This is the right question to ask, as it is so seldom asked and all too often, wrongly interpreted. Let’s start out with the facts. The real estate agent you talk to concerning the house you are interested in buying is not on your side! Yes they will be friendly, accommodating, helpful and eager but don’t misinterpret this as being “on your side”. The agent is contracted by the vendor to put the vendors interest first. To get the best outcome for the vendor and in the process earn their commission on the sale.
Having said that, no buyer equals no sale and therefore, no commission. This means that agents need to be friendly, accommodating and helpful. Just remember they are not really interested in your best outcome. For this reason my advice is be very circumspect about the information you share with the agent. Be positive to the matters that will help the agent see you as good prospective buyers. By that I mean your financial status, your employment and future prospects, your enthusiasm and your interest in the property. However be equally circumspect about how much you can afford, what you think the property is worth, how eager / desperate you are to move and buy a house. Play your cards close to your chest!
You should expect an agent to answer your questions completely and honestly. The Real Estate Agents Act requires this of all agents. So be clear and be persistent, they are representing the vendor and need to answer your questions. Having said that, you need to answer some of your own questions using professionals unrelated to the agent, like a valuer, a building inspector and a lawyer. It always pays to use professionals, property is a very expensive investment and you need to be well informed. Times have changed in real estate. Before the web took over the home shopping process, agents did spend time with buyers, getting to know them, touring them around the neighbourhood showing them properties, however their intent in those days was still to sell you a house rather than help you buy a house. A subtle, but significant difference. That much has not changed.
The best advice as a buyer is as ever, to take the time to educate yourself. Get to know the area where you want to live. Research online well in advance properties that are for sale. Go and check them out, even if they are not a favourite location, style or price. The experience will build confidence in the process of real estate. Best of all play a game with yourself of estimating the sale price and then find our just what it did sell for. Attend the auction or ask the agent. It is far more common these days for agents to be forthcoming as to what properties sold for, many fall over themselves in weekly emails to tell you, so sign up! When you get serious and you get to the contract stage, keep remembering that the agent wants you to commit and to pay the maximum price, so be strong. Use a 3rd party if you feel you need to, a family member, a lawyer, someone you trust. Remember that vendors get just as nervous of this process as you and often the one with the coolest head wins!