4 Things Proactive Homeowners Do in September

Fall’s cooler temps are perfect for deck and yard improvements.

Do This Now September illustration
Image: Simone Golob/Offset

Ah, September. The weather is changing, and we’re getting back to our normal, post-summer routines.

It’s also a great time to give the house a little extra love and maintenance.

Stain the Deck

Resealing a deck in September
Image: Mark and Luzy Gunter-Smith

Help your deck field what winter throws at it by re-staining it this month. September’s cooler temps and lower humidity make it the ideal time for this project.

Check Fire Extinguishers

Illustration of fire
Image: CSA Images/Mod Art Collection/Getty

According to the Red Cross, fires increase in the fall and winter. Keep your home fire safe by getting your fire extinguishers checked by a certified professional. Fire extinguishers do break down and malfunction. In fact, after six years they need to be emptied and reloaded. If you haven’t already, buy one for each floor — and the garage.

Spruce Up the Yard

Garden path lined with bushes alive with fall colors
Image: Kate McMillan of Cultiverity, LLC

Aerate your lawn, reseed or fertilize it if needed, and plant perennials and shrubs (often on sale now). Your lawn will green up faster after winter, and the shrubs and perennials will have a chance to establish roots before the first freeze.

Inspect Your Home’s Exterior

Black roof on stone brick home with copper gutters
Image: Photo by Merrill Interior Resources, roof by Tile Pro Roofing, Inc.

Spending money on roof repairs is no party, but neither is handing out buckets to the family to catch leaks in a winter storm. Inspect your roof — and other big-ticket items, like siding, grading, and gutters — before you’ve got problems. You’ll cut costs by fixing them now and stay dry and warm all winter long.

The Everything Guide to Buying Your First Home

How to find exactly what you want, and how to work with the experts who’ll help you get it.

Home buying steps illustration
Image: HouseLogic

So you’re thinking about buying your first home. Your very own house (and mortgage). A place to call — and make — your own.

It’s a big move, literally and figuratively. Buying a house requires a serious amount of money and time. The journey isn’t always easy. It isn’t always intuitive. But when you get the keys to your new home — that, friend, can be one of the most rewarding feelings pretty much ever. 

The key to getting there? Knowing the home-buying journey. Knowing what tools are at your disposal. And most importantly? Creating relationships with experts who can help you get the job done.

That’s where this guide comes in. We’ll show you not only the major steps you’ll take during the home-buying process, but also explain the relationships and experts you’ll need along the way. We’ve even made a handy infographic that outlines the home-buying process from start to finish. 

You ready to live the dream? Here we go. 

Do Your Homework

Oh sure, everybody wants to jump right into open houses. But before you even set foot into a foyer, you should identify your list of “musts” and “wants.” This list is an inventory of priorities for your search. And there’s so much to decide: Price, housing type, neighborhood, and school district — just to name a few.

To get yourself grounded, we recommend filling out this brief worksheet.

Start Shopping

Once you know what you’re looking for, the next step is to start looking at listings and housing information online. (This part? You’re going to crush it.)

Find a Great Agent

Your relationship with your real estate agent is the foundation of the home-buying process. (And your agent = your rock.) He or she is the first expert you’ll meet on your journey, and the one you’ll rely on most. That’s why it’s important to interview agents and find the agent who’s right for your specific needs.

Choose a Lender

Once you’ve found your agent (AKA, your new best friend), ask him or her to recommend at least three mortgage lenders that meet your financial needs. This is another big step, as you’ll be working with your lender closely throughout the home-buying process.

Pick a Loan (It’s Not So Bad)

Once you’ve decided on a lender (or mortgage broker), you’ll work with your loan agent to determine which mortgage is right for you. You’ll consider the percentage of your income you want to spend on your new house, and you’ll provide the lender with paperwork showing proof of income, employment status, and other important financials. If all goes well (fingers crossed) you’ll be pre-approved for a loan at a certain amount. (Sweet.)

Visit Open Houses, and Look Around

Now that you have both an agent who knows your housing preferences and a budget — and a lender to finance a house within that budget — it’s time to get serious about viewing homes. Your agent will provide listings you may like based on your parameters (price range, ZIP codes, features), and will also help you determine the quality of listings you find online. Then comes the fun part: Open houses and private showings, which give you the unique opportunity to evaluate properties in a way you can’t online.

Make an Offer

Once you find the home you want to buy, you’ll work with your agent to craft an offer that not only specifies the price you’re willing to pay but also the proposed settlement date and contingencies — other conditions that must be agreed upon by both parties, such as giving you the ability to do a home inspection and request repairs.

Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate

Making an offer can feel like an emotional precipice, almost like asking someone out on a date. Do they like me? Am I good enough? Will they say yes? It’s stressful! Some home sellers simply accept the best offer they receive, but many sellers make a counteroffer. If that happens, it’s up to you to decide whether you want your agent to negotiate with the seller or walk away. This is an area where your agent can provide real value by using their expert negotiating skills to haggle on your behalf and nab you the best deal.

Get the Place Inspected

If your offer is accepted, then you’ll sign a contract. Most sales contracts include a home inspection contingency, which means you’ll hire a licensed or certified home inspector to inspect the home for needed repairs, and then ask the seller to have those repairs made. This mitigates your risk of buying a house that has major issues lurking beneath the surface, like mold or cracks in the foundation. (No one wants that.) Here’s what to expect.

