Southeast Florida Real Estate News

 

May 30, 2019

6 Ways to Embark on an Eco-Friendly Renovation

green-renovation

Eco-friendly living is all about choosing materials and practices that are beneficial to the environment. But did you know this can also include your renovation process and the materials you use?

“There are five things everyone should consider for an eco-friendlyrenovation: water conservation, air quality, energy savings, recycling, and buying sustainable lumber,” says Thom Kuntz, director of merchandising for 84 Lumber. For example, when you purchase lumber, he recommends using a retailer that sources it from a mill that practices legal and responsible harvesting.

"It's essential to reclaim, recycle, and repurpose materials. If you’re willing to put in some research and a little extra work, you can have a successful renovation that benefits your lifestyle and the environment,” Kuntz says.

So what are the best practices for having an eco-friendly renovation? Get the top go-green guidelines below.

1. Assemble your green team

During a home renovation, you need to communicate to your architect, designer, and contractors your desire that the process be as environmentally sound as possible. Erica Reiner, owner/principal of Eco Method Interiors, an eco-friendly interior design and consulting firm, says there are many people who specialize in this type of work.

“With certifications from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) to the International WELL Building Institute, they will be able to guide you on how to use greener materials and practices that suit your particular project," she says.

Asking the right questions can also help you find the right people.

“When you’re vetting contractors, prioritize those who will demolish your home in a careful way and salvage materials like aluminum, wood, and glass,” says Michael DiMartino, senior vice president of installations at Power Home Remodeling.

2. Focus on the roof

Need a new roof? This is one area of the home practically made for going green.

"Rooftop solar panels can help you save on energy costs and lower your carbon footprint,” says Alex Pecora, director of residential product management at CertainTeed Roofing. “This includes newer, low-profile solar systems that integrate with existing shingles or tiles and blend seamlessly with the roofline.”

The cost of solar panels varies by state and company, but on average, you can expect to pay about $3.70 per watt. This means that the average-size 5-kilowatt solar system would run about $18,500.

Another eco-friendly option is metal roofing, for example, in aluminum, copper, or steel. Pecora says this material lasts a minimum of 50 years and is usually 100 percent recyclable.

“Metal roofing also accommodates solar-reflective paints that significantly reduce rooftop temperatures," he says. "This can lead to a noticeable reduction in air-conditioning costs, particularly in the hotter months.”

3. Prioritize energy-efficient products

Learn which types of appliances and household products are available in energy-efficient versions.

Energy-efficient windows and doors are essential to preventing heat and cold transference, protecting your home from harmful UV rays, and helping to keep maintenance costs down,” DiMartino says.

Take a look at three measurements when selecting energy-efficient products: U-factor (or rate of heat loss), solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC), and air leakage.

“For each of these measurements individually, the lower the number, the more energy-efficient the product,” DiMartino explains.

Opt for certified EnergySTAR appliances and lighting, and WaterSense products for water-efficient toilets, shower-heads, and bathroom faucets.

4. Consider concrete

Flooring comes in a multitude of eco-friendly options, including bamboo and cork, but concrete stands out as a clean choice for flooring and walls.

“Concrete is one of the greenest materials out, because it can be sourced locally and has less of a carbon footprint from production, transportation, and importation than other materials like tile, carpet, marble, and even wood," says Earl Choate of Concrete Camouflage in Isabella, MO. It's also extremely durable and can be recycled.

And if you're concerned about concrete looking dark and gloomy, an acid stain can mimic the look of stone or marble and brighten the surface right up.

5. Pick out pre-loved furniture

You can show some love for the environment—and your wallet—by shopping used furniture and home accessories. Reiner suggests beginning your search on apps like Letgo, OfferUp, Nextdoor, and Facebook Marketplace, where people are selling high-quality name brands. For trendy, antique, or hard-to-find pieces, she recommends websites like Chairish and AptDeco.

And of course, be sure to check out your local flea markets, estate sales, and thrift stores to score stylish furnishings at great prices.

6. Repurpose and recycle materials from your home

The flip side to purchasing pre-loved stuff is deciding how to reuse or donate the items you already own.

“Hardwood floors, wood, and windows are some common reusables," says Michelle Tascione, environmental strategy manager at 84 Lumber. You might even be able to refinish old hardwood floors instead of buying new ones.

If you can't find a use for the materials in your home, there are always organizations that are willing to accept donations. "Habitat for Humanity and Construction Junction take old kitchen cabinets and leftover lumber," Tascione says.

There are also carpeting stores that repurpose unwanted carpeting, as well as paint recycling centers where old paint can be remixed into new colors and resold.

Article courtesy of Realtor.com

Posted in Market Updates
May 29, 2019

Should You Do Home Upgrades Now ... or Right Before You Sell?

renovate-when

Home sellers are often told to make upgrades to their house before they sell ... but when is the best time to get those home improvements underway, in terms of scoring the best ROI?

It's a tough balance to strike. After all, the sooner you remodel your kitchen or retile the bathroom, the more you'll get to enjoy it all yourself. But if you make those improvements too long before you sell, you risk them looking run-down and outdated by the time you want to market your home. So, when's the right time to give the green light?

