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HOME BUYER'S PRIMER

Buying a home can be one of your most significant investments in life. Not only are you choosing your dwelling place, and the place in large portion of your assets into this venture. The more prepared you are at the outset, the less overwhelming and chaotic the buying process will be. The goal of this page is to provide you with detailed information to assist you in making an intelligent and informed decision. Remember, if you have any questions about the process, I'm only a phone call or email away! 

The Best Investment

As a fairly general rule, homes appreciate about five percent a year. Some years will be more, some less. The figure will vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, and region to region.

Five percent may not seem like that much at first. Stocks (at times) appreciate much more, and you could earn over six percent with the safest investment of all, treasury bonds.

Look At It This Way

Presumably, if you bought a $200,000 house, you did not pay cash for the home. You got a mortgage, too. Suppose you put as much as twenty percent down – that would be an investment of $40,000.

At an appreciation rate of 5% annually, a $200,000 home would increase in value $10,000 during the first year. That means you earned $10,000 with an investment of $40,000. Your annual "return on investment" would be a whopping twenty-five percent.

Of course, you are making mortgage payments and paying property taxes, along with a couple of other costs. However, since the interest on your mortgage and your property taxes are both tax deductible, the government is essentially subsidizing your home purchase.

Your rate of return when buying a home is higher than most any other investment you could make.

If you are moving to a home for the first time, you are going to be very pleased with all the new space you have available. You may have to even buy more "stuff."

Income Tax Deduction

Because of income tax deductions, all of the interest and property taxes you pay in a given year can be deducted from your gross income to reduce your taxable income.

For example, assume your initial loan balance is $150,000 with an interest rate of eight percent. During the first year you would pay $9969.27 in interest. If your first payment is January 1st, your taxable income would be almost $10,000 less – due to the IRS interest rate deduction.

Property taxes are deductible, too. Whatever property taxes you pay in a given year may also be deducted from your gross income, lowering your tax obligation.

Stable Monthly Payments

When you rent a place to live, you can certainly expect your rent to increase each year – or even more often. If you get a fixed rate mortgage when you buy a home, you have the same monthly payment amount for thirty years. Even if you get an adjustable rate mortgage, your payment will stay within a certain range for the entire life of the mortgage – and interest rates aren't as volatile now as they were in the late seventies and early eighties.

Imagine how much rent might be ten, fifteen, or even thirty years from now? Which makes more sense?

Some people are just lousy at saving money, and a house is an automatic savings account. You accumulate savings in two ways. Every month, a portion of your payment goes toward the principal. Admittedly, in the early years of the mortgage, this is not much. Over time, however, it accelerates.

Second, your home appreciates. Average appreciation on a home is approximately five percent, though it will vary from year to year, and in some years may even depreciate.. Over time, history has shown that owning a home is one of the very best financial investments.

Avoid Financial Changes During the Home Buying and Loan Process

When a lender reviews your loan package for approval, one of the things they are concerned about is the source of funds for your down payment and closing costs. Most likely, you will be asked to provide statements for the last two or three months on any of your liquid assets. This includes checking accounts, savings accounts, money market funds, certificates of deposit, stock statements, mutual funds, and even your company 401K and retirement accounts.

If you have been moving money between accounts during that time, there may be large deposits and withdrawals in some of them.

The mortgage underwriter (the person who actually approves your loan) will probably require a complete paper trail of all the withdrawals and deposits. You may be required to produce cancelled checks, deposit receipts, and other seemingly inconsequential data, which could get quite tedious.

Perhaps you become exasperated at your lender, but they are only doing their job correctly. To ensure quality control and eliminate potential fraud, it is a requirement on most loans to completely document the source of all funds. Moving your money around, even if you are consolidating your funds to make it "easier," could make it more difficult for the lender to properly document.