Ace the Appraisal

When you offer to buy a home, your lender will need to have the home appraised to make sure the property value is enough to cover the mortgage. If the home appraises close to the agreed-upon purchase price, you’re one step closer to settlement — but a low appraisal can add a wrinkle. Not one you can’t deal with. Here’s how to prepare.

Close the Deal

The last stage of the home-buying process is settlement, or closing. This is when you sign the final ownership and insurance paperwork and make this whole thing official. There’s some prep work you have to take care of first.

When it’s all said and done — break out the rosé. You’ll have the keys to your new home!

Home Buying and Selling During the Pandemic: What You Need to Know

Resources to help you navigate the new real estate normal.

Technology and good-old-fashioned creativity are helping agents, buyers, and sellers abide by COVID-19 health and safety practices while getting deals done.

Some buyers are touring houses virtually. Others visit in person while remaining at least six feet from their agent. Sellers are hosting open houses on Facebook Live. Appraisers are doing drive-by valuations. Buyers are watching inspections via video call. Masked and gloved notaries are getting signatures on doorsteps.

“We have had to make some adjustments, for sure,” says Brian K. Henson, a REALTOR® with Atlanta Fine Homes / Sotheby’s International Realty in Alpharetta, Ga. “Everyone is trying to minimize face-to-face interactions. There have been some delays, but mostly, deals are getting done, just with tweaks.”

Here’s what home buying and selling during the pandemic looks like.

Showings Go Virtual

The rules around in-person showings vary by city, county, and state. Some allow them and some ban them. Check with your state, county, and local government to get the latest on business closures and shut-down rules.

Agents have conducted home tours via FaceTime and other similar tools for years. But these platforms have proven invaluable for home buying and selling during the pandemic. Real estate sites report a surge in the creation of 3D home tours. Redfin, a real estate brokerage, saw a 494% increase in requests for video home tours in March.

“I’ve done several FaceTime showings,” says Henson. He conducted virtual showings before COVID-19, too. He recently closed a deal on a home the buyers only saw on video, he says, but hasn’t yet done so during the pandemic.

In places where in-person showings are allowed, agents wipe down door handles, spray the lockbox with disinfectant, and open up the house, closets, everything for a client. “We leave all the lights on so no one touches switches, and we don’t touch cabinets or doors during showings,” Henson says.

Safe-Showing Guidelines

The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, which produces HouseLogic, recommends only one buyer enter a home at a time, with 6 feet between each guest. NAR also recommends agents have potential buyers wash their hands, or use hand sanitizer when they come in the door. They should also remove their shoes. No children should be present at showings, either.

“We’re living in extraordinary times and unusual circumstances. If you have the ability to work, you have to be creative,” Mabél Guzmán, a Chicago real estate agent, told NBC News. Guzmán, who is also vice president of association affairs for NAR, has put together a video offering tips and strategies for virtual showings during the pandemic.

Down Payment Help

Many organizations offering down payment assistance to first-time home buyers have temporarily suspended the programs or changed the rules. You can check the status of programs in your area at the Down Payment Assistance Resource site.

Desktop, Drive-By Appraisals

Appraisers are essential workers in many areas, so home valuations are continuing. But often remotely. New, temporary rules from the Federal Housing Finance Authority allow drive-by and desktop appraisals for loans backed by the federal government.

In a desktop appraisal, the appraiser comes up with a home estimate based on tax records and multiple listing service information, without an in-person visit. For a drive-by, the appraiser only looks at the home’s exterior, in combination with a desktop appraisal. The Appraisal Foundation has put out guidelines for handling appraisals during the pandemic. Here’s the FAQ.

And here are specific new appraisal guidelines by agency:

On the other hand, some private lenders still require in-person appraisals, which are allowed even in areas with shutdown orders. Private lenders hold about 35% of first-lien mortgages, according to the Urban Institute

When appraisers come to your home, they should adhere to Centers for Disease Control guidelines, including wearing gloves and a face mask, keeping at least 6 feet apart from anyone in the home, and asking if the homeowners have been sick or traveled recently to a COVID-19 hotspot.

Inspections Via Live Video

Inspectors are now often working alone, no buyers in tow, and using hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes. The National Association of Certified Home Inspectors advises inspectors to videotape their inspection so clients can watch it at home later, or to use FaceTime or other live video chat apps to take their clients along on the inspection, virtually. They can also call clients with their findings after they’re done.

The American Society of Home Inspectors has also issued guidelines for inspectors so they keep themselves and the homeowners safe while providing an accurate assessment of a home’s condition.

Mortgage Rates and Locks

With mortgage rates fluctuating quickly and closing times taking longer than usual, some lenders are extending mortgage rate lock periods. You can grab a good rate and hang on to it even if your lender takes longer than usual to process your loan.

But the protocol depends on the lender and the loan. Some lenders are offering this for all loans; others for refis. Check with your lender about its policy.

Employment Verification

An important step in getting a mortgage is proving the borrower has a job. In pre-coronavirus days, lenders called the borrower’s employer for a verbal verification.

The Federal Housing Finance Authority, which oversees Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and federal home loan banks, has relaxed the rules for loans backed by the federal government because so many businesses are closed.

Lenders for federally backed loans now accept an email from an employer, a recent year-to-date paystub, or a bank statement showing a recent payroll deposit as proof of employment.

