HOW DO I BEGIN THE PROCESS OF BUYING A HOME?
Start by thinking about your situation. What are the 3 most important things you are looking for in a new home? What about your current living situation would you change and how? How much can you afford in a monthly mortgage payment (see Question 4 for help)? How much space do you need? What areas of town do you like? Sell Fast Realty will discuss these questions with you and help you narrow down your search.
HOW CAN I DETERMINE MY HOUSING NEEDS BEFORE I BEGIN THE SEARCH?
Your home should fit way you live, with spaces and features that appeal to the whole family. Before you begin looking at homes, make a list of your priorities – things like location and size. Should the house be close to certain schools? Your job? To public transportation? How large should the house be? What type of lot do you prefer? What kinds of amenities are you looking for? Establish a set of minimum requirements and a ‘wish list.’ Minimum requirements are things that a house must have for you to consider it, while a “wish list” covers things that you’d like to have but aren’t essential.
HOW DOES PURCHASING A HOME COMPARE WITH RENTING?
The two don’t really compare at all. The one advantage of renting is being generally free of most maintenance responsibilities. But by renting, you lose the chance to build equity, take advantage of tax benefits, and protect yourself against rent increases. Also, you may not be free to decorate without permission and may be at the mercy of the landlord for housing.
Owning a home has many benefits. When you make a mortgage payment, you are building equity. And that’s an investment. Owning a home also qualifies you for tax breaks that assist you in dealing with your new financial responsibilities- like insurance, real estate taxes, and upkeep- But given the freedom, stability, and security of owning your own home, they are worth it.
HOW DOES THE LENDER DECIDE THE MAXIMUM LOAN AMOUNT THAT I CAN AFFORD?
The lender considers your debt-to-income ratio, which is a comparison of your gross (pre-tax) income to housing and non-housing expenses. Non-housing expenses include such long-term debts as car or student loan payments, alimony, or child support. According to the FHA, monthly mortgage payments should be no more than 29% of gross income, while the mortgage payment, combined with non-housing expenses, should total no more than 41% of income. The lender also considers cash available for down payment and closing costs, credit history, etc. when determining your maximum loan amount.
FINDING YOUR HOME
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR WHEN DECIDING ON A COMMUNITY?
Select a community that will allow you to best live your daily life. Many people choose communities based on schools. Do you want access to shopping and public transportation? Is access to local facilities like libraries and museums important to you? Or do you prefer the peace and quiet of a rural community? When you find places that you like, talk to people that live there. They know the most about the area and will be your future neighbors. More than anything, you want a neighborhood where you will feel comfortable.
HOW CAN I FIND OUT ABOUT LOCAL SCHOOLS?
You can get information about school systems by contacting the city or county school board or the local schools. As your Realtor, we will help you find all of this information.
HOW CAN I FIND OUT ABOUT COMMUNITY RESOURCES?
Contact the local chamber of commerce for promotional literature and welcome kits, maps, and other information. You may also want to visit the local library. It can be an excellent source for information on local events and resources, and the librarians will probably be able to answer many of the questions you have. Again, as your Realtor, we will help you find all of this information.
HOW CAN I FIND OUT HOW MUCH HOMES ARE SELLING FOR IN CERTAIN COMMUNITIES AND NEIGHBORHOODS?
As your Realtor, we will provide you with all of the real estate activity in both your desired area and your desired neighborhood, including active, pending and sold properties. There are multiple reports we will pull for you depending on your search criteria.
HOW CAN I FIND INFORMATION ON THE PROPERTY TAX LIABILITY?
The total amount of the previous year’s property taxes is usually included in the listing information. If it’s not, the local assessor’s office can provide this information. Tax rates can change from year to year, so these figures may be approximate.
WHAT OTHER TAX ISSUES SHOULD I TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION?
There are many tax benefits to home ownership. Keep in mind that your mortgage interest and real estate taxes will be deductible.
IS AN OLDER HOME A BETTER VALUE THAN A NEW ONE?
