How to Buy a House in California


Buy a home in California using these effective strategies

A thorough, practical guide to every aspect of buying a house, How to Buy a House in California will help you make informed decisions that can save you thousands of dollars. With this bestseller in hand, you'll learn how to:

. choose a house and ...

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How to Buy a House in California

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Buy a home in California using these effective strategies

A thorough, practical guide to every aspect of buying a house, How to Buy a House in California will help you make informed decisions that can save you thousands of dollars. With this bestseller in hand, you'll learn how to:

. choose a house and neighborhood
. find the right agent
. get the most up-to-date information on mortgage options and rates
. take advantage of creative financing strategies – from seller financing to government loans
. figure out how much down payment you can afford
. make an offer and negotiate with confidence for the best price
. buy a new house in a development
. inspect a house for physical problems and environmental hazards
. juggle buying and selling houses simultaneously
. successfully go through escrow

This edition is completely updated to reflect a new housing market. You'll get the most up-to-date information on how to perform effective research before you decide on the price and terms of your offer. Plus, you'll get the lowdown on the ever-changing process of securing financing successfully.

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Editorial Reviews

Berkeley-based Nolo, the highly respected do-it-yourself legal publishing company, has an excellent book entitled How To Buy A House In California... [which] has many sections for folks looking to buy a home on a budget...
— Tom Vacar
Los Angeles Times
One of the most detailed real estate books you will ever read.... Filled with practical advice...
San Francisco Chronicle
A valuable resource for California homebuyers and real estate professionals throughout its many editions.
Robert Bruss
Invest in this is virtually impossible to think of anything they left out because they have anticipated every question home buyers might have.
syndicated real estate columnist. San Francisco Examiner
Laurie Brian
A valuable resource for California homebuyers and real estate professionals throughout its many editions.
San Francisco Chronicle , 7/4/2001
Robert Bruss
Invest in this is virtually impossible to think of anything they left out because they have anticipated every question home buyers might have.
Los Angeles Times
One of the most detailed real estate books you will ever read...filled with practical advice...The emphasis is on strategies for getting the best price as well as not making costly mistakes.
Los Angeles Times
One of the most detailed real estate books you will ever read...filled with practical advice...The emphasis is on strategies for getting the best price as well as not making costly mistakes.
Oakland Tribune
...brimming with information on buying a house in California.
Oakland Tribune
...brimming with information on buying a house in California.
Los Angeles Times
"This is the most complete book for the California home buyer."
San Francisco Examiner
"THis book can't be too highly recommended for home buyers and home owners. The rest real estte agents will also want to study it, so they can be of greater service to their clients."
Oakland Tribune
Brimming with information on buying a house in California.
San Francisco Examiner
This book can't be too highly recommended for home buyers and home owners. The best real estate agents will also want to study it, so that they can be of greater service to their clients.
San Jose Mercury News
A compendium of home-buying information, from choosing your castle to escaping escrow unscathed.
From the Publisher

A valuable resource for California homebuyers and real estate professionals throughout its many editions." San Francisco Chronicle
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781413309232
  • Publisher: NOLO
  • Publication date: 2/16/2009
  • Edition number: 12
  • Pages: 392
  • Product dimensions: 7.04 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Ralph  Warner is widely recognized as a pioneer of the do-it-yourself law movement, Warner founded Nolo with Ed Sherman in 1972. He began publishing do-it-yourself law books written by him and his colleagues after numerous publishers rejected them. Warner holds a law degree from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley and an undergraduate degree from Princeton.

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Read an Excerpt

You Know the House You Want to Buy

This book is full of practical, up-to-date information about the financial realities, legal rules, and real estate industry customs involved in purchasing a California house. Two crucial things, however, no book can tell you: the location and type of house you want to live in. No matter how many experts you consult or how many opinions you get, you and only you are qualified to describe your dream house and ideal neighborhood.

