What to expect from the 2021 housing market

Good riddance 2020!

As we ease into what will hopefully be a far better year for all of us, we notice that questions about what to expect from the 2021 housing market are increasing.

As in everything else we’ve experienced of late, there’s no simple answer to what the “new normal” real estate market will look like.

We like to get an overview of both the national and local economies before offering up our best guestimate. We also enjoy reading the various predictions doled out by economists near the end of one year and the beginning of the next.

In a nutshell, there are three forces currently at work in the real estate market:

  • Strong demand for homes
  • Not enough homes for sale
  • Low interest rates

Will these remain in 2021? Let’s take a look at what the experts say.

Demand for homes

Demand is driven by affordability. If interest rates remain low in the new year, strong demand from home buyers will most likely continue.

The unknown in the equation is whether and by how much home prices will rise in response to the strong demand.

Realtor.com®’s 2021 housing forecast predicts record-high prices will continue rising in 2021,” notes Clare Trapasso. This may just knock first-time home buyers and others on a budget out of the market.

She goes on to say that the forecasters say that price growth will slow because the tight inventory of homes for sale will ease. “…the double-digit price hikes seen this year aren’t expected to carry over into the new year,” she concludes.

Not enough homes for sale

Every month, the gap between the number of homes sold and the number of new listings widens. Unless more homeowners decide to sell, the experts at Homesnap, a real estate tech company, expect the available housing inventory to remain low.

For example, when compared to 2019, 2020 saw a 0.22% increase in new listings, “…while total sales increased 19.29%.” (housingwire.com)

It may sound trite, but now truly is the best time to sell your home.

Low interest rates

Will mortgage interest rates remain low? There isn’t a lot of agreement from the experts.

“Rates are going to stay low. Demand is going to stay high. And President-elect Joe Biden will offer a tax credit for first-time home buyers,” according to Jeff Lazerson, contributing columnist at the East Bay Times.

Trapasso, citing the realtor.com forecast, claims that “… mortgage rates will begin slowly going up toward the last half of 2021.” She goes on to say that although the hike is predicted to be small, it “… has the potential to price out some buyers or force others to purchase cheaper abodes in less desirable locations.”

Mark Fleming, at housingwire.com, notes that “… consensus forecasts estimate the 30-year, fixed mortgage rate will likely be 3% – with forecasts ranging from 2.8% to 3.3%.”

Getting ready to sell

As you can see, and as is typical, there is not a broad agreement on what we can expect from the real estate market in 2021.

Even if you’re merely considering selling your home, start getting it ready for the market. Do some basic repairs, start de-cluttering and storing items that you don’t routinely use. Consider painting the interior.

We’re happy to give you some tips on where to start, at no cost or obligation to use our services. Feel free to reach out to us. We’re happy to help.

9 House-hunting steps for the first-timer

Like any process, buying a home involves a series of steps. When the steps are taken in a logical order, the process moves quicker and it’s less confusing.

Take these steps out of order and you may run into trouble. It’s a bit like algebra: follow the PEMDAS formula and you’ll get the right answer. Mess with the formula and who knows what you’ll come up with?

1. Find out how much you can afford to spend on a home

It astounds me how many folks start looking at houses before they know how much they can spend on a home.

This involves more than the amount the lender has pre-approved. Find a mortgage payment that fits your budget and use that as a ceiling on price when you’re shopping for a home.

Finding a lender to help you determine how much you can afford every month getting you pre-approved for a mortgage is the first and most important step in the process.

2. Decide which features you want vs need

Once you’ve seen a lender and know for certain how much you can afford to spend on a home, it’s a good idea to make a list of items that you just can’t live without.

Add to the list the features that you can live without but it sure would be nice to have them. And, naturally, which features would be an absolute deal-breaker.

This list is important to share with your real estate agent and to keep with you when you house hunt.

3. Find a real estate agent

House hunting is just so much easier with a good real estate agent in your corner.

Not only does it save you time you would otherwise spend poring over websites full of listings, we typically know of homes that will be coming available long before the general public does.

Best of all, our services are free to you. Please add us to your list of agents to interview.

4. Look into neighborhoods

Before you look at even one home, decide on several neighborhoods in which you’d like to shop.

