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.
Whether you're a social butterfly or a homebody, getting friendly with the folks next door will make your new house feel like home.
Leaving friends and neighbors behind can be the toughest part of moving to a new home.
These five tips will help you make connections and settle into your new community in no time.
1. Knock, knock
For an extrovert, walking over to a neighbor’s home to say hello may feel like a no-brainer. But for more reserved personalities, this tried-and-true method usually requires a bit of a warmup.
Start with a friendly wave as you drive by, then work your way up to a face-to-face introduction. Remember, timing is everything. You don’t want to disturb your neighbors in the middle of dinner or while they’re struggling to get a fussy toddler down for the night.
Try to catch them when they’re already outside, or aim for a weekend afternoon when everyone is much more likely to be relaxed and open to a brief, friendly chat.
2. Snail mail
Can’t work up the nerve to knock on doors? In this age of electronic communication, a nice handwritten note can be a welcome surprise.
Write a few lines for your closest neighbors, introducing yourself and inviting them over for a cup of coffee or cocktail at their convenience.
Be sure to personalize each note by including a small conversation starter (e.g., the roses in front of your home are absolutely stunning! We’re poodle lovers too!), then drop your letters at your neighbors’ front door or in their mailbox.
3. Magic school bus
If you’ve got school-age children, accompany them to the bus stop for the first few days of class.
You’re likely to run into at least one other parent who can fill you in on both neighborhood and school happenings — and people love to talk about their kids, so you won’t have to worry about awkward silences and finding common ground.
Exchange contact info and invite the family over for some weekend fun.
4. Man’s best friend
Our pets often are the friendliest members of the family, so let your four-legged companion break the ice for you.
Dog parks are a natural spot for meeting new friends, both canine and human. You can also meet fellow pet lovers while walking your dog through your neighborhood — cleaning up any messes, of course.
You can get recommendations for trails, vets and parks, as well as ask about any pet-themed meetups in the area.
5. Turn the page
Don’t let the name fool you: Book clubs are as much about socializing as they are about reading.
Check out your library or local bookstore for groups near you, or you can find one online. If possible, contact the host ahead of time to ask whether you should bring any refreshments (wine!), and come armed with a few key insights about the book and recommendations for the next session.
Who knows? You could pick the next talk of the town.
Bonus: life of the party
Once you’ve made a few connections, team up to host a neighborhood block party. Volunteer to handle snacks and other logistics, and ask your more established neighbors to spread the word.
Pick a seasonal theme — hot dogs and lemonade for summer, cookies and warm cider for fall — and spend an afternoon meeting new friends and getting the inside scoop on the best places to eat and play near your new home.
Before you call it a day, pass the torch to another neighbor and make the block party a new tradition.
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.
Do you need one? Do they pocket the whole commission? Let’s set the facts straight.
Buyers and sellers often enter the market with misconceptions about real estate agents — how we work, how the process works and what the agency relationship is all about.
It’s helpful to point out, without getting too far into the weeds, that in any one real estate transaction, there are most likely two agents: one for the buyer and one for the seller.
Here are five myths (and five truths) about working with both buyer’s and seller’s agents.
1. Agents get a 6 percent commission, no matter what
Most people assume that their agent is pocketing the entire commission. That would be nice, but it’s just not accurate.
First, it’s helpful to know that the seller pays the commission, and they split it four ways: between the two brokerages and the two agents.
Finally, the brokerage commission isn’t fixed or set in stone, and sellers can sometimes negotiate it.
2. Once you start with an agent, you’re stuck with them
If you’re a seller, you sign a contract with the real estate agent and their brokerage. That contract includes a term — typically six months to a year. Once you sign the agreement, you could, in fact, be “stuck” with their agent through the term. But that’s not always the case.
If things aren’t working out, it’s possible to ask the agent or the brokerage manager to release you from the agreement early.
Buyers are rarely under a contract. In fact, buyer’s agents work for free until their clients find a home. It can be as quick as a month, or it can take up to a year or more. And sometimes a buyer never purchases a house, and the agent doesn’t get paid.
Before jumping into an agent’s car and asking them to play tour guide, consider a sit-down consultation or a call, and read their online reviews to see if they’re the right fit.
Otherwise, start slow, and if you don’t feel comfortable, let them know early on — it’s more difficult to break up with your agent if too much time passes.
3. It’s OK for buyers to use the home’s selling agent
Today’s buyers get most things on demand, from food to a ride to the airport. When it comes to real estate, buyers now assume they need only their smartphone to purchase a home, since most property listings live online.
First-time buyers or buyers new to an area don’t know what they don’t know, and they need an advocate.
The listing agent represents the seller’s interests and has a fiduciary responsibility to negotiate the best price and terms for the seller. So, working directly with the selling agent presents a conflict of interest — in favor of the seller.
An excellent buyer’s agent lives and breathes their local market. They’ve likely been inside and know the history of dozens of homes nearby. They’re connected to the community, and they know the best inspectors, lenders, architects and attorneys.
They’ve facilitated many transactions, which means they know all the red flags and can tell you when to run away from (or toward) a home.
4. One agent is just as good as the next
Many people think of “agent” as a generic term and that all agents are created equal.
