When Gordy was offered a promotion, he and his wife Linda would need to relocate and give up their custom home. It wouldn’t be easy, but lucky for them, they found Windermere Real Estate agent, Dawn Hardman. Over the course of a year, Dawn and Linda spent a lot of time together. Dawn took on the role of host to her new clients, touring dozens of homes, and teaching them everything she knew about Skagit County, Washington, so when they finally made their move, they could do so confidently.
When another unexpected move came up, Linda and Gordy called on Dawn to help them sell their home. In short notice, over a holiday weekend, Dawn made sure their open house was a success with her creative ideas and personal touch.
It rarely takes a full year to find a dream home, but Dawn is glad she had a chance to spend so much time with Linda and Gordy. In doing so, she helped them get familiarized with a new area, while also learning more about the place she loves and calls home.
There’s nothing more exciting, rewarding, and fulfilling than buying a home. However, it’s a complex transaction, and there are a number of steps along the path that can confuse, betwixt, and befuddle even the most seasoned buyers and sellers.
How can you avoid those potential pitfalls and common mistakes? Look to your real estate professional for advice and keep these guidelines in mind:
#1 Review your credit reports ahead of time
Review your credit report a few months before you begin your house hunt, and you’ll have time to ensure the facts are correct, and be able to dispute mistakes before a mortgage lender checks your credit. Get a copy of your credit report from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Why all three? Because, if the scores differ, the bank will typically use the lowest one. Alert the credit bureaus if you see any mistakes, fix any problems you discover, and don’t apply for any new credit until after your home loan closes.
#2 Get pre-approved
Before getting serious about your hunt for a new house, you’ll want to choose a lender and get pre-approved for a mortgage (not just pre-qualified—which is a cursory review of your finances—but pre-approved for a loan of a specific amount). Pre-approval lets sellers know you’re serious. Most importantly, pre-approval will help you determine exactly how much you can comfortably afford to spend.
#3 Know what you want
You and your real estate agent should both be clear about the house you want to buy. Put it in writing. First, make a list of all the features and amenities you really want. Then, number each item and prioritize them. Now, divide the list into must-haves and really-wants. A good place to start is the “HUD Wish List,” which is available online for free at http://www.hud.gov/buying/wishlist.pdf
#4 Account for hidden costs
In addition to the purchase price of the home, there are additional costs you need to take into consideration, such as closing costs, appraisal fees, and escrow fees. Once you find a prospective home, you’ll want to:
- Get estimates for any repairs or remodeling it may need.
- Estimate how much it will cost to maintain (gas, electric, utilities, etc.).
- Determine how much you’ll pay in taxes monthly and/or annually.
- Learn whether there are any homeowner or development dues associated with the property.
#5 Get an inspection
Buying a home is emotionally charged—which can make it difficult for buyers to see the house for what it truly is. That’s why you need impartial third parties who can help you logically analyze the condition of the property. Your agent is there to advise you, but you also need a home inspector to assess any hidden flaws, structural damage or faulty systems.
#6 Evaluate the neighborhood and location
When house hunting, it’s easy to become overly focused on the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the condition of the home and its amenities while overlooking the subtleties of the surrounding neighborhood. Take time to check crime reports, school options, churches and shopping. If schools are a key factor, do more than simply research the statistics; speak with the principal(s) and chat with the parents waiting outside.
#1 Avoid becoming emotional or sentimental about the sale
Once you decide to sell your house, it’s time to strip out the emotion and look at it as a commodity in a business transaction. If you start reminiscing about all the good times you had and the hard work you invested, it will only make it that much harder to successfully price, prepare, and market the home.
#2 Fix problems (or price accordingly)
Homes with deferred maintenance and repair issues can take far longer to sell and can be subject to last-minute sale-cancellations. These homes also often sell for less than their legitimate market value. If you simply can’t afford to address critical issues, be prepared to work with your agent to price and market your home accordingly. The great thing about the Windermere Certified Listing, is that we will provide a 5-point pre-inspection for you at no cost! This will help you identify current or potential problems in your home before ever hits the market!
#3 Don’t overprice your home (and/or refuse to negotiate)
Getting top dollar is the dream of every seller. But it’s essential that you let the market dictate that price, not your emotions or financial situation. Allow your agent to research and prepare a market analysis that factors in the value of similar homes in the area, and trust those results. Check out our Insiders’ Guide to Selling Your Home (without any stress or surprises!) for more tips and tricks on pricing your home!
#4 Use quality photos
The vast majority of prospective buyers today search for homes online first. In order to make a good first impression, you need a wealth of high-quality photos of your home and surrounding grounds. You may also need to consider professional staging in order to position your home in the best possible light for prospective buyers.
The process of buying or selling a home can have plenty of twists and turns, but with some smart decision making, you can avoid the most common mistakes and pitfalls.
Windermere’s Certified Listings are supplied with a complete professional photography package. These vivid and beautiful images are designed to sell homes. Professional real estate photography is proven to increase showings and lead to faster sales.
