So you’ve decided to take advantage of the low interest rates and appreciating values, and to buy your home in the Low Country. Congrats! But that is only the starting line; now the fun really begins. You’ve definitely started in the right place by contacting a Realtor, but where do you want to live? Single family home or condo? HOA or not? Let me walk you through some things to think about.
After contacting a Realtor, your next call should be to a lender. If you don’t have one, your Realtor can recommend a few. Some people like to stick with their bank since they have an established relationship with them, but sometimes a mortgage broker is your best bet. A mortgage broker has access to hundreds, if not thousands, of mortgage programs and often times have more options for you than a traditional bank. Regardless of who you choose to go with, a lender will review your credit score and employment information, and hopefully pre-approve you for a loan. This document will provide a spending limit for you and shows sellers that you are a serious and qualified buyer. Having this pre-approval is highly recommended when making any offer, and might just put you ahead of the competition in a multiple offer situation.
Next, you need to think about what type of home you want. Are you looking for zero-to-low maintenance outside? Then maybe you should be leaning towards a condo or townhome. But that low maintenance comes with a price: extra monthly fees. Some communities charge $150+ per month for these conveniences. Other folks would rather put that money towards their mortgage payment and do the work themselves and buy a single family home. Neither is right or wrong, good or bad; it’s just something to think about and consider.
Next, you need to decide whether you want to live in a subdivision with established covenants and restrictions, and many times amenities (pool, tot lots, tennis, etc) or simply a residential neighborhood. The subdivisions also comes with a price – yearly or quarterly HOA (home owner’s association) dues. The other thing to consider are the rules. Are you willing to cut your grass regularly? Potentially have your exterior paint color approved before you paint? Possibly have your fence plans approved before it’s installed? Do you want to have a few chickens for fresh eggs? Livestock may not be allowed. Do you have a boat, RV, or trailer that needs to stay at your house? You might not be able to keep these at your home if your HOA rules do not allow for it. – The good news is that all subdivisions with covenants and restrictions, the written rules are filed publicly in the courthouse so we can fully review them before you sign on the dotted line.
Another thing that we need to consider in the Low Country is flood zones and flood insurance. The US Government has mapped everywhere in this area and determined the probability that it will or will not flood. Based on those maps, a home that you are interested in may or may not fall in a flood zone. If it does – and there’s a spectrum of flooding probability – then government subsidized flood insurance is required by your lender. Your flood insurance premium depends on which flood zone you are in and how tall your house is (on a slab or on stilts). To double check if a home is within a flood zone, you can search an address on FEMA’s website. Simply Google “flood insurance map by address” and you will find the right web address.
Now we can get down to the nitty gritty. Price, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, garage, acreage, type of exterior (brick, hardy plank, vinyl, stucco, etc), pool, existing fence, having the master bedroom downstairs – these are just some of the things that my clients are looking for in their homes. Remember to look for the major things in a home that you want. Don’t get caught up in the cosmetics. If you see a design feature in one home, but the second home has the number of bedrooms that you need – go with the second home. You can always copy that design feature into the home that you buy. Location, acreage, view – these are things that cannot change. Updated kitchens and bathrooms, home size, garages – these are the important, big ticket items. The rest can be decorated and updated with time.
I hope that you have found this article useful. This is just the beginning of a wonderful, but sometimes stressful journey that will be worth it in the end! Do your homework and communicate with your Realtor so that the best match can be found for you. Happy house hunting!!