The steps, process and details of buying real estate can be intimidating and overwhelming to the first-time (and even the veteran) buyer. If you’ve never done this before, you likely have no idea how the process begins or what to expect.
Every market does things a little differently, and you should ask your real estate agent how the process works in your community. For the most part, however, the transaction should follow these seven steps.
Make an offer and write up a contract
When you love a place and think it could be your future home, it’s time to take a serious and legally binding step toward purchasing it. This means writing up a purchase offer and signing a real estate contract.
Yes, at this early stage of the game, you need to sign a legally binding contract. By signing on the bottom line, you’re committing to moving forward on the purchase with the seller. There are contingencies, or “outs,” to many real estate contracts, however. Most contracts will be contingent on inspections, disclosure review, loan approval, appraisal or other matters. These “contingencies” are ways to exit the contract should something not go as anticipated.
By law, the seller must provide the buyer with disclosure documents, a preliminary title report, copies of city reports and any specific local documents. For example, in California, an earthquake hazards report or a geological survey is required. In areas of the South, near the Gulf or on a riverbed, flood maps and floor reports should be provided to the buyer.
Aside from any mandated reports, the seller needs to disclose to the buyer any issues or flaws with the property that would affect the value or habitability. Generally, sellers are required to answer a series of yes or no questions about the property, the neighborhood and their experience there via a transfer disclosure statement. If there were leaky windows in the past, violations from the city, work done without permits or plans for a major nearby development, the seller is required to disclose them. This provides additional color about the property you’re considering purchasing. If there are major flaws, the seller’s agent would likely have brought them up before the contract signing. However, if something is disclosed here that is a negative factor for you, this is your out.