If you need help choosing, we’re happy to help. Home prices in each neighborhood, for instance, will help us whittle down the list.

If commute is a concern, choose neighborhoods close to public transportation or near highways.

Think about amenities you want in a neighborhood, such as parks, recreational facilities, walkability and proximity to schools.

Give us a copy of your “wants” list and we’ll help you determine which neighborhoods you can afford to live in and which meet your needs and desires.

5. Consider the buddy system

It’s always good to have two sets of eyes when shopping for the biggest purchase of your life.

If you’re married you have an automatic “buddy” to accompany you on home viewings. If you are single, find a buddy who is willing to house hunt with you.

Give your shopping buddy a copy of your wants and needs list so he or she can help keep you from becoming starry-eyed over a house that doesn’t fit your criteria.

Which brings us to step 6.

6. Plan to leave your emotions in the car

Buying a home can be an emotional process. After all, you’re spending a lot of money on it.

In the end, however, it’s a business transaction and if you approach it as such, the process will be much easier.

Remember as well that cosmetic issues are easy to fix. Don’t let them keep you from buying a home that is otherwise perfect for you.

7. Take notes

Note the address of each home you viewed that you were even slightly interested in and their good and bad features.

This will help jog your memory when you sit down later to weigh the pros and cons of each.

8. Do or don’t “sleep on it” before you decide on a home

While sleeping on a major decision is always a good idea, in a fast-moving real estate market you simply do not have that luxury.

In multiple offer situations, by the time you wake up from sleeping on the decision the home will be under contract with another buyer.

9. Don’t spend money

Many first-time homebuyers are so excited when their offer is accepted and the closing date is approaching that they decide to splurge on items for the home.

That’s a huge mistake

Lenders perform what is called a “soft pull” of your credit report shortly before closing. They do this to ensure that your financial picture is the same as when they agreed to lend you the money.

If you purchase big-ticket items on credit (such as new furniture or appliances), your debt-to-income ratio will change and you may find out, days before closing, that you no longer qualify for the mortgage.

Don’t switch jobs, don’t buy any expensive items on credit and pay your bills on time. Save the splurge for after closing.

I’m happy to answer any questions you have about the home buying process Feel free to contact me.

5 ways to pay less for appliances

Have you priced new appliances recently? First, they’re all over the map, with some dealers offering far less or more than others for the same models.

And, yes, prices have most likely increased substantially since you bought that range back in 1998. Much of this has to do with demand. The pandemic brought on a rash of folks performing home improvements and appliance sales skyrocketed.

“Some retailers are reporting a two month wait for certain brands of refrigerators or dryers,”

according to Leslie Brinkley at ABC7news.com.

If you’re in the market for a new appliance or two, take the time to strategize the purchase. In the end, it’s the preparation that will save you money.

Know your needs

While the bells and whistles that smart-home appliance offer are cool, do you really need them? If you’re on a budget, keep in mind that these features provide “… no basic performance benefit,” according to Andrea Waroch at clark.com.

Check out what’s on offer to get an idea of the features you truly need, such as a timer on a range or microwave.

Make a list of the features you need and stick to it if you hope to save money on appliances.

Consider used appliances

A friend recently purchased a brand new, never used Whirlpool range. She found it posted on her local NextDoor.com neighborhood by a couple who bought a new home and wanted stainless steel appliances (this range is black).

Our friend checked the home improvement stores and found the same model priced at almost double what her neighbors were asking. Yes, she snatched it up immediately.

If you haven’t joined your neighborhood on Nextdoor.com, you should consider doing so. Not only will you be kept up to date on the happenings in your area, but get to know your neighbors as well. The for-sale section is full of lovely merchandise at low prices.

You’ll also find used appliances for sale online at:

Don’t neglect the local brick-and-mortar stores that specialize in used appliances.

Buying used means that you’ll have to find a way to transport the appliance to your home and a way to dispose of the old one. Then, there is the cost of installation. If you can’t do it yourself you may need to hire someone to do it for you.

Tack these charges onto the price of the appliance when comparing the price to the cost of new appliances. Although, quite often, the big home improvement stores charge a delivery and take-away fee as well as for installation.

