HOME BUYER’S GUIDE

THE REALTOR ADVANTAGE



While owning a home may be the American dream, going through the home buying process can be anything but a dream. Understanding complex negotiations, contracts, real estate laws, and financing can put an abrupt halt to the excitement of finding the perfect home. Fortunately, residential real estate agents can take some of this burden off of buyers, allowing them to maintain focus on their new home instead of the complicated logistics that go along with it.

“Home buyers need someone who can show them what their options are,” says Phyllis Glover. Realtor with Ellen Terry, Realtors. “Buyers needs to feel confident during the home buying process, and the only way they can do this is through education. Typically, buyers become educated about home buying through their Realtors.”

Sure, buyers can scan the newspaper and drive around on their own each weekend in search of the right home at the right price. By-doing this, they are missing out on more than half of the homes on the market. Agents often know about listings before they go on the market and can guide buyers to homes that best suit their price ranges and needs-saving them time, money, and frustration.

Eleanor Mowery-Sheets, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, often drives through neighborhoods in search of homes that meet her buyers’ criteria. When she finds a match, she asks the owners if they are ready to sell. If the answer is yes, a transaction takes place that probably wouldn’t have without her negotiation expertise.

“Seasoned agents have the connections to make that one phone call that makes all the difference.” Mowery-Sheets says. “An agent’s job should be to provide every level of service possible. When making one of the biggest purchases of your life, the experience an agent provides is invaluable.”

In today’s incredibly strong residential real estate market, many homes are getting multiple offers. Home buyers are often under the misconception that because they made the first or highest offer, they’ll get tire house.

Without the help of a Realtor, handling the pressure and confusion of multiple offers can be difficult for buyers-especially first-time buyers.

“People get upset when their offer isn’t the one that’s accepted,” Glover says. “So many things come into play when multiple offers are made. Sometimes, whoever can meet the seller’s desired closing date is the buyer who gets the house, and price isn’t necessarily a major issue. When a Realtor can educate the buyer about how to present the best offer, the buyer has a greater likelihood of getting the home.”

Other aspects of the negotiation process–understanding contracts, the importance of home inspections, disclosure laws, and repair issues-are easier to understand with the guidance of a real estate agent. Eager home buyers often focus too heavily on the appearance of the house and don’t know what questions to ask about its repair history. They run the risk of owning a home in need of major repairs just months after they move in. Agents who understand disclosure laws and know what problems to check out can step in and ask the right questions. They can also handle the final negotiations, leaving the buyers free of this often uncomfortable and stressful step.

Real estate agents also come in handy for busy home buyers who don’t have lime to research every neighborhood they are considering. Since most agents specialize in particular neighborhoods, they can inform buyers about the history of a neighborhood’s appreciation, its amenities, and about nearby schools and conveniences.

“Nothing is worse than buying a home you love, but realizing later than you don’t like the neighborhood.” says Paula Scofield, Realtor with Ebby Halliday, Realtors. “A buyer needs to feel confident about the neighborhood they are buying in, knowing that homes will appreciate when they are ready to sell. Realtors know what to look for. They can tell the buyer if railroad tracks are nearby, if a major highway is being built soon, or if homes there aren’t selling well.”

Fortunately, finding a real estate agent is one of the easier aspects of home buying. A good way to locate a reputable and successful agent is through referrals from friends or family. Typically, the best real estate agents specialize in service after the sale. A home owner who purchased his house 10 years ago may still use the same agent for updates on the real estate market and inside information on which neighborhoods are hot in case he is ready to buy again. A real estate agent who continues to service the client-even when no money is involved-is the agent who is most often referred. Buyers should interview at least three real estate agents at their offices, rather than at an open house or showing so that the agent’s full attention is on the buyer’s needs rather than the sale.

Acredential to check when interviewing real estate agents is an affiliation with a networking group. A networking group is an independent mega-office of Realtors from various agencies who work together on finding homes for their clients. They continually exchange the latest information and listings, giving their buyers an incredible advantage over other buyers using real estate agents who work alone.