A great local agent can make an incredible difference, so never settle. The right agent can save you time and money, keep you out of trouble and protect you.
Consider an agent who has lived and worked in the same town for ten years. They know the streets like the back of their hand. They have deep relationships with the other local agents. They have the inside track on upcoming deals and past transactions that can’t be explained by looking at data online.
Compare that agent to one who’s visiting an area for the first time and needs their GPS to get around. Some agents aren’t forthright and might be more interested in making a sale. Many others care more about building a long-term relationship with you, because their business is based off referrals.
5. You can’t buy a for sale by owner (FSBO) home if you have an agent
In a previous generation, sellers who wouldn’t deal with any agents tried to sell their home directly to a buyer to save the commission.
Smart sellers understand that real estate is complicated and that most buyers have separate representation. And many FSBO sellers will offer payment to a buyer’s agent as an incentive to bring their buyer clients to the home.
If you see an FSBO, don’t be afraid to ask your agent to step in. Most of the time the seller will compensate them, and you can benefit from their knowledge and experience.
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.
11 tips that will save your garden, lawn and flowers ... not to mention your green thumb reputation.
Whether you’re dealing with California droughts, Midwest heat waves or Deep South downpours, summer can be a tricky time to garden. Here’s what you need to know before leaving air-conditioned comforts for a steamy backyard jungle.
DON’T: Plant cool-season vegetables
Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to attempt veggies like peas, lettuce, carrots and radishes in summer. They will quickly bolt in the heat, meaning they’ll devote their energy to blooming and producing seeds, making the edible parts bitter.
DO: Plant hot-season vegetables
Take advantage of summer’s sunshine by planting these heat-loving edibles:
Drought-tolerant okra produces prolific pods all summer long, and sweet potatoes make an excellent temporary ground cover, shading out weeds until the arrival of cold weather and harvest time.
DON’T: Water unless necessary
It’s tempting to set the sprinklers on a timer, kick up your feet and consider it handled. But you don’t want to run sprinklers in a rainstorm, so water plants only when they’re newly planted or wilting and/or dropping leaves.
DO: Use drought-tolerant plants
Drought-tolerant plants are all the rage, and not just because they conserve water. Grow drought-tolerant plants because they’re low-maintenance and because you’re an average person with — you know — a life.
That said, drought-tolerant does not mean you can plant it and forget it. Keep the soil moist until the plant takes off on its own.
DON’T: Turn your back on the garden
Because in summer, things can change in a heartbeat. Plants can succumb to pests, drought, wet soil or rot in a matter of days. Pay attention to weather forecasts, and watch for struggling plants.
Use those pruners on any bullies that seem to be taking over less vigorous plants. When in doubt, rip it out.
DO: Water deeply
Water like you really mean it, with a deep soak so that the water penetrates the soil without running off or evaporating in the summer heat. Watering deeply will also encourage deeper root growth, which helps plants (especially shrubs and trees) stay healthier and more drought-tolerant in the long run.
Water in the root zone with a garden nozzle, a soaker hose, or just a hose and a full stream of water.
DON’T: Scalp your lawn
If you plan on turning your summer lawn into a putting green and you mow your lawn close, you’ll be sorely disappointed by the results. (Unless you’re willing to settle for a putting brown, that is.) Shortcuts mean less drought-tolerance, patchier growth, more weeds and shallow roots. When in doubt, cut high.
DO: Fertilize warm-season grasses
Give your lawn a pick-me-up to cope with the summer heat. Your local garden center should have a good selection of fertilizers to suit your region and/or lawn type. Fertilize according to label instructions, using a broadcast spreader, handheld spreader or drop spreader for even coverage. Generally speaking, don’t feed on a hot day with temps above 90 degrees.
DON’T: Water in the afternoon
While it’s a myth that water droplets can magnify sunlight and burn the plants, watering in the hottest part of the day is still useless. Water quickly evaporates in summer, and many plants will go semi-dormant. Water in the early morning so the plants’ roots have a chance to absorb moisture.
DON’T: Let weeds go to seed
Procrastinate all you want, but pull those weeds before they have a chance to bloom and go to seed, spreading their progeny all over your garden. Don’t settle for hand-pulling everything either. Use a hoe or cultivator for new weeds in loose soil, or a heavy-duty weeding tool, like a hori-hori knife, hook or mattock for tough, established weeds.
DO: Plant tropical bulbs
Much of your garden will slow down in the heat of summer, but tropical bulbs such as caladiums, elephant ears, cannas and gingers will only grow faster. Create a lush and jungly understory beneath shady trees by planting en masse, or use sparsely for architectural interest in container combos and flower beds.
In early 2011, you may remember there was a lull in foreclosure activity – a lull that was prompted by nationwide scrutiny into lenders’ home-seizure practices. But in more recent months, as barriers that have been holding foreclosures back have been removed, banks, anxious to rid their books of long-delinquent mortgage loans, have been stepping up foreclosures — all over the country.
