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  • 5 STEPS TO FIND PERFECT FURNITURE FOR YOUR NEW HOME

    Congratulations on your new home! This is an opportunity to think holistically about the interior design and decoration of your home. Have you ever been in a house where nothing seems to go with anything else? A house with stylistic clashes in its furniture and decor can feel like a conversation in which no one is listening to anyone else. Follow these steps for a smooth decorating transition to your new home.

    1. Planning

     

    The first step is to survey the territory. Start by listing any furniture or decorative element (a rug or framed art) you are keeping from your prior home. Also consider design aspects such as wall color, textures and lighting. Some of these you can choose and others you will need to take into consideration as you plan.

    Do you have a family heirloom piece of furniture that is coming with you to the new house? Your subsequent purchases will need to work well with the heirloom. Always take a moment and ask yourself why you are keeping a piece. If you don't love it, there's no shame in letting it go to a home where it will be loved.

    2. Preparing

    The perfect time to paint is before the furniture goes in. Don't make your paint purchases without thinking about the rest of the interior. For example, have you always wanted a bright red sofa? If you are going to pick a bold color for a major item of furniture, think neutral for the walls.

    Another common preparation is refinishing wood floors. Take into consideration the color of the floors and moldings and how they will interact visually with the rest of your interior.

    3. Prioritizing

    You may be able to acquire all of your furniture before you move in. But that isn't always possible. Prioritize your furniture purchases around your family's needs. Especially if you have children, your first wish may be a dining or kitchen table and chairs. The table is a gathering place for the whole family, and being able to eat together will make the house feel like home quickly. Make sure the kids have a say in what their rooms will look like — seeking their input can help ease their moving blues.

    If you are a couple without children, you might find it an adventure to picnic on the floor for the first few weeks, and the bedroom might be the first room you want to furnish.

    4. Purchasing

    Consider buying all the major pieces in each room from one furniture line. These pieces are designed to go together, and once you find a piece you really love, see what else is available from that designer.

    Celebrity brand lines of furniture are not mere gimmicks to capitalize on the star's name recognition. Rather, such brands are designed to evoke the mood and emotion most associated with that celebrity. A lot of work goes into the line to create a cohesive and evocative style. Check the designer lines from Cindy Crawford and Sofia Vergara atRooms To Go.

    5. Getting Help

    You don't need to hire an interior decorator. However, if you need some help, you can find many online tutorials on interior decorating and design, some of which are free.

  • 10 WAYS TO QUICKLY UP YOUR HOME VALUE FOR A SUMMER SALE

    Planning to sell your home this summer? You may have a little - or a lot - to do in order to get your home market ready. But you don't need a huge budget. These 10 tips can help you get it looking great with little effort, and cash.

    1. Paint

    Crisp white walls are great in a 1920s Spanish. For most other homes, a splash of color is an easy way to warm up the space, make it look more updated, and banish fingerprints and stains. Use a soft neutral like one of these favorite gray shades for a modern look.

    2. Address your front door

     

    A fresh coat of paint on your front door is a quick fix that pops with potential. Use a bright color like red or yellow to differentiate your home from others and make it shine from the street.

    If your door really can't be salvaged by painting it, you'll be happy to know that replacing it with a new steel door has been shown to return between 75% and 100%+ of your investment. "It's also a relatively low-cost project," said Houselogic. "According to the "2015 Remodeling Impact Report," a new steel front entry door has a national median cost of $2,000 installed."


    LinkedIn

    3. Quick curb appeal

    Aside from your door, a few easy tasks can make the front of your home look great - important when you're looking to sell your home since poor curb appeal can keep potential buyers from even coming inside. A new layer of mulch has been called the easiest and quickest way to add curb appeal. Pulling noticeable weeds, giving the lawn a quick mow, and bringing in fresh flowers - if you can't plant, put a few pots near the front door—can make all the difference.

    4. New appliances

    Even if the rest of your kitchen needs work, new stainless steel appliances can tempt buyers. This package from US Appliance is just $1,749.


    US Appliance

    If you end up with a fancy new fridge you don't want to leave behind, make sure to let your real estate agent know so it's stipulated in the contract.

    5. Quickie bathroom updates

    A new or painted vanity, hardware, fixtures, and lighting can make a tired bathroom look fresh again. Don't forget the little things - a fluffy set of towels, a nice rug, a modern shower curtain, and sleek accessories can make the space look good, even if it's really in need of a gut job.

    6. New bedding

    You'd be surprised how new bedding can transform the look of your bedroom for next to nothing. There are two schools of thought here: get a cheap bed-in-a-bag set that looks nice but probably doesn't have the thread count you want for everyday use, or spend a little more for something that has the looks and the luxe.

    7. Create a guest room

    Have a room that's currently an undefined space? A blowup bed covered in some chic bedding can help buyers envision how they'll use the room. This is a top tip from stagers, who say that "multipurpose" rooms can confuse buyers, leaving them unsure if a home will work for them.

    8. Set the scene outdoors

    Everybody is into indoor-outdoor living the days. A few tricks outside can make your place look inviting.

    Create a seating area with some inexpensive outdoor furniture. Scour garage sales or catch a sale at Home Depot or Target. Put up an umbrella for shade and use inexpensive pavers or deck tiles to define the space. Stage it for outdoor dining and you've just created valuable, usable space buyers can see themselves enjoying.


    Polywood Furniture

    9. Steal a few staging tips

    Hire a professional stager and it can set you back a couple thousand dollars. But you can steal a few of their most important tricks for free. Cleaning like you've never cleaned before, decluttering, and paring down your furniture to create inviting seating areas will allow buyers to see the space instead of your stuff (or your mess).

    10. Window coverings

    If your window coverings are ugly, old, and not doing your house justice, or if they're keeping too much light from streaming into the home, consider taking them down. Natural light is high on almost every buyer's must-have list. You can purchase inexpensive drapes at any big box store that you can use to frame the windows - but remember to keep them open at showings, and to clean your windows first!

  • DIY OR EXPERT EDITION: 4 HOME RENO PROJECTS AND WHO SHOULD HANDLE THEM

    As summer rolls around and the days grow longer and hotter, the kids are finally out of school and the pool water should be approaching an ideal temperature. Right now, home improvement projects are probably the last thing on your mind. But as it turns out, the warmest months are actually the perfect time to take a good look around your property and get to tackling some of those plans you have been putting off.

     

    Many projects are even less costly in the summer, considering that labor is more readily available and many folks won't schedule renovations with children home from school, while others would rather avoid conflicts with family vacations.

    So which projects are right for summer renovations? Maybe more importantly: Do you pick up your toolbox and get to work, or pick up the phone and call in the experts?

    Patio Bar Remake

    You can't get much more summery than cocktails outdoors, so if your property includes a standard patio, sunroom or sizable deck, this might just be the year you finally add that window bar. Creating a patio bar will allow you to open up the living space inside and enjoy the perks of an outdoor kitchen, but without the need for new outdoor plumbing.

    Anyone cooking inside will be able to enjoy the summer air and be part of the activities, while still benefiting from the conveniences of the interior kitchen.

    EXPERT OR DIY?

    Since the patio window will require some serious carpentry skills, this project would be best left to the pros. Even for the handiest of DIYers, mistakes could prove very costly, so let someone who is licensed and bonded make the important calls and decisions.

