For most of us, moving is an unusual experience that can be stressful and difficult. It doesn’t need to be that way. Planning ahead, getting solid estimates, and engaging with your movers can give you a feeling of control over your move and provide you with a much better experience.
For most people, moving is like getting your car repaired. You don’t do it that often, you hate having to do it, you don’t understand it very well, and you worry that you’re going to get overcharged. We all fear the evil stereotype: movers who break things, lose things, or give deliberately low estimates before raising the price once our belongings are all on the truck.
Those really are just stereotypes, and your experience does not have to be like that. While predatory movers exist, most reputable companies do a terrific job helping customers move massive amounts of heavy and precious things across the region or the country, and they do it for a reasonable price. Your agent has experience in recommending movers, so trust in a referral to someone who has a sound track record.
As with all things involved in buying your home, being proactive and engaged can help you have a better experience. Accordingly, here are some tips for ensuring that you have a great experience in moving:
Before the Move
Don’t wait until the last minute to start hiring a mover, or you’ll end up not being able to get scheduled in time, you might have to pay more, and you’ll be doing everything in a rush. You can start planning your move as soon as you are in con tract , or at the very latest as soon as you are clear to close with your lender.
•Do it Yourself, or Let the Movers Do It
You basically have two options about the type of move you want. In the standard option, you need to pack all the small items into boxes, seal them up, label them, and then have them ready for the movers. You don’t need to box big items, or carry the big items anywhere, but you need to pack up things like clothes, books, dishes, cookware, silverware, files, knick-knacks, things like that. That can be an onerous job. The other option is to pay extra for the movers to do all that for you. People who have experienced that full service option will never go back to packing themselves, because it is a glorious feeling to watch the movers descend upon your home and quickly pack, seal, and label all your things. It’s an easier way to move, but also a better one, because the movers are much, much better at safely and quickly packing your things than you are. Trust us, it’s worth the money.
For those people who choose to pack for themselves, more and more find that a portable storage locker that can be placed in on-site helps them to pack at a more leisurely pace. These large portable storage containers can be at your home for a number of weeks and allow you to pack while you have time. They are later picked up and moved to your new location on the day of your move.
•Interview Up to Three Reputable Movers
One of the reasons to get started early is so that you have time to interview up to three reputable movers to get estimates. Let the movers examine your things, get a full sense of the scale of the move, and give you an estimate. You can learn a lot about the movers just from the way they interact with you, and get a chance to choose a mover based on your gut feeling on who you would like the most. That said, if you get a referral from your agent for one mover, and you like that mover, you shouldn’t feel the need to go interview two more just to feel like you’ve done your due diligence.
•Get a Physical Survey as Part of Your Estimate
The mover’s estimation process should include a physical survey of all the things that you need to move, rather than simply an over-the-phone or internet questionnaire. Professional movers have a good eye for the requirements of a move, and most of us do not. They will pick up on things that you won’t. In our experience, many problems between movers and customers stem from a customer’s unreasonably low estimation of the amount of work that needs to be done, leading to an inaccurate estimate. Never hire movers that refuse to do an in-house survey and instead assure you that they can give an accurate estimate over the phone or internet.
•Do Not Pay a Large Deposit
Very few reputable movers will charge a large deposit on a routine move. They might charge a good faith down payment to reserve their time, but nothing too substantial. Be wary of movers who want to charge you a large up-front payment or, even worse, charge you for the move before they have actually delivered your goods to your new location.
•Consider Your Insurance Options
When you move, you have the right to get moving insurance. Insurance comes in three levels of protection: “Full Replacement,” which costs the most and guarantees the full repair or replacement of any goods lost or broken; Assessed Value Coverage, which is based on the estimated cost of replacing the assessed value of goods lost or stolen; and “Alternative Level of Liability,” which only pays out liability at a standard rate of 60 cents per pound. You will find that in most cases it is worth getting “Full Replacement” insurance, but it really depends on the content, distance, and comfort level associated with your move.
•Before You Move, Get Rid of Stuff You’re Not Going to Want in the New Home
Don’t pay to move things that you’re never going to need or use again. Moving is a great opportunity to pare down your life, eliminating items that you’ve been storing for years. Go over those items carefully. A lot of times, you boxed them up in your last move years ago “just in case” you needed them. The rule of thumb is that if they have spent more than four or five years boxed up without being needed, you’re not going to need them in your new place, either. So donate them, hold a garage sale, or throw them away.
The Day of the Move
On your moving day, be engaged with the movers. Moving day can be difficult and stressful, but you will have a better experience if you fully engage with the movers and stay on top of everything. Be home when the movers arrive with everything you need to do already done, so you can focus on discussing delivery arrangements. When the moving out is complete, and you are ready for transport, make sure the movers have a phone number to reach you, and that you have their number in case you want to contact them.
•Pack Your Personal Items Separately and Keep Them Segregated
Even with the best movers, and the best intentions, delays can happen. That’s why you need to make sure that you separately pack your personal items: changes of clothes, medications, toiletries, etc. The easy way to do this is just to imagine that you’re going on a three-day vacation or business trip, and pack a suitcase with everything you’ll need in those three days just in case the movers have difficulty getting to your new home. Even if the move can be completed in one day, and you’re not worried about that, having your “three-day vacation” suitcase separately packed allows you to unpack the rest of your stuff without the pressure of, say, trying to find the box that has your hair dryer.
•For Truly Valuable or Irreplaceable Items, Keep Them with You
Even if you have great and trustworthy movers, you’re going to want to take certain items along with you, or have them shipped separately in fully insured packages with a shipping carrier. Personal mementos, cash, coins, jewelry, precious photographs, and important papers should not be packed into a box and sent along with your clothes and books. Keep them separate.
•Once Your Goods Arrive, Let the Movers Do the Moving
Let the movers do the work, you supervise. Make sure they get everything off the truck, and let them do the unpacking of the boxes while you tell them where everything should go. Many people seem to feel guilty of making these poor movers carry all that heavy stuff, and they want to pitch in. Don’t pitch in. That’s not your job, that’s their job, and they’re getting paid for it. What you need to do is your job: supervise to make sure everything comes off the truck and the boxes are put in the correct rooms.
•Provide Your Crew with Coffee, Water, Lunch, and a Tip
This is not required, but it’s always a good idea to have bottled water and coffee available for the movers when they arrive, and to offer to pick up pizza or a quick lunch while they’re working. It’s better for you to run out and buy them lunch than for them to take an hour off in the middle of the day. And providing water and coffee is just humane for people who will spend hours lugging your things around. If you get good service, and want to tip the crew, the best guideline we can give you is about $10-$25 per person who was part of the crew for the whole day. As with all services like this, tips are not required but appreciated.
•Don’t Move and Close on the Same Day
Finally, one last piece of advice about moving: don’t move on the day that you close on the sale. A closing can be stressful event that doesn’t happen very often, and moving is a stressful event that doesn’t happen very often. There’s no reason to do them both on the same day. You should plan for your move no earlier than a day or so after the closing, so you can get one big stressful day behind you before you turn to the next one.
Conclusion: Your Realtor for Life
At Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty, we believe that our obligation to our clients extends beyond the closing. As part of our Client-Oriented Real Estate (CORE) program, we follow the philosophy that our clients need real estate related services even when they’re not buying or selling real estate. After all, your accountant is still your accountant, even though you probably only work with him or her once a year when you do your taxes. In that same way, we believe that our agents should continue to work with you, and our company should continue to provide you with services, even after your closing.
Now, you might be thinking, “what do I need a real estate agent for if I’m not buying or selling real estate?” Well, think of it this way – who would you call if you were in any of these situations?
•You need a recommendation for a good landscaper.
•You want to know whether adding a pool would raise or lower your property values.
•You need a market valuation for a tax grievance petition, or for your home insurance.
•You are thinking of renovating your kitchen, and wonder how much it will impact your home’s value.
•You’re wondering what that home down the block just sold for.
•Or you’re just curious as to what’s happening in the market
In all these situations, you really just need a good real estate agent. An agent can give you recommendations for various home service professionals (and probably some good restaurants, dry cleaners, and the like as well), can advise you about renovations or home improvements and how they’ll impact your property values, can get you all the information you need about the market, and can even do a comparative market evaluation any time you need it.
The same holds true for our Hudson United home services companies for mortgage, insurance, or title. If you ever have questions about your mortgage, insurance, or property title, you should feel free to reach out to us. For example, if you’re concerned that someone might have put a lien on your property without your permission, you should absolutely get in touch with us so we can provide you with a complimentary lien search to check the status of your title.
But we’re not just going to wait until you reach out to us with something that you need. Rather, at Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty, we’ve created a series of programs to deliver services to you on an ongoing basis. For example, you’ve already seen that we’ve provided you with information about having a great move and grieving your property taxes. We feel it’s our job to help you with anything that relates to real estate, anytime you need us, regardless of whether these matters come up following the closing of your home.
You should feel free to reach out to your agent with anything you need, but in the meantime, we hope you enjoy some of the services we will continue to provide you as a client of the firm:
The Rand Quarterly Market Reports. The same quarterly market reports you’ve probably been reading during the course of your home search will be delivered to you either through the mail or via email. This is a great way to keep track with what’s going on in the real estate market. After all, your home is probably one of the biggest investments you have, so you should be watchful as to what’s happening with local market values.
The Rand Seasonal Event Guides. Along with the market reports, Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty provides four seasonal guides to community events throughout the region – everything from parades to street fairs and exhibitions. It’s a great way to get to know the region and to take advantage of all the wonderful things to do in the area.
Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. When you buy your home through us, you’ll be getting a complimentary yearlong subscription to Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, one of the most popular magazines in the country and the iconic source for information about everything having to do with maintaining and improving your home and life.
