Category Archives: Buying

Should Sellers Get a Home Inspection?

By Lynnette Bruno, Trulia Real Estate and Lifestyle Expert

If there’s any doubt about the condition of your house, double down and pay for a professional opinion.

It’s easy to grow attached to your home and overlook some of the wear and tear. But while those familiar flaws may feel like home to you, they might not be to potential buyers. After all, if someone is making such a large investment to buy your home, they want to make sure it’s a good product.

If you plan to put your house on the market, consider getting a professional prelisting home inspection done or including a recent inspection report in your home’s disclosure documents. I did the latter when I sold my home, and it helped me get ahead of buyer demands during escrow—the 30-day period before closing when buyers can ask the seller to make small fixes or provide a credit to fix it later.

Seven Reasons To Get a Home Inspection Before Listing Your House

1. It could save you money.

It can seem daunting to make repairs before you list your home, but it can save you in the long run.

If issues show up in the buyer’s inspection report, the buyer will likely ask for a price reduction, a credit, or have you make the fix yourself. Depending on the severity of the issues and the buyer’s willingness to negotiate, it can sink the original offer amount.

2. It could lead to a faster close.

Getting your house in the best shape possible should help speed up the sale process. If you proactively make the necessary repairs, there is less likelihood to be stuck in a long negotiation process.

3. It can give you a competitive edge.

A prelisting home inspection can signal to potential buyers that you’ve done the due diligence on their future home. It can give potential buyers confidence in you as an honest seller and in the quality of the home you are selling.

It can also be a useful tool in the negotiation process. A potential buyer will have less merit to claim a price reduction for repairs if you’ve made the necessary fixes ahead of time.

4. Definitely fix the deal breakers.

If you do have a prelisting home inspection, what issues should you seriously consider fixing? There are a few problems that may show up on your list that are deal breakers to most buyers, and they’re often time consuming, expensive, and can cause a buyer to pull out of their offer.

Although it can vary from market to market, these are some of the top deal breakers. Brace yourself:

  • Foundation issues
  • Mold
  • Outdated electrical system
  • Water damage
  • Roof problems
  • Rotted fascia or trim
  • Leaky pipes/dated plumbing

Note: If you’ve made additions to your home, make sure you pull the permits to show they were completed legally.

5. What should you do if you can’t fix the major problems?

If you can’t afford to make those major improvements, you can still spruce up the house before you list it. We asked HGTV’s Chip Wade, home improvement guru and Liberty Mutual’s “New Beginnings” expert, to share some of his DIY tips:

  • Install sconce lighting or a decorative arbor on street-facing garage doors.
  • Power wash the driveway, vinyl siding, the front walkway, deck mildew, and patio furniture.
  • Dust talcum powder between seams of creaky floorboards to quiet them.

6. Is there a downside to a prelisting home inspection?

While there are many upsides to getting a prelisting home inspection, some experts don’t like the idea.

Some pros feel that instead of wasting time and money upfront, a seller should wait for the results of the home inspection and add repairs to the closing cost. While this is an option, you may be hit with a surprise that causes your sale to fall through.

However, if you’ve recently had a professional inspection and no major issues have arisen since, you could skip having another inspection done. Just be sure to include that inspection report into your home’s disclosure documents.

7. Bottom line: Prelisting home inspections are often a good idea.

Waiting for the buyer to work through an independent home inspection could cause the deal to fall through. Even if you offer to fix a problem that arises on the buyer’s inspection report, skittish buyers may be hesitant to close the deal.

The prelisting home inspection can put a nervous seller at ease and give you a better chance for a fast and easy close. (And in case you were wondering, a home inspection is based on the square footage and can run upwards of $300.)

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You Could Get 3 Big Tax Breaks – If You Buy a Home in 2015

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So you didn’t buy a house last year. That’s OK—you haven’t missed the boat yet on low mortgage rates or a healthy inventory of homes. In many ways, 2015 is a great time to buy a home, not the least of which is for certain tax breaks.

Here’s how you could enjoy three significant tax benefits if you purchase a home this year.

1. Use points for even lower interest rates

Deductible points are a standard tax break, but 2015 might be a good year to buy points. Interest rates have been at all-time lows, and many experts believe the only direction they can go is up. With 30-year rates hovering around 3.6%, an extra point or two can knock those low rates down even further.

