Ready to hit the market, buy your dream home and conquer this whole homeownership thing? It’s an exciting step in life, to be sure. But there’s so much to keep track of along the way: hiring an agent, getting a mortgage, making offers, and closing the deal. Wouldn’t it be great if you could find a massive list of real estate tips for buyers to help guide you through everything? (Don’t worry; we know that’s why you’re here!)
If you’re feeling inundated with information and you’re unsure of where to start, you’re not alone. In fact, according to recent data, 75% of first-time homebuyers feel overwhelmed by the process.
We tapped the expertise of top Illinois real estate agent Jen Ortman, who walked us through some of her best advice for buyers.
Here’s what you need to know before buying a home.
Hiring an agent
Hiring an agent is a big deal. This is someone who will help you through one of the biggest transactions of your life. Here’s how to find the right fit.
1. First things first: Don’t skip hiring an agent!
An agent’s job is to advocate for you and save you money during the complicated process of buying a home. And the best part? You don’t even need to pay them yourself!
That’s right — in most cases, the seller covers the buyer agent’s commission. So there’s really no good reason not to hire an agent.
2. …But also, do your research
That said, there’s a world of difference between a top agent who consistently closes deals quickly and saves their buyers money, and one who’s in the real estate game part-time to make a couple bucks here and there. So make sure you hire the right person!
Here’s a research hack: HomeLight matches you with a top agent in your area with a demonstrated track record of closing deals and getting great results. Simply enter a few pieces of information (where you’re buying, your budget, and where you are in the process), and we’ll find several top agents for you to choose between!
3. Stick with a full-time agent who’s at the top of their game
Speaking of researching potential agents, here are a few things to look for:
- You want to choose someone who’s a full-time agent, and preferably someone who’s been in the business a long time (or is at least working with someone who has).
- Check how many deals they’ve done in your area over the last year. Is it, say, fewer than five? You might want to skip them.
- Not only should your agent close a lot of deals, but they should be able to demonstrate through their results how they’ve saved other buyers money and helped them close quickly.
- Make sure the agent has experience in your specific neighborhood. They’ll have specialized market information that others won’t.
- Your agent should also have specific knowledge that will meet your unique needs. First time purchasing a home? Your agent should be a first-time buyer whisperer. Planning to buy a foreclosure? Get an agent who specializes in them and knows the process inside and out.
- A great agent also has relationships across the industry. Does your would-be agent have a seemingly endless rolodex of all the best lenders, contractors, inspectors, and property managers in the area? They’re probably at the top of their game.
Here’s a full list of questions to ask your real estate agent before you hire them.
4. Ask for references
Don’t hire an agent without asking for multiple — yes, multiple — references.
And make sure you check those references! Sure, it’s awkward, but not as awkward as having to fire your agent later because they weren’t the right fit.
5. Set expectations
For the next couple of months, you’ll have a close working relationship with your agent, so set expectations and boundaries right off the bat.
Talk with your agent about how you’d like to communicate and work together. Do you prefer text, email, or a quick phone call? What times of day are you the most available to respond to your agent? How often would you like to check in with them? Will you be working with a team, or will one agent be your main point of contact?
If there are certain times or dates you aren’t available, or when you can’t be contacted, be upfront with your agent. The more you communicate your availability and preferences, the better your working relationship will be.
6. Personality fit is important
Again, you’ll be spending a lot of time with your agent over the next few months. Make sure they’re a good personality fit. You don’t have to be the best of friends, but liking your agent will make the homebuying process a lot more enjoyable.
For example, perhaps you prefer an agent who’s all business and doesn’t like to partake in chatting. Or maybe you need someone who’s extremely organized and will stay on top of you to get all your lender documents in.
Whatever your needs, make sure you find the right agent with the personality and work style to meet them.
Getting a mortgage can be a stressful and frustrating process. Here are a few tips to get ahead of the game and mortgage like a champ!
