THREE THINGS YOU MUST KNOW BEFORE BUYING A HOME

When you buy a home, you are investing in your family’s future. Therefore, just as you would never consider investing your hard-earned money in an unfamiliar company, you need to thoroughly investigate a potential home before you sign a sales agreement.

Statistics show that homebuyers prefer to purchase homes that are not brand new. You must do your research before and during your home search. This holds true for every homebuyer, especially those who are first-time buyers.

Buying a home is similar to buying a used car, in that you must know what types of potential problems to look for. Your realtor can help you learn what to look for when shopping for a new home.

If you plan to relocate, thoroughly investigate the neighborhood where the home located.  This can include, but is not limited to, the school district, tax structure, available public transportation, and the proximity of grocery stores and other businesses.  Most people spend a lot of time researching locations before determining which one is the best fit for their family’s lifestyle.

You realtor can help you with your neighborhood research by gathering essential information that you can use to perform your analysis.

Your research should not end there, however, because there are other key factors to consider when looking at potential homes.  Your realtor can help you identify some of the most obvious concerns with older homes.  He or she has years of experience and a wide base of expertise to place at your disposal.  What you really need is a list of critical areas that require close inspection when visiting any potential new home. 

A home inspection, performed by a certified home inspector, will provide you with valuable information regarding the current state of the property.  Contracting a certified inspector places you in a strong position for contract negotiations with the current owner should the inspection report disclose any critical problems.  However, home inspections are expensive.  You can save money and time if you are familiar with the most common problems and, more importantly, how to spot them quickly.

 

Environment

A home’s environmental problems can include the presence of lead-based paint or sealants, asbestos in flooring materials, or mold due to past or present water damage.  All these potential problems can be repaired, but you need to know about them before you move your family into a new home. 

These potential environmental hazards usually are not visible to the average person.  Lead and asbestos detection requires a test performed by a professional who owns special equipment and can analyze the results.  Mold is more obvious and is characterized by black or dark green spots, often visible in the corners of the basement or crawl spaces.  However, mold is not limited to the basement, so you need to watch for it in bathrooms and kitchens, too. Similarly, you need to look for the presence (and smell) of mildew in the home.

Environmental hazards are more difficult to identify than other types of critical problems. Contract with an environmental testing service that can perform asbestos, lead, mold and even radon gas inspections.  The investment in environmental testing is often far less than that of a home inspection, and it can help you feel secure in knowing that you are protecting your family’s health.

 

Structure

Structural inadequacies and/or damage can pose a serious risk if they are not properly repaired.  Structural problems can include foundation cracking (particularly alarming when the cracks are horizontal), chimney separation, stair-like cracks in the mortar joints of a brick home and extensive cracking along interior walls.  If you identify any of these problems, share the information with the seller to allow him or her to propose either a price reduction or make the necessary repairs prior to the completion of the sale.

In most cases, the average homebuyer will be able to spot problems whose effects are visible on the exterior of a home.  However, sometimes structural problems appear on the outside of a home only after they have damaged the internal structure.

Again, certified home inspectors are trained to spot critical structural problems that average homebuyers would probably miss.  The examples listed above are only a few of the potential critical structural problems that may be present. They are those that are most obviously visible upon close inspection of a home’s exterior.

Repairing a home’s structural damage is rarely a do-it-yourself project, and contractors specializing in foundation and structural repair tend to be expensive.  If a major structural issue is discovered during a home inspection or listed on the seller’s disclosure sheet and you are not prepared to assume the cost of the requisite repairs, you would be wise to decide to continue your home search elsewhere.

 

Major Systems

  • Electrical System

When viewing a home, the real estate agent or homeowner should ensure that it has electrical service.  This will allow you to determine whether any switches, outlets or even circuits are not functioning properly.  You can probably spot only obvious problems with the home’s electrical system.  A home inspector will carefully inspect the type of wiring used, the quality of the system overall, and any problems that need repair.

  • Heating and Cooling System

If a home is heated or cooled by natural gas, view the home only when the gas service is turned on.  This gives you an opportunity to test whether the furnace and air-conditioning unit are functional.  Common problems with heating and cooling systems include cracked heat exchangers and non-functional air-conditioning compressors.  The air-conditioner compressor is vital in terms of comfort, but a bad heat exchanger can result in harmful carbon monoxide and other gases being circulated throughout the home.  These problems require immediate repair or replacement.

