Say What? Home-Buying Lingo You Should Know

Need a crash course on real estate terms? This glossary will get you started.

DTI, PMI, LTV … TBH, it can be hard to keep all this stuff straight. This lexicon of real estate terms and acronyms will help you speak the language like a pro.

Appraisal management company (AMC): An institution operated independently of a lender that, once notified by a lender, orders a home appraisal.

Appraisal: An informed, impartial and well-documented opinion of the value of a home, prepared by a licensed and certified appraiser and based on data about comparable homes in the area, as well as the appraiser’s own walkthrough.

Approved for short sale: A term that indicates that a homeowner’s bank has approved a reduced listing price on a home, and the home is ready for resale.

American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI): A not-for-profit professional association that sets and promotes standards for property inspections and provides educational opportunities to its members. (i.e., Look for this accreditation or something similar when shopping for a home inspector.)

Attorney state: A state in which a real estate attorney is responsible for closing.

Back-end ratio: One of two debt-to-income ratios that a lender analyzes to determine a borrower’s eligibility for a home loan. The ratio compares the borrower’s monthly debt payments (proposed housing expenses, plus student loan, car payment, credit card debt, maintenance or child support and installment loans) to gross income.

Buyers market: Market conditions that exist when homes for sale outnumber buyers. Homes sit on the market a long time, and prices drop.

Cancellation of escrow: A situation in which a buyer backs out of a home purchase.

Capacity: The amount of money a home buyer can afford to borrow.

Cash-value policy: A homeowners insurance policy that pays the replacement cost of a home, minus depreciation, should damage occur.

Closing: A one- to two-hour meeting during which ownership of a home is transferred from seller to buyer. A closing is usually attended by the buyer, the seller, both real estate agents and the lender.

Closing costs: Fees associated with the purchase of a home that are due at the end of the sales transaction. Fees may include the appraisal, the home inspection, a title search, a pest inspection and more. Buyers should budget for an amount that is 1% to 3% of the home’s purchase price.

Closing disclosure (CD): A five-page document sent to the buyer three days before closing. This document spells out all the terms of the loan: the amount, the interest rate, the monthly payment, mortgage insurance, the monthly escrow amount and all closing costs.

Closing escrow: The final and official transfer of property from seller to buyer and delivery of appropriate paperwork to each party. Closing of escrow is the responsibility of the escrow agent.

Comparative market analysis (CMA): An in-depth analysis, prepared by a real estate agent, that determines the estimated value of a home based on recently sold homes of similar condition, size, features and age that are located in the same area.

Compliance agreement: A document signed by the buyer at closing, in which they agree to cooperate if the lender needs to fix any mistakes in the loan documents.

Comps: Or comparable sales, are homes in a given area that have sold within the past six months that a real estate agent uses to determine a home’s value.

Condo insurance: Homeowners insurance that covers personal property and the interior of a condo unit should damage occur.

Contingencies: Conditions written into a home purchase contract that protect the buyer should issues arise with financing, the home inspection, etc.

Conventional 97: A home loan that requires a down payment equivalent to 3% of the home’s purchase price. Private mortgage insurance, which is required, can be canceled when the owner reaches 80% equity.

Conventional loan: A home loan not guaranteed by a government agency, such as the FHA or the VA.

Days on market (DOM): The number of days a property listing is considered active.

Depository institutions: Banks, savings and loans, and credit unions. These institutions underwrite as well as set home loan pricing in-house.

Down payment: A certain portion of the home’s purchase price that a buyer must pay. A minimum requirement is often dictated by the loan type.

Debt-to-income ratio (DTI): A ratio that compares a home buyer’s expenses to gross income.

Earnest money: A security deposit made by the buyer to assure the seller of his or her intent to purchase.

Equity: A percentage of the home’s value owned by the homeowner.

Escrow account: An account required by a lender and funded by a buyer’s mortgage payment to pay the buyer’s homeowners insurance and property taxes.

Escrow agent: A neutral third-party officer who holds all paperwork and funding in trust until all parties in the transaction fulfill their obligations as part of the transfer of property ownership.

Escrow state: A state in which an escrow agent is responsible for closing.

Fannie Mae: A government-sponsored enterprise chartered in 1938 to help ensure a reliable and affordable supply of mortgage funds throughout the country.

Federal Reserve: The central bank of the United States, established in 1913 to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible and more stable monetary and financial system.

Federal Housing Administration (FHA): A government agency created by the National Housing Act of 1934 that insures loans made by private lenders.

FHA 203(k): A rehabilitation loan backed by the federal government that permits home buyers to finance money into a mortgage to repair, improve or upgrade a home.

Foreclosure: A property repossessed by a bank when the owner fails to make mortgage payments.

Freddie Mac: A government agency chartered by Congress in 1970 to provide a constant source of mortgage funding for the nation’s housing markets.

Funding fee: A fee that protects the lender from loss and also funds the loan program itself. Examples include the VA funding fee and the FHA funding fee.

Gentrification: The process of rehabilitation and renewal that occurs in an urban area as the demographic changes. Rents and property values increase, culture changes and lower-income residents are often displaced.

Guaranteed replacement coverage: Homeowners insurance that covers what it would cost to replace property based on today’s prices, not original purchase price, should damage occur.

Homeowners association (HOA): The governing body of a housing development, condo or townhome complex that sets rules and regulations and charges dues and special assessments used to maintain common areas and cover unexpected expenses respectively.

Home equity line of credit (HELOC): A revolving line of credit with an adjustable interest rate. Like a credit card, this line of credit has a limit. There is a specified time during which money can be drawn. Payment in full is due at the end of the draw period.

Home equity loan: A lump-sum loan that allows the homeowner to use the equity in their home as collateral. The loan places a lien against the property and reduces home equity.

Home inspection: A nondestructive visual look at the systems in a building. Inspection occurs when the home is under contract or in escrow.

Homeowners insurance: A policy that protects the structure of the home, its contents, injury to others and living expenses should damage occur.

Housing ratio: One of two debt-to-income ratios that a lender analyzes to determine a borrower’s eligibility for a home loan. The ratio compares total housing cost (principal, homeowners insurance, taxes and private mortgage insurance) to gross income.

In escrow: A period of time (30 days or longer) after a buyer has made an offer on a home and a seller has accepted. During this time, the home is inspected and appraised, and the title searched for liens, etc.

Jumbo loan: A loan amount that exceeds the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac limit, which is generally $425,100 in most parts of the U.S.

Listing price: The price of a home, as set by the seller.

Loan estimate: A three-page document sent to an applicant three days after they apply for a home loan. The document includes loan terms, monthly payment and closing costs.

Loan-to-value ratio (LTV): The amount of the loan divided by the price of the house. Lenders reward lower LTV ratios.

Market value coverage: Homeowners insurance that covers the amount the home would go for on the market, not the cost to repair, should damage occur.

Mechanic’s lien: A hold against a property, filed in the county recorder’s office by someone who’s done work on a home and not been paid. If the homeowner refuses to pay, the lien allows a foreclosure action.