One point typically lowers your interest rate by about 0.25%. (A point costs about 1% of your loan amount, and it’s paid at closing.) So if you buy two points off a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage of $350,000 with a 3.8% interest rate for $7,000, you could reduce your interest rate down to to 3.3%.

Points are considered a form of interest and are tax-deductible in the same year for first-home purchases as long as you meet a few standard requirements. So even if buying points doesn’t drop your monthly payments by much, you can still get a sizable tax break.

2. Take advantage of energy credits

If you buy a home in 2015, you may want to outfit it with some energy-saving systems—because you can write off 30% of the cost as part of the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit. Examples of eligible items include the following:

  • Geothermal heat pumps
  • Solar panels, solar water heaters
  • Fuel cell property
  • Wind turbines

With the exception of fuel cell property, which has a limit of $500 per kilowatt, there are no maximum credit limits for qualifying items.

The tax credit is good until the end of 2016. If the amount of your tax credit exceeds your tax liability—meaning if you can deduct more than you owe in taxes in 2015—you can roll the credit over to your 2016 taxes. (There’s no word yet on whether the credit will extend to 2017.)

3. Say ‘goodbye’ to renting (which offers no tax breaks)

If you don’t own a home, you most likely rent. And renting has gotten very expensive, with no signs of slowing down. According to the Wall Street Journal, rent has been rising for the past five years—specifically, by 15.2% since 2009.

Renters don’t get many tax breaks, but home buyers do. 2015 might be the year to call it quits on paying $1,800 for a studio apartment with nothing to show for it. Check out the Realtor.com app to see what’s available, and use our Rent or Buy calculator to see how long it will be before renting becomes more expensive than buying in your area—you might be surprised.

Note: Some tax breaks are in limbo

The following buyer-related credits will expire by the end of 2015 if Congress doesn’t act. Don’t count on them, but don’t count them out either.

How To Boost Your FICO Score Before Buying Your Next Home

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Preparing Your Credit Score For A Home Purchase

All too often, homebuyers enter into contracts to purchase homes without first considering the condition of their credit report.

A lot of homebuyers mistakenly believe that their household income and assets are enough to qualify them for a loan and low mortgage rates, but credit reports can derail borrowers of all kinds — even those with high incomes and large bank accounts.

In general, mortgage guidelines require applicants to have acceptable FICO credit scores, as well as three open trade lines of credit which have been in use for at least twelve months, and paid as agreed.

If there are problems with your credit report or, worse, you’ve been a victim of identity theft, the worst time to uncover such issues is after you’ve already placed an offer on a home and have moved into contract.

The better approach is to review your credit well before you ever start looking for a home.

FICO Scores Are Based On Up-To-Date Information

If you know that your credit report shows plenty of well-established accounts; and, you know that you’ve had no real credit challenges in your past, it’s recommended that you check your credit at least 90 days prior to applying for a mortgage.

By contrast, if you have had credit issues, or if you have a “light” credit history, it’s advised that you check your credit at minimum 12 months prior to applying for a home loan. This is because you’ll need ample time to establish new accounts, and make corrections or adjustments well before submitting a mortgage application.

There are three main credit reporting agencies.

They are Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Consumers should order and review the reports from all three bureaus, because each report could contain different information or errors that may affect FICO credit scores.

FICO scores are generated based on a snapshot of information available to the bureaus as of the exact moment that a credit report is pulled. It’s vital, therefore, that the information on your credit report is accurate. This will ensure the best possible FICO score.

The Anatomy Of A FICO Score

When you apply for a mortgage, lenders pull a credit report from all three credit bureaus on you. Their decisions to lend, and the terms of your loan, depend on the result of those reports.

Lenders qualify you based on your “middle” credit score.

If your scores are 720, 740, and 750, the lender will use 740 as your FICO. If your scores are 630, 690, and 690, the lender will use 690 as your FICO.

When you apply with a spouse or co-borrower, the lender will use the lower of the two applicants’ middle credit scores.

Expect each bureau to show a different FICO for you, since each will have slightly different information about you. In all cases, though, you will need to show at least one account which has been reporting a payment history for at least six months in order for the bureaus to have enough data to calculate a score.

