By Heather Levin | MoneyCrashers
Even with rock-bottom interest rates and a glut of bargain-priced homes on the market, qualified buyers are still in short supply. This is primarily because it’s hard to get approved for a mortgage loan unless you have stellar credit and a hefty down payment. But even when buyers do qualify, they often feel skittish about investing in a home. After all, the economy hasn’t yet fully recovered, and the prospect of losing a job while responsible for a mortgage is enough to scare many people away.
One effect is that real estate agents are feeling the pinch, and therefore are willing to jump through hoops for buyers and sellers alike. In other words, a variety of extra services are to be had often at no charge and simply by asking.
How to Get More Out of Your Real Estate Agent
1. Home Staging
Home staging is the preparation of a home to make it appear as visually and aesthetically appealing as possible, therefore setting it up to be sold more quickly and for a higher amount. Done properly, home staging can transform a property into a welcoming, attractive place that makes the prospective buyer yearn to own it.
Back in the real estate market’s hey-day, home staging was typically an extra service that sellers had to pay for. However, some real estate agents now offer free home staging simply if you list with them. Sometimes, they do the home staging themselves, or they outsource it to a professional stager with whom they work regularly. In fact, last time I listed my home, my real estate agent offered this service for free, which saved me several hundred dollars.
If your real estate agent doesn’t currently offer this service, ask if they’d be willing to provide it free of charge – many will in order to keep your business.
2. Professional Virtual Tours
A virtual tour of your home is the new standard among real estate companies – at least, it should be. Instead of simply displaying static photos of your home online, a virtual tour utilizes new digital technology to take viewers through your home and property using videos, 360-degree panoramic images, and seamlessly stitched photographs, often also incorporating sound effects, music, narration, and text.
Unfortunately, many real estate agents, especially those in rural areas, still don’t offer this service to sellers. When you’re shopping around for an agent, look for one that offers this service as it alone can attract potential buyers who would rather take a “tour” than simply look at pictures. Ideally, your home should be photographed by a professional photographer and then submitted to major sites, such as YouTube, Trulia, and Zillow. If your current real estate agent doesn’t offer this service, request it anyway. If they still can’t provide it, you may want to consider going with an agent who can.
3. Neighborhood Analysis
If you’re shopping for homes in an unfamiliar area, you might feel overwhelmed by the number of neighborhoods. After all, neighborhoods are just like people; they can have very different characteristics, even within a few blocks. Some might be quiet and reserved, others might be funky and artistic, and yet others may be a mecca for young families.
Finding the right neighborhood can be vital to making sure you’re happy long-term, so create a list of priorities, and search accordingly. What is most important to you – proximity to work or proximity to stores? Do you prefer to live in an area with lots of parks, trails, and bike paths, or do you prefer a more urban environment? If you have children, it is especially important to consider the local schools and the crime rate. Remember, it’s much easier to update or remodel a house than it is to change an entire neighborhood.
While most real estate agents can give you an overview of each neighborhood you’re considering, few will provide an in-depth neighborhood analysis that includes detailed information about local schools, area parks, and crime rates. Other factors that may be included in a neighborhood analysis include land uses, such as whether the neighborhood is primarily residential or mixed use (residential and commercial), and property types, such as single-family homes, apartment complexes, and condominiums. However, agents are prohibited from providing specific demographic information – but they can give you an overview of the kinds of families they’ve seen living in and moving into an area. This insightful information can be invaluable for buyers looking for the best fit.
4. Relevant Discounts
In order to market themselves more effectively, many real estate agents establish relationships with other home-related businesses that can benefit their clients. For example, they may coordinate with the local hardware store to offer discounts to clients, or even with contracting professionals, such as roofers, plumbers, electricians, and painters, to provide services at a discounted rate. Other agents may even offer free services from an interior designer or landscaping company if you buy or sell through them.
When you’re shopping for a real estate agent, look for those who can offer discounts on other professional services. They’ll probably tout these discounts on their marketing materials, so it’s usually a perk you don’t have to request.
Additionally, you may be able to take the opposite approach and ask if your agent is willing to accept a smaller commission for fewer services. With the housing market still struggling, agents are more willing to compromise in order to get your business….
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