No Regrets: 4 Ways to Find the Right Neighborhood

January 2nd, 2019

Steve Hollander – Hollander Real Estate
Trulia’s Blog\The Neighborhood – by Haley Glazer

Know what you want—then find it.

House hunters tend to focus on, well, the house. Extra bedrooms, an updated kitchen, a dreamy patio—these things may boost your future happiness while you’re at home, but what about when you walk out the front door?

It’s easy to forget to evaluate the whole neighborhood during a home search, and this can lead to neighborhood regret. According to a recent Trulia survey, 36 percent of respondents would move to a different neighborhood than their current one if given the chance. And that number goes up based on location and age. Forty-two percent of San Franciscans experience neighborhood regret, versus 35 percent of Austinites, and 42 percent of people 18 to 29 reported regret, compared with 28 percent of those 50 and older.

There may not be much you can do about your city—and even less you can do about your age—but there are other ways to up your odds of loving your new neighborhood.

Here are four ways to avoid neighborhood regret:

  1. Prioritize the vibePut “the right neighborhood vibe” on your must-have list next to number of bedrooms during your home search. Do you want a quiet, family-friendly cul-de-sac full of minivans? Or lively, walkable, urban block flush with entertainment options?

    Screening for the right vibe can vastly improve your chances of avoiding neighborhood regret. Fifty-five percent of people who are currently happy with their neighborhood were significantly influenced by the vibe of the neighborhood when selecting their house, compared with only 36 percent of people with neighborhood regret.

    How do you do it? There are a million ways to figure it out, but luckily, you don’t have to do it on your own. Trulia has an amenities section on every neighborhood page. Check it out to see if the neighborhood you are looking at it is heavy on nightlife or mom-and-pop shops, depending on your preferences.

  2. Check it outNeighborhood regret is more likely to happen when homebuyers don’t have access to accurate information about a prospective neighborhood. For example, 22 percent thought the vibe was oversold. Features like “vibe” are pretty subjective, so you’ll want to check it out yourself rather than take a listing’s or agent’s word for it.

    Of course, you don’t always have time to visit a dozen neighborhoods during a home search—or even one if you’re shopping from afar. Fortunately, Trulia Neighborhoods includes neighborhood photo galleries to help you out (currently available only in San FranciscoAustin, and Chicago, but we’ll be launching in more metros soon). Whether you use the original photos to narrow your search down to a couple of neighborhoods to check out, or to scope out a community from across the country, the virtual tour is the next best thing to being there yourself.

  3. Ask AroundIf you get the chance to spend time in a prospective neighborhood, get friendly. Strike up a conversation with pedestrians, baristas, and neighbors about what they think the neighborhood is like. Many of neighborhood regretters’ complaints are things that may be hard to spot during a quiet stroll. Thirty-three percent of them dislike the lack of social activity in their neighborhoods, while 30 percent complain of street noise, and 28 percent are unhappy about unfriendly neighbors.

    Trulia makes the task much easier with crowdsourced reviews by your future neighbors our What Locals Saysection. Want to know how your pets or kids will fit into the community? With one click, you can sort reviews by dog owners and parents to see what they have to say.

  4. Screen for safety and schools It’s hard to beat safety and school quality in neighborhood must-haves. And yet, 21 percent of neighborhood regretters believe the school quality in their area was oversold. Problem solved: Trulia Neighborhoods includes detailed information about crime and schools, including a crime risk map, what locals say about safety, school ratings, and school reviews by parents. With such important information, nothing compares to hearing from those who already live there.

    You can knock down walls and repaint your new home all you want, but when it comes to your neighborhood, you take it as it is. But if you choose the right one, that can be great news. Follow these tips, and you can find a neighborhood that feels like home.

Haley Glazer is a public relations intern at Trulia. Originally from Rochester, NY, she is an incoming senior at Northwestern University studying Journalism, Integrated Marketing Communications, and Legal Studies. Outside of class, she serves as the Senior Editor for STITCH Magazine, Northwestern’s student-run fashion magazine. When she’s not reading up on the latest in real estate and lifestyle news, you can find Haley indoor cycling, obsessing over social media, and searching for the best cold brew in San Francisco.

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What’s a Strong Debt-to-income Ratio?

December 31st, 2018

Steve Hollander – Hollander Real Estate
Trulia Guides\Buy

Your debt-to-income ratio is an easy but important calculation.

When getting financially prepared to apply for their first mortgage, people tend to focus on one thing: their credit. And it’s true that building good credit is an important part of scoring a great mortgage — but it’s not the whole story. Having a good debt-to-income ratio is a big deal, too. Here’s what it is and what a good debt-to-income ratio looks like.

