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IGNORE THE ASKING PRICE WHEN BUYING DREAM HOME

Finally, you've found just the right house to buy. lf you've been working with an experienced buyer's broker and a good loan officer, now is when your foresight will pay off.

Your biggest problem is how much to offer. Most buyers make their offers too high, says Joseph Eamon Cummins, author of "Not One Dollar More!" (Kells Media Group, $19.95).Ignore the asking price. To pinpoint the "market" price, your agent should give you a printout of all comparable closed sales in the past six months.

Never be embarrassed to make a fair offer. And allow yourself some bargaining room; your offer should be at least 5 percent below what you believe is the true market value of the house.

The "offer" becomes a binding contract the moment the buyer signs it, so get all your protections in early. Make sure your contract is contingent on an acceptable home inspection, which you'll pay for. Don't take the seller's or an agent's word on the condition of the house and appliances, even though many states require sellers to fill out disclosures.

Make your offer contingent on an independent appraisal, which your lender will require. Otherwise, the appraisal could come lower and you'd still be required to buy the house.

If you aren't already preapproved for a mortgage, make the deal contingent on your ability to get a loan. Cap the interest rate you're willing to accept.

Spell out anything that you expect to come with the house, including such often-contested items as washing machines and air-conditioners.

Be prepared for the seller to counter your offer with one that he or she finds more favorable in terms of price, points, closing date or contingencies. That process can continue until both sides are satisfied.

At the closing, you will be asked if you want to pay for a title-insurance policy that covers you and the owner (separate from a policy that covers the lender). Costs vary by location, but you'd pay $300 or more for a $100,000 house.

Take the coverage. The policy will protect you if, say, a long-lost ex-spouse of the seller lays claim to the title.

You will also have to get a homeowners insurance policy. The lender won't release the funds unless it's sure its collateral - your new house - is protected by insurance.