10 steps for buying the right home

As a real estate agent, I find a lot of clients¬†are seeking information to help explain and simplify the home buying process. So today, I thought I’d offer some insight on how the experience typically flows from start to closing, including some tips to help make things go as smoothly as possible.

1. Decide on a realistic amount to spend.

Years ago, (I won’t mention exactly how many years) ūüėČ a wise college math teacher of mine recommended spending no more than 2.5x your annual salary on a¬†home. It’s a rule of thumb my husband and I have stuck to throughout the years, and it’s kept us from overextending ourselves financially.

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Dave Ramsey also has some conservative recommendations and a great tool to help you determine how much house you can afford. Check that out here. And, of course, speaking with a loan officer at your favorite lending institution will also provide good insight on how much mortgage you qualify for and what loan terms are available to you.

Determining a ceiling price you’re willing to pay for a home will help you avoid disappointment by getting your heart set on something you can’t finance.¬†It will also put you in the best position to close without complications.

2. Find the home that fits your family best.

When deciding what homes you want to look at, first determine your non-negotiables and communicate those to your real estate agent.

For example, what are the minimum number of bedrooms and bathrooms you will accept? What area/school district do you want to live in? Is a garage or carport a must? Do you require a large yard or a certain amount of acreage? Are you willing to do some work to fix up the place, or do you want a modernized, turnkey home? If you are willing to do some work, are you comfortable with only cosmetic updates, or do you have the construction savvy to tackle more extensive renovations?

Our Calvin flip – Affordable and modernized

Separating your needs from your wants will help you and your real estate agent clarify and narrow the search to only the best contenders.

3. Present an offer to the seller with earnest money down.

After you settle on the exact place you want to buy, this is the time to really lean on your real estate agent for help. He/she should be able to work with you to determine a fair price to offer for the property. This number should be based on quality research, which may¬†include a comparable market analysis of sales of similar properties in the area; a comprehensive look at the property and the seller’s property disclosure information to determine what aspects are working for and against the property; the number of days the property has been on the market; and other showings/interest in the property by potential buyers.

Once you (the buyer) decide what you want to offer for the home – and the specific terms of that offer – your agent will draw up a Standard Agreement for the Sale of Real Estate. Your agent should make recommendations as to what might strengthen/weaken the offer you’re submitting. You will need to look over and initial/sign many pages of documents. This is also the time to establish what inspections you’d like done on the property. Any inspections you choose to have done will be at your (the buyer’s) expense.

Earnest money down – What you should know

You will likely want to provide an earnest money deposit at this point as well, which your agent will deliver to the broker to be held in an escrow – or trust – account until closing. In our local area, $500 or $1,000 of earnest money is a common amount, but this number is determined by you (the buyer) and can affect the strength of your offer. The purpose of this money is to let the seller know that you are serious, or earnest, about your intentions to purchase the home. After all, the seller is going to take the property off the market so you can purchase it. If the sale is completed, you (the buyer) will receive this money back at closing, in the form of a credit toward the purchase price.

4. Agree on a price and put the property under contract.

When a price is agreed on by both buyer and seller and reflected in a sales agreement signed by all parties, the property goes “under contract,” which means the seller’s agent takes it off the market and all parties involved¬†begin moving toward a successful closing, typically within 30-60 days.

5. Secure mortgage financing and have any necessary inspections scheduled.

If you need to borrow money to purchase your new home, now is the time to obtain a mortgage financing commitment from a qualified lender. Schedule an appointment and ask what options are available. You should always seek the best rate and terms, but bear in mind that when you apply for a loan, typically credit approval is required, which may slightly negatively affect your credit score. So shop around, but do so cautiously.

Once you settle on a financing product, your loan officer will explain what will be needed to secure the loan. This often involves certain mandatory inspections (wood-destroying insect inspection, for example) and an appraisal to determine fair market value.

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Your lender and/or real estate agent can help schedule and ensure all necessary inspections are completed on the property prior to closing.