Scratch and dent

If you don’t mind a cosmetic defect or two, many retailers offer what are known as “out-of-box,” “scratch-and-dent” and “customer return” appliances at reduced prices. How much reduced?

According to Waroch,

you may save “… anywhere from 10 to over 50 percent on the retail price of appliances.”

Shop for these appliances online at American Freight (formerly Sears Outlet) and Best Buy Outlet. You might also check local dealers and the big home improvement stores.

Negotiate for a discount

“According to Consumer Reports, only 33 percent of surveyed shoppers negotiated on large appliance deals,” according to Waroch.

Of those who did try to haggle, 75% of them got an average of $100 off the price of the appliance.

“If the sales associate or manager is unable to lower the price, he or she may offer complimentary delivery and installation or free haul away, which is a tremendous savings. Ultimately, you never know unless you ask!” Waroch concludes.

Steer clear of extended warranties

That is the advice offered by the experts at Consumer Reports and it’s one of the easiest ways to save money on appliances.

Just say “no thanks”

Warranties are big money makers for retailers. In fact, sales of these warranties have become “a $40 billion business,” according to Consumer Reports.

“The chance that your refrigerator or dishwasher actually needs a repair during the extended warranty period is pretty low,” HomeAdvisor.com’s Dan DiClerico tells Consumer Reports.

Appliances typically come with a manufacturer’s warranty, which is usually offers sufficient protection.

 

Kitchen trends for 2021

Planning a kitchen renovation? According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, you aren’t alone. Home renovation and remodeling spending is expected to increase through the first quarter of 2021, at least.

Most DIY remodelers say they will concentrate the renovation dollars on the kitchen and bathroom, with 83 percent of them claiming high hopes that their kitchen remodel will increase the home’s value.

Here are some of the kitchen projects that they’ll be undertaking and the trends you need to pay attention to if you hope to sell your home in 2021 or beyond.

Kitchen cabinetry

If you’re going to remodel your kitchen with an eye to selling the home in the future, skip the raised panel or Shaker panel cabinets and opt for a smooth-front cabinet design.

In fact, minimalism is so in-demand right now, you might also want to consider forgoing handles all together, in favor of touch-release type of cabinets.

Ceiling-to-floor cabinets are expected to trend in 2021 as well. “… it’s becoming extremely popular to totally eschew the open shelving or no-uppers trend of years past in favor of wall-to-wall cabinetry,” according to the pros at HGTV.

Finally, while the stark white cabinet colors of last year are still popular, the trend is toward warmer colors, such as “…wine reds, deep greens and rich browns,” according to HGTV’s decorators.

Walnut cabinetry, for instance, is gaining in popularity, according to the folks at homesandgarden.com. “It’s rich, dark color, fine grain and natural warmth are prized by makers for its feeling of instant luxury.”

Countertops

While kitchens with granite and quartz countertops were among the most Instagrammable in 2020, many designers are touting marble for 2021.

“If there’s one thing that’s storming the style charts and shaking up interiors, it’s the return of marble,” according to design pros at homesandgardens.com. Specifically, “… strongly veined marble, the busier the better for unmissable luxury and next-level style.”

Quartz took a huge leap forward in popularity last year and the experts at residentialproductsonline.com see a more specific surge in 2021: “… light-colored quartz will become the ‘it’ material.”

Kitchen flooring

Wood flooring and wood-look flooring in the kitchen has reigned supreme for the past decade and most designers agree it will trend even more in the new year.

The beauty of today’s technology allows for the look of hardwood in a waterproof, durable flooring, so necessary in a busy kitchen.

For a lighter, airier feel in the kitchen, designers with flooringinc.com predict homeowners will turn to blonde-colored wood or wood-look flooring.

Kate Tyndall, with internationalsurfaceevent.com, agrees. “Lighter stains rule, and shiny finishes are out.”

Kitchen wall colors

The big paint companies will soon be out with their Color of the Year, but kitchen remodelers don’t seem to care. They have their own preferences, which include gray, white and off-white, brown and beige.

We’ve put together a sampling of some of the year’s most popular shades of these colors for kitchens.

Shades of gray to consider:

Gorgeous white:

Longing for a brown kitchen?

