Stuff to Know About Buying a House

IMG_0097I love to insert into this blog photos I’ve made over the years!

You can get lots of information on the internet about buying a house, selling a house, maintaining a house, etc. Much of the information is even correct. In some state. Under some circumstances. At some point in time.

I start reading about ‘How to sell a house’, or ‘How to buy a house’ and I think, “Yes, but not in my state…. That’s not the way it’s done here.” We have personally bought and sold homes in three states, multiple times, over decades. Each state is very different, and things change within one state over time. Every two years, after the Texas Legislature meets, we have new laws to follow.

The first thing to know about buying a home in the Austin area in April 2017 is that, if you are going to need to borrow money to buy the house, you must tend to that first thing. REALTORS® keep lists of lenders they’ve worked with and whose clients have had a good experience. Interview some REALTORS®, pick one, and ask about lenders.

Lenders will pre-qualify you for a loan, which means that they ask in person, or online, for your numbers and information, crank it through an algorithm, and spit out a pre-qualification, if your numbers pass the test. Because it is based on self-reporting, and doesn’t go in-depth with your complete financial picture, a pre-qualification doesn’t carry much weight with the seller of a home, especially a nice home in a ‘hot’ neighborhood.  Your REALTOR® is not likely to show you very many homes until you have a more substantial loan work-up done than pre-qualification.

Special note: if you cannot get pre-qualified for a loan, there are companies that can guide you through your journey to financial stability; a good lender might very well partner with a company that can help you in this way; and some lenders offer this service. All is not lost if you don’t qualify right away.

The next level is a pre-approval by the lender. This means that the lender has checked your background information, such as your credit scores from the three major reporters; Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, has seen copies of your pay stubs, etc. A pre-approval is as far as most lenders will take you before you have a signed contract to buy a house. For the purposes of most home sellers, a buyer with a pre-approval is good enough to sign a contract with.

A few lenders will actually take you through the underwriting process before you even sign a contract to buy a house. Underwriting means a specialist has rooted through your work life, your banking and financial life, your credit history, and your related personal life enough to agree to loan you up to a certain amount of money to buy a house, providing the house you choose passes muster. Going into contract negotiations with a home seller after you have been underwritten for a loan is a strong position, provided your offer is one that makes the seller happy.

Okay, next subject is paperwork. There is a lot. I have been told, and have seen evidence,  that appropriate paperwork provides some legal protection for the following parties: 1) YOU, the buyer, 2) the seller, 3) your real estate brokerage, 4) the agent or REALTOR® looking after your interests on behalf of that brokerage, 5) the agent and brokerage on the seller’s side, 6) the title company insuring clear title on your purchase, 7) the lender, 8) the property owner’s association, if there is one, 9) the builder, if it is a new home purchase, 10) any lien holders on the property in question, 11) the government entities under whose jurisdiction the property falls, 12) any inspectors you employ to assess the property for you, and 13) anyone else who is breathing and walking, rolling, or slithering  nearby your real estate transaction. There is gonna be a lot of paperwork, and it’s my job to make sure it all gets negotiated where possible, filled out properly, and signed.

Because there is a lot of paperwork that gets looked at and signed at various points along the way from agreeing to hire a particular brokerage to work for you to completing the buyer transaction and taking possession of your new home, you must plan to be available during the time-intensive periods

Also, in this still-hot market, you must plan to be available to look at homes and make decisions in short-order. In most cases, you won’t have time to mull over a situation during the buying process; the home you want will be under contract with someone else that day. The time for big, mulling-over decisions is before you go looking at homes. Your REALTOR® can help you think through your situation and decide on your must-haves, your bottom line, and your contingencies before going into battle.

While we’re talking about going into battle, let me touch on the subject of negotiations. I have found that negotiating on behalf of a client works so much better when we all treat each other with utmost respect. I aim to be unfailingly polite and respectful, no matter how the seller approaches things- not only does it make work more satisfying, but I am able to be more successful in getting you what you need as a buyer.

