Prepare yourself by knowing the less-obvious costs of owning a home. Insurance, maintenance and more add up faster than you think
Buyers too often focus on a home’s list price or mortgage payment to determine what they can afford. However, the numerous less-obvious costs associated with homeownership can affect the monthly bottom line.
To help home buyers budget more accurately, Zillow and Thumbtack identified several common but often overlooked home expenses and calculated what homeowners around the country could expect to pay for them. The analysis also included utility cost estimates from UtilityScore.
While each extra expense might seem small, they cost U.S. homeowners, on average, $9,080 a year, according to the report.
Nationally, homeowners pay an average of $6,059 a year in unavoidable costs, which include homeowners insurance, property taxes and utilities. Since nearly half (47 percent) of home shoppers today are first-time buyers, many of these extra costs may come as a surprise.
San Francisco homeowners pay the most of the metros analyzed ($13,019 on average), primarily due to the market’s high home values and property taxes. Indianapolis homeowners pay the least ($4,699).
Nearly all homeowners (96 percent) have made some kind of improvement to their homes, according to the 2016 Report on Consumer Housing Trends. While many complete these projects themselves, those who pay professionals can expect to spend an average of $3,021 for the six most common hired home projects requested by Thumbtack users: carpet cleaning, yard work, gutter cleaning, HVAC maintenance, house cleaning and pressure washing.
Labor costs can vary significantly by region, with Seattle homeowners paying as much as $4,052 a year on average for those six projects, while San Antonio homeowners pay an average of $1,962.
More than a third of buyers go over budget on a home purchase. To help buyers better understand the total cost of homeownership, Zillow Group launched RealEstate.com, a website that allows people to search by the “All-In Monthly Price” of owning that home. In addition to the mortgage, the price includes estimated property taxes, insurance, PMI, utilities, taxes, HOA fees and closing costs.
It never hurts to ask -- or does it? Here's what you need to know about how credit checks can affect your mortgage rate.
Almost all home buyers know that higher credit scores mean lower mortgage rates, so it’s no surprise that one of the top questions home buyers ask is: will shopping for mortgage rates lower my credit scores?
The short answer is “No.” But only if you manage your mortgage shopping process correctly. Here’s how to preserve your credit score while shopping for the best rates.
Is it safe to have multiple lenders run my credit?
Three bureaus generate your credit scores: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Lenders report your monthly activities on student loans, credit cards, auto loans and mortgages to these bureaus, who then score you on an ongoing basis. Your credit scores change constantly each month based on factors like:
When it comes to that last factor, credit card inquiries hit your score harder than car and mortgage inquiries. For example, if you’re out shopping at three department stores and allow all three stores to process new credit cards for you, the bureaus’ scoring models are coded to lower your score for each individual inquiry.
Each inquiry would lower your score by up to five points, or more if you have just a few accounts and/or a short credit history. The inquiries would stay on your credit report for 24 months, and your score wouldn’t recover for about 12 months — until you demonstrated strong payment history and balance-to-limit control on those new cards.
Car and mortgage inquiries make less of an impact because the bureaus know consumers shop for these big-ticket items. The bureaus’ scoring models are coded to “de-duplicate” multiple mortgage inquiries, since the end result of those inquiries would be one mortgage.
For example, if you were shopping for a mortgage with three lenders, and all three ran your credit one week, the three inquiries would show on your report, but would be scored as only one, so your shopping process would cause your score to shift by up to five points instead of up to 15.
How long can I shop for mortgages without damaging my credit?
Equifax, TransUnion and Experian are constantly changing scoring models. The newer the model, the longer a consumer can shop for mortgages with multiple lenders and have all inquiries scored as one. There’s no law requiring lenders to upgrade to the latest model, and it’s impossible to know which model is being used by which lender at any given time.
The oldest scoring models still being used by lenders de-duplicate multiple mortgage inquiries posted on your credit report in the past 14 days. The newest models de-duplicate multiple mortgage inquiries posted on your credit report in the past 45 days.
Obviously, the newer models allow for more shopping time, but since you won’t know which credit scoring model your various lenders are using, it’s safest to get your mortgage shopping done (including having lenders run your credit) within 14 days.
Will lenders take a credit report I ran myself?
You’re reminded constantly by the media and advertisements that you should check your credit regularly, but before you do anything, you must understand the following critical points:
No matter which side of the transaction you're on, you don't want to give up more than you have to.
After months of searching for the perfect home, making some offers, and maybe even competing with other buyers, you finally have a deal on your dream home. It took some negotiations, but you and the seller have come to terms.
Or have you?
Too often, getting a signed contract and putting your money into escrow is the beginning of what can become yet another round of negotiations. Here are five things every home buyer and seller should know about last-minute negotiations or credits.
Buyers may ask for credits based on property inspections.
Usually, a real estate contract either provides for a property inspection, or buyers inspect before signing. Depending on the property and the issues, a buyer might also have a particular type of inspection for the sewer line, septic, pool or roof.
These inspections can bring to light issues that the buyer couldn’t possibly have known about before making an offer. Once inspected, the buyer may still be interested in pursuing the sale. But given the needed repairs they will probably want to re-negotiate the price by asking for credits or a reduction in the purchase price.
Sellers should consider having a property inspection before listing.
The goal is to avoid negotiations once you’re under contract, because they’re not going to be in your favor. If you know the roof is near the end of its life or the furnace breaks from time to time, let it be known upfront, because rarely can you “sneak” something past the buyer.
You might even go as far as having your property inspected before listing the home. This way, you can address any issues, and make the inspection report available to buyers. They can come up with their best offer upfront, knowing what they’re getting.
If you have an inspection report or are otherwise assured your property is in great shape, you could even ask for an “as-is” clause in the contract. Although it’s not necessarily enforceable, it will send a strong message to the buyers that you aren’t open to more negotiation.
Sellers may try to avoid giving credits by having work done before escrow closes.
After inspections, the seller might agree to have work done before the closing. Or the seller may require that a payment is given directly to a contractor for the purpose of performing the specific, required work and nothing else.
These agreements help protect the seller, because buyers sometimes ask for credits just to help offset the closing costs — and never intends to do the repair work.
It also protects the seller if initial estimates for needed work turn out to have been overstated.
Buyers who ask for credits just to get the price down may be taking a chance.
Sometimes the buyer concedes on the purchase price thinking they can come back after the property inspection and ask for an additional concession.
The buyer may even feel empowered now that they’ve completed a series of inspections and are just weeks away from closing. The seller isn’t going to go back to the drawing board with a new buyer over a few more dollars, right?
Actually, they might. If it’s a strong buyer’s market, there’s a good chance the buyer can pull it off, but if it’s more of a neutral or a seller’s market, the seller may call your bluff. They’re assuming that you’re the one who, having invested all this time and money on inspections and an appraisal, isn’t going to walk away over a few dollars.
Buyers nearly always ask for credits, so sellers should give themselves some cushion.
You should also leave some additional room for negotiation when you’re in escrow. Always assume the buyer will ask for minor repair work — they nearly always do, even if there are no major issues. If you leave some cushion for yourself, you’ll feel better about the deal, and you’ll have protected yourself against the inevitable.
Conversely, the last thing you want is to be blindsided by a buyer asking for a few thousand dollars credit — just when you think the deal is finally done.
Looking for a new way to give back? Try opening your home to those in need.
When it comes to giving back, most people immediately think of donating time or money to a cause. But another just as effective — and perhaps less thought of — option is sharing your home as a force for good.
Here are six ways to make a difference with your home.
1. Connect your neighbors through reading
Perhaps you’ve seen charming little structures in your neighborhood that are similar to mailboxes but filled with books. Started in 2009, the Little Free Library inspires a love for reading while building community. Purchase or build one of these book-exchange boxes to place in front of your home, and fill it with books you want to share.
2. Host a soldier for the holidays
Live near a military base? Many organizations offer the opportunity to host a soldier for a holiday meal at your home. Connect with your local U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) or Navy MWR resource office to find hosting opportunities.
3. Share your home with a cancer patient and their family
Cancer patients seeking treatment may end up at hospitals and communities far from home. While many hospitals provide lodging, there’s also an opportunity for hosts to step in and provide a homey place to stay.
Programs vary by area, so connect with your local hospital. If you’re in the greater Philadelphia area, check out Hosts for Hospitals or Boston’s Hospitality Homes.
4. Open your home to evacuees
When a natural disaster strikes, entire communities are unable to return home. Launched in 2017, Airbnb Open Homes is a program that works with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to book homes for people in need, for free. When a disaster occurs, hosts near affected areas are contacted with requests from displaced families and individuals.
5. Provide a safe place for refugees
Those forced to flee their country may not always have the connections and immediate financial resources to find shelter. A spare room or unused part of the house could be a great temporary solution for these refugees while they get on their feet.
