A Better Way, A Better Experience For Individuals Buying Or Selling Their Home

At South Oak Title, we want to help you understand each step of the real estate buying or selling process you are going through. Every closing is important to us. Every person is important to us. You are important to us. We understand that buying/selling a house is a big decision for you. It is exciting but can also be stressful. So we’ve put together some information to prepare you as well as frequently asked questions. We want to make your closing experience as stress free and enjoyable as possible. Don’t see your question here? Just call the location near you or email us at info@southoaktitle.com

Would you like a quote on Title Search, Title Insurance & Closing? Click below or call (205) 983-8100.

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More Questions? Contact an office near you or info@southoaktitle.com.

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Getting Started Buying A Home In Alabama

So you are considering buying a home? You are taking a journey towards the American dream of becoming a home owner.  As with any journey with a prize at the end, you may need assistance and will likely encounter problems.  South Oak Title is here to provide you some great information, assist you in mapping out a successful route and help you navigate the obstacles that could derail you. Your goal of home ownership can be rewarding so start below with your planning and best wishes from our team on reaching your goal!

What can you reasonably afford?

Before getting started you should figure out how much you can afford and seek financing if it’s needed.  You should have a good understanding of what you can comfortably spend.  Most lenders will take into consideration many factors when considering you for a financed real estate purchase.  The size of your down payment, job stability, existing debts, credit and payment history are the largest factors.  Knowing what you want to spend and your credit status especially when you begin talking to lenders will prove beneficial.

Selecting a lender

You may want to select a lender before beginning your process.  If you need help finding a great lender in your area, please contact our office at 205.983.8100 and we will be happy to provide names of some great lenders in our area.  While there are some buyers who do pay cash for a new home, most will need to find financing.  Pre-qualifying before house hunting puts you ahead of the game.  Knowing how much home you can afford and what you qualify for is a great step.  Each lender is different so be sure to choose one that will work with you and your circumstances.  Some type of lenders to consider include: Independent Mortgage Companies, Savings Institutions, Commercial Banks, Morgtage Brokers, Credit Unions, Employers and even your Union. You will also need to decide on which mortgage is right for you.  Below is a list of common mortgages you are likely to see.  Most of all, be sure to ask questions.  A sign of a good lender is one who is happy to answer all your questions, explains what type of loans you qualify for and is willing to satisfy all your concerns.

Fixed Rate Mortgage – This is the standard mortgage model.  It is the oldest and most easily understood type of mortgage.  It offers for the interest rate and the amount of payment to remain fixed for the life of the loan, typically either 15 or 30 years.  However, if rates fall the holder cannot benefit from the new lower rate unless refinancing.

Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) – This mortgage has your rate rise and fall along with rates/changes throughout the economy.  Therefore you assume the risk of rising rates and you stand to benefit from falling rates.

Convertible Option - FRM and ARM represent the primary options available to homebuyers today. The convertible mortgage represents something of a compromise between the two. It is designed for those who want the advantages of the ARM, but also want to limit the risk of rising rates Under this arrangement, the buyer starts out with an ARM, but has the option of converting to an FRM at specified points during the loan term.

Federal Housing Administration Insured Loans (FHA) - FHA, also known as the Federal Housing Administration, operates under the control of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and has the primary responsibility for administering the government home loan insurance program. This program allows buyers who might otherwise not qualify for a home loan to obtain one because the risk is removed from the lender by FHA.

VA Loans – Veterans Affairs Loans fall in the FHA category and have the most advantages of FHA loans.  They are only available to veterans of the armed services, those currently in the service and their spouses.  VA loans are typically half a percent or more below the market rates and they can be obtained with no money down.

Should you use a real estate agent?

There are two sides to every sale – a sellers side and you, the buyers side.  The Seller is represented by a listing agent and the buyer can be represented by a selling agent. Usually commissions to both agents are paid by the seller.  You as a home buyer should want to have an agent to represent only your interest and should hire your own agent.  It’s a great choice because buying a house is a huge investment and you need an expert on your side guiding you through pitfalls, unforeseen snags and helping you make a well educated choice.  Think of them as your guide through a safari.