Given your family's needs, tastes, and finances, you probably already have a good idea of the type of house you want to buy. Indeed, if you sit quietly for a few moments, shut your eyes, and let your imagination go, you can probably conjure up an image of the house or, perhaps, if you're flexible, several houses that you would love to call home.

Because this is true, we skip the typical first chapter in many home buyers' books, in which the author compares such things as the joys of living on a dusty road in outer suburbia to the convenience of living in a townhouse in a major city. If you aren't focused enough to make these broad choices on your own, you may need to do some critical self-evaluation before beginning your home search.
Tips on Searching New Places

Perhaps you've heard it said that choosing a house's location wisely is as important as picking a good house. In a state the size of California, it's a vast understatement to say you have a lot of locations to choose from. To help you think about specific California areas, we include Appendix A, Welcome to California.

Despite the title, Welcome to California isn't meant only for newcomers to the state . Whether you're a SanFranciscan moving closer to a San Ramon job, a New Yorker (or Taiwanese) relocating to Los Angeles, or simply someone unfamiliar with certain California areas, you'll find a wealth of information. In addition, in Chapter 5 we discuss working with a local real estate agent to get essential information on neighborhoods.

But there's still no substitute for your own legwork. Ask your friends and colleagues, walk and drive around neighborhoods, talk to local residents, read local newspapers, check the library's community resources files, visit the local planning department, and do whatever else will help you get a better sense of a neighborhood or city.

Already found the house you want to purchase and are mainly interested in the ins and outs of financing? Skip the rest of this chapter and move on to Chapter 2, How Much House Can You Afford?
Don't Be Talked Into Buying the Wrong House

In today's high-priced market, most buyers face an affordability gap between the house they'd like to buy and the one they can afford. Without an organized house-buying approach, there is a good chance you'll be talked into compromising on the wrong house by friends, relatives, a real estate agent, or even yourself.

"Not me, I know my own mind," you say. "Nonsense," we reply. In today's market, almost everyone must trim their desires to fit their pocketbook. Every day, confident and knowledgeable home seekers become so anxious and disoriented that they leap into a deal they later come to regret, sometimes bitterly.

Here is our method to ensure that you buy a house you'll enjoy living in, even if it's substantially more modest than your dream house:

* Firmly establish your priorities before you look at a house.
* Insist that any house you offer to buy meets at least your most important priorities.
* Do this even if, in buying a house that meets your top priorities, you must compromise in other areas.

The reason this method works well should be obvious. If your priorities are clearly set in advance, you're likely to compromise on less-important features. If they aren't, you may become so frazzled by the house-purchase process that you buy a house that lacks the basic features that motivated you to buy in the first place.

In the following sections, we help you consider a range of house features, establish your priorities, and compare potential houses.
Identify Your Ideal House Profile

When looking for a house, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the array of choices, from size to style to floor plan and fixtures. Then, there's the issue of location -- houses come in all sorts of neighborhoods, school districts, and potential hazard zones (fire, earthquake, and flood, to name a few). And, of course, price and purchase terms are crucial considerations for most home buyers. To cope with all these and at least a dozen other relevant variables, it's essential to establish your priorities in advance and stick to them.

The first step is to identify house features most important to you by completing our Ideal House Profile, which lists all major categories such as upper price limit, number and type of rooms, and location. A sample is shown below, and a tearout copy is included in Appendix D.

If you're buying with another person, prepare your list of priorities together, so that each person's strong likes and dislikes are respected.

Getting price and financing information. Most people will have an upper limit on the house they can afford to buy and the maximum down payment they can make. If you need advice on these issues, be sure to read Chapters 2, 4, and 8 before completing the Ideal House Profile.
Must Haves: Mandatory Priorities

Use the Ideal House Profile to identify the essential features you're looking for (must have) in a house, such as a particular city or neighborhood. Since price is an obvious consideration for most people, fill in the top section first. For example, under Upper price limit you might note $600,000, with a Maximum down payment of $60,000. Then fill in the rest of the form.

