Home Buying 101

About to start the process of house hunting? Be sure you are armed with the best Realtor in your area. If you aren’t paying cash for your new home and will be getting a mortgage, you will want to follow some quick advice.

Don’t damage your debt to income-ratio by making a major purchase before closing. If for some reason you can not wait to buy a new car, you might have to wait on owning a home. The bank could easily determine that a car payment would hinder your ability to pay your mortgage. Wait until after you get the house to do some spending.

Don’t change jobs.  The lenders like to see consistency versus constant job-hopping. From their perspective, your employment and income are paramount to your ability to make your payments.  Generally, there are three different characteristics of your employment and income that are considered – the amount, the history, and the stability. Many lenders will do a final check to verify that your employment and income haven’t changed since your final loan approval was issued. Further, some lenders will require 30 days of paycheck stubs for new employment. If you can’t provide these stubs, it could delay your mortgage approval. Worse, it could result in your mortgage application being declined.

As a home buyer, never surrender your earnest money to a For Sale by Owner Seller. There isn’t anything stopping the sellers from spending the money before the transaction goes through. If the deal should fall through you’ll have to fight to get the deposit back. It should be put into a trust account. Find an attorney willing to hold the deposit for you until the transaction is finalized. Your contract needs to state what will happen to the deposit in the event that the transaction falls through.

Stay practical and realistic during the home buying process. Don’t let your emotions get in the way.  Occasionally, sellers are willing to fix some of the problems with the home and others may not be as willing. Don’t let that refusal close the door to your dream home. Conversely, you shouldn’t let your loyalty to the home blind you to costly repairs down the road. You certainly don’t want to be in a money pit.

Talk to your insurance company right away.  Failing to line up the insurance will lead to delays in closing.  Your lender will more than likely require that you purchase at least some homeowners insurance before settling on your mortgage. In most cases, you’ll be asked to provide proof that you’ve prepaid one year’s worth of coverage before the lender will consider closing.

If the appraisal comes in too low, don’t panic. There are several solutions to this dilemma.  Your emotions may be running high and making a good decision can be difficult. A skilled Realtor will be an invaluable asset at this point and be able to guide you through.  It’s their job to keep up with the details, daily, of your deal and if the seller won’t come down in price, as painful as it may be, you may have to prepare yourself for the worst-case scenario – walking away.

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Finding the Best Mortgage Loan

Finding the best mortgage loan is about more than just securing the lowest interest rate. It’s also important to make sure you’re comfortable with the company that’s originating the loan.

As you consider available funding options there are some basics to keep in mind. Among other things, the best choice will depend on the length of time you plan to own the property, how much you can afford to borrow, the condition of the housing market in the area you want to buy, and how quickly the purchase needs to be funded. Even if you could be an “all cash” buyer, for some it could make economic sense to finance a new property with a mortgage.

Mortgage loans are offered by different types of lenders. The most common are big banks, local banks, mortgage lenders, and credit unions. You can also get a loan through a mortgage broker.

Big banks have comprehensive networks of branches, financial accounts, and services. Some global banks lend municipalities and international governments large sums of money for massive infrastructure investments. It can be reassuring to work with an easily recognized brand and since many have in-house underwriters and large teams to process loans, they may be an efficient option. 

Regional banks are in your community, so they know the area. This can be especially important in a competitive real estate market since it reassures the seller and their agent that the lender is aware of any local anomalies as well as the relative value of atypical properties. They also may have personal connections with local appraisers and underwriters, helping to facilitate an anxiety-free transaction. 

Mortgage lenders are financial institutions, similar to banks, that originate and fund loans in their own name. Unlike banks, mortgage lenders exist for the sole purpose of making loans against real estate. Mortgage lenders get their money from banks and other investors. Most mortgage lenders do not service their loans and instead may sell the debt to banks or servicing companies who will take on the job of collecting payments.

Credit unions are financial institutions that use a nonprofit, cooperative business model. As a credit union member, you are also a partner (a cooperative owner) of the credit union. You usually have to meet an eligibility requirement to become a member and they may charge a modest membership fee. Since they are not-for-profit, rates and fees may be lower and there may be more flexibility in unique lending situations.