    Upgrade Your Security System

    A home feature you may forgotten about or taken for granted during the year is your home security system. With technology advancing by the day, even a system less than five years old can be antiquated and due for an upgrade. Particularly in the summer, when you may be away, or when your kids will be home, a home security camera system would allow you to keep an eye on what's going on when you're not around.

    EXPERT OR DIY?

    Believe it or not, you've got this one. With the purchase of a high-quality security camera system, you can an find easy-to-follow guide to install your new security cameras online.

    Repave the Driveway

    If your driveway is sprouting grass through four- or five-inch-long gaps in the surface, then it's time for a facelift. Asphalt driveways, in particular, are popular projects in the summer because working with asphalt is actually simpler if it is done in higher temperatures. When the weather is hot, asphalt is less likely to harden too soon, so laying asphalt in summer means smooth asphalt surfaces.

    The lower the temperature dips, the less time contractors will have to evenly spread the asphalt to form a level surface. Otherwise, you may be left with an irregular surface with bumps and valleys.

    EXPERT OR DIY?

    Though this may seem like fairly straightforward work — hey, you're just mixing and spreading — there is actually a little bit of art to it. A seasoned pro will know how to manipulate the temperamental asphalt. Go pro — your back will thank you for it.

    Gutter Repairs

    Making sure your gutters are clean and secure has become a summer ritual to many Americans. Throughout the year, leaves, stagnant water and sometimes even vermin accumulate in the gutters. The joints need to be checked for leaks, and the panels checked for holes.

    EXPERT OR DIY?

    This one is a personal call. Gutter repairs are usually simple and quick, but it's important to understand this type of work frequently ends in injury, so know your limits. There are specialists who will arrive with specific equipment in hand to take care of gutter issues efficiently. So, whatever you decide, remember safety first.

    Summer is a great time to cross off a few home renovations from your list and an even better time to sit back and enjoy the improvements, either made by you or a pro, once they're completed.

  • THE HOMEBUYING CHECKLIST THAT COULD KEEP YOU FROM BUYING THE WRONG HOME

    If you're in the process of buying a house or are getting ready to, you may be overwhelmed by all the possibilities - and all the details. It can be easy to lose sight of some of the things that are important to you when you're seduced by pretty countertops or kids playing out on the street. Making a checklist of those must-haves will help keep you on track.

    Is the bedroom count and general floorplan workable? You may be tempted by a house that's nicely staged and has that elegant-yet-warm feel you want. But look beyond the furnishings to make sure what you need is what the house has.

     

    Is there a place for your dogs to hang out? And is there a place for the dog bowls to go? This only seems like a little thing until you're moved in and are constantly tripping over their food. When the dogs are part of your life, you'll want the house to accommodate them, and you.

    Is there a place for your kitchen garbage can? See above. This "little thing" will drive you crazy. Is it enough to keep you out of the home? Probably not, but it's worth noting for situations where you can't decide between a couple of homes. It might be the little things that make the difference.

    What direction does the house face? Facing west is great when it means you get to watch the sunset every day. It's not so great when it means your electric bill costs as much as your mortgage from May to September because your air conditioning is running 24–7.


    Coastal So Cal Homes

    Where are the structural walls? If you're planning an extensive renovation, it might be a good idea to bring in an engineer to make sure the walls you want to remove won't bring the house down.

    Is there enough pantry space? A poor kitchen layout, and one that isn't easily remedied by a renovation, is a deal killer for many people.

    What shape is the floor in? Look carefully. Replacing floors can be a big and expensive undertaking. Even if you have an inspection and the floors are in decent condition, they may not match your style. It'll be up to you to decide if you can live with them.

    Where's the nearest Target? If location is important to you and the house you're looking at is over the mountain and through the woods, think hard about what you're willing to compromise. It might be that you start to hate being so far removed from amenities once the shine of a new house has worn off.


    Target

    Where is the nearest Starbucks? Not a coffee drinker? Doesn't matter. The "Starbucks Effect" means higher home appreciation if you live within proximity.

    Is there an HOA? This is important to know if you're looking to paint your home purple and display your collection of flamingos on the lawn.

    How are the schools? Even if you don't have kids and never plan to, a good school district is important to home values. Pay special attention to the possibility of being rezoned. This happens quite often in growing areas, and, while you won't always know what's going to happen in the future, impacted schools and districts and chatter about coming changes might give you reason to pause.

    What are the acoustics like? If there's a ridiculous echo coming from the upstairs bonus room, think about what that's going to sound like with two young kids playing.

    Is the wiring what you need? If you need your home to accommodate all the latest technology, you may have some extensive rewiring to do. Checking it out before you buy will help you feel confident you can achieve your goals.

    How's the yard space? Too little, or too much, space can make the day-to-day living less than ideal.


    99HOME

    What's the neighborhood makeup? Seeing a lot of young couples on the street? Or maybe it's mainly older couples you're seeing. Spending a little time in your neighborhood you're considering can tell you a lot about who your neighbors could be, and whether you'll fit in.

    Are there sex offenders nearby? Unfortunately, checking to make sure the people around you are decent is a reality today. Family Watchdog allows you to enter an address and see if there are any sex offenders in the area.

    Did you schedule an inspection? You may be tempted to buy a home as is, especially in a hot market, but if you forgo an inspection, you'll be on the hook for any issues that arise with the home down the line.


  • ASK THE HOA EXPERT: OUTDOOR FURNITURE IN THE COMMON AREA

    Question: A resident puts her outdoor furniture in the common area adjacent to her unit, insisting she was given permission by the developer.

    Answer: A claim that permission was granted by the developer is not valid since the developer has no right to grant some right to one that is not enjoyed by all. The board should advise the offending member the practice should cease.

    Question: We have a resident that seems to be suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's. He wanders the halls and forgets where he lives. He's left the stove on several times and has set off the fire alarm. What can we do?

     

    Answer: If this person has family, they should be notified as soon as possible of the danger posed to both the relative and others in the building. If family is unavailable or unwilling to intercede, contact local social services for assistance.

    Question: Can payment of HOA fees be withheld if the payer feels the HOA is not doing its job (like rule enforcement, repairs and landscape maintenance)?

    Answer: HOA fee payments cannot be withheld. It's simply too easy for someone that doesn't want to pay to find an excuse. The board and manager should be informed in writing of the specific repair request or other problem. However, in the case of an urgent repair request that the HOA has failed to perform (like a leaking roof that is damaging the member's unit), the member might order repairs, pay for them and seek reimbursement.

    Question: A unit owner has requested permission to rebuild her deck and expand the size. What issues should the board consider?

    Answer: Having unit owners repair and replace their decks is often a problem because those decks are typically attached to the structure which is an HOA responsibility to maintain. So, the unit owner should also be held responsible for any damage caused by the deck to the structure, like dryrot. This agreement should be in writing, dated, signed, notarized and recorded against the unit title to advise future owners of this responsibility. You should use an attorney to put the agreement in proper recordable form.

    Will the new deck match the look, design and material of the original installation? Conformity in common wall housing reinforces market value. The new deck should look like the old unless the board has adopted a new standard.

    As far as expansion is concerned, the board has no authority to approve a unit owner expanding into common area or to enjoy exclusive use of a common area. This must be approved by a vote of the members which may be 100%.