The FICO credit score takes into account information found in your credit report. Some parts of your credit history are more important than others and will carry more weight on your overall score.

Your FICO score is made up of the following:

  • Payment History : 35% of your total score
  • Total Amounts Owed : 30% of your total score
  • Length of Credit History : 15% of your total score
  • New Credit : 10% of your total score
  • Type of Credit in Use : 10% of your total score

Based on this formula, the largest part of your credit score is derived from your payment history; and, the amount of debt you carry versus the amount of credit available to you. These two elements account for 65% of your FICO score.

To put yourself in the best position to qualify for a mortgage, then, at the best possible terms, focus on these areas first.

Pay your bills on-time whenever possible, and pay revolving credit accounts to at least 20% of your available credit limits at least 30 days prior to applying for a mortgage.

This will improve your FICO scores and mortgage loan terms measurably.

How To Correct Credit Report Errors

In the event that you find errors on your credit report, take steps to correct them as quickly as possible.

First, contact the credit bureaus about the errors, and also whichever creditors have provided the erroneous information. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, each of these parties is responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your credit report.

For simplicity, disputes can be managed online. If all three bureaus report the same error, though, remember to report the error to all three bureaus. Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion do not share such information with each other.

The law requires credit bureaus to investigate the items in question, usually within 30 days, unless your dispute is considered “frivolous”. Note that you may need to include copies of documents which support your position. Never send originals!

Within 45 days, the credit bureaus will notify you with the results of the investigation.

Then, you’ll want to obtain a new copy of your credit report in order to make sure that the errors have been corrected before applying for a mortgage.

This Is Where Millennial Home Buyers Are Heading

While first-time home buyers’ presence in the housing market has been subdued in recent years, some metro areas are poised to soon see an increase in home buying from the millennial generation, according to new research from the National Association of REALTORS®.

Where Are the Millennials? 

“Limited job prospects, student debt, and flat wage growth have combined with tight credit conditions and low inventory to price millennials out of some of the top cities such as New York and San Francisco,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “However, NAR research finds that there are other metro areas millennials are moving to where job growth is strong and home ownership is more attainable. These markets are well-positioned to soon experience a rise in first-time buyers as the economy improves.”

To identify those soon-to-be booming millennial markets, NAR factored in current housing conditions and housing affordability, job creation, and population trends in 100 metro area across the country that have a large millennial presence to determine the best markets for aspiring millennial home buyers. Seven of the 10 metro areas were in the Midwest and West. The top markets identified (listed in alphabetical order) are:

Millennials

  • Austin, Texas
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • Des Moines, Iowa
  • Grand Rapids, Mich.
  • Minneapolis
  • New Orleans
  • Ogden, Utah
  • Salt Lake City
  • Seattle

NAR also identified the following markets with high potential for attracting millennial home buyers:

  • Madison, Wis.
  • Nashville, Tenn.
  • Omaha, Neb.
  • Raleigh, N.C.
  • Washington, D.C.

“Millennials will eventually settle down, trade their roommates for spouses and want to raise a family,” says Steve Brown, NAR’s president. “As long as median income continues to support purchasing power in most areas, the demand and opportunity will be there for millennials to purchase their first home with guidance and insights from a REALTOR®.”

Related Article: Millennials Outnumber Baby Boomers: A Cue for Real Estate?

Source: National Association of REALTORS®

Article originally posted on Daily Real Estate News

4 Soothing Insights for Anxious First-Time Buyers

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Anxiety is an autonomic nervous system response that is hard-wired into every human being. It’s part of our instinctive reaction to sensing a danger or threat in the wild – and the wild world of real estate is no exception. Of course, buying a home doesn’t involve an actual, physical threat like the lions or tigers or bears our forebears faced. But during the home buying process, it’s not bizarre to feel like your dream home, your precious financial resources, your vision of your family’s future or your best interests are being threatened.

These anxiety-inducing “predators” range from the dangers of bad decisions, hidden home condition problems, and the other buyers who are bidding on your dream home.

As with a threat in the wild, anxiety can cause a normally calm home buyer to have a fight or flight response – making panicked decisions or freezing entirely up, both of which deprive you of your most deliberate, wise decision-making power.

