Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Keeping on Top of the Little Things

For first-time home buyers, the stress and entire process of buying a home can be fairly overwhelming. There are so many little things that have to be done in order for it all to come together in a 30-60 day period, and unless you have a good buyer's agent, most of these things are not exactly clear to the home buyer. Additionally, these requirements can vary from state to state.

So, this post is two-fold. On the one hand, it is an ode to our wonderful buyer's agent, Wayne Curtis, who has kept us on track and we may even be able to close early because of him. On the other hand, it is an attempt to create a comprehensive, one-stop shop for all things you have to do when buying a house.

Wayne Curtis, of Charm City Real Estate, has been exactly what a first time home buyer (really, any home buyer, but we'll stick to the focus of the blog) needs. He is patient and has no problem explaining the reasoning behind a certain inspection or point in the process. He pointed out possible problems in houses we looked at, and never once tried to push us to putting an offer on a house we weren't 100% sold on. In fact, he didn't push at all. Most importantly, he has been communicative and diligent in keeping us on track and doesn't let us forget little details.

All along, Wayne has done exactly what a buyer's agent should do: keep his client's best interests in mind and make sure they stay on track. When we were having the aforementioned issues with the loan officer, we asked Wayne what our options were for finding a different lender so late in the game and since it was too late to switch, Wayne stepped in and we think, put the fear of god into our loan officer. He's certainly been a lot nicer, after they talked.

When you, the first time home buyer or even the home buyer, starts looking for a house, sign on with a guy like Wayne (if you're in the Baltimore area, sign on with the dude himself!). References are always a good way of checking to see if the buyer's agent is as good as they claim they are, and any buyer's agent worth their salt will provide that information up front (Wayne gave us a whole folder with his bio, references, information on his company, Charm City Real Estate, etc). And even if their references are good, if you're not comfortable with the idea of spending 60 days of your life with the person, don't go with them. If they give you the creeps and you can't even stand looking at a house with them, don't go with them. If they're pushy and disrespectful, don't go with them. In the last two months, we've talked more often to Wayne than we have to our families and some of our friends. Buying a house is a very involved process and choosing the right buyer's agent is almost as important as choosing the right house.

This is a good lead in to the second portion of the blog: my attempt at a comprehensive list of things you have to do when buying a house. So, here goes:

1. Choose the right buyer's agent. Before you go out, interview people or look at a few less prospective properties with the agent to get a feel for who they are and what they'll bring to the table. Ask questions and see how knowledgeable they seem. If you look at properties, see if they're pushy or if they point out possible problems.

-- We can safely exclude "find the right house". You'll know it when you find it. Like love, only you usually pay less for a house. Haha.

2. Inspections. My god, are there a lot of inspections. Here are the most recommended:
a. Home Inspection - don't buy a house, even a brand new one without an inspection. $275-$500 is nothing in the long run if there's a serious error with the house. And just because there's a serious error, don't discount the house right away. If you love the house, ask the sellers if they'd be willing to pay for the repairs.
b. Radon Inspection - Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that develops in basements. If you have a basement or a large crawl space, it's a good idea to pay for this. It ranges from $75-$175. If your basement has an above-normal radon amount, the mitigation system is not overly expensive to install and most sellers will pay for it to sell the house.
c. Pest Inspection - $65 and you know for sure you don't have an infestation of centipedes, cockroaches, stink bugs, wasps, bees, etc. Pretty much the best $65 you can spend, IMO.
d. Lead Paint Inspection - any home built before the 70s is likely to have lead paint. It's a costly thing to remove, though some cities have programs that help offset the cost. It's not really necessary unless it's peeling something crazy or if you have young children. The important thing to remember is that if you don't eat the paint, you're going to be OK (the have a pamphlet about this. It cracks me up)

3. Pick a lender and loan officer.

4. Square away any debts that are going to have a major impact on your credit score or debt/income ratio as soon as you can. It slows down the process something fierce to have to take care of those issues.

5. Get estimates for a title company and chose one. Make sure the cheapest one includes all of the right services -- sometimes title companies will give a low estimate and tack on charges in the back end. Shady as all hell but your buyer's agent should be able to tell you if the charge list is comprehensive.

6. Make sure you have housing until you close. Most apartment companies will give you a month or two extra on your lease if you're moving after your lease has ended. On the flip side, make sure if you're renting you have approval BEFORE YOU SIGN AN OFFER to sublease or break your lease early.

7. Make sure you or your loan officer arranges for an appraiser to come out. The appraisal is a huge portion of final loan approval. The cost ranges. For our FHA it was about $450. For FHA, it's returned at settlement.

And this is where I hit the wall. I'll probably edit more in the next day or so with extra things to take care of, but these are the big ones.

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