Helpful Buyer Tips

 

Tip 1 - How to Choose a Neighborhood for Your Home Search

Narrow your home search by identifying neighborhoods that are right for you. This helps keep your search focused and efficient. Your local REALTOR® can offer neighborhood information to guide you in your search.

When evaluating a neighborhood you should investigate local conditions. Depending on your own particular needs and tastes, some of the following factors may be more important considerations than others:

Neighborhood Search Strategies for Limited Budgets

If you’re a first time-buyer with limited financial resources, it's wise to buy a home that meets your primary needs in the best neighborhood that fits within your price range.

You can maximize your home purchase location by incorporating some of the following strategies into your neighborhood search:

 

Tip 2 - How to Choose a Home

Here are some tips to help determine which house is best for you.

Once you've settled on a couple of preferred neighborhoods for your home search, it's time to pick out a few homes to view. Having a house features “wish list” keeps you focused on which features are most important to you.

When narrowing down your home search, consider the following:

Determine What Type of Home You Want to Buy

There are several forms of home ownership: single-family homes, multiple-family homes, condominiums and co-ops.

Single-family homes: One home per lot.

Multiple-family homes: Some buyers, particularly first-timers, start with multiple-family dwellings, so they'll have rental income to help with their costs. Many mortgage plans, including VA and FHA loans, can be used for buildings with up to four units, if the buyer intends to occupy one of them.

Condominiums: With a condo, you own "from the plaster in." You also own a certain percentage of the "common elements" - staircases, sidewalks, roofs, etc. Monthly charges pay your share of taxes and insurance on those elements, as well as repairs and maintenance. A homeowner’s association administers the development.

Co-ops: In some cities, cooperative apartments are common. With co-ops, you purchase shares in a corporation that owns the whole building, and you receive a lease to your own unit. A board of directors, comprised of owners and elected by owners, supervises the building management. Monthly charges include your share of an overall mortgage on the building.

Decide What Age and Condition of Home You Want to Purchase

Weigh your needs, budget and personal tastes in deciding whether you want to buy a newly constructed home, an older home or a "fixer-upper" that requires some work.

Consider Resale Potential

As you look at homes, you may want to keep in mind these resale considerations:

Use a Features Wish List to Keep Your Search Focused

Make a features wish list to clarify which features are most and least important to you when looking for a home. Using this features wish list will keep your house hunt focused and effective.

Use a Home Comparison Chart to Keep Your Observations Organized

While house hunting, it's a good idea to make notes about what you see because viewing several houses at a time can be confusing. Use a home comparison chart to help you keep track of your search, organize your thoughts and record your impressions.

Act Decisively When You Find the Right Home

Before you begin the home buying process, resolve to act promptly when you do find the right house. Every REALTOR® has stories to tell about a couple who looked far and wide for their dream home, finally found it, and then said, "We always promised my Dad we'd on it, so we'll make an offer tomorrow." Many times the story had a sad ending - someone else came in that evening with an offer that was accepted.

Resolve that you will act decisively when you find the house that’s clearly right for you. This is particularly important after a long search or if the house is newly listed and/or underpriced.

 

Tip 3 - First Time Home Buyers FAQs

Buying a home is one the biggest financial decisions most people will make in their entire lives, so it's only natural to have questions about the process, especially for first-time home buyers.

That's why we put together our own First-Time Home Buyer's Kit. The free kit includes our Home Buyer's Handbook, a 16-page booklet and glossary designed to provide answers to the more basic questions about buying a home. Some of these questions include:

What are the benefits of owning versus renting a home?

When you add up the tax benefits of owning a home versus renting a home, it costs no more to be a homeowner than it does to rent, in many cases. With this in mind, why help finance your landlord's financial goals when you can own your own home and, as your equity grows, increase your savings for the future as well?

Does my credit score affect my ability to secure a home loan?

When it comes to qualifying for a mortgage, the answer is never simply a matter of yes or no; it's a matter of when: When will you be ready to qualify? While your credit score does affect this process, with credit repair services, government loans, and other programs and strategies, homeownership can be a reality for anyone willing to put in the necessary time and effort.