Betty Spining, president of Agent Productions which represents the Dallas Realtor networking group Masters of Real Estate, says knowledge of for-sale properties, seller objectives, and what prospective buyers want is the fuel that helps make real estate sales happen. Communication of these details among real estate agents is best conducted in a structured environment that only an established network can provide.

“With more than 250 people moving to Dallas every day, this market has been amazing,” says Vicki Foster, Realtor with Keller Williams Realty. “A buyer who expects to get the best deal needs to use a Realtor.”

The Realtor networking group. Premier Producers, suggests using the following criteria when choosing a Realtor. Ask the following questions of each agent you interview.

■ How long have you worked as a residential real estate agent?

■ What kind of education/training do you have, and how often do you update your training?

■ Do you go above and beyond your required duties? Give examples.

■ Are you current with real estate trends, laws, and new contract regulations?

■ How many homes have you sold in my desired price range/neighborhoods in the past few years?

■ Are you extremely knowledgeable about the areas where I am considering purchasing a home?

■ How often can I expect to hear from you during our search and throughout the negotiation process?

■ How will you organize and execute helping me find and buy my home?

■ Do you have assistants who can show me homes when you aren’t available?

■ How do you creatively market yourself and stay active in the community?

■ Will you be candid with me about my seleclion regarding its condition, the value of the neighborhood, etc.? Will you tell me what I need to hear rather than what I want to hear?

■ Will you provide me with references?

HIGH-TECH HOME BUYING

When Adleta & Poston’s top Realtor Dave Perry-Miller was looking for a desert vacation home in Arizona, he finally experienced what so many people told him they felt about the home buying process-frustration. After spending too much time and money flying back and forth between Dallas and Tucson in search of the right home, Perry-Miller knew an easier house-hunting method must exist. He wanted to get a feel for the homes before actually traveling to see them. His solution? The Internet.

Perry-Miller’s experience helped him recognize the tremendous benefits of using the Web to shop for a home. The ease and convenience of shopping the Internet for clothing, books, travel-even automobiles-lures millions of consumers to the Web every day. Why not homes? Perry-Miller knew if he could save time and money shopping for a home online, so would his clients. He decided to put his business online and created a methodology mat was both simple and comprehensive for the consumers using his site. This led him to the purchase of numerous domain names including . These sites allow visitors to shop for and virtually tour a variety of homes before settling on a short list to view in person.

The decision has paid huge dividends.

Perry-Miller sold more than $70 million last year and can trace a large portion of the sales to his new web site, He expects more than half of his business this year will come from web site sales. Perry-Miller recently enhanced his web site with smart, user-friendly browsing features .such as the implementation of neighborhood specialization addresses like eparkci- and
Online residential real estate has worked well for Dallas RE/MAX Realtor Judy McCutchin as well. She has had her own web site, www.dallashomes.com . since 1994 and sold more than $11 million last year from homes listed on her site. Both she and Perry-Miller agree an incredible consumer demand exists for online residential real estate. Today’s consumers are too busy to spend their weekends and evenings driving around with their Realtors looking for homes. By shopping online, buyers can house-hunt from the comfort of their own homes at any hour. They can click through listings until they find homes that suit their needs and price ranges. When buyers finally meet their Realtors for a showing, they can rest assured knowing they’ll only be touring homes mat interest them.

Sellers also have an advantage by putting their borne online because it allows buyers to virtually tour the home instead of actually seeing it. This results in fewer-but more qualified-showings. Another plus to shopping for homes online is research. Buyers can take virtual tours of properties in various price ranges to leant the cost of the amenities they want. Home buyers can determine if they will move up or down in price without leaving their own computers. Research like this done in the real world can cause frustration for both buyers and sellers. Buyers spend time looking at homes they probably won’t buy. and sellers waste time showing their homes to unqualified buyers.

