Why Buying a Home is a Good Idea
As a fairly general rule, homes appreciate about four or five percent a year. Some years will be more, some less. The figure will vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, and region to region.
Five percent may not seem like that much at first. Stocks (at times) appreciate much more, and you could easily earn over the same return with a very safe investment in treasury bills or bonds.
But take a second look…
Presumably, if you bought a $200,000 house, you did not pay cash for the home. You got a mortgage, too. Suppose you put as much as twenty percent down – that would be an investment of $40,000.
At an appreciation rate of 5% annually, a $200,000 home would increase in value $10,000 during the first year. That means you earned $10,000 with an investment of $40,000. Your annual “return on investment” would be a whopping twenty-five percent.
Of course, you are making mortgage payments and paying property taxes, along with a couple of other costs. However, since the interest on your mortgage and your property taxes are both tax deductible, the government is essentially subsidizing your home purchase.
Your rate of return when buying a home is higher than most any other investment you could make.
Income Tax Savings
Because of income tax deductions, the government is subsidizing your purchase of a home. All of the interest and property taxes you pay in a given year can be deducted from your gross income to reduce your taxable income.
For example, assume your initial loan balance is $150,000 with an interest rate of eight percent. During the first year you would pay $9969.27 in interest. If your first payment is January 1st, your taxable income would be almost $10,000 less – due to the IRS interest rate deduction.
Property taxes are deductible, too. Whatever property taxes you pay in a given year may also be deducted from your gross income, lowering your tax obligation.
Stable Monthly Housing Costs
When you rent a place to live, you can certainly expect your rent to increase each year – or even more often. If you get a fixed rate mortgage when you buy a home, you have the same monthly payment amount for thirty years. Even if you get an adjustable rate mortgage, your payment will stay within a certain range for the entire life of the mortgage – and interest rates aren’t as volatile now as they were in the late seventies and early eighties.
Imagine how much rent might be ten, fifteen, or even thirty years from now? Which makes more sense?
Some people are just lousy at saving money, and a house is an automatic savings account. You accumulate savings in two ways. Every month, a portion of your payment goes toward the principal. Admittedly, in the early years of the mortgage, this is not much. Over time, however, it accelerates.
Second, your home appreciates. Average appreciation on a home is approximately five percent, though it will vary from year to year, and in some years may even depreciate.. Over time, history has shown that owning a home is one of the very best financial investments.
Next comes the really good stuff – looking at houses. Full of imagination and optimism for the future, you wander about each home envisioning a happy and contented life for you and your family. The first house may be “too big,” and another may be “too small,” but you are certain to find one that seems “just right.” So you make an offer and wait anxiously and excitedly for the counter-offer. Finally, you and the seller agree on terms and you have bought yourself a brand new home!
Congratulations! Break out the champagne and celebrate!
Later that night or perhaps the next day, you start to worry about whether you made the right decision. Doubtful thoughts will intrude. Can you afford it? Is it the right time? Should you have waited? What if you lose your job? What if this happens? What if that happens? Anxiety and stress set in. Sleep may be hours in coming.
This is a normal response to buying a home and is called “Buyer’s Remorse.” You have just made the single biggest purchase you have ever made in your life and it can be downright scary. Logic deserts you. Worry takes over.
Remember your list?
Back when you were thinking semi-logically, you were fairly rational about home ownership. You catalogued the good and the bad, weighed them against each other, and decided that buying a home was the smart thing to do. Reviewing the list will help resolve your buyer’s remorse.
You will not be totally stress-free, but it will help.
Of course, in spite of this advice you will probably not take the time to make that list now – before you buy a home. Hardly anyone ever does. So when buyer’s remorse sets in and you remember reading this column, here is what you do…
…get a piece of paper and draw a line down the center. Then…
You know the rest.
Writing an Offer – Concerns About the Property
Although you have toured the property, looked at the walls and ceiling, turned on the faucets and played with the light switches, you have not lived in it. The seller has years of knowledge about his or her home and there may be some things you want to find out about as quickly as possible. For this reason, you will require certain disclosures as part of your offer.
Basically, you want the seller to disclose any adverse conditions that may have a substantial impact on your decision to purchase the home. This would include any problems with the house, whether the property is in a flood zone, a noise zone, or any other kind of hazardous area.
If you have an agent representing you, this is almost automatic, but many states do not require individuals selling their own home to provide you with this information. Often they do not require banks selling foreclosed property to provide these disclosures, either. Obtaining these types of disclosures should always be a part of your offer, and time is of the essence.
