If you are buying a home for the first time, buying a second home or considering investment property, taking some simple steps to protect your investment and financial health. No matter what type of property you’re eyeing, here are some basic precautions as you navigate the process of purchasing any home.
Before Shopping for Property:
Look at your finances. Before contacting a real estate agent and starting to look for a new home, figure out what you can afford. Taking a simple inventory of your wallet can help your understand your financial ability and speed up the mortgage pre-approval process. A mortgage affordability calculator can help with this.
Know your credit card limits and review your usage to prevent loan approval issues. According to Equifax, the closer you get to using all your available credit, the less likely you are to have a good credit score or seem like a low-risk mortgage candidate to a potential lender.
Start with financing. Obtaining pre-approval for a loan will make the process of negotiation and loan approval process smoother from the start. Most sellers may even require you to be pre-approved before they accept an offer anyway, so doing this step ahead of time is a no-brainer.
Find a real estate agent. The seller is the one who pays the commission to both agents, so there’s no reason not to get the professional guidance of an agent. Look for a professional who is both familiar with the local area you’re considering and its property values. A good agent will also be well versed in the laws, timelines and deadlines in your state. This can be the difference between losing your dream home, deposit, and time.
Before Making an Offer:
Visit the city/county planning department. There one in every city and county. If the home you’re interested in is within city limits, you should visit the city planning department. Homes in rural unincorporated areas will normally fall under the control of county planning departments. The planning department can present any permits for the home you are interested in, and investigate that neighborhood. You can learn about what building applications are in the works (more homes, commercial buildings, industrial parks) and which schools your children would attend (it’s not always the school nearest your prospective home). There will also be information on traffic, crime reports (which can affect auto insurance prices), and more.
Review past utility bills. The monthly mortgage payment isn’t your only expense. Ask to review past utility bills before putting in a purchase offer to understand how heating and cooling the house will affect your finances.
During the Negotiation Process
Read the contract. When you’re ready to submit a purchase offer, your real estate agent should review the purchase contract with you. If the agent moves through it too quickly, ask to get an explanation of every paragraph (or at least the most important parts) of the contract. Have your Realtor explain in detail the circumstances in which your deposit can be withheld or kept, the contingency periods, and buyer expenses.
Ask for exact dates. Your contract might state you have 17 days to perform your inspections or 30 days to fulfill all contingencies. Ask your Realtor for the exact dates, not just the number of days, to make sure you don’t miss any important deadlines. This will also tell you when you’re supposed to receive various documents and reports.
Get it in writing. If you negotiate any extras (the seller will leave various furniture or appliances, you can move into the house the day before closing, etc.) make sure that they’re documented in writing and that all parties sign off on these items.
Have a home inspection. Home inspections can spare you from a purchasing a unknown “fixer.” Have an inspection, even if the property appears to be in great condition or is relatively new. Without catching problems during the inspection period, any potential for negotiation with the seller will be lost.
The Bottom Line:
Don’t do it alone. Purchasing real estate is a large financial investment. Having the right professionals on your side, along with some common sense, can spare you costly mistakes.
For more information on this topic: