How to Buy a House in Westchester

June 13, 2016

The moment I hit 30, everyone around me started talking about buying houses. We were all hitting our 8 year mark of living in the city, we were all longing for a place to grill and a place to put all of the gifts from our wedding showers. And for some of us, we started to move out – to NJ, CT and Westchester.

We decided to move to Westchester. We moved here because our family is east of the Hudson in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine (thus eliminating NJ and Long Island), and we liked the school systems. Due to our budget, we had to settle for a town at the very tip of Northern Westchester (Cortlandt Manor) and are about 55 minutes from Grand Central – 60 minutes was our threshold.

We were fortunate enough to find our excellent realtor, Patty, through a friend – and totally recommend her if you are looking to move to this area. If you are thinking it’s time to move, here are my tips on how to buy a house in Westchester.

1). Real Estate Agents are Paid for By the Seller: Going in to our first time meeting Patty, I wasn’t sure how we paid her – was it every time we saw houses? Was it every time we put in an offer? Was it a percentage of the purchase price? I found that in Westchester, the seller pays all real estate agent fees. Once you have your realtor in place, be honest with her about what you are looking for – it took about looking at 10 houses for her to realize a home with a master bedroom on the first floor wasn’t for me. If he or she is suggesting that you don’t see a house, there is a reason why.  I was always surprised when our realtor said she wouldn’t show us a house because it was on a double-lined yellow street – meaning a busy road. Now that I’m in the area, I am so glad she advised that we didn’t look at homes on certain streets.

2). Use Zillow, Redfin and MLS: To find our home, I originally started on Zillow about a year prior, to get an understanding of what homes go for. As we got closer to our search, I set up alerts on Redfin. However, MLS was the most helpful tool. In order to use MLS, you have to be invited by your realtor. This database was more accurate about which school system the home was in as well as taxes. In this system, you can favorite houses – which you like, don’t like and might be interested in – perfect for when your realtor is setting up showings. By using a combination of these services, I was able to find our home. I saw an alert come in on a new home on the market through Redfin, and immediately forwarded it to my husband for his thoughts. He loved it, and we instantly shared it with Patty to set up a viewing.

3). Don’t Forget about STAR: Speaking of taxes, in Westchester, there is a tax rebate called STAR for school taxes. You have to apply for it yearly, and you’ll get a check for a credit from New York State. Registering was easy – we just received a form from our town and had to submit a copy of our license with our new address. So when you are looking at taxes, remember you may get $2,000-$3,000 back.

4). Negotiations are about 5-10%: Every time I watch one of those House Hunters shows, I see folks walk away with the steal of a lifetime. In Westchester, your negotiation power is only about 5-10%, so don’t go in trying to get a half-priced deal (I wish).

5). You Don’t Need to Write a Letter: Two friends of ours in NJ each wrote letters with their offers, saying how excited they were to raise a family in the seller’s home and be a part of their town. We were told in Westchester, this wasn’t needed (but I’m hearing in NJ, it works!).

6). Share if You are Flexible with Move-in Date: When it came to our house, there were 3 other offers on the table. Our realtor asked if we were flexible moving. It was September, our lease was up in February. We said sure, we’re very flexible. She underlined very flexible several times. We got the call the next day the house was ours. Why? Our seller was building their own house, so wanted someone who would be comfortable with the possibility of the timing being pushed back. At one point we were told December 31 would be close, and then it moved to January 15. If you are flexible, tell your realtor. We were under the impression that the seller may come back to all interested parties for a bidding war, but that flexibility really sold us.

7). The 30 Days Rule: If you talk to anyone outside of New York State, they will think you are crazy, but in New York, the seller has up to 30 days to close after the closing date. So while our closing date was January 15, we knew we could move anywhere from January 15 – February 15. We found out right around Christmas that our close was set for January 25. Living in the city where there are leases, this can be very nerve wracking. While you hope everything will go according to plan, you may want to plan for the tail end of the 30 day window, or have some great friends that will let you crash with you.

8). If Your Seller is Interested, Swap Email Addresses: Our seller was downsizing and asked our realtor if it was okay for them to contact us directly in case there was anything we were interested in buying. We ended up purchasing several tables and chairs from them, and made it clear that we were coming from a 1 bedroom apartment, so if there was anything they couldn’t sell and didn’t want to take, we’d make use of it. We ended up with a pool table (sweet!), a desk and a TV stand, all for free. If we didn’t say anything, it would have been tough making so many purchases for things right as we were trying to get settled in. We didn’t have time to unpack boxes, let alone buy new furniture, so it was nice to be greeted by new (to us) pieces.

9). Don’t Forget about Closing Costs: It wasn’t until last spring when chatting with a friend that I realized a house just wasn’t a down payment and a mortgage.  There are closing costs. In some areas of the country, the seller pays for the costs, but in good old Westchester, the buyer pays for them. The worst part? Taxes are anywhere from 2-5% of the closing cost – so if you are buying a $500,000 house, you need an extra $20,000 to have on hand. Hence why we bought a forever home because I do not want to pay that ever again!

10). You’ll Pay Taxes for the Year Upfront – But Still Will Have to Pay Taxes in Year One: When I saw that the reason why our closing costs were so ridiculous was because we paid for the first year of taxes upfront, I thought, “Sweet! This must mean that we don’t pay taxes year one with our mortgage payment. This must be something that the government does for new home buyers so they can catch up and pay for everything else that they need to get for their new house.” WRONG. You have to pay taxes in year one, which most likely will be coupled with your mortgage payment. The reason for the upfront taxes? This way if you default on your payments, the bank will still be able to pay for taxes.

Are you thinking of buying a home in Westchester? While I’m not an expert, happy to answer any questions and share our experience to see if I can help!

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How to Buy a House in Westchester -

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