7 Things Your Home Inspector Wishes You Knew

home inspection

A home inspector can make or break a sale for both sellers and buyers. It’s why, no matter whether you’re buying or selling, the home inspection process can be somewhat terrifying!

For sellers, it’s a stark reminder of the nagging issues you might have turned a blind eye to over the years. And for buyers, it’s a recipe for pure heartbreak—falling in love with a home that might just end up making no sense to buy.

But don’t let the inspection stress you out. And remember, that’s not what your home inspector wants either—all he or she wants is a comprehensive to-do list and a happy client.

So form a team with your home inspector to make the process easier and more effective. Knowledge is key! Here are seven essential things you keep in mind.

Home inspector tips for sellers

1. Move your pets

We know your puppy is adorable—but even if your home inspector loves dogs or cats, pets running underfoot makes the job much more difficult.

Inspections often require opening exterior doors again and again, offering pets far too many opportunities to dash to freedom. When you leave the premises for the inspection—and many inspectors ask sellers to do so—take your pets with you. Please.

With animals out of the way, “every time I walk in or out, I don’t have to worry about losing a cat or a dog,” says Alan Singer of Sterling Home Inspections in Armonk, NY.

2. Don’t forget to clean

Whether you plan on being there for the inspection or not, make sure to clean up beforehand. No, you don’t need to scrub—an inspector won’t ding you because your stove’s grimy. But all that clutter? Yeah, that’s all got to go.

“It makes a huge difference when I walk into a house where everything’s put away,” Singer says. “It’s a game changer not just for me, but for the home buyer.”

Often, the inspection is the first time the buyers are (almost) alone in the house for an extended period of time.

“If it doesn’t feel like how it did before—if we’re trying to dig through items—it can sour their experience,” Singer says.

Home inspector tips for buyers

1. Your potential home will have problems

Your home inspector will likely come up with a seemingly endless list of problems after the walk-through. Don’t panic!

“I’m on their side, but still, I’m judging the house fairly,” Singer says. “Even my home has problems, issues, maintenance things.”

Yeah, there are times when you should worry (we’ll get to those a bit later). But not every issue is mission-critical, and your inspector will know which problems you should tackle first.

2. Almost anything can be fixed

There are a few starkly frightening home inspection terms that seem to be in everyone’s vocabulary: mold, radon, and asbestos.

And yes, they’re scary—but no scarier than a roof that needs replacing, home inspectors say.

“People who write articles tend to scare homeowners about mold or radon,” Singer says.

So let us—your humble (and rather defensive) writers—take a moment to correct that assumption: Don’t worry so much about mold and radon!

Singer, who started his career in homebuilding, says, “everything is upgradable, fixable, or replaceable. You just need to have a list of what those things are.”

Not convinced yet? Check out this Washington Post article about a couple who got a discount on a four-bedroom Colonial because they weren’t terrified by mold.

3. One thing you should worry about is water

Here’s one problem we give you permission to stress out about (just a little): water. No, it’s not a deal breaker (remember that part where we wrote almost anything can be fixed?). But it’s important to address any water-related issues before the deal closes—or at least immediately afterward.

Make a note of issues such as puddles and leaky ceilings. And give special attention to the basement. Addressing water problems in the basement can be an expensive and difficult proposition, Singer says. “A wet basement can be hard to fix.”

4. Home inspectors can’t predict the future

You might want to know how many more years the roof will hold up—and while your inspector might be able to give you a rough estimate, he can’t give you a precise timeline.

“People think that we as inspectors have a crystal ball,” Singer says. “Or that we have X-ray vision” to see through walls or examine the inner circuitry of your kitchen stove.

Sorry, folks: They don’t, and they can’t.

“We can’t tell you how long it will last,” Singer says. “We can just tell you if it’s in good shape.”

5. Find the balance between your heart and brain

It’s easy to forget your love for the home when you’re counting the dollar signs and hours you might have to spend on repairs. But just remember to take a deep breath, think rationally, and consider whether it’s a smart investment in your future.