You may be able to determine whether an air conditioner is functional by turning it on. In contrast, it is more difficult for most people to detect whether a furnace has problems.

By knowing about these three areas where critical problems within a home often appear, you could save hundreds or thousands of dollars in the future.  Spotting critical problems in these three areas might allow you to determine, prior to a costly home inspection, that you would prefer to continue searching for your new home.

Keep in mind, however, that if you suspect or discover critical problems within a home, the current owner may be willing to negotiate the price or perform the requisite repairs prior to the sale.  Sometimes sellers are unaware of these problems, so take the time to inform them of your concerns about their home.

Hopefully this information has been useful and educational, and will serve you well in your search for a new home.

FOUR TIPS FOR BUYING A HOME THAT WILL APPRECIATE IN VALUE

When you are ready to purchase a new home, you need to consider not only the appeal of potential homes, but also how those homes will appreciate or depreciate in value over the time that you own the home.  There are a number of factors to consider when evaluating the future worth of your dream home. Knowing what to look for in your home search will allow you to reap the benefits of your investment in the future.

Investment may seem like the wrong word to use when talking about a home purchase, but anyone who has purchased a home will tell you that it is probably the single largest investment that you will make during your lifetime – or at least until you buy your NEXT home.

Any investor will tell you that investments without returns are senseless.  Therefore, you will want to invest in a home that can provide a solid financial future for you and your family. Here are some tips to help you become fairly certain that your new home will appreciate in value.

 

Buy in a Good Area

Lower prices may tempt you to buy a larger home in a less affluent area .  In some cases, when the area is “up and coming,” this may pay off.  However, you are usually far better off purchasing a small- or medium-sized home in an area where property values are unlikely to depreciate significantly.

 

Be Prepared to Make Updates and Maintain the Property

When you purchase a home with the hopes that its value will appreciate, you must be prepared to invest in your home to upgrade it and make it more attractive to future homebuyers.

Consider the importance of installing a new, updated kitchen with the latest amenities.  The condition of the kitchen alone will often sell a home and homes with new kitchens have higher selling prices.  Bathroom updates are also attractive features for new buyers.  Why? Because kitchen and bathroom remodeling projects are among the most costly endeavors undertaken by homeowners, and they are also the most disruptive to families.

Maintenance is important for many reasons.  Buying a home that has been well maintained is a good way to ensure that your own maintenance costs and time requirements are minimal.  Therefore, when you decide it is time to sell the home, having a solid maintenance record is extremely attractive to potential buyers.

When you are shopping for your new home, look for evidence that the home has been taken care of well.  Ask friends or family members to join you when you look at a home that you are considering purchasing. They can be very helpful, because they are less likely to be mesmerized and will point out potential problems that you may not see. 

Always request a home inspection prior to purchase.  A certified home inspection can determine whether the home has indeed been well maintained.  Keep a copy of the inspection report on hand if you plan to sell the home in the future.  This way, you can provide a future buyer with information about the condition of the home as it was when you purchased it.  The report will also point out to them updates and improvements that you have made in the home.

 

Buy in the Off-Season

For maximum value appreciation, you need to buy when housing is least expensive.  Buying during the winter is a good option, because most wintertime sellers need to sell their home in a hurry.  Also, many of the homes listed for sale in the winter are not new listings, and consequently have price reductions. 

In either case, sellers are more willing to negotiate. Also, when you shop for a home during the winter months, you will find less competition, because most people do not want to move during the winter months.

Another benefit to buying during the winter is that you can often take advantage of lender specials on mortgage loan products.  To secure new clients, lenders almost always offer lower interest rates during the winter.  In addition, you may be able to negotiate more favorable loan terms from your lender during the winter.

One final advantage of buying in the off season is that your real estate agent will probably have more time to devote to your home search.  In the winter, realtors have more time to research homes and work closely with you every step of the way.