Walk-throughs

Home buying and selling during the pandemic means real estate agents can conduct the final walk-through via video with their clients. Or they can just open the home and have buyers walk through on their own. Henson says he still accompanies his clients, but stays six feet away and has them wash their hands when entering and exiting the house. Everyone’s wearing masks, too.

And, of course, when the buyers take possession, they should disinfect.

Remote Notarization Depends On Where You Live

About one-half of states have permanent remote online notarization (RON) policies. These allow a notary and signer in different locations to sign electronic document, usually by use of video apps like Zoom or FaceTime. Notaries will watch you sign either a paper document or do an electronic signature on an e-doc, via camera.

Some states have rolled out temporary rules allowing RON. Here’s a state-by-state list of notary law updates, and the type of remote notarizations allowed. The number of states allowing remote notarization could grow as federal and state pandemic legislation expands.

Closings Get Creative

Traditional closings, where everybody gathered around a big table to sign the final papers, are no longer possible. Title companies and banks are getting super creative in dealing with the limitations.

A Minnesota company, Legacy Title, rolled out a drive-thru closing service at one of its offices in an old bank branch building. The title company rep sits in a bank teller window and handles the closing papers while the customer sits in their car. Legacy completed 14 closings in the first week it offered drive-thru service.

Then there are drive-by closings, where the entire transaction takes place in cars. Masked and gloved notaries meet buyers in parking lots and pass documents through car windows.

“I had a closing where the buyer sat in her car the whole time. The attorney came out to her car, gave her paperwork, had her sign in her car, and my buyer never got out of her car,” Birmingham, Ala., agent Isaac McDow told WBRC television.

Says Georgia-based agent Henson, “I’ve had closings the last three weeks [that] I’ve been asked not to attend. There was one where the seller signed two days before buyer. Then the seller came back two days later and signed.”

Henson, who is also licensed in New York, has had to extend closing dates on two sales there since. Co-op boards won’t let non-residents into buildings ­­­– not even an electrician who needs to make repairs as part of an issue that came up in the inspection. He left the closing with an open-ended date.

“It’s all about being really flexible right now,” he says.

TIP: Find out if your county recording office can complete the deal online.

Student Loan Relief

Finally, if you’re also trying to swing your student loan payments, know that federal student loan borrowers get an automatic six-month break in loan payments from April 10, 2020, through Sept. 3, 2020. Thanks to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, they also won’t be charged a dime of interest in that time.

Learn more at the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s site.

Keep in mind that payment suspension only applies to federal loans owned by the Department of Education. Some help may be available to borrowers with private student loans and other loans (like Perkins Loans and Federal Family Education Loans) that aren’t covered. But it’s not automatic. Reach out to your student loan servicer for information.

So, Should You Buy or Sell?

The real estate industry is creatively and safely responding to the situation, and mortgage rates remain low. Your agent is a great source of information about home buying and selling during the pandemic to help you feel comfortable. But, ultimately, it’s a question only you can answer

Different Ways to Invest in Real Estate

By INVESTOPEDIA Updated May 12, 2020TABLE OF CONTENTSEXPAN

When you think about real estate investing, the first thing that probably comes to mind is your home. Of course, real estate investors have lots of other options when it comes to choosing investments, and they’re not all physical properties.

Rental Properties

If you invest in rental properties, you become a landlord—so you need to consider if you’ll be comfortable in that role. As the landlord, you’ll be responsible for things like paying the mortgage, property taxes, and insurance, maintaining the property, finding tenants, and dealing with any problems.

Unless you hire a property manager to handle the details, being a landlord is a hands-on investment. Depending on your situation, taking care of the property and the tenants can be a 24/7 job—and one that’s not always pleasant. If you choose your properties and tenants carefully, however, you can lower the risk of having major problems.

One way landlords make money is by collecting rent. How much rent you can charge depends on where the rental is located. Still, it can be difficult to determine the best rent because if you charge too much you’ll chase tenants away, and if you charge too little you’ll leave money on the table. A common strategy is to charge enough rent to cover expenses until the mortgage has been paid, at which time the majority of the rent becomes profit.

The other primary way that landlords make money is through appreciation. If your property appreciates in value, you may be able to sell it at a profit (when the time comes) or borrow against the equity to make your next investment. While real estate does tend to appreciate, there are no guarantees.

Historical Prices

Real estate has long been considered a sound investment, and for good reason. Before 2007, historical housing data made it seem like prices could continue to climb indefinitely. With few exceptions, the average sale price of homes in the U.S. increased each year between 1963 and 2007—the start of the Great Recession.

This chart from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows average sales prices between 1963 and 2019 (the most recent data available).1 The areas that are shaded in light grey indicate U.S. recessions.

Average Home Sales
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Of course, the most significant downturn in the real estate market before the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with the Great Recession. The results of the coronavirus crisis have yet to be seen. Amid closures, social distancing, and staggering unemployment numbers, it’s likely that home sales will decline significantly. While that doesn’t necessarily mean home prices will follow suit, it will at a minimum change the way people buy and sell real estate—at least in the short-term.

Flipping Houses

Like the day traders who are leagues away from buy-and-hold investors, real estate flippers are an entirely different breed from buy-and-rent landlords. Flippers buy properties with the intention of holding them for a short period—often no more than three to four months—and quickly selling them for a profit.