Granted, we’re well below the peak levels we saw from 2007-2010, but even so, consider this: In March, 2012, foreclosure filings were reported on nearly 200,000 properties — that’s 7.4 out of every 10,000 homes. With many more foreclosures in the pipeline, here’s how to avoid becoming a statistic:
Buy a home you can truly afford
Ok, so this is an obvious point, but reiterating the numbers is never a bad idea: Your housing costs (mortgage, insurance, taxes) should be no more than 25-28% of your monthly take-home pay. Use Zillow’s affordability and mortgage calculators. They’ll estimate the monthly costs of home ownership within the context of your monthly budget. If the payments seem too unruly (Give them a test drive!), you may need to come up with a larger down payment or shelve your purchase plans altogether.
Contact your lender immediately!
Doesn’t look like you’re going to be able to make that payment .. again? You need to let your lender know about your financial woes immediately, and, ideally, while your head is still above water and your credit is in tact.
Consider temporary relief
If you think that your inability to your make your mortgage payments is going to be temporary, see what kind of temporary relief your mortgage servicer can offer. They may be willing to accept reduced payments over a certain period of time; they may allow you to skip payments over a certain period of time; they may extend the grace period for late payments. Just remember: these solutions are temporary, so in the interim, try to find new ways to slash spending and save more. You must also prioritize your bills, paying attention to the ones that are the most essential.
Look into a modification
If your financial situation has permanently changed, then temporary relief is not going help much. You may need to have your loan modified. And while there are many different ways to do a modification, they generally incorporate interest rate cuts, term extensions and principle reductions – or a combination of these methods. Yes, there is a lot of paperwork involved, and yes, it can be complicated, but banks are under pressure to do these modifications and as a result, we are seeing higher success rates: the average savings, per modification, is about $500 a month. To see if you are eligible for a modification, go to makinghomeaffordable.gov.
Explore a short sale
If you’re underwater (as 23% of homeowners are today), cash-strapped, desperate for relief, and foreclosure is looking imminent/speed is of the essence, then you might want to consider a short sale. This where you’re selling your home, for less than what you owe on it, to your mortgage lender. The upside: No more negative equity burden; it’s not as damaging to your credit as a foreclosure is; you can purchase a home again in as little as 3 yrs; and you’re selling your home with your pride in tact.
Basic preparation can make your move into a new home or temporary storage unit much more efficient. Think ahead about what supplies you’ll need on-hand through the move, and be sure your arsenal is fully stocked with the essentials. Heed this advice and take a deep breath — your belongings will be safe, sound and organized when it’s all over.
1. Boxes and permanent markers
Boxes are a lot easier to stack and organize than bags, and you can label them with bold markers for quick identification. Find boxes for free at the supermarket, or buy some at your self-storage facility. Sometimes it’s better to buy new to ensure you get sturdy construction and uniform sizing, which facilitates safer stacking and space-efficiency.
2. Packing tape
A good roll of duct tape can be a lifesaver in almost any situation. For the more aesthetically sensitive mover, clear 2-inch wide packaging tape is the perfect tool to seal your boxes. Remember, you never realize how much tape you need until you run out. Keep a couple rolls handy as back-up.
When it comes to protecting your belongings, you can never be too safe. Save newspapers as you start to plan the move, so you don’t have to go scrounging for them at the last minute. Bubble wrap is ideal for smaller precious items, while moving pads and packing blankets should be sandwiched between and wrapped around furniture and other large pieces.
4. Dolly or flat-bed cart
There’s a good chance your storage facility will have one of these on-site to use for free during move-in and move-out, but call in advance to make sure. You don’t want to have to inefficiently drag or carry heavy boxes across the parking lot, one at a time. These come in handy for DIY home moving as well, especially when you need to haul something from the farthest end of the house to the truck outside.
5. Sturdy storage lock
We’ve seen Houston storage facilities (and others nationwide) with some amazing modern security features. Despite this, a good self-storage lock should be a top investment to ensure the safety and security of your belongings. Avoid standard padlocks or combination padlocks, which are not designed to withstand a legitimate break-in attempt. Instead, choose a closed-shackle padlock or disc lock. Your facility manager can recommend the best type for their doors
… even Bill Gates! We saw the headlines on the Seattle blog and the CNET News Blog that the Microsoft chairman admitted to checking out the value of his mansion on Zillow at a recent conference. He also admitted that the Zestimate was too low (even at $134 million). That’s not too surprising, as the Zestimate takes comparable sales into consideration, and there really is nothing like the Gates residence anywhere in the U.S. Unique features include:
We know Bill didn’t go to Zillow to set a Make Me Move price — although, wouldn’t THAT be interesting — but he came to see how technology is mashing up with real estate. So, we say to Bill as we say to everyone: Zillow is a starting point and that starting point becomes more precise with the more data we have to crunch. So, if you feel your home’s value is not spot-on, you can do something about it: Claim your home, edit the home facts and create your own estimate using My Estimator. Real estate is part art and part science. And if you have heated toilet seats and they don’t know it, you can go ahead and add that value to your home details page to get closer to what you think your home is worth. Give it a whirl and let us know what you think.
Heated toilet seats? Check…
Retractable garage roof? Check…
Tunnel to next door neighbor’s wine cellar? Check…
Know what we hate? We hate going through mails and seeing an envelope bearing the words “URGENT LETTER” and “PLEASE EXPEDITE” — because rather than informing that a wealthy distant relative has passed on and have less than 24 hours to claim the inheritance, have the sneaking suspicion that…sure enough: another refi offer.
