Looking for a new home is an exciting if slightly harrowing experience. Every time you go online to search for new homes or drive around your target neighborhood looking for homes with a ‘For Sale’ sign out front, you get that fantastic feeling, the tingle in the base of your spine and everything seems a little brighter. However, time and time again new buyers ask to look more closely at a home that seems like a good opportunity only to discover that it doesn’t have enough bedrooms, a big enough yard, or the kitchen is downright unfriendly to cook in.
As most home-seeking buyers discover, house hunting is harder than it looks. Finding a nice selection of homes that all meet your minimum criteria for a new house is surprisingly challenging, especially if you don’t already understand the industry and the right tools to search with. The fact of the matter is that there’s a reason that buyers tend to eventually hire a real estate agent to help them find a home and then get all the way through the negotiations.
Real Estate Agents Know How to Look
The real estate industry is a lot more complicated than it seems on the surface because people are buying and selling property all the time, but not always on the popular online platforms like Zillow. There are even private sales of homes that are only open to buyer recommendations made by the seller’s real estate agent and the only way to find these opportunities is to work with an industry professional.
In fact, real estate agents have had a private sub-culture of opportunity sharing since the 1800s and the tradition has continued with access to what is currently called the MLS or Multiple Listing Service. This is a platform where real estate agents can list the properties they’re managing and trying to sell in order to share opportunities with others who may have the perfect buyers ready. In other words, the MLS is how real estate agents network to find perfect deals that aren’t necessarily on the public market.
How a Real Estate Agent can Find Your Perfect House
House hunting is a skill which means that you get better at it the more you do it and no one gets the opportunity to practice like a real estate agent while buyers usually only get a chance to house hunt once or twice in a lifetime. Working with a real estate agent grants you all the benefits of their connections and house hunting experience while removing a great deal of the hassle and false-starts with homes that don’t quite suit your needs.
Once you choose a real estate agent to work with, they will ask you what you’re really looking for in a home. This should be defined in about three parts: What you absolutely must have, what you don’t want, and the lifestyle you’re looking to build. Everyone has different priorities for a home so be very clear about yours.
Equipped with your desires, often written into a set of lists, your real estate agent will start searching the MLS, sending emails, and making phone calls. Because this is their job, they can dedicate more time and energy to confirming that each house they investigate fits with what you’re looking for. After a long investigative search through both public and private listings, they will put together a portfolio for you of several home options they think you will like best.
Choosing from a Perfect Selection
The portfolio your real estate agent creates is the missing piece of the puzzle for most home buyers. By looking at a selection of homes that all fit your requirements, you can refine what you really want. If you don’t fall in love with one property right away, or if you love more than one of them, it’s time to take your short list on a few home tours. When you realize that your real estate agent has, indeed, found you the perfect home, it’s clear why the industry is so strong. Because it’s built on working together to create happy endings for home buyers.
For more information on what a real estate agent can do for you as a home buyer or seller, please contact us today!
Selling your home can be stressful, especially because it usually comes in the midst of a big move, and big moves = clutter and chaos. But how important is it to keep that clutter at bay when buyers are looking at your home, both in photos and in person?
We know clutter can’t actually talk, but believe it or not, potential homebuyers can hear it loud and clear, and you’d do well to listen to it because it has a lot to say about your home!
1. “This house is so full, it’s bursting at the seams! There’s just not enough storage space!”
It’s a logical conclusion: if stuff isn’t tucked away in cabinets and closets, then those cabinets and closets must just be too full to handle any more. While it’s likely this isn’t the case, the problem of a perception of “overflow” can definitely deter buyers from your property.
When prepping your home for photos and walk-throughs, think about what any additional storage furniture might say to buyers as well. It’s one thing to have a bookshelf or two in the living room; it’s something else to have plastic carts with drawers lining the walls of your bathrooms. These not only add visual clutter, they also scream, “There’s no more room!” to buyers.
As you prepare, also consider not only the clutter outside of the storage spaces, but the clutter inside them as well. Buyers will definitely open doors and drawers, and having your belongings neatly stored within the storage spaces gives off the impression that they function just right for your needs.
2. “There’s so much stuff everywhere. You’d think these homeowners would have been responsible enough to put it away or get rid of it by now. You know what else they probably haven’t bothered to do? Maintenance on this place! It’s bound to have lots of problems.”
It feels like a harsh judgment, but as much as it hurts, it makes sense. One imagines that a responsible person lives in a tidy, clean, clutter-free environment. Anything less than that invites doubts and concerns about an homeowner’s ability to take care of necessary day-to-day tasks, and that includes fixing leaky pipes and faulty wiring.
