First Time Home Buyer? ~ What to Expect:

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I was reading an article recently regarding the $8,000. tax credit for first time home buyers, and the writer expressed shock at how many people are completely unaware of it. I have noticed in my own practice recently that the larger PR machine has evidently not been doing a very good job at educating the public, as some of my clients reveal innocence on this subject as well when they discuss their leisurely plans to purchase “sometime in January of next year” etc. (the tax credit is only applicable if the home purchase is completed before December 1st of this year.) I also have heard more & more folks lately talking about attending “First Time Home Buyer Classes” presented usually by Realtors and Mortgage Brokers as a service to the public.

It seems to me that there is a real need for information out there right now. I thought I’d give a little primer below on at least the basics of what to expect during your first home-buying experience. Hope you find it helpful!

(Note: The sequence below does not apply to each and every transaction as each is individual and scenarios/time lines obviously vary. Your Realtor will be doing many more things behind the scenes than I indicate below as well, but I am sticking to outlining YOUR experience and how you can expect that to unfold… generally speaking.)

  • Retain services of a mortgage professional (lender) to give you best options for financing, and have an approval letter ready for you when you make an offer. Discuss “closing costs” with your mortgage professional, and review the “good faith estimate” that they will provide to you. (If you have a relationship with a Realtor first, ask them to recommend good resources for you.)
  • Work with your Realtor to find the home that meets your needs.
  • Work with your Realtor to determine appropriate offer & details/then write it up.
  • Realtor submits offer to Seller along with approval letter from lender and earnest money check. Note: The EM check is to show good faith, and is applied to the sale should your offer be accepted and proceed to close. Talk with your Realtor about what amount will put your best foot forward. (*Sometimes Promissory Notes may be used, and/but I highly recommend using an EM check to be taken most seriously.
  • Receive response/acceptance/counter from Seller in time frame you specified on the offer (in a normal transaction you typically ask for response within 24 hours, but if it is a “short sale”, the process of hearing back that you are indeed accepted by all parties concerned can take months.)
  • Upon mutual acceptance (usually within 1-3 days), schedule an inspection ASAP (you have 10 business days to conduct inspections & may back out if concerns arise during this time). Your Realtor will help you with this- Ask him or her for good resources to guide you through the process of inspecting the home. Prices vary, but a 2000 square foot house will often run around $400. more or less, and size as well as other factors come into play in the cost of an inspection.
  • Upon mutual acceptance, your earnest money check is sent to the Escrow Office, and held by them on your behalf until closing, or until nullification of the offer if this occurs within your inspection period.
  • Realtor writes and negotiates any Inspection Addendum items during this period according to your wishes (you will work with your Realtor to discuss and determine any give and take in the negotiation process that may occur. Your Realtor will offer you information and give professional advice, negotiating on your behalf and with your permission. You are in the driver’s seat, and you make the final decisions albeit under good counsel.
  • Upon mutual acceptance & reaching the end of your inspection period, your Realtor notifies the lender who orders the appraisal.
  • Your Realtor continues to work with the lender as the lending process moves forward. As long as the appraisal comes back at or above sale/offer price, you will proceed to closing through the underwriting process of the lender. Should the property not appraise for at least the sale amount, the lender will bring this to your attention and there will be some decisions for you to make around the sale price and your desire for the home (you are not required to pay any monies over and above the appraisal amount, and lenders will not lend more than the appraised value generally speaking.)
  • You may be requested by the underwriter to provide additional information on a case by case basis. Your Realtor will work with you and help in any way possible and appropriate to facilitate the flow of information required from you, but you are in the driver’s seat as far as responsibility to provide the necessary information to the lender.
  • When all underwriter/lender requirements have been met, the file is signed off by the underwriter, and passed to Escrow. The whole lender process usually takes around 3-4 weeks.
  • Escrow processes all paperwork, title insurance, and all distribution of funds between you and the seller as per the contract provisions agreed upon between you and the Seller. Documents are drafted, and a “signing date/time” is scheduled. (“Signing” is not the same as “Closing”.)
  • Your Realtor will often attend your signing with you to help with any questions that arise, and to offer moral support. (Frankly, I just love being a part of the exciting culmination of the home buying adventure!)
  • Escrow will then send signed documents back to the lender, and to the county. The transaction will then “close” or “fund & record” in 1-2 days after signing, at which time you will receive a call that you are a homeowner!
  • Your Realtor will usually meet you at your new home and deliver you the keys. (More fun!)
  • The whole process from offer to close usually takes around 30 days… sometimes 40-45. It can take a little longer depending on the lender, and sometimes it takes less time than that. You and your Realtor will assign a “no later than” date on your offer in conjunction with talking to the lender about their current load & closing time line. All parties are then obligated to “perform” within that time frame, or draft an addendum extending the closing date if that proves necessary and IF all parties agree to do it. (Because there always exists the possibility that one party may not agree to sign an extension addendum, and the contract specifically states “on or before” a particular date, the closing date is a binding contractual agreement and should be taken very seriously. As a buyer, your earnest money is at stake if you should not “perform” to contact terms.)

The above may be missing some pieces of the puzzle as each transaction is different, and various issues can arise during the process, but hopefully this give you a basic idea of how it will go!

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