Mortgage broker: A licensed professional who works on behalf of the buyer to secure financing through a bank or other lending institution.

Mortgage companies: Lenders who underwrite loans in-house and fund loans from a line of credit before selling them off to a loan buyer.

Mortgage interest deduction: Mortgage interest paid in a year subtracted from annual gross salary.

Mortgage interest rate: The price of borrowing money. The base rate is set by the Federal Reserve and then customized per borrower, based on credit score, down payment, property type and points the buyer pays to lower the rate.

Multiple listing service (MLS): A database where real estate agents list properties for sale.

Origination fee: A fee, charged by a broker or lender, to initiate and complete the home loan application process.

Piggyback loan: A combination of loans bundled to avoid private mortgage Insurance. One loan covers 80% of the home’s value, another loan covers 10% to 15% of the home’s value, and the buyer contributes the remainder.

Principal, interest, property taxes and homeowners insurance (PITI): The components of a monthly mortgage payment.

Private mortgage insurance (PMI): A fee charged to borrowers who make a down payment that is less than 20% of the home’s value. The fee, 0.3% to 1.5% of the yearly loan amount, can be canceled in certain circumstances when the borrower reaches 20% equity.

Points: Prepaid interest owed at closing, with one point representing 1% of the loan. Paying points, which are tax deductible, will lower the monthly mortgage payment.

Pre-approval: A thorough assessment of a borrower’s income, assets and other data to determine a loan amount they would qualify for. A real estate agent will request a pre-approval or pre-qualification letter before showing a buyer a home.

Pre-qualification: A basic assessment of income, assets and credit score to determine what, if any, loan programs a borrower might qualify for. A real estate agent will request a pre-approval or pre-qualification letter before showing a buyer a home.

Property tax exemption: A reduction in taxes based on specific criteria, such as installation of a renewable energy system or rehabilitation of a historic home.

Round table closing: All parties (the buyer, the seller, the real estate agents and maybe the lender) meet at a specified time to sign paperwork, pay fees and finalize the transfer of homeownership.

Sellers market: Market conditions that exist when buyers outnumber homes for sale. Bidding wars are common.

Short sale: The sale of a home by an owner who owes more on the home than it’s worth (i.e., “underwater” or “upside down”). The owner’s bank must approve a lower listing price before the home can be sold.

Special assessment: A fee charged by a condo complex HOA when cash on reserve is not enough to cover unexpected expenses.

Tax lien: The government’s legal claim against property when the homeowner neglects or fails to pay a tax debt.

Third-party review required: Verbiage included in a home listing to indicate that the lender has not yet approved the home for short sale. The seller must submit the buyer’s offer to the lender for approval.

Title insurance: Insurance that protects the buyer and lender should an individual or entity step forward with a claim that was attached to the property before the seller transferred legal ownership of the property or “title” to the buyer.

Transfer stamps: The form in which transfer taxes are paid by the home buyer. Stamps can also serve as proof of transfer tax payment.

Transfer taxes: Fees imposed by the state, county or municipality on transfer of title.

Under contract: A period of time (30 days or longer) after a buyer has made an offer on a home and a seller has accepted. During this time, the home is inspected and appraised, and the title is searched for liens, etc.

Underwater or upside down: A situation in which a homeowner owes more for a property than it’s worth.

Underwriting: A process a lender follows to assess a home loan applicant’s income, assets and credit, and the risk involved in offering the applicant a mortgage.

VA home loan: A home loan partially guaranteed by the United States Department of Veteran Affairs and offered by private lenders, such as banks and mortgage companies.

VantageScore: A credit scoring model lenders use to make lending decisions. A borrower’s score is based on bill-paying habits, debt balances, age, variety of credit accounts and number of inquiries on credit reports.

Walkthrough: A buyer’s final inspection of a home before closing.

Water certificate: A document that certifies that a water account has been paid in full. The seller must produce this certificate at closing.

Related:

Source: zillow.com

Best Cities to Sell a House – 2021 Edition

Best Cities to Sell a House – 2021 Edition – SmartAsset

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Deciding to leave the home you own might be difficult given the precious memories you’ve made within its walls. But the process of selling it can be downright taxing, especially when the real estate market is unpredictable. Your asking price, mortgage rates and other factors will determine how hard this process will be. Location, however, is arguably one of the most important factors. With that in mind, SmartAsset crunched the numbers and identified the best cities to sell a house.

We compared data from 255 U.S. cities and ranked them according to the following metrics: five-year change in median home value, average number of days on the market, percentage of homes sold for a loss, average closing costs and real estate offices per 1,000 residents. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology below.

This is SmartAsset’s fifth annual study on the best cities to sell a house. Check out the 2020 edition here.

Key Findings

  • Western cities are still the best for selling homes. For the fourth consecutive year, all of the cities in our top 10 are located in Western states. This year includes two cities in Colorado, two cities in California and six in Arizona.
  • Home values are up. On average, our study shows that home values have risen by 28.7% in the five-year period from 2014 to 2019. The city where home values have gone up the most is Hayward, California, rising 71.1%. The bottom city for this metric is Waterbury, Connecticut, where home values fell 7.1% in the same period.
  • Selling takes almost three times longer in the bottom 10. The top 10 cities in our study average 46 days on the market. Wait time for the bottom 10 – located in Illinois, Connecticut, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania – can take almost three times as long, averaging 127 days.

1. Aurora, CO

This suburb of Denver is the best city to sell your house, according to our study. The median home value in Aurora has increased 61.7% in the five-year period from 2014 to 2019, the 14th-highest jump for this metric in our study. Aurora homes average 53 days on the market, ranking 46th for this metric. Furthermore, Aurora holds the 24th-highest ranking for the number of real estate offices per resident – 1.92 for every 1,000 people.

2. Mesa, AZ

Mesa, Arizona is the first of six Arizona cities in the top 10 of this list. Houses in this Phoenix suburb average 44 days on the market, ranking 22nd-best for this metric. The median home value has gone up 50.2% in the five-year period from 2014 to 2019, finishing 37th for this metric overall. Additionally, just 12.17% of homes in this city were sold at a loss, ranking 54th-best for this metric across all 255 cities in the study.

3. Palmdale, CA

The median home value in Palmdale, California has gone up by 61.2% from 2014 to 2019, the 15th-biggest five-year jump in the study. This suburb of Los Angeles has 1.53 real estate offices for every 1,000 residents, ranking 55th out of 255 for this metric. Palmdale is also in the top quartile of the study for its relatively low percentage of homes sold at a loss, at 10.79% and ranking 30th. However, it ranks in the middle of this study for closing costs, averaging $4,121.

4. Glendale, AZ

The average home in Glendale, Arizona is on the market for 43 days, which is the 17th-fastest turnaround in our study. This city is another suburb of Phoenix, and has risen 51.7% in median home value over the five-year period from 2014 to 2019, ranking 24th out of 255 for this metric. Closing costs for Glendale homes are $3,280, the 50th-lowest in our study.

