So you’ve taken the big step and decided you’re ready to buy a house… now what? Today we’ll go through the steps of the buying process and what you can expect when buying a house.
Step one? You have to find an agent who you click with and who knows their stuff. First you’ll need to have a consultation with them. It’s a quick 30 to 45 minute meeting to go over your wants and needs for your new house. It’s a chance for you and the agent to get on the same page, you can ask them any questions you might have and they can get a better understanding of what your goals are and what’s important to you.
Next you need to get pre-approved. Your agent might have a preferred lender or a couple of lenders they’ve worked with and who are quite reliable. They can give you contact information for them, or if you have someone you’ve worked with in the past, feel free to use them as well! Don’t hesitate to contact a couple of lenders. You can chat with them, see who you’re most comfortable with and who you click with the most. Then you’ll work with them to get going on the pre-approval process. If you are able to get required documents to them quickly, they can likely get back to you in a day or two. However, it can take a whole lot longer if you drag your feet on getting them what they need: so make it happen soon! A lot of people say “I have great credit, I’m not worried about getting approved” or “I make good money. I know I can afford a payment of X.” That’s great, but more goes into it than that. Both credit and what you make are of course key factors, but lenders will go through all financials. Plus, GOOD lenders will chat with you about your comfort level of payment. Just because you can afford a $2,000/month payment, doesn’t mean that it won’t stretch you thin and cause a lot of stress in your life! Plus, pre-approval letters are requirements with offers (and some showings) in today’s market.
Now the fun part: looking at houses! A lot of buyers want to skip to this step, but it’s important you do the other two first and get your team set. Let’s be real: with social media and the internet, you’ve been looking at homes for much longer than when you contacted the agent or lender. But to physically get into those houses is a whole other story! I get it. I’ve had buyers who fall in love with the first house they see. They put in an offer and they get it! Then I’ve had buyers who have looked at 30 houses and it took 4 different offers until theirs was accepted. So this stage could go really fast or it could take awhile. It depends on your motivation level and what is out there.
From there on out, you put in an offer and once it gets accepted, you need to get an inspection and an appraisal. From the time you put in an offer on a house until it closes and it’s yours is typically anywhere between 30 and 45 days.
I’ve put together a handy packet that I give all of my potential buyers. It goes through this whole process with a bit more detail and expected timelines of each stage. If you’d like a copy, let me know and I can send one your way!
So you’re thinking of selling your house and going “for-sale-by-owner.” I know it sounds like a good idea: you know, saving on all those real estate agent fees. In theory, that may sound like a good idea, but here’s why most for-sale-by-owners regret the decision and why you might want to reconsider.
Pricing is huge. This is the key factor to selling in a reasonable amount of time, and it isn’t as easy as you might assume. Yes, you can go online and check out your Zillow Zestimate and look for what homes around you recently sold for: but are you comparing apples to apples? Just because your neighbor sold her 1500 square foot rancher two blocks away for $280k doesn’t mean that your 2000 square foot split-level house on a busy street is the same. A good Realtor can put together a market analysis that takes all kinds of features into consideration: from condition differences to improvements and desirability. Because do you know how to account for square footage differences or how much the pool affects price or that brand new carpet you just put in? You don’t want to leave money on the table, but you also need to price correctly to stay competitive and not stay on the market for so long that potential buyers skip over your home because they assume something is wrong with it.
Throwing up some yard signs and marking it “for sale” on Zillow isn’t going to cut it. Buyers are tech-savvy and for the most part they aren’t just aimlessly driving around looking for yard signs. The sign is really just a locator. And yes, it is important to be “live” on Zillow… but almost every single buyer uses an agent. And agents use the all-powerful MLS to check for their listings and send out emails for listing to their clients. In order to have your home seen by the most amount of buyers (and more eyeballs means potentially more offers!) you need to be on the MLS – aka the number one way buyers find homes.
Agents are good filters
And let an agent be the filter for you. A good majority of buyers don’t like contacting sellers directly. It’s weird and uncomfortable for them. An agent is a good, approachable “middle man” to them. Plus, let them be the filter for YOUR benefit, too. Craigslist can be creepy. There are a lot of scammers and criminals and dangerous people on there who are searching for your name, your phone number and other pertinent information. They might call you and set up a showing, when really they aren’t interested…they just want to look at what you have in your house. When you have an agent representing you and your home, any potential buyers only see the house in the company of an agent who is in good standing with their association – which includes frequent background checks, history, etc.
Don’t waste your time!
