Home Buying Tips
There are so many things to think about before beginning the home-buying process. Below are nine tips that will help you put together a plan of attack. Fill out the form at the bottom of this page to receive a PDF copy of our 26-page Home Buyer’s Handbook, and to ask us any questions you may have.
1. If you’re not planning on staying in the same place for at least a few years, then this probably isn’t the best time for you to purchase a home. The transaction fees involved in the transfer of real estate are not cheap, so the less time you own your home, the more you risk losing money if you sell. This can happen even in a rising market, and is even more true in a declining market.
2. Before you start shopping for homes, get pre-approved. This will save you from looking at homes you can’t afford, and will put you in a position to be able to take action when you find a property that is perfect for you. Don’t confuse pre-approval with pre-qualification, which is based on a less-thorough review of your finances. A lender pre-approves you based on your actual income, debt and credit. Your lender will also be able to help you with the next four tips below.
3. Take a look at your credit at least three months (preferably six) before you are ready to home shop. Your lender will pull your credit report as part of the pre-approval process discussed above, and often can work with you to suggest courses of action that will help you fix any problems that you discover. This is why it is a great idea to do your first pre-approval months ahead of when you think you’ll be ready to move.
4. Set your sights on homes that you can truly afford. After your lender pre-approves you, he or she will tell you the maximum purchase price for which you can obtain a loan. But that’s not always the most valuable piece of information. A good lender will also ask you how much you are comfortable paying monthly, and then work that into the equation. It really doesn’t matter if a lender can pre-approve you to spend $500,000 if the most you are comfortable spending per month is equal to the payment on a $400,000 property. And, seriously, you’re going to have to make that payment ever month. So we can’t emphasize enough the importance of this concept.
5. The old standard 20% down payment is not necessarily the standard anymore. Sure, the more money you put down on a home, the less you will be paying monthly. But there are many different loan programs out there now which require less down, including FHA loans, which only require 3.5%. Your lender will tell you all about the various programs and help you decide which one is best for you.
6. When selecting a mortgage, you can usually decide if you want to pay discount points in exchange for a lower interest rate. This is also referred to as “buying down the rate.” If you are planning to stay in the home for a long time (often at least three to five years), it is usually better to pay the points. The discounted interest rate will save you money over the life of the loan.
7. Work with a professional agent. Even though technology has made it very easy to search for homes online, most buyers are better off using an agent. Most people only buy one or two homes in their lifetime, and the home-buying process can be complicated. A good real estate agent will be involved in the sale of one or two homes per month. He or she will be able to advise you and negotiate on your behalf throughout the transaction. And, your agent’s commission is paid by the seller, through the listing agent.
8. When you find a home on which you’d like to make an offer, get educated first. Your agent can pull up comparable sales from the last six months that will help you determine how well the home is priced. Additionally, your agent will contact the listing agent to find out if there are competing offers and any major disclosures about the home. Your offer strategy will depend on all of these things. But regarding competition – if a home has been sitting on the market for six months with no offers, you will probably not offer full price. But if it is brand new on the market, and there are already three other offers, you may end up offering more than full price. Each situation is different, and your San Diego REALTOR® will guide you.
9. Plan to have a home inspection completed, by an inspector of your choice, regardless of the condition of the home you end up choosing. The inspector’s job is to conduct an overall analysis of the systems and structure of the home. While the purchase contract is written as an as-is sale, the home inspection will occasionally uncover conditions that would require high-dollar repairs. If that is the case, you need to be able to renegotiate with the seller (which is another time when your agent proves invaluable). Occasionally the seller of an older home will have a pre-listing inspection completed before marketing the home. This is a great idea, because it can point out things for them to fix before putting the home on the market, and also works as a disclosure document to give buyers an idea of the condition of the home before they make an offer. While we are a fan of the pre-listing inspection, it should never be considered a substitution for the buyer’s own inspection.