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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.

Is It an Offer They Can t Refuse

So you ve gotten pre-approved on your loan and you ve decided on what type of home you want to buy. And, you ve found your dream home. Now it s time to make an offer on it. This is when the real fun begins.

To make a good offer on a house, look at its fair market value. To get its fair market value, there are two things you can do: get a comparable market analysis (CMA) or have a professional appraisal done.

The CMA is typically done by your real estate agent. Again, this is a good time to have a great, knowledgeable agent. A CMA is a process of looking at comparable sales in your prospective neighborhood. By examining things like size, location and purchase price, a good agent should be able to give a fairly accurate determination of a home s fair market value.

On the other hand, you can choose to have a professional appraisal done on your prospective home. An appraiser estimates the value of the home and will give you an estimated fair market value. However, you will have to pay to have an appraisal done  whether you get the property or not.

Q-A Series – HUD and FHA

Q. WHAT IS THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT

Also known as HUD, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was established in 1965 to develop national policies and programs to address housing needs in the U.S. One of HUD’s primary missions is to create a suitable living environment for all Americans by developing and improving the country’s communities and enforcing fair housing laws

Q. HOW DOES HUD HELP HOMEBUYERS AND HOMEOWNERS

HUD helps people by administering a variety of programs that develop and support affordable housing. Specifically, HUD plays a large role in homeownership by making loans available for lower- and moderate-income families through its FHA mortgage insurance program and its HUD Homes program. HUD owns homes in many communities throughout the U.S. and offers them for sale at attractive prices and economical terms. HUD also seeks to protect consumers through education, Fair Housing Laws, and housing rehabilitation initiatives.

Q. WHAT IS THE FHA

Now an agency within HUD, the Federal Housing Administration was established in 1934 to advance opportunities for Americans to own homes. By providing private lenders with mortgage insurance, the FHA gives them the security they need to lend to first-time buyers who might not be able to qualify for conventional loans. The FHA has helped more than 26 million Americans buy a home.

Q. HOW CAN THE FHA ASSIST ME IN BUYING A HOME

The FHA works to make homeownership a possibility for more Americans. With the FHA, you don’t need perfect credit or a high-paying job to qualify for a loan. The FHA also makes loans more accessible by requiring smaller down payments than conventional loans. In fact, an FHA down payment could be as little as a few months rent. And your monthly payments may not be much more than rent.

Q. HOW IS THE FHA FUNDED

Lender claims paid by the FHA mortgage insurance program are drawn from the Mutual Mortgage Insurance fund. This fund is made up of premiums paid by FHA-insured loan borrowers. No tax dollars are used to fund the program.

Q. WHO CAN QUALIFY FOR FHA LOANS

anyone who meets the credit requirements, can afford the mortgage payments and cash investment, and who plans to use the mortgaged property as a primary residence may apply for an FHA-insured loan.

Q. WHAT IS THE FHA LOAN LIMIT

FHA loan limits vary throughout the country, from $115,200 in low-cost areas to $208,800 in high-cost areas. The loan maximums for multi-unit homes are higher than those for single units and also vary by area.

Because these maximums are linked to the conforming loan limit and average area home prices, FHA loan limits are periodically subject to change. Ask your lender for details and confirmation of current limits.

Q. WHAT ARE THE STEPS INVOLVED IN THE FHA LOAN PROCESS

With the exception of a few additional forms, the FHA loan application process is similar to that of a conventional loan (see Question 47). With new automation measures, FHA loans may be originated more quickly than before. And, if you don’t prefer a face-to-face meeting, you can apply for an FHA loan via mail, telephone, the Internet, or video conference.

Q. HOW MUCH INCOME DO I NEED TO HAVE TO QUALIFY FOR AN FHA LOAN

There is no minimum income requirement. But you must prove steady income for at least three years, and demonstrate that you’ve consistently paid your bills on time.

Q. WHAT QUALIFIES AS AN INCOME SOURCE FOR THE FHA

Seasonal pay, child support, retirement pension payments, unemployment compensation, VA benefits, military pay, Social Security income, alimony, and rent paid by family all qualify as income sources. Part-time pay, overtime, and bonus pay also count as long as they are steady. Special savings plans-such as those set up by a church or community association – qualify, too. Income type is not as important as income steadiness with the FHA.