Singer empathizes: “The justification can sometimes be a horrible process because our brains are all about money and time and (asking) ‘What kind of mistake am I making?’”

Barring any major renovations needed—such as a new roof or mold removal—your inspector’s visit will simply provide a to-do list. But not everything needs fixing immediately, so don’t let a long list dampen your love for the home. Just take things one at a time.

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Is a Mortgage Pre-Approval Letter Necessary To Make An Offer on a House?

application

Do you need a mortgage pre-approval letter to make an offer on a house? You know you need to get your ducks in a row before looking at homes, but does that include securing a pre-approval letter from the bank?

The truth is, getting pre-approved can actually improve your chances of falling into the sellers’ good graces, so you want to get it done as soon as possible in the home-buying process.

So how organized do your financials need to be before you start looking? Let’s take a look, starting with clarifying what a pre-approval letter actually is.

What is a pre-approval letter?

Mortgage pre-approval is an assurance from a lender to provide you with financing to buy a home up to a certain loan amount.

“It’s a letter from your lender, written on the lender’s letterhead, stating that you are approved for a loan of a specific dollar amount,” says Denise Shur, a Realtor® with 1:1 Realty in San Jose, CA.

To get approved, your lender will collect a stack of paperwork from you that will include pay stubs, federal tax returns, W2s, investment accounts, and residential history. Once your complete financial portfolio is analyzed, the lender will decide whether or not to issue you a pre-approval letter.

Do you need a pre-approval letter to see a house?

Real estate agents prefer showing homes to buyers with a pre-approval letter, because it shows the buyer is financially capable of purchasing.

Agents “need to know if you can really buy a home,” Shur says. That said, a pre-approval letter isn’t mandatory to tour a home.

“All agents are allowed to show you homes, even if you do not have a pre-approval letter,” she adds. It just might not be in their best interest, so don’t be surprised if you get some pushback if you say you don’t have pre-approval.

How a pre-approval letter benefits you

If you don’t take the time to get pre-approval, it’s not just the real estate agent’s time you’re wasting—it’s possibly yours as well.

“There is no sense in wasting your own time and that of an agent to see homes until you are ready to purchase,” says Rosanne Nitti, a Realtor with RMN Investments & Realty Services in Laguna Beach, CA.

Getting a pre-approval letter should be one of your first steps in the home-buying process, she says. “Then when you see something you like, you can act on it.”

As a buyer, that ability to act quickly gives you an edge over people who don’t have certification from a mortgage lender.

How to get a pre-approval letter

Serious about getting serious? Here’s how to get started. You can work with either a loan broker, who can connect you with the right lender, or directly with a bank, if you like the loan program they offer.

“Some banks, like Wells Fargo for example, may even give you a ‘priority buyer’ letter, which puts you on a fast track to get your loan closed quickly once you find a home,” says Shur.

Shur describes the process as follows:

  • Fill out an application. This can be done in person, online, or over the phone.
  • The lender runs a credit check to get your FICO score.
  • It also determines your expenses and income by looking at your financial portfolio.
  • The bank then determines if you qualify for a loan, and if so, what kind and for how much.
  • Finally, the lender puts this in writing as the pre-approval letter.
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7 Promising Signs the Home You’re Buying Will Have Good Resale Value

home buying good resale value

By Jamie Wiebe

While it might seem premature to think about selling a home before you even buy it, it’s important to remember that a house is an investment. And in an ideal world, investments make money—not lose it.

That’s why resale value should be an important consideration when house hunting. No, it shouldn’t supersede your must-have requirements (if you demand 20 acres and lakefront access, prioritize that). But if you do your best to predict how the house you’re buying—and the neighborhood it’s in—will appeal to future buyers, then future-you will be a whole lot happier. And possibly richer.

Considering resale value “also saves the buyers a lot of money, as they will not need to spend big on renovations or updates,” says real estate agent Lukasz Kukwa.

But one caveat: Good resale value is never a promise.

“It is almost impossible to guarantee that a home will retain its full resale value, as the local market and economic factors have a large effect on the housing market,” Kukwa says.