  • 4 TIPS TO MAINTAIN YOUR NEW HOME'S VALUE

    Unfortunately, you can't just expect to buy a home and have its value automatically rise along with inflation and the home market as a whole - Unless you live in downtown Manhattan!

    Maintaining the value of your home is all about making sensible improvements and getting into the habit of smart maintenance.

    We've put together 4 simple tips and points of consideration to make sure you don't overlook the key areas of your new home that may have a serious implication on its overall value.

    1. Regular Maintenance

     

    It's essential to perform regular maintenance around the house if you want to maintain the value. Two key (but lesser known areas) of maintenance are your air-conditioning system and your furnace (heating) system.

    Your furnace is sometimes connected to your HVAC unit, but most of us rarely inspect or maintain that part of the home. The reality is that we should be swapping out air filters at least twice per year, probably more like four times per year in order to improve your energy efficiency! Not doing so will lead to energy inefficiency and other problems.

    Aside from swapping air filters, you should be oiling the motor on older units. Never store hazardous chemicals near the furnace and if your unit is quite old (five plus years) then we strongly recommend having a professional come over to inspect it.

    You can find some more detailed advice on residential air filters on this Government website.

    2. Fix Heat Leakers

    We all know there's little drafts around the house that we can feel during those cold and windy months, but many of us simply won't do anything about it. Small cracks in doorways and windows are the #1 culprit, and they'll slowly but surely sap your energy bills.

    They also have a knock on effect - These annoyances will sap your furnace and AC systems too, forcing them to work even harder.

    Avoiding the long term implications of the above is key. This won't directly raise your property value, but it will maintain and extend the value, avoiding any unpleasant suprises down the line.

    3. Landscaping & Gardening

    Classically known as ‘curb appeal', it's extremely important to ensure your garden is in good conditioning, and that's obviously true if you're thinking of selling up. It's the first impression any prospective new buyer will see of your home, and it's especially important for young families with children who want to envisage themselves and their children enjoying the outdoor elements of the home.

    Many experts suggest investing as much as 10% of your home's overall value into landscaping if you're considering a sale, with homeowners expecting at least 150% return on their investment. Such is the high value that buyers place on an immaculate garden.

    4. Do Major Repairs The Right Way

    If you need to take care of major high ticket repairs or improvements - New furnace, windows, insulation, solar energy or even a home extension, then please never sacrifice on quality! These are all major selling factors when you come to sell your home, and they will be significantly noted and appreciated by your estate agent. There's nothing worse than seeing a home extension built to low-quality standards which isn't in-keeping with the rest of the home. If you're making major repairs or improvements, do it the right way!

  • Existing-Home Sales Rise in April for Second Straight Month

    WASHINGTON (May 20, 2016) — Despite ongoing inventory shortages and faster price growth, existing-home sales sustained their recent momentum and moved higher for the second consecutive month, according to the National Association of Realtors®. A surge in sales in the Midwest and a decent increase in the Northeast offset smaller declines in the South and West.

    Total existing-home sales1, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 1.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.45 million in April from an upwardly revised 5.36 million in March. After last month's gain, sales are now up 6.0 percent from April 2015.

    Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says April's sales increase signals slowly building momentum for the housing market this spring. "Primarily driven by a convincing jump in the Midwest, where home prices are most affordable, sales activity overall was at a healthy pace last month as very low mortgage rates and modest seasonal inventory gains encouraged more households to search for and close on a home," he said. "Except for in the West — where supply shortages and stark price growth are hampering buyers the most — sales are meaningfully higher than a year ago in much of the country."

    The median existing-home price2 for all housing types in April was $232,500, up 6.3 percent from April 2015 ($218,700). April's price increase marks the 50th consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

    Total housing inventory3 at the end of April increased 9.2 percent to 2.14 million existing homes available for sale, but is still 3.6 percent lower than a year ago (2.22 million). Unsold inventory is at a 4.7-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 4.4 months in March.  

    "The temporary relief from mortgage rates currently near three-year lows has helped preserve housing affordability this spring, but there's growing concern a number of buyers will be unable to find homes at affordable prices if wages don't rise and price growth doesn't slow," adds Yun.   

    According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate(link is external) for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell from 3.69 percent in March to 3.61 percent in April, which is the lowest since May 2013 (3.54 percent). The average commitment rate for all of 2015 was 3.85 percent.

    Properties typically stayed on the market for 39 days in April (47 days in March), which is unchanged from a year ago but the shortest duration since June 2015 (34 days). Short sales were on the market the longest at a median of 120 days in April, while foreclosures sold in 51 days and non-distressed homes took 37 days. Forty-five percent of homes sold in April were on the market for less than a month — the highest since June 2015 (47 percent).

    "Looking ahead, with demand holding steady and supply levels still far from sufficient, the market for entry-level and mid-priced homes will likely continue to be the most competitive heading into the summer months," says Yun.  

    The share of first-time buyers was 32 percent in April, up from 30 percent both in March and a year ago. First-time buyers in all of 2015 also represented an average of 30 percent.

    At last week's 2016 REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro announced beneficial changes to FHA condo rules, which could help many first-time buyers, are moving forward and are currently at the Office of Management and Budget for review.

    "Secretary Castro's update that the condo rule changes are in their final stages before implementation received great applause from Realtors® both at the forum and throughout the country," said NAR President Tom Salomone, broker-owner of Real Estate II Inc. in Coral Springs, Florida. "To ensure that purchasing a condo increasingly becomes a viable and affordable option for first-time buyers, NAR supports the ongoing efforts to eliminate unnecessary barriers holding back condo sales. We hope that progress on this condo rule means we'll see some much-needed changes in the near future."

    All-cash sales were 24 percent of transactions in April, down from 25 percent in March and unchanged from a year ago. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 13 percent of homes in April (matching the lowest share since October 2015), down from 14 percent in both in March and a year ago. Sixty-nine percent of investors paid cash in April.

    Distressed sales4 — foreclosures and short sales — declined for the second straight month to 7 percent in April, down from 8 percent last month and 10 percent a year ago. Five percent of April sales were foreclosures and 2 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 17 percent below market value in April (16 percent in March), while short sales were discounted 10 percent (unchanged from March).

    Single-family and Condo/Co-op Sales

    Single-family home sales inched forward 0.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.81 million in April from 4.78 million in March, and are now 6.2 percent higher than the 4.53 million pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $233,700 in April, up 6.2 percent from April 2015.

    Existing condominium and co-op sales jumped 10.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 640,000 units in April from 580,000 in March, and are now 4.9 percent above April 2015 (610,000 units). The median existing condo price was $223,300 in April, which is 6.8 percent above a year ago.

    Regional Breakdown

    April existing-home sales in the Northeast climbed 2.8 percent to an annual rate of 740,000, and are now 17.5 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $263,600, which is 4.1 percent above April 2015.

    In the Midwest, existing-home sales soared 12.1 percent to an annual rate of 1.39 million in April, and are now 12.1 percent above April 2015. The median price in the Midwest was $184,200, up 7.7 percent from a year ago.

    Existing-home sales in the South declined 2.7 percent to an annual rate of 2.19 million in April, but are still 4.3 percent above April 2015. The median price in the South was $202,800, up 6.5 percent from a year ago.

