Answering Common Real Estate Timeline Questions

Question: I’m getting ready to buy my first home and wondering how long things will take during the process. Can you explain some basic timelines I should be aware of?

Answer: Timelines vary by regional markets quite a bit due to different customs, contract structure, or local/state governance. Below, I’ll offer a quick answer to common timeline questions I get as it relates to real estate in the greater DC Metro area.

1. How long does it take to close/settle on a home after an offer is accepted?

The median contract-to-close period in Arlington has been ~30 days since 2018, down from ~36-38 days a decade ago. Most sellers want to close as quickly as possible, so buyers who can close faster have an advantage. Be sure to talk to your lender about how long they need to close before signing off on your offer. Some bigger, national banks and credit unions often need 35-40+ days to close. Many of our local lenders can comfortably close in as little as three works (sometimes even faster).

2. How long does a seller (or buyer) have to respond to an offer/counteroffer?

Our contracts do not stipulate a response deadline so any deadline for a response must be written into the contract or otherwise communicated by the party who wishes to set a deadline. Technically, an offer/counteroffer can go on forever if it is never responded to or withdrawn.

3. When is the Earnest Money Deposit (EMD) due?

It is common for the EMD (usually 1-3% or more of the sale price) to be due to the EMD holder (usually the Title Co) within 3-5 days of going under contract. With such a quick turn-around for a substantial amount of cash, make sure those funds are in an account that you can quickly and easily transfer (wire or check) money out of. For a reminder on what the EMD is, here’s an article I wrote earlier this year.

4. How long do you have to complete a home inspection and decide whether or not to move forward with the purchase?

The game has changed lately for home inspections, which I wrote about earlier this year, but for buyers who can secure a post-contract inspection contingency, they usually have as little as two days to as many as ten days from going under contract to complete the home inspection and decide whether or not to move forward or submit their requests for repair or credit. The timing and type of inspection contingency are all negotiable terms and factor heavily into the strength of offer.

5. How long does the mortgage financing process take?

As noted earlier, this varies by the type of lender you choose to work with and can range from as little as 10-14 days to 45+ days. Here’s an article I wrote earlier this year highlighting the importance of choosing the right lender.

6. How long does it take to have an appraisal done?

In most cases, when you finance the purchase of your home through a lender, they require a third-party appraisal before approving the loan. In short, they need to make sure that the market value of a home, per the appraisal, is equal to or greater than the purchase price of the home (here’s the most relevant article I have, but I’ll do a deeper dive into appraisals soon). Most lenders will order the appraisal within a week of you going under contract and it usually takes a week or two for the appraiser to visit the home and submit the report, so the total time to get appraisal results back is usually 1-3 weeks depending on when it’s ordered and if it’s a rush order.

7. How long does the Attorney Review take?

An Attorney Review period is common in other jurisdictions (New York/New Jersey), but not here so there is no legal review period built into our contracts. It is rare that an attorney outside of the Title Company is involved in the transaction.

8. How long does it take to sign paperwork at closing/settlement?

For sellers, it often takes just 10-15 minutes and for buyers it usually takes 45-60+ minutes, depending on the size of the loan package and questions you have for the title attorney while signing.

9. When can you start moving into the house after closing?

You can walk through the front door and start moving in immediately following the closing, unless otherwise stipulated in the contract.

10. How long can a seller rent a home back from a buyer?

If a home is being purchased using a mortgage for a primary residence, the law states that a buyer must intend on moving into the home as their primary residence within 60 days, so the longest time a seller can rent-back (link to an article I wrote in 2019 on rent-backs) in that scenario is 60 days. If the buyer is paying cash or buying the home as an investment property, there are no restrictions on how long a seller can remain in the home after closing.

11. How long does the home search process last?

This is the question everybody wants to know but there’s no good answer for. I have worked with buyers who plan on buying a home 6-12+ months from starting their search and end up finding a home they love in the first week and have worked with buyers who want to buy right away and end up spending two years searching for the right home. If I had to estimate, I would say that most buyers find a home within 6-12 weeks of starting their search.