5. Thornton, CO

Coming in as the No. 5 city in the U.S. to sell your home, Thornton, Colorado is the second suburb of Denver (along with Aurora) that ranks in our top 10. The average time a Thornton home stays on the market is just 41 days, the 12th-shortest selling time in our study. The median home value in this city has also risen 53.0% in the five-year period from 2014 to 2019, ranking 22nd-best for this metric. What’s more, just 12.06% of the homes were sold at a loss, making Thornton 49th-best for this metric overall.

6. Antioch, CA

Located in the East Bay of San Francisco, Antioch is the second California city in our top 10. The median home value rose 65.6% from 2014 to 2019, ranking ninth-highest in the study for this five-year change. Homes there take an average of 22 days to sell on the market, the third-shortest selling time in the study. Closing costs, however, are relatively expensive – averaging $4,722, which ranks 156th out of 255.

7. Surprise, AZ

Surprise, Arizona is the third suburb of Phoenix in the top 10. The average home takes 49 days to sell on the market, ranking 35th for that metric in our study. The median home value in this city has risen 39.5% in the five-year period from 2014 to 2019, with less than 13% of homes sold at a loss. Surprise has 1.46 real estate offices for every 1,000 residents, which, being a county-level metric, ties for 73rd out of 255.

8. Phoenix, AZ

Phoenix, Arizona has seen a 51.0% increase in median home value in the five years from 2014 to 2019, ranking 32nd for that metric in the study. Phoenix ranks 39th-lowest out of 255 for the average number of days a home takes to sell on the market – less than two months (51 days). That said, 15.95% of homes are sold at a loss, which places Phoenix in the bottom half of the study for that metric.

9. Gilbert, AZ

Gilbert, Arizona is the fourth suburb of Phoenix in our top 10. This city’s population has boomed from almost 30,000 in 1990 to more than 255,000 in 2019, making it one of the 10 largest municipalities in Arizona. Gilbert homes have the 19th-shortest selling time on our list, averaging 44 days on the market. Gilbert’s median home value has grown 42.2% over the five-year period from 2014 to 2019, ranking 65th overall for that metric. Closing costs in this city average $3,773.

10. Tempe, AZ

Located in the East Valley of metropolitan Phoenix, Tempe rounds out the top 10 in our study on the best cities to sell a house. Homes in this Arizona city average 37 days on the market, the seventh-shortest selling time on our list. The median home value has risen 38.4% in five years, from 2014 to 2019. Less than 14% of Tempe homes were sold at a loss – 13.54% to be exact, ranking 87th out of 255 for that metric.

Data and Methodology

To find the best cities to sell a house, SmartAsset considered available data for 255 of the largest U.S. cities across the following metrics:

  • Five-year change in median home value. This is the percentage change in median home values from 2014 through 2019. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2014 and 2019 5-year American Community Surveys.
  • Average number of days on the market. This is the average number of days a home is on the market before it is sold. Data comes from SmartAsset’s December 2020 study on the healthiest housing markets.
  • Percentage of homes sold for a loss. This is the percentage of homes sold for a price lower than the previous sale price. Data comes from SmartAsset’s December 2020 study on the healthiest housing markets.
  • Closing costs. This represents average closing costs by city. Data comes from SmartAsset’s December 2020 study on places with the lowest closing costs.
  • Real estate offices per 1,000 residents. This is the number of real estate offices per 1,000 residents. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2018 County Business Patterns Survey.

To create the final scores, we ranked all of the cities in each metric. Next, we found each city’s average ranking, giving a single weight to all measures except for the one measuring change in home value, which received a double weight. Using this average ranking, we created our final score. The city with the best average ranking received a score of 100 and the city with the worst average ranking received a 0.

Tips for Selling Your Home

  • Don’t sell yourself short. Invest in expert guidance. If you’re looking to sell (or buy) a house, a financial advisor could help you create a plan to set and reach financial goals for your home. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Take note of all possible costs. If you want to figure out the cost of buying a new home, SmartAsset’s closing costs calculator will help you estimate how much you could end up paying.
  • Relocating? Forecast your new paycheck taxes. If you’re moving to work in one of the cities from our study, SmartAsset’s paycheck calculator will help break down your new take home based on local taxes.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com. 

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Feverpitched

Ben Geier, CEPF® Ben Geier is an experienced financial writer currently serving as a retirement and investing expert at SmartAsset. His work has appeared on Fortune, Mic.com and CNNMoney. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and a part-time student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®). When he isn’t helping people understand their finances, Ben likes watching hockey, listening to music and experimenting in the kitchen. Originally from Alexandria, VA, he now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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7 Key Home-Buying Numbers to Know When Shopping for a House

Understanding your DTI isn’t just good for lenders, it also helps put your personal finances in perspective when deciding how much house you can afford.
“One of the most overlooked and underestimated numbers when buyers actually locate a home and win an offer on it is the tax amount,” said Gelios. “Too many times, I’ve seen real estate agents list what the seller is paying in taxes at that time. If time allows, a home buyer should contact the municipality and ask for a rough estimate as to what the taxes will be if they closed on the home in X month.” Source: thepennyhoarder.com

1. Cost per Square Foot

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For example, if you earn ,000 per month but have to pay ,000 in bills, this would be a debt-to-income ratio of 50%. Gelios says lenders typically view any DTI above 40% as high risk, and with good reason. If over half of your income is accounted for in bills, that would make it significantly harder to make a big mortgage payment every month.
“An earnest money deposit is very important because it’s the skin in the game from the home buyer,” said Realtor Jason Gelios of Community Choice Realty. “If a home buyer is up against other offers, the EMD can make or break them getting the home.”
Another personal finance term that comes into play when buying a home is your debt-to-income ratio (DTI). Much like creditworthiness, this number is used by lenders to determine how much of a loan you qualify for and at what rate.
Work with your real estate agent to understand the differences in cost for various properties to map out what areas and homes are within budget.

2. Earnest Money Deposit

“When looking to get approved for a mortgage, a buyer should know what their debt-to-income ratio is,” said Gelios. “This is the amount of debt you owe per month as compared to your gross monthly income.”
Long before you close on a home, you need to be ready for ongoing expenses such as property taxes, homeowner’s insurance and any potential HOA fees. These expenses tend to slip through the cracks, but it’s important to know about them before you become a homeowner.
The all-important down payment: Many homebuyers use this number to help them determine when they’re actually “ready” to buy a home — based on how much of a down payment they have saved up.
The old rule of thumb on home purchases was to put down 20%. If that sounds like a lot of money, it is. (Home price 0,000, time 20% = ,000. Ouch.) For many buyers, a 20% down payment just isn’t feasible — and that’s okay. Forte said the down payment can be as low as 3% of the sales price with a conventional loan, although 10% is more typical.
Since most home purchases involve a mortgage, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with current interest rates. Interest rates dictate how much you’ll pay your lender every year to borrow the amount of your mortgage, so you’ll want to shop around for the best deal.