If you’re experiencing low-grade anxiety around your first home purchase, that’s probably a sign that you take it seriously and that you understand the importance of the matter. But if your anxiety is rising to the level that it causes panic or paralysis, those reactions actually pose a bigger threat to your smart decision-making than any actual threat you’ll encounter in the wilds of the real estate market.

Here is a short list of truths about real estate that can soothe your  buyer anxiety down to a level at which it won’t foul up your decisions or your vision.

1.  It’s only takes one.  House hunting is daunting by dint of the sheer magnitude of the numbers involved: all the specs and characteristics of a home, all the decisions you have to make, all the documents you have to provide just to get pre-approved, all the homes on the market, and all the buyers you might have to bid against.  (And of course, there are all those zeroes on the purchase price itself, probably more than were at the end of any other purchase you have ever made.)

But here’s a soothing number you can focus on: one. You only need to find one house that fits with your family, your future and your finances. And millions and millions of homebuyers before you have been able to do just that. The challenge ahead of you is the highly do-able task of narrowing down all of those numbers to the one, the just right fit. If you find a home you love, but the sellers want dramatically more for it than you can afford or it turns out to have some fatal flaw, it’s not a panic-worthy disaster: it’s just not the one.

2.  You are the boss of you. And you’re qualified for the job. Feeling like you’re at the mercy of the mortgage lender, your agent, the market or “your” home’s seller is another serious source of home buying anxiety. But it’s an illusion. Do you have 100% control over every step of the home buying process?  No. But you have far more control at every step than you might think.

Among other ways you can be the boss of yourself and your first home purchase, you can and should:

  • run your own personal budget and determine the maximum amount you can afford to spend on housing
  • build your own team of advisors that work with and for you, including real estate and mortgage pros, but also a financial planner, lawyer and/or tax advisor, if that’s what you need
  • craft your own vision for your life after you buy your home, and use it as a tool to ensure you don’t buy a home you’ll regret later
  • research neighborhoods, cities, even states and the various factors that impact their future prosperity prospects
  • research the home buying process and ask questions (Trulia Voices is great for getting answers from local pros, but also from other local buyers who have gone before you)
  • work with your agent to understand market dynamics like list price-to-sale price ratio, and tweak your home search price range accordingly, looking at homes priced below your top dollar to give you room to go up, if that’s the norm in your area
  • work with you agent through your target home’s comparable sales
  • work with your agent and your mortgage broker to understand the cash you’ll need up front, at closing and monthly, based on your final offer price for any given home
  • attend your home inspections
  • read seller and HOA disclosures
  • read all the inspection reports and get follow-up inspections as needed
  • get bids for repairs and upgrades before you remove contingencies
  • request your loan docs in advance – and read them in advance
  • ask every question you have and keep asking, until you understand
  • back out of a transaction and recoup your deposit, if inspections or appraisals reveal serious issues, within your contingency period.

So do these things. Remember that from the time you get the inspiration to buy a home until the time you close escrow, you are ultimately in charge.  You make the final call on a home, on a price, and on when to remove contingencies and make the transaction a done deal. But you also have a great deal of control at every phase of your house hunt – so exercise it.

3.  Speaking up pays off.   No matter how timid or introverted you normally are, just for this experience of buying a home, embrace your inner advocate and make a commitment from the start to speak up for yourself freely and loudly.

Don’t understand something in your Good Faith Estimate? Say so – and ask your mortgage broker for an explanation.

Worried about something you see in your HOA disclosures?  Tell your agent – and work with them to get clarification or additional information.

Have questions or concerns about things you see in the home while you’re attending the inspector? Ask the inspector. And if they don’t know, ask the seller or get a specialist to come out and check it out.

Worried about how you’ll ever afford to fix the plumbing or deal with all the necessary repairs?  Say so, and work with your agent to make a wise decision about asking the seller to chip in or reduce the price, if that makes sense given the other details of your deal.

I once saw a buyer catch a very significant error in loan closing docs before anyone else in the room did. Instead of second-guessing herself or assuming she was the one in error, she spoke up – and probably saved herself thousands of dollars and hours of time in the process.

