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Tips for Buyers
- Get a copy of your credit report and correct any errors. The Fair Credit Reporting Act guarantees you access to your credit report for free from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — every 12 months. AnnualCreditReport.com is the only authorized source for obtaining the free credit report you are entitled to by law.
- Reduce your consumer debt — pay down credit card balances.
- Assemble a cash down payment.
- Determine how much you can afford to pay for a home using calculator number 5 (“Affordability Calculator”) found behind the “Financial Tools” tab on this page.
- Decide how much you are willing to spend for a home (different from how much you can afford).
- Use our glossary on this page to get familiar with basic terms used in real estate transactions.
- Shop for a mortgage loan on the Internet or with lenders you’ve used in the past. Don’t forget to consider local lenders here in Florida.
- Get pre-approved or at least pre-qualified for a mortgage loan. Getting pre-approval from a bank or other financial institution is imperative before beginning the search for a home. It is important to understand the price range you’re able to afford and specific aspects of your financial situation that may determine your eligibility. When you make an offer on any property a pre-approval or pre-qualification letter also gives you more opportunity to negotiate the price with the seller.
- Below are explanations of two different types of “pre” letters that can be obtained from a bank or other financial institution:
- Pre-Qualification letters are given as informal and tentative approvals for buyers. The financial institution issuing the letter would have taken information regarding the buyers’ financial situation in order to determine eligibility; however, they would have NOT verified the accuracy of the information. Since the financial institution would not perform a credit check of the buyer at this point they are in a position to withdraw their approval if additional financial (or other significant) factors are later uncovered. There is no charge to obtain Pre-qual letters.
- Pre-Approval letters are formal agreements and offer buyers’ a guarantee of loan approval for a specific amount. The financial institution issuing such a letter may or may not charge for this service. They will verify credit history, employment status, assets and liabilities to help determine the amount of credit they are able to offer. If you are a serious buyer, this is the suggested “pre” letter to obtain. Keep in mind that even with a pre-approval letter, your bank may deny the loan on the specific house you wish to purchase. As one example, banks will deny the loan for a specific property if the appraisal is significantly less than the sale price.
- Investigate neighborhoods where you want to look for a house.
- Select two or three neighborhoods that meet your requirements.
- Visit homes for sale with one of our Realtors® and make notes. If you are a registered user on this web site, you can add your notes to specific properties on the property’s “details” page.
- Get your agent’s help in evaluating the asking price of homes you like. Your agent will be able to provide you with recent “comparable” property sales, and if you hire your agent as a “buyer’s agent” he or she may prepare a competitive market analysis for you.
- Decide how much to offer for the home you want.
- With the help of your real estate agent, write an Offer to Purchase. Complete all mortgage loan application requirements.
- Hire an inspector to examine your prospective home.
- Accompany your inspector during the inspection.
- Get agreement on repairs to be made by the Seller and then inspect repairs and handle other details prior to closing day.
- At closing, submit a certified check or wire transfer for the down payment and pick up the deed for your home.
Tips for Sellers
- First and foremost, price correctly from the get-go. More about that below.
- Looks do matter. The first step – remove the clutter. Although the things we accumulate are what makes your home yours, it can be distracting to buyers. The goal is to help a potential buyer visualize the property as theirs, so store away collections of family photos, kids toys, and other collectibles that fill up a room.
- Pay particular attention to the kitchen. Be sure the space under your sink is organized and provides access for buyers to look at the pipes for evidence of leaks. Overstuffed cabinets will give the impression of a small kitchen, so start using up those food stuffs.
- Store away counter-top appliances you don’t use on a regular basis.
- The same principle applies to the rest of the house. Bedroom closets and other storage areas should be neat and orderly. Place laundry in laundry baskets and keep tables neat and free of clutter.
- Don’t make expensive repairs, but be sure everything is in working order. Make sure all light switches work and burnt-out light bulbs are replaced. Repair leaky faucets and remove water stains from sinks and toilets. Repair rattling bathroom exhaust fans and replace worn shower curtains.
- Check your ceilings for water stains. If you identify stains be sure to properly fix the cause of the stain and not just the evidence.