Don't Make Any Major Purchases

When determining your ability to qualify for a mortgage, a lender looks at what is called your "debt-to-income" ratio. A debt-to-income ratio is the percentage of your gross monthly income (before taxes) that you spend on debt. This will include your monthly housing costs, including principal, interest, taxes, insurance, and homeowner's association fees, if any. It will also include your monthly consumer debt, including credit cards, student loans, installment debt, and car payments.

Are You Ready? Let's Make an Offer

When you prepare an offer to purchase a home, you already know the seller's asking price. But what price are you going to offer and how do you come up with that figure?

Determining your offer price is a three-step process. First, you look at recent sales of similar properties to come up with a price range. Then, you analyze additional data, such as the condition of the home, improvements made to the property, current market conditions, and the circumstances of the seller. This will help you settle on a price you think would be fair to pay for the home. Finally, depending on your negotiating style, you adjust your "fair" price and come up with what you want to put in your offer.

Comparable Sales

The first step in determining the price you are willing to offer is to look at the recent sales of similar homes. These are called "comparable sales." Comparable sales are recent sales of homes that compare closely to the one you are looking to purchase. Specifically, you want to compare prices of homes that are similar in square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, garage space, lot size, and type of construction.

If the home you are interested in is part of a tract of homes, then you will most likely find some exact model matches to compare against one another.

There are three main sources of information on comparable sales, all of which are easily accessed by a real estate agent. It is somewhat more difficult for the general public to access this data, and in some cases impossible. Two of the most obvious information sources are the public record and the Multiple Listing Service.

Comparing Recent Sales

The most accessible source of information on comparable sales is the public record. When someone buys a home the property is deeded from the seller to the buyer. In most circumstances, this deed is recorded at the local county recorder's office. They combine sales data with information already known about the property so they can assess property taxes correctly.

Provided there have been no additions to the property, the information available from the public record is usually correct regarding sales price, square footage, and numbers of rooms. This makes it easy to use the public record as a source of data for comparable sale information.

Accessing the data is another matter, at least for the general public. Realtors can generally look up this information through title insurance companies. The title companies either compile the data directly from the county recorder's office or purchase if from other companies.

One problem with the public record is that it tends to run at least six to eight weeks behind. Add another four to six weeks for the typical escrow period and you can see the data is not current. The most current information is the most valuable.

Most of the public is aware that the Multiple Listing Service is a private resource where Realtors list properties available for sale. Recently, the public has been able to access some of that information on such sites as http://www.Realtor.com MSN HomeAdvisor, and others.

Once a property is sold and the transaction has closed, the selling price is posted to the listing in the Multiple Listing Service. Over time, it has become a huge database on past sales, containing much more information on individual homes than can be gleaned from the public record. This information is only available to real estate agents who are members of the local Multiple Listing Service. I will provide you with this data to help determine your offer price.

Gathering and analyzing information from comparable sales helps to establish the range of prices you should consider when making an offer to buy a home. More weight should be given to the most recent sales, but even so, you need to do a bit more analysis before setting upon the price you will offer. That is because you also need to consider the condition of the property, improvements, the current market, and the circumstances behind the seller's decision to sell.

Even when comparing exact model matches within a tract of homes, you should note whether the previous owners have made any substantial improvements. Cosmetic changes should be largely ignored, but major improvements should be taken into account. Most important would be room additions, especially bedrooms and bathrooms. Other items, like expensive floor tile or swimming pools should be taken into account, too, but should be discounted. A pool that costs $20,000 to install does not normally add $20,000 in value to the home. Rely on your agent to give you guidance in this area.

Be Prepared to Act Quickly

A hot market is a "seller's market." During a seller's market, properties can sell within a few days of being listed and there are often multiple offers. Sometimes homes even sell above the asking price. Though most buyer's want to get a "deal" on a home, reducing your offer by even a few thousand dollars could mean that someone else will get the home you desire.

A slow market is a "buyer's market. During a buyer's market properties may languish on the market for some time and offers may be few and far between. Prices may even decline temporarily. Such a market would allow you to be more flexible in offering a lower price for the home. Even if your offered price is too low, the seller is likely to make some sort of counter-offer and you can begin negotiations in earnest.