    Existing-home sales in the West decreased 1.7 percent to an annual rate of 1.13 million in April, and are 3.4 percent lower than a year ago. The median price in the West was $335,000, which is 6.5 percent above April 2015.

    The National Association of Realtors®, "The Voice for Real Estate," is America's largest trade association, representing 1.1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

     

     NOTE: For local information, please contact the local association of Realtors® for data from local multiple listing services. Local MLS data is the most accurate source of sales and price information in specific areas, although there may be differences in reporting methodology.                    

    1 Existing-home sales, which include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, are based on transaction closings from Multiple Listing Services. Changes in sales trends outside of MLSs are not captured in the monthly series. NAR rebenchmarks home sales periodically using other sources to assess overall home sales trends, including sales not reported by MLSs.

    Existing-home sales, based on closings, differ from the U.S. Census Bureau's series on new single-family home sales, which are based on contracts or the acceptance of a deposit. Because of these differences, it is not uncommon for each series to move in different directions in the same month. In addition, existing-home sales, which account for more than 90 percent of total home sales, are based on a much larger data sample — about 40 percent of multiple listing service data each month — and typically are not subject to large prior-month revisions.

    The annual rate for a particular month represents what the total number of actual sales for a year would be if the relative pace for that month were maintained for 12 consecutive months. Seasonally adjusted annual rates are used in reporting monthly data to factor out seasonal variations in resale activity. For example, home sales volume is normally higher in the summer than in the winter, primarily because of differences in the weather and family buying patterns. However, seasonal factors cannot compensate for abnormal weather patterns.

    Single-family data collection began monthly in 1968, while condo data collection began quarterly in 1981; the series were combined in 1999 when monthly collection of condo data began. Prior to this period, single-family homes accounted for more than nine out of 10 purchases. Historic comparisons for total home sales prior to 1999 are based on monthly single-family sales, combined with the corresponding quarterly sales rate for condos.

    2 The median price is where half sold for more and half sold for less; medians are more typical of market conditions than average prices, which are skewed higher by a relatively small share of upper-end transactions. The only valid comparisons for median prices are with the same period a year earlier due to seasonality in buying patterns. Month-to-month comparisons do not compensate for seasonal changes, especially for the timing of family buying patterns. Changes in the composition of sales can distort median price data. Year-ago median and mean prices sometimes are revised in an automated process if additional data is received.

    The national median condo/co-op price often is higher than the median single-family home price because condos are concentrated in higher-cost housing markets. However, in a given area, single-family homes typically sell for more than condos as seen in NAR's quarterly metro area price reports.

    3 Total inventory and month's supply data are available back through 1999, while single-family inventory and month's supply are available back to 1982 (prior to 1999, single-family sales accounted for more than 90 percent of transactions and condos were measured only on a quarterly basis).

    4 Distressed sales (foreclosures and short sales), days on market, first-time buyers, all-cash transactions and investors are from a monthly survey for the NAR's Realtors® Confidence Index, posted at Realtor.org.

    NOTE: NAR's Pending Home Sales Index for April will be released May 26, and Existing-Home Sales for May will be released June 22; release times are 10:00 a.m. ET.body

  • Money Secrets Revealed: Buy a Home Like a Banker

    Buying a home is a huge financial transaction, one you may do only once or twice in your life. So it’s understandable you might wonder if you’re botching the job. Is the home you picked a good investment? Or did you perhaps wimp out too soon while negotiating your price? Will you make back your money, or take a bloody beating down the road?

    We feel your pain. To help quiet down those (terrifyingly loud) voices in your head, we decided to go to the pros who wheel and deal with hundreds of thousands of dollars on a daily basis—bankers—to get some of their tricks and tactics for landing the best deal. So let’s hear what the money guys say:

    Learn what matters to the other party

    When Charlie Crawford was trying to buy a home in 2014, he hit a roadblock that threatened to derail the whole deal: The seller wanted to stay put for a full four monthsafter the sale. That was a huge demand—and while Crawford didn’t have much experience buying a home, he tapped into his skills running a bank to figure out what to do.

     “The most important negotiation skill for a banker is to understand what is important to the other party, and to be willing to compromise,” explains Crawford, president of Atlanta-based Private Bank of Buckhead. “In a successful negotiation, both parties end up feeling like they gave up some things, but retained some other important items.”

    So rather than walk (or run) away from the deal, Crawford homed in on why the seller had to stay put for so long—and learned that the 70-something woman was waiting to move into a newly built home that wasn’t ready yet.

    “It was clear that she did not want to move twice,” Crawford says. “So we allowed her to stay.”

    But not before he got something he wanted: a lower price. The seller agreed to sell her home for 90% of the listing price and foot the bill for some repairs.

    “This compromise was a good trade-off,” he says. “She got what was important to her, and we were able to buy her former home at a price we were willing to pay.”

    Don’t be afraid to walk away

    While Crawford and his family were willing to accept the inconvenience of renting for four months before moving in, he also knows that you sometimes need to walk away from the table. Case in point: At one point during negotiations, Crawford and the seller hit a stalemate on the offer price, but he did not cave.

    “We stopped negotiating for a month and looked at other houses,” he says. “Then we came back—and both sides were able to come to an agreement.”

    While this move took guts, it was based on research: Crawford knew the seller’s house had been on the market for nearly a year. He weighed the impact of the fact that it was winter, when fewer home buyers would be looking. While he could not eliminate all risks, he knew the odds were in his favor—and it turns out he was right.

    Keep emotions in check

    While home buying often feels like a psychological roller coaster, Ken Weiner thinks it’s best for prospective home buyers to be “a lot less emotional and a lot more analytical.” And he should know: A former financial services executive with 30 years experience in investment banking and asset management, he now spends his days investing in real estate. In his mind, some of the questions buyers should ask themselves include: “What is my risk? How long will it take to get back my return? What is the likelihood of getting back that return if something goes wrong?”

    For answers, he arms himself with information. For instance, Weiner culls data on nearly 30 metro areas from HomeUnion’s “Single-Family Rental” report that help him make informed decisions on buying real estate for both the short and long term. But numbers aside, this doesn’t mean that the buyer should minimize the importance of establishing trust.

    “Even in a world of sharks, bankers are trying to get people to trust them,” Weiner says. If a seller “sees you are being reasonable and wants to make a fair deal, they will deal with you in kind.”

    Get backup

    Bankers know there’s strength in numbers—so if you can’t accomplish a goal on your own, call in reinforcements! That’s what Kathy Cummings—a consulting executive at Bank of America—urged her own daughter to do to buy a home in New York City.

    “She was fresh out of grad school with her husband attending law school, so their income limits their options quite a bit,” she explains. So Cummings referred her daughter and son-in-law to the Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City, a housing counseling agency that works with various lenders. This agency is the primary administrator in the city for down payment assistance programs, and can provide new buyers with some needed muscle.

    “They will be able to match her to programs she may qualify for with her limited income,” Cummings says. Added bonus: “They educate her on homeownership.” And knowledge is power.

  • It’s a Great Time to Sell a Home—and to Buy Again

    Across the United States, home sellers are feeling good. Great, in fact. And why shouldn’t they? The residential real estate market is healthier now than it has been in over a decade. Across the board, we’re seeing strong demand turn into fast-moving inventory and higher prices.

