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Chris Kershisnik

Licensed Realtor in Maryland, Virginia, and DC

Office: (301) 540-2232     Email Me

Homebuyer Guide


One of the keys to making the home buying process easier and more understandable is planning. In doing so, you'll be able to anticipate requests from lenders, lawyers and a host of other professionals. Furthermore, planning will help you discover valuable shortcuts in the home buying process.

  1. Do You Have The Money?
  2. How do you get pre-approval?
  3. What kind of loan?
  4. How do you get a loan?
  5. Why use a Realtor?
  6. What are you looking for?
  7. How much should I offer?
  8. How do you make an offer?
  9. How many inspections?
  10. Insurance: What kind and how much?
  11. How do you get insurance?
  12. What to expect at settlement?
  13. What you need to do.
  14. Congrats! You've bought a home!
  15. Moving in
  16. Your home, your money


Know What You Want

Whether you are a first-time homebuyer or entering the marketplace as a repeat buyer, you need to ask why you want to buy. Are you planning to move to a new community due to a lifestyle change or is buying an option and not a requirement? What would you like in terms of real estate that you do not now have? Do you have a purchasing timeframe? Whatever your answers, the more you know about the real estate marketplace, the more likely you are to effectively define your goals.


Do You Have The Money? Back to Top

Homes and financing are closely intertwined. Financing is the difference between the purchase price and the down payment, commonly referred to as debt or the mortgage. The good news is that over the years new and innovative loan programs have evolved which require a 5 percent down payment or less. In fact, a number of programs now allow purchasers to buy real estate with nothing down.

In addition to a down payment, purchasers also need cash for closing costs (the final costs associated with closing the loan). Several newly emerging loan programs not only allow the purchase of a home with no money down, but also underwrite closing costs.

Not everyone, however, elects to purchase with little or no money down. Less money down translates to higher monthly mortgage payments, so most homebuyers choose to buy with some cash up front.

As to closing costs, in markets where buyers have leverage, it may be possible to negotiate an offer for a home that requires the owner to pay some or all of your settlement expenses.


How do you get pre-approval? Back to Top

"Pre-approval" means you have met with a loan officer, your credit files have been reviewed and the loan officer believes you can readily qualify for a given loan amount with one or more specific mortgage programs. Based on this information, the lender will provide a pre-approval letter, which shows your borrowing power. You can visit as many lenders as you like and get several pre-approvals, but keep in mind that each one carries with it a new credit check, which will show up on future credit reports.

Although not a final loan commitment, the pre-approval letter can be shown to listing brokers when bidding on a home. It demonstrates your financial strength and shows that you have the ability to go through with a purchase. This information is important to owners since they do not want to accept an offer that is likely to fail because financing cannot be obtained.

We also recommend pre-approvals for another reason: Purchase forms often require buyers to apply for financing within a given time period, in many cases, seven to 10 days. By meeting with a loan officer in advance and identifying mortgage programs, it won't be necessary to quickly find a lender, check credit, and rush into a financing decision that may not be the best option


What kind of loan? Back to Top

There are thousands of loans available out there from a variety of lenders, but in general, the mortgage you choose will likely be determined by at least several key factors:

How much down? Loans with 5 percent down or less are now widely available -- in fact, loans from major lenders with no money down have appeared in recent years.

If you place less than 20 percent down, lenders will want the mortgage guaranteed by an outside third party such as the Veterans Administration (VA), the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or a private mortgage insurer (PMI, or private mortgage insurance, is required by lender to protect against any mortgage defaults). More than 2.5 million VA, FHA and PMI loans are generated each year.

How's your credit? The best rates and terms are only available to those with solid credit. To get the best loans, make a point of paying credit cards, installment payments, rent and mortgage bills in full and on time.

Are you a first-time buyer? It might seem that "first-time buyer" means someone who has never owned property before, but under most state programs, the term refers to those who have not owned property within the past three years. State-backed first-timer programs often feature smaller down payments and below-market interest rates.


How do you get a loan? Back to Top

To obtain a loan you must complete a written loan application and provide supporting documentation. Specific documents include recent pay stubs, rental checks and tax returns for the past two or three years if you are self-employed. During the prequalification procedure, the loan officer will describe the type of paperwork required.


