If ever there was a home buyer's market, it's today. Houses are plentiful and interest rates have plummeted. Before buying, however, make sure that you're practical as you pursue the American dream. Use purchase agreements, inspections and disclosures to protect yourself. California law outlines what buyers and sellers are obligated to do as part of a transaction. Before you begin your home search in the Golden State, become familiar with the process.

Working with an Agent

While some people can handle the entire transaction on their own, others would rather work with a Realtor or broker. A trained agent can calculate what you can afford, help with negotiations, and make sure the proper documents are completed. The California Department of Real Estate's website provides more information.

Property Disclosures

Sellers are legally required to tell buyers about problems with the property. It's against the law to hide major defects such as structural damage. California sellers must go even further, detailing everything from deaths on the property to a neighbor's annoying dog. A California Department of Real Estate booklet details state-specific requirements.

Purchase Agreements

After you find a home, your purchase agreement should spell out details such as price, down payment, a description of the property, and more. The California Association of Realtors offers a template that covers important points.

Inspection for Protection

An inspection shields the seller by proving that the home is safe. It also protects buyers by revealing problems. Typical inspections look at structural soundness, heating and cooling, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, floors and ceilings. Check with the California Real Estate Inspectors Association to find a professional inspector.

Securing Title

A title search ensures that the seller really owns the property and that no one holds a lien against it. Though it's possible for an individual to conduct a title search, the process is tricky, so the services of a real estate attorney or title company can be invaluable.

Lenders require you to buy title insurance that protects them if a problem surfaces later, but these policies cover only them. You can make sure you're covered as well by purchasing a policy for the amount of your loan.

Foreclosures or Short Sales

Sometimes bargains can be found in homes in foreclosure or whose owners are on the brink. Though foreclosure auction rules vary by county, the differences are not all that significant. The high bid always wins, and the property is sold 'as is'. In a short sale, the home is sold for less than the seller owes on the mortgage loan. The mortgage holder must agree to the sale, and the buyer and seller can't have a close family or business relationship. In California, a mortgage holder must respond to a short sale offer within 21 days. Additionally, banks have to give owners a month's notice if foreclosure is imminent and if short sale options are available.

Disclaimer

California real estate laws are complicated, and each transaction is unique. For detailed information, please contact a California real estate lawyer.

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