Questions to Ask at an Open House6/8/2017
Questions to Ask at an Open House
Open houses are an excellent way to view a property on a whim. They provide an opportunity to look through the property, and they give buyers a chance to get up close and personal, to glean as much information as they can about the property. If you're on a search for a new home, and you are looking to attend some open houses, here is a list of important questions to ask while there.
"What is the neighborhood like?"
An experienced agent will know and be able to provide information on the neighborhood if asked, and an open house is a great opportunity to ask. Not only are things like safety of the neighborhood, local schools and amenities important, you can also get information on things only locals will know: how the local traffic is during rush hour (and how noisy it is), if there are any parks nearby, if the community is friendly, etc. Don't be afraid to ask, and if you get a vague answer, it might be worthwhile to ask a neighbor if you get the chance.
"What's the interest like?"
Open houses are a great way to judge the popularity of a property, as the number of people present can be a good indicator of interest (although some of those people could be neighbors or people looking with no intent of buying). Asking the agent about the interest on a property is one way to judge any competition from other potential buyers. You can ask the agent about any current interest: if the response is vague, ask if there have been any offers. Tons of interest doesn't necessarily mean many quality offers. It's also important to check to see how long the property has been on the market, and if there are offers, ask if any are contingent.
"How much are utilities?"
Utilities make up a large part of a monthly budget, and for some buyers, utility costs may be higher in a new area than in their current property (especially if a renter is looking to buy). When attending an open house, ask the agent how much the monthly utilities cost the current owner. Also find out if the neighborhood or complex has an HOA: how much the monthly fees are, what they cover, and how often the fees are assessed. It's up to the HOA to decide what the fees go toward, but for many HOAs the fees cover basic maintenance of the community, municipal services (trash removal, water and sewage), and lawn care or maintenance of any shared outdoor spaces (a community greenway or park). If the property is in an exceptional community, it could cover a clubhouse, community pool, fitness center and more (but with these additional items monthly HOA fees can be in the hundreds).
"How motivated is the seller?"
Buyers have specific needs when it comes to housing. They may be renters looking to buy and have a date when their current lease ends; they may already own a property and have an offer on their current home; or they could be living with family or friends and looking to buy something as soon as possible. At an open house, ask the agent how motivated the seller is. If the seller wants to be out of the property as soon as possible, he or she may be more willing to negotiate when it comes to offers. If they're not motivated, or are hoping for a long closing, they may not be as interested in negotiations.
"Have there been any recent improvements?"
As a buyer, you want to know if a property has had recent upgrades or any construction done on it. Not only will this tell you what may or may not need to be replaced or upgraded after purchase, it also lets you know if the current owner has taken care of the property. You'll be able to spot new appliances or modern cosmetic changes, but as a buyer you won't be able to tell if the furnace is on the fritz, how old the electrical system is, or anything else that may be 'hidden' in the property. If any recent additions or large renovations have taken place, you'll know to ask if the proper permits were obtained from the city, county or other government agency prior to the start of the work.
Sometimes buyers get caught up in the opportunity to look through a house during an open house and forget to use the time to ask important questions. Before you embark on your open house tours, remember your list of questions, as they'll certainly help you make a decision on whether to pursue a property further or move on to the next one.
Homebuyers: How to win the downpayment challenge6/5/2017
Homebuyers: How to win the downpayment challenge
LOS ANGELES – June 2, 2017 – Saving up for a downpayment is the biggest hurdle for many would-be homebuyers, particularly those looking to make the leap from renting to owning.
More than two-thirds of renters consider setting aside money for a downpayment the No. 1 obstacle to buying a home, according to a recent survey by real estate data provider Zillow. That edged out other concerns, including job security and a thin supply of homes on the market.
While there are home loans that require as little as 3 percent down, rising home prices, especially in expensive coastal states, keep driving up the amount of money buyers need to come up with for a downpayment.
Even so, many first-time buyers are managing to save enough on their own. Some 76 percent used their savings to fund their downpayment last year, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Here are some tips to consider when working toward that downpayment on a home:
Begin saving now. Renters may want to calculate what their extra monthly costs would be as a homeowner and then set aside that amount, minus rent and utilities. This accomplishes two goals: Saving money for a downpayment and getting you accustomed to the financial constraints of living with the costs of homeownership.
Another strategy that may help: open a separate savings account just for your downpayment. That will help lessen the temptation of using the funds for something else.
You'll also have to set aside money for closing costs, which can run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Weigh loan options
The type of home loan you get may determine how much of a downpayment you need. For many years, buyers sought to put down 20 percent of the purchase price. That would lower their monthly mortgage payment and allow them to avoid having to pay for private mortgage insurance, or PMI. But as home prices have risen, that trend has waned. Loans that require as little as 3 percent up front have become more common. As a result, the median U.S. downpayment has declined to 10 percent the past four years, according to the NAR.