Why use a Realtor? Back to Top

Buying and selling real estate is a complex matter. At first it might seem that by checking local picture books or online sites you could quickly find the right home at the right price.

But a basic rule in real estate is that all properties are unique. No two properties -- even two identical models on the same street -- are precisely and exactly alike. Homes differ and so do contract terms, financing options, inspection requirements and closing costs. Also, no two transactions are alike.

In this maze of forms, financing, inspections, marketing, pricing and negotiating, it makes sense to work with professionals who know the community and much more. That is where we come in!


What are you looking for? Back to Top

A home is more than just a collection of bedrooms and bathrooms. Several properties -- each with four bedrooms, three baths, and the same price -- may well represent radically different designs, commuting distances, lot sizes, tax costs, interior dimensions, and exterior finishes.

Each home is different and so it's important to list the features and benefits you want in a home. Consider such things as pricing, location, size, amenities (extras such as a pool or extra-large kitchen) and design (one floor or two, colonial or modern, etc.).

Next, it's important to consider your priorities. If you can't get a home at your price with all the features you want, then what features are most important? For instance, would you trade fewer bedrooms for a larger kitchen, or a longer commute for a bigger lot and lower cost?

Finally, consider your needs in several years. If you'll need a larger home, maybe now is the time to buy a bigger house rather than moving or expanding in the future. I f you expect your income to increase, perhaps you should consider a more expensive home financed with a loan program where monthly payments increase in the future.

While much attention is spent on offering prices, a proposal to buy includes both the price and terms. In some cases, terms can represent thousands of dollars in additional value for buyers -- or additional costs. Terms are extremely important and should be carefully reviewed.


How much should I offer? Back to Top

You sometimes hear that the amount of your offer should be x percent below the seller's asking price or y percent less than you're really willing to pay. In practice, the offer depends on the basic laws of supply and demand: If many buyers are competing for homes, then sellers will likely get full-price offers and sometimes even more. If demand is weak, then offers below the asking price may be in order.


How do you make an offer? Back to Top

The process of making offers varies around the country. In a typical situation, you will complete an offer that your agent will present to the owner and the owner's representative. The owner, in turn, may accept the offer, reject it or make a counter-offer.

Because counter-offers are common (any change in an offer can be considered a "counter-offer"), it's important for buyers to remain in close contact with us during the negotiation process so that any proposed changes can be quickly reviewed.


How many inspections? Back to Top

A number of inspections are common in residential realty transactions. They include checks for termites, surveys to determine boundaries, appraisals to determine value for lenders, title reviews and structural inspections.

Structural inspections are particularly important. During these examinations, an inspector comes to the property to determine if there are material physical defects and whether expensive repairs and replacements are likely to be required in the next few years. Such inspections for a single-family home often require two or three hours, and buyers should attend. This is an opportunity to examine the property's mechanics and structure, ask questions and learn far more about the property than is possible with an informal walk-through.


Insurance: What kind and how much? Back to Top

No one would drive a car without insurance, so it figures that no homeowner should be without insurance. The essential idea behind various forms of real estate insurance is to protect owners in the event of catastrophe. If something goes wrong, insurance can be the bargain of a lifetime.

There are various forms of insurance associated with home ownership, including these major types:

  1. Title insurance: Purchased with a one-time fee at closing, title insurance protects owners in the event that title to the property is found to be invalid. Coverage includes "lenders" policies, which protect buyers up to the mortgage value of the property, and "owners" coverage, which protects owners up to the purchase price. In other words, "owners" coverage protects both the mortgage amount and the value of the down payment.


  1. Homeowners' insurance provides fire, theft and liability coverage. Homeowners' policies are required by lenders and often cover a surprising number of items, including in some cases such property as wedding rings, furniture and home office equipment.


  1. Flood insurance: Generally required in high-risk flood-prone areas, this insurance is issued by the federal government and provides as much as $250,000 in coverage for a single-family home plus $100,000 for contents. Local REALTORS® can explain which locations require such coverage.


Home warranties With new homes, buyers want assurance that if something goes wrong after completion the builder will be there to make repairs. But what if the builder refuses to do the work or goes out of business?

