When it comes to cities, few can rival the prestige of Los Angeles. After all, it is home to some of the most iconic neighborhoods in the world, including Hollywood Hills, Bel Air, Brentwood, and Pacific Palisades.
Of course, purchasing a house in such a competitive market is never easy. Luckily, real estate agents serve as trusted experts who can help you successfully navigate the home-buying process in LA.
With hundreds of real estate professionals in the city to choose from, however, whittling down your options can be overwhelming.
How does one select the best possible agent? The answer is to ask questions—lots of them.
Questions to ask a Realtor
Given the cost of an LA home, a buyer can never ask too many questions. As often happens, however, people don’t ask nearly enough. And buying a house without all the necessary information—about the agent, the property, and the neighborhood—is never ideal. To help you ask all the right questions, we’ve prepared this cheat sheet just for you:
About the real estate agent
While you technically don’t need an agent to buy a home in LA, there are many benefits to doing so. With expertise in the local market and mastery of the home-buying process, a realtor can fast-track your journey to owning a dream home.
That said, you have to choose an agent with the same care you’d choose a property—after all, they will be your partner in this endeavor. The following will help you find the right one:
- How long have you been in the business? — This not a knock on new agents—after all, everyone was a beginner at some point. But when you’re buying a multi-million dollar home, you’ll want a professional who has extensive experience in the luxury property market. What they have that newer agents don’t is a track record; if they have successfully sold seven-figure properties in the past, they have the skills to handle high-value transactions. Being more experienced also means they have finely tuned negotiation skills that will help you to get the best deal possible on a home.
- Can you provide references? — When it comes to experience, however, it’s not just the number of years that matter—the quality of service counts, too. That’s why the best agents have many repeat clients who rely on them for any real estate transaction. If an agent is really as good as they claim to be, they should be able to furnish you with names of past clients who can vouch for their skills. Think of it this way: you’d never hire someone without calling their references first, right? The same is true when choosing a realtor. Take this opportunity to ask what it’s like to work with an agent and whether they would recommend this professional to you.
- How many clients are you servicing right now? — There’s a fine balance when it comes to the number of clients a real estate agent handles. If they have too many on their roster, they might struggle to provide hands-on service to you. If they have too few, however, it could mean their service may be subpar. You should also ask about the ratio of buyers and sellers among their clients. Agents typically specialize in one or the other, and you’ll want to hire a realtor who caters more to buyers like you.
- What is your availability and what’s the best way to contact you? — It’s also worth asking your agent’s availability to ensure that your schedule and theirs match. This is crucial because most home showings happen during weekends and your agent should be available on those days, too. You should also inquire about the best way to get in touch with your agent and what their typical response time is. This allows you to gauge just how responsive and attentive they will be if they become your agent.
- Can you recommend trustworthy lenders? — Financing a luxury home in LA is quite different from financing a standard one. The Federal Housing Finance Agency has set a limit of $822,000 for conforming loans in high-cost areas like LA. If you’re planning on buying a multi-million-dollar home, you’ll likely need to take out a jumbo mortgage. The best agents should have an extensive network, including lenders who provide such loans. They should also be able to provide advice on how to boost your chances of getting approved for a jumbo mortgage.
- What red flags should I watch out for when buying a house? — While an agent works on commission, they also have a fiduciary duty to their clients. This means that they cannot place their financial interests above those of the buyer or seller. Should an agent think a house is really not suitable for you, they should point this out after a showing even if it means missing out on a commission. The best agents will strive to find a property that ticks all your boxes instead of one that raises red flags.
- How can I make my offer better? — There’s nothing more heartbreaking than finding a house you love and making an offer on it, only to be passed over for another buyer. Agents know that houses are won or lost on the strength of an offer letter, so ask them what strategies they will use to boost your chances of being selected. This typically starts with a comparative analysis (called “comps”) of similar properties in the same area so you can better gauge prevailing market rates. Agents should also have ideas on how to sweeten the deal, such as offering to shoulder the closing costs or waiving certain buyer’s contingencies.
- How much commission do you charge? — Strictly speaking, the buyer’s and seller’s agents split the commission after a home is sold, which is typically 5%-6% of the final selling price. Each agent then splits the amount they receive with their respective brokerages and pays for the costs or fees they have incurred along the way. The seller almost always pays the commission to both the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent, which is why you will sometimes hear the former say that their service is free. It is perfectly acceptable to ask your agent how they are being compensated for the transaction so you have a clearer sense of the costs of buying your home.
- Am I required to sign a buyer representation agreement? — A buyer representation agreement stipulates the services and payments that agents and clients owe each other. However, it pays to know the different kinds of agreements available to you. A non-exclusive/not-for-compensation agreement leaves you free to work with other agents, so you don’t have to pay your agent anything if they don’t close a deal on your behalf. With an exclusive agreement, on the other hand, you must work with and pay an agent for any property you buy—whether or not they helped you find it. Both options have pros and cons, so be sure to ask an agent to explain them.
About the property and its neighborhood
Now that you have a better handle on your agent’s qualifications, it’s time to ask about how they assess properties. After all, they are tasked with scouting and shortlisting homes on your behalf. As such, they must exhibit deep knowledge not just of the houses they recommend, but also of the neighborhoods they’re situated in. To help you assess an agent’s expertise in the local real estate market, be sure to ask these questions:
- What can you tell me about this neighborhood? — Not all neighborhoods are the same. And in a city as expansive as LA, different communities cater to different buyers. If you want to live in the thrumming heart of the city, the downtown area is the ideal address. If a more peaceful atmosphere is what you’re after, however, a more suburban area like Hollywood Hills is more suitable. A good agent must quickly intuit what lifestyle you wish to enjoy and recommend the neighborhood that best matches it.