“The Internet will become the preferred way to shop for a home.” Perry-Miller says. “Buyers will always want the personal connection with a Realtor, and that hasn’t been lost online. By narrowing down your choices early on. communication between me Realtor and client becomes much stronger at the actual showings.”

Realtors who list homes online establish a strong connection with buyers before they ever meet. When a buyer logs on to a site, they enter their desired price range, neighborhood, and home style which gives the Realtor an idea of what listings to send him via email. Buyers can take virtual tours of homes online, allowing them to see most every room. Some sites offer a virtual tour of the neighborhood and provide a glimpse of surrounding homes so buyers get a feel of the area. The Realtor and buyer can continually exchange emails about listings until the buyer is ready to tour the homes in person. By the time the Realtor and buyer meet, they feel like they already know each other.

“I develop a great relationship with my client online.” McCutchin vus. “I’ve even had clients hug me when they walk in the door because they consider me a friend. This works out better than a new client walking through my office door because I already know what my online client wants in a house, what they can afford, and where they want to look. When a new client walks in, we start from scratch.”

Perry-Miller says that once buyers try shopping online for a home, they usually become booked. The experience is simple, convenient, and yields impressive results. However, some people are apprehensive at first because they are afraid they will be required to provide personal financial data online before a Realtor will work with them. Perry-Miller says to think of the site as visiting a Realtor’s office for the first time. Just browse the listings. The actual buying process doesn’t take place online-just education and familiarization with the homes. Once the buyer actually sees the home he wants to purchase, contract negotiations and financing take place in person.

The best real estate web sites provide important information beyond the listings and serve as guide to the city. A city’s history, neighborhood information, and school district statistics are especially useful for out-of-town buyers. Maps, chat rooms, mortgage calculators, and aerial photographs of the city and neighborhoods are other useful extras. When buyers find exactly what they’re looking for online, all they have to do is email the Realtor to schedule an appointment for a showing.

Buyers working from a dedicated line can click a button on the home page that immediately calls the Realtor.

Shopping for a home online has received some criticism from Realtors and buyers who fear that some homes that have been sold won’t be tagged as such online. Because so many web sites on the Internet aren’t continually or properly updated, buyers could easily get their hearts set on a home and soon learn it is no longer for sale.

“A real estate site should be updated every day-sometimes every few hours,” says John Brosius, a buyer’s representative with Dave Perry-Miller. “A good site should always state when it was last updated. On our site, homes are tagged ’contract pending’ or ’sold’ so buyers always know the status. Just by updating the site and communicating via email, you are creating that personal connection buyers appreciate. “

Local Realtors who list properties online suggest using sites with the following features when shopping for a home online:

■ Virtual tours of homes

■ Indication of when the site was last undated

■ Easy navigation and user-friendly features

■ Quick download

■ A showcase of the homes-not die Realtors

■ Provides history of city, neighborhoods, school district information, maps, important telephone numbers

■ Ability to contact Realtor immediately with questions or for an appointment

HOME BUILDING 2000

For many home buyers, finding the perfect home becomes more difficult than they initially thought. The home a buyer envisions in his mind doesn’t always surface during the house-hunting process. Countless weekends can be spent touring homes that never fulfill the buyer’s complete checklist of wants and needs. Enter custom home builders. They can make sure buyers get exactly what they want in a home-from a swim-up bar in a lagoon swimming pool to built-in vanities inside his-and-her master bedroom walk-in closets, Whether a buyer’s tastes include high-tech home automation systems, fun gadgets such as remote-control fireplaces, or elaborate home theaters, today’s homes can be built to accommodate most any feature.

“Dallas has an incredibly huge housing market, says George Lewis, president of George Lewis Custom Homes. “As a result, so many choices in building materials exist. Anything the customer wants is a possibility. Drive through some upscale residential neighborhoods and you’ll see all of the different tastes and ideas reflected in the homes. The choices are endless.”

