The Home Buyer Checklist: Oregon Trail Edition
Updated: Jun 16
Remember the game Oregon Trail? Sometimes the home buying process can feel just as perplexing and arduous. There are a lot of moving pieces in a real estate transaction and when you are buying your first home, decoding the process may seem overwhelming. Here is the checklist that can help guide you…just be glad I didn’t base it off of Jumanji.
Choose Your Character. At the start of the game you must choose your character and their traveling companions. When you start your home buying journey, it is important to find a Realtor. An agent will be able to answer your questions about the market and the process as well as connect you with helpful resources that can help you get started.
Choose A Month To Depart. In Oregon Trail, April was always the prime month to get started. The weather is good and your oxen will have enough grass to get by. Springtime certainly is when a lot of buyers start looking at homes, but it’s not necessarily the best time for everyone. Talk to your agent and determine when you’d like to start looking, what your timeline is for when you’d like to close, and what your needs vs. wants are for the property.
Choose Your Supplies. When you stop by the General Store to pick up supplies for the trip, you need to think about what will help you have the smoothest journey. Getting pre-approved before you start looking at homes is very important. If you are taking out a loan to finance the purchase, you will need a pre-approval letter to submit with your offer. Sellers want to see that you are qualified. It can be really heartbreaking to miss out on a home because you are scrambling to get that preapproval sorted out, so it is best to start the conversation with your lender beforehand. Many buyers also have questions about how much house they can realistically afford and the pre-approval process (which usually doesn’t take more than a day or two) is often helpful in providing a concrete answer.
Continue On Trail. You’re ready to head out to Oregon! Starting your search for a home is really exciting and now that you have an agent and a pre-approval letter, it’s time to get serious. This is where your needs vs. wants list that you discussed with your agent will come in handy. You may have to make some amendments as you go along, but make sure those core needs will be met by the property you choose.
Cross The Kansas River. This is the first big trial on the Oregon Trail. It’s time to write an offer and you may be wondering which terms you should include. You will need to decide on price, the earnest money deposit, a closing date, and inspections. It’s important to find out how deep the river is and what your options are for crossing. Your agent should call the listing agent to find out if there are any other offers and to see if they can get more information on the seller and the property. Listing agents won’t always want to disclose any information beyond whether or not they have offers in hand, but you may find out there are terms you could compete on. For instance, if there are multiple offers and you find out the seller doesn’t have a new home yet, you can compete on closing dates by choosing a date that gives the seller more time to find a new place…
…ok, so between making an offer and settlement, the trail will split a few times, a wagon wheel might break, and some of your traveling companions might come down with dysentery and/or measles, but a good agent will be able to guide you through all this. I mean, maybe not actual dysentery, but you get the point. Once your offer is accepted, financing will need to be finalized, the title company will need to do a title search, inspections will need to be done, repairs will need to be negotiated, and the home will need to appraise. As I said, there are a lot of moving pieces in a real estate transaction and things will occasionally go wrong. Never fear! Your agent, lender, and title attorney should be used to righting deals that have gone a little sideways and with good communication between all parties, bumps in the road can usually be smoothed out.
Make It To The Fort. Things are going well! You and all your companions are still alive and you’ve made it to the fort. Your financing is finalized and you have the clear to close. Make sure you contact the utilities companies a week or so in advance of closing and tell them to transfer service to your name on the closing date. This includes electric, water, and gas as well as items like generators and solar panels. It is no fun trying to move in when the electric has been shut off.
Float Down The Columbia River. In this last phase of Oregon Trail, you are so close to arrival in Oregon and while things can still go wrong at this point, but you are likely to win the game. Closing is around the corner. You do your final walk through a day or two in advance and ensure that the house is in the condition it should be in. Occasionally, we’ll find that something is amiss, in which case, we will contact the listing agent and get it sorted out. Remember, everyone has the same goal of making sure the transaction gets across the finish line.
Lastly, you will have settlement and close one your home! Nowadays, you can do this remotely or from out of town with relative ease. The title companies often have closing agents who will travel to a client’s home, work, or wherever is most convenient. If you will be out of town on closing day, make sure you notify the title company ahead of time so they can arrange for the documents to be sent to you prior to closing. You will simply have them notarized and sent back in time for settlement.
If you are a cash buyer, congratulations! You chose the banker as your character, you will pay to cross the Kansas River on the ferry, and then you will be swept up by a tornado that conveniently deposits you in Oregon. Just kidding, you are still susceptible to dysentery. Cash deals can still fall through due to inspections or issues with the title, but appraisal (which will be optional) and financing will not be major hurdles for you. You will need to provide a Proof of Funds letter with your offer and make sure to keep in contact with your financial institution throughout the process to ensure the smooth transfer of funds when it is time to close.