So you have spent some time looking at houses online, have visited some open houses and maybe have seen a few houses with your agent if you have one - you have a pretty good idea of what you are looking for. But when you find the house that you love, will you be ready to make an offer? What exactly will you need? To make the process a little clearer for first time home buyers, below are some of the main items that you should have
1. Speak to a mortgage agent or lender to get pre-approved for a loan, and obtain a loan pre-approval letter. This is really something you should do before you even START looking for a property. A mortgage broker or lender will be able to tell you exactly the type and amount of loan you would qualify for, based on your credit, income, etc., which will tell you the exact price range you should be looking. They will also be able to provide you with a written confirmation of your loan approval (called a pre-approval letter), which will be required by just about all sellers to be submitted with your offer.
2. Have a good buyers agent representing you. A good agent will be able to not only help you locate all of the available properties within a given area and price range, and tailor the search to fit the exact features you like and dislike in a property, but their true value is proven once you have found the home you would like to buy. A good agent will research all of the comparable sales in the area to help determine the fair market value of the property, and help you acquire the property at the best possible price through negotiations on your behalf with the listing agent and seller. Your agent will also prepare and explain to you all of the intricacies of the paperwork compromising the offer, and well as make sure the myriad of additional forms and disclosures are completed as required by law in each transaction. The agent will also coordinate and guide you through the additional steps in the closing process, such as the inspections, appraisal, possibly negotiating a credit from the seller, etc.. Agents who represent buyers in the purchase of property are customarily paid by the SELLER, so having a good agent on your side is not only essential to a buyer, it is also FREE!
3. Be prepared to provide proof of funds for the cash down payment amount, and a copy of the deposit check with your offer. These days more than ever, it is customary for sellers to require that potential buyers submit a "proof of funds" with their offer, demonstrating that they have enough available liquid cash on hand sufficient to cover the amount of the purchase price that is not being financed. Generally, a copy of the bank statement reflecting a sufficient balance would be acceptable. Most sellers will also want to see a photocopy of the check from the buyer for the opening deposit with the offer, which is customarily equal to 3% of the total purchase price. Only when the offer is accepted by the seller will the deposit be required to be actually submitted to escrow, so you will not have to put forward any money until you have an accepted offer in place.
4. Be ready to schedule your inspection immediately upon acceptance of your offer. The time periods on each transaction are negotiable, but the standard time frame for the inspection contingency is 17 days in a California Association of Realtors Residential Purchase Agreement. The contingency period means that during this time, the buyer has a right to back out of the transaction and cancel escrow for any reason relating to the physical inspection of the property, and have the right to request the opening deposit returned to them and not be at risk of losing that deposit to the seller. It is strongly recommended that all buyers obtain a physical inspection, which generally runs approximately $300-$400, and is paid for out of pocket by the buyer. The inspection report will show you the detailed condition of the property and any potential problems, and could be a basis for asking for a price reduction or credit from the seller for problems diagnosed in the report. In order to stay within the time contingency periods and protect the buyers deposit, the inspection, review of the report, and negotiations with the seller should be done all within the time contingency period. Therefore it is critical to have your inspection scheduled and performed as soon as possible upon having your offer accepted.
Hopefully by this time you will be well on your way to becoming a homeowner!