In an effort to keep this variety of choice from becoming too overwhelming. D Magazine highlights the latest home building trends found in some of the most luxurious homes in the Dallas area.

Less Is More

Because Dallas has never been very familiar with the phrase ’less is more.’ local custom home builders have been surprised by the many requests for homes built with less square footage. Home owners have finally succumbed to the fact that while ornate formal living areas are pretty to admire, they are rarely necessary or used. Finally, more space is given to the rooms where everyone tends to gravitate-the kitchen and the family room. They now blend together, creating a great room that allows for more interaction among family and guests.

“People still want size to a certain extent, but not wasted space,” says Zachary Luterman, president of Zachary Luterman Custom Homes. “They are very conscious of the appointments inside of their homes, spending more money on the details instead of space. They want areas that bring the family together, rather than too many rooms that force them to spread out across the house.”

Gary Schell, president of Schell Custom Homes, says today’s home owners prefer their new homes to be in zero-lot line communities thai require less yard maintenance. However, they still want their homes to have every luxurious appointment. Beautiful alcoves built specifically for pianos, media rooms, high-speed band width, commercial kitchens geared for entertaining large groups, and large-yet cozy-family rooms are taking the place of untouched formal living areas, closed-off kitchens, and overwhelming floorplans.



Just for Show

For some Dallas home owners, stylish at-home entertaining takes place beyond the typical areas. Polo lounge-like cigar bars and quaint wine grottos-some thai can hold up to 5,000 bottles of wine-are fast becoming the rooms of choice among home owners for after-dinner relaxation.

“Home owners may never use these rooms much personally, but they make great novelties.” Luterman says. “People are spending a lot of money for that one extra feature that makes their home unique.”

One of these features is home elevators. In large custom homes, continually going from one floor to the next can become tiresome, says Robyn Stalcup, sales manager for Bellaire Custom Homes.

“Elevators are great for convenience, but they are also fun to have,” Stalcup says. “In larger homes, they are nominal in cost and enable the owners to better utilize and access their living space. Elevators are especially useful to home owners with limited mobility.”

A behind-the-scenes feature becoming more popular in larger custom homes is geo-thermal air conditioning. The system uses the earth as a radiator to dispense and receive heat, doubling the heating and cooling efficiency in a home. Mickey Munir, president of Sharif & Munir Uncustomary Custom Homes, says although the system is expensive to install, it usually cuts heating and cooling bills in half. The system also eliminates the need for multiple outdoor units since it is self-contained and is usually installed in the attic.

One of the most significant advancements in home building is the implementation of home automation. A computer-run home allows owners to control their home’s alarm system, lights, audio/visual equipment, air conditioning, and other features from anywhere in the world via their computer or telephone.

Home automation systems, such as the popular Phast (Premium Home Automation System Technology) system, operate from a central computer. The system is programmed on a CD-Rom at the store where it is purchased and then professionally installed in the home to control a variety of features. Maintaining the air, lighting, and audio system is convenient for home owners of large homes so they don’t have to go from room to room adjusting controls. At the touch of a wall-mounted computerized keypad, the audio level, music selection, air temperature, and lighting can be adjusted and controlled for each room. When the system is operated via telephone, a home owner can call in a command to open the garage door, turn on the lights, play a particular CD. and have the Jacuzzi running by the time he gets home from work.

Much of what makes a home stand out among the rest are the details that can make a major impact. Some of Dallas’ favorite new home trends include the following:

■ Outdoor environments that create an escape-but still feel like an extension of the home-are in. An outdoor loggia-a cozy back patio with an outdoor fireplace off of the kitchen-makes a great “extra” room and is the ideal spot for casual entertaining.

■ Rather than choosing a floorplan with the typical breakfast nook off the kitchen, build a keeping room-a spot for casual meals accented by natural stones and a hearth fireplace for a cozy dining experience.