Q. CAN I CARRY DEBT AND STILL QUALIFY FOR FHA LOANS

Yes. Short-term debt doesn’t count as long as it can be paid off within 10 months. And some regular expenses, like child care costs, are not considered debt. Talk to your lender or real estate agent about meeting the FHA debt-to-income ratio.

Q. WHAT IS THE DEBT-TO-INCOME RATIO FOR FHA LOANS

The FHA allows you to use 29% of your income towards housing costs and 41% towards housing expenses and other long-term debt. With a conventional loan, this qualifying ratio allows only 28% toward housing and 36% towards housing and other debt

Q. CAN I EXCEED THIS RATIO

You may qualify to exceed if you have:
– a large down payment
– a demonstrated ability to pay more toward your housing expenses
– substantial cash reserves
– net worth enough to repay the mortgage regardless of income
– evidence of acceptable credit history or limited credit use
– less-than-maximum mortgage terms
– funds provided by an organization
– a decrease in monthly housing expenses

Q. HOW LARGE A DOWN PAYMENT DO I NEED WITH AN FHA LOAN

You must have a down payment of at least 3% of the purchase price of the home. Most affordable loan programs offered by private lenders require between a 3%-5% down payment, with a minimum of 3% coming directly from the borrower’s own funds.

Q. WHAT CAN I USE TO PAY THE DOWN PAYMENT AND CLOSING COSTS OF AN FHA LOAN

Besides your own funds, you may use cash gifts or money from a private savings club. If you can do certain repairs and improvements yourself, your labor may be used as part of a down 8 payment (called -sweat equity”). If you are doing a lease purchase, paying extra rent to the seller may also be considered the same as accumulating cash.

Q. HOW DOES MY CREDIT HISTORY IMPACT MY ABILITY TO QUALIFY

The FHA is generally more flexible than conventional lenders in its qualifying guidelines. In fact, the FHA allows you to re-establish credit if:
– two years have passed since a bankruptcy has been discharged
– all judgments have been paid
– any outstanding tax liens have been satisfied or appropriate arrangements have been made to establish a repayment plan with the IRS or state Department of Revenue
– three years have passed since a foreclosure or a deed-in-lieu has been resolved

Q. CAN I QUALIFY FOR AN FHA LOAN WITHOUT A CREDIT HISTORY

Yes. If you prefer to pay debts in cash or are too young to have established credit, there are other ways to prove your eligibility. Talk to your lender for details.

Q. WHAT TYPES OF CLOSING COSTS ARE ASSOCIATED WITH FHA-INSURED LOANS

Except for the addition of an FHA mortgage insurance premium, FHA closing costs are similar to those of a conventional loan outlined in Question 63. The FHA requires a single, upfront mortgage insurance premium equal to 2.25% of the mortgage to be paid at closing (or 1.75% if you complete the HELP program- see Question 91). This initial premium may be partially refunded if the loan is paid in full during the first seven years of the loan term. After closing, you will then be responsible for an annual premium – paid monthly – if your mortgage is over 15 years or if you have a 15-year loan with an LTV greater than 90%.

Q. CAN I ROLL CLOSING COSTS INTO my FHA LOAN

No. Though you can’t roll closing costs into your FHA loan, you may be able to use the amount you pay for them to help satisfy the down payment requirement. Ask your lender for details.

Q. ARE FHA LOANS ASSUMABLE

Yes. You can assume an existing FHA-insured loan, or, if you are the one deciding to sell, allow a buyer to assume yours. Assuming a loan can be very beneficial, since the process is streamlined and less expensive compared to that for a new loan. Also, assuming a loan can often result in a lower interest rate. The application process consists basically of a credit check and no property appraisal is required. And you must demonstrate that you have enough income to support the mortgage loan. In this way, qualifying to assume a loan is similar to the qualification requirements for a new one.

Q. WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I CAN’T MAKE A PAYMENT ON LOAN

Call or, write to your lender as soon as possible. Clearly explain the situation and be prepared to provide him or her with financial information.

Q. ARE THERE ANY OPTIONS IF I FALL BEHIND ON MY LOAN PAYMENTS

Yes. Talk to your lender or a HUD-approved counseling agency for details. Listed below are a few options that may help you get back on track.

