As we approach the New Year, it seems important to remind home buyers and sellers that you are the most important part of a complex process that often seems to run on its own steam.
But without home buyers and sellers, there would be no need for real estate agents, lenders, appraisers, attorneys, title companies, escrow companies, home inspectors, lead testers, and so on.
Despite being the so-called “center of the home buying and selling universe,” buyers and sellers often get pushed around by the various groups of people whose livelihood they support. This pushing around can manifest itself in people not listening to you, not answering your questions, or making decisions for you.
Here is a bill of rights for home buyers (we’ll do a seller’s bill of rights next week) to let you know what kind of treatment and service you should expect from those who are essentially working for you. You have the right to:
- Get every question answered correctly the first time. When real estate agents are busy or pre-occupied, they might not give you correct answers the first time you ask the question. If something doesn’t make sense, be sure to ask it again and again until you’re really clear both about what you’re asking and what you’re being told.
If you feel like you’re getting the verbal run-around, it could be that you’ve asked about something a broker can’t answer legally. While real estate professionals often sidestep the important issues, some questions about demographics and crime in a given neighborhood by law can’t be answered by real estate agents.
What often happens, however, is that agents and brokers simply tell you what they believe to be true as opposed to checking out the facts. Or, they might tell you what they think you want to hear. Be skeptical and double check facts you’re relying on in your home purchase.
- To work only with people who make you feel good and in whom you have confidence. Just because your best friends had a fine time with agent Alice doesn’t mean she’s the right person for you. Because working with an agent is like being in a short-term marriage, you should take the time to choose someone in whom you have confidence, and with whom you can develop a good rapport.
It’s important for you to realize that if someone isn’t giving you the service and respect you feel you deserve, you can fire that agent and move forward. Too often, home buyers feel trapped by their agents, and continue working with them — even buying something quickly — just to get to the end of the process. You’re in the driver’s seat. If a relationship isn’t working out, make a change.
- To choose the house you’re going to buy, and the neighborhood in which you reside, independently, without coercion.
Unfortunately, racism, sexism, and disability discrimination still exist. So you may have the unfortunate experience of having an agent say, “I’m sorry, there are no properties available to you,” when you know there are.
While this kind of treatment might (and perhaps should) make you angry, it’s not exactly productive to go out and look for a house when you’re in that state of mind. Instead, immediately fire that agent and find someone who shares your frame of mind and reference. There are more than a million real estate agents out there and a hundred thousand lenders. There will be other who are happy to have your business and will treat you right.
- To negotiate your mortgage fees and points. A lot of times, home buyers don’t realize that mortgages, like real estate contracts, are completely negotiable. You can try to negotiate anything, but first you need to know what’s on the table and what other lenders are offering.
Take the time to shop around before you decide which lender will get your business. And make sure you get the lenders to lay out all the fees and points they’ll charge, so you can compare things on an apples-to-apples basis. Only when you’re knowledgeable about what folks are charging will you be able to negotiate effectively.
To get a copy of your credit report for free if you’ve been turned down for a loan. If you’ve been turned down for a home loan, you’re entitled to get a free copy of your credit report. But before you apply for that loan, it’s a good idea to spend $25 and get a copy from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and Trans-Union.
To specify which items you want and which issues are important to you in the contract. Depending on how strong the market is in the neighborhood in which you’re looking, you may be able to ask the seller to include certain items with the sale of their home, such as appliances and furniture. You may also be able to choose the closing date, and even ask for seller financing.
But make sure you understand the market conditions before you ask the sellers to throw in everything including the kitchen sink. If you’re in a strong seller’s market, where there are more buyers than homes for purchase, you may find your contract laughed at rather than taken seriously.
- To change your mind. There’s an old saying: Until there’s a deal, there’s no deal. This means even if you told your broker you wanted a condominium, you’re entitled to decide you don’t like them and prefer a single family. You can change your mind about a neighborhood or a school district, too.
You may even withdraw an offer before it has been accepted. And once your offer has been countered, you may withdraw without accepting or countering the seller’s counter offer.
If anyone involved in the real estate cycle tries to pressure you to proceed after you’ve changed your mind, you should think twice about using that person to complete your transaction.
- To consult with a real estate attorney (even in a state where this isn’;t a common practice). In some states, real estate attorneys are not used to close residential real estate transactions. While you may be fine, you should know that if you do not use a real estate attorney, there is no one in the transaction who can advise you about it who doesn’t have a vested interest in seeing it close.
In other words, the brokers want your deal to close because that’s how they get paid.
But if something doesn’t feel right, or if your deal is complicated, you have the right to seek out the advice of an attorney and not be ridiculed for it. If you are, well, you know the score — find someone else to help you close your deal.