Getting ready to sell? Depersonalize and get rid of clutter first

Think back to a time when you, or someone you know, sold or traded in a car. There was some work to do before advertising it for sale or taking it to the car lot, right? It’s a rare car seller who’ll leave all the fast-food wrappers, empty plastic water bottles and crumbs left behind by the kids.

Why?

Because a clean car gives off an impression of being well-maintained.

It’s the same thing with houses. Sadly, cleaning and decluttering a car about to go on the market is a routine task, doing the same for homes isn’t.

Yet a home is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars more than a car.

First, get rid of the clutter

Scientific studies show that clutter causes anxiety in people who view it. Not a good state for a homebuyer to be in, and reason enough to get rid of excess “stuff” in the home.

If you have a lot of it, the process may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to. Remember the old advice on how to eat an elephant (one bite at a time) and apply it to getting rid of the clutter in your home.

In this case, take it one room at a time. Try to do the entire home in one day and you’ll most likely get frustrated and lose the mojo needed to complete the job, according to professional organizer Nicole Anzia.

“It’s much better to spend a few hours — 2 or 3 — on one project or space. This way you’ll feel motivated to do more, not be burned out by the process,” she tells Apartmenttherapy.com’s Catrin Morris.

For those who burn out quickly, Anzia suggests doing one room at a time, “in 30-minute bursts … work for 30 minutes, take a half-hour break, then work for another 30.”

When tackling clutter, pay close attention to any collections you may have. Too many items in a room makes it appear cluttered and distracting to buyers.

Depersonalizing comes next

Actually, you may end up doing a lot of the “depersonalization” while you’re getting rid of clutter.

In a nutshell, depersonalizing a home involves removing anything of an overly-personal nature.

Think about model homes in new-home communities. These homes are carefully staged to appeal to the broadest number of buyers and they are decidedly depersonalized.

You want buyers to be able to imagine themselves living in the home, with their furniture and their belongings.

Some of what you should remove and store includes:

  • Excess family photos
  • Framed diplomas, degrees and awards
  • Extra toys
  • Magazines and professional journals
  • Craft items
  • Anything on the refrigerator doors
  • Anything that sits on the kitchen and bathroom counters that isn’t decorative
  • Mail
  • Paperwork
  • Anything of a religious or political nature
  • Sports memorabilia

Depersonalization doesn’t just include removing overly-personal items from the home. Consider repainting walls that are currently painted in a bright or odd color and getting rid of odors from cooking, pets, babies and smokers.

Don’t go overboard in depersonalizing the home, however. Leave some traces of your personal statement so that buyers get an idea of the lifestyle the home offers.

Look for these 3 red flags when shopping for a home

Call them “red flags,” or “warning signs” or even “whoa, don’t-buy-this-house” signs, but there are certain symptoms of a sick home that you need to be aware of before you fall in love with a sexy fireplace or a to-die-for backyard. Once you’re smitten, it may be too late.

Now, don’t get me wrong, most houses, even new ones, have something wrong. Even if it’s a problem as easy to fix as a drippy faucet, no home is perfect.

But what we’ll look at today are the biggies – those items that require emptying your bank account to repair. They don’t necessarily need to be considered deal breakers, but should prompt you to have the home inspected by the appropriate professional.

Don’t be crestfallen if you happen to find some of these because the good news is that you found them now, rather than later. Now, as in you can either demand the seller fix them or you can back out of the deal. If you were to learn of these later, after you’ve moved in, the onus would be on you and your bank account to fix them.

So, let’s take a look at a few of the big problems and some of the clues to look for.

“Pee-Yew”

Can you imagine taking a shower and being greeted by raw sewage bubbling up through the drain? Oh, yes, it can—and does—happen. It’s caused by a clogged sewer or septic line.

Consider foul smells coming from the home’s drain a clue for further investigation. Likewise, if you notice these smells outdoors, near the home’s drain fields, if it is on a septic system.

Then, test the drains. Simply turn on the taps and watch the water drain. If it drains slowly, or you hear gurgling sounds from the drain (or from the toilet), call in a plumber.

Sewer fixes aren’t cheap. Tree-root-damaged lines can cost from $4,500 to $13,000 for a 100-foot sewer pipe, according to costhelper.com.

If it’s a septic system that has you concerned, it may need to be pumped. If, on the other hand, the system needs to be replaced, plan on spending from $2,720 to $7,934, according to homeadvisor.com.

“The basis or groundwork of anything” 

That’s the dictionary definition of “foundation.” For real estate purposes, and to keep it simple, it can be defined as “the thing a house sits on.”

