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January
4

32 Insider Tips for Buying and Selling a House

32 Insider Tips for Buying and Selling a House

Tips for Buying a Home

When buying a home, whether to live in or as an investment property, it's crucial to understand financing options, how to apply for a mortgage and the various expenses involved.

It can be easy to get carried away when buying a home, so make sure the property is one that you will be able to afford, maintain and grow with over the years ahead.

1. Save For a Down Payment

The typical down payment is 20% of the sale price of the home. You might be able to get away with putting down less than that, but then your mortgage lender can require you to purchase private mortgage insurance. The insurance protects the lender in case you default on the loan.

That's not a horrible thing, but it will increase your monthly payments by 0.5% to 1%. So it might make more sense to take some time and save more money for a down payment.

2. Check Your Credit

The better your credit score, the lower your mortgage interest rate will be. A score above 720 is ideal for purchasing a home.

Multiple factors are considered when calculating your score, such as if you pay your bills on time, the amount of your debt, length of credit history and types of credit; lenders prefer that you have a variety of credit sources. Check your credit quarterly and fix any mistakes that appear on your report.

3. Avoid Making Any Other Big Purchases

Every time you apply for a new form of credit, such as a credit card, a hard inquiry is run on your account, which can cause your credit score to take a slight dip. Therefore, avoid applying for or opening any new credit forms until after you have purchased your home.

4. Remember Closing Costs

Purchasing a home requires some mortgage-related expenses that might not be obvious at first — this includes closing costs.

Closing costs can include homeowners insurance, appraisals and home inspections, and cost about 2% to 5% of your mortgage. So, closing costs for a $300,000 mortgage, for example, can run anywhere from $6,000 to $15,000. Remember to plan for closing costs when calculating your budget.

5. Get a Buyer's Agent

You might think you're saving money on commission by going at it alone when purchasing a home, but an experienced real estate agent can help you in numerous ways.

Along with helping you to avoid costly mistakes, a real estate agent can do a lot of the house searching for you, help you negotiate a better price and ensure that contracts and paperwork are correctly filled out.

6. Determine How Much Home You Can Afford

A three-story, four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath modern home with an infinity pool might be your dream home, but your budget might only allow for something smaller and less extravagant.

Before compiling your wish list for your dream home, run the numbers and figure out how much home you can actually afford. This can save you tons of time when you're out house-hunting and allow you to focus on only those properties that you can actually afford.

7. Include Added Expenses

You will likely run into additional expenses once you move into your new house, so prepare for these costs when calculating your initial budget. Decorating, for example, can cost more than you initially expect. Furniture, fixtures, lighting, paint, carpeting and the like can quickly add up.

8. Choose the Neighborhood Carefully

Location is everything, and for good reason. The neighborhood you buy in will shape your daily living experiences and should match your desired lifestyle. Factors to consider include the school system, crime rate, walkability, public parks, access to shopping, restaurants and other cultural amenities.

9. Determine Your Commute Time

The location of your home will greatly impact your commute time to work, for better or for worse. Before buying, consider your method of transportation — whether it's by car, bus, train, etc. — and the amount of time it will take you to reach your workplace.

10. Buy the Right Type of Property

Know what type of home you want before setting out on a search for properties. This can save you a lot of time when looking for the ideal place.

For example, a condo might be less expensive than a single-family home, but you will forgo a private yard, which can impact family and entertaining time. On the other hand, a condo requires a lot less maintenance than a large house. Weigh the pros and cons of each type of home, and choose one that will best fit your lifestyle and budget.

11. Choose Your Length of Mortgage

Evaluate both a 15-year and 30-year mortgage to determine which one will be most advantageous. The 30-year fixed mortgage is used for the majority of home loans. However, depending on your circumstance, you might benefit from paying your house off in half the amount of time.

The monthly costs will be higher for a 15-year loan, but the interest rates are usually lower than the longer loans. So, in the end, you will end up paying less overall.

12. Get Preapproved for a Mortgage

A mortgage preapproval tells sellers that you are able to get a loan from the bank and that you are a serious shopper. During the preapproval process, the lender evaluates your credit score and history, debt, income and employment history to determine if you qualify for a home loan and at what interest rate.

The lender will give you a letter documenting your preapproval status; the letter should be shown to sellers when an offer is being made.

December
19

Earnest Money: What It Is and How Much It Is in Real Estate

Earnest Money: What It Is and How Much It Is in Real Estate

What Is Earnest Money?

Earnest money is a deposit made to a seller that represents a buyer's good faith to make a purchase such as the acquisition of a new home. The money gives the buyer extra time to get financing and conduct the title search, property appraisal, and inspections before closing. In many ways, earnest money can be considered a deposit on a home, an escrow deposit, or good faith money.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Earnest money is essentially a deposit a buyer makes on a home they want to purchase.
  • A contract is written up during the exchange of the earnest money that outlines the conditions for refunding the amount.
  • Earnest money deposits can be anywhere from 1–10% of the sales price, depending mostly on market interest.
  • Should a buyer break the terms of the contract, they may be at risk of losing their earnest money deposit.
  • However, there are a number of potentially agreed-upon contingencies that may protect the buyer from backing out of a deal but still keeping all of their earnest money.

