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Find out everything you need to know about the area you're considering moving to.

How can I save on closing costs?

Studies show that the closing costs, which can average 2 to 3 percent of a total home purchase price, are often more costly than many buyers expect. But there are some ways to save:

Who pays the closing costs?

Closing costs are either paid by the home seller or home buyer. It often depends what the buyer or seller negotiates or local custom.

What are closing costs?

Closing costs are the fees for services, taxes or special interest charges that surround the purchase of a home. They include upfront loan points, title insurance, escrow or closing day charges, document fees, prepaid interest and property taxes. Unless, these charges are rolled into the loan, they must be paid when the home is closed.

Why do I need a title report?

As much as you as a buyer may want to believe that the home you have found is perfect, a clear title report ensures there are no liens placed against the prior owners or any documents that will restrict your use of the property.  A preliminary title report provides you with an opportunity to review any impediment that would prevent clear title from passing to you. 

When reading a preliminary report, it is important to check the extent of your ownership rights or interest. The most common form of interest is "fee simple" or "fee," which is the highest type of interest an owner can have in land.  Liens, restrictions and interests of others excluded from title coverage will be listed numerically as exceptions in the report. 

You also may have to consider interests of any third parties, such as easements granted by prior owners that limit use of the property. Some buyers attempt to clear these unwanted items prior to purchase.  A list of standard exceptions and exclusions not covered by the title insurance policy may be attached. This section includes items the buyer may want to investigate further, such as any laws governing building and zoning.

Do I need a home inspection?

Yes. Buying a home "as is" is a risky proposition. Major repairs on homes can amount to thousands of dollars. Plumbing, electrical and roof problems represent significant and complex systems that are expensive to fix.

How do I find a home inspector?

Your realty agent is one source. But keeping them independent from the agent may be a good idea. Inspectors are listed in the yellow pages. You can ask for referrals from friends. Ask for their credentials, such as contractor's license or engineering certificate. Also, check out their references.

What's a home inspection?

A home inspection is when a paid professional inspector -- often a contractor or an engineer -- inspects the home, searching for defects or other problems that might plague the owner later on. They usually represent the buyer and or paid by the buyer. The inspection usually takes place after a purchase contract between buyer and seller has been signed.

How much does my real estate agent need to know?

Real estate agents would say that the more you tell them, the better they can negotiate on your behalf. However, the degree of trust you have with an agent may depend upon their legal obligation. Agents working for buyers have three possible choices: They can represent the buyer exclusively, called single agency, or represent the seller exclusively, called sub- agency, or represent both the buyer and seller in a dual-agency situation. 

Here is a summary of the three basic types:

How much will I spend on maintenance expenses?

Experts generally agree that you can plan on annually spend 1 percent of the purchase price of your house on repairing gutters, caulking windows, sealing your driveway and the myriad other maintenance chores that come with the privilege of homeownership. Newer homes will cost less to maintain than older homes. It also depends on how well the house has been maintained over the years.

What is the standard debt-to-income ratio?

A standard ratio used by lenders limits the mortgage payment to 28 percent of the borrower's gross income and the mortgage payment, combined with all other debts, to 36 percent of the total. The fact that some loan applicants are accustomed to spending 40 percent of their monthly income on rent -- and still promptly make the payment each time -- has prompted some lenders to broaden their acceptable mortgage payment amount when considered as a percentage of the applicant's income.

Other real estate experts tell borrowers facing rejection to compensate for negative factors by saving up a larger down payment. Mortgage loans requiring little or no outside documentation often can be obtained with down payments of 25 percent or more of the purchase price.

What can I afford?

Know what you can afford is the first rule of home buying, and that depends on how much income and how much debt you have. In general, lenders don't want borrowers to spend more than 28 percent of their gross income per month on a mortgage payment or more than 36 percent on debts.