There isn’t a definitive answer to this question. You should look at each home for its individual characteristics. Generally, older homes may be in more established neighborhoods, offer more ambiance, and have lower property tax rates. People who buy older homes, however, shouldn’t mind maintaining their home and making some repairs. Newer homes tend to use more modern architecture and systems, are usually easier to maintain, and may be more energy-efficient. People who buy new homes often don’t want to worry initially about upkeep and repairs.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR WHEN WALKING THROUGH A HOME?
In addition to comparing the home to your minimum requirement and wish lists, consider the following:
Is there enough room for both the present and the future?
Are there enough bedrooms and bathrooms?
Is the house structurally sound?
Do the mechanical systems and appliances work?
Is the yard big enough?
Do you like the floor plan?
Will your furniture fit in the space? Is there enough storage space? (I will have a tape measure to better answer these questions for you.)
Does anything need to repaired or replaced? Will the seller repair or replace the items?
Imagine the house in good weather and bad, and in each season. Will you be happy with it year-round?
Take your time and think carefully about each house you see. As your Realtor, I will point out the pros and cons of each home from a professional standpoint.
HOW CAN I KEEP TRACK OF ALL THE HOMES I SEE?
We will provide you with very detailed data sheets on each property you view. You will also receive regular emails from us with new homes per your criteria. You can choose to save and organize your favorites on your own computer. If possible, take photographs of each house: the outside, the major rooms, the yard, and extra features that you like or ones you see as potential problems.
HOW MANY HOMES SHOULD I CONSIDER BEFORE CHOOSING ONE?
There isn’t a set number of houses you should see before you decide. Visit as many as it takes to find the one you want. On average, homebuyers see 15 houses before choosing one. Just be sure to communicate often with us about everything you need and want in your home. It will help avoid wasting your time.
YOU’VE FOUND IT
WHAT DOES A HOME INSPECTOR DO, AND HOW DOES AN INSPECTION FIGURE IN THE PURCHASE OF A HOME?
An inspector checks the safety of your potential new home. Home Inspectors focus especially on the structure, construction, and mechanical systems of the house and will make you aware of only repairs that are needed.
The Inspector does not evaluate whether or not you’re getting good value for your money. Generally, an inspector checks (and gives prices for repairs on): the electrical system, plumbing and waste disposal, the water heater, insulation and Ventilation, the HVAC system, water source and quality, the potential presence of pests, the foundation, doors, windows, ceilings, walls, floors, and roof.
Any offers we make on your behalf will be contingent on the home passing an inspection acceptable to you. An inspection clause gives you an ‘out’ on buying the house if serious problems are found, or gives you the ability to renegotiate the purchase price if repairs are needed. You may also choose to have a pest inspection if the inspector recommends it.
DO I NEED TO BE THERE FOR THE INSPECTION?
It’s not required, but it’s a smart idea. Following the inspection, the home inspector will be able to answer questions about the report and any problem areas. This is also an opportunity to hear an objective opinion on the home you’d like to purchase and it is a good time to ask general and maintenance questions.
HOW CAN I PROTECT MY FAMILY FROM LEAD IN THE HOME?
If the house you’re considering was built before 1978 and you have children under the age of seven, you will want to have an inspection for lead-based point. It’s important to know that lead flakes from paint can be present in both the home and in the soil surrounding the house. The problem can be fixed temporarily by repairing damaged paint surfaces or planting grass over effected soil. Hiring a lead abatement contractor to remove paint chips and seal damaged areas will fix the problem permanently.
ARE POWER LINES A HEALTH HAZARD?
There are no definitive research findings that indicate exposure to power lines results in greater instances of disease or illness.
DO I NEED A LAWYER TO BUY A HOME?
Laws vary by state. Some states require a lawyer to assist in several aspects of the home buying process while other states do not, as long as a qualified real estate professional is involved. This is entirely your choice; Florida is a “title company” state. Some states must use attorneys to close real estate deals, whereas Florida uses title companies. Your attorney expense would be at your discretion in addition to your closing costs.