Choosing the best real estate agent for you

You should choose an agent you are comfortable with and who understands what is important to you. They should compliment your personality and be willing to go at this journey assisting you every step of the way. Be honest about your expectations. Consider interviewing 2-3 agents before making your decision. If you need names of some great local agents, we would be glad to provide you with names of several in your area.

Some good guidelines in choosing an agent are:

Ask the agent for a few referrals. When talking to a referral ask:

Good questions to ask an agent include:

Lastly, after the interview consider the following before making a final decision. How fast did they return your call? Which agent asked questions to determine your needs and wants? Which one asked about what you can afford and if you have lending in order? Which seemed most knowledgeable about the community and which did you feel most comfortable with?

Are Schools important to you

One of the top search features for a home is the school system but if you are not from Birmingham or its surrounding areas then it can be hard to know what school systems to put your kids in.  This is where a great agent who’s familiar with the area and your needs can be a wonderful asset.  If you are new to Alabama, specifically Birmingham, Jefferson County or Shelby County - we’ve put together informatin below to help you find a school system in Birmingham, Alabama and its suburbs that is a good fit for your family.

Preferred K-12 Schools Systems in Birmingham, Alabama and its Suburbs

Mountain Brook City Schools http://www.mtnbrook.k12.al.us/
Homewood City Schools http://www.homewood.k12.al.us/
Hoover City Schools http://www.hoovercityschools.net/
Vestavia City Schools http://www.vestavia.k12.al.us/index.cfm
Trussville City Schools https://www.trussvillecityschools.com/Pages/Default.aspx
Shelby County Schools http://www.shelbyed.k12.al.us/

List of Top 100 High Schools in Alabama
http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/alabama/rankings?int=c0b4c1

Great Elementary Schools in Birmingham, Alabama and it’s Suburbs
Mountain Brook City Schools http://www.mtnbrook.k12.al.us/
Homewood City Schools http://www.homewood.k12.al.us/
Hoover City Schools http://www.hoovercityschools.net/
Vestavia City Schools http://www.vestavia.k12.al.us/index.cfm
Trussville City Schools https://www.trussvillecityschools.com/Pages/Default.aspx
Shelby County Schools http://www.shelbyed.k12.al.us/

List of Schools in the Birmingham Area graded by test scores and number students enrolled
http://www.homefacts.com/schools/Alabama/Jefferson-County/Birmingham.html

Finding the perfect home

You are now pre-qualified or pre-approved to find the home of your dreams and have a real-estate agent to guide you on your journey.  A good agent will provide you with as many homes as you care to see.

Do you know what kind of home you are looking for, what neighborhood you want to live in, what schools you want your children to attend?  Is shopping important or are you looking for a home near water?  Would a condo or townhome or even a pre-fabricated home fit your needs?  All these questions along with questions regarding features and amenities will be among the things your real estate agent will ask.  An agent is going to be much more successful if they know these requirements.  Help them with this process by making three lists.  A needs list, likes list and a dislikes list. Factor in your future plans/goals such as more children, less children, parents moving in, etc.

A needs list should including: number of beds/baths, bath in master, separate dining room, garage, fence, certain school district, etc.

A dislikes list or Do not want list should include things like: tiny yard, too many baths, small closets, basement etc.

Your likes list or want/dream list should have all the features you would love to have in your home and may include: fireplace, large kitchen, green house, etc.

When considering a home think about the surrounding houses and how they are kept, explore the lot of the home you are considering thoroughly, spend time in the area visit local shops, parks, theatres. Check local crime rate and consider how the local traffic is and how it will affect your commute.  Research if the area has flood issues when it rains and how fast water drains from the yard, does it drain away from the house.

Whatever you do be sure you ask lots of questions, this is potentially the largest purchase you’ll ever make. Be sure you are satisfied you are making an informed decision. Before a final deal is reached consider having a home inspection done, your agent can help you locate a professional home inspector. A home inspection includes a report provided to you but consider having the inspection scheduled when you can be in attendance so the home inspector can show you any issues and talk you through what it will take to fix them.

