Questions to Ask Before Buying a House

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What to Know When Buying a Home For The First Time

Buying a home for the first time can be daunting. Before you put down your hard-earned deposit and sign away the next 15-20 years of your lives, there are a few points to clarify, and this is the time to ask the questions.

When you are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, there are no questions that are too trivial. If you have a real estate agent, make sure you lean on them for advice. If they are worth their salt, they will be someone to lean on for all the things you’re unsure of.

Having a first-time home buying guide is always useful. You can also seek assistance from family and friends that have already been through the process.

Questions to Ask When Buying a Home

Consider a few of the following points as a first time home buyer. These are great questions to ask yourself as you journey towards owning your first house.

  • How far will you be from work, and how good is the public transport?
  • How long does the commute take?
  • Do you want to live near shops, schools, hospitals, cafes, and parks?
  • Will you be near enough to Mom and Dad so you can drop in for dinner?
  • If you are pregnant, how near is your hospital?
  • Can the kids walk to school? Homes in sought after school districts always sell really well! So even if you are not having children consider this fact from a resale perspective.
  • You want a neighborhood with a good community appeal, where you have a large enough population to support cafes and diverse restaurants, and possibly a good pizza/sub shop.
  • Do you have a dog? You will want an off-leash dog park, to take Fido for a run, and a local vet.
  • You are busy, so look for a home requiring minimal renovation. Major renovations are not affordable when you are in your first home. It would help if you got a bit more equity first. Having said that, even minor renovations require a handy hardware store nearby.
  • Try not to exceed your budget. The lender will look for some leeway in the budget, so when you choose a home, make sure, based on your combined salaries, that you can afford it. You want to keep your housing costs, including insurances, between 25% and 28% of your monthly take-home pay. This is a bit easier for a couple than for a single buyer.
  • Are you eligible for any first home buyer grants or incentives? The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also provides grants to first home buyers. If you apply early in the new financial year, you may be eligible to receive one, important to apply early as the program has limited funds, is soon exhausted, and is not refunded until the following fiscal year. You just may qualify!

Questions to Ask and Things to Do Before Buying a Home

Get a Mortgage Preapproval

Once you have everything in place, try to get your mortgage preapproval in writing from a well-known lender. It is always a good idea to comparison shop a few lenders as well before settling on one.

Be prepared to have your financial information (proof of employment and income) verified for written preapprovals.

These last for about three months and you are then ‘buyer ready.’

Make Sure You Have a Professional Home Inspection.

Have a look to be sure that the roof, foundation, HVAC systems, flooring, and walls are all in good order. Make sure you have a house inspection before closure done by a well respected local professional.

You really want to know before you put the escrow deposit down if there is anything to be done. Home inspections are also a great learning exercise about the property you are purchasing.

The home inspector will go over all the systems, especially the furnace, air-conditioning, and electrical. They will check the basement for dampness and mold. A good inspector will also have a keen eye for evidence of termites, other insects, and rodents.

Getting a home inspection done is especially important when you are purchasing a fixer-upper home.

Is The Home Low Lying?

Is the house near a river or a low lying flood plain. You don’t want to be paying for flood insurance as it is costly. If the area is a flood zone, it might be why the home is cheaper. Once a house is flooded, it is never the same again. So, avoid any possible flood area.

Is The House on a Busy or Noisy Road?

Houses on major roads are usually less expensive. If you decide to purchase on a major road, make sure that the house has insulation, as a major road can be very noisy and polluting. Avoid big thoroughfares if you can, because it won’t have a good resale value.

Think About Using a Buyer’s Agent?

If you are having difficulty sifting through the choices available, you may decide to hire a buyer’s agent. It likely won’t cost you anything as real estate commissions are typically paid by sellers.

A great buyer’s agent will be in your corner working hard to find you the right home. The best agents will not offer any pressure for you to purchase. If you are a busy professional, having someone scouring the multiple listing service for you every day can be a godsend.

Make an Offer Stick

Start attending open houses to get a feel for the market. Are real estate values rising, falling, or stable. If home prices are falling, that will be good news for you. It might be possible to find a house you previously thought to be unaffordable.

When you find the home that makes you happy, you’ll want to pounce on it, especially if it is an excellent deal. Get together with your real estate agent and write the offer. Be prepared to have some give and take, which is often the case. Negotiating is something buyers, and sellers do. Try to make it a win-win if you can.