What is a debt-to-income ratio?

Simply put, a debt-to-income ratio (or DTI ratio) is a number that represents how much debt you have relative to your income. Specifically, it is your monthly debt payments divided by your gross (pre-tax) monthly income.

Your mortgage lender uses this number to decide how risky a borrower you’re likely to be. The lower your debt-to-income ratio (and the better your credit is) the easier it will be to get pre-approved for a mortgage.

What is a strong debt-to-income ratio?

Once you’ve determined your debt-to-income ratio comes the obvious question: Is mine any good? Generally speaking, 36 percent or less is considered an ideal debt-to-income ratio. Have 20 percent or less? You’re a debt-to-income rockstar. ​

But you don’t need an ideal number to get a mortgage. On the other end of the spectrum, 50 percent is the highest debt-to-income ratio many lenders will consider. And if you want a qualified mortgage, you’ll need a debt-to-income ratio of no more than 43 percent.

Why is getting a qualified mortgage important?

If your debt-to-income ratio is between 50 and 43 percent, it could be worthwhile to pay down your debt (or increase your income) before applying for a home loan, because not all mortgages are the same. 

A qualified mortgage comes with protections that make it less risky for you, like prohibiting balloon payments and interest-only periods. But everyone has to decide what type of mortgage is best for their financial situation. Just like some people decide to pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI, rather than wait until they have a full 20 percent down payment, you could decide to get an unqualified mortgage because your financial situation can handle it.

How can one improve their debt-to-income ratio?

If you have calculated everything and are unhappy with your current ratio, or you think it could be a tad better, don’t panic. There are three ways to move the needle in your favor, though they aren’t surprising: lower your debt, raise your income — or both. When getting financially prepared to apply for a mortgage, both are a smart idea anyway. With any luck, you’ll soon need the extra room in your budget to make your mortgage payment.

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Maintenance Tips for New Homeowners

December 28th, 2018

Steve Hollander – Hollander Real Estate
Trulia Guides\Own

Maintain these often overlooked things now to avoid paying dearly later on.

You’ve finally closed on your new home and are walking away with the keys. Score! Congratulations! But, wait. If you are a former renter turned first-time homeowner, there are pesky maintenance items and responsibilities that now rest squarely on your shoulders. Beyond mowing, painting and maintaining walkways, or getting your gutters blasted, what’s inside of your house counts as well. Neglecting these things could wind up costing you big time.

5 useful maintenance tips for first-time homeowners

1. If your home has a sump pump, get it on a maintenance schedule.

Even if you are not technically living in a “flood zone,” your home can randomly take on water for many different reasons. For instance, during a rainstorm, water can randomly appear in the basement. If water shows up uninvited, a well-maintained sump pump is your home’s best friend. Ensure that the last checkup was satisfactory and that you have the information about the maintenance company.

When you call to schedule the next checkup, explain that you are the new owner and that you’d like to get the system on a regular schedule. While you’ve got them on the phone ask about the history of the system, especially how it’s functioned over time, and if there have been any repairs made throughout the lifetime of the system.

2. Clogged drains can be a real, costly pain.

Plumbing is probably one of the last things on your mind, which is exactly why this home maintenance tip should be at the forefront. Trust us, like so many “hidden” things in a home, you don’t realize how much it matters until it stops functioning properly. If your home has trees anywhere near it, the trees’ roots and your drain pipes will meet up at some point, and nature pretty much always wins.

If you have pipes that are older, the roots can move in pretty quickly and take up residence. This will cause all sources of water to back up into your home, which can mean flooding, septic water, and a costly nightmare to repair the damage. The best way to head this one off is to hire a plumber to come and snake your drains every other year. You’re going to want to have a great relationship with a reputable plumber anyway, so why not start on the good foot immediately when there’s nothing urgent?

3. Your HVAC system is the boss of you and it’s probably a tad needy.

One critical artery to any home is its heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) system. This is what keeps you cool in the warm months and warm in the cool months. It often consists of a furnace and air conditioning unit, with the furnace in your home’s basement or boiler room and the A/C unit outside the home. Being able to heat and cool your home at the touch of a button is one of modern life’s awesome conveniences. But waiting too long to get to know your system can prove to be painfully costly.

To head this off, replace disposable filters every six months. If you’re lucky enough to have a washable filter, do this on the same schedule instead. And, when the weather changes, hire a pro to come and look over your system to ensure everything is tuned up and in working order. Many companies offer a “club” option, that gets them at least two visits a year during which times, the equipment receives maintenance. But membership has its privileges: members often get priority in an emergency and discounted services if anything is amiss.