"The housing market is not a matter of 20 percent downpayment or bust," said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com. "You can get into a house with a low downpayment, but you're going to have to come up with the money for closing costs."
Lenders offer loans backed by government mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that require only a 3 percent downpayment. Borrowers can ask to have their PMI waived once the equity in their home reaches 20 percent.
Borrowers with less-than-sterling credit may have a better shot qualifying for loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration. The FHA's program requires 3.5 percent down, but borrowers have to refinance once their equity grows above 20 percent in order to get out of paying PMI. Until then, PMI is tax-deductible.
Buyers may not need to save for a downpayment at all if they are U.S. military veterans, service members or residents of certain rural areas. The Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have zero-downpayment loan programs for qualified borrowers.
Explore other options
Saving for a downpayment sometimes takes more than cutting back on dining out or travel. A quarter of first-time homebuyers in 2016 used gift money from relatives or friends to round out their downpayment, according to the NAR. And more than 10 percent tapped their retirement savings without the usual hefty penalties for an early withdrawal. Of course, before withdrawing money from your 401(k) or IRA accounts consider that a big withdrawal will mean your retirement savings won't grow as swiftly.
Borrowers with low or moderate income, and teachers, firefighters or other public service job holders, may also qualify for downpayment assistance through thousands of federal, state or local programs aimed at helping homebuyers.
There are more than 2,100 funded programs, many of which help cover the downpayment and closing costs through loans that can sometimes be forgiven over time, or paid back only once the buyer sells the home, according to Downpayment Resource, a tracker of homebuyer assistance programs.
Consider using home equity
A newer approach to coming up with a downpayment involves letting investors put up some of the money in exchange for a slice of the potential value in the home.
San Francisco-based Unison now has a program available in 12 states and the District of Columbia that offers to match up to half of a 20 percent downpayment on a home. The match isn't a loan, in that the buyer doesn't have to make payments, but still benefits from the lower cost of making a 20 percent downpayment.
There are several payback scenarios, but essentially the company collects a 35 percent share of the gain, if any, in the sale of the home. Should the home decline in value, the company also shares in the loss, potentially receiving less money back on its original investment.
If the homeowner hasn't sold the home after 30 years, a property appraisal is used to determine how much Unison gets paid. The homeowner also has the option to buy out Unison any time after their third year in the home. Unison also doesn't share in the equity that the homebuyer builds as they pay down their mortgage or from investments, like a kitchen remodel.
"There's a very clear trade off here in that you are surrendering future equity," said McBride, noting that home equity is increasingly becoming Americans' principal way to fund their retirement. "So, look yourself in the mirror and make sure that you're not potentially shortchanging your future financial security just to get into a slightly more expensive home now."
The possibility of losing a big slice of her home's future value didn't put off Courtney DeAnda from using Unison to double the $52,000 downpayment on a home this month.
She and her husband, James, who have three kids, recently entered escrow on a five-bedroom, three-bath house in Vacaville, California, for $468,000. The couple expects to save $417 a month on their mortgage payment by using the Unison program.
"It's a price to pay to help us get into a home that we really love," said DeAnda, 28. "We really don't see much of a negative with using it."
© 2017 The Canadian Press, Alex Veiga. All rights reserved.
Taxes and Your home or property5/8/2017
The Worst "Housing Drought" Ever3/29/2017
NAR: This is the worst ‘housing drought’ ever
WASHINGTON – March 28, 2017 – The number of homes for sale is at the lowest level on record, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), which began tracking inventory 18 years ago.
For buyers, that means they'll find fewer options this spring, and homes that are listed will probably sell fast and at a premium price.
The lack of new-home construction is one reason for the dearth of listings. Builders' housing starts are only at about 75 percent of their historical average as they focus on pricier segments of move-up buyers. As a result, there's a void in the number of new lower-cost homes that appeal to first-time home buyers. Builders blame the lack of production on higher costs for land, labor and materials that, they say, forces them to concentrate on the higher end of the market.
Builders aren't the only ones to blame, however. Investors purchased about 4 million distressed properties – mostly in the lower-priced starter home segment – during the housing crash. They have been holding onto these properties, continuing to rent them out rather than selling.
"Investors came in to get that cash flow, and the cash flow remains very positive," says Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors. "The price appreciation is just extra gravy that they're witnessing, and they're saying they're going to ride out this price increase."
That strong price appreciation also may be curtailing home supplies. The more a local market has recovered, the larger the drop in inventory it's experiencing, according to a new survey by Trulia.
"If you have a lot of equity in your home, that could be great to use to buy another one, but if that other home you might buy is that much more expensive than it was last year, you may stay put and you may renovate instead," says Ralph McLaughlin, Trulia's chief economist.
As such, the housing crunch likely isn't going to let up anytime soon. Some areas are seeing it worse than others. For example, home sales in Southern California in February were 14 percent lower than the average, according to CoreLogic in reviewing 30 years of data.