3. Interest Rates

“A down payment is the amount you contribute to the transaction in cash,” said Forte. “Most home purchases are a combination of cash in the form of a down payment and a loan from a mortgage company.”
Forte broke down the term a little more: “A credit score is the numerical grade a rating agency assigns to you,” he says. “Commonly referred to as a FICO score, this grade is made up of many factors such as credit utilization, and the length of your credit history.”
“I’ve seen lower offers won due to a higher EMD amount, because sellers view the higher EMD as a more serious buyer,” he added.

4. Credit Score

Forte defines livable square footage as any interior space that’s heated and cooled, which is why a garage wouldn’t necessarily fit the bill. One of the best ways to understand how much home you can afford is to break it down by cost per square foot, which will vary from city to city and neighborhood to neighborhood.
The amount of the EMD is set by the seller, typically running anywhere from 1% to 2% of the home’s purchase price. The key thing to keep in mind about EMDs is that they represent your commitment to buying the home, and can be useful in making a compelling offer in a competitive sellers’ market.
Since taxes almost always increase when homes change ownership, it’s good to get an updated quote before those payments become your responsibility.

5. Debt-to-Income Ratio

While interest rates are mostly determined by your creditworthiness (aka credit score) and the type of loan you’re getting, they’ll still vary between lenders. Even a half-point difference in rates can amount to a big difference in your monthly mortgage payment — as well as the grand total you pay for your house.
Here are seven all-important home-buying numbers to know.

“Your interest rate is the annual percentage rate you will be charged by the lender, and the lower the rate you receive, the lower your monthly payment,” said real estate developer Bill Samuel of Blue Ladder Development. “You should speak with a handful of lenders when starting the process and get a rate quote from each one.”
The money you put toward your EMD comes off the purchase price for the home, so there’s no reason to be stingy. If you really love the house and have the available cash, you might even consider offering more than the deposit amount your seller is asking. Either way, be sure to start saving up for your EMD early and factor it into any other cash you set aside for your down payment.

6. Down Payment

“Cost per square foot is simply the list price divided by the number of livable square feet,” said Tyler Forte, founder & CEO of Felix Homes. “This number is important because it allows a homeowner to compare the relative price of homes that are different sizes.”
Remember that any amount you pay up front will ultimately save you money in interest on your mortgage — and putting more money down will lower your monthly payment. Take some time to calculate what your monthly mortgage payment will be based on various down payments. That way you’ll know exactly what to expect and how much of a down payment you should aim to save up.
One of the first numbers you’ll encounter when shopping for homes is cost per square foot. While this number is based on a relatively simple calculation, it’s an important one to understand since ultimately it helps you determine how much house you’re getting for your money.
We’ve compiled this list of seven key numbers you’ll need to know when buying a home — plus the details on how understanding these terms can help you land your dream home.

Pro Tip
Keep in mind that for any down payment of less than 20%, you may be required to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), another expense that adds to your monthly payment. 

7. Property Taxes & Other Expenses

Ready to stop worrying about money?
There’s a lot that goes into buying a new home, starting with finding the right one all the way down to finalizing the paperwork. Somewhere in that process, you’ll likely find yourself trying to decipher myriad new terms and figuring out what they mean for you.
But there’s more to consider, he said. “While cost per square foot is an important metric, you should also consider the layout of the home. In many cases, a home with an open floor-plan may seem larger even if it has a smaller livable square footage.”



If your credit score is low (under 600), spend some time figuring out why and how you can boost it. Just remember, the better your credit score, the better your interest rate — and the more money you’ll save in the long run.

‘I Bought This House Based on Listing Photos Alone’: Was It Worth the Risk?

The coronavirus has galvanized many die-hard city dwellers to pack up and flee for the suburbs or beyond. But how easy is it to pull off such a drastic move during a pandemic?

Just ask Angela Caban, a former Broadway dancer and decorative painter who, after 28 years of living in New York City, reached her breaking point in April. Quarantined in a cramped apartment in Queens, hearing sirens wailing all night, she decided to buy a house in Charleston, SC, an area she’d grown to love during her frequent work trips there over the years.

Yet since Caban was on lockdown in New York, she had to shop for homes remotely and make offers without seeing places in person. Here’s what it was like to buy a house sight unseen, and the lessons she learned that might inspire other longtime urbanites and first-time home buyers to make the leap themselves.

Angela Caban bought this South Carolina home online just from this listing photo.
Angela Caban bought this South Carolina home online just from this listing photo.

Southern Bell Living

Location: Hanahan, SC
House specs: 1,804 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, separate barn
List price: $234,000
Price paid: $232,000

How did the pandemic play into your decision to leave NYC?

You give up a lot to live in New York because it has a lot to offer, but when those things go away, you start to question why you’re giving up so much.

Once COVID-19 hit in March, April, and May, I was stuck in my apartment for three months straight with no work. I wasn’t getting unemployment because that hadn’t kicked in. I had no outdoor space to speak of. I just wanted to have some room to roam, be in nature, and not feel desperate. That’s what put me over the edge.

Caban's old apartment building in Astoria, Queens (She lived on the ground floor to the right of the red awning.)
Caban’s old apartment building in Astoria, Queens (She lived on the ground floor to the right of the red awning.)

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I felt like no matter how difficult New York had been in the past, this was a whole new ball of wax. I was there for 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. When other tragedies had hit New York City, people were saying, “We’re in this together.”

When COVID-19 hit, all of a sudden there was suspicion. Everybody was frightened of everyone else.

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Watch: Listing Agents Answer Our Burning Questions About the ‘Silence of the Lambs’ House

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The ambulance sirens were nonstop. Plus, my small apartment was directly on the street, with the garbage cans right outside my window. So when I tried to open the windows during the pandemic, there were roaches coming in. I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Caban's new living room is almost the size of her old apartment.
Caban’s new living room is almost the size of her old apartment.

Angela Caban

What made you choose Charleston as your new home?

I’d have work meetings down here, and I had fallen in love with the area. I liked the sense of history, the weather. And financially it was doable. My mortgage now is less than half my rent for my tiny apartment in New York City.

Caban's new spacious kitchen makes her want to cook again.
Caban’s new spacious kitchen makes her want to cook again.

Angela Caban

How did your house hunt go?

I started looking near the end of April. I put an initial offer in on a house that fell through after the home inspector I’d sent to look at it said it would fall down in two years. Then I was in a panic because I’d already given notice on my New York apartment. So basically I had six weeks total to find another house and close on it. 

Caban loves spending time on her new front and back porches.
Caban loves spending time on her new front and back porches.

Angela Caban

What were your biggest challenges?

There was no inventory. Every house I looked at and said, “Oh, that’s a possibility,” would be gone by the time I called. An hour after being listed, the house would no longer be accepting offers!

How did you find the house you eventually bought?

Lucky for me, this house had been on the market for 60 days. I don’t know if it was because the photos were crappy, or the fact that the neighborhood was considered a little dicey. But I’m from New York, so the neighborhood seemed comfortable to me. I put an offer in within 48 hours of losing the other house. 