Tidying up can be hard, but it’s a great opportunity to lighten your load (literally and figuratively!) and give off the impression of someone who has it all together.
3. “Clutter, clutter! Look at the clutter! Just don’t look behind it…you might not like what you’ll find…”
You know how it goes- you accidentally gouge your wood floors, so rather than go through the hassle and expense of refinishing them, you just buy an area rug to cover up the damaged spot. Problem solved!
Well, maybe it doesn’t go like that for you, but it’s a buyer’s job to be suspicious, and if there’s enough clutter around, they may start to suspect that you’re trying to hide something.
When selling your home, it’s best to get naked- don’t worry, not you- your home. Be cautious with the placement of rugs, furniture, and other large odds and ends. As much as possible, give your buyers a clear picture of your home’s “bones” so they feel confident that they know exactly what they’re buying.
4. “Look at how much stuff there is everywhere! You know what that means- our homeowner has lived here FOREVER. This house is SO old.”
Like most purchases, when it comes to purchasing a home, “newer” almost always translates to “better.” It’s possible you haven’t lived in your home long, you just like to surround yourself with your favorite things, and you like that lived-in look. While that’s great for living in the home, it’s not great for selling it, because it gives off the impression that the house is old. And, of course, old homes often have problems that newer homes don’t- problems that homebuyers want to avoid.
So have a little see-you-later party for some of those treasured items and send them off to storage while your house is on the market. Your home will feel larger, cleaner, and be much more appealing to buyers.
5. “Ha, the listing said ‘spacious kitchen.’ That was before we- the conspicuous clutter- moved in! Doesn’t seem so spacious now, does it?”
Next to updated kitchens and bathrooms, everyone loves some extra square footage. But if that square footage is being taken up by your clutter, your home will feel significantly smaller and more cramped.
Don’t let the clutter steal valuable square footage- and valuable dollars- from your home! Clear out that bulky furniture that’s blocking the traffic flow and eating up floor space and replace it with something lower profile. It will make your home feel bigger and airier, giving potential buyers room to breathe- and to make you an offer.
If your clutter is talking a little more loudly to potential buyers than you’d like, send it packing! Contact us to find out more about how to clear the clutter and get your home open-house-ready in no time.
February 16, 2018
A lot of factors will go into your decision as you shop for a home – neighborhood, number of bedrooms, square feet, kitchen size and amenities, yard size, pool or no pool. This list will go on and on.
One important factor you’re probably not thinking about but that your lender definitely will is your debt to income ratio. This will make a big effect on how much you can borrow for your mortgage, so it’s a good idea to understand that number as you start your housing search.
What Is Debt to Income Ratio?
Simply put, your debt to income ratio is how much you pay monthly on all of your debts divided by your gross monthly income. This number will include the expected monthly payment on your mortgage, plus all other debts, such as a car loan, student loan payments, credit card debt, health insurance, etc. Your gross monthly income is what you make before taxes and other deductions are taken out.
For example, if your mortgage payment would be $1,500 and you have a auto loan for $100 and another $400 in other monthly debt payments, your total debt figure would be $2,000 ($1,500+$100+$400=$2,000). If your monthly gross income is $6,000, you would end up with a debt to income ratio of 33% (2,000÷6,000=33.33).
There is a magic number (43%) you need to meet before a lender can give you a qualified mortgage. That means, under our previous example, you could have monthly debt payments up to $2,580, thereby boosting your mortgage payment up to $2,080 and still being eligible for a qualified mortgage.
What Is a Qualified Mortgage?
Of course, that begs the next question: What is a qualified mortgage?
A qualified mortgage is a category of loan that has more stable features that ensures you’ll be better able to make your monthly payments and be protected from some riskier loan features.
After the housing crisis hit in 2008, rules tightened on lenders to ensure nearly all home mortgages fell into the qualified mortgage category. Some smaller lenders have a little wiggle room on the 43% figure, but in general all lenders must adhere to the rule in order to protect consumers, banks and the government from having to launch another bailout program.
Besides the debt to income ratio limit, qualified mortgages cannot feature interest-only payments, negative amortizations, balloon payments or mortgages longer than 30 years. They also limit points and fees lenders can charge consumers, and offer lenders extra legal protection.
How Can You Improve Your Debt to Income Ratio?
Assuming your employer is not going to offer you a raise so you can afford a more expensive home, the best way to improve your ratio is to pay off unnecessary debt.
