Purchasing a home is stressful. There are an overwhelming number of choices, plus a lot of money is at stake. All those real estate contracts, mortgage applications, disclosure forms and other documents seem to be written in a foreign language—and you have to sign them. Yikes!
Then, when you begin looking at homes, you regret the money you've spent on other things because you wish you had a bigger down payment. And it's hard not to look at houses that are just a little out of your reach.
That's a lot of fear, guilt, envy and stress to contend with. But don't worry. You can buy a house without going crazy yourself or driving your spouse nuts in the process. Here's a little insider advice.
- Find a good real estate agent. Ask friends for recommendations. Check the papers to see who's doing business in the neighborhoods you're interested in. Talk to more than one agent until you find one you like, then stick with that agent.
- Create a team. In addition to a real estate agent, you'll need a mortgage loan officer, a real estate attorney and a home inspector. Good advisors relieve a lot of the stress.
- Get your mortgage loan first. The suspenseful "will we get the loan?" question is eliminated if you get your mortgage commitment before you start looking at houses. That makes you more like a cash buyer, and it gives you better negotiating leverage.
- Know the market value of the house you're buying. Most states will allow your agent to prepare a Comparative Market Analysis for you—the same type of market value assessment agents prepare for sellers. That way, you know what the seller knows.
- Don't lowball. If you start out with an insultingly low offer, it's harder to reach that win-win compromise for both buyer and seller.
- When you make an offer, instead of approaching the current homeowners with a lower number and then giving reasons why you thought their price was too high, consider offering their full price, but asking them for cash back to cover the improvements you consider necessary, the closing costs and other expenses. It's a matter of semantics. Even though they're not technically getting their full asking price, sellers enjoy telling friends they "got their price."
- If you truly believe you've found the right house, grab it! If you hesitate to close the deal over a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars, you might regret it later.
The Homebuyer's Rollercoaster
There's a definite pattern of emotions that couples experience as they purchase a home. Anticipating those phases will help you get through them together.
- Excitement and disappointment. When you begin your house hunt, your expectations and your excitement levels are high. It's often disappointing, however, when you see what you can buy for the money you have to spend.
- Adjustments. When reality hits, you have to adjust your thinking. With a more realistic outlook your excitement returns.
- Urgency and insecurity. When you find the right house, the sense of urgency is almost unbearable. You're sure someone else will buy it right out from under you.
- Second guessing. Negotiating is the hardest part of the process. Once you've made your offer, you wait—and worry, "Is our offer too low? Is it too high?"
- Thrill, remorse and renewed excitement. When the sellers accept your offer (or you accept their counter offer) you're thrilled. But when the adrenaline leaves your system (usually about 2 a.m.) you'll reach an absolute low and wonder (or shout), "What have we done?!" That's a common reaction—and it should pass by morning, allowing the excitement to return.
As you get ready to start your house hunt, you might want to read one of these helpful books: 10 Steps to Home Ownership (by Ilyce Glink, Random House), The 201 Questions Every Homebuyer and Homeseller Must Ask (Edith Lank, Dearborn) or The Home Buying Game (Julie Garton-Good, Dearborn Financial Publishing).
If you do your homework, seek good counsel and keep talking to each other, you'll end up loving your house—and you'll be glad you didn't drive each other crazy in the process.
Vince DePaul is a Realtor with Starck & Co., based in Bloomingdale, Illinois. He teaches at the College of DuPage and hosts radio programs on real estate in the Chicago area.
1998 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. For reprint information call 630-260-6200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.