4. Apply these strategies to your appliances.

A dishwasher that doesn’t get your dishes all that clean or a moldy front load washing machine are such buzzkills, but if they go unchecked, the root causes of these items can negatively impact the quality of your machines over time. Despite what commercials may tell you, always get as much residue and debris off of your dishes before loading them into the dishwasher.

And make it a priority to open up the filter and clean it with the change of seasons. In the case of your washing machine, wipe out the very front after uses and leave the soap dispenser and door ajar so that any water left behind has the opportunity to evaporate.

5. Your home’s ducts and vents need your attention too.

Every few years, getting a pro to come and clean your home’s HVAC ducts will not only clear out allergens such as dust, mold and pollen, but it will allow the air to pass through more easily. This will maximize the HVAC system and could save you money on your electricity bill. The same goes for your clothes dryer vents, however, cleaning the vent is not optional. It’s easy to assume your lint trap gets everything, but this is an incorrect assumption that comes with a fire hazard attached to it. Make sure the dryer vent is cleaned out periodically, per the instruction manual or company’s recommendation.

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FHA Loan Limits Increased for 2019

December 26th, 2018

Steve Hollander – Hollander Real Estate
Florida Realtors®

WASHINGTON – Dec. 17, 2018 – The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) announced the agency’s new schedule of loan limits for 2019, with most areas in the country to experience an increase in loan limits in the coming year. These loan limits are effective for FHA case numbers assigned on or after Jan. 1, 2019 and mirror earlier limits announced by the Federal Housing Finance Administration (FHFA).

In high-cost areas of the country, FHA’s loan limit ceiling will increase to $726,525 from $679,650. FHA will also increase its floor to $314,827 from $294,515.

FHA says that increases in median housing prices required changes to FHA’s floor and ceiling limits, which are tied to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)’s increase in the conventional mortgage loan limit for 2019.

Overall, the maximum loan limits for FHA forward mortgages will rise in 3,053 U.S. counties. In 181 counties, FHA’s loan limits will remain unchanged.

By statute, the median home price for a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is based on the county within the MSA having the highest median price. HUD has used the highest median price point for any year since the enactment of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA).

The cap for reverse mortgages – FHA-insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs) – will increase to $726,525 from $679,650. FHA’s current regulations implementing the National Housing Act’s HECM limits do not allow loan limits for reverse mortgages to vary by MSA or county.

The National Housing Act, as amended by HERA, requires FHA to establish floor and ceiling loan limits based on the loan limit set by FHFA for conventional mortgages owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. FHA’s 2019 minimum national loan limit, or floor, of $314,827 is set at 65 percent of the national conforming loan limit of $484,350. This floor applies to those areas where 115 percent of the median home price is less than the floor limit.

Any areas where the loan limit exceeds this ‘floor’ is considered a high-cost area, and HERA requires FHA to set its maximum loan limit ‘ceiling’ for high-cost areas at 150 percent ($726,525) of the national conforming limit.

© 2018 Florida Realtors®

A Guide to Staging a House Before You Sell

December 24th, 2018

Steve Hollander – Hollander Real Estate
Trulia Guides\Sell

Staging a house helps buyers imagine themselves living in it.

If you want to sell your home faster, staging is a clever way to do it. Staging a house allows you to present it in its best light, encouraging prospective buyers to imagine themselves living there. It helps you shine in competitive markets, as homebuyers are becoming accustomed to seeing staged homes—in person, on home decorating shows, and in online listings.

What does staging a home mean?

Staging a home is the process of strategically arranging furnishings and decor to make a house look its best while selling. This may involve a refresh of your own belongings, or renting furnishings an decor temporarily. If you’re having trouble selling your home, staging can make a big difference.

Here’s how to stage a home.

1. Understand why you’re staging.
Staging is worth the time and effort when selling your home. A 2017 National Association of Realtors (NAR) survey found 49 percent of buyers’ agents believe staging affects most buyers’ view of a home. And 77 percent of buyers’ agents say staging makes it easier for people to visualize the property as theirs.

Staging can also increase the sales price. In that same NAR survey, 29 percent of sellers’ agents said the sales price for staged homes were between 1 and 5 percent higher than unstaged homes. Staged homes sell faster, too—39 percent of sellers’ agents reported that staging a home “greatly decreases” days on the market.

Understanding the benefits of staging a home can help you decide if it’s right for you, and how much to invest in doing it.

