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What a Home Inspection Should Cover

Home inspections will vary depending on the type of property you are purchasing. A large historic home, for example, will require a more specialized inspection than a small condominium. However, the following are the basic elements that a home inspector will check. You can also use this list to help you evaluate properties you might purchase.

For more information, try the virtual home inspection at www.ASHI.org, the Web site of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

Structure: A home s skeleton impacts how the property stands up to weather, gravity, and the earth. Structural components, including the foundation and the framing, should be inspected.

Exterior: The inspector should look at sidewalks, driveways, steps, windows, and doors. A home s siding, trim, and surface drainage also are part of an exterior inspection.

  • Doors and windows
  • Siding (brick, stone, stucco, vinyl, wood, etc.)
  • Driveways/sidewalks
  • Attached porches, decks, and balconies

Roofing: A well-maintained roof protects you from rain, snow, and other forces of nature. Take note of the roof s age, conditions of flashing, roof draining systems (pooling water), buckled shingles, loose gutters and downspouts, skylight, and chimneys.

Plumbing: Thoroughly examine the water supply and drainage systems, water heating equipment, and fuel storage systems. Drainage pumps and sump pumps also fall under this category. Poor water pressure, banging pipes, rust spots, or corrosion can indicate problems.

Electrical: Safe electrical wiring is essential. Look for the condition of service entrance wires, service panels, breakers and fuses, and disconnects. Also take note of the number of outlets in each room.

Heating: The home s heating system, vent system, flues, and chimneys should be inspected. Look for age of water heater, whether the size is adequate for the house, speed of recovery, and energy rating.

Air Conditioning: Your inspector should describe your home cooling system, its energy source, and inspect the central and through-wall cooling equipment. Consider the age and energy rating of the system.

Interiors: An inspection of the inside of the home can reveal plumbing leaks, insect damage, rot, construction defects, and other issues. An inspector should take a close look at:

  • Walls, ceilings and floors
  • Steps, stairways, and railings
  • Countertops and cabinets
  • Garage doors and garage door systems

Ventilation/insulation: To prevent energy loss, check for adequate insulation and ventilation in the attic and in unfinished areas such as crawlspaces. Also look for proper, secured insulation in walls. Insulation should be appropriate for the climate. Excess moisture in the home can lead to mold and water damage.

Fireplaces: They re charming, but they could be dangerous if not properly installed. Inspectors should examine the system, including the vent and flue, and describe solid fuel burning appliances.

Source: American Society of Home Inspectors (www.AHSI.org)

Reprinted from REALTOR magazine (REALTOR.org/realtormag) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS .
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

What Not to Overlook on a Final Walk-through

It s guaranteed to be hectic right before closing, but you should always make time for a final walk-through. Your goal is to make sure that your home is in the same condition you expected it would be. Ideally, the sellers already have moved out. This is your last chance to check that appliances are in working condition and that agreed-upon repairs have been made. Here s a detailed list of what not to overlook for on your final walk-through.

Make sure that:
Repairs you ve requested have been made. Obtain copies of paid bills and warranties.
There are no major changes to the property since you last viewed it.
All items that were included in the sale price  draperies, lighting fixtures, etc.  are still there.
Screens and storm windows are in place or stored.
All appliances are operating, such as the dishwasher, washer and dryer, oven, etc.
Intercom, doorbell, and alarm are operational.
Hot water heater is working.
No plants or shrubs have been removed from the yard.
Heating and air conditioning system is working
Garage door opener and other remotes are available.
Instruction books and warranties on appliances and fixtures are available.
All personal items of the sellers and all debris have been removed. Check the basement, attic, and every room, closet, and crawlspace.

Reprinted from REALTOR magazine (REALTOR.org/realtormag) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS .
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

ARE WE HOME YET?

There are many factors to take into account when trying to choose the right home. After you ve settled on a price range that you can afford, start asking yourself some questions:

  • What part of town do I want to live in In an urban area Near good schools (Are you single, partnered, partnered with kids )
  • Is a big house more important than location
  • How many bedrooms do you need/want Bathrooms Other amenities
  • Do you want a new home A used home A condominium A fixer-upper

Other things to consider: Are you very tolerant to loud neighbors or un-kept houses If you answer  yes, you should have no problem finding a great deal on a home. A problem may arise, however, when you attempt to sell the home. While making yourself happy with your new home, keep in mind that one of these days you may want to try and make someone else happy with it!