Room for Refugees started in the United Kingdom and now works in the U.S. and Canada too. Many other refugee resettlement services offer hosting opportunities, so research the relevant needs in your area.
6. Get creative
Invite your neighbors over for dinner, or throw a progressive dinner party. Hosting a Death Over Dinner party is a great way to talk about end-of-life care for you or someone you love. Other ideas include hosting a lecture series, documentary viewing or craft night, all in an effort to build community right where you live.
It's essential to have the right marketing plan, pricing strategy and real estate agent.
When shopping for a home, it’s not uncommon to come across one that truly stands out. It’s not because the home is an old fixer-upper or that it’s a newly renovated home with a designer kitchen. It’s a home that’s architecturally significant or in some way conveys a “different” attribute. For instance, it might be a castle, a church or even a fire station that has been converted into one or more living spaces.
With an unusual home, pricing and marketing can be a challenge. Here are three things to keep in mind when either buying or selling a truly unique property.
1. Buyers should be cautious
As crazy as it sounds, a would-be buyer may want to reconsider purchasing an offbeat home. While it may be a home you love, it is also an investment. A home with a unique, unchangeable structural feature will likely alienate a large portion of the market.
If you’re faced with the opportunity to purchase a unique home, don’t get caught up in the excitement of it all. Think long term. Understand that when it comes time to sell, it may be a burden, particularly if you try to sell in a slow market.
2. When selling, don’t assume buyers will love what you love
As the owner of an interesting or different home who is considering a sale, be aware that not everyone will have the same feeling about the home as you did when you bought the place. While you’re likely to get lots of activity, showings and excitement over your property, a lot of that may simply be curious buyers, nosy neighbors or tire kickers.
Time after time, sellers with unique homes believe that since they fell head over heels, another buyer who might feel the same. But that person could be hard to find.
3. Hire the right agent and have a serious marketing/pricing discussion
A unique home requires a unique marketing plan and pricing strategy as well as a good agent. The buyer may not even live in your local market, and instead might be an opportunist buyer open to a unique property. So you should consider advertising outside the mainstream circles. Media and press can help get the special home the attention it may need.
The buyer may not want to live in your town but is fascinated by an old church or castle. The more you get this out there, the better your options for finding the specific buyer.
If you get lots of action but few offers, you may need to drop the price below the comparable sales to generate interest, particularly if you really need to sell. Just like a home with a funky floor plan, on a busy intersection or with a tiny backyard, the market for your unique home is simply smaller.
With online home listings, blogging and real estate television shows, unique homes stand out and get more exposure than ever. But selling a distinctive or offbeat property requires out-of-the-box thinking early on, and with a top agent. You only have one chance to make a first impression. Be certain to price the home right, expose it to the masses and have a strategic plan in right from the start.
Dwell shares insider tips after consulting architects, DIY home builders and shipping container experts from around the world.
You’ve decided to join the shipping container revolution. Your plans are drawn up, your site is prepared and your welding torch is ready to transform a discarded steel box into the durable, stylish and sustainable home of your dreams. Now what?
To help you get started, we asked architects, DIY home builders and shipping container experts from around the world for their insider tips on bringing home the best possible container for your building needs.
The first step, they agree, is to find a reputable distributor. “Shipping companies don’t want people calling them for one or 10 containers. They prefer to sell to dealers,” says Barry Naef, director of the ISBU Association (ISBU stands for intermodal steel building units, the term for containers used specifically for construction).
He recommends checking the extensive international list of dealers on the Eco Green Sources website. And don’t despair if you live far from the ocean. Thanks to a network of inland distribution hubs, says Naef, “there are as many [containers] in the mid-U.S. and Canada as there are at the ports, at nearly the same prices.” A dealer can help arrange for overland transport of your container via 18-wheeler truck.
Other sourcing options exist, too. In Zambia, a local NGO supplied Tokyo-based architect Mikiko Endo with old containers it had used to transport donations (she transformed them into maternity clinic housing). In Israel, architect Galit Golany purchased a refurbished container from a prefab construction company, then fixed up the turnkey unit with timber cladding, roofing, a deck and stone base.
Stephen Shoup, founder of Oakland’s building Lab, agrees that looking for a distributor that will do some basic modifications prior to sale is a good idea.
“It’s tons of fun to be standing there with a plasma cutter and a welder and be hacking into these things and pasting them back together, but if you’re encountering engineering issues, then you’re going to need licensed welders. That cost is much more controllable when done at the fabrication shop or shipyard,” says Shoup.
Another option is to purchase a container manufactured specifically for building, like the ones from Toronto-based MEKA or Silhouette Spice in Tokyo. These can be cheaply transported using existing global shipping networks, but are tailor-made to meet building codes (Japan’s are especially strict).
If you do decide to purchase a genuine seafaring container, you’ll need to keep a number of factors in mind. First is size. Although dimensions are generally standardized, your safest bet for projects that join multiple units is to purchase a single brand (perhaps one whose logo you fancy). Houston-based architect Christopher Robertson, who has designed both upscale residential and disaster-relief housing using containers, recommends choosing “high cubes” (HQ), which are about a foot taller than standard, because the smaller size can feel claustrophobic after installing insulation. Lengths vary from 8 to 53 feet, with 20 feet and 40 feet being the most common.
Whichever you choose, Robertson cautions that the costs of transportation and modification quickly add up. “There’s a real misconception that building with containers is absurdly inexpensive. Unfortunately, that’s not true at all,” he says.
Assuming you’re still hooked on the many other benefits of container construction, you’ll need to think about age and condition. Options range from virtually unscathed “one-trippers” to eight-to-10-year-old retired containers, with varying degrees of rust, dents and warping. Your choice depends on your design goals.
For Brook van der Linde, an artist who built a DIY container home with her husband in Asheville, cost and sustainability were more important than perfect condition. “Our goal was to use materials that were headed for the landfill. Our containers were constructed in 2005 so they had a good long life going to China and back,” she says.
Robertson, on the other hand, sought out one-trippers for his residential project. “They’re a little more expensive but they look a lot better,” he explains. “If they start having a lot of dings and rusts, you lose the aesthetic pleasure.”
Although a container’s history is trackable via its serial number, the best way to assess its condition is through a visual once-over prior to purchase. Arrive at the lot armed with a level to check for excessive warping and a checklist of potential problems, such as holes, dents, damaged door seals, and corrosion (a little rust is par for the course). Don’t forget to use your nose, as well. The wood flooring of most containers is treated with toxic pesticides, which you’ll need to seal or remove, and others may have been used to transport unpleasantly odiferous contents.
Finally, once you’ve made your choice, take a deep breath. The toughest — and most enjoyable — phase of building your container home is still to come.
The real estate industry caters to independent strategies. For every investor, there is another way to go about conducting business. Some may prefer to utilize the convenience of technology while others want to maintain personal relationships. However, for one reason or another, there remains a void between these two independent strategies. Smart investors will figure out how to incorporate technology into their business while simultaneously maintaining the personal relationships that they have worked so hard to create. Others will need to learn this before it is too late. Using the latest technology, in association with establishing lasting relationships, can go a long way in making a business successful.
Programmers, and the venture capitalists backing them, certainly want the real estate industry to be run through advancements in technology. At the same time, a number of the leading industry minds, and young entrepreneurs are dismissing technology as just another tool. So which real estate strategies will prevail over the next decade? The early adopters riding the next wave of technology? Or those taking customer relationships seriously? Perhaps both?
Tech is invading real estate, and fast. The following advancements in technology have already been incorporated into the real estate industry:
Highly controversial drones have been flying their way into mainstream real estate applications. They are now being used for enhanced photography, virtual tours, and even property management.
As the world becomes a planet of digital natives, more and more data is becoming available to the public. While big data may seem hyped up to many real estate professionals, better data means being able to pinpoint prospects with highly targeted marketing, and give them more of what they want. Theoretically, this means improved real estate marketing performance and ROI.
Curation remains a popular trend, though its value may be suffering due to larger trends, and the obvious need for originality.
Not only is technology creating more efficiency in mortgage lending, it is spawning new financing models altogether. The advantages of speed and streamlining operation technology can increase lender margins, or help keep interest rates and borrowing costs low. One of the largest new developments has been ‘buy to rent’ loans for single-family rental home investors. Crowdfunding goes even further, completely breaking from traditional mortgage lending and having to rely on banks.
Home searches haven’t necessarily benefited from new technology much. The big home listing portals haven’t changed much. The many new startup attempts at mimicking these real estate search engines haven’t appeared to gain much traction. The data shows house hunters are still far better served turning to local real estate websites.
Web design has changed significantly in the last year; both aesthetically and functionally. HTML 5 has taken over, and both responsive sizing and content is becoming the norm.