Shades of beige for your kitchen walls:

Kitchen lighting

When you shop for lighting for your 2021 kitchen makeover, keep an eye out for two styles:

According to a survey by Houzz, homeowners “… are showing interest in swing-arm and other sconce fixtures, which can add some adornment while providing needed task lighting around a sink or range.”

Pendant lights came in second on the list of Tap Warehouse’s Instagram kitchen trends in 2020. Especially if you have a kitchen island, consider adding drama, texture and color in the form of pendant lighting.

Kitchen Appliances

While stainless steel appliances remain popular, matte-finishes are gaining. This is no doubt due to both stainless’ high maintenance requirements and the attractiveness of the matte finish.

Graphite gray from Viking (see it here), Slate from GE (it’s smudge-proof!) and black stainless steel finishes all made headway in 2020 and experts predict they will gain in popularity.

Finding the right real estate agent

Like the girl and her three bears in the 19th-century fairy tale, some real estate agents are too hot or too big, some too cold or too small, but there is one who is “just right” for you.

Your job, if you hope to be successful in your home purchase or sale, is to find that agent.

Now, determining the right “fit” with a real estate agent is highly subjective. What works for you may not work for your next-door neighbor.

Sure, asking friends, family and colleagues for a referral to an agent they’ve worked with successfully is still a good idea, but, again, their agent may not be the one for you.

Which is why you should interview more than one real estate agent

A California Association of Realtors Home Buyer’s Survey finds that 64 percent of homebuyers didn’t search for real estate agent rankings.

Shocking, isn’t it?

When you consider that big chunk of money you are about to invest or earn, wouldn’t it be wise to learn about others’ experiences with the agent you’re considering?

The truth is, too many real estate consumers spend more time reading amazon.com reviews for portable chargers for their smartphones than they do checking real estate agent reviews.

Of course one shouldn’t rely solely on online reviews. Too many agents game the system and too many of those review sites are happy to award five stars as long as the agent pays them what they’re asking.

Checking reviews is just one of the tasks involved in finding the right real estate agent.

Querying folks you know, performing a Google or Bing search of the agent’s name and reading agent reviews online are all important steps.

What is critical, however, is that you give yourself a “pool” of agents to narrow down until you’ve found the perfect fit. This means interviewing more than one real estate agent to help you buy a home.

Pre-interview

Before you call even one agent, get clear on the type of person you want to work with. Think about personality, experience and professionalism because they all matter when you’ll be working so closely with a person to represent you during this life-altering purchase or sale.

The agent’s personality may not seem important, but consider that you’ll be spending a lot of time, possibly in the same car, with the agent.

Have you ever been forced into the same room with someone who you couldn’t wait to get away from? For whatever reason – a dour Dave or chatty Caroline, for instance – even a few minutes spent with them are far too many.

Once you’re clear on a good personality fit for your needs, consider if you want a solo agent or one who has a team. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

Ask yourself how much time is too long to wait for the agent to return your emails, texts and phone calls.

Speaking of which, what is your preferred method of contact? There is a sad chart, published by a Realtor association, that illustrates the preferred versus actual contact method of homebuyers.

Agents actually did well using email to contact the nearly-half of buyers who prefer that method.

Only 17 percent of buyers surveyed wanted their agent to contact them by telephone, yet 53 percent of agents chose this method to keep in touch with the client – completely disregarding their clients’ wishes.

The statistics are nearly as bad for the 30 percent of clients who chose to be contacted by text message – only 6 percent of agents indulged them.

Responding quickly to your communications is an asset for an agent, but so is using your preferred method of contact. Consider asking agents during the interview process how they typically communicate with their home-buying clients.

The interview

Choosing which agents to interview is a snap when you have a list of questions to ask during your agent interviews.

Then, test each agent.

For instance, determine how long you are willing to wait for a call-back (or email or text) from an agent. Consider this scenario: It’s a fiery real estate market where homes in your price range are being snatched up just about as soon as they hit the market.

You see your dream home online and call your agent to get an appointment to view the home. Time is of the essence.

How long are you willing to wait for a response?

So long that you lose the home? Think in terms of minutes, not hours.

Call, text or email each agent you are considering hiring.  How quickly does she or he respond? If an agent takes a long time to respond when courting you, imagine how much worse it will be once you are already committed.

