What you need to know about discrimination in mortgage lending

Despite what the media wants us to believe, the U.S. has come a long way since the days of the rampant and blatant discrimination in lending practices we witnessed in the 1930s.

Unfortunately, we still have a rather large patch of ground to cover.

According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Urban Economics, mortgage loan discrimination often begins well before the acceptance or rejection of a loan application – often during the preliminary stages.

For example, a 2016 study, published in the Journal of Urban Economics, showed that loan officers ignored emailed questions from African Americans 1.8 percent more often than those from white applicants, which is “equivalent to the effect of having a credit score that is 71 points lower.”

The truth is, despite landmark court decisions and studies, there is still discrimination in lending against Americans of color, in some parts of the country.

What is discrimination in lending?

When lenders violate one of two federal laws, the Fair Housing Act or the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), they are guilty of discrimination.

The Fair Housing Act lists seven methods of discrimination that are illegal:

  • Familial status
  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • National origin
  • Disability

Some Americans are exempt from the law. These include:

  • An owner who lives in a building with four units or less.
  • Any owner of three or fewer single-family homes who does not use the services of a licensed broker when a property is sold or rented.
  • Any dwelling owned or operated by private clubs or organizations to which one must be a member to live there.

The ECOA, on the other hand, is specific to those who offer credit. It forbids discrimination against not only the Fair Housing Acts protected classes but also on the basis of whether an applicant receives public assistance, marital status and age.

Lenders are free to ask you for some of this information, but only under certain circumstances and never are they allowed to ask your religion.

The laws apply to any lender who loans the money to a consumer to purchase, repair, build or improve a dwelling. It also applies to selling, renting, appraising and brokering real property.

The anti-discrimination laws must be applied equally to all mortgage applicants and the lending industry, more than others, is tasked with ensuring that their policies do not exclude or burden those in protected classes, according to the Federal Fair Lending And Credit Practices Manual.

How to protect yourself against mortgage discrimination

Many Americans are confused about their rights and the laws that protect these rights. Discrimination in lending practices, although sometimes blatant, can be evidenced in more subtle ways.

In fact, according to the FDIC, U.S. courts have indicated three types of proof of mortgage discrimination:

  • Overt discrimination
  • Disparate treatment – Described as “when a lender treats applicants differently based on one of the prohibited factors”
  • Disparate impact – “when a lender applies a practice uniformly to all applicants but the practice has a discriminatory effect on a prohibited basis and is not justified by business necessity”

The disparate treatment and disparate impact proofs are so subtle that you’ll need to know the warning signs. The Consumer Financial Protect Bureau has some tips for you:

  • The lender tries to discourage you from applying for a mortgage.
  • You notice different treatment in person than on the telephone or in emails.
  • You are qualified yet the lender rejects your application.
  • The lender doesn’t supply you with a reason for rejecting your application.
  • You are treated differently in person than on the phone.
  • The interest rate you are offered is higher than that for which you originally applied and you are certain you qualify for the lower rate.

Then, shop among several lenders. Not only will this help you find the best rates and terms, but any offer that is blatantly discriminatory will stand out among the others.

What to do if you think you’re a victim of mortgage discrimination

The first step to take if you feel you’ve been discriminated against is to bring it to the attention of the lender, claims Nikitra Bailey of the Center for Responsible Lending, at nerdwallet.com.

Then, start filing complaints. Your state’s attorney general should be notified and you can find out how to do that at naag.org.

Then, file complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Sure, it’s easy to take the best lending offer and ignore the lender who is discriminating. By filing a complaint, however, you are helping to protect others from illegal lending practices.

A few things to consider before purchasing waterfront property

If your dream is to live on the water, you’re not alone. Lake or riverfront living is the dream of many and, if you own a boat, it’s understandable that you want to buy a home with a place to keep your “baby.”

Let’s take a look at a few things to consider before shopping for waterfront property.

Do you need to shore up the shoreline?

Erosion is always a concern when water laps against land. Have the homeowners done anything to stabilize the shoreline, such as planting native vegetation, install riprap and retaining walls?

In the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” the experts at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources discourage both riprap and retaining walls. They do say, however, that sometimes these installations are necessary.