 

Consider Your Borrowing Options Carefully

As we pointed out earlier, buying a home is an investment.  Since you would never consider investing your hard-earned money in an uncertain investment, you need to carefully weigh the options of where you will place your cash when you buy a home. 

Unless your income is unlimited, you will want to save and invest as much money as possible.  Being frugal is the best strategy when purchasing a home and selecting a lender and mortgage program.

If you intend to live in your home for a short period of time, generally between five and ten years, and you are willing to invest significantly in renovations or upgrades to increase the home’s value, consider a balloon or interest-only mortgage program that allows you to pay only the accrued interest on your loan. Then, at the end of the loan period, you will be able to sell your home, pay off your loan, and collect the profit.

If you do not know how long you will live in your home, then seek a traditional mortgage with the shortest possible repayment period.  It will mean a higher payment, but the equity will increase more quickly and you will pay less over the entire loan period.

Home improvements alone will probably increase the value of your home, but wise choices throughout the buying process will enable you to save even more money in the long run while raising the value of your home in the eyes of future buyers.

Contact your realtor today to discuss your expectations for, so that he or she can more quickly find the home that is right for you. For instance, if you are willing to buy a less-expensive home in need of significant repair in an affluent area, let your realtor know.  Sometimes agents working with buyers in affluent areas assume that the buyer will not be interested in lower-quality homes in need of repair. 

A realtor should be your greatest asset when you are purchasing a home, because he or she has years of experience and vast knowledge about the housing industry and home-buying trends.

 

HOW FINANCING MIGHT AFFECT YOUR OFFER

Individual financing can impact your home-buying experience in several ways.  One obvious impact is the amount of financing for which a lender will approve you, depending on your financial situation and credit history.  But a little-known fact about home buying is that when you make an offer on a home, the seller will need to be informed about the type of financing that you will be using to purchase the home.

This report focuses on that second aspect of financing – what you need to disclose to the seller as part of your offer and how that information might change the seller’s perception of your offer.  Believe it or not, the type of financing that you have may influence the seller’s decision between two or more offers on the home.

While it is rare in today’s economy for a buyer to propose buying a home with cash, it does happen.  In this scenario, the seller is presented with some form of proof that the buyer has sufficient financial resources to meet the offer price.  This could be a savings or checking account statement or some other document from a financial institution.  A cashier’s check is definitive proof, but it is unwise to liquidate funds before the offer is accepted.  Often the buyer needs to liquidate an asset or two in order to generate the cash necessary to satisfy the purchase price.  If this is the case, the buyer will need to present the seller with a fairly accurate representation of how long it will take for the full amount to become available.  Cash offers are strongly favored by sellers, so buyers with enough cash to purchase a home should feel quite confident that their offer will be accepted by any seller.

Another uncommon method of financing a home is seller-assisted financing.  Here is how it works.  You, as the buyer, offer a down payment as part of your primary mortgage agreement.  This generally amounts to 20% of the home’s total purchase price.  The seller might offer to grant you a second mortgage for some amount that will be deducted from the sale price of the home.  Your mortgage would then be significantly lower than the standard 80% loan, meaning lower payments and no need for PMI.

You must disclose the details of seller-assisted financing to the lender, because it is subject to federal regulations for mortgage lending.  You must agree to the loan terms with the seller in advance.  This means that you will work together to determine the length of the loan, the monthly payment amount, and how the payments will be applied toward the loan. Lenders generally require that your seller-granted second mortgage must last at least five years.  There is also an allowance for buyers who choose to pay only the interest on the second mortgage, similar to a balloon loan where the buyer needs to pay off or refinance the loan within a specific amount of time.

Here are some common details about financing that the seller will want to consider when weighing your offer:

 

Down Payment Amount

You must disclose to the seller the full amount of your down payment.  For example, if you are making a 30% down payment as opposed to the required 20%, the seller will realize that you appear more attractive to lenders and should have no problem getting the financing needed to purchase the home.

 

Interest Rate

As a potential buyer, you may include in your offer letter the maximum interest rate that you would be willing to accept from the lender.  Then, if your lender is unwilling to meet or beat that interest rate, you will be able to decline the purchase contract with no penalty.