If you're agonizing over such questions, we can end your misery now—in a good way! Here’s how far in advance of listing your home you should do certain home improvements, so they'll still look fresh enough to fetch top dollar.

7 to 10 years out

Well, you’re quite a planner, aren’t you? That’s cool … we’ll play the long game with you. Here are upgrades you can safely undertake when you still have significant time until your sale.

1. Redo your landscaping

This is truly one of the few housing projects that gets better with age, since shrubs and trees only improve as they mature. And, bonus: It's likely that it will never look dated, says Lisa Shiroff of Leafy Green Landscaping in Buena, NJ. However, she cautions, think twice about unique or difficult-to-maintain items if you are concerned with resale value—we’re talking elements like a meditation nook, bocce ball court, or koi pond.

“Most people are not willing to invest the time, energy, or finances to maintain those areas, so keep your additions relatively mainstream and user-friendly,” Shiroff says.

2. Update the garage door

Believe it or not, updating your garage door is the top upgrade you can make in terms of return on investment.

“Curb appeal is key when you’re getting ready to sell your home, and garage doors can dramatically improve the look of your home,” says Matt Edstrom of GoodLife Home Loans in Laguna Hills, CA. Since garage doors can last for up to 40 years, this is an update you can enjoy right now, without worrying about taking a depreciation hit.

3. Replace your roof

If your roof is more than 20 years old and you plan on selling, you may want to replace it, suggests Taylor Willson, owner of Willson Home Inspection Inc. in Tampa, FL. For one thing, you may receive immediate savings from your insurance company, he says, and beyond that, “A newer roof is a great selling point.” Choose a hardy material, like concrete tiles or asphalt shingles, that have a long useful life.

4. Keep up on repairs

Repairs should have a permanent spot on your “to do” list. If it’s broke, then, yes, please fix it.

“Don’t put off repairs while you wait for the optimum time,” says Cristina Miguélez, remodeling specialist at Fixr.com. “They help your home retain value and can keep a small problem from becoming exponentially bigger.”

5 years out

This is a good time to start thinking about big-ticket items that will affect your resale and that you won’t want to pay for all at once. Here are some to consider.

1. Replace major systems

We’re talking HVAC systems, plumbing … anything whose average life expectancy is relatively long, and where you want your listing to showcase that these key systems are less than five years old. Replacing them now allows you to enjoy the improved operation and potential energy savings, while avoiding a concession in the sale price when the time comes, Willson says.

2. Check on anything with a warranty

This is also a good time to do a check on any items that have a current warranty—such as windows and appliances—while they are still covered, suggests Frances Dawson, with Re/Max Executive at the Lake in Cornelius, NC.

3. Switch out your front door

Another important element of “curb appeal,” your front door can really make your house pop, says Edstrom, as well as potentially increase your energy efficiency. Front doors can last for decades, but they are also exposed to the elements, so this is a good time frame to allow you to enjoy the aesthetics and energy savings, without running the risk that it will look too weathered come sales time.

2 years out

Two years is nothing in a home’s history, so it’s time to really start getting serious. Here’s what to do to start prepping for a relatively imminent sale.

 1. Reno the kitchen or bathroom

This can be subjective, but you’re probably safe doing an overhaul in this time frame if you are hoping to get some personal enjoyment out of your updates. Miguélez suggests, however, that you pick your decor carefully to avoid being stuck with an upgrade that’s already dated.

"A ‘trend’ is something that’s predicted to last roughly 10 years, so your safest best is to find a look that’s been on the upswing for roughly two to three years," Miguélez explains. "That means it will look relevant for a while, rather than something that is already five years old and potentially nearing its expiration date.”

Dawson recommends seeking the opinion of a local real estate agent, who can steer you to cost-effective updates that will increase the value of your home without over-improving it. And, she says, beware of DIY.

“If you don't have extensive prior experience, hiring a professional is going to be cheaper in the long run, because the DIY look is unappealing to your potential buyer.”

2. Get to organizing

This is also a good time to start cleaning out storage areas, closets, cabinets, the garage, the attic—anyplace you have an accumulation of stuff, Dawson says. Your future self will thank you for getting this time-consuming project out of the way now.

3. Have a home inspection

Very few sellers do this, but it’s smart to have your home professionally inspected right about now, so you won’t run into any nasty surprises when selling time rolls around.

“It is always less expensive to repair items before you get into negotiations with a buyer,” Dawson points out.

1 year or less

It’s crunch time, and now is the time to attend to all the high-traffic areas, as well as make improvements that will freshen up your listing.

1. Redo flooring

Pets and kids can scratch up your floors quickly, so wait as long as you can before refinishing floors. Replace carpet, too, if it’s dingy, and especially if it has pet odors.

2. Roll on a fresh coat of paint

Walls get dinged up constantly, so painting right before putting your house on the market can really make it sparkle. It’s also a quick job that you can get done in a week or two.

3. Replace all your accessory items

These are things like bedding, throw pillows, chair cushions, patio furniture, shower curtains, plumbing fixtures, cabinet pulls—all the embellishments that provide the “lipstick” for the foundational elements.  Shop those sales and switch out everything you can, Dawson recommends.

“You want the house to shine like a new penny, not appear to be well-loved," she says.