The are two primary approaches to flipping a property:

  1. Repair and update. With this approach, you buy a property that you think will increase in value with certain repairs and updates. Ideally, you complete the work as quickly as possible and then sell at a price that exceeds your total investment (including the renovations).
  2. Hold and resell. This type of flipping works differently. Instead of buying a property and fixing it up, you buy in a rapidly rising market, hold for a few months, and then sell at a profit.

With either type of flipping, you run the risk that you won’t be able to unload the property at a price that will turn a profit. This can present a challenge because flippers don’t generally keep enough ready cash to pay mortgages on properties for the long term. Still, flipping can be a lucrative way to invest in real estate if it’s done the right way.

REITs

real estate investment trust (REIT) is created when a corporation (or trust) is formed to use investors’ money to purchase, operate, and sell income-producing properties. REITs are bought and sold on major exchanges, just like stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

To qualify as a REIT, the entity must pay out 90% of its taxable profits in the form of dividends to shareholders. By doing this, REITs avoid paying corporate income tax, whereas a regular company would be taxed on its profits, thus eating into the returns it could distribute to its shareholders.

Much like regular dividend-paying stocks, REITs are appropriate for investors who want regular income, though they offer the opportunity for appreciation, too. REITs invest in a variety of properties such as malls (about a quarter of all REITs specialize in these), healthcare facilities, mortgages, and office buildings. In comparison to other types of real estate investments, REITs have the benefit of being highly liquid

Real Estate Investment Groups

Real estate investment groups (REIGs) are sort of like small mutual funds for rental properties. If you want to own a rental property but don’t want the hassle of being a landlord, a real estate investment group may be the solution for you.

A company will buy or build a set of buildings, often apartments, then allow investors to buy them through the company, thus joining the group. A single investor can own one or multiple units of self-contained living space. But the company that operates the investment group manages all the units and takes care of maintenance, advertising, and finding tenants. In exchange for this management, the company takes a percentage of the monthly rent.

There are several versions of investment groups. In the standard version, the lease is in the investor’s name, and all of the units pool a portion of the rent to guard against occasional vacancies. This means you will receive enough to pay the mortgage even if your unit is empty.

The quality of an investment group depends entirely on the company that offers it. In theory, it is a safe way to get into real estate investment, but groups may charge the kind of high fees that haunt the mutual fund industry. As with all investments, research is key.

Real Estate Limited Partnerships

real estate limited partnership (RELP) is similar to a real estate investment group. It is an entity formed to buy and hold a portfolio of properties, or sometimes just one property. However, RELPs exist for a finite number of years.

An experienced property manager or real estate development firm serves as the general partner. Outside investors are then sought to provide financing for the real estate project, in exchange for a share of ownership as limited partners. The partners may receive periodic distributions from income generated by the RELP’s properties, but the real payoff comes when the properties are sold—with luck, at a sizable profit—and the RELP dissolves down the road.

Real Estate Mutual Funds

Real estate mutual funds invest primarily in REITs and real estate operating companies. They provide the ability to gain diversified exposure to real estate with a relatively small amount of capital. Depending on their strategy and diversification goals, they provide investors with much broader asset selection than can be achieved through buying individual REITs.  

Like REITs, these funds are pretty liquid. Another significant advantage to retail investors is the analytical and research information provided by the fund. This can include details on acquired assets and management’s perspective on the viability and performance of specific real estate investments and as an asset class. More speculative investors can invest in a family of real estate mutual funds, tactically overweighting certain property types or regions to maximize return.

Why Invest in Real Estate?

Real estate can enhance the risk-and-return profile of an investor’s portfolio, offering competitive risk-adjusted returns. In general, the real estate market is one of low volatility, especially compared to equities and bonds.

Real estate is also attractive when compared with more-traditional sources of income return. This asset class typically trades at a yield premium to U.S. Treasuries and is especially attractive in an environment where Treasury rates are low.

Diversification and Protection

Another benefit of investing in real estate is its diversification potential. Real estate has a low and, in some cases, negative, correlation with other major asset classes—meaning, when stocks are down, real estate is often up. This means the addition of real estate to a portfolio can lower its volatility and provide a higher return per unit of risk. The more direct the real estate investment, the better the hedge: Less direct, publicly traded vehicles, such as REITs, are going to reflect the overall stock market’s performance.

Some analysts think that REITs and the stock market will become more correlated, now that REIT stocks are represented on the S&P 500.

Because it is backed by brick and mortar, direct real estate also carries less principal-agent conflict, or the extent to which the interest of the investor is dependent on the integrity and competence of managers and debtors. Even the more indirect forms of investment carry some protection. REITs, for example, mandate that a minimum percentage of profits (90%) be paid out as dividends.

Inflation Hedging

The inflation-hedging capability of real estate stems from the positive relationship between gross domestic product (GDP) growth and demand for real estate. As economies expand, the demand for real estate drives rents higher, and this, in turn, translates into higher capital values. Therefore, real estate tends to maintain the purchasing power of capital, bypassing some of the inflationary pressure onto tenants and by incorporating some of the inflationary pressure, in the form of capital appreciation.

The Power of Leverage

With the exception of REITs, investing in real estate gives an investor one tool that is not available to stock market investors: leverage. If you want to buy a stock, you have to pay the full value of the stock at the time you place the buy order—unless you are buying on margin. And even then, the percentage you can borrow is still much less than with real estate, thanks to that magical financing method, the mortgage.

