Be a smart homebuyer: Attend open houses

The National Association of Realtors tells us that 44 percent of homebuyers visit open houses. While most don’t end up buying the home, it gives them an idea of what homes in their price range offer.

And, that’s a brilliant strategy. Even if you don’t plan on buying the homes you tour, it helps you get acquainted with neighborhoods and homes.

If you’re about to embark on the Great American House Hunt, do yourself a favor and commit to attending an open house (or several) but to be prepared before arriving.

It’s for sale and nobody should be offended if you treat it as such

“Open house etiquette.”

Yes, there are actually articles online dictating to homebuyers how they should and should not act at an open house.

One online advice-giver suggests that potential buyers touring a home for sale should “stay away from their medicine cabinet and don’t open any drawers.”

So, when we shop for a car, should we stay away from the glove box and not open the trunk?

Absolutely not – kick those tires, throw open the trunk and even (dare we say it?) lift the carpeting to check out the spare tire.

The same holds true when attending an open house. This house is for sale and, like any savvy buyer, you need to satisfy your curiosity about all aspects of it.

Besides, a good listing agent will prepare the homeowner for the marketing process. This includes letting the seller know that his or her privacy is a thing of the past.

Especially when storage space is in such high demand, the homeowner should expect that potential buyers will open closets, cupboards and, yes, even drawers.

This isn’t to say there aren’t some common courtesies and etiquette “rules” that we hope open house attendees will offer.

We never want a home seller to come home to doors left unlocked, rumpled bed covers and personal items out of place. Those aren’t part of the unspoken deal. It’s a violation of privacy that potential buyers need to avoid.

What to bring with you

If you haven’t compiled a home-shopping wish list yet, do it before you attend an open house. Even jotting down some quick notes on what you absolutely must have in your new home will help keep you focused.

  • Don’t forget your smartphone or a camera. Photograph the exterior of the home and make note of the address. When you’ve toured a number of homes it will be challenging to recall which home had which features without something to jog your memory.
  • Bring a measuring tape. You may just fall in love with the home but have no idea if the master bedroom will accommodate your California king bed or if the living room wall is of sufficient length for your sectional sofa.
  • Bring a can. It doesn’t matter if it’s a can of deodorant or a can of beans, it will be especially important when looking at older homes. If you suspect a slope in the floor, lay the can down on it. If it rolls, there may be foundation or structural problems.
  • Finally, don’t go to open houses solo. Bring a friend or family member. Two sets of eyes are better than one when shopping for homes.

Someone may be watching

Ah, the age of technology. In London, it’s a given that your every move is being captured on CCTV. While it’s not that bad here, at least not yet, surveillance cameras are becoming more common.

And you should expect there to be at least one in any home you tour.

And they aren’t always evident

Even if you can see the camera, you may not have any way of knowing if it captures audio as well as video and it’s the former you need to be cautious of.

A good rule of thumb is to not say anything in an open house or a home tour that you wouldn’t want the seller to hear. Don’t insult the seller’s decorating taste or lack of housekeeping skills.

More important, if you love the home and will pull out all the stops to become the owner, wait until you’re outside to say so. Don’t say anything that will give the seller leverage during negotiations.

The open house tour

The person who greets you at the open house is the homeowner’s real estate agent – the “listing agent.”

This  agent represents the seller and your agent represents you, as the buyer. This is much like a court case situation, where each party has their own attorney, or representative.

The agent may ask you if you have representation. Even if you don’t, it’s a good idea to fib and say that you do. Using the seller’s agent isn’t typically a wise move.

Since the seller pays both of the agents’ commissions, your agent’s services cost you nothing. It’s worth it to have your own agent who will protect your interests during the purchase process.

The seller’s agent may allow you to tour the home by yourself or he or she may want to accompany you.

If it’s the latter, don’t allow the agent to distract you from viewing the features that are important to you and never allow yourself to be rushed.

Ask any and all questions that come up. This is a huge purchase you’re contemplating, so no question is a stupid question.

Most of today’s home buyers prefer to shop for homes online. Virtual visits, however, are no substitute for the open house experience.

There’s no reason at all that you can’t do both.

How to buy a house: 5 tips to get the best deal

So, you’ve heard that home prices are falling, the inventory of available homes is beginning to grow and, if you look closely, you’ll see a crack beginning to form in that once-fiery sellers’ market.