Choosing what part of town to live in is mainly based on your lifestyle. If you re single and enjoy a very active lifestyle, living in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood close to good schools may not be too important to you. On the other hand, if you have three small children, living in a singles condo complex might be a poor choice  or at least make you unpopular with your neighbors!

Pay attention to the quality of the neighborhood in which you are looking.  Pride of ownership shows through in how well yards and homes are maintained. If dead lawns and over-grown shrubs are the norm, you may want to think twice before buying there.

True, you might get more house for the money, but in the long run, you may have trouble re-selling it.

Think about what is going to make your home livable: bedrooms with bathrooms a removed master bedroom a two car garage a gourmet kitchen a large yard a small yard You should write up a wish list, then start looking at what is available in your price range. From there, you can whittle the list down to what you really want and what you can live without.

Closing Documents You Should Keep

On closing day, expect to sign a lot of documents and walk away with a big stack of papers. Here s a list of the most important documents you should file away for future reference.

HUD-1 settlement statement. Itemizes all the costs  commissions, loan fees, points, and hazard insurance  associated with the closing. You ll need it for income tax purposes if you paid points.

Truth in Lending statement. Summarizes the terms of your mortgage loan, including the annual percentage rate and recision period.

Mortgage and note. Spell out the legal terms of your mortgage obligation and the agreed-upon repayment terms.

Deed. Transfers ownership to you.

Affidavits. Binding statements by either party. For example, the sellers will often sign an affidavit stating that they haven t incurred any liens.

Riders. Amendments to the sales contract that affect your rights. Example: The sellers won t move out until two weeks after closing but will pay rent to the buyers during that period.

Insurance policies. Provide a record and proof of your coverage.

Sources: Credit Union National Association; Mortgage Bankers Association; Home-Buyer s Guide (Real Estate Center at Texas A&M, 2000)

Reprinted from REALTOR magazine (REALTOR.org/realtormag) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS .
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

8 Tips to Guide for Your Home Search

1. Research before you look. Decide what features you most want to have in a home, what neighborhoods you prefer, and how much you d be willing to spend each month for housing.

2. Be realistic. It s OK to be picky, but don t be unrealistic with your expectations. There s no such thing as a perfect home. Use your list of priorities as a guide to evaluate each property.

3. Get your finances in order. Review your credit report and be sure you have enough money to cover your down payment and closing costs. Then, talk to a lender and get prequalified for a mortgage. This will save you the heartache later of falling in love with a house you can t afford.

4. Don t ask too many people for opinions. It will drive you crazy. Select one or two people to turn to if you feel you need a second opinion, but be ready to make the final decision on your own.

5. Decide your moving timeline. When is your lease up Are you allowed to sublet How tight is the rental market in your area All of these factors will help you determine when you should move.

6. Think long term. Are you looking for a starter house with plans to move up in a few years, or do you hope to stay in this home for a longer period This decision may dictate what type of home you ll buy as well as the type of mortgage terms that will best suit you.

7. Insist on a home inspection. If possible, get a warranty from the seller to cover defects for one year.

8. Get help from a REALTOR . Hire a real estate professional who specializes in buyer representation. Unlike a listing agent, whose first duty is to the seller, a buyer s representative is working only for you. Buyer s reps are usually paid out of the seller s commission payment.

Reprinted from REALTOR magazine (REALTOR.org/realtormag) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS .
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

Tips for Finding the Perfect Neighborhood

Your neighborhood has a big impact on your lifestyle. Follow these steps to find the perfect community to call home.

Is it close to your favorite spots Make a list of the activities  movies, health club, church, etc.  you engage in regularly and stores you visit frequently. See how far you would have to travel from each neighborhood you re considering to engage in your most common activities.

Check out the school district. This is especially important if you have children, but it also can affect resale value. The Department of Education in your town can probably provide information on test scores, class size, percentage of students who attend college, and special enrichment programs. If you have school-age children, visit schools in the neighborhoods you re considering. Also, check out www.schoolmatters.com.