For FHA loans:
– Keep living in your home to qualify for assistance.
– Contact a HUD-approved housing counseling agency (1-800-569-4287 or TDD: 1-800-483-2209) and cooperate with the counselor/lender trying to help you.
– HUD has a number of special loss mitigation programs available to help you:
– Special Forbearance: Your lender will arrange for a revised repayment plan which may Include temporary reduction or suspension of payments; you can qualify by having an Involuntary reduction in your Income or Increase In living expenses.
– Mortgage Modification: Allows refinance debt and/or extend the term of the your mortgage loan which may reduce your monthly payments; you can qualify if you have recovered from financial problems, but net Income Is less than before.
– Partial Claim: Your lender maybe able to help you obtain an interest-free loan from HUD to bring your mortgage current.
– Pre-foreclosure Sale: Allows you to sell your property and pay off your mortgage loan ,to avoid foreclosure.
– Deed-in lieu of Foreclosure: Lets you voluntarily “give back” your property to the lender; it won’t save your house but will help you avoid the costs, time, and effort of the foreclosure process.
– If you are having difficulty with an-uncooperative lender or feel your loan servicer is not providing you with the most effective loss mitigation options, call the FHA Loss Mitigation Center at 1-888-297-8685 for additional help.

For Conventional Loans:

Talk to your lender about specific loss mitigation options. Work directly with him or her to request a “workout packet.” A secondary lender, like Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, may have purchased your loan. Your lender can follow the appropriate guidelines set by Fannie or Freddie to determine the best option for your situation.

Fannie Mae does not deal directly with the borrower. They work with the lender to determine the loss mitigation program that best fits your needs.

Freddie Mac, like Fannie Mae, will usually only work with the loan servicer. However, if you encounter problems with your lender during the loss mitigation process, you can coil customer service for help at 1-800-FREDDIE (1-800-373-3343).

In any loss mitigation situation, it is important to remember a few helpful hints:
– Explore every reasonable alternative to avoid losing your home, but beware of scams. For example, watch out for:

Equity skimming: a buyer offers to repay the mortgage or sell the property if you sign over the deed and move out.
Phony counseling agencies: offer counseling for a fee when it is often given at no charge.

– Don’t sign anything you don’t understand.

Q. WHAT IS A 203(b) LOAN

This is the most commonly used FHA program. It offers a low down payment, flexible qualifying guidelines, limited lender’s fees, and a maximum loan amount.

Q. WHAT IS A 203(k) LOAN

This is a loan that enables the homebuyer to finance both the purchase and rehabilitation of a home through a single mortgage. A portion of the loan is used to pay off the seller’s existing mortgage and the remainder is placed in an escrow account and released as rehabilitation is completed. Basic guidelines for 203(k) loans are as follows:
– The home must be at least one year old.
– The cost of rehabilitation must be at least $5,000, but the total property value – including the cost of repairs – must fall within the FHA maximum mortgage limit.
– The 203(k) loan must follow many of the 203(b) eligibility requirements.
– Talk to your lender about specific improvement, energy efficiency, and structural guidelines.

Q. WHAT IS AN ENERGY EFFICIENT MORTGAGE (EEM)

The Energy Efficient Mortgage allows a homebuyer to save future money on utility bills. This is done by financing the cost of adding energy-efficiency features to a new or existing home as part of an FHA-insured home purchase. The EEM can be used with both 203(b) and 203(k) loans. Basic guidelines for EEMs are as follows:
– The cost of improvements must be determined by a Home Energy Rating System or by an energy consultant. This cost must be less than the anticipated savings from the improvements.
– One- and two-unit new or existing homes are eligible; condos are not.
– The improvements financed may be 5% of property value or $4,000, whichever is greater. The total must fall within the FHA loan limit.

Q. WHAT IS A TITLE I LOAN

Given by a Lender and insured by the FHA, a Title I loan is used to make non-luxury renovations and repairs to a home. It offers a manageable interest rate and repayment schedule. Loans are limited to between $5,000 and 20,000. If the loan amount is under 7,500, no lien is required against your home. Ask your lender for details.

Q. WHAT OTHER LOAN PRODUCTS OR PROGRAMS DOES THE FHA OFFER

The FHA also insures loans for the purchase or rehabilitation of manufactured housing, condominiums, and cooperatives. It also has special programs for urban areas, disaster victims, and members of the armed forces. Insurance for ARMS is also available from the FHA.

Q. HOW CAN I OBTAIN AN FHA-INSURED LOAN

Contact an FHA-approved lender such as a participating mortgage company, bank, savings and loan association, or thrift. For more information on the FHA and how you can obtain an FHA loan, visit the HUD web site at http://www.hud.gov or call a HUD-approved counseling agency at 1-800-569-4287 or TDD: 1-800-877-8339.

