So...You want to buy a house?

The Tour

By Sara W.Peterson

The Tour is a formalized version of the search. The area has been narrowed and the selection has been updated. We are armed with specific information concerning the houses that are felt to best meet the needs of you and your family. Specific appointments are instituted for the selected houses. A new book is created with just these houses in it. In addition to the active listings in the book, there will be a printout of neighborhood activity included in the book. This information generally covers withdrawn and expired activity; current pending sales; settled information.

This level of information allows you access to trends and developments that are currently happening in the area which could affect your buying decision. Are there a lot of short sales happening? Is the turnover swift or slow? What is impacting these events? Is the market itself slow or is it something specific about the area? In addition you will have a complete list of all active listings whether they meet your current criteria or not. That way when you drive by a house that has a flyer outside with no price on it, you can find it on your list and satisfy your curiosity.

It is generally better from our point of view to have the initial viewing with the house empty of its occupants. That isn't always possible, but it allows you the greatest freedom to explore what may become your new home and to comment without fear of offending the current owner. Scheduling more than fifteen homes is something to be avoided if at all possible as it truly interferes with your ability to assimilate what you are seeing.

We generally begin tours around 9:00 in the morning from your home, or anyplace convenient, where we go over what we are going to see and then get started about 9:30. We try not to enter any occupied home before 10:00 in the morning. If a home is vacant, then of course, any time that is best for you is suitable to begin. We try to end the tour around 4:00 in the afternoon. This gives you enough time to wind up the day without any undue stress and have a nice evening. If there are specific time constraints that have to be met, then of course, they will be met. But remember, rushed decisions are generally not as good as well-considered ones. So we try to reduce stress and crowding. Generally, we will either do another set of appointments the next day or go back to those that haven't been eliminated on the first day.

We will try to have a choice, but usually one house will stand out from the others as a favorite. More information is required before any kind of decision or offer can be made. What is the specific history of this property? When was it sold? What kind of insulation and energy features does it have? Should we call for an Energy Audit? Will a home inspection work or should we go for a structural report? Should the sellers be asked to bear some of this cost? Would an FHA 203K lend itself to this house? What are the schools that your children would attend like in this area? A telephone call to the local sheriff's department or local police department for crime statistics is in order. All these elements plus many more go into making a decision on whether to try buying the home and what to offer the sellers.

Although no home is perfect, many steps can be taken to make sure that you are going into this with your eyes wide open and as knowledgeable about a particular piece of property as you can possibly be. There are many paths available to update an older home not only to give it a more modern look but also to update the energy system within the house to lower your overall operating costs. This can range from something as simple as caulking around the windows to installing new windows and a more efficient heating and cooling system.

A Cautionary Note About Older Homes: Regardless of how diligent we are in attempting to discover everything material to the condition of the home, there are things that always pop-up afterwards. Sometimes they were known by the sellers and not held at the same level of importance as you, sometimes they are artifacts from previous sellers. If you want to really reduce your risk with this, the best choice is to buy new construction, develop a rapport with the site construction supervisor and visit the under-construction house daily. Even this level of personal inspection is no guarantee, but it does help tremendously to eliminate the unknowns.

Typical of surprises found with an older home are things like discovering strong pet urine smells after cleaning the carpets immediately upon moving in, and then pulling-up the carpet to discover under-carpet floor damage that was undisclosed. Whose fault is this? The sellers who may have assumed that since there were cats or a litter box in the house when you visited that you understood the risk? Your home inspector who didn't see the cat or litter box ? Me? Remember I was with you when we did our inspection and we talked about everything we saw. You? Unless you're Superman or Superwoman with x-ray eyes, I think not.

If you are buying a used home, you must set your expectations accordingly. I'll guarantee you that things have broken and some, but not all, have been fixed properly. Sellers have an obligation to disclose the problems and repairs, if any. But as they say, the devil is in the details. They may not have really known about the situation. They may not consider some things as important as you. They may have honestly forgotten. They may even be intentionally trying to conceal it from you. No matter what really occurred (overlooking, underrating, or fraud), the problem must still be dealt with by all of us to achieve a resolution.

Sometimes, when a problem is brought to the sellers' attention, they step up to the plate and, if documented and approached properly, fulfill their responsibilities as they should. Unfortunately it is often a battle. Sellers think that that part of their life is complete and they go straight into denial and leave you holding the proverbial bag and having nightmares over what should otherwise be a happy home.

For an older home, you are best served by planning to replace the carpet as well as the padding and painting the interior immediately after taking possession if you have any concerns at all about smells or allergies. Assuming that the interior paint will need some retouching is also a good bet after the movers get done with their work.

For the structure and appliances, we recommend a home warranty with a great big caveat. The home warranty companies that write these policies can be very hard to collect from. This places a major question mark in the value equation of whether to purchase coverage. If you are in a position to have the cash reserves to deal with major items failing, consider the risk/reward situation carefully before accepting or declining coverage. If you do not have the cash reserves, then probably the best choice is to accept coverage and be prepared to fight to collect on it if you have a claim.

These policies are should cover the major costs either to repair, or replace, at the insurer's option, a refrigerator, air conditioner compressor, etc. However, they do take very narrow interpretations of what they are covering. We'll help you fight with them, but we want you to understand up front that you may have to involve your attorney in an attempt to collect. If you have a legal services plan in place, this may be easier to swallow.

You must take this into consideration in your selection process before jumping too far ahead if you want to avoid problems later and have your home of choice meet your expectations. The objective is to live happily ever after. You can do this if your expectations are set appropriately, you understand and plan for the risks and possible problems, whether you buy a new or pre-owned home.

One other point, you will fall in love with a home and eventually move into it. Be prepared for someone you know and care for very much to point out everything that they see as a defect or deficiency from their "expert" point of view. This is normal, although abysmal, behavior for some people. If you have done your homework, you should feel confident in your selection and a gentle reminder that it is your hard-earned money and not theirs that is involved may bring them back to earth.

Sometimes one of the houses you are interested in is not listed with a Realtor� but by the owner -- commonly known as a FSBO (For Sale By Owner). We'll get the particulars for you and arrange for you to get in to see the house. When faced with a buyer wanting to purchase a FSBO, the traditional agent generally switches hats, convincing the sellers to give them a limited listing, thus becoming a dual agent and ceasing to represent you solely as the client. Often in these instances they negotiate a commission for themselves from the seller that is much more than what they would have received for acting as your agent dealing with an un-represented seller. This goes down in our book as double-dealing but they see it as the normal business practice of dual-agency. You just happened to lose in the process.

Other times you know exactly what you want to buy but it isn't on the market whether it be a specific home or group of homes in the neighborhood. When this happens -- fear not, we will contact the owner or group of owners and let them know that we have a client that is interested in purchasing their home, subject to viewing, inspections, an all of the rest of course, requesting the opportunity to discuss the situation with them. We strive to have them open their home to us for viewing if they are at all interested in the possibility of selling. If you like it, we can then start negotiations.

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