Will you need flood insurance?

Even if you live in a low-risk area, the pros at the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) suggest that you carry flood insurance.

“If you live in an area with low or moderate flood risk, you are 5 times more likely to experience flood than a fire in your home over the next 30 years,” they claim.

Because homeowners’ insurance doesn’t cover flood damage, if you live inside or in close proximity to an area with a high risk of flood, purchase flood insurance.

Flood insurance is required by law if you have a federally-regulated mortgage. To find out if you do, go online to MarketWatch.com and scroll to the paragraph that begins with “Now, for the Quiz Answer.”

Some states require those in high-risk areas to carry flood insurance as do most lenders.

To learn the risk of flood damage for your home, enter your address here, at FEMA.gov.

Ensure that your boat type and size is allowed

Most states with waterfront residential property impose restrictions on the types and sizes of watercraft allowed on the lakes and rivers. Check with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for restrictions.

Dock considerations

If the home you have your eye on doesn’t have a boat dock and you plan on installing one, you’ll need to determine what’s allowed in the area. What type? How big? These are all questions that either that the DNR and city officials can answer.

Living on the water is a dream for many homebuyers but it’s important to learn all you can about waterfront living before placing an offer to purchase.

Still haven’t found your dream home? Consider a fixer-upper

Have you made your wish list of all the things you crave in a new home?

If you have, you may wonder if there’s a home on earth that has all those features, at a price you can afford. Probably not, but in cases like this, it’s time to change the way you shop.

Start looking at ugly homes.

Surprised? Homes that need work, or “fixers” as they are called in the real estate industry, are the ideal choice for the picky homebuyer, and here’s why:

  • They are less expensive than homes in move-in condition.
  • There is typically less competition in the fixer market.
  • You can customize the home to fit your home-buying wish list.
  • You may be able to buy in a more expensive neighborhood, which will help boost the home’s value when it’s repaired.
  • Financing options are quite attractive.

“In some markets, buying a fixer can really be a game changer, bringing the typical single-family home into reach for a median-income household,” says Realtor.com’s Cicely Wedgeworth.

Shopping for a fixer

Shopping a fixer-upper house for sale may be challenging at first. Remember, these homes are typically not very attractive so you’ll need to learn how to look at them in a different light.

Forget trying to picture yourself living in the home now – picture instead what the home will be like when you’ve transformed it.

The most important aspect of fixer-upper shopping is to find a floor plan that most closely fits your needs without having to knock down too many walls.

While removing a non-load-bearing wall may cost between $2,000 and $3,000, ripping out a load-bearing wall costs $1,200 to $3,000 for a single-story home.

If the home you purchase has more than one story that price jumps to between $3,200 and $10,000, according to the folks at HomeAdvisor.com.

As you can see, the floor plan is key when looking at fixers.

Two professionals you simply must have on your side when shopping in the fixer market include a real estate agent to help you negotiate and a contractor, for obvious reasons.

Financing the fixer-upper

Once you decide on a home, unless you’ll be paying cash for it and for the rehab work you’ll need to get financing. Unlike in years past, today there are several attractive options.

Our favorite programs are the FHA 203(k) loan, the Freddie Mac Home Possible® mortgage and Fannie Mae’s HomeStyle® Renovation Mortgage. Although these programs have different qualification guidelines they all basically offer the same thing: They permit borrowers to wrap the rehab work into the financing for the home.

One loan covers both. With the FHA program you won’t need to start making mortgage payments until you actually move into the home.

This is a significant money and time saver. First, having just one loan means you’ll save on closing costs. With all three programs, the loan amount is typically based on the value of the property when the work is completed.

The process is complicated, we must warn you, but with the right contractor and real estate agent, buying a fixer-upper property may just be the best investment you’ve ever made.

First Time Homebuyer Guide

Although the real estate market was sent reeling for a moment under the weight of the pandemic, it didn’t take long for the industry to adapt to a “new normal.”

The housing market is still one of the brightest spots in the U.S. economy and still a wise investment strategy for everyday Americans.

Buying your first home brings with it a plethora of emotions, from excitement to apprehension. Once you understand the process, and realize that there are specific steps to take, it becomes a lot less anxiety-filled and much more exciting.

