The Real Estate Encyclopedia
Top 10 Most Bizarre Homes: Find Your Perfect Home
Category - Real Estate Glossary - Top 10 Lists

Everyone should be able to live in their dream home, whether it is a condo, cottage, renovated Victorian, or something a little more bizarre, like this shoe-shaped home in Pennsylvania.

However, the arduous process of home buying leaves many renting, living in homes they can't afford, or stuck with homes they never wanted. Here are the basic steps and a few essential tips for finding your perfect home, no matter how bizarre it may be.

To find out whether or not you are in the position to purchase real estate, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recommends asking yourself the following questions.
  • Do I have a steady source of income?
  • Have I been employed on a regular basis for the last 2-3 years?
  • Is my current income reliable?
  • Do I have a good record of paying my bills?
  • Do I have few outstanding long-term debts, like car payments?
  • Do I have (at least a little) money saved for a down payment?
  • Do I have the ability to pay a mortgage every month, plus additional costs?
If you answered ďyesĒ to all of these questions, you are most likely ready to buy a house. If you answered ďnoĒ to any of the questions, you may still be able to, but it will probably require more work. Either way, if you want that billboard inspired house badly enough, youíll make it happen.
  1. The Fair Housing Act insures equal housing opportunities for all. If you feel that during the home buying processes you are being discriminated against based on age, color, race, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability, immediately contact an attorney and the offender will most likely be prosecuted by HUD.

  2. The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) requires that consumers receive various disclosures regarding closing costs and settlement procedures throughout the home buying process. It also outlaws kickbacks and referral fees that unnecessarily increase settlement costs. To find out exactly what disclosures are required by law, check out this list at Real Estate Wiki.

  3. Learn about home buying programs available- A majority of homebuyers could use a little help with their down payment and closing costs. Unfortunately, most people are not aware of the help available. The Federal Government and individual states provide home buying programs that offer mortgages with as little as 5%, 3%, and zero percent down and grants up to $20,000. Although almost anyone is eligible to apply for these grants, they are mostly aimed at first-time home buyers, certain minorities, and seniors.
Even though it may seem backwards to shop for a loan before shopping for the house itself, it is very helpful to be pre-approved, or at least pre-qualified for a loan before starting a home search. This way, you will know which houses are in your price range, and if you fall in love with the Queen Anneís Lace inspired Pod House (below), you can make an offer on it with confidence.

You can use a mortgage broker or go straight to the lender to obtain a loan. Be prepared to show tax returns and w-2 forms from the previous two years, current bank statements, and proof of income (i.e. pay stubs).

Once you know what amount you will be able to borrow, the lender or mortgage broker will recommend a certain type of loan. However, in the end, the final decision is up to you. It's also important to remember that all loans come with loan origination fees, which increase the amount of the loan by an average of 3 percent. Try asking yourself these questions to decide:
  • Do I expect my finances to change in the next few years?
  • Will I be living in this house for a long time?
  • Am I comfortable with the idea of changing mortgage payments?
  • Are there life events coming up, such as child-birth, children going to college, or retirement, that I would like to be debt free for?
  • Do I need money for renovations on the house?
Finally, your biggest responsibility during this period of time is preventing loan fraud on your part, or on the part of your broker or lender. These HUD tips should keep you out of trouble:
  • Read and understand EVERYTHING before you sign.
  • Refuse to sign blank documents.
  • Donít buy property directly from the seller.
  • Donít overstate your income.
  • Donít overstate how long you have been employed.
  • Donít overstate your assets.
  • Accurately report your debts.
  • Be truthful about credit problems.
  • Be honest about your intention to occupy the house.
  • Do not provide false supporting documents.
Before you start looking for houses, itís important to decide on a town or neighborhood. Think about how you enjoy living your daily life, and which communities would facilitate this. Do you enjoy shopping? Hiking? Swimming? Many people with young children, or planning to start a family, heavily base their decisions on schools in the area. Maybe the people who live in the skinniest house in Boston, MA (below left), decided on the location for its great charter school opportunities. However, if you want your house to be a boat, you may have to live in a more rural area, such as Dalmatia, Croatia. (above)

Wherever youíre thinking about living, a great way to find out more about the community is to contact the local chamber of commerce, stop by the library, and spend some time in the area talking to current residents.
Once you know where you want to live, and how much you are willing to spend, the next step is finding someone to help you search. Although an agent is not required, they are highly recommended, since most houses on the market are under contract with agents and cannot be sold by the owner. Also, because agents have a lot of experience with the process of home buying, they can be great resources to have on your team, and they know how to negotiate a price. Another plus, is that the agents are paid by the seller, not the buyer; however, you have to be careful that the agent is not trying to incrase selling price in order to increase commission, which many believe is already too high. If you're having trouble finding an agent, ask for recommendations from friends and family, or search here.

