5 Steps to Buying a Home
There’s a lot to know when it comes to buying a home in Chicago. Whether you’re buying your first condo, moving to a bigger house or downsizing, our in-depth Buying Guide will take you through all the steps. Click through the tabs above to find out how to:
- Get pre-approved for a mortgage, make important financing decisions and choose a lender
- House hunt like a pro, online and in person
- Make an offer and not be intimidated by the paperwork, negotiations or bidding wars
- Be prepared for the closing process and costs so you don’t get caught off-guard
Step 1 – Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage
In today’s home-buying environment, a mortgage pre-approval is essential. It not only lets you know what you can afford to buy, but also demonstrates to sellers that you are a willing and able buyer. What’s more, it gives you an important head start in securing an actual loan commitment.
There’s a lot to know when it comes to financing your new home, condo or co-op. You’ll need to get pre-approved for a mortgage, make some important financing decisions and of course, eventually choose a lender.
There’s a reason we put this section first: the first step to buying a property in Chicago should be finding out how much your bank is willing to lend you. When you pre-qualify for a mortgage, your lender will look at your income, your debts and your down payment. It’s important to take that pre-qualification to the next level before you fall in love with a house by getting pre-approved for a mortgage. A mortgage pre-approval will be in writing (generally valid for 90 or 120 days) and will require you to prove your income and credit history. Pre-approvals will include an interest rate guarantee.
Of course, a pre-approval is not a guarantee that a lender will lend you a certain amount of money for any home. Lenders want to know that the home they are purchasing with you (by lending you the money) is worth what you paid. In Chicago, banks generally order independent appraisals of a home before they advance the mortgage money.
Getting pre-approved will ensure that you know how much mortgage you can get, which in turn will help you know what price range of homes you should be targeting in your search. It allows you to focus your house hunting efforts, and eliminates the risk and uncertainty of financing once you find your perfect home.
Step 2 – Househunting
Let the fun begin! Whether you’re searching online, hitting open houses or searching with a REALTOR, hunting for your dream home is both a science and an art. Here’s what’s involved:
Develop your Wish List
Knowing what you need and want in your home is critical. What are your must-haves, your nice-to-haves, and your no-way-absolutely-nots? How many bedrooms do you need? What kind of outdoor space do you want? What about counter-tops, appliances and floors? You can’t get what you want if you don’t know what you want. Of course, location will be a big decision – what Chicago neighborhood makes you feel at home? Check out my Chicago Neighborhood Guides for some insider scoop on Chicago’s hottest neighborhoods.
Of course in a competitive market like Chicago’s, compromise is a big part of the process. Almost everyone needs to compromise on something, and it usually comes down to 4 things: size, finishes, location and price. What’s most important to you? Would you rather live in a bigger house or closer to downtown? Are you OK spending more money for a renovated property or could you buy a cheaper home and do the renovations yourself? Would you consider living on a busy street to more affordably be in a better neighborhood with access to better schools?
Pick your Team
Buying a home or condo will likely be the biggest purchase you’ll ever make – but don’t worry, you don’t need to do it alone. You’ll want to start by picking a Great Chicago Real Estate Agent who works exclusively for YOU. You’ll also need a lender to take you through your financing options, and a lawyer to help with the legal aspects of the purchase. There are thousands of professionals out there (of varying quality), so ask your friends and family for recommendations, do your research and don’t be afraid to interview multiple people.
Searching for Homes and Condos Online
You aren’t alone: 94% of American’s search for their home online. While there are endless real estate websites out there, here are the ones you should consider:
Realtor.com is the website owned by the real estate association. It pulls available properties for sale directly from the system that agents use, the MLS (multiple listing services). realtor.com is usually a day or two behind what’s happening in the market, but a great tool to explore what’s for sale and start to get a feel for what’s available.