Find out if the neighborhood is safe. Ask the police department for neighborhood crime statistics. Consider not only the number of crimes but also the type  such as burglaries or armed robberies  and the trend of increasing or decreasing crime. Also, is crime centered in only one part of the neighborhood, such as near a retail area

Determine if the neighborhood is economically stable. Check with your local city economic development office to see if income and property values in the neighborhood are stable or rising. What is the percentage of homes to apartments Apartments don t necessarily diminish value, but do mean a more transient population. Do you see vacant businesses or homes that have been for sale for months

See if you ll make money. Ask a local REALTOR or call the local REALTOR association to get information about price appreciation in the neighborhood. Although past performance is no guarantee of future results, this information may give you a sense of how good of an investment your home will be. A REALTOR or the government planning agency also may be able to tell you about planned developments or other changes in the neighborhood  like a new school or highway  that might affect value.

Make personal observations. Once you ve narrowed your focus to two or three neighborhoods, go there and walk around. Are homes tidy and well maintained Are streets quiet How does it feel Pick a warm day if you can and chat with people working or playing outside.

Reprinted from REALTOR magazine (REALTOR.org/realtormag) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS .
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

7 Tips for Short Sale Success.

By: G. M. Filisko

Have to sell your home for less than it’s worth Our seven tips will help you get the best price.

When you owe more on your home than it’s worth, but you have to sell, you need to squeeze every dollar possible from the sale.

Here are seven tips for navigating the short-sale process.

1. Know who you owe
A short sale has to be approved by any company that has a mortgage or lien against your home. That includes your first, second, or even third mortgage lender, your home equity line lender; your homeowners or condominium association; and any contractors who’ve placed a lien on your home. Make a list and start talking to everyone early in the process. Ask what documents they’ll need from you.

2. Pick your short sale team
You’ll need to work with a team of short sale experts, including a real estate agent, real estate attorney, and your accountant. Look for agents and attorneys who advertise themselves as short sale experts. Interview at least three, and listen carefully for signs that they understand the complexities of the short sale process.
Agents should explain how they’ll arrive at a suggested price for your home. Ask them to show you a sample short-sale package or for an example of a prior short-sale success.

3. Get your documents ready
Gather the paperwork your creditors and mortgage lenders asked to see, like your listing agreement and a hardship letter explaining why you need to do a short sale. You’ll also need proof of what you earn and what you owe as well as copies of your federal income tax returns for the past two years.

4. Expect delays
Despite a federal rule saying banks participating in the federal government’s Making Home Affordable loan modification program (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/making-home-affordable-modification-option/) must respond to short-sale offers within 10 days, it may take weeks or months for your lender to decide whether to allow you to sell your home in a short sale–and even longer if you must negotiate with more than one lender or lienholder.
Your lender and lienholders don’t have to agree to your proposed short sale. They can reject your terms or make a counteroffer, which can create further delays.

5. Anticipate demands
Discuss with your short-sale team how you should respond to common short-sale demands from lenders. For example, are you willing to sign a promissory note agreeing to pay outstanding amounts after the sale is complete

6. Know the tax implications
Any unpaid amount of your mortgage “forgiven” by your lender through a short sale may be considered income to you under federal tax rules. Ask your attorney or accountant whether you qualify to exclude that amount as income on your tax returns under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and Debt Cancellation Act. Also ask if you’ll be required to report amounts “forgiven” by other lienholders, if applicable.

7. Consider how the short sale will affect your credit and what you must pay
Ask whether your lender will report the short sale to credit-reporting agencies. Having a portion of your debt forgiven may negatively affect your credit score, but a short sale typically damages your score less than a foreclosure or bankruptcy.
Ask you lawyer whether you’ll be responsible for paying back the lenders’ loss. If the lender says it will forgive any losses on the sale of your home, get that promise in writing.

Other web resources
More on short sales (http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/article-30016.html)

IRS information on the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and Debt Cancellation (http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=179414,00.html)

This article includes general information about tax laws and consequences, but isn’t intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Your Property Wish List

What does your future home look like Where is it located As you hunt down your dream home, consult this list to evaluate properties and keep your priorities top of mind.