More often than not, the market is simply "steady," or in transition. When a market is steady, no real rules apply on whether you should make an offer on the high end of your range or the low end. You could find yourself in a situation with multiple offers on your desired house, or where no one has made an offer in weeks.

Transition markets are more difficult to define. If the economy slows unexpectedly, as it did in the early nineties, people who buy on the high end of a seller's market (like the late eighties) could find their home loses value for several years. So far, no one has proven reliable in predicting when markets change or how good or bad the real estate market will become.

Determine a base price range for a particular home. Adding in the various factors like property condition, improvements, market conditions, and seller motivation help determine whether a "fair" price would be at the upper limit of that range or the lower limit. Perhaps you will feel a fair price is outside of that price range.

The "fair" price should be approximately what you are willing to agree on at the end of negotiations with the seller. The price you put in your offer to begin negotiations is totally up to you and depends on your negotiating style. Most buyers start off somewhat lower than the price they eventually want to pay.

Although your agent may provide advice and guidance, you are the one who makes the decision. The price you put in the offer is totally up to you.

Writing the Offer

Once you find the home you want to buy, the next step is to write an offer – which is not as easy as it sounds. Your offer is the first step toward negotiating a sales contract with the seller. Since this is just the beginning of negotiations, you should put yourself in the seller's shoes and imagine his or her reaction to everything you include. Your goal is to get what you want, and imagining the seller's reactions will help you attain that goal.

The offer is much more complicated than simply coming up with a price and saying, "This is what I'll pay." Because of the large dollar amounts involved, especially in today's litigious society, both you and the seller want to build in protections and contingencies to protect your investment and limit your risk.

In an offer to purchase real estate, you include not only the price you are willing to pay, but other details of the purchase as well. This includes how you intend to finance the home, your down payment, who pays what closing costs, what inspections are performed, timetables, whether personal property is included in the purchase, terms of cancellation, any repairs you want performed, which professional services will be used, when you get physical possession of the property, and how to settle disputes should they occur.

Buying a home is a major event for both the buyer and seller. It will affect your finances more than any other previous purchase or investment. The seller makes plans based on your offer that affect his finances, too. However, it is more important than just money. In the half-hour it takes to write an offer you are making decisions that affect how you live for the next several years, if not the rest of your life. The seller is going to review your offer carefully, because it also affects how he or she lives the rest of their life.

Seller's Property Disclosure Statement
(A 6 Page Report in Arizona)

Although you have toured the property, looked at the walls and ceiling, turned on the faucets and played with the light switches, you have not lived in it. The seller has years of knowledge about his or her home and there may be some things you want to find out about as quickly as possible. For this reason, you will require certain disclosures as part of your offer.

Basically, you want the seller to disclose any adverse conditions that may have a substantial impact on your decision to purchase the home. This would include any problems with the house, whether the property is in a flood zone, a noise zone, or any other kind of hazardous area.

If you have an agent representing you, this is almost automatic, but many states do not require individuals selling their own home to provide you with this information. Often they do not require banks selling foreclosed property to provide these disclosures, either. Obtaining these types of disclosures should always be a part of your offer, and time is of the essence.

I Always Recommend a Professional Home Inspection

Besides appraisal and the termite inspection, you should also have a professional go through the house and seek out potential problems. Of course, you will have inspected the home, but you are not used to looking at some things that a professional will find. Even if they are not things the seller is expected to repair, at least you will have foreknowledge of any potential problems.

The seller will want this inspection performed quickly, so that you can approve the results and move forward with the purchase. Once you receive the inspection, you will want to allow yourself sufficient time to review and approve the report. If you do not approve the report, you may negotiate with the sellers on which repairs should be performed and who should pay for those repairs. Otherwise, you can cancel the purchase without penalty, provided you have included timetables in your offer. 

What Price is Right For You. It is Your Decision

Comparable sales information helps you to decide.