Augmented reality is rapidly gaining traction. Augmented reality and interactive ads are taking over as the top ads in print and outdoors. Google Glass is now being used on the streets by some real estate companies to coach agents and team members in real-time. Technology is also working its way into improving green building efforts.
Where’s the Personal Touch?
Technology is great. It can make life and business a lot easier, and more profitable for real estate agents, investors, and the companies they work for. However, some entrepreneurial thought leaders and real estate commentators are increasingly highlighting the benefits of offline, and personal connections.
It all comes down to what is best for business, and enabling real estate professionals to stay in alignment with the things they really care about. Efficiency from technology is great. It gets even better when it improves service for home buyers, sellers, and renters. Done right, integrated technology can make management easier, facilitate business growth, ensure sustainability and long term competitiveness, and significantly drive up ROI and profits.
Still, it shouldn’t be a replacement for real interaction and service. Unless this is kept at the forefront of the mind, short term gains will be just that – short term. Winning customers could become far more expensive, and those with the strongest relationships will be those that retain customers and benefit from their referrals.
With this in mind, some real estate professionals and companies have been taking another look at brick and mortar storefronts. However, they are also taking the time to build real relationships. These are all good things. But, unless the same care and attention to caring for customer needs, and wowing them with great service is maintained at all levels of an organization, it may not make much difference. In fact, you might be better off with just a website, instead of allowing poor customer service reps destroy your reputation, and brand.
The latest technology has been helping to blur the lines between offline and online. Perhaps this is the best strategy for real estate companies. Meet each client where they are and interact across multiple channels for efficiency, while still providing tailored, but high quality service.
Your partner’s credit history can influence your future interest rate.
Whether you’re a seasoned or first-time home buyer, be prepared to know your FICO score and have a firm understanding of your credit history. And if you’re buying with another person, their credit history can affect your joint home purchase.
What is a FICO score?
First things first — what’s a FICO score and why does it matter? FICO is an acronym for the Fair Isaac Corporation, the company that developed the most commonly used credit scoring system. Everyone is assigned a number ranging from 300 to 850. The number assesses your credit worthiness through previous payment history, current debt, length of credit history, types of credit and new credit. For the purpose of buying a home or obtaining a loan, it’s the score most commonly used by lenders to determine the borrower’s level of risk. Many people simply refer to the FICO score as “credit score,” so we’ll do that moving forward.
Which score do lenders look at?
Typically, your lender will look at three credit scores reported from each of the three credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — and then take the median score of the three for your application. Borrowers should hope for at least a 680, which is generally the minimum score for getting approved for conventional loans. For borrowers with lower credit scores, FHA loans allow a 580 score, or even as low as 500 if a 10 percent down payment is made. In any case, the higher the score, the better interest rate you’ll be offered.
Should I apply with my spouse or alone?
Deciding whether or not to include a spouse or a co-borrower on a mortgage application often comes down to whether it makes the most financial sense.
There’s not a ton of wiggle room when it comes to qualifying for a loan. You typically qualify or you don’t. If the only way you can qualify for the loan is by applying jointly to include the total income of both borrowers, then that might be your only option. But even if your credit and income are good enough to qualify for a loan on your own, applying together still might be a better option, as each scenario has its tradeoffs.
My partner has bad credit
When applying jointly, lenders use the lowest credit score of the two borrowers. So, if your median score is a 780 but your partner’s is a 620, lenders will base interest rates off that lower score. This is when it might make more sense to apply on your own.
The downside in applying alone, however, limits you to just your income and not the combined amount from you and your partner. While your credit score might be better, having a lender evaluate you on only your income could lower the total loan amount you qualify for.
If having your name on the home is a big deal, don’t worry. You can still be on the title of the home, just not on the mortgage.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve been hearing about various mobile trends in integrated marketing. And maybe you’ve entertained the idea of how a mobile app could help your business. If you haven’t figured out whether you can afford to build one, or how to go about it, this brief overview will give you a few places to start.
First determine how an app would benefit your customers. For example, the hair-cutting franchise Great Clips launched an app that allows customers to see estimated wait times in their area, and easily make an appointment without calling. Consequently, stylists also save time by not having to interrupt haircuts to answer the phone so often.
Below are a few sites that can easily and cost-effectively help you build your own mobile app. Most of these, plus others, can be found in the book “Go Mobile: Location-Based Marketing, Apps, Mobile Optimized Ad Campaigns, 2D Codes and Other Mobile Strategies to Grow Your Business” by Jeanne Hopkins and Jamie Turner.
This free service focuses on the tech novice who wants an app for a specific event, like a conference or wedding. It includes directions, news, updates, and photo-sharing features. Yapp is limited in its functionality, but requires little-to-no technical know-how.
Authors are turning books into apps. Bands are turning albums into apps. If you’ve got the content, the MyAppBuilder team will create an app for you for $29/month. No tech experience necessary. They’ll also upload it to the app store for you.
This web-based editor is designed to let you quickly create your own iPhone app. The basic tool is free. Advanced features are available for a $79/month fee. AppMakr works on the iOS, Android and Windows operating systems.
The Mippin platform lets you create apps for Android, iOS and Windows, and offers app designs for individuals, small businesses, media owners and products. Native apps can cost as much as $999/year.
A cloud-based mobile Content Management System (mCMS) that helps you create live-content apps with no programming and “zero total cost of ownership.” Apps can include monetization options, such as ads, coupons, and subscriptions. A three-month trial is free. Pricing then depends on app features.
Signs are marketing communication vehicles for identifying a business and promoting products and services. Added to an integrated marketing campaign, they help widen your message. But a sign is only effective if it can be seen. Sounds obvious, right? But the proper placement of signs is as much as an art, as is the design of the sign itself.
In an article on signcraft.com, sign analyst, Dan Mika explains that placing a sign in the right place so people can easily see and read it requires an understanding of “sight-lines”—regions of maximum visibility. He explains that signs are best viewed at a 90-degree angle to the viewer. So, although a sign on the front of a building might be placed above a shop doorway for long-range visibility from many angles, to attract sidewalk pedestrians nearer to the business, the best sign would be placed at eye level, 90 degrees, such as a freestanding banner, A-frame sign, or flag pole style coming off the building. Even the side of an awning can carry a message that would be considered within sight-line.
The above isn’t meant to imply that all flat signs on buildings are wrong. In fact, sides of buildings can be great places for signs if traffic patterns around the building make it a sight-line for drivers.
As Mika states, once a sign is planned for just the right place, all the principles of effective sign design can then be applied to the layout. To ensure your sign investment is a solid one, be sure to work with a sign provider that can help you with both placement consultation and good graphic design.
When Facebook claimed the title as the biggest IPO in Internet history, social media officially segued from a consumer fad to a business fact. Although the abundance of Internet cat memes could make anyone wonder if social media has business validity, the emergence of the concept of social business has tangible value for any integrated marketing program.
Research firm Altimeter Group defines social business as the deep integration of social media and social methodologies into an organization to drive business impact. In a recent study, Altimeter pinpointed the two most important criteria for a successful social business strategy. First, you have to align it with the strategic goals of your organization. Second, you have to put the resources in place to execute the strategy.
What Social Business Can Do
Knowing what you want to accomplish with social business can help you make it a viable part of your integrated marketing strategy. Consider these benefits; by using social business effectively, you can:
The Art of Conversation: How to Build a Social Business Strategy
Most experts recommend you think of your social business strategy in seven stages. This process stresses brand alignment and continual feedback.
First: Align Your Efforts.
Before beginning any social business activities, your first step will be to review your company’s integrated marketing activities and assess how these other methods are working. If you haven’t done so yet, define your company’s brand personality, sales channels and target audiences. Also, document how your target audience typically engages with your organization.
Second: Refine Your Listening Skills.
Companies engaged in social business marketing should listen to their online communities more than 50 percent of the time. That means asking questions, responding to their answers and prompting conversation.
Third: Define Community Expectations.
During this stage, try to outline your program by asking your target demographics what they want to experience in a social business program.
Fourth: Determine Assets.
A common misconception is that social media tools are free. Although many do not charge for service, they really aren’t free because they cost a lot of time to maintain as a part of your integrated marketing efforts.
Fifth: Measure Your Methods.
The goals of a social business program should evolve over time. During your initial program, track goals and metrics against your overall integrated marketing and business plans.
Sixth: Select Your Channels.
It’s tempting to try out every social network available, but that isn’t strategic. Go where your customers spend time. A pin on Pinterest might buy you more than a tweet on Twitter, depending on your target audience’s activities.
Seventh: Engage in Conversations.
Online conversations must mirror real-life conversations to be effective for company branding, sales, customer satisfaction and even employee recruitment. Be transparent and authentic. Focus on your industry and always observe any industry standards or regulations. When appropriate, tie your efforts to pop culture or “news of the day.” Thank your community profusely and, most importantly, have fun with it.