Closing the deal

Once you and your real estate agent discuss and come to an agreement on an offer to present, put it in writing. Don’t reveal your strategy and don’t make oral offers.  With your real estate agents assistance offer the seller a written contract setting out the commitments and promises that you and the seller will agree on in order to make the sale.  A well-drawn contract should protect all parties.  It should include: the offering price, down payment, legal description of the property, method of conveying the title, fees to be paid and who will pay them, amount of a deposit, conditions under which the seller and buyer can void the contract, the settlement date, financing arrangements, a list of appliances, furnishings and personal property that are being sold with the home.

Once a contract has been written and accepted you are almost to the end of your journey.  Now you will need to close the deal.

What is involved in a real estate closing?

The road to closing is short with only a few stops.  Generally all steps are handled by the title and closing agency laid out in your contract.  We at South Oak Title hope that upon writing an offer you convey to your agent that you want to request for us to be used as the title and closing agent.

At closing, You will be there along with (in most cases) someone from your lender and an attorney who is acting as the closing agent.

The closing agent’s job is to make sure that all necessary documents are signed and verified and that the money from the sale and/or refinance of the property is properly disbursed.

Other people can and may be present at the closing including your own attorney, the real estate agents involved in the sale and possibly even the seller.

Once you’ve closed on your home you will be on the last leg of your journey, moving in!  Congratulations, you’ve reached your destination and navigated the process of buying a home and made becoming a home owner a reality.

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Getting Started Selling A House In Alabama

There’s a million reasons someone decides to sell: you’ve outgrown your house, you’re children are grown, you have saved for your dream home, you’re relocating, you need something in the city, you want to live in the country.  Whatever the reason you want to sell, your home is one of your largest investments so you want to be sure and plan this out to get the most out of this long-term investment.  It’s a big undertaking and you may be asking yourself where do I get started?  Here at South Oak Title we’d like to offer you some great information on how to successfully sell your home.

Getting your home ready to go on the market

There are lots of great resources on how to prep your house for going on the market.  A good Real Estate agent (see below) will be able to assist you too.  Till then there’s some basic steps in getting your home ready to sell.

Step one is de-personalize it.  De-personalizing your home allows potential buyers to perceive your house as their potential home.  Remove family elements such as photos, trophies, collectibles, knick-knacks.

Step two is de-clutter. This is a major step in preparing your home for the market. Whether you realize it or not through the years you collect large quantities of ‘stuff’. Potential buyers will be opening cabinets, drawers, closets and looking for space. Removing clutter will have your house looking move in ready and allow potential buyers to see how much space they have. Wherever possible clean out and donate. Store anything not in immediate use, the cleaner and emptier storage areas such as closets are the bigger they look and that is often a huge deciding factor in a home. Other areas to consider clutter are storage areas, your yard, excess furniture.

Step three, clean-up. Consider your walls and ceilings. If you have personalized with bold colors or if there are water spots or dirt you may want to consider cleaning and putting a fresh neutral color on the walls and ceilings. Carpets – it’s almost always advisable to do a good carpet cleaning before putting your house on the market, floors make a major impression. If you have outdated or worn out carpet consider putting down inexpensive neutral carpet. Odor Control will also be a factor if you smoke or have pets. Consider eliminating smoking in your home or cutting back while on the market. If you have pets keep them bathed and their space as clean as possible. Look into an ozone spray that will help remove the odors versus just masking them.

Curb Appeal

Before a potential buyer even looks at the interior the exterior will give them a first impression and often be a factor on if they will even look further. Walk through your neighborhood and compare your homes yard and exterior to others. If it looks better than most then you are already ahead of the game. Is your landscaping comparable to others in your neighborhood? If not consider purchasing and planting a few bushes and flowers. Flowers offer a vibrant welcome and a good first impression. Your lawn should be well maintained and any loose leaves or grass cuttings should be raked up. If you feel the outside of your house looks tired you may want to consider the big decision of painting. It’s often a very good investment and really makes a difference in the asking price from potential home buyers. Other critical items on your list should be making sure your roof is in good standing, your back yard is well maintained and clean and lastly take extra care with your entryway/front door. Clean windows, fresh welcome mat, polished fixtures and a nice clean door are easy ways to make a huge impression in your entryway.