Article Courtesy Realtor.com

Posted in Market Updates
May 22, 2019

4 Reasons Why Summer Is the Best Time to Move

summer-moving-truck

Moving is the worst. But for those who can be flexible in scheduling their move, choosing the right season to relocate can make the whole experience smoother. So which time of the year is most preferable?

For renters and buyers looking to move in the near future, the longer, sunnier days of summer are really ideal—and we'll tell you why. So if you find yourself planning a move soon, don't sign on the dotted line or book a moving company without considering the following reasons first.

“Warmer weather means longer days and more daylight that gives you more time to move in and out of a home. This is especially helpful for those who are not hiring a moving company and will be doing the heavy lifting themselves,” says Kim Starks, associate broker, Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty, Warwick, NY.

2. Children are not in school

For those with families, moving in summer means no disruption of the school year or daily routine for the children. Plus, you won't have to plan your move around a school schedule, and you'll have extra hands on deck to help you out with the move.

“Given that school-age children are on summer break from school, families will benefit from moving in the summertime," says Starks. "Disrupting the school year with a major move can be difficult, not only with all the school activities, but also with after-school activities and sports activities."

3. There are yard sales galore

Summer also brings more neighborhood yard sales, which can be beneficial to both buyers and sellers. As a seller, you can team up with neighbors and share the task of promoting the yard sale and bringing in foot traffic. As a buyer, you will have more yard sales to peruse for any items you need.

Plus, yard sales can be a great way to reduce the amount of stuff you have to move—and who doesn’t like the extra cash?

For homeowners in a hurry to move, yard sales can even help you nab a buyer, says Jami Harich, of Avery Hess Realtors® in Fredericksburg, VA.

“I once had a buyer come into my office explaining that they had just been to a yard sale and they liked the house so much that they wanted to make a cash offer on it,” Harich says.

4. The selling season peaks in summer

The summer housing market heats up for sellers, so if you're antsy to move, you'll probably have an easier time finding a new place and getting out of your current house.

Todd Teta, chief product officer for ATTOM Data Solutions, says there are more buyers in the market in the spring and summer, with June topping the list as the best month to sell, based on seller premiums. He says that sellers could see premiums of 10% or more in the summer.

Article courtesy Realtor.com

Posted in News
May 20, 2019

4 Good Reasons to Not Get a Mortgage Online

online-mortgage-no

Applying for a mortgage these days can be accomplished entirely online—no need to schlep to a bank and suffer hand cramps filling out paperwork.

Instead, you can punch some basic info into an online mortgage site, and up pops a bunch of loan choices. An industry renowned for being slow and cumbersome is now wooing customers with the promise of ease, speed, and transparency. Rocket Mortgage, Quicken Loan's online platform, for example, promises qualified customers approval in as little as eight minutes.

But taking out a six-figure loan is one of the most complicated and substantial financial transactions most people will ever make. Does it really make sense to handle it by pushing a few buttons on your smartphone?

Maybe for those with a typical 9-to-5 job and good credit.

"If you are a salaried employee with no overtime, no bonus—no funky income, if you will—just a plain-vanilla borrower, then sometimes the online mortgage does work," says Brian Minkow, a divisional vice president and loan originator at Homebridge Financial Services, a non-bank lender. "You know: You have a five-year work history, you're putting 20% down, and have an 800 FICO score."

But then there's everybody else.

Here are some of the many reasons why those borrowers might consider taking more time with the process, including consulting with an experienced loan officer or mortgage broker.

1. You want to shop around for the best loan

First and foremost, it's always in a borrower's best interest to comparison shop on rates and fees, says Keith Gumbinger, a vice president at HSH.com, a mortgage information website. Speed and convenience alone do not always translate into a better price for borrowers.

"You should invest some time in it, do your research," Gumbinger says. "Also, do your diligence on your credit. And think about how long you're going to be in your home." The reason? The length of time you estimate you are likely to be staying in the home can be a factor in whether you apply for a fixed or adjustable rate loan.

Gaining an understanding of different loan programs is a smarter approach than just "going online and filling out things," says Minkow. "A lot of people really don't know if they're getting the right loan program, the right interest rate, the right down payment."

The research process may ultimately lead you straight to the speedy online mortgage site as the best option anyway. But, Gumbinger says, "You won't know that unless you go out and take a look around."

2. You're a first-time home buyer

Researching all your options is especially important if you've never purchased a home before, advises David Weliver, founder of MoneyUnder30.com, a personal finance advice site. First-time buyers should always talk through important details like rates, points, and closing costs with an expert. "After you've been through the process once, you have a better idea of what to expect and what information you'll need to provide to make the process go smoothly," he says.

Even those who have borrowed before may want to consult with someone if there is anything about their circumstances that might make qualifying more difficult. For example, Weliver says, "a real person could be a helpful advocate" for borrowers who are buying a second home or rental property, have spotty credit, or have inconsistent income.

3. You're self-employed

About 15 million Americans are classified as self-employed, according to the Pew Research Center. While salaried workers generally only have to show the lender their W-2 tax forms to prove their income, self-employed workers "should expect that they will have to provide the lender with more income documentation, such as tax returns from the last few years," Weliver says.