What's the difference between being pre-qualified and being pre-approved?

There's a world of difference. A pre-qualification is a statement based often on unverified financial data. A pre-approval, however, is a decision to loan, and carries a lot of weight with sellers. With a pre-approval, you are essentially a cash buyer, and not only do you know exactly how much you can afford, sellers will take your offer much more seriously knowing you are pre-approved.

 

Tip 4 - Take Charge When Buying a Home

If you approach the home buying process intelligently and with confidence, you are much more likely to buy a house you'll be proud to call home.

Approaching the task of buying a home can be overwhelming; there's so much to consider:

And these questions are just the beginning. Buying a home is one of the largest financial transactions in your lifetime - do your research so you know what you’re doing.

Here are the two most important things to remember no matter where you are on the road to home ownership:

  1. You can and should understand everything that is happening in the home buying process.

    There is nothing that is so complex that it can't be easily explained to anyone with average intelligence. Just because you don't apply for a thirty year mortgage once a week doesn't mean you have to take the first one that comes along. You'll need to learn some new terms, apply some new concepts and take the time to understand what you're getting into.

    If, at any point, something happens that doesn't make sense to you, simply demand a full and complete explanation. If it still doesn't make sense, seek help from someone you trust like your CPA, your banker or maybe an online real estate columnist.

  2. In the world of real estate sales, YOU are the most important person in the entire process.

    It's easy to think that everyone else carries more weight than you. The agent talks fast and has an answer for everything. The lender may decline your loan application, and on and on.

    But the truth is that you, the buyer, are the one person in the transaction that makes it all happen. If you decide to not buy, the entire process comes to a grinding halt.

    So flex your consumer muscle and take command of this process. Surround yourself with a team of professionals that you have confidence in and make them work for you.

    Approach home buying with intelligence and confidence, and by doing your homework, and you are more likely to buy a house you’re happy with and to know that you made the right decision.

 

Tip 5 - Why Use a REALTOR® When Buying a Home?

A real estate agent can help you understand everything you need to know about the home buying process.

Not all real estate licensees are the same; only those who are members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® are properly called REALTORS®. They proudly display the REALTOR " ®" trademark on their business cards and other marketing and sales literature.

REALTORS® are committed to treat all parties to a transaction honestly. REALTORS® subscribe to a strict Code of Ethics and are expected to maintain a higher level of knowledge of the process of buying and selling real estate. An independent survey reported that 84% of home buyers would use the same REALTOR® again.

Real estate transactions involve one of the biggest financial investments of most people’s lifetime. Transactions today usually exceed $250,000. If you had a $250,000 income tax problem, would you attempt to deal with it without the help of a certified professional accountant? If you had a $250,000 legal question, would you deal with it without the help of an attorney? Considering the small upside cost and the large downside risk, it would be wise to work with a professional REALTOR® when you are buying a home.

If you're still not convinced of the value of a REALTOR®, here are more reasons to use one:

  1. Your REALTOR® can help you determine your buying power - that is, your financial reserves plus your borrowing capacity. If you give a REALTOR® some basic information about your available savings, income and current debt, he or she can refer you to lenders best qualified to help you. Most lenders - banks and mortgage companies - offer limited choices.
  2. Your REALTOR® has many resources to assist you in your home search. Sometimes the property you are seeking is available but not actively advertised in the market, and it will take some investigation by your agent to find all available properties.
  3. Your REALTOR® can assist you in the selection process by providing objective information about each property. Agents who are REALTORS® have access to a variety of informational resources. REALTORS® can provide local community information on utilities, zoning, schools, etc. There are two things you'll want to know: First, will the property provide the environment I want for a home or investment? Second, will the property have resale value when I am ready to sell?
  4. Your REALTOR® can help you with negotiations and inspections. There are many negotiating factors, including but not limited to price, financing, terms, date of possession and often the inclusion or exclusion of repairs and furnishings or appliances. The purchase agreement should allow time for you to complete appropriate inspections and investigations of the property before you are bound to complete the purchase. Your agent can advise you as to which investigations and inspections are recommended or required.
  5. Your REALTOR® provides due diligence during the property evaluation. Depending on the area and property, this could include inspections for termites, dry rot, asbestos, faulty structure, roof condition, septic tank and well tests, just to name a few. Your REALTOR® can assist you in finding qualified responsible professionals to do most of these investigations and provide you with written reports.
    You will also want to see a preliminary report on the property title. Title indicates ownership of property and can be mired in confusing status of past owners or rights of access. The title to most properties will have some limitations; for example, easements (access rights) for utilities. Your REALTOR®, title search company or attorney can help you resolve issues that might cause problems at a later date.
  6. Your REALTOR® can help you understand different financing options and identify qualified lenders.
  7. Your REALTOR® can guide you through the closing process and make sure everything flows together smoothly.

