision, what can be improved, and how to structure the offer should it come to that. Believe me, this is a house we wish we could scoop up.
4pm: Staging! Now, there are not only first-time buyers but also first-time sellers. And we were here to lend some elbow grease to the Cleveland Park condo. Working with the current tenants, we packed, organized, and arranged various pieces of furniture to open up the space for this one bedroom, one bath condo (asking $329,900). And even in a hour, the condo feels bigger, brighter, and better. But that's only the first of many steps before contractors come in, painters do their thing, and furniture is staged for those all-important listing pics.
Many thanks to Samber who gave us complete access to their appointments during the day that we tagged along.