Don't let anyone slip through the cracks.
When you’re preoccupied with important relocation-related tasks, it’s easy to forget about informing relevant people and institutions of your upcoming residential move and subsequent change of address.
But notifying specific organizations and individuals of your relocation is essential for ensuring a smooth moving process and preventing various hassles and troubles with your mail and accounts.
Here’s a checklist of the people and institutions you need to contact when moving.
Family and friends
Naturally, your relatives and close friends should be the first to know that you are about to move house. Informing them of your imminent relocation as early as possible will not only give you the chance to ask them help you move, but, if you’re moving far away, will also provide you with enough time to say a proper goodbye and plan for different ways to stay in touch despite the distance between you.
Unless you’re relocating to a different branch of your current company, you should inform your employer about your decision to move and leave your job as early as a month in advance.
This way, the company will have time to find a new person for your position, and you will be able to put all the relevant paperwork in order without any hassle.
Remember that your old boss will need your new address to send you tax documents and insurance information at the end of the year.
If you live in a rental home, you should carefully review your tenant rights and responsibilities contained in the lease agreement. You will probably be required to notify your landlord of your intentions to move out at least 30 days in advance.
You need to prepare a written notice that clearly states your move-out date and your future address. It is also a good idea to include a brief statement about the excellent condition of the rented property and to request your security deposit back.
Changing your address with the United States Postal Service should be among your top priorities when moving to a new house, as it will help you avoid many troubles and inconveniences.
To have your mail forwarded to your new place before you’ve updated your address with individual organizations and companies, you only need to fill out a change of address request at your local post office or at the USPS official website.
Online services such as 1StopMove can also help you complete this process.
To prevent service lapses and past-due bills you need to inform your service providers about your relocation plans. Arrange for the utilities at your old home to be disconnected on moving day, and have them reconnected at your new residence by the time you move in.
The utility companies you should contact when moving include electricity, gas, water, telephone, cable, Internet, domestic waste collection and other municipal services you may need.
When you move out of state, you’ll have to transfer your driver’s license and update your vehicle’s registration and insurance within quite a short time frame (10 to 30 days, depending on your new state).
It’s a good idea to visit the local office of the Department of Motor Vehicles at the earliest opportunity, inform them of your new address, and request all the relevant information about putting the required paperwork in order.
A number of government agencies should be notified when you’re moving to another state. Be sure to update your address with the local office of the Social Security Administration, the electoral register, and other relevant institutions.
The Internal Revenue Service will need your actual home address to mail your tax return, fiscal notes, and other documents. All you need to do is print out and mail in the IRS’ Change of Address form soon after your relocation.
To keep your finances in order, you must update your bank accounts and inform credit card companies, stockbrokers, and other relevant financial institutions of your new address either shortly prior to or immediately after your move.
The insurance agencies that provide your life, health, and homeowners insurance policies should have your current address on file, as should any other organizations and individuals (such as your family attorney) who have dealings with you and your family.
Medical and educational facilities
When moving to a new state, you will have to enroll your children in a new school, find a new family physician, and transfer all your academic records, medical records, and prescription medicines. To successfully complete these important tasks you need to tell your doctors, dentists, vets and other healthcare providers, as well as the educational facilities your kids are attending, about your relocation and your new address.
Subscription services and clubs
Last but not least, you need to update your address with any sports, professional, or social clubs you are involved with. You should also notify the subscriber services department of any magazines or newspapers you want to receive at your new home.
You may have to personally visit some companies or institutions to notify them of your relocation, but in most cases you will be able to change your mailing address online or with a simple phone call. Postcards, e-mails, text messages, and social network announcements are also viable methods to inform people of your new address.
Wait! Don't sign that lease just yet — a quick landlord check may change your mind
You’ve found the perfect new apartment or rental house. You love the neighborhood. Your application has been approved. You’re ready to sign on the dotted line, right?
Not so fast. How much do you know about your soon-to-be landlord, property manager or property management company?
There are lots of reasons why you should take the time to ask yourself, “Who is my landlord?” before you commit. Your rent payment is likely one of your biggest monthly expenses, and if you’re signing a lengthy lease, you should find out as much as you can about the person who owns and operates the place you’ll call home.
Check out these five easy ways to check your landlord’s reputation before signing your lease.
1. Make Google your friend
The internet has a way of quickly uncovering all kinds of misdeeds, so start with a simple Google search of your landlord’s name or property management company, as well as the property address.
Hell hath no fury like a renter scorned, so you’ll also want to peruse some of the many apartment and landlord review sites online that let tenants anonymously review their apartment complex, landlord or property management company.
2. Search public records
There’s a wealth of information about properties and landlords available via your local government agencies, and you’re usually able to check your landlord for free. Consider it your landlord background check!
Your county courthouse should have ownership records searchable by address, so you can find out the legal name of the person or company that owns the property — it may not be your landlord directly.
You can also search for code violations, foreclosure proceedings, evictions and small claims court settlements, all of which should be red flags for renters.
3. Get to know your (future) neighbors
If you’re moving into an apartment complex with multiple units, take a few minutes to walk around the grounds out of earshot of the landlord.
If you see any tenants out and about, strike up a conversation about what it’s like to live there. Ask how long they’ve lived there — renewed leases are a good sign of a positive landlord-tenant relationship. Get a few pros and cons, ask how complaints are handled, and find out if they have any gripes about management.
If you’re moving into a single-family home, ask the landlord if they’d mind you having a conversation with the current tenants.
If you don’t have access to any other tenants, find a neighborhood-specific blog or Facebook group to join. Tell people you’re thinking of moving into the area, and ask if they know anything about the property manager. In these hyperlocal groups, you’re likely to gain some invaluable insights for your landlord check.
4. Be the interviewer
Landlords ask you questions when you apply to live in their property, so why shouldn’t you ask them questions too?
Ask them how they handle repair requests. Find out if the landlord lives on-site, nearby or even in a different state. Ask how the move-in and move-out process goes. Learn more about their process for requesting entry to your unit.
They should be able to easily, clearly answer your questions and address all of your concerns.
5. Go with your gut
When in doubt, trust your instincts. If you experience any of the following:
Think twice — and keep looking.
With these key tasks on your to-do list, your move can be a light lift.
When Barry Blanton moved with his wife from Eugene, OR into a rented unit in a high-rise residential tower in downtown Seattle, he thought he had his bases covered.
He had measured the size of his new living room, and knew that his furniture would fit perfectly. Once the movers got his couch through the new entryway, however, they faced an insurmountable problem: The couch was too big to maneuver past two curves in the hallway.
“It sat in the hallway for a week before my wife rented a van to move it,” says Blanton. “We had to crawl over it to get into the bathroom.”
The fact that Blanton is the principal at Seattle-based property management and development consulting firm Blanton Turner — and has worked in the industry for most of his adult life — only underscores how easy it is for renters to make mistakes when moving.
Measure — then measure again
Despite best planning efforts, such logistical issues are surprisingly common when people are moving familiar belongings into an unfamiliar space, says Blanton.
Knowing the dimensions of a room and the things being moved into it isn’t enough. “Think about the bottlenecks,” Blanton advises. “Not just where something’s going to go, but how it’s going to get there.”
He recalls a situation in which a young man moving into an apartment was able to get his loaded moving truck into a building’s garage, but found that once all his furniture was unloaded, the now-lighter truck was too tall to get back out without hitting overhead ductwork and sprinkler heads (more on this later).
The man and his friends spent hours filling the truck with weights from the property’s exercise room just to lower it enough to safely exit.
When moving into any multi-story building — especially one in a crowded downtown neighborhood — it’s important to make arrangements ahead of time with the building’s management team. More than likely, you’ll need to reserve the elevator.
“This isn’t something you tell them that morning,” warns Blanton. “If you’re moving on a Saturday at the end of the month, there could be four or five other people moving that day.” (Don’t forget to schedule use of the elevator at the building you’re moving from, as well.)
And if you’re bringing a moving pod or parking a moving truck on the street, make sure you have the proper permits. Most multi-family properties will be able to help with this, as will moving companies. “Moving companies do earn their money, especially in an urban environment,” says Blanton.
Document your environment
In the age of ubiquitous technology, it’s easier than ever to take photos of any pre-existing damage in your rental.
Before you get settled, pull out your phone and snap pictures of any damage such as scuffed floors, chipped countertops or bent window blinds — then send the photos to yourself so they’re date-stamped.
It’s easier to refer to the photos at move-out than argue with the building manager about who cracked the Formica and when.
Prepare to clean
When it’s time to move, few renters look forward to the deep cleaning that’s required upon vacating a unit. If you plan to use a cleaning service, Blanton suggest hiring the same company that your building uses — that way there won’t be a gap in expectations.
