Finding, buying, and moving into your new home is a team effort. Before you make your move (or even start house hunting) pick the players you want with you on your journey, from a reliable real estate agent and a trusted home lender to an attorney, home inspector, and insurance agent. Some of these team members will likely stay with you through the life of your homeownership and even beyond, into your next move. As with any relationship, you’ll want to trust your instincts but also set criteria for getting your needs met.
Your real estate agent
It helps to have all or most of the players in place from the start, but the very first person you’ll want to connect with as you begin to assess your options is a reputable real estate agent.
Your preliminary search for a new home will likely begin online, especially if you’re looking in an area where you don’t currently live. Depending on your time frame, taking a few weeks to look online can give you a sense of the market in terms of home prices and inventories. Many real estate sites will offer data on market trends, real estate taxes, local services, crime rates, and schools. But you’ll want to connect with someone you can trust for insight into what these numbers mean to you and how they translate on the ground. Online inquiries will inevitably mean calls from a number of brokers eager for your business. You may get a sense of which ones seem most knowledgeable and responsive to your needs, but you can also check online for their background, sales records and reviews.
Of course, personal recommendations are great, but bear in mind that your cousin’s friend may not necessarily be the agent for you. The top seller in any given market or at any agency may not be right for you either. The key is how well they listen to you and whether the houses they show you fit your criteria. If a particular agent shows you homes above your price range or in areas you don’t like, think twice. They may be offering helpful market insight, but they may also be looking out for their own interests above yours. Above all, trust your comfort level and your gut.
Bear in mind that a trusted real estate agent is invaluable when it comes to actually making an offer on a house. They know the market and may even have insights about the seller and can advise you on making the most attractive offer without over-extending yourself. The more your agent understands you and appreciates what you value, the better they can help guide your choices in every inning of the home-buying game.
Your home lender
Before you begin your house hunt in earnest, you’ll want to be pre-approved for a mortgage. That way, you can act quickly to make an offer on the house you want. Knowing how much you can borrow, and at what rate, will help you decide how much you can realistically afford.
Again, your search will likely begin online. Look for the best interest rates offered, of course, but bear in mind that the right rate will depend on a number of factors personal to you, including your credit score and the amount of your down payment. To keep your house-hunting options as open as possible, you might consider getting pre-approved for the top end of your purchase price range. Before you know how much you can realistically afford in monthly mortgage payments, you’ll need to consider how much you have saved or might be gifted for a down payment. Think about carrying costs, like insurance and taxes, as well as energy, utility, and maintenance costs.
While online calculators can help, it’s best to get the assistance of an actual person. Once you’ve homed in on the banks or mortgage lending institutions offering the best rates, you’ll want to speak with someone (preferably in person) about your best options. Bear in mind that relationships truly are key here. Banks will often offer better rates to customers who already have checking and savings accounts with them.
Because their licensing requires a good deal of expertise in local real estate law, your real estate agent can help you with tasks like preparing a home purchase contract. Some states, however, require an attorney to prepare the home purchase documents, perform a title search, and close the deal. As a buyer, if you are taking a mortgage, your lender will have an attorney assigned to represent the bank at closing. In most cases the same attorney will agree to represent you as buyer at no cost. In most states, it's up to you whether to hire your own lawyer. Real estate attorney fees vary. Some charge by the hour with rates ranging from $150 to $350 per hour, while others offer a fixed rate to conduct a real estate closing. If you hire an attorney, you can expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $1500. Whether you hire an attorney can be something you discuss with your real estate agent and may depend on the details of a particular home purchase.
Your home inspector
Once you’ve found a house you love, you’ll most likely want to include a home inspection contingency. This is a particularly good idea for both new construction and older homes. The choice of home inspector is another one that your real estate agent can help you make. You may want to conduct a background check online, but most agents make recommendations based on a history of satisfied clients. If your offer is accepted, your home inspection will be scheduled quickly, usually within a week or even just a few days. Attend the inspection and take your time. This is the longest period you’ll have in the house until it’s your home. At this stage of the game, your inspector is the most important member of your team, pointing out any unseen defects you might want to negotiate to have fixed. Your real estate agent will help you determine which repairs are most essential, what to fight for, what you might be able to deal with in the future and how, if at all, this affects your offer.
Your insurance agent
Just as important as your choice of real estate agent is your choice of insurance agent. Timing of this choice can also be earlier than you may think. If you are deciding between two properties and want to consider which one may be less costly to insure, you may want to reach out to a State Farm agent at this stage. Once your final offer has been accepted and you go to contract, your State Farm agent can help you select coverage that’s right for you. A local State Farm agent will be able to educate you about certain types of weather coverage in the area you are moving to, like hail and earthquakes, and basement/sewer backup coverage. They can help you find the right balance between the deductible and premium to fit your budget and can recommend discounts that may be available in your area for features like sprinklers and home security systems.
Bear in mind that your lender will require insurance to be in place before closing. At the closing, you will likely be required to pay the entire first year’s home insurance premium.
Even if you don’t have a mortgage, insurance is a critical part of protecting your investment. Beyond closing, your State Farm agent will remain a valued member of your team. At first, particularly if you are new to the area, they may be able to offer recommendations for a reliable electrician and plumber to be sure your home is as safeguarded as possible from potential problems. As you settle in and throughout the life of your home ownership, your State Farm agent can help you review your policies regularly, making sure your policy is right for each life stage of your home and responsive to your changing needs.