Whereas in the recent past, homebuyers were a dime a dozen, you may just be on the precipice of being an in-demand commodity and, with that status, comes power.

It’s already begun in the new-home market, with builders and developers offering buyers (and their real estate agents) attractive incentives. The resale market is expected to catch up, so let’s get you prepared to get the best deal possible when you buy a house.

1. Why are they selling?

There are a number of reasons people sell their homes and a seller’s reason, or motivation as it’s known in the real estate industry, is powerful information in the hands of the buyer.

It’s not easy to learn a seller’s motivation, but it’s not impossible either. The key is to be face-to-face with the seller, a situation often discouraged by real estate agents.

If you or your agent can arrange a meeting, however, (perhaps during a tour of the home), strike up a conversation. “How long have you lived here?” can lead to an opening for the “and why are you moving, if you don’t mind my asking?”

If you can’t meet with the owner in person, try asking the neighbors. Take a weekend walk through the neighborhood, stopping to chat with folks working on their cars, in their yards or playing with their kids.

Let them know you’re thinking of buying the neighbor’s home and ask if they’d mind answering some questions about the neighborhood. During the conversation, ask if they know why their neighbor is selling. You’d be surprised how much neighbors know about one another.

If the homeowner is selling because of a divorce or job relocation they may be in a bit of a hurry to sell. This is information we can use in structuring your offer (offering a quick close, for instance) to soften the blow of a lower price.

2. How long has the home been on the market?

This is information that we can get for you from our MLS. Why is this information important?

Recently listed homes are still in their “honeymoon” phase with buyers and agents. There is a lot of activity surrounding a new-to-the market home so the seller has very little motivation to accept a low offer.

As the home sits on the market with few offers, the seller may become more desperate to sell and, thus, more likely to entertain a lower sales price.

We can also let you know the average number of days homes in the neighborhood remain on the market. If the home you have your eye on has been listed for longer than that, you may be dealing with a very motivated seller, putting you in a strong negotiating position.

3. Study the pricing history

We’re happy to look up the pricing history of homes you’re interested in. From the time the home is first listed, the MLS will show us how many price changes have occurred, whether they were price hikes or reductions.

A seller who has reduced the home’s price more than once is a seller who needs to get the home sold.

4. Soften the blow of a low-ball offer

Ask for everything in the offer to purchase. That’s right, EVERYTHING. Even if you don’t want their furniture and appliances, ask for them.

Ask for the drapes, the barbecue, everything you can think of to put the sellers in overload. You want to divert their attention away from the low price you are offering and toward all their “stuff.”

Once the bartering begins all of their focus will be on trying to hang on to their backyard furniture, not that you’ve offered several thousand dollars less for the home than what they are asking.

Compromise with them; you didn’t really want all those items anyway. Keep your eye on what it is that you really want: your price.

No, it doesn’t always work, but in the end, you might get that price and maybe even a few appliances as well.

One more tip about what to include in the purchase offer: make sure you don’t give the sellers too much time to think about it. A 24-hour acceptance request is quite common and a strategic move in your position as a bargain hunter.

5. Get help with your closing costs

Getting the best deal on a home doesn’t always mean getting the home for a discounted price. If the seller won’t budge on price and you truly want the home, we’ll find ways for you to save money in other parts of the transaction.

One of the easiest is to negotiate closing costs by asking the seller to pay them. Sure, some will balk at this. Others might raise the sales price of the home to absorb the costs.

The danger in the latter scenario is that the new price may exceed market value and not meet the bank’s appraisal amount.

Put yourself in the seller’s shoes. The sale of a home is often an emotional event. The right real estate agent in your corner will be able to negotiate on your behalf while appealing to the sellers’ emotions.

Be proactive: head off problems in the home sale before they happen

Too many home sellers feel that their listing agent is responsible for everything that comes after signing the listing agreement. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The homeowner is an active participant in many aspects of the sales process, from settling on the listing price to preparing the home for the market and being flexible when buyers’ agents request a tour.

While the 2019 real estate market will not likely be moving at the warp speed of last year and the year before, it’s still a prime time to sell a home so expect lots of activity when you list your home.

