Guide to Home Selling

If you are thinking of selling your home, chances are you’re caught up in a mass of emotions. You may be looking forward to moving up to a new home or facing the uncertainty of a major move across country. You may be reluctant to leave your memories behind or eager to start new and exciting adventures. Janko Realty is here to help you with any of your needs.

The Basics of Home Selling

De-personalizing the House
The reason you want to “de-personalize” your home is because you want buyers to view it as their potential home. When a potential homebuyer sees your family photos hanging on the wall, it puts your own brand on the home and momentarily shatters their illusions about owning the house. Therefore, put away family photos, sports trophies, collectible items, knick-knacks, and souvenirs. Put them in a box. Rent a storage area for a few months and put the box in the storage unit.

Do not just put the box in the attic, basement, garage or a closet. Part of preparing a house for sale is to remove “clutter,” and that is the next step in preparing your house for sale.

Fixing Up the House Interior
Plumbing and Fixtures

All your sink fixtures should look shiny and new. If this cannot be accomplished by cleaning, buy new ones where needed. If you don’t buy something fancy, this can be accomplished inexpensively and they are fairly easy to install. Make sure all the hot and cold water knobs are easy to turn and that the faucets do not leak. If they do, replace the washers. It is not difficult at all.

Check to make sure you have good water pressure and that there are no stains on any of the porcelain. If you have a difficult stain to remove, one trick is to hire a cleaning crew to go through and clean your home on a one-time basis. They seem to be wonderful at making stains go away.

Ceilings, Walls and Painting

Check all the ceilings for water stains. Sometimes old leaks leave stains, even after you have repaired the leak. Of course, if you do have a leak, you will have to get it repaired, whether it is a plumbing problem or the roof leaks.

You should do the same for walls, looking for not only stains, but also areas where dirt has accumulated and you just may not have noticed. Plus, you may have an outdated color scheme.

Painting can be your best investment when selling your home. It is not a very expensive operation and often you can do it yourself. Do not choose colors based on your own preferences, but based on what would appeal to the widest possible number of buyers. You should almost always choose an off-white color because white helps your rooms appear bright and spacious.

Carpet and Flooring

Unless your carpet appears old and worn, or it is definitely an outdated style or color, you probably should do nothing more than hire a good carpet cleaner. If you do choose to replace it, do so with something inexpensive in a fairly neutral color.

Repair or replace broken floor tiles, but do not spend a lot of money on anything. Remember, you are not fixing up the place for yourself. You want to move. Your goal is simply to have as few negative impressions upon those who may want to purchase your property.

Windows and Doors

Check all of your windows to make sure they open and close easily. If not, a spray of WD40 often helps. Make sure there are no cracked or broken windowpanes. If there are, replace them before you begin showing your home.

Do the same things with the doors to make sure they open and close properly, without creaking. If they do, a shot of WD40 on the hinges usually makes the creak go away. Be sure the doorknobs turn easily, and that they are cleaned and polished to look sharp. As buyers go from room to room, someone opens each door and you want to do everything necessary to create a positive impression.

Odor Control

For those who smoke, you might want to minimize smoking indoors while trying to sell your home. You could also purchase an ozone spray that helps to remove odors without creating a masking odor.

Pets of all kinds create odors that you may have become used to, but are immediately noticeable to those with more finely tuned olfactory senses. For those with cats, be sure to empty kitty litter boxes daily. There are also products that you can sprinkle in a layer below the kitty litter that helps to control odor. For those with dogs, keep the dog outdoors as much as possible. You might also try sprinkling carpet freshener on the carpet on a periodic basis.

Costs of Repairs

Do not do anything expensive, such as remodeling. If possible, use savings to pay for any repairs and improvements and do not go charging up credit cards or obtaining new loans. Remember that part of selling a house is also preparing to buy your next home. You do not want to do anything that will affect your credit scores or hurt your ability to qualify for your next mortgage.

Fixing Up the Outside of the House
Most real estate advice tells you to work on the outside of the house first, but unless there is a major project involved, we believe it is best to do it last. There are two main reasons for this. First, the first steps in preparing the interior of the house are easier. They also help develop the proper mind set required for selling – beginning to think of your “home” as a marketable commodity. Second, the exterior is the most important. A homebuyer’s first impression is based on his or her view of the house from the real estate agent’s car.

So take a walk across the street and take a good look at your house. Look at nearby houses, too, and see how yours compares.