The seller will want to know your maximum willingness.  If you offer a maximum interest rate that is below the standard rate, as opposed to offering a maximum rate that is substantially above the current market rate, you will be less likely to grab the seller’s attention.

One way to offer a reasonable maximum interest rate is to be pre-qualified by your lender or to have a letter of credit in hand that declares the interest rate at which your mortgage loan will be extended.  Buyers with verifiable eligibility and financing are very attractive to sellers. This is one sure way to convince the seller to accept your offer.

 

Down Payment or Closing Cost Assistance

When you make an offer that includes a request for the seller to assist in paying some or all of the closing costs, you will end up paying more for the home than if you had offered to handle those expenses on your own.  When you are making an offer that includes seller assistance, you need to be reasonable in your total offer price.

 

Government Mortgage Programs

When you plan to borrow a mortgage that is guaranteed through some federal program, you must disclose the details of the financing to the seller as a part of your offer.  The biggest reason for this is “non-allowable expenses,” or fees that the federal government insists that you, as a buyer, not pay.  That’s right – there are restrictions on the closing fees that you can pay.  The fees, however, will not be waived, and therefore the seller will have to assume these fees on your behalf as part of the purchase agreement.  You can compensate the seller by offering a higher price for the home, but you will never be allowed to simply repay the seller for his or her expenses.

Another way in which government-guaranteed financing affects a seller’s view of your offer is that the government agency requires a home appraisal prior to the finalization of the sale.  When you use a program like this, part of your offer is the maximum amount of funding that the seller would need to put toward the cost of any repairs that need to be made to the home prior to the sale.  For example, you could state that if $1,000 in repairs were needed, the seller would pay half of the cost.  In this situation, the seller will insist that you list his or her maximum contribution toward repairs.  Otherwise, a wise seller will never agree to the offer.

Remember that you can always increase your sales price offer to offset the seller’s expenses.

Conclusion

If you make a reasonable and honest offer to a seller and there are no competing bids, your offer stands a very good chance of being accepted.  However, negotiations are common and important in home sale transactions. You need to ensure that the needs of both yourself and the seller are being considered fairly in the offer.

 

RENTERS: ARE YOU MISSING OUT ON MORE THAN JUST CASH?

Post this question to any homeowner who used to be a renter, and you’ll invariably get the response of “Yes!”  Sure, there is a time in nearly everyone’s life (college, newly married, etc.) when renting a home is much more cost-effective and convenient than owning a home.  But when you stop and think about how much money is wasted by people who consistently write large rent checks each month, you begin to see why long-term renting is generally a bad financial decision. 

As with every rule of thumb, there are exceptions.  Those who live in large metropolitan areas – where housing costs are well beyond exorbitant – are probably wiser to rent than to buy a home of their own.

However, for everyone else, the advantages of owning far outweigh the advantages of renting.  Let’s being by looking at a home purchase as an investment, and explore how that investment can work for you in the future.

But first, I would like you to take 30% of your paycheck to the nearest garbage can and toss it in. Close the lid and walk away.  If that extreme demonstration of paying monthly rent doesn’t get your attention, then you probably have plenty of money and don’t need to invest it wisely anyhow.  But few people will nod in agreement with that statement. That’s why, when you make a monthly mortgage payment, you can feel secure knowing that your hard-earned money is not only paying for your current home, but also being invested in your family’s future.

Consider for a moment the cost of university education.  With education costs rising steadily, you will need to augment your children’s college funds.  Financial experts around the globe are recommending that parents borrow against the equity in their homes to help pay for educational costs.  The benefits include lower interest rates, longer repayment terms and loan terms that are otherwise unavailable to most borrowers in educational loan programs.

Now, consider just HOW MUCH money is being spent when you choose to rent (and not own) your home. If you are currently paying $1,000 per month for rent, that amounts to $12,000 per year or $48,000 over the course of four years.  Did you realize that for $1,000 a month, you could be making mortgage and utility payments on your own $100,000 home?

Additionally, as you continue to reduce the principal of your mortgage, you are effectively building equity in your home.  And, unlike rental payments, your mortgage payments are tax deductible when you opt to itemize your deductions.  While some homeowners choose not to take advantage of these tax deductions, those who do are generally pleased to find substantial savings on their annual taxes.

