The following information, presented as a public service by the Committees of the DuPage County Bar Association, are guidelines to help ensure a smooth, successful real estate transaction.
These guidelines are provided in conjunction with the Attorneys' Title Guaranty Fund, Inc. (ATG), a lawyer-based service organization that provides title insurance to homeowners and lenders through a network of 3,000 attorney-members. A range of information is available at the ATG web site, www.atgf.com
Please read the disclaimer before reading the questions and answers.
If you have a question that you would like to have addressed, please e-mail your request, include your phone number if additional clarification is needed.
The following information does not constitute legal advice of any kind, but is intended to help the public with understanding some of the basic issues they may face.
Real Estate Law
Evaluate your finances and set a timetable for purchase.
The first step to buying a home-before you even begin looking at houses-is to examine your personal finances and evaluate your present financial obligations. This will enable you to determine the price range of a house that you feel comfortable purchasing. In addition, first time buyers should eliminate as much debt as possible in order to make a favorable impression on a lender. Furthermore, buyers should not overlook the less obvious costs: real estate taxes, closing costs, homeowners insurance. Hiring an attorney early on in the process can help ensure that you understand all the possible costs and that these fees are reasonable and necessary.
Make a wish list.
This list should take into consideration new construction versus an existing home, the amount of square footage you require, a particular school district or neighborhood where you want to reside, the most important features inside the house, as well as how much outdoor maintenance you want. Answering these threshold questions will help target your search.
Pre-apply for a mortgage loan.
Not only will obtaining a specific dollar amount from a qualified lender allow you to know exactly what you can afford, it will help speed up the process if you find a house you really want. Being pre-qualified tells a seller you are serious when you make an offer and he or she may accept your bid over another, even higher bid, if that person is not credit-worthy.
Hire a qualified real estate attorney before you make an offer.
A good real estate attorney should be involved from the beginning to serve as your advocate, evaluate your finances. ensure clear title to the house, and navigate the paper maze. Far more people are involved in a home purchase transaction than just a buyer and a seller. Participants in the process include a real estate sales person or two, a lender, an appraiser, an inspector and a title insurance company. If it is a new construction, a builder and contractors also enter the picture. With so many players and competing interests - and so much at stake - it is critical to engage legal counsel before proceeding into what can quickly become a highly complicated transaction.
Do your homework.
Arm yourself with information before you jump into the process. Check to see what homes cost in the neighborhood you would like to live in. Research the property taxes in those areas. Consult your local library or use the Internet to check out listed properties.
An excellent resource is www.realtor.com which has many multiple listing service properties online and the Owners Network www.owners.com is a unique web site that lists for-sale-by-owner properties nationally - especially useful for those relocating to another part of the country. Many organizations also have web sites filled with information to help buyers through the real estate transaction, including ATG www.atgf.com.
Decide whether you want to work with a real estate agent.
If you plan to work with a real estate agent, be clear on your relationship up front. A listing real estate agent represents the seller's property. A cooperating broker is engaged by the potential homebuyer to help shop around for a new house. That broker may or may not be the buyer's fiduciary.
If you decide to use a real estate agent, seek recommendations from friends and family and interview a few before you select one. Look for an agent whose philosophy and style is one you're comfortable with, because you will invest a great deal of trust in them. Hire someone who is dedicated to meeting your price and timing objectives. This is one of the reasons it is important to also engage the services of an experienced real estate attorney, as they will be the only party advocating the buyer's interests exclusively throughout the entire process.
Review the seller disclosure document carefully.
Every seller must provide a disclosure document that reveals any material defects such as water damage or electrical problems. It is important to review this document completely with your attorney at your side. Although it does not take the place of an inspection, it provides important information.
Hire a home inspector.
After you have made an offer, hire a qualified inspector to go through the house to uncover any potential defects. If any problems arise, your attorney can help renegotiate your contract, or, if the damages are too extensive, the inspection may result in the cancellation of the deal.
Have a contingency plan if your expectations are not fulfilled.
What if you have to close on the home you are purchasing before you close on the home you are selling? What if you are purchasing a newly constructed home and a labor strike or materials shortage delays your closing? What if your home sells before you have time to locate a new home? These are all questions that are best asked at the onset of the transaction - not at the end.
Free brochures on buying and selling a home from ATG.
For a free brochure entitled "Buying a Home: What You Need to Know" or "Selling a Home: What You Need to Know" contact ATG at P.O. Box 9136, Champaign, IL, 61826-9136; call them at 1-800-252-5206, ext. 248; or send an e-mail request to firstname.lastname@example.org