Don’t let the idea of buying your own home bring you to the brink of defeat. With a reasonable amount of planning and preparation, ownership is an easily attainable reality for many. The key is balance: by adhering to a few realistic steps, dodging popular pitfalls, and asking your real estate agent all of the right questions.
A good agent is essential to your home buying experience. They provide industry knowledge and insight, in addition to hands-on experience and the necessary negotiating skills that come in handy when it’s time to bid. It’s never too early to enlist the help of a real estate agent. In fact, the earlier, the better, because a good agent can set you in the right direction––especially if you’re buying your first home. Don’t be left out of the loop. Here are some essential questions that you should ask before you think of buying a house.
What can I afford?
Anybody serious about home buying will have had a budget in place for at least a few months. Mapping out the costs associated with a down payment and the general amount required for a monthly mortgage payment is incredibly important. While a real estate agent can’t tell you what you should offer, a good one will show you comparable homes that match your budget, and they will fight to get you the best possible price, as well as guiding you through all of the paperwork.
Can you recommend a good lawyer?
As important as it is to secure a great agent, a lawyer—particularly one who specializes in real estate—is just as vital. Lawyers examine the fine print on all of your documents while also checking for outstanding taxes and/or liens on the property so that you can avoid sticky legal situations. Many first-time buyers likely won’t have a lawyer (and if they do, it might be a personal tax attorney or family referral). Agents work with real estate lawyers and typically recommend the best. Always ensure you are choosing a lawyer you trust––and one your agent trusts.
How much are the property tax and utility bills?
Since you’ve become a pro at budgeting, you mustn’t forget about the other non-up-front fees. You will have been prequalified for a loan from your bank, so you know what your monthly mortgage payment will be, but also knowing about the extra costs involved with homeownership can help you plan. Asking your agent about the cost of property tax and utility bills on the house can help you ensure you can afford the home with your mortgage.
The asking price: Is it flexible?
Of course, you’ll want to get the best possible price on your house––ideally, well under budget. However, if you put in too low an offer, you risk offending the seller and potentially losing your dream home to another bidder. Work with your agent. They are experts in negotiation and should be able to tactfully determine whether the seller is willing to negotiate on their asking price.
Can you recommend a good home inspector?
Like any professional, a home inspector should come with references and a solid reputation––and the best way to ensure you get the most honest inspection is via your agent as they know all of the key real estate players in your area. Hiring a home inspector is always a good idea. And it’s not always wise to pick one out of the Yellow Pages. Even if your potential new home is found to include deficiencies, you can use it to your advantage by negotiating repairs with the seller before your deal closes, or, alternatively, you can legally withdraw your offer without repercussions. An agent will know how to help with that.
Why is the owner selling and how long have they lived there?
This is an often-overlooked question, but one that should be posed to your agent as the answers can yield a ton of potential deal-breaking decisions. Have they outgrown the space? Or is it secretly falling apart? Has the neighborhood become too dangerous? Does the seller think it’s haunted? Inquiring about the seller’s reasons for leaving (no matter how silly) will help you determine whether the home could be a good fit for you. And it can also work to your advantage. If the seller is moving to another country with a set move-in date, they may be motivated to sell quickly––at a lower asking price.