Q. HOW CAN I CONTACT HUD

Visit the web site at http://www.hud.gov or look in the phone book “blue pages” for a listing of the HUD office near you.

Making an Offer on a Short Sale What You Need to Know

Are you looking to buy a new home Are you thinking that now’s a great time to find bargains Before you make an offer, it pays to know a little about the seller’s situation.

If a home is being sold for below what the current seller owes on the property and the seller does not have other funds to make up the difference at closing the sale is considered a short sale. Many more home owners are finding themselves in this situation due to a number of factors, including job losses, aggressive borrowing against their home in the days of easy credit, and declining home values in a slower real estate market.

A short sale is different from a foreclosure, which is when the seller’s lender has taken title of the home and is selling it directly. Homeowners often try to accomplish a short sale in order to avoid foreclosure. But a short sale holds many potential pitfalls for buyers. Know the risks before you pursue a short-sale purchase.

You’re a good candidate for a short-sale purchase if:

* You’re very patient. Even after you come to agreement with the seller to buy a short-sale property, the seller s lender (or lenders, if there is more than one mortgage) has to approve the sale before you can close. When there is only one mortgage, short-sale experts say lender approval typically takes about two months. If there is more than one mortgage with different lenders, it can take four months or longer for the lenders to approve the sale.

* Your financing is in order. Lenders like cash offers. But even if you can t pay all cash for a short-sale property, it s important to show you are well qualified and your financing is set. If you’re preapproved, have a large down payment, and can close at any time, your offer will be viewed more favorably than that of a buyer whose financing is less secure.

* You don t have any contingencies. If you have a home to sell before you can close on the purchase of the short-sale property or you need to be in your new home by a certain time a short sale may not be for you. Lenders like no-contingency offers and flexible closing terms.

If you’re serious about purchasing a short-sale property, it’s important for you to have expert assistance. Here are some people you want to work with:

* Experienced real estate attorney. Only about two out of five short sales are approved by lenders. But a good real estate attorney who’s knowledgeable about the short-sale process will increase your chances getting an approved contract. Also, if you want any provisions or very specialized language written into the purchase contract, a real estate attorney is essential throughout the negotiation.

* A qualified real estate professional. You may have a close friend or relative in real estate, but if that person doesn t know anything about short sales, working with him or her may hurt your chances of a successful closing. Interview a few practitioners and ask them how many buyers they’ve represented in a short sale and, of those, how many have successfully closed. A qualified real estate professional will be able to show you short-sale homes, help negotiate the purchase when you find the property you want to buy, and smooth communications with the lender. (All MLSs permit, and some now require, special notations to indicate that a listing is a short sale. There also are certain phrases you can watch for, such as  lender approval required. )

* Title officer. It s a good idea to have a title officer do an initial title search on a short-sale property to see all the liens attached to the property. If there are multiple lien holders (e.g., second or third mortgage or lines of credit, real estate tax lien, mechanic s lien, homeowners association lien, etc.), it’s much tougher to get that short sale contract to the closing table. Any of the lien holders could put a kink in the process even after you ve waited for months for lender approval. If you don t know a title officer, your real estate attorney or real estate professional should be able to recommend a few.

Some of the other risks faced by buyers of short-sale properties include:

* Potential for rejection. Lenders want to minimize their losses as much as possible. If you make an offer tremendously lower than the fair market value of the home, chances are that your offer will be rejected and you ll have wasted months. Or the lender could make a counteroffer, which will lengthen the process.

* Bad terms. Even when a lender approves a short sale, it could require that the sellers sign a promissory note to repay the deficient amount of the loan, which may not be acceptable to some financially desperate sellers. In that case, the sellers may refuse to go through with the short sale. Lenders also can change any of the terms of the contract that you ve already negotiated, which may not be agreeable to you.

* No repairs or repair credits. You will most likely be asked to take the property  as is. Lenders are already taking a loss on the property and may not agree to requests for repair credits.

The risks of a short sale are considerable. But if you have the time, patience, and iron will to see it through, a short sale can be a win-win for you and the sellers.

* Not all real estate practitioners are REALTORS . A REALTOR is a member of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS and is bound by NAR s strict code of ethics.