If you have two kids, you might note that three bedrooms, excellent public schools, and a street with lots of children are "must haves." If you plan to live in the house after retirement, a minimal number of stairs and short distances to shops and services may be "must haves."

Pay close attention to the School needs category. Buying a great house at a great price in a lousy school district may mean years of paying for private schools. By contrast, paying a little more for a good house in an excellent school district may be a bargain in the long run. And if you plan to move in a few years, it will be easier to sell a house in a good school district, because that feature is important to many potential buyers. See Appendix A, Welcome to California, for advice on checking out schools

In most cases, it will be obvious where to note your priorities. For example, if extreme quiet is important (you don't want to be near a freeway offramp) or you want walking access to a park, list these under Desired neighborhood features. If you're not sure where to list a particular "must have," such as a hot and dry climate, ocean view, the siting of a house (feng shui), or garage parking, put it in the Other desired features category on the Ideal House Profile.
Hope to Have: Secondary Priorities

Once you've compiled your list of "must haves," jot down features that you'd like but aren't crucial to your decision of whether to buy. For example, under Type of yard and grounds, you might note patio and flat back yard in the "hope to have" column. Or under Number and type of rooms, you might list finished basement or master bedroom with bath.

Take a second look at your "Must have" column. If you're typical, you may wonder how you will ever afford a house with the features you've listed. Don't despair -- at least, not until you understand the strategies (discussed in Chapter 3) to help you buy an affordable house. For now, you might need to change a couple of "must haves" to "hope to haves."

Check out view ordinances. If you're drawn to a house for its great view, call the local mayor's or city manager's office and ask whether any view ordinance specifically protects a homeowner's rights to a view. Check whether local regulations require homeowners to trim trees to protect neighbors' views, too.
Absolute No Ways

Be sure to list your "absolute no ways" (you will not buy a house that has any of these features) at the bottom of the Ideal House Profile. Avoiding things you'll always hate -- such as a house in a flood zone, poor school district, or high-crime area -- can be even more important than finding a house which contains all your mandatory priorities.

If you're moving into a new-house development or condominium, be sure to check into covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs), which may be quite detailed and restrictive on everything from the color of your house to your landscaping. (CC&Rs are discussed in more detail in Chapter 7.)

Once you've completed your Ideal House Profile, you're ready to create a House Priorities Worksheet, which will help you see how each house stacks up with your priorities.
Create a House Priorities Worksheet

Now it's time to use the information collected in your Ideal House Profile to create a House Priorities Worksheet for each house you visit.

Start by making several copies of this worksheet to allow for mistakes or the eventual scaling back of your priority list if it turns out you can't afford all the features you would like. Then, enter relevant information on a master copy of the House Priorities Worksheet under each major category -- "Must have," "hope to have," and "absolute no ways." A sample is shown below, and a tearout copy is included in Appendix D.
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Table of Contents

