Susanna Leung has been part of the team working with her childhood friend Helen Chong, founder of Haylen Group, for the past 8 years. Why did she choose the real estate industry? How is it like to work with her good friend? And what is her favorite part of her real estate career? Watch this interview to know more about Susanna!
Once a first-time homebuyer herself, Susanna’s goal as a real estate professional with Haylen Group is to help her first-time home buying clients find that perfect home where their families can grow, thrive, and live their dreams in the United States. In the interview below, Susanna will explain what you should pay extra attention to when buying a home, and how she helps her clients during the process! Watch the video recording here.
Helen: Hi everybody, I’m so excited today because I’m going to be introducing you to one of our Haylen agents who’s been with Haylen for a long time, for the past 8 years now. We work and meet with a lot of first-time homebuyers, and actually, probably most of our clients are first-time homebuyers.
Susanna: I would say at least 90%, and maybe at least 50% to 60% of them are actually relocated from another country to the United States.
Helen: I agree, and so what do you think is one of the biggest questions they have when they come to us? They start asking – okay, I want to buy a home, but I don’t really know what to do. What is the most common question?
Susanna: As we all go through all this multiple offers housing market, it’s very important that our buyers get a pre-approval, and not only pre-approval but also going through a very thorough underwriting process. A lot of first-time homebuyers do not know the difference between pre-qualification, or what pre-approval is, and they didn’t know that the visa they’re holding actually makes a huge difference in who they can actually do financing with.
Helen: I agree, and sometimes they don’t know which area they should be looking at. They just know that – okay, I’m going to be working in Cupertino, or I’m going to be working in Sunnyvale, I’m just going to look for homes over here that’s close by. But they started asking – how come the home over here, which is in Sunnyvale still, and then maybe another townhouse, the pricings are so similar, even though one is a single-family, one is a townhouse. How do you go about that?
Susanna: I think one of the biggest factors to our housing prices here in Silicon Valley is the school district. A lot of people just don’t know that schools have rankings, and actually it makes such a huge difference here. As a matter of fact, that’s what affects all the prices. In some other countries, the school does not weigh as much, even though it is important to look at, but here it makes a huge difference.
Helen: Yeah, when we do an analysis, we always tell them that – look, you have to look at different homes belonging to different school districts. Sometimes it could be a school ranking ten, and two blocks down is another school ranking three, you know, completely different, so the valuation would be very different. Sometimes we have to really make sure that, if the school district is a very important factor for them, we have to identify certain pockets of that city.
Susanna: Yeah and sometimes there are so many different school ranking websites that give you different types of ranking as well, so it’s very important to actually guide them where to look to get a more accurate answer.
Helen: That’s true, sometimes the clients say – oh I thought this is ranked 10 and then over there is ranked 8, which one do you look at?
Susanna: And you have to verify to make sure that it does go to that school, because a lot of real estate websites sometimes just give you what is the closest school to this address, but not necessarily it is the school that where it goes to.
Helen: Yeah, when they are looking for a home, besides the school districts, in terms of the location, what else do they need to pay attention to?
Susanna: The first thing before I even walk inside a house is that I always guide my clients to look at the street, you know, look at what surrounds this house. Of course, you don’t want to be close to a freeway or high voltage towers, that sort of thing. Sometimes people get so excited – wow I see all the pictures, it looks so nice, and just walk right into it, and never pay attention to the outside until they actually got into contract.
Helen: Yeah that is so true. I remember one specific client that we were talking to, and you pointed out that there’s a stop sign right in front of the house, and then over there there’s a bus stop. They’re like – wow I didn’t even pay attention to that, because the house was actually decorated and staged really nicely.
Susanna: Yeah, and sometimes when we go to open houses, especially on weekends, there isn’t that much traffic for you to experience the noise and stuff like that. So it is very important that the clients also have a revisit, even just outside of the home area, at night or during a weekday morning to get a sense of how the area is actually.
Helen: And a lot of comments from our clients is that you probably tell them more no’s than yes’s. Our clients would be more excited than you and you’re like – no, don’t consider this one, I don’t think this is a good one.
Susanna: It’s so funny because I never thought of being a realtor in the first place, and then when I first became a realtor I had a very scary thought that my clients would actually come back to me and say – hey Susanna, why did you suggest I buy this house? I would be really scared and I would feel really bad if my client is like – what do I do? I really don’t like this house, Susanna. So in a sense that when I first choose or give comments to the house with our clients, I would give them my honest opinion so at least they would not regret, or at least the worst opinion has already been brought up to them in the first place, so they’re not afraid of seeing the rest of it.
Helen: Yeah because they always ask – what do you think, what do you think? I remember one of my clients before, she said that – gosh, I feel like you guys are so different, because most of the agents that we work with, everything is good, you know, just buy it. So I think we really pride ourselves on the fact that we’re not just selling you the house. We really want to make sure that this is a future home that you’re going to be happy with, your family is going to have a good memory with.
Susanna: Yeah, if the house is good, it sells itself, we don’t have to say anything about the house. So I’ll give true opinions to my clients, as well as if there are any fixings or repairings that I find from disclosures. I’ll definitely also give them an estimation just to give them expectations when they put in the offer so that they can also include those big repair items.
Helen: Yeah, speaking of disclosures, that is probably one of the scariest things when clients see that whole stack of disclosure files, they don’t even know where to start. Of course, we go through all of that, pretty much every single item, so that they understand what they’re buying, and they truly appreciate that a lot.
