The struggle seems real enough. Friends and family, frustrated and stressed, meeting obstacles and jumping hurdles, all because they decided to go out and buy a house.
But does it have to be painful? I talked to Allen Tate President Phyllis Brookshire to get the low down, and she offered these five tips for purchasing a home with ease.
1) Get smart before you even start
Phyllis says the first thing you have to do is understand what you can afford to buy, how to get pre-approved, and how the mortgage process works.
She says, “I strongly recommend that you get pre-approved. When you’re preapproved for a mortgage, you will know how much you have to spend before you shop. Then, when you find a home you like, you can move quickly. And, in today’s Carolina market, sellers tend to favor buyers who have financing in place.”
So get your financing house in order before you house hunt. Then, give yourself a pat on the back for being smart enough to get that behind you before moving forward.
And speaking of the market, Phyllis says you’ll want to do some homework and educate yourself about it before you jump in. A good place to start is by checking out market trends and getting an updated market report. Knowledge is power, and key to working smarter.
Next, sharpen your pencil again because Phyllis recommends creating your wish list. Your must-haves, really wants and it would be nice to haves. Be honest and realistic. Come to an agreement with whomever you will be sharing the house with on the must-haves, like schools, commute times or number of bedrooms, and decide where each of you might be able to compromise on the really wants and it would be nice to haves. That way, you won’t be fighting—I mean discussing—in front of your Realtor®.
That’s right. Once you have your wish list completed, Phyllis says, “Find the real estate professional you want to work with. Ask for referrals from friends and family. Check out his or her online profile, then interview and meet in person to ensure a good fit.”
2) Look smart
If you’re like most homebuyers, you’ll start your search online. Phyllis advises using a local company’s website for the most listings and the most accurate information. Look for websites that also provide additional information about the area that might be important in the decision-making process. Allen Tate has a free mobile app that can also come in handy.
Phyllis has a great thing to remember about looking at homes on the Internet: “Don’t shop online, but look online.” It’s true, getting your head out of the screen and getting out there is the only way to really get your home search started for real. “Don’t get totally caught up in being online,” Phyllis reminds us again.
Phyllis recommends starting with open houses, which can help you get a good feel about the updates you can expect in a house in that area, number of bedrooms, baths, square footage and house styles. She advises, “Take your time. It’s an open house, which means an open invitation to look.”
Then, when you are ready, you and your Realtor can tour other homes for sale in your target area. “Allow plenty of time to take your time,” Phyllis reminds us. “This is a big, important decision. Give it all the personal attention it deserves.”
And once you start looking in real life, if you think you can keep it all that information straight in your head, you might want to re-think that. After seeing ten or more houses, you may find it impossible to hold on to that visual picture and mental notes for each one. Luckily, there are great apps to help you keep it all in one place and together, such as Paper, free for iPhone and droid phones.
“You can also make things a little easier by creating your own comparison chart or checklist, and make notes on each home you tour as you go,” Phyllis recommends.“ “Include information that will help you weigh the pros and cons once you have finished the tours. Don’t be afraid to bring your tape measure with you.”
If you decide to look at a house for a second time, aim for a different time of day from the open house or first tour. At the very least, Phyllis says, “Drive by during different times of day and evening, getting a feel for the neighborhood at dusk and at dark. Are people out and about? Are kids playing outside? Is it noisy? Think about how you want to live and if that neighborhood fits your desired lifestyle.”
3) Make a smart offer
When you do find that house that feels like home, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, but again, step back and think smart.
Your agent is there to guide you on what price you should offer. Depend on your agent for the extensive knowledge and expertise you need at this very moment.
If the seller makes a counteroffer, your agent can again advise you to accept or submit one of your own. However, in some markets in the Carolinas, there may be multiple offers in a short amount of time.
“So,” Phyllis says, “Be prepared to make a quick decision just in case. That work you’ve done ahead (your wish and comparison lists) will come in handy. Stick with your plan and don’t get caught up in the competition and emotion of the moment. Work with your Realtor and trust his or her advice. It will help you keep perspective.”
“Also,” she cautions, “Offers can fall through. Inspections can turn up surprises you don’t want to deal with. The appraisal could come back too low. You never know. Just keep a cool head, and if you don’t succeed, try, try again. Stay focused on your list and continue to work with your realtor. Have other homes in mind. Re-consider homes you passed up. It could be your diamond in the rough.”
4) Stay smart while under contract
First things first. The smart homebuyer will never count on a verbal promise from a listing agent until the contract is signed by all involved parties. And when determining a closing date, “Make realistic timelines for yourself,” Phyllis adds.
“And make sure you complete all items on the closing checklist you’ll get from your Realtor. It really is important and makes your life easier to get everything done ahead of your closing date. Allow enough time to do it.”
Buyers under contract will require a survey, title check, etc., so be advised, be smart, and start as soon as the ink dries on that contract.
Hold off on any big spends. “Don’t make any sudden purchase such as new furniture or a car,” Phyllis urges. “This could hurt your financing and end the deal. Wait until after closing if those are purchases you plan to make.”
If you are paying cash for your new home, Phyllis says you must make sure it will be accessible all at once for closing. Does your bank wire money? Or will they need to issue a check that could take a few days? Better look into it well ahead of closing.
“Get your homeowners insurance early, too,” she says, “Because you have a 3-day closing period with no adjustments, and your premium is often taken into consideration when calculating your monthly mortgage amount, you have to have your policy three days before closing.”
“The sooner you get on everything that has to happen before closing, the better,” Phyllis emphasized. “And if you have scheduled a quick close, make sure it can all happen within that time frame. Survey and attorney offices may have a backlog.”
5) Bring your A-team to closing
“People underestimate how important it is to have professionals in place for closing,” Phyllis tells me.
And you don’t want to be those people. Turn to your agent or attorney for explanations and solutions before and during closing. “You don’t want go through this alone,” she said. “Closing is never over until it’s over. There’s a lot of paperwork, plus it really can be an emotional day,” she added.
“Finding the right agent, attorney and mortgage broker capable of making the entire process of home buying easy and painless is key to working smarter and not harder. Make it work for you,” Phyllis said as we wrapped up.
After speaking with Phyllis, I decided these five tips on home buying with ease would be the first list I would keep handy if I ever decide to go house shopping. Except I’m going to add actual check boxes so that I can literally mark things off as I complete each step. Don’t judge.