Don’t get us wrong — refinancing can be a boon to mortgage holders who are either locked in at, or have found themselves adjusted to, a significantly higher APR. Today’s featured Real Estate guide article, Refinancing Your Home, explains the various reasons people choose to refinance. But as syndicated columnist and “Mortgage Professor” Jack Guttentag notes in last Sunday’s column, many borrowers are being tempted by refi offers that would actually wind up making them poorer. These loan offers start off on an alarmist note (“Interest rates are going up!” “Qualifying guidelines are changing!”), but don’t despair — if you ACT NOW, you can still take advantage of their “money-saving” loan programs. Credit problems? No problem!
Reading the fine print, however, reveals minor details like the fact that incidentals such as taxes, title, and insurance are often not included in their APR calculation. Moreover, it turns out that making the minimum payment (i.e., the one they advertise prominently) may cause negative amortization. Finally, the predicted savings (not to mention the ability of the borrower to make payments) depends on housing prices continuing to rise. And as an increasing number of subprime lenders are painfully aware, that’s not always the case.
Here’s the thing to remember the next time you receive an “urgent” offer to refinance your home: The companies that send these loan offers don’t guarantee that you’ll be better off after all the new fees have been paid in order to get rid of the old mortgage. If you are seriously considering refinancing, proceed with care and do the math.
The scent of freshly baked cookies wafting through the house? Check. Eager agent milling about? Check. Blue paper shoe covers that make you look decidedly Smurf-like? Check.
Ah, the joys of the open house …
The crowd at open houses is usually a mix of nosy neighbors (“I’ve always wanted to get a peek at their backyard …”), habitual house hunters (you know, the ones who are “just looking”), and, of course, serious buyers. If you fall into the serious buyer camp, you might be interested in an article in the Real Estate Guide that covers what you should and shouldn’t do at open houses.
As the article says, open houses can be a great opportunity for gathering information on the house and the neighborhood. The agent showing the house can give you some good info, and the neighbors who will inevitably pop in are a fantastic resource. They might even be able to give you the scoop on other neighbors who are about to sell their homes.
While it’s good to chat up the agent and the neighbors, it’s important to remember to keep your opinions on the house to yourself (stuff one of those cookies in your mouth, if you have to!). Remember, you might be negotiating with the seller’s agent later, so you don’t want them to know how much you adore this house, thus reducing your negotiating leverage. Conversely, if you voice criticisms about the home, that might also come back to bite you later.
Thinking about buying new construction? The article also covers what you should look for and ask when visiting a developer’s open house.
What does it take to make a home famous? In case you’re wondering how to make YOUR home famous, there are two main routes to explore: Either become famous yourself (the more difficult of the two options) or lend your home to a film project for use in a movie or even a commercial.
Found an interesting article published March 5 in the Los Angeles Times titled “The star treatment: Want a film set in your living room?” (To access this article, registration is required). It’s all about looks, marketing and good neighbors that gives some background on how to go about getting your residence into a film. The article states that “On a big-budget Hollywood film, your house can earn anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 a day.” Even though you have to register on the L.A. Times site, it’s definitely worth the effort if you are looking for the fast track to having a famous home (or if you just want to get paid $2k-20K per day to stay in a hotel)!
Millennial veterans and military members are helping fuel the resurgence of the historic VA loan program. Last year’s 700,000-plus loans were more than double the agency’s total from five years ago.
Younger buyers in particular have flocked to these government-backed mortgages during a time of tight credit and flatlining wage growth. The VA says millennials accounted for about a third of all VA loans last year.
These low-interest loans offer qualified buyers a wealth of benefits. That’s especially true for millennial borrowers, who often have dented credit or minimal savings. This $0 down payment loan program was created to help level the playing field for those who serve our country, and it’s still doing so today.
“VA loans offer an extraordinary opportunity for veterans because of lower interest rates, lower monthly payments, no or low down payments, and no private mortgage insurance,” said Jeff London, director of the VA home loan program.
Here’s a closer look at three of the big benefits that make VA loans such a good match for millennial home buyers.
1. No down payment requirement
This renowned benefit of VA loans helps veterans purchase without having to spend years saving for a down payment. When determining affordability, qualified buyers in most of the country should know that they can purchase a home for up to $424,100 before having to factor in a down payment. That ceiling is even higher in costlier housing markets.
The average VA loan last year was for about $253,000. Getting a conventional loan for that amount often requires a down payment of at least $12,000. FHA loans require at least 3.5% down. That’s no small sum in either case, particularly for younger veterans and military families.
2. No mortgage insuranceVA buyers also don’t have to pay extra each month for mortgage insurance, a common feature of low-down-payment loans. Conventional buyers typically need to pay for private mortgage insurance unless they can put down 20%. FHA loans come with both upfront and annual mortgage insurance premiums.
For example, FHA buyers shell out an additional $140 per month for mortgage insurance on a typical $200,000 loan. That extra outlay can limit your purchasing power, as well as put a hole in your monthly budget.
Most VA buyers encounter a funding fee that goes straight to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans and military members can finance this cost over the life of their loan. Borrowers who receive compensation for a service-connected disability don’t pay it at all.
