Purchasing a home is not always a straightforward process, whether as a first-time home buyer or selling your third home. If it’s been some years since you last bought or sold, it's easy to forget how the process works. Plus, requirements change over time. The steps may be different from when your last real estate transaction.

As your local Fort Worth real estate expert, our first mission is to educate our clients. Our role answer all questions so you are fully informed about at every step of the real estate journey. Any information we can give or answer for buyers to walk to the closing table with confidence, we give. Peace of mind is priceless.

On that note, here are the questions all buyers frequently ask. By the end of this article, buyers will have well-rounded background to help buy their next home. Questions are broken into greater sections: preparing to buy, questions to ask about the home, purchase agreements, and the escrow process.

Preparing to Buy

#1- Should I buy or continue to rent?

This personal question has no real right or wrong answer. It depends on your circumstances and reasons for choosing to purchase a home. Most people know owning real estate is a solid investment because it tends to appreciate over time.  However, the amount of appreciation depends on market conditions and the time lived in the property. Appreciation gains are never guaranteed and fluctuate with the market, but the longer you stay, the more appreciation stand to accrue.

Home owners are responsible for all repairs and maintenance of the property. When you are a renter, the property owner or the management team take care of any necessary repairs. Do-it-yourselfers don’t mind repairing properties; other people might hate the work involved in upkeep, like mowing the lawn or cleaning the gutters. It’s a personal preference.

If you're planning to move in the short-term, buying a home likely isn’t for you right now.  Or, if you’d rather not deal with property maintenance, investigate condo ownership or continue renting.

#2- What's the first thing I should do when buying a home?

If you are not purchasing the home with all cash, the first move isn’t looking at properties. It’s interviewing mortgage lenders and getting pre-approved for a loan. This pre-approval letter tells you how much a lender will allow you to borrow. The amount narrows the property search because your agent will show you homes well within your budget.  Never look at a home you can't afford. This path leads to heartbreak–or worse, puts your future financial security in jeopardy.

During the conversations with lenders, you may learn your particular circumstances qualify you for a special program. First-time home buyers have many options to explore when it comes to financing a home purchase. These programs vary widely, which is why it's worthwhile talking to a mortgage lender.

Another thing conversations with mortgage lenders do is provide an estimate for how much money is needed for closing costs and the down payment. Some home buyers decide they need to wait a little longer before deciding to purchase a home to save money. Others decide to liquidate some assets or factor in a financial gift from family.

Not only do these interviews financially prepare you for purchasing a home, but many real estate agents require a pre-approval letter before showing a home, especially at certain price points. The pre-approval letter shows verifies you are a qualified and a serious potential buyer for the property. Most home sellers do not want to show their property to people who are simply curious or perhaps have unscrupulous plans for their personal possessions.

#3- Do I need to sell my current home before buying my next home?

This is a common question from current homeowners. It's been done both ways. Selling your home first will give you some advantages, but it may not be realistic for your current situation. Even in a hot market, there's no guarantee when your current home will sell.

We understand for some home buyers, the thought of selling their current property without any idea of where they're going next can be scary. How long is it going to take you to find your next home? What do you do with your belongings? How do you adapt with your family? Do you want the stress of potentially moving twice between a temporary space in your new permanent space?  Not everyone likes those unknowns.

Selling your current home first before your next home is lined up can help reduce some pressure of trying to find your next home right now. If you can't find the ideal property, you're not pressured to pull the trigger on a purchase you may regret. The sale also frees the equity in your current home so it's ready for the down payment on your next home.

But, let's say your current home has not sold and you've found your dream property. Putting in an offer on that next home is not off the table. Your submitted purchase offer will contain a contingency based on the sale and transfer of title of your current home.

The downside is not all home sellers like this contingency and may not agree to it. Waiting for your home to sell puts them in a tricky spot. It could create a domino effect. If your deal goes south, they lose out on the sale and it impacts their personal timeline.

Sometimes, sellers will allow you to rent back your current property. You can try to negotiate this option if you want more time to find your next home and the home-sale contingency is off the table.

#4- How long will it take me to buy a home?

In a typical scenario, the average time between when a purchase offer is agreed upon to win escrow closes ranges from 30 to 45 days.  Buyers who are bringing cash to the table can close faster. Homes that run into road bumps, like unexpected repairs or maybe an appraisal that wasn't in line with the mortgage amount, can take longer to close. Even a busy real estate market can slow things down, because home inspectors, appraisers, and underwriters get backlogged.