Landscaping Is your landscaping at least average for the neighborhood? If it is not, buy a few bushes and plant them. Do not put in trees. Mature trees are expensive, and you will not get back your investment. Also, immature trees do not really add much to the appearance value of the home.

If you have an area for flowers, buy mature colorful flowers and plant them. They add a splash of vibrancy and color, creating a favorable first impression. Do not buy bulbs or seeds and plant them. They will not mature fast enough to create the desired effect and you certainly don’t want a patch of brown earth for homebuyers to view.

Your lawn should be evenly cut, freshly edged, well watered, and free of brown spots. If there are problems with your lawn, you should probably take care of them before working on the inside of your home. This is because certain areas may need re-soding, and you want to give it a chance to grow so that re-sod areas are not immediately apparent. Plus, you might want to give fertilizer enough time to be effective.

Always rake up loose leaves and grass cuttings.

House Exterior

The big decision is whether to paint or not to paint. When you look at your house from across the street, does it look tired and faded? If so, a paint job may be in order. It is often a very good investment and really spruces up the appearance of a house, adding dollars to offers from potential homebuyers.

When choosing a color, it should not be something garish and unusual, but a color that fits well in your neighborhood. Of course, the color also depends on the style of your house, too. For some reason, different shades of yellow seem to elicit the best response in homebuyers, whether it is in the trim or the basic color of the house.

As for the roof, if you know your house has an old leaky roof, replace it. If you do not replace a leaky roof, you are going to have to disclose it and the buyer will want a new roof, anyway. Otherwise, wait and see what the home inspector says. Why spend money unnecessarily?

The Back Yard

The back yard should be tidy. If you have a pool or spa, keep it freshly maintained and constantly cleaned. For those that have dogs, be sure to constantly keep the area clear of “debris.” If you have swing sets or anything elaborate for your kids, it probably makes more sense to remove them than to leave them in place. They take up room, and you want your back yard to appear as spacious as possible, especially in newer homes where the yards are not as large.

The Front Door & Entryway

The front door should be especially sharp, since it is the entryway into the house. Polish the door fixture so it gleams. If the door needs refinishing or repainting, make sure to get that done.

If you have a cute little plaque or shingle with your family name on it, remove it. Even if it is just on the mailbox. You can always put it up again once you move. Get a new plush door mat, too. This is something else you can take with you once you move.

Make sure the lock works easily and the key fits properly. When a homebuyer comes to visit your home, the agent uses the key from the lock box to unlock the door. If there is trouble working the lock while everyone else stands around twiddling their thumbs, this sends a negative first impression to prospective homebuyers.

Introduction – Emotion vs. Reason
When conversing with real estate agents, you will often find that when they talk to you about buying real estate, they will refer to your purchase as a “home.” Yet if you are selling property, they will often refer to it as a “house.” There is a reason for this. Buying real estate is often an emotional decision, but when selling real estate you need to remove emotion from the equation.

You need to think of your house as a marketable commodity. Property. Real estate. Your goal is to get others to see it as their potential home, not yours. If you do not consciously make this decision, you can inadvertently create a situation where it takes longer to sell your property.

The first step in getting your home ready to sell is to “de-personalize” it.

Removing Clutter, Though You May Not Think of it as Clutter
This is the hardest thing for most people to do because they are emotionally attached to everything in the house. After years of living in the same home, clutter collects in such a way that may not be evident to the homeowner. However, it does affect the way buyers see the home, even if you do not realize it. Clutter collects on shelves, counter tops, drawers, closets, garages, attics, and basements.

Take a step back and pretend you are a buyer. Let a friend help point out areas of clutter, as long as you can accept their views without getting defensive. Let your agent help you, too.

Kitchen Clutter

The kitchen is a good place to start removing clutter, because it is an easy place to start. First, get everything off the counters. Everything. Even the toaster. Put the toaster in a cabinet and take it out when you use it. Find a place where you can store everything in cabinets and drawers. Of course, you may notice that you do not have cabinet space to put everything. Clean them out. The dishes, pots and pans that rarely get used? Put them in a box and put that box in storage, too.

You see, homebuyers will open all your cabinets and drawers, especially in the kitchen. They want to be sure there is enough room for their “stuff.” If your kitchen cabinets, pantries, and drawers look jammed full, it sends a negative message to the buyer and does not promote an image of plentiful storage space. The best way to do that is to have as much “empty space” as possible.

For that reason, if you have a “junk drawer,” get rid of the junk. If you have a rarely used crock pot, put it in storage. Do this with every cabinet and drawer. Create open space.

