Real Estate Market

Home buying secrets for the 'Average Joe'

Broderick Perkikns

(04/02/2010) New York City attorney Edward A. Mermelstein is, well, a big shot in the Big Apple -- but he hasn't forgotten the little guy.

Co-founder of the international, multilingual (11 languages) real estate law firm Edward A. Mermelstein & Associates, he's also got an office in Moscow and offers legal services to financial and real estate institutions, including representation for international transactions, business litigation, dispute resolution and insurance matters.

Clients include international conglomerates, start-up ventures and entrepreneurs, multi-national corporations, land charitable organizations, government officials and others, but he also offers insight for the 'Average Joe' -- home buyers who need all the help they can get right now.

Mermelstein's "Home Buying Secrets for the Average Joe" are a timely example of his insight for buyers.

• Study - Do your homework before you buy. Review the prices of comparable homes in the neighborhood, which can be found on websites such as,,,, and others. Keep in mind these numbers sometimes trail the market by several months. A real estate agent can provide the latest sales data.

• Cure your credit - Today's best mortgage rates require a credit score of more than 700. Learn how to boost your credit score before you apply for a mortgage. Not only will a low credit score cost you more in terms of the interest rate on your mortgage, it could also prevent you from obtaining a mortgage.

Go to, the only federal government-sanctioned service for obtaining a truly free credit report from one or all three of the major credit bureaus. On, select your state and hit the red "Request Report" button and follow the instructions. The report is free, but you will have to pay a nominal fee to get your credit score.

• Bid low - In many of today's buyers' markets you can offer 10 to 15 percent below the list price because prices are based on contracts signed three to four months ago. List prices don't necessarily reflect the most current values, especially in markets still on the decline, according to Mermelstein.

• Consider a 'Lucky 7' loan - Take advantage of the lower interest rates available with a 7/1 adjustable rate mortgage (ARM), when compared to a fixed-rate 30 year mortgage. The interest rate on a 7/1 ARM is fixed for seven years. In the eighth year the loan resets as an ARM. Just be sure you know what the margin, life cap and periodic caps will be beginning in the eighth year to avoid surprises. Use those seven years to reduce debit and increase your income in preparation for what is likely to be a much higher rate than your starting rate.

Mermelstein also says to consider 30/15 year mortgages which are fixed for 15 years, amortized over 30 years and due in full in 15 years.

These and other mortgage options come with lower starting rates as a hedge against interest rates rising in the near future.

• Get pre-approved - Go beyond prequalifying for a mortgage, which only tells you what you can likely borrow. Get a pre-approved mortgage and you'll know your home price shopping parameters. You'll also present yourself to the seller as a serious buyer. Financing in hand will also help level the playing field with all-cash buyers and investors and it will help you negotiate a better purchase price.

• Consider a newly built home - The new home sector has been harder hit than resales. Concessions and reduced prices are the norm. The latest U.S. Census Bureau data reveal that sales of new homes fell for the fourth consecutive month in February, to a seasonally adjusted annual level of 308,000 sales - a year-over-year decline of 13 percent and the lowest level ever. Just be sure to check out the reputation of the builder.

• Inspect everything - Get a home inspection for a new home, a resale home, a nearly new home or a very old home. Always. Just because it's new doesn't mean it's defect free. Hidden problems can torpedo the value of your home.

• Read the title report - Make sure that any new additions or construction to an existing home are fully permitted and recorded with the local municipality.

• Check the appraisal - Likewise check the appraisal report for any oversights, missed features or other errors that could cause the property to be undervalued.

• Negotiate - Don't be afraid to dicker. It's a buyers' market. Concessions are available from both new home builders and existing home sellers. Ask for help with the closing costs, repairs, even furnishings and other perks. Motivated sellers have much to offer.

• Don't skimp on the help - If you look for the least expensive attorney, real estate agent, inspector, etc., you will get what you pay for. Ask family, friends, co-workers, realty professionals and others you trust for referrals and then carefully vet them.

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