If the seller has already bought elsewhere, you will probably be in the driver’s seat as there will be some urgency to get a deal done.

On the other hand, if you are in a hot seller’s market, be prepared to move quickly. There could be multiple offers and bidding wars. Unfortunately, there will be less flexibility. To get the house you really want, you’re probably going to need to step up to the plate and give the seller their desired terms.

It is vital to be proactive at this stage, as you want to get into a house before your preapprovals expire. The financial markets are very mercurial, and especially in a rising market, conditions change very quickly.

Prepare For Moving

One of the most arduous tasks when buying or selling a home is moving. The move can not only be physically stressful but mentally as well. There are so many things to get done. Did you change your address with the post office? How about getting one of the best moving companies in the area?

Maybe you have found that hiring professional movers will be too expensive and rent a moving truck instead? Lots of folks choose to rent a moving truck from U-Haul because of the convenience and lower cost.

These are all things that should be thought about well in advance. Proper planning goes a long way when buying your first house.

Final Thoughts on Buying a First House

Once you have the finance approved for your new house, it is important to be ready to recognize and grab a good deal when it comes along. Buying a home for the first time can be a full time and stressful job. You will have a limited amount of time to perform what seems like an endless list of tasks. The good news is, it will soon be over, and you will be in your own home.

Hopefully, you have found some of these first-time homebuyer tips to be useful.

Fall Decorating Tips After Buying Your First Home

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The Best Fall Decorating Advice For First Time Buyers

Buying your first home can be exciting with the prospect of having a space that you can make completely your own. The idea of decorating a whole home can also be overwhelming at first, especially if you are beginning from zero.

If you are just starting out as a homeowner, it can be helpful to go for improvements that offer an upgrade without a big investment of time and money.

From bringing nature indoors, to making your outdoor living space more comfortable, there are a lot of ways to up-level your new home that doesn’t involve buying all new furniture or reconfiguring your whole house.

Best of all these are great staging tips when it comes time to sell your home.

Fall Decorating Tips For First Time Buyers

Go Green

If your new home is feeling a little bare, adding plants can go a long way to add some energy and light without a big investment. The versatility of plants means that you can add them to every room and in all sizes and in a variety of containers.

Even if you don’t have a lot of floor space, you can hang a planter from your ceiling, or create a wall filled with on-trend air plants. For lower maintenance green, air plants or succulents are an ideal option.

By choosing plants that are easy to take care of, you are more likely to keep them looking their best and to keep them as a decorative feature in your home for longer.

An added benefit of plants is that they can create oxygen and light in your home, and also up the relaxation level.

While it might be tempting to go for faux plants, they won’t offer the same benefits as the real thing, and so you’re better off getting a few low-maintenance plants that you know you can take care of.

Let There Be Light

As part of your real estate due diligence, you probably looked over the lighting carefully of all the homes you visited. It is not unusual as most buyers favor bright homes vs those that feel like a cave. That’s not to say you can’t make your house even better.

If your new home has a lot of natural light, optimizing it can transform your space into a modern sanctuary.

To maximize how light enters your home, instead of drapes or other heavy window coverings, pick light-colored blinds, or even go without blinds, depending on the kind of privacy that you need.

For blinds, if you are going with wood or wood tones, the lighter the better to really add a modern touch. If you don’t have a lot of natural light, adding floor lighting or even making an extra upgrade with a skylight for single-level homes can be worth the investment.

You can opt for lampshades or pendant lights in on-trend materials like bamboo, jute, or wicker, to brighten your room even more.

Return to Nature

Design trends for 2021 are all about bringing nature indoors, not only with plants, but also with natural fibers for rugs, furniture, and other home decor pieces. That might mean rattan, wicker, or bamboo furniture, or pillows and rugs in linen or cotton.

If you already have furniture from your previous home that you want to update, you don’t have to buy new furniture but can add pillows, carpets, and throw blankets in natural fabrics.

A few decorative pieces can transform how your furniture looks in your space, and give it a refresh, without having to spend a lot of time or money.

If you do want to opt for updated furniture or decorative items in bamboo or rattan — and you are sticking to a budget for your first home — you don’t have to buy these items new, but can look at consignment stores for vintage pieces that have a contemporary feel, as styles from the 1960s are now back in.

