The Ultimate Guide to Lakeland Real Estate
Are you looking to buy a house in Lakeland, FL? Maybe you have a house that you are thinking about selling in Lakeland, FL. The Lakeland real estate market has many variables, and it can be intimidating if you aren’t familiar with the process of buying and selling. So if you are looking to buy or sell property in Lakeland, or just interested in the process, this guide is for you. In addition to having an overview of the buying and selling processes, we will review foreclosures and rent to own options. Also, make sure to check out our Lakeland Real Estate Resources page as well. Here you will find Lakeland real estate agents, Lakeland home inspection companies, Lakeland mortgage companies, and much more.
How to Buy a House in Lakeland, FL
So you are looking to buy a house in Lakeland, FL. You might be thinking, “Where do I start? How do I find what I’m looking for, and know that I’m getting a good deal?” These are great questions, and we will cover those here.
Finances and Steps Before House Shopping:
The first step before you get started looking at houses in Lakeland, FL is to make sure that you can qualify for a mortgage. If your credit is not great, you should start working on your credit months before you actually want to buy a house. Sites like Credit Karma can provide your current score plus tips on how to improve your credit. Next, get pre-qualified for a mortgage. Contact a bank, credit union, or mortgage broker, and they will review your credit and financials to determine the amount of mortgage that you are qualified for. Some people say that you should shop for a mortgage next. You can do that, but I would just do some basic research. Do you qualify for first time home buyer programs? How much of a down payment will you need? What payment are you comfortable with? If you know this information, and if there is a mortgage that fits, that is really all that you need. It’s not as important to nail down which specific broker or bank you intend to work with quite yet, but do make sure that you have an idea who to contact once you are under contract on the home. Now that you have the financial background taken care of, you are ready to start thinking about houses. Start to think of the areas that you’d like to live. Consider features that you really want the house to have, and decide on your price range. Next is the time to really get started in your search.
Ready to Buy a House in Lakeland
After you have an idea of the areas and features you are looking for, contact a Lakeland real estate agent. Give them the details on what are looking for. Real estate agents are a valuable resource when you are looking to buy a house in Lakeland, FL. They know the market very well, and they might know of some areas that you hadn’t considered before. Most Lakeland real estate agents can set up an automatic MLS search that will email you when new properties are available that meet your search criteria. In addition, real estate agents are experts in the purchase process, so once you find the right house, they will make the transaction as smooth as possible. Real estate agents get paid their commission from the seller’s sales price. Since you have no fees when you are buying property, you should really work with a real estate agent in the buying process. So now you have your finances together, you are working with an agent, and they are sending you details on properties that meet your search criteria. Hopefully you’ve gotten a good gauge of what’s available in your area and what a good price is from the info you agent has been sending. Also, your agent is a great resource if you have any questions about the properties that you’ve been receiving.
When you get a listing that you are interested in, contact your agent and set an appointment to view the property right away. The Lakeland real estate market is heating up, and the sooner you can see the property and make a decision on it, the better! What should I look for when I’m viewing the property? Get a feel for the neighborhood. Does it suit your lifestyle? Does it have amenities that you need? Is the house close enough to the entrance/exit of the neighborhood? Is it on a busy road? Etc. When looking at the actual home, make sure that the floor plan meets your needs. You can change a lot of things like paint color, or blinds pretty easily, but layout is a bit more involved. Look for obvious condition issues that will affect your offer price- carpet that needs to be replaced, roof leaks, holes in the drywall, etc. You don’t need to be a detective in this step, because you should have a home inspection. This inspection will reveal any hidden problems with the house. If the property doesn’t suit you and your family, that’s OK. There will be more on the market that meet your needs. Don’t feel like you have to buy something right away. However, when you find one that you love, don’t wait! It’s the worst feeling to wait, think about the house, decide it’s perfect, and then find out that it went under contract already.