 

Tip 6 - Home Inspections Avert Future Headaches

Suppose you bought a house and later discovered, to your dismay, that the stucco exterior concealed a nasty case of dry rot. Or suppose that when you fired up the furnace in the winter, you discovered a cracked heat exchanger leaking gas into your home. The best way to avoid unpleasant surprises like these is to arrange for a home inspection before you buy.

Home Inspections Help You Avoid Unpleasant Surprises

A good home inspection is an objective, top-to-bottom examination of a home and everything that comes with it. The standard inspection report includes a review of the home's heating and air-conditioning systems; plumbing and wiring; roof, attic, walls, ceilings, floors, windows, doors, foundation and basement.

Getting a professional inspection is crucial for older homes because age often takes its toll on the roof and other hard-to-reach areas. Problems can also be the result of neglect or hazardous repair work, such as a past owner's failed attempt to install lights and an outlet in a linen closet.

A home inspection is also a wise investment when buying a new home. In fact, new homes frequently have defects, whether caused by an oversight during construction or simply human error.

Getting an Inspector

Real estate agents can usually recommend an experienced home inspector. Make sure to get an unbiased inspector. You can find one through word-of-mouth referrals, or look in the Yellow Pages or online under "Building Inspection" or "Home Inspection."

Home inspections cost about a few hundred dollars, depending on the size of the house and location. Inspection fees tend to be higher in urban areas than in rural areas. You may find the cost of inspection high, but it is money well spent. Think of it as an investment in your investment – your future home.

Some builders may try to dissuade you from getting a home inspection on a home they've built. They may not necessarily be trying to hide anything because most builders guarantee their work and will fix any problems in your new home before you move in. Some builders, in fact, will offer to do their own inspections. But it’s best to have an objective professional appraisal - insist on a third-party inspector.

An Inspection Will Educate You about Your House

Education is another good reason for getting an inspection. Most buyers want to learn as much as they can about their purchase so they can protect their investment. An examination by an impartial home inspector helps in this learning process.

Ask if you can follow the home inspector on his or her rounds. Most inspectors are glad to share their knowledge, and you'll be able to ask plenty of questions.

Inspection Timing and Results

Homebuyers usually arrange for an inspection after signing a contract or purchase agreement with the seller. The results may be available immediately or within a few days. The home inspector will review his or her findings with you and alert you to any costly or potentially hazardous conditions. In some cases, you may be advised not to buy the home unless such problems are remedied.

You could include a clause in your purchase agreement that makes your purchase contingent upon satisfactory inspection results. If major problems are found, you can back out of the deal. If costly repairs are warranted, the seller may be willing to adjust the home's price or the contract's terms. But when only minor repairs are needed, the buyer and seller can usually work out an agreement that won't affect the sale price.

 

Tip 7 - The Basics of Making an Offer

A written proposal is the foundation of a real estate transaction. Oral promises are not legally enforceable when it comes to the sale of real estate. Therefore, you need to enter into a written contract, which starts with your written proposal. This proposal not only specifies price, but also all the terms and conditions of the purchase. For example, if the seller offered to help with $2,000 toward your closing costs, make sure that's included in your written offer and in the final completed contract, or you won't have grounds for collecting it later.

REALTORS® have standard purchase agreements and will help you put together a written, legally binding offer that reflects the price as well as terms and conditions that are right for you. Your REALTOR® will guide you through the offer, counteroffer, negotiating and closing processes. In many states certain disclosure laws must be complied with by the seller, and the REALTOR® will ensure that this takes place.

