Posted on January 28th, 2017 No comments
You’ve just got an offer accepted on a home and now the hard work really begins. It’s time for your buyer’s inspections to determine if this really is the right home for you. It would be nice to depend on the seller for all this information. But the fact of the matter is, most sellers can’t recall everything that has happened in their home over the years. And quite often homeowners get used to the funny quirks of their house and don’t even notice them anymore. And sometimes sellers are not aware of issues that exist, and wouldn’t be able to disclose them anyway. Therefore, it’s crucial to hire the right inspectors to assess the home’s condition. Keep in mind, inspectors can’t always find everything. If the roof needs repair and it hasn’t rained in years, the inspector is probably not going to detect it. But if it rained recently and they can detect elevated moisture, then you are on track to discovering a potential needed repair.
The First Step is a Home Inspection
Buyer’s inspections run the gamut. I will provide you with a pretty comprehensive list below, but it’s always important to start with the general home inspection. The home inspector will give you an overview of the home and then indicate where there may be a need for additional inspections or experts. The home inspector will look at the foundation, roof, plumbing, electric, appliances, water fixtures, doors, windows, and general condition. They will report any discrepancies or issues that they see. The home inspector is a generalist however. If they think there is an issue with the roof or some cracks in the walls look suspect, they will make a note of it and then recommend that you bring in a roofer or foundation inspector, respectively.
When I am working with a buyer, the buyer’s inspections that I always recommend, at the bare minimum, are the home inspection, mold inspection, and termite inspection. As I stated above, the home inspector will give a good general overview of the home. A mold inspector will focus on moisture elevation, water leaks, and well… mold. The mold inspection is so crucial because leaks often occur that no one is aware of. Left unattended, water can lead to wood damage and mold which of course carries health concerns with it.
The termite inspection is also a smart move. As the buyer, you want to know about any dry rot, wood damage, and termite infestation. It’s so much easier to tent a house for fumigation before you move in. Termite repairs, as all repairs, can be negotiated with the seller.
If it’s an older home with mature trees, then I also suggest a sewer line inspection. Quite often tree branches penetrate the sewer line because they are searching for water. They can cause quite a bit of damage and can be costly.
Best Practices for Your Buyer’s Inspections
Schedule your buyer’s inspections on the same day with some overlap in time. You want to be able to speak with each inspector separately, but it’s also a great idea to have the inspectors at the property at the same time so they can share information. I find problem solving more effective when different experts can share their perspectives. Recently, I had a client who was buying a house in the Hollywood Rivieria in Torrance, CA. The inspectors detected a high level of moisture all along the base of an exterior wall within an enclosed patio. Each of the inspectors had a theory on where the moisture was coming from. There was no nearby plumbing and the crawl space underneath the house was dry. Getting to the bottom of this mystery was important in order for my clients to know if it was a singular incident or an ongoing problem that could prove to be expensive to correct. In this instance, we ended up bringing in a water intrusion specialist. He determined that the dark stains on the floor were probably from potted plants that had sat under the windows even before the patio was enclosed eons ago.
These plants had probably been overwatered causing the dampness and elevated moisture. The deceased owner’s children confirmed this when they disclosed that their mother kept plants under the windows as long as they could remember – even when they were kids and the patio was an outside space. They also mentioned that they had asked their mom’s aide to stop overwatering the plants only a few weeks prior. Mystery solved! My clients could move forward knowing that there wasn’t a moisture issue to contend with.
Here is a partial list of buyer’s inspections for you to consider when buying your home: General Home Inspection, Wood Destroying Pest Inspection, Mold, Foundation, Sewer Line, Roof, Electrical, Plumbing, Lead Based Paint, Methane Gas, Asbestos, Pool/Spa, Chimney, Square Footage, Permits, Boundaries, Soils, Radon Gas
Not all inspections will apply to every property and some will only come up if there are red flags on the home inspection. But it’s a good idea to know what type of inspections are available and what information you want to gather when buying a home.