“There’s nothing worse than spending the entire day cleaning your apartment, then having someone come in and point out all the things you missed,” notes Blanton.
If you want to save money and do it yourself, keep in mind some of the things renters often forget to clean: window tracks, underneath the stovetop burner pans, beneath the crisper drawers in the fridge, the rim around the dishwasher door, and behind the toilet.
Most renters know that protecting their property with renters insurance is important, but many forget to update their policy when they move to a new residence.
Renters insurance doesn’t just protect your belongings, it also covers damage you may inadvertently do to the building itself.
Remember that overhead sprinkler mentioned earlier? Accidentally breaking that off with a moving truck could cause flooding — and a great deal of damage. Depending on the building’s insurance policy — and temperament of the manager — you could be on the hook for the building’s insurance deductible, if not more.
Contact your insurance company before you move. It’s an easy call to make, and it could help you avoid costly penalties later.
If you own a home, chances are this repair and maintenance safety net could come in handy.
First-time homeowners may be in for a shock when their water heater breaks on a cold winter morning, or their dishwasher starts to leak all over the new hardwood floors in the kitchen. The instinctive call to the landlord won’t work this time around. Welcome to the joys of homeownership. So, when this happens, what do you do?
Many homeowners aren’t equipped to perform even small repairs, particularly when they come at inopportune times. For some, a handy family member nearby could do the trick. Or a new home buyer may know a plumber or an electrician — but they likely won’t have a lot of time to get bids and figure out the cause of the problem, much less get it repaired.
What’s the next best thing to a landlord for a new homeowner? A home warranty.
What is a home warranty?
Much like insurance or the extended warranty you buy for your smartphone or flat screen television, a home warranty covers the costs of repairing or replacing almost any malfunctioning system in your home. It typically costs between $300 and $900 a year.
If you had a home warranty, you wouldn’t have to call around to get estimates for repairs when a problem occurs. You wouldn’t have to pay out of pocket to get the problem fixed or have equipment replaced, either.
Instead, you would just call your home warranty provider or submit a ticket online. The warranty company would call the appropriate tradespeople with whom it has made arrangements, and send someone to fix the problem, if possible, or replace the malfunctioning appliance with a brand new one. Your home warranty premium will cover the costs — though you’d probably be responsible for a co-pay of about $50 per incident.
Who should buy a home warranty?
Home warranties are particularly great for first-time Gen X/Y and Millennial home buyers who’ve been renters until now. They’re used to calling the landlord whenever there’s a problem, and a home warranty company takes over that role.
These homeowners are often working long hours, and might not have the time or energy to call around to find a plumber or an electrician to get quotes or bids, let alone wait through the noon-to-4 p.m. window for the repair person to show up.
Sometimes, it takes just one costly and unexpected system repair — and the drama associated with it — to realize the savings of a one-year home warranty.
But home warranties aren’t limited to Gen X, Gen Y or other first-time home buyers. Any owners of any age home can purchase a home warranty at any time.
If you had your home inspected, you’ll know the condition and life expectancy of many of your systems. If some systems are on the outs, you will welcome the home warranty. Many appliances and systems start to break down after 15 or 20 years, and you don’t want to deal with multiple systems falling apart at the same time.
Real estate agents often purchase a home warranty for their clients as a closing gift. If not, you can buy one on your own. Be sure to shop around to compare premiums and coverage. The older the home, the more coverage you will want.
Home warranties are also great for investors or “accidental landlords,” who don’t necessarily want to be in the business of fielding repair calls from their tenants. If you’re not an experienced real estate investor and don’t have a network of repair folks, it might be easier to pay for the home warranty. The last thing you want is a tenant without hot water calling you all day long. If you have a home warranty, you can cut right to the chase, keep tenants happy, and minimize stress.
Home warranties can save home buyers a lot of time and money — particularly in the first year of ownership, when they are short on both.
This helpful document contains a wealth of information.
Among the dozens of records that serve to inform or disclose to the buyer significant knowledge about the property, the title report is one of the most important. It documents ownership, vesting, and detail regarding anything recorded against the home, such as liens, encroachments, or easements.
The title company compiles the report from a search of county records to issue title insurance, and any liens against the property are listed as “exceptions” to a title policy.
Here are three important pieces of the title report you should review carefully.
The legal description
The legal description is everything you won’t see in any real estate agent marketing or advertising. It’s the written description of the property’s location and the boundaries of the property in relation to the nearby streets and intersections.
In the case of a condominium or planned unit development (PUD), the legal description will include the property’s interest in any common areas, exclusive or non-exclusive easements, and details on any parking or storage that conveys with the property.
Here’s an example of a legal description from a preliminary title report of a property:
“Beginning at a point on the Westerly line of Fifth Avenue, distant thereon 250 feet Southerly from the Southerly line of Balboa Street; running thence Southerly along the Westerly line of Fifth Avenue 25 feet; thence at a right angle Westerly 120 feet,” and so on.
Legalese? Absolutely. But it’s precise, and necessary.
Property taxes always show up as the primary “lien” on a title report. A property cannot be transferred to a new owner with outstanding property taxes due.
As the top lien, the report will indicate whether taxes are due or paid in full. Taxes must be settled before any debt holder gets paid.
Mortgage liens are generally listed directly below property taxes, and they’re always ordered first, second, and third. The largest lien holder generally takes first position.
When a sale closes, the liens must be paid in the order that they appear on the title report. In the case of a short sale, there are not enough proceeds from the sale to pay off the property taxes and all of the lien holders. So one or more lenders will get “shorted” by the amount they’re owed. In order for the sale to close, the lender must agree to the short payoff.
Though this list is in no way exclusive, there are a variety of other items that could show up on a title report outside of taxes and loans.
Easements. If another property owner has access to the property via an easement, it would be recorded on the title report. This stays on the report until both parties agree to remove it. The title company can pull the original easement agreement for review.
CC&Rs. In the case of a condo or PUD, there are Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs), recorded against the property. Any new buyer purchases subject to the rules and regulations documented in the CC&Rs. This is why it’s important for potential buyers to pull these from the report and review them. Once you’re the owner, you’re subject to those rules.
Restrictions, historic oversights, planning requirements. From time to time, there will be items on the preliminary title report that aren’t run of the mill. If the home is located in a historic district and therefore subject to the rules and restrictions of that community, it will show up on the title. In this case, if there are restrictions about changing the facade of a house or requirements that facade alterations comply with a local historical oversight committee led by the local planning department, a potential buyer needs to know this.
The last word
As a potential buyer, you and your agent or real estate attorney should scrutinize the preliminary title report. You want the title to be delivered as clean as possible.
If the property is subject to special items, or there are issues on the title that would affect your home-ownership, you need to know and understand them thoroughly before you close.
Thinking about buying? Be sure to include these five items in your calculations.
Homeownership may be a goal for some, but it’s not the right fit for many.
Renters account for 37 percent of all households in America — or just over 43.7 million homes, up more than 6.9 million since 2005. Even still, more than half of millennial and Gen Z renters consider buying, with 18 percent seriously considering it.
Both lifestyles afford their fair share of pros and cons. So before you meet with a real estate agent, consider these five costs homeowners pay that renters don’t — they could make you reconsider buying altogether.
1. Property taxes
As long as you own a home, you’ll pay property taxes. The typical U.S. homeowner pays $2,110 per year in property taxes, meaning they’re a significant — and ongoing — chunk of your budget.
Factor this expense into the equation from the get-go to avoid surprises down the road. The property tax rates vary among states, so try a mortgage calculator to estimate costs in your area.
2. Homeowners insurance
Homeowners insurance protects you against losses and damage to your home caused by perils such as fires, storms or burglary. It also covers legal costs if someone is injured in your home or on your property.
Homeowners insurance is almost always required in order to get a home loan. It costs an average of $35 per month for every $100,000 of your home’s value.
If you intend to purchase a condo, you’ll need a condo insurance policy — separate from traditional homeowner’s insurance — which costs an average of $100 to $400 a year.
3. Maintenance and repairs
Don’t forget about those small repairs that you won’t be calling your landlord about anymore. Notice a tear in your window screen? Can’t get your toilet to stop running? What about those burned out light bulbs in your hallway? You get the idea.
Maintenance costs can add an additional $3,021 to the typical U.S. homeowner’s annual bill. Of course, this amount increases as your home ages.
And don’t forget about repairs. Conventional water heaters last about a decade, with a new one costing you between $500 to $1,500 on average. Air conditioning units don’t typically last much longer than 15 years, and an asphalt shingle roof won’t serve you too well after 20 years.
4. HOA fees
Sure, that monthly mortgage payment seems affordable, but don’t forget to take homeowners association (HOA) fees into account.