Then is not the time to prepare – that time is right now. Taking certain steps right now ensures smooth sailing through the entire process.

“If you’re proactive, you focus on preparing. If you’re reactive, you end up focusing on repairing,” according to American author John C. Maxwell. And, we agree.

Clear up clouds on the home’s title

When the buyer opens escrow, his or her lender will want a thorough examination of the home’s “title.” It’s a word you’ll hear frequently during that period of the transaction and it refers, simply, to the party or parties who have legal ownership and the right to use a piece of property.

The title examiner may find a problem with the home’s title. For example: Joan passed away, leaving the home to her three children. They put the home up for sale and instantly got an offer.

Then, the title examiner found a lien against the property. Joan had fallen behind in her payments, and the lender had been threatening to foreclose. Her kids had been working with the lender and were granted 90 days to sell the home.

Since the home was under contract to the new buyer, and the escrow company had instructions to pay the lender the past-due amount (plus fees, naturally) the lender agreed to release the lien and the transaction proceeded.

But, all of this took time, as you can imagine. You’ll find a list of other common title defects (also known as “clouds on the title”) online at First American Title.

A brilliant proactive step to take, if you suspect there may be a cloud on the title, is to order a title search before listing the home. We’re happy to help you do this.

Consider a pre-sale home inspection

When we live in a home for some time we naturally assume we know about all of its problems. Wrong.

We often see homeowners who are caught completely by surprise when the home inspector’s report turns up problems.

Depending on the scope of the problems, the deal can end up significantly delayed or even derailed.

Knowing all of the home’s problems prepares you for what is to come. And, should you decide not to make the repairs, it can help you more appropriately price the home for its condition.

Make the repairs that lenders/insurers commonly demand

If your buyer is using an FHA- or VA-backed mortgage, the lender may require certain repairs before agreeing to lend money to the buyer.

Typically, the lender will take issue with any problems dealing with the health and safety of the home’s occupants.

Some problems that don’t meet the FHA’s “minimum property standards” include:

  • Debris in the home’s crawl space
  • Lack of a fire door between the home and the garage
  • Missing handrails on stairways and decks
  • Cracked glass in windows
  • Minor plumbing problems (such as dripping faucets)
  • Ratty floor finishes or coverings (worn flooring, badly soiled carpeting)
  • Evidence of previous termite or other wood-destroying pest damage if there is no evidence of previous repair work
  • Worn countertops

This is only a partial list but it gives you an idea of some of the repairs the lender may require, depending on the buyer’s loan program.

The buyer’s homeowner insurance company may stick its nose into the deal as well, demanding that certain repairs be made or it won’t insure the buyer

Plan on making these repairs before listing the home for sale to avoid holding up the transaction.

Sure, it sounds like a lot of work, but being proactive saves you time and helps you make more money on the sale of your home.

Questions? We are happy to help.

What makes a neighborhood “kid-friendly?”

It may seem like an understatement, but life completely changes when you have kids. They’re so tiny, yet so powerful that they impact our lives more than anything that came before.

Years ago, you may have lived in an apartment, never thinking about buying a house. With kids, that changes, doesn’t it? They need room to grow, to play and to build memories.

So, Mom and Dad, today we take a look at what constitutes a “kid-friendly” neighborhood.

Safety is at the top of the list

Parents’ concerns about their child’s safety are reflected in the popularity of the cul-de-sac.

“From the beginning, builders noted that  . . . they prevented strange cars from speeding by on their way to somewhere else. Ads for cul-de-sacs often pictured children riding bikes and tricycles in the street,” claims NPR’s John Nielsen.

He goes on to state the irony in those statements because “cul-de-sac communities turn out to have some of the highest rates of traffic accidents involving young children.”

Rather than a home on a cul-de-sac, consider a home on a street located away from a major thoroughfare and one that lacks an exit that allows drivers to use the area as a shortcut.

But safety from vehicles isn’t the only concern when we have kids; there are human predators to consider as well. We aren’t allowed to address that concern directly, but we can point you to the local police station for crime rates.

And, the FBI’s Sex Offender Registry is online, so you can learn if there is a dangerous predator living in a neighborhood you have your eye on. The U.S. Department of Justice also offers an online database.

Are there opportunities to socialize?

Are there other children living in the neighborhood? Kids need to socialize and use their imagination in play with their peers.