Posted on January 10th, 2017 No comments
Conforming loan limits for Fannie Mae have increased for 2017!
With the increase in housing affordability in the real estate market, conforming loan limits have increased for the first time since 2006. Here are the new limits for Fannie Mae loans for 2017 in Los Angeles county:
Conforming Loan Limits
1 Unit: $424,100
2 Units: $543,000
3 Units: $656,350
4 Units: $815,650
Conforming Loan Limits for High Cost Areas
1 Unit: $636,150
2 Units: $814,500
3 Units: $984,525
4 Units: $1,223,475
What does this mean for home buyers? Buyers have an opportunity to borrow more money (with a Fannie Mae product) which is good news since home prices have continued to climb since the market began its rebound toward the end of 2012. In fact, for the first time since the Great Recession, the average US home price has returned to pre-market crash levels. With the real estate recovery, the conforming loan limits should continue to have increases on an annual basis.
There is also talk about interest rates increasing over the next year. They have already ticked up above 4% for the first time in a couple of years. For those home buyers who are at their maximum borrowing power already, any additional rate increase could prevent them from getting a loan. And if rates continues to climb, it could have a slow down effect on the market, and ultimately put downward pressure on prices. But for now, for homes priced at $1.5 million and below, the tight inventory and high demand has continued to push prices up.
Posted on September 20th, 2016 No comments
To Sign or Not to Sign the Arbitration Clause in the Residential Purchase Contract
The Arbitration Clause in the Residential Purchase Contract (RPA) in Southern California is the only section of the contract that may not be agreed upon by buyer and seller and yet you still have a fully executed contract. Most buyers’ agents tell their clients to sign this clause without fully understanding it, and without fully explaining it.
The Arbitration Clause comes into effect if buyer and seller have a dispute, and mediation does not work. Mediation is compulsory, but not binding. This mean that if there’s a dispute between buyer and seller, they must go to Mediation. However if they don’t like the result, they don’t have to adhere to it. Arbitration, on the other hand, is voluntary but the decision is binding. There is no jury in an Arbitration, and you can’t appeal a decision. The upsides are that it’s much faster and much less expensive than going to court.
What a lot of agents don’t tell their clients is that you don’t have to agree to Arbitration at the time you sign the offer. Both parties can always decide to go to Arbitration at a later date even if the clause is not signed. In fact, my broker, RE/MAX Estate Properties has been instructed by our E&O insurance company not to sign the Arbitration Clause in a listing agreement for this very reason. The E&O company wants the flexibility to decide at a later date if there’s a dispute between the Broker and a seller.
Many agents go on auto-pilot when it comes time to sign the contract. They see a blank line for a signature and they assume it needs a signature. Make sure to ask your agent more questions. Ultimately the decision is up to you, but your agent should be giving you the information to help you make these decisions.
Posted on January 28th, 2015 No comments
In southern California where the majority of Realtors use CAR’s residential purchase agreement to make an offer, there have been a number of changes to the contract for 2015. (CAR = California Association of Realtors).
One of the biggest changes – which could potentially restructure how buyers and sellers negotiate – is the removal of the WPA form. WPA stands for Wood Destroying Pest Inspection. It’s basically the form buyers includes with their offer that stipulates that sellers will pay for a termite report as well as any Section 1 items identified on that report. Section 1 items must be fixed prior to the close of escrow (lender requirements) and usually include termite infestation and dry rot among other things. These two are usually the big ticket items. And although these points are negotiable (as is everything in the contract), it was standard practice for sellers to pay for Section 1 items. This was handled up front with the offer. Sellers accepted the fact that this was a standard expense to selling a home. Then when buyers come back with a Request for Repairs, all repairs would be over and above the termite work.
But in 2015, the WPA has been eliminated. Potentially, buyers can still request termite work up front in the offer. And this will probably happen for some time to come. Eventually, however, the process will evolve and termite work will become part of the negotiations for repairs.
