Keeping Back to Basics Front and Center

Apr 9, 2016 by

Marketing and technology evolve at a dizzying pace in today’s world. Just when you think you’ve come up with the right strategy and mastered the latest app, the next best thing hits the streets and you’re suddenly behind the pack. Keeping up has become virtually impossible. Then there’s Commack, N.Y.-based For nearly 30 years, […]

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Technology Helps, but Master the Basics First

Feb 8, 2016 by

Don’t believe the hype—technology is not the magic bullet that will transform a struggling real estate business into a thriving success. It doesn’t matter how much you spend on a fancy gotta-have-it gadget or app. While technology may help you become more organized and productive, it’s useless if you don’t have the basics down first. […]

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Getting Back to the Basics

Nov 27, 2014 by

From improving company branding to keeping agents motivated, Gerry Burke, the managing partner with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices HWWB, REALTORS® in Birmingham, Mich., has over 28 years of experience navigating the tumultuous real estate terrain. In the following interview, she reveals several of her better business practices. Region served: Southeast Michigan Years in real estate: 28+ […]

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Homebuying Basics: Finding the Perfect Home (4 of 7)

Jan 7, 2014 by


*Photo Credit: JonoTakesPhotos, Flickr

Ok, let’s do this. By now you’ve answered your WHY, got your finances in order, and have been pre-approved for a mortgage. Now comes the fun part – looking at property. But before you burn two tanks of gas driving around town all weekend, I’d like to walk you through my 9 step process that will help you in your search. This guide will take you from surfing the interwebs for houses to making an offer.

Here’s my 9 step process for finding your new home

Attend open houses

My guess is you’ve been searching Realtor, Zillow, Trulia, etc. for a while now. You’ve probably watched more HGTV than you care to admit. (If you haven’t, those are great places to start). You may have a general sense of house prices and directions of certain neighborhoods.

But there is a big downside to strictly searching online and watching TV. You don’t get a real feel for the neighborhoods or houses. Get out and go to some open houses on the weekends. You’ve seen the signs with the balloons. You can also check for open houses. Type in a location, click on “advanced search”, and under “listing activity” you can select “open houses”.

Go in with an open mind. You aren’t there to buy the house. Ask the Realtor questions about the local market, neighborhood, and house. By the way, open houses aren’t meant to help sell the house. Open houses are set up by the listing agent to find buyers (you). So you’ll get a good sales pitch – tune it out. And you’ll hear all the reasons you should be right now – tune that out too. The agent could be a resource for you down the road when you are ready. But for now, you’re there to explore the house. Walk each room and write down what you like and don’t like. Walk the exterior and do the same.

Decide on a specific property type

Make sure you explore all property types: single family house, duplex, townhouse, or condominium. Each type has their own set of benefits and limitations. Make sure you’re thinking long term. I know it’s hard when you’re young. But you need to. If you’re planning on starting a family in the next few years, that one bedroom condo downtown might not be the best option. If you want to spend most of your time in the city, a house in the burbs with a white picket fence probably won’t do the trick.

Decide on a specific location(s)

Once you’ve decided on the property type it’s time to zero in on a location. It’s okay to be fairly general at this point. These will be questions like: Do I want to live near the water or more inland? Do I want to live uptown or downtown? East or West? Do I want to live in this city or that city? Which school zone do we want to be in? Start envisioning yourself in each of these locations. Think about your work day and weekend activities. Make sure the location you decide on is in line with your daily lifestyle.

Decide on a specific neighborhood(s)


*Photo Credit: jm3, Flickr

Now we’ll start zeroing in on particular neighborhoods or communities. You’ll want to get specific here. And it’s okay to have multiple communities you’re interested in. Just make sure that within each of those locations, you have specific neighborhoods picked out. For instance, my wife and I are interested in two completely separate locations right now. One is beach side and the other is in an established suburban community with great schools. Both areas are in different cities, but we’ve targeted certain boundaries within those cities. We know the area really well, so it’s easier for us. So if you’re new to an area, this becomes more crucial. An experienced Realtor who knows the area inside and out will make all the difference here.

Decide on the house characteristics

Ok, we’ve got the property type and neighborhoods picked out. What are the characteristics you want in your home? Things like: how many bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, and one or two story. Decide on these biggies first. Then you can start thinking about: yard size, garage or carport, pool or no pool, etc. Decide on what is truly a must- have and what isn’t. Try not to go overboard at this point. As you see more houses, you can start refining your list.

Here’s a helpful guide that can help you get started: Buying Wish List

Find an experienced Realtor

Easier said than done. This might be the toughest one on the list. Please, please, please don’t use your mom’s friend who “does real estate”. She probably does one transaction a year and she’s not fully engaged in the real estate game. You need someone who is experienced and can walk with through the entire process. If you’re a first-time homebuyer, it’s a must.  I’ve seen it 100 times. Sally Sue Realtor with 3 lifetime transactions will cost you thousands of dollars. And worse, she might blow up the entire deal. Not to mention the heart complications you’ll have.

