Real Estate Advisor: May 2014
Savvy Shopping—8 Things to Know When Buying a Home
Spring is here, and along with the buds and flowers comes a new crop of home buyers—Are you one of them? If so, you want to be well prepared to get that home you have always wanted.
“Pre-qualified” sure sounds good, but in fact, it doesn’t ensure that homeowners or realtors will consider your offer. Getting “pre-approved” for a bank loan will signal to an informed seller that your offer is within your means and should be given serious consideration which can tip things in your favor in a tight housing market. Pre-approval is more difficult now than in the past, so, beginning the process early allows you to be prepared to make an offer that will be considered seriously when you find your dream property.
When signing mortgage papers, get any help needed to understand what you are agreeing to, including all of the terms, closing costs, and fees. Take the time to understand the difference between the various types of mortgages including fixed rates, adjustable rates and balloon payments as well as the benefits and costs of different loan terms such as 15 and 30 year mortgages. Also, be sure to explore if you qualify for discounts or credits based on income, being a first-time buyer, or a veteran.
Higher credit scores garner lower mortgage rates and monthly payments. Financial experts recommend reviewing your credit report to identify and remedy any erroneous entries prior to making major purchases to ensure you attain the highest credit score possible. In addition, since applying for credit can lower your credit score, prospective home buyers should avoid applying for additional credit during the year prior to buying (and through closing) your new property. Credit scores of 750 and above often get the best rates, and while you can get a mortgage loan with scores below 650, you will generally have higher costs. A little planning and preparation can reap significant financial rewards.
A safe “rule of thumb” for mortgage payments is that it should not exceed 28% of your gross monthly income. This ensures you have enough discretionary income available for upkeep, maintenance, and insurance. Buying within your means will also help in the event of any unforeseen circumstances. While plenty of lending institutions are willing to give you a higher mortgage, be mindful of all the costs of owning your home, your other financial commitments as well as the cost of pursuing your hobbies and interests.
Online calculators can help you estimate monthly payments on homes you are considering, and you can see how those payments compare to your current payments. If you plan on buying a home with larger payments than you pay now, think about putting the difference into a savings account each month to confirm the higher payments are realistic. An added benefit is these funds will be available to apply toward a down-payment or closing fees when you are ready to purchase your new property.
Decide where you want to live, both in terms of general areas and specific geographic requirements. This is as important as the actual house you buy, it will affect your commute, schools, your neighbors, and where you shop and do business. This preparation might be more difficult if you come from further away, however, a real estate agent who gets to know you will help steer you in the right direction. Some locations have specific issues – parking, grounds fees, or other specifics that come with living in a certain locale and a realtor that knows your desires will be able to evaluate any issues accordingly when searching for properties.
You can build your knowledge of an area by reading the local newspaper, visiting local stores and schools, dining at local restaurants, and shopping at a local supermarket.
When do you want to move? Often, buying a home is a game of hurry up and wait — except when it’s not. Sometimes buyers or sellers want to move quickly, and want expedite the process. Be up front with your moving schedule, and willingness/ability to be flexible. While you may or may not be able to impact the schedule, the more prepared you are with the logistics of the sale; the better off you will be in the long run. Paperwork takes time, and depends on how fast the bank and other institutions move, and how much additional information is needed. Following up with lenders, escrow officers, and your agent can be critical to ensure that documents move through the system in a timely fashion.
Timing affects moves in multiple ways, from the moving of possessions, to completing repairs, to enrolling in schools. Moving on the fly can cost more than those with a little planning. Establish a timeline. If you plan in advance for the home purchase and for the actual move, you gain time to shop around for the best deals on everything from mortgages to moving vans. Additionally, advanced planning and research enables you to move faster on things if you need to move up closing dates or shift schedules for any reason.
Are the terms that you agree to going to work for you? Negotiate terms you can love as you finalize the sale/purchase of a home. While everything might not be exactly what you want, know the terms you are agreeing to. If you compromise in one area, you might be able to use that compromise to get something in another area.
For example, if the owner needs extra time in the home after closing, and you don’t have to move right away, you can agree to a rental agreement so that they can stay a bit longer while you are orchestrating your own move. In exchange, you might let them know that you will be having some repairs made while they are renting and before you move in. This can all be spelled out in the terms of sale.
Biting off more than you can chew with a fixer-upper can come back to haunt you in the end. Properties that require extensive work might also require more time and money for the move, and any building permits you might need to get. Purchasing a home in good repair or one in which the seller has recently replaced the roof, carpets, and flooring may come with a higher price, but it might still be worth it if you don’t intend to make those repairs yourself.
On the other hand, if you want your home to be your new project, come prepared with what it will take accomplish various tasks in your new area. Doing some things in climates that differ from your own might surprise you — projects that include roofing, heating and cooling can differ substantially between regions.
If you purhcase a home with remodeling in mind, take a cursory look into permits before assuming that you can do what you want to. The permitting issues of communities and towns, time-frames around getting those permits and inspections, and costs involved, can all vary. Be certain that the permissions needed for the desired improvements are within your budget and schedule, on top of the cost of materials and labor. There might also be special restrictions if this is in an apartment or community.
It isn’t every day that you shop for a home, but when we do, its best to do it with us much knowledge and preparation as possible. Doing your homework can be daunting and challenging, but on that closing date, you’ll be glad you followed through and got the best home you could get.