How to Be a Savvy Open House Guest

Getting smart — about what to do, ask, and avoid — can move you ahead of the crowd.

Asking the right questions at open houses
Image: HouseLogic

Editor’s Note: As restrictions related to Covid-19 begin easing up, the National Association of REALTORS® is encouraging virtual home showings, regardless of whether in-person showings are allowed by states or local communities.

If you’re considering holding an open house, your agent will have an honest conversation with you about any concerns, including whether doing so would contradict current government recommendations or mandates, especially in geographic areas with shelter-in-place mandates. If after discussing these issues, you and your agent mutually agree to an open house, your agent will discuss necessary precautions to minimize exposure to and the spread of COVID-19.

Ah, the open house — a chance to wander through other people’s homes and imagine yourself knocking out walls and gut rehabbing their kitchens. This is what dreams are made of (or at least episodes of HGTV).

In all seriousness, going to open houses (and scheduled private showings) is one of the most exciting parts of the home-buying experience. Beyond the voyeuristic thrill, visiting houses allows you to assess things that you just can’t see online.

Most Popular in Buy a Home: Step-by-Step

Anyone who has taken a super-posed selfie knows that a picture doesn’t always tell the whole truth. Professional listing photos can make small rooms look spacious, make dim rooms bright, and mask other flaws of a home — but you don’t know any of that until you actually see the house yourself.

You can tour houses at any point, but it can be helpful to first discuss your needs and wants with your partner (if you have one), do some online research, and talk with your agent and your lender. That way, you — and your agent — can take a targeted approach, which saves you time and can give you an edge over your buying competition.

So, before you start viewing, follow these tips to get prepared. 

Make It Your Job to Know Which Houses Are “Open”

There are four ways to know when a house is available for viewing:

  • Ask your agent. He or she will have details on specific properties and can keep you informed of open houses that fit your criteria.
  • Use listing websites. A number of property sites let you search active listings for upcoming open houses. On realtor.com®, for instance, when searching for properties, scroll over the “Buy” tab and click the “Open Houses” link to see upcoming ones in your area.
  • Scroll social media. On Instagram, for example, you can search the hashtag #openhouse, or similar tags for your city (#openhousedallas, for example), to discover open houses. Many real estate agents and brokerages also post open house announcements on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter; find ones from your area and start following.
  • Drive around. Cruise through the neighborhoods you’re interested in — it’s a good way to get a sense of the area amenities — and look for open house signs. 

And while you’re searching, be sure to jot down the location, time, and date for any open house that strikes your fancy. It will make it that much easier to plan times and routes for hitting as many homes as possible.

Get There Early (and Say Hi to the Neighbors)

If you’re seriously interested in a home, show up to the open house early. That way you’ll beat the rush, and the agent showing the house (AKA the host) will have time to focus on you and your questions.

And don’t be shy! Many home buyers hop from one open house to the next without talking to the listing agent. But chatting up the host can help you learn information that you wouldn’t get by only touring the premises.

If a house seems like a match, take a walk around the neighborhood. Strike up conversations with the neighbors to get an insider’s perspective on what life in that community is really like — families, singles, what the vibe on the block is like, and whether the homeowner’s or condo association (if there is one) is easy to work with.

Ask Lots of Questions, But Avoid TMI

To make the most of your open house visits, have a list of questions in mind for the host — and take notes while you’re there, so you can keep track of what you learned. 

At the same time, remember this: Your interaction with the host could be the beginning of negotiations with them. If you end up making an offer, you’ll use the information you’ve gathered to inform your bid. (They’ll also remember that you were an engaged yet courteous person, which can’t hurt your cause.) 

Equally important: Oversharing could hurt your negotiating power. 

Be careful about what information you share with the agent hosting the event. This person works for the seller — not you. The host can and will use stats they’ve gleaned about you to counter, reject, or accept an offer. 