Home warranties bought from third parties by home builders are generally designed to rovide several forms of protection: workmanship for the first year, mechanical problems such as plumbing and wiring for the first two years, and structural defects for up to 10 years.

Home warranties for existing homes are typically one-year service agreements purchased by sellers. In the event of a covered defect or breakdown, the warranty firm will step in and make the repair or cover its cost.

Insurance policies and warranties have limitations and individual programs have different levels of coverage, deductibles and costs.


How do you get insurance? Back to Top

The time to obtain insurance and warranty coverage is at closing, so speak with a us or insurance broker prior to closing. Be sure to ask about limitations, costs, deductibles and "endorsements" (additional forms of coverage that may be available).


What to expect at settlement? Back to Top

In practice, closings bring together a variety of parties who are part of the "transaction" process. For example, while the history of property ownership has been checked, it's possible that the records contain errors, unrecorded claims or flaws in the review itself, thus title insurance is necessary. At closing, transfer taxes must be paid and other claims must also be settled (including closing costs, legal fees and adjustments). In most transactions, the closing agent also completes the paperwork needed to record the loan.

Settlement is a brief process where all of the necessary paperwork needed to complete the transaction is signed. Closing is typically held in an office setting, sometimes with both buyer and seller at the same table, sometimes with each party completing their papers separately.

Whatever the case, the result is that title to the property is transferred from seller to buyer. The buyer receives the keys and the seller receives payment for the home. From the amount credited to the seller, the closing agent subtracts money to pay off the existing mortgage and other transaction costs. Deeds, loan papers, and other documents are prepared, signed and filed with local property record offices.


What you need to do. Back to Top

One of the best parts of settlement is that buyers and sellers need to do very little.

Before closing, buyers typically have a final opportunity to walk through the property to assure that its condition has not materially changed since the sale agreement was signed. At closing itself, all papers have been prepared by closing agents, title companies, lenders and lawyers. This paperwork reflects the sale agreement and allows all parties to the transaction to verify their interests. For instance, buyers get the title to the property, lenders have their loans recorded in the public records and state governments collect their transfer taxes


Congrats! You've bought a home! Back to Top

You've looked at properties, made an offer, obtained financing and gone to closing. The home is yours. Is there any more to the home buying process?

Whether you're a first-time buyer or a repeat buyer, there are several more steps you'll want to take.

Those papers you received at settlement are extremely valuable, so hold on to them! In the short-term they can help establish tax deductions for the year in which the property was purchased. In the future, such papers will be important for tax purposes when the property is sold, and in some cases, for calculating estate taxes.

Also at closing, determine the status of the utilities required by the home, items such as water, sewage, gas, electric and oil service. You want utility bills to be paid in full by owners as of closing and you also want services transferred to your name for billing. Usually such transfers can be done without turning off utilities. REALTORS® can provide contact numbers and related information.

About two weeks after closing, contact your local property records office and confirm that your deed has been officially recorded. Such records are public notices that show your interest in the property.


Moving in Back to Top

It is generally understood that sellers will leave homes "broom clean" when moving out. This expression does not mean "vacuumed" or "spotless." Broom clean makes sense because it means the house is ready to be painted and cleaned.


Your home, your money Back to Top

For most owners, a home is the largest single asset they hold, so it makes sense to protect that asset.

Many owners make a photo or video record of the home and their possessions for insurance purposes and then keep the records in a safety deposit box. Your insurance provider can recommend what to photograph and how to secure it.

You want to maintain fire, theft and liability insurance. As the value of your property increases such coverage should also rise. Again, speak with your insurance professional for details.

Finally, enjoy your home. It's your part of the American Dream!

Chris Kershisnik

About Chris Kershisnik

Licensed Realtor in Maryland, Virginia, and DC

Thank you for visiting my website! I have taken the time to provide you with as many resources and tools as possible in one spot so to try and help make the home buying experience as easy as possible.

The Maryland, Virginia, and DC real estate markets are constantly changing.  A responsive, experienced, and resourceful advocate is an invaluable asset in any real estate transaction.  I've helped countless individuals and families buy or sell homes during the past ten years. Over 90% of my business is referred or repeat business from satisfied customers - if they can trust me with their family and friends, so can you!

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