Mortgage brokers are intermediaries between the borrower and the source of funds; they are able to offer loan products from a variety of lenders. In exchange for this service, the lender pays the broker a commission called a “yield spread premium.” It’s logical to assume that the extra layer between lender and borrower would drive costs up. However, that’s not necessarily the case. Mortgage brokers reduce the bank’s cost of doing business. In return, the bank gives the broker access to rates and fees that are similar to those a consumer would get from a bank. 

There are many types of mortgages, but the primary options will usually be between those with a fixed interest rate and an adjustable rate (ARM). Besides the interest rate, the final cost of a mortgage will depend on the type of loan, the term (such as 30 years), and any lender fees. Mortgage rates can vary widely depending on the type of product and the qualifications of the applicant.

As you are considering what lender to use, it makes sense to compare your options. Here are a  few general questions to ask:

How long does it take to get a pre-approval? This is the best way to learn how much you can realistically borrow. Your pre-approval letter will show sellers that you’re financially able to complete the home purchase.

How often do customers’ closing dates need to change due to issues with the loan? Make sure you know what to expect from your lender around closing times and what they’ll do if something doesn’t go as expected.

What is the turnaround time for appraisals? In a busy market, appraisers get busy too! Be sure your lender can facilitate a quick appraisal turnaround time.

Do they fully underwrite their loans? If the lender is working with an outside underwriter, the time it takes to collect or verify documentation may also slow the process.

The Bottom Line: Before you begin your home search in earnest, it’s ideal if you know how you will fund your purchase. While it’s not the most exciting part of the home buying process, it’s most essential. This is one of the biggest investments you will make in your life, so you need to make sure that you are working with the right lender. The right lender will make sure that you have the right loan for your situation and guide you down the right path.

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Be Vigilant When House Hunting

House hunting can be is exciting and challenging. You’ll get to see different properties, each with its own features. Purchasing a home is also a huge financial commitment—you can’t just get carried away due to excitement at the cost of overlooking important details of the home, which could lead to bigger and more expensive problems down the road. Depending on the size of the problem, it could signal that it’s time to walk away. Some slight problems or minor defects can be fixed, but some issues can seriously detract from your investment, and even endanger your health and safety.

Foundation Issues: If your home inspection report lists concerns with the integrity of your home’s foundation, don’t ignore them.  While all poured concrete foundations will crack at one time or another, hairline cracks are not an indication of a problem. If a crack is wider than 1/2 inch, however, it’s a good idea to have a foundation contractor examine the area. This also holds true for cracks that appear to have been recently patched. Large cracks can indicate an unstable foundation. Not all foundation issues are expensive to fix. However, major structural problems that require stabilization using hydraulic piers can cost a lot of money.

Electrical Issues: If a light switch does not work when you flip it, it’s probably just a minor electrical issue that can be fixed later. But, Outdated wiring or too little voltage is cause for concern. Not only will you not be able to hook up all your electronics and appliances, but problems with your electrical setup can also increase your risk of a home fire. Major electrical issues can end up being costly projects that require permits, professionals, and inspections to bring up to code. 

Roofing Issues: A complete roof teardown is a substantial investment, so it’s important to know how old the roof is, particularly important in areas of the country where there is a lot of snowfall since that can shorten the life span of a roof.  Besides the costs of replacement or repairs, leaky roofs can lead to other problems like mold, rot, and water damage. 

Mold: If water damage or mold is found in the home, consider it a red flag. In truth, most homes will have some mold in crawl spaces and attics, and not all mold is bad for your health. But, important: mold can mean there are other problems, like water leaks from the roof or major appliances, that could be costly to correct. It’s imperative that the source of the mold is found. Otherwise, the problem could worsen, and you could end up with a health hazard.

The Bottom Line: For most of us, buying a home is one of the biggest investments we will ever make. Because of this, we should be extremely vigilant during the house hunting and home buying process. Though it’s all too easy to get swept up in a home’s bells and whistles, buyers must remember to look out for important real estate red flags – no matter how incredible the house seems.

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Is Your House Just Sitting On The Market?

