Finding A Neighborhood With Great Schools

If you have children, or even if you don’t yet but plan to in the future, schools are something you will need to take into consideration when you search for a new home.  In most areas, certain boundaries define which schools your children will go to, and switching to a different school can be complicated and expensive in many cases.

Fortunately, finding a great neighborhood with good quality schools is not difficult, thanks to the internet.  Online ratings and reviews of schools can help you to make the right call when it comes to finding a home that will offer your children a quality education.

Start With The District

The first thing you should look into is which school district you are considering moving into.  Find out if the schools in that district tend to be highly rated, and what kind of test scores are generally seen among students in the district schools.  All of this information is readily available online.

The school district Web site will be able to tell you which school your children would go to if you were to buy a particular house.  There is usually a boundary map you can check, or you can enter your address and search to find out which school is the right one.

Check The Reviews

The internet allows people to review everything from appliances to doctors—and schools are no exception.  Search for your school of choice online and you will find plenty of reviews from parents whose children have attended the school.  Getting an unbiased opinion of the school will help you to get an idea of what you can expect.

When You Love The Neighborhood, But Not The School

If you really want a particular house in a particular neighborhood, but aren’t too happy with the schools, you can look into your other options.  Most school districts have a system by which you can choose to send your child to a different school.  This usually involves either particular needs that can’t be met by the in-area school, or a fee or lottery system to allow your child to attend the school of your choice.  Find out what the rules are in your school district.

Your other option is to look into private schools.  This is, of course, the more expensive choice, but should you select a private school you will have the freedom to live wherever you like, without worrying about what school your child will be slotted to attend.

 

Simple Ideas To Make Your Home More Welcoming To Buyers

It may seem obvious, but many sellers fail to recognize that a home that feels, looks, and smells welcoming and homey will more likely raise a buyer’s interest when they come for a showing.  Of course, you think your home is pretty comfortable and welcoming already, but there are a few things you can do to make buyers feel right at home from the moment they walk in the door.

Lead With The Nose

If your home smells good, it will make buyers want to stick around longer.  The sense of smell is the strongest of all the five senses in its connection to our emotions.  Certain smells simply make us feel comfortable and at home no matter where we are.  There are a few smells that are almost universal.  Try a flameless scented burner that is safe but releases a wonderful fragrance in your home.  Choose scents like vanilla or spices, smells that remind people of home cooking and sweet treats.

Be sure your fragrance isn’t overwhelming, however, and don’t use it to mask other odors like cat litter or food smells.  Buyers will know right away you are trying to hide something!

Let The Light Shine In

Clean your windows and open all of the blinds and curtains to let the sunshine into the home.  The warm feeling will make your buyers want to settle in and bask in the glow.  A brightly lit home looks bigger, too, while a dark home will appear smaller.

Be sure you replace burnt out light bulbs so your home will be fully lit and have a welcoming glow even in the evening or on a cloudy day.

Set The Table

It may seem odd, but a table set as though a family is about to sit down to a meal makes the home feel lived in and comfortable without being cluttered or too personal.  Set the table with matching dishes and a nice but simple centerpiece, to give the dining room that ready to sit down feel.

Making buyers see your house as a home is important in getting them really interested in making it their home.  With just a few simple adjustments, you can create a feeling that welcomes buyers to settle in—they will want to make an offer so they never have to leave!

 

Getting Your Home Ready to Sell

You would never dream of inviting guests to your house without making certain preparations, so don’t invite potential buyers without first making the necessary updates by preparing your home to sell.  If you are like most sellers, you want to get as much as possible for your home and you want to do it as quickly as possible.

Letting Go

After you’ve lived in a house, it becomes much more than four walls and a ceiling.  It’s a home and it has a lot of good memories.  Your first step to preparing your home to sell is to realize that you will take these memories with you wherever you go, but you won’t be taking the house.  It can be difficult to let go, but the task will be much easier if you start to think of it as a new beginning rather than an ending.

Cleaning House

An important part of getting your home ready to sell is in staging the decor for potential buyers.  When you stage a home, you create an environment that is free of any personal items, such as photos and/or anything that stands out as being customized for you or your family.  When a potential buyer walks through your home, they need to envision their belongings and decor without being distracted by yours.  While these items may be special to you, they could possibly prevent the buyer from being able to imagine their own style complimenting the home.

In addition to removing any personal items, make sure that you remove any clutter from the home.  A clean home seems larger and more inviting, whereas a lot of stuff lying around could give the impression that the home is too small or cramped for storage.  Pack up any knickknacks, remove your children’s drawings from the refrigerator and clean up your counter space in both the kitchen and bathrooms.

