Buying a house is part of the American dream, but before making this important purchase, you'll want to determine how much you can afford, what neighborhood you want to live in, and what features you need or want in a home. You also need to be aware of certain legal issues concerning seller disclosures, purchase contracts, and property title.
With proper preparation, careful choice of a real estate agent, and prudent use of other qualified professionals, buying a home in Florida can be a positive experience.
Advantages of Working With a Real Estate Agent in Florida
Before buying a house, condo, or other home in Florida, you'll likely contact a real estate agent. Your agent will help you find your new home and handle all the complex procedures involved with the purchase. Working with a real estate agent has many benefits, including the agent's:
- knowledge of the community, median home prices, and market conditions
- ability to match available homes to your needs and budget
- help preparing a viable offer and handling other paperwork, and
- key role in negotiating the final deal.
Your agent should be able to assist you every step of the way, from drafting your written offer and negotiating with the seller on price and other key terms to coordinating the escrow process and house closing. Your agent can also help you locate other professionals to assist in the home buying process, including mortgage brokers and home inspectors.
And the good news is that working with a real estate agent won’t cost you anything. The seller usually pays the entire real estate commission (typically 5% to 6% of the house sale price, split between the seller’s agent and yours).
Personal referrals from other home buyers are usually the best way to select a real estate agent. You can find licensed Florida real estate agents at the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation's Licensee Search. Other useful resources include real estate websites such as Zillow and Trulia, which offer customer reviews of real estate agents.
Be sure the agent you choose has experience representing buyers, good references, and qualifications to meet your house buying needs in terms of your ideal location, type of property, and budget.
Seller Disclosure Requirements in Florida
State law in Florida (Johnson v. Davis, 480 So.2d 625 (Fla. 1985)) requires sellers to disclose any known facts or conditions about their property that have a substantial impact on the value of the property and that others cannot easily observe. The seller will fill out a disclosure form that sets forth the seller's knowledge of the following details on the property:
- whether specific appliances need repair
- defects in the electrical, plumbing, and heating and air conditioning systems
- environmental conditions, such as termites or asbestos
- issues with the structure, including the roof, foundation, and walls
- legal issues including deed restrictions and boundary disputes, and
- other specified details of the property.
The seller is also required to give a property tax disclosure to the buyer. This disclosure form informs the buyer that property taxes may change after the buyer purchases the house (see Fla. Stat. § 689.261).
Seller disclosures are important for you as a buyer, since just looking at a property may not be enough to tell you what problems its owner encountered while living there.
In addition to state-required disclosures, sellers of houses built before 1978 must comply with federal Title X disclosures regarding lead-based paint and hazards. See the lead disclosure section of the EPA’s website for details.
Home Inspections in Florida
Buyers should not rely solely on the seller's disclosures, but should hire an independent home inspector to double check the information on the seller's disclosure and discover any unknown issues or defects the house may have.
The inspector should look at everything from the heating, cooling, electrical, and plumbing systems to the structural integrity of the house, including whether termites or other pests are present. You may, however, need specialized inspectors for unusual structures such as swimming pools, docks, and landscaping, or conditions beyond the general inspector's expertise.
Many buyers make their offer contingent upon a satisfactory inspection report to be sure no material defects exist. If there are material defects, then the buyer can either renegotiate or cancel the sale.
See Reasons to Get a Pre-Closing Home Inspection for details.
Real Estate Purchase Agreements in Florida
A purchase agreement is a legal document that contains the material terms and conditions of your real estate transaction. It must be in writing and signed by the parties (buyers and sellers) to the contract, and include an offer to sell or purchase, an acceptance of the offer, the sale price, and an adequate description of the property.
See the Florida Realtors Association Residential Contract for Sale and Purchase for a sample. You will normally fill this out first as the buyer and present it to the seller as your purchase offer.
Title Issues in Florida
A buyer should always obtain a title search from a title company before purchasing a home. The title company searches public records and other sources for any liens, easements (such as the utility company’s right to access part of the property), or other encumbrances or title restrictions that may affect the property.
If the title search locates problems, the seller is expected to correct these as a condition to closing.
Mortgage companies usually require buyers to purchase a title insurance policy in connection with obtaining a loan. If your lender doesn't require you to purchase title insurance, consider purchasing it anyway, to help defend your title to the property against adverse claims by third parties or any clouds on the title missed by the title search.
Working With a Lawyer in Florida
Unlike some states, Florida does not require that buyers involve a lawyer in the house-buying transaction. Even if it’s not required, you may decide to engage a lawyer in special situations, for example if you are purchasing a house jointly with others and need help structuring your co-buyer agreement. Or, you may want a lawyer’s help if problems arise during escrow or the house closing.
Check out our lawyer directory to find an experienced real estate attorney in Florida.
More Information on Buying a House
This website's Residential Real Estate section includes a variety of useful articles on all aspects of the house-buying process, including advice on getting a mortgage; figuring out what price, contingencies, and other terms to offer; arranging home inspections; and closing the deal.