Decide to Buy
The first step in buying a house is to try and understand what you hope to achieve. When you begin to think about buying a new house, there are many questions you should ask yourself such as: Why do I want to move? How soon do I want to move? How long do I plan on living in the home? For some people renting or putting off buying makes sense. Expect to commit to your home for 3-5 years if you want to avoid losing money on the home.
Once you decided that home ownership is right for you will want to decide a few things: What are the most important features to you in a house? How much do you want to invest in your home? Initially? Every month? Do you have lifestyle changes coming, such as adding a baby, having kids move out, or retiring? What part of town do you want to live in? What school district do you want your kids to go to school in? Once your goals are clearly defined you have your target.
An important part of the home buying process is to be qualified for a loan. You should get a “pre-qualification” letter before you start actively looking for a house. Most lenders can provide this over the phone or with a simple 1-page questionnaire. This typically takes 20 minutes. Some data you should have ready is your and your spouse’s name, address, phone numbers, social security numbers, and past two years of employment, residential, bank, asset and debt information. If possible, you should try to get pre-approved for a loan which is a more serious level of commitment from a lender than a pre-qualification. To receive a loan pre-approval, all employment and credit is verified. This will mean that you are approved for a loan, subject to a final credit check and an appraisal of the subject property.
Make sure to inquire about all loans costs (origination fees, discount points, etc) and find out about closing costs. Closing costs are the fees for services, taxes or special interest charges that surround the purchase of a home. They include up front loan points, title insurance, escrow or closing day charges, document fees, prepaid interest and property taxes. Studies show that the closing costs, which can average 2 to 3 percent of a total home purchase price, are often more costly than many buyers expect. Unless, these charges are rolled into the loan, they must be paid when the home is closed. Finally, make sure your lender provides a Good Faith Estimate according to the Truth in Lending Act (Regulation Z). This allows you to “compare apples to apples” between different lenders.
After you’ve found a house that you like, fits your needs, and has potential, you’ll need to prepare an offer. Determine whether or not the house is priced fairly by doing a thorough Comparative Market Analysis. Then review the seller’s disclosure and make appropriate adjustments and write your initial offer. Offers should include an earnest money check (made out to a title company), and an option money check (made out to the seller).
Some of the words in the previous paragraph may not be familiar to you. Let’s look at them:
- Option Money – a check made out to the seller in exchange for the unrestricted right to terminate the agreement for a specified number of days. This is not found in many states.
- Earnest Money – a check made out to a Title Company as a show of “good faith” that you are seriously intending to buy the house. The amount is usually around 1% of the home’s value.
- Escrow Account – a special account administered by the Title Company that holds your earnest money until closing.
- Title Company – a company that verifies the validity of a title and offers insurance to protect against problems with any liens on a property or clouds on a title. This company also conducts the closing.
- Closing – the actual process of transferring the title of a house from the seller to the buyer (including assigning any liens to lenders for mortgages).
Inspection and Repairs
To protect your best interests, have structural and systems inspections done by qualified inspectors of your choice. Your lender will typically also require a termite and wood destroying insect (WDI) inspection. The inspection is a great opportunity to ask questions about your prospective home and learn important information about where everything is and how it works.
When the inspection reports come in, you will need to decide if the home is acceptable “as is”. If you require repairs to be made, then you will have to negotiate with the seller. At that point, you make a counter offer to the seller requesting either that the repairs be done before closing or extra money to be given to you at closing to cover repairs. The seller can either negotiate these points with us or decide to not continue to negotiate. If the seller rejects the offer and you do not want to buy the home as is, the contract falls through, the seller would be free to accept another offer, and your earnest money would be returned to you. If you come to terms an amendment to the contract will be made and we will waive our option to terminate. Then you will contact your lender to request an appraisal and start planning your move. A day before closing or on the same day, it is recommended that you walk through the house to make sure that everything is in order. This protects you from closing on a home that has been damaged in the move out process or that has been taken possession of by another party.
The exciting day is finally here! You will review the settlement statement (HUD-1) so that you can clear up any questions before closing. Possession of the home generally happens the same day that papers are signed, but sometimes a snag in the funding of the loan will cause a delay in possession. For this reason it’s best to allow an extra day (or more if we are closing on a Friday or day before a holiday) before you need to be able to move in.
After closing you should file a change of address. File an official change of address form at you local post office or online in the advance so that your mail delivery will not be interrupted. Many corporations, such as credit card companies and magazine subscriptions, take 1 or 2 months to process a change of address.