Staging Your Home

Now that your house is clean, it’s time to put the finishing touches on the staging process.  A solid, neutral shade in a tablecloth should be selected for the dining room table.  Depending on your decor and wall coloring, a solid white, sand or ivory covering will work well.  In the center of the table, a vase with fresh cut flowers (or silk, if you have allergies) will add a nice accent.  Did you know that the kitchen and bathroom are two of the main selling points to any home?  Keep this in mind when preparing your home for potential buyers.

The living room should have one focal point, whether it be a fireplace or breathtaking view of the outside world.  If you have too many features screaming out at potential buyers, they may feel overwhelmed, so focus on one aspect and make it shine.  If you have a mantle, line it with three candles that match your decor in color.  Place a large candle in the center with one smaller one on each end, which will be reminiscent of a perfectly matched bookend set.  A home with a stunning view should have window dressings that accent the positive, instead of hiding it.  If your furniture has a design of any kind, mask it with a solid slipcover to compliment the flooring or wall color.  Some homeowners also add a fresh coat of paint to their home, which will bring life back into a fading color.  Turn on the lights and open the blinds and draperies to create a bright and inviting environment throughout your home.

Where To Store Your Stuff

Now that you know how important it is to remove any clutter and oversized or bulky furniture, you need to know where to put it.  If you already have a new home, you can simply move it there.  Otherwise, you can put it into storage until you are ready to move.  It’s important to leave some essentials in your former home for potential buyers to see, such as a dining room table, a sofa and chairs, bed, etc.  Any additional furnishings that seem to interrupt the flow of your home, or make it feel cramped, should be removed.  You do not want potential buyers to feel as though the house is too small.

Details, Details, Details . . .

As a final strategy to prepare your home to sell, make sure that you have any carpet stains removed, windows cleaned, fresh linens placed in the bedrooms and bathrooms, etc.  You would be surprised how many people pay attention to even the smallest of details, so be sure to fix any small repairs that could be a turnoff for buyers.  Last but not least, make sure your home looks just as good on the outside as it does on the inside.  This means that your lawn should be cared for, flower beds must be maintained and any outdoor clutter must be removed.

 

Should You Buy a New or Existing Home?

Maybe your dream home has the intricate details that you usually find only in older construction – wainscoting and crown molding in the interior, the front porch with a swing, an older tree shading the back yard, and the white picket fence.

Or maybe your dream home has all the conveniences of modern living – open floor plan in the living and dining spaces, large windows, connected, “smart” appliances and security systems, and minimalist design elements.

Whether you go for a brand new construction or an existing home, both types of properties have their pros and cons when it comes to purchasing. What type of home is right for you will depend on which factors are most important for your lifestyle.

Build your dream home with new construction

If you’re making a home purchase that’s still in the pre-construction phase, you may be able to customize many of the details. Many home builders will give you the option to add design elements that will give you the exact dream home you desire. If it’s a new subdivision, you may even be able to pick which lot you like best.

Very early in the building process, you may have more room to customize. For example, if the walls aren’t complete, you may be able to add extra outlets in each of the rooms or custom wiring for surround sound in the media room. Perhaps you could move the laundry room to the top floor instead of the basement. You might be able to get a separate mudroom entrance.

Later in the building process, you may be able to add marble countertops, an island, and custom cabinets in the kitchen. Your master bathroom could be upgraded with a steam shower, spa tub, and European fixtures. You will want to check with the builder to understand which features are included, and which ones are extra.

New homes save money with fewer repairs and more efficiency

Once your home is complete, all you’ll need to do is move in. New appliances will be under warranty for a few years if they need repairs, and will likely work well for several years without needing fixes. Often, new construction is under a builder’s warranty, so any repairs needed in the first year should be covered.

New homes often contain energy efficient and green appliances, like high-efficiency stoves, refrigerators, washing machines, heaters, or air conditioning units. These energy-saving appliances, along with good insulation and energy-efficient windows, will help you save money on monthly utility bills.

New homes also often use new building materials that require less maintenance — for example, using composite siding instead of wood, which doesn’t need annual repainting. You won’t need to spend as much to maintain your new home.

If you customized it during pre-construction, you won’t need to spend any money on renovations or upgrades for several more years. You can just enjoy it and not worry about saving for major home repairs.

What you need to do to make a good new home purchase

Before you put in your offer, do some research on the builder. Do they have a good reputation? What else have they built? Did their other new properties have issues such as poor construction or unfinished details?