If you have a large amount of foodstuffs crammed into the shelves or pantry begin using them, especially canned goods. Canned goods are heavy and you don’t want to be lugging them to a new house anyway, or paying a mover to do so. Let what you have on the shelves determine your menus and use up as much as you can.

Beneath the sink is very critical, too. Make sure the area beneath the sink is as empty as possible, removing all extra cleaning supplies. You should scrub the area down as well, and determine if there are any tell-tale signs of water leaks that may cause a homebuyer to hesitate in buying your home.

Closet Clutter

Closets are great for accumulating clutter, though you may not think of it as clutter. We are talking about extra clothes and shoes and things you rarely wear but cannot bear to be without. Do without these items for a couple of months by putting them in a box, because these items can make your closets look “crammed full.” Sometimes there are shoeboxes full of “stuff” or other accumulated personal items, too.

Furniture Clutter

Many people have too much furniture in certain rooms. It may not be too much for your own personal living needs but too much to give the illusion of space that a homebuyer would like to see. You may want to tour some builders’ models to see how they place furniture in the model homes. Observe how they place furniture in the models so you get some ideas on what to remove and what to leave in your house.

Storage Area Clutter

Basements, garages, attics, and sheds accumulate not only clutter, but junk. These areas should be as empty as possible so that buyers can imagine what they would do with the space. Remove anything that is not essential and take it to the storage area.

Or have a garage sale.

Dropping Your Price… Too Late
Later, when you drop your price, your house is “old news.” You will never be able to recapture that flurry of initial activity you would have had with a realistic price. Your house could take longer to sell.

Even if you do successfully sell at an above market price, your buyer will need a mortgage. The mortgage lender requires an appraisal. If comparable sales for the last six months and current market conditions do not support your sales price, the house won’t appraise. Your deal falls apart. Of course, you can always attempt to renegotiate the price, but only if the buyer is willing to listen. Your house could go “back on the market.”

Once your home has fallen out of escrow or sits on the market awhile, it is harder to get a good offer. Potential buyers will think you might be getting desperate, so they will make lower offers. By overpricing your home in the beginning, you could actually en

Meeting With Realtors
So you’ve decided to sell your home and have a fairly good idea of what you think it is worth. Being a sensible home seller, you schedule appointments with three local listing agents who’ve been hanging stuff on your front doorknob for years. Each Realtor comes prepared with a “Competitive Market Analysis” on fancy paper and they each recommend a specific sales price.

Amazingly, a couple of the Realtors have come up with prices that are lower than you expected. Although they back up their recommendations with recent sales data of similar homes, you remain convinced your house is worth more. When you interview the third agent’s figures, they are much more in line with your own anticipated value, or maybe even higher. Suddenly, you are a happy and excited home seller, already counting the money.

What Happens Behind the Scenes
Whichever the case, if you start out with too high a price on your home, you may have just added to your stress level, and selling a home is stressful enough. There will be a lot of “behind the scenes” action taking place that you don’t know about.

Contrary to popular opinion, the listing agent does not usually attempt to sell your home to a homebuyer. That isn’t very efficient. Listing agents market and promote your home to the hordes of other local agents who do work with homebuyers, dramatically increasing your personal sales force. During the first couple of weeks your home should be a flurry of activity with buyer’s agents coming to preview your home so they can sell it to their clients.

If the price is right.

If you and your agent have overpriced, fewer agents will preview your home. After all, they are Realtors, and it is their job to know local market conditions and home values. If your house is dramatically above market, why waste time? Their time is better spent previewing homes that are priced realistically.

Exclusive Agency Listing
An “exclusive agency” listing allows an agent to list and market your home, guaranteeing them a commission if the house sells through any real estate agent or company. It also allows sellers to seek out buyers on their own.

This is not a popular type of listing agreement. The reason is that there is not much incentive for agents to spend money marketing your home. If you come up with your own buyer, they have spent money they cannot earn back through the real estate commission. Plus, it is too easy for a greedy buyer to go around the agent and negotiate directly with the seller.

If you find an agent willing to accept such a listing, do not expect too much from them. They will probably just place it in the Multiple Listing Service and sit around to see if something happens. A good agent would never accept such a listing, and you probably want a good agent.

Exclusive Right to Sell
Giving a real estate agent the “exclusive right to sell” your property does not mean that there will not be other agents involved. Your agent is the listing agent and part of his or her job is to market your home to other agents who work with buyers. Those agents will show your home to their clients. Regardless of who sells the home, even if you sell it yourself to a friend at work, your listing agent will earn a commission.

