The #1 Question You Need To Ask Your Realtor Before Ever Making an Offer on a Home

published May 27, 2024
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Credit: Photo: Sidney Bensimon; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

By the time my fiancé and I walked in the door of our first showing, our Realtor — who had arrived a few minutes early — already had a list of reasons why we shouldn’t buy that home. From shortcuts the builder took to the lack of sunlight that led to thick, hazardous layers of ice accumulating on the sidewalk and balcony, he raised several red flags for us. We love that he’s a straight shooter who wants to sell us the right home, even if it means several weekends spent walking us through potential properties. 

After we looked at a slew of homes, one piqued our interest, but it had a few shortcomings — notably, it was located on a fairly busy street, and the main bedroom faced the traffic. So I asked our Realtor a direct question: “Is this a home that you’d want to turn around and sell for us five years down the road?” 

In this instance, our Realtor was able to point out some reasons why the home wouldn’t likely be a good investment. The list price didn’t seem to take into consideration the glaring “comp killer” — i.e. the location on a major road that should have been driving down the value. Even if we had sound machines at night, the location would likely deter other buyers should we go to resell it several years down the road.

Savvy real estate pros should also have a good pulse on what’s happening in the neighborhood and what types of factors could potentially drive up home prices in the future. For example, our Realtor attends neighborhood meetings in one Denver area that we’re interested in, and he has intel about moratoriums that will slow building down in coming years, tightening up inventory and likely driving up demand.

While there’s no crystal ball, real estate professionals say that if you want a return on your investment on your home, it’s usually good to hold on to it for at least five years or so, which is why I phrase my question — “Would you want to sell this home for us?” — with that time frame in mind.

In recent years, some buyers have made cash from selling their home after a year or two because the market is appreciating so quickly, explains Rachel Kilmer, a Kansas City-based Realtor licensed in both Missouri and Kansas. 

“However, five years is a good rule of thumb if you look at the larger picture and history of the real estate market,” Kilmer says.

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She also recommends buyers ask their real estate agent what they can do to increase the value of the home should they buy it. Common answers, Kilmer says, include installing new flooring, painting, and upping the curb appeal.

It’s also important to note that new construction can be slightly different, she says. Since it’s typically priced higher per square foot, it’s akin to buying a brand-new car and driving it off the lot. Even if you live in it for three months and resell it as a seemingly new house, you’re likely to lose money, Kilmer explains. You’ve also got to take in all the costs of real estate transactions, like closing costs and Realtor commissions

Other questions Kilmer recommends asking are, “What is the highest sale in this neighborhood?” or “Are we setting the new high sale?” 

“This is important because that makes it harder to appreciate if you’re the most expensive sale,” she says. “It doesn’t mean don’t do it. It just means plan accordingly. The shorter amount of time you’re going to stay, the more it matters. The longer amount of time, the less it matters.”