1. Get pre-approved, not pre-qualified!
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Do you want to get the best property you can for the least amount of money? Then make sure you are in the strongest possible negotiating position. Price is only one element in the negotiations, and not necessarily the most important one. Often other terms, such as the strength of the buyer or the length of escrow, are critical to a seller.
In years past, I always recommended that buyers get “pre-qualified” by a lender. This means that you spend a few minutes on the phone with a lender who asks you a few questions. Based on the answers, the lender pronounces you “pre-qualified” and issues a certificate that you can show to a seller. Sellers are aware that such certificates are WORTHLESS, and here’s why: None of the information has been verified!
Many times unknown problems can come to the surface. Some of the problems I’ve seen include recorded judgments, alimony payments due, glitches on the credit report due to any number of reasons, down payments that have not been in the clients’ bank account long enough, etc.
So the way to make the strongest offer today is to get “pre-approved”. This happens after all information has been checked and verified. You are actually approved for the loan and the only loose end is the appraisal on the property. This process takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on your situation. It’s a very powerful weapon I recommend all my clients have in their negotiating arsenal.
2. Sell your property first, and then buy the house
If you have a house to sell, sell it before selecting a house to buy! Contingency sales aren’t nearly as strong as a sale with a ready, willing and able buyer. If you’re concerned that there is not a house on the market for you, then go on a window-shopping trip. You can identify possible houses and locations without falling in love with a specific house. If you feel confident after that, then put your house on the market.
Another tactic is to make the sale ”subject to seller finding suitable housing”. Adding this phrase to the listing means that when you do find a buyer, you will have some time to find the new place. If you don’t find anything to your liking, you don’t have to sell your present home.
3. Play the “Game of Nines”
Before house hunting, make a list of things you want in the new place. Then make a list of the things you don’t want. You can use this list as a guide to rate each property that you see. The one with the biggest score wins! This helps avoid confusion and keeps things in perspective when you’re comparing dozens of homes.
When house hunting, keep in mind the difference between “style” and “substance.” Substance refers to things that cannot be changed, such as the location, view, size of lot, noise in the area, school district, and floor plan.
The style represents easily changed surface finishes like carpet, wallpaper, color, and window coverings.
Buy the house with good substance, because the style can always be changed to match your tastes. I always recommend that you imagine each house as if it were vacant.
Consider each house on its underlying merits, not the seller’s decorating skills.
Check this space next week for two more ways to get a better deal when purchasing a home.
by Marci Yankelov
Special to The Baltimore Guide
Marci Yankelov is a local realtor and Baltimore native. She works at Century 21 Downtown in Federal Hill.