Remember that these timelines are not fixed and vary widely by jurisdiction/market across the country and a heavily dependent on the negotiations/circumstances of the buyer and seller on a specific transaction. Use these timelines as general guidance on the customs and common practices in the greater DC Metro area.

If you’d like to discuss buying, selling, investing, or renting, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

Expect Short-Term Increase in Listing, Contract Activity

Question: Will I see more homes being listed for sale in the fall or is there a stead drop in sales activity until next year?

Answer: It is completely normal for the market to slow down (pace of listing activity and contract activity)  during the summer, but it was discussed much more this year because the preceding months were so crazy, locally and nationally, and everybody is on high alert to a potential bubble.

Nothing I have seen so far has suggested that the change in market conditions over the last couple months is anything more than normal seasonal behavior, so I expect the next couple months to lead to similar seasonal patterns as in years past (except for 2020).

This means a quick bump in post-Labor Day listing activity and contract activity, followed by a steady drop in both measures through the end of the year.

The chart below shows monthly listing and contract activity as a percentage of total annual activity for Arlington from 2015-2019, broken out by single-family homes (SFH)/townhouses (TH) and apartment-style condos/coops. The following bullets are some highlights I pulled from the data:

  • The September bump in listing activity only lasts for a couple of weeks before starting a steady decline through the end of the year
  • The SFH/TH and condo markets behave similarly, but the changes in condo activity aren’t as extreme as the SFH/TH market. The spring peaks and summer lull are closer to average for condos, meaning seasonality plays less of a role in the condo market than the SFH/TH market.
  • The bump in post-Labor Day SFH/TH contract activity outlasts the short, but more extreme, burst in listing activity
  • From October-December, contract activity actually exceeds new listing volume, but this generally does not lead to better sales results during this time of year
  • The four months from March-June account for nearly 46% and 43% of annual SFH/TH and condo listing volume, respectively, and almost 44% and 40% of annual SFH/TH and condo contract activity, respectively.

If you’d like to discuss buying, selling, investing, or renting, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

Should You Stage Your Home?

Question: Do you recommend staging for vacant homes?

Answer: When you stage a home, you are placing temporary furniture and accessories in a home while it is being marketed for sale. In most cases, I strongly encourage staging a home instead of leaving it empty.

The value of staging shows up in two critical parts of the selling/marketing process. It improves the quality of the photos by helping people understand the scale and purpose of a room. Better photos lead to more showings. Good staging also improves the way Buyers experience the home in-person during a showing. Better showings lead to better/more offers.

Figure 1: Great staging helped Buyers make sense of an otherwise large, open space at 3196 N Pollard St Arlington

In my opinion, the three main benefits to staging a home are:

  1. Add Life to Empty Homes: Walking into an empty house can be eerie and makes a home feel lifeless. Those are not feelings you want potential Buyers to have while walking through your home. Good staging can add energy and life to a vacant home.
  2. Help Rooms Feel Larger: This is counterintuitive, but most people perceive empty rooms as being smaller than they really are. I’ve experienced this on numerous occasions walking through empty rooms with Buyers who have trouble understanding how a bed or couch can fit into an empty room that is more than big enough for their furniture.
  3. Engage the Eye: Well staged properties keep Buyers engaged with room layout and functionality, but unstaged empty rooms allow Buyers to focus on flaws like paint scuffs, separating trim, poor lighting, and other things you’d prefer Buyers to overlook during their visit

You do not need to stage every room. In a larger townhouse or single-family home, that can get unnecessarily expensive. Prioritize the most important rooms like the living room, dining room, and primary bedrooms for the best return on investment. Accessorizing walls, countertops, and shelves also adds a lot of value.

Figure 2: Don’t forget about staging for outdoor spaces like this patio at 4645 4th Rd N Arlington

Good staging isn’t cheap, often ranging from ~$2,000-$10,00+ depending on the size of a home and type of staging furniture, but it should be looked at as an investment like anything else you do to prepare your home for sale like painting, cleaning, and landscaping. As a rule of thumb, I think that investing .25-.5% of the market value of a home generates a clear, strong return.