Putting in an offer to buy a house in Lakeland, FL
When you find the house that you want, ask your real estate agent any questions that may be unanswered. This is the time that your agent is really invaluable. Most of us have looked at houses before, but it can be intimidating to put together an offer, especially if you are a first time buyer. Your agent is experienced in putting together offers, and they will have a lot of advice. Have your agent pull the comps for your area. This will usually be a combination of similar houses in the area that are currently on the market, plus similar houses that have sold recently. Review these numbers, and decide on an offer price that you are comfortable with. Double check to make sure that the offer will work with your budget. Don’t forget to include your down payment and closing costs into this calculation. Include any contingencies, which your real estate agent will go over with you. Inspection clauses and financing clauses are common, but there may be other clauses that may apply to your situation or the house that you are buying. Decide how much of a deposit (called earnest money) to put down. This is what holds the property and makes a valid contract once the offer is accepted. If you fail to perform your requirements in the contract, you may lose your earnest money deposit. Once you have all of this info and you sign your offer, your Lakeland real estate agent will present your offer to the selling agent. At this point, it is just a waiting game to see what the seller says. They may accept your offer, decline it, or make a counter offer. Hopefully your offer is accepted, but if you receive a counter, you can keep working with your real estate agent to come to an agreement with the seller. Once there is an agreement, and both parties have signed, you are under contract. Congratulations, but you aren’t done yet!
After you are under contract
Once you are under contract, the next few days will be pretty busy. You need to schedule your inspections (home inspection, termite inspection, etc). If you don’t know who to use, visit our Lakeland Home Inspections page for companies that can help you with home and termite inspections. You will also need to officially apply for your mortgage. Contact a few banks or mortgage brokers to confirm the current rates and fees, and decide which to work with. Apply for the loan, and provide any necessary documentation. You will usually need to provide your last 2 tax returns, bank statements, pay slips, etc. You want to do all of these steps quickly, as your inspection period is usually pretty short and the mortgage process can take a while. On your inspection date, it is best if you attend the inspection, so you can ask the inspector any questions. The inspector may also be able to provide more in depth information on issues that can’t be fully explained in the inspection report. Hopefully there are no big issues found, but if there are it isn’t the end of the world. You can always take the findings back to the seller and request an adjustment to the purchase price. Be aware that the seller does not have to accept the findings and could back out of the deal. Work with your real estate agent to get the best advice if something turns up in the inspection process.
Another important step is to secure your homeowner’s insurance. The policy does not need to be effective until your closing date, but you want to make sure that it is ready to go, because your lender will need to have proof of insurance to complete your mortgage documents. In the time between going under contract and closing, you will also need to get an appraisal and survey completed. These are usually done after the inspection and the real estate agent often sets these up. Closing timelines can vary, but it is usually 30-45 days from the date that you went under contract. The first 2 weeks of this process is very busy for you, but after you have gotten your mortgage and sent in your mortgage documents, had your inspection, and gotten your homeowner’s insurance, it really slows down. Take some time to get prepared for your move, and relax.
Closing on your Lakeland Home
Closing is an exciting time! There is so much anticipation leading up to it, and you’ve done so much work to get there. Again, congratulations! You may close at a title office, your real estate agent’s office, or sometimes even at a mobile location like your own residence. There will be a notary to oversee the process. Hopefully your real estate agent can attend, and your mortgage company may send a representative. Get ready to sign your name again and again! You will have a lot of documents to sign, and you may have to sign multiple copies. The notary will make sure everything is completed properly, and once you’ve signed all the documents, the time is finally here. You get your keys! I hope that you have a safe move, and that you enjoy your new home!
How to Sell a House in Lakeland, FL
Selling a house in Lakeland, FL can be intimidating. Especially if you haven’t sold a house before. You might be asking questions like: “Where do I start?”, “How do I know what my house is worth?” , “Should I hire a Lakeland real estate agent?” These are all good questions that we will cover. By the end of this guide, we will cover preparing your house for sale, deciding if you should use a real estate agent, and if so, how to select one, listing your house for sale, getting a contract and getting to closing. After reading this guide, the process to sell a house in Lakeland, FL will seem much easier. So let’s get started!
Preparing to sell a house in Lakeland, FL
When you are selling your house, you usually want the house to sell fast and for top dollar. To accomplish this, there are a few steps that you can take before you list the house to make your house more appealing.
- Freshen the house up by repainting, adding some inexpensive curb appeal, and replacing fixtures that are worn or dated.
- Make any needed repairs. Some people recommend having a home inspection to uncover what needs to be repaired before listing the house. The buyer will probably have their own inspection, so this allows you to proactively address what needs to be done up front. This will cost some money, and so many people prefer to fix what they know of already, and deal with anything that comes up on the inspection at that time. If you would like to have an inspection, you can find an inspection company here: Lakeland home inspectors.
