If the prospect of buying a home seems as daunting as climbing K2, rest assured there is a lot of help out there.
GETTING READY TO BUY
Workshops and classes: In addition to local, state-funded workshops on the strategies of home buying, there are Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) counseling classes that must be attended by anyone applying for a federal loan program. Check your local newspaper or its Web site for class schedules.
Free online credit report: Obtain your free credit report annually.
Obtain your FICO score: This site charges a fee, but it might be worth it to have all your ducks in a row.
HUD Web site: This site provides information on housing basics, first-time buyer grants, and links to state and local offices near you.
Real estate agents: Agents are happy to sit down for an information session and share their knowledge of:
- The market and current trends
- New development plans in the area
- School and services information
- Traffic patterns – particularly helpful for commuters in busy urban areas looking for alternate routes
Mortgage brokers: A good broker is a great resource for buyers, because they will educate you on different loan types and work with you to see what you can afford.
Environmental Data Resources (www.edrnet.com): Provides real estate agents, home inspectors and buyers with reports showing nearby contaminated properties and businesses with the potential to cause future contamination for a nominal fee.
FIGURING OUT WHERE TO BUY
Many local realtor and chamber of commerce sites include neighborhood information and demographics. Here are a few others:
Sperling’s Best Places: Oft-quoted in newspapers, the site compares things like demographics, climate, cost of living, and various other city facts – even gas prices!
Freddie Mac: Web site of the government-chartered corporation that provides funding to lenders in the housing market. Click on Worksheets (Under Calculators and Tools) to view forms about neighborhoods and budgets.
Neighborhood Scout : Neighborhood data and matching engine; some services are free and others are fee-based.
Local school districts usually have Web sites, though most often they do not include individual school boundaries because they change so often. But you can find out lots of things from them anyway. And here are a couple others:
Great Schools: Provides comparisons between schools on a variety of parameters, including test scores, teacher-student ratios, and student ethnicity. Also includes parental reviews.
School Match: Click on the School Ratings button to research school sizes, test scores, and expenditures per student (fee-based service).
Bureau of Justice Statistics: Web site of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs. Click on the Bureau of Justice Statistics link or go to http://bjsdata.ojp.usdoj. … taonline/ for statistics on crimes reported by state and local agencies.
U.S. Census: Provides a variety of data on commuting. Go to www.census.gov/acs/www/Products/Ranking/2003/pdf/R04T160.pdffor average commute times for most major metropolitan areas in the U.S. (More detailed data can often be found on the Web sites for specific cities and metropolitan areas.)
Optimal Home Location: An application that helps figuring out whether you should live close to your job, your kids’ school or your gym, in order to minimize your family’s combined commute. It also allows to preview and compare commutes and demographics for a number of alternative locations, and explore local points of interest.
Freddie Mac: Web site of the government-chartered corporation that provides funding to lenders in the housing market. Click on Worksheets (Under Calculators and Tools) to view forms about needs vs. wants, appliance life spans, and other home-buying issues.
Remodeling Magazine: Click on the link labeled Resale Value of Your Project to see a comparison between the cost and value provided for most major home-improvement projects.
Community Associations Institute: Click on Publications and then Reading Room to access information on communal living.
Foreclosures and Fixer-Uppers
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: Primary government source on the ins and outs of foreclosure sales. Click on http://www.hud.gov/homes/ … rsale.cfm for detailed information and links to specific properties for sale.
National Association of the Remodeling Industry: Click on the Home Owners button to access articles on everything from improving natural light to surviving a remodel.
Sheriff Sales Online: A local foreclosure information service that covers the entire process from Lis Pendens to Forecosure Auction in New Jersey and New York.
Your two key sources of help in putting together your purchase offer are your real estate agent and/or a good real estate attorney. If you’ve picked a good agent, he or she will serve as a master coordinator, keeping all the pieces moving in the right direction and dealing resourcefully with the inevitable complications.
Real Estate Attorney
Probably the best way to find a good real estate attorney is to ask for personal referrals from friends and colleagues who have used one recently.
- Get several names and interview at least three, if possible. Most attorneys will oblige you with a free half-hour meeting for this purpose. For such an emotionally fraught transaction, you’ll want to be sure that you and the lawyer are personally compatible. You’ll also want to be sure that he or she will be readily available to review contracts and other paperwork on short notice. It will do you no good to have an attorney who is unreachable by phone or doesn’t return calls for several days.
- If you strike out with personal referrals, you might try a lawyer referral service. However, you should ask the service what qualifications it uses for including an attorney and how carefully attorneys are screened. Again, you’ll need to interview candidates to find one you can work with.
Certified Public Accountant
Another professional who can be helpful in reviewing some of the terms of your offer is a certified public accountant. Again, personal referrals from friends and colleagues are the best way to find one.
HELP WITH NEGOTIATING
There are multiple sources of help and advice on negotiating a home purchase starting with asking questions of your real estate agent, an attorney, friends, family, and co-workers who have experience.
Libraries and book stores have volumes on the subject. And there are many Web sites with information from simplistic to complex.
Department of Housing and Urban Development: A Web site maintained with the help of your tax dollars that has solid consumer-oriented information.
Motley Fool: This Web site has some good negotiating advice as well.
HELP WITH CLOSING
No matter what, don’t go to your closing alone. Have someone there to help you and be your advocate through these last details. The closing paperwork can be confusing and the closing agent wants to keep things moving along. But this is your last chance to ask questions and clarify what you don’t understand.
Take your real estate agent or attorney, especially if you live in an area where buyer and seller closings happen in separate meetings.
The way you take title also dictates who else will be there – your spouse or partner, perhaps fellow investors.
Department of Housing and Urban Development: HUD has a complete guide to buying a home, including a 24-page booklet titled, “Buying Your Home, Settlement Costs and Useful Information.” You can also download a set of HUD-1 forms to study.
Federal Consumer Information Center: This site has links to HUD information, but click on “housing” and “insurance” under Consumer Topics for additional sources.
Consumer Action Website: This site offers help on numerous subjects including housing and insurance.