2. Get rid of clutter.
The most basic task when staging a home involves removing clutter and cleaning the house. Remove knick-knacks and personal items from all surfaces. And don’t just put them in closets; potential buyers usually look in them, and you want yours to appear roomy. Box up spare belongings and get them out of the house.

With all the clutter gone, do a deep cleaning. Make your kitchen and bathroom sparkle, and be sure to close the toilet lid before people come by. Air out the entire house by opening the windows, which is better than air fresheners or scented candles, which can trigger allergies. And make sure you wash everything your pets touch. No one is attracted to pet odor. Consider hiring a pro for the deep clean if it’s not your thing.

3. Aim for a light and bright look.
Buyers typically like to see bright rooms, so lighting is an essential part of staging a home. So open your blinds or pull your curtains back before a showing. Make sure your light fixtures look appealing. If your lampshades are dingy or your fixtures are dated, consider replacing them. Play with different types and temperatures of lighting as well. In addition to your overhead lighting, create an inviting atmosphere with lamps and wall sconces.

4. Stage important rooms first.
If you want to stage your entire house, that’s great. But if you don’t have the time or money to stage the whole thing, you can get the most bang for your buck by staging certain rooms. The NAR survey found the living room is the most crucial space to stage, with 55 percent of agents surveyed thinking it’s “very important” to stage it. Next comes the master bedroom, followed by the kitchen. And your last priority should be any extra bedrooms.

5. Remove and/or rent furniture.
Remove about half your furniture. This could be difficult since you probably are used to—and use—the furniture in your home. But your house will look bigger and more appealing to most buyers with less furniture in it.

“Sellers need to shift their mindset and focus on the buyer,” says professional home stager Tori Toth. “Once a home seller can detach themselves from their home, they can view it as a product and prepare the space properly for maximum buyer appeal.”

If your furniture just doesn’t look showroom-ready, you can remove it all and rent nicer, newer pieces. Put your furniture in storage, or sell or donate it if you won’t be taking it with you. If you’ve already moved, another option is pop-up furniture, which is made of corrugated plastic or cardboard—but looks nice enough to achieve the same goals for sellers as the real deal.

6. Rearrange furniture.
Once your furniture has been thinned out, or a rented set has arrived, position couches, chairs, and tables away from your walls. This is a design technique called “floating” the furniture. Anchor the space with an area rug, even if the room has wall-to-wall carpet. This creates a cozy, intimate space, ideal for chatting with friends and family.

7. Don’t forget about curb appeal.
If you neglect the outside of your home, you probably won’t attract as many buyers to the inside. Get buyers in the door by doing the following:

  • Power-wash your house and walkways.
  • Clean your windows
  • Make sure your house number is easy to read.
  • Mow the lawn.
  • Trim overgrown greenery.
  • Plant flowers.
  • Put a welcome mat and potted plants on your front stoop.
  • If you have a porch, include outdoor furniture.

8. Add little extras.
Once your house is picture-perfect, add some finishing touches. People love to see fresh flowers in vases, a bowl of fresh fruit on the kitchen counter, and folded towels in the bathroom.

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Flood Insurance December 21st Expiration: Hope for Best, Plan for Worst

December 21st, 2018

Steve Hollander – Hollander Real Estate
Florida Realtors®

WASHINGTON – Dec. 17, 2018 – From 2008 to 2012, Congress extended the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) 17 times. Of those 17 expirations, it actually lapsed four times: From March 1 to March 2, 2010; March 29 to April 15, 2010; June 1 to July 2, 2010; and October 1 to October 5, 2011.

In general, a long lapse creates more problems than a short lapse, and the longest one in 2010 lasted for an entire month. In most cases, a NFIP extension, once authorized, is made retroactive; however, new policy applications and existing policy renewals stop during a shutdown.

For the real estate industry, a program lapse makes it difficult or impossible to close on homes located in flood zones if the buyer requires a mortgage, since most lenders require NFIP coverage to protect their investment.

While the flood program’s temporary demise after Friday isn’t a sure thing or even necessarily likely, it’s still possible. Realtors who have a closing scheduled after that date – especially if buyers are rushing to complete the transaction before the year ends – should prepare for the possibility.