- Declutter and depersonalize. You want buyers to be able to picture themselves in the home and see how big the rooms are. Eliminating clutter and personal items take away distractions allow the buyer to see the space as their own.
- Get good photos of the house. This will be closer to the actual listing, but it is important to think about. If you decide to use a Lakeland real estate agent, they will usually take high quality photos for you.
- Get an idea of the correct price of your house. Some people decide to get an appraisal at this point. Appraisals do cost s significant amount of money, and there are other ways to determine the value of your house that we will cover later. It is important not to overvalue your house though, as this can significantly affect the outcome of your sale.
Check out: 5 Simple Tricks to Sell Your House Fast for more in details on each of these.
Should I use a Lakeland real estate agent or sell my house For Sale by Owner?
There are many factors to consider when deciding whether to use a Lakeland real estate agent. First, there are a lot of benefits to working with a real estate agent. Typically you will get the highest sale price by using a real estate agent. Your agent will list your house on the MLS so all the other Lakeland real estate agents have access to the information on your house. These agents will be notifying their buyers about your property so you get maximum exposure by using a Lakeland real estate agent. The agents also know your market, and have valuable experience in the sales and negotiation process. Your real estate agent will handle many aspects of the sale, so it means you have to spend less time and energy during the sales process.
What are some of the drawbacks? One of the biggest “drawbacks” that people cite is having to pay a commission. Commission is typically 6% for most Lakeland real estate sales when using a real estate agent (this is often negotiable). If you look at just the commission, it can seem like a lot, and it is. However, this number can be misleading, and we will look at why in a bit. The real estate agent also has control of your sale and marketing. This is not a problem at all if you have a good agent, but if you have chosen a bad real estate agent, it can definitely be a frustrating part of the sales process. We will cover how to choose a good agent shortly.
If you decide against using a Lakeland real estate agent, you will need to sell your house on your own, which is called “For Sale by Owner.” You have probably seen these signs before. With the internet becoming so widespread, you have a lot of tools at your hands to make it easier to sell your house. You can research prices, market trends, make listings, etc. Most of these tools are free!
This sounds like a great option so far, but remember that many buyers use a real estate agent to find properties for them. If you are selling the house yourself, your house will not be in MLS (unless you’ve paid a fee to list it with a listing service) and a real estate agent will be less likely to show your property if they are not earning a commission. (The buyer’s agent usually splits the 6% commission with the selling agent.) When a buyer is not working with an agent, and they are looking at For Sale by Owner, they will often offer less because they know there is no commission being paid.
Why is all of this important? As we mentioned earlier, the commission seems very expensive. If you sell a house for $150,000, the commssion will be $9,000. Does that seem like a lot? Here is why that number by itself is a bit misleading. Paying $9,000 after the sale gets you the experience, expertise, exposure, market knowledge, and marketing of a real estate professional. To do better selling it yourself, you will need to sell the house for more than $141,000 minus any expenses you have for marketing the property yourself plus the time that you have invested. Do you think you can do it?
We have mainly been talking about the process for normal, retail sales. Using a real estate agent will be most helpful for retail sales. They will get top dollar for your house by selling the house to an owner that will live in the property. These retail buyers usually get a mortgage for the property. The house has to be in good condition to qualify for a mortgage. What if your house is in need of repairs that you can’t afford or don’t want to mess with? If your house is in need of repairs that you aren’t planning to make, a good option is to sell the house to a Lakeland real estate investor. This is also a good option if you need to sell your house fast and cannot wait to market the property and find a buyer. Most real estate investors buy the house as-is. They generally do not charge any fees and can close quickly. They usually handle the paperwork and are knowledgeable about the sales process. You can generally do these “For Sale by Owner” with no problem, but if you have questions on any of the paperwork, it is good to have your attorney and/or CPA review them to make sure that the deal is in your best interest.
Hopefully now you can decide if you want to sell your house by owner or work with a real estate agent. We have listed some of the benefits and drawbacks of working with a Lakeland real estate agent.
Selecting the Right Lakeland Real Estate Agent
If working with an agent is the option that you choose, how do you select a good real estate agent? You want to meet with the potential agent and ask good questions. You will be working together to sell one of your largest assets. Make sure that you have similar expectations and that the real estate agent is knowledgeable. Here are a few sample questions:
- What is the recommended list price for the home? – This is fairly obvious, as you want to use an agent to get the best sales price for your home.
