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Buyers FAQ

Buying your new home is a serious venture. It can be an absolute pleasure or a massive headache. Your house is not just your home, it is a serious investment- in the dwelling, the area and your future.
When buying a home – you’re bound to have many questions. For example, “In what area can I find a home that suits my needs?”, “How much money will I need to afford the monthly payments?” and “How long will the home buying process take?”


 

Buying Process

  • Pre-Qualification: Meet with a mortgage broker and find out how much you can afford to pay for a home.
  • Pre-Approval: While knowing how much you can afford is the first step, sellers will be much more receptive to potential buyers who have been pre-approved. You’ll also avoid being disappointed when going after homes that are out of your price range. With Pre-Approval, the buyer actually applies for a mortgage and receives a commitment in writing from a lender. This way, assuming the home you’re interested in is at or under the amount you are pre-qualified for, the seller knows immediately that you are a serious buyer for that property. Costs for pre-approval are generally nominal and lenders will usually permit you to pay them when you close your loan.
  • List of Needs & Wants: Make 2 lists. The first should include items you must have (i.e., the number of bedrooms you need for the size of your family, a one-story house if accessibility is a factor, etc.). The second list is your wishes, things you would like to have (pool, den, etc.) but that are not absolutely necessary. Realistically for first-time buyers, you probably will not get everything on your wish list, but it will keep you on track for what you are looking for.
  • Representation by a Professional: Consider hiring your own real estate agent, one who is working for you, the buyer, not the seller. This will protect your interest in the purchase.
  • Focus & Organization: In a convenient location, keep handy the items that will assist you in maximizing your home search efforts. Such items may include:
    1. One or more detailed maps with your areas of interest highlighted.
    2. A file of the properties that your agent has shown to you, along with ads you have cut out from the newspaper or a list of homes found on the internet.
    3. Paper and pen, for taking notes as you search.
    4. Instant or video camera to help refresh your memory on individual properties, especially if you are attending a series of showings.
    5. Location: Look at a potential property as if you are the seller. Would a prospective buyer find it attractive based on school district, crime rate, proximity to positive (shopping, parks, freeway access) and negative (abandoned properties, garbage dump, source of noise) features of the area?
  • Visualize the house empty & with your decor: Are the rooms laid out to fit your needs? Is there enough light
  • Be Objective: Instead of thinking with your heart when you find a home, think with your head. Does this home really meet your needs? There are many houses on the market, so don’t make a hurried decision that you may regret later.
  • Be Thorough: A few extra dollars well spent now may save you big expenses in the long run. Don’t forget such essentials as:
    1. Include inspection & mortgage contingencies in your written offer.
    2. Have the property inspected by a professional inspector.
    3. Request a second walk-through to take place within 24 hours of closing.
    4. You want to check to see that no changes have been made that were not agreed on (i.e., a nice chandelier that you assumed came with the sale having been replaced by a cheap ceiling light).
  • All the above may seem rather overwhelming. That is why having a professional represent you and keep track of all the details for you is highly recommended. Please email me or call me directly to discuss any of these matters in further detail.

 

What You Can Do to Improve Your Credit

Credit scores, along with your overall income and debt, are big factors in determining whether you’ll qualify for a loan and what your loan terms will be. So, keep your credit score high by doing the following:

  1. Check for and correct any errors in your credit report. Mistakes happen, and you could be paying for someone else’s poor financial management.
  2. Pay down credit card bills. If possible, pay off the entire balance every month. Transferring credit card debt from one card to another could lower your score.
  3. Don’t charge your credit cards to the maximum limit.
  4. Wait 12 months after credit difficulties to apply for a mortgage. You’re penalized less for problems after a year.
  5. Don’t order items for your new home on credit — such as appliances and furniture — until after the loan is approved. The amounts will add to your debt.
  6. Don’t open new credit card accounts before applying for a mortgage. Too much available credit can lower your score.
  7. Shop for mortgage rates all at once. Too many credit applications can lower your score, but multiple inquiries from the same type of lender are counted as one inquiry if submitted over a short period of time.
  8. Avoid finance companies. Even if you pay the loan on time, the interest is high and it will probably be considered a sign of poor credit management.

This information is copyrighted by the Fannie Mae Foundation and is used with permission of the Fannie Mae Foundation.