A home’s foundation has three functions:

  1. Support the weight of the entire building.
  2. Help the home withstand natural disasters.
  3. Keep ground moisture from seeping into the structure.

“Most homeowners will pay around $4,004 to repair foundation issues. Major repairs involving hydraulic piers can cost $10,000 or more, and minor cracks cost as low as $500. The typical homeowner pays between $1,850 and $6,342,” according to the pros at homeadvisor.com.

Look for sloping or sagging floors (especially in more recently-built homes), cracks in the foundation, walls and floors, doors that don’t operate properly and gaps around window frames or exterior doors.

The experts at hdfoundationrepairs.com go into greater detail on each of these symptoms on their website.

Check the plumbing

Low water pressure is a lot more than an annoyance when trying to rinse the soap of your body in the shower. It may be a symptom of major plumbing problems.

Now, don’t get freaked out. Most of the causes of low water pressure are easy fixes, such as the water softener requires service, or a clog someplace in the lines or mineral deposits in the faucet aerator or showerhead or even sludge in the water heater.

Cracks or other damage to pipes, however, may result in a leak and that too would lower the water pressure. Look for evidence of leaks such as damp spots on the floors and walls, signs of mold or a hissing sound when the water is running.

Leak repair can be costly, especially if the leak is in a tough-to-reach spot.

If you suspect any problems in the home that the home inspection didn’t turn up, we urge you to bring in a specialist. A structural engineer can put your mind at ease about cracks in the foundation and a plumbing contractor can give you an idea of the state of the home’s pipes.

Discrimination in Mortgage Lending

There was a time in our country’s history when discrimination in lending was blatant and rampant. In the 1930s, for instance, Americans of color were routinely denied mortgages. Several methods were used, the worst of which was redlining (denial of a loan based on the applicant’s address).

Yes, we’ve come a long way in the nearly nine decades since then, but there is convincing evidence that discrimination in mortgage lending still exists.

To avoid becoming a victim, it’s important to understand what are considered discriminatory practices under the law.

Federal laws to protect Americans against discrimination

Two laws are of significance to the mortgage industry, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and the Fair Housing Act.

While the latter is aimed at the housing industry as a whole (and covers tenants as well), the former is specific to the lending industry. The ECOA’s anti-discrimination laws apply to anyone who provides mortgages as well as those who rent property, appraise property and broker real estate.

It prohibits those offering credit from discriminating against an applicant on the basis of:

  • Disability
  • Familial status
  • National origin
  • Race
  • Color
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Whether an applicant receives public assistance

The Fair Housing Act covers all of the above instances of discrimination with the exception of the last three. It also exempts certain people from the law. For instance, a landlord who rents out units in a four-unit-or-less building, and he lives in the building, is exempt from the Fair Housing Act.

Protect yourself

Discrimination can be quite subtle, so it’s important to know what to look for. An example of this is explained in the results of a Journal of Urban Economics study from two years ago.

The researchers found that much of the lending discrimination that occurs today happens very early in the mortgage process. African Americans, for instance, find that they receive no response from lenders when they email them with questions 1.8 percent more often than white borrowers.

The researchers point out that the results of this are akin to having a credit score that is 71 points lower.

Other subtle forms of mortgage discrimination include a lender who tries to discourage an applicant from applying for a loan, and a lender who won’t give a reason for loan rejection.

Protect yourself by shopping for a loan among several different lenders. Only when you compare offerings will discrimination become obvious.

How to deal with discrimination

If you feel you’ve become a victim of mortgage discrimination, speak with the lender first. If the lender offers an unsatisfactory explanation of what happened, take additional steps.

First, notify your state’s attorney general’s office. Then, file official complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Knowledge: The antidote for homebuyer panic

“Buying a home is one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make,” is one of the first “tips” you’ll receive when surfing the internet for information about the process.

The statement is ubiquitous, it’s also an understatement and so self-evident that it’s become a cliché.

Most important, though, is that it’s a statement that induces panic.

Don’t let the words get to you. Yes, you’re making a major financial investment when you buy a home, but you’re also buying a HOME. This is a place to live, to build memories and to surround yourself with the things and people you love.

The keys to dealing with homebuying panic include:

  • Gaining knowledge about the process
  • Adequate preparation
  • Following the steps, in order

All of these steps begin with the assistance of one person: your real estate agent.

Knowledge: a brilliant cure for anxiety

I see you shaking your head – yes, suggesting that you choose your real estate agent carefully seems a bit self-serving. That doesn’t make it any less pertinent though, right?