You like the model home, but will you like where it’s situated? After you look at the home itself, come back to the neighborhood to see what it’s like at different times of the day. Walk around during the day and in the evening, and see how you like the area.

Brand new communities usually attract similar types of buyers—urban professionals, couples, or young families, for example. These will be your neighbors, so you’ll want to make sure that you want to be part of this new, homogeneous community.

You may also need to be flexible with your move-in date. Builders will only be able to let you move in if they can meet their construction schedule. If the wiring is delayed, the walls can’t be finished. And because there are so many construction tasks that are dependent on the completion of prior tasks, schedules tend to slip.

Get more variety and established neighborhoods with an existing home

Existing homes are those that have generally been built and lived in between the 1920’s and 1970’s. With existing homes, you will get more variety in home styles, as different types of construction have gone in and out of style throughout the decades. Within one neighborhood, you may be able to find a mix of different styles like Victorian, modern Tudor cottages, tract style, ranch or split-ranch, or contemporary homes.

Existing homes are situated in established neighborhoods, which may have more amenities nearby that a new home in a brand new subdivision may not have. Your new neighborhood may have restaurants, cafes, and boutiques within walking distance.

You might also have access to more supermarkets, dry cleaners, discount stores, and gas stations nearby. An established neighborhood might have a nice park, running path, or playground for the kids to enjoy. You might also be closer to a library or the post office.

Resale homes can be a less expensive purchase

If you’re considering a resale home, you may be able to get into a beautiful, unique property at a lower purchase price than a new home.

There are many more resale homes available than there are new homes — according to the National Association of Homebuilders, about 10 times as many. With such a large pool to buy from, the market for resales can be more competitive. You may have more room to negotiate the  selling price of the home. With a brand-new construction, you won’t likely be able to have the same kind of negotiating power.

Before putting a home on the market, sellers often make home renovations or remodel parts of their homes to make them more attractive to buyers and to be able to potentially increase the list price. If the resale home has a brand new, modern kitchen, an updated bathroom, or even a new roof or upgraded windows, you could end up getting a home that’s comparable to new construction without having to pay the potential more expensive new-home list price.

Existing homes have already been inspected at least once on the last sale, so you will know about any potential structural problems or repairs that have been made on the home. Knowing the track record on your potential home will help you avoid purchase mistakes—you’re much less likely to end up with a property that has a rotting roof, dangerous electrical wiring, or a crumbling foundation. With a new home, you could end up with incomplete construction or major issues that you didn’t know about because they weren’t yet documented.

What you need to do to make a good resale purchase

Before you go too far down the road to a purchase, you can protect your purchase by first having the home inspected. A good home inspector will document all flaws, no matter how small they appear. If the inspector finds any major problems, like foundation cracks or leaky roofs, you may be able to counter offer and get the seller to either fix it or reduce the selling price.

Even if the inspection doesn’t uncover any major issues, you will need to expect the unexpected. Older homes will eventually need replacement appliances, a new air conditioning unit, or a plumbing repair. As long as you know that before you buy a resale home, you can plan for surprise repairs.

With an older home, you may want to eventually remodel parts of it. Will you be happy living in your house while you’re doing major work on the living room or the kitchen? If you know that it would disrupt your lifestyle too much, you may want to consider whether you really want to buy an older property.

Whether you choose to buy a new home or an existing home, the best way to get started is to speak with your trusted real estate professional. We will have access to both new properties and resale homes that may fit your goals, and will know which neighborhoods will serve your needs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Buy a Home: 7 Tips and Tricks from Real Estate Insiders

No matter if you’re in a buyer’s or seller’s market, there are a few critical steps you can take to make a smarter purchase. Since buying a home is likely the biggest single investment you will ever make, being prepared will help you make a better purchase. Here are our best tips to buying a home.

Know your buying power

What is your buying power? It is the combination of your credit-worthiness and how much you can realistically pay for a home.

First, you need to understand the hidden costs of buying a home. You will need to save not only for the down payment of your home — which is typically between 10% – 20% of the offer price — but also for any additional transaction fees, such as transfer tax, PMI, title insurance, and legal fees.

Then you need to know what you can realistically afford each month to understand how much house you can buy. Your mortgage rate will depend on your creditworthiness — if you have a high credit score, your lender will likely approve you for a lower mortgage rate, which can save you thousands of dollars per year in interest.

