K (eep) I (t) S (imple) S (weetheart)
There are so many times that I can recall that a kiss was just what the doctor ordered. A kiss for good luck, a kiss that bridges fantasy to reality, a kiss when wed, a New Year’s kiss and the infamous call when a ball is hit out of the park “kiss it goodbye” are kisses. The right kiss can remove the stress of home buying. K(eep) I(t) S(imple) S(weetheart). Sure, the process can seem overwhelming. Most people are not involved in the home buying process on a daily basis. I am. I know it may appear like a mystery to you, but I do this all of the time and I have to tell you, it is far less complicated for an experienced agent. There is an orderly process to follow that will keep you on track.
To begin with, you don’t need any other people for your first step. You have to move from the “I want to buy a house” status to the “I know I can buy a house” position. Now that sounds simple enough and actually it is. You want to be armed with information from the very beginning. The most important pieces of information are your credit reports and your FICO score. (Your FICO score stands for the Fair Issac Corp., which is the company that uses proprietary algorithms to reduce your financial history to three digit number that ranges between 450 and 850. The higher the number, the better your history and the better your chances are at getting a loan at favorable terms. If you number is too low, you won’t be able to qualify for a loan without an extraordinary amount of money down.) There are three major credit reporting agencies. They are pretty much the same, but not always exactly the same. I would avoid the free credit report sites. They have a lot of small print and tend to end up costing you an ongoing fee. Your best bet is to go to www.annualcreditreport.com. Follow the instructions and gather all three of your reports. You will notice they do not include your FICO score. You can purchase your FICO score online at www.myfico.com. Now, before you ask “Why do I need this if the lender will get it?”, let me just share that it is better to know how you look going in than it is to be blindsided sitting in a lenders office. You should be in control and getting the facts will give you that control.
Once you have you credit reports and FICO score in hand, you are ready for the next step. Before you go looking on line, before you start wandering into open houses, before you even begin the home search, you have to KNOW how much home you can comfortably afford. You are now ready to sit down with a lender. My advice is to get in touch with an experienced, local mortgage lender. It is best to focus on a loan officer that is well know in the community. As alluring as the on site lenders may appear, they are often located quite some distance away and that fact may hinder you as the time to close the loan draws near. The lenders job will to be to provide you with a dollar amount for the home you can afford. One word of caution, make sure that the lender is working with today’s interest rate and a clear picture of what your monthly payment will be throughout the length of your loan. With rare exception, you are a fool if you agree to a loan that has low payments today and the caveat that the payments will increase in the future. MAKE SURE YOUR LOAN QUALIFICATION IS BASED ON TODAY’S INCOME AND TODAY’S INTEREST RATES. The goal of this meeting is to get a informal commitment from the lender. The lender should be willing to provide you with a “pre-qualification” letter that will state that the lender has reviewed your credit, has verified you income and the cash you have available for a down payment. The letter should state that the only information needed for the loan is a contract on a home and a satisfactory appraisal of that home.
It would be in your best interest not to get caught up in the slight variations in interest rates and fees. The lenders job is to make sure your loan is funded within the time constraints outlined in the contract. The lender will have to provide you with a good faith estimate. You can use the good faith estimate to compare what is offered against other lenders. If you do not have a lender, check with your bank or credit union for a recommendation. If you have an accountant, they may know of a lender. You can also ask a real estate professional for the name of a good mortgage broker. (If the agent refers you to a lender that is tied to their broker BEWARE. A good mortgage lender does not have to affiliate with any real estate brokerage. Once an affiliation exists, the possibility (real or imagined) for violations of RESPA come into play.)
I know you hear the NAR commercials suggesting that you need a Realtor. In Maryland, almost 10 Your next step is to select ONE full-time experienced real estate agent.0% of the practicing agents are Realtors. (You see, in Maryland, every agent has to work for a broker. If a broker wants to be a member of the Maryland Association of Realtors, something they have to do to be a member of the NAR, they must agree that all agents working for them will be members as well…ergo…almost 100% of the agents working in Maryland are Realtors). Now, how do you find a good agent (hint: if you have read this far, you are already pretty close to a dog gone good agent, but I digress)? Some would say, ask a friend, ask a co-worker, ask a family member…ask somebody. I would suggest that you can do your homework. Go on-line and find an agent that shares more than listings. Find an agent that has experience in the market and the area. Talk to the agent. Discern their style. Beyond knowledge, you will have to be comfortable and believe that the agent knows what they are doing. I am not the only one that believes experience is a difference. Dave Stevens, the former head of the FHA agrees with me. Why full-time? Representing you is their job and you deserve the full-time attention of the agent. There is no reason you should receive part-time representation from a part-time agent that will be earning full time pay!
Of course, you might think that you can go it alone. Every home worth considering is on-line. The listing agent can unlock the door for you. Why go through the hassle of working with one agent? Well, you are right. A monkey can find homes for sale randomly plunking a keyboard. Beyond that, you enter murky waters when you choose to swim alone. Finding the right home is but the tip of the iceberg. Doing it on your own will always leave that nagging doubt “would a real estate agent have found a better home?” Once the home is discovered, do you really want to go on line and print out a contract and sign it? In Maryland there are over 50 pages in a real estate contract to purchase. The body of the document is 11 pages of terms and conditions. In addition to that there are local addendum’s, jurisdictional addendum’s, disclosures about the home, about lead paint, etc., and then you have to add various contingencies for inspections, appraisals and dozens of other potential requirements. You are done yet. If the home is governed by a home owner’s association, you will need to request and review their documentation. There is a sea of paperwork that flows between the front door of your dream and the settlement table where you will close the transaction. The real estate agent is the captain of your ship of dreams and you better be sure he is sea worthy and able to get you into a safe harbor and closed on time.
There is a lot to consider when you first begin to believe, “I want to buy a home”. Rather than be intimidated by the challenge, keep it simple sweetheart, follow the easy steps. You don’t have to be a wall flower, the band is playing. Is it your time to dance?
I’d love to go over any of this with you. If you are seeking a captain, I’d welcome the opportunity to take the helm! Contact me.