An exclusive right to sell is the only type of listing an effective real estate agent will accept. This is because they have a reasonable expectation of earning back any money they spend on promoting and marketing your property.

One-Time Show
A “one-time show” is similar to an open listing in many respects, as it is most often used by real estate agents who are showing a FSBO (for sale by owner) to one of their clients. The home seller signs the agreement, which identifies the potential buyer and guarantees the agent a commission should that buyer purchase the home. This prevents the buyer and seller from negotiating directly later and trying to avoid paying the agent’s commission.

As with an open listing, agents will not be spending money on marketing your home and it will not be placed in the Multiple Listing System.

Open Listing
There are several different types of listing contracts, but very few of them are used. The “Exclusive Right to Sell” is the most common, but there is the “open listing,” the “exclusive agency listing,” and the “one-time show.”

Open Listing

The “open listing” is mostly used by people trying to sell their home by owner who are also willing to work with real estate agents. Basically, it gives a real estate agent the right to bring buyers around to view your home. If their client buys your home, the agent earns a commission. There is nothing exclusive about an open listing and a home seller can give out such listings to every agent who comes around.

For that reason, no agent is going to market your home or put it in the Multiple Listing Service. If your home fits the criteria for one of their clients, and it is convenient, they may be willing to show it to their client. That is all an “open listing” is good for.

Agent Duties of a Listing Agent
The listing contract will specify that your agent is acting as a “seller’s agent.” This means that, in the sale of your house, they are working for you and only you. However, there may be times when your listing agent has a client who wants to buy your home. For that reason, there is a little “wiggle room” in the listing contract. If your agent also represents the buyer, the listing contract should specify that they provide an additional disclosure that details their duties as a dual agent.

The contract also provides permission for your listing agent to act as an agent for others on other transactions. They can continue to list other properties, and represent buyers looking at other homes.

Lockbox – Yes or No?
A lockbox is a basically a padlock with a cavity inside where a key to your home can be placed. Only someone with an electronic key or the combination can get into the lockbox and access the key. Having a lockbox available at your house makes it easy for other agents to get access to your house.

Without the lockbox, agents representing buyers would have to set appointments to meet you or your agent at the house so they could gain access and view the home. This would be inconvenient. Since almost every other house does have a lockbox available, if you do not allow one most agents will simply not show your property. You will miss out on lots of potential buyers.

The listing contract specifies whether you allow a lockbox or not. It is locked into place, usually on the front door and cannot be removed. Only other agents can access the key that is located within the lockbox.

Multiple Listing Service
Your listing contract should specify whether or not the house will be listed with the local MLS (multiple listing service). It is definitely in your interest to have the house listed. This is because your sales force is automatically multiplied by however many agents are members of the local MLS. If your house is not listed, then you only have one agent working for you instead of many.

Price and Terms of Sale
When setting the terms of sale, the main thing you are concerned with is the price. You should have a basic idea of what your home is worth by keeping track of other sales in the neighborhood. Plus, you have probably interviewed at least two real estate agents and they have given you their own ideas. Exercise great care in determining your asking price, making sure not to set it too high or too low.

In addition to the price, you will disclose what personal property, if any, goes with the house when you sell it. Personal property is anything that is not attached or fixed to the home, such as washers, dryers, refrigerators, and so on.

There may be some item that is considered “real property” that you do not intend to include in the sale. Real property is anything that is attached to the home. For example, you may have a chandelier that has been in your family for generations and you take it from home to home when you move. Since the chandelier is attached to the house, it is considered “real property” and a reasonable buyer would normally expect it to go with the house.

Other Factors Influencing Your Offer Price
Gathering and analyzing information from comparable sales helps to establish the range of prices you should consider when making an offer to buy a home. More weight should be given to the most recent sales, but even so, you need to do a bit more analysis before setting upon the price you will offer. That is because you also need to consider the condition of the property, improvements, the current market, and the circumstances behind the seller’s decision to sell.

Making an Offer

How Home Improvements Affect Your Offer Price
Even when comparing exact model matches within a tract of homes, you should note whether the previous owners have made any substantial improvements. Cosmetic changes should be largely ignored, but major improvements should be taken into account. Most important would be room additions, especially bedrooms and bathrooms. Other items, like expensive floor tile or swimming pools should be taken into account, too, but should be discounted. A pool that costs $20,000 to install does not normally add $20,000 in value to the home. Rely on your agent to give you guidance in this area.