Wasn’t it scary to buy a house you hadn’t seen in person?

I was emboldened because I could always back out—you have two weeks to do so when bidding on a house. So I got in the car and drove down to look at it two days after my offer was accepted. I literally did it all in one day; it took me 12 hours to drive down. I saw the house and drove around for about two hours, and then I drove back because I had to start packing! I literally didn’t sleep for 26 hours. It’s probably why I have more gray hair now than I should.

Caban is happy to have a fireplace to decorate for the holidays.
Caban is happy to have a fireplace to decorate for the holidays.

Angela Caban

How did the house look once you saw it, compared with the photos online?

It was much better than I thought. There is a lot of detailing, dental molding, wainscoting, and paneling in the living room, along with 16 windows that let in a lot of light. Plus, there’s the barn in the back that is another 600 square feet or so. My eventual plan is to make a workshop and a place to make art and teach.

Caban's Charleston, SC, home has a 600-square-foot barn.
Caban’s Charleston, SC, home has a 600-square-foot barn.

Angela Caban

How was the mortgage process?

It was a nightmare. Nobody wants to give mortgages to a single, female, sole proprietor who does not have pay stubs—especially during COVID-19, when they’re afraid people may default on their loan. They had also enacted new COVID-19 regulations that meant I had a boatload more paperwork. I had to submit letters from clients, proposals for work that was going to happen, invoices for work that I was still waiting to be paid for. … It was insane. I joked with them that I had to give them everything except a bone scan.

Caban's new bedroom—one of four in her Charleston home
Caban’s new bedroom—one of four in her Charleston home

Angela Caban

How did you finally secure the loan?

Thanks to the help of my real estate agent, John Bell of Southern Bell Living, and his mortgage broker, Ethan Lane at Mortgage Network. They were amazing, and I was an absolute basket case: “What else do you want from me? I have no place to go. I’m going to be homeless!”

I look forward to giving them both a hug someday after COVID-19 is under control.

How did you close on the house during the pandemic?

That is a whole additional saga. I was finishing up a painting job in New York when all of a sudden on Friday they said, “You’re closing on Monday,” so I had to get an attorney to attend the closing for me. To get that, I had to get a statement notarized. In the middle of COVID-19! I met the notary on the street, but then I had to have two witnesses! It took me asking 18 strangers to find two people who said they’d help.

Caban painted her new door red and added the bumblebee knocker.
Caban painted her new door red and added the bumblebee knocker.

Angela Caban

How did you pull off a move during the pandemic?

I couldn’t get a truck in New York. So I packed my car and drove down to Charleston, where I dropped off my cats in the new house. Then I rented a U-Haul and drove it back to New York, hired two guys who then met me at my old apartment, packed the truck. Drove it back down to South Carolina, where I hired two more guys to help me unload the truck, and voilà.

Caban's cats adjusting to their new home
Caban’s cats adjusting to their new home

Angela Caban

Was leaving New York hard after living there for 28 years?

Leaving was difficult because you almost feel like it’s a badge of honor that you’re a survivor in New York City. But down here, I finally feel like I can actually live my life instead of just trying to make it from one month to the next. I can think big thoughts and make big things happen, for which I simply didn’t have the energy in New York.

A formal dining room is a luxury that few New Yorkers can afford.
A formal dining room is a luxury that few New Yorkers can afford.

Angela Caban

Now that you’ve lived in Charleston for a few months, how are you feeling?

It’s like I can finally breathe, and I absolutely love it. I sit every morning out on my back patio and watch woodpeckers, blue jays, and cardinals. I have roses that are blooming that I planted.

Caban now loves starting her days watching birds on her back patio instead of exterminating roaches in her New York apartment.
Caban now loves starting her days watching birds on her back patio instead of exterminating roaches in her New York apartment.

Angela Caban

What advice would you give first-time home buyers and others looking to move now?

When you’re looking at homes online, don’t immediately discount a property just by how it looks in its photos. It’s like online dating that way. You need to see how it feels once you’re face to face and interacting with the space. Luckily, though, the minute I saw it in person, I knew I would be very happy here.

Caban says she can finally breathe since leaving New York.
Caban says she can finally breathe since leaving New York.

Angela Caban

Source: realtor.com

Buying a Home? Plan for These Hidden Costs

Get those rainy day funds in order — you’re going to need them.

You’re excited because you just found the perfect home. The neighborhood is great, the house is charming and the price is right.

But the asking price is just the beginning. Be prepared for additional — and often unexpected — home-buying costs that can catch buyers unaware and quickly leave you underwater on your new home.

Expect the unexpected

For almost every person who buys a home, the spending doesn’t stop with the down payment. Homeowners insurance and closing costs, like appraisal and lender fees, are typically easy to plan for because they’re lumped into the home-buying process, but most costs beyond those vary.

The previous owners of your home are the biggest factor affecting your move-in costs. If they take the refrigerator when they move out, you’ll have to buy one to replace it. The same goes for any large appliance.

And while these may seem like a small purchase compared to buying a home, appliances quickly add up — especially if you just spent most of your cash on a down payment.

You’ll also be on the hook for any immediate improvements the home needs, unless you negotiate them as part of your home purchase agreement.

Unfortunately, these costs are the least hidden of those you may encounter.

When purchasing a home, definitely hire a home inspector (this costs money too!) to ensure the home isn’t going to collapse the next time it rains. Inspectors look for bad electrical wiring, weak foundations, wood rot and other hidden problems you may not find on your own.

Worse still, these problems are rarely covered by home insurance. If an inspector discovers a serious problem, you’ll then have to decide if you still want to purchase the home. Either way, you’ll be out the cost of hiring the inspector.

Consider the creature comforts

Another cost is your own comfort. There are a number of smaller considerations you may not think about until after you move in.

Are you used to having cable? If so, is your new home wired for cable? It’s much harder to watch a technician crawling around punching holes in your walls when you own those walls.

And if you’re moving from the world of renting to the world of homeownership, you’ll probably be faced with much higher utility bills. Further, you could find yourself paying for utilities once covered by a landlord, like water and garbage pickup.

Plan ahead

The best way to prepare for the unknown and unexpected is through research and planning. This starts with budgeting before house hunting and throughout your search.

Look at homes in your budget that need improvements, and then research how much those improvements could cost. Nothing is worse than buying a home thinking you can fix the yard for a few hundred dollars and then realizing it will cost thousands.

There’s really no limit to how prepared you can be. Say you find a nice home that’s priced lower than others in the area because of its age. You may save money on the list price, but with an older house, you could be slapped with a much higher home insurance payment, making the house more expensive in the long run.

This is where preparation comes in. Research home insurance and property prices in the areas you’re considering to make more educated decisions before you ever make that first offer.

Clearly define how much you intend to put toward your down payment, and then look at how much cash that leaves for improvements and minor costs, like changing the locks. That way, when you find a house at the high end of your range, you’ll know to walk away if it requires a new washer and dryer or HVAC system upgrade.