As far as the whole process, from the time you start looking to buy a home to the time you actually move in, that's going to vary a lot more. Some sources say buying a home typically takes 10 to 12 weeks.  Every client is unique and every submarket is different. Looking at a competitive price point in a competitive neighborhood means finding your dream home might take a few months.

Definitely talk to your real estate agent about your needs, where you are looking to buy, and what your budget is. They can give a better idea of how long it might take. Keep in mind, buying a home really is different for every single person. It's better to take a little longer and find your perfect home than to settle for something because you're getting tired of looking.

#5- How many home should I look at?

There's no magical number of properties to see before putting an offer on a home. Yes, it's probably a mistake to write an offer on the first home you see. That doesn't mean that first home isn't your ideal home. It just means take due diligence. Look at a few properties to get a feel for what you want and what is available at your price point.

Some home buyers look at over 25 homes before they find the right one to submit a purchase offer. Some home buyers find home in their first weekend search. Realtor.com says the average is ten homes. At Chicotsky Real Estate Group, we stick with you no matter how long it takes.

#6- What is a stratified market?

This real estate term has to do with supply and demand at different price points. Essentially, homes in at one price point may be selling at a brisk pace while homes at a different price point linger on the market. So one price point could have a buyer's market while the other price point has a seller's market. This is why hiring a local real estate expert matters; they’ll know how properties are moving at your price range and what strategy to take as a buyer.

#7- How much will I need to pay you to help me buy a house?

The good news for home buyers is usually the seller pays the real estate agent fees.  Essentially, the listing broker splits the listing fee with the buyer's agent. So the buyers don't have a cost out of pocket for using a real estate agent. That's a win for you. The details are in the buyer’s agent agreement; always ask to read before signing.

#8- How much do I need for a downpayment?

Traditionally, the answer is 20% of the purchase price. However, different loans on the market do not require 20% down. Much of this flexibility caters to first-time home buyers. For instance, an FHA loan requires 3.5% down payment. If you qualify for a VA loan or USDA loan, you might be able to put nothing down.

According to one source, the national down payment median is 5.37%. A different source cites the National Association of Realtors (NAR) 2018 survey as saying median down payment was seven percent for first-time home buyers and 16 percent for repeat buyers.

Again, this is a space to talk with your mortgage lender. They will advise you on any special programs you qualify for and the required down payment under that program.

When thinking about down payment, remember buyers are responsible for some closing costs, which could total several thousand dollars.

The final note about down payment needs. If you put down less than 20% of the purchase price, the lender likely will require you to carry private mortgage insurance (PMI). This is an additional fee that covers the lender’s larger stake in the property should you end up filing for bankruptcy. Some people choose to wrap PMI into their loan while others shop around to find the best rate.

Questions to ask about the home

Once you're further along in the home buying process, there are some common questions good to ask for your due diligence.

#9- Is the home in a flood zone?

Texas homeowners are now required to make more disclosures about flooding. If you're not sure about the property and have some suspicions on if it is included in a flood zone, look at FEMA's flood map service to see if it is in a high-risk flood area. However, your real estate agent should tell you when looking at the property if flooding is a concern for that particular home.

#10- Why is the seller leaving?

Understanding someone else's motivation might help when it comes to creating an offer and negotiating. This information signals if the seller is willing to be more flexible in the negotiations.  A motivated seller is more likely to work with the buyer than someone who able to take their time waiting for the right offer.

#11- Has anything in this home been updated?

When you are purchasing a home you're buying more than four walls and a roof. Homes come with hardware, like the heating and cooling system. Nothing is more irritating than moving into a new home and having the water heater bust a month later.

Key structural components to have your real estate agent check is the age of the roof, the foundation, appliances, home systems, and insulation. A home with structural components or home systems updated within the last two or three years could be worth the investment compared to saving money on an older home requiring capital investment in the coming years.

The other angle behind asking this particular question is if the home clearly has experienced major renovations or additions. Homeowners are notorious for not filing the right permits and not adhering to building codes. If a home has undergone some kind of major work, make sure they have pulled the right paperwork. Otherwise, it could spell trouble as you work through escrow or when you go to sell the house down the road.