The biggest impact from this change is that sellers won’t automatically feel it’s their responsibility to do the termite work, i.e. tent their home for infestation, replace rotted wood with fresh wood. And sellers can simply say they won’t do the work. Of course, they will be more apt to do the work in a buyers’ market and probably less willing in a sellers’ market. These can be expensive repairs and buyers may have to get used to incurring this expense as time goes on.
Posted on January 20th, 2015 No comments
It’s the homes that are all dolled up that sell for the most money. I see it time and again. In this market, buyers are flocking to the properties that are plug and play, meaning they don’t need to do any work. There’s an emotional tug that comes with new floors, custom paint, crown moldings, tastefully remodeled bedrooms and baths. Note to seller: if you’re looking for a higher price, you may want to consider some smart upgrades. For many of my listings, I’ve encouraged my clients to do some minor remodeling. If for every dollar they put in, they can get back $3-4, then it’s worth the effort. It may even be worth it if you can double your investment.Case in point, 1918 Farrell Avenue in Redondo Beach came on the market this week. It immediately got a tremendous amount of traffic. This home was purchased at the end of 2012 (just before the crazy growth) for $661,000. The new owners remodeled the home and re-listed it now (3 years later) for $925,000. And it will probably sell for more. For one, there is still very little inventory out there. Two, this house looks all shiny and new. It’s a quality remodel, the owners definitely improved on the house… and they didn’t have to change the footprint at all. Buyers walked through this home and got a warm and fuzzy feeling. By the end of the weekend, there were multiple offers and although the offer prices were not made public knowledge, I can safely assume that they are at least at the asking price, if not higher.
Note to Buyers, if you want a deal, if you have to buy the ugly house. Or maybe I should say, the ugly duckling. Because with some work, it can be just as pretty, but you probably didn’t have to pay as much money. Now, in crazy seller’s markets, you usually have to pay a premium on everything, but we’ve slowed down a little now in the Southern California. There are homes in Hermosa, Redondo and Manhattan Beach that are staying on the market longer. There could be deals to be had, but you have to be willing to pick up a hammer or pay someone to do it for you.
Posted on July 17th, 2014 No comments
When making your strongest offer on a property, there are other things to consider other than price.
First, you should know what’s important to the seller. Maybe the seller has some specific needs that not every buyer can meet. But if you can craft you offer to meet their needs at the beginning, you stand a better chance of getting your offer accepted.
Second, there are plenty of terms in the purchase contract, making may different opportunities to make your offer stand out from the rest.
You can shorten your escrow period, making it a quick transaction.
You can shorten or eliminate contingencies. Contingencies are a buyer’s “outs”. You can cancel the contract based on several contingencies including a loan contingency, appraisal contingency, investigations contingency, preliminary title contingency, and so on. If you are making an aggressive offer and you suspect you will be paying more than market value, you may want to consider eliminating your appraisal contingency. In this way, the seller doesn’t have to be afraid that the home won’t appraise and you will walk away from the deal. Of course, you have to be prepared to come out-or-pocket for the additional cost.
You can shorten the time period for your investigations and other contingencies.
Seller’s Closing Costs
In a buyer’s market, sellers are often more apt to pay for some of the buyers’ closing costs. Well in a sellers market, a buyer can do the same thing. If you pick up some of the seller’s expenses, you increase their bottom line, making your offer stronger. Sometimes a buyer is not even able to increase the purchase price due loan restrictions, but if he has extra cash, he can pay for some closing costs and possibly win the bidding war.
You don’t need to ask the seller to do termite work. A buyer can take this on themselves at their own discretion. It’s a good idea, however, to still get the termite report in order to determine how much work is needed and what it will cost.
The list can go and, and I’m happy to go over your options with you.