How Market Conditions Affect Your Offer
A hot market is a “seller’s market.” During a seller’s market, properties can sell within a few days of being listed and there are often multiple offers. Sometimes homes even sell above the asking price. Though most buyer’s want to get a “deal” on a home, reducing your offer by even a few thousand dollars could mean that someone else will get the home you desire.

A slow market is a “buyer’s market. During a buyer’s market properties may languish on the market for some time and offers may be few and far between. Prices may even decline temporarily. Such a market would allow you to be more flexible in offering a lower price for the home. Even if your offered price is too low, the seller is likely to make some sort of counter-offer and you can begin negotiations in earnest.

More often than not, the market is simply “steady,” or in transition. When a market is steady, no real rules apply on whether you should make an offer on the high end of your range or the low end. You could find yourself in a situation with multiple offers on your desired house, or where no one has made an offer in weeks.

Transition markets are more difficult to define. If the economy slows unexpectedly, as it did in the early nineties, people who buy on the high end of a seller’s market (like the late eighties) could find their home loses value for several years. So far, no one has proven reliable in predicting when markets change or how good or bad the real estate market will become.

How Property Condition Affects Your Offer
Since you have toured the property you are interested in, you should know how it compares to the general neighborhood. All you have to do is put the home in one of three categories – average, above average, or below average.

When evaluating a home’s condition, there are a number of things you should consider. Structural condition is most important – items such as walls, ceilings, floors, doors and windows. Then paint, carpets, and floor coverings. Pay special attention to bathrooms and bedrooms and whether the plumbing and electricity work efficiently. Look at the fixtures, such as light switches, doorknobs, and drawer handles. The front and back yards should be in reasonably good shape.

The missing ingredient will be information on the condition of the homes from your comparable sales list. Provided you chose the right agent to represent you, they will have actually visited most of those homes and be able to provide key insights.

How Seller Motivation Affects Your Offer Price
Truthfully, it is rather rare that a seller’s motivation will dramatically affect the price of a home, but it is often possible to save a few thousand dollars. The most common “motivated seller” is someone who has already bought his or her next home or is relocating to a new area. They will be under the gun to sell the home quickly or face the prospect of making two mortgage payments at the same time. Since that can drain a bank account quickly, most sellers want to avoid such a situation and may be willing to give up a few thousand dollars to avoid the possibility.

There are also family crises that can motivate a seller to make a quick deal. However, when you see a real estate ad that mentions “divorce,” “motivated seller,” “relocation,” or something to that affect, beware. Although the facts may be true, that does not necessarily mean the seller is motivated to make a quick and costly sale. Most likely, the ad is more designed to generate phone calls and leads rather than sell the home.

However, there are times when a seller is truly distressed, willing to make a quick sale and sacrifice thousands of dollars. With the seller’s permission, the listing agent will post this information along with the listing in the Multiple Listing Service. They may also inform other agents during office and association marketing sessions or by flyers sent to other real estate offices. Provided this information has been made generally available to Realtors, your agent should know when a seller is truly motivated and when it is just “puff” designed to illicit interest in a property.

The exception is when an agent is selling a home they have listed themselves or selling a home that was listed by another agent from their own company. In such a situation, the agent may be acting as an agent for the seller, or as a “dual agent,” representing both you and the seller. In such a situation, they cannot legally provide you with information that would give you an advantage over the seller.

The Final Decision on Your Offer Price
Comparable sales information helps you to determine a base price range for a particular home. Adding in the various factors like property condition, improvements, market conditions, and seller motivation help determine whether a “fair” price would be at the upper limit of that range or the lower limit. Perhaps you will feel a fair price is outside of that price range.

The “fair” price should be approximately what you are willing to agree on at the end of negotiations with the seller. The price you put in your offer to begin negotiations is totally up to you and depends on your negotiating style. Most buyers start off somewhat lower than the price they eventually want to pay.

Although your agent may provide advice and guidance, you are the one who makes the decision. The price you put in the offer is totally up to you.

Contingencies in a Purchase Offer
In most purchase transactions there may be a slight challenge or two, but most things will go quite smoothly. However, you want to anticipate potential problems so that if something does go wrong, you can cancel the contract without penalty. These are called “contingencies” and you must be sure to include them when you offer to buy a home.

For example, some “move-up” buyers often agree to purchase a home before selling their previous home. Even if the home is already sold, it is probably a “pending sale” and has not closed. Therefore, you should make closing your own sale a condition of your offer. If you do not include this as a contingency, you may find yourself making two mortgage payments instead of one.

