Are You Buying a House in Seattle? Here’s the Ultimate Survival Guide

Things that aren't for the faint of heart: applying for a loan. Understanding interest rates. Reading complex contracts and documentation. Packing everything you own into a lot of cardboard boxes.

But if you're buying a house, chances are you're about to do all of that and more. It's daunting to make a huge financial decision and find the place you'll spend at least the next few years of your life.

We're here to help! Our home buyers' survival guide will tell you everything you need to know before you take the plunge.

Moving Begins at Home

Organize Your Space

Even the tidiest of people have clothes in the back of the closet they haven't worn in a while. Declutter your life by donating that dress that doesn't fit, the mismatched Tupperware, and that old, beat up coffee table you've had since college.

The fewer boxes you have to pack when you move, the better. And, your wallet will thank you. The moving company charges by the hour, so why pay for them to load boxes of stuff you don't want?

Give Yourself a Weekend Project

Buy a few cans of paint at the store and make sure the home you're leaving looks spiffy. If you're selling your current home, a fresh coat of paint on the walls can increase interest and attract potential buyers.

Leaving an apartment? Take a weekend to remove anything you hung on the walls and fill in the holes.

Start Packing Now

Once you get into the process of buying a house, your free time will disappear. Meetings with your mortgage broker, house showings, and inspections fill up the calendar quickly! If you get a head start on your packing, you're less likely to wake up the day of closing only to realize you haven't even taken the books off the bookshelves.

Don't overwhelm yourself by trying to pack everything at once. Aim for one or two boxes a day, and start stacking them somewhere out of the way once they're full. That way, boxes won't clutter your living space while you sort through your belongings.

Show Me the Money

Obtain a Pre-Approval Letter

A mortgage broker is one of the first friends you'll make while you look for a house. After all, what does it take to buy a house? Money.

Cut down on the stress of the application process by gathering all of the needed documents before you contact a broker. Once all of the paperwork is in their hands, your broker can tell you exactly how much house you can afford and what your likely monthly payment will be based on that figure.

Know How Much Cash You Need In Your Pocket

Your mortgage pre-approval amount will also give you a better idea of how much you need to have saved for the earnest money, down payment and other closing costs. Your broker and realtor can both help you understand what you should expect to pay at closing.

Your real estate agent can also give you an idea of how much you'll spend on things like an inspection, a moving service, and minor repairs on moving day. They often have recommendations for local businesses, and might even get you a discount!

Start Your Search

Partner with a Realtor

Although there are plenty of websites out there featuring houses for sale, there's really no substitute for a real estate agent. They know all the secrets and tips on how to buy a house-- it's their job!

Many agents can set up an automated search that will deliver a few houses to your inbox every day. View the listing's pictures and let your agent know when something catches your eye.

Keep Your Expectations in Check

The pictures you see online of listed houses are usually "best-case scenario." Even new construction is rarely as perfect as advertised.

Be prepared to see issues when you walk through a house and ask your real estate agent for his or her opinion. Even a little crack in the fireplace brick can signal a larger problem with the foundation. A good realtor knows how to look for those indications and can tell you just how much it matters if the floor is a little uneven or there's an old water stain on the ceiling.

Also, know that you may fall in love with a house in pictures and hate it the minute you walk in. But go see houses you don't love from the pictures, too, because who knows? The listing agent may just be a really bad photographer!

Know Your Area

Like a lot of big cities, Seattle's suburbs may be a more economical or practical choice than life in the heart of downtown. Do your research. Know your maximum desired commute time, how far you want to live from the grocery store, and where the best schools and public parks are located.

Your search area can also affect your budget. Property taxes are dependent upon location, and some suburbs may have lower property values because of the age of homes or the presence of less desirable neighbors, like industrial parks or an active rail line.

Know what you can compromise on and what you can't live without.

Actually Buying a House

Submit an Offer

You've made it this far through the survival guide. Now, it's time for the true test. Don't panic.

Call your mortgage broker as soon as you've seen the house you want to buy. The broker and your real estate agent will want to stay in touch from the offer all the way to closing.

Once you've discussed the offer with your agent and decided on a price, your broker will run some final checks. With a specific address, the broker will confirm that you're approved for the amount of money this house will cost with respect to exact property taxes, etc.

If you're submitting a contract to the seller as an offer, sit down with your agent or schedule a phone call to go over the entire document. Most contracts are standardized, but it's always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the contract terms and ask your agent any questions before you sign the paperwork.

Order an Inspection

Even if your real estate agent has an eagle eye, houses often have quirks only discovered during an inspection. Most inspectors don't require the buyer's presence during the appointment, but it's a good idea to attend if possible to get another look at the house and be on hand to ask and answer any questions that come up.

After the inspection, review the results with your real estate agent and decide what, if any, repairs you'll request from the seller before closing. Don't be afraid to ask for even little fixes. At worst, the seller will say no and you'll have a project when you move in.

If the inspector finds a big problem -- maybe the shower drains directly into the crawl space beneath the house, or the roof needs to be replaced -- and the seller won't agree to perform repairs, you can counter with a lower sale price. The seller might change their mind and agree to repairs; if not, you'll have saved money you can use to fix the problem yourself.

Schedule Your Closing

You've arrived at the buying portion of the buying guide! It's time to sign all of the paperwork and assume ownership of your house.

At this point, you've already given the title company the earnest money for the purchase. At closing, you'll be responsible for the down payment and any closing costs. Many title companies will only accept this payment in the form of a Cashier's Check or wire transfer.

The title company will have several documents for your signature. They will supply copies of all these documents for your records as well as any other documents they've required throughout the closing process before you leave. You will likely receive a copy of the signed, executed contract and the property survey to name a few.

Own Your Home

Settle in and relax! You've survived the home buyers' journey and you have a beautiful new house to show for it. We can't wait to see what you'll do with it!

If you want more information on home buying in Seattle, or saving money on your home loan, check out our blog. And contact us if you're ready to jump back into the housing market! We're always happy to help make your dream of buying a house into a reality.

Joe Tafolla
Joe Tafolla
Branch Manager at Seattle's Mortgage Broker

About the Author

Helping Seattleites buy their dream homes for over 15 years. Founder of Seattle's Mortgage Broker and author of Homeownership Simplified: The Truth about ZERO Down.

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