7. Use a calculator to set your home budget
First thing’s first: before you go to any lender to apply for a mortgage, you should set a rough home budget.
There’s a lot to think about: your mortgage payment, property taxes, home insurance, utilities, HOA fees, maintenance, and more.
It all really adds up, but there’s no need to panic! Use a simple home affordability calculator to set a safe home budget and learn more about the expenses you can expect with your new home.
Note that this home budget may not be exactly what you’ll qualify for when you get a mortgage, but it can give you an idea of what to expect.
8. …But understand that you might not qualify for as much home as you think
“A lot of people think that they can afford or qualify for something much more expensive than they can,” Ortman reveals. “Lenders may not be able to count a lot of income sources that buyers have, and I don’t think they really realize that a lot of times.”
It’s all about how lenders calculate income. For example, lenders can’t always count your 1099 income toward qualifying you for a home. They tend to look for guaranteed income over variable income (that is, they want to be reasonably sure you’ll pay your mortgage for the next 30 years).
So understand that unless you’ve been earning 1099 income for more than two years, it may not help you qualify for a home loan.
9. You don’t really need 20% down
It’s a myth that you need to put 20% down on a home. In fact, in many instances first-time homebuyers can make a down payment of less than 5%. On average, first-time homebuyers put down just 7% in 2020. Some loans, like VA or USDA loans, even allow you to put 0% down.
However, understand that the more you put down, the smaller your monthly mortgage payment will be. And if you put down 20% or more, you can skip mortgage insurance (which is, in most cases, required by your lender if you put down less than 20%).
Looking for more guidance? Check out our down payment calculator to figure out how much you should put down on your next home.
10. Paying mortgage insurance isn’t that big a deal
Did that mention of mortgage insurance freak you out? Don’t let it!
Mortgage insurance is extremely common for first-time buyers, and it’s often the fastest way to achieve homeownership and start building equity today, rather than waiting until you’ve saved up 20% — an unrealistic feat for many buyers.
Plus, it only costs between 0.5% and 1% of your loan amount, annually. For the majority of homeowners, this amounts to no more than a couple hundred dollars a month. And with most loans, you can drop mortgage insurance when you reach 20% equity.
11. Down payment assistance is totally a thing
If you were hoping to get closer to that 20% down payment threshold, you might be in luck: There are tons of down payment assistance programs available for home buyers.
Some programs offer grants for first time buyers (these tend to be gifts you don’t have to pay back), and some are second mortgage programs that offer low-interest or forgivable loans so you can make a larger down payment.
Pro tip: This is an area where a specialized real estate agent can really help you, as many agents aren’t aware of these programs or how they’re funded.
12. Don’t forget to budget for closing costs
Closing costs are one-time costs that go along with your home purchase, and you pay them on — you guessed it — closing day. And they can really add up, too.
Closing costs typically add up to around 2% to 5% of the total loan amount, and they’re paid in cash (a wire transfer or cashier’s check is typically acceptable). They include things like lender and broker fees, plus third-party fees like transfer taxes, escrow fees, the appraisal, homeowner’s insurance, and more.
Yet despite the fact that these expenses come with every home purchase, around half of buyers are totally surprised by their closing costs when it comes time to seal the deal.
“A lot of times people have no idea until they get the Loan Estimate that they have $15,000 to $20,000 worth of closing costs,” Ortman explains.
“They only think of what the lender might charge them for an appraisal, but there’s a ton more involved with closing costs.”
To learn more about what to expect from closing costs and calculate what you might have to pay for them, check out our quick and simple closing costs calculator.
13. Speaking of closing costs, you can ask the seller to pay them
Is the idea of paying $15,000 in closing costs making you feel queasy? What if we told you that you don’t necessarily have to pay them? In some cases, you can negotiate to have the seller cover your closing costs.
Whether this will work depends on your market and how competitive it is. In ultra-competitive markets, it’s unlikely for sellers to agree to cover closing costs, as they tend to get multiple offers from buyers willing to pay their own closing costs.