Your real estate agent will be at the helm of the purchase or sale of a huge investment. Keep your vetting standards high, strategically sift the wheat from the chaff and you’ll find the perfect one.

We hope to be among those you interview. Feel free to reach out to us.

Tips for grocery shopping safety and success

One thing that the pandemic has created is a multitude of ways to shop for groceries. We can shop our favorite grocery store online and then pick up our order curbside.

We can use a delivery service such as Instacart or Amazon. And, we can still shop in person.

All of the various methods require an eye toward safety. Today we offer some tips on how to keep safe and get what you need while grocery shopping during the pandemic.

Tips for grocery shopping in person

Tip #1: Visit safe grocery stores

“Avoid small stores with poor ventilation,” Leann Poston M.D., M.B.A., M.Ed., tells shefinds.com.

Even when it comes to larger stores with adequate ventilation, some are safer than others.

Ipsos, a global research firm, sent mystery shoppers to businesses across the nation to determine “… which brands have implemented adequate health and safety measures as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread.”

Top performers included Wells Fargo Bank, Panda Express and, in the grocery store category, Whole Foods.

“Employees at 76% of Whole Foods stores visited were seen actively cleaning high touch areas, as compared to an industry average of 59%,” according to the study.

Other top performers in the grocery category include:

  • Trader Joe’s
  • ShopRite
  • Costco

Tip #2: Make a plan

To avoid impulse buying, psychologists have long recommended that we consult a shopping list while at the grocery store.

Since we now have the need for speed while in an enclosed environment, that list is even more important.

The experts at the Riverside Hospitals group suggest that you use a paper shopping list “… so you’re not touching your phone over and over again and possibly spreading germs on it before you have a chance to clean it.”

Plan on visiting the store when fewer shoppers will be there. For most grocery stores, the best time is when they open. A recent Google analysis finds that the best time to shop is Mondays at 8 a.m. Avoid grocery stores on Saturday between noon-3 p.m.

Take disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer with you on your shopping trip. Use the wipes to wipe down the shopping cart and the hand sanitizer immediately after paying.

Avoid touching products you don’t intend on buying.

Don’t forget your mask and to remain at least 6 feet away from other shoppers.

Unpack your groceries immediately upon returning home and disinfect surfaces on which you placed the bags of groceries.

Wash your hands following the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.

Tips for ordering groceries online

Tip #1 Decide if you want delivery or curbside pickup

Either method involves a shopper picking out the items on your list and both methods are deemed safer than in-person shopping.

Some grocers’ shoppers are better than others, however, and it takes trial and error to find the right one for you.

Tip #2 Give your shopper options

It happens: some of what’s on your list may be out of stock at the store. Most large grocers provide space to list alternatives should your choices be out of stock. Use this space to not only provide those alternatives but other instructions as well.

To avoid receiving a dozen eggs that will expire in three days, jot a note to the shopper asking him or her to “please check the expiration date.”

Hate overripe bananas? Let the shopper know.

Tip #3 Use best practices for safety when bringing in your groceries

“Although the FDA states there is no evidence that food packaging is a transmission point, best practice is to transfer the food out of the packaging, dispose of packaging, and thoroughly wash hands,” cautions the experts at the National Safety Council.

“Finally, clean the area where the bag or packaging was resting.”

The average American goes to the grocery store 1.6 times a week and spends 44 minutes there, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

To remain safe, you’ll need to cut that time down to no more than 30 minutes, according to Linsey Marr, PhD, aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech (New York Times).

Shop like Mom is with you. “No dillydallying.”

4 shrubs that shrug off winter’s chill

Landscapes don’t have to be barren from late fall until spring. Hardworking, evergreen, cold-hardy shrubs can lend color and texture to your yard. Some will even offer you gorgeous flowers when the weather warms up.

CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Rhodendron

With more than 1,000 species, the Rhododendron genus has a lot to offer. They can be deciduous or evergreen, depending on species.

One of the most popular types of rhododendron is the azalea. These too are either deciduous or evergreen.

When looking for cold-tolerant evergreens to take you through the winter and explode into color in spring, consider Rhododendron ‘Elviira,” (Rhododendron x ‘Elviira’) pictured above.