The fact is, some online lenders are more strict about documentation requirements than federal guidelines require, because they want to reduce their risk, says Minkow. That can make qualifying even tougher for a borrower who is already perceived as a higher risk—for example, applicants who have only been in their current job for a few months, or those who want to include overtime pay as evidence of their buying power. The lender will want to see proof that the overtime pay is consistent. "Certain guidelines say you have to show you have it for 12 months or 24 months—it depends on the loan," Minkow says.

4. You want some extra handholding

Working with someone one on one may also help prevent last-minute problems when it comes time to buy that house. "I can't tell you how many clients who have come to me after they'd gone online and gotten a pre-approval from a lender," Minkow says. "Then they go to purchase a house, and halfway through the transaction, the online lender says all of a sudden, 'You can't get approved.' The client freaks out. And that's when they get ahold of someone like myself."

Finally, there is the matter of personal preference. Not everyone likes the impersonal approach. Before applying for a loan, borrowers might consider whether they are the kind of person who appreciates a lot of help and attention in other shopping experiences. "If you like a hands-on environment, like a Macy's, you're a different kind of shopper than someone who enjoys going to a warehouse club," says Gumbinger. "Your expectations going in will influence how satisfied you are with the process."

Article courtesy Realtor.com

 

 

Posted in News
May 1, 2019

How to Clean Out a Deceased Loved One's Home Without Burning Out Emotionally

deceased-relative-house

After the loss of a loved one, the thought of sorting through that person’s belongings can be heart-wrenching. But in many situations, there’s no time to delay, especially if you’re in a time crunch to get a late family member’s house ready to sell.

Before you embark on the emotional task of sorting through a loved one’s possessions, check out these tips from experts on where to begin the process, how to find support and resolve disputes, and—most importantly—how to take it easy on yourself as you grieve.

Give yourself time, but don’t delay the process

At a time like this, sorting through your loved one’s closets and cabinets is probably the last thing on your mind. Don’t push yourself too hard to get started before you’re ready, but don’t put the task off indefinitely, either.

“It’s very individual, but if you can emotionally, it’s better to start cleaning out the house sooner [rather] than later,” says Vickie Dellaquila, a certified professional organizer and author of “Don't Toss My Memories in the Trash.”

“I’ve seen people that hold onto a house for years and years and work just a little bit at a time. For a lot of people, that’s harder because it keeps weighing on them.”

Dellaquila suggests starting with the easy stuff (e.g., things in the pantry or the garage). “Anything that’s low-hanging fruit that’s not emotionally charged,” she says.

As you begin sorting through sentimental items, give yourself time to grieve and experience your feelings; you don’t want to push yourself to make big decisions about what to keep and what to let go of before you’re ready.

“I remember when I went through my father’s items, there were days I just couldn’t bear to go through more of his things,” says Jen Robin, founder and CEO of Life in Jeneral, a professional organizing company. “There were some ... items I was not ready to go through.”

If you find yourself hitting a wall, put items in a box and go back to them when you’re ready.

Ask for help

Clearing out a loved one’s home is a massive undertaking, but many people attempt to do it alone. Don’t underestimate the emotional (and physical) effort involved, and don’t be shy about asking for help when you need it.

“When we experience strong emotions, it’s harder to make decisions and think clearly,” says Lisa Zaslow, founder and CEO of Gotham Organizers, in New York. “Friends and professionals who are more objective about the situation can help get you through the process.”

Bring in a friend who can toss items like toothbrushes and expired food. For larger items, you may want to call in the pros. A professional organizer can manage the process from start to finish, while movers and trash haulers can remove the big-ticket items you don’t want, Zaslow says.

You can also work with estate sale professionals to help sell valuables, and shredding companies can come in to dispose of old papers and sensitive documents.

Keep it or toss it? How to decide when emotions are raw

When a loved one dies, the last thing we want to do is get rid of everything that reminds us of them.

“You don’t want to toss everything right away, because you’re not processing your emotions, so later you’ll think, ‘Oh boy, maybe I shouldn’t have let go of that,’” Dellaquila says. But, she adds, "you do not have to be a curator of your mother or your father.”

If you’re torn about whether to part ways with something, Dellaquila suggests holding onto just a piece of it—for example, keep a single place setting rather than the full china set. That way, you can hold onto an item that reminds you of your loved one without taking on something you don’t have space for.

Finally, resist the urge to keep anything out of obligation. If you won’t use it, let it go.

“One of my clients felt that she should keep some designer purses of her mom’s, even though she knew she would never use them,” Zaslow says. “Instead, I helped her sell them, and she donated the proceeds to a charity in her mom’s name.”

Get ahead of disputes

When siblings start sorting through a parent’s belongings, the situation can get tense. What if you both want that love seat or those crystal Champagne flutes?

One way to work through disputes: Take a gym class approach to divvying up items.

“The fair thing to do is put the items out and each person takes a turn in choosing one,” Dellaquila says. “I did that with my grandfather, who was an artist. We had a lot of sketches, and we went around and chose one, then somebody took the next turn.”

If you’re feuding over a single item that can’t be split up, you could attempt a shared-custody approach. But ultimately, you have to decide whether the item is really worth a bitter fight.

