Sweat the big stuff.
Buying your first home is scary. We get it. All those concerns you have about money are quite legitimate, and the mortgage process can be confusing. On top of that, you want to make sure the house fits you.
But some of the things that first-time home buyers worry about really don’t matter. Here are five issues that shouldn’t factor into choosing a home:
Your dining room table or couch doesn’t fit.
More than once, we’ve seen an HGTV house hunter reject an otherwise perfect home because a piece of their existing furniture wouldn’t fit. And we involuntarily scream “SERIOUSLY???” at our TVs in frustration.
Time for a little reality check: If your dining room table has some special significance ― say, it came over on the Mayflower with your ancestors ― OK, fine, keep it. But if it’s something you bought at Ikea and spent a weekend of hard labor assembling, don’t let it be a factor in whether to buy a house.
Furniture that doesn’t work in your new home can be sold. It can be given to the charity thrift store and, at least for now, will produce a nice tax deduction.
Or if you really like your dining room table, you could store it. While this is your first house, it likely won’t be your last. A 2013 National Association of Home Builders study found that buyers of single-family homes typically stay in the home about 13 years. That means if the table doesn’t fit in this house, maybe it will in the next one.
The walls are painted hideous hues.
There is no accounting for taste. But the good news is that paint is cheap and will totally erase the offending wall colors ― although it might take three coats.
First-time prospective buyers are often guilty of seeing things only as they are, instead of seeing what they could be. Force your eye to view the potential, not the purple walls.
In general, look past the things that can be easily changed and focus on what can’t be so easily undone. A north-facing house will always be dark. A house on a busy intersection will always be noisy. The next-door neighbor who uses his front yard as a car repair shop isn’t likely to stop earning a living because you asked him to nicely.
The top three things you may wish you could change but can’t are noise, view and natural light ― although skylights help.
The decor reminds you of Grandma’s place and not in a good way.
Without question, some homes are dated. But remember, when the seller leaves, he will take his stuff with him. Don’t worry about the well-worn recliners and dusty drapes, and instead get some quotes on how much it will cost to remodel the kitchen and the bathrooms circa 1974. Those are the rooms where updating will cost you.
Also, keep in mind that one person’s “dated” is another’s “vintage.” At some point, that kitchen linoleum that is causing your eyes to bleed may just be back in style. But yes, let us all pray that orange shag carpet will never make a comeback.
You’ve met the kitchen of your dreams.
Cool your jets! Even Remodeling Magazine thinks you’re behaving impulsively.
Want to know the only home improvement project that more than pays for itself, according to Remodeling’s annual study? Putting loose-fill insulation in the attic. It brought a 107.7 percent return on investment ― despite sounding about as exciting as watching grass grow. Siding replacement recouped 92.8 percent of its cost, according to the study. Replacing roofs and windows was also high on the list, returning 80 percent or more at resale.
So what does that tell you about what’s important in evaluating a house?
Infrastructure matters. New roofs, new plumbing and new electrical systems ―whether the former owner put them or they’re your first project ― will likely serve you better than a recently remodeled kitchen.
Don’t fall for eye candy, in either relationships or houses.
You don’t have children.
You don’t have and/or don’t want children. Fair enough, but that doesn’t mean the quality of the local schools shouldn’t matter to you at all.
A house is more than just a place to live. It’s also an investment, probably the largest one you’ve made to date. It’s smart to think not only of your current situation, but also about what prospective buyers will be looking for when you go to sell this house down the road ― and that means schools. In a 2013 Realtor.com survey of nearly 1,000 prospective home buyers, 91 percent said that the quality of the schools was important in their search.
One out of 5 buyers said they would give up that extra bedroom or a garage to buy in a district with better schools, and 1 out of 3 would purchase a smaller home to wind up in the right district.
Buyers also put their money where their mouths are. One out of 5 said they would pay up to 10 percent above their budget for the right school. One out of 10 would double that to 20 percent.
So even if you won’t be sending kids there, a good local school system could be money in your budget ― for that next home.
The device includes a rental agent who talks to the prospective renter through the robotic screen and can also move throughout the home.
