What is home equity?

You’ve heard of home equity loans, home equity lines of credit and maybe you’ve read the studies on how home equity is the pathway to wealth.

It’s one of those real estate terms that nobody bothers to explain, just assuming everyone knows what it means.

Today, we take care of that.

What is equity?

Equity is a term used in several industries. It may refer to stock, or shareholder’s equity. In real estate, equity is “… the difference between the property’s current fair market value and the amount the owner still owes on the mortgage,” according to the experts at Investopedia.com.

“It is the amount that the owner would receive after selling a property and paying any liens.”

The simple equation for equity looks like this:

Total Assets − Total Liabilities = Equity

If your home (the asset) has a current market value of $250,000 and you still owe $200,000 on the mortgage (the liability), your equity is $50,000.

Equity, by the way, isn’t fixed; it can fluctuate according to market conditions. Building equity, however, is far more common than losing it.

Building equity

On a new loan each payment you make goes primarily to pay the interest. As the loan ages, however, more of the payment goes to whittle away at the principal. Every house payment, however, builds equity.

Making a large down payment when you buy the home provides what some refer to as “instant equity.” Not only do you build instant equity with that large down payment, but your monthly payments will be smaller than they would be had you made a smaller down payment.

Another way to build equity quickly is to make larger house payments every month. “Making additional principal payments will shorten the length of your mortgage term and allow you to build equity faster,” according to the pros at AmericanFinancing.net.

They go on to offer an example: “Consider your loan amount is $300,000 with an interest rate of 4% and a 30-year loan term. If you pay $150 additional toward the principal each month, you can expect to save $40,282 and pay off your mortgage almost 5 years earlier.”

There are pros and cons to this strategy, however, so consult with your financial adviser before taking action.

Getting your hands on that equity without having to sell the home

The most obvious way to use your equity is for a down payment on a new home when you sell the current home.

But you don’t need to sell to get access to your home equity; there are numerous ways to borrow against that equity.

The home equity loan is a second mortgage. The amount of equity you borrow against creates a new loan. Each month, you’ll not only have a mortgage payment, but a second loan payment as well.

The maximum amount you can borrow with a home equity loan is typically 85 percent of the equity in your home, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Learn more about the home equity loan on their website, at FTC.gov.

A HELOC, short for home equity line of credit, is a more flexible type of loan that acts more like “… a revolving line of credit, much like a credit card,” according to the FTC’s website.

Borrow on as as-needed basis, using either a credit card (that the lender supplies) or by writing a check. “… you make payments only on the amount you actually spend, not the full amount available,” according to the FTC.

HELOCs offer tax advantages that the home equity loan doesn’t, so talk to your financial adviser to get the details.

Refinance: Refinancing is a bit like selling the home in that you’ll take out a new first mortgage, minus your equity in cash. For instance, if the market value of your home is $200,000 and you have $100,000 in equity, you can refinance the home for what you owe on the mortgage and get your equity in cash.

Remember that your home is the security for each of these solutions, so always speak with your financial advisor before making a move.

You may also want to get to know the various “Harmful Home Equity Practices” by visiting consumer.ftc.gov and learn about the Three-Day Cancellation Rule, here.

 

 

Why is Professional Photography Essential for Real Estate Listings?

We know you’ve seen them – those MLS listing photos that look like they were taken by the homeowner’s 6-year-old. Photos of messy rooms, blurry and/or dark photos and even exterior shots snatched from Google Earth.

We have clients who have refused to look at homes, based solely on the MLS photos when, in fact, we’ve seen them and they aren’t as bad as the photos make them appear.

First, it’s not the homeowner’s job to take photographs of the home – it’s the listing agent’s. Sadly, many agents will snap these photos with their smart phones or a cheap camera they bought on sale at Amazon.

We’ve read the statistics, however, and long ago we adjusted our marketing plan to include professional photography.  And, here’s why:

  • Studies show that, by and large, homebuyers looking at online listings of homes for sale won’t look at a home in person if the listing lacks photos.
  • If the listing does include photos, homebuyers decide within 20 seconds whether or not they like the property.
  • Ocular studies (following eye movements of website viewers) have found that the photo of the home is almost always the first thing viewed in a listing.

