Many of those seeking to buy a home — especially here in Santa Barbara, where real estate seems to be the favorite local pastime — might assume that the process is easy, particularly because there’s an impression that the Internet has taken out all the guesswork. One can simply select their desired neighborhood, check the listings on any of a number of free Web sites, make a few weekend forays to view open homes, hone in on one or two preferences, talk to the listing agent and draw up the offer within a few days’ time. Perhaps some great deals are found this way.

Joy Bean

Joy Bean

However, in the current tough economic climate, buying a home can be fraught with many unanticipated variables that often require the expertise of a real estate professional.

Market intelligence is essential in Santa Barbara’s competitive real estate market, and only a professional can do the comprehensive research, vetting and follow through that will save time and money down the road. Your home is one of your most important financial assets, and as such, its purchase deserves nothing less than the attention of a top professional.

Buyers may wonder whether they saw everything that was truly available for sale, including pocket listings and homes for sale in the future that only a knowledgable insider has on his or her radar. They might ask if they knew everything there was to know about the sellers of the property, including the reason for selling, length of time on the market including relistings and price changes over the past months and years, and other motivational factors.

Other issues to consider include examining all the possible financing options and doing the necessary due diligence to ensure the exact condition of the home, such as finding the best inspection team and leaving nothing unchecked, not even the sewer lines. Perhaps the buyer lost some money after working directly with the property’s listing agent, since after all, by definition this agent has a fiduciary responsibility to get the best possible price for the seller.

Listing agents can’t negotiate the best possible price for buyers if they have agreed to work in the seller’s best interest. An agent might like to take care of both the buyer and seller at the same time, in a deal known as “double-ending,” but the agent really can’t serve the needs of two masters at once.

There are 65 documented steps in the home-buying process, and moving through these steps effectively requires knowledge and discipline. The buyer’s agent commission is paid by the seller, not by you. Hiring a buyer’s agent is like hiring a personal real estate trainer for free.

Steps in the Home Buying Process

Here is a short list that illustrates how a savvy buyer’s agent can guide you through the process of buying a home:

1. Needs Analysis (before you start visiting properties)

» Analyze your wants vs. needs
» Using a criteria checklist, help you get a clear, detailed picture of your next home
» Establish a realistic timeline

2. Prequalification or Preapproval

» Guide you to a loan officer offering the best rates
» Help you obtain prequalification or preapproval
» Help you choose the best mortgage finance plan

3. Neighborhood Information

» Create a detailed neighborhood search profile from your final criteria
» Provide a list of target neighborhoods and key information for each
» Establish a realistic timeline

4. Home Search (now it’s time to start visiting homes)

» Organize and schedule with sellers the home tours
» Help you see 12 homes in the time you would see three on your own
» Provide ongoing updates and showings of newly available homes

5. Make an Offer

» Help to see how select homes fit with your final criteria list
» Help make the final decision on a home
» Tell you the price paid for comparable homes in recent history
» Advise on terms and issues related to the offer
» Fill out the purchase offer contract

6. Negotiating to Buy

» Present the offer to the seller; establish the advantage for a strong bargaining position
» Negotiate on your behalf with constant dialogue, using skills from experience
» Provide knowledge of each and every concession possible

7. Vendor Selection and Coordination

» Advise and supervise on vendor selection including the lender, inspector, attorney and contractor
» Help connect with reliable, proven vendors
» Coordinate vendor services and progress toward the close

8. Pre-Close Preparation

» Coordinate and supervise document preparation, which usually includes up to 20 separate documents
» Provide pre-closing consulting

9. Closing

» Preview final closing documents
» Resolve last minute issues such as move-in date changes
» Complete the transaction

10. Post-Closing

» Help you coordinate your move-in
» Assist with any issues that arise after closing

Whether you are a first-time homebuyer, a buyer moving up or downsizing, an investment savvy client or relocating to the area, consider selecting an agent who is a strong negotiator and has a proven business track record. He or she should have broad knowledge of the market now and in the past business cycles, have his or her finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the different neighborhoods and know financing and contracts.

With a true real estate professional in your corner, you will be assured of finding the right home at the best price in the shortest period of time.

Joy Bean, an agent with Sotheby’s International Realty, has more than 25 years of business, marketing, design and real estate investment experience. She can be reached at 805.895.1422 or, or visit for more information.