If there are few or no other children in a neighborhood, your child’s opportunities for this critical developmental milestone are curtailed.

Sure, they can socialize and play at school, but, let’s face it, a neighborhood without other kids to play with just isn’t kid-friendly.

You’ll know there are other children in a neighborhood by checking out the other homes. Look for basketball hoops, bikes and other toys that children sometimes leave outdoors.

The best time to tour a neighborhood is on weekends or just when school lets out on a weekday.

Kid-friendly amenities nearby

A neighborhood within walking distance to a park is ideal for children, and their parents.

Parks are handy places for socializing, whether it’s parent-on-parent or kid-on-kid. Barbecues, birthday parties and other get-togethers at the local park are signs of a kid-friendly neighborhood.

What recreation you enjoy as a family? Bike rides? Look for bike paths. Swimming? A community pool nearby will be handy.

Does a kid-friendly neighborhood have to be in the suburbs?

You’ll find fabulous, vibrant neighborhoods in urban centers, many with a surprisingly suburban vibe. In fact, many parents prefer city life for their children.

“I grew up in a small apartment sharing a room with my sister so it never fazed me to live in a small space and not have a backyard—the city is our backyard,” mom of three Amy tells Michelle Cohen at 6sqft.com.

If many of your family’s favorite activities are located downtown, by all means, search for a kid-friendly neighborhood nearby.

No neighborhood offers everything a family wants but when considering whether the one you have your eye on is kid-friendly you can’t go wrong if it’s safe, walkable and has lots of playmates for your children.

Are you ready to move up?

Funny thing about houses – we often outgrow them. Especially in the throes of family-building, pretty soon a house is like our kids’ shoes – it gets tighter and tighter until it’s time for a new one.

The new year promises to bring a different real estate market than we’ve grown accustomed to. Hopefully, multiple offers on homes are a thing of the past and homebuyers can slow down and take their pick from among several homes, priced attractively.

If you’re considering moving up, we think 2019, especially the early part, before the Feds hike interest rates again, will be the ideal time to sell that cramped home and set your family free in a larger space.

Naturally there is more to moving up than merely needing to. So, let’s take a look at some of the factors you’ll want to consider.

Consider the financial aspects

“Bigger,” when it comes to homes at least, generally means “more expensive.” That in and of itself shouldn’t scare you away from your hunt for more room.

The equity you’ve built up in your current home may surprise you. Consider using it to make a larger-than-20 percent down payment on the new home. This may just bring your monthly mortgage payments close to what you’re paying now.

But, as we both know, there’s more to homeownership than a house payment.

  • Larger homes cost more to heat and cool.
  • Your property taxes and homeowner insurance may be higher
  • More space comes with the cost of more money spent on home maintenance.

If it looks like a larger home may negatively impact your budget, take a look at where you can cut expenses. Put your budget on paper (or created digitally) to make it easier to scrutinize every penny you spend.

Good credit will help you afford the larger home

Depending on when you bought your current home you may find that the lending landscape has changed. Rates are still relatively low, although they aren’t expected to remain this way for long.

While lending standards tightened significantly in the wake of the housing implosion, over the past few years they’ve become more relaxed.

Credit scores, however, are still relied on when it comes to the rates offered to homebuyers.

Order your credit reports from all three major credit reporting agencies. By law, every American is entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from AnnualCreditReport.com.

Because mistakes are common, financial experts agree that even those of us who aren’t planning on buying on credit should check their reports annually.

Check yours for discrepancies in your name, address, date of birth and other personal information. Then, go over each account, looking for errors. ConsumerFinance.gov has a walkthrough of what to look for when checking your report.

If you find mistakes, file a dispute with the credit reporting company. Learn how to do so at USA.gov.

There’s more to financing than a credit score

Lenders use what is known as a DTI, short for debt-to-income ratio when calculating how much you can safely pay each month for a house payment.

You can determine your DTI by adding up how much you pay in debt payments every month. This includes items such as your car payment, the minimum amount due on your credit cards each month and all other recurring monthly debt payments.

Take the sum of these payments and divide it by your monthly gross income and then multiply that result by 100.

The last step expresses your DTI as a percent, which is what lenders look at, and, as a rule of thumb, it should never exceed 43 percent, although some experts say that the ideal DTI is no higher than 36 percent.