Understanding Earnest Money

In most cases, earnest money is delivered when the sales contract or purchase agreement is signed, but it can also be attached to the offer. Once deposited, the funds are typically held in an escrow account until closing, at which time the deposit is applied to the buyer's down payment and closing costs.

When a buyer decides to purchase a home from a seller, both parties enter into a contract. The contract doesn't obligate the buyer to purchase the home, because reports from the home appraisal and inspection may later reveal problems with the house. The contract does, however, ensure the seller takes the house off the market while it's inspected and appraised. To prove the buyer's offer to purchase the property is made in good faith, the buyer makes an earnest money deposit (EMD).

The buyer might be able to reclaim the earnest money deposit if something that was specified ahead of time in the contract goes wrong. For instance, the earnest money would be returned if the house doesn't appraise for the sales price or the inspection reveals a serious defect—provided these contingencies are listed in the contract.

 

In general, earnest money is returned to the buyer if the seller terminates the deal but is awarded to the seller if the buyer unreasonably terminates the deal.

How Much Are the Earnest Money Amounts?

While the buyer and seller can negotiate the earnest money deposit, it often ranges between 1% and 2% of the home's purchase price, depending on the market. In hot housing markets, the earnest money deposit might range between 5% and 10% of a property's sale price.

While the earnest money deposit is often a percentage of the sales price, some sellers prefer a fixed amount, such as $5,000 or $10,000. Of course, the higher the earnest money amount, the more serious the seller is likely to consider the buyer. Therefore, a buyer should offer a high enough earnest deposit to be accepted, but not one so high as to put extra money at risk.

A seller may also require ongoing, periodic earnest deposits to have a prospective buyer continue to show good faith during their due diligence process. For example, a seller may require a buyer to make monthly earnest deposits on a fixed schedule over a three month due diligence period. Should the buyer fail to meet any earnest money deposit requirements, the seller may be entitled to bring the property back to market and potentially recover losses via keeping portions of the earnest money.

How Is Earnest Money Paid?

Earnest money is usually paid by certified check, personal check, or a wire transfer into a trust or escrow account that is held by a real estate brokerage, legal firm, or title company. The funds are held in the account until closing, when they are applied toward the buyer's down payment and closing costs.

It's important to note that escrow accounts, like any other bank account, can earn interest. If the earnest funds in the escrow account earn interest of more than $600, the buyer must fill out tax form W-9 with the IRS to receive the interest.1

Is Earnest Money Refundable?

Earnest money isn't always refundable. The good news for buyers is in most situations, as long as a buyer acts in good faith, earnest money is refundable. As long as any contract agreements are not broken or decision deadlines are met, buyers usually get their earnest money back. Specific conditions where buyers often get their earnest money back include:

  • If a home inspection reveals there are material issues with a property being sold. The buyer can usually choose to negotiate who is responsible for the repairs or can back out of the purchase.
  • If a home appraises for lower value than the agreed purchase price. The buyer can negotiate a lower purchase price or can back out of the purchase price.
  • If a buyer is unable to sell their current house (as long as this home sale contingency is agreed upon).
  • If a buyer is unable to obtain a loan/financing (as long as this funding contingency is agreed upon).

Every situation is different, but broadly speaking, the seller gets to keep the earnest money if the buyer decides not to go through with the home purchase for reasons not specified as part of the contract. For example, if a buyer simply has a change of heart decides not to buy the property, the seller is most likely entitled to retain earnest money proceeds.

Protecting Your Earnest Money Deposit

Prospective buyers can do several things to protect their earnest money deposits.

    • Make sure contingencies for financing and inspections are included in the contract. Without these, the deposit could be forfeited if the buyer can't get financing or a serious defect is found during the inspection.
    • Ensure contract terms are in writing. The contract agreement between a buyer and seller should be in writing. This clarifies any misunderstandings and sets the precedence for terms of the agreement. Amendments to the contract are always allowable, but ensure that every iteration of the agreement is in writing and signed by both parties.
    • Read, understand, and abide by the terms of the contract. For example, if the contract states the home inspection must be completed by a certain date, the buyer must meet that deadline or risk losing the deposit—and the house.
    • Utilize an escrow account to hold funds. Do not send escrow money directly to the seller; if the funds are in direct possession by the other party, they can control the funds and not release funds even if you are entitled to earnest money refunds.
  • Make sure the deposit is handled appropriately. The deposit should be payable to a reputable third party, such as a well-known real estate brokerage, escrow company, title company, or legal firm (never give the deposit directly to the seller). Buyers should verify the funds will be held in an escrow account and always obtain a receipt. 

Example of Earnest Money

Suppose Tom wants to buy a home worth $100,000 from Joy. To facilitate the transaction, the broker arranges to deposit $10,000 as a deposit in an escrow account. The terms of the subsequent agreement signed by both parties state that Joy, who is currently living in the home, will move out of it within the next six months.