Condition of the Property
The last thing you want when you assume possession of your new home is to find it in a total mess. Therefore, you should make it clear in your offer that certain minimum standards are required. If you do not, you might find out the seller or neighbors have begun using the back yard as a trash dump, or something worse – and you would not be able to do anything about it.
Some of the requirements you might want to include in your offer are that the roof does not leak, the appliances work, the plumbing does not leak, that there are no broken or cracked windows, the yard has been kept up, and any debris has been cleared away.
Besides appraisal and the termite inspection, you should also have a professional go through the house and seek out potential problems. Of course, you will have inspected the home, but you are not used to looking at some things that a professional will find. Even if they are not things the seller is expected to repair, at least you will have foreknowledge of any potential problems.
The seller will want this inspection performed quickly, so that you can approve the results and move forward with the purchase. Once you receive the inspection, you will want to allow yourself sufficient time to review and approve the report. If you do not approve the report, you may negotiate with the sellers on which repairs should be performed and who should pay for those repairs. Otherwise, you can cancel the purchase without penalty, provided you have included timetables in your offer.
Allow a maximum of ten to fifteen days to receive the report and five days to review it.
Final Walk-Through Inspection
Before closing, you will want to revisit the property to ensure it is in the condition you have required in your offer, and to inspect that any required repairs have been performed. You should do this no sooner than five days before you intend to close. Make sure this right to do a final inspection is included in your offer to purchase the home.
How Financing Details Affect Your Offer
Most buyers do not have enough cash available to buy a home, so they need to obtain a mortgage to finance the purchase. Since you will probably make your purchase contingent upon obtaining a mortgage, the seller has the right to be informed of your financing plans in order to evaluate them. That is one of the major reasons that financing details are included in your offer.
As part of your offer, you will need to disclose the size of your down payment. Once again, this allows the seller to evaluate your likelihood of obtaining a home loan. It is easier to get approved for a mortgage when you make a larger down payment. The underwriting guidelines are less strict.
Another reason for including financing information in your offer is to protect yourself. If interest rates suddenly become volatile and rise quickly, as sometimes happens, you may looking at a mortgage payment much higher than you anticipated. By putting a maximum acceptable interest rate in the offer, you are protecting yourself from such an occurrence.
At the same time, the seller will probably want to see that you have some flexibility in the financing terms you are willing to accept. If interest rates are currently at eight percent and you indicate this is the highest rate you will accept, you would be able to cancel the contract without penalty if interest rates rose past that point. The seller would suffer because they have lost valuable marketing time and may have made their own plans based on successfully closing the transaction.
Asking for Closing Costs and Financing Incentives
There may be times when, as part of your offer, you request the seller to pay all or a portion of your closing costs, or provide some other financial incentive. One common request is asking the seller to provide funds to temporarily buy down your interest rate for the first year or two. Such incentives can be especially effective if a buyer is tight on money or pushing their qualifying ratios to the limit.
Whenever you ask for incentives such as these, you will probably find the seller less willing to negotiate on price. After all, what you are really asking for is have the seller to give you some money to help you buy their house. The end result is that, for a little relief in the beginning, you are willing to pay a little more in the long run.
Another occasional request is to have the seller “carry back” a second mortgage to help facilitate your purchase of their home. In cases when the seller does not need all the proceeds from their sale in order to purchase their next home, this is an option. The advantage to the buyer is that by combining your down payment and the second mortgage from the seller, you may be able to avoid paying mortgage insurance and save yourself some money.
If such a carry-back is part of your offer, you should include the terms you wish to pay on such a second mortgage. Keep in mind that your first trust deed lender needs to know this information so they can underwrite your loan, and they have certain minimum requirements. The minimum term of the second mortgage can be five years. The minimum payment can be “interest only.” Longer mortgage terms and payments that also include principle are also acceptable.
If you are one of those rare individuals making a cash offer to buy a home, it makes sense to provide some documentation with your offer that shows you have the funds available. A bank statement would be fine. If you have to liquidate stock or some other asset, your offer should give a timetable on when you will provide proof you have converted the asset to cash.
Other Financing Details in Your Offer
Your offer should also contain information on whether you are obtaining a fixed rate or an adjustable rate mortgage. It should also state whether you are obtaining conventional financing or obtaining a VA or FHA loan.
Service Providers When Buying a Home
You and the Seller Must Agree
Buying a home does not occur in a vacuum, involving only you and the seller. There are all kinds of people and services involved behind the scenes to make it happen. Since some of these services affect both you and the seller, there will have to be be agreement on which companies you will use for them. When you make your offer, you should request your favorites for these services. If you are unfamiliar with these service providers, you can get recommendations from your agent.
