Searching for a home in Salt Lake City? Congratulations, you’ve learned what the pioneers discovered 200 years ago: it’s the right place. Depending on if you’re coming from California or Oklahoma (or a Utah town outside Salt Lake really), the real estate here is also wildly affordable or terribly overpriced.
Either way, it’s probably a little overwhelming too. If this is your first home ever (or just your first in the past 10 years), what do you need to know? What does the home buying process look like? How can you make sure you get a good deal? How do you find a real estate agent you can trust? What can you expect throughout the entire journey?
At Honeycomb Home Buyer we’ve accumulated a decade of answers to these questions as we buy and sell real estate in the Salt Lake Valley. With those answers in tow, we thought we’d shed what light we can. We’ll walk you through the home buying process along this blessed bench and hopefully give you a better idea of what to expect (and how to navigate) this exciting time.
Let’s dive in!
Step 1. Find The Right Time
This may seem obvious, but unless a job or similar opportunity is forcing a move, the first thing you have to do is determine if it’s the right time to buy a home at all. The market in Utah exploded over the past five years. It soared way past reasonable numbers for homes in Ogden down to Spanish Fork. That bubble appears to have popped, which requires some introspection.
More specifically, try asking yourself the following questions:
- Do you have the money for a down payment?
- 20% is considered ideal, but you can bring as little as 3.5% through FHA
- Do you have the money to relocate?
- Having enough money to move into a new house often requires that you sell your existing one. If you’re a first-time homeowner, then be prepared to spend a little more your first couple months as you get situated.
- Does moving make sense for you and your family?
- Are your kids in a good school with good friends? How old are they? Do you have to move or do you just want to? Why? And is it a good enough reason to displace your family?
- Is it a good time to buy a home right now?
- This is tricky. Having money for the move and the down payment means that it may be a good time for you personally, but right now prices in Salt Lake have only started receding from all-time highs. That downward pricing trend is likely to continue for as long as interest rates stay as high as they are, which means that if you can avoid moving for a while longer, you’ll get the best deal we’ve seen in the past two years on a new home. Of course, if you haven’t sold it already, your existing home will likely depreciate at the same time.
These are tough questions but facing them head on is a great step towards feeling confident about buying a new home.
Step 2. Determine Your Budget
If you’ve decided that it’s a good time to buy a home, the next step is to get a ballpark idea of your budget before you speak with a mortgage lender or real estate agent. Both of those parties are incentivized to get you to spend more than you’re planning to because realtors are paid more if you spend more, and lenders get interest on a larger loan. Now, most realtors will just focus on getting you into a home that meets your parameters, but if you don’t have a concrete budget as part of your home-buying criteria then you’ll end up touring a home you love just outside your price range.
It’s unsurprising, but generally quality of location, fixtures, and features of homes increases along with price, so you’re unlikely prefer the more affordable listings to the ones at the top of (or maybe just a little beyond???) your range. Stepping past your pre-determined price is a trap. Be firm with your budget. Determine how much you want to spend, how much you can afford for a down payment, and most importantly, how much you can afford for a mortgage payment. Your happiness will not hinge on having what you imagine to be the perfect home. It will take a significant blow if you declare bankruptcy.
Once you dig a moat around your budget just stick to your guns. And browse on Zillow and Utah Real Estate to get an idea for the type of homes that are in your price range.
Step 3. Find a Mortgage Lender
Before you find a real estate agent or start looking for homes, you need to speak with a mortgage lender. Otherwise, you’ll end up with the lender your real estate agent recommends. That recommendation is usually based on a referral relationship between the two parties rather than the great rates or service the lender provides. Sometimes that’s not the case, but this is an area that’s worth a little legwork.
Who exactly is the lender (or rather, the individual representing them)? They’re the ones that will help you apply for a home loan and also help you estimate how much your mortgage payment will be for specific price points. The higher your credit score and the more money you have for a down payment, the better deal you’ll be able to negotiate with the mortgage lender.
Then you’ll need to be preapproved by the lender before you start the search for homes in earnest—few things are as dismaying to a seller than offers, written or verbal, from potential buyers that aren’t preapproved.