4.  Almost no transaction goes precisely as planned. I hate to use the cliche, but you will truly experience much less anxiety throughout the course of your transaction if you expect the unexpected. It might take you longer than expected to find a home that works for your life and your budget. You might end up spending thousands beyond what you started out thinking was your top dollar. Maybe your closing date will get pushed out for reasons beyond your control (and beyond the seller’s control, too). Or it’s possible that the home inspector will recommend an electrical inspection, which reveals some updating that urgently needs to  happen (urgent, as in before you get those custom kitchen cabinets you were planning to have installed the day after closing).

It’s a very rare transaction in which everything comes off precisely as it was planned. Understanding this and being as flexible as possible will prevent the emotional roller-coaster of breath-holding, anger, outrage and complete lifestyle chaos that arises when first-time buyers expect every step of the transaction to happen with Swiss-watch precision.

4 Things Buyers Can Do To Minimize Surprise

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When people say they hate surprises, it’s a little bit like when someone says they don’t like change. Most people actually love change and surprises – so long as the changes are pleasant or they perceive the surprises to be in their favor.  It’s really only unpleasant surprises that agitate, irritate and frustrate the average person.

This is true in life – and it’s certainly true in home buying.If your agent surprises you with dozens of homes that have amenities far beyond your wish list for $50,000 below your budget, I’m sure you’ll find a way to make peace with that. But if you get a call from your mortgage broker the day before you have to bring in an extra $3,000 more than you expected, chances are good you’ll be disgruntled, at a minimum. Fortunately, that means that there is actually a pretty short list of unpleasant surprises which threaten to sour your home buying experience.  If you can take a core set of actions to minimize the likelihood of this short list occurring, you’ll protect yourself against 90% of the unpleasant surprises and set your home buying experience up for success. Here are a few of those key surprise-prevention tactics that can take your fear of the unknown, unpleasant surprise down dozens of notches.

1.  Read everything.  It sounds basic – even obvious – to advise a home buyer to read their paperwork. It sounds basic, that is, until you’re in the midst of the process and are presented with literally hundreds of pages of documents to sign, sometimes over and over, and sometimes with a high sense of urgency.  For example, if you are in a hot market, you might have to make offers on 5, 10 or 15 homes before you get one that works for you. After the first few, it’s tempting to just start clicking away to sign the offer documents you’ve seen so many times before, without really reading the critical fine print before you send it back to your agent.You wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve seen buyers themselves spot issues or ask questions that illuminated a calculation problem or discrepancy between their good faith estimates and loan documents at closing – before their professionals even had a chance to review the documents themselves!  That’s the kind of buyer you want to be: don’t wait until you get a surprising mortgage statement in the mail two months after closing to spot errors, issues and miscalculations. While it is socially uncomfortable to feel like people are sitting across the table waiting for you to read things before you sign them, your agent, mortgage broker and escrow officer really and truly do not mind.  (And if they do mind, that’s really not your concern – read away anyway.)Many buyers also neglect to read their HOA disclosures, detailed property inspection reports and natural hazard disclosure reports: all things which, if read, can prevent many major later surprises.And while I’m calling out commonly un-read documents, I’d be remiss not to mention home warranty policies. Most smart buyers these days know they need a home warranty policy.  But without reading what is and isn’t covered, you do yourself a disservice. Many policies offer optional extra coverage for a small fee of items like appliances, pools and air conditioners – which would normally be excluded under a standard policy. As well, most policies require that you call the home warranty provider before any other service contractor if you hope to have repairs covered.  Reading your policy before you finalize it empowers you to avoid voiding your coverage by inadvertently calling another contractor first. It also allows you to max out the coverage on the items that matter to you – minimizing the chances you’ll be surprised by lack of coverage if and when the item later breaks down.


2.  Buy yourself time.
Home buying in America in 2013 places buyers under a series of very tight timelines, deadlines and due-diligence-and-decision-making time frames.  You might only have 10 days from the time the seller accepts your offer to make a final decision about whether to do the deal, 30 days to close escrow and an hour at the closing table to review your loan documents and commit to what might be the largest financial decision you’ll ever make.These time pressures can lead to costly shortcuts and errors. It’s easy to under- (or over-) estimate what all the items in your home inspection report will actually cost to repair. Of course, if you overestimate, you won’t have a later unpleasant surprise – but you might endanger your decision-making in other ways.

