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 oneThe 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.
For-Sale-by-Owner, or FSBO, transactions are commonly seen in seller's markets or whenever homeowners want to maximize their profits by not having to pay commission.
However, statistics show that selling your home with the assistance of a professional real estate agent will garner you a higher profit, enough to cover the commission as well as put more money in your pocket. According to the National Association of Realtor®'s 2016 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, the average FSBO sales price was $185,000, while the average price for a home represented by an agent was $245,000. That's a difference of $60,000!
If you choose to sell your home on your own, you'll be negotiating and relying on your own skill to finalize a contract, leaving yourself open to potential legal problems and a smaller profit when all is said and done.
Here are some of the top reasons why FSBO home sales can go very wrong.
1. Marketing your home online isn't as easy as you thinkBuyers always start online, and FSBO sellers are unlikely to get the exposure they need on a number of listings websites to reach their audience, says Realtor® Wendy Hooper with Coast Realty Services in Newport Beach, CA. Sticking a sign in your yard or trying to pull off some DIY social media marketing hardly has the same effect.
How an agent can help: Using an agent automatically offers widespread exposure for your listing through the multiple listing service. Your real estate agent will also have the means to promote your house to fellow agents to share with their clients. FSBO sellers would have to shell out big bucks for advertising and still might not reach the most important audience.
2. You could price your home wrongThose who put their homes on the market as FSBO tend to set a price based on an online assessment tool or the lofty sum that the neighbor down the street claims they were offered—two methods that are liable to put the listing price way off.
"Using a free online valuation tool is like bringing your doctor a printout of your Google search about symptoms and possible cures,” says Jon Sterling, a real estate consultant with Keller Williams Realty in San Francisco. “There’s no substitute for actual market knowledge.”
The danger in overpricing a home is that it will languish on the market, and buyers will wonder why, even if you lower the price later, says Mark Ferguson, a real estate agent with Pro Realty in Greeley, CO.
"The home becomes stigmatized, and buyers are likely to pay a lower price when the home has been on the market an extended period of time,” Ferguson says.
How an agent can help: A real estate agent will provide an accurate home value based on a comprehensive market analysis to help you arrive at the right listing price. The goal is to make sure you’re pricing your home in the sweet spot—not too high so that you are turning off potential buyers, and not too low so you are leaving money on the table.
3. You could underestimate (or overestimate) how much money to spend on curb appeal“A novice home seller is unlikely to view their home objectively or know how to stage it to appeal to the broadest audience,” says Hooper. That means you might be turning off potential buyers with an amateur paint job, an overgrown yard, or even a broken doorbell.
On the flip side, you might end up investing far more money than is needed. Hooper had sellers who were convinced they had to totally overhaul their 35-year-old kitchen and floors to the tune of about $50,000. Instead, she advised a $10,000 investment for paint, staging, and minor repairs, which still netted $45,000 above their target price.
How an agent can help: Even if you’re not up for a full home makeover, your agent has an eye for detail and can recommend simple, budget-conscious swaps that can translate into real dollars when it comes negotiation time.
“We know how to spend the least amount of money to get the best outcome and home presentation possible,” Hooper says.
4. Showings are a dragFSBO sellers don’t realize how draining it can be to set up showings. And on top of scheduling actual potential buyers, you also have to deal with both looky-loos (gawkers with no intention of buying the house) and “sharks,” (investors looking to flip your house for a profit).
"Sellers who advertise their FSBO will quickly be inundated with calls from real estate investors who are looking to save the same commission the seller hopes to save,” Sterling says. Unfortunately, typically these offers are very low and could likely lead to no sale.
How an agent can help: Your agent will handle all the scheduling and staff the tours for you, so all you have to do is quickly tidy up and vacate.
In fact, that is another key reason to have an agent: Buyers can get uncomfortable with a seller hanging around during the showing, says Ferguson. Agents also will weed out unsuitable offers and collect feedback that potential buyers might be unwilling to share directly with the seller, which can make subsequent showings even stronger.
5. Preparing your own paperwork can be trickyUnless you have a background in contracts or law, you might want to leave the paperwork to the pros. The closing process can entail more than 20 pages of complicated paperwork, including the contract and addendums designed to cover all of the situations that could go wrong, says Ferguson.
For example, houses built before 1978 require an addendum regarding lead-based paint and some states need a release confirming the presence of carbon monoxide detectors.
How an agent can help: Your agent will take care of all property disclosures and corresponding documentation to avoid future liability.
“If the seller does not use an agent and doesn’t know every law and required paperwork specific to their community, they open themselves up to lawsuits,” warns Ferguson.
by Cathie Ericson- a journalist who writes about real estate, finance, and health.
If you're in the market for a mortgage, you probably know that lenders won't just shower you with money when you show up at their office with a smile and a heart-warming story about how you've found the perfect home. Nope, they want to know that if they give you a home loan, odds are good you'll pay them back. And that's where mortgage pre-approval comes in. Here's everything you need to know about this crucial stage and how to ace it without a hitch.
What is mortgage pre-approval, anyway?Mortgage pre-approval is that step in the process where a lender probes deep into your financial past, checking out your income, debts, credit score, and other factors that help it determine whether or not to give you a home loan—and how much money you stand to get. And that helps you set your sights on the right price range for a home.
“You need to know your buying power,” says Ray Rodriguez, New York City regional mortgage sales manager at TD Bank. Indeed, finding out your price range now can save you a lot of time and energy in the future. “It’s emotionally crushing to find a home that you love and not be able to afford to purchase it,” he says.