Hardiness: Hardy to USDA zones 4 through 8. Elviira can tolerate temperatures to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Find your zone here.

Size in maturity: 3 feet in height and 3 feet wide. A very compact, showy shrub.

Light and water requirements: Partial shade. Water when the top 3 inches of soil is dry.

By Olaf Feillinger, via CC BY-SA 2.5

Camellia

You’ll fall in love with the camellia’s glossy green leaves and then go head-over-heels when it blooms. Some call the camellia the “perfect” flower.

With hundreds of species and thousands of hybrids, you’ll have no problem finding one that is perfect for your landscape.

The most common for home gardening are C. sasangua and C. japonica.

Hardiness: Depending on species, camellia is generally hardy in USDA Zones 6 through 9. Some C. japonica species and hybrids can tolerate temperatures between 0 and minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Size in maturity: Height: 10 ft. to 13 ft. Width 5 ft. to 10 feet.

Light and water requirements: Plant your camellia in shade or partial shade and protect it from winds. Keep in mind, however, that flowering may be curtailed in deep shade. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy.

Learn more about camellia care from the American Camellia Society.

Pyracantha

Pyracantha and the winter holidays just seem to be made for one another. Also known as firethorn, this evergreen shrub bears small berries all winter long. Although the varieties with red berries are the most common, you can also find pyracantha that boast orange, white and yellow berries.

One of the questions many homeowners have is about the toxicity of the berries. “The berries have not been shown to be toxic to animals or humans, although swallowing large amounts might cause some mild stomach upset,” according to webpoisoncontrol.org.

Hardiness: Depending on species, pyracantha is generally hardy in USDA Zones 6 through 9 and temperatures as low as negative 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Size in maturity: Pyracantha can grow to a height of 15 feet and 6 to 8 feet wide.

Light and water requirements: Grow pyracantha in full sun to partial shade and provide water to keep the soil consistently moist in spring through fall. Allow the top of the soil to dry in winter.

 

By Joshua Mayer from Madison, WI, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Arborvitae

Most gardeners are familiar with the common, pyramid-shaped arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) Although they’re lovely and solve a number of landscaping problems, we prefer the compact, “globe” types.

In fact, the dwarf, evergreen varieties are so versatile, you can use them just about anywhere. Gardening experts at Southern Living magazine suggest you take a look at the ‘Tater Tot’ and ‘Mr. Bowling Ball’ cultivars.

Hardiness: Cold tolerance is cultivar-dependent, but in general, you’ll find globe arborvitae hardy to USDA zones 3 through 7. According to the experts at Missouri Botanical Garden, ‘Danica’ and ‘Hetz Midget’ can be grown in zone 2.

Size in maturity: Dwarf arborvitae grow from 12 to 24 inches in height and are intolerant of dry soil. Keep the soil evenly moist, but not saturated.

Light and water requirements: For the fullest shrub, grow the arborvitae in full sun. For the first few weeks after planting, keep the soil consistently moist. Once established, keep in mind that it’s better to underwater than overwater the arborvitae.

 

 

Final Walk-Through Checklist

Although it bears an ominous-sounding name, the final walk-through is actually a blessing for homebuyers. It typically occurs in the days leading up to closing.

This is your final chance to inspect the home to ensure that it is in the same condition as when you agreed to purchase it, that the seller has completed all requested repairs, that all personal items included in the sale are, indeed, in place and that there is no new damage to the home.

This is not an opportunity to discover issues that you hadn’t seen during past visits.

Two tips to make sure the inspection goes off without a hitch:

  • Your real estate agent should remind the buyers’ agent to ensure that all the utilities remain on. Feel free to call your agent to determine if this was done.
  • Bring along a smart phone or camera to document any issues.

Check Repairs

  • Have all requested repairs been made according to the purchase agreement? Tip: Bring along a professional to inspect the repairs.
  • Did the seller leave all permits, warranties and receipts for you?