Cheap, thoughtless staging provides little or no value at all. Sticking a chair or two in the living room or simply laying a blow-up bed on the floor of a bedroom are not the same and provide little, if any, benefit.

If you intend on living in your home or leaving your existing furniture for the sale (photos and showings), consider “occupied” staging, whereby you hire a stager to help you maximize the use of your existing furniture and accessories. Just promise not to get offended if they recommend removing your favorite lime green shag carpet 

ies from the owner, with some add-ons from the Stager, in a great example of a successful Occupied Staging approach at 1276 N Wayne St #1230 Arlington

If you’d like to discuss buying, selling, investing, or renting, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

Smoking Bans Made Easy For Condos/POAs with New Law

Question: Do you have an update on the smoking ban bill you wrote about earlier this year?

Answer: Virginia House Bill 1842 (link) was signed into law by Governor Northam on March 18 2021 and became effective July 1 2021. The bill has major implications for owners of Condominium and Property Owners Associations (condo and POA) by giving the Association’s elected Board the ability to ban smoking inside homes and on private balconies by way of a new resolution to the rules and regulations, which generally requires a simple majority vote of the Board.

Prior to this, Boards could ban smoking in common areas this way, but smoking bans within units/homes required a lengthy (multiple years), costly, and resource intensive effort to get a 2/3+ vote from owners to change the by-laws.

I spoke with attorney Michael C. Gartner, a Partner at Whiteford, Taylor, & Preston LLP and current President of the Community Associations Institute (CAI) Washington Metro Chapter, about the new law to make sure I was clear on the implications this has for Virginia condos and POA communities.

Mr. Gartner confirmed that the new law, effective July 1 2021, does in fact allow condo and POA Boards to ban smoking inside private residences with a simple majority vote of the Board. He also offered some helpful advice and caveats for any Boards/communities who plan to move forward with in-unit smoking bans:

  • In rare cases, some by-laws may specifically restrict a Board’s ability to make certain rule changes or require something other than a simple majority, so Boards should have an attorney review their by-laws prior to proceeding with a smoking ban
  • Smoking bans should be written as a compliant resolution through legal counsel, not as a simple motion
  • Enforcement is always a challenge for Boards (noise, trash, and other common rules always present enforcement challenges) and Boards may want to work with their legal counsel to establish compliant enforcement protocol
  • The new law includes a provision that allows owners to call a special meeting to vote and repeal a change in the smoking policy
  • Smoking ban policies might flip back-and-forth as new Boards are elected and the majority votes for a new/different smoking policy than the previous Board

I’m not aware of any other state that has passed legislation like this (please comment if you know of other similar laws) in the rest of the Country, which is amazing, considering Virginia’s political and economic history, that we may be the first state with this type of law.

It will also be interesting to see how the law holds up if/when it is challenged in court. Until then, however, Boards now have the ability to ban smoking within homes, on private balcony/outdoor spaces, and in all common areas by simply majority (except in the rare case by-laws restrict it).

If you would like assistance with reviewing your by-laws, drafting a smoking ban resolution, and/or create compliant enforcement policies (or any other legal needs for your Association) you can contact Mr. Gartner directly at 703.280.9267 or mgartner@wtplaw.com. His firm, Whiteford, Taylor, & Preston, LLP, has one of the largest and best-regarded community association practices in the mid-Atlantic region, representing more than 800 condominiums, planned communities and housing cooperatives, of all sizes and types, in Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia and Delaware. Their Community Association Section is made up of approximately 30 attorneys and an experienced professional support staff.

If you’d like to discuss buying, selling, investing, or renting, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

Demand Drops Regionally, Remains Competitive

Question: Is the housing market slowing down?

Answer: Over the last 2-3 months I’ve experienced a noticeable slowdown in the single-family and townhouse market relative to what we’ve experienced most of the last 12+ months. While slower than it has been, the market is still very competitive, and prices are holding.