Last, it’s always a good idea to impress upon the seller that you are a motivated buyer to will move quickly with the intent to close. By preparing a complete offer package with all financials, by putting your lender in contact with the listing agent, by giving the seller as much information as possible, and responding in a timely manner will assure the seller that you will be a good partner in the transaction.
Posted on March 17th, 2014 No comments
In a typical real estate transaction in southern California, the buyer has 17 days to do all their due diligence. This includes hiring inspectors to evaluate the condition of the home. Here are some of the inspections that you can consider doing:
This is the bread & butter of inspections. Everyone should have a home inspection. This is a generalist who will assess the following: foundation, roof, plumbing, electrical, appliances. This inspector is not a specialist in any of these areas, but will be able to tell you the general condition of these items and point out any safety concerns and recommended upgrading. The home inspector will recommend you seek an expert in any of these areas if there is some concern about the condition of these items. For instance, if the inspector sees droppings in the attic, he will recommend a termite inspection. If the inspector, sees moisture under a sink, he will recommend a plumber for further investigation. But often, a buyer can base his Request for Repairs on the home inspection report. Keep in mind, that not all home inspectors are created equal. Make sure you use an inspector who is licensed and bonded. Also, it’s a good idea to use someone that either your agent or friend/family member has had experience with.
Mold inspections are not done as regularly as home inspections. But they should be! I always insist that my clients get a mold inspection. Water is a homeowner’s worst enemy and often water damage can go undetected, wreaking havoc behind the scenes. A good mold inspector helps give you a more well-rounded picture of your soon to be new home. And often it can save you from walking into some nightmarish repairs.
Video Sewer Line Inspection
If you want to know the condition of your sewer line, you can have a plumber or sewer line specialist come to the property and put a video camera into the sewer line. You will be able to see if there are any blockages in the line or possibly even tree roots that are impeding the sewer line. I usually recommend this to people who are buying older homes with mature trees on the property.
If you have any questions about the condition of the roof that your home inspector can’t answer or if your home inspector recommends further investigation by a roofer, it’s a good idea to bring someone out who can quote you the cost of a new roof or needed repairs. Often, you can get a roofer to come out for a free estimate.
If you are concerned with some visible cracks or the home inspector thinks there could be some foundation issues, it can be a good idea to hire a foundation inspector. I think it’s helpful to find a foundation inspector who’s also a structural engineer.
Depending on where this house is located, a geologic inspection is something you may want to consider. If there’s concern with the soil or condition of the land, this can be a worthy investment. Areas like Malibu would be a good place to do a geologic inspection.
Normally, the seller will pay for a termite inspection. This report will show signs of termite damage, termite infestation, and dry rot. Keep in mind, when a Wood Destroying Pest Addendum is included in a contract, the lender will require that all termite work be done prior to funding the loan. Typically, a seller will agree to pay for these items. It’s just a matter of coordinating the work prior to escrow closing.
These represent a good number of inspections that you can do as a buyer. Basically, if you have any questions or concerns, you can always bring in an expert for further evaluation. The money you spend on inspections can add up, but it’s a good insurance policy against purchasing a home that will be a money pit of repairs.
Posted on January 13th, 2014 No comments
Qualified Mortgage (QM) standards kicked in as of January 10, 2014. Under the Dodd Frank Reform Act, lenders will need to meet more stringent guidelines in order to fall under the QM safe harbor, be protected from liability. Otherwise, they may be held liable for selling a loan that a borrower can’t afford. One of the major points of QM is that the borrower can’t have their total debt exceed 43% of their total income. There are many borrowers who purchased homes last week that exceeded the 43% Debt to Income ratio. Today, they would not be able to get the same loan.
In my opinion, these new rules under QM are going to shrink the lending landscape even more. Smaller lenders may get out of the mortgage business altogether because it may prove to be too risky for them. It’s the big lenders who will benefit from these new rules. Many of them plan not to adhere to these rules because they can keep the loans in their own portfolios rather than sell them in the secondary market. And now they will have less competition and larger share of the business.
