Buying a home represents a new chapter in life. Whether you’re moving out of your parents’ house or are upgrading to accommodate new additions to the family, there are few things more exciting than buying a home. Our firm practices several areas of law, though we recognize how significantly real estate law impacts the lives of families and individuals alike. Unfortunately, though purchasing a new home is frequently a thrill, real estate law is oftentimes remarkably complex, making it difficult for individuals and families to proceed.
Fortunately, our firm has helped individuals across Pennsylvania through the home-buying process for over 30 years, which is why we know we have what it takes to do the same for you. We understand how complicated real estate law can be, which is why below, we have compiled and answered some of the most frequently asked questions regarding buying a home. Please read through our Pennsylvania Home Buying FAQ to learn more about how we can help guide you through every step of the process. Here are some of the questions you may have for our experienced Pennsylvania real estate attorneys:
What credit score do I need to buy a home?
The first thing many prospective homebuyers ask about is their credit score, and rightfully so. In fact, the first thing you should do before reaching out to a lender is reviewing your credit report. Generally, you want your credit score to be above the 700-mark before trying to purchase a home. Keep in mind that the higher your credit score, the lower your interest rate will be. All in all, this may save you thousands in the long run, so ensure you know where you stand before proceeding.
How do I get pre-approved for a loan?
Once you’ve checked your credit reports and confirm you’re in good shape, you should begin gathering various documents, including pay stubs, W-2s, bank statements, federal income tax returns from the two previous years, and a form of valid identification, such as a driver’s license. Once you’ve researched the best lenders for your situation, you may then apply for preapprovals with those lenders. As long as your finances are solid, you should be pre-approved. Pre-approval is a crucial step in the home-buying process, as it essentially means that as long as your financial situation stays the same from now until you’re ready to purchase your home, you should secure the loan you applied for. What’s more, receiving a pre-approval letter can help put you in better standing if you’re competing for a house with another potential buyer. Essentially, when a seller knows you can actually afford the loan, he or she will generally feel far more comfortable working with you.
What does a real estate agent do?
Once you’ve been pre-approved, have calculated all additional expenses (potential future repairs/renovation on your home, insurance, property taxes, etc.) you should then reach out to a real estate agent and a real estate attorney. Essentially, a real estate agent’s purpose is to take you to each prospective house, give you his/her honest advice on the pros and cons of each house, and help you through the home-buying process overall. Fortunately, in today’s day and age, reviews of real estate agents in your area are all over the internet, and what’s more, you can speak with your potential agent first so you know you’re hiring someone you can trust.
How do I make an offer on a house?
Once you and your real estate agent have explored your options and you’ve finally found the home for you, you can make an offer. This is one of the more complicated aspects of the home-buying process, as many people do not have experience negotiating. However, this is the place for negotiation, which is why you should hire an experienced real estate attorney who can do so on your behalf. No matter what the seller is asking for the home, you are entitled to make a lower offer. A real estate attorney can inform you of various costs that you may include in your offer, including a home inspection, which, if your offer is accepted, will be the next part of the process.
That being said, there are numerous potential outcomes after making your first offer: first, the seller may flat-out reject it. However, the seller may also accept it, in which case, you’re in luck! That being said, most frequently, after you place an offer, the seller will instead respond with a counter-offer, of which you will then have to speak again with your agent and discuss the best path forward.
Do I need to hire a home inspector?
Though the law does not require individuals to hire a home inspector, it is always best you include this in your offer. A trusted home inspector is on your side; his/her job is primarily to comb over your house to ensure all major safety/health aspects of your home are in check. If your home inspector determines something is amiss, you may adjust your offer accordingly and either ask the seller to directly address the health/safety repairs, or you may request a credit for certain work to be done. When you hire a home inspector, he or she will look for and test various aspects of your potential home including:
- Your water quality
- Your electrical system
- Your plumbing
- Whether you have an insect or pest problem
- Whether your HVAC system is operating properly
- Whether your home has any structural issues
As you can see, though hiring a home inspector is not mandatory, it certainly goes a long way, and by hiring one, you can have peace of mind, knowing you’re purchasing a home that is safe for you and your family.
What doesn’t a home inspector examine?
Despite the advantages of hiring a home inspector, there are several things that, in many cases, a home inspector simply will not review, including the following:
- Your roof. Though some inspectors are qualified, many home inspectors are not qualified to perform a roof inspection. However, roof inspections are extremely important, as you’ll want to ensure there are no leaks or serious problems present.
