Achieving the American Dream: What I actually do as a real estate agent

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Lauren Budik

How did you get started in the real estate industry?

My background is in journalism, and I used to work as a newspaper reporter. As my husband and I were planning to move back to the States after serving two years overseas with the State Dept., a colleague suggested to me that I’d be great in real estate. I looked into what it would take to get a license. I ended up taking the licensure classes and sat for the national, Virginia and D.C. exams when we got back. And that was almost two years ago!

What do you do as a real-estate agent?

My business is a combination of helping buyers, sellers and renters, which means I’m trying to facilitate transactions between property owners who want to sell their property and purchasers/renters who need housing.

It’s honestly very surprising how many people in this area can come to the table with $400K or more in cash to buy a home. And that’s leaving the “traditional” buyer who is putting 20 percent down with a mortgage at a disadvantage.

What is an average day like for you?

Every day is different. I’m on the road a lot, whether it’s off to meet clients and talk with them about the home buying process, showing property to current clients or previewing listings that have just come on the market to increase my area knowledge. I often work in the evenings and on the weekends since that’s when people are available and have time after their own jobs.

I also spend a lot of time meeting with other small business owners, like myself, and working to build a list of trusted contacts and vendors. I want to be a one-stop-shop for my clients beyond buying a home, not only with the mortgage lender, title insurance company and home inspector, but I also interview insurance agents, electricians, painters, handymen, you name it. I only want to work with the best in every field, and creating this list of vendors is something I take very seriously.

No two days are alike, and that’s one of the things I love about my work.

It can often take viewing dozens of houses to find the right fit when looking to buy a house. What are some of the challenges of facilitating those transactions?

What I’ve experienced here in the metro D.C. market is that even if you have well-qualified buyers with realistic expectations, that doesn’t make them an automatic shoe-in for the home they submit an offer on.

In the popular neighborhoods, we’re often competing against half a dozen other offers, and it’s likely that half of those are all-cash buyers, which means that if you’re coming to the table with a mortgage, you’re likely out of luck.

Why? Sellers usually take an all-cash buyer over those with a mortgage because they can close very quickly and likely do not have any contingencies, which are opportunities for the buyers to walk away and get out of the contract if something comes back unexpected or they don’t like. Additionally, in these competitive areas, the list price is merely a starting point. And then it’s just a matter of how high can we go price-wise to get the home.

It’s honestly very surprising how many people in this area can come to the table with $400K or more in cash to buy a home. And that’s leaving the “traditional” buyer who is putting 20 percent down with a mortgage at a disadvantage.

How do you find somebody the perfect home?

If you’re interested in buying a home, the first thing we want to do is to get you pre-approved by a well-known local lender so we know exactly what you can (or can’t) afford. After that, I set up an automated search in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) based on my clients’ criteria, which will send them new listings as soon as they hit the market. I help my clients to decipher all of the real estate jargon in the MLS so they can better understand what they’re reading, make appointments for us to see everything they’re interested in and off we go to preview property!

When my clients find the property they want to make an offer on, we sit down and go through all of the recent sales that are comparable to the listing they’re interested in and figure out what will be a competitive offer and what contingencies they want as a part of their offer. Whether it’s a home inspection, appraisal or financing contingency (or all three), it’s my job to make sure I represent my clients’ best interests. Sometimes, however, in a competitive market — as we’ve seen here in D.C. and Northern Virginia — our offer often cannot have all of these contingencies if we want to be the winning offer, so we take into account how much cash they have on hand and how much risk they can stomach or afford to take on.

Once selected, we negotiate back and forth with the sellers and get them under contract. After that, there’s typically a home inspection, and if the buyers are using a mortgage to purchase the property, an appraiser will be sent out so the lender can be comfortable with the amount of money they’re lending the buyers. Based on how these two reports come back, we can go back and negotiate with the sellers for either repairs, a credit or renegotiation of the purchase price (if these contingencies were indeed made a part of the offer).

What is your relationship with the people who you’re helping find a home?

I love helping people. I have an outgoing and bubbly personality, and there’s no greater sense of satisfaction than handing over the keys at the end of a transaction. Up to that point, there’s so much energy that goes into finding the right home, conducting inspections, getting finances in order all based on various deadlines and then — it’s over … there’s this calm. I get involved with my clients’ lives on an intimate level, which develops a very deep trust among us; I also get to know my clients as people outside of the transaction, their work situations, kids, pets, etc., and I find myself becoming friends with them because of how much time we spend together and how much we know about each other.

It is my hope that even when a transaction is completed, our friendship continues for years to come.

Inspired by CityLab’s “Brokering the American Dream”
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