    If there’s been any problem with this picture, it’s that the supply of homes for sale in some markets has been tighter than tight, leaving many would-be buyers in the lurch. Thankfully, there are plenty of factors leading more and more existing homeowners to realize that now is a great time to sell a home—and buyers may see the benefit.

    Fannie Mae’s National Housing Survey gives a good reading of how Americans view the housing market. In April, 52% of respondents said it is a good time to sell a home. That’s the highest percentage since the survey began in 2010, and it’s almost five times higher than in April 2011.

    It makes sense that consumers feel that way, right? After all, existing-home sales are up, inventory is moving at a rapid clip, and in many markets home values are either fully recovered or getting close to being fully recovered. What’s not to love?

    It’s no wonder existing homeowners are indeed acting on this perception that it’s a terrific time to sell. Visitors to realtor.com® looking to sell have increased 32% over last year.

     And if a successful sale is judged by the time it takes and the price it captures, sellers are far more successful now than they have been in 10 years.

    But here’s the reality: Selling a home is usually just the first (critically important) step in the process of buying another home. We find that more than 85% of today’s sellers indicate that they also intend to buy. So while they’re adding to the inventory of homes for sale, they’re also dipping back into it. And buyer traffic on realtor.com is also up 31% over last year.

    As buying competition, homeowners have some advantages: They’re more likely to have more money to put down from their sale and often have better credit than first-timers. But the need to sell their primary home before they buy another, in most cases, could work against them in a competitive bid situation.

    People’s reasons for selling and then buying again are numerous, but they mostly relate to life transitions and changing needs. Here are the top five reasons for selling right now:

    1. Want to be in a different neighborhood (40%)
    2. Need a home with different features (28%)
    3. Need a bigger home (22%)
    4. Want location with better weather, views, and/or lifestyle (19%)
    5. Need to lower cost of living (17%)

    However, different motivations hold sway at different ages. Heads of households between 35 and 44 years of age are driven by a desire to be in a different neighborhood and to have a bigger home. Those aged 65 and older are responding to retirement, looking for a home with different features, or trying to improve their weather, views, and/or lifestyle.

    The biggest factors standing in the way of today’s sellers are time, making necessary improvements in their existing home in order to sell, and finding a replacement home to purchase.

    Since mortgage rates have declined and stabilized at multiyear levels this spring, we’ll look back in a few years and realize what a unique window of time this was. Households that can indeed successfully sell and buy this year should improve their housing situation while locking in the lowest possible costs.

  • 7 Fixes to Do Now to Sell Your House in the Spring

    Many home sellers are taking down the “For Sale” signs as they take a break from hosting open houses and celebrate the holidays with family. But the off-market reprieve also offers an opportunity for sellers to upgrade their homes and better compete when the traditional spring-selling season begins.

    “The extent of improvements varies on the condition of the property and on a seller’s budget and willingness to invest in a home that they will soon be vacating,” says Svetlana Javakhyan, managing broker at Century 21 Commonwealth in Watertown, Mass. “However, one has to keep in mind that even in the market with a low inventory, many buyers are looking for a move-in ready home.”

    Here are 7 ways homeowners who want to sell can improve their chances when the ground thaws.

     1. Declutter

    While putting away holiday decorations, pack up other items in the house to create an airier, less cluttered interior. Grattan Donahoe, broker-owner of ERA Donahoe Realty in Temecula, Calif., recommends giving away or storing 80 percent of the items in a home. His advice is to streamline décor on shelves, clear countertops and put away seasonal clothes. “You’re moving,” he says, “so you should get packing.”

    2. Repair seasonal issues

    Donahoe also recommends paying attention to any issues that come up as the season changes. For example, if it rains a lot in your region during the winter, watch for roof leaks or areas of your yard with poor drainage. “You’ll want to fix these issues now so the home is show-ready in the spring,” he says.

    3. Improve first impressions

    “It takes, on average, 8 seconds for a potential buyer to make judgements about your home,” says Scott Wilkinson, broker-owner of Wilkinson ERA Real Estate in Charlotte, N.C. That means addressing areas that buyers encounter first such as a cracked driveway, peeling paint on shutters or trim and an unappealing front door. Easy fixes include trimming the bushes, freshening the mulch and painting the front door for added curb appeal.

    4. Address the floors

    Focus on where the buyer steps. “Floors wow many buyers,” says Venus Howard, a real estate agent with Re/Max Alliance in Westminster, Colo. Deep-clean carpets to get rid of unwanted pet odors and unsightly food stains. If it’s in the budget, re-sand and re-stain hardwood floors. A cheaper improvement is replacing any worn-out linoleum.

    5. Update the look

    Aim for a more modern look, says John Mangas, broker and co-owner of Re/Max Preferred Associates in Toledo, Ohio. Replace brass light fixtures, faucets, towel bars and door hinges with oiled bronze or brushed nickel ones. Strip off wallpaper and paint walls a neutral color. Pull up carpet in the bathroom and put down ceramic or a quality vinyl tiles, he says. Greg Smith, a real estate agent at Re/Max Alliance of Boulder in Colorado, recommends buying stainless steel appliances for the kitchen for a quick update that “can net thousands more for a home.”

    6. Take care of the fundamentals

    Make sure the basics mechanics of the home — heating and air conditioning, electrical, plumbing and the roof — are in tip-top shape, says Jim Zarkadas, a real estate agent at Century 21 Commonwealth in Watertown, Mass. “These are hot buttons that make buyers feel comfortable that everything in the home is working and, in most cases, will last for 20 to 30 years,” he says.

    7. Get inspected

    If you’re not sure where to concentrate your efforts, get an expert’s opinion. Wilkinson recommends having an inspection to find out which areas need to be addressed before they have a chance to unravel a sale.

     

  • Surefire Tactics to Getting More Money for Your Home

    All home sellers hope their place will fetch a big, fat price. And while you can’t control everything that determines a house’s market rate—like, say, the state of the stock market or the quality of your local school district—there are plenty of things within your power that can nudge that number higher. A lot higher, in fact.

    Granted, manipulating your home’s selling price will take some work, and usually some money. But time and again, these proven strategies make a big difference in final sales prices. Try a few, then prepare to do a victory dance on the big day you get your offer(s).

    Tactic 1: Bite the bullet and make smart upgrades

    Yes, overall renovations to your home will nudge up the price, although not always as much as you might hope: According to Remodeling magazine’s 2016 Cost vs. Value Report, you’ll get back an average of 64% on whatever upgrades you paid for. But that ROI varies widely based on what type of improvement you do. The most profitable upgrade is—drum roll—insulating your attic. It may not be all that sexy, but you’ll recoup 116.9% of your costs. It’s the only home reno in the report that redeems more money than you spend!

    Tactic 2: Boost your curb appeal

    You Realtor® has probably already told you: One surefire way to jack up your sale price is to knock ’em dead before they even reach your front door. So spend some time and do it for real. Improving your home’s curb appeal can increase your sale price by up to 17%, aTexas Tech University study found. Basic landscaping such as trimming hedges, pulling weeds, and pruning trees is a must.

