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Buying a Home 101 in Denver

how to buy a home in denver

Does part of your American Dream include buying a home? Will this be the year you finally get out of the rent rut and become a homeowner? 

Nationwide, homeownership is still an important goal and is high on Americans' list of things they would like to accomplish. But many people, millennials, in particular, feel bogged down by student debt, the soaring cost of housing, lack of an adequate down payment, and the proliferation of all-cash offers. 

The U.S. Census Bureau reported as of the first quarter of 2022, 65.4% of Americans own their home. In Colorado, homeownership is just above the national average, clocking in at 67%. 

It’s easy to get caught up in numbers and point out why you can’t own your own place; it takes resolve and patience to learn how you can actually achieve the goal of home ownership. It’s really quite advantageous for you to start looking into buying a home -- now! 

You may be asking, why now? Here are just a few reasons why buying a home is in your best interests:

Table of Contents:

Why Should I Buy a Home?

step 1 why should I buy a home

It’s a Great Investment

Real estate is a great investment.  Year over year, the homeowners saw their homes appreciate at almost 15 percent clip from May of 2021 to May 2022. That is a big increase in not only pricing but the value of home ownership. It’s important to think long-term with home ownership and think of it as a savings account that potentially builds big interest each year.

Great Transportation Options

Even if you can’t find a home in the city of Denver, the outlying metro area offers a number of housing options that are close to the RTD light rail and bus lines. Being close to public transportation makes accessing all the city has to offer incredibly easy and convenient. In many cases, you can get from the suburbs to downtown Denver in less than 20 minutes and not have to deal with parking or traffic. Whether you buy a home downtown or in the suburbs, it’s likely a bus connection or light rail station is going to be nearby to take you to your desired location in the Denver metro area.

Build Equity and Gain Wealth

When you rent, you are not investing in anything except your landlord’s portfolio. Owning a home is a great investment and what you save on your taxes is significant. The value of a home typically rises at least 2 percent per year; in Denver, many homes are valued almost 77 percent higher than they were just 6 years ago! Building equity (the difference between your home’s value and how much you owe your mortgage lender) in your home is an easy way to invest towards your retirement or future home improvement projects.

The Enormous Social and Health Benefits of Homeownership

According to a report by the National Association of Realtors, “owning a home embodies the spirit of individual autonomy and is the aspiration of most American households. Homeownership allows households to accumulate wealth and social status and is the basis for a number of positive social, economic, family, and civic outcomes. 

Many studies found that home ownership still provides a variety of social benefits. Homeownership boosts the educational performance of children, induces higher participation in civic and volunteering activity, improves health care outcomes, lowers crime rates, and lessens welfare dependency. With a home, purchase comes the pride of ownership and the sense of belonging in a community where one has a financial stake in the neighborhood. Also, ownership entails greater individual responsibility … More recent studies have found that the wealth-building effect of home ownership and the sense of control it provides to homeowners in a stable housing market affect homeowners’ mental and physical health in a positive way.” 

Once you make the commitment to becoming a homeowner, it’s important to know all the steps in the home buying process. Listed below are some of the keys to a successful journey in buying a home.

Get Your Home Financing in Order to Assure Success

step 2 financing

Start Saving -- Now

Having an adequate down payment is critical in the home buying process. Saving money requires commitment and being tenacious. Use a mobile app like Mint to budget your money each month and discover ways of savings whether it be setting aside a tax refund, avoiding eating out, cutting back on entertainment or getting monetary help from a family member.  

Consult with a Lender to Get a Mortgage

You’ll never know if homeownership is achievable unless you sit down with a trusted lender. It doesn’t cost anything to set up a meeting and see if you can get pre-approved. Taking that first step is imperative and it’s relatively fast and painless. 

Getting a pre-approval sounds pretty scary, doesn’t it? But the most frightening aspect of this first step is steeling yourself and getting the necessary documents and paperwork in order. Be prepared to show an ID, tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements including checking, saving, brokerage statements, 401K, IRAs, Roth, etc. It’s critical to show all sources of income as well as financial obligations. Assuming all the documents are in order, the pre-approval process goes pretty quickly and best of all, will help you determine how much home you’ll be able to afford. 