So, buy yourself some time.  Get out ahead of your inspection and document review contingencies by working with your agent to get them scheduled for ASAP after you get into contract. That will give you maximum time to schedule follow-up inspections with specialists like electricians, plumbers and other contractors if your home inspector calls out repairs you need to collect estimates and bids on.

If you blow through your inspection or loan timelines despite your most aggressive inspection scheduling and responsiveness to lender requests, don’t assume your only choices are to back out of the deal or plow ahead and take the risk of a later surprise loan problem or post-closing money pit. Talk to your agent about whether you might be able to literally buy yourself an extension of time on your loan or inspection contingencies. First, simply ask the seller nicely for more time. But if necessary, consider offering to release a small amount of your earnest money deposit to them in return for an extension of time. Releasing $1000 of your deposit to the seller to get more time is a much smaller, more sensible risk than the risk of removing contingencies now and forfeiting your entire deposit if your loan doesn’t come through later on.

You can and should also buy yourself more time to review the critical paperwork that will come your way during your home purchase. Ask your mortgage broker and agent to make sure you get any revised good faith estimates of your loan rates, terms and payments at least one day before you need to remove your loan contingencies – and let them know early and often that you’d like to see your mortgage closing documents at least one day before your appointment to sign them.

3.  Show up.  Home inspections have come a long way, baby.  It’s not at all unusual for them to be reported out in pdf form, and sent to the buyer via email within hours of the inspector’s site visit.  Today’s home inspection reports often include color pictures and easy-to-read, color-coded action item lists that pull out all the repairs and suggestions for further inspections into one handy list to help organize your contractor calls and home improvement store shopping lists.

But no matter how detailed, no matter how thorough your home inspection report is, a report can never replace the informational richness and nuances you’ll get if you actually attend the inspection in person.  Most inspectors will welcome you, give you a briefing and explanation of what they will be looking at, and what’s excluded from the inspection at the outset, and then check in with you throughout.  Many will point out to you issues and problems they find, so you can see them with your own eyes.

And they will also often do the invaluable service of showing you how to operate some home appliances and pointing out where you’ll find your emergency shut-offs for gas, water and electricity.

In addition to these need-to-knows, the human touch you’ll get if you show up to your inspection can help you and your agent evaluate, organize and prioritize any repairs or upgrades the inspector deems worth doing, including which repairs (if any):

  • you should ask the sellers to do
  • you should have your own professional do (i.e., so you can select your own materials, finishes, etc.)
  • you should request a repair credit or price reduction for
  • are very inexpensive or otherwise minor
  • you can do yourself
  • pose an actual health hazard or other danger
  • can wait until you have time and money to do them, and
  • which items you should have a professional handle, lickety split.

4. Do your own math, diligence and following-up. 
Your agent and mortgage broker might very well be the highest-paid professional advisors you’ll ever have. And, contrary to what some would have you believe, the vast majority of them put in serious work to earn their keep. Closing a real estate transaction requires a vast and varied array of skills.  But one skill most agents and brokers lack is this: mind-reading.  They have no way to know:
  • what numbers you’ve missed
  • whether your personal mortgage budgeting appropriately calculated for your children’s tuition, your retirement saving and your charitable giving
  • that you have a serious sensitivity to nighttime noise.
The home you are buying is your home, and the transaction is yours, too. It’s essential that you approach the purchase process with a commitment to delegating tasks versus abdicating all responsibility. Buyers who abdicate responsibility for reading documents, planning their own personal finances, reading reports and making sure all the follow-up inspections get scheduled and questions get answered often end up experiencing unpleasant surprises after contingencies are removed, at closing or even years into home ownership. They often express outrage that someone didn’t tell them X, point Y out or repeatedly emphasize Z.The fact is, there are only so many things your agent can point out and warn you about, and these will generally be the things they know from experience to be important to the average home buyer. So if something is uber-important to you, you need to let them know it and take every measure you can to protect your own interests.  And there’s lots you can do. Show up at inspections, read documents before you sign them, do the math and then ask every single question and follow up every single qualm you have, until your concerns are satisfied.
Buyers: What surprises did you encounter, pleasant or otherwise, in your most recent home-buying experience?