Home Buying Guide

Congratulations on embarking on the journey of buying your new home! This comprehensive home buying guide is designed to walk you through the necessary steps. At Top Shelf Group, our Lancaster realty experts will offer valuable insights at each stage. We highly advise careful consideration of each of the home buying steps, particularly if you’re a first-time buyer.

Home Buying Guide – Step 1: START YOUR SEARCH

Beginning the process of purchasing a new home starts with an initial consultation, whether conducted in person or through digital channels. During this meeting, we’ll gain a deep understanding of your specific needs and requirements, solidifying our commitment to working together by signing a buyer agency contract. Furthermore, we’ll set you up with a personalized search through the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), enabling you to save your preferred homes and providing a platform for comments and collaboration.

Investing in a home represents one of the most pivotal decisions in your life. It’s more than just a roof over your head; it’s where life unfolds, cherished memories are created, and it lays the financial foundation for your future.

Your unique needs will steer the course of when and how we find your next home. From this point forward, every action taken by the Top Shelf Group will be driven by your objectives and your vision of life in a new environment. Once we’ve gained a comprehensive understanding of your aspirations, the process of discovering your dream home will progress more swiftly, with minimal disruption to your daily life.

Home Buying Guide – Step 2: GET PRE-APPROVED

Why should you get pre-approved? Simple – to determine what you can comfortably afford. It also allows us to move quickly when we find the right house. Getting pre-approved for a mortgage is a crucial step in the home buying process. The Top Shelf Group will be able to recommend lenders tailored to your financial situation.

Pre-approval gives you a clear understanding of how much you can afford. It helps in narrowing down your search and prevents wasting time looking at homes outside your budget. Sellers prefer buyers who are pre-approved, as it shows you’re a serious and qualified purchaser. This will strengthen your offer in a competitive market. Pre-approval streamlines the mortgage process, potentially reducing the time needed to close on a home once your offer is accepted. Getting pre-approved will reveal any credit or financial issues that might affect your mortgage application. This gives you time to resolve these issues before making an offer on a home.

The Top Shelf Group is well-versed in the real estate market and understands the importance of finding the right lender. We will recommend lenders based on their expertise and understanding of your financial needs. Whether you’re a first-time buyer, self-employed, have specific financial circumstances, or need a particular type of loan, we will recommend lenders who are experienced in working with clients in similar situations. This tailored approach ensures that you are matched with a lender who not only meets your financial criteria but also provides a smooth and efficient mortgage process.

Home Buying Guide – Step 3: Tour Homes

Let’s arrange to tour the homes you’re most interested in by visiting the property either in person or virtually to determine the best fit for you. Refining your “wants” and “needs” list will help us identify what’s most important to you, including both the location and the house itself.

During in-person tours, we will visit properties together. Typically, homeowners won’t be present, granting you the freedom to spend as much time as needed to explore each property.

While visiting homes, you might have an initial instinctual reaction. Although first impressions matter, the Top Shelf Group will provide guidance on home values and assist in assessing priorities based on what’s available within your price range.

As for the number of homes to visit, some buyers discover their ideal home right away, while others may view several properties before finding one that fits their criteria. Exploring a few alternatives is advisable for comparison, but sometimes, a home simply feels like the right fit from the start.

When visiting homes, it’s essential to:

  • Look beyond the staged décor to assess the house’s features and fixtures that come with the property
  • Evaluate the home’s condition and take notes or photos for reference
  • Consider potential home improvements and research their costs later
  • Examine the neighborhood and outside property, taking note of amenities and nearby facilities
  • We have access to pertinent neighborhood insights and data to aid in your decision-making
  • Locate essential points like commute routes, schools, shops, restaurants, parks, and other amenities
  • Review fees and regulations in case the property is part of a condominium or homeowners association

As your dedicated partner in this home search journey, you may reach out anytime should you have any questions about the homes we visit.

Home Buying Guide – Step 4: Make an Offer

Once you’ve narrowed down your list and have a clear favorite, we’re ready to make an offer on a home. We will evaluate the market and draft a well-thought-out offer that also protects your interests.

When preparing your offer, it will be meticulously crafted using the latest standard purchase offer forms in compliance with state and local laws. 

The components of your offer will encompass crucial details:

  • The specified price
  • Terms, including considerations like a request for closing cost assistance or making the offer contingent upon obtaining financing and a home inspection
  • A target closing date
  • Guidance on the earnest money deposit, with advice tailored to local customs and prevailing conditions
  • A request for a final walk-through
  • A stipulated time limit for the offer

Common contingencies in an offer involve financing and a home inspection. Unless paying in cash, including a contingency clause allowing you to retract the offer if you can’t finalize your mortgage within a specific timeframe is typical. Similarly, making the offer contingent upon a satisfactory home inspection report within a designated period safeguards you in case substantial and necessary repairs are revealed.