Why do we do all this? That’s a good question. Most agents don’t even consider providing these non-transactional services for a very simple reason: they don’t get paid for it. But we believe that we owe our clients a higher duty than just guiding them through a home purchase or sale. Moreover, we are thinking of the long term, and the hope that you will someday need our services to sell that home that we just helped you buy. And in the meantime, we truly hope that you will recommend Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty and your agent to anyone you know who might need real estate services.
We believe we’re the only company in the country prioritizing the delivery of great service to clients, even non-transactional clients, as a foundation of our business. That’s what our CORE client care program is all about, and what this Orientation Guide has been about. We hope you’ve see the difference in the experience that you’ve had with us, and in the experience that you’ll continue to have with us.
From everyone at Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty and the Hudson United companies, we wish you the best of luck in your new home.
Keep in touch…
The real estate closing can be confusing, but mostly it can be boring. The attorneys do all the work, and you will mostly sit around making small talk between long bouts of signing big documents. The seller has even less to do, so you might not even see the seller for most of the closing.
On the morning of or the day before your closing, the buyer and buyer agent will do a quick ” walkthrough” of your property, checking that the seller moved out without damaging the home or taking any fixtures. They’ll also be checking out the mechanical systems – running the water, flushing toilets, turning on lights, etc. – to make sure everything is in working order.
Most of the time, the walkthrough goes smoothly, and you won’t have any issues at closing. If you do find something wrong during the walkthrough, the attorneys will negotiate the issue and come to some sort of resolution. Barring outright cataclysmic problems in the home, walkthrough issues are resolved for a few hundred dollars and almost never cause a closing delay or a termination of the contract.
Once your walkthrough is complete, you’re ready to close. When you’re getting ready to go to the closing, don’t forget that you’ll need two very important things. First, you’ll need your checkbook, because you’re going to have to write a few checks to cover your closing costs, beyond the bank check you’ll be getting for the down payment. Second, you need your driver’s license (or some legal form of photo ID), because you’ll need proof of identity for the attorneys and the title closer. Your attorney will let you know what else you’ll need.
The basic dynamic of a closing is simple and involves three parts:
1) the buyer completing paperwork to get financing from a lender,
2) the seller transferring ownership of the property to the buyer, and
3) the lender giving the seller a check.
What happens at the closing is simply the execution of various forms that give final confirmation to the agreements made in the contract of sale between you and the seller, and the mortgage commitment between you and the lender.
That said, closings can be confusing to the lay person, because attorneys use a lot of jargon and shorthand in trying to facilitate a complicated process quickly and efficiently. To give you an idea, here is an overview of what happens at a closing:
In addition to the buyer, buyer’s attorney, seller, and seller’s attorney, there are two other significant participants at the closing:
•The closer. The closer is usually employed or contracted by the title company issuing title insurance for the buyer, and will actually run the closing as an intermediary between the seller’s and buyer’s attorneys. The closer is also the person who will ultimately take your deed, your proof of ownership, to be recorded in the county clerk’s office.
•The bank attorney. The bank attorney represents the lender in the transaction, and is there basically
to make sure the loan documents are executed correctly. The buyer’s attorney sometimes is authorized to double as the bank attorney.
Of course, the closing might involve some other support personnel, chiefly paralegals and other assistants. And the real estate agents might show up in shows of support and to keep you company, even though they don’t have any formal role in the closing itself.
The Buyer’s Financing
Most of the time at the closing will be taken up by the buyer finalizing agreements with the lender on the mortgage terms. The lender will have a series of complicated documents that the buyer needs to understand and sign in order to obtain the loan necessary to buy the home, including the following:
•Truth in Lending Statement, which is federally required to disclose the actual financial terms of the loan.
•Itemization of Amount Financed, which tallies up the actual cost of the financing.
•The Monthly Payment Letter, which breaks down monthly payments into principal, interest, taxes, and insurance.
•The Note, which is the loan agreement between the borrower and lender.
•The Mortgage, which is the lien put on the home by the lender to provide collateral to the Note.
Once all that is completed, you are now in a position to purchase the property from the seller. For most of this process, the seller won’t have much to do. The seller did all her work months ago when she prepared her home for sale. The closing is where you are the main actor.
Transfer of Ownership
Now, the attorneys will begin having the seller execute documents that will transfer ownership from the seller to the buyer. These documents include:
•The Settlement Statement (HUD-1), which contains all the settlement charges associated with the transaction.
•The Deed, which is the actual document that transfers ownership from the seller to the buyer.
•Proration Agreements, which are simply side-agreements to the contract that prorate the housing costs (taxes , HOA fees, utilities) according to the date of the closing. For example, if the seller paid the property tax bill for the year three months ago, the buyer will be reimbursing the seller for 75% of that bill, since the seller lived in the home for only 25% of the year. The attorneys will be hunched over calculators for much of this process while they use standard formulas to figure out who owes what to whom.
•Receipts. Both parties might have to sign tax and utility receipts indicating awareness that certain costs have to be paid by one side or the other.
•Name Affidavit. At some point, the attorneys will ask you to provide identification proving that you are who you say you are, and ask you to sign a document attesting to your identity. That’s to make sure that you are the person legally allowed to transfer title.
•Summary. The final document of the closing, listing all the documents that executed and included as part of the closing.
When that’s done, you will get a copy of all your documents, and the title closer will be rushing off to the county clerks’ office to record your new deed (and the mortgage on that deed). At that point, you are done, so congratulations are in order.
If you haven’t hired your real estate attorney, you’ll need to do so once you have an accepted offer. Your attorney will review a draft of the real estate contract prepared by the seller’s attorney, negotiate legal terms, and guide you through to the closing.
Now it’s time to hire an attorney to help you through the rest of the transactional process. Strangely enough, most parts of the country do not use attorneys in the real estate transactional process. Instead, real estate agents make offers on actual legal contracts that are approved by the local bar and get them signed by buyers and sellers. Attorneys do not generally even take part in closings, which happen in an escrow office with all transactional matters handled by a clerk. In our region, of course, real estate attorneys generally handle the drafting and reviewing of real estate contracts, perhaps because the practice of real estate in New York and New Jersey is particularly complex.
Hiring an Attorney
Because of that complexity, we strongly recommend that you hire an experienced real estate practitioner familiar with the local customs. Although any licensed attorney is legally competent to assist you in the purchase of your home, we have seen time and again attorneys who are not experienced at real estate undermine a transaction or cost the buyer money at the closing table. To give you an idea, one of the owners of Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty is an attorney and real estate broker, but does not handle his own real estate closings because he defers to the expertise of lawyers who do that for a living.
So consider that a good real estate attorney can be retained for a reasonable fee and more than make up for it when you get offers from a friend, family member, colleague, or family attorney who is willing to do you a favor and represent you for your transaction. You may save a little money, but it can ultimately cost you. You can get a list of experienced, well-regarded real estate attorneys from your agent.
Common Contractual Issues
Most real estate contracts are common form contracts that go through small changes in the negotiation between the attorneys. The main material terms – price, down payment, closing date – are all negotiated, of course, but the standard protections given to buyers and sellers in the transaction are fairly common in most real estate contract forms. Thus, you are likely to see the seller’s attorney make small changes to a form contact, and your attorney write what’s called a “rider” that supplements the main provisions. We defer to the judgment of your attorney on contractual issues.
Although we are not representing you as legal counsel, we did want to highlight three common transactional issues that you should understand about your real estate contract.
1. Closing Dates
Closing dates in standard real estate contracts are not deadlines, they’re aspirational. If the contract states that the closing is to take place “on or about” September 1, all that means is that the parties are aiming in good faith for a closing on that date. The closing date itself will be set by the attorneys on a mutually convenient date once the title report is generated and the bank has made a mortgage commitment to fund your loan.
So what happens if one side is ready to close on September 1, and the other side is not? Usually, nothing. If the parties are working in good faith for a closing, the attorneys will simply set a new date for the closing, which will also be aspirational. But if, say, you are ready to close and the seller is not, and you and your attorney suspect the seller may be acting in bad faith to delay, your attorney can issue a demand for a closing within 30 days of the letter. If the seller does not close within the 30 days, it can give you ground to terminate the contract and get back your deposit, or give rise to a claim for whatever damages you incur from the delay. Usually, that’s not necessary.
Occasionally, contracts of sale will have what’s called a “time of the essence” provision that requires both sides to be ready to close as of the date in the contract. In that case, failure to be ready to close could render the unprepared party in default. A “time of the essence” clause is very rare in residential transactions, simply because neither party want penalties attached to the obligation to close on a particular date.
You should absolutely keep in mind, though, that closing dates in a contract are aspirational, so that you do not make plans to move until you are certain that the closing is going to happen. We see buyers who have been severely inconvenienced by a delayed closing, with their personal items in storage while they live in a hotel waiting for last-minute items to clear up. Talk to your attorney about whether the closing will happen on a particular date, and don’t make plans that could render you homeless if the closing does not happen on time.
Sales contracts often have contingencies that can allow one side or the other to void the contract without any repercussions. You may think that the deal is final, but a contingency in the contract, if properly exercised, can undo the deal. The most common contingency, of course, is the mortgage contingency, which allows you to terminate a contract and retain your deposit if you are turned down for a mortgage. Buyers getting financing usually demand to protect themselves against the possibility of losing their down payment if they are unable to get financing. In most cases, a mortgage contingency is not an unreasonable request for the buyer to make, but some sellers will not accept a conditional offer.
Other relatively common contingencies are “sale” contingencies, in which, for example, the buyer retains the right to terminate the contract without repercussions if the buyer is unable to sell her current home. This has become a little more common in a slower market, because buyers want to be able to protect themselves if they cannot sell their home. These types of contingencies are rare, because most attorneys disfavor them. Again, this is something you should discuss with your attorney, but do not be surprised if the seller rejects any offer contingent on the sale of your current home.
Similarly, a seller might demand a contingency allowing the seller to delay closing, or not close at all, if the seller cannot find a new home by the closing date. This is also relatively rare, and attorneys disfavor them because they give sellers too much flexibility in delaying a closing just by asserting that they have not yet found the perfect new home. Again, if this comes up, you can discuss it with your attorney.