However, in less competitive markets, or when a home’s been on the market for a while without selling, you might have more leverage to negotiate closing costs.
Talk to your agent about the possibility of getting closing costs covered. They’ll know what’s possible (and likely) in your market, at your price point.
14. And some closing costs are even negotiable
Here’s another thing many homebuyers don’t realize: Some of your closing costs are negotiable.
You can usually shop around for the home inspection, title and settlement services, and home insurance. This can save you some money on your closing costs versus going with whoever the lender works with as a default.
Also, lender fees — which can add up to 3% onto the loan amount — are entirely at the lender’s discretion. Meaning that they don’t have to charge them!
That said, if your lender charges these fees, you likely won’t be able to negotiate them. Rather, you’ll need to find a lender — like HomeLight Home Loans — that doesn’t charge any.
This is legwork you can do upfront. When shopping around for lenders, ask them how much they charge for lender fees, or compare notes when you get a Loan Estimate for your best loan options. That way, you can try to find a lender that doesn’t charge any (or at the very least, keeps the fees to a minimum)!
15. Shopping around for a mortgage could save you big time
Now that we’re on the topic of shopping around for lenders, it’s a pretty important thing to do because it can save you big time on your loan. And only around a half of homebuyers shop around for a mortgage, so if you do this one thing, you’re way ahead of the game.
How much can you stand to save by shopping around for a mortgage? According to a 2018 study by Freddie Mac, getting just one more lender quote could save you $1,500 on your mortgage. Buyers who get five rate quotes save an average of $3,000 — or 0.17% on their interest rate.
Saving 0.17% on your interest rate might not seem like a big deal, but it can really add up over time, especially when you consider what else you could be doing with that money: for example, making value-increasing home improvements, putting it into a retirement fund, investing it, or setting it aside for emergency repairs on your new home.
16. Want to save even more on a mortgage? Repair your credit
Your credit score is one of the biggest determinants of your mortgage rate. Your rate represents the interest you’ll pay the lender over the life of the loan, and it’s by far the biggest cost associated with your mortgage.
Those super low rates you see advertised? They’re only available to certain borrowers who meet strict credit, income, and down payment criteria.
If your credit is lower, you’ll likely pay a higher mortgage rate, and you might even have fewer loan options. If you have excellent credit, you’ll likely get a much better deal on your mortgage, saving you thousands over your loan term.
So if nabbing a low rate and saving on your mortgage is a priority to you, take the steps to build your credit, and improve any negative factors that are impacting your score.
17. You can check your credit for free
Oh, and did we mention that you can check your credit for free? Every American has the right to pull their credit for free once a year, to find out what lenders will see when it comes time to apply for a loan.
This will give you a good idea of where you stand, credit-wise, and also help you remove any negative items on your credit report before applying for a mortgage.
Of course, you can always use free credit score aggregator sites like Credit Karma, but understand that these scores can be inaccurate, and you may not be able to get specific information about what, exactly, is going on with your credit — or how to best improve it. Your official credit report is a much better indicator of how lenders will evaluate your application.
To access your free credit report, head to the official government credit report site.
18. Also: Applying for mortgages doesn’t really hurt your credit
Many buyers believe applying for a mortgage hurts your credit, and that each time you apply with a new lender, your credit takes a hit. This is, for the most part, a myth.
Yes, your credit will get dinged by a hard credit pull (this happens when your lender runs your official credit report after you apply for a loan). However, your score should only see a dip of a few points, plus you’ll have 45 days to shop around for a mortgage — and by law, your credit can only be hit once.
Meaning: No matter how many lenders you apply with during that 45-day window, your credit score will only take one (tiny!) hit.
Another plus? As long as you make your payments on-time and in full each month, getting a mortgage should actually help you build credit over the long term.
19. Don’t forget to ask your lender about average closing times
One thing buyers rarely consider when mortgage shopping is their lender’s ability to close in a timely manner.