Leslie’s home search tool – Of course I am biased, but my home search tool pulls property listings directly from the MLS every 2 hours and includes a lot more information than what you’ll find on realtor.com. You can also search by a specific Chicago Public School! You can set up a custom home search for yourself that will automatically e-mail you listings that match whatever criteria you set, so you never miss a listing. Click here to check it out or set up a property search for yourself.
My client’s also receive off-market listings (not on the MLS) as well as custom daily listings of available properties that match what you’re looking for.
Tips for Looking for a Home Online
- Keep an open mind. Photos aren’t always representative of what the house looks like in real life.
- Don’t always believe the description and read between the lines. ‘Ready to put your decorator touch on it’ means it needs a lot of work.
- Remember that the asking price is different than the sale price. If you want to know actual sale prices, sign up for my Monthly Neighborhood Reports that give you all the inside scoop.
- If you’re shopping for a condo, keep in mind that what’s included in the maintenance fees varies from building to building, so it isn’t easy to compare condos. A lower maintenance fee might still mean more monthly costs if it doesn’t include heat and electricity.
- Take some time to learn how to read an MLS listing – all those acronyms are guaranteed to confuse you.
House Hunting in Real Life
This is your opportunity to get a feel for the different Chicago neighborhoods, refine your wish list, and ask questions. While a wish list seems kind of scientific and is a useful tool in deciding which properties to visit, the truth of the matter is that most people walk into their perfect home and just feel it. Of course, it helps when it satisfies your needs and wants too, but don’t underestimate the power of ‘just knowing’.
You can visit homes for sale in real life with your real estate agent or by attending an open house. Keep in mind that not all properties will have open houses, so working with a real estate agent you trust the only way to guarantee that you’ll be able to see the properties you want to see (and on your schedule!).
Tips for Looking for a Home in Real Life
- Make a plan. Chicago is a big city, and if you’re like most people, you have a few target neighborhoods. Try to focus on one neighborhood at a time and don’t forget about traffic and the time it’ll take you to parallel park.
- Car pool. If you’re looking at properties with a real estate agent, let them do the driving. Your attention is better focused on the actual neighborhoods rather than when to turn left.
- Wear slip on/slip off shoes. Seriously. You’ll be taking your shoes off dozens of times, so save yourself the hassle of lace up shoes.
- Don’t just focus on the house or condo, focus on the neighborhood. Drive around the neighborhood. Locate the schools, parks and grocery stores. Take a walk down the street and check out the neighbors. Make a point of going to a café or restaurant in the area.
- Vary the time of day that you house hunt. Everything looks better when the sun is shining, but it’s important to get a feel for the house or condo and the neighborhood during the day AND at night.
- Experience the bad with the good. Every neighborhood has its drawbacks, so make a plan to experience them. Thinking of buying a house near the train tracks? Check it out during rush hour when most of the trains are running.
- Take notes and photos. It’s surprising how quickly you can forget the first home or condo you saw. Just don’t go posting them online.
- See past the gross. You’ll probably be surprised to find out how some people live, but don’t let someone’s bad decorating styles, outdated tastes and lack of housekeeping get in the way of finding your perfect Chicago house or condo.
- Don’t fall in love with the seller’s stuff. This happens all the time and that beautifully staged condo won’t look nearly as great with all your IKEA stuff in it. Try to imagine your furniture and style.
How Leslie can Help you Hunt for a Home
- I’ll help you match what you want with the greatest opportunity for ROI. Together we’ll examine your needs, wants and must-haves to create a picture of your ideal home or investment property.
- We’ll stay on top of new properties in the best Chicago neighborhoods as they come on and off the market. I’ll send you daily listings of what’s available and monitor what’s happening, as it happens.
- I’ll be your house-hunting partner on YOUR schedule. I can take you to see any property that’s for sale and sometimes even ones that aren’t.
- I’ll save you time. I can preview properties on your behalf and screen what is or is not for you, saving you time and hassle. I can send you video profiles of what we’re seeing – or better yet, you can follow along via Skype or Facetime.
