As a home buyer in the greater D.C. metro area, there’s a lot of information to process. This is likely the biggest investment you’ve ever made – and your best ammunition is information. Having the best information to allow you to make informed, data-driven decisions that will save you time, aggravation, and most importantly, money. So grab a beverage, strap in, and prepare to learn how to buy a home in the D.C. metro area. If you are ready to pull the trigger and initiate your home search, make sure to scroll to the bottom for my contact form and together, we can make your dream home a reality.
Great players are the result of great coaches, so find a great coach.
Wait, I thought I was getting tips on home buying, is this now a sports blog? Don’t worry, you will see where this is going. Let’s say that instead of buying a home, you are interested in learning tennis (or golf, or swimming, or any sporting activity, dealer’s choice), and your goal is to win the annual competition at your local sporting club (and finally show-up Susan and Stan, someone needs to put them in their place). The first thing you would do is identify an experienced coach or trainer to give you lessons. Having an experienced coach to guide you form the very beginning of your training will result in less bad-habits that could affect your long-term accomplishments (like finally crushing Susan and Stan).
See what I did there? Choosing a great real estate agent is like choosing a great coach, and the sooner you partner with them in the process the better your home buying experience will be. So, your first step, before searching for homes online, or getting pre-approved for a mortgage, or going to an open house should be to find great real estate agent. Now, I know what you are thinking, of course a real estate agent is going to tell me to find a real estate agent, what a surprise! I know, I know, it seems a bit self-promotional, but having the best real estate agent possible by your side from the very beginning can make your home search exponentially more manageable and actually, quite fun. The best real estate agents will not only be able to show you properties, but can help manage every step of the process, from providing recommendations for professionals (mortgage lenders, home inspectors, title companies, etc.) to keeping track of deadlines, to negotiating offers on your behalf. Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!
Pre-qualify for a mortgage. It’s fun! It’s easy! (Not really, but you should do it anyway)
The next step to buying a house in the D.C area is finding out how much a bank is willing to lend. To pre-qualify for a mortgage, your lender will look at number of financial factors including your income, your debts, your down payment and your credit history. Faceless corporate institutions are going to start digging around in your personal finances (I know, a little creepy, but necessary), so make sure everything is in order and you have checked things like your credit reports (www.annualcreditreport.com), credit scores (www.myfico.com), and bank accounts (sorry, I don’t know your bank’s web address). Once complete the pre-approval should be in writing and include a guaranteed interest rate (usually valid for 90 days). This process can be a bit of a pain, but going through the trouble of pre-qualifying will ensure that you know how much mortgage you can get, and thus how much house you can purchase. This will allow you and your real estate agent to focus your house hunting efforts and eliminates the risk and uncertainty of financing once you find your perfect home.
Craft your wish-list
What do we want? A House! When do we want it?…..No, I’m seriously asking, I don’t know your timeline for buying :)
Knowing what you need and want in your home is critical. What are your absolutely-must-haves, your I’d-really-like-to-haves, and your no-way-absolutely-not-deal-breakers? How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need? Do you want a big yard with room for a fabulous garden, or are you more of a townhome person? Carpet or hardwood? Move-in ready or a fixer-upper? Is this house far enough away from Susan and Stan (they’re back again)? You won’t get what you want if you don’t know what you want. Of course, location will be a big decision – what D.C. area neighborhood is right for you? Check out my neighborhood guides for an insider scoop on the hottest neighborhoods in D.C. and Montgomery County.
Let the hunt begin! (Finally, the fun part!)
OK, now that you’re pre-qualified for a mortgage, narrowed down your search and picked the best real estate agent to work with (me? nudge, nudge) it’s time to start looking at listings and houses. While realtor.com is a good place to start, if you followed Step 1, you already have the best real estate agent in the D.C. area working for you and they can send you custom listings that match your criteria. House hunting will involve screening listings electronically, previewing properties online, and then finally going out to look at homes. This is your opportunity to get a feel for the different D.C. area neighborhoods, refine your wish list, and ask questions. While a wish list seems kind of scientific and is a useful tool in deciding which properties to visit, the truth of the matter is that most people walk into their perfect home and just feel it (and there is some science to this too, but that is a topic for another time). Of course, it helps when it satisfies your needs and wants too, but don’t underestimate the power of your gut and ‘just knowing’ that a certain house will become your home.
Congrats! Your house hunting efforts have paid off and you’ve found the right home for you: it satisfies your wants/needs, it’s in your price range, and it feels right. The offer process is both exciting and nerve-wracking and I will go into this in more detail in a future blog post. The first step of this process to is sit down with your real estate agent and determine what numbers you are going to put down after the big dollar sign. While you can go on the internet and find out what a computer thinks a property is worth (www.homevaluescience.com), sometimes, a human touch is required. This is where a real estate agent can really shine! The best real estate agents should be able to take all of the available data and present to you a price range for the property in which you are interested. This is called a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) and should not be confused with an appraisal. The CMA is simply a tool you can use to determine the approximate value of a property which will allow you to make an informed decision when submitting your offer. The offer will also contain all of the inclusions you want (washer/dryer, big screen TV), to your ideal closing date (the date you take possession), and conditions that need to be met for the deal to go through. Once you’ve submitted your offer, the seller can accept it, reject it or sign back a counter offer. During these back-and-forth negotiations, you may need to compromise on small things, but a good realtor will work hard to get you what you want.
Conditions are requirements within the Agreement of Purchase and Sale that must be met for the sale to go through. In your offer, you may have different conditions that must be met and likely a home inspection. Once the conditions have been met, the agreement is firm and now it’s just a matter of waiting for your closing date. And of course, packing!
Close the deal!
You’re almost a D.C. area homeowner! Closing is the point at which the ownership and possession of the property are transferred from the seller to you. It takes place once all the legal and financial obligations have been met. Closing the purchase will be a team effort: in addition to yourself, your lender, title company, and realtor will all be involved in helping close the deal. Now, take the keys to your new home and walk through the door a homeowner!