Searching for a new house or condo involves lots of details, and getting organized from the start will make the house-hunting process much easier. Simply create folders (electronic and/or paper) with relevant titles for each of the following (all paper should be kept in a locked file cabinet or somewhere secure):
- details on your house priorities, including maximum price; neighborhood; number of bedrooms and size of home; type of home, such as condo versus Victorian house; desired features, such as modern kitchen or large deck; and anything else you consider a “must have” in a home
- financial records and budgets, including source and amount of down payment and mortgage money; credit reports; family financial statements; loan preapproval letters, and the like
- tax records
- details on different real estate agents and other professionals you are considering working with, such as mortgage brokers, and
- anything else relevant to your sale (such as files on builders if you are considering a newly built home).
Once you choose a real estate agent, your agent will help you figure out what paperwork and documents you’ll need at various points in the process of buying a home. These will include:
- your written agreement and communications with your real estate agent
- details on various professionals you will be working with throughout the home sale process, such as a mortgage broker
- files for your lawyer (especially if a lawyer will be involved in your house purchase as is typical in several states, such as New York)
- loan and mortgage documents and records from all sources, including family loans and gifts
- tax records and files for your accountant or tax professional
- ads, listing sheets, and marketing materials on houses you are considering buying
- house appraisals
- documents related to homeowners’ insurance and warranties
- real estate disclosures (see the Nolo article Required Disclosures When Selling U.S. Real Estate for more on the subject) and related information on houses you are considering buying
- purchase offers and all relevant material, such as documents regarding financial, inspection, and other contingencies
- property inspection reports
- and much more, such as paperwork you’ll need for closing; copies of CC&Rs (if you are buying a condo or home in a common interest property); and details on schools in the community where you plan to buy.
If you are also selling your current home, see the Nolo article Organizing Paperwork for Your Home Sale.
For detailed advice and useful forms and worksheets on buying a house, from home search to financing to closing, see Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home, by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder, and Marcia Stewart.