Note: This article provides general information only. Information is not provided as advice for a specific matter. Laws vary from state to state. For advice on a specific matter, consult your attorney or CPA.

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

Negotiate Your Best House Buy

By: G. M. Filisko

Keep your emotions in check and your eyes on the goal, and you’ll pay less when purchasing a home.

Buying a home can be emotional, but negotiating the price shouldn’t be. The key to saving money when purchasing a home is sticking to a plan during the turbulence of high-stakes negotiations. A real estate agent who represents you can guide you and offer you advice, but you are the one who must make the final decision during each round of offers and counter offers.

Here are six tips for negotiating the best price on a home.
1. Get prequalified for a mortgage
Getting prequalified for a mortgage proves to sellers that you’re serious about buying and capable of affording their home. That will push you to the head of the pack when sellers choose among offers; they’ll go with buyers who are a sure financial bet, not those whose financing could flop.

2. Ask questions
Ask your agent for information to help you understand the sellers’ financial position and motivation. Are they facing foreclosure or a short sale Have they already purchased a home or relocated, which may make them eager to accept a lower price to avoid paying two mortgages Has the home been on the market for a long time, or was it just listed Have there been other offers If so, why did they fall through The more signs that sellers are eager to sell, the lower your offer can reasonably go.

3. Work back from a final price to determine your initial offer
Know in advance the most you’re willing to pay, and with your agent work back from that number to determine your initial offer, which can set the tone for the entire negotiation. A too-low bid may offend sellers emotionally invested in the sales price; a too-high bid may lead you to spend more than necessary to close the sale.
Work with your agent to evaluate the sellers’ motivation and comparable home sales to arrive at an initial offer that engages the sellers yet keeps money in your wallet.

4. Avoid contingencies
Sellers favor offers that leave little to chance. Keep your bid free of complicated contingencies, such as making the purchase conditional on the sale of your current home. Do keep contingencies for mortgage approval, home inspection, and environmental checks typical in your area, like radon.

5. Remain unemotional
Buying a home is a business transaction, and treating it that way helps you save money. Consider any movement by the sellers, however slight, a sign of interest, and keep negotiating.
Each time you make a concession, ask for one in return. If the sellers ask you to boost your price, ask them to contribute to closing costs or pay for a home warranty. If sellers won’t budge, make it clear you’re willing to walk away; they may get nervous and accept your offer.

6. Don’t let competition change your plan
Great homes and those competitively priced can draw multiple offers in any market. Don’t let competition propel you to go beyond your predetermined price or agree to concessions-such as waiving an inspection-that aren’t in your best interest.

More from HouseLogic
Determine how much mortgage you can afford (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/4-tips-determine-how-much-mortgage-you-can-afford/)

Keep your home purchase on track (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/keep-your-home-purchase-track/)

Plan for a stress-free home closing (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/7-steps-stress-free-home-closing/)

Other web resources
More negotiating tips (http://www.freddiemac.com/corporate/buyown/english/purchasing/offer/negotiate.html)

Develop a homebuying strategy (http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/article-29746.html)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has to remind herself to remain unemotional during negotiations. 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.

Understanding Capital Gains in Real Estate

When you sell a stock, you owe taxes on your gain  the difference between what you paid for the stock and what you sold it for. The same holds true when selling a home (or a second home), but there are some special considerations.

How to Calculate Gain
In real estate, capital gains are based not on what you paid for the home, but on its adjusted cost basis. To calculate, follow these steps:

1. Purchase price: _______________________

The purchase price of the home is the sale price, not the amount of money you actually contributed at closing.

2. Total adjustments: _______________________

To calculate this, add the following:
Cost of the purchase  including transfer fees, attorney fees, and inspections, but not points you paid on your mortgage.
Cost of sale  including inspections, attorney fees, real estate commission, and money you spent to fix up your home just prior to sale.
Cost of improvements  including room additions, deck, etc. Note here that improvements do not include repairing or replacing something already there, such as putting on a new roof or buying a new furnace.

3. Your home s adjusted cost basis: _______________________

The total of your purchase price and adjustments is the adjusted cost basis of your home.

4. Your capital gain: _______________________

Subtract the adjusted cost basis from the amount your home sells for to get your capital gain.