    You can add pops of color by planting flowers in the front yard and placing potted plants on each side of the front door, says Kimberly Sands, a broker at Coldwell Banker Advantage in Apex, NC. Consider installing white panel lighting along railings, fences, or doorsteps to make your home’s exterior visually appealing for evening showings. Other low-cost projects to improve your home’s appearance include putting a fresh coat of paint on the front door, updating the house numbers, and adding porch furniture.

    Tactic 3: Create the illusion of more space

    It goes without saying that a higher square footage fetches a higher sum, but you can’t do anything about that, right? Not so fast: Your home’s actual specs don’t matter as much as how spacious rooms look when you’re standing in them. So be sure to create an open, inviting space. That entails removing large pieces of furniture such as the oversize coffee table (it might look nice, but it could be blocking foot traffic).

     Not enough room in the garage to stow everything? Look into renting a storage unit, says Jennifer Baxter, associate broker at Coldwell Banker RMR in Suwanee, GA. If your home has beautiful hardwood floors, show them off by removing large rugs, and clear off your kitchen’s counter space by putting away blenders, coffee makers, toaster ovens, and other small appliances, she advises.

    Buyers are particularly attuned to closet space, so move off-season clothes into storage. “You want to give the illusion that your closet is so large that you can’t fill it,” she says.

    Tactic 4: Hire a professional home stager

    Have “eclectic” design tastes? Your personal aesthetic might put off some buyers, so move all your knickknacks into storage and hire a home stager. It’s true that these professionals—who tweak your space to make it more appealing to buyers—aren’t cheap, but they can be well worth it.

    On average, staged homes sell for a whopping 20% more money than nonstaged ones. Staging may be particularly important if you’re in the process of moving, and some rooms are vacant. Make sure your living room and kitchen are fully furnished, since they’re the most important rooms to buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors®’ 2015 Profile of Home Staging survey.

    Tactic 5: Pick a neutral color palette

    Maybe you painted your daughter’s room pink, or thought lime green was perfect for the master bedroom. (We all make mistakes!) However, boldly colored walls can turn off buyers, says Katie Wethman, a Washington, DC–based Realtor and founder of the Wethman Group. So consider hiring a professional to repaint the house throughout in a neutral color such as off-white or beige. Or if you have the time, you can cut costs by painting it yourself.

  • 1st quarter 2016 California housing affordability

    Strong wage growth and level home prices buoy California housing affordability

    Twenty-two regions see improvement, with eight of nine Bay Area counties posting higher

    • Thirty-four percent of California households could afford to purchase the $465,280 median-priced home in the first quarter, up from 30 percent in fourth-quarter 2015 and unchanged from 34 percent in first-quarter 2015.

    • A minimum annual income of $92,571 was needed to make monthly payments of $2,314, including principal, interest, and taxes on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 4.01 percent interest rate.

    • Forty-one percent of home buyers were able to purchase the $389,910 median-priced condo or townhome. An annual income of $77,575 was required to make a monthly payment of $1,939.

    LOS ANGELES (May 9) – Higher wages and lower seasonal home prices combined to push California housing affordability higher in the first quarter of 2016, compared to the previous quarter, the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (C.A.R.) said today. Affordability was flat when compared to the previous year as rising home price offset income gains.

    The percentage of home buyers who could afford to purchase a median-priced, existing single-family home in California in first-quarter 2016 rose to 34 percent from the 30 percent recorded in the fourth quarter of 2015 and was unchanged from first-quarter 2015, according to C.A.R.’s Traditional Housing Affordability Index (HAI).  This is the 12th consecutive quarter that the index has been below 40 percent and is near the mid-2008 low level of 29 percent.  California’s housing affordability index hit a peak of 56 percent in the first quarter of 2012.

    C.A.R.’s HAI measures the percentage of all households that can afford to purchase a median-priced, single-family home in California.  C.A.R. also reports affordability indices for regions and select counties within the state.  The Index is considered the most fundamental measure of housing well-being for home buyers in the state.

    Home buyers needed to earn a minimum annual income of $92,571 to qualify for the purchase of a $465,280 statewide median-priced, existing single-family home in the first quarter of 2016.  The monthly payment, including taxes and insurance on a 30-year, fixed-rate loan, would be $2,314, assuming a 20 percent down payment and an effective composite interest rate of 4.01 percent.  The effective composite interest rate in fourth-quarter 2015 was 4.07 percent and 3.97 percent in the first quarter of 2015. 

    The median home price was $483,810 in fourth-quarter 2015, and an annual income of $96,790 was needed to purchase a home at that price.

    Condominiums and townhomes were also more affordable compared to the previous quarter. Forty-one percent of California households earned the minimum income to qualify for the purchase of a condominium or townhome in the first quarter of 2016, up from 39 percent from the last quarter of 2015. An annual income of $77,575 was required to make monthly payments of $1,939.

    Key points from the first-quarter 2016 Housing Affordability report include:

    • Compared to affordability in fourth-quarter 2015, 22 of 29 counties tracked saw an improvement in housing affordability, three experienced declines, and four were unchanged. 

    • Affordability improved greatly in the Bay Area, with eight of nine counties seeing an improvement. Southern California, Central Coast, and the Central Valley also saw higher affordability, compared to the previous quarter.
      
    • Housing affordability in Southern California improved from the previous quarter in every county, with Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Diego counties leading the way.

    • During the first quarter of 2016, the five most affordable counties in California were Kings (58 percent), San Bernardino (57 percent), Merced (55 percent), and Kern (55 percent). 

    • San Francisco (13 percent), San Mateo (16 percent), and Santa Cruz (18 percent) counties were the least affordable areas of the state.  

    Housing Affordability slides (click link to open)

    Affordability peak versus current
    Annual income peak versus current*
    PITI peak versus current*


    Leading the way…® in California real estate for more than 110 years, the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (www.car.org) is one of the largest state trade organizations in the United States with 185,000 members dedicated to the advancement of professionalism in real estate. C.A.R. is headquartered in Los Angeles.

    # # #

    CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®
    Traditional Housing Affordability Index

    C.A.R. RegionHousing 
    Affordability Index
    Median Home 
    Price
    Monthly Payment Including Taxes & InsuranceMinimum 
    Qualifying Income
    CA SFH 34 $           465,280 $               2,314 $             92,571
    CA Condo/Townhomes41 $           389,910 $               1,939 $             77,575
    Los Angeles Metropolitan Area35 $           436,850 $               2,173 $             86,915
    Inland Empire48 $           297,850 $               1,481 $             59,259
    S.F. Bay Area27 $           723,060 $               3,596 $           143,858
    US60 $           217,600 $               1,082 $             43,293
         