3. Flexible credit guidelinesVA loans were created to boost access to homeownership for veteran and military families. They’re naturally more flexible and forgiving when it comes to credit underwriting.
Lenders typically have lower credit score benchmarks for VA loans than for conventional mortgages. The average FICO score on a VA purchase last year was 50 points lower than the average conventional score, according to Ellie Mae.
Compared with conventional borrowers, qualified VA buyers can also bounce back faster after a bankruptcy, foreclosure, or short sale.
Despite their flexibility, VA loans have had the lowest foreclosure rate on the market for most of the past nine years. That’s due in large part to the VA’s commitment to helping veterans keep their homes.
Loan program officials can advocate on behalf of veteran homeowners and encourage lenders and mortgage servicers to offer alternatives to foreclosure.
“VA is even there to assist veterans who encounter difficulty making payments,” London said. “Last year, VA and servicers helped over 97,000 veterans avoid foreclosure. Using the VA program is a win for veterans, lenders, and taxpayers.”
More than seven decades after their introduction, VA loans are still making a big difference for veterans, military members, and their families.
“A home and its equity becomes the bedrock of their economic future,” said Curtis L. Coy, deputy undersecretary for economic opportunity at the Department of Veterans Affairs. “Money that would have typically been used for the down payment is now money in their pocket—money that can be the beginning of their savings or can be used to fix up their home. It is a win-win for the veteran and the community where they spend that money.”
This article was written by Chris Birk, director of education at Veterans United Home Loans and author of “The Book on VA Loans: An Essential Guide to Maximizing Your Home Loan Benefits.”
This article was written by Chris Birk, director of education at Veterans United Home Loans and author of “The Book on VA Loans: An Essential Guide to Maximizing Your Home Loan Benefits.”
NMLS 1907 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org) Veterans United Home Loans is not endorsed or sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs or any government agency; does not reflect DOD endorsements. Equal Opportunity Lender. 1400 Veterans United Drive, Columbia, MO, 65203.
Summer is peak season for home selling—but also for barbecues, vacations, and long, lazy beach days. In other words, there are lots of things to distract even the most diligent would-be buyers. And that’s not even counting those dog days when it’s too hot to even venture out to view homes.
But for home sellers who are eager to drum up an offer before Labor Day, having their sale sidelined isn't an option. And luckily, there's plenty you can do to lure buyers through your door. Check out these five smart tips for getting buyers to brave the heat and squeeze your house into their summer schedule.
1. Embrace 'rush hour' traffic
Long weekends out of town are the stuff summer dreams are made of. But they're also the reason many Saturday and Sunday afternoon open houses end up nearly empty. Choosing an alternative time frame may turn that around.
"During the summer months, I've found holding 'rush hour' open houses to be hugely successful," says Lindsay Bacigalupo, Engel & Völkers Minneapolis. "For example, Minnesota is full of lakes and so many residents here go up north for the weekend to enjoy time at their cabin. That's why I hold open houses on Thursdays from 4 to 6 p.m.—it creates an opportunity for buyers to view it during a time that might be more convenient."
2. Turn your open house into a summer party
Let's face it: Heading to a barbecue or pool party sounds a whole lot more fun than an open house. If you can't beat 'em, why not join 'em?
"Advertise it as a party instead of simply an open house," says Brett Fischer, associate broker at Lee & Associates Residential in New York, NY.
In other words, put together a gathering that feels more like a celebration than a sales pitch. Try serving up refreshments outside like lemonade and iced tea on trays, or fire up the grill to serve summer-themed appetizers or sliders.
Timing can make a difference here, too: Rather than holding your soirée in the middle of the day, wait until the evening when the temperature's bearable and people are ready to venture out and kick back at a house party.
3. Shine a spotlight on the outdoor space
Nothing's more appealing on a scorching summer day than a backyard pool. Play up this feature and other outdoor amenities to convince buyers this is the warm weather oasis they deserve.
"The long days of summer make for the perfect opportunity to highlight the exterior living spaces of the property," says Than Merrill, a real estate investor and CEO of the real estate education company FortuneBuilders. "Make additional effort to keep patio areas, the pool, and outdoor furniture extra-clean. Incorporate tasteful props such as cushions, towels, lanterns, and string lights to help spur the imagination of your guests."
Mark Cianciullli, a real estate agent at the CREM Group, recalls how setting the stage paid off by getting potential buyers to envision themselves enjoying the amenities he's featured.
"It was a hillside home that had a beautiful view of the city below, especially at night when the city was lit up. So I decided to have a 'summer nights'–themed open house where I set up bistro lights in the backyard and floating candles in the pool and served wine and cheese," he says. "It was such a charming atmosphere that the ultimate buyer wanted the house so bad so she could re-create those kinds of settings for parties or just hanging out with her family and friends."
4. Create a community event
Sometimes getting a home sold is a matter of enlisting the help of those who already live in the neighborhood. Merrill recommends hosting a summer block party at the front of the property, rather than in the backyard, to invite more attention and foot traffic from neighbors and others passing by.
