When Claire Minnick and Chris Chappell hit up an open house in Kirkwood last October, the newly engaged couple looking to purchase their first home found that it wasn’t the property that made a huge impression on them, it was the agent.

“Jennifer was so sweet and easy to talk to,” recalls Claire. “We immediately loved her.”

“We connected right when they walked in,” agrees Jennifer Hollander, a John Jackson Neighborhood Real Estate agent.

JJNRE has broken down the often overwhelming process of purchasing a home into five main steps. Chris and Claire’s journey serves as a helpful guide for those ready to make the big move themselves, focusing on the challenges unique to first-time buyers and the importance of collaborating with the right real estate professionals.

1. Finding the Right Agent: “Taking time up front will prove invaluable down the road.”

Though they’d initially planned to use someone else as their real estate agent, Chris and Claire found themselves in JJNRE’s office within days of meeting Jennifer at the open house. As she does with each potential client, Jennifer conducted a detailed needs analysis that involved reviewing a questionnaire that asks buyers what they’re looking for in a home and — perhaps more importantly — their expectations of a real estate agent. JJNRE’s tightknit, supportive staff put them at ease and made them feel confident that they’d have a strong team in their corner if they selected Jennifer as their agent. Ultimately, Jennifer’s integrity, her understanding of the nuances of the St. Louis suburbs and an awesome support staff gave Chris and Claire the confidence to select Jennifer and JJNRE to help see them through the homebuying journey.

2. The Search: “Start broad and stay flexible; you’ll naturally begin to hone in on what is most important!”

There is a balancing act to the homebuying search. “We don’t want the scope to be too narrow on the front end,” says Jennifer. “The search evolves all the time on some level — particularly with first-time homebuyers.” But inevitably, she adds, the more houses you see, the more you narrow your search and start to see commonalities.

Claire and Chris appreciated Jennifer’s acute sense of what they truly wanted in a home and her ability to keep them from straying too far from that vision. “She was so good at showing us options in so many different areas,” says Claire. Adds Chris, “She also had an eye for potential issues that we couldn’t see for ourselves — and, frankly, didn’t even know to look for.” Eventually the couple’s search ended in Glendale, an area they knew little about but quickly came to adore.

3. Contract Negotiations: “You’ll want someone on your side who thinks outside the box to keep you in the game — or get you back in.”

Contract negotiations can be a tricky business. The process can move quickly, often with steep competition and unexpected twists and turns throughout. Buyers can be best prepared by partnering with an agent who has market savvy and personal connections.

Case in point: When Chris and Claire’s offer was turned down in favor of another, Jennifer vowed to maintain a relationship with the listing agent in the event that the initial contract fell through. “I knew this house was a home run for them; it had everything they wanted,” she says, and she was determined to turn things around if the opportunity presented itself. Three weeks later, the original contract fell through, and Jennifer was the first person the seller’s agent contacted. Claire and Chris jumped right back into the game. They wrote a backup offer that night, and the next day they were under contract! “Keeping abreast of a fast-paced market and understanding how quickly things can change were crucial to getting them this home,” says Jennifer.

4. Inspections: “Don’t sweat the small stuff! Differentiating big and little fixes will save you a lot of time and headache.”

Immediately following contract acceptance is the home inspection, a rather daunting task for first-time buyers, who often don’t know how to handle inspection findings. Fortunately for Claire and Chris, Jennifer has a go-to roster of knowledgeable and trustworthy professionals to recommend, a keen ability to distinguish big from little fixes, and a solid understanding of when — and how — to push a seller for repairs.

“It’s so time-consuming,” says Chris, “and Jennifer did so much behind the scenes,” including connecting them with a great home inspector and referring them to contractors who could give them honest bids. She even met contractors at the house on their behalf when busy work schedules prevented the buyers from being present.

5. Financing: “Not all preapprovals are created equal!”

Financing a home purchase is best done with two things in the buyer’s pocket: A real estate agent who’s well-versed on the subject, and a proven local lender who will ease the negotiation phase by helping clients secure the right mortgage for the long term.

Agents at JJNRE take it upon themselves to stay educated on financing and have established relationships with trusted lenders to whom they can confidently refer clients. “Not all loans carry the same amount of weight in contract negotiation,” Jennifer notes.

BONUS STEP: “Live happily ever after!”

Now happy homeowners, Chris and Claire agree that taking your time and trusting your gut are critical to the homebuying process. But teaming up with the right real estate agent was instrumental in landing their “happily ever after.”

“We were looking for a solid advocate with great knowledge of the local market, and Jennifer exceeded all of our expectations,” said Chris. “The next house we buy, we’ll definitely be using her.”

Claire Minnick and Chris Chappell connected with John Jackson Neighborhood agent Jennifer Hollander (left) almost immediately upon meeting her. For her part, Jennifer loves walking clients like Claire and Chris through the process of buying their first home.

Buying your first home can be overwhelming – but it doesn’t have to be! Jennifer Hollander helped Claire Minnick and Chris Chappell navigate the twists and turns of the first time homebuying process and they ended up with a home they love.