If these statistics don’t prove that a home’s presentation is paramount in getting buyers through the door, nothing does.

Another big reason to insist on professional photography comes from another study we reviewed. This one found that listings with photos taken by a pro are viewed 61 percent more than those with photos taken by an amateur.

Better yet, these homes can sell for up to about $19,000 more than the homes photographed by a novice.

Ask yourself this: If all it takes is any old photo to sell something, why doesn’t Nike use its receptionist to snap their advertising photos? Because they, like us, know better.

Professional photos speak

Professionally-shot photos create inspiration, according to Jay Groccia, a real estate photographer in Massachusetts. His interior photos, like those of our photographer’s, show not only the room, but his eye-view of the lifestyle the home offers.

So, why don’t all real estate agents use professional photographers?

In all honesty, many real estate agents (no, not all, but a lot of them) don’t take the time to keep up with real estate industry studies and think that iPhone photos or other amateur tactics are “good enough.”

Also, marketing a home requires a robust marketing budget, something most agents lack. Yes, we could go into how they are short-changing their clients by not offering the service, but that one will wait for another day.

The bottom line is, we understand that to be effective in listing and selling homes, we can’t possibly wear all the hats in our real estate practice. And, we want only the best for our clients and we aren’t willing to compromise on quality when it comes to a home’s presentation.

A home of their own is the dream of many, and we want yours to be perceived as the realization of that dream from the minute someone eyes it online. Reach out to us to learn more about our marketing services.

How to maintain healthy air quality in the home

For the past few months, we’ve been admonished to “stay home” or “shelter in place” to keep ourselves and families safe from COVID-19.

In the process of doing so, however, we’re exposing ourselves to common indoor pollutants that may be of a concentration that is comparable to a “polluted major city,” according to University of Colorado Boulder researchers.

“Even the simple act of making toast raised particle levels far higher than expected,” claims Marina Vance, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, who led the study.

Indoor pollutants are sneaky; many we can’t smell or see but may cause allergy-like symptoms, nausea, headaches and even cancer.

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to mitigate the level of pollutants in the air in your home.

First, let’s take a look at that elephant in the room

Decades ago, NASA and The Associated Landscape Contractors of America (now known as The National Association of Landscape Professionals) collaborated on a study of how plants may clean indoor air.

The results, that plants were “a promising, economical solution to indoor air pollution,” was gleefully picked up by the media and distorted into the myth that we live with today.

Yes, plants may clean the air of volatile organic compounds (VOC) such as those emitted by paint, carpeting, drywall and more.

But, only in a hermetically sealed environment, such as a space station or laboratory.

Since our homes are not hermetically sealed, houseplants offer aesthetics, not clean air.

Regardless of what they tell you on your favorite online plant store’s blog, rubber plants do not “filter formaldehyde” from indoor air and pothos won’t get rid of the benzene from the air in your home.

You can read more about this debunked study at NationalGeographic.com, Newsweek.com and ScienceDaily.com.

How does this stuff get into our homes?

Indoor pollutants have a number of ways of entering our homes. “Some are carried in on the breeze; some are carried in, unwittingly, by you,” according to Mary H.J. Farrell at ConsumerReports.org.

Carpet, furniture and other upholstered items emit pollutants. Even the paint on the walls may be a contributor. The list also includes:

  • Cleaning and personal care products
  • Central heating and cooling systems
  • Smoking in the home
  • Cabinetry or furniture made of “certain pressed wood products” (EPA)
  • Carbon monoxide fumes from an attached garage

For a more complete list, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency online at EPA.gov.

Improve your indoor air

Knowing that the air inside your home is polluted is frightening, but, as mentioned earlier, there are steps you can take to improve your air quality. These include:

  • Keeping dust to a minimum.
  • Using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
  • Mopping floors with non-toxic cleaners.
  • Have everyone remove their shoes before entering the home.
  • Routinely replace the HVAC filters in the home.
  • Maintain the air conditioning unit to help lower the amount of pollen that enters the home.
  • Ensure the home is well ventilated while cooking, cleaning with chemicals and using hobby or personal products.