We’re hardwired to fear, or feel threatened by, what we don’t understand. Without getting too technical, there’s a small part of our brain, the amygdala, that tells us when to be afraid, according to some scientists. Short of surgically removing this small, almond shaped structure, the only way to deal with fear is to face it, head on.

“Stress-hardy people focus their energy on those events that they have influence over, rather than situations beyond their control,” according to experts at the University of Minnesota.

And, while there are several aspects of a real estate transaction over which you have no control, there are many more over which you do.

Educate yourself about the buying or selling process by boning up on mortgages, on how to choose your real estate agent and on the processes that will follow and feel your anxiety melt away.

Then, take a preparation and call me in the morning

Even the most experienced professional real estate agent experiences the quickened heartbeat and clammy hands when buying or selling property. The difference between you and them, however, is their experience. They know what to expect, when, so the process is far less foreign.

Being prepared, not only with knowledge, but with practical steps to success, is worth its weight in gold in a real estate transaction. Once accomplished, the typical concerns of a novice fall by the wayside.

Planning is everything

If you won’t be paying cash for a home, you’ll need a mortgage, so the lending process is a good place to start your prep.

To ease your fears, you’ll need to know exactly what will be required to get the money you need for the least amount of effort and at the best price. This means fixing issues with your credit, raising your credit score and saving cash for the down payment and closing costs.

Learn all you can about the mortgage process. Freddiemac.com offers a brilliant walk-through of the process and who is involved in it.

Then, it’s time to get loan preapproval. Remember, the preapproval is an offer from a lender, not a commitment, so don’t just see one lender, but several. Compare the annual percentage rates offered and the terms.

Now that you know how much you can spend on a home, determine where you can afford to live and get crystal clear on what you want in a home. Yes, make a list and then check it, add to it, delete from it, but for heaven’s sake, share it with your real estate agent.

And, choosing that agent is the next step. Surprisingly, most real estate consumers choose the first agent they speak with, according to the National Association of Realtors.

You, on the other hand, won’t make that mistake. You will be spending a lot of time with your agent, so it’s important to ensure that you choose the right one.

    • First, the agent must be an ace communicator. Does he or she return calls, emails and texts in a timely manner? Is her knowledge freely given? Does he communicate in easy-to-understand terms?
    • The agent you choose should also be a good listener. As you speak with agents, pay attention to whether or not they are truly listening carefully to your priorities. The last thing you want is an agent who doesn’t listen and insists on showing you homes that don’t fit what you want.
    • Next, the agent should be experienced in the areas of town in which you’ll be house hunting. Agents who are more active in your chosen neighborhoods tend to be familiar with the market trends, schools and proposed developments nearby that could impact a home’s value in the future.
    • Finally, how’s the chemistry? “Finding the right agent takes balancing credentials and chemistry,” according to the experts at CNN Money. As mentioned earlier, you’ll be spending a significant amount of time with your agent. Don’t add to your stress by choosing one you don’t enjoy spending time with.

Once you’ve chosen your agent, get all the answers you need to relax into the process. Curious about what forms you’ll need to sign and their function? Ask your agent for blank copies so you can familiarize yourself with them. Wondering what happens when you make an offer? Ask your agent to walk you through the process.

Typical homebuyer concerns that you CAN deal with

What if I can’t make my payments?

This is why we suggest that you see a lender first. You’ll be given an estimate of the maximum loan amount for which you qualify. If monthly finances are a concern, plan on buying a home well below that amount.

What if I overpay for a home?

This simply will not happen if you hire the right real estate agent. To ease your mind, ask your agent (if he or she doesn’t offer) to run a comparative market analysis on any home for which you plan to make an offer. Knowing the home’s market value will help you structure your offer.

What if there are problems not uncovered during the home inspection?

Even with the most extensive due diligence, problems with a home may not be revealed. Keep in mind that, although a professional home inspection is a must, you don’t have to stop there. You are free to hire a roofer, plumber, electrician, general contractor, engineer and any other inspector you please to produce additional reports.

Throughout the homebuying process, keep checking your home buying plan, take the steps in order and tell your internal threat detector to chill. You’ve got this.

 

Don’t make these 6 mistakes when applying for a mortgage

There’s a road you will head down when you first decide that it’s time to buy a home. Before taking even the first step, you’ll encounter a fork in that road. Sadly, most first-time homebuyers take the wrong fork and end up disappointed.

Not having a clue about your credit

 Do you know what’s lurking in your credit reports?

It’s bad enough that nearly 80 percent of credit reports contain errors, but did you know that nearly a quarter of them contain mistakes so bad they result in a denial of credit?