On average, HOA fees cost anywhere from $200 to $400 per month. They usually fund perks like your fitness center, neighborhood landscaping, community pool and other common areas.
Such amenities are usually covered as a renter, but when you own your home, you’re paying for these luxuries on top of your mortgage payment.
When you’re renting, it’s common for your apartment or landlord to cover some costs. When you own your home, you’re in charge of covering it all — water, electric, gas, internet and cable.
While many factors determine how much you’ll pay for utilities — like the size of your home and the climate you live in — the typical U.S. homeowner pays $2,953 in utility costs every year.
Ultimately, renting might be more cost-effective in the end, depending on your lifestyle, location and financial situation. As long as you crunch the numbers and factor in these costs, you’ll make the right choice for your needs.
Find a school that makes the grade — all it takes is a little homework.
If you’re a parent, buying or renting a new home isn’t just about where you’ll tuck the kids into bed at night — it’s also about where you’ll send them off to school in the morning.
So, how can you be sure your dream house feeds into your child’s dream school? You’re going to have to do some homework.
1. Go beyond the numbers
Every state’s education department publishes an online “report card” for each district and school. But just as you wouldn’t buy a house based solely on square footage or listing photos, you shouldn’t select a school just for its test scores and teacher-to-student ratios.
Dr. Steve McCammon, chief operating officer at Schlechty Center, a nonprofit that helps school districts improve student engagement and learning, cautions that most reported test scores are for English and math. They don’t provide insight into arts or music programs or how well a school teaches critical thinking skills.
The right school isn’t something you can determine based on any statistics, numbers or even reputation, says Andrew Rotherham, co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners and writer for the Eduwonk blog.
“Don’t go where the highest test scores are or where everybody else says you should go,” he says. “Different kids want different things. Go to the school that fits your kid.”
Adds Rotherham: “The most important things are what does your kid need and what does the school do to meet those needs. Whether you’re talking public, private or charter, you can find excellence and mediocrity in all of those sectors.”
2. Take a school tour
Just as you’d look around potential homes before signing a contract, you’ll want to do the same with potential schools. Call and arrange to tour the school and observe.
“Be suspicious of any school that isn’t into letting you visit,” says Rotherham. Some schools may say visitors are too disruptive, but he calls that a cop-out. “With some fairly basic norms, you can have parents and other visitors around without disrupting learning.”
Sit in on a class or two and take notes. You want to see students who are genuinely engaged, not wasting time or bored. It’s OK for a classroom to have lots of talk and movement if it’s all directed toward a learning goal.
Schools should be relatively noisy places. McCammon says, “If you go into a middle school, and you hear no noises, I would be concerned that the principal is more interested in keeping order than in making sure kids are learning.”
Observe how teachers and administrators interact with the students and vice versa. Do they display mutual respect? “You don’t need to be an education expert,” says Rotherham.
See if student work is on display. “A good school is a school where, regardless of grade level, student work is everywhere,” McCammon says. “It means that place is about kids and their work.”
Talk to kids, too — they’re the subject matter experts on their school. And if you have friends with kids in schools you’re considering, ask them what they like and don’t like about their schools. Kids won’t try to feed you a line. “They’re pretty unfiltered,” Rotherham says.
Check out the physical space, suggests National PTA President Jim Accomando. However, don’t get caught up on the building’s age and overlook the quality of the programs going on inside.
Look for signs that the school community takes pride in the facility. It might not be pristine, but trash on the floors or signs of rampant vandalism are red flags. If you see something that seems off or odd, ask if there’s a plan to address it.
3. Check out the community
Go to a school board meeting for clues about the district. Are parents there because their children are being honored or their work is being showcased? Or are they there because of a problem? Likewise, attend a PTA or PTO meeting, and chat with the parents there. They are likely the most involved “outsiders” and can share school challenges and successes.
Another consideration: the makeup of the students. Chances are, if you opt for a neighborhood school, you’ll find a certain similarity between your kids and their classmates, because there are probably a lot of similarities between you and your neighbors. But a school that has a diverse student body offers a big benefit.
“We live in a diverse society,” Rotherham says. “If you want to prepare your kids for what their lives are going to be like in this country going forward, it’s important for them to have experience with diverse groups.”
Even if your child’s school isn’t particularly diverse, avenues like sports and music give them a chance to interact with students from different backgrounds.
4. Think long term
Today’s first-grader will be heading to middle school before you know it. Unless you plan on moving relatively soon, be aware of the middle and high schools in your district.
“If you pick a house because you love the elementary school, you’d better be psyched by the middle school and high school,” Rotherham says. “Or have some kind of a plan” for post-elementary years.
Of course, there is such a thing as planning too far ahead. The music prodigy wowing your friends at her third-grade recorder performance may decide she hates band and wants to focus on soccer by the time she hits middle school. Rest assured: If upper-level schools in your prospective district are about kids doing great work, they’ll likely be a good fit.
5. Watch for boundary issues
Pay attention to the boundaries of prospective school districts. The houses across the cul-de-sac could be in a different school service area or even a different school district. And boundaries often change. To be sure, call the school district and give them the specific address you’re interested in.
Don’t assume you can fudge an address or get a waiver to enroll your children in a school or a district that doesn’t match your address. Things that were allowed last year may not be this year. If an individual school or district is at capacity, they will get very picky about enrollment outside of the school assigned to your home, which can lead to heartbreak if you find yourself on the wrong side of that boundary line.
6. Look for a place where you feel welcome
Whatever involvement you put into your child’s school will pay off, says Accomando. “If you can be engaged at school, you will understand the pulse of what’s happening there.”
He also says that doesn’t mean getting sucked into a huge commitment. “You can read in your child’s first-grade class. You can hand out water at a fun run or contribute something for a teacher appreciation party at the high school. And when you do, walk the halls and see what’s happening.”
McCammon says good schools should welcome parents as volunteers and visitors. “Look for evidence of parents feeling comfortable and engaging with the school,” he says. The principal should be someone you feel comfortable talking with if there’s a problem.
No matter how welcoming the school, it’s natural to have some butterflies on the first day in a new school. Just as it takes time for a new house to feel like home, it takes time for kids to settle into a new school.
Once they’ve found their way to the restroom without asking directions, made some friends and gotten to know their teacher, they’ll be comfortable with their new learning home. And your research will have been well worth the effort.
Win and woo your next-door friends with a little neighborly know-how.
If you want good neighbors, you’ll first have to become one yourself. Master these seven techniques, and even you (yes, you!) can win the approval of your entire neighborhood.
1. Good neighbors bring cookies
Whether you’re new in town or haven’t kept in touch, a delivery of freshly baked goods is a perfect way to break the ice and let neighbors know that you’re thinking of them.
If cookies can keep Santa returning year after year with a bag full of loot, then surely they can train your neighbors to do your bidding. Consider the following scenario.
“Honey, somebody’s robbing the neighbor’s house again.”
“Wait, Janet. The ones who brought cookies yesterday?”
“Exactly. This time I’ll call the cops.”
2. Good neighbors rarely gossip
If your neighbor seems to know the dirt on everyone within a two-block radius, you can count on them to keep tabs on your personal life as well.
The next time Nosy Nellie gleefully describes the contents of the Rickenbacker’s trash again, move the conversation along by refocusing the conversation on her. “So, what are you growing in your garden this year?”
You aren’t in high school anymore, so preserve relationships with your neighbors and avoid the gratuitous gab fests.
3. Good neighbors share phone numbers
For such a connected age, you should really question why you don’t have your neighbors’ phone numbers. After all, what if they receive your package by mistake? What if the house floods while you’re on vacation? Worse yet, what if you need a babysitter?
If you feel uncomfortable bringing it up, ask during one of your cookie deliveries (you are following rule number one, right?) or right before a trip. Jot down your name, number and email address on a piece of paper and ask if your neighbor is comfortable sharing theirs.
4. Good neighbors help before they’re asked
The neighbor who says, “Let me know if you need anything,” probably isn’t going to help whenever you actually need something. You, on the other hand, are a good neighbor and genuinely want to help out.
To get ahead of the meaningless small talk, anticipate their needs. If they have kids and you’re comfortable babysitting, tell them up front. If they’re clearly struggling to mow the lawn during a heat wave, ask for the best time to stop by with your lawnmower.
5. Good neighbors are tidy
Even if you lack self-respect, respect the sensitive tastes of others and clean up your act.
Keep the ironic lawn ornaments to a minimum. Keep trash receptacles hidden in the side yard, or better yet, the garage.
Whenever you’ve finished gardening or landscaping for the day, put away your tools and bags of unused mulch. Rake the leaves and clean up grass clippings and all the other stuff your dad used to bug you about.
And if it’s not too much trouble, pressure wash and paint your house periodically.
