Thursday, June 22, 2006

Oh dear, the deer..

For the second time in a month, I saw deer. In a close-in suburban park. More to the point, these two sightings were the first times that I've seen deer in broad daylight (OK, in the evening) outside of the late fall or winter. I spotted them while on the Green Line, as the two were peacefully munching in Oxon Run Park, perhaps a doe and her fawn (neither had antlers).

As beautiful as that little scene was, it made me wonder what would I do if I saw a deer bound across the road while driving to or fro my relatives' house, which is in walking distance of the park? In fact, what should drivers in general do if they spot deer crossing, or about to cross, the road? (I did, in fact, see a chicken cross the road from a gas station in Richmond a few years back, but...) There are some busy roads near that park, as it's bordered on one side by Naylor Road, and the Suitland Parkway on another, and is situated between two subway stations that are only five minutes' driving distance from each other, so you can imagine the traffic.

I'm a little rattled about the fauna because it's not even deer mating season, yet there they were, in an urban/suburban area, completely unfazed by a passing train. (At least they weren't grazing right by the roadside.) Let's hope these critters are more citified than is usually the case.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The (Real) Deal

Some time ago, I got off a roller coaster without setting foot in an amusement park. The other side of a real estate deal forfeited, and I decided to get off the whirligig, for now.

For a while before that nondeal, I have been extremely annoyed by ads from slicksters claiming how they will buy or sell your home (realtors, and scarily, nonrealtors) in less than 7 days. The simple fact is that if your house is in good condition, attractive, in a "hot" real estate market, and is priced appropriately, you'll have little problem selling your home within that period of time, regardless of who sells it for you. In any case, selling your home is the relatively easy part of the real estate dance. (It's the buying part that's the true headache.) When everything goes well, that is.

If you're selling your home to buy another one (which is what many people do), it's best to use an agent, who can handle both transactions--the selling of your current home, and the subsequent purchase of another. Using an agent can make it easier to maintain your privacy in the process, by, for instance, allowing you to restrict inquiries to serious buyers (e.g., by appointment only, with an agent), and request that no sign be posted on your property--with all the people scouring the Internet to find a home, no sign is needed (which attracts gawkers and other nosy folk, not all of whom may have honest motives).

The big daddy of real estate databases, the MLS, has listings of homes, with basic information for the general public, including the all-important MLS number, which comes in handy when discussing a property with an agent. (In the Washington, DC area, that database can best be accessed at As you might imagine, there are more details in the portion of the MLS that only agents are privy to (such as condo fees, if you're perusing condos), but there is still lots of information in the publicly accessible part of the database. (Be sure to ask the agent the MLS number of your home, when it's put on the market, so that you can see the the wording of the ad for your house, etc.)

Within the MLS listing, you can request that prospective buyers bring copies of loan pre-approval commitment letters in order to make an offer. As you peruse offers, please do so with such letters in hand. They will help you evaluate the soundness of potential buyers, and thus the strength of the offer. (I wish I had done that when I was selling my home!) This step is extremely important, because the most common reason for snags in the settlement/closing process is "homebuyer denied mortgate with initial lender," which is related to the next reason, "seller unwilling to extend closing for mortgage delays." Hmm...

The loan commitment letters from the potential buyers should contain a number of features. One is the name of the financial institution that will be processing the loan--if it's an unfamiliar name, or one that makes you uncomfortable, or the name of the actual lender is unclear because a mortgage broker is being used--these are signs that you should consider a different offer. You also should be able to see from this document how much of a down payment the seller is willing to put down on the house--the bigger, the better. A larger down payment demonstrates that the buyer has more capital to purchase your home without a hitch (and can do so without an oppressively large mortgage).

Counterintuitive as it may seem, do not automatically sell your home to the highest bidder! My relative the real estate agent (who was not involved in my latest real estate transaction, to my chagrin), says that most contracts have an appraisal contingency, which means that the bank will only loan up to the amount that the home appraises for, not a penny more. So, if your home appraises for, say, $325,000, and the person making the highest offer offered to pay $330,000 for your home, the bank will only loan that buyer up to $325,000--that buyer would have to make up the $5,000 difference! As you might have guessed, most of the time the price is re-negotiated down to within a couple of thousand dollars over the original listing price, as most buyers do not have the cash to pony up another $5,000, $10,000, or more over the asking price. (Which means that agents and other others who send mailings proclaiming that a home sold for xxx amount over the listing price are hustling you! [Check that claim against your county's real estate database to confirm that reality.])

Side rant: Why would you even consider doing business with someone who claims not to be a realtor (as some radio ads do)? That person is saying, in effect, that he or she does not have to know anything about real estate law! (And you would have no legal recourse if that person shafted you!) If you're trying to save on the deal, it would be better to get a realtor who is willing to work for a commission of three or four percent, instead of the traditional six percent.

* * * * * *

After you pick an offer, and sign the contract, between selling and settlement are such matters as inspection, walk throughs, and appraisal (not necessarily in that order). Ask for a copy of your home's appraisal report from your lending institution. It can be an eye-opener, especially when you look at the "comps" (the other homes in the neighborhood that are being used as a comparison, a standard part of an appraisal report).

Time to take a breath. Or two. And remember that this, too, shall pass. (And then it will be time for settlement/closing!)