The EPA’s website offers additional, in-depth information on how to lessen the negative health impacts of polluted air in the home (información disponible en español).

How to survive a multiple offer situation

We’re hearing from our clients and they’re confused; especially those who took their homes off the market or decided to put off buying a home during the shutdown.

Many are ready to jump back in but the housing market news has them confused. “The media says the market is changing but we don’t know if that is good or bad news for us,” is a common complaint.

We did a quick survey of housing market news this morning and found the following headlines:

  • High demand, low interest rates make for perfect housing market
  • Housing market looking to rebound from pandemic
  • Higher May numbers indicate recovering housing market
  • The Housing Market Will Lead the Post-COVID Economic Recovery

Overall, the market seems to have bounced back to where it was prior to the shutdown, with another competitive summer market on the way.

Still not enough homes on the market

It’s not that homeowners aren’t listing their homes for sale. In fact, in May of 2019, more than 12 million homeowners said they plan on selling their homes within the next 18 months, according to a Harris Poll.

A recent survey by a national real estate company found that 25% of homeowners who had planned on selling in 2020 have decided to put off selling their home for the foreseeable future.

More than half, however, either adjusted their listing price, took the home off the market until restrictions were lifted or haven’t changed their selling plans at all.

This is good news for inventory-hungry homebuyers who, pre-pandemic, were snatching up listings as soon as they hit the market. Many experts expect a rerun this summer.

Multiple offers – they’re baaaaack!

This is mainly due to the lack of homes for sale. Same old story, right?

Will there be multiple offer situations? There already are, in pockets, across the nation. According to yet another real estate company’s survey more than 40% of the company’s buyers faced bidding wars through early May.

Boston turned out to be the city with the most multiple offers, with San Francisco, CA and Fort Worth, TX slightly behind.

So, yes, multiple offers are becoming more common in the post-pandemic real estate market. If inventory remains low and the number of homebuyers in the market increases, as it does each summer, there is a very real possibility that you’ll meet with competition for homes in good condition.

Homebuyers need to be fully prepared to buy. This means seeing a lender and getting pre-approved for a mortgage. Lending standards have tightened, so even if you were pre-approved before the pandemic’s outbreak, you should check in with your lender to ensure that you can still qualify for a mortgage.

It also means not making any large purchases on credit or applying for new credit from the moment you obtain that pre-approval letter until you close escrow.

Here are a few other tips to put you in a more competitive position as a homebuyer:

  • Choose your real estate agent carefully. The inexperienced or part-time agent may not have the negotiating chops to help you beat other bidders to win the home you want.
  • Consider that you may need to increase your offer above asking price. Can you afford to do this? If not, vow to look only at homes at a price point that allows you to be competitive in a multiple offer situation.

We’ve helped numerous homebuyers successfully win heated bidding wars. Our techniques and strategies are proven to make your offer the most attractive to home sellers.

Spring is here, summer is right around the corner and the market is heating up. It is so important that you work with an expert team to help you navigate the process and negotiate on your behalf.

Tips to protect your dog when it’s hot outside

Baby, it’s HOT outside! Sadly, no matter how hard the media and public officials try to get the word out about how our heat kills, people either don’t get the message or don’t heed it.

I recently watched a video of a dog with heatstroke. The owner kept it in the backyard in Arizona and, as hard as they tried to cool it down, it eventually died.

Do you know how to recognize heat stroke in your dog and what to do to combat it?

The experts at PetMD claim that heatstroke in dogs is typically associated with air temperatures of 106 degrees Fahrenheit and higher.

​​It doesn’t take long for the heat to affect our pets. If you leave them outdoors, shade isn’t enough. They need lots of water too. But, really, bring them indoors. It’s the only sure way to protect them.

Look for these symptoms of heatstroke:

  • Check your dog’s tongue. If it’s deep purple or red, get help.
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Fever
  • Glazed eyes
  • Heavy or difficult breathing
  • Lack of coordination
  • Lethargy
  • Profuse salivation
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Seizure
  • Unconsciousness

How to treat a dog suffering from heatstroke

  • Move the dog to an air-conditioned area.
  • Apply cold, wet towels to the head, neck and chest or pour cool (not cold) water over the dog.
  • Use a syringe or eye dropper to give the dog tiny amounts of water.
  • See a veterinarian a.s.a.p.

