Guide to Buying a Home

The Early Bird’s Guide to Buying a Home

By Daniel Bortz

Edited by Sabrina


Planning to buy a home this year?  Then – is the time to get rolling.

“Spring is peak home-buying season, which means you’re going to have a ton of competition from other buyers,” says Peggy Yee, supervising broker at Frankly Realtors in Vienna, VA. Hence, winter is the ideal time to get ahead of the curve.  But life happens when you make other plans.  Regardless of when you want to buy – follow these steps and you’ll be way ahead of the pack.

Step No. 1: Find a buyer’s agent

Teaming up with a Realtor is your first step.  For starters, an agent can take the time to help you identify what type of home you want and educate you on the local market so that you’ll have realistic expectations of what you’ll be able to find in a few months.

Also, “your agent may hear of properties that are going to come on the market or sold off market, which could enable you to get a sneak peek at homes before other buyers.”

To find a real estate agent, you can ask friends or family for referrals, or use a reputable real estate database.

“If you’re laser-focused on a specific neighborhood, you’ll want to work with a neighborhood specialist—someone who knows the community like the back of their hand,” Yee advises.

Step No. 2: Get your financing squared away

Before you even lay eyes on a house, you should be looking at lenders. Why? Because lenders will help you get real about how much house you can afford. They will determine how much money they’re willing to lend you by checking out your financial details, from your income to your credit score and more. Plus, if your finances are less than perfect, you’ll be able to find out in plenty of time to make amends.

“Depending on what shape your credit is in, it may take a couple of months to raise your score,” says Richard Redmond, mortgage broker at All California Mortgage in Larkspur and author of “Mortgages: The Insider’s Guide.”

There’s no magic spell to banish poor credit; the strategy will depend on your financial situation.

“For some people, it might make sense to pay off their credit card balances over the next couple of months, but that might not be the right move if you’re going to need the money for closing costs,” Redmond explains. Thus, it’s beneficial to get credit advice from a mortgage professional at least two to three months before you plan to buy.

If your credit score is strong (760 and above will qualify you for the best interest rates), getting pre-approved for a home loan now makes sense.

“Pre-approval is usually only good for 90 days,” says Redmond, “but it’s easy to renew it if the borrower’s financial picture doesn’t change. And when interest rates are trending upward, which they currently are, it’s better to lock in your rate sooner rather than later.”  And remember – you don’t lock a rate until you have an accepted offer.  Now that’s a whole other blog.

Step No. 3: Start previewing homes

You’ll probably do an initial consultation with your agent to identify what type of home you want to buy. However, you won’t really know what type of home you’re looking for until you actually step inside some homes, says Lisa Cahill, co-owner of Evolve Real Estate in St. Petersburg, FL.

“Your criteria can change when you start to look at properties,” says Cahill. For example, you might think you need a home with 2,500 square feet of living space, but that number could change when you start seeing homes in person. Your real estate agent can alert you to open houses to attend so you get a feel of homes on your own.  As you would in your own life.

Step No. 4: Scrutinize prospective neighborhoods

Have your sights set on a particular neighborhood? Check it out – to see if the community is going to be a good fit.

“You can tell whether an area has good schools on paper, but there are a lot of things you can’t judge unless you go there in person,” says Cahill.

For instance, online research won’t show you what the noise level is during rush hour or what the neighbors are like (e.g., is it more for young families or older residents?). Those are things that you need to assess with your own eyes. Concerned about traffic? “Go and test-drive your commute,” says Yee.

Step No. 5: Don’t rule out buying early or later

Even if you had originally planned to buy later in the spring, what if you find a home you absolutely love earlier or later? If you’re willing and able to move earlier or later, then keep an open mind with respect to buying a home.

If you’re thinking of buying this year – let’s sit down and chat.  I’m sure you have questions and we probably have the answer – and if we don’t we know who does.  Contact the Caton Team for a free Real Estate consultation.


I read this article at:

Remember to follow our Blog for the local real estate beat, a pulse on the San Francisco Peninsula at:

Got Questions? – The Caton Team is here to help.  