Depending on where you live, a national big-name lender may not be able to close the deal on time, whether due to a lack of local appraisers or not understanding the intricacies of the market! In that case, you might consider going with a local lender who has a record of closing deals quickly in your area.
Ask prospective lenders how many deals they’ve closed in your market in the past year and what their average closing times are. This can help you determine if the lender has a true presence in your neighborhood and whether they’ll be likely to close on your timeline.
20. Consider a local lender for tricky closings
If you’re buying a home in a rural area, or buying a unique property that doesn’t have a ton of comparable recently sold listings, you might similarly consider going with a local lender with a history of closing deals in your neighborhood.
A lender with a local presence will likely know the ins and outs of your market better than a big bank, and they’ll have local relationships that will make closing your deal easier.
Sure, you might have to pay a slightly higher rate to go with a local mortgage company, but you’ll also typically get more personalized service. And don’t forget: You can always refinance later.
21. There’s more to a mortgage payment than you might realize
When looking for a home, “a lot of buyers don’t take into account taxes and insurance,” Ortman reveals. “They don’t realize how that impacts their monthly payments.”
This can spell trouble. Your mortgage payment is more than just the cost of the principal and interest on your loan. It includes your property taxes and mortgage insurance, too.
In some markets, property taxes can be thousands of dollars per year, adding hundreds of dollars to your monthly payments. Mortgage insurance — required for buyers putting down less than 20% on a home — typically adds around 0.5% to 1% of the loan amount annually.
Make sure you budget for the entirety of your monthly mortgage payment, not just your principal and interest!
22. Know your loan types
Before you shop for a mortgage, understand the major loan types.
A conventional loan is a private mortgage loan that’s not backed by the U.S. government. This is the most common loan type, with around two-thirds of buyers using them.
However, conventional loans also have stricter qualifications for buyers than most government-backed loan programs.
- Minimum down payment amount: 3% for certain qualifying buyers, but most buyers have to put down at least 5%
- Minimum credit score: 620
- Other features: Conventional loans tend to have competitive rates, making them the loan of choice for buyers who qualify.
These loans are guaranteed by the federal government, and they offer low or no down payment, as well as lower credit score minimums for buyers who can’t qualify for a conventional loan.
- USDA loans: These are loans for rural homes, and they’re geared toward buyers with lower income.
- Minimum down payment: 0%
- Minimum credit score: 640
- Other features: Interest rates are low with USDA loans, but they do come with a 1% upfront fee, and a small monthly fee on top of that.
- FHA loans: These loans are offered by the Federal Housing Administration, and they’re typically for buyers with lower credit who can’t qualify for a conventional loan.
- Minimum down payment: 3.5%
- Minimum credit score: 580
- Other features: FHA loans have higher rates and fees than other options, and they require mortgage insurance. If you put down less than 10%, you can’t cancel the mortgage insurance unless you refinance.
- VA loans: Finally, there are VA loans that have advantageous features for qualifying military service members and their spouses.
- Minimum down payment: 0%
- Minimum credit score: 620
- Other features: VA loans are a great option for qualifying buyers because they have low rates and fees, and require zero down.
23. …And your interest rate types
Another thing to understand before you dive into the world of mortgaging? Interest rate types. Typically, you’ll see two different types of interest:
With fixed-rate interest, your rate remains the same over the life of the loan, which means every mortgage payment you make will be the same amount for the entire loan term (in the beginning, these payments will cover mostly interest, but you’ll start paying down the principal after a few years).
Fixed-rate mortgages are more predictable, and they work better for buyers who plan to be in the home for a longer period of time.
With adjustable-rate interest, your rate starts off lower for an initial introductory period, and then it adjusts over time to meet the market. Your mortgage will detail how and when your rate adjusts.
Adjustable-rate mortgages can be a bit riskier (what if rates shoot up significantly between now and when your rate adjusts?), but they can work well for buyers who don’t plan to be in the home for much longer than the initial introductory period.