A Special Real Estate Exemption for Capital Gains
Since 1997, up to $250,000 in capital gains ($500,000 for a married couple) on the sale of a home is exempt from taxation if you meet the following criteria:
You have lived in the home as your principal residence for two out of the last five years.
You have not sold or exchanged another home during the two years preceding the sale.
You meet what the IRS calls  unforeseen circumstances, such as job loss, divorce, or family medical emergency.

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

Q-A Series – YOU’VE FOUND IT

Q. WHAT DOES A HOME INSPECTOR DO, AND HOW DOES AN INSPECTION FIGURE IN THE PURCHASE OF A HOME

An inspector checks the safety of your potential new home. Home Inspectors focus especially on the structure, construction, and mechanical systems of the house and will make you aware of only repairs,that are needed.

The Inspector does not evaluate whether or not you’re getting good value for your money. Generally, an inspector checks (and gives prices for repairs on): the electrical system, plumbing and waste disposal, the water heater, insulation and Ventilation, the HVAC system, water source and quality, the potential presence of pests, the foundation, doors, windows, ceilings, walls, floors, and roof. Be sure to hire a home inspector that is qualified and experienced.

It’s a good idea to have an inspection before you sign a written offer since, once the deal is closed, you’ve bought the house as is.” Or, you may want to include an inspection clause in the offer when negotiating for a home. An inspection t clause gives you an ‘out” on buying the house if serious problems are found,or gives you the ability to renegotiate the purchase price if repairs are needed. An inspection clause can also specify that the seller must fix the problem(s) before you purchase the house.

Q. DO I NEED TO BE THERE FOR THE INSPECTION

It’s not required, but it’s a good idea. Following the inspection, the home inspector will be able to answer questions about the report and any problem areas. This is also an opportunity to hear an objective opinion on the home you’d I like to purchase and it is a good time to ask general, maintenance questions.

Q. ARE OTHER TYPES OF INSPECTIONS REQUIRED

If your home inspector discovers a serious problem a more specific Inspection may be recommended. It’s a good idea to consider having your home inspected for the presence of a variety of health-related risks like radon gas asbestos, or possible problems with the water or waste disposal system.

Q. HOW CAN I PROTECT MY FAMILY FROM LEAD IN THE HOME

If the house you’re considering was built before 1978 and you have children under the age of seven, you will want to have an inspection for lead-based point. It’s important to know that lead flakes from paint can be present in both the home and in the soil surrounding the house. The problem can be fixed temporarily by repairing damaged paint surfaces or planting grass over effected soil. Hiring a lead abatement contractor to remove paint chips and seal damaged areas will fix the problem permanently.

Q. ARE POWER LINES A HEALTH HAZARD

There are no definitive research findings that indicate exposure to power lines results in greater instances of disease or illness.

Q. DO I NEED A LAWYER TO BUY A HOME

Laws vary by state. Some states require a lawyer to assist in several aspects of the home buying process while other states do not, as long as a qualified real estate professional is involved. Even if your state doesn’t require one, you may want to hire a lawyer to help with the complex paperwork and legal contracts. A lawyer can review contracts, make you aware of special considerations, and assist you with the closing process. Your real estate agent may be able to recommend a lawyer. If not, shop around. Find out what services are provided for what fee, and whether the attorney is experienced at representing homebuyers.

Q. DO I REALLY NEED HOMEOWNER’S INSURANCE

Yes. A paid homeowner’s insurance policy (or a paid receipt for one) is required at closing, so arrangements will have to be made prior to that day. Plus, involving the insurance agent early in the home buying process can save you money. Insurance agents are a great resource for information on home safety and they can give tips on how to keep insurance premiums low.

Q. WHAT STEPS COULD I TAKE TO LOWER MY HOMEOWNER’S INSURANCE COSTS

Be sure to shop around among several insurance companies. Also, consider the cost of insurance when you look at homes. Newer homes and homes constructed with materials like brick tend to have lower premiums. Think about avoiding areas prone to natural disasters, like flooding. Choose a home with a fire hydrant or a fire department nearby.

Q. IS THE HOME LOCATED IN A FLOOD PLAIN

Your real estate agent or lender can help you answer this question. If you live in a flood plain, the lender will require that you have flood insurance before lending any money to you. But if you live near a flood plain, you may choose whether or not to get flood insurance coverage for your home. Work with an insurance agent to construct a policy that fits your needs.