 

How to Negotiate with Sellers

Buying a home is one of the most important purchases most people will make. In order to make the right decision the first time, potential buyers need to be prepared. Consider the following before starting negotiations:

  • Be prepared Research the housing market in the target area. Once you have information about the general area, focus on the particular property and seller. Look for answers to questions such as:
    1. Why is the homeowner selling? (If they’re moving because they find the area undesirable, you might want to consider this issue.)
    2. How long has the home been on the market? (If it has been on the market for a long time, perhaps there are negative facts about the property that you need to know.)
    3. How much did the seller pay for the home compared to the current asking price? (If the seller paid more, find out why. Was it a general real estate trend, or did property values in that particular neighborhood go down?)
    4. What is the seller’s time frame for selling and moving? Does it fit within your needs?
    5. Are there any defects in the home or problems with the surrounding neighborhood? (For example, is the roof so old that it will likely leak during the next storm? Is there a new construction project in the area that will lead to major traffic congestion?)

As the potential buyer, you want the advantage. While you want answers to all your questions to the seller, reveal very little about your circumstances. Do not give the seller personal information such as your income, the maximum you are able to pay for a down payment or the home, or when you want to move. Make sure that your agent knows not to reveal any such information to the seller or his/her agent. Also, do not let the seller see how much you want the property. If you appear desperate or overly enthusiastic, the seller then has the stronger bargaining position. When meeting with the seller or listing agent, keep your emotions in check.

  • Establish a Timeline Find out if the seller needs to have the sale closed sooner rather than later. If the seller is feeling pressured to sell, use that to your advantage in negotiating. Even if you, the buyer, are the one with the deadline for purchasing a home, don’t let yourself be rushed into making concessions or a purchase you may regret later.

 

Types of Mortgages

Fortunately for buyers, there are a variety of mortgages to choose from. It is in your best interest to investigate each of them to determine which is the best for your situation. You probably won’t qualify for all of them. In fact, you may only qualify for one. But if you do qualify for more than one, you may save yourself money (and worry) in the long run if you do your homework before signing on the dotted line.

  • Fixed-Rate Mortgages
  • Adjustable-Rate Mortgages
  • The Convertible ARM
  • Government Loan (FHA & VA)

Fixed Rate Mortgages

Consider a fixed rate mortgage if either of the following describes you:

      ✓ You plan on living in your new home for many years, and/or

 

    ✓ You are not a risk-taker and prefer the stability of knowing how much your payment will be each month.

Since most home loans are for a period of 30 years, if you want a payment you can count on for that long of a period of time, a fixed rate mortgage may be what works best for you. Once your loan amount and interest rate are calculated and locked in, a fixed rate mortgage will guarantee that you will have the same payment over the life of the loan. Making extra payments to principal will allow you to pay your loan off sooner. For example one extra principal payment a year will reduce the loan by 7 years.

This may not always be the best choice, however. If interest rates are very high at the time you take out your loan, with a fixed rate mortgage you’ll be stuck with that high interest for the life of the loan (unless you choose to refinance). On the other hand, if interest rates are very low, you’ll come out the winner with interest rates that will stay low no matter how high interest rates go in the future.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of The Varying Lengths And Terms Of Fixed-Rate Mortgages:

15-Year Fixed-Rate:

  • Pay off the loan in half the time of a 30-year loan.
  • Equity builds up more quickly than in a 30-year loan.
  • Payments are higher (which may be a problem if you lose your job or become unable to work).

20-Year Fixed-Rate:

  • Pay off the loan in 2/3 the time of a 30-year loan.
  • The overall interest paid is considerably less than for a 30-year loan.

30-Year Fixed-Rate:

  • The most common choice, especially for first-time homebuyers, as it’s the easiest of the fixed-rate loans to qualify for.
  • Monthly payments are lower than for 15-year and 20-year loans. This can prove especially helpful if you do not have a lot of “padding” between the amount you can afford to spend and the monthly payment for your desired property.
  • More desirable if you plan on staying in the same home for years, since equity builds more slowly than for shorter-term loans.
  • For income tax purposes, this term provides the maximum interest deduction.

Adjustable-Rate Mortgages (ARMs)

If you are more comfortable in taking a risk with your money or if interest rates are very high at the time you take out your loan, an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) may be the solution for you. You might also choose this type of loan if your planned ownership of the property is short-term or if you expect your income to increase to cover any potential rise in the interest rate.