Most conventional mortgages require a 20% down payment. However, depending on where you live, you might find a mortgage that requires as little as 5%. This means that you can control the whole property and the equity it holds by only paying a fraction of the total value. Of course, the size of your mortgage affects the amount of ownership you actually have in the property, but you control it the minute the papers are signed.

This is what emboldens real estate flippers and landlords alike. They can take out a second mortgage on their homes and put down payments on two or three other properties. Whether they rent these out so that tenants pay the mortgage, or they wait for an opportunity to sell for a profit, they control these assets, despite having only paid for a small part of the total value.

The Bottom Line

Real estate can be sound investment, and one that has the potential to provide a steady income and build wealth. Still, one drawback of investing in real estate is illiquidity: the relative difficulty in converting an asset into cash and cash into an asset.

Unlike a stock or bond transaction, which can be completed in seconds, a real estate transaction can take months to close. Even with the help of a broker, simply finding the right counterparty can be a few weeks of work. Of course, REITs and real estate mutual funds offer better liquidity and market pricing. But they come at the price of higher volatility and lower diversification benefits, as they have a much higher correlation to the overall stock market than direct real estate investments.

As with any investment, keep your expectations realistic, and be sure to do your homework and research before making any decisions.

What You Should Really Know About Browsing for Homes Online

It’s fun! It’s exciting! It’s important to take everything with a grain of salt!

Shopping for houses online illustration
Image: HouseLogic

Oh, let’s just admit it, shall we? Browsing for homes online is a window shopper’s Shangri-La. The elegantly decorated rooms, the sculpted gardens, the colorful front doors that just pop with those “come hither” hues.

Browser beware, though: Those listings may be seductive, but they might not be giving you the complete picture.

That perfect split-level ranch? Might be too close to a loud, traffic-choked street. That handsome colonial with the light-filled photos? Might be hiding some super icky plumbing problems. That attractively priced condo? Miiiight not actually be for sale. Imagine your despair when, after driving across town to see your dream home, you realize it was sold. 

So let’s practice some self-care, shall we, and set our expectations appropriately. 

  • Step one, fill out our home buyer’s worksheet. The worksheet helps you understand what you’re looking for. 
  • Step two, with that worksheet and knowledge in hand, start browsing for homes. As you do, keep in mind exactly what that tool can, and can’t, do. Here’s how.

You Keep Current. Your Property Site Should, Too

First things first: You wouldn’t read last month’s Vanity Fair for the latest cafe society gossip, right? So you shouldn’t browse property sites that show old listings.

Be First Through the Door

Ask your agent to send you automated emails from their MLS with new properties that meet your specs.

Get the latest listings from realtor.com®, which pulls its information every 15 minutes from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), regional databases where real estate agents post listings for sale. That means that realtor.com®’s listings are more accurate than some others, like Zillow and Trulia, which may update less often. You wouldn’t want to get your heart a flutter for a house that’s already off the market.

BTW, there are other property listing sites as well, including Redfin, which is a brokerage and therefore also relies on relationships with brokers and MLSs for listings.

The Best Properties Aren’t Always the Best Looking

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. But what they don’t say is a picture can also hide a thousand cracked floorboards, busted boilers, and leaky pipes. So while it’s natural to focus on photos while browsing, make sure to also consider the property description and other key features.

Each realtor.com® listing, for example, has a “property details” section that may specify important information such as the year the home was built, price per square foot, and how many days the property has been on the market.

Ultimately though, ask your real estate agent to help you interpret what you find. The best agents have hyper-local knowledge of the market and may even know details and histories of some properties. If a listing seems too good to be true, your agent will likely know why.

Treat Your Agent Like Your Bestie

At the end of the day, property sites are like CliffsNotes for a neighborhood: They show you active listings, sold properties, home prices, and sales histories. All that data will give you a working knowledge, but it won’t be exhaustive.

To assess all of this information — and gather facts about any home you’re eyeing, like how far the local elementary school is from the house or where the closest Soul Cycle is — talk to your real estate agent. An agent who can paint a picture of the neighborhood is an asset.

An agent who can go beyond that and deliver the dish on specific properties is a true friend indeed, more likely to guide you away from homes with hidden problems, and more likely to save you the time of visiting a random listing (when you could otherwise be in the park playing with your canine bestie).

Want to go deeper? Consider these sites and sources:

Just remember: You’re probably not going to find that “perfect home” while browsing listings on your smartphone. Instead, consider the online shopping experience to be an amuse bouche to the home-buying entree — a good way for you to get a taste of the different types of homes that are available and a general idea of what else is out there. 

Once you’ve spent that time online, you’ll be ready to share what you’ve learned with an agent.

4 Bottom-Line Tips to Decide: What Is the Value of My Home?

Here’s how to price your home to sell fast.

Your home is more than just a bunch of rooms under a roof. It’s the space where you watched your daughter take her first steps, hosted Super Bowl parties, and celebrated holidays. Those memories are priceless. But when sell your house, the warm and fuzzies can’t factor into the question: What is the value of my home?

You aren’t selling your memories; you’re selling a house.

This is where an agent can help. You’re the one who will set your listing price, but your agent has the expertise and local knowledge to advise on how to price your house so it doesn’t languish on the market.

#1 Don’t Go High Out The Gate

You think your house is great. The problem is sellers often think their house is so great that they list at too high of a price and miss the window of sales opportunity that comes with a new listing.