Establish a rough estimate for as many costs as you can think of, and be extremely critical of homes at the top of your budget — otherwise, you could easily end up being house-poor.

Know your budget and plan ahead. Buying a home is a lot less scary when you know what you’re getting into.

Top featured photo from Offset.

Related:

Originally published August 2016.

Source: zillow.com

Buyer, Beware: Is Your Future House Haunted?

Paranormal activity, suicide, murder, cult activity, famous adulteries — is that dream house a “stigmatized property”?

We’ve all heard home-buying horror stories. Sellers backing out or financing falling through can quickly kill a deal. But these snags don’t hold a candle to buying a “stigmatized” home.

A home where paranormal activity, suicide, murder, cult activity or other misfortunes and crimes took place could be categorized as a stigmatized property.

In real estate terms, a stigma refers to an intangible attribute of a property that may prompt a psychological or emotional response on the part of a potential buyer. In addition to physical defects, a house may have unusual features or a history that negatively impacts its value.

Get to know your state’s disclosure laws

Here’s a scary fact: A listing agent may not be required to disclose a stigma to buyers.

Ever heard the phrase “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware)? In the past, sellers were not required to disclose anything about homes they were selling. Over the years, most states have made changes to this rule and now require that buyers be made aware of certain issues.

The law urges buyers, sellers and their agents to engage in fair and honest dealing with all principals in the real estate transaction. However, the laws that regulate disclosure of sketchy events vary from state to state. Some state laws explicitly relieve the salesperson or broker of the obligation to disclose certain property stigmas.

For instance, what if a house is haunted? Massachusetts is particularly lax when it comes to stigmas. In the witch city of Salem, a seller’s agent does not necessarily need to volunteer information about paranormal activity or even a felony, suicide or homicide that has occurred in a home.

But if you or your agent asks a seller’s agent directly, they must answer truthfully. This differs from California’s stringent laws, which, in addition to other disclosures, mandate that buyers be informed of any deaths that occurred at a property in the last three years.

While it’s certainly ethical for sellers to be upfront about any defects that may impact the value of a property, it may not be a legal requirement.

Research before you fall in love

Since you’re unlikely to find the descriptors “haunted” or “former crime scene” in a property listing, how should you go about digging up some dirt?

  • Check with a real estate attorney in your state to see what disclosures are required.
  • Ask the seller’s representative if criminal or paranormal activity has been reported. Again, sellers and their agents are legally obligated to reveal problems they’re aware of when asked.
  • Carefully review the seller’s disclosures, if one is included with the listing. In many states, property owners are forced to put their real estate disclosures in writing.
  • Get the inside scoop from the neighbors.
  • Always Google the address of your future home. You may uncover a headline that sways your decision.

You may learn that a former owner passed away in the house. In areas with older properties, this is likely going to be the case, though it may not be cause for concern. Someone peacefully passing away in the comfort of their home is a lot different from a situation that involved foul play.

Related:

Source: zillow.com

The Counteroffer: Negotiating a Real Estate Deal

A lot can happen between an initial offer and closing day. Meet the counteroffer …

Buying a home is rarely as simple as making an offer and paying that offer out. Negotiations can go back and forth for weeks before the seller and buyer are both satisfied.

The vehicle for this negotiation is the counteroffer — a vital and complex rejection and counter to an offer made by either party. Counteroffers are typically handled between real estate agents and are time sensitive.

Selling or buying a home is more of a process than a transaction, so it’s important to understand counteroffers before you make your first offer.

Why was I countered?

As a home buyer, if you make an offer below list price, the seller may choose to reject, accept or simply let the offer expire. If there are multiple offers, the listing agent will lay out the options for their client and then notify all buyers’ agents of the choices.

Sellers may also counter your proposed closing date. If they need to move out quickly, they may want to push it earlier. They may also ask to rent the property for a time after the settlement.

Price and closing date negotiations are common from both parties, but there are even more reasons sellers can potentially get countered.

The condition of the home is likely the biggest factor here. As home buyers conduct ongoing research into the home, any problems with the condition of the house can result in a counteroffer.

If you’ve chosen to take appliances with you when you move, buyers may also look to negotiate for those.

Appraisals are another reason for counteroffers. If an appraisal comes in below the agreed-upon sale price, it will affect the amount the mortgage company will lend to the buyer.

Negotiation power

When reviewing a counteroffer, it’s important to have an experienced real estate agent who can capitalize on your advantages in a negotiation. Both sellers and buyers can take steps to put themselves in an advantageous position through planning and smart counteroffers.

Knowledge is power in negotiations, so try to glean as much information about the seller or buyer as you can. Your agent will also seek information from the other agent on your behalf.

Sometimes sellers use the pending sale of their home to finance another, meaning they have a truncated timeline and could be more eager to make a deal. Similarly, buyers who have terminated a lease may be desperate for a place to live and more willing to negotiate.

If you’re selling a home with known issues, anticipate how these problems may put you at a disadvantage during negotiations. A leaky roof may not be discovered until after buyers order a home inspection. Depending on the cost, they may ask the seller to either fix the roof or deduct the cost of a new roof from the sale price.

These types of issues put sellers at a distinct disadvantage because they have to either pay for repairs, lower the selling price, or reject the counteroffer and hope the next buyer doesn’t notice or care about repairs.

This is why it’s worth the money (around $500) to pay for an inspection before listing a house. Preparation can save you headaches and money down the road.

Responding to a counteroffer

If you’ve received a counteroffer as a buyer or a seller, carefully review every aspect. Real estate agents, apart from yours, are under no obligation to ensure you read the full contract. So make sure you read everything carefully before you sign.

With each individual counteroffer, consider every aspect of the sale, including old and new information. If you made an offer above the list price, there is always the possibility for an appraisal to come in low.

If you are responding to a counteroffer before an appraisal or inspection, keep those at the forefront of your mind. Prepare yourself for future counteroffers once they are completed.

Whether you’re selling or buying a home, establish a baseline for when you will walk away from a sale. As a buyer, you don’t want to spend so much on a home that you move in with no cash for improvements and repairs. And as a seller, you should know how much you want to make off the sale.

With a measured and informed approach, counteroffers can be your friend. Communicate often with your agent to let them know what you want from the sale, and never be afraid to walk away if things go south.

Top featured photo from Shutterstock.

Related:

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Originally published October 25, 2016.

Source: zillow.com

9 Things I Wish I Had Known About Owning My First Home (Before I Bought It)

Years before I ever dreamed of homeownership for myself, I was an HGTV connoisseur. In college, I double majored in “Property Virgins” and “House Hunters” and spent hours glued to the TV with my roommate, ogling other people’s granite countertops.

Fast forward nearly a decade, and the time had arrived for me to purchase my own home. (No granite countertops here—my house was more like the “before” scene in an episode of “Fixer Upper”).

Not surprisingly, TV homeownership didn’t prepare me for the real thing. There are lots of lessons I’ve had to learn the hard way.