Generally, the interest rate when you take out your loan will be lower than a fixed-rate mortgage. Please note that this is true initially, not necessarily long-term.

Since an ARM rate rises and falls depending on the prevailing interest rate, your mortgage payment will rise and fall accordingly. If your income is not sufficient to cover the highest possible payments, then this option is not for you. On the positive side, the lower initial payments will allow you to qualify for a larger loan than if you choose a fixed-rate. The downside is that your payments will increase if/when the rates go up.
Typically, ARM interest rates are tied to a specific financial index (such as Certificate of Deposit index, Treasury or T-Bill rate, Cost of Funds-Indexed Arms or COFI, or LIBOR [London Interbank Offered Rate]) and your payment will be based on the index your lender uses plus a margin, generally of two to three points. Get the formula used by your lender in writing and make sure you understand what it means.

Fortunately, the amount an ARM can increase is limited. There are “caps” on how much your lender can increase your rate, both for a period of one year and for the life of the loan. Plan ahead, and have your lender calculate what the maximum payment would be if your rate went to the highest amount allowed by the cap for your particular mortgage. If you are not confident you’ll be able to pay that amount on a monthly basis, perhaps you should reconsider this type of loan.

Convertible ARMs

If neither the fixed-rate or the adjustable-rate mortgage seems like the best option, perhaps the convertible ARM will be right for you. This alternative combines the initial advantage of an ARM with a fixed rate after a predetermined number of years. Obviously, this type of mortgage has more advantages when the initial interest rate is low and the future rate is not guaranteed.

Government Loans

Another mortgage option available to some people is a government loan, providing that you meet the qualifications for these loans.

  • VA Loans: Veterans may qualify for a loan from the Department of Veterans Affairs . Learn more about these loans at www.VA.gov
  • FHA Loans: FHA loan programs offer lower down payments and are a good option for first-time homebuyers or anyone looking to buy with little down. www.FHA.gov

 

Mortgage Rates and Comparing Loans

Mortgage Rates

Naturally, you want to get the best deal for the least amount of money. This holds true for mortgage rates as well. So, when you’re shopping for a new home you should be paying attention to Mortgage Rates.

A lower interest rate means a lower monthly mortgage payment, which can save you money in the long run. Also, it is easier to qualify for a lower payment than a higher one.

Rates change quickly. That great rate you find today might not be there tomorrow.

Some sources for interest rates on the Internet include:

Bank Rate Monitor (http://www.bankrate.com/) and E-Loan (http://www.eloan.com/)

Comparing Loans

When comparing loans, make sure that you’re comparing loans of the same type. For example, you find that “Loan A” for a 30-year loan has a much lower interest rate than “Loan B” (also for 30 years). Upon further inspection, you find that “Loan A” is technically an adjustable rate mortgage. Its payment is based on a 30-year amortization, but becomes due through either payment or refinancing at the end of 5 or 7 years. These are frequently referred to as a 5-year or 7-year fixed-rate mortgage. While both said “30-year”, they are not the same type of loan.

Ask the lender for a statement detailing all fees associated with the loan. Factors such as “points” (loan fee), interest rate and “garbage fees” (extra fees which some lenders charge) can vary greatly from one lender to another. Make sure you review lender fees and understand what they are.

Mortgage Broker

Once you have educated yourself sufficiently about real estate loans. You are ready to get Pre-Approved, look for a qualified mortgage broker that can assist in finding the right mortgage for you. Ask friends and associates who have refinanced or purchased recently if they have a broker they can recommend. You’ll want to find a broker who is energetic, flexible and knowledgeable about finance and loans and someone who has your best interests in mind.


 

How Much of a Mortgage Can I Afford?

Not only does owning a home give you a haven for yourself and your family, it also makes great financial sense because of the tax benefits — which you can’t take advantage of when paying rent.

The following calculation assumes a 28 percent income tax bracket. If your bracket is higher, your savings will be, too. Based on your current rent, use this calculation to figure out how much mortgage you can afford.

Rent: _________________________

Multiplier: x 1.32

Mortgage payment: _________________________

Because of tax deductions, you can make a mortgage payment — including taxes and insurance — that is approximately one-third larger than your current rent payment and end up with the same amount of income.