Q. WHAT OTHER ISSUES SHOULD I CONSIDER BEFORE I BUY MY HOME

Always check to see if the house is in a low-lying area, in a high-risk area for natural disasters (like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.), or in a hazardous materials area. Be sure the house meets building codes. Also consider local zoning laws, which could affect remodeling or making an addition in the future. Your real estate agent should be able to help you with these questions.

Q. HOW DO I MAKE AN OFFER

Your real estate agent will assist you in making an offer, which will include the following information:
– Complete legal description of the property
– Amount of earnest money
– Down payment and financing details
– Proposed move-in date
– Price you are offering
– Proposed closing date
– Length of time the offer is valid
– Details of the deal

Remember that a sale commitment depends on negotiating a satisfactory contract with the seller, not just Making an offer.

Other ways to lower ins-insurance costs include insuring your home and car(s) with the same company, increasing home security, and seeking group coverage through alumni or business associations. Insurance costs are always lowered by raising your deductibles, but this exposes you to a higher out-of-pocket cost if you have to file a claim.

Q. HOW DO I DETERMINE THE INITIAL OFFER

Unless you have a buyer’s agent, remember that the agent works for the seller. Make a point of asking him or her to keep your discussions and information confidential. Listen to your real estate agent’s advice, but follow your own instincts on deciding a fair price. Calculating your offer should involve several factors: what homes sell for in the area, the home’s condition, how long it’s been on the market, financing terms, and the seller’s situation. By the time you’re ready to make an offer, you should have a good idea of what the home is worth and what you can afford. And, be prepared for give-and-take negotiation, which is very common when buying a home. The buyer and seller may often go back and forth until they can agree on a price.

Q. WHAT IS EARNEST MONEY HOW MUCH SHOULD I SET ASIDE

Earnest money is money put down to demonstrate your seriousness about buying a home. It must be substantial enough to demonstrate good faith and is usually between 1-5% of the purchase price (though the amount can vary with local customs and conditions). If your offer is accepted, the earnest money becomes part of your down payment or closing costs. If the offer is rejected, your money is returned to you. If you back out of a deal, you may forfeit the entire amount.

Q. WHAT ARE “HOME WARRANTIES”, AND SHOULD I CONSIDER THEM

Home warranties offer you protection for a specific period of time (e.g., one year) against potentially costly problems, like unexpected repairs on appliances or home systems, which are not covered by homeowner’s insurance. Warranties are becoming more popular because they offer protection during the time immediately following the purchase of a home, a time when many people find themselves cash-strapped.

6 Creative Ways to Afford a Home

1. Investigate local, state, and national down payment assistance programs. These programs give qualified applicants loans or grants to cover all or part of your required down payment. National programs include the Nehemiah program, www.getdownpayment.com, and the American Dream Down Payment Fund from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, www.hud.gov.

2. Explore seller financing. In some cases, sellers may be willing to finance all or part of the purchase price of the home and let you repay them gradually, just as you would do with a mortgage.

3. Consider a shared-appreciation or shared-equity arrangement. Under this arrangement, your family, friends, or even a third-party may buy a portion of the home and share in any appreciation when the home is sold. The owner/occupant usually pays the mortgage, property taxes, and maintenance costs, but all the investors’ names are usually on the mortgage. Companies are available that can help you find such an investor, if your family can t participate.

4. Ask your family for help. Perhaps a family member will loan you money for the down payment or act as a co-signer for the mortgage. Lenders often like to have a co-signer if you have little credit history.

5. Lease with the option to buy. Renting the home for a year or more will give you the chance to save more toward your down payment. And in many cases, owners will apply some of the rental amount toward the purchase price. You usually have to pay a small, nonrefundable option fee to the owner.

6. Consider a short-term second mortgage. If you can qualify for a short-term second mortgage, this would give you money to make a larger down payment. This may be possible if you re in good financial standing, with a strong income and little other debt.

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

8 Tips for Finding Your New Home

By: G. M. Filisko

A solid game plan can help you narrow your homebuying search to find the best home for you.

House hunting is just like any other shopping expedition. If you identify exactly what you want and do some research, you’ll zoom in on the home you want at the best price. These eight tips will guide you through a smart homebuying process.

1. Know thyself
Understand the type of home that suits your personality. Do you prefer a new or existing home A ranch or a multistory home If you’re leaning toward a fixer-upper, are you truly handy, or will you need to budget for contractors

2. Research before you look
List the features you most want in a home and identify which are necessities and which are extras. Identify three to four neighborhoods you’d like to live in based on commute time, schools, recreation, crime, and price. Then hop onto REALTOR.com (http://REALTOR.com) to get a feel for the homes available in your price range in your favorite neighborhoods. Use the results to prioritize your wants and needs so you can add in and weed out properties from the inventory you’d like to view.