When Gilbert Serrano opened the door of his potential dream home, a modern, two-bedroom rental on Karen Drive, he was surprised to be greeted not by a real estate agent, but by a robot.
The sleek, 3-foot-tall bot whirred up to the door on small wheels. “Hello, welcome. You must be Gilbert.” An iPad mounted on the machine displayed an agent’s smiling face.
These robots, rolled out last summer in the Bay Area by high-tech property management startup Zenplace, are intended to take the hassle out of coordinating showing times between agents and prospective renters. They’re just one piece of the new wave of technology that’s changing the way we buy, sell and rent homes, as platforms such as Zillow, Redfin and a host of smaller startups have eroded the real estate agent’s importance. These days, clients can use artificial intelligence to comb property data sans realtor, take virtual tours of promising homes from their couches, and even apply for their favorite apartments online.
“We see this whole ecosystem changing,” said Roelof Opperman of Fifth Wall, a Venice-based venture capital firm that invests in real estate tech. “Not only is how they buy and sell homes changing, but getting a mortgage is getting more efficient, how escrow works is getting more efficient, how insurance works is getting more efficient …This whole ecosystem is getting revolutionized.”
Startups like Open Door let property owners sell their homes, online, within days. Others, like Matterport and Transported, offer virtual reality home tours. And many companies are increasingly relying on drones to capture enticing images that will help them market their properties.
But Serrano, who works in sales at a tech startup, wasn’t looking for revolution when he arrived at the newly renovated fourplex in Santa Clara. The 37-year-old San Jose resident was just looking for a new apartment to move into with his fiance.
“I wasn’t expecting a robot,” he said, smiling with amusement as the bot, known as “Zenny,” rolled around the apartment.
“I’m a person too!” countered real estate agent Rabia Levy, who was controlling the bot from Zenplace’s Sunnyvale headquarters. And apart from a glitch that occasionally made her voice cut out, forcing Serrano to ask her to repeat herself, she responded to his questions in real-time, cheerfully whizzing around the apartment via robot and showing off its features.
“There’s lots of light in this place. Beautiful hardwood floors,” she said. She turned into the kitchen, with Serrano following behind. “Gorgeous stainless steel appliances.”
Serrano tested the blinds in the bedroom. He opened one of the cabinets in the kitchen. Before the end of the tour, he was picturing where his L-shaped couch would fit in the living room.
Zenplace, which has a few hundred robots giving tours throughout the Bay Area, wants to make renting a home as easy as summoning an Uber, said CEO Rahul Mewawalla. Prospective tenants upload a copy of their ID, via their smartphone, which Zenplace uses to run a background check. Then Zenplace texts the client a code to get into the property, via a lockbox, on his or her own schedule. After a tour, the client can use the robot to fill out a rental application on the spot.
Serrano found the robot tour convenient, and said he felt less pressure than he might have if a live agent had been in the room. At the end of the tour, Levy used the robot’s iPad screen to show Serrano rents at comparable apartments nearby and a picture of a park around the corner.
Levy, who has been a real estate agent for 11 years, said using the robot saves her time. Pre-robot, between time spent driving and coordinating with her clients’ schedules, she could fit in just one or two showings a day, and often had to wait until the weekend to show a property at an open house.
“It wasn’t physically possible for me to be everywhere at once,” she said.
Now she can do between 15 and 20 showings a day, which is better for her bottom line.
And although the robot has some limitations — it can’t climb stairs, for example — Levy says the experience is so seamless that she sometimes forgets she’s not in the room.
Not all realtors are enthusiastic about the new technology. Rick Smith, a real estate broker since 1986, said nothing — not even a shiny, high-tech robot — can replace meeting a client face-to-face. Building connections with clients, answering their questions and watching their facial expressions are all key ways Smith judges people’s interest in a property, and determines if person and property are a good match.
“When you’ve been in the business as long as I have, you often get a gut feeling about someone when you’re sitting across the table from them,” said Smith, president of the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors.
Mewawalla says his robots can improve a rental experience that, traditionally, “can be pretty frustrating on both sides,” as landlords struggle to coordinate showing times with prospective renters, and spend days sending paperwork back and forth, leading to delays in getting properties rented.