- What is your list price-to-sales price ratio? – This is not as obvious, but sometimes agents will be optimistic on their list prices. This means that you house will be on the market longer and you will have to decrease the price to match the market. This question should give you an idea if the agent is realistic when they list a property.
- What is your marketing plan or marketing strategy for my home? – Is it just going to be listed on MLS? Will there be an open house? Print ads, mailers, etc? This helps you go in with the same expectations of what the agent will be doing for you.
- Are you familiar with this neighborhood? – Real estate values and sales timeframes are very different for different locations. An agent who works in your area and is familiar with the sales in the neighborhood will be able to recognize realistic offers, best marketing plans, and may already have a potential buyers list for your property.
- Do you sell this type of house in this price range? – This can seem pretty obvious too, but there are all kinds of properties from mobile homes to mansions. A luxury real estate agent that sells a lot of high priced real estate or a commercial agent may not be the best fit to sell a basic 3/2 starter home. Make sure that the agent works with clients in your price range.
- Are you a real estate agent full time or part time? – This question will help you get an idea of how much time will be spent focused on your property. Going in with right expectation will reduce a lot of potential frustration throughout the process.
- Do you have references that I can contact? – Past clients can give you an idea if the agent delivered on their promises and brought value to the sale process.
- What do you expect from me in the process? – You can see that expectations are important when you are selecting a Lakeland real estate agent. Your agent will also have some expectations of you – condition of the house for showings, availability for showings, etc.
- What is your commission or sales fee? – It’s important to know how much the agent is going to cost you in the end. It is usually a percentage of the sales price. This is negotiable. You want to choose the right agent for you all the way around, not necessarily the cheapest. However, this can save some money if the agent is willing to work with you.
These are some of the most common questions. (For more in-depth info on questions to ask a potential real estate agent, visit How to Choose a Great Listing Agent or How to Interview a Prospective Agent to Sell Your Home)
At What Price Should I List My House For Sale?
The simple answer is market value. But how do I determine market value? Market value is determined by reviewing the comps in your area. If you are working with a Lakeland real estate agent, they will be able to pull this information up. If you are selling by owner, it is a little more difficult, but you can still get a general idea. You will want to look at active comps, which are houses that are currently on the market for sale. You will also want to look at sold comps, which are homes that have sold recently. You want to compare houses in your neighborhood or within just a few miles with similar features (beds/baths/garage/pool/etc). An adjustment will need to be made for any differences in the age of the home, size, better or worse location, etc. Your real estate agent is an expert in this, and brings a lot of value in determining the homes value. If you are doing this yourself, you can review sites like Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, and more. Just realize that the data on these sites may not be as up-to-date as the data a local market professional has at their disposal. One of the worst mistakes that you can make is to overvalue your house. If the house is listed too high, it will not get the traffic of potential buyers, who will just look at other houses currently for sale. This will cause your house to sit on the market longer, and as the listing gets older, people may begin to think something is wrong with the house and be scared away. Going through price reductions can put a strain on you and the agent while you attempt to get the price down to what it should have been originally, or worse. (Here is an example of how this can be a huge mistake: The Worst Home Selling Mistake.) You may think that overvaluing the home would be better than undervaluing it – after all, you are trying to get the best price for your house, right? This generally is not the case, though. If you undervalue the house, you will generally get multiple offers, which will hopefully allow you to get an offer at market value anyways. Ideally, you want to price it correctly right away, but I think you can see why it is better to be a little bit low vs. overpricing the house.
Listing, Marketing, and Showing the Home
After you have decided on a listing price, you are ready to list the home for sale. Your Lakeland real estate agent will take care of this if you have chosen to use an agent. Make sure to keep your house show-ready and up to the standards that you discussed with your agent. If you are selling for sale by owner, make sure to get your property listed on as many sites as you can with beautiful pictures that show off your home. There is a lot to do in this step if you are doing it yourself, but you can find an easy-to-follow list of items and tips here on RealtyTrac at: Market Your Home.