“Would your loved one really want you fighting over this china?” Dellaquila says. “It really is just a thing.”

For the living, death cleaning—a Swedish tradition that is catching on in the rest of the world—is one way you can spare your loved ones a future headache. The whole idea is to start cleaning out your clutter now. While you’re at it, you can even begin deciding who will eventually receive your possessions, beyond what’s designated in your will.

“A lot of people do that by putting little stickies on the bottom of items,” Dellaquila says. “Orange is for Mary, blue is for Mike.”

Give yourself space to grieve

As you make a plan for cleaning out the space, remember that you’ll also need time to step back to reflect and recharge. Biting off more than you can chew is a recipe for emotional burnout. Instead, give yourself limits from the start—maybe you clean only one room a day, or you work for just a few hours at a time.

“Creating a goal allows you to see small results and wins,” Robin says. “This is such a mentally draining process, so setting boundaries for yourself is very important.

“There is no easy process of getting rid of a loved one’s personal belongings,” she adds. “Make sure to take your time and allow yourself to feel all the emotions along the way."

Article Courtesy Realtor.com

Posted in News
April 30, 2019

What Is a Property Title Search? Why It Matters for Buyers and Sellers

property-deeds

What is a property title search? When you buy or sell a home, a property title is essentially a fancy way of saying who has the right to own the property—and thus, to sell it.

While it may seem straightforward that a home seller owns his house, there could be hidden claims or liens on the property the homeowners themselves may be unaware of, making a title search essential for both buyers and sellers. Here's a rundown on everything you need to know about a property title search.

What is a property title search and how is it done?

The property title search is generally done after an offer to purchase real estate has been accepted, says David Zawadzki, senior account executive at Proper Title. Multiple sources are searched, including deeds, county land records, tax liens on the federal or state level, divorce cases, bankruptcy court records, and other financial judgments against an owner that could potentially attach to a property.

The resulting Ownership and Encumbrance report is composed of documents that determine whether or not the property is free of liens and pending lawsuits, and if title ownership is accurately represented by the seller. A clean property title search means the buyer—and lender—agree there are no claims on the property that could become an issue after ownership is transferred.

Why are property title searches important?

For sellers: To sell your property, you must have what is called "marketable title." This legal term basically means that there are no defects that might cause a lawsuit or someone to challenge your right to own the property, says Michael Redden, an attorney in Minnetonka, MN.

Defects could be someone else claiming title to the property, a claim that the seller never owned it or a wild deed (where someone buys the property but doesn't officially record the title). Many properties have defects on a title.

For buyers: Property title searches are a vital step in the home-buying process. Besides determining who truly owns a property, they also ensure all existing liens, loans, child support, and judgments are disclosed—and dealt with—prior to the close of escrow. If liens or judgments aren't discovered prior to closing, the buyer can face messy and expensive issues down the road.

For example, if the seller has a $10,000 judgment against them and the property was purchased without the judgment being paid off, it becomes the obligation of the new owner, says Jeffrey A. Hensel, broker associate at North Coast Financial in San Diego.

The title search is also the first step in determining a title company’s ability to insure a transaction, says Zawadzki. Title insurance provides protection for the seller and lender in the event liens or encumbrances are discovered after closing.

Who performs a property title search and when is it done?

A property title search is typically ordered during escrow when a lender financing a home purchase requests a preliminary report from a title company. However, a search can be done anytime, by anyone, such as a buyer (who might not need a lender's money) or a homeowner who's looking to refinance their home.

Can you do a title search on your own? And if so, how?

Doing a title search is a process few people will undertake themselves due to the number of documents that need to be reviewed, says Zawadzki. That said, it is possible for a home buyer to search for liens on a property as well as judgments pending against the seller as an individual.

First, you need a property's legal description (this is not the address but what is written on the deed to describe a property), often found on a property's tax statement.

"Take that information to your county Recorder's Office or Office of the Examiner of Titles, and tell them that you want to get public access to records," says Redden. A staff member will usually take you to a computer terminal and help you look up the chain of title, which is normally included on what's known as the Tract Card.

Redden cautions that the staff at these agencies won't give you legal advice. So it'll be up to you to parse the status of the title from the research you do. And remember, there is always a chance for liens not being represented in the documents you find.

How much does a property title search cost?

The cost of the search, as well as the premiums for title insurance, vary by state, but are based on the loan amount and the purchase price of a property. For a ballpark figure, basic tract searches start at $150, says Zawadzki.

And a complete Ownership and Encumbrance report is usually under $1,000, says Redden. Property title searches are included with the title insurance policy and are typically paid as part of the closing fees.

Posted in News
April 30, 2019

A Guide to Mortgage Interest Rates: Why They Go Down and Up, and What to Do

finance concept

Mortgage interest rates are a mystery to many of us—whether you're a home buyer in need of a home loan for your first house or your fifth.

After all, what does “interest rate” even mean? Why do rates swing up and down? And, most important, how do you nab the best interest rate—the one that’s going to save you the most money over the life of your mortgage?

Here, we outline what you need to know about interest rates before applying for a mortgage.

Why does my interest rate matter?

Mortgage lenders don't just loan you money because they’re good guys—they’re there to make a profit. “Interest” is the extra fee you pay your lender for loaning you the cash you need to buy a home.