Properties that would have gotten 8-10+ offers a few months ago might get 2-3 now. Escalations over asking are still common, but less extreme. And in some cases, Buyers can secure modest contingencies (inspection, appraisal, financing). I believe the main factors in this change are:

  • Buyers have distractions they didn’t have for much of the lockdown (vacations, events, commute, etc)
  • Asking prices are more reflective of market values now that 6+ months of closed sales in 2021 are available for market pricing analysis
  • Some Buyers have given up after months of struggling to find/win a home
  • Normal seasonal behavior. Demand usually subsides in the summer, relative to the previous spring.

Home Demand Index Readings

To put the receding demand into perspective, I pulled out some charts from the most recent Bright MLS Home Demand Index, which tracks regional and local demand by analyzing data ranging from buyer showing activity to closed sales to feedback from local real estate agents.

Demand in the overall Washington DC Metro housing market dropped 17% from June to July and 13% year-over-year. The July 2021 Demand Index reading of 123 is lower than the Demand Index reading in 10 of the last 14 months, with the four months from November 2020-February 2021 being the only months with lower readings since May 2020. July 2021 is also the first month with a year-over-year decline in demand over the last 12+ months.

Home Demand Index

The Index uses the same price ranges to track demand across all Bright MLS market centers (DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia) so the price ranges aren’t the best for the DC Metro/Arlington, but still provide a good indication of regional and local demand trends.

The Demand Index for single-family homes $395k-$950k dropped 19% from June to July and 9% year-over-year. For single-family homes over $950k, the Demand Index dropped 29% from June to July and just 2% year-over-year.

While these reports show significant drops in demand recently, the actual demand is still very high and is enough to support recent price appreciation.

Single Family Home $395K-$950K
Single Family Home Above $950K

Listing Volume Still High

The number of condos listed for sale over the last 12 months is significantly higher than any other 12-month period we’ve seen in Arlington, but July listing volume settled down to finish closer to historical averages than we’ve been seeing. This is a sign that the surge in condo supply may be tapering off while we’re also seeing condo demand increase relative to the 2nd half of 2020 and early 2021.

High market values and changing housing needs have also led to an increase in the number of single-family homes listed for sale in Arlington lately, but that volume is much closer to the historical average than what we’ve witnessed in the condo market. It also does not seem like it to most Buyers because demand has quickly absorbed the extra supply.

New Listings In Arlington County

Looking Ahead

There’s usually an increase in demand and homes listed for sale after Labor Day and I expect to see similar seasonal behavior this year until we reach the winter/holiday market starting around early November when demand and listing supply both tend to retract.

Historically, it has taken until late February/mid March for demand and listing volume to ramp up towards their spring peaks, but the last few years we’ve seen the ramp-up period, especially for demand, start in January. I expect a similar pattern next year, but will be surprised to see anything like the double-digit price appreciation that we experienced in 2021 repeat in 2022.

If you’d like to discuss buying, selling, investing, or renting, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

New Construction Homes vs Recently Built Homes

Question: How much more do new construction homes sell for compared to similar homes that were recently built?

Answer: Roughly 100 new construction single-family homes have sold each year in Arlington since 2015 (per BRIGHT MLS). The cost of a new home shot up in 2018 and again in 2020 and 2021, but the size, layout, features, and design of the homes have remained mostly consistent.

Table 1: Arlington New Construction Sales Since 2015

Now that we’re seeing more resales of recently built homes, I thought I’d take a look at how the price of new construction homes compares to similar homes built in the last 5-6 years. To do this, I looked at the 2021 sales of new construction homes vs the 2021 resales of homes built from 2015-2019 in the 22207 zip code (by far the highest volume of new/newer home sales in Arlington). I also removed a few outlier sales so that we have a more accurate comparison.

Figure 1: New Construction at 3196 Pollard St Arlington VA 22207 ($2.3M)

New construction homes sold in 2021 sold for 16.9% more than similar 2021 resales of recently built homes (built 2015-2019), however, new construction homes were an average of 22% bigger (based on total finished square feet) than 2015-2019 builds sold in 2021.

