Q: My husband and I have been house hunting in Hunterdon County, NJ for almost two years now. We have made several offers, had three accepted and have moved forward with inspections. The septics have failed inspection on all three. Inspections also uncovered multiple serious structural or systemic problems with the houses themselves. Many of these were very easy to see, once pointed out to us (we do not know much about home construction). Long story short, all three sales fell through.We have come to realize that our realtor has absolutely no ability to look at a house and guide us as to whether or not the property is going to be a money pit. The houses we can afford in this area are going to be estates, foreclosures, short sales, etc. I DO NOT EXPECT OUR REALTOR TO BE AN ACTUAL INSPECTOR, we just need someone who has some real knowledge of (often older) rural structures. We need someone who will push to get clear info about wells and septics BEFORE an offer, and who isn't afraid to tell us not to try to buy a particular house. We will probably hire an inspector for a walk-through before we make any more offers, but we need a realtor we can trust from the beginning. PLEASE HELP!
A: Thank you for your post on such an interesting topic - the ability of an agent to assist with a specific aspect of evaluating a piece of real estate for purchase. As others have mentioned, real estate agents are trained to assist with the transaction. The reality is that the real estate training classes go over "terms" - protected classes, riparian rights, disclosure laws, and other items that an agent is responsible to know for legal purposes. Everything else is learned " in the field" - how to write a contract, how to evaluate a property, and just how to conduct your business.
When it comes to evaluating the structure of a home, an agent cannot assist with that unless that agent is licensed to do so. If you were curious about building codes or whether something can be changed in a home, an agent can only comment if that agent is a licensed general contractor (like me). Please note that, as agents, we also cannot comment on the price of repairing something unless we're regularly in the business of doing that kind of work. If you were curious about structural integrity, an agent can only comment if that agent is a licensed engineer.
All of this is for good measure - you need to obtain competent advice from licensed, competent professionals.
Now, if we alter the question a little... "you're looking for an agent with experience working with older or distressed buildings" - different question altogether. There are agents that have worked with a lot of investors or who have purchased, rehabbed, and flipped property with other clients or, perhaps, personally. That particular agent, based on experience, will have his/her own checklist of things to look at - roof, mechanical systems, windows, flooring, etc, etc. If you look for agents that have listed rehabbed property, or look for agents listing distressed property, you may have better luck.
Like anything in real estate, it's about finding the right fit for the job. There are agents that specialize in luxury real estate, agents that specialize in apartment buildings, etc, etc. Most agents try to be a jack of all trades, and even those agents have one or two things that he/she is really good at and should focus on. It's up to you to find, and interview, the agents with the skillset you're looking for.
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