    S.F. Bay Area    
    Alameda23 $           731,640 $               3,639 $           145,565
    Contra-Costa38 $           543,570 $               2,704 $           108,147
    Marin20 $       1,093,750 $               5,440 $           217,610
    Napa24 $           646,960 $               3,218 $           128,718
    San Francisco13 $       1,332,500 $               6,628 $           265,111
    San Mateo16 $       1,170,000 $               5,820 $           232,780
    Santa Clara22 $           970,000 $               4,825 $           192,989
    Solano47 $           368,610 $               1,833 $             73,338
    Sonoma26 $           583,210 $               2,901 $           116,034
    Southern California    
    Los Angeles31 $           458,900 $               2,283 $             91,302
    Orange County23 $           713,680 $               3,550 $           141,992
    Riverside County42 $           342,930 $               1,706 $             68,228
    San Bernardino57 $           233,490 $               1,161 $             46,455
    San Diego28 $           554,320 $               2,757 $           110,286
    Ventura30 $           622,520 $               3,096 $           123,855
    Central Coast    
    Monterey27 $           500,000 $               2,487 $             99,479
    San Luis Obispo26 $           540,830 $               2,690 $           107,602
    Santa Barbara21 $           680,920 $               3,387 $           135,474
    Santa Cruz18 $           746,500 $               3,713 $           148,522
    Central Valley    
    Fresno52 $           219,590 $               1,092 $             43,689
    Kern (Bakersfield)55 $           220,270 $               1,096 $             43,824
    Kings County58 $           201,340 $               1,001 $             40,058
    Madera50 $           217,050 $               1,080 $             43,184
    Merced55 $           192,060 $                   955 $             38,212
    Placer County48 $           411,640 $               2,047 $             81,899
    Sacramento48 $           297,620 $               1,480 $             59,214
    San Joaquin47 $           295,000 $               1,467 $             58,692
    Stanislaus50 $           254,440 $               1,266 $             50,623
    Tulare52 $           193,900 $                   964 $             38,578

     

    CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®
    Traditional Housing Affordability Index

    STATE/REGION/COUNTYQ1 2016Q4 2015 Q1 2015 
    CA SFH 3430 34 
    CA Condo/Townhomes4139 41 
    Los Angeles Metropolitan Area3532 35 
    Inland Empire4845 47 
    S.F. Bay Area2724 27R
    US6058 61 
          
    S.F. Bay Area     
    Alameda2322 25R
    Contra-Costa3837 42R
    Marin2017 19 
    Napa2421 29R
    San Francisco1311 12 
    San Mateo1614 14 
    Santa Clara2220 22 
    Solano4745 48 
    Sonoma2626 31 
    Southern California     
    Los Angeles3127 31 
    Orange County2321 22 
    Riverside County4239 42 
    San Bernardino5753 58 
    San Diego2825 28 
    Ventura3026 28 
    Central Coast     
    Monterey2725 29 
    San Luis Obispo2626 30 
    Santa Barbara2120R16R
    Santa Cruz1821 22 
    Central Valley     
    Fresno5249 51 
    Kern (Bakersfield)5555 57 
    Kings County5861 62 
    Madera5048 51 
    Merced5555 60 
    Placer County4844 46 
    Sacramento4846 49 
    San Joaquin4738 39 
    Stanislaus5040 43 
    Tulare5254 57 

    r = revised


  • How to Get a Mortgage After a Loan Modification

    One of the challenges many homeowners faced in the recession was financial hardships.Loan modifications were often a short-term solution banks offered for homeowners facing delinquency, income changes or loss of home equity. If you have a loan modification but want to move and buy a new home, here’s what you need to know about getting a new mortgage.

    What is a loan modification?

    A loan modification is any change to the original terms of a mortgage that resulted in the restructuring of any of the following: principal curtailment, forgiveness, forbearance, payment reduction or any change of terms from the original loan note. (Check out thismortgage glossary to get a better understanding of some of these terms.) Each loan modification is different, but the most common form involved simply a reduction in the mortgage payment.

    Important timeline details

    Generally, conventional mortgage loan guidelines require you have 24 months of payment history on the subject property (the property you want to get a new mortgage on) since the date of the modification, or 12 months of payment history if you trying to finance the non-subject property. Put another way, if you had a loan modification on a house 12 months ago, but are looking to finance another property, you should be in the clear. If you had a principal balance forgiveness, also called a write-down on your mortgage, you’ll most likely be ineligible for most conventional mortgage loans. If your loan payment was reduced only, and you have the 12 months or 24 months rating, depending on your financial situation, you’re more than likely eligible for financing again. (You can read about mortgage refinancing guidelines here.)

    Was your loan modification reported?

    The mortgage holder that did the modification will typically report ‘restructured or modified mortgage on your credit report. In the event you have a modified mortgage, but the credit report does not indicate so, this could be beneficial, as lenders work off the credit report. (To see how the loan modification is affecting your credit score, you can get a free monthly credit report summary on Credit.com.)

    You need to provide a copy of the original modification terms specifically detailing the modification if you have a modification in your past to lenders. Some lenders who provided loan modifications to borrowers have different interpretations of what Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac consider to be a modified or restructured mortgage.

    This is something that can work in your favor. Most, but not all loan modifications, involved signing new paperwork detailing the specifics of the loan restructuring with a mortgage loan servicer. If your loan was changed, but you did not sign any paperwork, your loan may report normally to the credit bureaus, wherein documenting the loan modification wouldn’t be necessary and you may avoid the waiting time.

     Most banks that originate, bundle and sell loans to the secondary market operate off the same guidelines regarding waiting times. In many situations, bigger banks have investor overlays that add another layer of inspection to a loan that may not necessarily need it, but is in place to insure less-risky loans. If you’ve been turned down before, based on the previous loan modification situation, you owe it to yourself to get a second opinion. Mortgage banks that deal directly with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may be more viable source for securing a loan.

  • 5 Common Closing Day Surprises and How to Deal

    I was thrilled when the sellers accepted my offer on a tear-down lot in McLean, VA, the perfect place to build my own “Downton Abbey”–style manor. And the deal went forward without a hitch—that is, until closing day.

    Soon after I arrived at the title company’s office on the big day, my real estate agent sheepishly handed me a set of 40-year-old covenants that restricted what I could build on the site. Looking back, I know that I should have smiled politely at the six people gathered and suggested we reconvene later after I’d studied this giant wrench in my plans. But I didn’t want to inconvenience everyone, so I closed the deal.

     It was an agita-inducing mistake. Even though those covenants didn’t derail my dream home’s construction, they caused me constant anxiety.

    This is not just a concern for those building a home from scratch: For many home buyers, closing day is daunting, and coping with last-minute surprises can be tricky. Some problems are minor and easy to solve; others can wreck a deal. So which are which? Let’s take a look.

    Ugly walk-through revelations

    The dreaded walk-through is the top reason for surprises on closing day, and for good reason: This final inspection of the home happens the day before your settlement—or even the morning of—so there’s little time to prepare for whatever problems might pop up.

    Who knows? A sudden storm could have poured water into the basement, or now that the furniture is all gone, cracks in walls or other flaws may be exposed.

    How bad is it? If the problem is serious, like flooding, you should definitely proceed with caution. To avoid this snafu, make sure to inspect a home as thoroughly as possible before your final walk-through to avoid last-minute surprises.

    Don’t be shy about asking for another look-see after a big storm to vet for dampness or flooding. But a last-minute discovery of a problem is not necessarily a deal breaker. Just ask the seller to cover the cost of those repairs, and put the funds in escrow. Be sure to come with estimates from professionals on how much those fix-its will cost.

    What stays, what goes

    Another common issue that crops up during the walk-through is misunderstandings about which items get transferred with the sale. For instance, maybe you loved the seller’s antique stove, ceiling fan, or other household item and assumed it would stay—but you find out the sellers took it with them.