24. Get preapproved before you even shop for a home
If you’re looking for an edge to win your dream home, you should definitely consider getting a preapproval before you start home shopping.
Why? A preapproval gives you a much better idea of what you can actually afford, and you’ll be able to make a much stronger offer because your lender has essentially already looked at your financial details beforehand.
This gives both you and the seller more peace of mind that the deal will close and financing won’t hold things up.
25. Get an underwritten preapproval for an even bigger boost
For an even stronger preapproval, go with a lender that underwrites you upfront.
With most lenders, an underwriter doesn’t look at your application until after you’ve already had an offer accepted. This can cause issues if there are errors on your application or if there’s something the loan officer missed.
A few lenders offer upfront underwriting, meaning an underwriter looks at your file before you start making offers on homes. This gives your preapproval an extra competitive boost.
At HomeLight Home Loans, we do a full financial underwrite and issue a conditional approval before you make an offer.
You’ll know how much home you can afford, and you can shop confidently knowing we’ve already looked under the hood of your finances. When it comes time to make a bid, your offer will be stronger, signifying to the seller that you’re ready to close.
26. The mortgage rate lock is your friend
Mortgage rates are changing all the time, sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis. How can you keep up? Well, unless you work in capital markets, you probably can’t!
However, most lenders offer what’s called a rate lock, which — just like it sounds — allows you to lock in your rate for a period of time (typically somewhere between 30 and 90 days) while you secure your home loan. Some even include a float down provision, which lets you change your rate once if mortgage rates go down while you’re in a lock.
Rate locks are a win-win for buyers, so if you see a rate you like, don’t be afraid to lock it in with your lender!
27. Student loans can actually help you get a mortgage
You’ve probably heard that student loans are preventing many would-be homebuyers from getting in the real estate game. And while this can be true in some cases, for others, having student loan debt can actually help you buy a home.
Lenders look at student loan debt as “good debt,” meaning it’s long-term, the payments are relatively fixed, and those with a strong history of paying on time and in full are also likely to make their mortgage payments on time and in full each month.
Another thing to know about student loans and getting a mortgage? Your lender is primarily looking at how much you pay each month for debts, more so than your overall loan balances.
Plus, these days, many income-based repayment options are available for student loan debt, meaning you pay a portion of your income toward the debt each month, and no more. This keeps the payments more manageable and frees up more income for your mortgage payment.
The home search
The home search is the fun part! Get ready for wish lists, open houses, spreadsheets … and asking yourself the tough questions.
28. Pick an area first
“I tell buyers all the time: You cannot move the home,” Ortman shares. “So you have to pick an area first. If you don’t love the area that you’re in, there’s nothing you can do to change that.”
Ortman advises narrowing in on the area you’re targeting first, and then figuring out your wants and needs for the property.
29. Narrow down your options
Once you’ve picked out an area, you should start thinking about the property and asking yourself how you plan to use and grow into it.
- What type of home do you want? Historic? Modular? Ranch? Tiny home?
- How much space do you need? How many bedrooms? Bathrooms? Do you need a home office? A play room? Somewhere to house your massive figurine collection?
- What about yard space and acreage? Are you up for maintaining a big yard, or do you prefer something smaller, perhaps with a low-maintenance patio and xeriscaping?
- Is there a neighborhood you’re specifically targeting? Are you willing to consider other, more affordable neighborhoods, even if they don’t check all your must-haves?
- What do you need to be near? Are you looking for a short commute? Proximity to shops and restaurants? Close to local schools? A nearby place of worship?
- Are you open to a fixer-upper or do you prefer something move-in ready? How up for projects are you?
Your agent can help guide you through these questions and zero in on what’s most important. But in the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to have an idea of what you want.
30. Lean on your agent’s expertise
Ortman says part of an agent’s job is to help their client funnel their (at times unrealistic) wants and needs into an actionable game plan.