If yours does, consider ways to lower it. These include raising your income (taking on a part-time job) or paying down debt.

Learn more about the importance of your debt-to-income ratio at the U.S. government’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website.

Your current home

Lucky you if the home is paid off because you’ll have lots of equity to spend on the new home. It is estimated that 63 percent of U.S. homeowners have a mortgage payment, however, according to Lending Tree.

We’ve come a long way since the housing bubble burst. In fact, “homeowners gained more than $15,000 in home equity between the fourth quarter of 2016 and the fourth quarter of 2017,” according to CoreLogic, a property analytics provider.

Most economists expect 2018’s numbers to be even more stunning, but we’ll have to wait until spring for study conclusions to be published. The bottom line is that you may be pleasantly surprised by just how big of a nest egg you’re sitting on.

As we move into 2019, we’re facing a changing real estate market. Home prices have slowed their previously skyward trajectory, the tight inventory of homes for sale is easing and the year looks like it will be far kinder to buyers as we move forward.

Upsize your home before the Feds raise rates again and you’ll have made one of the wisest financial moves of your lifetime.

Speaking of which, we aren’t tax or financial experts, so consult with yours about upsizing.

Selling your home? What to look for in a listing agent

When you want to sell your home, don’t bother asking Alexa because when we asked Google how to find a listing agent it gave us more than 6.5 million results.

Read some of the results and you’ll walk away only more confused. It seems like every real estate agent on the planet, even those who deal primarily with buyers, is an “expert” when it comes to helping homeowners sell their homes.

What they fail to let you know is that a listing agent’s primary duty is to market his or her client’s home.

So, while it’s important to feel comfortable with the agent you choose, you aren’t looking for a friendship. You are looking for an ace marketer who gets results.

We’ve learned that good listing agents share three qualities.

1. Good listing agents are exceptional communicators

The biggest complaint about real estate agents is that most are unresponsive. Calls, texts and emails go un-returned, or agents take forever to get back to their clients.

Here’s how we look at this: that period of time that your home is on the market is stressful, especially if this is the first time you’ve sold a home.

The last thing you need is to be cast adrift, with no support from the expert you hired to guide you through the process. That’s just downright wrong.

It’s too bad so many real estate agents are unable to put themselves in their clients’ shoes. So, look for an agent who does. Seek out a listing agent who responds quickly to your calls and is able to effectively communicate the sometimes-complicated aspects of the home-selling process.

2. The best real estate listing agents have abundant experience in pricing homes like yours

The homeowner has the final say in how much a home is listed for and, naturally, buyers have the final say in how much the home eventually sells for.

The listing agent, however, analyzes the market to determine a home’s current market value and makes a pricing suggestion to the homeowner.

This is a critical decision for the homeowner. Price the home too high and there will be little interest in it. Price it too low and you’ll leave money on the table.

Beware of the listing agent whose price suggestion is significantly higher than expected or higher than other agents have recommended.

It’s an old trick, performed by dishonest real estate agents, and it’s known as “buying the listing.”

What happens is that the homeowner falls for the ruse, lists the home too high and when buyers are uninterested in viewing the overpriced home, the listing agent then pesters the homeowner for price reductions.

Thankfully, this isn’t a common practice, but it does happen.

3. The best listing agent is a marketing master

Marketing masters laugh at the lazy real estate agents who employ the “list and pray” strategy. They’ll do the basics, like installing a sign at their listings, affixing a lock box to the door and, of course, taking five minutes to add a cursory listing in the Multiple Listing Service database.

Then, they’ll sit back and pray that another local agent brings in a buyer and sells the home.

Pretty pathetic, isn’t it? And, in some real estate markets, it may even work. But, why take a chance?

Marketing requires knowledge of the ideal potential buyer for your home and then laser-targeting that group. It often requires a multi-pronged approach, including a robust online plan.

It’s the most important facet of a listing agent’s job, which is why we take our marketing plan so seriously.

As you interview listing agents for the job of marketing your home, pay close attention to how they market themselves, both online and off. Ask for information on how each agent plans to market your home.

Call the agents to find out how responsive they are.

Avoid those who don’t return your calls, can’t clearly answer all your questions and those who offer amateur marketing examples.