We will see how this all plays out in the coming weeks and months. But if you’re looking to buy a home and your debt (including the mortgage) exceeds 43% of your income, then you will probably be doing business with one of the big lenders like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Chase. Wells Fargo, for instance, will still go up to 50% debt to income ratio.
Posted on January 9th, 2014 No comments
Termite inspections are usually paid for by the seller. And typically the seller pays for Section 1 items and the buyer pays for Section 2 items. This will all be clarified in the purchase contract (RPA) and the Wood Destroying Pest Addendum (WPA). Don’t assume this is how it’s going to be… make sure you deal with this in your negotiations!
Section 1 items are any repairs or treatments that are required in order to get a clearance from the termite company. Examples of Section 1 items are fumigation, spraying, and replacing rotted wood. Section 2 items are those things that do not currently pose a problem but could be a problem in the future. You can consider Section 2 items precautionary measures. For instance, the termite report might indicate that the soil is too high up on the exterior wall of the house. There’s no current problem, but this could lead to dry rot down the road.
Case Study: Termite Inspection in Redondo Beach
Last week, a client of mine had a home inspection for a town home in North Redondo, and the home inspector cited termites in the fence between the property and the neighboring property. The inspector made note of it and suggested any further investigations be taken up with the termite company. However, the termite report didn’t make mention of any termites in the fence. Fences that appear to be on property lines are never included in termite reports because the termite company has no way of knowing who owns or who has responsibility for the fence. Fences are neither Section 1 or Section 2 items. The termite company also explained that it’s not cost effective to chemically treat a fence for termites. You’re better off taking the money and putting it toward replacing wooden boards.
Posted on November 22nd, 2013 No comments
In the South Bay, as in much of the country, we are currently in a Seller’s Market. There is a lack of inventory and a lot of buyers. It’s simple economics: supply and demand. High supply and low demand is a Buyer’s Market; low supply and high demand is a Seller’s Market. And when supply and demand are relatively on par, we have a balanced market.
So if you’re a buyer in this environment, you have some challenges to face. You will be pitted against other buyers who are paying all cash or who are making large down payments or who are willing to shorten or remove contingencies quickly. You need to make your offer as competitive as possible if you want the seller to choose your offer over the others.
But for some buyers it can be even more complicated than this. Some buyers need to sell their home before they can buy a new home (their “upleg”). They are taking the money from the proceeds of the sale of their house and putting it toward the down payment for their new home. Consequently, the offer they make is contingent upon the sale of their home. It’s hard to compete with other buyers when you still have to get your home on the market, find a buyer, and close escrow. Most sellers are going to want as close to a sure thing as possible. An offer contingent upon the sale of the buyer’s property is not a sure thing. So in this seller’s market, it behooves a buyer who has to sell their home to get their home on the market first and lock in a buyer, and then make an offer on an upleg. The key is to sell their home contingent in that way letting the buyer of their property know that the seller is allowed to cancel the deal if they don’t find an upleg.
For example, Bob is selling Home A and wants to buy Home B. Bob should list Home A and sell it contingent upon buying Home B. Bob secures a buyer for Home A and the further along he can get in the escrow of Home A will improve his chances of getting an offer accepted on Home B. Here are some of the scenarios:
Bob does not have Home A on the market and he makes an offer on Home B.
Bob has Home A on the market and he makes an offer on Home B.
Bob has an accepted offer on Home A and makes an offer on Home B.
Bob is in escrow on Home A and makes an offer on Home B.
Bob is in escrow on Home A and the buyers of Home A have removed all their contingencies. Bob makes an offer on Home B.
As you can see, the seller of Home B will probably prefer the last scenario. The buyers for Home A are locked and loaded, and Bob is ready to move forward in an escrow on Home B with less risk than if he didn’t even have his home listed for sale yet. The further along you are in the process of selling your home, the better chances you have of getting an offer accepted on your new home.