“By listing too high, you lose your most important leverage and timing because it’s new,” says Ali Evans, an agent in Santa Barbara, Calif. “If you overprice it, you miss out on all those buyers.”

The longer your house sits on the market, the less likely you are to get your asking price. Because buyers expect there’s a deal to be made on a house that’s been on the market for months. 

“If something doesn’t move in the first 30 days or so, then people start thinking that they’re not going to be paying full price any longer,” Evans says.

Bottom line: Listen to your real estate agent about home value, because she knows how to price your home to sell fast. She’s looking at all of the comp prices and knows what the competition is like in your market. 

#2 Don’t Assume Upgrades Will Get You A Higher Price 

You renovated your kitchen after you watched too many episodes of Property Brothers. You looooove the way your reno turned out, because your kitchen is now stunningly modern, as kitchens on HGTV are. Everyone else will love it too, right? So you want to push up the listing price.

Don’t be so sure everyone else will pay big bucks for it, Evans says.

“Upgrades that are done in very specific taste can be tricky. Updates that are neutral are going to appeal to a lot of people will see more value,” she says. “But upgrades don’t always equal value.”

In fact, research from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® shows you might recoup 59% of your costs, based on a national average, on a complete kitchen upgrade.

In other words, just because you put $65,000 into your kitchen renovation doesn’t mean you can list your home for an additional $65,000. Your agent can help you assess the market value of your upgrades and answer the big question, What is the value of my home?

#3 Don’t Set A Dollar Amount You Need To Make

Having an idea of what you want to earn from your house sale is fine, because you’re looking at your home as the giant investment that it is. But pricing your home so that you will make a certain amount of money is the wrong approach.

The number you have in your head may not be in line with the market. This is where doing research on the housing market comes in handy, as well as listening to your agent. 

“Make sure you understand the logic behind the price your agent suggests,” Evans says “It’s important to not be frustrated that it’s $20,000 below where you want to price it, and understand the thought process.”

Your agent will research the market to see what other houses in your area are selling for. He also knows the market, the inventory of houses for sale, and how your home compares to others in the area.

If you’ve listed the home too high, and you’re not getting any bites, don’t be afraid to do a price correction, Evans says. Lowering the price shows buyers you’re realistic and motivated. Adjusting the price is a key part of knowing how to price your home.

#4 Don’t Let Emotions Get The Best of You

For most people, selling a home is emotional. Whether you’ve lived in your house for four years or 40, you’re attached to it.  But it’s important to not let your emotions drive you to price your house for more than it’s worth. 

Listen to your agent on how to price yourhome. His cool-headed knowledge of the market and real estate inventory will be a wiser guide for pricing than your irrational love for the bay window in the living room, the restored hardwood floors, and the way the light shines in your beloved sunroom in the morning.

“Pricing can’t be an emotional thing,” Evans says. “It needs to be based on market analysis, which is why an outside perspective is important.”

When you ask yourself, ‘what is the value of my home,’ think with your head, more so than your heart.

HOUSELOGIC

HouseLogichelps consumers make smart, confident decisions about all aspects of home ownership. Made possible by REALTORS®, the site helps owners get the most value and enjoyment from their existing home and helps buyers and sellers make the best deal possible. 

5 Tricks to Rejuvenate a Run-Down Patio on a Budget

Is your patio oh so shabby? These super-easy projects will make hanging outside fun again.

Yellow chair with potted plant
Image: GoodMood Photo/Shutterstock

Oh, your poor, sad patio. Not a comfy seat to be had, and that cracked concrete . . . well, it probably looked really great when disco was king. 

Whether you love to entertain friends or bask in the sun with a cocktail and a novel, here are five easy ways to inject new life into your little corner of nature.

#1 Stop the Pests that Make Your Patio Look Untidy

Pine cones in a garden bed
Image: Anne Arntson for HouseLogic

It’s hard to enjoy your patio if it’s covered in debris scattered by the wind or by critters with a penchant for digging and trampling. Stop critters with the humble pine cone — instead of regular mulch.

Those spiny cones will deter pests and mischievous pets.

And chances are your plants will LOVE them because they acidify the soil. Showstopper plants like azaleas and rhododendrons will burst with color.

Pine cones also decompose slowly, so you won’t be constantly re-upping your supply — saving you time and money. In most parts of the country, you can easily find them for free.

#2 Pop Some Color on that Concrete Patio

Gray and white painted concrete patio floor
Image: Jill Bennett

Rejuvenate that dilapidated patio with color in a can.

Try painting it a bold, bright color or a fun pattern, like chevron. You can also mimic the appearance of upscale stone patios with just a bit of paint and some stamps.

If you want to let your creative juices flow, try mimicking a carpet or even a game board, such as Twister. At the very least, a new coat of concrete stain will give that tired concrete a fresh look.

#3 Ditch the Rust But Not the Furniture

Bright red and green painted patio furniture
Image: SerendipityRefined.com

Lounging on your patio, cocktail in hand, requires something to lounge on.

But if that secondhand chaise you bought post-college is covered in rust, you’re not going to be relaxing on it in your summer whites anytime soon. But replacing it is expensive — and a waste! Give it a rust-busting makeover, instead.

There are several ways to remove rust.

If the damage isn’t too extensive, the job can be as simple as scraping it off. Use a wire brush, sandpaper, or steel wool — and a bit of elbow grease — to scour it away.

For less effort, use a drill with a wire brush attachment.