At the worst, you’ll figure out what your financial picture looks like and the steps you’ll have to take to qualify for a loan.

Down Payment Options for Homeowners

The down payment aspect of buying a home still strikes fear in the hearts of potential home buyers. Many people are still under the impression that a 20 percent down payment is necessary and that’s just not the case anymore. Down Payment Resource, a group that helps first time home buyers get the assistance they need to purchase a home, indicates that the average down payment is 6 percent, and that payment may be augmented by many state assistance programs.  

As an example, Colorado Housing Enterprises assists borrowers needing home mortgage finance in achieving and maintaining healthy home ownership by promoting responsible lending and providing healthy mortgage finance options to meet individual clients needs, including first mortgage lending, down payment and closing cost assistance and rural small business lending.  

The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) offers financial resources to help first time home buyers with down payment assistance, as well as finding affordable first mortgages. These packages have enabled over 100,000 Colorado home buyers to achieve home ownership, according to CHFA. Often lenders can be found that will offer reduced closing costs and no mortgage insurance, even with a low down payment. 

Right now, interest rates are around 5%. As interest rates rise, the value of the home you can afford to purchase decreases. Roughly, with every quarter of a percent interest rate increase, you are able to afford 2.5% less home. 

Find the Right Real Estate Agent

step 3 choosing a realtor

It’s natural to go online and start looking for a home. But to make it happen, it’s advisable to hire a professional. An experienced, reputable, and trustworthy real estate agent is well worth the price when you get ready to make what will most likely be the biggest purchase of your life. The knowledge they possess of the local market and their ability to zero in on the properties that will be best suited for you is worth the time and effort you’ll save yourself. Their commission comes from the sale price of the home so you pay nothing and get all the benefits. Usaj Realty brokers are carefully selected and offer “white glove service.”

An experienced, reputable, and trustworthy real estate agent is well worth the price when you get ready to make what will most likely be the biggest purchase of your life.

While home buyers can read about an area online, it’s not the same as getting knowledge and advice from a local realtor. Also, an agent can suggest neighborhoods and properties you might not have considered that could meet your needs. 

Realtors can help make sure you are purchasing a home with no surprises and that will help you stay within your means. Keep in mind, part of your monthly budget should include costs for home repairs and renovations. As a result, you don't want to be overextended on your mortgage. Even before you pay for a home inspection or get estimates from contractors, a realtor may know about common problems with homes in a particular location or those built during a specific time frame. 

They may also know what the best contractors in the area charge for a kitchen or bath remodel. If a home clearly has more problems than you can handle or afford, an experienced realtor may be able to give you that information early on, before you go to the trouble of making an offer and going under contract. 

Realtors can help buyers in a fast-paced market like Denver’s hot housing market by matching them with the best and most appropriate properties. An agent may know about a house that’s perfect for you that’s not yet on the market. Buyers who rely solely on online listings will miss those opportunities. 

Realtors can help you get the best deal by negotiating your contract with the seller’s agent. Buyers who don’t have agents may not have the skills or the experience to thoroughly understand, let alone successfully negotiate, a real estate contract. And because it’s the seller who pays the agent’s commission, there’s little reason for a buyer to forego an agent. An agent can also help the buyer negotiate with the seller for repairs or price reductions if the home inspection reveals problems. 

By working with a professional realtor, you’ll have someone helping you manage deadlines and stress to ensure a smooth process until you get the keys to your new home. There are multiple deadlines to meet between the time a home goes under contract and when the deal closes, and missing any of them could cause the transaction to fall apart. 

Moreover, there are nearly always hiccups in the closing process, and having a realtor to help you manage both the logistical and emotional aspects of these occurrences can be a major relief.

How to Pick the Right Home

step 4 how to pick the right home

There are many objective criteria that prospective home buyers can use to figure out what kind of home they want, and limit their home search to properties that meet those requirements. When home buyers carefully evaluate these aspects for each home considered, they will have a better idea if the property will suit them appropriately. Here are some tips to keep in mind when searching for a new home.

Location

While the location is a crucial part of the decision-making process, it should be considered as part of the bigger picture. Buying a home that does not fit a buyer’s needs but happens to be in a good location may not be the most practical choice. Proximity to necessary or wanted services, access to good schools, and ease of getting from one place or another are all viable reasons buyers might prefer one location over another.