Email Sabrina & Susan at:

Call us at: 650-568-5522 Office: 650-365-9200

Want Real Estate Info on the Go? Download our FREE Real Estate App:


Visit our Website at:

Visit our INSTAGRAM page:


Visit us on FACEBOOK:

YELP us at:

Or YELP me:


Connect with us professionally at LinkedIn:

Please enjoy my personal journey through homeownership at:

Thanks for reading – Sabrina

The Caton Team – Susan & Sabrina – A Family of Realtors

Effective. Efficient. Responsive.  What Can The Caton Team Do For You?


Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices – Drysdale Properties

Sabrina BRE# 01413526 / Susan BRE #01238225 / Team BRE# 70000218/ Office BRE #01499008


Why it is still relevant to work with a Realtor…

Of course this article peaked my interest.  My daily job function has changed with the increased use of the internet to find homes.  But getting the home – well that’s where The Caton Team Realtors comes in.   It’s the local knowledge and experiance that makes an agent an amazing Realtor.  We have sold hundreds of homes in our career – have you?  Please enjoy this article I read on Inman News.  


The advent of technology has called into question the need for real estate agents. Not unlike the once-prominent travel agency, online portals are attempting to relegate real estate agents to a thing of the past.

However, I am here to tell you that real estate agents are more necessary today than they have ever been.

Our reliance on technology has made many complacent; they think finding their dream home is as simple as using the internet.

Every real estate transaction, whether you are buying or selling, is wrought with potential for setback. However, real estate agents are the best way to mitigate any complications that might arise over the course of a deal; their services are more valuable than many give them credit for.

At the very least, a great real estate agent will see to it that deals are carried off without a hitch, but they are capable of offering even more for these four reasons.

  1. Selling is more complicated than many anticipate

Outside of the most accomplished real estate investors and those who have been fortunate enough to live the American dream, it’s safe to assume that selling a house is one of the largest financial obligations many will be confronted with.

The size of the transaction alone is enough to warrant some trepidation, and at the very least, some second guessing. It’s only natural to question such a momentous occasion; it’s a safety measure of sorts.

David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School, acknowledges that even the average real estate transaction is financially momentous and complex — the most complex transaction people do in their life.

People have a tendency to fear that which they don’t understand, and few are well-versed in the selling process, which would explain why homeowners covet the assistance of a professional real estate agent.

“People like having an expert when dealing with large, complicated transactions,” founder of Vespula Capital, Jeff Tomasul said. Vespula Capital is an investment management company based in Greenwich, Connecticut. “Why do people still have financial advisers? They want someone who does it full-time to make sure they are not doing anything wrong.”

Today’s sellers appreciate the peace of mind a well-equipped real estate agent can offer and are more than willing to spend a little extra for someone else to dot all of the i’s and cross all of the t’s. With so much on the line, it only makes sense that such a complicated matter is spearheaded by someone with a sufficient knowledge of the process.

  1. Buying isn’t easier without an agent

Not unlike selling, the prospect of acquiring a home has become synonymous with an overwhelmingly complicated process. Those who have yet to purchase their first home are most likely unaware of just how much work will ensue.

Even those who have purchased a house before are probably less familiar with the process than they would expect. There are simply too many steps to account for, each of which must be carried out in a specific manner. It’s not a coincidence that real estate agents are still a hot commodity, despite the encroachment of online portals.

Buying a house is one of the largest financial commitments a person will make in a lifetime, and those committing to purchase will appreciate the eye of a trained professional.

“They can hold your hand through the process,” Reiss explained. “They might say, ‘This lender takes a long time, so put in your contract immediately, and sign this and that paper, and get all this stuff ready before you’re walking over hot coals with the lender for money.’”

Most millennial buyers, for that matter, don’t need an agent to find them the right property; they do all the research ahead of time online.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for first-time buyers to provide their agents with a list of homes they want to see.

In today’s market, agents’ value is not necessarily determined by their ability to show properties, but rather their ability to confirm or deny that respective buyers are following the right steps.

  1. Agents are in touch with the local market and its players

It’s far too easy to relegate real estate agents to the ubiquitous home search; it is, after all, what they are best known for.

However, truly great real estate agents won’t allow themselves to be defined by one single parameter. The more diversified their talents are, the more they will be able to help others and their bottom line.

There is one asset the best real estate agents covet more than anything else: market knowledgeA proper education pertaining to a particular region has the power to open up more doors than any other tool or characteristic.

