You have Scottsdale Real Estate questions.

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Q: Is now a good time to buy a house in Scottsdale?

A: Forgive me for answering a question with a question. Do you need a house? The best time to buy a house is when you need one. Conditions are advantageous for buyers who can scrape up the requisite down payments and qualify for financing due to low interest rates and home values, but such external factors are irrelevant if you are not in the market for a new home. It’s probably a great time to buy a car right now, too, but are you going to rush right out and get one if your current vehicle serves your present needs? We agent types like to drum up business by urging consumers to act before a window of opportunity closes forever, but don’t let outside forces push you into a purchase based on fear or avarice. Likewise, don’t let extraneous market “noise” prohibit you from making the right purchase for your current needs. Obsessive market watching tends to lead to the dreaded “analysis paralysis,” which shackles a would-be buyer to indecisiveness. We all want to buy when the market is most conducive to securing a bargain, but such considerations must be in concert with, not mutually exclusive of, present need. Good and bad purchases are made every day.

Q: How much off the listing price should I offer?

A: Seeing that every sale involves a different seller, it’s a losing proposition to think in terms of a standard percentage of offer price to list price. Not only is the financial position of every seller unique, there is little with more emotional attachment than a home. Carve off an unrealistic amount in an initial offering, and you risk alienating the seller. You torpedo the negotiation before it even begins. Even when you remove emotion from the equation, such as with bank-owned property or short sales, the offer should be based upon value, not an arbitrary formula. For instance, if a bank-owned property is 100k undervalued in the list price, you can forget about knocking 10% off an already solid bargain. Consider yourself lucky if multiple suitors don’t show up to bid it up well over asking price. On the other hand, if a home is overpriced by 100k, offering 90% of list price likely means you would be overpaying considerably. Each property and its owner are unique, as should be the consideration that goes into the crafting of your offer.

Q: What’s all the fuss I keep hearing about appraisals?

A: Appraisals, and financing in general, comprise the soft underbelly of our slow-motion Real Estate recovery. The challenges start with the professional who is tasked with performance of the appraisal. New regulations were enacted to prevent fraudulent evaluations from artificially inflating home values, but we’ve traded one set of problems for another. These days the appraiser is essentially picked from a hat to prevent conflicts of interest. Unfortunately, this means that out of area appraisers of varying degrees of competence are often charged with evaluating homes in neighborhoods they have never previously worked. Further, as a designated “declining market,” even the home that closed across the street just last month is subject to a markdown in value to allow for depreciation in that short period of time since it closed escrow. Until we can overcome this stigma, home values will continue to be adjusted downward from the recent sales comps. Factor in the multiple appraisals that are often required for FHA financing on “flipped home” purchases (homes that sold within 90-120 days of the current transaction), and loan underwriters with the authority to review and reject the appraiser’s findings, and you get the minefield we have today.

Q: Should I pay off my credit cards to qualify for a loan?

A: Don’t even break wind without consulting your lender first. While I would hope that it is obvious that major purchases are off limits during loan qualification/processing (can affect debt to income ratios, credit scores, cash reserves, etc), many a home purchase has been derailed by the misguided good samaritanism of the borrower. You may need the good credit associated with the line that you aim to shut down or deplete required cash reserves that are necessary to gain full loan approval. Never assume that paying something down or off is beneficial to your unique financial profile without first consulting your mortgage professional.

Q: Should I bother with an inspection and final walk-through on an “as is” transaction?

A: The nature of an “as is” sale is one of the most fundamentally misunderstood concepts in Real Estate. Assuming that the purchase is made utilizing the standard Arizona Association of Realtors “As Is” addendum and the boiler plate language is not contradicted anywhere in the contract, all you are really agreeing to is the dismissal of seller warranties as to the condition of the property. You maintain full inspection rights with the option to walk away from the sale if condition is unsatisfactory. There is nothing that precludes you from requesting repairs at that point as well, the seller is simply not contractually bound to make any. As to the walk-through, it is important that you verify the property is still in substantially the same condition at closing as it was when the contract was signed. “As is” reflects the condition of the property at the time of the agreement. Any subsequent damage to the property is the responsibility of the seller. If the A/C has stopped working, or a tree fell on the roof, you likely have a case to demand repair or walk away from the sale.

Q: What am I actually looking for in a title report?

A: In short, you want to make sure the seller’s Uncle Willy from Topeka, who hasn’t been seen or heard from in forty years, doesn’t pop up after closing to claim an ownership interest in the property. Tax liens, mechanic’s liens, encroachments, easements, back HOA dues … you are basically looking for anything that can preclude your full rights to ownership and use of the property. I always pay special attention to the “Schedule B” of the preliminary title report that is furnished during the escrow period by the title company as it lists those items that will be exceptions to the title insurance policy. Gremlins that might pop up after closing, and will be outside of the scope of your title insurance coverage, typically hide here. With the abundance of short sales, foreclosures, tax sales, etc in our midst, the transference of clean title to a buyer has never been more rife with potential sabotage. If you are purchasing a bank-owned property, or really any property with recent changes in ownership, you want to make sure all encumbrances on the property have been or will be resolved in advance of settlement. Short sale buyers will need to know that the seller’s lienholders have, in fact, agreed to release the lien(s) on the property at closing. While these are functions of the chosen title company, they are not matters that can be taken for granted in 2010. All of those documents supplied by the title company during the escrow process that nobody used to read? Read them. If you aren’t sure which items are cause for concern, ask your agent. If your agent doesn’t know (or instill confidence in you that he does), contact a Real Estate attorney to review and advise.

Prevailing wisdom may label this a “buyer’s market,” but there are things roaming around out there in the haze. Biting things. Make sure you know what you are doing before stumbling out of the house, armed only with a pre-qual letter.


Ray and Paul Slaybaugh are NOT attorneys. None of the opinions herein should be construed as legal advice. Should you have specific legal questions regarding the purchase or sale of Real property, contact a Real Estate Attorney.


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