Homebuyer options if NFIP expires before closing

  • Buyers may be able to secure NFIP coverage before closing if they apply and receive confirmation before the program shuts down. Under this option, buyers must secure NFIP coverage before end-of-day Friday
  • Buyers may sometimes “assume” the current policy owned by the seller under certain conditions. For this to work, the seller must have coverage and be willing to transfer it. Check GR 15 in a PDF doc posted online at FEMA’s website.
  • Secondary lenders that purchase mortgages, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, often issue guidelines on how to handle a flood insurance lapse. They may authorize lenders, for example, to approve loans if buyers put money into escrow and sign docs so they can get NFIP coverage as soon after closing as possible. However, this isn’t necessarily common.
  • Should flood insurance expire, FHA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and VA will probably release guidelines with more information. During earlier NFIP lapses, the FDIC issued guidance to lending institutions, and the Federal Reserve issued informal guidance to lenders.
  • In some earlier NFIP shutdowns, FEMA created a Write-Your-Own (WYO) Program, in which private insurance companies were paid to write and service NFIP policies.

Private flood insurance isn’t always a good option if NFIP expires, however. In many cases, a lender might not consider private coverage adequate for a loan approval.

In addition, private coverage could create future problems for homebuyers. NFIP generally does not recognize private policies, and it will consider homeowners with private policies uninsured. That “uninsured” designation can create problems for homeowners going forward in various ways if they want NFIP coverage later.

“Most carriers do not recognize other policies as equal to NFIP for any flood zone higher than an X zone,” says Maria S. Wells, broker/owner of Lifestyle Realty Group in Stuart, 2017 Florida Realtors® president and 2019 Region 5 VP for the National Association of Realtors®. Until Congress can pass a responsible bill to make the NFIP solvent, deal with mitigation issues and level the playing field with rates, we will continue to have a broken system that keeps getting kicked down the road leaving homeowners and their communities in peril when Mother Nature decides to pay a visit.”

© 2018 Florida Realtors®

The Final Walk-Through Checklist

December 19th, 2018

Steve Hollander – Hollander Real Estate
Trulia Guides\Buy

Bring this checklist on the final walk-through to ensure that all repairs have been made and the home is move-in ready — before you sign those closing papers.

After the negotiations, home inspection, and repairs, saying that you’re excited to sign on the dotted line and close on your new house is an understatement. You’re ready. However, it’s standard for you to take one more walkthrough of the home before closing — and you shouldn’t take this task lightly. Even if you’ve already scoured the place, it’s possible you missed something, and you definitely don’t want to spend money on a repair after you close and those mortgage payments start.

To help out, we’ve provided a checklist (download it here) for you to bring during your final walk-through of that shiny new place.

1. Pack your walk-through bag.
Before you head out, make sure you carry these items with you:

  • Your final contract. You may need to refer to it and confirm what you see matches the terms.
  • Checklist notepad. You’ll want to document the date and time of your walk-through at the top of your notepad. Then take detailed notes.
  • Camera. Take pictures to supplement your notes about repairs that haven’t been completed or areas that are damaged.
  • Inspection summary. It’s important to double-check that all repairs have been completed as promised.
  • Your real estate agent. Don’t do your walk-through without your agent. They can answer any questions as well as guide you through the process.
  • Cellphone and charger. The charger could come in handy if you need to confirm that the electrical outlets are functional.

2. Verify final repairs.
Before looking at anything else, double-check that all repairs stated on the inspection summaryhave been completed and that the seller has left behind warranties and receipts for the work. If something breaks, you’ll want to be able to follow up with the person or company that made the repairs.

3. Check general sale items.
This is where your sales agreement comes into play. It’s just as important to ensure that all the items that convey with the sale are accounted for as it is to ensure that all unwanted items have been removed. You’ll want to schedule your final walk-through in advance of your closing day, just in case it appears that the sellers won’t be able to clear out their belongings before you move in. Additionally, you’ll want to check that all garbage and construction debris from repairs have been removed, and the property has been left clean and damage-free from the movers.

4. Open windows and doors.
The last thing you want after move-in is to realize your belongings aren’t secure because of a broken window latch or lock. It may sound like a lot of work, but team up and check all window latches and door locks. You’ll also need to note if any window screens are missing, or if any of the windows are broken or stick when opening (which is more than an inconvenience; it could also be a fire hazard).

5. Head to the bathroom.
Walk through all bathrooms and check for mold, water damage, and standing water by the sink, shower, and base of the toilet. Mold can spring up in a matter of days, so it’s extra important that you check for this sign of a potential water leak. Then ensure the toilets aren’t running, and they flush properly. Turn on all the faucets (including the showerhead) and verify that they have hot water, don’t spray water, and don’t leak when turned off. All sinks and tubs should drain properly and quickly.

6. Confirm the condition of the kitchen.
Check for the same signs of mold or water damage — paying careful attention to areas under the sink, by the dishwasher, and by the refrigerator — and be certain to turn on and off all appliances to ensure they work.