"Prepare a theme, such as a luau or a summer barbecue, with entertainment for kids," he suggests. "Make sure to design and pass out event fliers around the neighborhood days in advance. Consider renting food trucks, including a snow cone or ice cream truck, to help serve your guests. As you mingle with guests, invite them to take a tour of the property and ask them to spread the word to friends and neighbors."
This concept translates to urban areas as well.
"New York City is famous for its residents fleeing the city on weekends, so real estate professionals have to get creative," explains Mable Ivory at Engel & Völkers in New York. "So this week, I hosted a community event called 'Sunset Soiree in the South Bronx.' Attendees could preview my listing, a penthouse on the Grand Concourse, while enjoying Bronx and Manhattan skyline views at sunset. We provided live music from Bronx native Pernell Walker, custom-designed 'Bronx Bomber' cocktails and bites, and had a raffle for 'The Bronx Rox' gift basket. It was more than just an open house, but a way for the community to get together and celebrate their neighborhood."
5. Advertise early, often, and offline
Spreading the word about an open house is always key to getting people in the door, but never more so than that stretch between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
"Summer is a crazy season, and often people become unplugged from their devices," says Jennifer Brownhill, regional marketing manager of CLV Group. "So advertising online well in advance will help give people the heads-up to clear their schedule for this day."
To capture more eyeballs offline, plant signs on roadways headed toward the beach, campgrounds, and other popular summer destinations. Add extras like balloons to draw even more attention.
"Buyers know that it doesn't take long to tour the home," says Alex Hubler of Keller Williams Premier Realty Lake Minnetonka, MN. Advertise how your home's just five minutes off the highway, and "people can pop in quick if they're on their way somewhere, rather than taking the whole day to tour homes."
If you've ever gotten ready to sell a home, you know that in order to fetch top dollar, you need to get your place in good shape. But that costs money—hiring contractors, painters, and other pros—so you might be wondering: Why not save some cash by tackling a few of these fix-its myself?
That's fine and good if you know what you're doing. But unless your DIY skills are fairly advanced, experts agree that this is one of the biggest mistakes a home seller can make. If you bungle the job, you might end up making things worse, and shelling out even more money down the road.
"You have to ask yourself: Is it likely to do more harm than good?" says Dan Bawden, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders Remodelers
To help you separate the tasks you can tackle from those best left to the pros, here are some DIYs to avoid when preparing to sell your home.
If you have rooms that need a fresh coat of paint, go for it, says Bawden. But if you have cracks in the drywall from a shifting foundation or a little depression from years of doorknob slams, it's worth it to hire a pro.
"In my house, I wouldn't do the Sheetrock," says Bawden. "I'd hire someone to fix plaster or drywall. If you don't get the texture just right, when you paint the wall, the repair is going to stick out like a sore thumb."
You don't want your "fix" to look worse than the original problem. Contract out the drywall repair, then DIY the paint job afterward.
"I’ve been in the construction business for years, and I don’t mess with anything inside an HVAC," says Bawden.
The heating and cooling systems in your house are complex, and often connected to both electrical and gas. Making a mistake could mean blowing out the entire system, setting you up for a much more expensive repair in the end.
Furthermore, you'd better believe that potential buyers are going to have their inspector go over the HVAC as thoroughly as possible. Even something relatively simple such as installing a smart thermostat can fry your wiring if done incorrectly. When it comes to your heating and AC, approach with caution.
Unlike installing a refrigerator, stove, or washer and dryer (which can often be a simple DIY task), installing a new dishwasher is complicated.
"The complexities involved with setup, such as installing water and drainage lines under the kitchen sink cabinet, are best handled by a professional," says Doyle James, president of Mr. Rooter plumbing.
Doing this job wrong could mean flooding your kitchen, which will ruin your floors and more. And besides, most big-box stores offer installation for a fairly reasonable price if you're buying new units, or a plumber can handle it for $150 to $500.
"Even if it's not a really massive tree, you'd be surprised how hard it is to dig around the roots," says Bawden.
It's also dangerous, especially if you don't have the tools professionals would use to remove the upper part of the tree before taking out the stump. Do you really want to be that person who puts a tree through your own roof because you were too cheap to hire a tree removal professional? (No, you don't.)
Siding and window fixes
Bawden cautions against DIY siding or window replacement, because water can seep into the walls if you don't reseal the layers properly. It might not be noticeable at first. In fact, you may sell the house not even realizing there is a problem, but down the line, mold and water damage will start to appear.
Not only is that bad karma, it could also be what Bawden calls "lawsuit city."
While replacing a light fixture or ceiling fan could be fine to DIY, experts draws the line at any electrical work involving the breaker box. Not only could you hurt yourself, you could also create a fire hazard, especially if your home isn't brand-new.
"Older homes do not usually have safety devices like ground fault circuit interrupters, making it especially dangerous," explains Shawn McCarthy, owner of Handyman Connection of Colorado Springs.
"You reach the limit pretty quickly," agrees Bawden. "Anything that involves running new wires or repairing faulty wiring should be left to a professional."
Aside from the risk of fire or injury, serious electrical work done by an unlicensed electrician could have code problems, meaning you're likely to get a thumbs-down from the inspector later anyway.
