6 Tasks That Every Smart Homeowner Does in October

The temps are starting to drop; the smell of wood smoke is in the air.

Temps are more chilly than warm. That’s when veteran homeowners know it’s time to do these six things if they want to avoid grief or overspending:

#1 Buy Appliances

But October is right in the middle — when there’s still plenty of selection, and retailers might be more willing to haggle.

Refrigerators are the exception because new models don’t come out until spring.

#2 Switch the Direction of Ceiling Fans

#3 Clean Windows

If window cleaning isn’t a DIY job at your home, schedule a professional window cleaner (who, unlike most of us, is able to do it even when temperatures plummet) before the end of the month. The closer it gets to the holidays, the busier they get. Bright sunshine on winter’s darkest days makes it totally worthwhile.

#4 Schedule a Heating Unit Checkup

Whether you hire your heating company’s technician or a contractor to do it, they’ll clean soot and corrosion from the combustion chamber, replace filters, and check the whole system for leaks, clogs, or damage. Nothing pairs with a pending blizzard better than the assurance that you’ll be weathering the storm with warm air piping through the vents and cocoa in hand.

#5 Get a Chimney Sweep to Inspect the Fireplace

Tip: If you don’t already have a chimney cap, this is also the time to add one to stop wild outdoor critters from crawling down it — and (yikes!) into your house.

#6 Insulate Exposed Pipes

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The “Bonus Room” Makes a Comeback

Daily Real Estate News | Monday, October 02, 2017

Home builders and designers say demand is increasing for more flexible living spaces, giving rise once again to “bonus” or “multipurpose” rooms, The Wall Street Journal reports. Such rooms offer extra square footage for owners to create a space that fits their lifestyle. Baby boomers, for example, are showing interest in bonus rooms that could potentially serve as a first-floor master bedroom or suite.

Out of the 20 top-selling floor plans on Houseplans.com, 13 include bonus rooms, according to the site. However, only 14 percent of all plans the site offers contain such rooms. They are usually located off the entry hallway near the main living space and a bathroom. The location makes it easy to transform the space into an extra bedroom, if needed. Bonus rooms also may be located above the garage. Homeowners use these extra spaces for anything from an in-law suite to a home theater.

Some designers say real estate professionals shouldn’t label bonus rooms with a specific purpose when showing a home to their clients. Let buyers imagine for themselves how they’d use the room; this can also make the listing more appealing to them. “When you name it ‘dining room,’ they will always see it as a dining room; they will never get it out of their mind,” says Mark Mathis, co-owner of Hattiesburg, Miss.-based design firm House Plan Gallery. “We have found that labeling this type of area as ‘flex space’ on our floor plans best allows home buyers to decide how a particular space can be used to fit their specific family’s needs.”

Source: “Forward-Looking Homeowners Want Rooms That Do Double Duty,” The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 28, 2017)

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

 

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8 Exterior Renovations to Boost a Home’s Value

Daily Real Estate News | Friday, September 29, 2017

Replacing the roof may be the most important upgrade your client can make to the exterior of his or her home, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2017 Remodeling Impact Report. The report takes a look at the cost of the most common exterior and interior renovation projects and gauges how appealing they are to home buyers at resale.

REALTORS® ranked new roofing, vinyl windows, and garage door as the three exterior projects that have the most appeal to buyers. Based on the potential for return-on-investment, the following exterior projects offer the best chances for the biggest returns at resale, according to the report.

New roofing

  • Cost estimate: $7,500
  • REALTORS®’ estimated cost recovered: $8,150
  • Percent of value recovered from the project: 109%

New garage door

  • Cost estimate: $2,300
  • REALTORS®’ estimated cost recovered: $2,000
  • Percent of value recovered from the project: 87%

New fiber-cement siding

  • Cost estimate: $18,000
  • REALTORS®’ estimated cost recovered: $15,000
  • Percent of value recovered from the project: 83%

New vinyl windows

  • Cost estimate: $18,975
  • REALTORS®’ estimated cost recovered: $15,000
  • Percent of value recovered from the project: 79%

New steel front door

  • Cost estimate: $2,000
  • REALTORS®’ estimated cost recovered: $1,500
  • Percent of value recovered from the project: 75%

New vinyl siding

  • Cost estimate: $13,350
  • REALTORS®’ estimated cost recovered: $10,000
  • Percent of value recovered from the project: 75%

New fiberglass front door

  • Cost estimate: $2,700
  • REALTORS®’ estimated cost recovered: $1,800
  • Percent of value recovered from the project: 67%

New wood windows

  • Cost estimate: $35,000
  • REALTORS®’ estimated cost recovered: $20,000
  • Percent of value recovered from the project: 57%

—REALTOR® Magazine

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

 

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Mortgage Rates Stuck in Holding Pattern

Daily Real Estate News | Friday, September 29, 2017

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage barely budged this week, staying well below the 4 percent mark. “Rates held relatively flat this week,” says Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sean Becketti. “The 10-year Treasury yield fell just 1 basis point, while the 30-year mortgage rate remained unchanged at 3.83 percent.”