This leads into not wasting your time, too. If you’re your own agent, how do you decide who’s a serious buyer and who’s just wasting your time? Everything goes through your agent, so they can vet potential buyers BEFORE they see your home. They’ll ask about the buyer’s pre-approval letter, how long they’ve been looking, etc. to make sure they are serious about potentially putting in an offer and they aren’t just looking for the fun of it.
Legalities and paperwork
And finally, all that legal mumbo-jumbo and paperwork. Once you have verified a potential buyer and they put in an offer, you have to attend to all the details and make sure the sale goes through. But what happens if you forget a mandatory disclosure or form? It’s more than just the loss of the sale at that point…we’re talking the potential for serious legal repercussions, too. Agents are trained on the legality of this paperwork, can explain anything you are confused about and make sure everything is in order to protect you from any legal ramifications.
It all boils down to the hope of saving around 3%. It isn’t the normal ~6% because any buyer with an agent will likely require you to cover their agent’s ~3% fee or they have to pay it themselves. And yes, saving around 3% sounds really great! But when most people only sell a home a handful of times in their life, a professional guiding you along the way can take away SO MUCH HEADACHE. Let the pros pay for the photography and all the marketing, and let them deal with the hassle of negotiation and paperwork and vetting of buyers. I assure you, it is worth it in the end.
Once you decide to make the big step to purchase a new home, going inside prospective homes can really be an exciting time. However, it is important to make sure that you aren’t searching for a “Bigfoot.” I’m talking about that 100% perfect house, that checks every single one of your “wants,” and it’s at an amazing price. I’m here to tell you: it just doesn’t exist – unless you’re flexible. Here are some important things to keep in mind when starting the search to make sure you aren’t being unrealistic.
A lot of house hunting comes down to price. What kind of house does my budget afford? If you have been approved for a $250,000 mortgage, you can find a perfectly wonderful home. However, you will not find a home for $250,000 dollars that is 3,000 square feet, updated with gleaming hardwood floors throughout, brand-new stainless appliances, a huge backyard, new roof, air conditioning, and in one of Spokane’s most desirable neighborhoods. It’s just not going to happen. A big backyard and a minimum of 2,800 square feet might be non-negotiables for you – and that is completely doable. BUT it’s important to know that you will need to give a little in other areas to stick to your $250k budget. Perhaps the home is a little dated or the location might not be exactly where you ideally wish it were.
Stick to your budget
It might be easy to think: “oh, I’ll just go look at houses that are $300,000 and meet my criteria. That’s close enough!” But if you’ve been pre-approved for a $250,000 mortgage or that’s the price you’ve decided you are most comfortable at for monthly payments, you need to stick to that price range. You wouldn’t go test drive a 2019 Lamborghini when your budget only allows you to afford a Ford. I’m not knocking Fords! There are plenty of wonderful Fords, but don’t be testing out the Lamborghini’s or you’ll be bummed about the Ford. When you’re searching for your next home, it’s important to stay focused, and that includes being and staying within your realistic budget.
And finally, I suggest making a needs list and a wants list before you start searching. Needs are exactly that: non-negotiables; “I’m not buying the house unless it has X.” Needs tend to be things that are more difficult to change: location, square footage, lot size, whether there’s a basement or an attached garage, etc. Wants are “nice to have” items, but not deal-breakers: updated appliances, new carpet, number of bathrooms or bedrooms, landscaping, a pool. It’s okay to have a lot of items on your wants list, just don’t get too attached to them all and be willing to flex a little bit.
Buying a house takes time. And no house – even that perfect little rancher with the wrap-around porch and fenced-backyard that just came on the market yesterday! – is worth jumping into before you’re ready. Make sure you have all your ducks in a row, that you aren’t overextending yourself financially, and that your agent is on the same page as you…oh, and that you aren’t searching for a Bigfoot.
We are in full winter-mode: I’m talking hot chocolate, snow and Santa. It’s not typically a time most people consider putting their house on the market. Around this time of the year, lots of people say “we want to list our home, but we’re going to wait until spring.” So today we’re diving into the market and answering the question: “when is the best time to sell a house?”
First off, this isn’t a simple question. If I had to give a short answer, it’d be: it depends. A lot of sellers assume that spring and summer are the best times to list a house. The biggest benefit of listing in warm months? There are just more buyers vying homes. This brings up the likelihood that you may get yourself into a multiple-offer situation, driving up the listing price. Buyers are more active in spring because a) moving in the snow is not appealing to many people, b) moving when the kids are out on summer break is appealing and c) houses just have a lot more curb appeal when the sun’s out.
