Buying a house is part of the American dream. Before making this important purchase, take the time to determine what you can afford, the ideal neighborhood, and what features you need or want in a home. And be aware of the legal issues involved in residential real estate transactions, such as disclosures, purchase contracts, potential title defects, zoning issues, taxes, and other legal matters. With proper preparation, careful choice of a real estate agent, and prudent use of other qualified professionals, buying a home in Florida can be a positive experience.
Advantages of Working With a Real Estate Agent in Florida
Before buying a house, condo, or other home in Florida, contact a real estate agent who can help you find your home and handle all the complex procedures involved with the purchase. Some of the benefits of using a real estate agent include the following:
- knowledge of the community, median home prices, and market conditions
- ability to match homes to your needs and budget (and to steer you away from unsound homes and deals)
- help preparing a viable offer and handling other paperwork
- managing deadlines, and
- negotiating the final deal.
Your agent should be able to help you every step of the way, from drafting your written offer and negotiating with the seller on price and other key terms to coordinating the escrow process and house closing. Your real estate agent should also help you locate other professionals to assist you in the homebuying process, including mortgage brokers and home inspectors.
And the good news is that working with a real estate agent won’t cost you anything. The seller usually pays the entire real estate commission (typically 5% to 6% of the house sale price, split between the seller’s agent and yours).
Personal referrals from other home buyers are usually the best way to select a real estate agent. You can find licensed Florida real estate agents at the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation's Licensee Search. Also, check local listings on the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Other useful resources include real estate websites such as Zillow and Trulia which have customer reviews of real estate agents.
Be sure the agent you choose has experience representing buyers, good references, and qualifications to meet your housebuying needs in terms of your ideal location, type of property, and budget.
Seller Disclosure Requirements in Florida
State law in Florida (Johnson v. Davis, 480 So.2d 625 (Fla. 1985)) requires sellers to disclose any facts or conditions about their property that have a substantial impact on the value of the property and that others cannot easily observe. To aid sellers in making all required disclosures, the Florida Association of Realtors offers a disclosure form, which includes details on the property, including:
- contents such as specific appliances, and whether or not they need repair
- defects in the electrical and other house systems
- conditions such as termites or asbestos, and
- homeowners’ association fees, deed restrictions, and other specified details of the property.
Seller disclosures are important for you as a buyer, since just looking at a property may not be enough to tell you what problems its owner encountered with it while living there.
In addition to state-required disclosures, sellers of houses built before 1978 must comply with federal Title X disclosures regarding lead-based paint and hazards. See the lead disclosure section of the EPA’s website, for details.
For more details on seller disclosures, see Considerations Before Selling a House in Florida.
Home Inspections in Florida
Buyers should not rely solely on the seller's disclosures, however, but should hire an independent home inspector to verify the information from the seller's disclosure. Many buyers make their offer contingent upon a satisfactory inspection report to be sure no material defects exist and to identify the following:
- termites and other pests
- soil settlement, drainage, or erosion issues
- noise and odor problems
- conditions that could lead to mold
- foundation and structural integrity, and
- the condition of the heating and cooling systems; electrical; plumbing; walls; drainage; basement; and flooring.
See What You Need to Know About Home Inspections When Buying a House for more details.
Real Estate Purchase Agreements in Florida
A purchase agreement is a legal document that contains the material terms and conditions of your real estate transaction. It must be in writing and signed by the parties (buyers and sellers) to the contract, and include an offer to sell or purchase, an acceptance of the offer, the sale price, and an adequate description of the property. See the Florida Realtors Association Residential Contract for Sale and Purchase for a sample.
Title Issues in Florida
A buyer should always obtain a title search from a title company before purchasing a home. The title company searches public records and other sources for any liens, easements (such as the utility company’s right to access part of the property), or other encumbrances or title restrictions that may affect the property. If the title search locates problems, the buyer should require the seller to correct those problems as a condition to closing.
You should also consider purchasing a title insurance policy to protect the title to the property against adverse claims by third parties, or any clouds on the title missed by the title search. Mortgage companies usually require buyers to purchase a title insurance policy in connection with obtaining a mortgage.
For more details on title insurance, escrow, and closing, see Sandy Gadow’s website, Buying, Selling, and Closing Simplified, which includes a state-by-state guide to closing practices.
Working With a Lawyer in Florida
Unlike some states, Florida does not require that buyers involve a lawyer in the house-buying transaction. Even if it’s not required, you may decide to engage a lawyer at some point in the process—for example, if you are buying property in a planned unit development with extensive CC&Rs or you are purchasing a house jointly with others and need help structuring your co-buyer agreement. Or, you may want a lawyer’s help if problems show up during escrow or the house closing.
Check out our Lawyer Directory, to find an experienced real estate attorney in Florida.
More Information on Buying a House
The Buying a House section on Nolo.com includes a variety of useful articles on all aspects of the house buying process, including advice on getting a mortgage, figuring out what price, contingencies, and other terms to offer, arranging home inspections, and closing the deal.
For detailed information on every phase of buying a home, from figuring out your needs and what you can afford to doing the final walkthrough and attending the closing, see Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home, by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder, and Marcia Stewart.