Pre-approval vs. pre-qualification: What’s the difference?Mortgage pre-qualification entails a basic overview of a borrower’s ability to get a loan. You provide a mortgage lender with information—about your income, assets, debts, and credit—but you don't need to produce any paperwork to back it up. As such, pre-qualification is relatively easy and can be a fast way to get a ballpark figure of what you can afford. But it's by no means a guarantee that you'll actually get approved for the loan when you go to buy a home.
Getting pre-approved, in contrast, is a more in-depth process that involves a lender running a credit check and verifying your income and assets, says Rodriguez. Then an underwriter does a preliminary review of your financial portfolio and, if all goes well, issues a written commitment for financing up to a certain loan amount; this commitment is good for up to 90 or 120 days. So as long as you find your dream house and officially apply for your loan approval in that time period, you're good to go!
Moreover, getting pre-approved is typically free, says Staci Titsworth, regional manager of PNC Mortgage in Pittsburgh. Expect it to take, on average, one to three days for your application to be processed.
Why pre-approval is importantA letter of pre-approval from a mortgage lender is akin to a VIP ticket straight into a home seller's heart. Why? It's proof you are both willing and able to purchase the home. Consequently, many sellers will accept an offer only from a buyer who has been pre-approved, which makes sense given that without pre-approval, there’s basically no guarantee whatsoever that the deal will go through.
What documentation you needTo get pre-approved, you’ll need to provide a mortgage lender with a good amount of paperwork. For the typical home buyer, this includes the following:
Because hard inquiries hurt your credit score, you will want to avoid applying for pre-approval with multiple lenders; otherwise, your score could decline to the point where you get locked out of buying a home. Still, it’s beneficial to meet with several lenders to explore your options conversationally, since some lenders offer more competitive interest rates and better service than others.
By Daniel Bortz
It's easy to fall in love with the idea of buying a home. You've got it all planned out: a five-bedroom home in your favorite neighborhood with a manicured lawn and—why not?—a nice pool.
Well, if you really want to land that dream home, you'd better get started now!
Step 1 is to clean up your credit score, also called a FICO score—a simplified calculation of your history of paying back debts and making regular payments on loans. If you're borrowing money to buy a home (as most do), lenders want to know you'll pay them back in a timely manner, and a credit score is an easy estimate of those odds.
Here's your crash course on this all-important little number, and how to whip it into the best home-buying shape possible
Pull your credit report There are three major U.S. credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion), and each releases its own credit scores and reports (a more detailed history that's used to determine your score). Their scores should be roughly equivalent, although they do pull from different sources. For example, Experian considers on-time rent payments while TransUnion has detailed information about previous employers.
To access these scores and reports, financial planner Bob Forrest of Mutual of Omaha recommends using AnnualCreditReport.com, where you can get a free copy of your report every 12 months from each credit-reporting company. It doesn't include your credit score, though—you'll have to go to each company for that, and pay a small fee.
Or check with your credit card company: Some, including Discover and Capital One, offer free access to scores and reports, says Michael Chadwick, owner of Chadwick Financial Advisors in Unionville, CT. Once you've got your report, thoroughly review it page by page, particularly the “adverse accounts" section that details late payments and other slip-ups.
Assess where you stand It's simple: The better your credit history, the higher your score—and the better your opportunities for a home loan. The Federal Housing Administration requires a minimum credit score of 580 to permit a 3.5% down payment, and major lenders often require at least 620, if not more. So what can you do if your credit report is in less than shipshape? Don't panic, there are ways to clean it up.
Dispute any errorsA 2013 Federal Trade Commission study found that 5% of credit reports contain errors that can erroneously ding your score. So if you spot any, start by sending a dispute letter to the bureau, providing as much documentation as possible, per FTC guidelines. You'll also need to contact the organization that provided the bad intel, such as a bank or medical provider, and ask it to update the info with the bureau. This may take a while, and you may need documentation to make your case. But once the bad info is removed, you should see a bump in your score.
Erase one-time mistakesSo you've made a late payment or two—who hasn't? Call the company that registered the late payment and ask that it be removed from your record. “If you had an oopsy and missed just a payment or two, most companies will indeed tell their reporting division to remove this from your credit report," says Forrest. Granted, this won't work if you have a history of late payments, but for accidents and small errors, it's an easy boost for your score.
Increase your limits One no-brainer way to increase your credit standing is to simply pay off your debt. Not an option right now? Here's a cool loophole: Ask your credit card companies to increase your credit limit instead. This improves your debt-to-credit ratio, which compares how much you owe to how much you can borrow.
“Having $1,000 of credit card debt is bad if you have a limit of $1,500. It isn't nearly as bad if your limit is $5,000," Forrest says. The simple math: Although you owe the same amount, you're using a much smaller percentage of your available credit, which shines well on your borrowing practices.
Pay on time If you're often late with payments, now's the time to change. Commit to always paying your bills on time; consider signing up for automatic payments so it's guaranteed to get done.
Give yourself time Unfortunately, negative items (such as those habitually late or nonexistent payments) can stay on your report for up to seven years. The good news? Changing your habits makes a big difference in the “payment history" segment of your report, which accounts for 35% of your score. That's why it's essential to start early so that you're sitting pretty once you're shopping for homes and find one that makes you swoon.
Once you've set your credit on a better path, it's time to tackle the next major hurdle: saving for a down payment.
By Jamie Wiebe
Jamie Wiebe writes about home design and real estate for realtor.com. She has previously written for House Beautiful, Elle Decor, Real Simple, Veranda, and more.