Don’t be among those rejected—order copies of your credit reports and go over them, looking for errors. You are entitled to free copies of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every 12 months. Get yours at AnnualCreditReport.com.

If you find errors, file a dispute and clear up the problems before applying for a mortgage. The Federal Trade commission offers additional information on how to obtain your free credit report and how to dispute errors you may find in your report.

Shopping without knowing how much you can spend

 That fork in the road we spoke about earlier? Sometimes it takes homebuyers online, looking at homes for sale and, sometimes, to open houses or new-home communities.

Big mistake.

Homebuyers, especial first-timers, tend to overestimate how much they’ll be able to borrow. If you’re among them, and you look at homes, you’ll most likely be viewing those that are out of your price range and, after that, those that you can buy will pale in comparison.

Don’t set yourself up for disappointment – see a lender before looking at homes for sale.

Take the next logical step after repairing your credit—start shopping for a lender, not a home (at least not at this point).

Not shopping strategically for a loan

 It amazes us how casually many people treat the sale and purchase of an investment as large as a home.

A National Association of Realtors’ survey finds that most real estate consumers hire the first real estate agent they meet.

And, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau clams that half of borrowers use this same cavalier attitude when choosing a lender.

Until you obtain a mortgage, quoted terms aren’t set in stone, so shopping for the best terms will save you money on your closing costs and, quite possibly, your monthly house payment.

So, use the same care in finding a lender and comparing loan products as you would if you were considering buying a big-screen TV.

A good place to choose lenders to compare is Bankrate.com. Remember, you want to compare the APR, and the stated rate is not necessarily what you’ll be offered. This is why you must apply for preapproval to determine your budget.

Not being honest

 Remember “liar loans?” It wasn’t that long ago that lenders were approving mortgages for just about anyone with a heartbeat.

Think of those loans as dinosaurs, because they no longer exist. Lending standards have tightened considerably since then and lenders are bound by statute to ensure that the borrower can afford to make payments on the loan.

This means that you are required to provide documentation that proves the income you state on your application. So, be honest on all parts of the loan application.

Switching jobs after loan approval

A common requirement for loan approval is your employment situation. Most want to see at least two years with your current employer (or in your current field), or two years in business if you are self-employed.

It is important to not make any changes to your employment situation during the period of time between loan application and closing on your new home.

Changing your financial picture

Yes, it’s tempting to start purchasing furniture and appliances as the closing date draws near. But, don’t do it.

The lender will run one final credit check, just before closing, to ensure that nothing in your financial picture has changed. If you purchase items on credit or open new credit accounts, your score may go down.

Also, the new debt you’ve taken on may change your debt-to-income ratio and you’ll be denied the loan and the closing will be cancelled or postponed.

For many real estate consumers, the entire mortgage process is foreign and, quite frankly, dull. But, it involves your money—and lots of it—so learn as much as you can and you should sail through the process.

Real estate lingo defined: What is due diligence?

After a long, grueling search, including several overheated bidding wars, Jim and Claire found the California home of their dreams. They were ecstatic when their offer was accepted and the transaction sailed to an effortless close.

As summer settled in, it was time to crank up the air-conditioner. Curiously, they couldn’t find the thermostat for it. Sure, there was a thermostat for the heater and, isn’t the cooling system typically attached to it?

After searching the entire home, they came up empty. The HVAC system was missing the AC side of the equation—there was no air-conditioning system in the home, despite the MLS listing claiming otherwise.

Who gets the blame?

It’s easy to assume that the listing agent and/or her broker were to blame for this. After all, the box on the MLS listing, right there next to “central air conditioning,” was checked.

Perhaps the homeowners should’ve caught the MLS mistake and brought it to their agent’s attention? If so, perhaps they’re to blame.

In the end, after mediation, the buyers were found to be at fault.

Why?

They didn’t perform adequate “due diligence”

Huh?

Caveat Emptor

You’ve most likely heard the Latin term for “let the buyer beware.” But, did you know that it’s part of a longer statement that admonishes buyers to “beware, for he ought not to be ignorant of the nature of the property which he is buying from another party?”

According to FindLaw.com, there is an assumption, under law, that a buyer of any product will inspect it completely before consummating the purchase.

“This does not, however, give sellers the green light to actively engage in fraudulent transactions,” according to findlaw.com, but it does put a lot of responsibility on buyers’ shoulders.

And, in this case, the mediator found no evidence that the sellers acted fraudulently.