- What is this community’s history? — While any agent with a California real estate license can sell you a home in LA, what you want is a local professional who knows each and every neighborhood intimately. One way to find out just how well they know the area is to ask about its history. Can they tell you how the community started? Are they knowledgeable about the locale’s prominent residents, past and present? And most importantly, what does the future hold for this neighborhood? Asking all of these questions will quickly reveal if an agent is truly the expert they claim to be.
- What amenities can residents look forward to? — LA may have pricey homes, but they are well worth the cost given their deluxe amenities. It’s not uncommon to find listings with resort-style pools, spa-like bathrooms, high-end home gyms, and private wine cellars. Likewise, the best neighborhoods in the city have easy access to public amenities like beaches, hiking trails, and community parks. There are even gated communities that provide exclusive access to facilities such as golf courses and clubhouses. When you work with an accomplished real estate agent, it’s easy for them to find a property that has all the amenities you need and want.
- What’s the cost of maintenance? — The cost of a home isn’t the only expense you should account for—you should factor in maintenance costs as well. If you want a home with a specific feature or amenity, your agent should know what the attendant upkeep costs will be. Knowing this beforehand enables you to better manage your budget and avoid sticker shock. For example, a pool requires regular cleaning and chemical treatments to keep the water ideal for swimming. Likewise, a large lawn needs attentive landscaping to keep it looking attractive.
- What’s the history of the home? — Many LA homes date back to the early 1900s when Hollywood and the film industry started booming. Hence, you have the opportunity to own a vintage property that’s rich in history and character. That said, buyers might also be wary of older homes as they could require extensive repairs or renovation. When your agent presents a listing to you, they should know its entire history, including all upgrades the previous owners made. Furthermore, they should have the home’s sales history on hand, as this tells you if its valuation has increased or decreased over time.
About the local lifestyle
A home is more than just a roof over your head—it’s your gateway to the vaunted LA lifestyle. After narrowing down your options for neighborhoods, ask your agent what living there is like so you can better gauge if it’s right for you. Doing so also tests how well an agent knows the community you want to move to.
- What is the general vibe here? — One of the first questions you should ask your agent is the overall atmosphere in a given locale. As previously discussed, LA is a diverse city with equally diverse neighborhoods. You have seaside communities that are more laid-back, as well as secluded neighborhoods that offer greater privacy. Then you have the city center, where a mile-a-minute pace of living comes standard. Some areas also have unique quirks, such as Brentwood’s focus on healthy living. Asking beforehand ensures that you will find a neighborhood that fits your lifestyle and values.
- How good are the schools here? — Buyers with young children should always ask about school quality in the neighborhoods they are eyeing. Your agent should know how many public and private institutions there are in the area, as well as which ones are considered the best. Aside from ensuring your kids get a top-notch education, living close to a good school can significantly boost the resale price of your home, too. According to data from the National Bureau of Economic Research, each dollar spent on public schools increases home values by $20.
- How accessible is the area? — Accessibility can be a subjective matter. Those who want a more suburban vibe don’t mind a longer drive if it means enjoying a more peaceful environment. Urbanites, meanwhile, will surely appreciate easy access to public transportation like buses and railways. Whichever camp you fall on, a trusted agent should know what transportation options are available in a given locale. They should also have an idea of the average commute time, which can be a make-or-break factor to some buyers.
- What are the nearby attractions? — As much as you love your home, you won’t be spending all your time inside. So when looking at neighborhoods, you should ask agents about the nearby attractions as well. Luckily, LA has no shortage of excellent ones, including stunning beaches, breathtaking mountains, and awe-inspiring museums, to name a few. Living near these attractions means you won’t have to travel far to have a good time with your family. Moreover, being near notable destinations can also boost the value of a home.
- What activities do residents enjoy? — Aside from nearby attractions, your agent should also know about the recreational activities a certain community offers. After all, leisure and luxury are a big part of LA’s appeal and this is evidenced by its wealth of enjoyable activities. Buyers who love golfing or shopping, for example, should ask which areas support these pastimes.
- Does the area have great restaurants? — If you’re a food connoisseur, make sure to also ask about the great restaurants in the area. Luckily, LA has no shortage of excellent dining spots, including chef-driven restaurants like Maude, Osteria Mozza, and Otium. Asking your agent where he usually dines when he’s in the neighborhood should give you a good idea of the locale’s culinary pedigree.
Hire a trusted realtor when buying your home
As you can see, selecting an agent is no easy task and you have to thoroughly evaluate candidates before deciding to hire one. For a smooth and problem-free experience, rely on the expertise of Ben Kruger, a leading realtor who specializes in the LA area.
Ben has overseen many notable real estate transactions in the city, including the sale of XTEN Architecture’s Nakahouse. He specializes in representing unique properties in LA and has broken several sales records in the area.
When you work with Ben, you receive nothing short of VIP treatment, as befits a discerning buyer such as yourself. He also grants you access to exclusive properties that only a member of Hilton & Hyland, a leading independent brokerage, can provide. Understanding that no two clients are the same, he devises bespoke strategies that allow buyers to make their dream home a reality.
Whether you’re looking for a luxurious condominium or an opulent mansion, he has the skills to make it happen. With a keen understanding of contract negotiations and real estate laws, you can rest assured that no detail will fall through the cracks.
If you’d like to know more about LA and its coveted neighborhoods, just give Ben Kruger a call at 310.600.4500 or send him an email at ben(at)hiltonhyland(dotted)com. For greater convenience, he can also arrange virtual property tours for out-of-state buyers.