Get copies of manufacturer warranties on any of the systems that have been upgraded or replaced for your peace of mind.

Purchase Agreements

#12- What's included in the sale of the home?

Don't always assume what-you-see-is-what-you-get. Not everything in the house actually comes included, even if it’s advertised as furnishings included. If you want the microwave, specify the microwave in the contract. Other functional pieces include the washer, dryer, refrigerator, and oven. And if the home has something else you like, try making an offer.

#13- What should I offer for this home?

Every home has a list price, but obviously the majority of homes on the market don't receive 100% of their list price. The question as a home buyer is, “what do you want to offer the seller?”

When the seller put the property on the market they discussed a listing strategy with their real estate agent. Hopefully, the seller listed their home for a fair price. What this means is that they looked at recent comparable sales for their property to come up with an amount reasonable for market and home conditions.

By no means should you take the list price as set in stone. Do your research on comparable sales, especially if the home has been on the market for more than a few weeks. Market conditions change quickly. Your real estate agent can help find comparable data for this home.

Take the comparable sales data and reflect on the condition of the home. Sometimes the sellers include the price of anticipated repairs when they set their price, but this isn't always the case.

#14- What is earnest money and how much do I need?

An earnest money deposit (EMD) is made in good faith to the home seller to show your purchase offer is the real deal. It's a way of reserving the home. The earnest money goes towards your down payment and closing costs as long as the purchase closes. If the deal falls apart, in most cases that earnest money deposit goes back to the buyer. There are some circumstances in which the seller keeps the earnest money deposit.

How much to put down as earnest money is a discussion between you and your real estate agent. In an aggressive real estate market, it may be advisable to put more money into the earnest money deposit. Typical advice ranges from 1-3% of the purchase offer. First time home buyers have put down as little as $500 to $1,000.

#15- How long does the seller have to respond to my purchase offer?

In your purchase offer you designate how long the seller has to consider your terms and conditions. A typical contract gives the seller anywhere between 1 to 3 days.  Usually, the seller has a good idea of if they will accept your contract or counter within 24 hours. Talk to your real estate agent. If they know the sellers are out of town, it would be courteous to add a few days to the contract to allow their agent to get them a copy of your offer.

#16- What do I do if my offer is rejected?

Most seller unhappy with the initial offer do try to negotiate with a counter offer, but that's not always the case. They have the right to flat-out reject an initial offer in writing or through no response. Don’t be deterred if this truly is the home you want. Propose another offer for them to consider. Just make your second offer is a little more acceptable to their palate.

The negotiation process can go back and forth as many times as is needed for the home buyers and sellers to reach a compromise on deal terms.

During escrow

#17- Do I need a home inspection?

Absolutely. Some lending programs require a home inspection to secure financing. Even if your particular mortgage program does not, home inspection is always highly recommended.  An experienced home inspector can find issues not easily detected even by the most seasoned real estate agent. I never cease to be amazed by the problems that home inspectors can find. The inspection is really about giving you peace of mind in your purchase decision.

#18- Can I back out of this purchase offer if I change my mind?

You can end the contract, but ending your purchase offer without a reason may result in the seller getting your earnest money deposit. If you are backing out of the deal because of one of the contingencies, you can ask for the deposit back.

#19- Do we really need to do a final walk-through?

A final walk-through is the home buyers' opportunity to make sure nothing has been changed since your initial property tour. This is your moment to make sure any requested repairs were actually fulfilled, that everything is in working order as per the terms of your purchase contract, and that everything has been squared away.  Has the home seller actually moved out of the home as promised? Or, have they left it a complete disaster? Crazy things have happened.

#20- Do I really need a real estate agent to buy a home?

Even if you have gone through the home buying process before, it is in your best interest to hire a real estate agent. We are service professionals committed to education on market conditions, legislative requirements, and all things housing. When we walk into a home, our experiences helps us tell you how it stacks up against other properties in the same neighborhood. 

As we get to know you, we gain better insights into what you're actually looking for in your next home. Sometimes it's hard for buyers to know what they want until they see it. It's our job to get to the heart of what you want and what you need.

Our clients hire Chicotsky Real Estate Group to leverage our expertise to get the best value for their money. We are committed to unparalleled service on all things real estate. Read our testimonials, and you’ll see what we do for home buyers at all stages of their journey.