But in this market, where properties are flying off the shelves, Smith says the robots may be a waste of money.
“When we get a vacancy,” he said, “it’s usually days, not weeks, before we fill it.”
Virtual Real Estate Transaction Coordinator
Winter has yet to officially arrive, but if you're anything like us, you're probably already feeling twinges of cabin fever. If the thought of spending the next several months inside is too much to bear, know that you can still reclaim your outdoor space—as long as you're willing to shell out some cash or get a cold-weather workout.
A few surprisingly simple design tweaks and heating elements are all you need to use your outdoor space well into the winter months. And you'll be part of a growing trend, architects say; homeowners are already treating their outdoor spaces as extensions of their homes. With winter-proof patios, homeowners are getting more bang for their buck.
“We are designing a greater number of outdoor living spaces that can be used at least nine months out of the year and, on occasion, the full year,” says Thomas Wall, owner and architect of Mitchell Wall Architecture & Design in St. Louis.
Ready to transform your patio into an all-season wonderland? We've got your instructional manual right here. We'll admit: Some of these projects could take some heavy lifting, and might have to wait until spring. But there are a few tips that can get you warm and toasty al fresco in no time.
1. Raise the roof
Winter snow sure is pretty to gaze upon. But if you don't want to be sitting in it, you should consider covering your patio.
"Adding an overhead shelter to an existing deck is one of the most common requests I see in outdoor living," Wall says. "This can be anything from a simple, detached pergola to a full roof with fans, heaters, and speakers coming off of the main residence."
The cost and timeline for this can vary greatly, Wall cautions, depending on your current structure and wish list.
However, he adds, "in the world of architecture, adding a covered deck is a relatively simple process. If there are no circumstances to complicate things, it can be done quickly and on a budget."
2. Plant coniferous trees
Snow, unfortunately, isn't the only element to contend with. Keeping out winter winds and minimizing humidity can mean the difference between being comfortable outside and running indoors for cover.
To win the battle with Mother Nature, Wall recommends strategically planting certain kinds of trees around your space.
“Coniferous trees not only prevent wind four seasons a year, but they have the added benefit of taking away some of the moisture,” he notes. "The drier the air, the less you feel extreme temperatures."
But before heading to the plant store, take note.
“Spend time outside before you enter into the project, and know which direction the wind comes from,” Wall recommends. “Get to know your outside before you make it change. That way, you can be sure the changes you make will be money well-spent.”
3. Bring the heat
Of course, no winter-friendly outdoor space is complete without a heat source. Make a warming station the focal point of your patio and you'll not only be toasty, but you'll have a design that's ideal for entertaining as well.
“Many homeowners now are requesting outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, and Mexican-style chimeras,” notes Austin-based designer Pablo Solomon. “These are wonderful for gathering around and having a warm drink with friends.”
While a built-in or custom fire feature can set you back thousands, you can find budget-friendly fire pots or chimeras for under $200. One option is the Sun Joe Classic Stone Fire Pit ($132), which has the look of natural stone, without the hefty price tag. And if you're feeling industrious, you can build your own fire pit. It's a relatively simple process, as long as your ground isn't frozen.
Love to entertain? Take San Francisco–based designer Gina Gutierrez’s advice: “I like to use pits that have a large enough rim to lay down snacks and drinks while keeping warm by the fire,” she says. Try the CobraCo Diamond Mesh Fire Pit ($167), which has a 5-inch-wide edge that’s perfect for holding your winter ale.
If your patio isn't covered, be sure to check that your fire pit comes with a cover, which can keep it safe in inclement weather.
4. Seat smart
Buying outdoor furniture is kind of an art: You want something that looks rich, but is also built to last. There's enough to worry about with sun, rain, and heat during warmer seasons. But if you're making your patio winter-friendly, you'll want to make sure you invest in furniture that can withstand winter elements as well.
“Investing in quality outdoor furniture means having furniture that will last for years to come, versus furniture that you’ll place at the curb in a year,” says Deborah Holt, marketing and e-commerce specialist at Sunnyland Patio Furniture in Dallas.