As a result, new constructions homes actually sold for a lower price-per-square foot on both above grade (not including the basement) and total finished calculations. Thus, one could argue that new construction, with its lower price-per-square foot and brand new systems (HVAC, appliances, roof, windows, floors, etc), is a better value…but it’ll cost you a lot more in dollars to get there.

It’s also worth noting that while you get brand new systems in new construction, a resale has (hopefully) already gone through the initial pains of breaking in the house and the inevitable issues that come up for owners of new construction. You may also find that the first owners have invested in some improvements that a builder may not have such as upgrade exterior living spaces or landscaping.

Table 2: New Construction vs Resale of Recent Construction

If you’d like to discuss buying, selling, investing, or renting, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.

Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH Real Estate, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460.

Off-Market Homes Sell for 17% Less

Question: Do homes sold on-market sell for more than homes sold off-market?

Answer: I want to start by saying that I know that this column comes off as being a shameless/salesy pitch for Realtors, but those of you who have followed my columns over the years hopefully recognize that I focus on informative, data-driven articles and steer clear of using this platform for sales pitches for myself or my industry.

With that said, I’m sharing this recent study of off-market vs on-market sales released by BRIGHT MLS (link to my column explaining what MLS/BRIGHT MLS is) because I think that they did a good job solving for the right answers in the data (not just favorable answers) using a massive sample size, filtering out the right data, and using a number of different cross-sections to confirm the findings within more specific datasets.

Study Overview

You can download and read the full study at the first link in the paragraph above (also linked here). The study included nearly 443,000 sales in 2019 and 2020 in the three BRIGHT MLS Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) of greater Washington DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia markets. The researchers compared about 116,000 off-market sales (using public records data) to about 327,000 comparable on-market sales.

What is On-Market vs Off-Market?

An on-market sale is a sale that is listed and marketed on the BRIGHT MLS platform, which provides mass syndication/distribution to the 95,000 real estate agents in the BRIGHT network (includes VA, MD, DC, PA, DE, and WV), brokerage websites, and most 3rd party consumer-facing sites (e.g. Zillow). An off-market sale is one that is not listed on the BRIGHT platform and either sold without any online marketing or only placed on a brokerage and/or 3rd party website for marketing. Off-market sales can take many forms, but are ultimately defined by the lack of market exposure via the BRIGHT platform.

Results Favor Selling On-Market

Across the entire dataset, homes that were sold on-market sold for 16.98% more, based on the median price of comparable sales. Here’s a screenshot from the study showing the cross-section of the Washington DC MSA (extends all the way into WV).

I’d like for this study to report on more cross-sections of the market and include larger and smaller homes, different price points, condo vs single-family, and more because I think it’s all really valuable data to help consumers make decisions about the sale of their home. There are certainly scenarios where sellers might benefit from an off-market sale or an off-market sale makes sense for reasons beyond a seller’s bottom line, but having as much data as possible to help people make educated decisions is key.

If you’d like to discuss buying, selling, investing, or renting, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

Arlington Condo Mid-Year Review

Question: How has Arlington’s condo market performed in the first half of 2021?

Answer: Given the tremendous appreciation we’ve seen locally and nationally on prices for single-family homes and townhouses, the mostly unchanged values of condos in Arlington highlights how much the condo market has struggled compared to the rest of the housing market. We did experience some periods of value loss in the last quarter of 2020 and early in 2021, but the first half data (and my experience in the market) suggests that prices have recovered and leveled out to about the same values we saw in 2019.

The biggest question I have is whether we will sustain these prices or see a slow decline as people adjust to new work arrangements and housing preferences in the wake of COVID. While it’s possible that we could see a delayed price surge due to sustained low interest rates and returns to offices, I think that scenario is unlikely.

This week we will take a look at Arlington’s condo market in the first half of 2021. Note that the data does not include Cooperatives (e.g. River Place) or age restricted housing (e.g. The Jefferson).

Prices Relatively Flat, Listing Volume and Inventory Up

I think the biggest story in the condo market for Arlington and the DC Metro area is the historically high number of condos being listed for sale since Q3 2020. There is clearly a flight out of condos by homeowners and investors and the demand is not high enough to absorb the extra supply, so inventory levels have returned to 2015-2016 levels when we were in the midst of a near zero-growth condo market (in Arlington).