This is an important job you’re interviewing for – take your time and hire smart.

2 Ways to Avoid Overpaying for a Mortgage

The process of buying your first home involves a steep learning curve. From how to get started to understanding the roles of the various players in the process, it can be confusing.

Probably the most misunderstood aspect of the home buying process is the mortgage. Sadly, it’s also the most important. We see far too many real estate consumers who, in their haste to get it over with and get on with house hunting, don’t pay attention to exactly how much the loan will cost.

We don’t want this to happen to you, so let’s take a look at how to avoid overpaying for your home loan.

1: Dig deeper than the loan’s interest rate

When comparing home loans, most inexperienced homebuyers use the interest rate as a benchmark. Why not? It’s what the media focuses on and what lenders advertise.

But which interest rate are they talking about? There are two that you need to consider when shopping for a loan.

The advertised rate is typically what you’ll see first, with the APR, or annual percentage rate, located in the fine print. Because it represents the total cost of the loan, including points, fees and other loan costs, it’s the APR that you want to compare across loan offers.

Learn more about this by visiting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website.

What are points?

As you learn more about the mortgage process you’ll hear a lot about “points.” There are two types that you need to pay attention to: origination and discount points.

Origination points are often referred to as “origination fees” and it’s what the lender charges for its services. These are negotiable and represent yet another way to save money on your home loan.

Discount points, on the other hand, offer a way to “buy down” your interest rate. Each point is worth 1 percent of the loan amount. For example, for a $200,000 mortgage, one discount point equals $2,000.

And, each point that you purchase will lower your rate “from one-eighth to one-quarter of a percentage point,” according to Dona DeZube at interest.com.

When comparing loans, ensure that you are comparing “offers that include points to those that don’t and determine how much you’re really saving by paying thousands of extra dollars up front,” cautions DeZube.

To simplify the process, request that each lender put the loan’s points in dollars instead of percentages, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Not only does this help you compare loans, but it helps you understand the total cost.

2: Lock your Rate

Just as a loan pre-approval isn’t binding on the lender, neither is the interest rate offered. If you like the rate, lock it in. Rate locks typically last for 30 days but the costs depend on the number of days.

When comparing loans, ensure that you compare quotes with the same rate lock period.

Should you decide to lock your rate, ensure that it clearly states not only the length of the lock period, but the interest rate and number of points as well.

Your mortgage payment will likely become the largest check you write each month, so take all the time you need to ensure that you’re saving the most money possible.

Real Estate Lingo Deciphered: What’s a “Comp?”

From Ikea product hacks to painting kitchen cabinets and refinishing countertops, Americans are absolutely hooked on the DIY craze.

There are some things, however, that only a pro should tackle and that includes determining a home’s current market value.

In fact, a National Association of Realtors’ survey of for-sale-by-owners found that determining an accurate price for their home was the homeowner’s most challenging task.

Pricing your home too high or too low are both disastrous to your pocketbook.

Real estate agents and professional appraisers pretty much use the same process to determine a home’s market value. The purpose behind the two, however, is what differs, albeit slightly.

Agents are determining market value whereas the appraiser’s sole purpose is to ensure that the lender isn’t loaning more than the home is worth.

Both will compare your home to others. These other homes are known as “comps,” short for “comparable.” Let’s take a deeper dive into how a particular home qualifies as a comp for your home.

What is “market value?”

Businessdictionary.com defines market value as “The highest estimated price that a buyer would pay and a seller would accept for an item in an open and competitive market.”

Well, that’s just swell. But how do we know what a buyer will pay?

By investigating what recent buyers have paid for similar homes

Sold homes, then, are the comps agents use when preparing a comparative market analysis. Appraisers, too, use sold homes when working on figuring out how much a home is worth.

Typically, we’ll look back no more than six months for sold homes, similar in age, style and size, within a one-mile radius of yours. Yes, there are times we need to look further back in history or extend the radius, but not often.

Now you get to find out why we say it three times

Proximity is an important factor when searching for comps. So important, in fact, that some lenders require that their appraisers search no further than one-mile in all directions if the subject home is in the suburbs and five miles in rural locations.

We, as real estate agents, have a bit more flexibility. We typically start our search for comps close to the subject property and work our way out until we have at least three comps that have sold in the past six months or so.