Instead, ask someone you know who has bought a house recently for a referral. If they had a good experience, chances are you will too. If you can’t get a referral, you’ll need to go about it the hard way. Every Realtor has a website. Start browsing profiles of agents from different agencies in your town. Look for an agent who specializes as a buyer’s agent (as opposed to a seller’s agent). Once you narrow your selections to 3-5, schedule a time to meet with each one. Be upfront with them and tell them you are interviewing multiple agents. Get a feel for their personality, what areas of town they specialize in, how they work, and their experience. Ask questions. A lot. Remember, you are interviewing them. They will be your agent working for you. Not the other way around. Do not sign an exclusive agreement during your interview. You can sign one after you select your Realtor, but that’s your choice. I never have, but that’s just me.

Stalk the neighborhoods and MLS listings

By this point, your agent has been sending you emails of potential matches on MLS. Take a day and see as many houses that match your criteria. Your agent needs to get a solid understanding of your taste. Once you and your agent are on the same page, start stalking the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). If you aren’t familiar with the MLS, it is the system real estate brokers use to list information about the houses they are have listed for their client (the seller). Sites such as Realtor, Zillow, Trulia, and all local real estate companies all pull data directly out of the MLS and re-purpose it onto their site. Each area of the country has a separate MLS system. Many of these systems have an interface that is open to the public.

If you’re serious about finding a house in a particular area (especially if you’re looking for a deal), you’ll need to become diligent in keeping your nose to the grind. Look daily to see what new listings have popped up in the neighborhoods you’re interested in. You’ll start to get a feel for your local market. Yes, your agent should do doing this already, but in all reality they don’t have the time or as much desire as you do. I look daily to see what’s new and what has gone under contract. After 3-4 months of watching my local market, I know every house that has come up for sale. I’ve also watched how fast or slow houses have gone under contract. You can even look back to see what the actual sales price was.

Print this Buying Checklist  to take along to every house. Fill it out. Since you’ll be walking through a bunch of houses, these will be good reference points to look back on as you narrow down your options.

Be patient and wait for your house


*Photo Credit: loozrboy, Flickr

I can’t stress this enough. Don’t fall in love with the first house you see (great article). Date around :-) There are plenty of houses in the great big sea. If your Realtor sends you 20 houses, you walk through 10, and you just aren’t feeling any…be patient. Keep looking. There is nothing wrong with taking your time and finding that perfect house. If you feel pressure from your agent to make an offer, find a new agent. You want to make it known to your agent you are serious about buying, but you aren’t just buying for the sake of buying. This is a long-term purchase for you. Don’t settle. A good agent will understand and will walk with you through the entire process.

Make an offer

Ok, you’ve found the house! Exciting. Yes – bu there’s a lot more work to do before it’s yours. Time to make an offer. But before you even make the offer, I like to inspect the property as thoroughly as I can. Most people don’t do this. Get your dad or a friend or dad who has some house knowledge to help. Or you and your agent can do this. Take a step back and analyze the property. Is anything broken or outdated that will need to be replaced?

Start thinking about any extra money you may have to spend. How old are the major systems – roof, A/C unit, windows, and appliances? Remember, once this house is yours, these will be your responsibility. If the roof and A/C will need replaced in a few years, do you have $ 10,000 set aside for the replacements? Is the asking price commiserate with the age of the systems?

If it’s too much for you, then walk away before you make an offer. There’s no sense in having an inspection done only to tell you what you already knew. However, if you proceed, you can either include the repairs in the offer, or just take the cost off your offer amount.

The offer you decide on will include the price and terms, earnest money amount, costs you’re asking the seller to pay, closing date, loan terms, and any items included in the sale. Make sure that you read every word on the contract and understand what each clause means. If something doesn’t make sense, ask questions until you get it.

There is so much to say regarding the offer. I do plan on writing a separate post dedicated to the subject. Just remember, the offer is what you have decided on. Before you go into any negotiation, make sure you have a solid “walk away” number. Don’t allow outside circumstances to change your mind. If you only want to pay $ 100,000 then stick to your guns. I know – it’s tough. You’re going to really want the house. You’ll start saying dumb things like, “What’s another $ 10,000? After all it’s only $ 50 a month more”. And you’ll back that up with, “oh, we’ll just eat out one less time per month to make up for it”. :-)


That’s a lot. If you’re still with me, I know you’re serious. I hope that was helpful and you took a few good nuggets away. Buying a house is a huge commitment. My mission is to help you slow down, think through the entire process, and make the best decision that’s right for you and your family. A decision that is just as good today as it will be in 10 years.

What did I miss? What questions are you still left with? Anyone have additional tips to share? Please comment below.

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