As it turns out, that knowledge benefits their clients tenfold. You could very easily argue that real estate agents’ knowledge alone is enough to make them invaluable.

I can say with confidence that the best agents come complete with an inherent ability to understand a local market and its respective players. That means they have a good idea of how the local market will look in a day, a month and even a year down the road.

“The agent knows the market intimately, even more than a pretty informed resident,” Reiss said. And all that knowledge saves time.

“Tracking sales, knowing listings, spending a lot of shoe leather on houses already for sale — right off the bat, they know more than the ordinary Joe and Jane. They understand condo boards and title companies. As a player in the game, they know what the other players are looking for and how to deliver.”

No matter how capable you are at searching for properties, or even buying and selling them, it is nearly impossible to replicate the aptitude for market knowledge great real estate agents demonstrate.

  1. The best agents are worth their weight in gold

At the risk of sounding redundant, there is a reason the best real estate agents are still highly sought after. In a world where home searches are just a click away, agents have found ways to diversify their talents and remain extremely relevant.

No longer are real estate agents simply a vehicle to buy and sell homes; they facilitate an overly complicated process.

Having invested in real estate for more than a decade, I am more than capable of acquiring and selling properties.

However, the expertise a good real estate agent brings to the table is more than worth the cost of doing business.

The average commission real estate agents receive upon completing a transaction is nothing to scoff at; expensive sales can result in some lucrative paydays.

However, the price tag is well worth it when you consider how much time and money they will save you.

There is no reason to suspect the money you expend on hiring a real estate agent won’t be returned with expertise; an agent’s knowledge alone could save you thousands of dollars upfront.

I like to think of a good real estate agent as a secure investment; there is a good chance he or she will save you more money than you end up paying for the services.

The advent of technology has certainly made it easier for the average person to commence a home search or even sell property for that matter.

It’s entirely possible to browse hundreds of listings in a given area with the click of a single button. What else could you possibly need?

The answer is simple: the human touch. Online valuation sites are a great place to start your home search, but they will never be able to replicate the value a truly gifted real estate agent can bring to the table.

Key Takeaways

  • It only makes sense that something as complicated as a real estate transaction is spearheaded by someone with sufficient knowledge of the process.
  • Agents’ value is not necessarily determined by their ability to show properties, but rather their ability to confirm or deny that respective buyers are following the right steps.
  • Truly great real estate agents will not allow themselves to be defined by one single parameter.
  • A good real estate agent is a secure investment; there is a good chance he or she will save you more money than you end up paying.

Well I couldn’t agree more.  It is not my time or my car that matters – it is my experience and knowledge of the local real estate market that sets The Caton Team above the rest.  How can The Caton Team help you?



I read this article at: from Inman News

Remember to follow our Blog at:

Got Questions? – The Caton Team is here to help.  

Email Sabrina & Susan at:

Call us at: 650-568-5522

Want Real Estate Info on the Go? Download our FREE Real Estate App:

Visit our Website at:


Visit us on Facebook:

Yelp us at:

Or Yelp me:

Connect with us professionally at LinkedIn:

Please enjoy my personal journey through homeownership at:

Thanks for reading – Sabrina

The Caton Team – Susan & Sabrina – A Family of Realtors

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices – Drysdale Properties

Sabrina BRE# 01413526 / Susan BRE #01238225 / Team BRE# 70000218/ Office BRE #01499008


How to Assess the Real Cost of a Fixer-Upper House

How to Assess the Real Cost of a Fixer-Upper House

When you buy a fixer-upper house, you can save a ton of money, or get yourself in a financial fix.

1. Decide what you can do yourself

TV remodeling shows make home improvement work look like a snap. In the real world, attempting a difficult remodeling job that you don’t know how to do will take longer than you think and can lead to less-than-professional results that won’t increase the value of your fixer-upper house.

*  Do you really have the skills to do it? Some tasks, like stripping wallpaper and painting, are relatively easy. Others, like electrical work, can be dangerous when done by amateurs.

*  Do you really have the time and desire to do it? Can you take time off work to renovate your fixer-upper house? If not, will you be stressed out by living in a work zone for months while you complete projects on the weekends?

2. Price the cost of repairs and remodeling before you make an offer

*  Get your contractor into the house to do a walk-through, so he can give you a written cost estimate on the tasks he’s going to do.