It is very important that you discuss fixtures with your attorney. Fixtures are pieces of personal property that are attached to the real estate property, such as light fixtures, appliances , window treatments, and the like. Generally speaking, you have the right to acquire all fixtures upon purchase of the property. You don’t have the right to any personal property (i.e., the seller’s clothes, books, pictures hanging on a wall, etc.), but you do have the right to anything semi permanently attached to the real estate. Problems with fixtures come up more often than you would think, often involving very expensive light fixtures that the seller never intended to include in the deal, but which were not specifically excluded in the sales contract (hence, again, the need for an experienced real estate practitioner).
Generally, a seller who wishes to keep any of the fixtures in the home will make that clear in the listing, which puts you on notice that certain items are not included in the sale. Sometimes, the sellers or the sellers’ agent forgets to exclude those items in the MLS listing, but they exclude them in the contract of sale. At that point, if the contract is not yet signed, you do not have any legal rights to those fixtures, so you need to decide whether you want to bargain for them or demand that they be included in the price you offered on the assumption that they were included. If the seller does not discover the error, though, until after contracts are fully signed, you have the legal right to them and any removal would entitle you to an offset of the price.
Most importantly, if there are any fixtures that you particularly desire in the home, or furnishings that you think might be fixtures and want to make sure they are included, you should tell your agent when you make the offer. Don’t leave those issues up for chance if you can avoid it.
Most of the contracts used by our clients are standard form contracts, modified slightly for the particular circumstances of your transaction. Generally speaking, you won’t have much room for negotiation, since the boilerplate legal terms are fairly standardized. If you have other questions about your legal contract, talk with your attorney.
The home inspection takes place after you have an accepted offer, but before you sign contracts. Most likely, the inspection will turn up some issues, since inspections always do. If the inspection turns up serious issues, we recommend you have your attorney resolve any problems in the contract of sale.
After you have an accepted offer, you should absolutely require a home inspection before signing contracts. In other parts of the coun try, the home inspection takes place after contracts are signed, and the contracts contain a contingency allowing for cancelation if the report finds serious problems. In our area, though, the buyers do inspections before they commit to purchasing the home.
Very few deals actually fall apart from inspections, even though virtually every inspection report identifies at least some problems in the home. Some of the common problematic issues that home inspectors come across involve:
•roof damage caused by old or damaged tiles or improper flashing;
•undersized electrical wiring involving insufficient electrical service, aluminum wiring, improper grounding, and dangerous conditions, usually resulting from inadequate “do-it yourself” electrical maintenance;
•surface grading and drainage, which can lead to cracked slabs and water leakage into a basement;
•heating systems that are in need of replacement or repair;
•plumbing problems caused by faulty fixtures and waste lines, improperly mounted hot water heaters, or degrading piping materials;
•lack of insulation from poor caulking of windows that causes water and air penetration; and
•mold and mildew in wet areas of the home.
Here’s the first thing you should remember when you get your inspection report: DON’T PANIC! Home inspectors ALWAYS find something wrong with the home. That doesn’t mean that there’s anything really seriously wrong. It’s just like how doctors rarely advise patients to get full body scans – because the scans always show some sort of abnormality that isn’t dangerous, but will make the patient crazy with worry. Basically, an engineering report is a “CYA” document designed to protect the inspector from claims that he missed something, and also to prove that he actually did the inspection! So you’re going to get a report that sounds scary but contains the kind of “defects” found in virtually every home.
That said, if the inspection does turn up something serious enough to require remediation, you’ll need to go over that report in detail with your inspector, your agent, and your attorney, and decide how you want to handle the results. Your options at that point are as follows:
Walk away. If the problems are serious enough to undermine the value of the home, then you probably don’t want to go forward with the deal. That’s fine. So long as you’re not yet in contract, you’re not bound or committed to purchase the home. Remember, though, that you will be out-of-pocket for your engineering inspection fee, because sellers have no obligation to compensate you for your costs.
Renegotiate the deal. If the problems are serious enough to affect the value of the home, but not so serious that you want to walk away, you still might want to reduce your offer in light of what you’ve found. In some cases, the problem might be something you can live with (like a leaky hot water heater), but which nevertheless reduces the value of the property compared to what you initially offered before you knew about the issue. In other cases, the problem might need to be fixed, but you’d rather do the work yourself – at which point you’re going to want to deduct the projected costs of the repairs from the offer that you made. Either way, your original offer was made on the assumption that the home didn’t have any inspection problems, so you are entitled to adjust that offer to reflect what you now know. And, again, at this point in the transaction you are not bound to buy the home, so you’re free to negotiate the price.
Request remediation. Rather than reduce your offer, you can request that the sellers fix the problem at their own cost. The advantages of making the seller fix the problem, rather than reducing your price and doing it yourself, are that (1) you don’t run the risk of underestimating the cost of repairs when you do them after the closing, and (2) the cost of those repairs gets rolled into the purchase price, so you can finance it rather than pay it out-of-pocket.
But there are also disadvantages to asking the seller to do the work. Specifically, you run the risk that the seller will do a superficial, patchwork job that does not actually fix the problem. We’ve been involved in a number of transactions where the buyer discovered after the closing that the sellers hired a “lowest bid” contractor to do the work, saving money because they didn’t really care if the work was done well – after all, they only needed the remedy the problem until the closing. Generally, once you buy the home, it’s yours, and unless the sellers commit actual fraud in doing the work you don’t have recourse against them after the closing.
Thus, if you are going to have the seller do the work, we would strongly recommend that you get a contractual right to review the bid, the estimate, and the work before closing to ensure that it meets with your satisfaction. If the problems are serious enough, you’ll need to discuss securing those contractual provisions with your attorney.
Your agent will guide you from your initial offer through your final closing, managing your transactional process. In the Guide, you’ll learn about all the different parts of the transaction, and how to avoid delays that would keep you from closing on time. You’ll also get advice about what to expect in your closing, and how to ensure a smooth moving process.
Now that you’re at the transactional stage of the home buying process, you’re going to start having to work more intensely not just with your agent, but with all the members of your deal team. In this section, we discuss everything you need to know about the transactional process, and about how you can ensure the best possible experience in getting from accepted offer to closing.
Once you have reached an accepted offer with the seller, the real work of putting together your transaction begins. This is when you’ll start interacting with your whole “team” of real estate professionals: your inspection engineer, attorney, mortgage loan officer, title representative, insurance salesperson, and everyone else charged with helping you put your transaction together.
Indeed, the biggest challenge you’ll face during the transactional process is keeping all your balls aloft in the air. You’ll have a lot to do personally, and you and your agent will have her hands full coordinating the rest of the team to ensure that you’re moving closer to the closing table.
In this section of the Guide, we’ll provide an overview of the transactional process, give you some idea of how long the process takes, and then discuss some common transactional problems and how you can avoid or fix them.
An Overview of the Transactional Process
Here is a basic overview of the transactional process, more or less in the order in which everything happens:
•Inspection. Once you have an accepted offer, you will hire a licensed inspection engineer to go through the house to do an inspection, checking all mechanical systems such as the foundation, the roof, the electrical system, the air-conditioning and heating, etc. This inspection is usually completed within a few days of the offer being made, and you’ll review it with your agent before contracts are ordered so that issues can be resolved with the seller before any final commitments are made.
•Contracts. In our area of the state, a seller’s attorney will prepare a contract and send it to the buyer’s attorney. These are usually fairly standard form contracts that the attorneys are used to working with. The seller’s attorney sends the contract, and your attorney reviews it and sends back comments or revisions, or even a “rider” adding terms to protect you. The attorneys then negotiate the legal terms, which are usually fairly straightforward. The only complications come from unusual situations: where sellers want to keep certain fixtures that would normally be sold with the house, setting out projected closing dates, etc.
Contracts are usually finalized within two weeks of the accepted offer.
•Mortgage. Once you’ve reached offer – and acceptance, and the attorneys are exchanging drafts of the contracts, you’re going to start working in earnest on your mortgage application. This can be a very difficult, time-consuming, and burdensome process, particularly these days where banks are ultra-careful about extending financing. You will need to gather a tremendous amount of documentation and submit it to the lender, who will then have to review it to determine whether it meets underwriting guidelines. This is usually the lengthiest part of the transactional process, because it takes time to coordinate the back-and-forth of documents with your lender. It might take several weeks or even months to go from application to “clear to close” from the lender.
•Title insurance. Once the contract is done, your attorney (or you) will order a title search from your abstract company to check for clear title, building violations, and identify the correct taxes. Once the report is done, your attorney will examine it to determine whether there are issues that have to be resolved by the seller. If all the problems are cleared, the abstract company will issue “title insurance” to protect you against claims against your ownership of the property. Title reports are usually issued within two or three weeks of ordering, so they usually come a few weeks after contracts are completed. If there are problems on the title, those could take weeks or months to resolve.
•Home Insurance. At some point during this process, you’re going to need to order property and casualty insurance on your new home. Many buyers forget to do this, but your lender will require home insurance before finalizing your loan at the closing, because the lender wants to make sure that its loan to you is protected if, say, the house burns down while everyone is at the closing. It doesn’t take long to secure home insurance, usually a few calls to your insurance agent and filling out some forms, and it’s usually done in a matter of days, if not hours.
•Closing. Once everything has come together – the mortgage is clear to close, the title report has been cleared of any problems, and the home insurance policy is all prepared – the attorneys will schedule a closing. If everything is ready to go, the only problem with scheduling the closing is finding a date when everyone is available: you, your attorney, the seller, the seller’s attorney, a bank attorney, a closer for the title company, and anyone else who is needed at the closing.
Avoiding Delays in Your Transaction
All told, a reasonable estimation is that it generally takes two to three months to go from offer-and-acceptance to closing, mainly because it takes time to get through the mortgage and title process. The worst-case scenario is that you find problems on the title report, or if your lender has major issues with your loan application, which can cause months of delays. On the other hand, in the best case scenario, when you have a “clean” deal and all the professionals on your transactional team are working quickly, you can get cleared to close in less than a month.
