Welcome back to Curbed University! We guarantee it to be the most non-boring expert advice you have ever gotten about buying and renting a home in the Hub (not a guarantee). Additional questions as well as topic suggestions welcomed through the ever-trusty tipline. First lesson: Figuring out what you can afford.
First, a Last Word on Part I from Wednesday.
Don’t count on the seller's (a.k.a. listing) broker to arrange the best deal for you. They may simply want to move the sucker for their client as quickly and as profitably as possible. You and your broker are your advocates, not the seller or the seller’s broker.
How do you know a broker’s worth your time and money? Ask around! Google him or her! Go on Zillow and Trulia, and start plugging in criteria: Find out who has the listings in the areas you’re interested in, and then plug their names into the nearest web browser. You’d be surprised what comes up.
Now, Starting the Hunt: Questions to Ask of the Process
Deep breath. Exhale. You are through the looking glass and soon to be eyeball-deep in listing photos, floor plans and idle gossip you might mistake for earnest advice. First, though, a long rundown of terminology pertaining to the fine print in buying a home in Greater Boston. Because that’s where they get you—the fine print. (Hat tip for help on this to TheMLSOnline.com.)
Earnest Money vs. a Down Payment?
Say you'd like to make an offer that won't be refused on a home that's in the midst (or may be in the midst) of a bidding war—what's called an "earnest" money amount will do the trick. The payment will be credited toward your down payment or closing costs.
If the sale is never closed, you get the money back (or should!). If the sale closes, and every party to the deal is cool with it beforehand, the earnest money may, in fact, be refunded.
Here are more strategies on winning a bidding war—not an unheard thing in the Hub these days.
What Does It Mean to Have Title to a Property?
Having "title" to a property is not referring to some type of official document declaring a person's (or party's) ownership of a property. Rather, it's simply a way of saying someone has an ownership position (a.k.a. "legal interest"), in a property.
What Kinds of Properties Are There?
In Greater Boston, you will most likely be hunting for either a condo or a single-family home. Co-ops exist, but they are rare. Condos and single-family homes are “real property”—you own the actual physical walls, ceilings, floors, etc., whereas co-ops are corporations (my friend) in which people buy shares; in other words, you don’t necessarily own the co-op you’re in, you own shares in the corporation that the co-op (or co-operative) is made up of.
Condos are apartments. They can be found in swanky downtown Boston buildings of several dozen (even hundreds!) to humbler triple-deckers in Medford and Southie that have been converted along the way from rentals.
Single-family homes can be mansions in Brookline or semi-detached one-bedrooms in Somerville or row houses in the North End.
Each is defined for tax purposes by the municipalities they are in; and may be presented by sellers and their listing brokers in all sorts of ways (more on that later). But, by law, it has to be made clear, however eventually along in the buying process, what kind of property it is.
A quick word on additional fees, usually accrued monthly, that you will face with a condo. Most condo buildings have what are called condo fees or common charges—and they’re exactly what they sound like: money everybody has to put in for services like gyms, cleaning services and doormen (oftentimes, too, common charges will include those holiday tips so you don’t have to worry about handing out envelops in December). Additional information on common charges can be found here and here.
And, of course, with any residential property type you own, there is homeowner's insurance—which is only going up in Greater Boston.
What Is a Purchase Agreement?
A purchase agreement is exactly that: an agreement to purchase property. A purchase agreement specifies the terms the parties to the deal (you, the seller, their/your reps) have agreed to. Note: Get it in writing! They're only valid then. After an agreement to purchase has been signed by all parties, it is "cancelable" only if the terms within the agreement itself allow cancellation.
So, an agreement to purchase can be written by anyone and signed by all parties; however, be very careful: If an agreement to purchase does not contain certain statements and clauses, it may not be enforceable—or cancelable.
What Are Assessments and/or Special Assessments?
Special assessments can be simply thought of as “extra taxes” or “special taxes” charged to a property owner for specific improvements (like a sidewalk or new curbs). If these special taxes have not been paid by the seller before a home goes on the market, it is customary (but not required) for the seller to pay off these special taxes before closing.
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· Our Curbed University archive [Curbed Boston]