On the other end of the spectrum, a big benefit of selling in winter? There’s less competition and inventory. Since a lot of sellers do gravitate toward listing in the spring, your home will really stand out and might get more attention if you list in the winter because there’s less inventory. There are serious buyers looking for a home year-round. Which brings me to point number two: the buyers who are on the prowl in winter are likely more serious. Yes, there are less buyers looking overall, but the ones who are searching are the real-deal. Less “window-shoppers,” if you will.
One caveat I’d like to mention? “Spring” in Spokane started in February last year. Things started getting really going again in February and by March, we were seeing the amount of inventory turnover that we typically see around May. So if you are considering getting your house on the market right when things get “going,” reach out to your agent in early February so you can start discussions to get on the market by March.
Every market is different and every single seller has his or her own goals for selling a home: whether it’s getting the most money possible, selling ASAP or something else entirely. I recommend chatting with your real estate agent and they will help you decide if you should list now or wait a couple months to be in the best position possible.
We’re revving up to head into winter in the Pacific Northwest. So today we’re checking out a couple winter activities around Spokane when you just need to get away (but not too far away) – besides just skiing and boarding!
What can warm you up better than a craft beer tour?! The Inland Northwest Ale Trail is a fun way to discover new, small batch beers from local craft breweries around town. There are almost 50 breweries on the handy Ale Trail map, so you can plan to hit up your favorites and some newbies! You can print off the Ale Trail map at inlandnwaletrail.com or pick one up at any of the participating breweries or sponsors. Then you’re off! Visit at least 12 breweries, get a stamp at each, and then collect your reward: a 32-ounce growler. There’s no time limit, so spend a couple weekends with friends, slowly collecting along the way!
Lake Coeur d’Alene Holiday Light Cruise
If you’re looking for something to really get you in the Christmas spirit, head to Lake Coeur d’alene and hop aboard the holiday light cruise! You’ll immediately be transported to gorgeous a winter wonderland. The boat will dock at the north pole about halfway through where the kiddos can go see elves, Mrs. Claus and of course Santa himself – who obviously knows all the kids names – and he’ll read out who made the cut on the nice list this year. Cruises start just after Thanksgiving and go through New Year’s Day. Good Morning America named the Coeur d’alene holiday light show as one of the nation’s best holiday destinations a few years ago, so you know it’s good! And while you’re in Coeur d’alene, check out some of the great shops and wonderful restaurants. You can definitely spend a full, joyous day here!
Okay, this might be cheating a little bit, because the primary focus here is skiing and snowboarding BUT I’m including it because those aren’t the only options there! There’s an indoor waterpark complete with a lazy river, surfing and of course water slides! If something a little more low key is your style, make sure to book a room at the adjacent hotel, where you can cozy up to the fireplace and relax with a good book! If you’d like to get on the mountain but skiing or boarding aren’t your thing, there’s a tubing hill that’s fun for all ages. You get to ride the gondola from downtown Kellogg to the top – which is a gorgeous activity on it’s own. Fun fact: that’s actually North America’s longest gondola – at 3.1 miles long. It was the world’s longest for a long time until it was topped by one in Turkey a few years back.
There are a lot of things to considering when moving, one of them being: where should I move to!? Here are the biggies that you should take into account when decide which area to move to.
Cost of living
Different areas within the same town typically have different price tags. For instance if you take a 1600-square foot, 3 bed, 2 bath house that is well-maintained and has some upgrades in the Shadle neighborhood and pick it up and plop it on the South Hill… the price is going to change. So what’s important in your house search? Are you looking for a lower price tag in a 1950s neighborhood? Or are you looking for old-school charm in a 1900s neighborhood?
According to Realtor.com, almost 75% of buyers say living in a good district is important to them. Of course this will come with a higher price, though. One thing to keep in mind is that real estate agents really can’t tell you if a school district is “good” or not. Due to the Fair Housing Act, agents can’t steer a buyer to or away from a neighborhood based on a buyer’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender, national origin, disability or family status. Because of that, we can’t say if a home is in a “good” or “bad” school district. The best I can do is give objective criteria, so school test scores and websites with more information…and you have to do the research yourself. For school stats, I recommend checking out greatschools.org or schooldigger.com. And if you see a house you love and are considering putting in an offer on? Schedule an appointment with the schools counselor. Do a walk through of the school. If your teenager is big into band? Ask the counselor about their program there! If they’re big into football? Ask to meet the coach! The school be able to help answer questions you have and then you can determine if the school is a good fit for you and your kiddos.