7. Don’t forget the laundry room.
While you’re checking appliances, head to the laundry room to turn on and off the washer and dryer. If there is a utility sink, fill it and make sure it drains properly.

8. Make all systems go.
Even if it’s a 90-degree day when you walk through your soon-to-be home, turn on the heat and make sure it’s working. Do the same with the air conditioning, and verify that the doorbell, security system, and garage door work.

9. Pull the plug.
Check electrical systems by turning lights on and off, checking the circuit breaker (is it clean and working?), and looking at all outlet plate covers to make sure they’re free of damage. This is also where your phone charger comes in handy. Plug your phone into all outlets and confirm that they’re all working. If not, you may have a deeper problem with electrical wiring that you’ll definitely want to sort out before closing.

10. Take a walk around.
While it seems crazy to bring a shrub on your move, sellers have been known to dig up existing plants in their yard during move-out (really!). Once you’re satisfied with the landscape, turn on the irrigation system (if you have one) and confirm that it’s working.

11. Look for signs of pests.
Dry rot, spongy floors, and crumbly timbers can all be signs of termites or other pests. Also, be sure to note any droppings. You want to ensure you’re moving in to a truly uninhabited home!

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What to Look for at an Open House

December 18th, 2018

Steve Hollander – Hollander Real Estate
Trulia Guides|Buy

You don’t have to be a pro to know what to look for at an open house.

When you’re on the hunt for a new house, weekends spent touring open houses can quickly veer from fun to daunting by house number three. Keeping track of which home had that great kitchen (but terrible master bath) versus the home with a terrible backyard but a great floor plan can be tough. And while no house is likely to be perfect, when it comes to your budget, some updates are harder to swallow than others. Unfortunate paint colors, though hard to see past, shouldn’t sway your decision because they’re easily changed. But other issues should give you pause because they’ll require costly repairs, or they indicate larger, underlying problems that simply can’t be fixed.

What To Look For When Buying a House

1. Get an idea of the roof’s condition.

“You really need to look beyond the new kitchen and bathroom and consider the bones of the home,” says Adam Waggoner of Generator Real Estate in Denver, CO. One of the biggest “bones” of a house? The roof. The typical lifespan of a roof is up to about 20 years, but the average cost to replace one runs into the five-figure range, averaging about $12,000 but going up as high as $25,000 or more. That’s why Omaha, NE, real estate agent Robert Jensen suggests paying close attention to the age and condition of the roof before making an offer.

2. Damage in the home’s foundation.

This is what everything is resting on — literally. While superficial blemishes might not matter enough to affect a sale, if there are wide cracks in the foundation, says Waggoner, it’s most likely not worth the time and anguish that can come with fixing it.

3. Take a peek at the sewer or septic systems.

When it comes to sewer and septic systems, many people are in the dark on a few elements: first off, their level of responsibility. If something goes wrong, it’s the homeowner, not the city, who must cover damages (frequently through homeowners’ insurance). The condition of the sewer lines is also something that is not part of a regular home inspection, so a few hundred dollars for a dedicated sewer inspection could prove to be a worthy investment.

4. Ask about past insurance claims.

Jensen also recommends asking if insurance claims have been filed on the house, and for what — the answers may offer insight into any past issues that might not be immediately obvious at an open house. If the house is located near a pond, lake, or stream, he says, it’s important to ask whether flood insurance is required, because that can affect buyer financing or create difficulties than can delay closing.

5. Keep an eye out for noticeable water damage.

“While it may not be easy for a buyer to spot a wet basement, there are some signs you can look for at an open house,” says Caroline Staudt, a real estate agent with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate in Boston, MA. “If all of the utility systems and basement storage is propped up a few inches or more off the ground, that may be an indication that the basement has had water issues.” This is one instance, Staudt says, where you should pay close attention to furnishings. If a basement has a nice, fresh carpet and furniture, and there’s no musty smell, that’s a likely sign the space has stayed dry.

6. Check the condition of the electrical system.

If you’re considering an older home, don’t ignore the possibility of outdated electrical systems and wiring. Older systems may still be functional but can pose a safety risk, can be difficult to insulate, and are sometimes hard to insure. One example Staudt gives is the knob-and-tube system dating back to the 1930s and ’40s, which can be spotted by its white/off-white knobs connecting to wires, often in an unfinished basement — and can be a big expense to replace. Another telltale sign of a potentially pricey upgrade? Old fuses with circular knobs in the fuse box (newer boxes have many small toggle switches). Staudt points out that an electrician should verify any seller-provided details about wiring or electrical systems.