Get creative with your space and think of small ways that you can incorporate some natural elements.

Even a detail as simple as a wooden bowl filled with fruit can change the energy of your kitchen or dining room with a natural touch.

Make it Cozy

A big trend for 2021 is optimizing outdoor living spaces to transform them into living rooms in their own right.

Even in fall and winter, you can take advantage of your outdoor space and also think ahead to warmer months. That means replacing uncomfortable patio furniture with cushioned chairs and couches like you’d find in a living room, but instead covering them with all-weather fabric.

Coordinated pillows and rugs (also in all-weather materials) are another addition to make your outdoor area feel like a designated extension of your home.

As we head into fall and winter, fire pits are on-trend to keep that outdoor space cozy all year round. A moveable, above-ground fire pit is the easiest to start with as you can put it together in an afternoon and then move it to wherever it fits the best in your yard, or bring it inside when you aren’t using it.

With firepits in a variety of sizes, it’s an upgrade that can work for almost any home.

Get Creative With Your Space

In 2021, designers are talking about saying goodbye to open floor plans, and hello to spaces that can serve multiple functions.

In your new home, you might want to think about arranging your furniture so that you can follow this decorating tip, not only to give your home a modern layout, but to efficiently use your space for working, studying, relaxing, and maybe even home workouts.

That might mean moving a couch into the center of a room to divide your space, or adding a work nook in the kitchen. For lounge areas, cocooning furniture is in, with comfortable fabrics and overstuffed cushions.

Deep pile rugs and chairs in heavy-weight wools, mohair, and sheepskin can also be added to create an easy relaxing area.

Decorating your first home can be a fun project and thinking about design trends can give it a modern look with a few simple additions.

Focusing on plants, updated furnishings, and bringing extra comfort to indoor and outdoor space can be a great place to start. With just a weekend you can turn your new house into a home that you can get comfortable in.

About the author: The above article on fall decorating tips was written by the Homelight team. HomeLight provides helpful advice to buyers and sellers to make smart real estate decisions.

How Does Appraisal Gap Coverage Work When Buying a Home?

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When buying a home, things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes, your bank’s appraisal of a house comes up lower than your offer or even the seller’s asking price. If so, do you just walk away from your dream house?

An appraisal gap coverage will help you seal the deal on your dream house in such a situation. Let’s take a look at the meaning and usage of appraisal gap coverage.

The Basics: Appraisals And Offers

An appraisal is an estimation of a home’s value in the current market. Mortgage lenders carry out an appraisal by a licensed real estate appraiser to ensure that the buyer doesn’t overpay for a property. It also guarantees that they’ll be able to sell the property for the same value should you fail to pay the mortgage.

In a competitive market, buyers may offer a higher value than the selling price to get their offer accepted. Sometimes the appraisal value comes up lower than the buyer’s offer, and sometimes even the seller’s price.

Sometimes, sellers don’t do the things they should do to prepare for the real estate appraisal, which can influence how the appraiser perceives the property.

The appraisal gap coverage could be your saving grace when this happens.

What is Appraisal Gap Coverage

Appraisal Gap Coverage: Explained

The scenario for buying a house is pretty much identical. You find a home that you like, and you negotiate the price. If the property is in high demand, you may offer a higher price than the asking price.

The seller accepts your offer, and then you apply for a mortgage. The mortgage lender then goes to appraise the property. If all goes well, the appraisal and your offer match. But rarely does that happen.

When the appraised value is lower than your offer, the seller and buyer have a few options:

Option A: the buyer convinces the seller to accept the appraised price.

Option B: the buyer covers the gap between the appraised price and their offer.

If neither A or B is possible, the deal will fall apart. However, there is another option—an appraisal gap coverage.

The appraisal gap coverage is the buyer’s assurance to the seller that they will cover a certain amount of the gap between the appraisal and the offer.

For example, if a house is listed at $300,000, the buyer may offer $310,000 with a $5,000 appraisal gap coverage. Then, the property is appraised at $305,000. The appraisal gap coverage then kicks in, so the buyer has to come up with $5,000 in cash to meet the offer price.

What If Your Appraisal Gap Coverage Still Doesn’t Meet The Offer Price?