When it comes to furniture that can take a beating from Mother Nature, Holt recommends looking for Sunbrella fabrics, weaves with UV inhibitors, powder-coated finishes, and extended warranties.
Still cold? Heated furniture takes this outdoor environment to next-level warm. Options include the sleek Galanter and Jones Helios Lounge($7,900), which you plug in, or the more budget-friendly and battery-powered Chaheati MAXX Heated Chair ($120).
Finish off your winter patio design with warm accessories so everyone can stay snug.
Blankets such as the Pendelton Motor Robe with Leather Carrier ($100) are designed for camping, but they’d also look amazing slung over an Adirondack chair. For an even more chic look, try all-white pillows like the Serena & Lily Montecito Floor Pillow ($228) and furry throws such as the West Elm Faux-Fur Ombre Throw ($49).
Finally, don't forget the simple touches. Adding cushions to your cold-prone Adirondack chairs, for example, will make them more inviting. Pro tip: Buy a waterproof deck box to store everything during extreme inclement weather.
6. Light it up
One of the best parts of spending time on your patio in the summer? Staying outdoors late, especially when the sun doesn’t set until 8 or 9 p.m. But the fun doesn't have to end even when it's dark at 5 p.m.
“Lighting is key when it comes to setting the mood, especially during dark winter nights,” Gutierrez says.
Ideally, you'll use heat lamps that keep you warm while lighting up the space. Try AZ Patio Heaters Portable Glass Tube Heater ($128), or go big with the Lava Heat Italia Triangular Commercial Flame Patio Heater($959).
For a more festive setting, string up some white twinkle lights across your yard. Then light some larger candles and keep lanterns on your patio, like the San Rafael II LED Solar Mission Lantern ($19), for the final touch.
Transaction Coordinator - Virtual Assistant
Capture your clients’ hearts with cutting-edge closing gifts and smart home tips
The number of smart home devices installed in the United States is expected to increase from 42 million in 2017 to 244 million in 2022, according to a recent Forrester Research report. That’s a 480 percent increase over five years!
Perhaps the greatest advancement of home technology in 2017 is that our homes are transitioning from “smart” to “thoughtful.” Products are communicating with each other to a degree that transcends the novelty gadget label.
Take the smart home company Nest for example. The firm, which made its name off its smart thermostat, now integrates with 119 products.
The increasing number of smart home products that connect to one another have motivated even more people to hop on the smart home bandwagon. You no longer need to be techie to love smart home gadgets. So, based on my geeked-out interest in smart home tech, I’ve come up with three gadgets that work great as closing gifts or client recommendations, no matter how techie your clients are. (Bonus: in the spirit of collaboration, these all integrate with Nest.)
Belkin WeMo Mini Wi-Fi Smart Plug
This plug makes any small appliance “smart,” meaning that it connects outlets, and the appliances they connect to, to the web, which allows you to control devices from the cloud. At only $35, it’s an affordable upgrade and a great gift. One of its best features is that you can control the plug from your phone, without blocking adjacent outlets. WeMo also works with Alexa and Google through voice commands, but we’re still waiting for Siri to catch-up.
Automatic Labs’ Connected Car Adapter
Who says smart home tech has to stay in the home? For just $99.95, you can get an auto adapter that provides auto safety while linking to your home’s smart home products. This adapter not only diagnoses engine issues and helps you remember where you parked, it can also link to your Nest thermostat while you are on your way home and prompt it to turn on your heating or cooling system to cozy up your home for arrival.
Yonomi mobile app
Finally, who doesn’t love a good app? This one rocks, and it’s free. Yonomi allows you to control hundreds of smart home devices from one place. It’s like having a personal assistant who takes care of everything before you wake up or walk in the door.
For example, you can create “routines” such as “work day wake up.” On work days, maybe you want motivational music, for the heat to turn on and coffee to be made — the app can help make that happen! There’s an iOS and Android version and it also has skills for Google Home and Amazon Alexa.
We’ve only scratched the surface, and with the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show coming up Jan. 9 – 12, we’re about to learn about a whole lot more. Find out more about these brands and at CES where you’ll scour the show floor and dig up the best new tech for work and play, and report back to us.