However, Joy is unable to find another place of residence by moving day. As a result, Tom cancels the transaction and gets his deposit money back. The deposit money has earned interest of $500 from the escrow account during this time period. Since the amount is less than $600, Tom is not required to fill out an IRS form to retrieve the amount.1

What Is an Earnest Money Payment?

In real estate, earnest money is effectively a deposit to buy a home. Usually, it ranges between 1-10% of the home's sale price. While earnest money doesn't obligate a buyer to purchase a home, it does require the seller to take the property off of the market during the appraisal process. Earnest money is deposited to represent good faith in purchasing the home.

Who Keeps Earnest Money If a Deal Falls Through?

Earnest money gets returned if something goes awry during the appraisal that was predetermined in the contract. This could include an appraisal price that is lower than the sale price, or if there is a significant flaw with the house. Importantly, though, earnest money may not be returned if the flaw was not predetermined in the contract or if the buyer decides not to purchase the house during an agreed-upon time period. 

How Can Earnest Money Be Protected?

To protect an earnest money deposit, prospective buyers can follow a number of precautionary steps. First, buyers can ensure that contingencies apply to defects, financing, and inspections. This protects the deposit from being forfeited in the case that a major flaw is discovered, or that financing is not secured. Second, carefully read and follow the terms of the contract. In some cases, the contract will indicate a certain date by which the inspection must be made. To prevent forfeiture, the buyer should abide by these terms accordingly. Finally, ensure the deposit is handled adequately, which means that the buyer should work with a reputable broker, title firm, escrow company, or legal firm. 

Do You Get Earnest Money Back?

As long as a buyer follows the terms of the contract and adheres to all deadlines agreed to with the seller, a buyer will most often receive their full earnest money deposit(s) back. Should the buyer fail to comply with the agreement, the seller may be entitled to receive some or all earnest deposit funds.

How Do You Lose Earnest Money?

In an agreement between a buyer and seller, there are often a number of contingencies outlined that spell out the terms where a buyer may back out of an agreement. These contingencies include failure of a home inspection, failure to secure financing, or failure to sell a separate existing property.

If the buyer decides to not proceed with the sale for reasons outside of these agreed to contingencies, the buyer is at risk of losing earnest money.

The Bottom Line

When a buyer and seller enter into an initial agreement to transfer ownership right of property, the buyer is often required to make a deposit of earnest money into an escrow account. There's a number of reasons the buyer and seller can agree to where the buyer can back out of the agreement. However, should the buyer break contract or not meet required deadlines, the seller may be entitled to keep the earnest money as compensation for the break of good faith.

August
1

Ready To Make An Offer? Make Sure You Do This First

Before making an offer on your dream home, make sure you cross these tasks off your list.

Shopping for a new home can be an emotional rollercoaster, and the process often takes several weeks or months. Once you discover that perfect home, it's normal to feel a mix of excitement and anxiety, which often leads buyers to act with a sense of urgency. However, before you have your agent draw up an offer, it's important to take some time to thoroughly evaluate the property and consider your terms.

Our real estate agents always encourage clients to take these steps before submitting an offer:

  • Make a Pros and Cons List
    Finding a home that checks every box is challenging, and first-time buyers usually need to make some concessions. However, you do want to make sure the home is a good fit before making an offer. Sit down and make a list of all the pros and cons of the home. Consider the asking price, location, age, size, yard, garage, and any other components that are important to you. A pros and cons list will force you to consider every element of the home and can help you determine how aggressive to be when making an offer.

  • Have Your Agent Ask If There Are Other Offers
    Listing agents aren't able to disclose the details of other offers, but simply knowing whether the property has received multiple offers is good info to have. If there are already multiple offers on the property, you'll want to work with your agent to come up with the most competitive offer you feel comfortable putting forward.

    If there are no offers, you may want to start at or around the asking price. If more offers come in, agents usually will come back and ask for the "highest and best" at a later date, which will give you the chance to adjust your bid.

  • Estimate Your Mortgage Payment
    Before deciding what to offer, you'll want to make sure you're able to afford the down payment, mortgage payment, and closing costs. Your down payment will likely be somewhere between 3% and 20%, depending on what your lender pre-approved. Your mortgage payment is likely to fluctuate based on current interest rates, but you can use an online mortgage calculator for a close estimate. Your lender should also be able to provide you with a closing cost estimate based on the zip code and offer price. Bottom line -- you want to make sure you can afford what you're offering to pay.

  • Evaluate The Market
    The real estate market is constantly fluctuating these days due to the lingering effects of the pandemic as well as rising interest rates. As a result, it's important for buyers to keep their finger on the pulse of the market. Check out the asking prices on some other Holland homes for sale, and use those data points to inform your decision. Home prices generally appreciate over time, but as buyer demand wanes, prices could start to drop.

  • Check The Home's History
    The property's historical transactions could tell you a lot about the home. For example, if the current owners have only lived there for a short time, it could suggest a problem, and it's worth asking the listing agent for more information. Historical transactions can also tell you how much the current owners paid for the property and how the home has appreciated over time.

Submitting an offer on a home is exciting. But before you get carried away, make sure you do your homework. Contact us today for more home buying tips. 

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