Finances are not the only thing you need to consider when you decide whether to rent or buy a home. Here are three more important things to consider in your decision.

 

Tax Deductions

When you own a home, local property taxes can be quite substantial in some areas.  Homeowners may deduct 100% of the real estate taxes paid on their home. Renters are not required to pay property taxes, although the landlord will undoubtedly include the cost of all taxes in the tenant’s monthly rental amount.  Therefore, the renter is in effect paying the property tax, but is unable to claim the deduction.

For most homeowners, the interest paid on a mortgage loan is also deductible in its entirety. The tax savings, as mentioned above, can be quite substantial. Renters are in effect paying the mortgage for their landlord, or some portion thereof.  However, regardless of the amount of interest being paid, there is absolutely no tax benefit for the tenant.

When a new home buyer obtains a mortgage, he or she is often required to pay what are known as “points.” Basically, points are what the mortgage holder pays to the lender for the right to use the lender’s money.  Be aware of this cost and know that when you take out a mortgage, you may deduct points only for the year in which they were paid.

A homebuyer is eligible for certain tax deductions that are not available to a renter. Therefore, when you are planning to purchase a home, keep close track of possible tax deductions throughout the calendar year in which you intend to buy.  Working with a tax advisor is probably the best option, particularly for a first-time buyer.

 

Moving

If your employment requires frequent relocation, then perhaps renting is truly the best option for you. However, if you plan to stay in one city for an extended period of time, it might be wise to consider buying. 

Obviously, when you are renting and you need to move, the only thing you need to do is cancel your lease and pay any early cancellation fees.  In contrast, when you own a home and plan to relocate, you will probably need to sell your home.  This may require making repairs and incurring pre-sale costs, realtor commissions, and other expenses, not to mention the investment of time required to sell a home. 

Unfortunately, regardless of whether you rent or own your home, relocation expenses are unavoidable when you move. However, relocation expenses tend to be less for renters than for home owners.

If you do opt to sell a home with the intention of purchasing a new home whose value is at least equal to that of your current home, you may be able to defer any capital gains taxes that may be assessed after the sale.  Again, in order to fully understand the tax structure and possible deferment options, you must speak with a tax professional.

 

Home Improvements and Remodeling Projects

In most cases, unless you own a home of your own, you will be unable to make extensive improvements to the property where you live.  This probably includes things like adding a swimming pool, deck or replacement windows.  Naturally, some landlords welcome their tenants to make such improvements. However, it is generally not a good idea to invest money in a home that you do not own.

If you rent a house, you may have the option of painting, replacing carpeting and performing other minor updates with the approval of the landlord.  However, if you select an apartment or a townhouse that is located within a “complex,” you are less likely to be able to obtain that permission.

In contrast, when you own your home, you have the unrestricted ability to decorate, improve and remodel your home as you like.  You can install a backyard swimming pool, add an additional bathroom, and more!  Perhaps this is the greatest benefit that people get from owning their own home.  They no longer need to request permission to paint a room!

Having reviewed just these three areas of comparison, in addition to the financial information presented above, you are probably closer to making the decision on whether to rent or buy a home. If you have made the decision to buy a new home, then congratulations! You’ll want to work with a licensed realtor to start the process. 

A competent realtor will share his or her experience and expertise with you, simplifying the home-buying process and the transition from being a renter to home owner.

 

HOW TO MINIMIZE OR AVOID PAYING A DOWN-PAYMENT

Today’s homebuyers, particularly first-time buyers, are looking for mortgage programs that provide convenience and flexibility.  One of the most commonly sought programs is the 100% financing, zero-down loan.  Lenders offer these loan programs, but it is truly buyer beware in most cases, because the lender may require PMI (private mortgage insurance) or other security measure and fees.


If your income and credit will be accepted by a rental agency for an apartment, then you can get approved to buy a home with no down payment.  The reason that many people choose to rent instead of buy is that they believe they will need to have enough savings to cover 20% of the home’s purchase price in a down payment.  Fortunately, lenders realize that most people (particularly those who do not already own a home) will be unable to come up with a 20% down payment and have designed programs precisely for that situation. Consequently, renters are advised to speak with a mortgage company to learn about available mortgage programs before signing a rental lease.

