Top 10 Signs That You Are Ready to Buy a Home
10. You’re ready to stop paying your landlord’s mortgage payment and start building wealth of your own.
9. You could use the property tax and mortgage interest deductions.
8. You want a vested interest in your community.
7. It’s mid-August and you can no longer tolerate waiting for your landlord to send someone to fix your air conditioner.
6. You are working at a job where you won’t leave the country every other year.
5. You want to provide your family with a sense of stability and plant roots.
4. There are more than twice as many people as bedrooms in your current residence.
3. You want to paint the walls of your bedroom any color you please.
2. You are tired of saving all your quarters for the laundromat.
1. When you say you are “going home,” you want to really mean it!
10 Steps to Buying a Home
STEP 1 – DEFINE NEEDS FOR YOUR NEW HOME
Congratulations on your decision to purchase a new home! Your first step toward buying your new home will be to analyze your needs. Your real estate agent can help you determine exactly what you want your new home to look like and how it should function for you and your family.
First, write down why you are looking for a new home. For example, are you currently renting and would like to begin building equity? Maybe you recently married and have outgrown your current residence. Or, maybe you received a promotion that requires you to move to a new city. These factors will all have a bearing on how you approach your home search.
Second, establish a time frame for buying your home. Depending on your reasons for wanting a new property and the current state of the market in the area you are looking to buy, you should be able to come up with a rough guideline.
Finally, you probably have a mental picture of what your dream house looks like. Turn these ideas into two lists: one should describe your dream home and the other should list features that are absolute must-haves. In a perfect world, your new home would fulfill both lists 100 percent, but it is more likely the two lists will turn into a list of priorities, as you get clearer about what you want and what is available.
STEP 2 – PRE-APPROVAL VS. PRE-QUALIFICATION
Now that you know what you want in a home, you need to find out what you can afford. There are two ways to go about this: prequalification or pre-approval for a loan. Either way, you can contact your agent about choosing a mortgage company. Prequalification is the simpler of the two processes. It can even be done online or over the phone. When you contact a mortgage company, they will ask you for some basic information about your finances, how much money you earn, your debt load, etc. They will take this information and give you a rough estimate of how much of a loan you might qualify for.
Pre-approval is a more in-depth process. The lender will perform an extensive check of your finances including your credit rating, whether or not you’re a first-time buyer, what your debt load is, how much money you have to put as a down payment, etc. This figure will be a much more reliable estimate of what you can afford.
In most markets, pre-approved buyers are preferred over those that are merely pre-qualified. Being pre-approved lets the seller know you have gone through an extensive financial background check and there should be no unexpected obstacles to you buying their home.
STEP 3 – NEIGHBORHOOD INFORMATION
Now that you have your list of needs and wants and know how much you can afford to spend, it’s time to look at some houses, right?! Well, don’t forget, people don’t just buy a house; they buy the neighborhood the house is in. Think about that…if you found the perfect house but it was in a neighborhood that was not to your liking, would you make an offer on it?
You will need to make another list for the type of area you want to invest in. Consider things like drive time to work and major destinations, amenities such as swimming pools, tennis courts, parking, etc., area schools, and the demographics of the surrounding area.
STEP 4 – HOME SEARCH
At this point, you will have a good idea of what you can afford and the type of area you will want to invest in. Taking that information into consideration, you are ready to embark on your home search. If you don’t know much about the city to which you are moving, you will want to start by finding areas that meet your criteria and then narrowing your search to particular properties in those areas.
There are a few ways to go about this. Possibly the most efficient way to find homes is to allow your real estate agent to keep you up-to-date on available properties that meet your criteria and then allow your agent to screen them for you. When your agent presents you with a home that interests you, he or she can arrange for you to tour it at your convenience.
You can find available homes by reading local real estate publications, contacting local Neighborhood Associations, visiting the local Chamber of Commerce, looking on the Internet, or driving through neighborhoods that meet your needs. Driving around a particular area looking for a home that is for sale is good because you can actually see the house, but it can be very time-consuming and very “hit or miss.”
STEP 5 – MAKE AN OFFER
Now that you’ve found your dream home, it’s time to make an offer. Your real estate agent will help you determine the offer price by reviewing recent sales of homes that are similar in size, quality, and conveniences and amenities. Your real estate agent will advise you on how to create an offer that will have the best chance of being accepted.
After consultation with you, your agent will create a written contract with your offer that meets all the local and national legal requirements. This document details what needs to be done by both parties to execute the transaction. It should protect the interests of both parties and will ensure your financial position as the buyer.
The contract should include, but is not limited to, the following:
The legal description of the home
List of fees and who will pay them
Amount of the deposit
Inspection rights and possible repair allowances
Appliances and furnishings that will stay with the property
Remember the legalities of this phase are very important. If you have any questions or concerns, be certain to address them with your real estate agent right away.
STEP 6 – NEGOTIATING TO BUY
Once your offer is made you may need to negotiate with the seller to reach an agreement. Keep in mind almost everything is negotiable when you are buying a house. This can give you a great deal of leverage in the buying process, that is if you have adequate information and you use it in an appropriate manner.