Every transaction is different. Some move smoothly from accepted offer to closing, with all the moving parts of the deal working together beautifully: the contract gets done quickly, your mortgage sails through, the title report doesn’t turn up any problems, and you’re ready to lose in a matter of weeks. Everyone loves doing these types of “clean” deals.
Other transactions take a different path to closing. The attorneys spend weeks haggling over contractual details. Your mortgage gets bogged down in underwriting, with constant requests for new and updated documentation. The title or municipal report turns up a problem that takes weeks for the seller to clear. These are the problem deals, the ones that keep real estate agents up at night and make both buyers and sellers crazy, with everyone wondering “is this deal EVER going to close?”
There’s no way to ensure that you’ll have one of those easy, clean transactions. Anything can happen during a deal, and many of the problems that clog up the works are unforeseeable and unpreventable even by the savviest of buyers and ablest of real estate professionals. But we would suggest a few things that you could do to at least improve your chances of a clean deal:
First, only hire local professionals for your legal, mortgage, title, and insurance needs. Early in this Orientation Guide, we advised you to hire experienced, local professionals to be part of your “transactional team.” This is the point at which they can make a real difference. Local real estate attorneys are familiar with the standard form contracts used for transactions in your area. They know whom to call at the county clerks office to clear up problems in your title. They are likely to already have a working relationship with the local attorney on the other side of the deal, if the seller has also hired local talent, which can dramatically accelerate the formation of the contract and the resolution of any disputes that crop up afterward. Lawyers who work outside the area, or who don’t normally do real estate, will invariably cause delays in your deal.
Similarly, don’t hire a lender who is from outside the area, or one who promoted some ridiculously low rate online, just because you think you’re going to save a few dollars. You’re not. Mortgage rates are not locked until very late in your transactional process, so those promises are easily (and legally) rescinded once it’s too late for you to make a change – or when a change is going to push your closing back for weeks or months! That’s why you should hire someone local, and experienced, and trustworthy to handle you loan. We recommend, of course, the professionals at our affiliation Hudson United Mortgage, because we believe that you can trust a mortgage loan officer who is under our supervision, and is accountable to us for the client service experience you’re going to have. But whatever you do, hire a local mortgage loan officer, and use a reputable lender.
Ultimately, the choice is up to you. But it’s been our experience that when we have a real problem deal, and we investigate the source of the delays, we invariably find that the trouble was created by an inexperienced or out-of-market transactional professional. Be careful about who you put on your team.
Second, be engaged, proactive, and responsive. As we’ve discussed throughout this Orientation Guide, you’ll have the best home buying experience if you are engaged throughout the process. You have a real estate agent who will be working hard coordinating all the moving parts of the deal, but at this stage of the process, you’re the only one who can do some of the work that needs to be done.
•Be engaged. As always, you need to be engaged in the process. Don’t sit back and assume that all the players on your transactional team are going to get the job done. You’ll feel much better about the process, and far more in control, if you stay active, involved, and in touch with what’s happening with your deal.
•Be proactive. Try to prepare in advance, and anticipate what you’re going to need to do throughout
the process. Basically, ask all your transaction professionals this question, “what might come up that would slow this transaction down, and how can I prepare for it?”
•Be responsive. The most common source of transactional delays come from the mortgage end, which often results from buyers who are not immediately responsive to follow-up document requests from their lender’s underwriter. If you want your deal to move quickly, then immediately respond when you get requests for information from your lender, your attorney, or any of the other professionals involved in your deal.
At this point in the process, an engaged, proactive, and responsive buyer (or seller) can really move a deal forward, particularly when you’re working with a strong transactional team. This way, even if problems crop up, you’re in a good position to try to resolve them quickly and avoid unnecessary delays in your closing.
Third, keep everything organized. A real estate transaction generates enough paper to wipe out a forest full of trees, enough phone calls to burn through your monthly mobile phone plan, and more emails than Nigerian princes needing a loan. You have a lot of stuff to keep track of, so try to keep it all organized. Here are some tips for keeping your transaction in order:
•Keep a transaction folder for all your documents. Keep all your deal documents together: all your mortgage forms and follow-up documentation, your real estate contract, and anything else that you get relating to the transaction. If you are tech-savvy, you might even consider scanning everything you get related to the deal, and keeping it on your computer so you can access it easily and send it around if someone else needs it later in the process.
•Create a separate email folder. Any modern email system allows you to create folders where you can dump any email that relates to your t ransactio n. Some even allow you to set up “smart folders” that will divert all incoming email from particular senders (like your agent, your attorney, your loan processor, etc .) into the folder. That’s a great way to keep all your deal email segregated, so that you don ‘t have to hunt through your overflowing general inbox to find important transactional information.
•Keep a transactional project plan. As you have probably figured out by now, we’re big on project plans, which are the cornerstone of the Client-Oriented Real Estate (“CORE”) philosophy that we follow at Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty. Project plans are really just collections of checklists of “to do” items that we codify in order to ensure an attention to detail and consistency of execution. You can do the same thing for your deal. Keep a master “to do” list of everything that has to be done for your transaction, not just by you but by everyone on your transactional team. That will help you focus on what needs to get done, and give you a better chance of actually doing it in a timely fashion.
Staying organized is not only great for helping you get things done, but it also makes you feel more in control of the whole process, which will make you feel better. The happiest clients we have are the ones who feel like they know what’s going on, and are in control of their own deal.
•Finally, take a deep breath and relax. No matter how engaged you are, regardless of how great all the members of your transactional team are, you’re almost certainly going to hit a snag in your deal. Real estate transactions are tricky things, with a lot of moving parts, and delays can come from anywhere. The key is to be as prepared as possible for the problem, so that the delay is minimal. And no matter what happens, try not to get too stressed out.
For more information about the mortgage, title, and insurance parts of your real estate transaction, and how about how to smartly avoid delays that could put off your closing, make sure you get the Hudson United Orientation Guide available from your real estate agent or Hudson United rep. The Hudson United Orientation Guide will explain everything you need to know about the mortgage application process, review the potential problems that can come up in your title report, and give you a complete overview of the home insurance choices you’ll be making.
A good negotiation strategy can save you thousands of dollars in your home purchase. Although buyers and sellers need to work together in good faith, it’s always better of you’re in control of the terms of your negotiation. Here are some tips on how to take a strong negotiating stance.
Contrary to popular belief, negotiation is not about winning and losing. You don’t “win” a negotiation at the expense of the other side. Indeed, a good negotiated resolution always has two winners by definition, because both sides must have gotten what they wanted or they would not have settled. Now, that doesn’t mean that both sides got everything they wanted, or that either side got all it wanted, but it does mean that both parties found the terms of the agreement acceptable.
Remember that when you negotiate. The seller is not your enemy, but rather a partner in trying to solve the problem of both of you wanting to transact the property on the most favorable terms possible. Buyers want to pay as little as they can, and sellers want them to pay as much as they can. It’s definitely a problem, and good faith negotiation is the solution.
Moreover, when you’re negotiating the purchase of a home, you need to keep your eye on the goal. The question you have to ask is, “How badly do I want this home?” If this is truly the right place for you, don’t get too caught up in trying to squeeze nickels out of the seller. Remember that if you’re financing the home, a purchase price difference of $10,000-$20,000 is not going to make or break you. For example, consider that at a 4% interest rate, a $10,000 difference in the sale price is less than $50 a month – less than your monthly mobile phone bill. So deliberating over the difference between an offer requiring you to finance $490,000 or $500,000 means that you’re anguishing over the difference between a monthly payment of $2,339 and $2,387. Will you really notice that difference? While you always want to get the best deal possible, risking losing your dream house over such a negligible difference in your monthly payments can be foolish.
Obviously, a full discussion of the art of negotiating on the sale of a home would be well beyond what we could cover in this Orientation Guide . At Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty, we have training courses dedicated to the study of negotiation. We don’t teach “game playing”, but we do believe that a good negotiator can get the best possible result for a client by maintaining the upper hand, controlling the terms of the negotiation. And as you’ll see below, you should be negotiating through your agent, so you will have good professional representation as you try to make a deal.
Nevertheless, we wanted to share some perspectives into the negotiation process, and also give you some insight into the negotiation approach adopted by Better Homes and Gardens Rand:
1) Keep control of your anchored starting point.
It’s always an ideal situation when you control the starting point of negotiations on the most important term. In psychology, they call this “anchoring,” because the initial asking price becomes a reference point that can “anchor” the rest of the negotiation. In real estate sales, though, the anchor is already set before you ever step foot in the home – by the asking price. So you are already dealing with an “anchored price” on that MLS sheet or online listing. The key is to forget the asking price, to dismiss it from your thoughts. Instead, sit down with your agent to go through recent sales to see what prices homes have actually sold for. Once you figure that out, build an offer based on those prices, without even referencing the listing price. Try to create a new anchor through the sold listings that your agent can track down for you.
2) Never convey an eagerness to buy.
Never let a seller or a seller’s agent know that you are anxious to buy, or that you are anxious to buy that particular home. You should always avoid discussing specifics with a seller or a seller’s agent, because if you happened to let slip that you were under any pressure to buy you would be undermining the firmness of your commitment to your offering price. Meanwhile, pay careful attention to any signals that the sellers give off betraying their eagerness to sell. They might communicate that nonverbally just in the way that they answer the door when you visit for a showing, or through their agent with an eagerness to hear your offer. Or they might do it even more blatantly with terms in the listing description like “bring best offer” or “owner anxious.” Pay careful attention to these cues, and avoid giving them off yourself.
3) Provide justifications for your price through your agent.