It pays to check with several lenders before you start searching for a home. Most will be happy to roughly calculate what you can afford and prequalify you for a loan. The price you can afford to pay for a home will depend on six factors:

  1. Gross income
  2. The amount of cash you have available for the down payment, closing costs and cash reserves required by the lender
  3. Your outstanding debts
  4. Your credit history
  5. The type of mortgage you select
  6. Current interest rates

Another number lenders use to evaluate how much you can afford is the housing expense-to-income ratio. It is determined by calculating your projected monthly housing expense, which consists of the principal and interest payment on your new home loan, property taxes and hazard insurance (or PITI as it is known).

If you have to pay monthly homeowners association dues and/or private mortgage insurance, this also will be added to your PITI. This ratio should fall between 28 to 33 percent, although some lenders will go higher under certain circumstances. Your total debt-to-income ratio should be in the 34 to 38 percent range.

When is the best time to buy?

Here are some frequently cited reasons for buying a house:

What is Fannie Mae's low-down program?

Fannie Mae is expanding the availability of low-down-payment loans in an effort to help more people nationwide qualify for a mortgage. Two new programs will help potential buyers overcome two of the most common obstacles to home ownership, low savings and a modest income. To address many first-time buyers' struggles to save the down payment, Fannie Mae developed Fannie 97.

The program provides 97 percent financing on a fixed-rate mortgage with either a 25- or 30-year loan term through Fannie Mae's Community Home Buyers Program. Fannie Mae's new Start-Up Mortgage will assist buyers with a 5 percent down payment who are at any income level. Yet applicants do not need as much income to qualify and less cash for closing than with traditional mortgages.

Borrowers will receive a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage with a first-year monthly payment that is lower than the standard fixed-rate loan. Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae's counterpart, also offers low-down-payment loan programs.

How long do bankruptcies and foreclosures stay on a credit report?

Bankruptcies and foreclosures can remain on a credit report for seven to 10 years. Some lenders will consider an borrower earlier if they have reestablished good credit. The circumstances surrounding the bankruptcy can also influence a lender's decision.

For example, if you went through a bankruptcy because your employer had financial difficulties, a lender may be more sympathetic. If, however, you went through bankruptcy because you overextended personal credit lines and lived beyond your means, the lender probably will be less inclined to be flexible.

How do you determine the value of a troubled property?

Buyers considering a foreclosure property should obtain as much information as possible from the lender, including the range of bids expected. It also is important to examine the property. If you are unable to get into a foreclosure property, check with surrounding neighbors about the property's condition.

It also is possible to do your own cost comparison through researching comparable properties recorded at local county recorder's and assessor's offices, or through Internet sites specializing in property records.

Can you buy homes below market?

While a typical buyer may look at five to 10 homes before making an offer, an investor who makes bargain buys usually goes through many more. Most experts agree it takes a lot of determination to find a real "bargain." There are a number of ways to buy a bargain property:

What is the difference between list and sales prices?

The list price is how much a house is advertised for and is usually only an estimate of what a seller would like to get for the property. The sales price is the amount a property actually sells for. It may be the same as the listing price, or higher or lower, depending on how accurately the property was originally priced and on market conditions. If you are a seller, you may need to adjust the listing price if there have been no offers within the first few months of the property's listing period.

Are low-ball offers advisable?

A low-ball offer is a term used to describe an offer on a house that is substantially less than the asking price. While any offer can be presented, a low-ball offer can sour a prospective sale and discourage the seller from negotiating at all. Unless the house is very overpriced, the offer will probably be rejected.

You should always do your homework about comparable prices in the neighborhood before making any offer. It also pays to know something about the seller's motivation. A lower price with a speedy escrow, for example, may motivate a seller who must move, has another house under contract or must sell quickly for other reasons.

What is the difference between list price, sales price and appraised value?

The list price is a seller's advertised price, a figure that usually is only a rough estimate of what the seller wants to get. Sellers can price high, low or close to what they hope to get. To judge whether the list price is a fair one, be sure to consult comparable sales prices in the area.

The sales price is the amount of money you as a buyer would pay for a property. The appraisal value is a certified appraiser's estimate of the worth of a property, and is based on comparable sales, the condition of the property and numerous other factors.