“A lot of buyers come into the market and they kinda want it all for nothing,” she reveals. “So, as agents, we become advisors to help them decide what they’re looking for, and then we help them find the areas with the type of homes that meet their criteria.”
Ortman admits it’s easy enough for buyers to browse listings, but it’s not always the best way to conduct your search — there’s so much you can’t see in a listing. Your agent, on the other hand, will be well-versed in the homes for sale in your area.
“Hopefully, we have been in the houses and we know them, and we know the areas and we know — based on what the buyer is looking for — what would be a good fit for them,” she adds.
That kind of market knowledge can make a huge difference when it comes to setting proper expectations for your future home.
31. They might know about listings you don’t
Yet another reason to work with a top agent: According to Ortman, agents often have access to private listings you won’t find on listing sites. And they may even have knowledge of upcoming listings that haven’t hit the market yet. That means less competition for you when it comes time to make an offer.
32. Figure out a house-hunting system
House hunting can be pretty overwhelming. There are so many details to keep track of! That’s why it helps to have a system to record everything you love (and don’t love) about each home.
Make sure to keep a house hunting checklist handy … and hey, if you want to make an overly complex .xls document to track all the homes you’ve looked at, we definitely won’t judge!
33. Stick with your budget
Don’t be tempted to overextend yourself financially. And remember: just because your lender says you can afford x amount for a home, it doesn’t mean you should spend that much!
Your lender is mostly thinking in terms of your DTI (debt-to-income ratio, or how much you pay toward debt each month versus how much you actually make). Most of the time, lenders prefer to see a DTI of 43% or lower, meaning no more than 43% of your income should be going toward debt payments (including your mortgage) each month.
While 43% DTI might make sense for some buyers — especially those in expensive markets — for others, going lower is the best route. Crunch the numbers and talk to a trusted financial adviser to make sure you’re hitting the sweet spot, budget-wise.
34. Cast a wide net
Go to lots of open houses if you can (virtual ones work, too!), and make sure you’re casting a wide net with your home search.
Sometimes, a home can surprise you or teach you something about your needs that you couldn’t learn just by browsing listings.
35. Think about how you’ll grow into the home
This is another big one. Of course, think about how you’ll use the home to accommodate your lifestyle now. But it’s also important to think about how you’ll grow into the home.
Do you plan to expand your family, or perhaps start a business that will be primarily home-based? Think about how your future home will accommodate your life goals.
Sure, you can always upgrade later, but at this point, you’re probably starting to see that buying a home isn’t cheap or easy. Sometimes, it makes sense to get something now that you can grow into down the road.
Think about where you see yourself in the next 5 to 10 years. What does your lifestyle look like? Will this home meet that lifestyle?
This is another great place to lean on your agent’s advice and expertise; they can help you strike the balance between getting something that’s good for you and your budget now, and finding something you can grow into later.
Making the offer
Agent? Secured. Mortgage? Underway. Home search? Nailed it. Now it’s time to make a winning offer.
36. Be ready to act quickly
That craftsman style house you love with three bedrooms, two baths, and a dreamy backyard which happens to be located on your dream street? You’re probably not the only one who’s smitten. That means time is majorly of the essence.
If you’ve done the upfront work of figuring out your budget, getting preapproved, and narrowing your home search accordingly, you should be ready to make a quick and aggressive offer. Be prepared to act fast. You don’t want to lose out on your dream home due to hesitation.
37. Definitely include an inspection contingency
When you buy a home, you’ll typically want to have it inspected first. The inspector will look at the systems, the foundation, and the major elements of the home, like the roof and its walls, to make sure it’s safe and doesn’t need any major repairs.
Most home offers include an inspection contingency, which basically says you can pull out of the deal if something major comes up in the inspection. But while you may be tempted to skip the inspection contingency to sweeten the deal for the seller, it’s rarely a good idea to do so.
Of course, sellers love an inspection-free deal. They’re looking for the surest, quickest, most lucrative transaction possible, and they don’t have anything to lose when you waive your inspection.
