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8 Steps to Buying a House in Washington DC

Washington, D.C. is an exciting city and attracts people from across the country, but can be an intimidating city to purchase a home in. The following guide to the D.C. home buying process will walk you through a smooth transaction when purchasing your home.
Washington, D.C. is an exciting city and attracts people from across the country, but can be an intimidating city to purchase a home in. The following guide to the D.C. home buying process will walk you through a smooth transaction when purchasing your home.

You’ve probably given it a lot of thought, went back forth, weighed the pros and cons, and ultimately decided you were ready to purchase a new home. Where to start is probably your next question, and the process can often leave you with more questions than answers.

Where you are hoping to purchase is likely the first thing you thought of, but do you even know a thing about Washington, D.C. real estate? Do you know what you can afford there or what neighborhoods you’d want to live in?

Those questions aside, you may want to take some time and consider the entire home buying process. It can take quite a while. You’ll have to review and sign over hundreds of pages, and of course you will take the time to carefully review them all.

If you do a little homework first, and carefully reflect on what you are looking for in a Washington, D.C. home, it doesn’t have to be as daunting of a process as it seems. The following steps will carefully guide you on how to purchase your D.C. dream home.

Step 1: Evaluate Your Current Financial Situation

Purchasing a home is a big step, and in an expensive market like Washington, D.C., affordability is a big issue for many would-be home buyers. Take the time to look at your savings, make a budget if you haven’t already done so, and determine how much income you can afford to put toward a mortgage.

You may want to review your credit score, and even take some time to repair any blemishes, before even thinking about the mortgage approval process. Pay off some credit card debt. Retire some of those loans, and make sure you have the highest credit score possible to get the best mortgage rate and loan terms you can.

Lastly, take some time to budget and consider what your life will be like once you are a homeowner. Do you have the budget for home repairs, property taxes, and other costs of owning a home? How long do you plan to live there? These questions all impact your home search and the home buying process.

Learn More: 7 Requirements You Need to Meet Before You Can Buy a House

Step 2: Find a Great Washington, D.C. Real Estate Agent

Once you are ready to undertake your home search you should find an expert, local real estate agent to guide you through the home buying process. A good agent will know the latest market trends, the best neighborhoods, and will help you save money in the process.

During the transaction the sellers are responsible for reimbursing the buyer’s agent their commission fees. This is effectively paid for by the seller and something most buyers don’t even need to be concerned with. Additionally, by working with a Clever Partner Agent, buyers can receive a $1,000 Home Buyer Rebate to put towards their purchase.

Beyond saving on commission, a local agent will know the best time of the year to purchase, how to find deals that may not even be listed, and which neighborhoods are seeing property values climb. Your agent will also know local disclosure and inspection issues, and be the best able to keep your transaction running smoothly.

Learn More: What Does a Real Estate Agent Do for a Buyer?

Step 3: Read Up on Local Real Estate Market Trends

Washington, D.C. is a pretty unique city, and because of its position as our nation’s capital, sees some interesting real estate trends. Because of all the government activity and employment it generates, D.C. real estate is in high demand.

Home values, according to Zillow, have reached a median of $590,000 and grew by just over 3% in the past year. In nearby suburbs, like Chevy Chase or Bethesda, values are almost twice as high.

In Washington, D.C. buyers typically command the market more in the winter months. However, this is when the fewest homes are on the market and options are limited. Home listings are lower though and typically sell close to asking, which gives buyers more buying power.

Economic indicators also drive home values, and given the level of government activity and growth in Washington, D.C., demand should continue to be strong. The region overall is adding jobs and businesses are expanding. Home values should remain strong over the next several years.

Learn More: Will it Be a Buyer’s or Seller’s Market in 2019?

Step 4: Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage

In a competitive market getting pre-approved for a mortgage can give you a competitive advantage when purchasing a home. It is also a wise move to give you an idea of just how much home you can purchase.