- Whether or not there is asbestos present. If you are looking to purchase a house that was built before 1975, your house requires an asbestos inspection. Fortunately, though a standard home inspector may not check for asbestos, the seller will generally cover the cost of this inspection. The same goes for termite inspections.
- Your chimney. Unless the previous homeowner can provide you with a receipt dating back to when your chimney was last cleaned, you must do so yourself before lighting a fire, as sooty chimneys are serious fire hazards. In some cases, you may even need a chimney specialist to ensure your chimney infrastructure is completely stable as well.
Depending on the particular house you are considering, various additional inspections may be required, of which your attorney and real estate agent can help you determine.
What should I look for in my final walkthrough?
Once your initial offer has been accepted and you’ve had your home inspection, you should then prepare for your final walkthrough. Essentially, the final walkthrough is your last chance to ensure everything is in tip-top shape, and that nothing has changed since you’ve had the house inspected before closing. This is one of the most exciting phases of the process, however, you must ensure you conduct a thorough, level-headed inspection.
Since this is your last opportunity to raise any complaints before buying (generally these are conducted either on the closing date or the day before closing), it is always best to keep a physical checklist on your person to ensure you don’t miss a thing. Some of the most important elements you should look for in your final walkthrough are as follows:
- Ensure all stove burners, whether gas or electric, are in working order.
- Check every faucet, shower, and bathtub, and flush every toilet to confirm all plumbing is as it should be.
- Open and close windows to ensure they lock and function properly.
- Test all the outlets.
- Ensure the HVAC system is running properly.
- Double-check all areas of the house, especially the basement, for any accumulating mildew or mold.
- Verify there are no cracks, holes, or other potential hazards in the walls or ceilings.
- Ensure that any repairs you negotiated with the seller after your initial inspection were made as promised.
These are just some of the most important issues you should inspect on your final walkthrough. Though the last thing you want to do at this point is back out, the truth is, you should not have to move into a potentially unsafe home. Fortunately, in most cases, you’ll find everything is as it should be. If so, you can proceed to the final step: closing on your new home.
What do I need to know about closing on a house?
When closing on a house, you will meet with your attorney to sign several mortgage-related documents, including the loan estimate, the closing disclosure, the escrow statement, the mortgage note and deed, and a certificate of occupancy, among others. Generally, various parties will attend your closing, including you, your attorney, the home seller, and their real estate agent and/or attorney, the lender, and the title company representative. This is when the transfer of title occurs, wherein the seller signs documents officially selling the home. Next, you and the seller will sign a closing statement where you will authorize the transfer of money to the seller in exchange for the house. Finally, at this point, you and the seller will exchange keys, and the home is officially yours!
Why do I need a real estate attorney to buy a home?
Though in Pennsylvania, individuals are not legally obligated to hire a real estate attorney when purchasing their homes, the truth is, you can never go wrong by doing so. Our firm can do the following:
- Conduct title searches: This is to ensure the property you are looking to buy does not come with any issues like judgments or liens. In some cases, after a thorough title search, your attorney will conclude that the seller does not have the legal right to sell you the property. This can save you both time and money in the long run.
- Examine each aspect of your contract and negotiate with the seller for a more favorable deal.
- Review various documents associated with the home buying process, including prior deed restrictions, a mortgage commitment, and more.
- File your real estate deed with the county and state. After purchasing a home, if you fail to file and transfer your real estate deed, you or the seller may have your income or estate tax levied.
- If you should incur any problems or disputes with the seller, our firm can help determine whether the seller is trying to deceive you in any way. On the flip side, we can also assure you a seller is being fair in a situation where you think he or she may not be.
Though this guide is made to inform, you should keep in mind that no amount of reading is worth the skill, experience, and guidance that only a knowledgeable Pennsylvania real estate attorney can provide. Whether this is your first home or not, our firm is here to be your number one supporter throughout the home-buying process.
Contact our experienced Pennsylvania real estate firm
Here at Friedman Schuman, we know that at times, the home-buying process may seem overwhelming. That is why from the moment you hire our firm, we will make your needs our top priority. For over 30 years, our experienced real estate attorneys have been a trusted legal resource for clients throughout Pennsylvania, and we are ready to help you, too. We proudly serve clients facing a wide range of legal matters, including real estate law. If you are buying a home and require the services of an effective real estate attorney, you know where to turn. Contact Friedman Schuman today to schedule a consultation.