In case of facing multiple offers, especially in a competitive market, strategic efforts will be employed to enhance the likelihood of your offer being accepted. Armed with real-time market data, the Top Shelf Group will navigate the situation, considering options like understanding the seller’s priorities, discussing the possibility of waiving contingencies, adjusting the price, or crafting a personalized “love letter” about the house.

If there are multiple offers on the table, sellers may choose to accept the best offer, counter all offers to negotiate better terms, or counter a single offer that aligns closely with their preferences. Negotiating with the seller on various aspects, such as a specific moving date or potential adjustments to contingencies, is a part of the multifaceted strategy in this scenario.

A counteroffer may occur when the seller responds to your offer with adjustments to the terms. This starts a back-and-forth negotiation process where you can either accept or reject the counteroffer and propose your own adjustments. The contract becomes final only when both parties—buyer and seller—agree to all terms. Rest assured, our team will be diligently working on your behalf throughout the negotiation process to secure the most favorable terms for your purchase.

Home Buying Guide – Step 5: Execute Contract

Our team is ready to help you navigate all the steps that lead to a successful close – organizing and coordinating between the lender, title company, agents, sellers, and you, the buyers.

The crucial period between an offer and a final contract is an important time to stay in close contact with the Top Shelf Group so you’re equipped with all the information you need to make smart decisions. In the comprehensive multi-page contract, several crucial elements merit attention, including:

  • Ensuring the accuracy of information, encompassing the correct spelling of your name and the property address
  • Noting the effective date of the contract, a critical aspect due to the time limits associated with contingencies
  • Listing contingencies, such as the dependence on financing, an appraisal, a satisfactory home inspection, and potentially the sale of your current home
  • Adhering to property disclosure information from the seller, as dictated by state laws
  • Documenting a comprehensive list of items conveying with the property
  • Specifying required inspections, such as a home inspection and pest inspection
  • Providing information regarding the permissible move-in date
  • Incorporating, if applicable, a “kick-out” clause, allowing the seller to consider another offer if presented before your current home is sold

During our review of the contract, the Top Shelf Group will ensure that all your questions are thoroughly addressed.

Deciding when to negotiate and when to consider other options involves a collaborative effort to balance your desire for a particular property with the compromises you are willing to make. Consider letting go when faced with a bidding war that escalates the price excessively, an appraised value below your offer, significant defects uncovered during a home inspection, an uncooperative seller regarding reasonable repairs, or when homeowners’ association rules pose challenges.

To sidestep common contract pitfalls, we will remain vigilant for unrealistic deadlines, as sufficient time is needed for crucial processes like home inspections and financing arrangements. Missing deadlines jeopardizes the opportunity to terminate the contract while retaining your deposit. Additionally, the Top Shelf Group will carefully examine items that may not be conveyed with the property, and we will help you navigate communications from your lender.

According to data from the National Association of REALTORS®, the most prevalent reasons for contract failures or delays include home inspection issues, financing challenges, or appraisal discrepancies. Our team will stand by your side throughout this process, guiding you through the intricacies of a real estate contract.

Home Buying Guide – Step 6: Home Inspection

A professional home inspection, which discloses vital information about a home, is an option you can choose before finalizing your purchase. As soon as your offer is accepted, you will schedule your home inspection. We have several trusted home inspectors to recommend.

During a home inspection, your inspector will meticulously assess over a thousand items, including systems, appliances, and structural elements, to evaluate the overall condition of your home. The resulting written report will outline potential issues and highlight future maintenance considerations. 

Together, we’ll review the report to determine whether it warrants walking away from the property or if you’d prefer to request repairs from the sellers. Alternatively, you may opt for an “information-only” inspection, indicating that you are buying the house as-is but wish to be informed about its condition.

The inspector will examine various aspects, including:

  • Structural conditions such as the foundation, beams, and floors
  • The condition of the roof
  • Mechanical systems like heating and air conditioning
  • Appliances to ensure proper functionality
  • Plumbing for leaks, rust, and water pressure
  • Electrical systems, checking for grounded outlets and code violations
  • Safety issues, including stairs, handrails, mold, or chimney maintenance

The home inspection will provide you an opportunity to enhance your understanding of home maintenance and identify potential issues firsthand. The inspector will address any questions as they arise, so feel free to inquire if there’s anything you find unclear or concerning.

Following the inspection, we should determine whether to negotiate based on the report’s findings. Key questions to pose to the inspector include:

  • Are the flagged items major or minor issues?
  • What actions are necessary to resolve the highlighted concerns?
  • Can you supply an estimate for the cost of any required repairs?
  • Is another inspection, such as by an electrician or structural engineer, advisable?
  • Are there post-move-in tasks that need attention?