Your interest payment is calculated as a percentage of your total loan amount. For example, let’s say you get a 30-year, $200,000 loan with a 4% interest rate. Over 30 years, you would end up paying back not only that $200,000, but an extra $143,739 in interest. Month to month, your mortgage payments would amount to about $955. However, your mortgage payments will end up higher or lower depending on the interest rate you get.

Why do interest rates fluctuate?

Mortgage rates can change daily depending on how the U.S. economy is performing, says Jack Guttentag, author of “The Mortgage Encyclopedia.”

Consumer confidence, reports on employment, fluctuations in home sales (i.e., the law of supply and demand), and other economic factors all influence interest rates.

“During a period of slack economic activity, [the Federal Reserve] will provide more funding and interest rates will go down,” Guttentag explains. Conversely, “when the economy heats up and there’s a fear of inflation, [the Fed] will restrict funding and interest rates will go up.”

How do I lock in my interest rate?

A “rate lock” is a commitment by a lender to give you a home loan at a specific interest rate, provided you close on your home in a certain period of time—typically 30 days from when you're pre-approved for your loan.

A rate lock offers protection against fluctuating interest rates—useful considering that even a quarter of a percentage point can take a huge bite out of your housing budget over time. A rate lock offers borrowers peace of mind: No matter how wildly interest rates fluctuate, once you're "locked in" you know what monthly mortgage payments you'll need to make on your home, enabling you to plan your long-term finances.

Naturally, many home buyers obsess over the best time to lock in a mortgage rate, worried that they'll pull the trigger right before rates sink even lower.

Unfortunately, no lender has a crystal ball that shows where mortgage rates are going. It’s impossible to predict exactly where the economy will move in the future. So, don't get too caught up with minor ups and downs. A bigger question to consider when locking in your interest rate is where you are in the process of finding a home.

Most mortgage experts suggest locking in a rate once you're "under contract" on a home—meaning you've made an offer that's been accepted. Most lenders will offer a 30-day rate lock at no charge to you—and many will extend rate locks to 45 days as a courtesy to keep your business.

Some lenders offer rate locks with a “float-down option,” which allows you to get a lower interest rate if rates go down. However, the terms, conditions, and costs of this option vary from lender to lender.

How do I get the best interest rate?

Mortgage rates vary depending on a borrower’s personal finances. Specifically, these six key factors will affect the rate you qualify for:

  1. Credit score: When you apply for a mortgage to buy a home, lenders want some reassurance you’ll repay them later! One way they assess this is by scrutinizing your credit score—the numerical representation of your track record of paying off your debts, from credit cards to college loans. Lenders use your credit score to predict how reliable you’ll be in paying your home loan, says Bill Hardekopf, a credit expert at LowCards.com. A perfect credit score is 850, a good score is from 700 to 759, and a fair score is from 650 to 699. Generally, borrowers with higher credit scores receive lower interest rates than borrowers with lower credit scores.
  2. Loan amount and down payment: If you're willing and able to make a large down payment on a home, lenders assume less risk and will offer you a better rate. If you don’t have enough money to put down 20% on your mortgage, you’ll probably have to pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI, an extra monthly fee meant to mitigate the risk to the lender that you might default on your loan. PMI ranges from about 0.3% to 1.15% of your home loan.
  3. Home location: The strength of your local housing market can drive interest rates up, or down.
  4. Loan type: Your rate will depend on what type of loan you choose. The most common type is a conventional mortgage, aimed at borrowers who have well-established credit, solid assets, and steady income. If your finances aren't in great shape, you may be able to qualify for a Federal Housing Administration loan, a government-backed loan that requires a low down payment of 3.5%. There are also U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs loans, available to active or retired military personnel, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development loans, available to Americans with low to moderate incomes who want to buy a home in a rural area.
  5. Loan term: Typically, shorter-term loans have lower interest rates—and lower overall costs—but they also have larger monthly payments.
  6. Type of interest rate: Rates depend on whether you get a fixed-rate mortgage or an adjustable-rate mortgage, or ARM. "Fixed-rate" means the interest rate you pay remains fixed at the same level throughout the life of your loan. An ARM is a loan that starts out at a fixed, predetermined interest rate, but the rate adjusts after a specified initial period (usually three, five, seven, or 10 years) based on market indexes.

Article Courtesy Realtor.com

Posted in Market Updates, News
March 14, 2019

What is Estate Planning? And Why Is It So Important?

As a real estate professional who handles probate sales, I have seen first hand the difficult situation and lengthy process families have endured because they were not prepared with an estate plan. Simply stated, estate planning helps protect your family in the event that something bad happens to you. And yet, 55% of Americans do not have a last will, leaving them vulnerable to costly court fees and legal battles. Estate planning is one of the most important steps any person can take to make sure that their final property and health care wishes are honored, and that loved ones are provided for in their absence. A comprehensive estate plan can resolve a number of legal questions that arise whenever anyone dies: What is the state of their financial affairs? What real and personal property do they own? Who gets what? Does a personal guardian need to be appointed to care for minor children? How much tax will need to be paid in order to transfer property ownership? What funeral arrangements are appropriate?