The return to 2015-2016 inventory levels isn’t a bad thing, but the suddenness of that shift was difficult for sellers to manage after we experienced a red-hot condo market from late 2018 (Amazon HQ2 announcement) to early 2020 (pre-pandemic).

Demand Metrics Down, Disaster Avoided

Demand metrics like days on market, percentage of homes selling within a week, and the percentage of sold price to the original asking price are all down to 2017-2018 levels (pre-Amazon announcement) and prices are more reflective of what we saw in the first half of 2019.

During the pandemic, there were concerns of a fundamental shift in the condo market that would lead to a significant re-pricing of condo values but that’s clearly not the case. Sure, it’s tough for condo owners to take a step backward while the single-family/townhouse market surges ahead, but the condo market looks to be recovered and safe at this point.

If you’re interested in seeing last week’s mid-year analysis of the single-family housing market, you can check it out here.

If you’d like to discuss buying, selling, investing, or renting, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

Arlington Single-Family Home Mid-Year Review

Question: How has Arlington’s single-family housing market performed in the first half of 2021?

Answer: The news has been full of stories and data about the explosion in real estate prices and intense competition for single-family homes across the country. Arlington has been no exception.

This week we’ll take a look at some charts and data that highlight what we’ve experienced so far in 2021 for single-family homes (SFH) in Arlington.

Overview: Prices Up, Listing Activity Up, Inventory Down

The year-over-year median price for SFHs increased 8.6% in Q1 and 20.6% in Q2 (remember that Q2 2020 had end-to-end strict COVID lockdowns), with both quarters exceeding a median price over $1.1M, the first time that has happened in any quarter in Arlington. If you want to skip 2020 because of COVID, Q1/Q2 median prices in 2021were up 17.4% and 21.1%, respectively, compared to 2019 median prices.

After back-to-back years of below-average listing volume, the number of SFHs listed for sale in the first half of 2021 exceeded 900 homes for the first time since 2017 and ended up well above the 10-year first half average of ~860 homes listed for sale during the first half.

Despite strong listing volume, active inventory hit a 10+ year low due to demand outpacing new supply. We finished Q2 with 1.3 months of supply, which is about twice as high as Loudoun County, which is struggling tremendously with inventory levels.

Bye-Bye Affordability

Of the six zip codes with enough SFH supply to generate reliable data (22206, 22209, and 22213 don’t have enough SFH sales), only one had an average sold price below $1,000,000, compared to four in 2019!

One of my biggest takeaways from the 2021 market so far is just how quickly prices have increased in the least expensive neighborhoods. The two zip codes with the lowest average SFH price, 22203 and 22204, increased by 16.8% and 20.7%, respectively, from the first half of 2020, while the four most expensive saw increases ranging from .4% to 8.8%.

In 2020, the average home in 22201 (most expensive zip code) was 95% more expensive than the average home in 22204 (least expensive zip code). In 2021, the gap closed quickly with the average 22201 home being 62% more expensive than the 22204 average.

Price Distributions Skew High

While the largest volume of sales still falls in a sub-$1,000,000 range, the price distribution in Arlington skews high. Despite the high average/median prices, Arlington doesn’t have much of an ultra high-end market, with just three sales over $3M and just two SFH sales over $3.5M in the last five years.

Prior to this year, the percentage of sales under $800k was always greater than the percentage of sales over $1.5M. In the first half of 2021, not only were there a higher percentage of sales over $1.5M but the number of sales over $1.5M nearly doubled the number of sales under $800k!

Demand Intensifies

Arlington had more time than other markets to adjust to such intense demand because the market really took off after Amazon announced plans for HQ2 in November 2018, but the pressure of COVID and low interest rates have intensified that demand.

The number of homes sold within one week and the numbers of homes sold at or above the asking price both exceeded 60% of total sales for the first time.

Looking forward, it’s hard to see market conditions changing too dramatically any time soon. Things have slowed down a bit off peak demand as is usually the case in the summer and around the holidays, but I expect another strong fall season and a quick pick-up in January/February 2022 from a holiday lull.