In short: Resale value is anybody’s guess if the economy tanks. But there are some indicators to watch for that could be the difference between barely squeaking by or coming out ahead. As you hit the house-hunting trail, look for these promising signs that suggest your investment will be a smart one.

1. The neighborhood’s hopping…

Pay attention to your surroundings when house hunting. Is the neighborhood walkable? Or is a trip to the grocery store so onerous it requires snacks for the road? Meanwhile, are there restaurants nearby for those nights you simply just can’t?

“If you buy in an area that is not well-developed and doesn’t have good infrastructure—like shopping close by—you will not have a high rate of return on the home,” says Realtor® Patricia Vosburgh.

“The more amenities, the higher chances the home will sell faster and for more money,” she explains.

Even if there are development plans in the works, don’t bank on that to prop up property values; construction can stall or be scrapped entirely. When calculating your home’s future worth, focus on what exists now.

2. … but the street itself is quiet

Buying a home is a study in contrasts: You want a gorgeous kitchen—and good delivery options, too. You need five bedrooms—and a decent hotel around the corner because no way is your mother-in-law staying with you. You want things to be hopping—but not in your backyard.

“We advise against buying on a busy street or purchasing a home surrounded by commercial properties nearby,” Vosburgh says.

Not that there aren’t buyers—possibly even you—who love living in the middle of the action. But before you buy the bungalow next to your favorite watering hole, consider that future buyers might not be so keen.

3. The home’s systems are in good shape

Many people consider return on investment to be the sum of a simple calculation: Will the home sell for more than you paid?

But it’s a little more complex than that. You have to factor in how much you’ll spend on the home while living there—even if the market becomes red-hot. And if the home’s vital components are falling apart, you’ll be spending a lot.

Your inspector can give you a rundown of your future home’s health, but keep a close eye on the roof, water heater, HVAC system, windows, and foundation. Pay attention to the plumbing and electrical, too. A problem with any one of these major systems can require a costly repair—and take a bite out of your payday.

“When these items are new or in good standing, that’s a great sign,” Kukwa says.

4. The schools are great

If you’re child-free, this one might seem entirely irrelevant. But a word to the wise: If you think you might someday sell your home, you’ll want to factor in the school district before you buy.

“Even if buyers personally don’t have children, for resale it is imperative that they buy in a great school zone,” Vosburgh says. (You can check school ratings at GreatSchools.org.)

Just make sure to do your research and determine where the home sits in relation to the school district boundaries.

“Often agents will advertise a property as being near such-and-such school area, but not necessarily specify the district, which can be very confusing,” explains Tina Maraj, a Realtor with Re/Max North Orange County in Fullerton, CA. “It can be a real eye-opener if a buyer closes and they’re on one side of a main street that is the dividing line between the top-rated and the lowest-rated high schools.”

5. The light is inspiring

“Any apartment in any neighborhood that has good light will sell—and will always sell,” says New York City broker Noemi Bitterman.

With good light, “there is always a good feeling—a feeling of embracing and belonging,” she continues. “When [a home] is dark, no matter how nice and new it is, it doesn’t feel inviting, it takes a much longer time to sell, and the price reflects the lack of light.”

Whether you’re shopping for a condo, apartment, or house, visit the property at different times of the day to see how the light affects the space.

6. The floor plan is family-friendly

Again? asks the child-free reader. Must all my housing decisions be dictated by families? No. But if you’re hoping to sell that home for a profit down the road, you should keep kid-friendliness in mind.

“Look for a home with a floor plan that will appeal to families,” says broker Kris Lindahl. That means at least three—if not four—bedrooms on the same level, an open concept kitchen, and at least one bathtub.

And always pay attention to the number of bathrooms. You want “enough to avoid fights in the morning,” Lindahl says.

On a related note: No matter how much you love that gloriously unique Frank Lloyd Wright spiral house, it’s often best to stick to a more traditional floor plan if you’re worried about selling later.