Here is a list of items every estate plan should include:

Last Will and Testament: A legal document by which a person expresses their wishes as to how their property is to be distributed at death, and names one or more persons, the executor, to manage the estate until its final distribution.

Durable Power of Attorney: A legal document that gives another person full or limited legal authority to sign your name on your behalf in your absence. Valid through incapacity. Ends at death.

Health Care Surrogate: A legal document that lets you give someone else the authority to make health care decisions for you in the event you are unable to make them for yourself.

Living Will Declaration: A written document that details your desires regarding your medical treatment in circumstances in which you are no longer able to express informed consent, especially an advance directive.

Designation of Preneed Guardian: A legal document that states if you should you ever become incompetent so that a court needs to appoint a legal guardian for you, you wish for the court to appoint the persons you have designated.

Image result for digital assets

Here are four steps to be prepared: 

1. Be aware. Speak regularly with your attorney about how to protect your digital assets.

2. Take a digital inventory. At least once a year, make a list of all your online accounts and subscriptions.

3. Gather your passwords. Make a list of your current passwords and keep it in a safe place. Make sure your trustee knows where to find the list.

4. Be specific. It's essential that your durable power of attorney include specific provisions authorizing someone you trust to deal with your digital online accounts. Your will or revocable trust should have similar provisions to allow your loved ones to deal with those assets after your death.

Even though it'd predicated on incapacitation or death, estate planning doesn't have to be morbid. In fact, it can actually be life-affirming, because the process will allow you to take a closer look at the people you care about in life and ensure their future happiness.

Article Courtesy Diana Fairbanks

Posted in News
March 13, 2019

Check Yourself Before You Wreck It Yourself: 8 Tips for a DIY Demolition Party

demo-party

Thrifty homeowners know the value of sharing the load, such as banding together to rent a snowblower or throwing a blockwide garage sale. But would you ever ask your neighbors and friends to help you remodel your house?

That's exactly what Jamie Novak and her husband did eight years ago, when they called on family and friends for help to demo their condo kitchen.

"It was built in 1960, so the wallpaper, Formica cabinets, and vinyl floor had to go," she explains. And by not outsourcing the demolition, they saved some major cash.

It might seem like a scary endeavor to have a whole group of amateurs whacking the walls of your home. But it can also be liberating. Novak, for one, is extremely proud that everything was worked on by her, her husband, or a friend.

But she does offer a few caveats. "Write out a plan, a budget, and a timeline—and then add 20% to it," she advises. (Her DIY demo took longer and actually cost a little more than she expected.)

If you're feeling up to the challenge, you, too, can throw your own home demolition party that's fun and productive. Just keep in mind these eight crucial things before any of you swings a sledgehammer.

1. Check your insurance

Before you even create that event invitation, check the fine print in your insurance policy.

"It's best to know what your policy covers in case one of your neighbor's properties gets damaged or if you were to damage underground city utilities," explains Andrew Hecox of Air Capital Roofing.

And note whether personal liability coverage is included for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost benefits—in case one of your guests gets injured. Not sure about the details? Call your agent.

"Oftentimes you can get an umbrella insurance policy added to your current one if you're not completely covered, for that extra peace of mind," he adds. And have a frank talk with your friends about their ability to get down and dirty with the proposed demolition task.

2. Choose the right project

Of course, not every home demo lends itself to the DIY approach. If you're looking for an easy project to tackle, homeowners with limited experience can handle the removal of an old deck, screen porch, or kitchen cabinets, says Kevin Busch, vice present of operations at Mr. Handyman.

"But steer clear of projects requiring a licensed tradesperson, such as electrical wiring, plumbing, and HVAC," he notes. Also off the table: window replacement, roof repair, and attic insulation.

Hecox warns DIYers to avoid taking down load-bearing walls and to skip anything concrete-related.

"I would avoid these unless you are comfortable operating heavy equipment or have experience with a small Bobcat," he cautions.

3. Turn off the power (seriously, don't forget this step)

Always be sure gas, electricity, and water are turned off or capped before beginning any project that touches on these utilities. You should also call 811 to have someone mark underground wires on your property before you dig, Hecox says.

4. Don the right safety gear

No shoes, no shirt—big problem. Urge your helpers to wear work clothes and heavy-duty boots, and then be ready to provide the rest, including safety goggles, gloves, and dust masks.

"You'll also need a first-aid kit and plenty of hydration on site, especially if the weather is warm," Hecox says.

If you're hosting a demolition party, Busch says to protect your rooms, too. Contain dust, debris, drips, and damage by using dropcloths and hanging plastic sheets, he recommends. And don't forget to rent a dumpster for larger projects.

One caveat: If your home was built before 1978, it's best to consult with a professional before you invite people over to tear things up. It's possible there might be lead-based paint or asbestos lurking in your walls or ceiling, and professionals should be the ones to handle this high-risk material.

5. Gather these tools...

Depending on your project, you'll want to have enough hammers, nail bars, crowbars, sledgehammers, cordless drills, and utility knives or box cutters on hand. And don't forget a wheelbarrow and empty buckets for hauling debris, industrial-strength garbage bags, and brooms, Hecox recommends.

