Getting Started

How much can I afford to spend?
Experts say you will typically spend about a third of your income on financing your home. Before you start to look for your dream house, you should figure out just how much of that dream you can afford. Mortgage lenders look at your ability to repay the mortgage loan by reviewing:

  • Your credit history
  • Your monthly gross income
  • How much cash you can accumulate for a down payment, which is usually 10 percent to 20 percent of the sale price.

For details on checking your credit history, see the report "Credit: The Basics."
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What is the best time to buy?
Because many buyers prefer to move in the spring or summer, the market starts to heat up as early as February. Families with children are anxious to buy so they can move during summer vacation, before the new school year begins.

The market slows down in late summer before picking up again briefly in the fall. November and December have traditionally been slow months, although some astute buyers look for bargains during this period.

How long does it take to buy a house?
Buying a house can take from a few days to a few years. In most cases, the process will take several months of diligent effort.

How long should I look before buying a home?
You should look until you find the home that is right for you. This could take a week or a year depending on your personal needs and the state of the real estate market. Ideally, you would like to find a home after you have looked long enough to know what you like and what you do not like. You need time to educate yourself about the housing inventory.

How many times should I look at a house before I make an offer?
You will no doubt want to take a second or third look at a house that interests you. Your agent can arrange this; you should not call the sellers directly for access. But you should drive or walk by the house to get a better feel for the neighborhood. Return several times, at least once during rush hour, to see if the street is busy or congested. Drive a few blocks away from the house to see if the neighborhood holds up to your expectations. A map is a handy house-hunting aid.
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How do you find a good agent?
A good agent typically works full-time and has several years of experience at minimum.

You don't usually pay for your agent's services (in the form of a commission, or percentage of the sales price of the home). The seller usually pays all agents in a transaction from the sales proceeds. In many states, this means that your agent legally is acting as a subagent of the seller. But in some states, it's legal for an agent to represent the buyers exclusively in the transaction and be paid a commission by the sellers. You also can hire and pay for your own agent, known as buyer's brokers, whose legal obligation is exclusively to you.
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What do all of those real estate acronyms in the ads mean?
If you find yourself stumbling over weird acronyms in a real estate listing, don't be alarmed. There is method to the madness of this shorthand (which is mostly adopted by sellers to save money in advertising charges). Here are some abbreviations and the meaning of each, taken from a recent newspaper classified section:

  • assum. fin. -- assumable financing
  • dk -- deck
  • gar -- garage (garden is usually abbreviated "gard")
  • expansion pot'l -- may be extra space on the lot, or possibly vertical potential for a top floor or room addition. Verify actual potential by checking local zoning restrictions prior to purchase.
  • fab pentrm -- fabulous pentroom, a room on top, underneath the roof, that sometimes has views
  • FDR -- formal dining room (not the former president)
  • frplc, fplc, FP -- fireplace
  • grmet kit -- gourmet kitchen
  • HDW, HWF, Hdwd -- hardwood floors
  • hi ceils -- high ceilings
  • In-law potential -- potential for a separate apartment. Sometimes, local zoning codes restrict rentals of such units so be sure the conversion is legal first
  • large E-2 plan -- this is one of several floor plans available in a specific building
  • lsd pkg. -- leased parking area, may come with an additional cost
  • lo dues -- find out just how low these homeowner's dues are, and in comparison to what?
  • nr bst schls -- near the best schools
  • pvt -- private
  • pwdr rm -- powder room, or half-bath
  • upr- upper floor
  • vw, vu, vws, vus -- view(s)
  • Wow! -- better check this one out.

Resources: "Real Estate's Ambiguous Language You Oughtta Understand," Glennon H. Neubauer, Ethos Group Publishing, Diamond Bar, CA; 1993.

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