Size

The size of the home should be appropriate for the home buyer in the present, but also for when size needs fluctuate. Additionally, there are two ways to assess size: square footage and spaciousness. A 2,000-square-foot home might have three bedrooms or five. It may feel open and airy, or closed and private. When thinking about size, buyers should take these concerns into account and create specific preferences.

Style and Layout

Given the investment, buyers should feel free to place some emphasis on the home’s architectural style, design and overall layout. People sometimes feel like they should not set preferences on what they perceive is largely aesthetic, because they may think it frivolous. However, for a home in which a person might live for decades, aesthetic pleasure is important and ultimately ascribes value to the home. A one-story rambler might be more appropriate for someone who wants free, fast movement from one end of the home to another. A buyer who prefers to keep the sleeping areas more private from visitors might prefer to have the bedrooms on a second floor.

Listing Price

The sale price of the home may be the one factor that has fairly objective limits. Buyers are restricted by the price of homes in the area where they want to buy and cannot spend more than they can afford in cash or a mortgage. However, in many regions, these limits provide a great deal of wiggle room. Financial experts often recommend that buyers try to avoid buying homes at the maximum of their buying power, so that their finances are not tapped when it comes time to maintain the property.

Property and Area Amenities

Buying a property calls for prospective owners to answer the following questions: Does this property have everything I need? Can the neighborhood or nearby areas provide what I cannot get from the property? Will the property support improvements and features I want to add? Making upgrades can often solve problems that are inherent at the time of purchase, but there are exceptions. No amount of maximizing space will turn a small yard into a big one, if that is what a buyer wants. A careful analysis of the amenities of the property and the neighborhood benefits should be considered when targeting properties.

Overall Condition

The condition of the home is vital to the buying process, because buyers need to know how much work they will have to put in after they close on the property. A home that needs a little care or a few upgrades might be ideal for someone who is looking for a property that they can customize and maybe save some money on the purchase. People who are too busy or otherwise uninterested in making upgrades would be better off buying homes that require little or no work to be move-in ready.

Resale Value

Future resale value has a way of wrapping all the various components of a property into one package which buyers must examine. Over a long time, properties should appreciate. However, neighborhoods encounter regular fluctuations in value. Buyers who are not planning to live in the home for only a few years should carefully research the real estate trends in desired neighborhoods, and get expert opinion on the expected resale values in the future. Choosing a stable or upcoming location, and buying a property in good condition at a reasonable price are excellent ways to increase the likelihood of a good resale value.

Associated Costs

Before making an offer, be aware of the extra costs that go into being a homeowner. Is there a homeowner’s association and if so, will you be able to afford those fees? How much are the property taxes? What kind of costs are associated with maintaining the property (mowing, snow removal, tree trimming, driveway repair, etc.)? What’s the average bill for utilities and other monthly payments (water, sewer, heat, electrical, garbage pickup, internet, etc.)? It’s important to know upfront the carrying costs of the property since it has a direct impact on your monthly budget.

Make an Offer Quickly in this Fast-Paced Housing Market

step 5 making an offer

Making an offer on a home and getting under contract is one of the last, but probably the most important, steps in home buying. Having a knowledgeable real estate broker by your side is critical in knowing the true value of a home and what should be included in the contract. Many times, the buyer and seller will go back and forth not only on price but on other aspects of the potential sale. Below are some line items that can be negotiated by a realtor on behalf of their client during the home buying process:

The Price on your Offer

Just like any high-priced commodity, the listing price of a home isn’t always the "real" price. Negotiation is expected in any real estate transaction. In a hot market, it may represent the point where bidding begins. In other scenarios, the price tag may be reduced significantly. It’s important to know the neighborhood and have access to the most up-to-date comparable sales of similar type properties.

Terms

Unless you have a cash offer, acquiring a loan to buy a home is the most critical piece on the contract. Outlining the finance terms and whether the contract is contingent on financing should be included in the offer. It is beneficial to get preapproved for a mortgage and know ahead of time what kind of interest rate you’ll need. It may behoove you to lock in at a specific rate, especially if a rate hike is anticipated. A .25 % interest hike can mean hundreds of dollars extra in your monthly payment.