The first and best place to improve your ratio is to pay off credit card debts as these also carry the highest interest rates. If your auto loan is nearly complete, pay it off early to erase that monthly debt. Pay off outstanding medical bills. Think about other monthly expenses you might address, such as a gym membership or movie streaming service you never or rarely use.
The amount of money you can pay down on your house or pay up front to reduce points, and whether you will need mortgage insurance, are all factors that can reduce your monthly mortgage payment, freeing up a little more room for a little more house.
As you sit down to make all of these calculations, the agents at Real Estate Pros would be glad of offer you advice on the best way to get the most home in the best neighborhood, based upon your current financial situation. Contact us today to get started on the adventure that will put you in your dream home as quickly as possible.
February 2, 2018
Young and old, homeowners and renters, parents and single professionals, we all have to pay the bills. One of the few things that can unite the vast majority of independent adults is the need to cover the cost of living. Even if housing were completely free, there is still a cost to keep the lights on, the water hot, and the appliances running. While most people simply accept that their power bill is an unchangeable fact of life, there are really dozens of ways to easily lower your monthly utilities costs simply by making your home more energy efficient.
While there are plenty of expensive ways to remodel your home to make it more energy efficient, you can get started with a variety of quick and easy DIY techniques. All you need to do is follow the basic principles: appliance maintenance, reducing waste, and keeping the hot or cold inside your house.
Switch to LED Light Bulbs
There are many upgrades you can make to your electronics and appliances but by far the easiest, most affordable, and most universally useful is the LED bulb. LEDs not only use less electricity than incandescent filament bulbs, they also don’t get so dangerously hot, last longer, and come in a lot more fun colors.
Change Your HVAC Filters
If your heater or AC is blowing through clogged filters, it’s having to work extra hard which expends more energy. Make life easier for your HVAC (heating, vents, and air conditioning) system by remembering to change out the filters. If you want a serious DIY task, try cleaning out the ducts as well.
Clear Out Dryer Lint
The dryer is one of the primary power eaters in your home right next to the fridge and the AC. The longer it runs, the more electricity it uses. However, when your dryer is clogged up with lint, hot air can’t flow freely and your clothes take twice as long (and twice as much power) to dry. The simple solution is to remember to clear the lint trap along with the lint trap housing. You may also want to check on the vent that comes out the back of your dryer, as it can also get clogged with lint and hinder air flow.
Weatherstripping on Doors and Windows
When hot or cold escapes from your home or the outside temperature gets in, your HVAC system has to work harder to compensate. You can save a lot of energy simply by improving how well your home is sealed. Putty up any cracks in the walls, keep your windows shut, and consider replacing the weather stripping on all doors and windows to improve your seal.
Insulate Your Pipes and Ducts
Along the same lines as weatherstripping, insulation is a great way to improve the energy efficiency of your home. While attic and wall insulation is useful, a great DIY solution is to insulate any pipes and ducts you can reach. For pipes, this keeps your hot water hot as it travels with a similar effect for hot or cold air in your ducts.
Craft Draft Stoppers
Draft stoppers are a great way to deal with a home in which the rooms are often different temperatures. The simplest draft stopper is simply a towel stuffed under the door crack but you can also hand-make a variety of delightful or utilitarian draft stoppers with a little cloth and stuffing.
Hang Thick Curtains
As our final note, you may be surprised how much cold can enter your home through the windows, even with double-paned glass. Fortunately, you can stop that cold at the window itself with thick thermal curtains. If your home tends toward cold and drafts, you can also hang curtains along the walls as well to provide additional insulation. This is actually one of the many reasons castles used to hang tapestries.
Making your home more energy efficient is no longer something that is just for the ‘green’ crowd. From light bulbs to curtains, these are simple and practical ways to reduce your monthly utility costs and, incidentally, make your home more pleasant to live in at the same time. For more great tips, contact us today!
January 4, 2018
An open house is one of the best opportunities to really see what a property you are considering is like. However, they tend to be short in duration and the house may be crowded. To make the most of your trip, consider asking the agent these important questions:
1. Can you tell me more about the house? An open-ended question will lead the agent or the owner towards what they think are the place’s best features. It will also break the ice and not come over as if you are pushing for specific answers. Pay attention to what they do not say.
2. Why is the house for sale? This might tell you nothing – it might be that the seller is downsizing, got a job offer in another state, or is in the military. If there is no good reason, though, it might be time to be suspicious.
