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House Hunting 101 – Finding the Right Real Estate Agent

Finding the right real estate agent is perhaps more critical for the disabled homebuyer than any other.

Working with a real estate agent is important for anyone buying a home. Agents bring knowledge of the housing market, understanding of contracts and disclosures, and expertise about the home purchase process.  But for the disabled buyer, the agent is literally going to be the client’s legs, arms, eyes, or ears, so finding the right real estate agent is extremely important.   Since most communities do not have real estate agents who specialize in working with clients with disabilities, asking the right questions is crucial.    Here are some issues to consider:

Consultants, not salespersons    The agent you choose must be an advisor to you, helping you to make good decisions.  You should NOT get the feeling that they are trying to get you to write an offer on the first place they show you that has a ramp.

Experience with Disability   Although possible, it is most likely that the agents you consider will not themselves be disabled.   However, the more sensitivity they have around disabilities, the better.   Inquire about their experience working with disabled clients.  Ask about their experience dealing with disabled family members.  

Expertise about Access    Your agent should be knowledgeable enough about the homes in your area to describe to you how much accessible property is available, and in which neighborhoods it can be found. Ideally, they should be able to connect you with contractors who have experience installing wheelchair lifts, ramps, and other accessibility features.

Agent Accessibility   The agent’s office should be accessible to you, as should the office of anyone they refer you to (such as a lender, for example).  If they cannot provide an accessible meeting location, they should willingly come to your current residence or any other place that works for you.       

Previewing Homes   As much as possible, the agent should preview the homes he/she wants to show you BEFORE taking you to see them.   The agent should check for all of their accessibility features, and take digital pictures of areas within the home that may not be accessible.    The agent should also check that the street and adjacent neighborhood are accessible if you are a chair user.  If you use a chair, make sure the agents understand that the absence of steps or thresholds is only part of the equation…they should also be evaluating your ability to get in and out of narrow hallways and bathrooms using the chair.

Transportation   The agents you interview probably will not have accessible vehicles.  If you do not have access to your own car or van, make sure you discuss transportation arrangements with the agents.  The better ones will work to make it as convenient as possible for you to preview properties.

Correspondence and Documents   If you cannot hold or read documents, make sure the agents you interview can provide digital versions of all of their paperwork and all of the legal documents involved in the transaction.

Patience and Understanding   Many agents are used to dealing with buyers who can preview properties on their own.  Some expect to show these clients five, six, or more properties at a time.   For many buyers with disabilities, this just isn’t realistic.   Some agents may not want to work with clients who are going to take a longer time to evaluate properties.  This is especially true when the amount of accessible housing stock is low to begin with.   Make sure all agents you speak with understand the limitations your disability imposes in terms of your time and energy, and make sure the agents are prepared to take all the time it takes to support you in your search.

Remember that real estate agents are fiduciaries.   This means they are supposed to put themselves in your shoes and represent your interests as if they were their own.  When interviewing agents, listen carefully to the words they use and their tone.  It should be all about how they are going to provide excellent service to you.   It should NOT be about how many homes they sold this year, or how many awards they have won. Make sure you ask each of them for references to other buyers they have worked with…. ideally buyers who were disabled.  Don’t forget to call the references and ask them specific questions about the level of service they experienced.   

Finally, make sure you interview at least three different agents before you make your choice.   By speaking with several agents, you will get a clear sense of which ones are service-oriented and you’ll dramatically increase the likelihood of a pleasant, low stress buying experience.

Happy house hunting!

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