Dates

Knowing how much time you’ll need to close is important, both for the buyer and the seller. Typically, a closing takes 35-45 days -- not a long period of time! Unless you are purchasing a home with cash, the buyer’s lender dictates the length of time it will take to close. As a result, it’s imperative to have your loan pre-approved before getting too deep into the process. Once the clock starts ticking (upon a signed contract), you’ll have to be dealing with earnest money, home inspection, an appraisal, finding homeowner’s insurance and an array of other details.

Inclusions/Exclusions

Inclusions are one of the items that gets lost when negotiating. Just because the MLS says they are excluded or are not included, doesn't mean they can't be. Bottom line - it never hurts to ask! Typically, all major kitchen appliances (refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, trash compactor) are included but it won’t hurt to ask about the microwave, small convection oven, washer/dryer and any other items in the home can stay. Many homeowners might not want to mess with moving large pieces of furniture, especially if they are downsizing, and for first-time home buyers, it’s a great opportunity to have furnishings already in place.

Contingencies

Contingencies in a contract are essentially a list of conditions or actions that must be met before a contract becomes binding. These conditions can be wide-ranging and are enacted for both the protection of the buyer and the seller.

Being Under Contract Signals You're Close to Owning Your Home

under contract process

Once your offer has been accepted by the seller, you are officially “under contract.” With this comes a myriad of forms and tasks you will have to accomplish in a relatively short period of time. Be prepared to give the seller earnest money (typically 1-3% of the agreed upon selling price) which is kept in escrow until the buyer’s financing is approved. Other steps that are taken during closing include:

Appraisal of the Home

Whether someone is buying a home, having the right square footage for the listing and an accurate value of the property matters. This is why a home appraisal is a necessary piece of the road leading to closing. As a buyer, you need to know the exact valuation of the home based on its location, the structure itself, and other features. The appraisal impacts the amount of money you can borrow and also the tax assessment you pay each year.

Loan Approval

It’s one thing to be pre-approved, it’s another to formally apply for the loan. Your designated lender will help you with the necessary steps but be prepared to provide a bevy of financial documents. You can’t have enough patience during this part of the process.

Home Inspection

This critical piece of the home buying experience can often make or break the deal and tends to create anxiety on both sides of the aisle. Recommended for anyone serious about a home purchase, this two- to four-hour examination of a home reveals the inner workings of the house and may provide additional facts for negotiation on the final price. Based on the findings, the potential buyer can go back to the seller and ask for concessions on the price or ask that certain items be fixed prior to closing. A home inspection generally will cost $250 for some townhomes, and up to $600 +  for single-family homes, depending on the square footage. There are ancillary services that can be added on as well, such as radon and mold testing, and a sewer scope inspection. There can also be an additional fee if the home is over 50 years old as these inspections may take longer.

Obtaining Property Insurance

It’s no surprise that obtaining homeowners' insurance is a requirement of mortgage lenders when going through the home buying process. What may be surprising is the amount of detail that goes into adequately covering your home. It’s important to make sure you have adequate coverage on your home in the event of any property damage. It is estimated one in 15 insured homes will have a claim so it’s imperative to know what your policy includes. Condo living is often the choice of first-time home buyers. Make sure you have dwelling, personal property and personal liability coverage since the exterior of the building is insured by the condo association. Bundling your homeowners’ insurance with an automobile policy can provide significant savings. Also, many companies provide discounts if you have a security system in place, smoke alarms and other safety features, and no history of claims.

Transfer Utilities

A few days before closing, arrangements should be made to transfer the home’s utilities over to the buyer.

Final Walk-Through

This is a very important final step to make sure that the home has been cleaned adequately, that nothing on the property has been damaged and that there are no surprises before the home is transferred to the new owner. Be diligent about following through with this step to make the closing process an enjoyable one.

Closing Day Means You Get the Keys to Your New Home!

step 7 closing

This is the day you’ve been dreaming about, the day you actually become a homeowner. Bring your driver’s license, a cashier’s check for the necessary costs and your favorite pen. There will be many documents to sign but in the end, you’ll finally have the keys to your new home!

(Editor's note: This blog was originally published in January of 2019. It has been edited and updated to provide current information).

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