Keeping that in mind, here are eight questions you can ask a host to help determine whether a house is a good fit for you:

  1. Have you received any offers? If there are already bids on the table, you’ll have to move quickly if you want to make an offer. Keep in mind: Listing agents can’t disclose the amount of any other offers, though — only whether they exist.
  2. When does the seller want to move? Find out the seller’s timeline. If the seller is in a hurry (say, for a new job), they may be willing to accept an offer that’s below list price.
  3. When is the seller looking to close? Price isn’t the only factor for many home sellers. One way to strengthen your offer is to propose a settlement date that’s ideal for them. For example, a 30- to 45-day closing is standard in many markets, but the seller may want more time if they haven’t purchased their next home yet.
  4. Is the seller flexible on price? Most listing agents won’t tip their hand when you ask this question, but there’s always a chance the agent says “yes.” And, in some instances, the seller has authorized their agent to tell interested buyers that the price is negotiable. In any case, you might as well ask. (It’s kind of like googling for a coupon code when you buy something online.)
  5. How many days has the home been on the market? You can find this information on the internet, but the seller’s agent can give you context, especially if the house has been sitting on the market for a while. Maybe the home was under contract but the buyer’s financing fell through, or the seller overshot the listing price and had to make a price reduction? Knowing the backstory can only help you.
  6. Has the price changed? You can see if there’s been a price reduction online, but talking to the listing agent is the only way to find out why the seller dropped the price.
  7. Are there any issues? Have there been any renovations or recent repairs made to the home? Some upgrades, like new kitchen appliances, are easy to spot, but some are harder to identify. Specifically ask about the roof, appliances, and HVAC system because they can be expensive to repair or replace. BTW, repairs like a leaky faucet, aren’t  things that need to be disclosed.
  8. What are the average utility costs? Many buyers don’t factor utility bills into their monthly housing expenses, and these costs can add up — particularly in drafty older homes. Ask the listing agent what a typical monthly utility bill is during the summer and during the winter, since heating and cooling costs can fluctuate seasonally. Be prepared for higher utility bills if you’re moving from an apartment to a single-family home.

Now that you’ve got your answers, there’s one last thing to do: Thank the host before you go. You never know — you could be seeing them again at the negotiating table soon.

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HouseLogic helps 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. 

The Most Important Factors for Real Estate Investing

Read these to know what to look for

By SHOBHIT SETH Reviewed By JULIUS MANSA  Updated Sep 5, 2020 (Copied from Investopedia.com)

What’s the most important thing to look for in real estate? While location is always a key consideration, there are numerous other factors that help determine if an investment is right for you. Here’s a look at some of the most important things to consider if you plan to invest in the real estate market

1. Property Location

Why It’s Important

The adage “location, location, location” is still king and continues to be the most important factor for profitability in real estate investing. Proximity to amenities, green space, scenic views, and the neighborhood’s status factor prominently into residential property valuations. Closeness to markets, warehouses, transport hubs, freeways, and tax-exempt areas play an important role in commercial property valuations.

What to Look For

A key when considering property location is the mid-to-long-term view regarding how the area is expected to evolve over the investment period. For example, today’s peaceful open land at the back of a residential building could someday become a noisy manufacturing facility, diminishing its value. Thoroughly review the ownership and intended usage of the immediate areas where you plan to invest.

2. Valuation of the Property

Why It’s Important

Property valuation is important for financing during the purchase, listing price, investment analysis, insurance, and taxation—they all depend on real estate valuation.

What to Look For

Commonly used real estate valuation methods include:

  • Sales comparison approach: recent comparable sales of properties with similar characteristics—most common and suitable for both new and old properties
  • Cost approach: the cost of the land and construction, minus depreciation— suitable for new construction
  • Income approach: based on expected cash inflows—suitable for rentals

3. Investment Purpose and Investment Horizon

Why It’s Important

Given the low liquidity and high-value investment in real estate, a lack of clarity on purpose may lead to unexpected results, including financial distress—especially if the investment is mortgaged.