Some of you have heard the opening salvo in a negotiation- the selling price on an item- and then offered a low bid, followed by going back-and-forth with the seller until you eventually meet in the middle.  In home-buying, there is an element of that strategy. However, it pays to understand the psychology of what happens with a house offer. Sellers are usually quite invested in their price and their home, and they don’t respect a low-ball offer on their prized possession. Not to mention, in this market, a lot of times the offers start at the list price and go upward from there. No, it would not be unusual for a low-ball offer to have the effect of cutting off any possible negotiation. You could end your chances before you even get started.

There are other considerations besides price. The standard one-to-four family residential resale contract has 9 pages, not counting additional disclosures, addendums, and ammendments, so you can imagine how many other points there are for a buyer and seller to agree on besides just the selling price. Your REALTOR® can help you put together an offer package that is appealing to the seller. Maybe even appealing enough for the seller to sign a contract with you!

Now you have signed a contract to buy a pre-owned home. Congratulations! Except in unusual circumstances, you will want to pay the seller an amount of money for the privilege of keeping the home off the open market long enough for you to hire professionals to inspect the various systems of your home and give you a report. You need to be reasonably certain that you know what you are getting into. The money you pay the seller for this purpose is called the “option money” and it will be a direct payment. If during your option period that is specified in the contract you decide not to buy the home, the seller has no obligation to return the option money. After all, you paid her the money to let you sign a contract, yet still spend time re-examining your future purchase, and possibly deciding against it. That keeps her home off the market for days, and could be a real liability for her.

You will also pay an amount of money called “earnest money” to show that you are indeed serious about following through with the home purchase, provided there are no nasty surprises that weren’t evident in the home after first inspection by you. This earnest money does not go to the seller; it goes to the escrow officer, usually at the title company you and the seller have agreed to use. Or, it may go to a lawyer’s office and be held in escrow there. This money is recoverable, as long as you follow all the agreements in the executed contract. If you buy the property, the escrow money may be used toward your transaction at closing. Earnest money is typically about 1% of the agreed-upon selling price of the house, but this is one of the many negotiable points between you and the seller.

In most cases, one of your expenses as a buyer will be the appraiser’s work. In a loan situation, the lender will order an appraisal by a licensed individual to give that appraiser’s best assessment of what the value of the house is. In this market, sometimes the agreed-upon sales price is higher than what the appraiser says it is worth. One of the decisions you, as a buyer, will be making ahead of the home-search process, is whether or not you can afford to make up the difference between what you contract to pay for a house (higher amount) and what an appraiser says the home’s value is (lower amount). There are also acceptable ways to provide the appraiser with information about the neighborhood and local sales that she might not have access to through standard channels when she is doing her work.

There are many expenses that a buyer will have in closing a purchase transaction. Some of them the seller might agree to pay, but many more will be your responsibility. Someone will pay for title insurance. Someone will pay title company and county recording fees. Someone will pay loan origination fees. Someone might even pay for a new survey to be made of the property. These costs are something your REALTOR® will help you grasp before you start your transaction and, if you will be getting a loan, your lender will take them all into consideration when they are looking at whether or not you are a good credit risk for them. They will help you understand the costs of closing a transaction.

Part of the transaction cost that is ultimately shared within the selling price by both parties will be paying your real estate broker and the seller’s real estate broker their commissions to cover the work done on behalf of both you and the seller. This is another reason for you to hire carefully when you hire a REALTOR® to work for you- the commission cost is not insignificant, and you want to make sure that the brokerage you hire will serve your needs to the fullest, and then some.

I know I have given you just a bare outline of what goes on from the buying side. In other posts, especially those tagged ‘buyers’, you can see more specifics that might answer some more of your questions. I keep writing these posts as a service to the community, because I know the feeling from my own pre-licensing days of being completely confused and in the dark about what was happening during my own real estate transactions. I want to shed as much light as possible on a complex and important topic.  I always welcome suggestions left in the comment section of this post, or other posts on this blog.

If you are reading this on a device other than a computer, scroll down to see links, more pages, and to subscribe to this blog by email.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s