Is a low offer a good idea?

While your low offer in a normal market might be rejected immediately, in a buyer's market a motivated seller will either accept or make a counteroffer. Full-price offers or above are more likely to be accepted by the seller. But there are other considerations involved:

What contingencies should be put in an offer?

Most offers include two standard contingencies: a financing contingency, which makes the sale dependent on the buyers' ability to obtain a loan commitment from a lender, and an inspection contingency, which allows buyers to have professionals inspect the property to their satisfaction.

A buyer could forfeit his or her deposit under certain circumstances, such as backing out of the deal for a reason not stipulated in the contract. The purchase contract must include the sellers responsibilities, such things as passing clear title, maintaining the property in its present condition until closing and making any agreed-upon repairs to the property.

Who gets the furnishings when a home is sold?

It depends. Fixtures, any kind of personal property that is permanently attached to a house (such as drapery rods, built-in bookcases, tacked-down carpeting or a furnace) automatically stay with the house unless specified otherwise in the sales contract.

But anything that is not nailed down is negotiable. This most often involves appliances that are not built in (washer, dryer, refrigerator, for example), although some sellers will be interested in negotiating for other items, such as a piano.

Whose obligation is it to disclose pertinent information about a property?

In most states, it is the seller, but obligations to disclose information about a property vary. Under the strictest laws, you and your agent, if you have one, are required to disclose all facts materially affecting the value or desirability of the property which are known or accessible only to you.

This might include: homeowners association dues; whether or not work done on the house meets local building codes and permits requirements; the presence of any neighborhood nuisances or noises which a prospective buyer might not notice, such as a dog that barks every night or poor TV reception; any death within three years on the property; and any restrictions on the use of the property, such as zoning ordinances or association rules. It is wise to check your state's disclosure rules prior to a home purchase.

How do you determine the value of a troubled property?

Buyers considering a foreclosure property should obtain as much information as possible from the lender, including the range of bids expected. It also is important to examine the property. If you are unable to get into a foreclosure property, check with surrounding neighbors about the property's condition.

It also is possible to do your own cost comparison through researching comparable properties recorded at local county recorder's and assessor's offices, or through Internet sites specializing in property records.

What are some tips on negotiation?

The more you know about a seller's motivation, the stronger a negotiating position you are in. For example, seller who must move quickly due to a job transfer may be amenable to a lower price with a speedy escrow. Other so-called "motivated sellers" include people going through a divorce or who have already purchased another home.

Remember, that the listing price is what the seller would like to receive but is not necessarily what they will settle for. Before making an offer, check the recent sales prices of comparable homes in the neighborhood to see how the seller's asking price stacks up. Some experts discourage making deliberate low-ball offers. While such an offer can be presented, it can also sour the sale and discourage the seller from negotiating at all.

Do I need an attorney when I buy a house?

In some states, you do need an attorney to complete a real estate transaction, but in others you do not. Most home buyers are capable of handling routine real estate purchase contracts as long as they make certain they read the fine print and understand all the terms of the contract. In particular, you should be clear on the terms of any contingency clauses that will allow them to back out of the contract.

If you have any questions at all, it may be advisable to consult an attorney to avoid future legal hassles. In looking for an attorney, ask friends for recommendations or ask your real estate agent to recommend several. Call to inquire about fees and to check on their experience. In general, more experienced attorneys will cost more, but real estate fees as a rule are small relative to the cost of the property you are buying.

What are the standard contingencies?

Most purchase offers include two standard contingencies: a financing contingency, which makes the sale dependent on the buyers' ability to obtain a loan commitment from a lender, and an inspection contingency, which allows buyers to have professionals inspect the property to their satisfaction.

As a buyer, you could forfeit your deposit under certain circumstances, such as backing out of the deal for a reason not stipulated in the contract. The purchase contract must include the sellers responsibilities, such things as passing clear title, maintaining the property in its present condition until closing and making any agreed-upon repairs to the property.