DO I REALLY NEED HOMEOWNER’S INSURANCE?
Yes. A paid homeowner’s insurance policy (or a paid receipt for one) is required at closing, so arrangements will have to be made prior to that day. Plus, involving the insurance agent early in the home buying process can save you money. Insurance agents are a great resource for information on home safety and they can give tips on how to keep insurance premiums low.
WHAT STEPS COULD I TAKE TO LOWER MY HOMEOWNER’S INSURANCE COSTS?
Be sure to shop around among several insurance companies. Also, consider the cost of insurance when you look at homes. Newer homes and homes constructed with materials like brick tend to have lower premiums. Think about avoiding areas prone to natural disasters, like flooding. Choose a home with a fire hydrant or a fire department nearby.
Other ways to lower ins-insurance costs include insuring your home and car(s) with the same company, increasing home security, and seeking group coverage through alumni or business associations. Insurance costs are always lowered by raising your deductibles, but this exposes you to a higher out-of-pocket cost if you have to file a claim.
IS THE HOME LOCATED IN A FLOOD PLAIN?
Your lender can help you answer this question. If you live in a flood plain, the lender will require that you have flood insurance before lending any money to you. But if you live near a flood plain, you may choose whether or not to get flood insurance coverage for your home. Work with an insurance agent to construct a policy that fits your needs.
HOW DO I MAKE AN OFFER?
Sell Fast Realty will assist you in writing up your offer and reviewing it with you prior to making an offer, which will include the following information:
Complete legal description of the property
Amount of earnest money
Down payment and financing details
Proposed move-in date
Price you are offering
Proposed closing date
Length of time the offer is valid
Details of the deal
Remember that a sale commitment depends on negotiating a satisfactory contract with the seller, not just “Making an Offer.”
HOW DO I DETERMINE THE INITIAL OFFER?
Sell Fast Realty will calculate your offer and this will involve several factors: what homes sell for in the area, the home’s condition, how long it’s been on the market, financing terms, and the seller’s situation. By the time you’re ready to make an offer, you should have a good idea of what the home is worth and what you can afford. And, be prepared for give-and-take negotiation, which is very common when buying a home. The buyer and seller may often go back and forth until they can agree on a price.
WHAT IS EARNEST MONEY? HOW MUCH SHOULD I SET ASIDE?
Earnest money is money put down to demonstrate your seriousness about buying a home. It must be substantial enough to demonstrate good faith and is usually between 1-5% of the purchase price (though the amount can vary with local customs and conditions). If your offer is accepted, the earnest money becomes part of your down payment or closing costs. If the offer is rejected, your money is returned to you. If you back out of a deal, you may forfeit the entire amount.
WHAT ARE “HOME WARRANTIES,” AND SHOULD I CONSIDER THEM?
Home warranties offer you protection for a specific period of time (e.g., one year) against potentially costly problems, like unexpected repairs on appliances or home systems, which are not covered by homeowner’s insurance. Warranties are becoming more popular because they offer protection during the time immediately following the purchase of a home, a time when many people find themselves cash-strapped.
GENERAL FINANCING QUESTIONS: THE BASICS
WHAT IS A MORTGAGE?
Generally speaking, a mortgage is a loan obtained to purchase real estate. The “mortgage” itself is a lien (a legal claim) on the home or property that secures the promise to pay the debt. All mortgages have two features in common: principal and interest.
WHAT IS A LOAN TO VALUE (LTV) HOW DOES IT DETERMINE THE SIZE OF MY LOAN?
The loan to value ratio is the amount of money you borrow compared with the price or appraised value of the home you are purchasing. Each loan has a specific LTV limit. For example: With a 95% LTV loan on a home priced at $50,000, you could borrow up to $47,500 (95% of $50,000), and would have to pay, $2,500 as a down payment.