7. Give the windows a test.

Older, original windows often look great but can be painted shut or not airtight, which can make utility costs skyrocket in certain climates. Staudt advises buyers to consider the cost of replacement windows when they’re making an offer on a new home. Replacing old ones can be expensive, but having functional, efficient windows can increase savings in the long run — and be attractive to buyers the next time the home hits the real estate market.

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9 Necessary Things To Do Before You Move Into Your New Home

December 17th, 2018

Steve Hollander – Hollander Real Estate
Trulia’s Blog\Life at Home – by Lindsey Grossman

Plan a party right away, plus more expert tips that might surprise you.
You’ve signed and initialed on all the dotted lines. The house is yours — no more landlords or leases. Enjoy it. Revel in it. Even spend a night in your new, empty home on an air mattress with a box of pizza before things start to get real (it’s a memory you might appreciate down the road). But when the house honeymoon’s over, there’s work to be done, and certain things belong on a “the sooner the better” list. These nine expert tips offering guidance on what to do before you move into your new home just might surprise you.

1. “Borrow” your real estate agent’s contacts

Who needs friend recommendations when you can use your trusted real estate agent’s list? Most agents have plumbers, electricians, and more that they recommend regularly. “Ask your Realtor for a list of preferred providers so you have it handy in the future when you need something,” suggests Megan Shook, a real estate agent with Mosaic Community Lifestyle Realty in Asheville, NC. “It’s comforting to know you have those contacts if you need them in a hurry.”

2. Wait to paint the walls

Living in your home unpacked for a little while lets you see where the light hits every room at all times of the day. So don’t rush to paint the walls before your things are in place, even if that seems easiest. You may end up choosing colors you don’t love — and then you’ll have to paint again.

The type of light bulbs you use also impacts the paint color, says interior designer Barbara Anderson of Preferred Designs in Rehoboth Beach, DE. “The popular Edison bulbs will change the color hue,” she says. When Anderson meets with a client, she places the paint sample in all four corners of the room. She looks at it in natural light, then blocks the light. But while the walls can wait, your ceilings are another, messier matter. Anderson suggests painting the ceilings before bringing in the boxes and furniture.

3. Add a UV film on your windows

Before you drill any holes or plan where you’ll hang your art, find out where the sun is strongest in your new home. “Sunlight can damage works on canvas and paper over time and fade colors,” advises artist Steven Seinberg. He recommends adding a UV film on your windows. You won’t notice it’s there, but it will offer some protection for your precious artwork and furniture.

4. Plan a party

Scheduling a housewarming party two to four weeks after you move in gives you an incentive — and a deadline — to get all those boxes unpacked. Once the invites are out there, you’re committed. It’s the homeowner’s equivalent of telling a friend you’ll meet her for a Pilates class. In many aspects of life, accountability is key. And if the result is a party in your newly organized house? All the better.

5. Do a doggie meet-and-greet

Before you move in, walk Fido around the neighborhood. It’s a good chance to meet your new neighbors and introduce Fido to his new surroundings. Since your neighbors will then know your doggie by name — and where he lives — they’ll know whom to call if he ever gets out of your yard. (Moving-day pet escapes are all too common!) Consider also handing them a business card with your contact info on one side and your pet’s name on the back. They also might be more forgiving of any early morning yapping if they’ve seen how sweet he is up close.

6. Keep every receipt

Make a folder, get a notebook, and keep receipts for everything. You might be surprised at what’s tax-deductible. Claiming the space for your home office isn’t big news, but don’t forget all the pieces that go with the home office. “Whether that’s an alarm, maid service, cost of electricity … all of those things can be prorated to account for the home-office deduction,” says Kelly Phillips Erb, founder of Taxgirl.com. Erb also suggests looking into deductible home mortgage interest as well as the property taxes paid at closing. “I think that gets missed a lot,” she says. And definitely keep track of all those home improvements. You could get tax breaks for these down the road.

7. Get an energy audit

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save up to 30% on your energy bill by making upgrades identified in an energy audit. “Energy-efficient homes are a win-win for the owner and the environment,” says Shook. During a professional energy assessment, an auditor will identify shortcomings in your home that can be fixed to save energy and lower your bills. To find an auditor near you, ask your local electric or gas companies or search the Residential Energy Services Network directory.

8. Vet the vents

If your home is new construction, be sure to vacuum out the vents (with a hose attachment) before turning on the HVAC. Otherwise, the dust that settled in the vents could be blown out — and into your home. Owners of new-construction homes often report needing to change their air filters more frequently, and this is why. Your builder should have done this too, but it can’t hurt to make sure.