Anchors become more powerful if you provide reasonable and objective justification for them. When you set your initial offer, have your agent provide the seller with reasonably comparable sales that justify the price you’ve set. You can firmly set that pricing anchor by putting the seller in a position of having to argue away the fact that comparable homes have sold for close to your offered price.
4) Get commitments from sellers.
Psychologists have also noted the power of verbal and written commitments during negotiations. If a buyer can get a seller to make even a verbal commitment to agree to a term of the negotiation, the seller will feel strongly compelled to abide by that commitment. That’s why most of our agents demand that all offers and counter offers be made in writing, not because the offers themselves are legally binding, but the act of writing them down (and in some cases signing them) is psychologically binding.
5) Frame the negotiation as about more than just price.
In any real estate sales transaction, the most important negotiated term is price. But it’s not necessarily the only term that can be at issue. In some cases, closing date is important. In others, it’s the down payment. And in others, it could be whether the buyer will have a mortgage contingency, or the fixtures or furniture included, or really anything that one side particularly wants. In most negotiations, however, the parties don’t strongly negotiate the other terms, because their sole focus is price. Accordingly, a good way to control the frame of the negotiation is to put all the other terms in play (closing date, down payment, contingencies, fixtures, furniture). If you are flexible on all those terms, but the other side is not, you now have something to bargain away to get a concession on price.
6) Avoid making concessions without getting a reciprocal concession.
Ultimately, at some point in the negotiation, you’re likely to have to make a concession. Very few buyers are fortunate enough to get an acceptance on their first offer. But if you are to make a concession, try to avoid making the concession in a vacuum – condition your concession on the seller giving way on some other point. Generally, if you do someone a favor, that person feels obligated to return the favor, even if their “reciprocation” of the favor is disproportionate to what you did for them. If you’ve been successful in putting multiple terms at play, you can even concede on a minor point in return for flexibility on something you actually care a lot about.
7) Always negotiate through your agent.
Negotiating through intermediaries is always a good strategy, if only because it keeps the client from developing or generating ill-will with the other side or betraying anxiety that would undermine the bargaining position. In real estate negotiations, buyers and sellers rarely discuss the terms directly with the other side, instead communicating through their agents. One of the most powerful ways to control the process is to work through an intermediary (like your agent), keeping the ultimate decision-maker away from the negotiating table. That way, your agent can always use the justification that he or she does not have the authority to make concessions, giving you both time to discuss strategy and avoid giving in under self imposed pressures.
8) Be likeable to sellers.
We always counsel clients to be friendly and agreeable with all sellers, including sellers that might be grossly overpriced. Throughout your negotiation, you’ll want to maintain good relations with sellers, even if you ultimately cannot reach an agreement. We have seen many potential deals fall apart simply because the parties treat each other badly, insulting each other, ignoring offers, delaying out of spite, and other unhelpful tactics. Sellers want to like the person buying their home, so be likeable.
9) Be open to all counters.
Generally, in real estate, we always welcome offers – and counter-offers –of any kind because it gets discussions going on a path in which anything can happen. Everyone in the business has seen sellers initially dismiss an offer as “outrageous,” only to ultimately find an agreeable middle ground through a long process of good faith negotiation. Sellers sometimes set very high prices specifically to give themselves “wiggle room” to negotiate. We don’t counsel clients to give lowball opening offers – indeed, our advice is to find an offer that you can justify based on comparable sales. But if you make a reasonable offer, only to have the seller make an incremental counter-offer, don’t dismiss the counter out of hand. Make your own counter-offer, and see what happens.
10) Remember that you don’t have to actually buy the house.
Some clients worry that in the heat of the moment they will make concessions that they will ultimately regret, and find themselves experiencing buyer’s remorse. Remember that you don’t make any final legal commitments as part of the negotiation. You’re never fully committed until after inspections, contract drafting, contract review, and a host of other issues that could delay final signing. So you never have to risk getting carried away by anxiety or pressure.
Conclusion: Stay Calm
Most people are not familiar or comfortable with negotiations, because most of us do it so rarely in our professional or personal lives. Culturally, we don’t negotiate much compared to people in many other areas of the world – for example, we don’t haggle at supermarkets or department stores. So it’s not unusual for clients to become a little anxious about the prospect of negotiating something as important as a sale. Don’t worry. You have a lot of professionals watching out for you, starting with your Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty agent.
Presenting offers is part art, part science. The science part is the analysis you and your agent will do to examine recent comparable sales, the over market conditions, and the perceived attitudes of the seller to determine the correct offering price. The art is how you present it, and whether you give yourself the best chance of getting your offer accepted.
Ultimately, the goal of shopping is buying. And at some point during your home search process, you’re going to find something that you’re interested in buying. You’ll be interested in the first showing, go back for a second look, and, if you’re like many of our buyers, return a few more times “just to make sure.” At the end, though, if this is the home you want to buy, you need to start the transactional process by making an offer.
When you make your offer, you will set out basic terms upon which you are willing to purchase the home. If you and the seller come to agreement on those terms, the agents will send the offer to the attorneys for purposes of drafting a contract. At this point in the process, you’re not legally bound to the terms of your offer, but obviously you should only present an offer that you are willing to commit to in good faith.
Preparing the Offer
From a procedural standpoint, the initial offer in a negotiation is usually prepared on a form provided by your agent. You will fill out the terms of the offer with your agent, and your agent will then send it to the seller’s agent for review. After that initial offer, most of the follow-up counter-offers are done over the phone or email between the agents, until ultimately you reach an agreement that is memorialized in a final term sheet that the agents will send to the attorneys to advise them in preparation of the contracts.
Here are the main terms that will comprise your offer to purchase, what we think of as the “material” terms of the deal that will be subject to some degree of negotiation between the agents:
•Purchase Price. This is obviously the most important term – the most important for you, and the most important for the seller. We’ll discuss pricing your offer in more depth below.
•Down Payment. The down payment is the amount that you will deposit when you sign contracts – NOT when you make the offer – as a show of good faith commitment to purchase the home. Down payments are generally between 5%-10% of the purchase price.
•Closing Date. The estimated closing date is really just an estimate. You’re not bound by the closing date even in the contract, so most agents just set a projected date three or so months for the future – which is the average time it takes to get from contract to closing.
•Personal Property. When you buy a home, you buy all the fixtures in the home – everything that is attached to the property. But sometimes, you might find that the seller has “personal property” that is not legally affixed, but is so perfectly situated to the home that you want to buy it along with the property. The legal default position is that only fixtures stay with the home, so you’ll need to identify any personal property that you want to buy as part of your purchase price.
•Mortgage Contingency. When you prepare your offer, you’ll have to consider whether you want to demand a mortgage contingency, which allows you to terminate the contract without penalty if you are unable to get a mortgage after a good faith effort. You will probably want the reassurance of a mortgage contingency, but that might be something that the seller will resist.
•Inspection Contingency. Sometimes, the offer sheet will explicitly state that the offer is subject to inspection, but it’s not absolutely necessary because inspections are usually completed before contract anyway.
•Other Contingencies. You might have particular needs that should be addressed as conditions, such as the need to sell your home before you close on your purchase. It’s generally not a good idea to spring unusual requests in the contract, so if you have anything you need that’s out of the ordinary, make sure you discuss with your agent whether you should present it as part of the offer.
Of course, your offer might contain other terms that we haven’t addressed, but generally speaking those are the main issues that get presented as part of the offer.
Pricing the Offer
Obviously, the most important term of your offer is the price that you are will to pay to purchase the home. All the other issues – down payment, closing dates, contingencies – are generally minor areas of negotiability. In most cases, the main issue is price.
Ultimately, of course, your pricing strategy depends on what that home is worth to you. You’ve already gone through the process of determining how much you can afford, and used that information in identifying your price range and choosing the homes that you evaluated with your agent. You’ve been watching the market, and at this point you should have a pretty good idea of what homes are selling for. The question now becomes, “what are you willing to pay to own this home?” And if you can afford that price, then that becomes your target goal for your negotiation.
As a general strategy for reaching that goal, you want to think about your initial price offer as an invitation to negotiate with the seller. You don’t want the offer to be too low, because you could insult the seller and poison the negotiating process. And you don’t want the offer to be too high, or you might end up paying more than you have to. It’s like Goldilocks and the three bears – you don’t want your offer to be too cold or too hot, you want it to be “just right”:
Similarly, you should never make an initial offer that is the most you’re willing to pay for that home. Some buyers do that in an attempt to short-circuit negotiations, and in some cases to convey that they are serious buyers: “here is our best price, but that’s as high as we can go.” Don’t do that. Very few sellers accept an initial offer, and from a psychological standpoint they need to comfort of engaging in at least some negotiation on the price of their home. So set that initial offer in a way that you have a little wiggle room, so that you can accept, or counter, the seller’s counter-offer.
Here’s one rule of thumb to keep in mind: most deals close within three or four rounds of negotiating. That is, (1) a buyer presents an initial offer, (2) the seller counters, and (3) the buyer either meets the counter or (4) presents a new offer that the seller accepts. Most successful deals come together in a matter of days, if not hours, so prepare your negotiating strategy accordingly.
So with that general strategy in mind, how do you determine what price to offer? The basic rule of thumb is that an initial offer, to be taken seriously, should be about 5%-15% off the current listing price. That’s obviously a very wide range, but that’s the point – it’s just a general guideline to help you stay in the “sweet spot” between over bidding and low-balling. The actual offer you make will depend on your particular situation: what comparable homes are selling for, the current state of the market, and the history of that individual listed property.
Our advice is simple: do some research, think about what’s going on in the market, and set your price accordingly. Your agent is the best resource for helping you craft your initial offer to the sellers, but here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:
First, set your initial offer based on sale prices of comparable homes. Your agent can provide you with information on recent sales in the local area, or even the neighborhood. That’s the data you want in setting the initial price for the home, particularly in situations where the seller might have set an unrealistic listing price for the home. Don’t get caught in the trap of locking in on “active listings” prices, because “active” listings all have one thing in common: they haven’t sold! It’s the sold properties that give you a better read of what’s happening in the market. Moreover, your agent can use that sold data to justify the offer: “we know that the seller has set a more aggressive listing price, but here are some recent comps that are totally in line with the offer we are making.”
