Buying a home and overwhelmed with the process, make a list

checklist

Buying a home can be overwhelming. You have moved past the dream and are now ready for reality. There is nothing that could have prepared you for what you are feeling.  First-time home buyers have shared the experienced with us.  The doubts range from not knowing what you think you should know to not being sure what you know is really what you should know.  Couples face the challenge together and single folks face it alone, but they both feel the uneasiness.  How could you feel any other way?  Just the basics are daunting. You are preparing to spend anywhere from a quarter of a million dollars to more than a million dollars.  You have been saving, and it has taken forever to accumulate that nest egg. Suddenly, all the sacrifices you have made are staring back at you.

You have done your part.  You may have spoken with a lender already or you may have just begun searching on-line looking at homes.  What next?  Well, before I go any further, let me share the list of things you need to have accomplished before looking at one more pretty picture of a home for sale on line.

This is your initial checklist. Taken one step at a time, it will be less overwhelming. For now, the long term goal is purchasing a home but you are going to focus on a series of short term goals, one at a time. Clear everything off your plate and follow these easy steps in order they are presented. The title by the number is the goal. The subtitles under the goal are steps taken to accomplish the goal.

  1. Establish your financial position.
  • Make contact with your personal banker, a rival local bank and a local Federal Credit Union.
  • Sit with each one and inquire about their loan programs. Share only what is necessary for them to give you a general idea of what they have to offer.
  • Once comfortable (you truly understand what is being shared, if not, go back a step) ask them to give you a general idea of what you can afford based on a payment that you are comfortable with making. Do not allow them to pull a credit report at this time. It is not needed and you want to keep the number of inquiries to a minimum so your FICO score will not be impacted.
  • Thank them for their time and give the information at least 24 hours to sink in.
  • Make a follow up appointment to discuss anything questions you have. Unless your personal bank is an online bank, you can have them prepare a pre-approval letter for you. The only caveat I will offer is that sometimes market conditions are such that Federal Credit Unions have better products. If that is the case, have the FCU prepare the pre-approval letter. Whomever you choose, they can pull your credit reports.
  • Understand, this is just the beginning of the financial process. You are not bound to any lender. As long as there is time for the loan to be processed prior to closing, you can switch lenders.

2.  Determine where you want to live

  • Stop the wide focus searching on the internet. Narrow your choices down to specific areas.
  • In urban areas, you will find neighborhoods and in the suburbs you will find developments.
  • Your focus should be on where the area is in relation to your job and what are the various ways you can commute between home and work from each area.
  • Once you have some areas in mind, go spend time in them. Visit on a weekend afternoon, Drive by in the evening. If possible, park you car (if you have one) and walk around. Get a real feel for the area. You will be able to tell more about the area by actually spending time there than any website will be able to relate.
  • If neighbors are out and about and you are up to approaching them in congenial fashion, stop and ask “what’s the neighborhood like?”
  • You will find that your visits factored with your commute will create a pecking order of preferences for you to use as an outline for your actual home search.

3. Select a Realtor

  • At this point, you really do need a guide, caretaker, interpreter and adviser. As you can see, if done properly, the process has already been quite extensive.
  • The Realtor will be the person that assists you in your search. Of course, you will spend hours in front of computer screens, dreaming and hoping. Your agent will be the one charged with providing you facts.
  • Your Realtor should have a deeper knowledge of the area than what you have gleaned in your visits.
  • The most important thing your Realtor can do initially is listen to you. It is your home search. There is no way it can be accomplished successfully unless the agent is on the same page as you.
  • Communication is vital. Keep in mind all you have put together to reach this point, You have to understand what is going on and how the process is proceeding.
  • The Realtor has the tools to fine tune your criteria and match it with available properties. Keep in mind, every listing presented or suggested is only a maybe. You will turn away more than you will choose to visit and you will visit more than you will opt to purchase. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ignore a suggestion. Again, it is your home search.

4. The Search

  • You are ready to begin the search in earnest. You have your financial base, your target areas and your Realtor. Now you can begin to separate the pretenders from the contenders.
  • A solid search can be done based on area, price, amenities (number of bedrooms, bathrooms, parking, etc.), and style of home (single family, town home, condominium) Note: price may narrow choices regarding location and some amenities).
  • It is important that you truly understand, your Realtor has access to every home that is listed in the MLS in your area. The same can not be said for the national search sites. National sites (Zillow, Trulia, etc) do not have contractual agreements with all multiple listing services and in some cases they are missing homes that are for sale or show homes for sale that have already been sold. That is just reality.
  • Your Realtor should be monitoring the MLS to make sure you are notified of every home on the market that meets your general criteria as soon as it is available.
  • Viewings must be scheduled. In some cases, visits have to be scheduled a day or two ahead of time. Your agent is at the mercy of the seller’s showing instructions. You should be able to give your Realtor the times that you are available to view homes and set up viewings at your convenience. It is your home search. Just remember, in many cases, it is not possible to call and set up an appointment for later in the same day.
  • Re-visit any home that you are considering to purchase. The first visit was just that, the first visit. The second visit should be a bit longer and you should take the time to visualize living in the home.
  • Do not be discouraged if it seems like the process is plodding along. When you walk through the doors of the right home for you, you will know it.