Check Appliances and Major Systems

  • Start the dishwasher and allow it to complete the cycle while you check the rest of the home.
  • Switch on the driveway heater and allow it to warm up during your inspection.
  • Turn on the air conditioner and set the thermostat. Does the unit shut off when the room reaches that temperature?
  • Is the air conditioning unit pumping out cool air?
  • Turn on the heater and check the thermostat as you did with the air conditioning system.
  • Turn on ceiling fans and test the various speeds.
  • Turn on the hot water on all faucets. Does the water get hot?
  • Test the doorbell.
  • Test the alarm system.
  • Open and close the garage door using both the remote and the button on the wall in the garage.
  • Turn on all burners on the stove and check that the oven is functioning.
  • Test the microwave.
  • Does the gas fireplace work?
  • Flick the switch on the garbage disposer to ensure that it works.
  • Check all electric outlets to ensure they are getting power. Tip: Bring a small electrical appliance or desk lamp with you to test the home’s power outlets.
  • In California, check to make sure the water heater is properly strapped.

Is personal property included in the sale present and functioning?

  • Is the refrigerator cold? Does the freezer work?
  • Start the washing machine and allow it to cycle
  • Turn on the dryer and allow it to work long enough to determine that it gets warm
  • Check all lighting
  • Test window coverings
  • Check furnishings
  • Turn on the jets and the heater in the hot tub/spa.
  • Ensure that the play equipment or structures were left (if agreed to in the contract) and that they are in the same condition as when you made the offer to purchase the home.
  • Ensure that the seller left all the owner’s manuals for appliances and home systems (air conditioning, heating, fireplace units, alarm systems, etc.)

Windows, walls and doors

  • Are any windows cracked or broken?
  • Do the windows operate properly?
  • Do all windows have screens?
  • Are there rips, tears or other damage to the screens?
  • Do the doors open and close properly?
  • Are there any missing storm windows?
  • Check the walls from ceiling to floor for gouges, scrapes and other defects that weren’t there when you made the offer to purchase.

Mold

  • Do the windows have signs of mold?
  • Are there signs of mold or water damage under the kitchen sink?
  • Are there signs of mold or water damage in the bathroom?
  • Are there signs of mold or water damage around appliances, such as the refrigerator, washer/dryer and water heater?
  • Check the basement thoroughly for any signs of mold

Check the Home’s Exterior Features

  • Visually inspect the roof, shutters and siding on the home’s exterior. Are there any changes since you agreed to purchase the home?
  • Turn on the irrigation system and follow it around the yard to ensure there are no leaks.
  • Do all exterior lights function?
  • Did the driveway heater turn on and remain warm?
  • Test the lights and electrical outlets in the garage.
  • Shake the railings on decks, porches and stairs to make sure they don’t wobble.
  • Is all the landscaping intact?

Miscellaneous

  • Did the seller leave the remote-control devices for pool heater, ceiling fans, alarms, and garage doors?
  • Is the home clean? In most regions, homes should be left in “broom swept” condition and sellers must remove all garbage and personal property.
  • Before you leave the house: did you turn off the irrigation system, HVAC system and driveway, pool and spa heaters?
  • Has the seller left all the keys to every lock in the house, basement, garage and shed, as well as mailbox, pool, clubhouse and other miscellaneous keys if you purchased a condo.

Happy closing!

Winter brings out bargain hunters in the real estate market

Maybe it’s Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday that leads shoppers to believe that winter, in its entirety, is bargain-shopping time.

It certainly opens the door to a season of frenzied buying and that penny-pinching spills over into the housing market as well.

The media doesn’t help, when every year we read stories of how much more money a homebuyer saves when buying in winter than any other time of the year.

The winter advantage for home sellers

If you’re like many homeowners thinking of selling in winter you’ve no doubt read the gloom and doom from the media and from real estate amateurs.

It’s true that fewer homes sell in winter than in spring. This makes sense when we consider that fewer homeowners list their homes in winter.

The brave homeowners who do decide to sell find less competition from other sellers and their home is more likely to sell than at any other time of the year.

Best of all?

Winter-sold homes sell for more money and they sell quicker

How can this be?

Homebuyers are more motivated in winter

Think about it: what would motivate someone to buy a house in the dead of winter, especially in areas with wicked weather?

Job transfers are high on the list of reasons, so if you live in an area that receives large influxes of transferees, winter is a brilliant time to sell.

