Congratulations, you’re halfway to owning your first home. When we last visited the topic of buying a house in Charlotte we discussed the initial four steps:
(1) Are you ready to settle down in Charlotte?
(2) Getting pre-approved for a loan.
(3) Deciding which aspects of a home are important to you.
(4) Finding a buyer’s agent who fits your needs.
These first four steps lay the foundation for your home-buying experience. The more honest and accurate you are in these fundamental four steps, the easier the rest of the home buying process will be.
Which brings us to the next three steps:
(5) The Home Search
This is the fun part. You get to drive around Charlotte searching for your dream home and picturing yourself living different versions of your future life. If you’ve done your research and found the right buyer’s agent, they’ll be doing most of the leg work for you. Bringing you potential houses that fit your criteria and maybe a few that push the envelope of your expectations. Pro tip: Be prepared to modify that wish list you made in Step 3.
“The market may not have exactly what your “wish list” includes. Once most first time home buyers actually start their home search, they will most likely adapt their ‘wish list'” said Curt Seifart, a real estate agent with Helen Adams Realty.
If you want to take a more DIY approach, you can begin your search on one of the national real estate websites like Zillow and Trulia. But Seifart warns that these sites are not always as up to date as some of the local agency sites. So always follow up by going to one of the local sites like Helen Adams Realty or Allen Tate Realty, as these sites are directly connected to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) which is updated every 30 minutes.
Once you find a few houses that fit your specifications, Seifart recommends driving by those properties before scheduling appointments to see the houses. That way you have a solid idea of what the house actually looks like, what the neighborhood feels like, and what is nearby – whether that’s restaurants, or train tracks, or both. And when you do find a house that feels like home, go with your gut.
“When it’s right, don’t hesitate,” Seifart said. “In this particular market right now… When you find a great property, it’s very likely you are not the only one who’s found that house. So if it’s the right house, don’t wait.”
(6) Making an offer
You’ve found a house that fits most of your criteria and is in your price range. So you make an offer on the property. Take a deep breath, this part can be stressful. Everyone involved wants basically the same thing. So just keep your cool and let your buyer’s agent do what they do best. And remember, there is more to making an offer than just the price of the property.
“Just about every first-time home-buyer I’ve ever worked with focuses almost exclusively on price,”Seifart said. “But there’s a lot more to making an offer than just the price. There are a number of terms and conditions that are factored in to an offer to purchase.”
Obviously the price is important, but some of the other factors to consider are the closing date, the due diligence fee, the earnest money deposits, the type of loan that will be used to purchase the house, whether the seller will pay for closing costs and whether or not the seller will be including any personal property (like a refrigerator or a washer and dryer) in the deal. All of these items can add up to a significant amount of money and can be valuable for the buyer to consider when making an offer.
When preparing an offer, it is up to you and your buyer’s agent to determine what the fair market value is for the property. Do a price analysis of comparable homes in the area that have sold in the last 60 days to get a better idea of what a fair offer on your house should look like.
“In a classic case, the seller’s offer price is a little bit higher than fair market value and the buyer’s offer is a little bit lower than fair market value, and then you meet somewhere in between,” Seifart said.
Keep in mind that the seller would not want to price the house too high, because then the house simply won’t sell and the listing will become stale. It’s a balancing act that involves multiple factors. At the end of the day, it’s up to you and your buyer’s agent to weigh those factors and establish a fair price to offer. But you don’t want to low-ball the seller either. That could offend them, and they can choose not to do business with you. So make sure you and your buyer’s agent do your homework and are able to come to the negotiating table prepared and ready to make a deal.
(7) Going Under Contract
Things can get a little confusing during the contract phase, but we will do our best to break it down so you have a general understanding of what to expect.
You’ve offered a fair price and the seller has accepted, but as we mentioned above, there is more to the offer than just the price. All of those details have to be agreed upon before the property can go under contract.
“Understand that an offer is still just an offer,” Seifart said. “It is not a contract until the buyer and seller agree on all of the terms and conditions and both sign an ‘Offer to Purchase and Contract.'”
If your property is not a new construction or vacant land (both of which have their own customized Offer to Purchase and Contracts) then you will be working with a standard Offer to Purchase and Contract, which is a 12-page legal document that outlines all of the specifics related to buying a home.
Now you’re putting skin in the game, so make sure you are serious about buying this property. Once a house goes under contract the seller is assuming most of the risk, which is why you (the buyer) will be responsible for making two payments. One is the non-refundable due diligence deposit, and the other is the earnest money deposit. The amounts of both of these payments are negotiable, as is the due diligence time period. But make sure to do your research, because if anything goes sideways you risk losing both payments.
“The earnest money deposit is a deposit made by the buyer into an escrow account, not directly to the seller, but to an escrow agent, who holds the money until the due diligence period is expired and then the earnest money goes hard and is non-refundable,” Seifart said. “It is basically a promise from the buyer to the seller that the property will be able to close.”
Both of these deposits will be credited to the buyer when the home closes. However, if the contract is terminated during the due diligence period you will lose your due diligence deposit, but you will get your earnest money payment returned. If you decide not to move forward with the property after the due diligence period expires, you as the buyer, will lose both the due diligence and the earnest money payments…cue the violins.
It’s up to you and your buyer’s agent to negotiate the terms for all of these considerations as the home-buying process continues. Clearly, your choice in buyer’s agent is critical. They are not only showing you properties, they are representing you and your best interests while make one of the biggest decisions in your life. And there are a lot of variables and challenges associated with buying a house. Make sure to choose your buyer’s agent wisely.
Next up: The due diligence period is such an important step we decided to focus an entire segment on it… stay tuned.