Step 3 - Making an Offer
Your house hunting efforts have paid off, and you’ve found the right home for you: it satisfies your wants/needs, it’s in your price range, and it feels right. The offer process is both exciting and nerve-wracking When you find a home, it’s important to act quickly and make an educated offer based on the strategies we’ve discussed. I will draw up a contract that includes your offer price and other terms and contingencies. Here are some of the most common elements of a real estate contract:
Price – The market will determine the final price, but I will help you formulate an offer based on current market conditions and comparable listings and sales.
Mortgage Contingency – A mortgage contingency stipulates that you will buy the home subject to obtaining a mortgage. If you cannot obtain a mortgage, and the seller will not agree to finance the sale, then the contract will be void.
Home Inspection Contingency – A thorough inspection of the property by a licensed home inspector protects you against structural or material problems that may not be detectable in a casual
Attorney Approval – Attorney approval is generally a one-week period in which your attorney can review the contract and suggest alterations to help protect you from any undue obligations. An attorney’s review is always highly recommended.
Earnest Money – Earnest money is a deposit, given to the seller, which secures the contract until the closing. If the sale does not go through due to contingencies covered in the contract, then the earnest money may be returned to the buyer.
Closing Date – This is usually the date the seller must vacate and the buyer may occupy the property. Flexibility on the closing date can give a buyer a big advantage cover other potential buyers.
Negotiate counteroffers – In most transactions, there’s a fair amount of offers and counteroffers. Your broker will draw upon his or her experience and market knowledge to offer sound advice during a negotiation, and he or she can also serve as a buffer between the buyer and the seller/seller’s broker.
Contract to Closing - There are dozens of loose ends to tie up between signing the contract and closing the sale. I will coordinate and oversee the following steps:
- Deliver earnest money with the seller or seller’s agent
- Recommend and schedule a home inspector and accompany the buyer on the inspection
- Recommend real estate attorneys
- Obtain important documents, such as property disclosure forms and condominium documents (budget, declaration, condo association minutes), and deliver them to the buyer and buyer’s attorney
- Recommend mortgage brokers and help expedite the loan-application process
- Monitor all contingencies to ensure that they have been met
- Recommend service providers for moving, home-improvement and repairs
- Schedule a final walk-through. Both the buyer and buyer’s agent should be present
- Coordinate and attend your closing
Step 4 - Closing
As you go through the process of buying a home, you’ll naturally want to know how much money this will cost you. Your attorney, accountant and real estate agent can help you estimate your costs. Some of the things you can expect to pay are these Closing Costs.
I will work closely with you, your lender, your attorney, and the seller’s broker to make sure everything is in place for a smooth and efficient closing. Typically, a day or two prior to the closing, your lender will forward all loan documentation to the title company and let you know the amount required to close. You will be responsible for bringing the balance of your down payment and closing costs (such as lender fees, title company, fees, and state and city transfer taxes) to the closing in the form of a cashier’s check. At the closing, your attorney will guide you through the documents you need to sign, including the bill of sale, the deed, and the affidavit of title.
Step 5 - After you Buy
One of my core values is “Everything is Relationship”. I maintain relationships with my clients long after the closing. That means I’m always glad to help you find service providers and tradesmen to perform work on your home or just make life a little easier. As you’re getting settled, here are a few situations you may encounter in the coming months and years that are important to think about.
• Rebuilding Your Savings and Maintaining Financial Discipline – It’s important to set up an automatic electronic payment with your mortgage lender, to avoid costly penalties associated with late payments. Buyers should also make a plan for gradually rebuilding their savings account.
• Refinancing – Keep an eye on interest rates even after you purchase your home. If rates go down, you may be able to save money by refinancing. Keep in mind refinancing is a major financial transaction with important implications. So be just as diligent in a refinance as you were in securing your original mortgage.
• Home Improvement – Most new homeowners have at least a few projects they want to tackle once they move in. Please feel free to use my Preferred Vendor List to help you find a variety of service providers to perform work on your home.