Step 4. Search For Homes
Now you’re to the fun part. Once you’ve found a mortgage lender and gotten pre-approved, you can start looking for homes! There are a couple ways you can go about this. Which you choose will be based a number of factors surrounding your unique situation.
The first, and most traditional way, is to find a real estate agent and have them help you look for, research, and peruse properties. They’ll receive a 3% commission from your purchase and will vary in helpfulness from dead slug to your fairy godmother. Check our post on vetting real estate agents to help increase the odds you end up with the latter.
That said, unless this is your first time buying a home (and you have no idea what to expect), we recommend NOT using a real estate agent when looking for homes.
Because you can look for homes at your leisure and in your price range without an agent trying to pressure you. Utah Real Estate’s website has every MLS property, so set the filters to find a property you want and tour it yourself. Then, when you find a home that you want to make an offer on, you can fill out the contracts yourself (for more control) or ask the seller’s agent to represent you (for a 3% kick to your offer). That second point is important—it means that the Buyer’s agent will be motivated to get the seller to accept your offer because they won’t have to split the commission with another agent.
This is a nice tactic if homes are going quick and you want to get a leg up on other people’s offers.
Step 5. Make an Offer
Now that you’ve found a home you love, playtime is over. No more tabula rasa walks through pristine properties. Or imagining your new life in a new home. It’s time for the gut-wrenching experience of making an offer. If you’re working with a real estate agent, then they will walk you through the process and help you determine what offer you should make. If you’re going it alone, then read our posts about the State of Utah’s contract for an idea of what to expect.
How strong or aggressive or blasé you make your offer depends on the asking price, the state of the real estate market overall, other interested parties, and finally just how badly you want to buy the home. If the asking price seems low compared to similar properties in the area that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting a steal. Instead, the seller is likely counting on multiple offers driving the price higher—hopefully higher than if only one buyer expressed interest at a much higher listed price (or do they just need it to move quickly?). Even so, this would be a dangerous gamble in Salt Lake’s current market. While we still have low inventory relative to the number of available buyers, high interest rates have crushed buyer spirits over the past few months. Safer for sellers to be lockstep with the market on their asking price.
If there’s a lot of demand, then you might want to try including an escalation clause in your offer. Escalation clauses basically say that you’ll outbid any offers from other buyers but are unwilling to go higher without another bidder. It’s a powerful mechanism, but also one that many sellers (and their realtors) find annoying.
Consider putting more earnest money down to strengthen your offer as well. It’s a small thing but shows the seller that you’re a serious buyer—not one that’s just going under contract with little to lose. Earnest money only goes to the seller if you back out of the deal beyond the due diligence deadline so it’s generally pretty safe to go big. Lastly, if you can pay cash, do. Cash offers are strongly preferable to even pre-approved buyers.
If there’s not much demand, then you might come in a little under the asking price. Pay attention to how long the property sat on the MLS. Have there been any recent price drops? Is the home back on the market after another contract fell through? Did homes in this area appreciate or depreciate in value the past few months? Depending on your answers to these and related questions, you can confidently put it an offer below the listed price.
Step 6. Inspection & Appraisal
Once you and the buyer agree on a price, it’s time for inspections and appraisals.
The inspection is to check for hidden damages and ensure that the home you’re buying is in good shape—or at the very least, that you know what you’re getting. Inspections are also your strongest negotiating tool. It’s rare that a seller listing on the MLS sells as-is, which means the they know there might be issues with the home but any of those issues are accounted for in the listing. That’s where the inspection report gives you an opportunity to request concessions or repairs from the seller. Concessions are the most common.
The appraisal is for the mortgage lender to confirm that the home they’re lending on can support the price it sold for. In other words, that the home is worth as much as the buyers are willing to pay for it. If your home appraises at less than the offer price the either party can back out of the contract.
Step 7. Sell Your House & Move
If all goes well, then your offer will be the lucky winner and you’ll set a closing date where the home officially becomes yours! If you own your current home, then you’ll also need to coordinate the sale of that house to line up with when you can move into the new house. And if you’re going to sell the traditional route, we recommend listing your home well before you start searching for a new home.
Otherwise (surprise surprise), you can give us a call at 801-515-4343 and we can buy your home as-is for cash. We can close in as little as two weeks (you pick the closing date) and we’ll even pay all closing costs!