What to Look For

Identify which of the following broad categories suits your purpose, and then plan accordingly:

  • Buy and self-use. Here you will save on rent and have the benefit of self-utilization, while also getting value appreciation.
  • Buy and lease. This offers regular income and long-term value appreciation. However, the temperament to be a landlord is needed to handle possible disputes and legal issues, manage tenants, repair work, etc.
  • Buy and sell (short-term). This is generally for quick, small to medium profit—the typical property is under construction and sold at a profit on completion.
  • Buy and sell (long-term). This is generally focused on large intrinsic value appreciation over a long period. This offers alternatives to compliment long-term goals, such as retirement.

4. Expected Cash Flows and Profit Opportunities

Why It’s Important

Cash flow refers to how much money is left after expenses. Positive cash flow is key to a good rate of return on an investment property.

What to Look For

Develop projections for the following modes of profit and expenses:

  • Expected cash flow from rental income (inflation favors landlords for rental income)
  • Expected increase in intrinsic value due to long-term price appreciation.
  • Benefits of depreciation (and available tax benefits)
  • Cost-benefit analysis of renovation before sale to get a better price
  • Cost-benefit analysis of mortgaged loans vs. value appreciation

5. Be Careful with Leverage

Why It’s Important

Loans are convenient, but they may come at a big cost. You commit your future income to get utility today at the cost of interest spread across many years. Be sure you understand how to handle loans of this nature and avoid major pitfalls.

What to Look For

Depending upon your current and expected future earnings, consider the following:

  • Decide on the type of mortgage that best fits your situation—fixed-rate, adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM), interest-only, zero down payment, etc.
  • Be aware of the terms, conditions, and other charges levied by the mortgage lender.
  • Shop around to find lower interest rates and better terms.

6. New Construction vs. Existing Property

Why It’s Important

New construction usually offers attractive pricing, the option to customize, and modern amenities. Risks include delays, increased costs, and the unknowns of a newly developed neighborhood.

Existing properties offer convenience, faster access, established improvements (utilities, landscaping, etc.), and in many cases, lower costs.

What to Look For

Here are some key things to look for when deciding between new a construction or an exiting property:

  • Review past projects and research the construction company’s reputation for new investments.
  • Review property deeds, recent surveys, and appraisal reports for existing properties.
  • Consider monthly maintenance costs, outstanding dues, and taxes. Costs such as these can severely impact your cash flow.
  • When investing in leased property, find out if the property is rent-controlled, rent-stabilized, or free market. Is the lease about to expire? Are renewal options favorable to the tenant? Who owns the furnishings?
  • Quality-check items (furniture, fixtures, and equipment) if these are to be included in the sale.

7. Indirect Investments in Real Estate

Why It’s Important

Managing physical properties over a long-term horizon is not for everyone. Alternatives exist that allow you to invest in the real estate sector indirectly.

What to Look For

Consider other ways to invest in real estate:

8. Your Credit Score

Why It’s Important

Your credit score affects your ability to qualify for a mortgage, and it impacts the terms your lender offers. If you have a higher credit score, you may get better terms—which can add up to substantial savings over time.

Mortgage lending discrimination is illegal. If you think you’ve been discriminated against based on race, religion, sex, marital status, use of public assistance, national origin, disability, or age, there are steps you can take. One such step is to file a report to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

What to Look For

Scores greater than 800 are considered excellent and will help you qualify for the best mortgage. If necessary, work on improving your credit score:

  • Pay bills on time—set up automatic payments or reminders
  • Pay down debt
  • Aim for no more than 30% credit utilization
  • Don’t close unused credit cards—as long as you’re not paying annual fees
  • Limit requests for new credit and “hard” inquiries
  • Review your credit report and dispute inaccuracies

9. Overall Real Estate Market

Why It’s Important

As with other types of investments, it’s good to buy low and sell high. Real estate markets fluctuate, and it pays to be aware of trends. It’s also important to pay attention to mortgage rates so you can lower your financing costs, if possible.