3. What improvements have been made recently? Give the owner or their agent a chance to show off the new kitchen or bathroom – and yourself a chance to look at the work and see if it is acceptable. This can help you learn what kind of repairs you might need to do if you buy the house. Conversely, you should also ask about issues and obtain a seller’s disclosure which reveals all of the known problems.
4. How much are utility costs? Especially if you are moving to a new neighborhood…or a new city…you may not know what the typical monthly costs are. This can help you work out if you can really afford the house.
5. What is the neighborhood like? Is there a lot of traffic? If you have children, ask about nearby recreational facilities. If you have a dog, ask if there is a dog park. The seller can give you a good idea of what it is really like to live there and can help you finalize your decision. If the neighborhood is unsafe, then they will probably not tell you outright, but paying attention to what they say and do not say can tell you a lot. The distance to the nearest grocery store is also worth finding out.
6. Is there a lot of interest? This might help you make the right offer, and will also help you know your chances of buying the home or of being outbid. There is little worse than falling in love with a house only to be outbid or sniped by another buyer. If the agent looks particularly happy this can indicate they’re getting good interest. They are, however, very likely to tell you if there are a lot of offers – and help you decide whether to bid or look elsewhere.
7. How long has the property been on the market? If the answer is a while in a normally hot market, then this might hint at a problem with the house. You can always follow up and ask why. Did they have a buyer back out at the last minute? Was there some kind of bizarre estate or divorce-related issue that slowed down the sale?
These seven questions will help you get a good idea of whether you want to bid on the home or not. Always remember: It’s even more important to pay attention to what the owner or their agent does not say than what they do. The key information is often in the gaps, as the owner does not want to reveal that their neighbor is a professional drummer, the washing machine they are graciously leaving in the house is on its last legs, or that on certain days the noise from the train station carries a remarkable distance. Finding out the things you really need to know involves not just asking the right questions but paying attention to everything being said and not said. If you are looking for a new home and need a good agent or just more advice on how to handle the entire process, then contact Real Estate Pros today.
December 20, 2017
When you consider creating a welcoming front exterior to your home, it’s the little things that make the difference. You can make small changes to the front of the property and encourage a prospective buyer to enter the home. Once inside, the buyer should experience the same level of attention to detail that we suggest here. Much of what you do to increase a home’s curb appeal involves cleaning, retouching, and replacing. In this post, we explore six ways to immediately increase your home’s curb appeal for a low cost. Most of this work could be done in one weekend:
1. How old is your mailbox? This is often the first thing that people see. If it is rusted, crooked, dirty, faded, or otherwise outdated, it’s time to replace it. The new one should match or compliment your home’s paint color.
2. How clean is your driveway? You can rent a pressure washing machine or hire a service to come and pressure wash the driveway, which gives it a whole new look. The same device can also be used to pressure wash all of the home’s exterior. Once you remove the dust, grime, mold, and bugs from the outside walls, you may find that the home no longer needs a new paint job.
3. What adorns the front entry? You might want to replace the light fixture and the screen door/storm door because those are prominent as you walk up to the entry. Don’t forget to add a welcome mat and potted plants at strategic points. Take time to clean the windows and ledges and sweep off any debris from the sidewalk. If you have vegetation in front, you can also add decorative stepping stones along the border of the house.
4. How does the landscaping enhance or detract from the home’s structural look? With landscaping, less is more. Ensure that all the bushes and trees are trimmed, the lawn is cut regularly (which depends on the amount of rainfall in your area), and that weeds are removed from all planters and borders. You can also update the sprinkler system and apply fertilizer in problem areas so the lawn has an even look. You don’t want the lawn to be green in some areas and brown or patchy in other areas.
5. What happens when you look up at the home? Some homeowners will pressure wash the exterior and their home’s paint will gleam, but they will forget the roof. You might have to go up there and hose and brush off the roof. The soffit and fascia might also need to be pressure-washed. Be sure to remove bugs, leaves, twigs, pine cones, moss, and any other debris that is visible to the human eye from the ground. If there are mature trees around the home, you could hire a tree service to come and trim them, especially if some branches are touching the roof.
6. Did you decorate the windows from the inside? Some homes have many windows on the side facing the street, which permits much light to enter the living area. This is a good time to update the curtains, blinds, or other window coverings because they are visible during the day. Don’t forget to ensure that there is lighting to accentuate the home from outside at night.
Every little thing that you can do to clean up and fix up the home’s exterior will enhance its curb appeal. If you are certain you want to change the home’s exterior paint, run the color choice by your real estate agent. There are some colors of paint you could choose that might make the home harder to sell. For more tips, please contact us today.