6. Review inspection results and determine any necessary courses of action.

Each inspection done on the property should result in a report made available to you (the buyer), the seller and their respective agents. This is vital information to review, as significant issues that arise may require remediation by the seller; may affect the availability of mortgage funding for you (the buyer); may affect the agreed-upon sales price; or may even cause the deal to fall apart altogether.

7. Find an attorney to represent you in the buying/closing process.

A real estate attorney and/or title closing company should help you in the title search process and help provide peace of mind and a legal safeguard so that, when you buy a property, you can feel comfortable that no one else will place claims against the property down the road. A title search will be performed to make sure there are no clouds on the title (third-party claims to a property that could call into question or invalidate your ownership of it). If there are, these problems will need to be resolved before the property becomes yours. A title search and title insurance policy on the property will be important – and often required – elements needed before you can close on the house.

8. Do a final walk through of the property.

Prior to closing, you should walk through the property one last time. This is something your realtor can set up for you. You’ll want to make sure no damage has occurred, and that nothing included in the sale has been removed. If the seller was supposed¬†to make repairs, this is the time to ensure they were completed properly. I recommend scheduling a final walk through several days prior to closing so that, if there are discrepancies, there’s a window of opportunity to correct them.

9. Sign the Papers

Obviously, one of the most critical steps to closing is signing the paperwork. No kidding, there will likely be at least 100 pages. Although you may feel pressured by the people present who are waiting for you to sign, read these documents carefully and make sure you’re comfortable with the details. Be sure to ask any questions; don’t be intimidated. The professionals in the room are equipped to answer questions¬†for you and certainly aren’t expecting you to be an expert in real estate transactions.

In particular, make sure the interest rate is correct and that there is no prepayment penalty for paying off your mortgage early. Compare your closing costs to the good faith estimate you were given at the beginning of the process.

10. Get the keys and move into your new home!

It may seem like the closing process is a lot of work, but perhaps the toughest part is the waiting. Most of the time, you’ll just be sitting on your hands, waiting for someone else involved in the transaction to accomplish their responsibilities. Try to find something enjoyable to distract you while you wait. Or better yet, get all your belongings and affairs in order, so you’re well prepared to make the big move! ūüôā

Note: If you are thinking about buying or selling a home, a good realtor can be a huge help! If you live in the Huntingdon County area, Pa., I would be thrilled to help you. I’m with Schrack Realty¬†at 615 Washington Street, Huntingdon, Pa. You can reach me by leaving a comment on this post, filling out the contact form on this website, or calling the office at 814-643-6000. Just ask for Susan. Happy house hunting!

Disclosure: Any tips, information or advice contained in this post is the result of my own research and opinions. Please consult an attorney for legal guidance concerning your specific home sale or purchase. 

Spring decor: DIY candle holder, cheese tray and more

Hello, friends. I don’t know about you, but I am ready for spring!

Today I thought I’d share a few thrifty spring decor projects anyone can tackle in one afternoon. (This is part of the Creator’s Studio Blogger Challenge. You also have a chance to win! By ‚Äėliking‚Äô your favorite submission – ooh, I hope it’s mine ūüėČ you’ll be entered to win a package of the same 8 Rust-Oleum¬ģ products bloggers received. Voting is open now until February 22, at 5 pm CST.)

Upcycled-Rust-Oleum-decor

These projects are derived mostly from this junk pile in my backyard:

Wood-pile-

Yes, when shopping for elegant dining room decor, what better place to start than the garbage heap? ūüėČ

DIY candle holder

The first piece I snatched from the pile was a block of wood, a leftover hunk from one of our porch posts, I believe.

Forstner-bit-and-block

I used my 1.5″ forstner drill bit to cut three holes in the top. Then I sanded the whole piece really well. (Note: As a safety precaution, use a respirator mask and work outdoors when cutting or sanding pressure-treated lumber. More info. here.)

I gave the piece two coats of Varathane¬ģ stain, first with Bleached Blue, then Briarsmoke.

Varathane-wood-stain-briarwood

After the stain dried, I applied the Royal Design Studio Springtime in Paris Stencil, using the Pearl Oyster Stencil Creme, to the front and back of the wood block.