“Buying a home that is too quirky or has very untraditional features can result in a decreased ROI and smaller pool of potential buyers in the future,” Kukwa says.

7. The community is restrictive

Homeowners associations can be a pain in the butt—the irritating restrictions, the monotonous meetings, the monthly dues that you’re not always sure you can account for.

But an HOA can actually be helpful, at least when it comes to resale value. That’s because HOAs usually keep everyone in line, preventing your neighbors from letting weeds take over their lawn, painting their houses bright pink, or permanently parking an RV in the middle of your street—all things that could ding the value of your home.

Of course, purchasing an HOA-regulated home isn’t for everyone. But if you’re seriously concerned about the resale value of your new home, covenants and restrictions could keep you flush.

Wendy Helfenbaum contributed to this story.

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Reasons You Should Never Buy or Sell Without an Agent

real estate agent home buyers

BY: RACHEL STULTS

NEVER BUY OR SELL WITHOUT AN AGENT

It’s a slow Sunday morning. You’ve just brewed your Nespresso and popped open your laptop to check out the latest home listings before you hit the road for a day of open houses.

You’re DIYing this real estate thing, and you think you’re doing pretty well—after all, any info you might need is at your fingertips online, right? That and your own sterling judgment.

Oh, dear home buyer (or seller!)—we know you can do it on your own. But you really, really shouldn’t. This is likely the biggest financial decision of your entire life, and you need a REALTOR® if you want to do it right. Here’s why.

1. They have loads of expertise

Want to check the MLS for a 4B/2B with an EIK and a W/D? Real estate has its own language, full of acronyms and semi-arcane jargon, and your Realtor is trained to speak that language fluently.

Plus, buying or selling a home usually requires dozens of forms, reports, disclosures, and other technical documents. Realtors have the expertise to help you prepare a killer deal—while avoiding delays or costly mistakes that can seriously mess you up.

2. They have turbocharged searching power

The Internet is awesome. You can find almost anything—anything! And with online real estate listing sites such as yours truly, you can find up-to-date home listings on your own, any time you want. But guess what? Realtors have access to even more listings. Sometimes properties are available but not actively advertised. A Realtor can help you find those hidden gems.

Plus, a good local Realtor is going to know the search area way better than you ever could. Have your eye on a particular neighborhood, but it’s just out of your price range? Your Realtor is equipped to know the ins and outs of every neighborhood, so she can direct you toward a home in your price range that you may have overlooked.

3. They have bullish negotiating chops

Any time you buy or sell a home, you’re going to encounter negotiations—and as today’s housing market heats up, those negotiations are more likely than ever to get a little heated.

You can expect lots of competition, cutthroat tactics, all-cash offers, and bidding wars. Don’t you want a savvy and professional negotiator on your side to seal the best deal for you?

And it’s not just about how much money you end up spending or netting. A Realtor will help draw up a purchase agreement that allows enough time for inspections, contingencies, and anything else that’s crucial to your particular needs.

4. They’re connected to everyone

Realtors might not know everything, but they make it their mission to know just about everyone who can possibly help in the process of buying or selling a home. Mortgage brokers, real estate attorneys, home inspectors, home stagers, interior designers—the list goes on—and they’re all in your Realtor’s network. Use them.

5. They adhere to a strict code of ethics

Not every real estate agent is a Realtor, who is a licensed real estate salesperson who belongs to the National Association of Realtors®, the largest trade group in the country.

What difference does it make? Realtors are held to a higher ethical standard than licensed agents and must adhere to a Code of Ethics.

6. They’re your sage parent/data analyst/therapist—all rolled into one

The thing about Realtors: They wear a lot of different hats. Sure, they’re salespeople, but they actually do a whole heck of a lot to earn their commission. They’re constantly driving around, checking out listings for you. They spend their own money on marketing your home (if you’re selling). They’re researching comps to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

And, of course, they’re working for you at nearly all hours of the day and night—whether you need more info on a home or just someone to talk to in order to feel at ease with the offer you just put in. This is the biggest financial (and possibly emotional) decision of your life, and guiding you through it isn’t a responsibility Realtors take lightly.