The due diligence period

This time period extends from the minute the seller accepts the offer to when the last contract contingency is removed.

Homebuyers are, therefore, given ample time to perform due diligence. They are even afforded the opportunity to request additional time, if needed.

During this period, the buyer will have the home inspected, shop for insurance and examine HOA documents (if applicable), the lender will work on the buyer’s loan and have the home appraised and the title company will investigate the home’s title.

The buyer, who receives copies of inspection reports, appraisal information and the title search, is well-armed with information during the due diligence period. Savvy buyers will personally inspect the home as well, which Jim and Claire did, twice.

Before the last contingency is removed, the buyer has the opportunity to negotiate with the seller for repairs or the money to have the work performed by someone else. If this doesn’t occur, and the contingency is removed, the buyers are agreeing to take the home as-is.

And, it’s expected that they know what they’re getting into.

Jim and Claire lost their case at mediation, and here’s why:

There was no evidence that the seller exhibited fraudulent behavior. His property disclosure noted that there was no central air conditioning. The buyers either didn’t read the disclosure or ignored what was stated.

The home inspector noted the lack of central air conditioning. Why any homebuyer wouldn’t thoroughly read home inspection results is mind-boggling, but apparently, Jim and Claire didn’t.

The buyers personally inspected the home on two separate occasions and performed an additional final walk-through before closing. While it would be too late to seek remedy after the final walk-through, the prior two inspections fall under the umbrella of performing due diligence.

Don’t let it happen to you

It can happen to even the most experienced homebuyer. It’s easy to be so excited by the fact that you finally found THE home that you either don’t notice or overlook its flaws.

While Jim and Claire’s own real estate agent should have noticed a feature that the couple told her they wanted, in the end it all came down to their negligence.

Buying real estate, even for personal use, is a financial investment. Treat it as such by forcing yourself to leave the emotions aside and approach the purchase with all the seriousness it requires.

How to survive – and win – during the spring homebuying season

Working with first-time buyers and those on tight budgets during last spring’s overheated sellers’ market was heartbreaking. So many offers made and so many passed over for someone else’s.

One of the most frequently-asked questions we received was

“Aside from increasing the amount of money we’re offering, what else can we do to win in a multiple-offer situation?”

As we head into the spring 2018 season, we will no doubt hear this question again, so today we want to share with you some tips that just might win you that home.

Write a personal letter to the seller

Letters to the seller get a bad rap from some in the industry, but we’ve found them to be quite effective.

Ensure that the letter will connect emotionally with the seller. Explain, specifically, why you love the home and how living in it will affect your family.

Personal letters are especially effective when accompanied by a photograph of yourself and, if you have one, your family.

Need ideas? Housingwire.com recently published some sample letters that might just do the trick.

Don’t nickel and dime the seller over the small stuff

It’s tempting to want the seller to fix even the little things that show up on a home inspection report. If you truly love the home, and the inspection report doesn’t show any major problems, avoid that temptation and leave out requests that the seller make or pay for repairs.

The cleaner your offer, the more likely it will stand out among others. And, after price, the seller will look at other aspects of the contract that will cost him or her money when deciding on which offer to accept.

Increase your earnest money deposit

What sellers want most, aside from the most money possible, is to know that when they take the home off the market after getting an offer, the sale will go through.

To reassure the seller that you are serious about the purchase, increase the amount of your earnest money deposit.

The earnest money deposit, by the way, is a cash deposit – typically a certain percentage of the offering price.

It’s held in escrow and applied toward the purchase price at closing. It can, however, be forfeited if you breach the contract.

An increase in good faith money shows an increase in good faith – and sellers love that.

Agree to be flexible with your closing date

Believe it or not, we’ve seen buyers win a bidding war against higher offers just by being flexible on the closing date.

Many sellers need more time to move out, so offering to close on their preferred date, or even to rent back the home to them after closing, may be a way to win in a multiple offer situation.

If the home is vacant, offer to close quicker, if possible. Of course, you’ll need to get with your lender to determine how quickly you can close, but this is an attractive offer to a seller with carrying costs inherent in a vacant home.

If all else fails

If you’ve ever been in a multiple-offer situation you know that the seller may find another offer to purchase more attractive than yours. If this is the home of your dreams, consider making a backup offer which will put you next in line if the chosen buyer backs out of the purchase.

The backup offer, when accepted by the seller, is a binding contract, so make sure you have your lending in order before submitting it.

Sure, it sounds like a long shot but back-up offers frequently become primary offers so they’re worth considering when the home is exactly what you want.

Still have questions? Reach out to us – we love talking about real estate!