Let’s take a look at the baby steps that will take you from deciding to purchase a home to the closing table with the least amount of hassle.

How is Your Credit?

Figuring out where you stand financially and applying for a mortgage are the first steps on the road to home ownership. First, think about your credit. If you haven’t checked it in awhile, it’s a good idea to get your reports from the three major credit reporting agencies.

Every U.S. adult is guaranteed one free credit report annually from each of the three major reporting agencies. They are not automatically sent out; you need to request them.

While the internet is full of sites that offer free credit reports, there is often a catch.

“For example, some sites sign you up for a supposedly “free” service that converts to one you have to pay for after a trial period,” warns authorities with the United States Federal Trade Commission.

“If you don’t cancel during the trial period, you may be unwittingly agreeing to let the company start charging fees to your credit card.”

Therefore, they suggest that you use the only company they authorize: AnnualCreditReport.com.

Go over the reports first to look for errors. Take the time to fix any errors before applying for a mortgage.

How are Your Finances?

Knowing where you stand financially is vital to knowing how much you can comfortably spend on house payments every month.

So, step number two involves sitting down with all your bills and determining how much money you bring in and how much goes out every month.

You’ll also need some money set aside for the down payment and closing costs. Some sellers can be persuaded to help with closing costs but it’s not a guarantee you’ll find one, so make sure you have from 2 to 4 percent of the purchase price for closing costs.

Shopping for a Home Loan

Finding a lender willing to lend you the money for a home puts you in a strong negotiating position with home sellers. The lender will let you know how much of a loan you’ll get, at what rate and supply you with a letter of pre-approval.

Shopping for lenders is important so that you can compare rates and terms. And don’t be mislead by the stated loan rate if you’re shopping online. Compare the annual percentage rates (APR) and the fees of each lender.

Lenders will supply you with a loan estimate in a format that is easy to compare with the estimates of other lenders.

NOW you can go home shopping!

Just as soon as you compile your wish list, that is. Write down everything you want in your new home. Of course, you most likely won’t get it all, but it’s important to get clear on what you want.

Go over the list and remove anything you feel is just too unrealistic for your situation. Then, rearrange the list so that the three most important items are at the top.

These three items are your priorities and you should share them with your agent. This way, you’re only shown homes that fit your criteria, saving both your time and ours.

Next, choose a neighborhood. If you’re new to the area we are happy to help you with this step. We have extensive knowledge of all of our local communities, including schools, parks and other amenities.

When you have several neighborhoods in mind, we can go shopping for your new home!

Farms for Sale – What You Need to Know Before You Buy a Farm

For folks not raised on a farm, life on one typically starts as a dream. The whole notion of escaping city life for the wide-open spaces and self-sufficiency of farm life is intriguing to many.

If you’re thinking that farm livin’ is the life for you, it’s time to get better acquainted with the process of purchasing one.

Types of Farms for Sale

Two basic types of farms exist in America: family farms and corporate farms.

Corporate farms deal with large-scale food production while family farms are independently owned and operated and typically much smaller operations.

The type of product they produce further categorizes farms:

  • Dairy farms produce milk
  • Truck farms produce vegetables
  • Orchards are farms that grow nuts and fruits
  • Vineyards grow grapes for wine
  • Tree farms grow trees for the lumber industry, nurseries and other uses
  • Organic farms grow fruit and vegetables without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and instead rely on techniques such as using green manure and crop rotation.

Obviously, then, what you want to produce will weigh heavily on your choice of where to farm and what type of land you require.

Land Considerations

To grow crops successfully requires, at its most basic, sunlight, soil and water. Unless you have the funds to deforest a piece of wooded property, its lack of sunlight makes it unsuited to farming, unless you plan on starting a ginseng farm.

The next consideration is the soil. The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Cooperative Soil Survey website provides soil data, including maps and other information for more than 95 percent of U.S. counties. The easy-to-use site provides vital soil information including type, class, drainage and even yield information for certain crops and livestock.

If your dream is to farm organically, invest in professional soil testing to look for heavy metals and other items that may prevent you from engaging in organic production.