Then, there are additional “location, location, location” aspects to compare.

A home’s location can positively or negatively impact it’s value. Positive nearby amenities include:

  • Parks
  • Schools
  • Shopping
  • Cemeteries (A national real estate company found that homes within 100 to 200 yards of a cemetery sell for an average of $17 more per square foot than those located more than 500 yards away).
  • Access to freeways and highways

There are additional proximity amenities, some of which are specific to certain regions, such as proximity to the beach or golf course.

Negative influences include:

  • Neighborhood condition (if the neighborhood is rundown)
  • Neighbors (hoarders, sexual predators and homeowners in foreclosure)
  • Traffic, train, airport or other noise
  • Schools (homes in poor-performing school districts are worth less than those in high-performing districts)
  • Oversupply of homes for sale
  • Crime

These are just a few of the ways the location of your home impacts its value.

Comparing the condition of the home

With both the real estate agent and the appraiser, the condition of your home will carry a lot of weight when viewing the comps.

First, we’ll determine if there are any deferred maintenance issues, such as leaky plumbing, overgrown or neglected landscaping, damaged flooring, cracked tiles or window glass, among others.

Then, we’ll deduct value if comparable homes are in better condition or add value if they aren’t.

Determining how much a home will sell for in the current real estate market depends on how much buyers are willing to pay for similar homes. Those homes, as you now know, are called “comps.”

5 Tips for moving when the weather outside is frightful

Moving is bad enough, but moving in wet, muddy, sloppy weather should be illegal.

Alas, it’s not, and if you have no choice but to move during winter, do yourself a favor and hire professional movers.

If that’s not possible, pay heed to 5 of the most important tips from the pros.

1. What will you do with pets and kids?

You’ll need to work quickly during a winter-weather move and, since children and pets tend to get in the way during periods of excitement, find a place to “stash” them during the process.

Consider asking a family member to watch the kids or hire a sitter. Pets can be placed in boarding where they’ll be safe.

2. What does the weather service say?

The best way to remain updated on weather conditions is with an app on your phone.

AccuWeather offers a free weather app and also a brilliant Road Trip Planner (you’ll need your laptop for this).

Many local TV station news departments offer apps that provide local weather alerts. In Minnesota, for instance, movers can download the CBS Minnesota app, or get road condition information from the Department of Transportation.

Check their websites or search iTunes or Google Play for a region-specific app.

3. Pack the necessities first

The last thing you’ll want to do after slogging through messy weather is to have to go through all those boxes to find the essential items you’ll need right away.

Before packing anything else, fill a box with the following:

  • Old towels and rags to wipe wet floors.
  • Snow/ice removal items, such as a shovel, ice scraper and a walkway de-icer
  • A change of clothing for all family members (including dry shoes or boots)
  • Snacks
  • Food for the pets (don’t forget the bowls)
  • Several large bottles of drinking water
  • Any medications you take daily
  • Bathroom items such as a shower curtain, shampoo, soap, toilet paper
  • Valuables
  • Coffee maker and everything to go with it
  • Things to keep the kids occupied

Place the box in the trunk of your car.

4. Protect your electronics

“Electronic components can develop condensation as the temperature decreases,” according to the experts at Bekins. “This condensation can cause water damage or even short circuiting,” they caution.

Think “insulation” when considering how to protect your electronics. First, wrap each item in bubble wrap, then in a blanket. Place each item in a bubble-wrapped box and seal it tightly. Then, wrap the box in either bubble wrap or a moving blanket.

5. Use extra care when moving appliances

As soon as you move in, you’ll be tempted to get the washing machine and dryer set up, but don’t give in to the temptation.

Appliance manufacturers say that washers need to sit for at least 12 hours. This is to ensure that any traces of water that remained in them while moving hasn’t turned to ice, which could damage the appliance.

And, yes, the dryer needs to come to room temperature as well. Otherwise, the igniter and heating element may become brittle.

Sudden changes in temperature can also be lethal to your electronics, so unwrap them and allow them to sit for a while.

4 types of neighborhoods

After the boring stuff is out of the way – the loan application process, choosing a lender and then hiring a real estate agent, it’s time to go shopping, the truly fun part of buying a home.

