When you decide you’re in the market to buy a house, you can: 1. Do this the smart way, and maximize the likelihood that you’ll end up with a house you like and can afford; or 2. Do this the dumb way, and rush headlong into a complicated process without the support or information you need to be successful.
It always amazes me how many people opt for #2.
Most people don’t buy and sell houses very often, so it’s understandable that they don’t know much about the process, but if you’re going to make one of the biggest purchases of your life, it seems as though a little homework and some help from experts would be a good idea, right?
Mistake #1: Not Selecting a Realtor
The first mistake some people make is to try to save money by opting to go without a Realtor. A good Realtor can save you time and money. They walk you through the process, preparing your for each step so you have as few setbacks and surprises as possible. (Is it self-serving for me to say this? Yes. But is it true, anyway? Yes.)
Mistake #2: Not Getting Qualified for a Loan Up Front
The second mistake people make is to start looking at houses before they know what they can afford. This wastes time and can be very disheartening. It’s far better to schedule an appointment with a loan broker to get “pre-qualified” or “pre-approved” for a loan. Pre-qualified consists of sitting down with your Realtor to figure out roughly how much income you have and how much debt you carry (car payments, insurance payments, tuition payments, etc.), as well as whether you have any savings for a down payment. Being pre-qualified is much better than not being pre-qualified, but it’s not as good as being pre-approved.
To become “pre-approved” is more involved, but it can dramatically increase the chances of getting the property you want. Pre-approval requires a thorough review of all your assets, liabilities, tax returns, W-2s, credit history, and any other relevant financial information to begin the process of applying for a loan. Basically, the only difference between being pre-approved and applying for a loan is that when you’re pre-approved, you haven’t found your property yet.
Getting pre-approved increases the chances of having your offer accepted, and it puts you ahead of your competition, if you have any.
Mistake #3: Choosing the Wrong Loan Broker
Working with an out-of-town or online loan broker can be a risky business. Real estate loans are complicated, so ask your Realtor for a referral so you know you have a loan broker you can trust, one who will walk you through the process—and look out for your interests.
Mistake #4: Putting in a Low-Ball Offer
In a seller’s market, sometimes it’s wise to put in a full-price offer. Sound crazy? It’s not. It’s fine to negotiate in a buyer’s market, but don’t lose your dream house because you thought you were supposed to play hardball.
Mistake #5: Messing Up Your Financing With a Big Purchase
Once you’re in escrow, don’t buy a car with $500-a-month lease payments (or make other, similarly expensive purchases), because big purchases can change whether you still qualify for your loan.
Mistake #6: Running Out of Cash
In addition to a down payment, you’ll need cash for several other expenses when you buy a house. You may have to pay a premium for private mortgage insurance, fund a lender’s escrow account, or pay upcoming property tax and insurance bills. Plan accordingly (your Realtor can help you with this).
Sometimes escrows fall through, but you can reduce the chances of a failed escrow by avoiding these unnecessary mistakes.
If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.