As we patiently wait for warmer weather to catch up to last week’s official start of spring, many people are preparing to buy or sell a home. A recent article from housingwire.com notes that the annual jump in home sales starts in March and continues to climb throughout the spring and summer, with an estimated 40% of an average year’s total home-selling occurring in the months of May, June, July, and August.

This busy season is facilitated by a variety of internet tools. Listing sites like Zillow and Trulia make it possible for buyers to peruse thousands of homes on their smartphones, all while sitting on the couch. The digitization of municipal property records allows buyers to get detailed information about tax assessments, prior surveys, and soil composition. Locally, Ontario County’s ONCOR website is one of the best around.

For most people, buying a home is the single largest purchase they will ever make. The National Association of Realtors estimates that the median home value in Ontario County is $164,457. With mortgages that often last for thirty years, buying a home is a serious commitment, but also a good investment. For that reason here are five considerations to help home buyers navigate the real estate market.

Have a Plan.  Do your research, know what you want and need (and the difference between the two), and come up with a plan. Think about your current housing needs and what those needs will look like in 5, 10, and 15 years. Consider the differences between school districts, municipal tax rates, and distance from work and recreation. A thoughtful plan for your long-term housing needs will put you in a strong position when it comes time to actually start looking at available homes.

Line up a Lender.  Financing is key to any successful purchase, so get a lender lined up early. Shop around for a lender that not only has good rates, but that you trust. The lender will pre-approve you for a certain mortgage amount, which will in turn help shape your home search. Since you will be the one responsible for repaying the loan, make sure you feel entirely comfortable with the anticipated mortgage payment. If you feel like the lender is trying to push you to take on more debt than you feel comfortable with, find a new lender.

Pick a Realtor.  A good realtor can be the difference between just buying a home, and buying the right home. They will look out for your interests and have a deep knowledge of the local market, average price points, and neighborhood information. They will also help you with negotiations and paperwork. It is important to remember who is representing who, and how they are being paid. The listing agent (sometimes referred to as the seller’s agent) represents the seller. Their job is to list and market the home, and do everything they can to sell it for the highest price possible. The buyer’s agent represents the buyer. Their job is to help the buyer find the home that best suits their needs, and then assist the buyer in negotiating an acceptable price and completing the necessary paper work. When the home is sold, the two agents will split the realtor commission (5-6% of the sales price), which is funded by the seller from the proceeds of the sale.

Hire a Home Inspector.  In March 2002, New York’s Property Condition Disclosure Act went into effect which shifted New York further away from the traditional “caveat emptor” or “buyer beware” approach to home sales. Now, sellers have an obligation to complete a property condition disclosure statement or pay a modest credit of $500 to the buyer. These disclosures are helpful, but they are limited in the protection they provide to a buyer. The seller only has to disclose what they affirmatively know about the home. If they only owned the home for a short period of time they may not have much knowledge about all of its warts and wrinkles. And even if they do, they can simply avoid the disclosure requirements entirely by knocking $500 off the sale price. The safer approach for any buyer is to hire a reputable home inspector to give you a true and accurate picture of the home’s condition. You want a home inspector who is thorough and not afraid to give you an honest assessment of the condition of the home. Never use the home inspector recommended by the seller of the listing agent.

Retain a Lawyer.  Under New York law, lawyers are required to draw up contracts and deeds; and provide legal advice on the litany of issues that arise in real estate deals, such as easements, property line disputes, and environmental contamination. Sadly, many home buyers shop for a lawyer as if they were buying a commodity. If your lawyer is the lowest priced lawyer in town, there is probably a good reason for that and you don’t want to find out why. You want to retain a knowledgeable and experienced lawyer who can effectively and efficiently get you to a successful closing. Contract contingencies, title issues, shared driveways, and mortgage legalese can all derail a real estate deal. Your home will likely be the single largest purchase of your life. Make sure you retain a good lawyer to protect your interests in that transaction.

Terence Robinson is a Partner at Boylan Code LLP, a full service law firm with more than fifty legal professionals focused on serving you, the client. Offices are conveniently located in Canandaigua, Newark, and Rochester. This article is not legal advice.
Email: trobinson@boylancode.com

To read the published article in the Daily Messenger, click here.