- If your ceilings and walls are scuffed or dirty, consider repainting them but select neutral colors that appeal to the broadest spectrum of buyers and not necessarily your preferred color palette. Painting is one lowest-cost but highest-return do-it-yourself projects you can undertake . . . but be sure you do a neat and tidy job.
- Steam clean dirty carpets but replace them only if they are torn or in some other state of disrepair.
- Use some WD40 on squeaky door hinges and use silicon spray on the edge of doors or windows that are difficult to open or close. Replace torn window screens or cracked/broken glass panes.
- Examine the exterior of windows and doors and use color-matched caulking where necessary.
- Control odors from smoking, pets and garbage while your house is on the market. Move smoking outside, use deodorizing powders on the carpet and empty litter pans frequently. However, don’t use room sprays just before a showing because some visitors may be allergic.
- Evaluate the “curb appeal” of your home. Keep lawns neat, trim shrubbery, remove dead tree limbs, store outside kids toys.
- If your home is clad in wood, look for evidence of wood-boring bees or woodpeckers and caulk the holes they may have created. These are normal occurances, but you want to present your home as a well-maintained property.
- If your roof leaks, fix it. Otherwise you are obligated to disclose the leak to potential buyers. If the roof doesn’t leak but is near or at the end of its useful life, wait to see what a buyer’s home inspector has to say and be prepared to negotiate.
- Work with one of our Realtors® to identify a reasonable listing price. Price should be determined by comparable sales that occurred within the past 12 months. Your Realtor will know what other properties sold for as opposed to the price the seller was asking. The sold price is all that matters.
- If you can’t reach agreement with your agent on a reasonable asking price, consider hiring an appraiser. Most likely a potential buyer will require a loan, and a lender will require an appaisal before providing the loan. You don’t want a deal to fall apart at the end of this process because your listing price was unreasonably high . . . even if you found a buyer willing to pay it! Not only will the sale have been lost but you will have lost time on the market as well.
- Try not to be home when a showing takes place, and take large animals with you. Buyers tend to become uneasy when the owner is present, and you want them to feel relaxed and free to visualize themselves living in the home.
- Keep your agent informed of your whereabouts throughout the listing period. You never know when an offer to purchase will come in, and depending on the terms of the offer a quick response may be required.
- Don’t “panic sell.” Unless you owe more than what your home is worth or face a job change, relocation or a divorce, health crisis or other major negative life event, then wait until next year or even the year after, if at all possible. Current conditions are not permanent.
- Addendum – Something added. A list or other material added to a document, letter, contractural agreement, escrow instructions, etc. (See also: Amendment)
- Amendment – A change, either to correct an error or to alter a part of an agreement without changing the principal idea or essence.
- Appraisal – An opinion of value based upon factual analysis. Legally, an estimation of value by two disinterested persons of suitable qualifications.
- Annual Percentage Ratge (A.P.R.) – The yearly interest percentage of a loan, as expressed by the actual rate of interest paid. For example: 6% add-on interest would be more than 6% simple interest, even though both would say 6%. The A.P.R. is disclosed as a requirement of federal truth in lending statutes.
- Assumption of Mortgage – Agreement by a buyer to assume the liability under an existing note secured by a mortgage or deed of trust. The lender usually must approve the new debtor in order to release the existing debtor (usually the seller) from liability.
- Beneficiary – (1) One for whose benefit a trust is created. (2) In states in which deeds of trust are commonly used instead of mortgages, the lender (mortgagee) is called the beneficiary.
- Close of Escrow– The date that title passes from seller to buyer and documents are recorded.
- CC&R’s – Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions. A term used to describe the restrictive limitations which may be placed on a property frequently by property owners associations but also perhaps by entities such as trusts.
- Chain of Title – The chronological order of conveyance of a parcel of land from the original owner (usually the government) to the present owner.
- Cloud of Title – An invalid encumbrance on real property, which, if valid, would affect the rights of the owner. The cloud may be removed by quitclaim deed, or, if necessary, by court action.
- Comparable Sales – Sales of properties used as comparisons to determine the value of a specific property.