■ Plan for extra storage space by working with the builder on creative space-saving ideas now, rather than wishing you had later. Walk-in attics and attics with built-in shelves are popular.

■ Incorporate antique furniture into the home during the construction phase. Have the builder actually build your beloved pieces into the home.

■ Plan a kitchen for every possible situation. Two dishwashers, two sinks, two prep areas, warming drawers, wine coolers, and sturdy commercial appliances will come in handy at your next part .

■ Enjoy a low-maintenance lifestyle by using natural materials such as stone, ceramic tile, and granite surfaces wherever possible. They last longer and are easier to maintain.

■ Indulge in this year’s hottest home trendspa baths. Massaging shower heads, waterfall baths, warming drawers for towels, heated marble flooring, and in-shower sound systems provide the ultimate in relaxation and pampering.

■ Choose “intelligent” home lighting that allows you to adjust the setting of every lamp in a room to create a particular mood-all from one control.

■ Don’t forget about the home theater. Dallas is quickly catching on to this latest trend. “Today’s home theaters have replaced swim-

ming pools.” Munir says. “Being the only one on the block with a swimming pool used to be the cool thing. Now. having a home theater makes your home unique.” ■ Home offices should mimic a traditional office environment and be wired for a phone. cable, fax, and high-speed Internet access for multiple users. Builders predict that a home built today with wiring that isn’t flexible enough to accommodate future technological advances will be obsolete within a year.

UPTOWN LIVING

Uptown Dallas is hoi again. That’s no secret. The area has experienced an incredible boom, and the growth is expected to continue at an impressive rale. Newcomers to Dallas-as well as longtime residents in search of a change in environment-continue to make Uptown Dallas their home for the convenience, entertainment, and interesting atmosphere it offers. Because Uptown Dallas has proved itself to be a thriving area with much potential, residents want to stay and witness the continued progress-causing many Uptown renters to consider home ownership.

“Uptown is a secure purchase today,” says AI Coker. marketing and sales specialist for new condominiums with Bowman International. “With the Nasher Sculpture Garden, the new arena, and so many businesses calling Uptown home, buyers can feel good about making a long-term commitment to living in Uptown Dallas.”

A significant number of Uptown Dallas residents have moved from other major cities that offered them a rich, urban lifestyle experience-and they want it back. New Dallas residents may take jobs in the suburbs, but they want to enjoy an authentic urban lifestyle again when they come home at night. Only the Uptown and downtown areas of Dallas can offer this.

Developers have responded to this demand and are offering a variety of for-sale living options geared to the urban resident’s needs. One example is The Mercer in Uptown, an upscale-yet affordable-high-rise condominium project set to break ground this spring. The 100-foot-tall building will be the first of its kind in Dallas with its innovative future-proof design that allows access to emerging technologies.

More than 100 megabytes will be incorporated into The Mercer to provide residents with Internet speed far beyond DSL, and residents can have wireless Internet service. An innovative technological aspect of The Mercer is its security system. Residents will access the building by way of a computerized palm reader, meaning they hold their palms up to a sensor at points of entry to gain building access. Another available method of entry is via retina scanning. A computerized monitor will take a quick scan of a person’s retina to determine if they have been given access to the building. Smart boxes will be installed in ever)’ suite, allowing residents unlimited and flexible access to audio/visual capabilities, data access, and home management.

By overlooking the St. Thomas historic district. The Mercer will be one of the only high-rise condominiums in Dallas with protected views. The feel and look of the building pays homage to the luxurious Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles and will feature a similar rooftop pool offering spectacular views of downtown Dallas from every vantage point. An international design team is currently developing the building’s modem, classic look. Suites range from 800 to 3,000 square feet and are priced to sell from $200,000.

Other projected amenities include a gym designed by Larry North and a second-floor garden piazza featuring outdoor fireplaces, fountains, and landscaped areas. The Mercer in Uptown will be available for occupancy by mid-2001.

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