Along with the Fair Housing Act, agents cant say anything about crime in the area either. So if you ask the innocent question “is this a safe neighborhood?” or “what’s the neighborhood like?”, your agent can’t answer it, but he or she can point you to the right resources. The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office has a crime map with everything from car prowlings to robberies – just google Spokane County Regional Crime Map to find it. A few other sites are crimemapping.com and spotcrime.com. Plus, use your inspection period to visit the neighborhood during different times of the day. Just do a drive-around at night and you’ll get a feel for the neighborhood and if it’s a right fit for you.
Proximity to work and social activities
We’re lucky here in Spokane that the rush hour commute doesn’t typically tack on an additional 2 hours to our work day…each way. BUT it is incredibly convenient to be close to work, close to your gym, close to the kid’s club soccer facility, close to your parents. Wherever you find yourself driving to and from several times a week, it is helpful to be close.
Today’s lesson is homeowners insurance 101: what it is, why you need it for a mortgage and how much it is.
Homeowners insurance (also called home insurance or property insurance) covers several things:
- Property damage (pretty self-explanatory)
- Personal property loss (for example if your house is burglarized or damaged due to an event that’s covered by your insurance)
- Personal liability (if someone is hurt on your property or if you’re responsible for property damage or injury due to negligence)
What you receive in compensation completely depends on the damage done and the limits that are spelled out in your policy. When it comes to personal property, items like jewelry and cash on-hand typically have limits, but you can increase the limits with additional premiums.
So really, homeowners insurance is a safety net. If your house is damaged or completely destroyed, it can be difficult to make those costly repairs or possibly rebuild out-of-pocket.
Most states (like Washington) don’t require you to have homeowners insurance IF you own your home outright. However, if you are among the many who get a mortgage, your lender will require homeowners coverage. That’s because technically your mortgage company is part owner of the house and they need to protect its value.
As far as natural events go, standard insurance typically covers fire, wind, snow and sleet. A few natural events usually require additional coverage, such as flooding and earthquakes. That’s why if you live in a floodplain your lender will more than likely require additional coverage.
The cost of homeowners insurance is usually based upon the value of your property. Washington has one of the lowest rates in the nation. The national average is $1,288 while Washington’s average is $653. Spokane is right around $600. States prone to natural disasters (eg Florida, Oklahoma, Alabama) have premiums right around $3,000.
If you’re buying a new home and already have homeowners insurance through a provider with your current home, you can work with them to transfer coverage to your new house. If you don’t currently have homeowners insurance or if you’re a first time homebuyer, your lender can find and assign you one. I recommend doing some checking around with different companies and getting quotes. If your car insurance provider also provides homeowners insurance, you can bundle it and typically get a discounted price for both.
If you need to get setup with an insurance agent to chat with, let me know. I have a few recommendations that I can send your way.
You’ve heard the news: it’s a seller’s market and homes are flying off the shelves. You decided to list your house, but its been on the market for a few weeks now with no offers and only a handful of showings. Why is that? Here are some reasons your house might not be selling as quickly as you thought it would.
This is the number one reason a house sits on the market for longer that it should. Homes sell when they are priced correctly and a house is only worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it. It doesn’t matter what price tag you slap on it. When you list your house for $10,000 dollars above what it should be listed at, you’re not going to get any offers. Just because it’s a seller’s market, the sky is not the limit, and it can be a costly mistake to assume so. Say for example your agent says your house could sell for $225k-235k. So you decide to push the envelope to $250k. Well, you’re going to miss out on your key market: buyers looking to spend about $230,000, which is where your house really should be priced at. They won’t even look at a $250k house because it’s too expensive for them. Buyers who ARE looking for a home at $250k are going to compare your should-be-$230k house to other homes at $250k and dismiss your house because it isn’t up to par to the others. So it sits there. By the time you reduce your price to where you should be, buyers assume there’s a reason it’s been on the market for so long, and they won’t pursue it. I can’t stress the importance of pricing right enough. It is impossible to list too low right now in this market. There are so many buyers competing for each listing, meaning if it is low? It will get in a pricing war and get bid up to where it should be. However, it is VERY possible to list too high.
Your house could need a little (or a lot) of TLC. I know it’s hard to pay for home improvements that you may not enjoy for long, but if you want to sell for full price your house need to be in a condition that warrants it. If the bathtub is dripping or there’s a hole in a wall you’ve always been meaning to patch? Fix it. Buyers will see any repairs as time and money they don’t want to spend. You also need to clean your house from top to bottom. Every window sill, wall and cabinet needs to be wiped down. Dust the blinds and the fan. Touch up any paint chips. Scrub that tub. Don’t allow a buyer to turn up their nose and pass on your house just because it isn’t clean. Oh, last thing… if you have a perpetual smell in your house – you HAVE to address. Whether it’s smoke or pets or mold…you need to get rid of the smell before opening it up to buyers. That is one guaranteed way for a buyer to leave just as soon as they walked in.
