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Home Buying Basics in Illinois

By Marcia Stewart, Co-Author of Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home and Every Landlord's Legal Guide
Buying a house in Illinois? Here are some key issues you need to know about.

Buying a house is more complicated than simply finding your dream home and moving in. You’ll want to take the time to determine what you can afford, the ideal neighborhood, and what features you want in a home. It’s also crucial that you understand key legal issues, such as those involving seller disclosures and purchase contracts. With proper preparation, careful choice of a real estate agent, and prudent use of other qualified professionals, buying a home in Illinois can be a positive experience.

Advantages of Working With a Real Estate Agent in Illinois

Before buying a house, condo, or other property in Illinois, 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
  • help preparing a viable offer and handling other paperwork, 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 Illinois real estate agents at the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation’s website (See “Search for a License”). 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 Illinois

State law in Illinois (765 Illinois Compiled Statutes Sections 77/5 and following) requires that sellers provide buyers a disclosure form, which includes details on material defects, such as cracks in the foundation or a termite infestation, that would affect the value of the property or health or safety of occupants.

To assist sellers in making all required disclosures, the Illinois Association of Realtors offers a disclosure form. Certain types of sales (such as newly built homes) are exempt from state disclosure rules.

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 Illinois.

Home Inspections in Illinois

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 problems—for example, with the heating and cooling systems; electrical; plumbing; walls; drainage; basement; foundation, and flooring.

See What You Need to Know About Home Inspections When Buying a House for more details.

Real Estate Purchase Agreements in Illinois

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 Chicago Association of Realtors Residential Real Estate Purchase and Sale Contract for a sample.

Title Issues in Illinois

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 Illinois

Unlike some states, Illinois does not require that buyers involve a lawyer in the house-buying transaction. Even if it’s not required, many buyers hire a lawyer at some point in the process—for example, to review closing documents or CC&Rs (if you are buying property in a planned unit development). You may also want to work with an attorney if you are purchasing a house jointly with others and need help structuring your co-buyer agreement. Or, you may need a lawyer if problems show up during escrow or the house closing.

Check out our Lawyer Directory, to find an experienced real estate attorney in Illinois.

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.

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