Let’s face it – the process of buying a home can be intimidating sometimes. But there are things you can do as a consumer to help put your mind at ease. Here are our top five tips to make buying a home less of a “trick” and more of a “treat”:
1. Get pre-approved for financing.
It takes money – usually, lots of money – to purchase property. Sellers know this, so they often ask potential buyers to provide evidence of their financial ability before accepting an offer. To help improve your chances of getting an offer accepted – and to avoid pitfalls later in the process – do yourself a favor and get this evidence up front. Most commonly, this involves getting a pre-approval letter from a mortgage lender to purchase a home within a certain price range and according to certain terms. If you’re a cash buyer or using other funds (ie. a gift, inheritance, etc.), you can obtain certification from your financial institution that those funds are available and sufficient to cover a purchase. If you are able to, it’s always best to get this documentation before you start looking at houses to buy. Getting pre-approved doesn’t guarantee financing, but it does avoid lots of unfortunate entry-level decisions and help you focus on properties within your purchasing power.
2. Get a home inspection.
It’s unlikely that even a savvy home buyer can pick up on every potential defect in a home during a quick open house visit or a private showing. Plus, most of us aren’t professional contractors, so there are things we might miss or that might be difficult to find. That’s why it’s always a good idea to hire a home inspector to check these things out and advise you on potential issues before you sign a purchase and sale agreement. In Massachusetts, inspections usually must be conducted during a ten-day period between an offer to purchase and the signing of a purchase and sale agreement, or they are waived (note: these deadlines can vary based upon your sales contracts, so be sure to consult your agent and/or attorney).
3. Know when to go beyond a home inspection.
There are certain things a typical home inspection might not cover, such as septic systems, private wells, swimming pools, and contamination by lead paint, mold, radon, asbestos, or pest infestation. The list goes on. Sometimes you need to ask to add these items on to your typical inspection order. Other times you need to hire a specialist to look at them separately. Be sure to ask up-front and get the advice you need in a timely fashion.
4. Resolve complex issues early on.
Depending on the property you’re buying, strange issues can pop up. For example, maybe there is a question about boundary lines or easements on the property. Maybe the person living there has unsatisfied liens on the property, or owes back taxes, or doesn’t yet have the legal right to sell (such as if an estate is trying to sell property before getting court approval). If you’re applying for a mortgage on the property, sometimes these issues will be identified by your bank. Even so, it can be wise to consult an attorney to answer any questions about a property and to get these issues resolved before the closing.
5. Educate yourself about the area.
It’s important to remember that we refer to a “piece” of property because land is part of a bigger puzzle, be it a neighborhood, or a region, etc. No home is an island in and of itself (unless you’re actually buying an island). Before you buy, ask questions about the surrounding area to make sure it suits your needs. Is it noisy? How is traffic? Do these factors vary on weekdays, weeknights, and weekends? Is there a lot of criminal activity in the area? Is the property convenient to shopping, highways, etc. If you have children, how are the schools? Is the property zoned for whatever you intend to do with it (or if you want to do additional work)? Is it in a flood zone, and if so, do you need to buy flood insurance? Are there any other hazards nearby? If it’s a condominium, what are the association’s rules, and how are the finances? Asking these and many more questions is usually referred to as doing “due diligence,” and it’s an important part of the home buying process. Make sure you do as much research as you can before you buy to avoid surprises later.
When it comes to buying property, don’t be haunted by problems! Ask your real estate agent for advice and guidance throughout the process.