Escrow and Settlement
For example, you are going to need an escrow or settlement company to act as an “independent third party” between you and the seller. Without having a third party involved, how do you know that when you fork over the money, you are going to get the deed? This is the type of service provided by escrow and settlement. They will hold your deposit and coordinate much of the activity that goes on during the escrow period.
Since this third party is very important to both you and the seller and both of you will pay fees to this company, it is important to agree on which service to use. Therefore, your choice should be part of the offer. Since you do not buy a home every other week or so, you are probably unfamiliar with companies that provide this service. Your agent will make a recommendation. You have the authority to accept this recommendation and include it in your offer, or make your own choice.
Keep in mind that the seller will also have a preference and this may be a point of negotiation in a counter-offer. It has become customary that one side will choose the escrow/settlement agent and one side chooses the title insurance company. Even so, everything in real estate is negotiable.
Title Insurance Company
Title insurance is important because, by providing you with an Owners Policy, they insure that you have clear title to the property. If there are any problems later, you can always go back to the title insurance company and have them clear it up. Since it is customary for the seller to pay for the owner’s policy, they have an interest in which company is used.
However, you are going to pay a fee to the title insurance company, too. This is for the Lender’s Policy. The lender’s policy insures your mortgage lender that there are no liens or judgments against the property and that the mortgage will be in first position. In other words, should you sell the property or refinance it, their mortgage gets paid first, before any other claims against the property.
The lender’s policy is less expensive than the owner’s policy.
Termite and Pest Inspection
As part of your offer, you may require a termite and pest inspection. This company not only inspects for termite damage and pest infestations, but also inspects for dry rot and water damage, among other things. The company that performs the inspection is important to you as a buyer, because you want to be sure they do a good job. It is important to the seller because it is customary that they pay for the inspection and some types of repairs that may be required.
You should determine which company you want to perform this inspection and make it a part of your offer. Otherwise the seller will choose. If you do not know which company to hire, your agent will make a recommendation.
The Home Inspection
When you buy a home, sure, you’re going to look over the house yourself, as carefully and thoroughly as possible before making your offer, but…you’re probably not an expert.
The Home Inspector is the Expert.
Just to be clear, the inspector does not appraise the property, make guarantees about the structural viability and building codes, make recommendations on whether you should buy the house or not, or find hidden defects. The inspector will find visible problems that could be overlooked by a real estate agent, a buyer, or a seller – and that is why you need them. There are several professional associations for Home Inspectors, the National Association of Inspection and Evaluation Services (NARIES), the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), your state, yellow pages, friends who bought a home, or your agent – all of whom might be able to recommend a qualified home inspector who has performed well in the past. You want to know about any previous experience, how long they have been doing inspections, if they do inspections full time, how much they charge, what they charge extra for, and when they want to be paid.
Who you actually hire is your choice, so you might want to ask about their experience, education, and any professional certifications. You may want to even hire someone before you make an offer. Make sure you hire the inspector quickly enough to meet all the deadlines in your contract.
The contract usually specifies a certain number of days to get the inspection performed, and allows you a specific number of days to review and approve the inspection. Your inspector will check the foundation, doors, windows, roof, vents, fans, gutters, plumbing, electrical systems, heating, cooling, ceilings, walls, floors, insulation, ventilation, exterior, basement and attic. They find problems in the property, systems. components, and how much it may cost to maintain the property. When the inspector is done, he will issue a report. There may be some problems with the house – and they may be major problems or minor problems. You might have some questions.
The reason for the report is not to provide you with a laundry list of items for the seller to repair. The purpose is to provide you with information that you may have overlooked so you can make a final decision to move forward and close the deal or not. And the inspector can answer any questions that do arise. Put them in writing first. If you do discover a problem that is so troublesome you would consider backing out, it makes sense to give the seller a chance to repair it. Always set deadlines if you negotiate a repair. Put everything in writing with the appropriate initials, signatures, and dates.
Buying a Home With Resale Value
There are many things that should be considered when buying a home. Since most homebuyers expect to buy a bigger and better home someday in the future, resale value is an important factor in decision-making. You use the proceeds from selling one home to buy the next one. While no one can guarantee that your home will grow in value, there are steps you can take that maximize your potential gain.