How much of your budget should go to your monthly home costs? According to SmartAssets, you can use the 36% rule as a rough guideline. This means that your monthly obligation shouldn’t be more than 36% of your monthly gross income.

A loan professional can help you figure out how much house you can afford.

Fix your credit with the help of a loan professional

According to CreditKarma, a good credit score is usually 720 or above. You want to clean up your credit as soon as you can, and definitely before you go to a lender for a loan preapproval.

When you apply for your loan pre-approval, you don’t want to have anything to hide on your application. So don’t lower your credit score by doing anything that will originate more inquiries into your credit. For example, don’t open any new credit cards. Also, don’t omit any debts or loans when you apply. If the loan officer discovers them in the application process, they may deny you a pre-approval.

Get a loan professional to check your credit score for you. A professional can give you a clearer idea if your score is in the ‘good’ range, or if you need to do some credit cleanup before getting a mortgage preapproval.

Work with a knowledgeable buyer’s agent

Do you understand what kind of market you are buying into? Even within a city’s limits, there can be micro markets that are increasing or decreasing in value.

That’s why it’s important to hire a highly competent real estate agent who knows the specific market. You want to make sure that the professional who you’re working with really understands what the market is like and will help you find the home that you desire.

How can you tell if your agent knows the market? See if they can provide you with a buyer’s market analysis.

A buyer’s market analysis report outlines which neighborhoods are still up and coming — with potential for increased property value — versus those that have peaked with inflated home prices. Having this analysis at your fingertips will help you know if a home’s list price is above comparable properties so you don’t overpay for a home.

Don’t try to time the market…

Even in a hot market, there’s never a perfect time to buy a home. It can take a while to know exactly what you like, and you may have to look at 10 or more homes before you can recognize what suits your lifestyle best. While you’re shopping, take photos of your favorite properties and the details that you liked the best so that you can remember what you liked.

Another good reason to slow down the buying process: you might find a better deal if you do. Investigate expired listings. Expired listings may have gone off the market because they didn’t get any offers at the listed price, so you may be able to underbid the original listing price. It’s not likely worth your time to look at FSBO (for sale by owner) listings, though. Since they are not represented by a professional, they are often overpriced.

When you start shopping, have a one-hour initial consultation with your realtor. Give them every single detail that you know about your lifestyle, buying power, needs, wants and desires for your home. The more detail you can provide, the easier it will be for them to help you find your future home. Your agent may also know of exclusive listings not available to the general public.

… But make the offer as soon as you find the right home

If you love it, make the offer. Otherwise, that dream home may disappear faster than you think, especially if you’re buying in a hot market.

Your buying agent should contact the listing agent before you submit an offer so that they can decide what’s important to include in the offer. If you’re serious about it, you want to increase the chances that your offer is accepted.

Show that you’re serious about the purchase by creating a buyer’s offer packet. It should include your lender’s preapproval letter, a screenshot of your down payment money in your bank account, and comps that support the rationalization of the offer you are presenting.

Get a home inspection

Once you’re in the negotiation process, it’s essential that you get a third-party inspector to run a thorough home inspection. The inspector will be looking for major structural issues, including problems with the foundation, plumbing, and electrical systems. Your inspector should be extra picky, pointing out the most minor faults.

Make sure to have the inspection conducted before it is too late to back out of a deal. If there are any major structural issues, you may be able to make the seller repair them as a contingency to solidifying your offer. Minor issues that you can repair on your own may be points for negotiating a lower offer.

Protect your credit before you close

Don’t raise any red flags with your creditworthiness in the weeks before closing. Any one of these moves could mean that you’re denied the loan and the deal falls through — even if you’ve already been preapproved!

  • Keep your spending to a minimum and don’t make any major purchases before closing — that includes buying furniture, or a car, truck, or van, or any excessive charges on your credit card.
  • Keep your bank accounts stable. Don’t change banks, spend any of the money you have set aside for closing, or make any large deposits to your accounts without checking with your loan officer first.
  • Keep your employment situation stable — do not change jobs, quit your job, or become self-employed. Any sudden change in your income can have that preapproval offer rescinded.
  • Do not cosign a loan for anyone. It will open an inquiry into your credit and add to your debt, which could raise your mortgage rate and cost you thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.

Looking for a home in our area? Let us help you find the home of your dreams. We’re well versed in the our local real estate market, and we can provide you with a buyer’s market analysis to help you find the right neighborhood for you. Contact one of our trusted agents today.

 

 

The Home Equity Playbook

What is Home Equity?