Even if it's just a little fix that the average DIYer could easily do (e.g., hammering down a shingle or two or replacing chimney pipe roof flashing), be cautious.
"It's very easy to get disoriented," says Bawden, especially on a peaked roof. This is why even pro roofers always use a harness in case of falls, so unless you take similar safety measures, steer clear.
Some plumbing tasks are doable: Fixing a running toilet or snaking a slow drain should be in pretty much anybody's comfort zone. The problem with attempting bigger DIY plumbing tasks, though, is that you often don't quite know what you're getting into. Disassembling leaky or blocked under sink pipes, for example, seems simple enough. But according to James, "Pipes are complex and very tricky to reassemble, particularly when they're in close proximity to other plumbing components and machinery, such as dishwashers or garbage disposals."
He notes that what might appear to be a straightforward problem, like low water pressure or a fractured pipe, could actually be a symptom of a larger issue with your system. Plumbing has a way of getting out of hand—i.e., broken pipes, flooding, and worse.
TC On Point
Even though the amount of housing inventory has reportedly shrunk, the market for selling homes is still incredibly competitive. It is only expected to become more competitive in the near future. So what are some real estate marketing ideas for real estate agents, investors and regular homeowners that want to sell their houses and do it faster? The following is a comprehensive list of proven real estate marketing ideas:
What are the best real estate lead generation options today?
Where and how can real estate agents, investors and other related industry professionals generate more leads for buying, selling and renting properties? What are some of the little known benefits, and pitfalls of common real estate lead generation channels today?
Here are 12 ways for real estate investors and Realtors to bring in more leads:
Some popular real estate gurus have said that direct mail is the fastest and easiest way to generate new leads. It can still be very effective. In fact, as others have turned to online marketing, direct mail may have become even more effective and profitable. However, direct mail success does rely on volume and testing to hone messaging and delivery.
Cold calling on a large scale, such as using call centers, might face many challenges with regulations today, but it has still been proven to generate an effective hourly income of hundreds of dollars for Realtors. Simply picking up the phone can be one of the fastest ways to generate real estate business. It is also one of the lowest cost ways to generate leads, and can help professionals stay on top of their sales game.
Many fantastic real estate deals and listings can be uncovered by simply driving neighborhoods and knocking on doors. There are obvious obstacles in doing this, but when it comes to getting the jump on competitors, it can be hard to beat.
Google may have made reaching consumers via their inboxes more challenging, but email can still be one of the best ways to reach both the masses, and highly targeted contacts. Email lists may be rented from data companies versus buying them. Subsequently, real estate investors and agents can take control of their own email real estate and build their own lists.
Buying Internet Leads
Buying internet leads has been popular for a variety of real estate and mortgage companies since before the last housing boom. These individuals experienced somewhat of a bubble, but have now been improved with enhanced data and targeting tools. There are various types of these leads ranging from ‘aged’ leads, to live exclusive leads, and non-exclusive leads. Make sure you do your homework and understand exactly what you are getting, as well as the difference in these types of consumers, in order to maximize ROI.
Buying Lead Lists
Lead lists have been a staple of the real estate industry for many years. An almost endless array of filters can be used to laser target the best prospects with these lists. However, newer individuals and real estate companies need to recognize that they may not legally be allowed to have, or market to some of these lists depending on how the data was generated. Watch for junk, and be sure lists aren’t being fluffed out with bogus names.
Real Estate Blogging
Real estate blogging remains one of the most powerful and profitable forms of lead generation, but also one of the most underestimated. A regular blog can ensure real estate pros and companies are not held ransom by other platforms, and can go on helping to generate leads for years after posts are written. A blog can be used to draw regular internet leads, feed email list building, and fuel social media efforts.
While this medium changes constantly, social media platforms can still be a fantastic way to generate leads in real estate. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and even Pinterest are all great options. There are many debates over calls to action, the amount of engagement which is right, and how much should be invested off-site, versus on a real estate company’s own websites, but with the right funnel strategy, it can be fast, affordable and enjoyable.
Signage & Outdoor Real Estate Advertising
Even the simplest yard and ‘bandit’ signs can be incredibly affordable ways to generate real estate leads. With the right message, these and other outdoor advertising solutions can be used to generate a steady stream of local leads. New technology can make this even better. Call capture, QR codes, interactive augmented reality signs, text messaging options, and even links to virtual tours can be used to boost outdoor advertising performance.
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising can be one of the best methods of predictably and consistently driving in real estate leads on demand. PPC solutions, like Google Adwords, offer the ability to drive in leads on command. This can be tweaked to be hyper local, or reach global buyers, investors and homeowners right where they are now. With a little strategy and education, real estate marketers can significantly drive down PPC costs. With a large enough budget, they can even dominate, and starve out the competition by buying every lead for a given keyword. Aside from the big platforms, more affordable online leads may be gleaned from purchasing image, text and banner ads on other websites directly.
Don’t forget print. Beyond the traditional line up of real estate mags, consider other industry magazines that will reach the same prime prospects, and even leveraging online magazines.
Referrals and Affiliate Marketing
Personal referrals can be both a compliment, and the most valuable form of lead generation. Savvy real estate CEOs are taking this to a whole new level by using technology to scale and organize referrals on a national and global scale.