Just remember that when you’re looking at sold data, you’re getting information about closed sales, which reflects the state of the market from a few months ago. That is, those closed sales were put into contract months earlier, and then spent time going through the transactional process to get to the closing table. So if the market is very active, some of the sold data might already be out-of-date. Unfortunately, the sale price of homes that are “under contract,” which are more recent comps, are not publicly available, even to your agent, so you don’t have access to that data.
It’s also important to remember that not all homes are easy to compare to recent sales. Particularly in high end markets, you’re not likely to find a lot of recent sales at the same price point in the same area, so comparable sales data will not be as helpful.
Second, be mindful of the current negotiability in the market. If you have been reading the Rand Quarterly Market Report, or getting market reports from your agent, you know that we consistently measure the “listing discount” that sellers are giving to buyers off the last listed price for the home. In the past few years, the regional listing discount has hovered at the 5%-7% mark, which from a historical perspective is highly negotiable. But that’s a regional number, so the negotiability might be different in your particular town or village or at your particular price point. So the more local, and more recent, the negotiability information you have, the better. Indeed, pay particular attention to the negotiability of those recent sales. If you see that homes are selling for very close to the asking price, you’ll want to adjust your initial offer accordingly.
Moreover, we should caution you that as a market heats up, you can expect negotiability to fall significantly. As buyer demand increases, sellers become far less negotiable on price. The average listing discount during the last seller’s market was closer to 1%-2% of the last listed price, and multiple bid situations became very common, pitting buyers against each other and driving many sales to above the asking price.
Third, keep in mind the current status of the listing. Your agent can give you the history of the listing, which can be important in helping you formulate your initial offer. For example, you’ll want to know how long the house has been on the market. The longer the home has been for sale, the more likely the seller will be to reasonably negotiate on price. Similarly, you’ll want to know whether the seller has recently reduced the price. That’s important for two reason: first, because sellers are going to be less negotiable on price if they just made an overall reduction; and second, because homes that have recently been reduced in price tend to generate more buyer interest, which means you could be more likely to get into a bidding war that would dramatically reduce negotiability.
Caveat: Multiple-Bid Situations
As the housing market heats up, you might find yourself in a multiple-bid situation – where a seller gets offers from more than one buyer, negotiates with all buyers simultaneously, and ultimately requests that the interested parties submit their “highest and best” offers to close all discussions. If you’re in that situation, you’ll need to consult with your agent about how to prepare your offer, which requires you not just to consider all the variables about the market and the listing, but also what other buyers might be willing to pay for that property.
Procedurally, what you’ll do is present your highest and best offer along with the other buyers, the sellers will then compare them, and then come to an agreement with whichever offer they prefer.
A multiple bid situation can be very stressful, so as the market heats up we strongly advise you to move from accepted offer to contract as soon as possible.
Presenting the Offer
Once you have finalized your offer terms, your agent will present the offer to the seller. For the most part, this is a fairly mechanical process: the agent emails or faxes the offer to the seller’s agent, the seller’s agent presents it to the buyer, and then communicates the seller’s response back to your agent. It’s pretty straightforward. But there are some circumstances in which you might consider supplementing the offer with additional supporting documentation:
•Comp information. If your offer is significantly below the asking price, your agent might submit a list of comparable sold properties that you both believe justifies the price you’ve offered. Now, the seller might disagree with your selection of comps, but at least you’ve given the seller something to think about and justified your offer – which might soften the blow of an offer that is disappointingly below ask.
•Financial Documentation. Sellers will take you more seriously if you provide some form of financial documentation with your offer – even if it’s just a preapproval letter from a reputable lender. Realize that the seller takes a risk in accepting an offer from a marginally qualified buyer, because the time spent waiting for that buyer to unsuccessfully get a mortgage is time that the seller was not actively on the market.
•Personal Letter. In situations where you know other buyers are interested in the property, a personal letter can sometimes humanize your situation and forge a relationship between you and the seller. This was a common practice during seller’s market for buyers to make a personal appeal to sellers to accept their offer, stressing things like how much they love the home and are eager to raise their family in it. Most sellers will make a decision based entirely on price, but you’d be surprised how often they will agree to an offer based partly on their impressions of the buyer. These letters can sometimes be effective.
Generally, you should not expect any seller to accept your initial offer. Simply out of reflex, sellers will usually make a counter-offer instead. At that point, you and your agent will have to negotiate the sale.
Finally, remember that you are not legally bound by any of the terms in your offer until you execute formal contracts of sale with your attorney. Even if you sign the offer, your agreement is conditioned upon attorney approval, so you are not obligated to buy that home until you execute that contract of sale. This is a double-edged sword, because it also means that the sellers are not bound to sell you the home until THEY sign a contract of sale. That’s why we encourage you to move quickly once you have an accepted offer, so that you don’t give time for other buyers to jump in and make a higher offer.
The fun part of the home buying experience is going out on showings. You’ll go on dozens of showings during your home search, so this section sets out everything you need to know about the showing process.
The foundation of the home search process is the property “showing,” which is an appointment set by your agent to go visit a property or a series of properties. Even though it can be a lot of work, most of our clients actually enjoy this part of the process. There’s something exciting about every showing: the anticipation of seeing the home live that you’ve only before seen in pictures, the suspense of wondering whether this will be “the one,” the fun in imagining what it would be like to live in each home. Even more importantly, every showing you do is part of your educational process in refining your understanding about your own preferences, helping you and your agent learn about what you like and don’t like.
Here are some basic rules of thumb for what you need to know about showing appointments with your agent:
•Scheduling. The process of setting up a showing is very simple. You identify a series of properties that you’d like to visit, find a window of time when both you and your agent are available, and then your agent will contact all the sellers or listing agents to make an appointment to see the home. It’s your agent’s job to set the appoin tments, not yours – that’s one of the reasons you hired your own agent.
•Notice. Generally, you don’t need to give more than 24 hours notice before setting up a showing. Most sellers are eager to have agents show their homes, and will agree to showings on very little notice. Some sellers do require more extensive notice, though, something your agent will be able to determine from the property information accessible to brokers in the MLS.
•Time Commitment. You’ll usually spend about 15-30 minutes in the actual showing of the home, depending on your level of interest, but remember that you also have to factor in travel time. If you’re seeing a lot of homes in a very small geographic area, you might be able to see three or four homes in an hour. But if you have to drive a long ways between homes, then you might only get to one or maybe two in an hour. Your agent will have a good sense of the schedule.
•Traveling to Showings. Whether you travel together or separately is up to you and your agent. Having the agent with you can be helpful for facilitating conversation and feedback between showings (and is environmentally preferable!), but sometimes you all can’t fit in one car.
•What You’ll Get. When you meet with your agent to start the series of showings, you’ll probably get paperwork on all the listings you’re going to see. It’s a good idea to get a folder to keep all those “showing sheets,” because you’ll eventually see so many homes that it’ll be tough to keep them organized in your head. Keeping the show sheets, and taking notes on those sheets, is a good way to keep track of the properties you’ve seen and what you thought about them.
•Feedback. After showings, or during showings if you are alone, you should give feedback to the agent about what you liked and didn’t like, so long as the seller or listing agent aren’t present. You should be as honest as possible in communicating your interest to your agent, who needs that kind of information to learn about you and your preferences. Your agent might also ask you to give formal feedback that can be communicated back to the seller, particularly for properties that you’re not really interested in. Sellers appreciate that, because it sometimes helps them adjust their price or presentation of the home. You’re not under any obligation to do so, but it’s considered polite to provide feedback if asked.
•Canceling Appointments. If you have to cancel a showing after setting an appointment, just try to give as much notice as possible to your agent, who will then cancel the appointments with the seller or listing agent. It’s no big deal to cancel an appointment, although it’s very discourteous to simply not show up when you were expected.
What to Do At a Showing
Okay, so now that we’ve covered the basics, we come to a more important question: what exactly should you do at a showing? To answer that question, here are some suggestions for how to make the most out of a showing appointment:
•Keep an open mind. Sometimes, you’ll pull up to the front of the property, and you’ll immediately make a snap decision that this is not the home for you. That’s fine. Tell your agent why. But you should still go into the house to look around. Why? Because we have many buyers who ended up buying a home that they absolutely hated on the first impression they got on the curbside. But even more importantly, you’ve already taken the time to drive over, you might as well go inside. Even if you don’t like the home, you might find something about it that you do in fact like, and your agent can learn from that. Every showing is part of the educational process of learning what you like and don’t like, so always keep an open mind regardless of your initial impressions of a home you’re seeing.
•Try to visualize yourself living there. A great way to develop a good feel for whether this is the right home for you is to just imagine yourself living there. Think about what it would be like to wake up every morning in the master bedroom, to make breakfast in the kitchen, to have meals in the dining room, to sit back and watch television. Visualize where your furniture would go, and how it would look in the home. Essentially, try to imagine what it’s like to live there. If you like that image, then this might be a home you want to consider buying.
•Feedback. After showings, or during showings if you are alone, you should give feedback to the agent about what you liked and didn’t like, so long as the seller or listing agent aren’t present. You should be as honest as possible in communicating your interest to your agent, who needs that kind of information to learn about you and your preferences. Your agent might also ask you to give formal feedback that can be communicated back to the seller, particularly for properties that you’re not really interested in. Sellers appreciate that, because it sometimes helps them adjust their price or presentation of the home. You’re not under any obligation to do so, but it’s considered polite to provide feedback if asked.
•Canceling Appointments. If you have to cancel a showing after setting an appointment, just try to give as much notice as possible to your agent, who will then cancel the appointments with the seller or listing agent. It’s no big deal to cancel an appointment, although it’s very discourteous to simply not show up when you were expected.
