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Buying a house

This timeline is simply a memory aid for the things you'll need to do when buying a new home. Your sequence may differ greatly, although you'll probably need to do most of the same things.

You may find your dream home in a week, or it may take months. Your time frame will also hinge on whether you're moving across town or across the country. It's smart to be prepared for any scenario.

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6 months out

  • Narrow your territory. Buyers generally buy town first, neighborhood second, house third. Cancel out the towns and neighborhoods you don't care for. You can do this on your own or with a one-time area tour with an agent. You're eliminating what you don't want.
  • Know your financial situation. Get a credit check. Leave yourself time to correct any problems.
  • Determine how much house you can afford. This is just for your own use. The mortgage lender will also make this determination at a later point.
  • Think about your budget and structure your home selection around that. Should you be looking at a townhouse or a single-family, someplace in the suburbs or a little farther out?
  • Interview real estate agents to help you with your search.
  • 4 months out

    • Select a mortgage broker or a mortgage lender. They'll run your credit and get preliminary information such as bank statements and retirement and investment account numbers.
    • Talk with your bank or mortgage company. Double-check your buying power. You don't want to waste time looking at homes you can't afford.
      Mortgages: How much house can you afford?
      Calculator: How much house can you afford?
    • Get pre-approved for a mortgage. Make an application. Collect the required documents and paperwork. Have a mortgage just waiting for the address of the property you want to buy.
    • Here is a list of questions to ask when applying for a mortgage.
    • Your lender should give you a copy of a Housing and Urban Development publication called "Your Settlement Costs." It explains all the fees and expenses you should know about.
    • Make sure you have a local real estate attorney. Don't wait until you find a house to find an attorney.

    6 weeks out

    • If you're doing a corporate relocation, find out exactly what is covered and what you're expected to do.
    • Make a list of everyone who needs to be notified of the move -- friends, relatives, creditors, schools, doctors and dentists.

    5 weeks out

    • Select a mover. Arrange for a storage facility if you won't be moving into a new home right away after you leave your current home.
    • Contact insurance companies to make sure your belongings are covered during the move. If not, find out what the mover covers. Their basic insurance probably insures items by the pound, which isn't good enough. See what other insurance they offer.
    • Have an appraisal of expensive items you want shipped by the mover.

    2 weeks out

    • Arrange to have utilities and phone service in your old home shut off, or transferred if it's a local move. Remember, movers need light so have the power cut off the day after you move.

    1 week out

    • Close safe-deposit box. Important papers, jewelry and the like should be kept with you during the move.
    • You may want to close savings accounts, but keep checking accounts open until you're able to open new ones in your new location.
    • Get a cashier's check for the movers.

    When you find a house

    • Make an offer.
    • Title search -- the buyer or the lender should initiate a title search. You want to be sure there are no liens or encumbrances on the property.
    • Inspection: the real estate agent will recommend having a home inspection. Here are tips for finding and hiring an inspector.
    • The lender will hire an appraiser. This will ascertain whether the house is worth what the buyer is paying.
    • Get homeowners insurance. Proof of insurance will be faxed to the closing agent.
    • Consider a home warranty. It either comes with the listing or it can be purchased.
    • Be prepared for closing. Review your paperwork and the HUD publication "Your Settlement Costs." The down payment, interest, taxes and insurance are among the costs you'll probably have to pay.
    • Cash to close -- figure out where you'll get the money for closing costs. Do you have to sell stocks? If you're borrowing from a relative make sure the check is in your account long enough to clear.
    • Get a cashier's check for closing costs. (Also: Tips to avoid last minute closing costs)
    Closing day/Moving day
    • Carefully review the bill of lading.
    • If the old house isn't sold yet, make sure a relative and the real estate agent have keys.
    • Final walk through of the house. This is usually done the day of the closing or the day before.
    • Make sure you have all the payments you'll need to take possession of the house.

    With assistance from Lori Dahl, Burgdorff Realtors, Parsippany, N.J.,
    and Jim Bradley, president of American Residential Le
    nding, Atlanta, Ga.

    -- Posted: May 16, 2005
    Print   E-mail

    '05 Real Estate Guide
    30 yr fixed mtg 3.80%
    15 yr fixed mtg 3.04%
    5/1 jumbo ARM 3.19%
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