But giving up the inspection puts you at substantial risk as the buyer. You can’t see everything going on with a home merely by looking at it, and you can’t know what repairs are needed — and at what cost — if you forgo the inspection.
The inspection is not the best place to negotiate. There are other, less risky ways to make a more competitive offer.
38. Sweeten the pot with earnest money
Like, for example, by offering more earnest money!
An earnest money deposit is a good-faith deposit you offer with your bid that shows the seller you’re serious about purchasing the home. In some markets, earnest money deposits rarely go higher than 3% of the purchase price. In uber-competitive markets, these deposits can go up to 10% of the purchase price.
Consider making a higher-than-normal offer of earnest money as a show of good faith to the seller. This can illustrate your strong interest in the home and reduce risk to the seller that you’ll pull out of the deal for reasons other than those outlined in your purchase contract.
39. Consider an escalation clause
When it comes to bidding on a home, an escalation clause can be a huge advantage to savvy buyers.
“If you don’t want to pay too much, a lot of times we’ll do what’s called an escalation clause,” Ortman explains. “So we’ll go in at, let’s say, $250,000, and we’ll offer $1,000 over the highest offer, not to exceed a certain amount.”
She adds: “It kind of protects the buyer. They have their offer that they’re putting in, but if there are other offers out there that are a lot higher — and they really don’t want to lose the house, but they don’t want to pay too much — it’s a great way to go in there.”
40. Offer the seller timeline flexibility
Another way you can make your offer more attractive is to agree to the seller’s timeline.
Selling a home is a game of precision timing: The seller typically needs to simultaneously buy and sell a home, which is a lot to manage at once. The more flexible you’re able to be with your timeline, the more points you can gain with a seller.
That might mean waiting longer to get into your new home, renting the home to the seller for a bit after you close so they can find a new home (this is what’s called a leaseback), or agreeing to a certain closing day chosen by the seller — as long as your lender can make it work!
Of course, this won’t work for all purchases. Your agent should feel out the seller to figure out what’s important to them and how you can best accommodate their needs in your bid.
41. Try cash instead
If you’re in a tight market, and you need the ultimate boost, then you’d be hard pressed to beat an all-cash offer.
Don’t have a pile of cash sitting around for just this occasion? You’re in luck! There are other ways to make an all-cash bid, like HomeLight’s Cash Offer program.
With Cash Offer, HomeLight vets your finances upfront, approves you, and gives you your maximum purchase price. Once you find a home you love, we make an all-cash offer on your behalf using our cash. We buy the home, and then you buy it back from us at the same price (plus a small program fee) once you’ve secured a mortgage.
This program gives you the ultimate purchasing power: You can make a stronger offer with cash while still getting the major long term benefits of a mortgage.
42. Understand how days on market affects your offer
As you’re creating your offer strategy, it’s helpful to understand days on market (DOM). This is a metric that looks at how long a home has been sitting on the market before it goes under contract.
Homes that have been on the market awhile tend to be more negotiable. Meanwhile, just-listed homes that are generating a lot of interest are far less likely to be negotiable.
“There’s no reason to try and lowball someone who has just gone on the market because they’re gonna be optimistic,” Ortman says. “So if you really want that house, and you think it’s priced well, you need to go in it extremely aggressively — sometimes at list price, or sometimes over list price to try and beat out the competition.”
On the other hand, if a home’s been sitting on the market for 100 or more days, you may be able to offer significantly under asking price and save some significant money.
43. Write a personal letter
When markets are competitive, many top agents recommend making your offer more personal by writing a letter to the seller.
“Writing a personal letter to the seller is a must — especially if there are multiple offers,” Ortman shares. “Explain to them how much you love the home, and maybe why your offer is where it’s at, a little bit about you, and what you envision for the home.”
When multiple offers are coming in around the same price, Ortman says the letter can create an emotional connection and push the seller to choose your bid.
