Starting Your Home Search
Most people these days begin their search for a home on the internet. Sites like this one offer buyers many tools to do their own legwork. Buyers can use internet sites like this one to search Vermont's MLS system (NNEREN) for homes listed by real estate agents. Buyers can also use non-MLS sites like Craigslist to find homes that may be listed without agents.
• Few people use the Sunday newspaper or open houses to find their new home. The majority of people will narrow their search based upon their online research and then schedule an appointment with an agent to see their top 5 to 10 homes.
• Understanding how the MLS works can be helpful when searching for your new home. The MLS is essentially a database of raw data. The data in the MLS is pushed out every night to all of the local brokerage websites. Thus, the listings on local brokerage websites are typically identical regardless of which site you decide to search (this one included).
Here are some key features and terms when searching for a home online:
- Square Feet: This is the metric used to determine the size of a home in the United States. The square footage of a home allows a homebuyer to better compare two homes of differing sizes in different locations. We often compare homes by taking the sales price and dividing it by the finished square footage of the house to determine the per square foot sales price.
- Tax Year: In Vermont most towns have a fiscal year that differs from the calendar year. The fiscal year for most towns is from July 1st to June 30th of the following year. For property tax purposes, the tax year normally coincides with the town's fiscal year so most tax years in Vermont begin on July 1st and end on June 30th of the following year.
- Full Bath: This is a bathroom that has a tub. Some listings will say "full bath" and only have a shower unit and not a tub. Technically, bathrooms with shower units only should be listed as 3/4 baths not full.
- 3/4 Bath: A bathroom that has a shower unit but not a tub.
- 1/2 Bath: A bathroom with a toilet and sink only.
- Above Grade Finish: A finished room is one that has no exposed studs, joists, subfloor or other raw building materials exposed. A room is above grade when the ground outside is equal to or below the level of the floor inside. The above grade finish is the total square feet of finished rooms above grade.
- Below Grade Finish: A finished room is one that has no exposed studs, joists, subfloor or other raw building materials exposed. A room is below grade when the ground outside is above the level of the floor inside. The below grade finish is the total square feet of finished rooms below grade.
- Year Built: This field in the MLS is important not only to determine how the old the home is but also to determine what legal requirements attach to the home. For instance, if the home was built prior to 1978 then the seller will need to provide you with certain disclosures regarding lead based paint.
- CUFSH: This acronym stands for "contingent upon finding suitable housing." It is used when the seller has either not yet identified or--more commonly--has not yet signed a contract for the purchase of their new home. When you see CUFSH in a listing, your agent should contact the listing agent to determine if the seller has identified a new home or signed a contract to purchase a new home.
- ROW: This stands for Right of Way. Some properties in Vermont share access with others. Sometimes the property you are interested in will have a right of way over a neighboring property while some properties will have access for a neighbor over your property.
- Possession: This is the act of a buyer taking control of the property from the seller. In most cases in Vermont possession will be taken by the buyer at the closing.
- Basement: A full basement is one that has normal headroom height. In most cases the height from floor to ceiling will be at least 7 feet in a full basement. A partial basement is akin to a crawl space where the floor to ceiling height is usually between 3-4 feet.
- Equipment/Appliances: The listing should include all of the appliances and equipment included in the sale. The seller should not list items in the MLS unless they intend to include them. Oftentimes there will be items included that are left out of the MLS. It is important to ask the seller or their agent to clarify exactly what items are included and which are not.
- Financing: Most sellers these days are open to several types of financing by buyers. Conventional financing is a loan from a bank that conforms to Fannie Mae's secondary market requirements. FHA stands for Fair Housing Administration financing. FHA financing is not available to all buyers as there are income and other limitations. VHFA stands for Vermont Housing Finance Agency financing. Like FHA financing not all buyers can qualify for VHFA financing because of income and other eligibility requirements. VA loans are financing from the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs and, like the other restricted types of financing, may not be available to all buyers.
- Excluded from Sale: These are items the seller is specifically excluding from the sale of the home. If an item is affixed to the home (as opposed to free standing), it is considered to be included in the sale unless the seller specifically states otherwise. Freestanding items, such as a refrigerator, are considered to be excluded unless it is specifically stated and agreed upon by the parties that the item is to be included.
- Tax Class: There are two property tax classes in Vermont for real estate: Homestead and Non-Homestead. A homestead class is available to buyers who are going to use the property as their primary residence. It is important to note that unlike other States where a home is presumed to be a homestead unless stated otherwise, in Vermont a homebuyer must file their homestead declaration with the State every year. The declaration must be filed before April 15th of each year. Homestead tax rates are lower than non-homestead rates.
- Recorded Deed: There are different types of deeds in Vermont for transferring property. The most common type of deed in Vermont is a Warranty Deed. Other types of deeds include Quitclaim and Trustee deeds. You should consult your attorney to understand the different types of deeds and structuring your title in Vermont.
- District: The School District in which the property is located. We recommend checking with the town to ensure accuracy. Also, in Burlington there is a modified version of school choice so it is important to understand such systems when searching for a home.
- Assessment: This is the value placed on the property by the town's assessor. This is different than an appraised value by a private appraiser. Towns are mandated to reassess all properties at least every 10 years. However, many towns will go the full 10 years between assessments so the assessed values frequently don't reflect true market values.
- Unadjusted Taxes: In Vermont property owners are eligible to have the State of Vermont pay a portion of their local property taxes. Eligibility is based upon income, and the amount of the payment is based upon your income relative to your local property taxes. The unadjusted amount of taxes listed is the amount of the taxes without the payment from the State. However, the local property tax bills are adjusted to account for payments by the State. Thus, the property tax bill might not match the amount listed in the MLS.