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10 Questions to Ask a Real Estate Agent Before the Pro Helps You Buy a Home

real estate agent home buyers

Ready to buy a house? Then you’ll want to learn a few questions to ask a real estate agent—the go-to pro whose sole goal (at least as far as you’re concerned) is to help make your home-buying dream come true.

But not all real estate agents are created equal, which is why Peggy Yee, a supervising broker at Frankly Realtors in Vienna, VA, recommends interviewing at least three agents before deciding who you want by your side for this most important of all purchases. To help you figure that out, here are 10 questions to ask a real estate agent to suss out which one is right for you.

  1. How long have you been a real estate agent?

You want a professional who knows the ins and outs of the business, and that level of knowledge comes only with experience. Look for someone with at least a few years in the business. If the agent is a rookie, ask him if he will receive hands-on guidance from a real estate broker in his office (a broker is someone who has taken real estate education courses beyond the agent level and often manages a team of agents).

2. What neighborhoods do you specialize in?

Your agent should be well-acquainted with the areas you’re interested in, so search for someone who can rattle off key info about your desired neighborhood, including home prices, schools, safety, public transportation, and cultural amenities.

3. What’s your schedule and availability?

Many real estate agents work only part time, which could present problems: What if a bidding war has just begun on the home you just have to have, or you encounter last-minute closing snafus? Ideally you want an agent who works full time or, if not, the agent should make it abundantly clear that urgent matters will be addressed if necessary (which leads to our next point).

4. Do you work independently or with a team?

Some people think real estate is a solo sport, but many agents work on a real estate team with other agents, an administrative assistant, and a team leader—and there are benefits to working with an agent who’s part of a pack. For example, if your agent is tied up and you need to see a property ASAP, someone else on the team can step in and show you the home, or handle last-minute problems in lieu of your agent.

5. What percentage of your business is working with home buyers?

While most agents help both home buyers and sellers, the very best tend to specialize in one or the other, since the specialities are quite different. To buy a home, you should team up with a buyer’s agent—someone who specializes in working with home buyers. A listing agent, by comparison, focuses on working with home sellers. Look for an agent with a buyer-to-seller client ratio of at least 7 to 3, or ideally higher.

6. How many homes did you help buyers close in the past year?

This question is specific, because you want someone who successfully helps people buy homes.

“There’s a big difference between ‘working’ with home buyers and actually selling people homes,” Yee points out.

7. How long does it typically take buyers you’ve worked with to find and purchase a home?

Buying a house takes time. In general it takes an average of 30 to 60 days to shop for a house, and 14 to 60 days to go from contract to closing. However, this number varies widely from area to area, and it’s crucial that you have a handle on how long it’ll take you. Yet you also don’t want an agent who drags his feet unnecessarily. Translation: If an agent says it typically takes six months to a year to buy a house, that’s a red flag you could end up frustrated.

8. How will you determine what homes may match my wants and needs?

A good buyer’s agent provides clients with a comprehensive questionnaire to help them pinpoint their home-buying criteria, so ask for this survey in advance. Also, your agent should be able to tell you whether your list of “needs” is realistically affordable in your area.

9. How many clients are you currently working with?

You want an agent who’s busy but not too busy: Anyone juggling much more than 10 clients might be too busy to provide you with high-quality, one-on-one service.

10. How will you keep in contact with me during the buying process, and how often?

Does your agent prefer to stay in touch mainly by phone, email, or text—and how about you? Generally it’s best if your agent’s preferred method of communication aligns with your own. If your agent’s a texter while you prefer an actual conversation on the phone (or vice versa), that could drive you both bananas.

You should also ask how often you two will be touching base. Navigating the home-buying process requires good communication between you and your agent, so you want an agent who will stay in touch and check in with you on at least a weekly basis. In a fast-moving market, your agent should be touching base with you daily, lest you miss out.

You can search for agents in your area at realtor.com/realestateagents, where you can also read real estate agent reviews from previous clients.

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