Note that in some markets, these letters are discouraged, so do make sure to check with your agent before going this route. And make sure that the letter is personal … but not too personal. You don’t want the seller to leverage information against you that you provided to them in a letter, after all, such as household configuration or financial details.
The closing process
You’re nearly there. You just have to get past one more (admittedly frustrating!) step: closing. This is when everything all comes together — the home loan is finalized, you pay the seller, and the deed is transferred. Here’s what you should know.
44. Attend the inspection if you can
You don’t technically need to be at the home inspection, as your agent will attend to be your eyes and ears. But if you’re able to go, the experience can be useful.
After they’ve looked around the home, the inspector will be there to explain their findings, show you any issues, and answer all your questions. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about your new property!
If you can’t be at the inspection, make sure to have your agent take copious notes, and perhaps they can even video-call you for the inspection results so you don’t miss out on any key information.
45. Secure home insurance
To take out a mortgage, you’ll need to purchase homeowner’s insurance. In fact, lenders require it.
Even if insurance weren’t required, it’s still wise to protect your biggest investment. Homeowner’s insurance costs an average of $1,211 per year, but the good news is you can shop around to save money on your policy.
46. Title insurance is a must, too
Title insurance protects your title to the home in case anyone else decides to make a claim on it, whether a long-lost relative of a previous owner, or a bank claiming there’s an outstanding lien on the home.
The seller typically covers the buyer’s title insurance, but you’ll be on the hook for your lender’s title insurance. Expect to pay between 0.5% and 1% of the home’s purchase price for your lender’s policy.
Like with homeowner’s insurance, you can shop around for title insurance to save money, so make sure to get several quotes before choosing a provider.
47. Hold off on any big purchases
Right before you close on your new home, your lender will likely pull your credit one last time to make sure nothing’s changed since you first applied.
Making a big purchase or missing a payment could put your loan in jeopardy. For a smooth closing, focus on keeping your finances in tip-top shape throughout the loan process.
48. Think twice before switching careers during your loan
Your dream job may come knocking, but it’s not always advisable to switch jobs during the closing process.
The bottom line is that your lender wants to see steady, predictable income they can count on. If you’re making a risky career move, your lender may likewise see your mortgage as a risk. So it really depends on the type of career move you’re making.
If you’re moving into a similar or higher position within your industry, and you’ll be making the same or more money, then your loan may not be affected.
But if you’re planning to change your career entirely, or you’re moving from a salaried income to 1099 contractor income, it could negatively impact your approval.
If you’re considering a job change during the closing process, talk to your lender first to make sure you’re not jeopardizing your loan.
49. Get those documents back to your lender ASAP
Throughout the closing process, your lender will request a lot of documents and signatures from you. The quicker you get those documents back to them — filled out accurately and clearly — the sooner you’ll be ready to close.
Conversely, if you take several days to get back to your lender when they request a signature, you could delay closing. Always stay on top of lender requests, and get back to them swiftly!
50. Get the utilities switched ahead of time
You probably don’t want to move into your new home only to discover there’s no water or electricity, right? Get the utilities moved to an account in your name as soon as possible.
Your agent can help you with this part. They should provide you with a list of utility companies, account numbers for the previous owners, and phone numbers to call to get everything switched over. Make sure to do this before you move in, or you could be unpleasantly surprised!
51. The final walkthrough matters
The final walkthrough is your last chance to make sure everything is buttoned up and the seller has left the home exactly as it should be. Your agent will help you check the functionality of the systems, and you’ll confirm that all mutually agreed repairs are made, and that everything included in the sale is still within the property.
You should also ensure that all junk has been removed and the seller hasn’t left their personal belongings behind for you to deal with.
Don’t skip this step. It’s actually a pretty big deal — and provided everything goes right, it can also be a joyous occasion. You’re finally home!
Header Image Source: (Ronnie George / Unsplash)
Ready to hit the real estate market and conquer this whole homeownership thing? Our ultimate list of 51 expert-backed tips will help you put your best offer forward.HomeLight Blog