"San Bernardino County, which has the region's lowest median sale price and entices many first-time buyers and others priced out of coastal markets, was the only Southern California county to post year-over-year increase in sales this February," notes Andrew LePage, research analyst at CoreLogic.
Source: "This Is What's Behind the Severe Housing Drought," CNBC (March 23, 2017)
© Copyright 2017 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688
Florida is a top state when comparing taxes paid to services received3/29/2017
Florida is a top state when comparing taxes paid to services received
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – March 28, 2017 – If ROI (return on investment) is applied to taxes, a WalletHub study ranks Florida. third in the nation for the value residents get from the state taxes they pay.
For the analysis, WalletHub says it used 23 metrics to compare the quality and efficiency of state-government services across five categories – education, health, safety, economy, and infrastructure and pollution. It then compared the services to the "drastically" different rates at which citizens are taxed in each state.
The complete report on the U.S. tax landscape, the Best & Worst Taxpayer Return on Investment in 2017, is available online.
In the overall rankings, Florida outshines most other states. It ranks third for overall ROI, and third for "total taxes per capita." In education, it's No. 17; for infrastructure and pollution it ranks at No. 21.
In the "overall government services" comparison, Florida ranks at No. 34.
© 2017 Florida Realtors
Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year12/22/2016
Have A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
May the joy of the season stay with you and your family throughout the coming New Year.
Remember, personalized service is always in season. Now is the time to explore your real estate options. Allow me to put my knowledge to work for you today!
Things To Do Before Listing On The Market12/6/2016
Sale of Home by Surviving Spouse10/12/2016
Sale of Home by Surviving Spouse
Special consideration is made by IRS for the sale of a jointly-owned principal residence after the death of a spouse. Surviving spouse may qualify to exclude up to $500,000 of gain instead of the $250,000 exclusion for single people if certain requirements are met.
If you have been widowed in the last two years and have substantial gain in your principal residence, it would be worth investigating the possibilities. Time is a critical factor in qualification. Contact your tax professional for advice about your specific situation. Contact me to find out what your home is worth in today’s market. See IRS Publication 523 – surviving spouse.
5 Maintenance Skills Every Homeowner Should Know9/23/2016
5 Maintenance Skills Every Homeowner Should Know
Maintaining a home, especially an older one, can be expensive—in fact, experts say homeowners should be prepared to spend roughly 1 percent of their home’s value every year on maintenance.
The good news is, you can save on maintenance by completing simple tasks yourself. According to the experts at Underwriters, Inc. these include:
Cleaning the Gutters – To prevent costly damage to your home’s foundation, landscaping and siding, remove debris and leaves from the gutters at least twice a year. Don’t forget gloves and eye protection!
Open Garage Doors Manually – Don’t call a garage technician the next time your power’s out—simply locate the (usually red) cord, suspended from the ceiling-mounted operator, in your garage, and pull it to disconnect the cord from the motor.
Removing Stripped Screws – Avoid causing more damage when screws slip from a screwdriver. Place a rubber band or piece of steel wool over the screw and then try to remove it—if that method fails, use a screw extractor.
Repairing a Leaky Faucet – Leaks can cost hundreds in wasted water. Before you call a plumber, try DIY-ing by shutting off the main water supply, removing the faucet’s knobs, and checking the washers, stems and O-rings for signs of damage. Take these pieces to the hardware store to find exact replacements.
Stop a Running Toilet – Another plumber job you can do yourself! Remove the lid to the tank behind the toilet, and check the flush lever, rubber flapper, lift chain, float ball, pump and overflow tube. A running toilet usually requires just a simple adjustment or replacement to fix.
If you can master these essential homeowner skills, you’ll not only save money on maintenance, but also the expense of more costly fixes in the future.
Compared to 100 years ago, owners live large9/19/2016
Compared to 100 years ago, owners live large
NEW YORK – Sept. 16, 2016 – Homes built in the last six years are 74 percent larger than those built in the 1910s, according to a new study released by PropertyShark, a real estate information site.
Americans have lots more space to themselves too, considering average households have fallen from 4.5 to 2.5 people in that timeframe too.
In other words, Americans have a whopping 211 percent more of living space in newer homes than they did a century ago.
"U.S. homes have shown a steady and quite remarkable rate of growth in size over the past 100 years," according to the PropertyShark study. "The average new home in America, be it condo or house, now spreads over 2,430 square feet."
Some cities are building even larger than the average, notably San Antonio, Texas; Orlando; and Nashville, the study notes.
"All of these can boast a median home that spreads over more than 2,600 square feet, a generous space by any account," according to the study.
The study notes that homes built in San Antonio and Dallas are about twice as large as they were 100 years ago.
On the other hand, Boston had the smallest new homes, which averaged 909 square feet, followed by San Francisco (1,150 square foot average), and Miami (1,179 square feet).
Source: "Stop Complaining: Homes Are Way Bigger Than They Were 100 Years Ago," Credit.com (Sept. 14, 2016)
© Copyright 2016 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688