Selecting a Realtor

It’s a daunting task to try and go it alone selling your home. Hiring the right agent can provide you access to knowledge, marketing and buyers that otherwise you would not have. It can help the process go smoother and more quickly. They will help you establish a fair asking price, promote your house to other agents providing maximum exposure, advertise your home, schedule appointments, weed out buyers who are not financially qualified, and they can help negotiate with potential buyers.

You should choose an agent who you feel comfortable with, that demonstrates honesty and seems to really understand your expectations. They should be prepared to be with you throughout the whole home-selling process. Consider interviewing 2-3 agents before making your decision. If you need help finding some great agents in your area, call us and we’ll be happy to give you some proven names.

Some good guidelines in choosing an agent:

If you are talking to a referral ask:

After interviewing multiple agents consider the following before making a final decision. How fast did they return your call? Which seemed to have the highest skills and a desire to serve? Which seemed most knowledgeable about the community and which did you feel most comfortable with? Which presented me a marketing plan for selling my home?

In the end, rely on your instincts and choose the best personality fit for your family. Regularly communicate with the agent you choose and let them know often if your expectations are or are not being met. If you don’t tell them, they can’t fix it.

Showing your house to potential buyers

Your house should always be available to show, this may be occasionally inconvenient for you but crucial to getting it seen and sold. Your agent will probably suggest a lock box placed in a convenient location that will make it easier for other agents to show your home. Most will call and give you a couple hours notice before showing your property. When showing there are some important things to do to successfully promote your home.

Leave. If at all possible do not be home when someone looks at the house. Being in the home when a showing is occurring can make the potential buyers feel like intruders and almost always lends itself to an offer not being made. Remember you want them to feel this could be their home.

If you know someone is coming – night or day – turn on all your lighting. This brightens up your home even on sunny days and will make it more welcoming.

Some other basics is keep the house neat, clean and clutter free. Take out all trash and avoid strong fragrances throughout the house. If you have a pet it’s best to take them with you or make sure your agents notes the pet in the listing.

Some extras that can go a long way include fresh flowers, warm cookies, soft music. If you have the resources you may want to consult a local designer about staging your home.

Getting an offer and closing the deal

Once a buyer is interested they will present a written offer to your real estate agent. With your real estate agents assistance you can choose to accept the offer, decline it or start negotiations. A well-drawn contract should protect all parties. It should include: the offering price, down payment, legal description of the property, method of conveying the title, fees to be paid and who will pay them, amount of a deposit, conditions under which the seller and buyer can void the contract, the settlement date, financing arrangements, a list of appliances, furnishings and personal property that are being sold with the home.

Once you accept a contract you then look at closing on the deal.

What is involved in a real estate closing?

Generally all steps in a closing are handled by the title and closing agency laid out in your contract. Usually the seller is the one in Alabama who decides who will be the title and closing agency. It is our hope, you will have asked your Realtor to use South Oak Title & Closing for your title and closing agent.

At closing, buyer and seller along with (in most cases) the buyer’s lender and an attorney who is acting as the closing agent will be in attendance.

The closing agent’s job is to make sure that all necessary documents are signed and verified and that the money from the sale and/or refinance of the property is properly disbursed.

Once you’ve closed on your home you will be in the process of packing and moving out.  When you have to vacate the home is one of the negotiables in your contract.

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I need help Writing/Reviewing My Real Estate Contract

We strongly encourage you to consider utilizing the services of a licensed Real Estate Agent when Buying or Selling your home, however, we understand that not everyone does so.  We can and will help you.  If you are in a situation of buying and/or selling by owner, our office can assist you with the contract preparation.  For more information or a quote, please call our office at 205.983.8100.

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Title & Closing Services Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the frequently asked questions we receive.  Don’t see your question here? Please call our office at 205.983.8100 and ask one of our professional staff members.

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