Acquiring an Agent
Once you have done some initial research on potential locations for your new home and have put some serious thought into what your needs, priorities and price range are, it is time to find yourself a representative agent. This person will help you find and facilitate the viewing of properties that come as close to your criteria as possible. They will also serve as your representative in the negotiation and buying process.
Please note that depending on the circumstances, agents can have different levels of representation. An overview of what this can look like can be found in this NY Times article. It is very important that you discuss this with any potential agent before you agree to work with them, as they will ask you to sign an Agency Disclosure Agreement as a legal requirement before you start to work together on an official basis.
If you are likely to need financing from a lending institution, it is essential to secure a mortgage pre-approval from a qualified lender in advance of your home search. Proof of pre-approval is a must as it will be a prerequisite as a prospective buyer and will speed up the process of closing the transaction.
You are also going to need legal representation and it is good practice to identify an attorney at the start of the process – preferably one with a strong real estate background.
Offer and Negotiation
When you find that dream home that ticks enough boxes for you, you will work with your agent to establish what you think is a fair offering price, based on the current market and other variables, such as location and condition. At that point an agent will then submit a written offer to the seller and/or their agent on your behalf.
This is usually followed by a process of backward and forward counter-offers until an agreement is met on the terms of sale. This takes the form of an Acceptable Offer (A.O.) which will include the purchase price, any items left in the property to be included (e.g. furniture, features etc), a projected closing date, and any other conditions and contingencies (e.g. inspection results, financing conditions, etc.).
If included as a contingency in the A.O., the buyer will have the opportunity to conduct any professional inspection(s) that they deem necessary. Based on the results of the inspection(s), both sides will come to an agreement on what needs to rectified and what can be left as is.
It is important to note that up until both parties go into contract, the seller is free to entertain any other offers that may come in. As such, it is in your best interest to complete all of your inspections in a timely and efficient fashion. Not until this point can the process move forward to the drawing-up of a binding contract.
Drawing Up the Contract
Once the A.O. is finalized and agreed upon, a written Memorandum of Agreement is drawn up by the seller’s agent, which includes the terms of the A.O. This is then shared with the seller and buyer and their respective agents and attorneys.
Based on the MoA, the seller’s attorney will draft a contract of sale to be delivered to your attorney, together with legal documentation for the property, such title deeds, survey reports, certificate of occupancy etc.
You will discuss the contract with your attorney and propose any changes to the seller prior to signing.
Once signed, they are usually returned to the seller’s attorney with a 10% contract deposit (down payment), which is held in escrow until closing.
You will then be able to complete your mortgage application.
Once in contract, your attorney will undertake a title search of the property on your behalf. A title insurance policy will be drawn up to protect the lender (and the buyer, if so wished) in the event a title problem arises in the future. This will also be accompanied with a property tax search, a violations search (required by the lender), and a survey inspection. If the existing survey is problematic, or doesn’t exist, it is typically the buyer’s responsibility to pay for a new survey.
A final walk-through of the property is performed just prior to closing, usually on or close to the scheduled day of cloning. This is to confirm that there has been no additional damage since the inspection; that all included appliances are in acceptable order and that the property is actually vacant and acceptable clean. If there were a number of agreed upon inspection issues to be addressed, that required substantial work, it is advisable to do an additional walk-through a week prior.
A closing date is scheduled once the contract conditions have been met in their entirety. This involves a meeting of all parties, which will include the seller, the buyer and their respective attorneys and agents, as well as the title company representative. Deeds, keys and checks are exchanged and all necessary documentation is signed and finalized. In advance of the meeting, your attorney will advise you of any certified checks required at closing.
You will need to free up several hours of your time for this meeting. You will also be required to bring:
- A supply of blank personal checks for assorted closing costs;
- Two forms of identification, one of which must be a photo I.D.;
- Proof of home owners insurance with one year’s worth of premiums paid in advance.
Once the closing is scheduled, calls should be made to confirm with your movers, to contact utility companies to transfer service accounts, to arrange for a home-owners insurance policy (proof of an insurance policy and paid receipt for one year’s premium paid in advance must be brought to the closing), and to transfer any funds necessary for closing.
Disclaimer: The information above is only intended as a summary guide and not as a comprehensive treatise on the process of buying property. It is essential that you retain and consult appropriate and qualified legal representation to guide you throughout the process once you decide to proceed.