Plants don’t grow without water, so naturally your next step is to investigate the property’s water sources and rights. Pumping water for irrigation may be one of your highest expenses, according Mesquite, NV real estate agent Chris Miller, so being aware of the property’s water sources, the acre-feet per year requirements of your crops and other water issues is imperative to making an educated offer on the property

In fact, one of the most common problems in the farm transaction occurs “when a buyer does not understand the complexity of water law,” according to Oregon State University small farm extension agent Melissa Matthewson. A savvy real estate specialist, with local experience, knows what to ask and will be your best ally during the process.

Finally, consider the land’s topography. Unless you’ll be engaging in dry-land farming, you’ll need relatively flat land for your crops.

Infrastructure

Chris Miller says that any an appurtenance to the land, such as fences, corrals, barns and other outbuildings are typically included in the appraisal of the property and in the purchase. Although not typically used in the appraisal, sometimes equipment and machinery is included in the sale as well.

Financing Your Farm

The Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation (Farmer Mac) is the largest source of source of secondary agricultural loans. While not a direct lender, Farmer Mac also purchases the guaranteed portion of USDA loans.

To qualify for a Farmer Mac I Farm and Ranch Program loan, the land must be used as security, the loan can’t exceed the program’s maximum loan amount, the property must meet certain appraisal criteria and the borrower must be credit-worthy. You’ll find the requirements on Farmer Mac’s website.

Another source of good information is the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency website. Here you’ll find information on various loan programs and plenty of educational resources.

Whether you hope to buy a farm to supply your local farmer’s market with produce every weekend or you’re dreaming of becoming the next Old McDonald, go into the process armed with as much knowledge as possible and the right real estate agent and you can’t go wrong.

Appraisal problems in a hot real estate market

Real estate markets aren’t static. But, when a market is as “hot” as the current one, it presents problems for homebuyers and sellers.

When a lender’s appraiser visits your home, he or she will gather all the information needed to compare it to other homes that have recently sold to determine its value.

This method is known by several names, most commonly, the Sales Comparison Approach or Market Data Approach.

For this method to produce reliable results, however, the market must be active, with enough recent sales to use as “comparables.”

When a market is overactive, with home prices rising rapidly, such as the current market, problems also arise. When a home sells, prices may rise between that sale and the time your home hits the market.

But there is no comparable sale for the appraiser to use. Does he or she base the value of your home on the pre-price rise sales? Sadly, the answer is yes.

“The strongest indicators of current value are those comps which have closed within the past 90 days,” according to the experts at JVMLending.com.

“Pending sales and listings are only used on the appraisal report to show what the current market is doing; appraisers do not consider these comps in their final opinion of value,” they conclude.

Here’s a common scenario

Joe and Janet listed their home, located in a desirable school district. There was immediate buyer interest in the home and offers began rolling in.

A bidding war ensued, with anxious buyers offering more than list price in their attempts to win the home.

Joe and Janet were naturally thrilled. Until, that is, the appraisal results came in and the home didn’t appraise for the amount the chosen buyer offered.

When historical data lags the market’s reality, agreed-upon prices and appraised value often don’t match, Mark Johnson, president of LRES Corporation tells HousingWire.com’s Alex Roha.

According to The National Association of REALTORS®, more than one-fourth of offer prices are higher than the appraised value.

So, what is the solution?

One way to mitigate the challenges of a red-hot housing market is to get your ducks in a row before the appraisal.

Take stock of any upgrades and other improvements you’ve made to the home. Create an itemized list of them, the dates they were performed, by whom and include a copy of all invoices.

Put these in a file folder along with a short narrative of why a nearby home may have sold for less than it should have (if you are privy to this information).

For instance, if Mary down the street had to quickly get to a new city to take a job so she was willing to take a loss on the sale of her house, the appraiser should have this information.

If you won’t be home for the appraisal, leave the folder, clearly labeled “For the Appraiser,” in an area where he or she can’t miss it.

Why?

Roja claims that “All appraisal experts were in agreement that a lack of communication is a breaking point for the expectations of what the home is worth in collateral.”

He goes on to state that, according to Joni Pilgrim, CEO of Nationwide Appraisal Network, “… 99% of the time, there are zero details about the subject property prior to the appraisal.”