If you are not working with a real estate agent, keep in mind that you must draw up a purchase offer or contract that conforms to state and local laws and that incorporates all of the key items. State laws vary, and certain provisions may be required in your area.

After the offer is drawn up and signed, it is usually presented to the seller by your real estate agent, by the seller's real estate agent, if that's a different agent, or often by the two together. In a few areas, sales contracts are drawn up by the parties' lawyers.

What is in an Offer?

The purchase offer you submit, if accepted as it stands, will become a binding sales contract (known in some areas as a purchase agreement, earnest money agreement or deposit receipt). So it's important that the purchase offer contains all the items that will serve as a "blueprint for the final sale."

The purchase offer includes items such as:

Contingencies - “Subject to” Clauses

If your offer says "this offer is contingent upon (or subject to) a certain event," you're saying that you will only go through with the purchase if that event occurs.

Here are two common contingencies contained in a purchase offer:

Negotiating Tips

You're in a strong bargaining position, that is, you look particularly welcome to a seller, if:

In these circumstances, you may be able to negotiate some discount from the listed price.

On the other hand, in a "hot" seller's market, if the perfect house comes on the market, you may want to offer the list price (or more) to beat out other early offers.

It's very helpful to find out why the house is being sold and whether the seller is under pressure. Keep the following considerations in mind:

Earnest Money

This is a deposit that you give when making an offer on a house. A seller is understandably suspicious of a written offer that is not accompanied by a cash deposit to show "good faith." A real estate agent or an attorney usually holds the deposit, the amount of which varies from community to community. This will become part of your down payment.

Buyers: the Seller's Response to Your Offer

You will have a binding contract if the seller, upon receiving your written offer, signs an acceptance just as it stands, unconditionally. The offer becomes a firm contract as soon as you are notified of acceptance. If the offer is rejected, that's that - the sellers could not later change their minds and hold you to it.

If the seller likes everything except the sale price, or the proposed closing date, or the basement pool table you want left with the property, you may receive a written counteroffer including the changes the seller prefers. You are then free to accept it, reject it or even make your own counteroffer. For example, "We accept the counteroffer with the higher price, except that we still insist on having the pool table."

Each time either party makes any change in the terms, the other side is free to accept, reject or counter again. The document becomes a binding contract only when one party finally signs an unconditional acceptance of the other side's proposal.

Buyers: Withdrawing an Offer

Can you take back an offer? In most cases the answer is yes, right up until the moment it is accepted, or even in some cases, if you haven't yet been notified of acceptance. If you do want to revoke your offer, be sure to do so only after consulting a lawyer who is experienced in real estate matters. You don't want to lose your earnest money deposit or find yourself being sued for damages the seller may have suffered by relying on your actions.

Sellers: Calculating Your Net Proceeds

When an offer comes in, you can accept it exactly as it stands, refuse it (seldom a useful response) or make a counteroffer to the buyers with the changes you want. In evaluating a purchase offer, you should estimate the amount of cash you'll walk away with when the transaction is complete. For example, when you're presented with two offers at the same time, you may discover you're better off accepting the one with the lower sale price if the other asks you to pay points to the buyer's lending institution.

Once you have a specific proposal before you, calculating net proceeds becomes simple. From the proposed purchase price you can subtract the following costs:

Your present mortgage lender may maintain an escrow account into which you deposit money to be used for property tax bills and homeowner's insurance. In that case, remember that you will receive a refund of money left in that account, which will add to your proceeds.

Sellers: Counteroffers

When you receive a purchase offer from a would-be buyer, remember that unless you accept it exactly as it stands, unconditionally, the buyer is free to walk away. Any change you make in a counteroffer puts you at risk of losing that chance to sell.

Who pays for what items is often determined by local custom. You can, however, negotiate with the buyer any agreement you want about who pays for the following costs:

You may feel some of these costs are none of your business, but many buyers - particularly first-timer buyers - are short of cash. Helping them may be the best way to get your home sold.

 

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