There are other common contingencies you should include in your offer. Since you probably need a mortgage to buy the home, a condition of your offer should be that you successfully obtain suitable financing. Another condition should be that the property appraises for at least what you agreed to pay for it. During the escrow period you are likely to require certain inspections, and another contingency should be that it pass those inspections.

Basically, contingencies protect you in case you cannot perform or choose not to perform on a promise to buy a home. If you cancel a contract without having built-in conditions and contingencies, you could find yourself forfeiting your earnest money deposit.

Earnest Money Deposit
After you have come up with an offer price, the next step is to determine how large a deposit you want to make with your offer. You want the “earnest money deposit” to be large enough to show the seller you are serious, but not so large you are placing significant funds at risk.

One recommendation is to make sure your deposit is less than two percent of your offered price. The reason for this is that if your deposit is larger than that, the lender will pay particular attention to how you came up with the funds. You might have to provide a copy of a canceled check along with a bank statement showing you had the money to begin with. Normally, this is not a problem, but if you have a short escrow period or are barely coming up with your down payment, it could pose an inconvenience.

Another reason to limit your deposit is “just in case.” Although significant problems are the exception and not the rule, they do occur. “Just in case” there is a nasty or prolonged dispute between you and the seller, the less money you have tied up in a deposit, the fewer funds you have placed at risk.

As with practically everything in real estate, there are exceptions to this rule, too. During a hot market there may be multiple offers on the property that interests you. A large deposit may impress a seller enough so they will accept your offer instead of someone else’s, even when your unknown competitor is offering the same price or slightly higher.

Since large deposits do impress sellers, you may also find that by making a large deposit you can convince the seller to accept a lower offer. More money up front may save you money later.

There are also times when closing can be delayed by weeks, through no fault of your own. Have back-up plans prepared for such a contingency.

Introduction and Overview
Once you find the home you want to buy, the next step is to write an offer which is not as easy as it sounds. Your offer is the first step toward negotiating a sales contract with the seller. Since this is just the beginning of negotiations, you should put yourself in the seller’s shoes and imagine his or her reaction to everything you include. Your goal is to get what you want, and imagining the seller’s reactions will help you attain that goal.

The offer is much more complicated than simply coming up with a price and saying, “This is what I’ll pay.” Because of the large dollar amounts involved, especially in today’s litigious society, both you and the seller want to build in protections and contingencies to protect your investment and limit your risk.

In an offer to purchase real estate, you include not only the price you are willing to pay, but other details of the purchase as well. This includes how you intend to finance the home, your down payment, who pays what closing costs, what inspections are performed, timetables, whether personal property is included in the purchase, terms of cancellation, any repairs you want performed, which professional services will be used, when you get physical possession of the property, and how to settle disputes should they occur.

It is certainly more involved than buying a car. And more important.

Buying a home is a major event for both the buyer and seller. It will affect your finances more than any other previous purchase or investment. The seller makes plans based on your offer that affect his finances, too. However, it is more important than just money. In the half-hour it takes to write an offer you are making decisions that affect how you live for the next several years, if not the rest of your life. The seller is going to review your offer carefully, because it also affects how he or she lives the rest of their life.

That sounds dramatic. It sounds like a cliche. Every real estate book or article you read says the same thing.

They all say it because it is true.

The Closing Date
It is absolutely essential that you include a closing date as part of your offer. This way both you and the seller can make plans for moving, and the seller can make plans for buying his or her next home. Though most transactions actually do close on the right date, do not be so inflexible that a delay creates insurmountable problems.

For example, if you are renting and need to give the landlord notice that you are moving out, you may want to allow a little flexibility. Otherwise, if your purchase closes a few days late you could find yourself staying in a motel with your belongings packed in a moving van somewhere while you pay storage costs.

There are also times when closing can be delayed by weeks, through no fault of your own. Have back-up plans prepared for such a contingency.

Transfer of Possession
A transaction is considered “closed” once the deeds have been recorded. Then you own the home. However, it is not always possible for you to occupy it immediately. This can happen for several reasons, but the most common is that the seller may be purchasing a home, too. Usually, it is scheduled to close simultaneously with your purchase of their home.

It is sort of like being at a red light when it turns green. Although all the cars see the light change at the same time, the guy at the back of the line doesn’t begin moving until all the cars ahead of him have started.

As a result, it has become customary to allow the seller up to a maximum of three days to turn over actual possession and keys to the home. When transfer of possession actually occurs should be clearly laid out in your offer to prevent confusion later.