If you’re gearing up for your own journey into homeownership, turn off the TV and gather ’round. I’ll fill you in on a few things I wish I had known beforehand, and a few surprises (some happy, some frustrating) that I encountered along the way.

1. A beautiful yard takes work

That lawn's not going ti cut itself
That lawn’s not going ti cut itself

mustafagull/iStock

I never met a succulent that I didn’t kill. Even my fake plants are looking a little wilted right now. But even though I don’t have a green thumb, landscaping and yard maintenance are forever on my to-do list.

Each spring, I spray Roundup with impunity, attempting (and failing) to conquer the weeds. My husband handles mowing and edging.

I’ve slowly started to learn which plants can endure abuse, neglect, and a volatile Midwestern climate. I still have a long way to go in my landscaping journey, but all this work has given me a new appreciation for other people’s lush, beautiful lawns.

When you’re house hunting, keep in mind that those beautiful lawns you see—and that outdoor space you covet—come at a steep price. Either your time and frustration, or a hefty bill for professional landscapers, will be necessary to keep things presentable.

2. You might get a bill for neighborhood improvements

Your property taxes should pay for every improvement to the neighborhood, right? Not necessarily.

When my neighbors came together to petition the city for a speed bump on our busy street, the cost was passed on to us homeowners. It wasn’t covered by property taxes, so we got a bill in the mail a few months later. Surprise!

When you’re preparing to buy a house, make sure you budget for homeownership expenses—not just repair and HOA costs, but those pesky fees that crop up when you least expect them.

3. Brush/trash removal? It works differently in every city

You might not be able to just leave your leaves on the curb...
You might not be able to just leave your leaves on the curb…

Instants/iStock

As a kid, I spent many fall weekends scooping leaves into yard waste bags that we left on the curb for pickup. But when I became a homeowner, I realized that my early brush with brush removal was unique to the suburb where I grew up. Every city handles it differently, if the city handles it at all.

In Milwaukee, where I live, homeowners can put leaves on the curb for pickup on designated days. For big branches, you need to request a pickup, or potentially dispose of them yourself. Check with your city to find the ordinances and regulations where you live.

4. You’ll want to clean (or hire someone to clean) your nasty windows

Window maintenance was never on my radar as a renter, probably because I never had more than a few windows in an apartment. But then I became the proud owner of many, many windows—and all of them were coated in a thick film of gunk after years of neglect.

After we moved in, I started to tackle the cleaning on my own. But I quickly realized I was getting nowhere fast, and there was no way I could safely clean the exterior windows up in the finished attic.

So, I swallowed my pride and hired window washers. It was some of the best money I’ve ever spent.

5. You may feel a sudden urge to stock up on seasonal decorations

I never looked twice at a $50 wreath or decorative gourd before becoming a homeowner. Now, I have a burgeoning collection of lawn ornaments in the shape of snowmen and spooky cats. Sometimes I don’t even know who I am anymore.

6. You’ll need to create a budget for Halloween candy

Stock up...
Stock up…

leekris/iStock

At least I did in my Halloween-loving neighborhood, where the trick-or-treaters come out in droves.

I spent upward of $100 on candy my first year as a homeowner, and most of it was purchased in a panic at the Dollar Store after I noticed that our supply was dangerously low just halfway through the evening.

Now, I stock up in advance and shop with coupons to save a few bucks.

7. DIY renovation is equally rewarding and soul-crushing

Maybe just call someone next time...
Maybe just call someone next time…

neirfy/iStock

For the first few months after we closed on our house, my husband and I spent every free hour after work and on the weekends ripping out carpeting, pulling nails one by one from the hardwood floors, and scrubbing away at generations’ worth of grime in the bathrooms and kitchen. It was some seriously sick stuff.

Being frugal and ambitious means we can accomplish a lot on a small budget. But acting as our own general contractors became a full-time job on top of both of our full-time jobs.

Simple pleasures like “having a social life” or “Friday night with Netflix” became distant memories. It’s easy now to say it was all worth it, but at the time, I daydreamed about winning the lottery and hiring a team of pros to handle our rehab.

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Watch: Here’s How Low You Can Go in Making an Offer on a Home

____________

8. My impulse to check real estate listings lingered for a while

When I started house hunting, I obsessively searched for new home listings every day, poring over MLS descriptions and swiping through photos. Reaching for my phone to refresh the realtor.com app became muscle memory.

But after we closed on our house, my impulse to follow the market didn’t disappear overnight. Even though I was a homeowner, I also had a phantom limb where “checking the real estate listings” used to be.

A friend of mine put it best when she wrote about the sensation of loss she experienced when she “no longer had an excuse to occupy [her] free time with these real estate apps.” It’s surprisingly challenging to turn off your home-buying brain after months of being on high alert.

9. You’ll never want to go back to sharing walls

I like my neighbors. I like them even more because, for the most part, I can’t hear them. Gone are the days of people above me making bowling sounds late at night.

Now, I enjoy the sweet, sweet silence of detached living—no adjacent neighbors blasting music or loudly quarreling. All the yard work in the world is worth it for this level of quiet.

Source: realtor.com

How to Handle Long-Distance House Hunting Like a Champ

When you’ve got to buy a house from across the country, start with a winning strategy.

Searching for a house locally is not without its difficulties. Add hundreds or even thousands of miles to the equation, and it becomes infinitely more complicated.

Though long-distance house hunting has its unique challenges, it’s not impossible. In fact, with the right agent and the convenience of modern technology, it’s never been easier to buy a house remotely.

Here are a few critical factors to keep in mind when you find yourself in a home search from afar.

Do your homework

When it comes to long-distance home shopping, “the Internet is your friend,” remarks Meghann Shike of Synergy Realty in Nashville. “You know the neighborhoods you live around, but you know nothing about your new one. You don’t know where the mall is, the [grocery store], or the schools.”

Though nothing can substitute checking out the neighborhood in person, Shike recommends looking up commute times to work, crime rates in the area, and, most importantly, how the schools rank. Even if you don’t have children or don’t plan to have children, it’s still good to know the quality of the schools for resale purposes.

One of the biggest pieces of the long-distance house-hunting puzzle, however, is to make sure you’re researching who the best local real estate agents are. It’s always crucial to hire an agent you trust, but with a long-distance search the agent can make or break the experience.

“You’re going to want someone local on the ground — someone who is very familiar with the city, neighborhood, and prices,” Shike says. “You need to get a feel for how that person operates. Are they available to talk to you? You’re going to have more questions than you realize, and your agent is going to need to be there to answer them.”

Have a travel budget

When Kyle and Samantha Steele found out they were going to be moving from Oklahoma City to Columbus, OH for Kyle’s new job, the couple looked at listings online, got in touch with real estate agents, and picked an upcoming weekend to house hunt in person.

The Steeles’ agent showed them multiple houses, but nothing was quite right. Then they found out that many of the older neighborhoods in the area didn’t have great access to high-speed Internet. That’s when they decided to build.

