Before you buy- First time home buyer fundamentals

by Dan Krell © 2007
Google+

Don’t let your first time home buying experience be overwhelming. Before you plan your Sunday trip to open houses, it’s important to review the fundamentals and make sure you are going into your home purchase fully aware of the responsibility you are about to take on, as well as prepare you for the process and pitfalls that may come your way.

The first item on the list is to determine how much you can afford. Affordability is determined by your financial state and interest rates. Your financial state includes factors such as your income, debt, savings, and expenses. Interest rates impact on your ability to purchase a home because your monthly payment is based on the rate you lock into; the higher the rate, the higher your payment.

Once you know how much you can afford, make a housing budget. Making a housing budget can help you understand your expenses, which included utilities, maintenance, and other expenses such as cable and internet. Additionally, take into account any interest rate adjustment (if you have an adjustable rate mortgage) and increasing real estate taxes. Many first time home buyers get into trouble because they underestimate their monthly housing expenses, as well as not accounting for rising mortgage payments and real estate taxes.

As a first time homebuyer, you will want to be aware of any special programs that are available to you. There are many local home buyer programs that offer special financing and/or closing assistance through the county, the Housing Opportunities Commission, as well as through banks and organizations.

Talking to a lender can help you understand your credit and how much you can afford. You should compare lenders for interest rates and fees. Lender fees vary significantly and by choosing the right lender, you can possibly save several thousand dollars at settlement.

Knowing your rights as a home buyer can help you prevent problems that may occur. As a homebuyer, you are affected by federal and local fair housing laws, RESPA (Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act), Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Truth in Lending Act. Your real estate agent should be aware of these laws and can help you understand them. You can get more information about these laws at the HUD website, HUD.gov.

As a first time home buyer it is important to know that you have the right to choose your service providers, such as real estate agent, lender, title company, insurance company, etc. Additionally, you have rights specific to obtaining a loan and credit, such as the right to a good faith estimate of settlement charges and interest rate and other disclosures. A list of these rights can be found at the HUD website (www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/res/resborwr.cfm).

Your next step will be to choose a real estate agent. It is recommended to interview several agents before choosing as your agent will be your trusted guide through the home buying process. A good real estate agent will know and protect your rights, as well as know what home buyer programs are available to you.

Finally, HUD recommends that first time home buyers attend housing counseling to assist in learning these and other fundamentals. It is clear that doing your homework and choosing the right professionals to assist you can make the difference in your home buying experience.

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of July 9, 2007. Copyright © 2007 Dan Krell.

Considerations in choosing a real estate agent

by Dan Krell
Google+

So you’re thinking of moving. If you are going to buy and/or sell a home you may be thinking of hiring a real estate agent to assist you. If you have bought or sold a home in the past, you know that there are thousands of real estate agents to choose from.

Choosing a real estate agent should be an objective as well as subjective process. You want an agent with experience and expertise, but you also want to make sure they listen to your needs and are patient with you. Additionally, you want to feel comfortable enough to trust them.

Choosing the right real estate agent is important because the agent that is chosen to represent you will have a fiduciary responsibility to you. As many home buyers and sellers don’t know, a fiduciary is someone who acts as a custodian for your rights and/or assets. The fiduciary has a responsibility to act with honesty and integrity, as well as act in your best interest and not exert influence on you or pressure you for their own or others interests. So, if the agent seems impatient, pushy or desperate you may need to look elsewhere.

Some people advise that your first step in choosing a quality real estate agent is to choose a broker or real estate firm first. However, the quality if an agent is not dependant on the firm. The quality of real estate agents varies from agent to agent; real estate firms have very good agents as well as agents that are less than perfect.

Whether you are interviewing an agent that was recommended or one you found in the paper, you should ask many questions about their knowledge, experience and expertise. You should also ask them if and how long they have been licensed.

Ask where the agent is licensed; not all agents are licensed in all jurisdictions. If your intention is to look at homes in Maryland, Virginia, and DC, make sure the agent is licensed in all three jurisdictions. If you are only looking in Maryland then they only need to be licensed in Maryland.

Once you have determined where the real estate agent is licensed, you can get an idea of their experience by asking how long they have been licensed. Someone who just received their license may not be as experienced in negotiating as someone who has been licensed five or ten years. If you are considering a novice agent, make sure they have some type of mentor that is training them. If the agent does have mentor, meet and interview them as well.

Additionally, you may want to consider working with a real estate agent who is a Realtor®. A Realtor® is a member of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) and follows the NAR code of ethics. It has been said that the NAR code of ethics exceeds the ethics requirements of many state laws.

Finding the right agent is a process much like home buying. Through interviewing real estate agents you can find out the agent’s professionalism, training, and knowledge base. Additionally, you can find out if the agent’s personality clicks with yours, as you will spend time together selling or buying your home.

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of June 18, 2007. Copyright © 2007 Dan Krell.

Why Title Insurance is Important

Title insurance should not be an enigmatic item listed on the settlement sheet, and there should be no question as to its validity. Here is a very basic explanation of why title insurance is important.

Title insurance, like other forms of insurance, is governed by the Maryland Insurance Administration (MIA). Title companies and title attorneys are licensed by the State to sell title insurance.

Title insurance is important because it’s an assurance that the home buyer receives a clean title from the home seller. Clearing a title of all liens and mortgages is not always an easy task. The first step is for the title attorney to order a title abstract.

A title abstract is simply a synopsis of the chain of title, or a history of ownership, that has been recorded in the office of land records in the county court house. The title abstract indicates all owners, mortgages, liens, encumbrances, and easements attached to the property. The title abstract also indicates previous sales and mortgage and lien satisfactions.

Because all the information in the title abstract is obtained from recorded information, it is inevitable that mistakes occur. For example, it is common for mortgage release letters to be lost, misfiled, or never filed at all. Sometimes there are years of information that is lost or destroyed resulting in a break in the chain of title.

Once received, the title attorney will review the abstract and look for any blemishes including unreleased mortgages or liens and breaks in the chain of title. If there are any blemishes found, they need to be cured before issuing a clean title. The home seller can remedy most blemishes by supplying all required documents or paying to release attached liens and mortgages. Sometimes it may be necessary for the home seller to show their title insurance policy so as to indicate they were given a clean title.

Sometimes there are items not filed in the office of land records that may affect the ownership of your home. Some of these items may be heirs of previous owners or undocumented lien holders who may make claim to your home. Title insurance can protect you from these claims. It is rare, but making a claim with the title insurance company can resolve these issues.

Lenders believe title insurance is important. If you are obtaining a mortgage to purchase the home, your lender will require “lender’s coverage” title insurance. The lender’s coverage protects the lender in case there are any unrecorded liens, easements, or other unrecorded defects.

Just as in other insurance policies there are different levels of coverage of title insurance. A basic owner’s title insurance policy typically assures clear title to the property and covers against incorrect signatures, on documents, forgery, fraud, and defective recordation of covenants, encumbrances or judgments.

Extended coverage may include coverage for building permit violations from previous owners, covenant violations from previous owners, living trusts, and a variety of encroachments and forgeries. Title insurance does not cover against liens placed after the effective date of the policy.

Policies and limitations vary, consult your title attorney for more information. Some policies cost more than others because of the difference in title insurance companies and levels of coverage. When comparing title companies, you should also ask about title insurance coverage and rates. You can access more information about title insurance at the MIA website, www.mdinsurance.state.md.us.

by Dan Krell

Copyright © 2006