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After watching hours of HGTV and trolling online home listings for weeks on end, you’re finally feeling ready to make your home-buying move.
But are you?
It’s one thing to know the leafy green block and dream layout that you want, but quite another to be truly prepared for the purchasing process—from securing a mortgage to nailing contract negotiations.
Stefani Markowitz, president of Rutenberg Realty in New York City, knows all too well the many roadblocks and frustrations that today’s home buyers can face.
She gleaned time-tested advice from her grandfather, one of the cofounders who started the company, and with her stable of 500-plus agents has helped many clients avoid purchasing pitfalls.
So we asked Markowitz to pinpoint five ubiquitous stumbling blocks people encounter when buying a home—and then paired them with apps that can help you navigate these issues like a pro.
Stumbling Block #1: Figuring Out How Much House You Can Actually Afford
A surprisingly common problem, says Markowitz, is that “many people will hire a real estate broker or agent before they really have any idea of their finances.”
It may seem obvious, but a broker or agent can’t help you find a great home within your budget if you aren’t able to tell them just how much house you can afford.
So before doing anything else, Markowitz says, you should get a handle on what you can offer for a down payment and how much mortgage you can safely swing each month, among other financial details.
As the saying goes, knowledge is power—and this app doles out valuable home-buying knowledge in spades.
Key features include budget, down-payment and mortgage calculators; a step-by-step checklist to help manage the home-buying process; and even listings of local housing-counseling agencies approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Stumbling Block #2: Scoping Out the Right Digs Based on Your Budget
To figure out what the funds you have to work with can realistically buy, start by researching the values of homes you like in a few favorite neighborhoods—even if they aren’t for sale, says Markowitz.
This way, you’ll understand the bottom-line difference between a two-story home one block from that trendy dining district and a one-bedroom condo that’s just a short bike ride away.
If you’ve ever used apps like Shazam or SoundHound to ID the name of a catchy song on the radio, you’ll love Homesnap.
Simply take a photo of the front of any home to access local multiple listing service (MLS) data—the same info that’s used by real estate agents—including high-resolution photos, lot boundaries and details about the home’s value.
The app works by combining the house image with GPS data from your phone to snag the MLS and tax data for you.
Stumbling Block #3: Finding the Right Real Estate Professional
“Consumers are becoming incredibly savvy,” Markowitz says, adding that since people can find most properties online, they think they don’t need an agent or broker.
But working with a knowledgeable agent, says Markowitz, can give you a competitive edge, especially if it’s your first time shopping.
If you’re relying solely on websites for your search, you may be missing out on the hottest new leads agents know about that aren’t on the market yet. They may also have valuable intelligence, like the scoop on previous sale attempts, that can help you decide what kind of offer to make.
And even better, Markowitz explains, you normally don’t have to pay your agent or broker’s fees—the seller covers the commission.
The app’s robust “Find An Agent” feature enables you to search for agents by location, budget, property expertise (single-family homes, multifamily homes, rentals), languages and such specialties as short sales and luxury homes.
You can even browse reviews, and call or message the agent straight from the app.
Stumbling Block #4: Navigating the Home Inspection
It’s perhaps the most nerve-wracking part of the home-buying process: the home inspection, which can unearth structural and other potentially costly problems before you sign on the dotted line.
Once you’ve hired an inspector, Markowitz suggests doing a walk-through of your potential new home together. If you notice any cosmetic or functional issues that give you pause, discuss them with the inspector and your broker during the walk-through.
“Be proactive—if there’s an issue, confront it,” Markowitz says. And be sure to take notes about any issues, so you can refer to them when the time comes to put in an offer.
The app helps you create a room-by-room photo inspection report, with drop-down menus that offer customizable action requests like “maintenance required.”
When you’re done, you can export a PDF of your findings, so you and your agent or broker can compare them to the inspector’s report.
Stumbling Block #5: Assessing Repairs for Final Contract Negotiations
If something needs to be fixed, final contract negotiations are your last chance to ask the seller to cover a repair or upgrade.
“It might seem like you’re battling—the seller wants the highest price, the buyer wants the lowest,” Markowitz says. “But if you can work together to come to an agreement in which both parties are satisfied, it will be a much smoother transaction.”
And part of that process involves gathering bids on how much repairs or upgrades will cost.
The App for That: DesignsBuild
This app provides free information on local contractors who’ve been through a thorough criminal and financial screen before being listed.
You can compare customer reviews, request quotes and even book repairs through the app.
Author Bio: Natalie Wearstler, contributing writer at LearnVest
LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc., that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning advice. Please consult a financial adviser, attorney or tax specialist for advice specific to your financial situation. Unless specifically identified as such, the individuals interviewed or quoted in this piece are neither clients, employees nor affiliates of LearnVest Planning Services, and the views expressed are their own. LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed, linked to or otherwise appearing in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other’s products, services or policies.