Don’t leave the discovery of the details of your home to chance. Ensure the appraiser knows all the positives about the home.

If all else fails

If the appraisal of your home comes in lower than the agreed-upon price, the buyer can challenge the appraisal.

His or her real estate agent will do most of the work here, including putting together a list of more recent comparable properties, a copy of everything in the folder you left for the appraiser and anything else that might justify the price the buyer offered.

Fiery real estate markets such as what we’re experiencing are a dream come true for sellers, unless prices are rising so fast that the market can’t keep up. Hopefully, our suggestions will help if you get into a low appraisal situation.

There’s more to buying a home than taking on a monthly mortgage payment

There are good reasons that homebuyers are counselled to see a lender early in the homebuying process. Yes, he or she will let you know if you qualify for a mortgage and, if you do, you’ll be given a preapproval letter to submit with an offer to purchase.

But, you’ll also find out how much you can borrow and how much you can afford to spend every month on your house payments.

That lender will expect to be paid for lending you money and will be paid, at closing. And, that’s just the beginning of the additional costs to buying a home that many homebuyers aren’t aware of. Let’s take a look at some of these so you aren’t caught unaware as you take on the process.

The initial outlay

We’ve found that many of our homebuying clients assume that the down payment on the loan is required upfront.

In reality, the lender won’t ask for it until later in the process, but some lenders will want to see “seasoned funds,” meaning money that has been in an account for some time, typically 60 days or longer.

Then, when you find a home that you want to purchase, the seller will expect the purchase agreement to be accompanied by what is known as an “earnest money deposit.”

While there is no set amount required for an earnest money deposit, we tell our clients to expect to submit a check for up to $1,500. This money is held in escrow and will be deducted from the sale price at closing.

According to a study conducted by Porch.com, 88% of homebuyers have the home inspected.

This is another upfront cost (payable at the time of service) and the nationwide average price of a home inspection is $336 but it may be between $200 and $500 depending on the size of the home and other factors.

If the home inspection report shows problems with the home, you may want to hire a specific specialist to investigate and quote a price to fix it. This, too will need to be paid for at the time of the service.

What you’ll need at closing

As mentioned earlier, prior to closing, the lender will expect you to pay your down payment and that amount depends on the price of the home and the type of loan you’ve acquired.

Conventional lenders typically require 20 percent of the loan amount while FHA-backed loans offer several different down payment options, depending on the borrower’s credit score.

The VA loan, specific to military members and their widows or widowers, offer no down payment loans while Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, offer several different programs.

Shortly after applying for a mortgage, your lender will supply you with a Loan Estimate, which will give you a general idea of what to you’ll pay in closing costs.

These numbers, by the way, are estimates. The Closing Disclosure that you’ll receive shortly before closing is the final statement of the terms of your loan and how much you’ll need to pay in closing costs.

In general, closing costs typically equal between 2 percent and 5 percent of the loan amount.

We are happy to answer any questions you may have about the closing process. Or, view the information available online at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website.

But, that’s not all

Welcome to the world of homeownership! Instead of paying rent every month, you’ll be paying your mortgage payment. This payment is divided up to pay portions of the loan’s principal, interest, taxes and homeowner insurance.

The cost of mortgage insurance will be taken out of your monthly house payment as well, if you paid less than 20 percent down.

If your home is in a community managed by a homeowner association, you’ll pay fees or dues and, possibly, assessments. Dues are commonly paid on a semi-annual basis but some HOAs require monthly or quarterly payments.

The toughest transition from being a tenant to a homeowner is the loss of the landlord.

Surprised? Sure, it’s a relief to get out from under a landlord’s restrictions on what you can and cannot do in your home. But what you’ll miss most as a homeowner is your landlord’s deep pockets.

When a pipe springs a leak or the HVAC system dies, the cost of repairs fall on you. Then, there are all the costs of maintaining a home so that you’re not faced with these emergency repairs in the future.

Many financial experts recommend the 1% rule: As a cushion against the unexpected, set aside at least 1 percent of the home’s value each year.

In our real estate practice, we find that far too many homebuyers, especially first-timers, don’t receive the information they need to make smart decisions – something that won’t happen when you work with us.