A. House-Buying Worries 2
B. The Basics of Buying a Good House 2
C. A Place to Live for Almost Everyone 3
D. Real Estate Websites 4
E. How to Use This Book 5
1 Describe Your Dream House
A. You Know the House You Want to Buy 2
B. Don't Be Talked Into Buying the Wrong House 3
C. Identify Your Ideal House Profile 3
D. Create a House Priorities Worksheet 6
E. Prepare a House Comparison Worksheet 8
2 How Much House Can You Afford?
A. The Basics of Determining Housing Affordability 2
B. Prepare a Family Financial Statement 4
C. How Much Down Payment Will You Make? 9
D. Estimate the Mortgage Interest Rate You'll Likely Pay 10
E. Calculate How Much House You Can Afford 10
F. Tips on Improving Your Financial Statement 13
G. Get Loan Prepproval 18
3 Narrowing the Affordability Gap: How to Afford Buying a House
A. Why California Houses Are Expensive 2
B. Don't Buy a House at All--Rent and Invest Elsewhere 3
C. Fix Up the House You Already Own 4
D. Strategies for Buying an Affordable House 5
4 Raising Money for Your Down Payment
A. No and Low Down Payment Plans 3
B. Five Percent and Ten Percent Down Payment Mortgages 3
C. Private Mortgage Insurance 3
D. How Much Should Your Down Payment Be? 6
E. Using Equity in an Existing House as a Down Payment on a New One 8
F. Using a Gift to Help With the Down Payment 8
G. Borrowing Down Payment Money From a Relative or Friend 10
H. Is It a Gift or Loan? Sometimes It Pays to Be Vague 10
I. Borrowing From Your 401(k) Plan 11
J. Tapping Into Your IRA 11
K. Sharing Equity 11
L. Substituting a Second Mortgage for a Down Payment 11
M. Secure Your Loan Using Stock as Collateral 12
5 Working With Real Estate Professionals
A. Pros and Cons of Working With a Real Estate Professional 2
B. Work With a Real Estate Professional Paid by the Seller 6
C. Hire a Buyer's Broker and Pay the Commission 9
D. Hire a Broker by the Hour 11
E. Buy a House Yourself With No Professional Help 12
F. Finding a Good Agent 12
G. How Not to Find an Agent 16
H. Getting Rid of a Broker or Agent You Don't Like 17
6 How to Find a House
A. The Best Time to Look for Houses 3
B. Check the Classified Ads 3
C. Visit Sunday Open Houses 4
D. Work With a Real Estate Salesperson 5
E. Gain Access to the Multiple Listing Service 5
F. How to Access Homes for Sale on the Internet 6
G. How Your Real Estate Agent Can Use a Computer to Help You Find a House 7
H. Enlist the Help of Personal Contacts 7
I. Do Your Own House Scouting 8
J. Enlist More Than One Agent to Help You Search 10
K. Find Foreclosures, Probate Sales and Lease Option Properties 11
L. Shop via TV 11
M. Finding a House When You're New to an Area 11
N. Online Help With Community and Neighborhood Information 12
O. Finding a New House 12
7 New Houses, Developments and Condominiums
A. Pitfalls and Pluses of Buying a New House 2
B. Choose the Developer, Then the House 3
C. Using a Real Estate Agent or Broker 4
D. Financing a New House 5
E. Optional Add-Ons and Upgrades 6
F. Choosing Your Lot 8
G. Restrictions on the Use of Your Property: CC&Rs 11
H. Dealing With Delays 14
I. Inspect the House Before Closing 14
J. Guarantees and Warranties 16
8 Financing Your House: An Overview
A. How Mortgage Lenders Think 2
B. Who Lends Mortgage Money? 2
C. Standardized Loans--Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Secondary Mortgage Market 3
D. Mortgage Types 3
E. Comparing Fixed Rate and Adjustable Rate Mortgages 4
F. Finding the Least Costly Mortgage--Points, Interest Rates and Other Lender Fees 6
G. What Mortgage Is Best for You? 7
9 Fixed Rate Mortgages
A. Should You Choose a Fixed Rate Mortgage If You Can Afford One? 2
B. Not All Fixed Rate Mortgages Are the Same--Down Payments, Points, Interest Rates and Other Variables 3
C. Avoid Mortgages With Prepayment Penalties 5