Neighborhoods

What neighborhoods do you prefer

Schools

What school systems do you want to be near

Transportation

How close must the home be to these amenities:
Public transportation
Airport
Expressway
Neighborhood shopping
Schools
Other

Home Style

What architectural style(s) of homes do you prefer
Do you want to buy a home, condominium, or townhome
Would you like a one-story or two-story home
How many bedrooms must your new home have
How many bathrooms must your new home have

Home Condition

Do you prefer a new home or an existing home
If you re looking for an existing home, how old of a home would you consider
How much repair or renovation would you be willing to do
Do you have special needs that your home must meet

Home Features

Front yard
Back yard
Garage ( __ cars)
Patio/Deck
Pool
Family room
Formal living room
Formal dining room
Eat-in kitchen
Laundry room
Finished basement
Attic
Fireplace
Spa in bath
Air conditioning
Wall-to-wall carpet
Wood floors
Great view

Other notes:

Reprinted from REALTOR magazine (REALTOR.org/realtormag) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS .
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

Make Your House FHA-Loan Friendly

By: Terry Sheridan

Know the basics of FHA loan rules and you stand a better chance of selling your house or condo.

Make your house FHA-friendly, and it will appeal to more homebuyers. Why Because the Federal Housing Administration is insuring the mortgage loans used by about 30% of today’s homebuyers.

If your house passes the FHA rules, it will appeal to buyers who plan to use an FHA-insured mortgage. If your house doesn’t qualify for an FHA loan, you’re cutting out 30% of potential buyers.

FHA is especially important to first-time homebuyers and those with small downpayments because it allows borrowers with good credit to make a downpayment as low as 3.5% of the purchase price.

Here’s how to make your home appealing to FHA borrowers:

Know the FHA loan limits in your area
Start by checking to see if your home’s listed price falls within FHA lending limits for your area (https://entp.hud.gov/idapp/html/hicostlook.cfm). FHA mortgage limits vary a lot. In San Francisco, FHA will insure a mortgage of up to $729,750 on a single-family home. In the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the loan limit is $271,050.

Home inspections
Most buyers will ask for a home inspection, whether or not they’re using an FHA loan to buy the home. You must give FHA buyers a form (

http://www.ncradon.org/docs/foryourprotection.pdf) explaining what home inspections can reveal, and how inspections differ from appraisals.

How much do you have to repair
If the home inspection reveals problems, FHA will not give the okay to buy the home until you repair serious defects (

http://www.hud.gov/offices/adm/hudclips/letters/mortgagee/files/05-48ml.pdf) like roof leaks, mold, structural damage, and pre-1978 interior or exterior paint that could contain lead.

Dealing with FHA appraisers
Help the lender’s appraiser by providing easy access to attics and crawl spaces, which usually must be photographed, says appraiser Frank Gregoire in St. Petersburg, Fla. Your buyer can hire his own appraiser to evaluate your home. But FHA only relies on reports by its approved appraisers. If the two appraisals conflict, the FHA appraisal preempts the buyer’s appraisal.

Help with FHA closing costs
Most FHA buyers need help with closing costs, says mortgage banker Susan Herman of First Equity Mortgage Bankers in Miami. So a prime way to make your house FHA-friendly is to help with those costs. FHA currently allows sellers to pay up to 6% of the sales price to help cover closing costs, but is considering lowering that limit to 3% in the fall of 2010.

If you’re selling a condo
FHA also has to approve your condo before a buyer uses an FHA loan to purchase your unit. Be sure your condo is FHA-approved for mortgages (

https://entp.hud.gov/idapp/html/condlook.cfm). The list has been updated, so if your association was approved a year ago, check again to make sure it’s still on the approved list.

FHA generally won’t insure loans in condo associations if more than 15% percent of the unit owners are late on association fees. Ask your property manager or board of directors for your association’s delinquency rate.

Other rules cover insurances, cash reserves and how many units are owner-occupied (

http://www.hud.gov/offices/adm/hudclips/letters/mortgagee/files/09-46aml.pdf) and the types of condos that can be purchased with an FHA mortgage

(http://www.hud.gov/offices/adm/hudclips/letters/mortgagee/files/09-46bml.pdf).