What if the world of real estate advertising and marketing, as we’ve known it for decades, was irretrievably broken? What would it mean for real estate investors and agents? What would it take to get real estate leads and retain clients? What level or care and quality would it require to stay in business and keep growing?
In a recent interview with Inc. Magazine, Seth Godin alluded to the idea that marketing and advertising, as we used to know it, has been broken in large part to too much noise. Perhaps ironically of course, Seth Godin is revered by many as one of the greatest marketers of our time. Seth has recently posed a couple of important thoughts. The first, which can be found in the respective Inc. interview, referred to paying for marketing as a losing strategy. The second, via his blog, asked what if there were no more customers to be had? What if this was the last generation of potential clients – how would you treat them differently?
There may absolutely be challenges in real estate marketing, more competition for attention, and platforms like Facebook may constantly be upping the premium to reach your hard worked for fans, but thankfully traditional channels aren’t dead yet.
Traditional real estate marketing (phone, SMS, yard and bandit signs, direct mail, email, PPC and SEO, print and display advertising) is far from being outdated. All of these types of real estate marketing may have their own cycles, just like the property market as a whole. However, attention is undoubtedly becoming more valuable, as are loyal customers. Few could argue that working with referrals and repeat customers isn’t the highest ROI and most sustainable type of business. So in order to maximize ROI and avoid being held ransom by marketing agencies which control the costs of so many of these channels, what does it take to make your budget go further, get free business and keep them coming back?
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, real estate companies and independent pros have to realize it is about the customer, not themselves. You have to really, really understand this, and keep it in mind with ever move you make. So make your messaging more about helping consumers, home buyers and sellers and renters and investors, and a lot less about you. Stop bragging and show them what you can do for them. Think creatively. In order to get more out of a real estate marketing budget, it needs to be highly effective. It needs to have viral capability by itself. Consider any paid boost to get it in front of others a bonus.
We are also seeing a return to personal connection. The internet isn’t going away, and in many ways this can actually augment relationship building if engaged accordingly. To cultivate referrals, close new business, retain customers and benefit from repeat business, relationships are important. Seth Godin suggests focusing on building ‘tribes,’ communities and groups that really care about something. This could be helping each other succeed in real estate, or rebuilding their community or beautiful design. It can be done on Facebook, Google+ groups, Twitter, via email, and in person at events.
The bottom line is that paying for marketing is still a reality in the real estate world and can have great returns. It’s just better done with same level of care and quality as if it was the only single message you could afford to send. Sincere marketing is hard to fake, and even harder to stick with. However, those that care enough and care about the long term will find these things helpful.
Print advertising appears to be making a rebound in the U.S. housing market, but what practices and tactics can help companies get even better results? More importantly, how can real estate investors increase their ROI with effective print marketing? How can you maximize your marketing efforts?
The current resurgence of real estate magazines suggests print media is back. During the downturn they thinned out, many went broke and others merged together. Now, housing is booming along with the offers made for print ad space. Experienced marketing and real estate pros know that all media, just like the property market, is cyclical. However,, no one wants to gamble or take chances with their advertising budgets. So how can real estate investors, agents and companies improve their ROI and ensure better results from print?
1. Credible Contact Information
Without accurate contact information, minimal response and action can be expected from any advertising campaign. The more options that real estate marketers provide, the better the odds that response and conversion ratios will go up. However, having credible contact information is equally important. For example; would you respond to a magazine ad that only had a gmail or Yahoo email address?
2. Research the Competition First
Don’t launch your ads until you’ve researched what the competition is doing with their ads. There is no sense in burning your budget and opportunity with an inferior ad. For example; if one mortgage company is advertising 2% interest rates and no closing costs, those offering anything less are likely to be overlooked or discarded. Make your ads count. By knowing your competition you can give yourself an advantage.
3. Split a Page
Having control of a full page in a magazine is great, but that doesn’t mean innovative real estate marketers can’t slash their costs, boost ROI and build relationships with strategic partnerships by splitting the expenses. Perhaps a mortgage, title or insurance partner will be willing to chip in? As long as it benefits both parties, why not?
4. The Back Cover
The back cover of a magazine can be just as valuable to real estate agents, investors and companies than the front cover.
5. Negotiate Better Deals
While demand for magazine and print advertising may be headed up, everything is always negotiable in this industry. Can you get a better deal if you commit to several months or multiple pages? Can you negotiate additional perks or discounts for referrals and links, or simply print ready ads versus having the publisher put it together?
6. Augmented Reality Ads
Augmented reality is the next big space for marketing, especially print. In fact, it is AR that has probably saved and revived the print industry from the brink of extinction. New statistics show a significant percentage of top print publications and ads in those publications turning to augmented reality, with as many as 80% of readers downloading AR apps and engaging across digital boundaries. If more money doesn’t excite you, it looks really cool too.
7. Print +
There is no denying that most real estate pros today are more interested in growing their online business. For those that are going to do print, try negotiating with the publisher to have them send out emails on your behalf, post social updates with back links and look for active back links in digital copies of magazines. These perks could far exceed the print value. Just make sure you know what their online traffic numbers look like in addition to the number of magazines left around which may be a poor reflection of readership numbers.