    How bad is it? Unless you’re really attached to the item, you may want to let this one slide if you want this deal to go through. The easiest way to avoid these misunderstandings is to delineate in a contract what remains in the house or must be moved out, says Ben Niernberg, executive vice president of business development at Northbrook, IL–basedProper Title, LLC.

    “Be very detailed on what’s staying and going,” he says. “Washer, dryer, ceiling fans, fixtures, appliances—be diligent during your initial inspection.” Also, make sure the contract reflects your expectations.

    Credit challenges

    Even though you were probably approved for a mortgage a month or so earlier, even small changes in your financial picture since then can affect your credit score and create problems up to the moment you close on the property. Changing jobs, applying for a credit card, falling behind in paying bills, even sudden infusions of cash can red-flag your deal.

    How bad is it? Pretty bad. If a lender withdraws the offer, you won’t be able to close until you secure another mortgage, which could take weeks. Or, if the lender wants to increase your interest rate, as it usually does in these situations, then you’ll have to decide if you can still afford the purchase.

    To head this issue off at the pass, contact your lender the day before closing to discuss and solve any issues that may have turned up. Also, try to avoid making any sudden financial moves in the weeks leading up to the close, like quitting your job or receiving a $10,000 “gift” from a family member to help out with home buying—that could, ironically, throw a wrench into the process.

    Money transfer misunderstandings

    On closing day, the chief order of business is to transfer funds. Some financial institutions and title companies prefer cashier’s or certified checks; others want funds to be transferred electronically. Show up with the wrong paperwork or account numbers, and you’ll be left scrambling.

    How bad is it? This misunderstanding should be nothing more than a speed bump. To avoid it, ask your agent and lender before closing what form of payment is required. Also bring your checkbook to pay for small items that might crop up, like an unpaid electric bill.

    Title trouble

    A title company—which confirms details about your property such as past ownership, liens, and the aforementioned covenants—could bring up issues on closing day. If that happens to you, don’t be afraid to step back and insist on taking time to digest any details, problems, or stipulations attached to the property.

    How bad is it? It depends on what the search turns up. Some problems, like tax liens or a claim on the property from a relative or co-owner, can postpone a closing. Other things, like the covenants I mentioned above, or unpaid HOA dues, may be surprises but not deal breakers. But any and all title defects must be fixed before you can close on the property. It may be frustrating, but when you leap into homeownership, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

  • 7 Hidden Costs of Selling a Home

    Ready to put your home on the market? You’re probably already picturing the dollars pouring into your bank account—after all, home prices are rising in many markets across the country, and odds are pretty good that your home has appreciated over the years. So it only makes sense that you’d stand to make a profit, right?.

    But what’s easy to forget is selling a home costs money, too—sometimes a lot of money. This is what’s known as a reality check.

    There are some obvious costs you’ve probably anticipated, like commissions to the listing and buyer’s agents (which typically amount to 5% to 6% of your home’s price). But there is also a variety of smaller expenses to factor in. Here’s where your money might go, how much you should expect to pay, and some real ways to curb these costs.

    Repairs

    If you’ve let your home’s maintenance lapse, you may need to hire a handyman or a general contractor (depending on the nature of the work) to get your property ready to put on the market. This isn’t the time to cut corners.

     “If you cheap out, buyers are going to catch shoddy repairs during the home inspection and you’ll wind up paying more money than if you had used a good handyman the first time,” says Michael Lyons, a real estate broker in Hollywood, FL.

    Walk through your home, and draw up a list of noticeable problem areas such as rotted wood, cracks in the ceiling, or chipped paint. These may seem like minor issues, but they’re worth fixing.

    “If buyers see small issues, they could assume there are bigger problems beneath the surface,” Lyons explains.

    In terms of making major repairs, you’re probably better off lowering the listing price—or giving the buyer a credit at closing—instead of doing the work yourself, says Lyons. Replacing a roof, for example, costs on average $20,142, but offers only a $14,446 resale value—meaning you’ll recoup only 72% of the cost, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2016 Cost vs. Value Report.

    Professional photographs

    Four in 10 home buyers start their search by looking at properties online, according to the National Association of Realtors®’ 2015 Real Estate in a Digital Age Report. And photos are overwhelmingly viewed first, according to a study by Old Dominion University. Therefore, it’s worth paying for a professional photographer. Granted, it would be cheaper to let your agent take pictures; so, if your agent offers this, look at photos from her previous listings to gauge the quality of the work.

    While the cost varies by area and the size of your property, you can expect to pay $500 to $1,000; to find a photographer in your area, go to smartshoot.com/real-estate-photography.

    Landscaping

    Curb appeal is what gets buyers in the door—and improving your landscaping can raise your home’s value by up to 12%, according to research from Virginia Tech. While prices vary, the average cost of a full-on landscaping job—flower beds, plants, trees from scratch—is around $3,239, according to HomeAdvisor. That said, you can save on these costs by doing at least some of the work yourself.

    “Go to your local Home Depot and pick up new mulch and seasonal flowers to give the exterior a pop of color,” Lyons recommends. Take the time to remove weeds, trim hedges, and (of course) mow the lawn.

    Staging

    Buyers need to be able to visualize what it will be like living in the home. Hence, staging—where you hire a professional to arrange furniture and other items in a home to make it more appealing—is a good idea. If you’re selling a vacant home, Lyons says staging is a must.

    Staging services and prices range widely, but a 2015 NAR survey pegged the median cost at $675—and one-third of buyer’s agents said they believe staging a home increases the price that buyers are willing to pay by up to 5%. Don’t have much left in the budget?

    “Just introducing small items, like a bowl of fruit in the kitchen or towels and candles in the bathroom, can entice buyers,” says Lyons.

    Utilities

    If you’ve already moved into your new home, you’ll want to pay to keep the electricity on while your property is on the market.

    “No buyer wants to walk into a hot or cold house, or a house that’s pitch-black,” Lyons says. Also, if you turn off the air conditioning during the summer, you’re putting your home at risk for mold, says Lyons—and mold remediation costs on average $2,158, according to HomeAdvisor.com.

    Capital gains taxes

    If your home has appreciated a lot, you may have to pay capital gains tax. This tax is based on the difference between your home’s purchase and selling prices, minus the value of documented improvements such as an addition (but not maintenance such as a roof replacement). So, if you’re in a hot market and your profits are substantial, Uncle Sam may take a small chunk when April rolls around.

    The good news is, this rule comes with substantial exemptions. If you’re selling your primary residence as a married couple filing taxes jointly, you can exclude up to $500,000 of profit from the sale of your home; if you’re single, it’s $250,000. Talk to your accountant or a tax preparer for more information.

    Closing costs

    Closing costs will likely be your second-biggest expense behind commission fees. You can expect to spend roughly 2% of your home’s sale price, says Keith Gumbinger, vice president at mortgage information resource HSH.com.

    The buyer typically chooses the closing company, and closing costs tend to be fixed, including transfer taxes, mortgage processing fees, escrow fees, and notary fees. You’ll also pay at closing any outstanding property taxes, a prorated share of the water and sewage bills (depending on when you sell), and the remainder of your mortgage.

    Yet you may have control over a few closing costs, says Gumbinger. If you hire a real estate attorney to oversee your side of the transaction, it’s worth shopping around to compare rates. You might also be able to avoid a $100 to $200 reissue fee for the title search if you can provide a copy of your policy.

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