 

Most common defects found during the home inspection

There are two points in every home sale that have both the buyer and the seller chewing their fingernails: the appraisal and the home inspection. The results of either may lead to the reopening of negotiations, slowing down the transaction.

Today we’re going to show you three of the most common problems found during home inspections. Each has easy, DIY solutions that you can undertake before putting your home on the market.

1. Exterior caulking and sealer are missing

By far, the most common home inspection problem is insufficient or missing caulk and/or sealer.

Caulk, applied at joints, around windows and nail holes prevents moisture from entering the home at these points.

It also helps keep out bugs and helps with insulating the interior of the home.

Sealing exterior wood and concrete surfaces is important to extend their lives. There are a number of products on the market that will help you with this. See the list at Homedepot.com.

Caulking and sealing are simple jobs, yet more than 16.25% of the homes in the survey had missing caulk and sealers.

2. Doors need adjusting 

It’s easy to get used to problems with doors. A handle that can only be turned one way to open the door? Rather than fix it, a new habit is born – we just get used to turning it the wrong way to open it.

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. About 15.4% of home inspections surveyed had door problems.

Lots of little door problems are treated the same. Go through the home and test all the doors. Fixes are typically easy DIY projects that you can get done before the home inspector arrives.

Loose door handle

Door knobs and handles with exposed screws are a cinch to fix by tightening the screws with a screwdriver.

Those with hidden screws are a little more challenging.

The experts at PJ Fitzsimmons say to “… locate the button on the side of the door knob and use a screwdriver to push it in and pull the knob off. Then, use the screwdriver to press the release notch and release the cover plate. After that, you’ll be able to tighten the screws.”

The sticking door

“First, try cleaning the hinges to remove any dirt and build-up and then tighten them down with a screwdriver,” suggests the pros at PJ Fitzpatrick, a home improvement company located in Newcastle, Delaware.

Didn’t work? Find the part of the door frame where the door gets stuck and sand it down.

The door that swings open or closed

This one is truly annoying but an easy fix.

Remove the hinge pin and slightly bend it. TheFamilyHandyman.com offers a walkthrough of the project to help.

If you prefer a video walkthrough, check out David’s Tutorials on YouTube.com.

Stuck deadbolt

This is one of the easiest door fixes of them all. If the deadbolt takes a lot of muscle to turn or is downright stuck, try lubricating the keyhole with something like WD40 or a Teflon lubricating spray.

Insert the key and turn, remove and repeat. After several repetitions, the problem should be fixed.

3. Problems with faucets

Nearly 15% of the home inspections surveyed by RepairPricer.com had a problem with at least one faucet.

Leaky, dripping faucets are another easy DIY fix. The most difficult part is determining what’s making it leak.

“Inside every faucet is a collection of rubber gaskets, washers, and O-rings,” according to Chris Deziel at Landlordology.com.

He goes on to suggest that these are the seals that keep water from leaking out. The most common dripping problem can be traced back to a worn seal.

HomeAdvisor.com offers walkthroughs of how to do the fix by faucet type.

Deziel adds that “… you might, on occasion, have to replace a chipped or cracked valve seat or cartridge.”

Curious about what else made the list of common home defects that show up in home inspections?

  • Faulty switches or electrical outlets
  • Cracks or other cosmetic issues in the sheetrock
  • GFCI deficiencies
  • Light fixture problems
  • Smoke alarms out of date or not working properly
  • The lot doesn’t drain properly
  • Exposed nails and problems with shingles

Home buying 101

Wouldn’t it be great if high schools and colleges actually taught real-world concepts? The phrase “Kids don’t come with an owner’s manual” wouldn’t exist and first-time homebuyers would understand the ins and outs of the process completely. We can’t help you with the kid stuff but you’ve come to the right place to learn the basics of buying a home.

How many homes are for sale?

The inventory of homes available to you will depend on the time of year that you shop for a home and the current market conditions. Homeowners sell homes all year, regardless of the season. That said, more homes are listed in spring and summer than in fall and winter.

The condition of the current housing market bears heavily on the area’s inventory of available homes. When there are lots of other buyers in the market and few homes for sale, we are in a sellers’ market.