6. Good neighbors mow the lawn
An unkempt and weedy lawn is embarrassing for your neighbors, so it should be embarrassing for you as well. Keeping it mowed every week or two is a good start, but it will take more than that to win the approval of the locals.
Trim the edge of your lawn regularly, fertilize on schedule and keep weeds to a minimum. Keep your foundation plantings simple, neatly trimmed and topped off with mulch.
If your neighborhood allows it, go the no-lawn method by planting swaths of low-maintenance, drought-tolerant ground covers. Crucially, don’t overdo it on the sprinklers — especially when it’s raining.
7. Good neighbors communicate
That old “good fences make good neighbors” quote had to come up at some point, right? A good neighbor must respect boundaries. That said, they should also be crossed when the fences themselves start losing pickets and falling over in a storm.
Even if it’s technically their fence, you might not be happy with the shoddy workmanship and resentment that you’ll have to live with when they get around to fixing it themselves.
Address shared interests like fences, drainage ditches and troublesome trees ahead of time so that you can work out a plan that both parties can agree to.
Oh, and don’t forget to bring cookies.
The sign just went up next door. How does your neighbor's impending sale affect you?
Most people think their real estate concerns end once they’ve closed on and moved into their new homes. But when a neighbor’s house goes on the market, there can be some important implications for you.
Here are some tips for staying real estate aware.
1. Document important disclosure items
For the most part, good fences make good neighbors. But sometimes the folks on the other side of the fence don’t cooperate, and unresolved neighbor conflicts tend to arise when one of the homes goes on the market.
Have a property line dispute? Or an issue with a broken fence and you want the new buyer to know about it? While sellers in most states have a duty to disclose issues to potential buyers, not all areas require this.
Do your new neighbor-to-be a favor and alert the seller’s agent to anything the buyer needs to know about your neighbor’s property.
2. See things differently
Open houses allow buyers to spend some time exploring a home, but these events also present you with a chance to see your home from your neighbor’s perspective.
Once at a busy open house in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood, an open house visitor made a somewhat obvious beeline for the back of the house. He immediately got on the phone and started talking with someone about where he was standing, giving orders to move left and right.
It turned out this visitor lived in the home behind, and he was checking to see the neighbor’s view into his home.
The open house is your chance to check your home’s paint job from the neighbor’s yard or simply to see your home from a different perspective.
3. Know and learn the market in real time
Typical sellers claim and save their home online, but they also keep searches going after the fact. Why? To keep tabs on the market, see the comps and have a real-time sense of what’s happening nearby.
Just like when you were a buyer, knowing about the area and types of homes in the market is a good move for any homeowner. Take a neighboring home for sale as an opportunity to see what the market bears. You can also learn about the latest trends in home design.
Speaking to a real estate agent can keep you informed of changes to property taxes or how assessments are changing in your town. A smart real estate agent, working their listing, will be an incredible resource to would-be clients down the road. Leverage their experience when your neighbor sells.
Take note when your neighbor goes to sell their home. It’s not just a time to nose around, but to document, inspect or learn from the home sale. Some homes get listed once in a lifetime — take advantage of the opportunity.
Mind your party petiquette — don't leave your furry friends hanging.
Whether you throw a housewarming party or a backyard barbecue, it’s important to understand that your pets may not share your enthusiasm for entertaining.
Despite the term “party animals,” many dogs and cats don’t like raucous gatherings with strangers invading their space. Some pets get really spooked by unusual activity in the home — even moving furniture around can upset them.
Try these tips for keeping your pets calm, cool and collected come party time.
Prevent great escapes
Party guests often leave front doors and outside gates open and unsupervised, which means that pets can slip out and run away. And by the time you notice their absence, several hours may have passed. This can happen during party setup too — especially if you have caterers or delivery people coming in and out.
Both cats and dogs, even if they are microchipped, should wear a collar with an up-to-date ID tag on it. And before the party, check that your pet is wearing its collar. Often the collar comes off for a bath or a grooming session, so double-check to be safe.
Give pets a private “party”
Many pets will be much happier and safer if you sequester them in a designated room or portion of your house, away from your guests. It’s a good idea to do this during setup too.
Give them their own “party” with lots of distraction toys and treat puzzles in the area where you’ve decided to confine them. Include food and water — and a litter box if you have a cat. Take your dog for a long walk beforehand so it can have a potty break.
Once they’re settled in their playroom, put a note on the door telling guests not to open it because there are pets inside.
Tricks to reduce stress
If your pets are particularly anxious around noise and people, it may be a good idea to use a pheromone plug-in to help them relax.
Pheromones are a substance that mother dogs and cats produce to calm their young. They help alleviate stress-induced behaviors, such as inappropriate marking, chewing and barking. Plug-ins need time to allow the pheromones to circulate in the room, so do this a couple of days in advance. They usually last a month.
Another alternative is to consider a ThunderShirt for your dog or cat. They come in all sizes, not to mention some fun patterns and colors too. They work by the swaddling principle that mothers use to calm babies and small children, and many animal behaviorists recommend them.
“Please DON’T feed me!”
If you’re entertaining on a small scale and don’t need to keep pets contained, make sure they don’t eat any food you may have put out in advance.
It’s OK to politely ask your friends not to feed your pets at the table or outside — even if your four-legged pal begs. Some foods, such as onions and grapes, are toxic to cats and dogs. And it’s not cute to give your pet a glass of beer. It can make them really sick.
When you’re barbecuing, watch those bones and corncobs. They’re choking hazards for pets.
Hazards of post-party cleanup
Don’t let your guard down once your guests leave and you let your pets back out — they might clean up too! Make sure they don’t get into the kitchen when your back is turned and help themselves to leftovers or raid the trash. Or, even worse, get into that box of chocolates a guest brought as a gift.
Speaking of gifts, if you’re planning to entertain, it’s a really good idea to give your pet a new toy. The novelty of something new will keep your dog or cat engaged while you’re with your friends.
Taking proper precautions helps ensure that everyone enjoys the party, including your pets.
True or false: All real estate advice is good advice. (Hint: Well ... it depends.)
Everyone has advice about the real estate market, but not all of that unsolicited information is true. So when it comes time to list your home, you’ll need to separate fact from fiction.
Below we’ve identified the top five real estate myths — and debunked them so you can hop on the fast track to selling your property.
Myth #1: I need to redo my kitchen and bathroom before selling
Truth: While kitchens and bathrooms can increase the value of a home, you won’t get a large return on investment if you do a major renovation just before selling.
Minor renovations, on the other hand, may help you sell your home for a higher price. New countertops or new appliances may be just the kind of bait you need to reel in a buyer. Check out comparable listings in your neighborhood, and see what work you need to do to compete in the market.
Myth #2: My home’s exterior isn’t as important as the interior
Truth: Home buyers often make snap judgments based simply on a home’s exterior. Therefore, curb appeal is very important.
“A lot of buyers search online or drive by properties before they even enlist my services,” says Bic DeCaro, a real estate agent at Westgate Realty Group in Falls Church, VA. “If the yard is cluttered or the driveway is all broken up, there’s a chance they won’t ever enter the house — they’ll just keep driving.”
The good news is that it doesn’t cost a bundle to improve your home’s exterior. Start by cutting the grass, trimming the hedges and clearing away any clutter. Then, for less than $50, you could put up new house numbers, paint the front door, plant some flowers or install a new, more stylish porch light.
Myth #3: If my house is clean, I don’t need to stage it
Truth: Clean and tidy is a good first step, but professional home stagers have raised the bar. Tossing dirty laundry in the closet and sweeping the front steps just aren’t enough anymore.
Stagers make homes appeal to a broad range of tastes. They can skillfully identify ways to highlight your home’s best features and compensate for its shortcomings. They might, for example, recommend removing blinds from a window with a great view or replacing a double bed with a twin to make a bedroom look bigger.
Of course, you don’t have to hire a professional stager. But if you don’t, be ready to use some of their tactics to get your home ready for sale — especially if staging is a trend where you live. An unstaged house will pale when compared to others on the market.
Myth #4: Granite and stainless steel appliances are old news
Truth: The majority of home shoppers still want granite counters and stainless steel appliances. Quartz, marble and concrete counters also have wide appeal.
“Most shoppers just want to steer away from anything that looks dated,” says Dru Bloomfield, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Platinum Living in Scottsdale, AZ. “When you a design a space, you need to decide if you’re doing it for yourself or for resale potential.”
She suggests that if you’re not planning to move anytime soon, decorate any way you like. But if you’re planning to put your home on the market within the next couple of years, stick to elements that have mass appeal.
“I recently sold a house where the kitchen had been remodeled 12 years ago, and everybody thought it had just been done because the owners had chosen timeless elements: dark maple cabinets, granite counters and stainless steel appliances.”