Downsizing is on the minds of many homeowners today. Some are ready to retire. Others want to live more simply. Many want to save money and say goodbye to home maintenance. If you can relate to any of those sentiments, ask yourself these five questions:
Have you done the math?
The financial savings that can be generated by downsizing can be significant – especially as they add up over time. Boston College Retirement Center (an independent, reliable resource) makes calculating this savings a snap.
Have you researched elder-care options?
Many homeowners hold on to their current home longer than they should because their parents / parents-in-law may need to come live with them in the future. While a noble gesture, there are many excellent elder care living options available today. Often, all it takes is a tour of those facilities to realize that your loved one may actually be happier, and far better served, in a place devoted to their care and happiness.
Have you considered off-site storage?
You don’t need to immediately discard a big chunk of your belongings in order to downsize. In fact, trying to do so in one fell swoop only creates stress. Most people find it works much better to move some of their belongings into off-site storage for six months. During that time, you can gradually incorporate some of those items into your new living arrangement, and slowly figure out what to do with the others.
How do you feel about sharing costs and decision-making?
Townhomes and condominiums are popular downsizing options. But both require that you share the decision-making and expenses associated with any maintenance and improvement projects. If you’re a people-person, agree with the old adage that two heads are better than one, and you like the idea of sharing the cost/responsibility for expensive repairs, you’ll enjoy condo living. If not, this may not be the best option for you.
Have you consulted with a real estate agent?
Many homeowners don’t think to consult with a real estate agent until they’ve made the decision to downsize. This leads to guesstimating about some of the most important factors. The truth is, your real estate agent is someone you want to talk with very early in the decision-making process.
After succumbing to the “Great Recession” ten years ago, the stock market has made a comeback. So, does that mean you should forget about buying a new house and invest in stocks instead? The answer to that question, say experts, depends on your investing savvy, your financial discipline, your age, and your current financial situation.
The first question you need to ask yourself is, “Am I disciplined enough to invest in stocks?” According to two professors who recently studied 30 years of personal-finance performance, you need to be someone with exceptional financial discipline if you want to earn real money in the stock market. Or, you could simply buy a house.
When you buy real estate, the down payment and monthly mortgage payments force you to set aside a significant amount of your earnings on a regular basis. It’s automatic. But if you can’t summon the same discipline to invest that same amount of money in the stock market on an equally regular basis, then stocks are probably going to be a losing proposition, according to the professor’s study.
Other issues that make stock investing risky
Investing guru James Altucher wrote a column in The Wall St. Journal titled, “8 Reasons You Stink at Trading Stocks.” In it, he argues that most non-professionals don’t have the investing savvy required to be successful in the stock market. Here are a few telling excerpts:
- “Nine out of 10 people think they are above-average drivers. Nine out of 10 people think they are above-average investors. Both are mathematically impossible.”
- “Most people sell at the bottom and buy at the top—the opposite of what you want to do as an investor—because they let emotions get in the way of patience and strategy.”
- “It’s really hard to own stocks. It’s not just picking a stock and watching it go up 1,000%. It’s buying it and sometimes watching it go down 80% before it ends up rising 20% above your purchase price. It’s waiting. It’s patience. Psychology is at least 80% of the game. And knowing when to sell? Even harder.”
When you’re young, many financial advisors encourage investing in things like individual stocks. With a long career ahead, you have time to wait for any bad investments to turn around before you may really need the money. But once you’re a little older, with a family, and starting to focus on your financial future, that’s when advisers recommend you buy things like real estate—a conservative investment with a long history of stable, predictable earnings.
The type of loan you choose also makes a difference
If you want to both own a home and invest in stocks, consider a 30-year home loan, which will significantly reduce your monthly payments and leave you with extra money for playing the market. (Just remember the tradeoff: You’ll end up paying thousands of dollars more in interest over the life of the loan.)
If you don’t have a burning desire to play the stock market, choose a 15-year home loan. You’ll pay less interest over the life of the loan, you’ll build equity faster, and, obviously, you’ll be mortgage-free 15 years sooner.
The tax advantages of owning real estate
As a homeowner, you’re entitled to a bevy of tax benefits you don’t get as a stock investor. You can deduct your mortgage interest and property taxes from your annual tax return. Plus, depending on your circumstances, you could also get a deduction or credit for any home-office expenses, moving expenses, capital gains, any “points” used to lower your interest rate, and more.
One caveat: investing in real estate takes time
No matter what some of those reality TV programs show, buying a home should not be viewed as a get-rich-quick scheme. But if you think you’re ready to put down roots for as long as seven years, chances are very good that any home you purchase will appreciate significantly during that time (even if the economy runs into some bumps along the way).
The non-financial benefits
Of course, not all of the benefits of owning a home are financial. For most Americans, their home is a source of tremendous pride, comfort, security and freedom. Most of us also use our homes to showcase our personality, through paint colors, furnishings, landscaping, yard signs, holiday decorations and so much more.
Yes, the stock market is on an upswing currently (depending on the week), but if you want an investment with a long-term track record of consistent returns—plus tax breaks and a variety of personal perks—you may want to buy a home instead.