Communicating with Sellers and Listing Agents
Most of the time, you’ll be able to see properties with just your agent, particularly if your visit is during the workday. Sometimes, though, the sellers might happen to be home when you’re looking at the property. That can always be a little awkwa rd, particularly if the sellers hover over you or want to do the agent’s job for her by showing you the house themselves. Other times, the listing agent might be present, particularly in the rare cases where the seller demands that the listing agent attend all showings.
In those cases, it’s always a good idea to be as friendly and likeable as possible with sellers. You might end up doing a deal with them, and you’d be surprised how much basic courtesy and friendliness can facilitate a good negotiating relationship. And if you end up in any kind of bidding war for the property, you’ll find that just being a friendly person can sometimes give you a leg up in getting your bid approved. So just be nice to them. And, of course, never say anything critical or derogatory about the property (the decor, the cleanliness) in front of the seller or listing agent, because insulting the homeowner is a bad way to start a negotiation.
On the other hand, you want to be careful about what you say about your personal situation. You don’t want to give away anything that might undermine your negotiating position if you ultimately decide to make an offer, such as your level of interest in the property, how it compares to other homes, your personal finances, your urgency to move, or your price range. For example, you might think it’s harmless to answer a seller’s question about whether you’re currently renting or owning, but answering it might inadvertently reveal your urgency for moving. Similarly, remember that listing agents have a fiduciary duty to their sellers, so telling that nice agent something like “this is the best layout we’ve seen” could end up undermining your negotiating posture later. Just like in cop shows, anything you say can and will be used against you.
So when you’re talking to listing agents or sellers, just keep it on a very superficial level. Make polite compliments about the home, compliment the furnishings, ask them questions to get them talking (and maybe revealing something!), and most of all let your agent do the talking.
If they ask you direct questions that you don’t want to answer, just be vague in what you say. You don’t want to be rude by ignoring the question, nor do you want to raise hackles by “lawyering up” – saying something like “my agent told me not to talk about that.” Just say things like “we’re not sure yet, we’re very flexible” or “we’re discussing that very issue with our agent.” And then just ask them a question yourself to change the subject. Generally, you’re not going to get the third degree when you see a home, so don’t worry too much about it. Sellers generally don’t ask buyers a lot of questions, and listing agents know that they’re not supposed to ask a represented buyer anything personal.
Working with Your Agent
Because you’ll be spending a lot of time with your agent, you should try to maintain an open line of communication in order to forge a strong working relationship. Here are some tips on how to work best with your agent.
During the course of your home search, your buyer agent is your best asset for helping you navigate through the inventory of properties that you might be seeing. After all, you might not have done much home-shopping, but your agent looks at houses almost every day, and can often pick out positives and negatives that you might not have noticed.
Keep these guidelines in mind when working with your buyer agent:
•First, communicate regularly with your agent. You and your agent should set up a communication plan when you first start working together. That plan is up to you – how often do you want to talk, how often do you want to get emails from your agent, how regularly do you want to go out to look at properties, etc. Talk
it out with your agent. It’s her job to serve your needs the way you want to be served, so be clear about what you want from her. Most importantly, though, find some way to stay in regular contact with your agent through the home buying process, even if it’s just a text message once in a while to update her (or her updating you) on the status of your home search.
•Second, be honest about what you like and don’t like. As your agent works with you, she will get to know your preferences, even things that you don’t yourself identify as being important to you. Maybe she’ll notice that you seem to like homes with an open floorplan, even though you originally said that you instead like traditional room layouts with more privacy. Every time you see a house with your agent, she learns something about you. So you need to be honest. If you don’t like the house, tell your agent why. Don’t feel you need to spare his or her feelings by holding back – if the agent missed the mark in selecting properties to show you, be honest about it. She’s not going to take it personally. After all – that’s her job.
•Third, don’t be reluctant to ask your agent for help. Remember that your agent makes his or her living by helping you buy a home. Sometimes, buyers feel reluctant to call their agent to take them out, because they’re early in the buying process and they don’t want to “waste” their agent’s time. But it’s your agent’s job to help you in the home-buying process, and agents will often work with buyers for months and months before the buyer finds the right home. If you’re really just “sight seeing,” or in such an early stage of your process that you don’t feel comfortable going out with your agent, then work on your own and just use your agent as a resource for information. For example, she could set you up with automatic alerts for new properties coming on the market, or let you know about open houses that you might want to visit on your own. But once you’re serious about your home search, don’t feel inhibited about calling your agent. You’re not being an imposition if you need your agent to spend a day showing you homes. That’s your agent’s job.
•Fourth, keep your agent in touch with anything you do on your own. Over the course of your home search, you might find yourself doing some work on your own in addition to all the appointment showings with your agent. You’ll probably be saving properties online on RandRealty.com, which is how most of our clients get their first look at the home they ultimately buy. Buyers also sometimes do drive-bys of properties that they see listed online, just to get a look at the property and maybe check out the neighborhood. And many of our clients also go to open houses, when sellers open the property to the public, usually on Sunday afternoons.
These three other types of “showings” are all good ways for you to get engaged in your home buying process, particularly at the beginning when you might be reluctant to go out with an agent. But just remember that looking on your own is really only a supplement for the work that you’ll do with your agent. Looking at the property online or doing a drive-by is no substitute for actually visiting the home in person accompanied by an agent who will be able to provide a professional perspective when making your evaluation. And while open houses also involve personal visits, you’ll find it’s much more efficient and effective to set your own appointments rather than being limited to Sunday afternoon visits of whatever properties happen to be open that weekend.
Searching for a home can be a fun experience. When you’re thinking of buying a home, every neighborhood is one big department store filled with stuff that you might want to buy. And most people like to go look at homes – indeed, any real estate agent can tell you that her open houses are often filled with people who aren’t even thinking of moving, but just like to “window-shop” what’s on the market.
And just as real shopping is more fun than window-shopping, actually looking for a new home for yourself is a lot more interesting that just checking out open houses. You get to explore new neighborhoods and imagine what it might be like to live there. You get to walk through a home visualizing yourself having dinner there, raising your family there, having parties there – basically, living there. Even more fun, you get to see how other people live, and render snarky judgments on their decorating choices!
So enjoy this part of the process. After all, once you find the home you want to buy, the fun ends and the hard slog of contracts and mortgage papers and moving begins.
What should you look for in a home? What makes a god investment? What will make you happy? Here are 10 things to keep in mind as you start your home search.
Before you get started in your home search, we wanted to share with you 10 fundamental principles about home buying that you might find helpful.
1) Get to know the market, but don’t take forever.
Very few people are lucky enough to find their perfect home in the first showing, or even in the first couple of showings. Indeed, finding your “dream home ” in the first showing can actually be counter-productive, because you’ll immediately think about all the other homes that might be EVEN BETTER that are still out there, without realizing that you lucked into the perfect home on the first try. So take your time to get to know your market and learn the inventory. Over time, you’ll get a sense of what you like and don’t like, and what’s a reasonable expectation given your price range. That said, of course, you should eventually come to the point that you’re confident in your read on the market, which is when you need to be ready to pull the trigger. Buyers who hold out for perfection often find the market passing them buy, as one great home after another gets snapped up while they’re deep in deliberation.
2) Buy something you love, but realize you won’t love everything about it.
Buying a home is like falling in love with your spouse. You go on the market, you check out the “inventory,” and you find someone that you absolutely love and want to spend the rest of your life with. But no matter how much you might love your spouse, you’re never going to love everything about him or her. It’s the same with buying a home. You’re buying a home for $350,000, and wish you could have that extra bedroom that the $500,000 house has. But that guy buying a $500,000 house really wishes he could afford the $700,000 house and get a bigger lot. And the guy buying the $700,000 house is frustrated that he can’t get the finished basement that’s available in the $900,000 house. It’s that way all the up the scale . It doesn’t matter what price range you’re in, because there’s always SOMETHING in that home you don’t like and wish you could change. But if you could change it, then the home would be worth a little more and then you wouldn’t be able to afford it. And if you COULD afford it, you’d move up in price range and find something new to aspire to – and to be disappointed with.
3) Buy value, or where you can add value.
When you’re buying a home, don’t be so focused on finding a “steal.” In an open market, it’s very tough to find something that is severely undervalued. More importantly, you don’t need to find a “steal,” you just need to find a home with value. And as you get to know the inventory, you’ll start to see where the values are. You might find value in a well-made home in a desirable area that you believe will appreciate well. Or you might find value in a home that is in an up-and-coming area that will develop over time and boost home prices. Moreover, you should look for a home where you can ADD value: a house that doesn’t show well because of it’s condition, but which will be worth much more once you make some cheap repairs and clean it up. Or a home with property taxes that are too high, but which you think you can get reduced with a grievance. Ultimately, in the kind of market we’re in right now, finding value is relatively easy, because property values are likely to increase across the board over the next few years.
4) Keep an open mind.
Most people start their home searches with a very firm idea of what they’re looking for. But you’d be surprised at how many of them end up buying a home that is completely different from the one they thought they’d be buying. Maybe they changed their location preferences once they got to know the areas better. Maybe they realized they didn’t want a big house yet, and decided to get a condo. Maybe they fell in love with an old-fashioned Victorian layout, even thought they started out wanting a modern floor plan. That happens all the time. So while it’s important for you to have a good sense of the kind of home you want, keep an open mind during your search process, and don’t be so fixed on those goals that you miss out on opportunities you might like.
5) You’re buying the home, not the furnishings.
Smart buyers have the ability to look past the superficial nature of how a home shows. Always remember that you’re buying the home itself. You’re not buying the furnishings. You’re not buying the clutter. You’re not buying the condition: the smell of cat urine, the stained carpets, the dirty windows. All those things leave with the sellers, leaving the home itself behind. When you see something that’s cluttered, or dirty, or poorly laid out, try to look past it. See it with the eyes of a real estate professional , someone who looks at properties and just sees the location, the square footage, the amenities, the layout. Those all stay with the property. The clutter and the smells? They don’t. And it goes the other way, too. If the home is beautifully staged, don’t be so overwhelmed that you forget to think about how it will look once you’re actually living there. It might seem roomy only because the sellers took out all the clutter that you’re going to be putting in! Pay for the home, not the staging.