Myth #5: Home shoppers can ignore paint colors they don’t like
Truth: Moving is a lot of work, and while many home buyers realize they could take on the task of painting walls, they simply don’t want to.
That’s why one of the most important things you can do to update your home is apply a fresh coat of neutral paint. Neutral colors also help a property stand out in online photographs, which is where most potential buyers will get their first impression of your property.
Hiring a professional to paint the interior of a 2,000-square-foot house will cost about $3,000 to $6,000, depending on labor costs in your region. You could buy the paint and do the job yourself for $300 to $500. Either way, if a fresh coat of paint helps your home stand out in a crowded market, it’s probably a worthwhile investment.
Want to create wealth through homeownership? Build equity.
Home equity is the percentage of your home’s value that you own, and it’s key to building wealth through home ownership. Let’s take a closer look at how to build home equity without blowing your budget — and how to access it when you need it.
How much equity do you have?
Equity is easy to calculate when you first buy a home because it’s basically your down payment. For example, if you put $11,250 down on a $225,000 home, your down payment is 5 percent and so is your equity.
From 2016 to the first quarter of 2018, most first-time home buyers in the U.S. started with about 7-percent equity, according to Inside Mortgage Finance. This is encouraging because it shows you don’t need to spend years saving for 20 percent down or more before you buy. Repeat home buyers started with more equity, at about 17 percent.
How to build your equity
Here are six ways your home can create wealth for you. Some require time, money — or both. A lender can help you decide what works best for you.
1. Let your home appreciate
Building equity through appreciation can take little time or a lot, depending on the market. With home prices going up like they have in recent years, appreciation has been a boon for many home owners.
Zillow research indicates that the median home value grew from $185,000 in April 2016 to $216,000 in April 2018. If you bought a home for $185,000 in April 2016 with a down payment of $12,950, your beginning 7-percent equity would have grown to 23 percent by April 2018.
We calculate this by subtracting your current loan balance ($165,600) from your home’s current value ($216,000). Then we divide the difference by your home’s current value. One-eighth of this additional 16 percent equity is from paying down your mortgage, and the rest is market appreciation.
If you waited two years and bought the same home in April 2018 with a 20-percent down payment of $43,200, you started off with 20-percent equity. You also used 3.3 times more cash to make the purchase. And here’s the kicker: Your total monthly housing cost would be the same — about $1,050 in both cases.
This example illustrates two things:
First, the power of home appreciation. It’s a lot like buying stock and benefiting as its value goes up. But there’s also a difference: While you’ll pay capital gains on rising stock value, you’re exempt from paying taxes on primary-home capital gains up to $250,000, or $500,000 for married couples.
Second, waiting to “save enough” isn’t the primary factor in determining if you can afford to buy a home. When it comes to qualifying for a loan, lenders do indeed look at your down payment. They’ll also want to know how much you’ll have in cash reserves after closing. But there are lots of options for low down payments that require minimal reserves.
Your monthly budget is the primary factor lenders consider when deciding whether you can afford a home. Lenders will allow you to spend between 43 percent and 49 percent of your income on monthly bills, which is actually on the high side and could strain your budget.
Since 2016, most first-time buyers have spent about 38 percent of their income on housing and other debt, which is a pretty safe cap for budgeting.
2. Make a larger down payment
You can do this but, as we’ve seen, waiting to save extra cash can go against your broader financial interests if you lose the chance to build equity through appreciation. Therefore, you must strike a balance among down payment, monthly budget and savings for other priorities. A good lender can provide rate and market insight to help you do this.
3. Use financial windfalls
Take advantage of work bonuses, family gifts and inheritances to pay down your mortgage. If you do pay down in lump sums, see if your lender will recalculate (or “recast”) your payment based on the new, lower balance.
4. Make biweekly payments
Make mortgage payments every two weeks instead of once a month. Over the course of a year, this will add up to 13 monthly payments instead of 12. You’ll build equity faster and shave five to six years off a 30-year mortgage. Just make sure your lender isn’t charging extra for processing semimonthly payments.
5. Cut your loan term in half
Take out a 15-year mortgage instead of a 30-year mortgage, and you’ll build equity twice as fast. Two caveats here: You’ll have a significantly higher monthly payment and, because of that, you may have a tougher time qualifying.
6. Make home improvements
New appliances or cosmetic features like paint are unlikely to increase value. Only big improvements like new kitchens, or additional bathrooms or other rooms will add meaningful value. Make sure the cost of such improvements will create the added value you’re looking for.
How to use your equity
You must borrow or sell your home to use your equity. The three most well-known ways to get to your equity through borrowing are a home equity line of credit (HELOC), home equity loan or cash-out refinance. Compare the pros and cons of each.
Rates are rising right now, so these borrowing options might cost more in the future. Talk to your lender to determine the best approach for you.
This landmark legislation passed 50 years ago — learn your rights and how to defend them.
If you’ve searched for a new place to live recently, you’ve likely seen the Equal Housing Opportunity logo (an equal sign inside a house) on a landlord’s, real estate agent’s or lender’s paperwork.
But the Fair Housing Act is more than just a logo. It’s a federal law designed to protect renters and buyers from discrimination.
Here are some key points to know about the Fair Housing Act when you’re searching for a place to live.
What is the Fair Housing Act?
Also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Fair Housing Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson just days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who had championed the cause for many years.
The act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status (sex was added in 1974, and disability and familial status were added in 1988).
At the time the act was signed, overt housing discrimination was a huge problem throughout the country, including the attempted segregation of whole neighborhoods and the outright rejection of qualified renters based on race and other factors.
Today, much of the discrimination in the housing market is less obvious, but it’s still an unfortunate reality.
According to the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), over 25,000 housing discrimination complaints were filed with the federal government and local and national fair housing agencies in 2017. Over half of the complaints were based on disability, followed by race at 20 percent.
But these numbers reflect only reported incidents. The NFHA estimates that over 4 million instances of housing discrimination occur annually, but many people don’t realize they’ve been discriminated against — or know what steps to take when it happens.
What does housing discrimination look like?
Most of the people you encounter in your home search, including real estate agents, sellers, landlords, property management companies and lenders, are bound to Fair Housing Act regulations and additional state and local laws, based on where you live or are looking to live.
Fair Housing Act violations can occur in all phases of buying and renting, including in advertising, while you search, throughout the application process, in financing or credit checks, and during eviction proceedings.
Here are a few examples of discrimination people in protected classes have encountered:
What do I do if I’ve been discriminated against?
If you’ve been discriminated against in any of the ways above, or if you suspect that other actions taken by a property manager, landlord, real estate agent, broker or lender may be discriminatory, there are many resources at your disposal.
Home equity burning a hole in your pocket? You may want to think twice about that boat.
Home equity is a valued resource, and if you have it, you might be tempted to tap that wealth for other purposes. A home equity loan, which allows you to use your home’s equity as collateral, is a great way to do this. But depending on your personal situation, it may not be the right thing to do.
Here’s when a home equity loan makes sense — and when it doesn’t.
DON’T: Fund a lifestyle
Remember when homeowners yanked cash out of their homes to fund affluent lifestyles they couldn’t really afford? These reckless borrowers, with their boats, fancy cars, lavish vacations and other luxury items, paid the price when the housing bubble burst. Property values plunged, and they lost their homes.
Lesson learned: Don’t squander your equity! Look at a home equity loan as an investment — not as extra cash when making spending decisions.
DO: Make home improvements
The safest use of home equity funds is for home improvements that will add to the home’s value. If you have a one-time project (e.g., a new roof), then a home equity loan might make sense.
If you need money over time to fund ongoing home improvement projects, then a home equity line of credit (HELOC) would make more sense. HELOCs let you pay as you go and usually have a variable rate that’s tied to the prime rate, plus or minus some percentage.
DON’T: Pay for basic expenses or bills
This is a no-brainer, but it’s always worth reiterating: Basic expenses like groceries, clothing, utilities and phone bills should be a part of your household budget.
If your budget doesn’t cover these and you’re thinking of borrowing money to afford them, it’s time to rework your budget and cut some of the excess.
DO: Consolidate debt
Consolidating multiple balances, including your high-interest credit card debts, will make perfect sense when you run the numbers. Who doesn’t want to save potentially thousands of dollars in interest?
Debt consolidation will simplify your life, too, but beware: It only works if you have discipline. If you don’t, you’ll likely run all your balances back up again and end up in even worse shape.
DON’T: Finance college
If you have college-age children, this may seem like a great use of home equity. However, the potential consequences down the road could be significant. And risky.
Remember, tapping into your home equity may mean it takes longer to pay off the loan. It also may delay your retirement or put you even deeper in debt. And as you get older, it will likely be more difficult to earn the money to pay back the loan, so don’t jeopardize your financial security.