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The following are a few ideas from professionals in the real estate industry:
Take stock of your situation and make sure that you are ready to buy a house, whether it is your first or not. Look at how long you will be in the area, at your job, family size, tax benefits, etc. Be sure it makes sense to buy now!
Have a realistic idea of how much you can afford before you start looking. Get a FREE pre-qualification letter from a mortgage professional or online company. Not only will this save time, but will also avoid disappointment on everyone's part. These days, most offers to purchase include a pre-qualification letter. A pre-approval letter is the best way to show the seller that you are serious about buying a home.
Discuss what your particular needs are with your family or partner before you start to look at properties. List your "must have" features and your other "nice to have, but not absolutely necessary" features. After viewing a few properties, re-evaluate your criteria. Needs will change over time. Be sure to include neighborhood criteria. Those are much harder to change than a few coats of paint.
Be cautious of signing an agreement with an agent! Most will state that you are obligated to pay a commission no matter how you find the home. Instead, tell them that a commission will be paid only if you buy a property shown to you by that agent. This enables you to look with other agents, and at For Sale By Owner properties, at your own convenience.
Don't bring an agent with you to look at FSBO properties, or bring them into the picture when it's time to draw up a contract, unless you are willing to pay their commission through either a higher sales price, or out of your own pocket. Otherwise, you may risk losing the house.
If you find the house you want to buy before you have sold your home, and the seller is reluctant to sign a contract with you with the contingency that you sell your home first, use the Contingent Sale Addendum as a part of your contact. This allows the seller to continue marketing and advertising their property yet gives you the "first right of refusal" should they receive another offer. This way you will be notified immediately if the seller has another offer, giving you an opportunity to re-offer if necessary.
Most states require that the seller (not the real estate agent) complete and sign a Disclaimer or Property Disclosure Form, stating the condition of all aspects of the property, before you make an offer. If the seller does not have one, tell them you must see one before you make an offer. The forms are easily obtained from the state's commission on real estate or the local For Sale By Owner office.
When presenting an offer, be courteous and respectful of the sellers. Make sure that everything you want in the contract is written down in the contract. Also be prepared for a counter offer, don't let it scare you! In most cases, it is seldom that an offer is accepted as it is first submitted.
In all cases, make your offer contingent upon the property appraising for the selling price or higher. This will protect you even if you feel you have agreed to a higher price than you at first wanted to.
Request a final walk-through of the house a few days before closing and after the furniture is removed to make sure that there are no faults that were covered by the sellers' personal belongings. It is much easier to request compensation and/or necessary repairs before the house is closed than afterwards.
Make your offer contingent upon the property passing a professional home inspection. Be realistic when requesting repairs. This is also an excellent way to become more familiar with the upkeep needs of your future home.
PUT EVERYTHING IN WRITING! Your sales contract should spell out whether the washer and dryer stay, draperies, etc. Remember, if you feel lost or confused, you can call your attorney and they will gladly answer all your questions.
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