For more extensive rust issues, you can use an acidic agent like vinegar to help with the removal. Or use a chemical rust converter (such as Rust-Oleum), which actually changes the rust into a different substance and protects against future rusting, adding years to your chaise’s lifespan.

Paint over the treated spot and that chaise will be right back to its glory days and ready for you in your white shorts.

#4 Create Outdoor Storage

If a dumpy layer of clutter and scattered pots make your patio look sad, consider adding DIY storage to keep all of your outdoor whatnots neat and tidy.

“Storage can be as important outdoors as it is indoors,” says Keith Sacks, a professional landscaper (he’s VP of the landscaping company Rubber Mulch). 

One of his favorite solutions is super easy and fun:

Paint wooden crates (about $10 each) to match your patio (or try a bright, fun, contrasting color) and add a sealant to weatherproof the wood. Arrange them to create attractive, rustic storage. Glue the crates together and attach wheels to the bottom if you want to be able to move it around.

#5 Build a Fire Pit — No Tools Needed

Sometimes the best way to distract from a patio that needs some love is by drawing attention to a feature that does nothing but delight.

A mini fire pit can serve as an arresting visual focal point while adding more fun and function to your patio.

Creating your own outdoor s’more-making oasis doesn’t have to take much time or money. Try DIY blog Young House Love’s super-cheap, pint-sized pit, which requires only heat-resistant pavers (also called fire bricks), which cost about $5 per stone.

Stack two layers of them in a small circle about six bricks in circumference on top of a stone slab, and there you have it: a mini fire pit.

Make sure your patio is constructed with fire-safe materials before attempting this project (sorry, wooden deck lovers!) and that you follow local fire codes.

Time to grab a few marshmallows!

Author photo of writer Jamie Wiebe

JAMIE WIEBE

Jamie Wiebeis a writer and editor with a focus on home improvement and design. Previously, she worked as a web editor for “House Beautiful,” “ELLE Decor,” and “Veranda.”

How to Hire a Real Estate Agent — and Be Their Best Client Ever

Being a good partner to the agent you pick will make you both happier house hunters.

When you buy a home, your agent is effectively a business partner. You’re both working toward the same goal: Closing a real estate deal. That’s why it’s in your best interest to to know both how to hire a real estate agent and how to build a good relationship with them.

Because the better an ally you are, the better an ally your agent will be. Here’s how to pick a real estate agent and work well with them.

1. Know What You Want

A lot of home buyers dive into the house hunt with no idea what they want, so the first and best way to be a good client is to know exactly what you’re looking for in a house.

Ask yourself a couple of basic questions. What’s my budget? What type of house do I want, single family or town home? Is there a design style I must have? A neighborhood I need to be in?  

Knowing these specifics – and telling them to your agent – will help him find homes that match your criteria. Because neither you nor your agent wants to waste time looking at dozens of houses that aren’t even close to what you have in mind.

“Over-communicating your intentions and goals is a really good idea,” says Ashton Gustafson, an agent with the Bishop Group in Wichita Falls, Texas. 

Knowing exactly what you want can help you know how to pick a real estate agent, too. Some agents specialize in certain neighborhoods, and some specialize in old houses or particular architectural styles.

2. Meet Agents In Person

It’s fine to start off your relationship with an agent via email, text, and phone, but before you hire him to work with you, set up a meeting. Yep, do a face-to-face interview.

It’s a good idea to interview three agents before picking one. Here are some questions you should ask:

  • How long have they been an agent?
  • What neighborhoods do they specialize in?
  • How many homes they’ve helped people buy in the last year?
  • How many clients are they’re currently working with?

Meeting in person can help both sides determine compatibility and establish trust. To the agent, meeting them IRL is a sign you’re serious about buying.

“When I ask a question of a buyer, if I can’t see their face (then) I can’t see their reaction, and I have no idea if I’m really getting the emotions that are behind their answers,” says Jackie Leavenworth, an agent and real estate industry coach in Cleveland, Ohio.

3. Set Up Expectations for Communication

Tell your agent how you’d like to stay in touch during the buying process.  Do you do prefer texts? Facebook messenger? Or do you like old-fashioned phone calls (Telephone calls: Still a thing!)

Tell them how often you expect to hear from them, too. Daily? Weekly? And tell them the best times of day to reach you, too.

“My successful buyers ask what kind of communication they’ll have with me,” says Thai Hung Nguyen, an agent with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Premier in Washington, D.C. “My answer to them is always, ‘It’s totally up to you.’” 

4. Be Respectful

Be mindful of an agent’s time. Don’t flake on showings. Be prompt.

If you disagree with your agent, respectfully tell them why. 

Resist the urge to freak out if the agent doesn’t immediately respond to a text or phone call. “People hire me because I jump through hoops, but I also need buyers to know that I have a life, too,” says Leavenworth, the Cleveland agent.

5. Get Organized

We told you communicating your wants to your agent was key. Here’s a good way to do it: Write them down. Give a copy to the agent. He’ll be better able to find homes that match your criteria. 

You should also have your financial records in order. This means getting pre-approved for a loan. Pre-approval for a mortgage says you’re serious about buying a house and not just window shopping.

“Anything we do without a loan approval letter is pure speculation,” says Marki Lemons-Ryhal, an agent and social media strategist for real estate in Chicago. 

6. Admit What You Don’t Know

Real estate transactions are complicated. Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know what all the terms mean, or what to expect from each step of the process.

