A recent study by Realtor.com asked a lot of Realtors across the country what questions they were answering for today’s buyers. Eight of the questions below and some of the information and links embedded below about each question, came from that study. I’ve added my own insights to the answer for each question and even added another two question that I get a lot to the end.
Q: How much home can I afford?
That depends, of course—on your income and other financial obligations; plug them into realtor.com’s Home Affordability Calculator for a ballpark figure. Most importantly, meet with a lender to get pre-approved for a home loan which makes you much more attractive to sellers. One of the things that a good lender will help you determine is the answer to that question. A good lender will find out enough about you in the initial interview to give you a very good idea about what you can afford, as well as things that you can do to improve your credit score and things not to do that would hurt that score.
Q: Can I buy a home and sell my current one at the same time?
Yes, you can—but it is almost impossible to manage the timing of the two sales so that they both close on the same day (or close enough to each other) such that you can literally move out of your old home and into your new one with a single move and no disruption. You need to have a plan for covering the gap that most likely will occur. Remember that a buyer for your old home will likely want to take possession as soon as possible and asking for a long delay either before closing or long post-closing occupancy will make the sale of your current home unattractive. Of course moving out before you have a place to go is unattractive to you, too; but you need to plan for that happening.
Q: How many homes should I see before making an offer?
This varies for each person. Some people find their home within hours of hunting. For others, it takes months. While home shoppers these days can look at hundreds of homes online, national statistics show they only visit to check out 10 homes on average before they put in an offer. I have worked with a few buyers for as long as several years before we found the right house. On the other hand, I have had buyers who loved the first home that we saw and didn’t look any further before making their offer. I think it is key to spend some time making a checklist of the things that are important to you before you start looking. Share that list with your Realtor, so that he can save everybody some time and effort by customizing a search for you that returns homes that meet your criteria. I also recommend doing drive-bys before scheduling a visit. Sometime you can eliminate homes from your prospect list just by driving by them to check out the areas that they are in and the condition of the property from the exterior.
Q: What do you think the seller will accept as a fair price?
Each real estate area is slightly different and the market in each can vary as well. Some areas may be experiencing “tight markets” with very low inventory; while another market in the same town may have a glut of homes. Even the definition of what the “market” is varies in size, types of homes and other factors. Your Realtor should be on top of the markets in the areas that he or she covers and be able to tell you what type of market you are looking in. If the home is well priced and in a fairly stable and balanced market it, will generally sell for about 97% of the asking price, so knocking 5% off the list price won’t usually ruffle any feathers. If it’s been sitting on the market for months, especially in a slow or glutted market, you can make an offer more 5% off the listing price. The bottom line is you never know how low a seller will go. If the sellers are eager to move, you could luck out and score a deal. On the other hand you could just tick off the seller and he will refused to negotiate or dal with you in the future (I’ve had that happen on occasion).
Q: How do I know if the property is a good deal?
While there’s no crystal ball on whether a certain home is a bargain and will appreciate, rest assured that with research, you can keep surprises to a minimum. The best way is to have your Realtor check out comps—what similar properties are selling for in the area—and whether those prices have been going up or down in the recent past. The best deals are those in which both the Buyer and Seller feels like the sale was a win for them both. Also remember that some so-called bargains turn out to be just money pits because of the issues that made them such bargains in the first place. Many buyers, especially first time buyers, learn that lesson the hard way during the recent “Great Recession” by buying foreclosed bargain houses, only to lose them six to nine months later when they ran out of money to fix them up. Those bargains didn’t turn out to be good deals.
Q: How quickly can I close?
The old conventional wisdom was 30-45 days from the date of the offering being accepted. With the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Laws and the recent changes in the mortgage disclosure rules the new thinking is to plan on 45-60 days from the offer acceptance. The closing could stretch out if the inspection finds issues that need to be resolved prior to closing or if the appraisal does not support the sale price. For FHA and VA mortgages the appraisal is also an inspection of sorts (not to be confused with the home inspection that you still need to get – see below) during which the inspector may identify issues with the home that need to be fixed in order to proceed with the mortgage. Those issues are usually safety related these days, but they can cause delays and you negotiate with the seller for the needed repairs and then schedule the appraiser back into inspect the repairs. Those issues alone can add weeks to closing date on the deal.
Q: Should I get a home inspection?
While buyers often wonder if a home inspection is truly necessary, most Realtors unequivocally say yes, yes, and yes. I good home inspection will take many of the unknowns out of the process and reduce your risk of encountering major surprises later. The inspection process may also serve as a great educational opportunity for you to learn all about your new home, if you pay attention and follow the inspector through the process and take notes. The results of the inspection will allow you to ask the seller to make any repairs prior to closing or to make a concession on the sale price so that you can fix the issues later. A good inspector will be able to give you a ballpark for the repairs, but you should still get estimates for anything major. The inspection results also provie you with one of the “outs” from the contract (see below).
Q: When can I back out if I change my mind?
While buyers can always back out of a deal, doing so without good reason may forfeit their earnest money (the cash put down to secure the offer, typically around 1%-2% of the home’s price). But there are some ways to walk with your earnest money in hand. I wrote a post on the Realty Times blog site entitled, “I know I signed a contract, but what are my outs?” The outs are in the contract to protect you against having to go through with a deal if something so onerous comes up during the inspection process or the mortgage process or the title search that you no longer wish to purchase the house.
Q: I’m a first time buyer; what things do I need to know?
If you are a first time home buyer you may want to read through the whole series of posts that I made for first time buyers on my Milford Team Web site. The posts about advice for buyers in general are written in a Q & A format. Click here to go to the web page that has the links to that Q & A series of post. There you will also find tons of other links to material that you may wish to read before you start the process. The things that I’ve posted about there came out of real life experiences with many first time buyers.
Q. Why do I need to have a Realtor?
In the Internet Age, when buyers can find out all about a house by searching on-line, there is a tendency to think that maybe you don’t really need to have a real estate agent yourself. After all, there is already one agent involved, so why not just call him or her? The answer lies in understanding the process involved and the roles of the people involved. There is quite a bit that goes on behind the scenes in the real estate process in a real estate transaction that the average lay person is not aware of or enough versed in to take on by themselves. It is not as simple as the HGTV shows make it look. Also one must consider who the listing agent is working for and what that means to the buyer. Listing agents work for the seller- period. Their job is to get the best deal for the seller, to negotiate on behalf of the seller and to protect the seller’s interests. They have no fiduciary responsibility to the buyers. Calling on the sign and trying to work with the seller’s agent puts the buyer immediately at a disadvantage. Some buyers mistakenly think that working through the seller’s agent will somehow get them a discount or a better deal. Most of the time, all that it gets them is a happy seller’s agent who gets to “double dip”. It is not cynical or any reflection on the honesty of the seller or their agent to assume that you need your own representation. Having your own agent to do the market research to establish a fair price, protect your interests and negotiate on your behalf is important and does not cost anything more than going it alone.
If you have a home buying question that I might be able to answer, send me an email with your question to firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember that I’m a Realtor in Michigan, so I won’t be able to answer questions that might be specific to the laws in some other state.