Have you started your wish list yet? The first section should be all about location – where you want to live, right down to several neighborhoods that you find appealing.

We believe in the “Google Earth” method of finding anything – start wide and then narrow down the search radius.

At the wide end of the spectrum, you’ll need to decide whether you want to live downtown, in the suburbs or a more rural area. Let’s walk through some of the terminology you may see while shopping for a neighborhood and the pros and cons of each.

1. Urban Core

The most common name for living in the heart of a city is “downtown,” but the media have introduced another term, “urban core.”

In some areas of the country, such as Austin, Texas, the word “central” might be placed before the name of the city. So, if you live in an apartment in downtown Austin you would most likely tell folks you live in “central Austin.”

Housing choices in the urban core also depend on region. They can range from luxury penthouse condos to warehouse conversion lofts and apartments that sit atop businesses.

Your neighbors will be diverse as well, including a mix of low-to-middle income folks, the affluent and seniors.

Urban core residents like their neighborhoods because the housing is affordable (again, depending on region), it’s typically easy to get where you need to go on foot, they’re close to nightlife attractions and these neighborhoods generally lack the shopping malls so prevalent in suburbia.

Drawbacks to downtown living include trying to find parking, more crime and lots of transients.

Popular urban core neighborhoods include downtown Los Angeles, Battery Park City in Manhattan and downtown Seattle.

2. Suburbs

There are as many different descriptions of the suburbs as there are neighborhoods within them. One thing most can agree on is that the suburbs are located outside of the urban core.

Sometimes called “bedroom communities,” the suburbs offer a quieter, slower pace yet lack the uber-close proximity to many conveniences and entertainment venues.

Zillow.com finds that more than half of millennial homebuyers are choosing the suburbs, so if you plan on selling your suburban home, you may want to target this group of buyers.

Money magazine studied suburbs and, in February 2018 came up with a list of “the best” in the U.S. They include:

  • Peters, Missouri (a suburb of St. Louis)
  • Vinings, Georgia (outside Atlanta)
  • Schaumburg, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago)
  • North Arlington, New Jersey (a New York suburb)
  • New Berlin, Wisconsin (outside Milwaukee)

You can find the rest of the list at cnbc.com.

If you count yourself among those who dream of buying a home in the suburbs, plan on having a wide choice of home styles from which to choose: apartments, condos, townhomes and single-family homes.

Tip: Consider your commute before settling on the suburbs.

3. Subdivisions

Whether you long for the small-lot subdivisions that became popular in the Los Angeles area a few years ago or are seeking a large lot with manicured lawns and mature landscaping, subdivisions are still in great demand – especially among families.

They may be located in the suburbs or near the urban core.

Subdivisions typically offer residents amenities and what is offered depends on region, developer and the price of the homes.

Larger subdivisions may have a park or three for residents, a clubhouse, community pool, and bicycle or pedestrian trails. But the sky is the limit – literally – in some subdivisions.

Just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina you will find Aero Plantation, home to 90 families. It’s what is known as a fly-in subdivision and light aircraft have the right-of-way on all the roads. Lots are huge – 2 acres minimum – and there’s also a forest and lake in the community.

Trying to describe the typical subdivision home is futile as the variety is huge. Those with cul-de-sacs, however, typically house lots of families with children.

4. Rural areas

If you’re seeking a sense of community and want to put down “roots,” choose a rural area in which to buy a home. According to Pew Research, 40 percent of rural residents know their neighbors.

Only 28 percent of suburban dwellers can say the same while 24 percent of urban core residents know their neighbors.

This is a surprising finding, considering the sparse population of most rural communities.

Choose a rural setting for your new home and you’ll find that your neighbors exhibit a sharp divide in values and politics from the urban core dweller, according to Pew Research.

The populations of rural communities have been on the decline, so many are using incentives to attract new residents, according to a Zillow study. For instance, Tribune, Kansas, in its desire to attract new college graduates, offers the Rural Opportunity Zone program.

“They’ll help you pay off your student loans — up to $15,000 over the course of five years,” according to Brittan Jenkins at Business Insider.

Once you’ve decided on the type of “developed human settlement” (as Wikipedia calls them) that best appeals to you, narrow your home search to the neighborhoods that include the type of home you want and the price range.

Contact us, we’re happy to help.