The pre-approval process is different than getting pre-qualified. Typically, pre-qualification just means reporting your financial situation and getting recommendations on what type of mortgage products are best for you. A pre-approval is a hard hit on your credit history and typically gives you the limits of what a lender is willing to give you.

When you submit an offer on a home, a seller will consider your financial situation and ability to close the transaction. Having a pre-approval for a mortgage will show that you have the funds, or the ability to finance the home you are interested in.

Learn More: Pre-Approval vs Pre-Qualification: What’s the Difference?

Step 5: Start House Hunting

Now that you are ready to buy and have been pre-approved, you can begin looking for homes. Consider what qualities you are looking for and where in Washington, D.C. you can expect to find them.

For example, if you are a young family, you may want to consider moving to Glover Park. This neighborhood is known for its quality schools, a strong indicator of home values, and for quaint single-family neighborhoods. On the other hand, young professionals may be more interested in living in DuPont Circle for its walkability and access to transit and nightlife.

Use online research tools like Zillow to find neighborhoods and homes that match your budget. You can also research schools, walk score, transit options, and nearby parks and amenities.

Take time to also explore past and future value of a home, and get an idea of what kind of appreciation you can expect. An expert, local agent will be able to give you an idea of neighborhoods that are gaining in value or poised for future growth.

Learn More: Free House Hunting Checklist

Step 6: Make an Offer

Once you’ve found a home you like you will need to submit a strong and competitive offer. A great agent will help you submit an offer by having a list of recent, and comparable sales in the neighborhood and know which contingencies and inspections you should consider.

Your initial offer will be about setting expectations and should reasonably reflect how much you are willing to pay and negotiate for a home. You will also want to set an expiration date for your offer. This will give the seller a limited amount of time to accept or reject your offer, and protect you from having to negotiate against other buyers.

Learn More: How to Make an Offer on a House

Step 7: Inspections and Negotiations

Once your offer is accepted, the real negotiations begin. You may still go back and forth about the final price, but you will definitely want to have all of your contingencies in place. These typically are subject to pending inspections.

For example, in Washington, D.C., and most places, you’ll want to get a full home inspection, a lead and mold inspection, and other required inspections such as for termites or other issues. Depending on the inspection reports you may want to further negotiate the purchase price. If there is significant work to be done, that may give cause to seek a lower price.

Other points to negotiate are who pays any remaining fees, repairs, and other costs. If the buyer can’t move right away, they may want to seek a rent back or terms for moving out. It is important that you work with a real estate agent that understands negotiation and can get you the best terms for your purchase.

Learn More: 3 Ways Inspections Help Home Buyers Get Better Deals

Step 8: It’s Closing Time!

Closing is the final step and when all the final costs and fees are paid. At this point you will have had to put a deposit into escrow, and now the full payment is due. You’ve already negotiated what realtor fees, property taxes, mortgage fees, appraisal costs, and other closing fees are your responsibility, but more can quickly add up.

If you work with a Clever Partner Agent you can save money, and even get up to $1,000 or up to 1% cash back to help pay for these closing costs. Closing costs typically account for 3% of the purchase price, which would add up to over $15,000 on the median Washington, D.C. home.

An experienced real estate agent will be able to help set accurate expectations in terms of what fees/costs you can expect come closing time, and save you money during the closing process.

Learn More: 4 Things Buyers Need to Know Before Closing on a House

Contact a Clever Partner Agent to help you find your Washington, D.C. dream home. Clever uses top local real estate agents, from all major brands and brokerages (e.g., Keller Williams, Century 21, RE/MAX, etc.), to help you with your home search and save you money.


Jamie Ayers

Jamie is the Director of Content at Clever Real Estate, the free online service that connects you with top real estate agents and helps you save thousands on commission. In the past, Jamie has managed columns for clients in a variety of leading business publications, including Forbes, Inc., CEO World, Entrepreneur, and more. At Clever, Jamie's primary goal is to provide home sellers, buyers, and investors with the information they need to successfully navigate the ins and outs of the real estate industry.

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