This happens for a number of reasons, but the most common is the economy. Low interest rates bring lots of homebuyers to the market, which tends to heat up fast. Home prices begin to rise because of supply and demand.

During a buyers’ market, on the other hand, lots of folks decide to sell their homes yet few are willing to buy. Again, the economy has much to do with this.

Emotions are for tear-jerker movies, not houses

Every day during the course of business, I watch people fall in love with houses. Sometimes it’s an irrational type of love, wasted on a home that is nothing even remotely resembling what they say they want.

At other times, my client has found the “dream home,” and, because of emotions, caution flies right out the window.

The best way to approach the purchase is as an investment. After all, homes offer dual advantages – both as shelters and as investment vehicles.

This is a lot of money you’re about to spend so the least emotional you can be during the process, the better for your pocketbook.

Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally

Algebra – remember trying to learn that one? The reason it’s so challenging for some people is that human beings have a tendency to want to take short cuts.

Sometimes this tendency leads us to success, but at others, like when we try to do the addition portion of an algebraic equation before the multiplication, it dooms us to failure.

The acronym for the home-buying process would be far too long to mess with so, consider the following akin to PEMDAS for algebra.

  • Save money for the down payment and closing costs.
  • Get your finances in order. Look at income and outgo. Determine your DTI (visit ConsumerFinance.gov to learn more), check your credit and fix any problems with it.
  • Get a loan preapproval letter.
  • Choose some neighborhoods that you like and can afford to purchase a home in.
  • Decide what you want in a home and compile a wish list.
  • Hire a real estate agent (there is no cost to you; the seller pays the agent’s commission).
  • With your agent, view homes for sale.
  • Make an offer (based on current market conditions).
  • When you submit an offer to purchase, closely follow the timelines in the contract (we’ll help you with this).
  • Have the home professionally inspected.
  • Buy homeowner insurance.
  • The final walk-through.
  • Closing.

Remember, house hunting isn’t a contest, nor is it a race. The ideal home for you is out there and it may take some time to find it. But if you prepare for the purchase, keep your emotions in check and follow the steps, you will be successful.

So, relax; we’ll be beside you the entire time.

Spiff up your home’s landscaping for an Autumn sale

How does an extra 5 to 11% of your home’s selling price sound? Michigan State University researchers found that “… a good landscape adds 5 to 11% to the perceived value of a home.”

Your landscaping is one part of your home’s “curb appeal,” and if it’s attractive and eye-catching, it can go a long way to distracting potential homebuyers from other, negative aspects of the home’s exterior.

And the appearance of the exterior is critical when it comes to compelling potential buyers to want to see what’s inside the home.

Let’s take a look at your front yard and the improvements that the researchers suggest to increase the value of the home.

Sophisticated designs add the most value

Sophisticated landscaping is balanced. The researchers explain balance in a landscape where “… no element overwhelms the others.”

The hardscape (anything that isn’t growing, such as a birdbath, statuary, etc.) is in balance with the natural elements and the number of large trees doesn’t overwhelm the number of shrubs and other plants.

The survey found that a home with only a lawn in the front yard, offered at $300,000 would bring $315,000 to $330,000 if the landscaping was more sophisticated.

Diversity isn’t only about people

The diversity of landscape elements was second on the list of most valuable features, according to the Michigan State University study.

Balance the colors, of plants and hardscape, to achieve this diversity.

Add pops of color to break up the monotony of an all-green landscape or, in autumn, all the fall colors. If your trees are gold and maroon, add some white flowering annuals, or blue hardscaping (a birdbath, colored gravel or cobalt planting pots, etc).

Big trees are popular

Any tree on the property will add value to the home, according to an Arbor Day Foundation study. In fact, the study found a 15% increase in home value when trees are present.

Some landscape elements detract from the home’s value

When shopping for plants for the front yard, keep in mind that homebuyers don’t like yards with only small plants. If this describes your yard, consider the purchase of at least one tall tree. It may just help you maintain your asking price for the home.

While your front yard landscaping isn’t the whole ball of wax when it comes to curb appeal, it’s one of the most important aspects.

Soon, we’ll discuss other ways to spruce up the home’s exterior to ensure those buyers get out of the car and into the home.