How to prevent heatstroke in your dog

If you don’t think the sidewalk is hot when the weather is, bend down and touch it. Better yet, check out this chart from the National Weather Service:

  • Walk the dog early in the morning before the ground has a chance to heat up
  • Consider buying shoes for your dog (Check out the 5-star rated RoyalCare Dog Boots Paw Protectors and the summer-weight HiPaw Summer Breathable Mesh boots, both at Amazon).
  • Provide lots of shade and water when outdoors
  • Use a body vest meant to keep dogs cool (the Expawlorer Cooling Vest gets good reviews at Amazon.com as does the BINGPET Dog Cooling Jacket).
  • Use a dog cooling pad for the outdoor dog. Amazon offers the isYoung Pet Cooling Mat, which requires no electricity.
  • If you must leave the dog in your backyard, consider buying a pet pool (they’re sturdier than kiddie pools and won’t be as easily punctured by the dog’s nails) and placing it in a shady area. Introduce the dog to it so that it knows it can find relief from the heat by jumping in.

Two pools at Amazon are particularly popular PUPTECK Foldable Dog Swimming Pool AND Midlee Dog Pool.

Of course, you know to NEVER, EVER leave your dog in a car on a hot day, right? No, not even with the windows cracked.

Finally, create or buy a dog first aid kit. You never know when your dog may need help.

 

Going FSBO? Here are 3 things you must think about

If you’re a DIY type of person, the thought of selling your home without the help and expense of a real estate broker may be attractive to you.

Although selling a home isn’t exactly rocket science, there is a lot that goes on during the transaction that the layperson knows nothing about. If you insist on doing it yourself, take some time to consider some of the most challenging aspects of the process.

1. How much will you ask for the home?

Knowing the current market value of your home is the most important part of selling it.

Pricing a home too low is like taking a torch to a stack of your equity dollars and lighting them on fire.

Pricing a home too high is dangerous as well. Overpriced homes tend to sit on the market, languishing, until the price is lowered.

By that time, however, your listing is stale and real estate agents and homebuyers will assume there is something wrong with the home.

Despite being absolutely sure you want to sell the home without the aid of a real estate agent, that agent is your best bet when it comes to setting a listing price for the home.

Real estate agents compile a research report known as a comparative market analysis (CMA) for potential listing clients. It is free and there is no obligation to use the agent’s services.

Since there is always the chance that you may change your mind during the process and decide to hire an agent, interview three of them before putting the house on the market.

Use their suggested list price (they should all be roughly the same), or an average of the three as the price for your home and save the CMA from your favorite of the three agents.

This way, if you do change your mind (and the chances are good that you will, according to studies), you’ll have his or her contact information.

2. Marketing is what gets homes sold

Now that you know how much you’ll ask for the home, it’s time to determine your marketing plan: How will you get the word out to buyers that your home is for sale?

The most important step to take when compiling your marketing plan is to determine who will be your most likely buyer. Since they market homes for a living, this is something real estate agents can easily determine. For the layperson, however, it may be challenging.

Everything you do to market the home, from preparing it for the market to advertising, should be laser-focused to that group of homebuyers.

3. All that paperwork 

The National Association of REALTORS study finds that the most challenging aspect of the for-sale-by-owner process is dealing with the paperwork.

Not only will you need to locate the forms and contracts, but you’ll need to know how to fill them out correctly. Even one small mistake can be disastrous.

The wisest thing you can do, other than to hire a real estate agent, is to secure the services of a real estate attorney. Yes, it can be costly, but you absolutely need help when it comes to the legalities of the sale.

Deciding to go it alone in a real estate transaction comes with risks. If at any time you feel you’re in over your head, reach out to us – we’re happy to help.

3 FAQ on selling a home and the answers you need

You have questions and we have the answers. If you’re thinking of selling your home, read on.

1. Is there a best time of the year to sell a home?

Although homes sell year ‘round, the “best” time to sell depends on several factors. If your need is for speed, put the home on the market in winter. Surprised?

