Information For Home Buyers
CONGRATULATIONS! You have decided to buy a new home. These pages will help you
take this big financial step by describing the home buying, home financing, and
You probably started the home buying process in one of two ways: you saw a home you were interested in buying or you consulted a lender to figure out how much money you could borrow before you found a home (sometimes called pre-qualifying). The next step is to sign an agreement of sale with the seller, followed by applying for a loan to purchase your new home. The final step is called "settlement" or "closing", where the legal title to the property is transferred to you.
At each of these steps you often have the opportunity to negotiate the terms, conditions and costs to your advantage. These pages will highlight such opportunities. You will also need to shop carefully to get the best value for your money. There is no standard home buying process used in all localities. Your actual experience may vary from those described here. These pages takes you through the general steps to buying a home, to eliminate, as much as possible, the mysteries of the settlement process.
Buying and Financing A Home
Role of the Real Estate Broker
Frequently, the first person you consult about buying a home is a real estate agent or broker. The most common practice is for the seller to hire the broker to find someone who will be willing to buy the home on terms and conditions that are acceptable to the seller. Therefore, the real estate broker you are dealing with may also represent the seller. However, you can hire your own real estate broker, known as a buyer’s broker, to represent your interests. Also, in some states, agents and brokers are allowed to represent both buyer and seller.
Even if the real estate broker represents the seller, state real estate licensing laws usually require that the broker treat you fairly. If you have any questions concerning the behavior of an agent or broker, you should contact your State’s Real Estate Commission or licensing department.
Sometimes, the real estate broker will offer to help you obtain a mortgage loan. He or she may also recommend that you deal with a particular lender, title company, attorney or settlement/closing agent. You are not required to follow the real estate broker’s recommendation. You should compare the costs and services offered by other providers with those recommended by the real estate broker.
Selecting an Attorney
Before you sign an agreement of sale, you might consider asking an attorney to look it over and tell you if it protects your interests. If you have already signed your agreement of sale, you might still consider having an attorney review it. An attorney can also help you prepare for the settlement. In some areas attorneys act as settlement/closing agents or as escrow agents to handle the settlement. An attorney who does this will not solely represent your interests, since, as settlement/closing agent, he or she may also be representing the seller, the lender and others as well.
If choosing an attorney, you should shop around and ask what services will be performed for what fee. Find out whether the attorney is experienced in representing home buyers. You may wish to ask the attorney questions such as:
What is the charge for negotiating the agreement of sale, reviewing documents and giving advice concerning those documents, for being present at the settlement, or for reviewing instructions to the escrow agent or company?
Will the attorney represent anyone other than you in the transaction?
Will the attorney be paid by anyone other than you in the transaction?
Please note, in many areas of the country attorneys are not normally involved in the home sale. For example, escrow agents or escrow companies in western states handle the paperwork to transfer title without any attorney involvement.
Terms of the Agreement of Sale
Here are some important points to consider before you sign an agreement of sale. The real estate broker probably will give you a preprinted form of agreement of sale. You may make changes or additions to the form agreement, but the seller must agree to every change you make. You should also agree with the seller on when you will move in and what appliances and personal property will be sold with the home.
Sales Price. For most home purchasers, the sales price is the most important term. Recognize that other non-monetary terms of the agreement are also important.
Title. "Title" refers to the legal ownership of your new home. The seller should provide title, free and clear of all claims by others against your new home. Claims by others against your new home are sometimes known as "liens" or "encumbrances."
Mortgage Clause. The agreement of sale should provide that your deposit will be refunded if the sale has to be canceled because you are unable to get a mortgage loan. For example, your agreement of sale could allow the purchase to be canceled if you cannot obtain mortgage financing at prevailing interest rates.
Pests. Your lender may require a certificate from a qualified inspector stating that the home is free from termites and other pests and pest damage. You may want to reserve the right to cancel the agreement or seek immediate treatment and repairs by the seller if pest damage is found.
Home Inspection. It is a good idea to have the home inspected. An inspection should determine the condition of the plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical systems. The structure should also be examined to assure it is sound and to determine the condition of the roof, siding, windows and doors. The lot should be graded away from the house so that water does not drain toward the house and into the basement.
Most buyers prefer to pay for these inspections so that the inspector is working for them, not the seller. You may wish to include in your agreement of sale the right to cancel, if you are not satisfied with the inspection results. In that case, you may want to re-negotiate for a lower sale price or require the seller to make repairs.
Lead-Based Paint Hazards in Housing Built Before 1978. If you buy a home built before 1978, you have certain rights concerning lead-based paint and lead poisoning hazards. The seller or sales agent must give you the EPA pamphlet "Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home" or other EPA-approved lead hazard information. The seller or sales agent must tell you what the seller actually knows about the home´s lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards and give you any relevant records or reports.
You have at least ten (10) days to do an inspection or risk assessment for lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards. However, to have the right to cancel the sale based on the results of an inspection or risk assessment, you will need to negotiate this condition with the seller.
Finally, the seller must attach a disclosure form the agreement of sale which will include a Lead Warning Statement. You, the seller, and the sales agent will sign an acknowledgment that these notification requirements have been satisfied.
Other Environmental Concerns. Your city or state may have laws requiring buyers or sellers to test for environmental hazards such as leaking underground oil tanks, the presence of radon or asbestos, lead water pipes, and other such hazards, and to take the steps to clean-up any such hazards. You may negotiate who will pay for the costs of any required testing and/or clean-up.
Sharing of Expenses. You need to agree with the seller about how expenses related to the property such as taxes, water and sewer charges, condominium fees, and utility bills, are to be divided on the date of settlement. Unless you agree otherwise, you should only be responsible for the portion of these expenses owed after the date of sale.
Settlement Agent/Escrow Agent. Depending on local practices, you may have an option to select the settlement agent or escrow agent or company. For states where an escrow agent or company will handle the settlement, the buyer, seller and lender will provide instructions.