Before investing in a home, you'll want to take the time to determine what you can afford, the ideal neighborhood to live in, and what features you need or want. Also be aware of the legal issues involved in residential real estate transactions, such as required seller disclosures, what terms should go into purchase contracts, potential title defects, zoning issues, tax liability, and so on.
With proper preparation, careful choice of a real estate agent, and prudent use of other qualified professionals, buying a home in Pennsylvania should be a smooth, positive experience.
Working With a Real Estate Agent in Pennsylvania
A real estate agent can help you find your home and handle many of the complex procedures involved with the purchase. Some of the benefits of using a real estate agent include his or her:
- knowledge of the community, comparable home prices, and market conditions
- access to information that will help you find properties meeting your needs and budget
- contacts with other professionals who can help you, such as home inspectors and mortgage brokers
- ability to help prepare a viable offer and handle other paperwork by scheduled deadlines, and
- role in negotiating the final deal.
Fortunately, 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 check licenses on the Pennsylvania real estate agents at the Pennsylvania Department of State’s website, and the website of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors offers a useful "Find a Realtor" function. Other useful resources include Zillow and Trulia. which have customer reviews of real estate agents.
Be sure the agent you choose has plenty of experience and good references.
Pennsylvania Seller Disclosure Statement Requirements
State law in Pennsylvania (68 Pennsylvania Statutes Section 7304) requires that sellers provide buyers with lots of information about the property's physical condition (particularly any "material defects"), using a Seller’s Property Disclosure Statement form established by the Pennsylvania Real Estate Commission). The standard form covers such concerns as:
- property contents, such as specific appliances, and whether or not they need repair or replacement
- availability of working smoke detectors
- defects in the electrical, plumbing, and other property systems
- any homeowners’ association fees, deed restrictions, and
- other specified property details, such as the type of sewage system, when the roof shingles were replaced, whether the seller made structural additions to the property, and much more.
In addition, if you're buying a house that was built before 1978, the seller 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.
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. But not even the disclosures should be considered a complete guide to the property's condition. The seller may have become blind to some of the problems or entirely unaware of them (particularly concerning issues hidden within walls or the attic, or underground).
Importance of Getting a Home Inspection in Pennsylvania
Buyers should hire an independent home inspector to find out more about what sort of shape the property is in. Many buyers make their offer contingent upon a satisfactory inspection report that covers:
- termites and other pests
- soil settlement, drainage, and erosion issues
- conditions that could lead to mold
- foundation, walls, floors, and structural integrity, and
- condition of systems for heating and cooling, electricity, plumbing, and drainage, and
- other physical concerns, whether they're active or developing.
Virtually every house has repair issues, so don't look for a straight "pass" or "fail." The issues raised in the report most commonly become items for negotiation with the seller before the sale; or just alerts for you going forward with ownership of the home.
Real Estate Purchase Agreements in Pennsylvania
A purchase agreement is a legal document containing the terms and conditions of your real estate transaction. It must be in writing and signed by the parties (buyers and sellers).
When complete, it must include an offer to sell or purchase, an acceptance of the offer, the sale price, and an adequate description of the property. Your real estate agent can provide you with the standard form used in Pennsylvania.
Title Issues in Pennsylvania
Your mortgage companies will likely require you to purchase a title insurance policy in connection with obtaining a mortgage. Its purpose is to protect against adverse claims by prior owners or lien holders or any other clouds on the title that turn up after the closing.
The title company will conduct a search before offering coverage. The search goes through 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, you should require the seller to correct those as a condition to closing.
Working With a Lawyer in Pennsylvania
Unlike some states, Pennsylvania 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 at some point—for example, if you are buying property in a planned unit development with extensive CC&Rs or 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 show up during escrow or the house closing.
Check out our directory to find an experienced real estate attorney in Pennsylvania.