Homes for sale in winter have a 9 percent better chance of selling, they sell one week faster than during the other three seasons and they generally bring in more money. These statistics apply to all regions of the country, from the frigid northeast to balmy Waikiki.

When November rolls around, home sales tend to decrease about 8 percent. By January, we’ll have seen another 19 percent decrease. And, it only makes sense. With the media constantly harping on how winter is such a horrible time to sell, homeowners typically ride out the winter and wait until spring to list their homes.

This leaves the winter seller with less competition. And, since winter buyers are generally more motivated than those who shop during other seasons, having less competition in the market is a good thing.

The next best time to sell a home is fall, according to the National Association of Realtors. They cite the facts that fall buyers want to get into their new homes before the holidays and the weather is still conducive to house hunting.

Sure, you can put your home on the market in the busiest season, from May through August. That’s when 40 percent of all home sales occur. But, remember, you’ll have lots of competition, so if you need to sell quickly your home will need to be carefully prepared for marketing.

2. How will you determine what our price should be?

First, real estate agents don’t determine a home’s price. We can calculate its current market value and advise you of that figure or range of figures. It’s up to the homeowner to determine the home’s list price, however.

We carefully study recent sale figures and also take a look at pending sales and current listings, just to get a feel of where the market might be heading.

Comparing homes, analyzing the current market and crunching the numbers, we’ll arrive at what we feel is the current market value of the home. Our system is very much like what the bank’s appraiser will perform, although the information we provide you is not to be considered an “appraisal.” It’s merely our opinion of your home’s market value.

By the way, we offer a free evaluation of your home’s current market value. No strings attached. You are under no obligation to use our services when you list your home for sale.

3. How long will it take to sell my home?

We get this question frequently and it’s a tough one to answer. There are lots of variables to consider, including:

  • The state of the housing market
  • Your list price
  • Your real estate agent’s marketing plan

These are just three of the variables. We’re happy to discuss all of them with you, at your convenience. Feel free to contact us.

Easy-care plants that bloom all summer long

Think summer blooming plants are high maintenance? Think again; many plants offer up copious and colorful blooms, asking for little in return.

We’ve consulted with the experts to find easy-care plants with dependable summer bloom periods to share with you.

Happy planting!

Blanket Flower

The blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora), a prolific bloomer, is related to the sunflower.

And, if you’re hoping to attract butterflies into the garden this summer, blanket flower is the plant for you.

Flowers resemble daisies and bloom in red, yellow and orange. To keep them coming, deadhead (remove spent flowers) the plant regularly.

You’ll find few pests, other than aphids. Use insecticidal soap spray to defeat the little buggers.

Blanket flower is hardy to USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 through 9.

Candytuft

Yes, it resembles alyssum, but candytuft (Iberis spp.) is alyssum on steroids. Like alyssum, candytuft hugs the ground and spreads. Unlike its lookalike, however, candytuft bears fragrant flowers. Use it as a border specimen, on slopes or in containers.

Although it’s an easy-care plant, ensure that the soil it’s planted in drains well and, if you live in a dry climate, provide shade in the afternoon and keep an eye on the soil’s moisture content. Candytuft is hardy to USDA zones 3 through 9.

Canna

You’ll often hear the canna (Canna spp.) described as a “canna lily,” despite the plant not being related to lilies. Canna is a genus that includes 10 species of spectacularly flowering plants. Although its large leaves and colorful flowers evoke the tropics, cannas are perfectly suited to more temperate zones.

Speaking of foliage, some varieties have leaves as colorful as the flowers, in hues of red, purple and even variegated.

Plant your canna rhizomes in early summer in an area that receives lots of sunshine and has well-draining soil.

To get them to remain in bloom all summer, give them at least one inch of water per week – more if the weather is particularly warm. Deadhead by cutting the tall flower stalk down to the foliage to encourage the canna to rebloom.

Canna is hardy to USDA zones 8 through 11.

 Daylily

If you’re a beginning gardener, you can’t go wrong with the daylily (Hemerocallis spp.) They require little care and the payoff is an abundance of gorgeous flowers, all summer long.

In fact, “some will even give 800 flowers in a single summer!” according to American Meadows, an online plant nursery.