Having a house sitting on the market can be expensive, stressful, and soul-crushing. There may be hundreds of reasons, but the following are the most common.

Priced Too High: Even if everything about your house is on point, if it’s priced wrong for the current market, it’s not going to sell. Be sure to use the best Realtor in your neighborhood who will provide you with a list price that they derived from looking through comps. The Realtor’s price may differ from the price you want to list it for, but at the end of the day, the listing price should be guided by comparables, not emotions. When residential real estate inventory is low, the market is hot for sellers. But that doesn’t mean buyers will overpay for a home. 

Online Presence: The first stop for buyers is usually Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia as well as Realtor websites. If they see a home with terrible photos and bad lighting, they will keep on scrolling. Don’t use an iPhone, hire a photographer. Professional photos will make your home look at its very best online. They know all the right angles to give you the best light possible. They make homes look larger and showcase their best features. Make your home stands out against all the other homes people are seeing online. Money spent on photography could mean less time on the market and more money at closing time.

Personal Items: Too much furniture, galleries of personal pictures on the walls, or knick-knacks everywhere can make it too hard for buyers to imagine that they live in your house instead of you. Are your bathrooms clean? Is your walk-in closet jam-packed or organized? How about your appliances in the kitchen – do they sparkle? Not every buyer is a pet lover, so seeing, hearing, or smelling your dog or cat is something to be avoided at all costs. Don’t let your mess cost you a sale.

Needs too Much Work: A long list of maintenance issues can turn buyers off and potentially decrease the value of your home. More importantly, buyers expect the condition of your home to match the description. The more repairs that are needed, the less likely a buyer will want your house. Many buyers simply don’t want to deal with the cost or effort of doing repair work, even if it’s just a bunch of small repairs, such as tightening a handrail or replacing a broken tile.

No Marketing: You’ve got great pictures, but your Realtor might not be using the many social media resources. Social media should be an essential piece in your Realtor’s marketing package. There should be very focused marketing – your home should be directed towards the correct audience (age, financial status, and motivation of buyer) for your home. Highly targeted online marketing can include specialty websites, targeted online ads, and targeted and boosted social media engagement. The more buyers your home is exposed to, the more showings there will be, and the higher chance of an offer being received.

The Bottom Line: Hire an experienced, knowledgeable Realtor. To find that person ask neighbors, look at homes for sale in your area on the internet and see the photos used, look through social media at who is using it properly to market homes, and then interview several. Taking for granted the importance of hiring a top agent can stall the sale of your home.

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Clean Title at Closing

For a home sale to close there should be a clean title.

A clean title means there are no standing claims against the property and that the owner has the full legal right to sell the property. The job of the title company is to do the necessary work to ensure that the title is clean and ready for a smooth transfer of ownership.

Sometimes it gets a little bumpy. Hidden claims against the home must be resolved for the sale to go through. Most are easily resolved while others can be challenging.

Here’s ar a few types of claims that title agencies see most often:

Mechanic’s Liens

A mechanic’s lien is typically placed on the property prior to a contractor doing work to improve the property. It covers the cost of materials, equipment, and labor associated with the project. When the job is completed and paid for, it’s the contractor’s responsibility to release the lien. If that doesn’t happen for any reason, it becomes an issue to be resolved prior to settlement.

Bankruptcy Liens

A bankruptcy filing connected to someone holding title to a property is another common problem we see. When the bankruptcy situation is resolved, the lien must also be addressed. From time to time, that doesn’t happen and it takes some effort from the title company to clear the title.

Child or Spousal Support Liens

When a lien is filed for delinquent child support or spousal support, it can still be connected to the title, waiting to be discovered, even generations later.

Delinquent Tax Liens, Fraud & Forgery

Similarly, liens related to unpaid or late tax returns can hold up the process if left unresolved. Fraud and forgery are also common in the event that one person on the title signs the name of another person on the title, typically a spouse.

The Bottom Line: These are just a few issues that can cost a sale. Having the best title agency examine the title on each property is in your best interest. At Title First Agency, we work with Realtors from the signing of a contract to the signing of the closing, ensuring that the transactions run smoothly and close on time.

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