When 95% of buyers start their search online and decide whether or not to come see your house based on a quick skim – your pictures need to be top notch. If there aren’t many of them or they weren’t taken by a professional, chances are most buyers will say “pass.” Make sure your house is listed on all the major website: realtor dot com, zillow, trulia, brokerage sites. Have your agent hold an open house. Each agent has their own marketing plan: ask yours what he/she is doing to actively market your home.
If you’re getting frustrated with the time you’ve been on the market, make sure to chat with your agent about it. Maybe your agent has an answer, or they can suggest a new way to market it or recommend a price adjustment. It’s something to have a serious conversation with them about and make sure your concerns are heard.
Life just seems to slow down during fall time in the Pacific Northwest. Here are a few local day trips that are fun for the whole family:
It’s all about harvest time up at Green Bluff right now. Green Bluff is a grower’s association of about three dozen family farms (plus many more vendors and shops), sitting on 12 square miles just north of Spokane. You can pick your own produce, enjoy food from some of the best food trucks around, and experience all sorts of activities for the kiddos.
The Apple Festival is a huge draw. It’s every weekend in September and October, featuring every kind of apple imaginable available for picking, freshly-pressed cider, and of course caramel apples. Another big draw during the fall? The many pumpkin patches. Pick your perfect pumpkin, enjoy a hay ride and wait in a ridiculously long line for pumpkin donuts: it’s worth it!
Next up, take a couple hour trek to Sandpoint for the day! Known for gorgeous views of Lake Pend Oreille and Schweitzer Mountain, this can be a wonderful weekend getaway. It’s not quite skiing or boarding time, but you can still get active on the mountain by going for a hike or a bike ride. Plus, shopping in Downtown Sandpoint or the Sandpoint Shopping District won’t disappoint! If some down time is more your style, enjoy a beer at one of Sandpoint’s craft breweries.
Scenic Pend Oreille River Train
And finally: head to Newport to hop on a train! The Newport and Priest River Rotary Club runs a family-friendly scenic train ride that runs most weekends until the end of October. The Scenic Pend Oreille River Train heads along the Pend Oreille River, while the crew tells the history of the area: from Native Americans to fur trappers, gold rushers and gamblers. The trip’s about an hour and a half roundtrip. Make sure to book in advance, though, as there are only a couple weekends left! Tickets are $15 for children and seniors and $20 for adults. Head to SPORTtrainrides.com to check out available dates and book your tickets.
Some neighborhoods have this little thing called a homeowners association. Some people believe HOAs are a helpful organization to keep everything in the neighborhood uniform and looking its best. Others see them as an annoying $200-ish bill you have to pay to have someone tell you what you can’t do to your own property. Today we’re exploring what an HOA actually is, where your money usually goes, and what could happen if you were to stop paying the bill.
If you make an offer on a home that has an HOA in place, you’ll eventully get these papers called “covenants, conditions, and restrictions” or CC&Rs. When you sign on your house, you’re also signing off on these CC&Rs – promising to abide by them. It’s the HOA’s job to monitor homes and make sure everyone’s following the rules. Those CC&Rs can cover everything from the color of your house, to the type of fencing you can put up, and even the breed of your dog. They can require you to have a tree in your front yard or a certain type of curtains on street-facing windows. The goal of an HOA isn’t to be annoying or micromanage people, but just to make sure the neighborhood keeps its “look” – if you will.
HOAs also maintain common areas. For instance, if there’s a community swimming pool and the heater breaks…someone has to pay for that, and that’s where the HOA comes into play. Sometimes they hire out to maintain parks or plow the neighborhood’s streets, they may cover city service’s like water, sewer and garbage, or manage the neighborhood’s security system and gate.
Typically HOAs are about $100-200 a month, but they can be as low as $200 a year. The price typically depends on the services the HOA offers. Members of an HOA are usually charged a bit more than the monthly expenses, so that a reserve can be built up, in case of an emergency or big-ticket items.
If you get fed up with the HOA and start breaking rules or stop paying dues, you could get hit with a big fine, sued, a lien may be put on the home or it may even be foreclosed on.
HOAs aren’t for everyone. So before you make an offer on a home that has an HOA in place, look over those CC&Rs and make sure you are okay with everything your HOA will do and monitor.