9. Start fresh in the safety department

Replace the batteries in the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors immediately. Shook suggests buying a new fire extinguisher as well. At the very least, you’re postponing the inevitable annoyance of dying batteries chirping all at once all over the house. At best, you’re saving lives. “One colleague just had a fish tank pump catch on fire last week at 5:45 a.m.,” Shook says. “Their home had minimal damage due to the detector and the extinguisher!”

Lindsey Grossman writes and edits from her home near Asheville, NC. Her writing has appeared in Paste, USA Today, Where, and more. Find her at lindseyliving.com.

How to Buy a Foreclosure

December 14th, 2018

Steve Hollander – Hollander Real Estate
Trulia Guides\Buy

Do foreclosed homes offer a good opportunity for potential buyers? It’s important to understand the risks.

If you’re a homebuyer looking for a bargain, you might be investigating buying a home in foreclosure. It’s important to know, though, that though often discounted, buying a foreclosure can be a risky venture. Depending on what stage the foreclosure is, the home could be still in possession of the owner and in excellent shape, or it could be a property neglected by the lender for quite some time.

What Is Foreclosure?

Foreclosure is a process that allows a lender to recover outstanding debt when a borrower fails to pay their mortgage on schedule. To understand how the foreclosure process works, it helps to be clear that the borrower, in this case, is the homeowner. If a homeowner, or borrower, defaults on their loan payments each month for three to six months, the lender may file a public notice of default which marks the beginning of the pre-foreclosure process.

How to Buy a Foreclosure

If you’re thinking of buying a foreclosure, it can be helpful to understand how the foreclosure process typically works. In general, foreclosures tend to play out in one of the following ways:

  • The borrower can pay off a default amount to reinstate the loan during a grace period. This grace period, determined by state laws, is also known as pre-foreclosure. In this case, no foreclosure takes place.
  • The borrower can sell the property to a third party during pre-foreclosure, negotiating the terms of purchase together. This approach allows both the borrower and owner to pay off the loan, and allows the homeowner to avoid having a foreclosure on their credit history.
  • At the end of pre-foreclosure, a public auction (or short sale) is held, and the property is sold there.
  • The lender might also decide to buy back the property at the public auction or through an agreement with the borrower during pre-foreclosure. Lenders tend to buy these bank-owned properties in order to resell them.

Buying During Pre-Foreclosure

A property in pre-foreclosure involves approaching the borrower and offering to buy the property outright. It is during this time that an investor can typically make the largest profits and can negotiate a deal that may be favorable for all parties involved including the buyer, borrower, and lender. This step-by-step list will help you navigate the pre-foreclosure process:

1. Prepare your resources.
Make sure that you have the resources in place to purchase this property. This includes securing pre-qualification for a loan and enlisting the help of a buyer’s agent, should you be uncomfortable contacting the owner and navigating the negotiations and closing process on your own

2. Confirm property status.
Check the history of notices and call the trustee listed to confirm that this property is still in pre-foreclosure. Owners in default can stop pre-foreclosure (called reinstatement) by paying off the amount owed or by selling the property. Or the property might be up for public auction if it’s been in pre-foreclosure long enough.

3. Evaluate bargain/investment potential.
Determine if this property represents a good bargain or investment opportunity. Start by subtracting the property’s outstanding liens and loans from the property’s estimated market value to determine the property’s estimated equity.

4. Contact the owner.
Unless this property is listed for sale on the MLS (in which case you can contact the listing agent), you’ll need to contact the owner in default to express your interest in the property.

5. Negotiate a purchase agreement and close the deal. If this owner is interested in selling during pre-foreclosure (which can protect the owner’s credit and allow the owner to walk away with something to show for the property equity), then you’ll need to negotiate the terms of the purchase, enter escrow and close the deal before the property is put up for auction.

Buying After Pre-Foreclosure

Public Auction

If the loan is not reinstated by the end of the pre-foreclosure period, potential buyers can bid on the property at a public auction. Buyers often are required to pay in cash at the auction and may not have much time to research the title and condition of the property beforehand; however, a public auction often offers some of the best bargains and avoids the unpredictability of dealing directly with the borrower/owner.

Bank-ownedIf the lender takes ownership of the property, either through an agreement with the owner during pre-foreclosure or at the public auction, the lender will usually want to re-sell the property to recover the unpaid loan amount. The lender will probably make sure the title is clear for any buyer, but the potential bargain is typically less than a pre-foreclosure or auction property.

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