FHA sometimes issues waivers for healthy condominiums that don’t meet the regular rules. If your condo isn’t FHA-approved, it doesn’t necessarily have to meet every single rule to gain approval. Ask your REALTOR® to consult with local lenders about getting an FHA waiver for your condo if it doesn’t meet all the requirements.
FHA also limits its mortgage exposure in homeowners associations. With some limited exceptions, no more than 50% of the units in an association can be FHA-insured (

http://www.hud.gov/offices/adm/hudclips/letters/mortgagee/files/09-46aml.pdf).

FHA loans for planned-unit developments
FHA no longer requires lenders to review budgets and legal documents for planned-unit developments.

More from HouseLogic
Show Your Support for FHA (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/show-your-support-for-FHA/)

Other web resources
Why Ask for an FHA Loan (http://www.hud.gov/fha/choosefha.cfm)
Find a State Program to Help Homebuyers Afford Your Home (http://www.hud.gov/buying/localbuying.cfm)

Terry Sheridan is an award-winning freelance writer who has covered real estate for 20 years, and has owned and sold three homes.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

What You Must Know About Home Appraisals

By: G. M. Filisko

Understanding how appraisals work will help you achieve a quick and profitable refinance or sale.

When you refinance or sell your home, the lender will insist that you get an appraisal–an opinion of the value of your home based on what similar homes in your area have sold for in recent months.

Here are five tips about the appraised value of your home.

1. An appraisal isn’t an exact science
When appraisers evaluate a home’s value, they’re giving their best opinion based on how the home’s features stack up against those of similar homes recently sold nearby. One appraiser may factor in a recent sale, but another may consider that sale too long ago, or the home too different, or too far away to be a fair comparison. The result can be differences in the values two separate appraisers set for your home.

2. Appraisals have different purposes
If the appraisal is being used by a lender giving a loan on the home, the appraised value will be the lower of market value (what it would sell for on the open market today) and the price you paid for the house if you recently bought it.

An appraisal being used to figure out how much to insure your home for or to determine your property taxes may rely on other factors and arrive at different values. For example, though an appraisal for a home loan evaluates today’s market value, an appraisal for insurance purposes calculates what it would cost to rebuild your home at today’s building material and labor rates, which can result in two different numbers.

Appraisals are also different from CMAs, or competitive market analyses. In a CMA, a real estate agent relies on market expertise to estimate how much your home will sell for in a specific time period. The price your home will sell for in 30 days may be different than the price your home will sell for in 120 days. Because real estate agents don’t follow the rules appraisers do, there can be variations between CMAs and appraisals on the same home.

3. An appraisal is a snapshot
Home prices shift, and appraised values will shift with those market changes. Your home may be appraised at $150,000 today, but in two months when you refinance or list it for sale, the appraised value could be lower or higher depending on how your market has performed.

4. Appraisals don’t factor in your personal issues
You may have a reason you must sell immediately, such as a job loss or transfer, which can affect the amount of money you’ll accept to complete the transaction in your time frame. An appraisal doesn’t consider those personal factors.

5. You can ask for a second opinion
If your home appraisal comes back at a value you believe is too low, you can request that a second appraisal be performed by a different appraiser. You, or potential buyers, if they’ve requested the appraisal, will have to pay for the second appraisal. But it may be worth it to keep the sale from collapsing from a faulty appraisal. On the other hand, the appraisal may be accurate, and it may be a sign that you need to adjust your pricing or the size of the loan you’re refinancing.

More from HouseLogic
How to use an appraisal to eliminate private mortgage insurance (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/cancel-your-private-mortgage-insurance/)

Understanding the assessed value of your home for tax purposes (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/why-real-estate-assessments-matter/)

Understanding the amount at which to insure your home (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/homeowners-insurance-are-you-over-or-underinsured/)

Other web resources
More information on appraisals (http://www.appraisalinstitute.org/profession/appraiser.aspx)

How to improve the appraised value of your home (http://www.appraisers.org/Consumer/ConsumerLibrary/SoftHousingMarketMakesforaHardSell.aspx)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who’s had more than 10 appraisals performed on her properties in the past 20 years. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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