Home equity seems to be a very simple calculation — the total amount of mortgages owed subtracted from the current market value of a home. Here is a simple example:

Current Home Market Value  $325,000

Existing Mortgage                                       $225,000

Homeowner Equity                                     $100,000

One side of the equation is well defined, and it is found on the monthly mortgage statement, the loan balance. The other side is less obvious — the current market value of the property. The most accurate measurement of market value requires a comparative market analysis from a real estate professional.

Putting Home Equity to Work

Home equity represents the largest single asset of millions of people, and because it represents so much of an individual’s net worth, it must be treated with respect. Home equity is not a liquid asset until a property is sold, or it is borrowed against.

There are two types of loans that tap into homeowner equity as collateral.

Home Equity Loans

 Many home equity plans set a fixed period during which the person can borrow money, such as 10 years. At the end of this “draw period,” the person may be allowed to renew the credit line. If the plan does not allow renewals, the homeowner will not be able to borrow additional money once the period has ended. Some plans may call for payment in full of any outstanding balance at the end of the period. Others may allow repayment over a fixed period, for example, of 10 years.

A home equity loan, sometimes called a second mortgage, usually has a fixed rate and a set time to pay it back, generally with equal monthly payments.

Home Equity Line of Credit

 A home equity line of credit is similar to a credit card. The lender sets a maximum amount you can borrow, and you can draw money as you need it, though many home equity lines of credit require an initial draw. The interest rate varies daily, and is usually prime plus a set number, but the required payment is usually interest only. Once the loan has been paid down, the payment is reduced, and it can be paid off and initiated as many times as a homeowner requires.

How Much Equity can be Accessed?

Since the financial institution is lending money and using a home as collateral, they will typically loan 80% of the home’s equity. The bank does not want to take the risk that if the house price drops, they would be carrying a loan for more than its market value.

Here are some good ways to use money from a home equity.

  1. Invest in Your Home

Among the very best returns on your investment (ROI) include kitchen and bathroom remodels, adding square footage or an extra bath, enhancing curb appeal and repairing/keeping the existing structure sound.

 

  1. Invest in your Children’s Education.  Using your home equity to finance a child’s higher education may be the greatest pay off of all.

 

  1. Supplement Retirement Needs

At retirement, when monthly income is reduced, a home equity loan could pay for a dream vacation or an unexpected major expense.

 

  1. Augment the Impending Sale of a Home

If you’re planning to sell soon, a home equity line of credit may be the best way to finance improvements to maximize your selling price.

On the flip side, avoid buying luxury items, assets that depreciate like cars and boats, don’t make investments in financial markets, and do not pay routine monthly bills. You should treat a home equity loan as an investment and not as extra cash when making financial decisions.

We Are Happy to Assist You

If you would like an assessment of the market value of your home and the current equity you can access, give us a call for a comparative market analysis.

 

Choosing A REALTOR® You Can Trust

When it comes to shopping for a home, especially if you are buying for the first time, having an agent on your side is extremely helpful.  But if you have never bought a house before, you may have no idea where to begin finding a REALTOR® that you can really trust to help you with this important decision.

If you open the phone book you will see a long list of names, and very little help to figure out which one to call.  There are a few ways you can narrow down the field of real estate agents to find someone you can trust.

Ask Your Friends And Family

To find a real estate agent you can trust, start with the people you trust—your family and friends.  Of course, the best people to ask are those who have bought a home recently, as the experience they had will still be fresh in their memory.  Ask them how happy they were with the service they received, and if they would recommend you hire the same agent.

Ask Others In The Field

Another source of good referrals is through some of the people you may know who work in related fields, such as mortgage brokers and insurance agents.  They often know many different agents and work with them regularly.  Ask them to provide you with a few names of the people they would trust most with their own home-buying process.

Meet With The Possible Agents

When you have created a short list of possible agents to hire, call a few of them and make an appointment.  Sit down and discuss your home buying plans with them.  Ask them about what sort of services they provide as well as things like their commission structure.  Treat this interview the same way you would in hiring any other professional to handle important business for you.  A good REALTOR® will be happy to answer your questions openly and honestly.

Take the time to meet with several agents before you decide who you would like to represent your interests.  That way you can compare the different experiences and see who you feel most comfortable with.  The agent’s experiences in real estate, their dedication to their clients and, of course, the rapport you develop with them are all important considerations.  Remember, you are looking for someone you can really trust.

Your REALTOR® is your home-buying partner and needs to be someone who is there for you and knows all the ins and outs of home buying.  Take your time and choose the right person for the job.