Their agent was instrumental in guiding them on their short house-hunting weekend, and in finding a builder. “[Our agent] basically helped us with everything, every step of the way,” Kyle states. “When we couldn’t find anything, she helped us find model homes in the area we’re building in, and showed us three different model homes. She answered questions, and helped us find the building company. She even helped us find a hotel for the weekend.”

Inevitably, unexpected appointments came up during the building process that required one of the Steeles to be present. “We had to make an appointment to meet with the design studio to pick out the floors and the carpet,” Samantha remarks. “So far, I’ve been to Ohio twice.”

The couple advises long-distance house hunters to prepare and plan ahead, especially for last-minute travel. “Be flexible,” Kyle says. “Make sure you have a few thousand dollars in reserve that you can spend on plane tickets and a hotel — because you will have to go back and forth.”

From the agent perspective, Shike recommends planning a house-hunting trip that’s at least four to five days long, so you’re not cramming in tons of showings that you won’t remember at the end of the day.

Know what you want

When you’re in the market for a home, you should always have a running list of features you want, but it’s especially crucial when you’re buying from a distance.

“I like to tell my clients to do a ‘top five.’” Shike says. “What’s your non-negotiable? Is it being able to step out the front door to walk your dogs? Do you want to walk your kids to school?”

Knowing exactly what you want out of a house and location allows your agent to help you narrow down neighborhoods and homes more easily, and assist you in making an offer quickly, which is especially important in a fast-moving market.

“Buyers need to get over the fear of writing an offer when they haven’t seen the house in person,” remarks Shike. “I can video chat our way through the house, but I can’t get you on a plane [to get here] in the same time the local people can who are shopping.”

Overcome remote home-buyer jitters

For those buyers who are nervous about making an offer sight unseen, Shike says there is the possibility of adding a clause in the contract that the sale is contingent on the buyer seeing it.

Of course, there is also always the option of renting first before you take the plunge. “You could rent for the short term or get a six-month lease, which is enough time to get settled in your job or routine,” recommends Shike. “That can be nice for buyers who are a little more anxious about the process — to relieve that anxiety.”

Overall, buying a house from a distance shouldn’t necessarily be looked at as a negative experience. In fact, Shike believes it can give many shoppers new opportunities, and buyers are often more excited when purchasing long distance.

“It can be a nice change of pace for people,” Shike adds. “Another benefit to moving long distance is a fresh start: a new neighborhood, new culture, new people, and new experiences everywhere.”

Related:

Originally published January 13, 2017.

Source: zillow.com

We Bought a House Sight Unseen—and It Turned Out To Be a Total Nightmare

I thought I was up to the challenge of a long-distance home purchase during a pandemic. After all, I was moving back to my hometown after only three years away. I knew the area. Family members could fill in the rest. I had a trusted real estate agent from my last house purchase. Plus, I look at real estate listings as a hobby even when I’m not in the market for new property. What could go wrong?

But after purchasing a midcentury modern ranch sight unseen and trekking 1,800 miles across the country to finally get an in-person look at it, my husband and I couldn’t be more shocked.

The front of the house.
The front of the house.

Wendy Schuchart

There were so many shoddy details that hadn’t translated through video and photos. The ceilings were lower and the rooms were narrower than they seemed in photos. The countertops that had looked like granite in photos were actually laminate. Every single counter and bathroom fixture was customized for a short person. After seeing broken fixtures and a layer of grime over everything, it was clear that I would have to cure decades of bad maintenance.

Grime discovered in the kitchen on move-in day.
Grime discovered in the kitchen on move-in day.

Wendy Schuchart

And then there was the constant noise pollution from the nearby interstate. Our ground team thought the sound was minimal, but a month after we moved in, the surrounding trees dropped their leaves and the dull murmur grew to a roar heard through closed windows.

So what were our mistakes?

Don’t depend on listing photos

In general, experts agree that buying a home without setting foot in it can be a dicey proposition at best and a nightmare at worst. And online listing photos, while helpful in narrowing down your property search, won’t give you the full picture of a house’s condition.

“I’ve visited homes only to discover that the yard is steeper than it looked online, the rooms are smaller, and you couldn’t tell there were power lines right behind the house,” says Steve Heard, a Realtor® with The Heard Group in the Sacramento, CA, area.

There were so many deal breakers that I would have noticed had I been able to set foot inside the home instead of relying so heavily on listing photos and videos. Case in point: Visitors at the front door of my new home have a direct sightline to the main bathroom’s toilet.

“Much like anything you buy online, a home’s listing is created to sell, not inform. They’re marketing,” says Shana O’Brien, owner of Cascadia NW Real Estate in Washington and Oregon.

Go beyond standard due diligence

A home inspection is standard operating procedure for anyone buying a home, but a long-distance purchase should always go through rigorous vetting to make sure you’re not buying a money pit.

Typically, the buyer pays for the home inspection during the escrow period. This can cost around $300 to $500, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. But to cover your bases and make sure there aren’t any major system failures before you sign a purchase agreement, experts advise bringing in an additional pair of eyes.

Go to the American Society of Home Inspectors, where you can search by your home’s address for a local inspector who can examine the house on your behalf.

Barton L. Slavin, a senior litigation and transaction attorney on Long Island, NY, advises hiring an experienced licensed and insured engineer to inspect the premises before the purchase.

That would have been great in my own long-distance home purchase. After the home inspection, the seller had “fixed” some conditional electrical work that my home inspector found, but those fixes broke other things, which resulted in an electrician visit on my dime. And on the first cold day, when I turned on the furnace, it failed to heat, which was another big repair bill that would have been covered by a warranty.

In my first two months in this house, I’ve also found faulty plumbing hacks and a massive rodent infestation.

How to beat the odds

“The key to success is extreme buyer due diligence,” O’Brien says. “That means having a team of trusted ‘boots on the ground’ to physically visit and inspect the home.”

In retrospect, my live-video walk-through was fairly quick, less than 15 minutes. At the time, it felt like it was enough, but now I realize it wasn’t nearly long enough.

Our experts advise an extensive live-video walk-through with a long-distance home purchase.

“FaceTime works great,” O’Brien says. If buyers see something they have questions about during the walk-through, the real estate agent can zoom in. They can even take still photos and close-ups, which have better detail than streaming video.

Pay attention off-property, too.

“Walk around the block, video camera on, and capture the neighborhood, the condition of the sidewalks, the level of pride of ownership in the surrounding homes,” says O’Brien. “Is the narrow street jammed with parked cars? Are the sounds from the elementary school super loud at recess? What’s the street traffic and street noise like? The buyer will not know unless their agent does the investigation.”

Be realistic

Despite all of your best efforts, though, there’s still a chance your long-distance home purchase will not be all you bargained for. When that happens, O’Brien suggests taking it all in stride.

“Real estate is almost always a good investment,” she says.

As for me, I’m already planning out my investment strategy and making the best of my midcentury modern surprise fixer-upper.

Source: realtor.com