- Committing to a property before getting a pre-approved loan from a lender. So many people go out house-hunting and fall in love with a new model house without knowing what kind of a mortgage they’re entitled to. “They find themselves at the whim of a builder’s salesperson who promises financing,” says Davis. “This has been an ongoing problem over the past half decade. Many homebuyers take on mortgages that are toxic, which means they’re all wrong for the buyers.”
When buyers let their emotions get the better of them, they often make catastrophic mistakes, Davis observes. Model homes are dangerous, he says, because they seduce potential buyers. “The rooms are beautifully decorated and look perfect,” he says. The psychology is obvious, warns this cynical real estate veteran. “They’re meticulously laid out and furnished to punch all the right buttons in potential new-home buyers.”
So the naive buyers agree to buy the house without having any idea what kind of monthly payments they can afford. The result is that they often make bad deals and take on more than they can afford.
The first thing new homebuyers should do is shop for the right mortgage lender (it could be a bank, builder/developer or credit union) before committing to a property. Speak to at least three lenders. Find one with excellent credentials and, and most importantly, has programs that are financially feasible.
- Failing to get good faith estimates. Buyers know they’re getting the best financing when they go to the trouble to get good faith estimates, which are mandated by the federal government’s Truth in Lending Act. Simply put, the legal statute says that mortgage lenders must provide buyers with good faith estimates within three days of presenting a loan. The document breaks down the loan into its component costs. Most importantly, the buyer’s annual percentage rate, or APR, is clearly presented at the bottom of the contract.
This is how loans are compared. “The APR tells new-home buyers exactly what a loan costs, including closing fees,” says Davis. “They can shop the market and compare different lenders’ rates. It is the key, telling lenders which are the best loans.”
If new homebuyers visit three different lenders, for example, and get three good faith estimates, they’ll compare each APR and take the cheapest, says Davis. Better still, it also gives buyers negotiating leverage — the power to ask lenders to shave money off closing costs, for example.
- Being reluctant to negotiate terms. Surprisingly, most new homebuyers fail to negotiate, says Davis. Reason? “They’re uptight about being confrontational or disagreeable.” But negotiations don’t have to be hostile. After all, buyers are negotiating the single most important purchase of their lives. “If done professionally and equitably, negotiations most always work in buyers’ favor,” Davis adds. “And lenders and builders expect buyers to negotiate. It’s all part of the game.”
“With an official credit limit in hand (good faith estimate), new homebuyers can walk into new development sales offices knowing precisely what they can spend,” says Davis. ”They have to feel good knowing that they’ve squared away the numbers. Now the salespeople are likely to say that if buyers use their lenders, they’ll give buyers $2,500 to $5,000 in upgrades.” This is a very common tactic and ought to be seriously considered, Davis advises. “If buyers feel it’s a good deal, they ought to ask for a good faith estimate and then compare it to the ones they’ve got. Now buyers can say, ‘If you match this good faith estimate, I’ll go with your company,’” he says.
By holding a power hand, new homebuyers can shrewdly negotiate and get the best new-home deal within their means. “Buyers can walk away with not only the best rates, but thousands of dollars in upgrades as well,” Davis says. “Now buyers are no longer victims; they’re setting the rules.”
- Failing to ask neighbors about a builder’s reputation. Before new homebuyers sign on the dotted line, they ought to speak to a few of their potential neighbors to get their opinions about the builders concerned. Ask important questions such as: Did they have any problems? If so, what were they? How long did it take for the builder to get to the punch list? If the builder was slow to address a problem or has a bad reputation, this is the time to find out, says Davis.
- Failing to have a new home inspected by an independent professional. “This one really raises eyebrows,” says Davis, “because major design flaws are often uncovered.” Amazingly, most new homebuyers don’t bother to have their home inspected. “They mistakenly assume that because it’s new, it’s perfect,” he says. He advises new homebuyers to bring in their own inspector. It only costs, on average, around $300, and is well worth every cent.”
“Inspectors find problems 50 percent of the time,” says Davis. Home inspectors are easy to find. Visit the National Association of Home Inspectors Web site to find an inspector near you.
- Neglecting to ask for a “punch list” before closing. The punch list is a list of problems that have to be fixed. Good, reliable builders will do this automatically. But don’t assume it will be done, says Davis. Some of the items on the list are easy to fix, such as popped nails or screws on the drywall. Some are not so simple, however. The builder flags them with red tape and then has his workers fix each one. Once they’re fixed, Davis says there should be another punch list walkthrough to make sure all the items on the punch list were fixed. Warning: Many builders will pressure buyers to close before the punch list items are taken care of so they can go on to the next job. “Never close before the home is completely finished,” Davis strongly advises.