If you’d like to discuss buying, selling, investing, or renting, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

The Right Lender Makes A Big Difference

Question: Does it matter which lender/mortgage company I choose when I purchase a home?

Answer: Choosing a good lender is one of the most important decisions you make during the home buying process. In a competitive market like we’re in now, choosing the right lender goes beyond a low interest rate and access to good loan products; it can be the difference between having your offer accepted or passed over.

Stronger Offers

Better Pre-Approval: When I review offers on behalf of a Seller, I put a lot of value in the quality of the lender/bank who wrote the pre-approval letter for the Buyer. A lender who has taken the time to review credit and financial documents, and get a thorough understanding of the Buyer, means the risk of financing falling through is much lower than with lenders who generate pre-approvals based on a short form with inputs from the Buyer, without verification.

Most agents representing a Seller will contact the lender on the pre-approval letter to ensure they’re responsive, personally familiar with the Buyer’s financial qualifications, and are confident in closing based on the contract terms (price, settlement timeline, etc). Having a lender on your side who will answer the phone and understands the importance this communication can make all the difference in a competitive market.

Close Faster: Online lenders, larger banks, and credit unions often have difficulty closing in less than 35-45 days, but a good lender can often settle in less than three weeks. If you find yourself competing for a property, working with a lender who can close quickly will significantly increase the probability of your offer being chosen compared to a lender who needs at least five weeks.

Don’t Miss Settlement

Good lenders do not miss the settlement date. Their reputation and business rely on it. If you miss the contracted settlement date, you’re (usually) in default and expose yourself to risks including loss of Earnest Money Deposit, incurring the Seller’s carrying costs, or having the contract voided by the Seller.

A good question to ask your lender is where their staff works. There are quite a few people involved in getting your loan approved including the loan officer, processor, and underwriters. Lenders with a history of missing settlement deadlines often have staff working in different locations, that don’t regularly work together. If your lender works in the same physical office as those people, that’s a good indication that they can handle issues efficiently and have a higher probability of meeting the settlement date.

Don’t Get Duped (Interest Rate vs APR)

Be careful when you’re comparing interest rates, especially online rates. Make sure you’re comparing the Annual Percentage Rate (APR), not the interest rate. Many lenders advertise lower rates by including points (you pay cash up-front for a lower rate) or they charge higher fees. The APR is a measure of the total cost of the loan, including points, fees, and interest rate and allows for an apples-to-apples comparison.

Additionally, the advertised rates are often based on the ideal borrower profile and loan amounts. A true rate quote requires the lender to have your credit information, debts, income, purchase price, and down payment. Even with that information, I’ve seen lenders quote low rates to capture a Buyer’s attention and then increase the rate/fees once it comes time to lock everything in. Be careful and ask questions.

Reliable Pre-Approvals

A reliable pre-approval gives you the confidence that you’ll qualify for the loan you’re applying for. Weak pre-approval letters lead to surprises during the loan application process, which can lead to rejection letters, delays, and/or a lot of wasted time and money. The last thing you want is to find out you don’t qualify after you’ve spent money on a home inspection, appraisal, and started packing for a move that may not happen. Having a lender review all of your documents early also gives you time to fix credit scores, debt ratios, and more in order to increase your purchasing power and/or lower your interest rates.

Further, in competitive markets like this, it’s common for winning offers to waive the Financing Contingency (protects your deposit in the event you don’t qualify for your mortgage). Having a thorough pre-approval done can give you the confidence needed to waive this contingency, and be competitive, with limited risk.

Loan Consultant

In most cases, buyers should be considering multiple loan products and finding the best fit. This is particularly true if you’re buying and selling a property, if you’re exploring low down payment options, or if you’re planning to own the property for less than 10 years and can benefit from the lower rates of an Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM). A good lender will have access to a wide range of great products and be able to advise you on the type of loan that nets you the best long-term results.

If you’re considering buying or in the process of talking to lenders, I’d be happy to make some recommendations based on your financial situation, type of purchase, and goals. Feel free to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.