Be aware that a zero-down mortgage will probably not get you the most competitive interest rate.  You will be paying a premium for the ability to borrow funds without providing security in the form of a down payment.  The interest rate may be reduced with a down payment of as little as three to five percent, but you will always pay a higher rate for the privilege of not having a down payment.  You will need to have excellent credit in order to qualify for a no-money-down loan with a competitive interest rate.

Many people do not realize that getting a no-money-down loan means that you will not be required to pay any closing costs. In this case, the lender is actually providing the borrower with more than 100% financing. 

One of the ways that lenders help borrowers with little or no down payment is to provide them with what is commonly known as a piggyback loan. In this type of program, the borrower receives a mortgage loan equal to 80% of the home’s purchase price and a second mortgage loan that is equal to 23% of the purchase price.

If lenders can’t or won’t assist a borrower, a government guarantee program might allow the borrower to qualify for a zero-down loan or a down-payment assistance program.  These loan programs are often very competitive and are usually open to low-income families and current or former members of the military.

A loan program that doesn’t require any money down has fairly high interest rates.  However, today’s interest rates are low and dropping steadily.  Therefore, buying a home with a no-money-down mortgage loan has never made more sense.

When you are in the market for a no-down-payment or zero-money-down home loan, carefully research lenders and their loan programs. Each lender is different and some specialize in the area of no-money-down loans.

 

First-Time Buyer Programs

If any of the following situations apply to you, then you might be eligible for a special first-time-buyer mortgage program that will provide you with a no-down-payment option or down payment assistance:

  • You have never bought a home, or have not bought a home in the past three years.
  • You do not have adequate documented funds to be used as a down payment.
  • You have previously filed for bankruptcy.
  • You are self-employed, or cannot provide adequate verification of your income.
  • You have previously been turned down for a mortgage loan by a mortgage company or other lender.
  • You have slow credit, damaged credit or no credit.

 

Further Considerations

The following text lists the things that you will need to research before pursuing a zero-down mortgage.  This information is important for every borrower, regardless of the type of loan, but it is much more important when you are trying to get a no-money-down loan.

  • Your Credit Report: You need to know in advance what is on your credit report.  Having minor blemishes credit report usually is not a problem for most borrowers, but a large number of significant credit problems can reduce the amount that you will be able to borrow.  Your debt should be as low as possible prior to applying for a mortgage loan, because one of the factors used by lenders to determine your creditworthiness is your debt-to-income ratio.  Also check whether the majority of your debt is spread out over different accounts, because a lender will view several accounts more positively than a single account.
  • Your Available Cash: Even when you are trying to get a no-money-down loan, you should try to increase your liquid cash as much as possible before you apply for a mortgage loan.  One way to do this is to liquidate some assets, such as stock holdings and bonds.  Lenders will often overlook blemishes on your credit report if you can cover at least two months of debt payments with your reserve cash.
  • Find the Best Lender: In order to find the best mortgage program for your particular situation, you need to research the individual lenders offering no-money-down loan programs. Because lenders define zero-down mortgage programs in different ways, it is important to find the lender who offers the right type of program for your specific situation.
  • Investigate Other Types of Loans:  Perhaps other types of loan programs will meet your needs, giving you the opportunity to become a homeowner even when your cash reserves are inadequate for a standard 20% down payment.  It is not uncommon for lenders to allow you to borrow two separate loans – one for the down payment and closing costs, and another for about 80% of the purchase price of the home.

Conclusion

Overall, a no-money-down loan program provides a great opportunity for first-time buyers and buyers with limited cash reserves.  There are even programs for borrowers with shaky credit histories and those who are self-employed.  No matter what your particular situation is, there is a lender who can help to make your dream of home ownership a reality.  Just remember that if you can afford a monthly rent payment, you can afford to purchase a home.  By considering important factors in advance and researching lenders and their loan programs, you will find a program that will work for you.

Even if you do not have adequate reserves to cover 20% of the purchase price, if your credit and savings history are in good condition and your income is documented correctly, most lenders will be more than happy to work with you to find a program to help you purchase your next home.

 

 

 

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