Condition of the Property
The last thing you want when you assume possession of your new home is to find it in a total mess. Therefore, you should make it clear in your offer that certain minimum standards are required. If you do not, you might find out the seller or neighbors have begun using the back yard as a trash dump, or something worse and you would not be able to do anything about it.

Some of the requirements you might want to include in your offer are that the roof does not leak, the appliances work, the plumbing does not leak, that there are no broken or cracked windows, the yard has been kept up, and any debris has been cleared away.

Disclosures from the Seller
Although you have toured the property, looked at the walls and ceiling, turned on the faucets and played with the light switches, you have not lived in it. The seller has years of knowledge about his or her home and there may be some things you want to find out about as quickly as possible. For this reason, you will require certain disclosures as part of your offer.

Basically, you want the seller to disclose any adverse conditions that may have a substantial impact on your decision to purchase the home. This would include any problems with the house, whether the property is in a flood zone, a noise zone, or any other kind of hazardous area.

If you have an agent representing you, this is almost automatic, but many states do not require individuals selling their own home to provide you with this information. Often they do not require banks selling foreclosed property to provide these disclosures, either. Obtaining these types of disclosures should always be a part of your offer, and time is of the essence.

Final Walk-Through Inspection
Before closing, you will want to revisit the property to ensure it is in the condition you have required in your offer, and to inspect that any required repairs have been performed. You should do this no sooner than 1-3 days before you intend to close. Make sure this right to do a final inspection is included in your offer to purchase the home.

Inspections You Should Require
Besides appraisal and the inspection, you should also have a professional go through the house and seek out potential problems. Of course, you will have inspected the home, but you are not used to looking at some things that a professional will find. Even if they are not things the seller is expected to repair, at least you will have foreknowledge of any potential problems.

The seller will want this inspection performed quickly, so that you can approve the results and move forward with the purchase. Once you receive the inspection, you will want to allow yourself sufficient time to review and approve the report. If you do not approve the report, you may negotiate with the sellers on which repairs should be performed and who should pay for those repairs. Otherwise, you can cancel the purchase without penalty, provided you have included timetables in your offer.

Understanding the Finances

Cash Offers
If you are one of those rare individuals making a cash offer to buy a home, it makes sense to provide some documentation with your offer that shows you have the funds available. A bank statement would be fine. If you have to liquidate stock or some other asset, your offer should give a timetable on when you will provide proof you have converted the asset to cash.

Closing Costs and Financing Incentives
There may be times when, as part of your offer, you request the seller to pay all or a portion of your closing costs, or provide some other financial incentive. One common request is asking the seller to provide funds to temporarily buy down your interest rate for the first year or two. Such incentives can be especially effective if a buyer is tight on money or pushing their qualifying ratios to the limit.

Whenever you ask for incentives such as these, you will probably find the seller less willing to negotiate on price. After all, what you are really asking for is to have the seller to give you some money to help you buy their house. The end result is that, for a little relief in the beginning, you are willing to pay a little more in the long run.

Down Payment
Most buyers do not have enough cash available to buy a home, so they need to obtain a mortgage to finance the purchase. Since you will probably make your purchase contingent upon obtaining a mortgage, the seller has the right to be informed of your financing plans in order to evaluate them. That is one of the major reasons that financing details are included in your offer.

Down Payment

As part of your offer, you will need to disclose the size of your down payment. Once again, this allows the seller to evaluate your likelihood of obtaining a home loan. It is easier to get approved for a mortgage when you make a larger down payment. The underwriting guidelines are less strict.

Interest Rates
Another reason for including financing information in your offer is to protect yourself. If interest rates suddenly become volatile and rise quickly, as sometimes happens, you may looking at a mortgage payment much higher than you anticipated. By putting a maximum acceptable interest rate in the offer, you are protecting yourself from such an occurrence.

At the same time, the seller will probably want to see that you have some flexibility in the financing terms you are willing to accept. If interest rates are currently at eight percent and you indicate this is the highest rate you will accept, you would be able to cancel the contract without penalty if interest rates rose past that point. The seller would suffer because they have lost valuable marketing time and may have made their own plans based on successfully closing the transaction.

Other Financing Details in Your Offer
Your offer should also contain information on whether you are obtaining a fixed rate or an adjustable rate mortgage. It should also state whether you are obtaining conventional financing or obtaining a VA or FHA loan.