If you’re doing the work yourself, price the supplies.

Either way, tack on 10% to 20% to cover unforeseen problems that often arise with a fixer-upper house.

3. Check permit costs

Ask local officials if the work you’re going to do requires a permit and how much that permit costs. Doing work without a permit may save money, but it’ll cause problems when you resell your home.

Decide if you want to get the permits yourself or have the contractor arrange for them. Getting permits can be time-consuming and frustrating. Inspectors may force you to do additional work, or change the way you want to do a project, before they give you the permit.

Factor the time and aggravation of permits into your plans.

4. Doublecheck pricing on structural work

If your fixer-upper home needs major structural work, hire a structural engineer for $500 to $700 to inspect the home before you put in an offer so you can be confident you’ve uncovered and conservatively budgeted for the full extent of the problems. 

Get written estimates for repairs before you commit to buying a home with structural issues.  Don’t purchase a home that needs major structural work unless:

You’re getting it at a steep discount

You’re sure you’ve uncovered the extent of the problem

You know the problem can be fixed

You have a binding written estimate for the repairs

5. Check the cost of financing

Be sure you have enough money for a down payment, closing costs, and repairs without draining your savings. 

If you’re planning to fund the repairs with a home equity or home improvement loan:

*  Get yourself pre-approved for both loans before you make an offer.

*  Make the deal contingent on getting both the purchase money loan and the renovation money loan, so you’re not forced to close the sale when you have no loan to fix the house.

*  Consider the Federal Housing Administration’s Section 203(k) program, which is designed to help homeowners who are purchasing or refinancing a home that needs rehabilitation. The program wraps the purchase/refinance and rehabilitation costs into a single mortgage. To qualify for the loan, the total value of the property must fall within the FHA mortgage limit for your area, as with other FHA loans. A streamlined 203(k) program provides an additional amount for rehabilitation, up to $35,000, on top of an existing mortgage. It’s a simpler process than obtaining the standard 203(k).

6. Calculate your fair purchase offer

Take the fair market value of the property (what it would be worth if it were in good condition and remodeled to current tastes) and subtract the upgrade and repair costs.

For example: Your target fixer-upper house has a 1960s kitchen, metallic wallpaper, shag carpet, and high levels of radon in the basement. 

Your comparison house, in the same subdivision, sold last month for $200,000. That house had a newer kitchen, no wallpaper, was recently re-carpeted, and has a radon mitigation system in its basement.

The cost to remodel the kitchen, remove the wallpaper, carpet the house, and put in a radon mitigation system is $40,000. Your bid for the house should be $160,000.

Ask your real estate agent if it’s a good idea to share your cost estimates with the sellers, to prove your offer is fair.

7. Include inspection contingencies in your offer

Don’t rely on your friends or your contractor to eyeball your fixer-upper house. Hire pros to do common inspections like:

*  Home inspection. This is key in a fixer-upper assessment. The home inspector will uncover hidden issues in need of replacement or repair. You may know you want to replace those 1970s kitchen cabinets, but the home inspector has a meter that will detect the water leak behind them.

*  Radon, mold, lead-based paint

*  Septic and well

*  Pest

Most home inspection contingencies let you go back to the sellers and ask them to do the repairs, or give you cash at closing to pay for the repairs. The seller can also opt to simply back out of the deal, as can you, if the inspection turns up something you don’t want to deal with. 

If that happens, this isn’t the right fixer-upper house for you. Go back to the top of this list and start again.

My words to the wise – if you get outbid – don’t fret – start again.  Each home you take the time to break down and understand the cost of repair – the better prepared you will be when the next opportunity arises.

We bought a condo as our first purchase – and though you mainly own just the paint in – we budgeted $10,000 in repairs only to spend $17,000 in the end.  Hind sight is always 20/20 – but now when we buy our next home, we’ll have the experience under out belt and a better picture of a budget and our limitations. 

By: G. M. Filisko

I read this article at:

Got Questions? – The Caton Team is here to help.

Email Sabrina & Susan at:

Call us at: 650-568-5522

Visit our Website at:

Visit us on Facebook:

Yelp us at:

Or Yelp me:




Please enjoy my personal journey through homeownership at:

Thanks for reading – Sabrina