Some things you may negotiate:
* Closing costs
* Appliances and fixtures
* Occupancy time frame
Counteroffers happen frequently. Remain in close contact with your real estate agent so you can quickly review any changes from the seller. Remember…bargaining is not a winner-take-all deal. It is a business process that involves compromise and mutual respect.
STEP 7 – SERVICE PROVIDER COORDINATION
After your offer is accepted, your agent will help you coordinate the activities of service providers and serve as your advocate when working with them. Your agent will make sure these vendors have access to the property to perform their procedures and will oversee the execution of those procedures on your behalf.
One service you may need is a home examination. An inspection of the property, the foundation, and the surrounding environment may be needed to make sure the property meets the standards set forth in your written agreement. If there are issues or inconsistencies brought to light during this time, it may delay or even nullify the contract.
Insurance is another item that will need to be taken care of. Experts recommend you obtain title insurance equal to the full replacement value of the home. This kind of insurance is purchased at closing and protects the buyers in the unlikely event that the title to the property becomes invalid. Homeowners’ insurance protects against theft, fire, and liabilities. It often includes things such as bicycles, furniture, and jewelry. Flood insurance is generally only necessary for flood-prone areas. The federal government issues this kind of insurance.
In addition to the aforementioned types of insurance, you may want additional assurance for your new home. Home warranties are one way to protect yourself after you buy. Warranties for new homes protect against plumbing, wiring, and structural defects. Existing home warranties cover things like major appliances and structural problems.
Having these procedures done in a timely and professional manner is a must. Investigate each service provider to make sure they are reputable and have a clean operational history. Your agent’s experience in this area will be invaluable.
STEP 8 – BEFORE YOU CLOSE
As the closing date (otherwise known as settlement or escrow) draws near you will need to be in contact with the escrow company or closing attorney and your lender to make sure all necessary documents are being prepared and will be delivered to the correct location on the appropriate date. Find out what form of payment you will need to bring to the closing for any unpaid fees. Make sure that your payment is made out to the appropriate party.
These days, buyers and sellers don’t even have to be in the same room to close a deal. Thanks to computer automation, signed paperwork can be delivered overnight to both parties.
STEP 9 – CLOSING ON A HOME
Closing is where ownership of the home is legally transferred from the seller to the buyer. It is a formal meeting that most parties involved in the process will attend. Closing procedures are usually held at the title company’s or lawyer’s office. Your closing officer coordinates the document signing and the collection and disbursement of funds.
In order for the closing to go smoothly, each party involved should bring the necessary documentation and be prepared to pay any related fees (closing costs). There may be more than one form of acceptable payment for your closing costs so ask the closing officer which form of payment will be required and to whom it should be paid.
Sellers sometimes pay for a portion or all of the closing costs, depending on local market conditions, terms of the purchase contract, and the seller’s cash and timing considerations. Any such concessions should be acknowledged in writing. Most lenders will allow a credit from the seller to the buyer for the non-recurring closing costs. However, they usually won’t allow a credit that reduces the amount of the buyer’s down payment or any of the buyer’s recurring costs, such as expenses for fire insurance premiums, private mortgage insurance (PMI), or property taxes.
STEP 10 – POST-CLOSING
Congratulations on the purchase of your new home!
Now that you have taken ownership of it you will need to have your electricity, cable, and phone set up. Also be aware of typical homeowner expenses such as Neighborhood Association fees, landscaping costs, and annual taxes, and budget for them accordingly.
Questions to Ask Your REALTOR®
1. Are you a full-time professional Realtor®? How long have you worked full-time in real estate? How long have you been representing buyers? What professional designations do you have?
Knowing whether or not your agent practices full time can help you determine potential scheduling conflicts and his or her commitment to your transaction. As with any profession, the number of years a person has been in the business does not necessarily reflect the level of service you can expect, but it is a good starting point for your discussion. The same issue can apply to professional designations.
2. Do you have a personal assistant, team, or staff to handle different parts of the purchase? What are their names and how will each of them help me in my transaction? How do I communicate with them?
It is not uncommon for agents who sell a lot of houses to hire people to work with them. They typically work on a referral basis, and, as their businesses grow, they must be able to deliver the same or higher quality service to more people.
You may want to know who on the team will take part in your transaction, and what role each person will play. You may even want to meet the other team members before you decide to work with the team. If you have a question about fees on your closing statement, who would handle that? Who will show up to your closing?
3. Do you have a website that will provide me with useful information? Can I have your URL address? Who responds to emails and how quickly? What’s your email address?
Many homebuyers prefer to search online for homes because it’s available 24 hours a day and you can do it in the privacy of your own home. By searching your real estate agent’s website you will get a clear picture of how much work you would be able to accomplish online.
4. Will you show me properties from other companies’ listings?
Some real estate companies do offer their buyers’ agents a higher commission if they are able to sell “in-house” listings. In such circumstances, there can be added incentive to limit the range of homes you are shown. This may impact your home search and how much your buyer agent’s fee will be.
5. Will you represent me or will you represent the seller? May I have that in writing? How will you represent me, and what is the direct benefit of having you represent me?