 

Common Closing Costs for Buyers

You’ll likely be responsible for a variety of fees and expenses that you and the seller will have to pay at the time of closing. Your lender must provide a good-faith estimate of all settlement costs. The title company or other entity conducting the closing will tell you the required amount for:

  • Down payment
  • Loan origination
  • Points, or loan discount fees, which you pay to receive a lower interest rate
  • Home inspection
  • Appraisal
  • Credit report
  • Private mortgage insurance premium
  • Insurance escrow for homeowner’s insurance, if being paid as part of the mortgage
  • Property tax escrow, if being paid as part of the mortgage. Lenders keep funds for taxes and insurance in escrow accounts as they are paid with the mortgage, then pay the insurance or taxes for you.
  • Deed recording
  • Title insurance policy premiums
  • Land survey
  • Notary fees
  • Proration’s for your share of costs, such as utility bills and property taxes

A Note About Proration’s: Because such costs are usually paid on either a monthly or yearly basis, you might have to pay a bill for services used by the sellers before they moved. Proration is a way for the sellers to pay you back or for you to pay them for bills they may have paid in advance. For example, the gas company usually sends a bill each month for the gas used during the previous month. But assume you buy the home on the 6th of the month. You would owe the gas company for only the days from the 6th to the end for the month. The seller would owe for the first five days. The bill would be prorated for the number of days in the month, and then each person would be responsible for the days of his or her ownership.


 

Your Offer was Accepted, Time To Opened Escrow, Now What?

Congratulations, you are on your way to owning your very own home! Follow these suggestions (and your realtor’s advice) so that escrow and settlement with go as smooth as possible.

You will be asked for a down payment on the home you are purchasing. You can choose to put down as much or as little as you want (depending on your mortgage), but remember, the more you put down toward the total price of your home, the less time it will take you to pay off and the less your mortgage payments will be every month.

During this period of purchasing your home, you are going to need an escrow or settlement company to act as an independent third party so that you know when and who to give your money to get the deed to your new home. The escrow or settlement company will hold your deposit and coordinate much of the activity that goes on during the escrow period. This deposit check may also be held by an attorney or in the broker’s trust account. Make sure that there are sufficient funds in your account to cover this check.

The deposit check will be cashed. Assuming the sale goes through, this money will be applied to the purchase price of the home. If for any reason the sale is not consummated, you may be entitled to receive some or all of your deposit back, less standard cancellation fees. In certain instances, the seller may be able to retain this money as liquidated damages. Prior to executing a purchase contract, it would be wise to speak with your counsel regarding whether or not it is your best interest to have a liquidated damages clause as part of the contract.

The period that you are “in escrow” is often 30-45 days, but may be longer or shorter. During this time, each item specified in the contract must be completed satisfactorily. By the time you have opened escrow, you have come to an agreement with the seller on the closing date and the contingencies. Each contract is different, but most include the following:

  • Inspection contingency: this should be completed as soon as possible after the contract to purchase is signed as unsatisfactory results of the inspection may mean that you will want to cancel the contract.
  • Financing contingency: once the contract is signed, you have a period of time to secure funding. If, for any reason, you are unable to secure funding during the period of time granted to you by the contract (and the seller will not provide a written extension of time), you must decide whether you want to remove the contingency and take your chances on getting a loan. You may choose to cancel the purchase contract.
  • A requirement that the seller must provide marketable title.

With an attorney or title officer, review the title report. The title must be “clear” to ensure that you do not have legal issues regarding your ownership.

Check into local and state ordinances regarding property transfer and make sure that you and/or the seller have complied with them.

Secure homeowner’s insurance. This will probably be required before you can close the sale. Due to such requirements as special fire and earthquake insurance, obtaining this insurance may require a lengthy period of time. It would be in your best interest to apply for insurance as soon as possible after the contract is signed.

Contact local utility companies to schedule to have service turned on when you close escrow.

Schedule the final walk-through inspection. At this time, you should make sure that the property is exactly as the contract says it should be. What you thought to be a “permanently attached” chandelier that would come with the property might have been removed by the seller and replaced with a different fixture entirely.

You’ve made it! Once the sale has closed, you’re the proud owner of a new home. Congratulations!

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