They accepted our offer, now what?
At times both equally exhilarating and terrifying, the purchase of a home can be a total roller coaster ride -- especially when it is your first time going through the process. Between suddenly being expected to understand the intricacies of contracts and the inner workings of a home, you are also expected to start writing checks for amounts you may never have thought imaginable. It is very easy to get nervous and run back to your landlord and decide to extend your lease another year!
Have no fear -- with the right team of people and the proper due diligence, you can put your mind at ease that you are making a smart financial decision and soon will take pride in being a new homeowner.
I am writing this for a couple reasons. As an attorney whose primary area of legal practice is residential real estate transactions, I have worked with a high percentage of first time buyers. Additionally, my wife and I just took the homebuying plunge ourselves less than six months ago.
Based on my personal and professional experience, I have a few pointers that can make this big life step far less daunting:
Hire an attorney you feel comfortable with.
Hopefully you’re already working with a great realtor. Assuming that part is already taken care of, once your offer is accepted you will be expected to pick a lawyer. For many new home buyers this could easily be the first time you have spoken to an attorney in a professional setting. First, find someone that primarily does residential real estate in the general geographic area of your purchase. It makes the process that much easier if you are speaking with someone that is not only knowledgeable about the intricacies of the process but also has local knowledge of the community and the common occurrences in the local housing market.
Next, find someone that you can talk to and someone who will lay out the process from start to finish. During your first conversation, you should find out if they will be available during all of the important points of the process like attorney review, inspection contingency period and the closing.
Further, it is extremely important to find someone you will feel comfortable asking questions that may normally make you self-conscious. As a first-time buyer you may think that certain questions should be obvious, but they are not. It is a complicated process and you should always feel comfortable asking anything. I am positive they have all been asked before -- even by more seasoned buyers than yourself.
You got the home inspection report... remain calm!
In my opinion, the toughest part of buying your first home is the home inspection process. You find a home that you think is perfect and it is right in your price range and you tell your realtor you like it and want to make an offer. At that point, you blink, and the contract is negotiated, the deposits are paid, and you are standing in the basement with a home inspector who is going through areas of a home you have never even looked at using terms you may have never even heard. It is very easy at that point to, again, call that landlord.
Take a deep breath and just listen to what the home inspector says. Their job is to scour every inch of a home to look for potential problems and help you get an idea of what you would likely have to do once it is your name on the deed.
A good home inspector, that your realtor should help you find, is worth their weight in gold when buying a home, especially if you are first-time buyer. They can tell you how things work, how long things should last, and the important distinction between vertical and horizontal foundation cracking. A few days later, you will receive a report that may be close to fifty pages filled with everything you could ever know about the home. Again, don’t panic. This is a perfectly common part of the process and the more you know about a home the better.
It is at this point that you, your attorney and your realtor will start to put a list together of all the things you would like to see fixed for closing and all the things you think you can live with or fix yourself. It is important at this step to separate the big stuff from the inconsequential or cosmetic issues. You want to know going into it what absolutely needs to be fixed. This is the kind of stuff where, even if the seller is not going to contribute or do the work for you, you want to know how much it will cost in case you have it done yourself after closing. Having a good team during this part is key. You need to have people around you who have seen this before and can tell you if they are typical issues with a house of that age and if they are things that the seller would be hard pressed not to take care of because any buyer will require them to be fixed.
Those are the things that make this the toughest part of the process. It is scary for any home buyer, but especially for first timers who have not been living in a home that they own. Take your time, do your inspections and follow up inspections where necessary, consult local contractors to get an idea of how much things cost to fix and write it all down. Once you take some time to discuss with your realtor and real estate attorney, the fear usually starts to dissipate; negotiations for repairs and credits take place; and you are happily on your way toward closing.
Try your best to reduce added stress as the closing approaches.
Now that you have gotten through attorney review and the inspection process, you should be able to exhale and start preparing for closing in a few weeks (or months depending on the transaction). During this time, put a check list together for what needs to be done and stick to it until closing.
First and most important, you want to make sure your financing is in order. By this time, you should have a mortgage commitment and an estimate of how much cash you will need to close. If there are still outstanding items that the bank needs, get it to them as soon as you can. There are a lot of things that can fixed by realtors and real estate lawyers to make sure a closing goes off smoothly and on time, but, at the end of the day, it is always up to the bank to decide whether a transaction closes on time.
Next you want to do all the other miscellaneous things. You want to get your movers together. Set up your new home’s utilities and shut off your old ones if you have them. If you are moving from a rental, try the best you can to stagger your last day in the apartment with your first day in the new place to take away the stress that comes from a closing date being moved or having to move everything out of one place on the day you move into another. It is also a good idea, whenever possible to try and set aside a bit of extra money for added expenses you were not prepared for. It is a tough week leading up to closing so it is good to have paid any unrelated bills you have before that week and schedule any other non-essential appointments afterwards.
Further, it is a good idea to keep of list of any items that sellers agreed to would fix and follow up on them with your attorney as closing approaches. On the day of closing you will do a walk through to confirm that the home is still in the same general condition as it was during the inspection. In order to avoid a stressful or contentious closing day, it is good to have confirmation that items that needed to be fixed were fixed, and, where possible, you receive documentation indicating such.
Bottom line: put a trusted team together and do your best to embrace the ups and downs that go along with a first-time home purchase.