Getting Under Contract and Preparing for closing
If you priced your home properly, you should begin to get offers. Your Lakeland real estate agent can help sort through offers to make sure that the buyer is qualified. If you are doing FSBO, you will want to make sure that the buyer has been pre-qualified and can actually qualify for a mortgage. You will want to pay attention to any contingencies. An inspection contingency and financing contingency are common in retail sales, but you will want to make sure that you are agreeable with any contingencies in the contract. If the offer is too low or has any terms that you do not accept, you can either decline the offer or make a counter offer. Once both parties have accepted the terms of an offer, you are under contract-Congratulations! You will want to make sure that you have a title company ready for closing, which is something else that an agent will usually have prepared for you. The buyer will qualify for their loan, get inspections, appraisals, surveys, etc. Make sure you are quick to respond to any requests from your real estate agent or lender to ensure you don’t cause any delays in the closing.
Closing the Sale
A few days prior to closing, you will receive a copy of the closing documents. This should show you all the key figures in the transaction. If you have any questions, now is the time to address them, as all documents will be prepared and ready to be signed at the closing table. At the closing, you will sign a lot of documents to finalize the transaction. The title company will pay off any remaining liens or mortgages on the house, pay any closing fees, realtor commissions etc, and you will get a check for any proceeds or profit from the sale after these things are paid. We hope that this information is helpful, so you know what to expect when selling your Lakeland house.
Rent to Own Options
What should you do if you are having difficulty selling your Lakeland home, or if you are wanting to purchase a home but can’t qualify for a mortgage right away? In these situations, a good option may be rent to own. You may also hear this called a lease option or lease purchase. With this arrangement, a buyer will agree to purchase the house or buy an option to purchase the house at an agreed upon price at a later time, usually one to three years in the future. In the meantime they rent the house, and pay rent to the seller. The terms of rent to own options in Lakeland can vary significantly. Almost all terms are negotiable since you are not involving traditional financing up front. Before finalizing the deal, you will want to review the contract with a good real estate attorney to make sure that you understand and are comfortable with all terms of the agreement. As a buyer, you want to do your due diligence up front to ensure that you are getting a good deal before you have committed your option money and higher rent amounts. Have an inspection by a Lakeland real estate inspection company. Talk to mortgage companies to ensure that you will have enough time to build your credit to qualify for a mortgage by the time you will have to purchase the house. Another key point is to have a title company run the title to ensure that it is clear and the seller has the right to sell the property.
What are some common terms of Lease Options or Rent to Own?
Again, there is nothing really standard in a rent to own contract. They can vary significantly, but here are some of the most common parts of the agreement.
- Option payment – This is the amount that they buyer pays upfront for the right to purchase the house later on. Some of this may be applied towards the purchase price or it may be kept entirely by the seller depending on the terms of the agreement.
- Purchase price – This is usually for an amount higher than the current market rate for Lakeland real estate and based on the anticipated price the end of the lease period.
- Option or lease period – How long does the buyer have before they have to purchase the home? This typically ranges from one to three years. Is it an option, or is the buyer required to purchase the house by the expiration?
- Rent amount – The rent payment is generally higher than the standard market rate for the area. This allows the seller to provide a portion of the rent as a credit towards the closing and gives the buyer an incentive to go ahead with the purchase of the home.
- Taxes, Insurance, Repairs, etc. – Who is responsible during the lease period?
- Late payments or default – What happens if a payment is late or missed? What constitutes a default?
Whether you are the buyer or the seller, make sure to review the contract with an attorney to make sure you understand all the terms of the contract. We cannot stress this enough. Rent to Own or lease option contracts are not standard contracts that are all the same. If you don’t understand a part of the deal, you may be unhappily surprised down the road. However, if you understand all the terms of the contract, rent to own or lease options can be a valuable way to buy or sell a home in certain situations.
What are the Benefits of Renting to Own?
There are several benefits when renting to own for both the buyer and seller. As the seller, this is a way that you can sell the house if you have had difficulty selling it. The rent payment will usually cover the cost of ownership and may give you some additional income during the lease period. You also lock in the sale price based on what you anticipate the price to be at the end of the lease period. If the market goes down, you already have the agreement in place for the higher price (obviously this is one of the risks as the buyer.) Tenants that are planning to buy the property will generally take better care of the property than tenants who plan to just move out after the lease.
As a buyer, there are also several benefits. First, you are able to lock up a house at a price that you are comfortable with when you normally may not be able to purchase the home. You also have the ability to live in the house and neighborhood to make sure that you are happy with it and it fits your needs and lifestyle.