- Conveyance – Transfer of title to a property. Includes most instruments by which an interest in real estate is created, mortgaged or assigned.
- Counter-Offer – An offer (instead of acceptance) in response to an offer. For example: A offers to buy B’s house for X dollars. B, in response, offers to sell to A at a higher price. B’s offer to A is a counter offer. A’s original offer is nullified by B’s counter offer, and A is under no oblication to accept or to continue negotiation.
- Deed – Actually, any one of many conveyance or financing instruments, but generally a conveyancing instrument given to pass fee title to property upon sale.
- Disclosure – To make something known. All disclosures should in writing when dealing with real estate interests and real property.
- Discount Points – The amount paid to increase the yield. Discount points are up-front interest charges to reduce the interest reate on the loan over the term of the loan. Each point equals one percent of the face value of the loan.
- Due on Sale Clause – An acceleration clause that required full payment of a mortgage or deed of trust balance when the secured property changes ownership.
- Earnest Money – Money given by the buyer with an offer to purchase. Shows good faith.
- Easement – A right created by grant, reservation, agreement, prescription, or necessary implication, which one has in the land of another. It is either for the benefit of the land (appurtenant), such as the right to cross A to get to B, or “in gross”, such as a public utility easement.
- Escrow – Delivery of a deed by a Grantor to a third party for delivery to the Grantee upon the happening of a contingent event. Modernly, in some states, all instruments necessary to the sale (including funds) are delivered to a neutral third party with instructions as to their use.
- Estoppel Letter – Prior to closing on a property, a bank or lender is required to receive an estoppel letter from a Homeowners’ Association (HOA) or HOA management company to determine if there are delinquent balances owed to the association. This includes, legal fees, recurring payments, violations, and special assessments. Cash buyers should request estoppel letters also.
- Fair Market Value – Price that probably would be negotiated between a willing seller and a willing buyer in a reasonable time. Usually arrived at by the comparable sales in the area.
- Hazard Insurance – Real Estate insurance protecting against loss caused by fire, some natural causes, vandalism, etc., depending upon the terms of the policy.
- Homeowners Association – An association of people who own real property in a given area, formed for the purpose of improving or maintaining the quality of the area. Also an association formed by the builder of condominiums or planned developments, and required by the statute in some states. The builder’s participation as well as the duties of the association are controlled by statute.
- Impounds– Account held by lender for payment of taxes, insurance and other periodic debts against real property required to protect their security.
- Lien – An encumbrance against a property for the repayment of a debt. Examples include judgements, taxes, mortgages and deeds of trust.
- Mortgage – The instrument by which real estate is pledged as security for the repayment of a loan.
- Mortgage Insurance – Insurance written by an independent mortgage insurance company protecting the mortgage lender against loss incurred by a mortgage default, thus enabling the lender a higher percentage of the sales price.
- PITI – Payment that combines the principal, interest, taxes and insurance.
- Power of Attorney – An authority by which one person (principal) enables another (attorney in fact) to act for him.
- Purchase Agreement – An agreement between a buyer and seller of real property, setting forth the price and terms of the sale.
- Quitclaim Deed – A deed operating as a release; intended to pass any title, interest, or claim which the Grantor may have in the property, but not containing any warranty of a valid interest or title by the Grantor.
- Realtor® – A designation given to a real estate broker or sales associate who is a member of a board associated with the National Association of Realtors® or with the National Association of Real Estate Boards.
- Recording – Filing documents affecting real property with the County Recorder as a matter of public record.
- Subdivision – The division of one parcel of land into smaller parcels (lots) created by filing a subdivision plat with the governmental authority (city or county) and receiving approval from the governmental authority.
- Title – The evidence one has of right to possession of land.
- Warranty Deed – A deed that conveys fee title to real property from the Grantor (usually the Seller) to the Grantee (usually the buyer).
- 1031 Exchange – A tax deferred or 1031 exchange is a transaction involving the transfer of investment or income property and the receipt of like-kind property which will be used as income or investment property. When certain criteria are met, as set forth in section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code, the income taxes on any gain realized from the sale of the relinquished property are deferred.