THINGS TO THINK ABOUT WHEN PREPARING TO BUY A HOME
MAKE A LIST
When thinking about your new home, try to list all the things you want it to have. Compromises can come later, but for now consider options like an easy commute, good neighbors, how much space you’ll need, and other housing features that matter most to you.
CREATE YOUR BUDGET
Before you start looking at houses, start looking at what you can afford, taking into account how much you’re earning and how much you’re looking to spend. This will go hand in hand with getting Pre-approved for a mortgage. It will also save you time (and gas money!) by avoiding driving all over the place looking at homes out of your price range.
GET PRE-APPROVED FOR A MORTGAGE
Getting pre-approved for a mortgage is a great way to show everyone that you’re serious about buying a home. I won't submit an offer to a seller without a pre-approval letter. It's also a great way to determine how much you can afford as well as identify and remedy any issues with your credit. For example, a lower credit score can mean a higher mortgage rate. However, having a low score doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Consider building up your credit score by paying down some revolving credit lines and/or other debts, paying your bills on time and cleaning up any collection accounts. Be prepared to shop around to find the Lender that meets all of your needs.
HIRE AN AGENT
To find the right agent, pay attention to referrals and recommendations from friends or other home buyers you may know. Many top listing agents might not work with buyers, especially first-time home buyers, so Open Houses may not be the best place to find a Buyer’s Representative.
PLAN YOUR MOVE AND MOVING EXPENSES
If you’re currently renting be aware of the conditions of your lease before beginning your home search. Opt for a month to month lease contract rather than signing a long-term lease if possible, otherwise breaking your lease early might cost you dearly. If you’re already in a long-term lease you might want to consider waiting until your lease is up before house hunting, especially if you’ve got quite a bit more time left on your lease period. If you’re close to the end of your lease and you find the perfect home it may well be worth it to terminate the lease early. Also, if you’re moving for professional reasons, you may also be eligible for tax deductions.
AVOID GETTING EMOTIONAL ABOUT REAL ESTATE
This is easier said than done. The experience of buying a house can be overwhelming especially in markets where you have multiple bidders and budget busting price escalations. Perhaps you have already been on the losing end of several of these types of transactions. Try not to let emotions or impatience dictate your purchase. Home buyers often pay more for a house because they were afraid they might lose the house or they might get priced out of the market. You can never completely turn off your emotions but try to think about how they might be influencing your buying decisions? Don’t fixate over trying to time the market. It’s impossible. Instead, consider your own needs when buying a house and think of it as a long-term investment. Ask yourself if you’re planning on living there for ten years or longer. Think about 3, 5 or 10 years into the future and consider where you might be in your life. Might you be changing your job? Moving to a new city? If you’re not sure, owning a home may be more trouble than it's worth, and you may be better off renting. Buying a home might not be the right move for some people.
LOOK AT HISTORICAL DATA ON THE HOUSE
If you have the opportunity to familiarize yourself with public records on a home before you buy it, you can learn all sorts of things, such as whether renovations were done with the proper permits and other data that may help you. Have your agent look up the property listing history (if any) on the Multiple Listing Service. You may find that the property has been on the market for longer than you think with different Brokerages. Or maybe there were a few “sale fails” or “Back on Markets” events. There might be an opportunity to negotiate the price on homes that can't hold on to a buyer...or there could be some red flags.
HIRE HOME INSPECTORS
Some sellers may have their house inspected before putting it on the market. If a home has not been inspected, it’s essential that the buyer arrange for one. A home inspection can identify any building defects or maintenance issues which could result in some serious expenses in the future. You should also consider doing a sewer line scope especially for older homes. Some Home Inspection companies are now offering sewer scopes in-house. Another consideration, especially when buying a home with any type of basement is to inspect the property when it is raining heavily if possible. After buying a home during the dry Summer months you may get a nasty surprise when the Fall and Winter rains show up. Yes the Seller should have disclosed any material issues but sometimes they don't. That is another topic altogether.
You should consider your inspections as informational only. Yes, you can ask the home owner to do repairs and, in most instances, where deficiencies in the home may affect buyer financing the owner will usually cooperate. However, the owner is under no obligation to do any repairs at all, so keep that in mind when you try to negotiate with them. If there is no agreement on repairs, at some point you have to decide whether to walk away and eat the inspection costs or take the home as is. In the current market where multiple offers are common you may need to complete a pre-inspection before deciding to submit an offer. That can start to add up after several bidding attempts fail. Plan on setting aside $700-$1200 for inspections depending on the size of the home and the types of inspections you order.
EXPLORE THE NEIGHBORHOOD
You may have found your dream home, but have you really checked out the neighborhood beside Googling it? Google won't tell you where the barking dogs are or that the neighborhood kids have started a heavy metal band on the weekends. I would advise you to speak to your potential new neighbors and visit the area at different times of the day if possible. Look at a crime stats map or the local Sheriff departments site to check a neighborhood’s safety. The information available on mapping sites now days is very comprehensive.
CHECK PROPERTY LINES, EASEMENTS, HOA RULES AND SELLER DISCLOSURES
While the home you're buying may be easy to see, property lines might be tougher to figure out if there is no land survey or plat. You won’t want any surprises when making changes to your property in the future. If you have questions regarding a particular easement or survey question consult with the Title Officer. Carefully read the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CCR’s) if there are any, as well as all Disclosures provided by the Seller.
BEYOND THE OPEN HOUSE
Attending open houses are an easy way to go look at homes. However, if you are serious about buying a particular house I recommend going to see that home outside of the Open House when possible. Open Houses can be crowded and distracting. Potential buyers, some of them with their agents, are fluttering about and if enough people show up it feels more like a stampede. Ughh! Make an appointment and go view the property privately with your agent.
PLAN YOUR OPENING BID
It’s human nature to try to get the best deal possible. No one wants to pay more than they have to. However, this isn’t always possible in a seller’s market, but there are other things you can do to sweeten your offer, such as not asking for a closing cost contribution from the seller, closing escrow quickly, putting down a large deposit, waiving all contingencies and writing a personal letter to the seller. Does the personal letter work? Rarely unless it's also attached to the highest and best offer. Over 75% of the time the winning offer is the one that results in the highest net to the seller. Money talks.
AVOID A BIDDING WAR IF POSSIBLE
A bidding war never works in favor of the buyer, so do your best to avoid one. Useful strategies include making a quick offer, considering houses that might require some renovations, and avoiding a low-ball first offer. Be aware that some houses invite a bidding war. Look for one that hasn’t gotten any offers yet; you might be able to score a real deal. In the hot housing market of the Pacific Northwest, the odds are pretty good that you’ll be involved in a multiple offer scenario so familiarize yourself and use an Escalation Clause Addendum. Sometimes a seller may request to exclude these type of addendums and request the highest and best from buyers right from the start. If permitted definitely use them. They may save you some money.
BE READY FOR CLOSING COSTS
The cost of your new home is going to be the big ticket item but remember that there will also be the associated closing costs that come with your home purchase. Make sure you’ve set aside sufficient funds for paying any loan origination fees, title insurance, escrow fees, recording fees, additional taxes, utilities, insurance, appraisal, and any possible repairs or maintenance your new place is going to need after you complete the sale. These are costs in addition to the funds you are borrowing.
Be prepared for the additional cost of new furniture, decorations and appliances if needed to fill up your awesome new home.
Congratulations you’re now completely broke, welcome to home ownership!
For more information see my Home Buying Guide.
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