The LTV ratio reflects the amount of equity borrowers have in their homes. The higher the LTV the less cash homebuyers are required to pay out of their own funds. So, to protect lenders against potential loss in case of default, higher LTV loans (80% or more) usually require mortgage insurance policy.
WHAT TYPES OF LOANS ARE AVAILABLE AND WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF EACH?
Fixed Rate Mortgages: Payments remain the same for the life of the loan
Housing cost remains unaffected by interest rate changes and inflation.
Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMS): Payments increase or decrease on a regular schedule with changes in interest rates; increases subject to limits
Balloon Mortgage- Offers very low rates for an Initial period of time (usually 5, 7, or 10 years); when time has elapsed, the balance is clue or refinanced (though not automatically)
Two-Step Mortgage- Interest rate adjusts only once and remains the same for the life of the loan
ARMS linked to a specific index or margin
Generally offer lower initial interest rates
Monthly payments can be lower
May allow borrower to qualify for a larger loan amount
WHEN DO ARMS MAKE SENSE?
An ARM may make sense if you are confident that your income will increase steadily over the years or if you anticipate a move in the near future and aren’t concerned about potential increases in interest rates.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF 15- AND 30-YEAR LOAN TERMS?
In the first 23 years of the loan, more interest is paid off than principal, meaning larger tax deductions.
As inflation and costs of living increase, mortgage payments become a smaller part of overall expenses.
Loan is usually made at a lower interest rate.
Equity is built faster because early payments pay more principal.
CAN I PAY OFF MY LOAN AHEAD OF SCHEDULE?
Yes. By sending in extra money each month or making an extra payment at the end of the year, you can accelerate the process of paying off the loan. When you send extra money, be sure to indicate that the excess payment is to be applied to the principal. Most lenders allow loan prepayment, though you may have to pay a prepayment penalty to do so. Ask your lender for details.
ARE THERE SPECIAL MORTGAGES FOR FIRST-TIME HOMEBUYERS?
Yes. Lenders now offer several affordable mortgage options which can help first-time homebuyers overcome obstacles that made purchasing a home difficult in the past. Lenders may now be able to help borrowers who don’t have a lot of money saved for the down payment and closing costs, have no or a poor credit history, have quite a bit of long-term debt, or have experienced income irregularities.
HOW LARGE OF A DOWN PAYMENT DO I NEED?
There are mortgage options now available that only require a down payment of 5% or less of the purchase price. But the larger the down payment, the less you have to borrow, and the more equity you’ll have. Mortgages with less than a 20% down payment generally require a mortgage insurance policy to secure the loan. When considering the size of your down payment, consider that you’ll also need money for closing costs, moving expenses, and – possibly -repairs and decorating.
WHAT IS INCLUDED IN A MONTHLY MORTGAGE PAYMENT?
The monthly mortgage payment mainly pays off principal and interest. But most lenders also include local real estate taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and mortgage insurance (if applicable).
WHAT FACTORS AFFECT MORTGAGE PAYMENTS?
The amount of the down payment, the size of the mortgage loan, the interest rate, the length of the repayment term and payment schedule will all affect the size of your mortgage payment.
HOW DOES THE INTEREST RATE FACTOR IN SECURING A MORTGAGE LOAN?
A lower interest rate allows you to borrow more money than a high rate with the some monthly payment. Interest rates can fluctuate as you shop for a loan, so ask-lenders if they offer a rate “lock-in” which guarantees a specific interest rate for a certain period of time. Remember that a lender must disclose the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) of a loan to you. The APR shows the cost of a mortgage loan by expressing it in terms of a yearly interest rate. It is generally higher than the interest rate because it also includes the cost of points, mortgage insurance, and other fees included in the loan.
WHAT HAPPENS IF INTEREST RATES DECREASE AND I HAVE A FIXED RATE LOAN?
If interest rates drop significantly, you may want to investigate refinancing. Most experts agree that if you plan to be in your house for at least 18 months and you can get a rate 2% less than your current one, refinancing is smart. Refinancing may, however, involve paying many of the same fees paid at the original closing, plus origination and application fees.