The goal here is to ascertain to whom the real estate agent has a legal fiduciary obligation, which may vary from state to state or even locale to locale. In the past, agents always worked for sellers. Then the listing broker was responsible for paying the agent or sub-agent that brought a suitable buyer for the home. And even though the buyer worked ‘with’ an agent, the agent still represented and owed their fiduciary duty to the seller.
Although seller agencies still exist in certain areas, agents today almost always have a sense of moral obligation to buyers. Find out what is common in your area and understand what kind of agent you have before you begin to work with them.
6. How will you get paid? How are your fees structured? May I have that in writing?
In many areas, the seller pays all agent commissions. Sometimes, agents will have other small fees, such as administrative or special service fees, that are charged to clients, regardless of whether they are buying or selling. Be aware of the big picture before you sign any agreements. Ask for an estimate of buyer costs from any agent you contemplate employing.
7. What distinguishes you from other real estate agents? What is your negotiating style and how does it differ from others? What geographic areas do you specialize in?
Each agent has unique methods of overcoming obstacles and negotiating deals. The most important thing is to make sure your agent is an effective advocate for you.
8. Will you give me the names of past clients?
Interviewing an agent can be similar to interviewing someone to work in your office. Contacting references can be a reliable way for you to understand how he or she works, and whether or not this style is compatible with your own.
9. Do you have a performance guarantee? If I am not satisfied with your performance, can I terminate our Buyer Agency Agreement?
In the heavily regulated world of real estate, it can be difficult for an agent to offer a performance guarantee. If your agent does not have a guarantee, it does not mean they are not committed to high standards. Typically, he or she will verbally outline what you can expect from their performance.
10. How will you keep in contact with me during the buying process?
Some agents may email, fax, or call you daily to tell you about properties that meet your criteria, while others will keep in touch weekly. Asking this question can help you to reconcile your needs with your agent’s systems.
Should You Work With a Buyer’s Agent?…A Seller’s Agent?
In the past, real estate agents always represented the seller, whether the agent helped a seller to market and sell a home or helped a buyer find and purchase a home. In other words, agents were at one time legally bound to represent the seller in a residential real estate transaction. In that scenario, the seller paid both the listing agent and the agent who brought the buyer.
Today, agents either represent the buyer or the seller. If you want to sell your home, you can work with a “seller’s agent.” If you want to buy a home, you can work with a “buyer’s agent.” Most states require real estate agents to disclose to consumers who they represent. Sometimes an agent will represent the buyer and the seller. A buyer who elects this situation should receive full disclosure on representation. The real estate agent you choose should fully disclose how they work with individuals and the options available to you.
Keep in mind that real estate laws differ from state to state and even from locale to locale. For more in-depth answers, talk with a knowledgeable real estate professional and ask about local practices. Be sure you understand and are comfortable with the services of the real estate agent you engage.
How to Make Your Move Easier on Your Family
People generally have two kinds of needs during a home purchase. First are the transactional needs, such as searching for a home, obtaining financing, negotiating the terms of purchase, completing paperwork and legal documents, and arranging the move. The second are emotional needs, which can be more stressful than financial ones. The following are some tips to help ease the stress.
PREPARE YOUR CHILDREN
Although you may have lived in your current home for just a few years, four years is half the lifetime of an eight-year-old. Your home may be the only home your children remember. It’s where they feel safe and it’s probably the center of your son or daughter’s world.
Be sure to announce the move in a completely upbeat way. You might talk about how beautiful the new neighborhood is and how good the schools are. Bring your children to the new house, if that’s possible, or positively describe it to them. Find out what your children’s favorite things are in your current home, and then try to re-create them in the new house. Keep your children actively involved. For instance, take them shopping for paint, bedspreads, carpets, and other items for their new room.
Your children are bound to have worries during the move. Help lessen these anxieties by finding ways to make parting pleasant. For example, plan a going-away party or create a photo album with pictures of neighbors, their house, and the neighborhood.
As you begin the process, you may start to feel out of control, as though other parties to the purchase transaction are running the show. Your mortgage company, the appraiser, the inspector, and the seller all have certain powers to approve or disapprove of your overall plan to purchase this home and move successfully. To alleviate your feelings of helplessness, one of the best things you can do is to understand as much of the purchase process as possible. Work with your real estate agent to prepare yourself for the unknown and tie down loose ends.
TRUST THE PROCESS
There can be so much to do that it’s easy to panic. Buying a home may feel risky, but the truth is it’s an opportunity for you and your family. Even though you can’t predict what will happen every step of the way, your real estate agent helps people buy and sell homes as a profession! Your agent has been there before and understands that this is a major upheaval in your life. Trust that your agent is looking out for you on your way to a successful closing and move.
Although your agent will do everything possible to prepare you for your home purchase, there is no such thing as a perfect world. The property inspection may reveal areas of concern, or closing may be delayed for some reason. Try to take a deep breath and be flexible in your thinking.
Whenever you feel things are spinning out of control, find a diversion! Take a walk around your new neighborhood; go out of town or to a movie with your family. Whatever outlet works best for you, this is a good time to engage in it! Remember to take one “move” at a time.