Now, you know you are financially ready, you know where you want to live, your agent has taken you through homes and you have found the one!

Sit down with your agent, he will help you prepare an offer that will present you in the most favorable position to the seller. You have gotten this far. The rest will be nerves. It may help you to make a list of all the reasons you have to be proud of yourself for reaching this point. Never discount the pride in accomplishment every new home owner feels when the receive the keys at closing.

Of course, if you reach step 3 and figure I might be a good choice, fill out the form. I would be delighted to assist you in your journey.

DC and Md Home Buying

Here is some general information regarding buying a home. You might want to pour a cup of coffee before beginning to read. It is a bit long, but, buying a home takes a little more input that suggesting which big screen t.v. you want to put in the family room.
We find it most useful to go through the process in general terms. Each buyer is an individual and the general can be tailored to specifics.
You want to buy a home.
 
We won’t attempt to list all the reasons that lead people to this decision. From a purely economic standpoint, in the long run, it is better to own than to rent. When purchasing property, payments made against principal increase the equity you have in a home. Despite the recent downturn, home values today are greater than they were 5 years ago. This fact holds true over the last 70 years.
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When do you want to buy?
 
It may be that you are not quite sure. You may need more information to formulate a time line. This note should help clear up any mystery about the process. Hopefully, it will answer most of  your questions. If any questions remain, we will be glad to make sure they are answered.
The most important step is for you to determine how much home you are comfortable paying for on a monthly basis. You will see ads on television and hear ads on the radio extolling the virtues of different lenders. You will see many different advertisements on the internet offering to pre-approve you for a loan quickly from the comfort of you computer.  You probably would not make any other major life decision sitting in front of a computer. We think you should only deal with a lender that is local.
You have seen what happened to people that chased “bargain” rates on the internet. They usually found the real rate was higher and they had no access to anyone. This is a very personal decision and computers are rather impersonal objects.
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We recommend that a buyer contact a local bank or mortgage company. It is much easier to deal with a firm that offers you a face to face meeting to discuss the process of obtaining a mortgage. Remember, just because a firm pre-approves you for a loan, you are not obligated to use them to purchase the home. You can change your mind about a lender right up to a few days before closing. If you have applied for a loan and the lender has done an appraisal, the appraisal can usually be purchased by the new lender.
There is no cost to being pre-approved. If a firm requires some sort of payment, refuse to do business with them.
Being pre-approved by more than one lender will not affect your credit rating one iota.  The credit scoring systems treat multiple inquiries for mortgages as one inquiry. No one will penalize you for attempting to acquire the best mortgage for your situation.
When you speak to a lender, they will need you to reveal a great deal of our personal financial information. They need this information to satisfy their underwriters which in turn are under the “microscope” of institutions that will subsequently buy the loan from the lender. Our recent credit meltdown has caused all mortgage companies to document all information regarding loan applicants.
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When you speak with a lender, you must keep in mind that your goal is to ascertain how much home you can buy and keep payments in a comfortable range. I would strongly urge you to only look at fixed rate loans that do not include provisions for rate changes in the future. There are situations in which adjustable rate mortgages make sense, but it is usually best for a first time home buyer to focus on a loan that will offer a consistent payment.
Depending on the amount of money that you have set aside for a down payment, you can either qualify for what is called a conventional loan (this is a loan in which you usually put down at least 20%) or you can qualify for an FHA loan (these loans require as little as 3.5% down).  A qualified lender will be able to go over both types of loans and see which one fits your individual situation. You can get a conventional loan with less than 20% down, but this will create a need for private mortgage insurance (PMI), which will increase your monthly payment.
Once a loan amount and interest rate is determined, you ask the lender for a good faith estimate. It will clearly outline what has been promised. I will share that the good faith estimate is not carved in stone. The newest version of the good faith estimate will not even include your monthly payment.  Some lenders will try to avoid giving you a good faith estimate.
They will offer a “worksheet” which will have your monthly payment. It is not binding. Demand a good faith estimate and a worksheet.
In our fluctuating market, interest rates are on what seems like an hourly roller coaster ride. Rates can and do change quickly. It is important for you to understand that the rates usually do not change a great deal over a short period of time. Today, they are close to 4% but they may shoot up before you finish reading this note. The actual rate you receive will be determined once you find the property you wish to purchase.
Once you have a contract ratified, you can ask your lender to lock your rate and you will not be affected by any rate changes that occur between contract ratification and closing.
Phew…….it sounds daunting to just get through that process, but in reality it may only take a 15-20 minute phone call to give the information to the lender and then maybe another 30 minutes to discuss your options. We are always available to digest what our clients have been told and answer any questions that exist. If necessary, we often speak with the lender to make sure our client is hearing what is actually being shared.
Once you know how much you have to spend, you can decide what you wish to buy. The amount of money available will impact whether you can buy a condo, a town home or a detached single family home.  Condo’s are at the lower price end of the scale and single family homes are at the top. In our current market, all styles are are available.
As you have heard, location is a major factor.  The closer a home is to the center of activity (in this area Washington, DC) the higher the prices are for homes. As you move out into the suburbs, prices are lower. In the suburbs, again the proximity to a Metro will impact the pricing.
Understanding that price is a factor, we think it is important to stay focused on the fact that you’re are buying a home. You need to make sure that regardless of location, the home you find has the amenities that will make it a home for you.
Location is usually defined as a place.
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Once you live in a location, you will realize that the distance of your commute is a major factor. You will realize that your access to shopping, public transportation and recreational facilities is also an important part of location. You need to spend a little down time with yourself and examine your lifestyle and make sure all aspects of location are part of your decision making process regarding where you new home is located.
We can go over the various options and areas with you. It will be easier for us to perform our magic if we have a complete understanding of what is important to you. The right home is out there. With the proper information, we can find it and it can be yours. Patience!