Home Buying Guide – Step 7: Home Insurance

Home insurance protects your new home and belongings from accidental damage. Make sure you insure your home with a plan that fits.  Contact your insurance company to obtain a quote. 

Home insurance is crucial for safeguarding your property and financial well-being. It provides protection against unforeseen events ensuring that your investment and possessions are secure.  In addition, homeowner insurance offers liability coverage, offering protection in case someone is injured on your property. Having adequate home insurance is a fundamental step in achieving peace of mind and a sense of security for you and your family.

Home Buying Guide – Step 8: Home Warranty

Secure a home warranty to maintain the essential, major systems and appliances that may be costly to repair out of pocket.

Some home sellers pay for a home warranty that covers them while their home is on the market and conveys to the buyers after the sale. We will work together to determine whether we should negotiate for the seller to pay for a warranty or buy one yourself.

A home warranty policy, which typically lasts for one year and is renewable, provides coverage for some of your home’s systems and appliances. In return for the annual fee, the company will cover repair costs and arrange for contractors. You’ll pay a deductible fee and possibly service fees if you need to use the warranty.

If you’re buying an existing home, especially one with appliances that are more than four years old, a home warranty can give you peace of mind about paying for unexpected repairs and finding a reliable contractor. If you’re a first-time buyer, especially if you have limited savings, this will be particularly important.

If you have plenty of emergency savings, you’re handy, or you know good contractors, you may not need a warranty. You can count on us to provide referrals for recommended contractors.

If you’re buying a newly built home, structural defects are usually under warranty by the builder for 10 years, and other items are typically covered for six months to two years, so you don’t usually need a home warranty.

To choose a good home warranty, it’s important to review:

  • The home warranty company’s license with your state’s real estate commission
  • The fine print (that’s where you’ll find exclusions and limitations)
  • What’s covered and what’s not
  • The coverage limits (your repairs will only be paid for up to a specific level)
  • Service fees and deductibles
  • How quickly service and claims are handled
  • How contractors are vetted and what happens if you use your own
  • Coverage differences between a basic warranty and enhanced warranty
  • Online reviews

You may always turn to the Top Shelf Group for home warranty recommendations and advice.

Home Buying Guide – Step 9: Closing

Prepare to assemble the necessary documents, complete the paperwork, and arrange for a mover as you approach the final stages of your home purchase. It’s essential to make a decision on a title or settlement company to handle the title search and facilitate the settlement. Our recommendation is TA Elite of Central PA.

Feel certain and confident leading up to your closing day, as the Top Shelf Group will ensure you are thoroughly ready for the process. Your peace of mind on closing day is our top priority.

We’ll maintain open communication to ensure all your queries are addressed, and you feel prepared as you approach the moment of signing on the dotted line. As your closing day approaches, keep this checklist nearby:

  • Stay in constant communication with us, your lender, and the title company
  • Avoid actions that might lower your credit score, such as new credit applications or past due payments
  • Confirm the resolution of contract contingencies, including the home inspection, appraisal, and financing
  • Finalize your homeowner’s insurance policy
  • Assemble your down payment and closing-cost funds in an accessible account
  • Review your closing disclosure form, received three days prior to settlement, and seek clarification if needed
  • Arrange a wire transfer or obtain a cashier’s check for the necessary settlement funds
  • Schedule a walk-through of your new home within 24 hours before closing to confirm its condition

During the closing, we will finalize all necessary paperwork to complete the sale of your new home. Plan to allocate a few hours for this process. Bring the following to the closing:

  • A government-issued photo ID
  • Proof of homeowners insurance
  • Your copy of the contract
  • All paperwork related to your loan and the home purchase
  • Confirmation of your cashier’s check or wire transfer
  • Your checkbook for any miscellaneous funds not included in your closing estimate

Required paperwork for closing includes numerous documents, some of which you previously signed during the loan application. Key documents include:

  • Promissory note for mortgage repayment
  • Deed of trust, granting the lender the right to foreclose if the loan is not repaid
  • Initial escrow disclosure, outlining funds on deposit for property taxes and homeowners insurance
  • Right to cancel form, allowing a three-business-day cancellation period
Couple who just bought their new house

Following your closing:

  • Safeguard all signed documents in a secure location
  • Update your address
  • Change locks and security codes in your new home
  • Review due dates and adjust your budget accordingly

Congratulations! You now have the keys to your new home! We hope these home buying guidelines have made the process easier to understand.

Post-purchase, feel free to ask for recommendations from service specialists or advice on home care. If you ever decide to sell down the road, the Top Shelf Group will be ready with valuable insights. You’ll always have our contact information, and we are always here to assist.

Where the highest quality of service is our signature …

Top Shelf team

Take the Next Step

Are you prepared for the next phase of your home buying journey? Kickstart your home search by completing the Buyer Questionnaire!