“Location, Location, Location”
“Location, location, location,” is a common and almost hackneyed phrase in real estate literature. Your agent may even throw it at you when you ask for advice about buying a home. However, what does “location, location, location,” actually mean? Why repeat it three times? Mostly, “location” is repeated to emphasize that it is extremely important to the resale value of your home. The idea is to buy a house that will appeal to the largest number of potential future homebuyers. A careful choice of location can minimize potential negative influences on future resale value, and maximize positive influences.
Focusing on resale value requires you to make several different “location” choices. The first choice you have to make is “which community?” At the very least, you should narrow your choice down to just a few local communities.
Buying a Home With Resale Value – the House
Buying a Home With a View
Homes with a pleasant view of the horizon often sell at a premium above similar homes without the view. However, if a view is important to you, buy it mostly for your own pleasure and not as an investment. Though you may place a considerable dollar value on the view, future buyers may not be so like-minded. It may take you longer to find a buyer when it comes time to resell the house. Or you may end up dropping your price to more nearly match other sales prices in the neighborhood. In short, if you are buying a house with a view, try to pay as little extra as possible. Otherwise, you might not get your money back.
Lot and Landscaping
Even though most real estate value is usually concentrated in the building, the lot is important, too. Obviously, it should be as level as possible. Assuming the property is in a typical neighborhood, the lot should be rectangular – no odd shaped lots or oddly situated lots. Yard sizes are smaller in modern homes than in older homes, but there should still be a decently sized front and back yard. Do not buy a house where the entire back yard is taken up by a swimming pool, for example.
Do not purchase an over-landscaped property, either. You would normally pay a premium for that, which you may not be able to recover when you sell. You will get your best value if the house is moderately landscaped or under-landscaped for the area. You can always improve the landscaping during your ownership by improving the grass and adding bushes and trees. Just do not spend too much.
In each residential neighborhood, houses will vary in size and rooms, but they should not be too different. If resale value is an important consideration, you should not buy the largest model in the neighborhood. When determining market value, the homes nearest to yours are most important. If most of the nearby houses are smaller than your house, they can act as a drag on appreciation.
On the other hand, if you buy a small or medium house for the neighborhood, the larger homes can help pull up your value. This is one of those times where determining your “wants” versus your “needs” can be extremely important. Buying what you need in a more prestigious neighborhood may provide more financial reward than getting what you want in a less desirable neighborhood.
Bedrooms and Bathrooms
Three and four bedroom houses are the most popular among homebuyers, so if you can stick in that range you will have more potential buyers when it comes time to resell. Five is okay, too, as long as you do not have to pay too much extra for the additional bedroom.
There should always be at least two HYPERLINK “http://www.realestateabc.com/homebuying/house.htm” \t “undefined” bathrooms in a house, preferably at least two and a half. One bathroom with a place to wash up for day-to-day visitors, one for the master bedroom, and at least one to be shared by the other bedrooms.
Closets, Garages, and Laundry
Walk-in closets are extremely desirable for the master bedroom. For the rest of the house, just be sure there is plenty of closet space. Don’t forget space for HYPERLINK “http://www.realestateabc.com/homebuying/house.htm” \t “undefined” linens and towels. Garages add to the resale value and you should always make sure to get at least a two-car garage. Lately, three-car garages have become desirable in some areas of the country.
The laundry facilities should be located somewhere convenient on the main floor of the house, but not in a place it will create an eyesore. Think about whether you want to walk up and down stairs when carrying loads of laundry.
Family activity centers around the kitchen, so this is the most important room of the house. Larger kitchens are better, and they should be provided with modern appliances. Obviously, the dining room and breakfast nook should be located adjacent to the kitchen. In newer houses, the family room should also be extremely close to the kitchen.
There should be easy access to the back yard, as there will be occasions for barbecues and outdoor entertaining. In addition, it should be a short trek between the garage to the kitchen so hauling groceries in from the car does not become a horrendous chore.
The only room where you absolutely have to have a fireplace is the family room. A fireplace in the living room may be nice, but you pay extra for it and will probably rarely use it. At best, it serves as a focal point of the living room, but does not add much in real value.
Swimming pools do not provide as much added value as they once did. Safety issues about families with younger children have become more publicized than in the past, so families with small children tend to avoid homes with pools. As a result, having a pool may actually reduce the number of potential homebuyers when you try to resell the home.
Buy a home with a pool for your own enjoyment, not as an investment. Since we are on the subject of swimming pools, here is a word of advice: If you want a pool, buy a home that already has a pool. Paying a contractor to install one for you is like throwing money away. You will never get a dollar-for-dollar return on your investment.