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What You Need To Know About Buying a Home: Part Four

Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to our inbox.

You're almost there. You can see light at the end of a very expensive tunnel.


In San Francisco, escrow companies handle the nitty-gritty of paperwork, title insurance and the distribution of funds as agreed in the sales contract, plus recording the deed of sale. You write the checks.

Be prepared before you make an offer

It's simple. Have your mortgage pre-approved, have the deposit/down payment in the bank along with enough money for closing costs, title insurance, moving costs, and some funds (or a credit card) allocated for those small but critical items that come up (like replacing light fixtures that seller did not include, or those blackout shades you didn't realize you'd need). And figure out how much time and you'll need to get the place up and running and ready to move into.

Escrow and closing fees

Mortgage-associated and origination fees: be certain of what your bank or mortgage company is charging you and get it in writing.

Title insurance: one of the most important items on any list, title insurance will protect you against claims by previously-unknown heirs or spouses plus outright fraud, unpaid condo fees or missing rental tenants' deposits.

Here's some other important stuff you should look into:

Movers: get a few estimates, preferably from movers referred by friends. The more you pack yourself, the cheaper if will be, but this may not be the place to cheap out. This is your life they're moving, and you want it done well.

Making the place your own: be realistic about what the house needs. Paint? New closet systems? Floor refinishing? If possible, have it done before you move in. By "possible" we mean setting aside enough to carry both places for at least a month (but without telling the painters that).

Transfer fee: the responsibility of the seller, but the amount may become part of the negotiations. As a general rule, you pay $5 per $1000 of the purchase price and that goes up from there to $7.50 per $1000 for a million dollars and above.

Square footage

Square footage is a much-touted metric for pricing but is fundamentally meaningless because, quite simply, no one measures the same way which is why you so often see "per tax records" in small type near the square footage statements on homes for sale. You'll know if a house is "big enough" for your life before you buy it. So just buy a house you like and that you think fairly priced, one you can live in for a while. That said, don't hesitate to bring a 25' tape measure along and take some measurements yourself before you make an offer.


No two houses are alike or in the same condition, so comparables, AKA "comps" have limited use. However, you should know what similar homes are selling for in the 'nabe you like- and your info should be to-the-minute current. So that's how comps help you make an educated, reasonable offer. You don't need a Realtor for these in today's information soaked world: online brokerages like Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, Estately and ZipRealty provide records of recent home listings and sales in a close radius to any home listed on the MLS. You should be more interested in sold home prices than listed home prices in assessing property value. And, don't forget Redfin (among other sources) shows you the past sale history on homes too, so you can check what the home you like sold for before.

You've decided to make an offer. (The staff at Curbed SF would like to take a moment to congratulate you on your journey thus far.) Here's what it will be in it, simple version:

- Address of the property and type of deed (or stock transfer)
- Sale price
- Terms: the amount of cash (earnest money) plus any mortgage amount
- Date for closing escrow
- Agreement on buyer's inspection plus pre-close walk-through
Amount of earnest money deposit accompanying the offer, and how it's to be returned to you if the offer is rejected, plus penalties for breaking an accepted agreement
- Agreement to pay or pro-rate real estate taxes, maintenance or HOA fees, rents and tenant deposits, utilities
- Acceptance of Disclosure Report
- A time limit (preferably short) after which the offer will expire
- Exclusions (Grannie's chandelier)
- Contingencies

Pre-close walk though

Schedule a walk-though of the property a day or two before escrow closes but after the seller (or stagers) has moved out. It's your last chance to postpone or amend the sale, and probably your greatest opportunity for buyer's remorse. Be strong!

Get the keys! And get the locks changed.

Escrow has closed. Make sure your insurance has no gaps in coverage and that basic utilities are transferred. Confirm the deed has been recorded. Get the keys from your agent and have a locksmith poised to change the locks. It's yours now. Give yourself a pat on the back.
· What You Need To Know About Buying a Home: Part Three [Curbed SF]
· What You Need To Know About Buying a Home: Part Two [Curbed SF]
· What You Need To Know About Buying a Home: Part One [Curbed SF]