If you don’t know what escrow means, ask. If you’re confused about the terms of an offer, say so. It’s totally normal to ask an agent for a little hand-holding — that’s what they’re there for. 

Part of knowing how to hire a real estate agent is finding one you trust enough to tell you things you don’t know.

7. Don’t Play The Field With Other Agents

If you’re working with an agent who is hustling for you, don’t dally around with another agent. In real estate, just as in romance, that’s cheating. It can backfire by damaging your relationship with your agent.

If your agent finds out you’ve got other agents showing you houses, he may prioritize other clients. So a big part of knowing how to pick a real estate agent is knowing that you need to stand by your agent once you hire him.

In fact, it’s in both your interest and the agent’s to sign a buyer’s broker agreement for a set period of time. The agreements spell out the rights and duties of both parties, including exclusivity.

Article written by: LEANNE POTTS

(Leanne Potts is an Atlanta-based journalist and serial home remodeler. She’s tackled five fixer-uppers and is working on a sixth. She’s written about everything from forest fires to dog-friendly decor and spent a decade leading the digital staff of HGTV.)

Finding Your Perfect Home

As the old saying goes, real estate is all about location, location, location.  But, there is a lot more to it than just plain geography when it comes to finding your perfect home.  There are a lot of things to consider during the search because, for most, a home is the most significant purchase they will ever make.

Choose A Good Area

When searching for your perfect home, the obvious place to start is with the selection of a location.  If you have children, you may want to choose a home that is close to good schools and is also located in a family-oriented neighborhood.  Many people also look for a home that offers a short commute to and from work.  If you are shopping within a specific price range, you can also narrow the choices by finding an area that offers the best value for your dollar.

Select A Style

The perfect home for you is one that has all of the elements that you want.  Whether it’s a garage, basement, extra bedroom or bath, a large kitchen, fireplace or open floor plan, choosing the style of home that you want is an important first step in finding the perfect place to hang your hat.  You may also want to consider whether you prefer a single-level or two-story home.  Many home buyers also factor in floor plans when searching for a house, including those that offer an open and flowing design.

Get Pre-Qualified

Now that you know what you want and where you want it, it’s important to find out how much of a home you can afford.  Pre-qualification is not the same as pre-approval.  With pre-qualification, your lender will request specific information relating to your income and expenditures and will offer a possible price range for you to keep in mind while shopping.  Pre-qualification does not guarantee that you will receive an approval, but it does give you a good indication of how much you can afford based on your current situation.

Talk To A REALTOR®

Nobody knows the real estate business like a REALTOR®, so let them help you in your search for the perfect home.  They can answer questions relating to the neighborhood, recent inspections on a particular home and any needed repairs.  Because a REALTOR® has access to a number of area homes, they have the ability to show you various choices within your preferred area and price range.

Ask About Amenities

One of the most significant concerns of any home buyer is what a home has to offer.  Utilities, such as water, sewer, cable, phone and electricity are just a few of the things to consider.  If the home is in a subdivision that requires the payment of association dues, how will these funds be used?  What amenities does the home owner’s association offer?  These are all questions to ask your REALTOR® when shopping for the perfect home.

In conclusion, you should know that the search for your perfect home is a journey.  It may be either long or short and with or without some bumps along the way, but the greatest satisfaction will be at the journey’s end and your future’s beginning.

 

Ten Tips To Successfully Market Your Home

There is a lot more to putting your home up for sale than placing a sign on the front lawn.  Selling your home quickly and getting the best price possible requires marketing your property and using the services of an experienced agent.  Here are some of the strategies you can use to market your home.

Hire A Professional REALTOR®—The ability to market your home is always best served by hiring a real estate expert.  They have access to resources that you as an individual do not, and their experience and knowledge are certainly worth the commission.

Photograph The Exterior Of Your Home—Good high quality photographs of the entire exterior of your home can really spark the interest of potential buyers. These photographs can be used in a variety of online and print marketing campaigns.

Photograph The Interior Of Your Home—Be sure you also have good quality photos of every major room in your home, especially the kitchen, bathrooms, and master bedroom.  Also ensure that these pictures are taken in good light, and from angles that best highlight the space they are to represent.

Purchase A Virtual Tour—Virtual tours are one of the latest and most effective marketing methods in the real estate industry.  Essentially a virtual tour allows potential viewers to get a 360-degree perspective of your property from the comfort of their home or office.  This method is also a great way to assure that only interested buyers show up at an open house. Your agent can have these tours put on multiple listing websites as well as on their own pages.

Print Advertising—While this may seem to be a costly and outdated marketing method, there are still a considerable number of potential buyers who use print resources to find prospective properties.

Signage—Be sure you have clear, visible signage on your property that indicates it is for sale.  Also, be sure your agent’s contact information can be seen from a distance so that those passing by can take down their name and number.

Direct Mail—Again, this may seem like an outdated method of advertising, but it is still effective, especially if your home may appeal to an older demographic.

Open Houses—This is still the most effective way to get a sale.  Be sure your home is in clean and presentable condition before hosting an open house, and ask your REALTOR® for advice about preparing your home for such an opening.

Agent Tours—These tours can give agents a better look at your home without having the general public in your house, and can assist them in matching your home with their clients. Your agent can arrange these tours.

E-marketing—Like print advertising, this is a fairly inexpensive and effective method of marketing your home that your REALTOR® can offer to you as part of their services.