STEP 1 Define your goals, research your options, and develop an action plan
Giving the green light to future homeownership means educating and preparing yourself as much as possible. Know what your personal reasons are for buying, and determine the kind of home, neighborhood, and features you want. Since buying and financing a home are fundamentally connected, you’ll also need to examine your current financial situation and know what you can realistically afford. Once you’re clear on the above, you’ll be in a better position to research housing and mortgage options, and create an action plan with timelines for moving forward. While it is possible to do this yourself, you may benefit by consulting an experienced real estate professional right from the start.
STEP 2 Contact a real estate professional
Buying real estate is a complex matter with many factors to consider as no two homes or transactions are alike. The unique opportunities and potential pitfalls are best navigated with an expert on your side. Contact a real estate professional once you’ve decided to buy. A professional agent will guide you through the property search, financing, negotiation and transaction processes. Consider their local market knowledge, experience, and track record when evaluating potential agents.
STEP 3 Get pre-approved for a loan
It’s important to get pre-approved for a loan before you start viewing homes in earnest. The pre-approval process involves meeting with a lender and authorizing them to examine your current financial situation and credit history. On the basis of this examination, the lender may provide you with a document detailing the amount you can borrow to buy a home.
STEP 4 View homes and find THE ONE
The secret to a happy home search is in knowing what you really want. That means distinguishing between “must-haves” and “like-to-haves”.
*A few interesting facts about the search process for perspective:
- 92% of buyers use the Internet or mobile apps to search for homes.
- The typical buyer searches for 10 weeks and views 10 homes.
- 97% of buyers view real estate agents as important in the home search process.
With today’s mobile apps and online real estate websites, you can view homes, see details, take video tours, and access neighborhood info. Technology can be a great tool in your search process!
However, it’s absolutely necessary to view homes in person. While the property details may seem similar online, homes can be very different in terms of layout, design, workmanship and other aspects. Ideally, you should view homes with the help of an experienced real estate professional who may notice things you might miss, provide expert analysis, and act as an impartial sounding board.
*National Association of REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 2015
STEP 5 Make an offer and negotiate
When you’ve found the home you’d like to buy, it’s time to make an offer. Your state or local real estate association likely has contracts that are generally used for transactions in your area. These contracts enable you to specify a sale price and also allow the inclusion of clauses specifying various terms of purchase, such as the closing and possession dates, your deposit amount, and other conditions.
You should carefully review these clauses with your real estate professional to be sure that they accurately express your intended offer. In addition to drawing up the contract, your real estate professional will be happy to address all of your questions about the offer process.*
Once you’ve written the offer, your real estate professional will present it to the seller and/or the seller’s representative. At that point, the process will vary somewhat depending on the market you’re in. Generally speaking, the seller can accept your offer, reject it, or counter it to initiate the negotiation process.
Successive counter-offers, with deadlines for responding and meeting conditions, may be exchanged between you and the seller until a mutual pending agreement is reached or the negotiations breakdown. Negotiations involve many factors specifically relating to different market conditions, homes and sellers, and other variables that a professional agent can handle with ease.
STEP 6 Secure your financing
Once you have a pending agreement, it’s time to return to your chosen lender to finalize mortgage details in order to close the deal. This means finalizing your down payment, interest rate, regular payment schedule and all other financial conditions associated with the closing. As the saying goes, ‘let the buyer beware’. Unfortunately, too many buyers suffer negative consequences from not fully understanding their financing decisions. Thus, it’s crucial for you to work with people you trust. In this regard, a good real estate professional can become a true friend for life.
*Customs for drawing up contracts vary by region. Certain transactions may benefit from the use of legal counsel.
STEP 7 Close the deal
If you’ve efficiently taken care of everything connected with purchasing your new home, taking ownership should be a positive joy with no surprises. Key steps to the closing, also referred to as the “escrow” or “settlement”, include:
- Getting a title search – you will need a historical review of all legal documents relating to ownership of the property – to ensure that there are no claims against the title of the property. It’s also necessary to purchase Title Insurance for protection in the event of errors in the records or mistakes in the review process.
- The final walkthrough – you will be given the chance to look at the home one last time to make sure it’s in the same condition as when you signed the sale agreement.
- The settlement – typically, on the Closing Date you’ll meet with a lawyer, real estate professional, or escrow agent to verify and sign all the paperwork required to complete the transaction. The settlement will include paying your closing costs, legal fees, property adjustments and transfer taxes. At that point, you’ll receive the property title and copies of all documentation pertaining to the purchase.
Oh, and one more thing – you’ll get the keys! In most cases, possession date will fall within a few days, and you will be able to move into your new home.