WHAT ARE DISCOUNT POINTS?
Discount points allow you to lower your interest rate. They are essentially prepaid interest, with each point equaling 1% of the total loan amount. Generally, for each point paid on a 30-year mortgage, the interest rate is reduced by 1/8 (or.125) of a percentage point. When shopping for loans ask lenders for an interest rate with 0 points and then see how much the rate decreases with each point paid. Discount points are smart if you plan to stay in a home for some time since they can lower the monthly loan payment. Points are tax deductible when you purchase a home and you may be able to negotiate for the seller to pay for some of them.
WHAT IS AN ESCROW ACCOUNT? DO I NEED ONE?
Established by your lender, an escrow account is a place to set aside a portion of your monthly mortgage payment to cover annual charges for homeowner’s insurance, mortgage insurance (if applicable), and property taxes. Escrow accounts are a good idea because they assure money will always be available for these payments. If you use an escrow account to pay property tax or homeowner’s insurance, make sure you are not penalized for late payments since it is the lender’s responsibility to make those payments.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER I’VE APPLIED FOR MY LOAN?
It usually takes a lender between 1-6 weeks to complete the evaluation of your application. It’s not unusual for the lender to ask for more information once the application has been submitted. The sooner you can provide the information, the faster your application will be processed. Once all the information has been verified the lender will call you to let you know the outcome of your application. If the loan is approved, a closing date is set up and the lender will review the closing with you. And after closing, you’ll be able to move into your new home.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR DURING THE FINAL WALK-THROUGH?
This will likely be the first opportunity to examine the house without furniture, giving you a clear view of everything. Check the walls and ceilings carefully, as well as any work the seller agreed to do in response to the inspection. Any problems discovered previously that you find uncorrected should be brought up prior to closing. It is the seller’s responsibility to fix them in some cases. In many cases, like a short sale, the home is sold “as-is, where-is” and the seller makes absolutely no repairs to the home and it is up to the buyer to make repairs required by their own lender in order to close.
WHAT MAKES UP CLOSING COST?
There may be closing cost customary or unique to a certain locality, but closing costs are usually made up of the following:
Attorney’s or escrow fees (Yours and your lender’s if applicable)
Property taxes (to cover tax period to date)
Interest (paid from date of closing to 30 days before first monthly payment)
Loan Origination fee (covers lenders administrative cost)
First premium of mortgage Insurance (if applicable)
Title Insurance (yours and lender’s)
Loan discount points
First payment to escrow account for future real estate taxes and insurance
Paid receipt for homeowner’s insurance policy (and fire and flood insurance if applicable)
Any documentation preparation fees
WHAT CAN I EXPECT TO HAPPEN ON CLOSING DAY?
You’ll present your paid homeowner’s insurance policy or a binder and receipt showing that the premium has been paid. The closing agent will then list the money you owe the seller (remainder of down payment, prepaid taxes, etc.) and then the money the seller owes you (unpaid taxes and prepaid rent, if applicable). The seller will provide proofs of any inspection, warranties, etc.
Once you’re sure you understand all the documentation, you’ll sign the mortgage, agreeing that if you don’t make payments the lender is entitled to sell your property and apply the sale price against the amount you owe plus expenses. You’ll also sign a mortgage note, promising to repay the loan. The seller will give you the title to the house in the form of a signed deed.
You’ll pay the lender’s agent all closing costs and, in turn, he or she will provide you with a settlement statement of all the items for which you have paid. The deed and mortgage will then be recorded in the state Registry of Deeds, and you will be a homeowner.
WHAT DO I GET AT CLOSING?
Settlement Statement, HUD-1 Form (itemizes services provided and the fees charged; it is filled out by the closing agent and must be given to you at or before closing)
Mortgage or Deed of Trust
Binding Sales Contract (prepared by the seller; your lawyer should review it)
Keys to your new home