3. Get your finances in order
Generally, lenders say you can afford a home priced two to three times your gross income. Create a budget so you know how much you’re comfortable spending each month on housing. Don’t wait until you’ve found a home and made an offer to investigate financing.

Gather your financial records and meet with a lender to get a prequalification letter spelling out how much you’re eligible to borrow. The lender won’t necessarily consider the extra fees you’ll pay when you purchase or your plans to begin a family or purchase a new car, so shop in a price range you’re comfortable with. Also, presenting an offer contingent on financing will make your bid less attractive to sellers.

4. Set a moving timeline
Do you have blemishes on your credit that will take time to clear up If you already own, have you sold your current home If not, you’ll need to factor in the time needed to sell. If you rent, when is your lease up Do you expect interest rates to jump anytime soon All these factors will affect your buying, closing, and moving timelines.

5. Think long term
Your future plans may dictate the type of home you’ll buy. Are you looking for a starter house with plans to move up in a few years, or do you hope to stay in the home for five to 10 years With a starter, you may need to adjust your expectations. If you plan to nest, be sure your priority list helps you identify a home you’ll still love years from now.

6. Work with a REALTOR®
Ask people you trust for referrals to a real estate professional they trust. Interview agents to determine which have expertise in the neighborhoods and type of homes you’re interested in. Because homebuying triggers many emotions, consider whether an agent’s style meshes with your personality.

Also ask if the agent specializes in buyer representation. Unlike listing agents, whose first duty is to the seller, buyers’ reps work only for you even though they’re typically paid by the seller. Finally, check whether agents are REALTORS®, which means they’re members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. NAR has been a champion of homeownership rights for more than a century.

7. Be realistic
It’s OK to be picky about the home and neighborhood you want, but don’t be close-minded, unrealistic, or blinded by minor imperfections. If you insist on living in a cul-de-sac, you may miss out on great homes on streets that are just as quiet and secluded.

On the flip side, don’t be so swayed by a “wow” feature that you forget about other issues-like noise levels-that can have a big impact on your quality of life. Use your priority list to evaluate each property, remembering there’s no such thing as the perfect home.

8. Limit the opinions you solicit
It’s natural to seek reassurance when making a big financial decision. But you know that saying about too many cooks in the kitchen. If you need a second opinion, select one or two people. But remain true to your list of wants and needs so the final decision is based on criteria you’ve identified as important.

More from HouseLogic
HOAs: What You Need to Know About Rules (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/hoas-what-you-need-to-know-about-rules/)

A Financial Plan for Your Home (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/a-financial-plan-for-your-home/)

When It Pays to Do It Yourself (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/when-it-pays-to-do-it-yourself/)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has found happiness in a brownstone in a historic Chicago neighborhood. 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.

What s the Score

Your credit score or FICO score (for Fair, Isaac and Company, which created the system) is a number that indicates the health of your credit. The higher the score, the healthier your credit and the more likely a lender is to approve a loan with good terms. Scores can range from 300 to over 900, with the typical credit score falling in the 600s to 700s.

Credit scores take five different financial areas into account. The  five C s of credit that lenders will look at include:

Capacity. Are you able to repay the debt The lender verifies your employment information: occupation, length of employment, income.
He or she reviews your expenses: how many dependents you have, if you pay alimony and/or child support, your other obligations.

Credit history. Based upon your past payment habits, how likely is it that you will make your monthly payment The lender looks at how much you owe, how often you borrow, whether you live within your means, and whether you pay your bills on time.
BEWARE! As your credit score goes down, mortgage fees and costs, interest rates and other costs go up, up, up! A typical 7% mortgage with a few thousand dollars in fees can go up to an 18% monster with many thousands in fees if you have a low credit score.

Capital. Do you have enough cash on hand for the down payment and closing costs Are you receiving a gift from a relative Will you have reserve money left over after the purchase

Collateral. Is the value of the property worth the investment Is it in sufficiently good condition and is the price appropriate for the home If you do not repay the debt, will the lender be able to recover his investment

Character. Have you disclosed all your debts If you had previous credit problems, did you disclose them

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