6. ... but skip others

When it comes to power tools—including jackhammers and all manner of saws (chain, reciprocating, circular)—be very careful. Unless your friends are familiar with these, stick with a more basic toolbox.

"If someone in your crew has never even used a handheld, cordless drill, they are not a candidate for these other items," Busch says.

7. Clean up debris

Keep in mind that most residential trash pickup is not suited to large amounts of drywall, wood, and nails. And whatever you do discard—strive to be eco-friendly about it.

For example, always separate metals from wood and find out if your municipality has shingle recycling, Hecox says. Some companies will grind up asphalt roofing, which can be used to make more shingles or blacktop for roads.

8. Reward your crew

If it's hot out, have plenty of (nonalcoholic) drinks on hand, and if it's cold, consider a small fire pit off to the side for quick warmup breaks, Hecox suggests. And at the end of the day, cold brews and pizzas will go a long way toward thanking your DIY team.

Article courtesy of Realtor.com

Posted in News
March 8, 2019

Home Seller Secrets: 'The Best Home-Staging Advice I've Heard, Ever'

room-staging-tips

When it comes to selling a house, appearances are everything. That's why more and more homeowners hoping to impress buyers are investing in home staging. But between decluttering, styling, and making your house look its absolute best, this process can make you want to pull your hair out.

To make this undertaking a little easier, we asked sellers for their very best home-staging advice, and then compiled their greatest tips. If you're getting ready to put your house on the market, use these pointers to spruce things up in a jiffy—and help buyers fall in love with your home.

Keep your home tidy 24/7

"When showing a house, I've learned it’s so important to keep your home tidy with all your possessions stowed away for two reasons. First, you don’t always know who’s walking through your house, and the listing agent can’t be in every room to watch your valuables. I had a brand-new bottle of Chanel perfume in one of my bathrooms, and one day I came home after a showing and it was gone. Second, a tidy house looks better. You want potential buyers to come in and see a beautiful dream home, not your clutter. You never know when a potential buyer will want a last-minute tour, so put away your dishes as soon as you're done eating, pick up dirty clothes on the floor, and make your bed every morning." – Jennifer Davis, homeowner in St. Louis, MO

Invest in a few trendy items

"Before showing, you should update your house with a few new, stylish pieces to make it more on-trend. Look on Pinterest to see what's fashionable right now, or tour open homes to see how they’re staged. Then, re-create the look. Don’t worry, you can do this while being budget-friendly! When we were selling our house, we ended up investing in a few pieces—a new duvet cover, some curtains, and some wall hangings—to make our home look more like other houses that were on the market. All this stuff only cost us a couple of hundred dollars, but we got a lot of compliments on our style and, in the end, our house sold for more than we expected. Remember that spending a few hundred on décor could end up getting you thousands in the end." – Cassidy Carr, homeowner in Provo, UT

Make your home feel like their home

"The best home-staging wisdom I've heard is that potential buyers need to see themselves in your home. That’s why real estate agents tell you to clear out any personal pictures you have on the walls. You don’t want buyers to think of it as your house, because it’ll make it harder for them to picture themselves living there. For that same reason, try your best not to be home when your house is being toured. If buyers see you, they’ll remember that they're guests.

"And unless you feel very strongly about people taking their shoes off, remember that you're moving, so it doesn’t really matter if people are tracking in dirt. When buyers are told to take their shoes off in a home, they’re reminded that someone else lives here, and it makes it harder for them to see themselves living in that house. Plus, for some people it’s awkward to walk around in their socks, and you don’t want potential buyers to feel uncomfortable." – Anne Andrews, homeowner in San Juan Capistrano, CA

Spray a clean, simple scent

"You can absolutely kill a person's interest by showing them a house that smells like dirty teenagers and smelly dogs. Houses need to smell fresh and clean, but shouldn’t smell like chemicals. Invest in a really good home fragrance spray with a soft scent, like lavender or fresh linen." – Ashley Matthews, homeowner in New York, NY

Don't try to hide your clutter

"It's common to use the garage as a place to stash the boxes you've cleared out of your home for a showing. However, you still want the garage to look presentable. People want to see the entire house, so take this opportunity to clear it out. Buyers will also open closets. They’re not trying to be invasive—they just want to see how much space you have. Don't think you can cram everything behind those doors and it'll be invisible. People will look through everything, and when they do open closet doors, they probably won’t appreciate being met with an avalanche of stuff. In fact, it will probably make them think your house doesn’t have enough storage, and they’ll move onto the next." – Linda Roberts, homeowner in Mission Viejo, CA

Get your pets out of the house

"The best advice I got before selling my home was to make sure that both buyers and my pets feel comfortable. Meeting someone else’s animals can be stressful. Pets might be protective of their turf, so owners should consider taking them somewhere else during showings. If you’re having an open house, bring your pet to a friend’s house for the day. If someone is coming over for a tour, take that opportunity to walk your dog. However, if you must leave your pets at home, always make sure you leave instructions on how to handle them. Give your listing agent instructions on where to put dogs if they get rowdy (like a guest room), but don’t just assume you can just put your pets in the backyard, because buyers want to see the outdoor space too." – Leanne Logan, homeowner in Hershey, PA

Article courtesy Realtor.com

Posted in Market Updates