Susanna: Yeah, I remember this is actually the one thing that I find most lost when I bought a home in the United States when I first moved here because I had no idea what they are and what I should look for within disclosures. The agent just threw me a bunch of documents and I’m like – so, I’m supposed to read them all? – Yeah, read them all. Well, the good thing is that the time when I purchased a home here, we were able to have all sorts of contingencies to include in the transaction. I had a lot of time but still didn’t know what to look for. Even inspectors, I have to look for all the inspectors myself. I’m glad that I actually had that learning process because I know how it feels like when you’re a first-time homebuyer in the United States. That’s how I always remind myself that these first-time homebuyers will be in the same situation as me when I first came here, and I don’t want them to buy just blindly, just because everybody wants to fight for that house. So we are doing actually a lot more homework before we even prepare you for an offer that we don’t even know if it will get accepted or not, but it’s definitely worth it for the peace of mind that when you submit an offer, a strong offer, you have read through everything. I will be happy to actually guide you through it because it is so important. I would say that a house is the biggest asset for many people, so I don’t want you to regret it.
Helen: And especially because sometimes, in the past few years, there have been multiple offer situations. I mean, multiple offers, not just two or three, we are talking about 10-15 people, so we are competing against people who are just not going to put any contingencies in there. But still for us, once we go through the disclosure package, if there are certain items, for example, if the inspection item says there are foundation issues, and then there’s no foundation report, we’re not going to tell the clients to put in no contingency offer.
Susanna: Yeah, I can tell you almost a lot of things are repairable. However, there’s a price for everything, and of course, there is time and effort and everything. For people who are engineers working in Silicon Valley, it’s so hard for them to actually put that time and effort out to even deal with this repairing. So it’s not only about the price sometimes, it’s about if you’re ready to actually take on all those repair work as well.
Helen: Absolutely, I totally agree. Some of our clients, especially if they have little kids, have jobs, very high demanding jobs over here, they don’t really have the time to handle all of that. At the end of the day, you have to budget the money for the remodeling as well as the time, and time is probably the hardest part for most people because it’s not an easy task when it comes down to remodeling.
Also, in terms of offers and the contingencies, what else do you think that a client needs to pay attention to when they make an offer?
Susanna: Besides the disclosures and repairs that we need to pay attention to, the pricing is also very important. When you make an offer, what if you made an offer price that is very attractive to the seller, but it doesn’t come in at the appraisal time, so your lender can only lend you 80% of what the appraisal value is. For the difference between your offer price and the appraisal value, you will have to make it up, so that could be a huge matter to a lot of buyers who are only making a 20% down payment. So, Helen, do you want to give some suggestions on how you actually come up with the value of the house?
Helen: Yeah, so that’s the part how we split the work. A lot of times she goes through the whole disclosures and then I will look at the numbers. When we do the analysis and compare the homes, we talked about that the school district can make a difference, and also the condition of the property. Then, we have to compare the best comparable in the neighborhood in order to come up with a number. Now, with that number, we try to match what the appraiser will use, and then what the appraiser will appraise, as closely as possible, to give our clients an idea. So if they decide that they’re not gonna have appraisal contingency, and they still want to bid above and beyond the value that we give to the property, at least they’re prepared to pay for that difference. Not every single client has that extra reserve in the bank account to pay for the difference, so that is super important. It really makes a difference, because a lot of times buying your own home gets very emotional, right. So when you see that spreadsheet, you see our analysis, we tell you this is the max you should put in. If you go above that you can only, let’s say, you can only put in a $20,000 difference, then you know – okay I cannot go beyond this price. We always try to meet with the appraiser afterward, and also show them the features of this property, and let them understand how we come up with our value as well.
We talked a little bit about how some of our clients are relocating from overseas or another country, so they may not be a green card holder, like not a U.S. resident, not a U.S. citizen. So when it comes down to pre-approval in those situations, you want to talk a little bit about how to guide them through?
Susanna: It’s very important to know what type of visa our clients are holding and when it actually expires as well, because that can actually have a great impact on their pre-approval and who they can use. There are some lenders who just don’t take a particular type of visa, but some do. So that would actually help them shorten a lot the process of shopping with a banker.
Helen: Yeah, for example, we know some don’t allow overseas money at one point, you know, the guidelines keep changing. There are some that will take H1B visa, but not OPT, and there are just so many different guidelines so we always have to ask the clients what their situation is. Some of them don’t even have enough credit history, that is probably the really tough part when you don’t have enough credit history.
Susanna: Actually, we’re trying to keep updated with our lenders’ network, so that we can always get the newest regulation updates from different lenders, then we know which clients are more appropriate to meet with which lender, and process quickly.
Helen: Yeah, I think we are quite fortunate that we have a network of really good lenders and brokers to work with. Whenever we have questions, we can just ask them – okay we cannot figure this out, can you help us with this?
Susanna: Yeah that’s very important, sometimes we even have last-minute changes, but it happens, and we just have to help find the right one in a very short period of time.
We hope Susanna’s home buying tips are useful to you, especially if you are a first-time homebuyer from another country. Feel free to get in touch with Susanna Leung at [email protected] with any further questions or comments. If you have any questions about the home buying process, let us know and we’d be more than happy to guide you through.