Depending on variety, daylilies bloom in shades of red, yellow, orange, pink, purple and even variegated flowers.

Plant your daylily in an area that receives at least 6 hours of sun per day and plan on keeping the soil somewhat moist. Add compost to the soil when planting and you won’t need to fertilize the plant at all.

Daylilies are hardy to USDA zones 3 through 9.

Pelargonium

Like the aforementioned canna, when you grow pelargonium (Pelargonium spp.) you have the added bonus of attractive foliage.

Two of the most popular include Pelargonium x hortorum (which may be labeled at the nursery as a “zonal geranium”) and P. peltatum, also known as ivy geranium for its cascading habit.

Despite the nicknames, neither of these plants is a true geranium, although they do look similar.

Pelargonium look amazing in containers or in beds and require little care as long as you incorporate lots of organic matter into the soil at planting time and protect them from high summer heat by providing shade in the afternoon.

Water when the soil is dry to about an inch deep and deadhead throughout the season to ensure continuous bloom.

Shasta Daisy

If you’re looking for a summer bloomer that will provide flowers to cut, consider growing the Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum × superbum). Known as “the classic summer flower,” it’s a low-maintenance bloomer through fall.

If you are looking for something for the cut-flower garden, this is it. Grow in full sun and provide an inch of water a week.

 

Buying and selling homes is alive and well during the pandemic

As a real estate consumer, you need to know that the housing market is currently one of the bright spots in the U.S. economy.

Surprised? You’re not alone.

Sure, the processes have changed a bit and some lenders have changed their lending standards, but overall, the real estate market looks very much like the pre-pandemic market.

If you’re considering buying or selling a home in the near future, read on to learn about some of the changes.

The national market, in a nutshell

While March and April home sales plummeted, there are nuggets of wonder in the rest of the statistics.

Want to hear something surprising? Demand for homes is higher now that it was before the lockdown and prices continue to rise.

In fact, homebuyers vastly outnumber sellers in the current market. “More than 41% of homes faced a bidding war in the four weeks ending May 10,” according to Diana Olick at CNBC.com, citing a recent study.

For comparison, only 9% of homes for sale experienced bidding wars in January, pre-U.S. pandemic.

To add to the excitement, “mortgage applications from buyers jump 11%,” according to the folks at CNBC.com.

The authors add that they expect the frenzy to continue as the lockdown is eased. Perhaps then those wanting to sell will jump back into the market. We need homes to sell to these eager buyers.

Speaking of mortgages

With the volume of forbearance request rolling in, mortgage lenders decided enough was enough and began tightening lending standards.

Down payment requirements are higher and some have upped their minimum credit score requirement.

JP Morgan Chase & Co., for instance, announced that it is raising the minimum credit score they will accept to 700 and increased the minimum down payment from 3.5% to 20%.

Since Chase is the nation’s largest lender, others are following suit.

“Wells Fargo and US Bank both adjusted their minimum score requirement to 680 (including for FHA and VA loans, which typically feature credit-score requirements as low as 580),” according Natalie Campisi at Inquisitor.com.

If you are considered a credit risk, the best thing to do is work on your credit score. Check back here in the next week or two when we’ll be showing you some quick ways to raise your score.

Thinking of selling? You need to know about this

If you are thinking of selling, let’s get that home on the market sooner, rather than later, and here’s why:

“Home prices will hold up, at least through the summer, but declines are coming,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics tells Bloomberg.com’s Noah Buhayar, Prashant Gopal, and John Gittelsohn.

If you’re in forbearance, you may also find challenges to getting the home sold if you wait. It turns out that the section of the Fair Credit Reporting Act that was amended by the CARE Act has a glitch.

While the CARE Act requires lenders to report mortgages in forbearance as current, many lenders are labeling these mortgages as being in forbearance when they submit them to the credit reporting agencies.

FHA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Department of Veterans Affairs don’t allow those in forbearance to obtain a new loan or even refinance until at least one year after they’re caught up on payments.

If you decide to sell, you’ll be able to take advantage of the sellers’ market that is happening right now.

More questions about buying or selling real estate during the pandemic? Reach out to us – we love to talk about real estate!