What to Look For

Stay up-to-date with trends and statistics for:

  • Home prices and home sales (overall and in your desired market)
  • New construction
  • Property inventory
  • Mortgage rates
  • Flipping activity
  • Foreclosures

The Bottom Line

Real estate can help diversify your portfolio. In general, real estate has a low correlation with other major asset classes—so when stocks are down, real estate is often up. A real estate investment can also provide steady cash flow, substantial appreciation, tax advantages, and competitive risk-adjusted returns, making it a sound investment.

Of course, just like any investment, it’s important to consider certain factors, like the ones listed here, before you invest in real estate—whether you opt for physical property, REITs, or something else.

What Insurance Is Needed For A Small Business?

Depending on the size of your business, the type of insurance you need will vary. The Hartford makes it easy by combining three essential coverages – business property, general liability, and business income insurance – under one powerful policy. As your company grows, you can choose from a wide variety of coverage plans to include with your package. Get a quote or talk to a specialist about the coverage you need.

Coronavirus Mortgage Relief: What You Need To Know

It’s a confusing time, but lenders are putting remedies, like forbearance, in place to help homeowners.

simulated image of the 2020 CARES Act
Image: spxChrome/Getty

Mortgage lenders, and the federal agencies that regulate lenders, are putting coronavirus mortgage relief measures in place to ensure homeowners have options if they’re unable to make payments.

Your first stop in the face of financial hardship is your lender or bank.

Just keep in mind lenders are working to figure out and implement the new mortgage relief polices outlined by the regulatory agencies. So you might read one thing from the FHFA, a federal regulator, but your bank might be doing something else.

In addition, due to the number of homeowners affected by the pandemic, lenders are dealing with a crush of calls and online queries. Be patient, persistent, and prepared to spend time on hold.  

Here are the resources you need now.

Your Mortgage

Federally Backed Mortgages
If you have a mortgage backed by Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veteran’s Administration (VA)United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)Fannie Mae, or Freddie Mac, your loan servicer must offer you deferred or reduced mortgage payment options – called forbearance — for up to six months. This means you don’t have to pay your mortgage and you won’t be charged late fees, penalties, or interest while you can’t pay.

Loan servicers for FHA, Freddie, and Fannie must provide an additional six months of forbearance if you request it. 

Not sure who backs your own loan? Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have loan look-up sites where you can find out who owns it, and how to get in touch with them.

In addition, here are direct links to some lenders and banks’ Covid-19 resources:

Mortgages Not Federally Backed
If your mortgage is one of the 5 million in the United States not backed by a federal entity, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which includes a coronavirus mortgage relief mandate, doesn’t apply. But regulators have encouraged those lenders to work with borrowers who can’t pay their mortgages, and most banks and other lenders are suspending mortgage payments or offering forbearance.

The level of relief you get will depend on who owns your loan. Contact your lender to find out what’s available.

Regardless of the type of loan you have, you must apply for coronavirus mortgage relief through their mortgage servicer. That’s the entity that collects your monthly payments and decides how long the assistance will last. When you reach your mortgage servicer, you’ll need to explain your situation and provide information about your income, expenses, and assets. 

TIP: If you’re an at-risk homeowner, this downloadable PDF will help you understand the sources you can approach for help.

Foreclosure and Evictions

Federal officials have imposed a nationwide halt to foreclosures and evictions for more than 36 million Americans with home mortgages backed by the FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac.

The moratorium only affects borrowers with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, VA, and RHS (Rural Housing Service loans through the USDA). This doesn’t apply to the roughly 35% of mortgages held in bank portfolios and private label securities. But some individual lenders are offering relief.

Some cities, counties, and states, including Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Texas, have placed a moratorium on foreclosures. Check with your city, county, and state governments. Find state-by-state tallies online.

Housing Counselors

Another tool in your relief toolbox are housing counselors. Counselors can provide independent advice on buying a home, renting, defaults, foreclosures, and credit issues. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s look-up tool lets you can find counselors in your state.

Your Credit

The CARES Act forbids lenders from dinging your credit score for missed payments on federally backed mortgages and student loans during your forbearance period. The federal government is also encouraging private lenders to suspend reporting late payments on eligible mortgages. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has more advice about protecting your credit.