What happens if the appraisal gap coverage still comes up short of your offer? For example, if you offered to buy a $300,000 at $315,000 with a coverage of $5,000, that is then appraised at $305,000.

With your coverage, the purchase price becomes $310,000. Although the total sale price is lower than your offer, it is still higher than the seller’s asking price.

So, they will still likely agree with this price. Additionally, you get to buy the house at a lower price than you originally intended. So, overall, it is a win-win situation. Thus, you can still push through with the sale.

Why Do You Need Appraisal Gap Coverage?

An appraisal gap coverage gives you an advantage over other buyers. Even if you offer to buy a house way over the asking price, it provides your offer substance through the insurance to cover the gap between the appraised value and your offer.

Including this with your offer makes the seller more likely to accept your offer over, for example, an equal offer without an appraisal gap coverage. This is because, with an appraisal gap coverage, the buyer is less likely to walk away from the deal regardless of the house’s appraised value.

Thus, it guarantees the buyer that they will pay for the property at a higher value than the asking price. Simultaneously, it reduces the chance of deals not pulling through.

How Does An Appraisal Gap Coverage Work With An Offer?

After the seller accepts your offer, you need to put your agreement in writing. This is when you will need to contact a real estate attorney to draw up a real estate sales contract or to review the one provided by the seller. The agreement will state the agreed-upon price, the appraisal gap coverage, and other essential terms of the sale.

Usually, when writing the appraisal gap coverage into the sales contract, you specify a fixed amount that you are willing to cover. Your contract should never state that you will cover an unlimited amount between the offer and the appraised value.

The contract should also state that the appraisal gap coverage should not exceed the agreed-upon amount. So, for example, if the appraised value is at $307,000 and you offered to pay $310,000 with an appraisal gap coverage of $5,000, you will only cover the remaining $3,000.

In any case, the appraisal gap coverage puts you at an advantage as a buyer because it guarantees a win-win situation for both you and the seller.

There are several instances where the explained scenario may not necessarily play out as simply as described. An example might be when the property to be purchased is being done under the auspices of a legal entity like an LLC or corporation or other such business entities, especially those with multiple owners.

In such circumstances, there may, for instance, be specific provisions contained within the operating agreement or bylaws of the entity that stipulates how or what may or may not be permitted in the acquisition of a new property or asset.

When such is the case, it is usually a good idea to ensure that the operating agreement is reviewed by an experienced business attorney to ensure that your appraisal gap offer or the contract you enter into with the seller does not violate any terms contained within.

About the author: The above article on the appraisal gap coverage was written by Kanayo Okwuraiwe. Kanayo Okwuraiwe is a startup founder, an incurable entrepreneur, and a digital marketing professional. He is also the founder of a digital marketing company called Telligent Marketing LLC that provides attorney SEO services to help lawyers grow their law practices.

Should You Buy New Construction or an Existing Home?

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Until recently, one tried-and-true assumption about buying versus building held firm: Building a custom home was a drawn-out, messy process that in the end got you more bang for your buck — instant home equity. 

Today, however, you can’t take that for granted. COVID-related supply chain problems have driven building supply prices skyscraper-high and added about $35,000 to the cost of building an average home. 

So, should you build or buy a home in 2021?

Buying New Construction or an Existing Home

What’s Happening to Building Supply Prices?

That said, kinks in building supply inventory are temporary, and lumber prices have been dropping for weeks. The effect of lower prices at the wholesale level has not yet filtered down to builders, who buy at the retail level. 

The good news for aspiring homeowners is that the cost of building should fall back a bit in the upcoming weeks.

According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), “Depending on the rate and consistency of price decreases and whether prices have stabilized at the lower level, it may take a few weeks to a couple of months for builders to see price relief on the order initially reported in the futures or cash markets.” 

Different Types of Construction

There is more than one way to build a home. You might choose to buy new construction from a developer, have a custom home built to your specifications, or bargain hunt with a fixer-upper and remodel it from the ground up.

You may even consider going with an Eco-Friendly home.

When comparing the cost of building to buying, get a commitment for constructing the custom home you want at current prices. Compare that to a new developer home with similar features, a bargain that requires some fixing, and an existing home in excellent condition with the features you want. 

If price is your primary consideration, go with the property with the lowest acquisition cost — including buying, building, repairing, financing, and closing costs.