DIY-candleholder-Royal-Design-Studio

Finally, I filled the holes with votive holders and tealights. Done!

DIY-wood-stenciled-candleholder

DIY cheese tray

For my next project, I began with a piece of plywood, which I cut into about a 12″x10″ cutting board. I sanded it really well, including rounding the corners.

Plywood-cutting-boardI sprayed the board with a coat of Rust-Oleum Chalkboard Spray paint.

Rustoleum chalkboard spray

Courtesy photo

After that dried, I coated the piece with a few layers of food-safe mineral oil. Finally, I added chalk labels and cheese. Voila! A trendy cheese tray.

Chalkboard-cheese-tray

Rust-Oleum-Chalkboard-Paint-decor

Stenciled-candleholder

Spring centerpiece

For my final spring decor project for the dining room, I began with a few dusty rattan balls I found in the basement.

Rustoleum-mirror-effect

I gave them a coat of either Rust-Oleum Mirror Effect (Gold) or Specialty Metallic (Copper) spray paint.

I also created my own moss balls by using spray adhesive to stick faux Spanish Moss onto craft foam balls. All materials again were found in my treasure trove of a basement. ūüėČ

DIY-moss-ballsI added a coat of Gloss Spring Green, followed by a light coat of Metallic Dark Copper spray paint.

DIY-Rustoleum-moss-balls

I displayed the pieces in a wire basket, creating the perfect spring centerpiece for my dining room table.

Tabletop-moss-balls

What do you think of my upcycled spring decor?

Dining-room-spring-decor

Have you DIYed anything spring yet? I’d love for you to leave a comment and tell me about your project.

Disclosure: I’m thrilled to help spread the word about Rust-Oleum products. I was provided the products featured in this post at no charge. As always, all thoughts, opinions and projects are 100 percent my own.  

Hot tub redo done! (How to make an old hot tub look new)

Hello friends! I hope you had a blessed holiday season. It was definitely one of my favorite Christmases ever. I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with family and friends. The older I get, the more I cherish these moments together.

Today I wanted to share photos of our finished hot tub project! A few months ago, we purchased a used hot tub for $600 from a friend of a church friend.

We installed a paver patio for our “new” hot tub first. Then I stained the outside of the hot tub cabinet and did some landscaping to finish off our new backyard oasis. I chronicled the specific details of how we did these projects here:

Here’s what we started with:

leveling-hot-tub-base

hot-tub-base staining-hot-tub And here’s what we’ve got now:

stained-hot-tub

backyard-hot-tub

In addition to doing the paver patio ourselves, we also tried to keep the landscaping budget as low as possible. We’ll still need to bring in a little topsoil and seed in the spring to get the area looking its best. The cost breakdown to date is as follows (approx.):

  • 4-6-person California Cooperage¬ģ Hot Tub – $600 (purchased used from a homeowner and picked up)
  • Stain for hot tub cabinet – $12
  • Paver patio – $1,000 (We have extra pavers on hand to do some more hardscaping in the future.)
  • Landscape fabric (already had on hand)
  • Edging – $20
  • 2B (that’s the size) river rock – $60
  • Trees and shrubs – $300
  • Electrical supplies to hook up hot tub – $150
  • Stumps and large rock accents (already had on hand in our woods) ūüôā

Total project cost = $2,142

restained-hot-tub hot-tub-restain-1

Below you can see where we decided to end the paver patio and allow some room for landscaping against the house.

hot-tub-landscaping-2 hot-tub-landscaping

While this project definitely cost us some significant time and money, we feel it was well worth the effort. Our family gets in the hot tub together nearly every evening. It’s a great time of bonding for us, and it sure beats watching TV! Plus we know we saved a ton¬†of money purchasing a used hot tub and installing it ourselves. A new hot tub of this size would begin at about $5,000, not counting the cost of the patio, landscaping, electrical supplies, etc.

california-cooperage-hot-tub-4-person

What do you think of our “new” hot tub?