6) Buy within your means.
When you sit down with your loan officer, you’ll get a sense of how much home you can afford, and establish your price range. But that doesn”t mean you absolutely have to spend that much. Lots of buyers purchase a home that’s below the price range they could otherwise afford, particularly if they are first-time buyers who are looking to move up within five to seven years. They’d rather make the investment that allows them to save some money both in their down payment and their monthly costs, so they can continue to save toward a larger down payment for their next home. Or maybe it’s just that they want to be sure they can make their payments while still building a “rainy day” fund. Either way, don’t feel obligated to spend up to your maximum.
7) You’re buying not just a home, but a neighborhood.
You’ve probably heard the expression, “don’t buy the best home on the block.” Why? Because it will be tough to sell, and you’ll never get the best price for it. But that’s a little misleading. Yes, if you buy the best home on the block, you’ll never get the kind of appreciation you’d get if the home were in a nicer neighborhood. But if the home were in a nicer area, it would cost you more in the first place! The better way to think about this is to simply remember that when you buy a home, you’re buying a neighborhood, and the value of your home will reflect the quality of that neighborhood. If the area goes up or down in value, so will your home. If the area changes, for better or worse, so will your property value – regardless of whether you have the best or worst home on the block.
8) Buy with an idea of what it will be like to sell.
Generally speaking, you always want to own a home that has broad appeal. The more buyers who might be interested in purchasing that home, the better the chances of both finding a buyer and getting a good price when you sell it. That’s why some agents will counsel you to avoid homes that are too quirky or idiosyncratic – because it can be tough to find buyers for them. That said, sometimes homes with narrow appeal are easy to sell precisely because their features align perfectly with the needs of a small but dependable group of potential buyers. After all, if you love the home, then other people will probably love it as well. Just go in with your eyes open that someday you’re going to have to sell that home, and there might not be a whole lot of people with your particular tastes.
9) Buy for your time frame.
We never advise people to “flip” homes unless they are professional investors. Flipping is just too expensive to make sense for the everyday home buyer. The investment of time and closing costs makes moving every few years prohibitively expensive, so be prepared to stay in your new home at least five years. That means finding something that will be able to handle your needs for the foreseeable future, both in terms of size and location. So when you buy, think about your time frame. If you’re planning on being in your home for fewer than five years, you might consider continuing to rent until you’re ready for a longer commitment.
10) A home is an investment, but it’s not JUST an investment.
Everyone says that buying a home is one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make. And that’s true. But it’s also a place where you’re going to live. So keep that in mind as you start your home search. Yes, you want to buy value. Yes, you want to think about what it will be like to sell that home. But most importantly, you want to buy something that’s going to make you happy for the time that you live there. If you end up falling in love with a home that has quirks, or is in a neighborhood that might not appreciate, so what? If you’re going to love living there for the next seven to ten years, buy it. We only have one life. We might as well like where we’re living it.
Conclusion: Dealing with Buyer’s Remorse
Finally, one last thing. No matter what you buy, no matter how good a deal you get, no matter how much you love it, you’re going to at some point feel a pang of buyer’s remorse. Recognize that for what it is – a small part of your brain that is playing games with you. Buyer’s remorse is normal. When you start to feel it, just write down all the reasons why you’re buying this home. Once you start doing that, the feeling will probably go away.
The first step in your home search process is setting yourself up on RandRealty.com, the premier real estate website in our region. In this section, you’ll find out about all the features on the site and learn how to register so that you can get email alerts for your saved searches and properties.
The Rand organization has always been one of the leading technology companies in real estate, recognized throughout the industry as a cutting-edge pioneer committed to providing our agents and clients with the best tools possible. The centerpiece of our dedication to technological innovation is randrealty.com, our award-winning website providing the best real estate search and property display features available in the industry.
The randrealty.com site has long been at the leading edge of the regional real estate industry. We were the first company to provide full multiple listing inventory, the first to add multiple pictures, the first to provide mapping and address information, the first to adopt blogging and social media integration. We are constantly innovating the site, adding new features and capabilities designed to provided our clients with the best experience possible.
Today, randrealty.com gives you access to every property for sale through all the multiple listing systems in the region, with powerful, intuitive and easy search features. We also provide access to innumerable resources that you might need during your home search, including market data, school reports, and even design and decorating videos and articles from Better Homes and Gardens.
Here are some of the feature highlights of randrealty.com:
•All the listings. Randrealty.com is one of the few places you can go to get listings of the entire regional area, so you don’t have to look in different places if your search takes you across a county or state border.
•Powerful search tools. You can do quick searches right from the home page, or do an advanced search to pinpoint the types of homes you are looking for, including multiple area searches with simple check boxes (not those “hold down the CTRL-key while you….”-type systems).
•Open house listings. Open house listings are updated every week if you want to narrow your search just to homes available for public viewing that weekend.
•Community Insight. If you want to research the local area, you can find comprehensive demographic reports and school information for all our communities and school districts. And you should also check out Community Heartbeat, our lifestyle blog for our local communities, featuring local attractions, village and town profiles, and picture tours.
Ultimately, our goal is to make randrealty. com your bookmarked site for anything you need to know about local real estate, not only during your home search but after you close. Indeed, the site gets almost two million yearly visitors, about 100 times the number of people who buy a home in our region every year, which means that most of the visitors to our site aren’t even in the market to buy a home.
Property Detail Page
Once you’re done your searches on randrealty.com, you’ll notice the elegant, intuitive design of the property detail pages, which provide all the information available from the multiple listing system, and even more information for the many listings with our company. In addition, we have integrated a number resources into the site to give you features like mapping, demographic information, market data, and school information.
Here are some of the highlight features of the property detail pages:
•Up to 50 high-resolution photos. We display all the photos provided by the MLS in the highest resolution possible, with up to 50 photos available for our own listings.
•Full property descriptions. Unlike some sites, we do not have a maximum character count for our property descriptions, so you won’t miss out on a particularly lengthy home profile.
•Property addresses and mapping. Every listing has the property address and all Google map features, so you can see where the home is, toggle to a satellite view of the property on Google Earth, and get driving directions. The satellite views are particularly helpful for getting a sense of the property line and dimensions.
•The Toolbox. Every local area has its own “toolbox,” which is a collection of school reports, demographic information, and a community tour from the Community Heartbeat blog, so you can do in-depth research of that individual property.
•Sharing and printing options. You can share any property via email, or on any of a myriad of social media sites. You can also print an informational flyer if you want to get a copy of the property for your files.
•Saving options. You can save the property to your “favorites ” list to track it and register for email alerts on it.
Most importantly, randrealty.com provides you with all the information we can get from the local multiple listing system. We don’t prioritize our own listings, manipulate search results, or penalize other brokers by limiting the information we’ll provide on their listings, because that would not be a good service to you – the user of the site. We want you to feel comfortable relying on the information on randrealty.com as the most up-to-date, comprehensive, and accurate property information available on properties for sale in your area.
Using National Real Estate Sites
We truly believe that randrealty.com is the single best real estate website for doing home searches in our local region. If you want proof, just do some searches on randrealty.com, and then check the results, and the information displayed on the property detail pages, against any of our competitors – even the national sites.
Indeed, many of our clients come to us after using national real estate sites like Zillow, Trulia, or Realtor.com. Those are great websites, and we partner with them to display our listings, but they can’t compare to the sheer number of listings , the depth of informational detail on those listings, and the accuracy of randrealty.com. After all , the most important feature for any real estate website is timely, comprehensive, complete, and accurate data of the homes for sale, and none of the national sites have or display the amount of property information that we do:
•They don’t have all the listings. Brokers can (and often do) opt out of providing their listings to national sites, so those sites don’t have all the listings that are available on randrealty.com.
•They don’t provide all the listing information. Those sites make money by charging brokers to “upgrade” their listings with full displays of all the pictures and listing information. Some brokers don’t pay, so the sites often present a minimal number of pictures or truncated information.
•They are often inaccurate. The MLS inventories of properties for sale are huge and complex databases, and data errors are unavoidable. We look out for these errors and fix them when we find them, but the national sites have to monitor hundreds of MLS systems and can’t possibly keep the same level of attention that we can.
•Their search results are often misleading. Most of the sites, again based on their business models, manipulate search results to put certain properties higher in the results, which can often cause you to miss homes that might be more relevant to your query – but which did not pay to get a priority placement. All search results on randrealty .com display by default in price order from high to low.
The bottom line is that you’ll find more listings, with greater and more accurate information, on rand realty.com. With all that said , though, we certainly work with many clients who use both our site and one or more of the national sites, so you should do your research on whatever site works best for you.
Using the Site
•Saved Properties. You can save any property you’re viewing on the site by clicking the “Save Listing” link right underneath the photographs. That property will be saved to “My Homepage”, and you’ll get an email alert when any information on that property changes (e.g., price changes, new photos, etc.).
•Saved Searches. You can set up a saved search anytime you use the “Search” function on the site. Just be sure to check off the box labeled “Save this “Search” before you hit the “Search” button. Saved searches are great for two reasons: first, because they allow you to run a search right from your “My Homepage” without having to re-enter the criteria every time; and second, because those searches will generate email alerts to you anytime there’s a change to a property responsive to the search.
•Email Alerts. Whenever you get a “hit” on a saved search, or whenever information on a saved property changes, you’ll get an email alert at the email address you registered with. Make sure to add the “@randrealty.com” email domain to your “safe senders” list on your email account, to avoid having the emails mislabeled as spam. Also, it’s a good idea to set up a “smart folder” on your email account to segregate your randrealty.com email, so that you can find it easily and it doesn’t clutter up your inbox.