Note that construction financing costs more than conventional mortgages. However, there are many other considerations in addition to the cost.

You can avoid additional construction loan financing expenses when buying a spec home and getting a traditional mortgage.

Buying a Home: Pros and Cons

Buying a home is the more popular option. That mainly comes down to three advantages:

Timing

It usually takes 30 to 60 days to find, finance, and purchase a home, while building a house takes six to 18 months. People who face deadlines — such as moving for a new job or moving in time to get their children into new schools — don’t always want to rent during the building process, and they don’t relish the “opportunity” to move twice. 

More Choice in Neighborhoods

If you want an established neighborhood with vintage homes and mature landscaping, there may not be empty lots waiting for someone to build. And if you want the community with the best schools, there may not be lots available at all.

Often, new areas with building opportunities are on the outskirts or suburbs, perhaps not your ideal. Your best bet might be a well-built existing house or a fixer-upper if you live with construction chaos for a few months.

Stretch out Costs

You can usually find a cheaper existing home than you’d spend for a brand-new house. It might be more manageable to buy an affordable house and then upgrade it as money comes in.

On the other hand, older homes can have obsolete systems and be energy hogs. And you might not want to look at 1990s-era bleached wood and brass finishes until you can get around to remodeling.

Building a Home: Pros and Cons

Customization

The most popular reason for building a home instead of buying is the ability to get exactly what you want — whether that’s energy efficiency, smart home features, or very specific items such as a dog washing room, home theater, or stone pizza oven. 

Safety 

Another major benefit of building a new home is that your systems are new, up to code, and unlikely to fail. Maintenance costs are much lower for a new home. You’ll also be able to take advantage of manufacturer and builder warranties.

While with a resale home, you’re pretty much stuck with repairs once you close, and the odds of something malfunctioning are much higher. 

Cost

Regarding which option costs more, it depends on the project, local housing markets, and labor costs. Note that if you purchase a newly constructed home from a builder/developer, the profit (19% gross and 7% net, according to the NAHB) goes to the builder.

While if you contract for a custom build, you split the profit with the builder and typically gain some equity instantly. And you can cut costs substantially with “creative” building plans — tiny houses, modular homes, and kit homes. 

These are cheaper housing options worth looking into.

You should commission an appraisal for your property — as-is and as completed. Then you can compare the expected build cost with the projected home value and see if building is cost-effective. 

Do’s and Don’ts for Builders and Buyers

Understand what you’re getting in a home. Whether you’re buying or building, make sure everything you need is in your contract. If you want the high-tech refrigerator and hot tub on the deck, make sure the sellers aren’t planning to take those items with them. 

Homebuilders often don’t include things you might consider basics — paved driveway, landscaping, sodding, eavestroughs, or air conditioning, for instance. If you’re considering a newly built home, make sure the features you require are included or price them out to determine if your budget is reasonable. 

Understand that things will take longer than expected and do everything possible to speed things up. Line up your financing and get your mortgage pre-approval before hunting for property.

If you’re effecting a 1031 exchange (legal in all states from California to New York), get your paperwork in order — you normally have 180 days to complete the tax-deferred exchange or face stiff penalties. 

Find a few reputable builders and get bids from each. Builders normally won’t pull permits and start until they have a signed, binding contract and your deposit.

Be certain that any builder you consider is approved by your mortgage lender — that helps you avoid shaky contractors. Expect construction to take six to 18 months, and understand that every change you request once underway will cost you money and add time. 

Splitting the Difference: Buy a Fixer-Upper

Fixer-uppers can provide the best of both worlds. You can find a less-than-perfect home in your dream neighborhood. Purchase your rundown house at a discount and then hire a builder to upgrade the systems, increase energy efficiency, and make it safer and more attractive.

You can finance the purchase and rehab with a single loan. Pay attention to the improved value of the property on your home appraisal. That will tell you if it’s cost-effective to buy used and improve rather than to purchase new.

Make Friends With a Good Agent

Building sites that meet your needs, perfect properties in your chosen neighborhoods, and potentially profitable fixer-uppers don’t stick around long on real estate markets. 

To get an advantage in your search, find a knowledgeable, reputable agent who can quickly locate what you need and perhaps come up with creative solutions. Not using a good agent puts you at a disadvantage in today’s hotter markets.