 
Now, you probably have read and heard the term “short sale” and or “foreclosure” or even “bank owned”. These terms have spent a fair amount of time in the news over the last few years. They represent different situations.
“Short sale” generally is referring to a property that is owned by someone that cannot pay their mortgage anymore. Some of these people financed the home with exotic financing. Some of these people took advantage of rising home values and took out equity lines that they can no longer pay. Others have fallen on hard times and can no longer pay. The reasons are many but the end result is the same, the property owner owes more than the house is worth and the property owner is no longer paying their mortgage.  They call the bank and they are told that they need to try to sell the home. They call a Realtor and have the home listed for a price that the Realtor thinks will get an offer. Once the offer is received, it is signed by the property owner and forwarded to the lender with an elaborate “short sale ” package.
Before the bank will even consider the offer, they must receive all the documents. Once they have all the documents, they forward the offer and package to an internal department that will review the offer and accept the offer or make a counter offer. This process can take weeks with some lenders. There is no guarantee that the price the home was listed for is the price that the bank will accept for the home. They have internal reviews that determine how much they will lose on the sale and what they may potentially lose through foreclosure. Decisions are not based on facts apparent to the public.
If the sale falls through, the property does not become a “pre-approved short sale”.  Some agents re-list the home with this term or a similar term.  It is not true. Any new offer has to start at square one and the prior approval is not part of the equation.
Many times deals are turned down because of the lenders financial position at the time of the offer.
 
“Foreclosures” or auctions are really very difficult to purchase comfortably. Homes that are being auctioned often can only be viewed from the outside. Auctions are usually held on the courthouse steps. Participants must have a cashiers check to submit and if a bid is won and they must promise to get financing within a short period of time. Many homes that are auctioned off, do not appraise for the value and a loan is not available. The cash deposit is lost. It is a very costly gambit into the unknown. It is much better to wait and look at bank owned properties.
 
“Bank owned” properties have been foreclosed on by the lender. The bank has title to the property. They are sold “as-is”. They can be viewed like any other home for sale. The bank has determined what they need from the property so you know that the list price is close to what they expect. We have represented many clients that have purchased bank owned properties. We have no problem dealing with the banks. These sales are very similar to the sales that occur between homeowners and buyers outside the “short sale” dynamics.
Once you have a comfort level regarding the process, you should choose a real estate agent.
This is another important decision. Your agent has to become your confidant. You have to share your dreams and your weaknesses. You have to trust this person to protect your interests above all others during the transaction. I think you have to believe that your agent is responsive to your needs.
In the state of Maryland and in the District of Columbia, agents have to be licensed. Most reasonable people agree,It takes more than a license to perform a service properly. Experience garnered over time and transactions adds an immeasurable understanding to lessons taught in classrooms. Once you are comfortable with an agent, you should work with that agent exclusively. The agent will work under a contract.
If an agent says that they do not need a contract, understand that they legally can not represent you completely (They are forbidden from offering advice or assisting you with preparation of an offer or negotiating on your behalf).
An agent that shows you homes without a contract, may be presumed to represent you, but without a contract they must represent the interests of the seller of each home you are shown. (They are legally bound to protect the interest of the seller as a sub-agent of the listing agent.) Making sure that your agent has a contract with you protects you throughout the process.
We hope this long article covers most of the basics regarding buying a home. If you would like to sit down and go over the process, we would be glad to set aside a time that is mutually convenient for both of us. We can meet  and we can answer any questions you have face to face.
My name is John MacArthur and my partner is Lourdes Tudela.  For more information, fill out the form below.