Back to dealing with bargain hunters

So, how should you react when you, as a home seller, receive a ridiculously low offer on your home? First, be prepared that it probably will happen.

Your response to the offer, however, depends on several things, chief among them is the type of market we’re in at the time.

Right now, we’re still in a seller’s market. This means, regardless of the amount of snow on the ground and ice on the driveway, you’re in the driver’s seat. Here are some of your options:

  • Entertain the low-ball offer by remaining firm on the price. In other words, counter the buyer’s offer stating that you want full price.
  • If you really need to sell the home sooner rather than later, counter the offer by lowering your price by a small amount.
  • Ignore the offer. We are in a seller’s market after all and there is still competition for homes in good shape and in desirable areas. If your home is in good condition and in an in-demand area, hang tight for a better offer.
  • If the buyer is requesting concessions, grant them but demand full price.
  • Accept the offer.

There are other ways to counter an offer to purchase as well, including countering the contract terms.

But, before you choose any of the responses, and depending on how long your home has been on the market, we may want to run a new check of the comparables to ensure that the market value hasn’t changed since you listed the home.

We’re happy to answer any questions you may have about selling your home in winter.

4 Ways to ace 2020 holiday shopping on Amazon

When we think of holidays, “relax” isn’t a word that readily comes to mind. There is so much to do with shopping, cooking, cleaning, visitors and more.

This year, however, we’re all pretty exhausted from trying to maneuver this “new normal” that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust upon us. We don’t know about you, but we are making a concerted effort to take the “hectic” out of the 2020 holiday season.

And that starts with shopping. Will there be the same crowds at department stores? We don’t know and we suggest not waiting to find out.

Shopping online is the way to go this year. It’s safe and convenient (if you start early).

In fact, nearly 60% of “… consumers say they plan to purchase holiday items online this year,” according to a National Retail Federation survey published in late October, 2020.

More than 40% of U.S. shoppers “… plan to buy most of their holiday gifts on Amazon this year, and 11% say they plan to buy all of their holiday gifts on Amazon,” according to another survey from Episerver.

Will you be joining them? Here are a few tips to ace your Amazon.com holiday shopping experience.

1. Don’t “wing it”

Just as we’ve been taught not to shop for groceries without a list, so it goes for holiday shopping as well.

Start with a list of names–those people that you want to gift this year.

Next comes your budget. Know the total amount you will spend on gifts this holiday season. For instance, that NRF study we mentioned earlier finds that “… consumers plan to spend $997.79 on gifts, holiday items such as decorations and food, and additional ‘non-gift’ purchases for themselves and their families …”

So, decide how much you will be spending on those items and jot down your gift budget on the shopping list you’re creating.

Take it a step further and decide how much to allocate to each person’s gift.

2. The holiday shopping season has already started

Black Friday has come and gone so you’ll want to switch into shopping mode if you haven’t done so yet.

Last year, Amazon was inundated with unhappy customers who didn’t receive their orders on time – some waited for weeks after Christmas before finally receiving them.

The company chalked up the ‘Shipageddon’ to “… winter storms as well as increased demand,” according to Nat Levy at geekwire.com.

While we did search for whether the company has plans in place to avoid last year’s problems, we were unable to find anything. So, shop early. As in right now.

Start by taking a look at Amazon’s Holiday Dash deals which they promise will offer “Black Friday-worthy deals dropping daily …,” according to Kelly Tyko at USA Today.

You can also access the deals on the Amazon app (amazon.com/holidaydash) or ask Alexa “What are your deals?” Don’t have voice shopping set up? Learn how, at Amazon.com.

3. Need gift ideas?

Check out Amazon.com’s gift guides. Or, ask Alexa for help. CNET.com offers a guide on “How to use Alexa to buy holiday gifts.”

Other places to look for ideas include:

4. Save money while shopping on Amazon

Who knew that Amazon offered coupons? It’s true and you may just find the perfect gift at a discount by checking the site’s coupon section.

You might also want to check out Amazon Renewed, where you can shop for “Like-New Refurbished Products.” You’ll find bargains on everything from smartphones to tools, gaming and more.

If you haven’t started your holiday shopping yet, what are you waiting for? These tips should help you get it all under control.