To keep close tabs on your credit, you can now obtain a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, every week for the next year through April 20, 2020. The companies ratcheted up their once-a-year allowance to help consumers “protect their financial health during the sudden and unprecedented hardship caused by COVID-19.”

Get all three reports in one spot: annualcreditreport.com.

Your Student Loan

The CARES Act includes immediate relief for those who can’t make their monthly payments on federally held loans due to coronavirus. All loan payments (both principal and interest) are suspended through Sept. 30, 2020, with no penalty. You don’t need to apply for this program or contact your lender. It’s automatic.

If you keep making payments, they’ll be applied entirely toward the principal. These suspended payments will count towards any student loan forgiveness already in effect.

Here’s a list of servicers — and their phone numbers — for loans backed by the U.S. Department of Education.

Some loans under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program and some Perkins Loans not owned by the Department of Education aren’t eligible for suspended payments. Nor are private student loans owned by banks, credit unions, schools, or other private entities. If you can’t make payments, contact your loan servicer to find out what options are available. Many are offering ways, like forbearance, to postpone payments.

Not sure who your servicer is? Look on your most recent statement and contact the servicer immediately.

If your student loan is already in default, the relief act immediately suspends wage garnishments or tax refund deductions. They’ll resume after the suspension ends.

Find out more about student loan relief at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Your Taxes

The IRS has pushed back the deadline for filing and payment of federal taxes to July 15, 2020. Many states are following suit. Check with your state tax agency, or see this list from the American Institute of CPAs for details on deadlines.

Your Real Estate Transaction

If you’re going to be buying or selling a home in the near future, find out if your county recording office can complete the deal online.

In addition, more than half of states, many under emergency state directive, allow for remote online notarization of documents. This makes it safe and easy to complete real estate transactions under social distancing orders. The number of states allowing remote notarization could grow as pandemic legislation expands.

Your Appraisal

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have provided detailed appraisal alternative guidelines, so homeowners and appraisers can practice social distancing on Freddie and Fannie loans through May 17, 2020.

FHA, VA, and RHS are also allowing variations on the usual appraisal protocol. Check with your servicer for details.

Look Out For Scams

Fear breeds scams. And scammers are out in full force during the pandemic. Beware of third parties offering mortgage assistance and other help. Seek help from your lender directly.

For information on circulating scams, and guidance on identifying them, visit the Federal Trade Commission website.  

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.

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.

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. 

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.

Getting To Know The Neighborhood Before Buying A Home

There is a reason the term “location, location, location” is used so commonly within the real estate industry.  The location of a property is one of the most important considerations when selecting a home, as it will affect the value of your home, your day-to-day life, and even your own and your family’s safety.  So what can you do to find out a little about the area in which you are considering a home purchase, and what in particular should you be looking for?

Know Your Needs

The biggest obstacle to finding a home in an area that can meet all of your needs is not knowing clearly what those needs are.  While it may be nice to live near the lake, or by your favorite restaurant, what is it that you and your family will need and want in order to have an enjoyable and functional lifestyle?  Facilities such as grocery stores, good schools, and community centers may be necessary for families, whereas access to theaters, good restaurants, and a vibrant nightlife may be important to young professionals.

Get The Info

When searching for your dream home, knowing where to look before starting out can help make the task easier and faster. So before getting started with the house hunting, do a little neighborhood hunting first.  There are a number of resources online, from municipal Web sites to forums, that you can use to find out about prospective areas that may be right for you.  Contacting a real estate agent is also another great resource in finding an area that can meet your needs.

Check It Out For Yourself

All the research in the world can never replace experience, and if you are planning to purchase a home you will want to be sure the location is right before making what will likely be the biggest investment of your life.  Taking a walk in the area, trying out the local facilities, and getting to know some of the locals can really help you to determine whether the area will be a fit for you and your family.  You may also want to check out the area at different times of the day, or even the year, if these are considerations that may affect your happiness in your new home.

A little extra work can really mean not only choosing a home that is right for you, but making sure it is in an area that can meet all of your needs.

 

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.