One of life's more traumatic endeavors is the purchase of your own home. It is probably the single biggest investment you'll ever make (just ahead of your child's college tuition). Moreover, working your way through the roadblocks set up by skittish lending banks, brokers, and lawyers makes a corporate takeover seem like child's play. Face it: if you're considering buying a new home, you need all the help and information you can get. Fortunately, you can start right here, on the World Wide Web.
The Homebuyer's Fair, now called Move
When you are first considering a new home, go to the 3-year-old Homebuyer's Fair site. It contains a welter of information for first-time buyers. You'll find articles and statistics to help you find the best places to live, as well as guides to the paperwork you'll have to produce and the research that you should do. There's also an entire relocation chapter with interstate moving cost estimates designed for families who have to move because of work. And there's information on crime statistics for hundreds of cities in the U.S. Still concerned about how much all this will cost? Look into getting the best mortgage. If you don't know how much you can afford, there's a popular salary calculator to determine what price range you should be looking in particular cities based on cost of living differences. Also here is an assessment of what it will cost you to move and what you'll need to qualify for the all-important mortgage. For new buyers, the Home Buyer's Fair is an excellent first stop on the virtual reality market.
The FiSBO Registry
No matter what the broker tells you, commissions are a big problem. Never assume you're getting a break (you probably aren't) and remember, the commission is going to be built into the price. One way to go to avoid commissions is to look for a home being sold by the owner. That's the point of the FiSBO Registry of For-Sale-By-Owners homes. The nationwide U.S. directory offers several points of entry including a magazine style listing with pictures and descriptions of each home (and linked maps) as well as a text listing for quick browsing. How thorough are the listings? Well, I looked for several dream vacation homes in areas like Long Island and the Florida Keys without much luck, but I did find several listings in other parts of Florida and several in Vermont. If you don't find what you're looking for online you can fill in a request form, and the FiSBO site will notify you via e-mail when an appropriate listing comes in. Home owners looking to place their own entry at the site can do so for a $550 fee. And if you're thinking about selling, there's advice and tips on selling your home, including reasons for selling and understanding your house's value. Even if you don't go the FiSBO way, I recommend visiting the site to get a sense of the current market.
Mortgage Market Information Services, Inc.
Mortgage Market Information Services' business is tracking and supplying mortgage rate information to the media. At the company's web site you can get the information for free, as well as get additional details on how to look for a mortgage and what all the arcane lending terminology means. The online glossary will help you with terms like buy-down and negative amortization. The definitions even include mention of inherent risks in different mortgage policies. To learn more, there's a separate section about ARMs or adjustable rate mortgages, a regular column, and mortgage news. To see if you can afford that dream home, a mortgage calculator page tells you what your monthly payments will be, how much you should make in order to afford a particular mortgage, and how much you can deduct from your taxes. If you need a mortgage now, you can go straight to a state listing of rates and lenders. Also here is a collection of some city mortgage rates taken from MMIS client newspapers. Some reports are quite detailed, such as the Colorado Springs newspaper listings that include the points you'll have to pay and the lock down period.
No matter how carefully you may think you've checked out a new home, there's nothing like expert advice. The American Society of Home Inspectors is a certifying organization of home inspectors in the United States and Canada. At the organization's site you can learn about what you should be on the lookout for, such as building defects, safety issues, security aspects, and environmental concerns. To begin you can find out exactly what a professional home inspection entails and the reasons for getting one done. Also laid out before you are the ASHI Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics that certified inspectors must adhere to. There are articles about lead in drinking water, the dangers of aluminum wiring, and septic tank information. Several links take buyers and sellers to other sites with information on construction defects. Once you've decided on a home, you can find a qualified inspector by searching the online contact database, which includes members in Canada and the U.S. The ASHI site has recently undergone an overhaul, so hopefully it will expand in the coming months.