Before you contact the agent, check online to make sure they donít have any complaints filed against them or any suspensions. Many home buyers prefer working with Realtors, who are members of The National Association of Realtors. It is especially helpful to find an agent that is very familiar, or even lives in, the community you want to live in. Remember, if your agent ever makes you feel uncomfortable, you feel like he or she is not listening to you, or they start showing you houses that look like a Kettle or Spaceship, itís time to find another agent (unless thatís what you want, of course).
First, decide what type of home you want. For example, do you want a condo, a single-family home, or a multi-unit home? Next, decide which features you would like in your home, such as, a large yard, a pool, a fireplace, the number of bedrooms etc. With this information, you and/or your agent can begin looking for appropriate homes.

When you start looking at specific homes, always bring a legal pad, pen and a camera to document what you like and dislike about each property. Itís also helpful to bring a checklist of all of your desired features, and check them off as you walk through the house. Also, ask as many questions as possible. The most important questions being about potential problems and maintenance issues with the roof, paint, wood floors, carpet, appliances, and any structural problems or hazardous substances in the area. Obviously, there would be quite a few questions to ask if you were looking at the 13-floor, unfinished, wood home of a Russian gangster (above).

Although there is no set number of houses you should look at before you make a decision, the average homebuyer views about 15.
When looking at the price of a home, itís imperative to look beyond the asking price, or even the price you are willing to offer for the property. By far, the two largest additional costs are taxes and insurance.

Tax rates increase with the value of the house. The average property tax is several thousand dollars per year, but can get much higher. Although you can get an idea of the amount of taxes owed on a particular house, there is no way to find out the exact amount until it is re-apprised after purchase. In some states, if you plan to live in the house you are purchasing, as opposed to renting it out, you may be eligible for a partial property tax exemption. Be sure to talk to your agent about what discounts are available in your area. Also, remember that your real estate taxes (as well as your mortgage interest) are tax deductible.

Homeownerís insurance is absolutely 100% necessary (required at closing), and can increase your monthly payments considerably. Thus, the cost of insurance should never be an afterthought. When you are looking at a house, be sure to ask questions that affect the price of insurance such as:
  • Is this home in a flood area?
  • Is this area prone to earthquakes?
  • Does the community have a professional or volunteer fire department?
  • How old are the electrical, heating, and plumbing systems in the house?
Take the answers to these questions, as well as the general information about the house, to various insurance agencies to find the best price. Sometimes, if you use the same insurance company to insure both your vehicle and home, discounts are provided. Also, home improvements such as the addition of a security system and storm-proof windows can decrease insurance premiums.

In the Netherlands, a country now prone to flooding due to the climate change, the price of flood insurance is through the roof. To avoid higher insurance premiums and decrease the risk of home destruction, amphibious houses (above) are popping up on the market. These houses are built on top of a hollow concrete cube. Electricity and water reach the house through flexible waterproof pipes. During a flood, these houses can withstand a 13-foot change in water levels.

Also, although much less of an expense, itís always important to take electric and utilities into consideration as an extra cost. One of the best ways to save money in this department is switching over to alternative forms of energy. One of the best examples of this is the Heliotrope House in Germany, which is a solar powered home that faces the sun in the summer and turns around to face its well insulated rear in the winter. (above right)

For more information on Homeowners' insurance and real estate taxes, click here.
As much as most homebuyers wish that putting in an offer was the end of the road, itís not. Take this into consideration and try not to get your heart set on one single house. If your offer on the Hovercraft House in New Mexico (above) falls through, you may not be able to find anything else like it. But remember, there are plenty of wonderful houses out there to fall in love with.

Your offer should almost always be less than the asking price. The question is, how much less? Itís important not to offend the seller, or make them think you are not a serious buyer by offering an unreasonably low price. To determine a fair offer, find out what comparable houses in the area have been selling for and ask for a similar amount. Your agent will then draft a written contract that outlines each partyís responsibilities, as well as the price of the offer. If you havenít already had an inspector look at the house, be sure a clause is included in the contract that gives you a way out if something is found during a later inspection. Back and forth negotiation on price and contract content is to be expected. When both parties have signed the contract the offer becomes a binding agreement.
  • Get a home inspection, if you haven't already had one.
  • Finalize Homeowner's insurance.
  • Get an appraisal and finalize mortgage.
  • Get title insurance.

    If you're taking out a mortgage title insurance is obligatory. It protects the lender against loss arising from current and past titles on the property, which may have been completed incorrectly. Title insurance must be held throughout the life of the loan.
All persons involved with the sale of the house must be present at closing. Be sure to bring lots of checks, because if closing costs werenít rolled into the mortgage or covered by the seller youíll be writing quite a few. The average closing cost is made up of the following:
  • Attorney fees
  • Property taxes (to cover the current tax period)
  • Interest (from date of closing to 30 days before first monthly payment)
  • Loan Origination fee
  • Recording fee
  • Survey fee
  • First premium of mortgage insurance
  • Title insurance
  • Loan discount points (if applicable)
  • Any documentation preparation fees
That being said, it is sometimes possible to reduce closing costs. After all your hard work, and once everything has been paid and signed, you will finally be the legal owner of your dream tree house!

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