D. Fixed Rate Mortgages' Lengths and Payment Schedules 5
E. Most Fixed Rate Loans Aren't Assumable 7
F. Short-Term Fixed Rate Mortgages With Balloon Payments 7
G. Two-Step Mortgages 8
H. Buydown Mortgages--The Seller Subsidizes Your Payments 8
10 Adjustable Rate Mortgages
A. Are ARMs a Decent Consumer Choice? 2
B. Loan and Payment Caps 4
C. Negative Amortization 4
D. ARM Indexes and Margins 6
E. Assumability 6
F. Prepayment Penalties 7
G. Hybrid Adjustable Rate Mortgage 7
H. Summing Up--What Good ARMs Look Like 7
11 Government-Assisted Loans
A. Veterans Affairs Loans 2
B. Federal Housing Administration Financing 4
C. California Housing Finance Agency Programs 6
D. Cal-Vet Loans 7
E. Municipal Financing Programs 9
12 Private Mortgages
A. Get a Loan From Friends or Relatives 2
B. Shared Equity Transactions 6
C. Second Mortgages--Financing by Sellers 6
D. Second Mortgages--Financing by Private Parties Other Than the Seller 8
13 Obtaining a Mortgage
A. Gather Information on Mortgage Rates and Fees 2
B. Shopping for a Mortgage Online 3
C. Work With a Loan Broker 4
D. Interview Lenders 5
E. Complete the Mortgage Rates and Terms Table 6
F. Apply for and Get a Loan 11
G. Get Your House Appraised 13
14 Buying a House When You Already Own One
A. Check the Housing Market Carefully 2
B. Bridge Financing: How to Own Two Houses Briefly 6
C. Tax Breaks for Selling Your Home 7
15 How Much Will You Offer?
A. How a Contract Is Formed 2
B. Decide How Much You Will Offer 2
C. What Is the Advertised Price? 2
D. How Much Can You Afford? 3
E. What Are Prices of Comparable Houses? 3
F. Is the Local Real Estate Market Hot or Cold? 5
G. Is the House Itself Hot or Cold? 7
H. What Are the Seller's Needs? 8
I. Is the House Uniquely Valuable to You? 8
J. How Much Are You Willing to Pay? 9
K. Making the Final Decision 9
16 Putting Your Offer in Writing
A. What Makes an Offer Legally Valid? 2
B. Offer Form Terminology 2
C. How to Fill Out the Contract to Purchase Real Property Form 3
17 Presenting Your Offer and Negotiating
A. State Your Intent to Make an Offer 2
B. Present Your Offer 3
C. Bid on Two or More Houses 4
D. Pick a Negotiator 4
E. The Seller's Response to Your Offer 7
F. Negotiate by Counteroffers 13
G. An Offer Is Accepted--A Contract Is Formed 13
H. Revoking an Offer or Counteroffer 14
I. Making a Backup Offer 14
18 After the Contract Is Signed: Escrow, Contingencies and Title Insurance
A. Open Escrow 2
B. Remove Contingencies 5
C. Obtain Hazard Insurance 11
D. Obtain Title Report and Title Insurance 13
E. Conduct Final Physical Inspection of Property 15
F. Closing Escrow 15
19 Check Out a House's Condition
A. Short History of California House Inspections 2
B. Real Estate Transfer Disclosure Statement 2
C. Natural Hazard Disclosure Statement 9
D. Earthquake and Seismic Disclosures 9
E. Environmental Hazards 11
F. Lead 11
G. Disclosure of Deaths and/or AIDS 12
H. Disclosure of Military Ordnance 12
I. Local Disclosures 12
J. Inspecting the Property Yourself 12
K. Arranging Professional Inspections 13
L. Are the Repairs Really Needed? 18
M. Who Pays for Defects? 19
N. Ask for a Home Warranty 20
20 Legal Ownership: How to Take Title
A. One Unmarried Person 2
B. Two or More Unmarried People 2
C. Married Couple Owning Together 4
D. Married Person Owning Alone 7
E. Partnership 8
F. Placing the Property in a Living Trust 8
21 If Something Goes Wrong During Escrow
A. The Seller Backs Out 2
B. The Seller Refuses to Move Out 2
C. You Back Out 3
D. The Seller Dies 3
E. You Discover a Defect in the Property 3
F. The House Is Destroyed by Natural Disaster (Fire, Earthquake, Flood) 4
G. House-Hungry Martians Take Possession of the House 4
H. Finding a Lawyer 4
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