Seller Financing
Another occasional request is to have the seller “carry back” a second mortgage to help facilitate your purchase of their home. In cases when the seller does not need all the proceeds from their sale in order to purchase their next home, this is an option. The advantage to the buyer is that by combining your down payment and the second mortgage from the seller, you may be able to avoid paying mortgage insurance and save yourself some money. If such a carry-back is part of your offer, you should include the terms you wish to pay on such a second mortgage. Keep in mind that your first trust deed lender needs to know this information so they can underwrite your loan, and they have certain minimum requirements. The minimum term of the second mortgage can be five years. The minimum payment can be “interest only.” Longer mortgage terms and payments that also include principle are also acceptable.

Extra Costs for the Seller
Extra Costs to the Seller

If you are obtaining a VA or FHA loan in order to finance your purchase, you must include that information in your offer. This is because government loans place additional financial and performance obligations on the seller.

Non-Allowable Fees

First, VA and FHA loans prohibit buyers from paying certain types of fees that are often charged by lenders, escrow companies, settlement agents, and title companies. They are called “non-allowable” fees. They still get charged anyway, but as the buyer, you are “not allowed” to pay them. The result is that the seller ends up paying them instead of you.

Most of these “non-allowable” fees come from your lender. By the time you are making an offer you should have already been pre-qualified by a loan officer, so you or your real estate agent can ask how much the lender’s non-allowable fees will be. Experienced agents should also have an idea of what non-allowable fees will be charged by the escrow or settlement agent and the title insurance company.

Since these are fees the seller would not pay on an offer with conventional financing, this information must be included in your offer. You should also realize that since the seller will be paying these additional fees, they may be a little less negotiable on the price.

VA and FHA Appraisals
Home appraisal inspections on FHA and VA loans are a little more detailed than on conventional loans (and more expensive). The appraisers are required to perform certain minimum inspections as well as evaluate the market value of the property. Although these inspections are not as detailed as a professional home inspection and should not be considered a substitute, sometimes repairs are required.

These are additional costs the seller would not be obligated to pay for someone obtaining conventional financing, so your offer should include a maximum figure for these repairs. Otherwise the seller is signing the equivalent of a blank check, and they do not want to do that.

At the same time, whatever figure you put in will most likely affect the seller’s willingness to negotiate on price. If you put $500 as an estimate, the seller may be $500 less negotiable on their price. If no repairs are required, you may have been able to get the house for $500 less than what you and the seller agreed on as the price. The solution is to add a clause to your offer that goes something like this. “If required repairs cost less than the maximum amount allowed, the excess will be credited toward buyer’s closing costs.”

Escrow and Settlement
For example, you are going to need an escrow or settlement company to act as an “independent third party” between you and the seller. Without having a third party involved, how do you know that when you fork over the money, you are going to get the deed? This is the type of service provided by escrow and settlement. They will hold your deposit and coordinate much of the activity that goes on during the escrow period.

Since this third party is very important to both you and the seller and both of you will pay fees to this company, it is important to agree on which service to use. Therefore, your choice should be part of the offer. Since you do not buy a home every other week or so, you are probably unfamiliar with companies that provide this service. Your agent will make a recommendation. You have the authority to accept this recommendation and include it in your offer, or make your own choice.

Keep in mind that the seller will also have a preference and this may be a point of negotiation in a counter-offer. It has become customary that one side will choose the escrow/settlement agent and one side chooses the title insurance company. Even so, everything in real estate is negotiable.

Termite and Pest Inspection
As part of your offer, if applicable in your area, you may require a termite and pest inspection. This company not only inspects for termite damage and pest infestations, but also inspects for dry rot and water damage, among other things. The company that performs the inspection is important to you as a buyer, because you want to be sure they do a good job. It is important to the seller because it is customary that they pay for the inspection and some types of repairs that may be required.

You should determine which company you want to perform this inspection and make it a part of your offer. Otherwise the seller will choose. If you do not know which company to hire, your agent will make a recommendation.

Title Insurance
Title insurance is important because, by providing you with an Owners Policy, they insure that you have clear title to the property. If there are any problems later, you can always go back to the title insurance company and have them clear it up.

However, you are going to pay a fee to the title insurance company, too. This is for the Lender’s Policy. The lender’s policy insures your mortgage lender that there are no liens or judgments against the property and that the mortgage will be in first position. In other words, should you sell the property or refinance it, their mortgage gets paid first, before any other claims against the property.

You and the Seller Must Agree
Buying a home does not occur in a vacuum, involving only you and the seller. There are all kinds of people and services involved behind the scenes to make it happen. Since some of these services affect both you and the seller, there will have to be an agreement on which companies you will use for them. When you make your offer, you should request your favorites for these services. If you are unfamiliar with these service providers, you can get recommendations from your agent.