Freddie Mac reported the following national averages with mortgage rates for the week ending Sept. 28:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.83 percent, with an average 0.6 point, holding the same as last week. Last year at this time, 30-year rates averaged 3.42 percent.
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.13 percent, with an average 0.5 point, also holding the same average as last week. A year ago, 15-year rates averaged 2.72 percent.
  • 5-year hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages: averaged 3.20 percent, with an average 0.5 point, up slightly from last week’s 3.17 percent average. A year ago, 5-year ARMs averaged 2.81 percent.

Source: Freddie Mac

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

 

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Millions of Middle-Income Homeowners Stand to Lose Under “Big 6” Tax Proposal

WASHINGTON (September 27, 2017) – A group of legislators and administration leaders known as the “Big 6” today released an outline for comprehensive tax reform that if enacted, according to the National Association of Realtors®, could lead to a tax on homeownership for millions.

According to the Big 6’s framework for tax reform, changes to the current tax code would eliminate important provisions, such as the state and local tax deduction, while nearly doubling the standard deduction and eliminating personal and dependency exemptions. NAR believes the result would all but nullify the incentive to purchase a home for most, amounting to a de facto tax increase on homeowners, putting home values across the country at risk and ensuring that only the top 5 percent of Americans have the opportunity to benefit from the mortgage interest deduction.

NAR President William E. Brown, a second-generation Realtor® from Alamo, California and founder of Investment Properties said that the proposal reaffirms Realtors®’ concerns from earlier in the year and urged lawmakers to keep homeowners in mind as they proceed with comprehensive tax reform with the following statement:

“We have always said that tax reform – a worthy endeavor – should first do no harm to homeowners. The tax framework released by the Big 6 today missed that goal.

“This proposal recommends a backdoor elimination of the mortgage interest deduction for all but the top 5 percent who would still itemize their deductions.

“When combined with the elimination of the state and local tax deduction, these efforts represent a tax increase on millions of middle-class homeowners. That tax increase flies in the face of a reform effort ostensibly aimed at lowering the tax burden for Americans. At the same time, the lost incentive to purchase a home could cause home values to fall.

“Plummeting home values are a poor housewarming gift for recent homebuyers and a tremendous blow to older Americans who depend on their home to provide a nest egg for retirement.

“Congress can still score a win for American families by promoting lower rates and comprehensive reform that doesn’t single out homeowners for a tax hike, while also preserving important investment incentives like 1031 like-kind exchanges. We look forward to continuing the discussion in the weeks and months ahead.”

The National Association of Realtors®, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America’s largest trade association, representing 1.2 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

 

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7 Compromises You Should Never Make When Buying a Home

| Sep 21, 2017

Every successful home search begins with a wish list. Armed with your inventory of must-haves, you’ll know how to focus your search and recognize a potential home that isn’t worth your time.

Still, there’s a strange thing that seems to happen when you’re deep in the trenches of house hunting: The more you look, the longer that wish list seems to grow. But sooner or later, you have to own up to the fact that you can’t have everything—it’s inevitable that you’ll make some compromises somewhere.

And, in these days of tight inventory and cutthroat competition from other buyers, you might feel forced to waver far afield from your hallowed wish list in order to land a home.

That’s OK—it’s important to be flexible. But there are a few times when you absolutely should draw the line. Here are seven areas where you’ll want to dig in your heels.

You have never swung a hammer, have a phobia of power tools, and always pictured yourself in something new and shiny. But that doesn’t mean you won’t fall in love with a charming, century-old farmhouse that needs a ton of work. Now’s when you have to decide: Are you up to the financial and emotional challenges of taking on major renovations?

“There have been times when I’ve said to clients, ‘after being with you for a week, I really think we need to look at new construction,'” Kessler says. Many of those clients, he adds, were later grateful for the course correction, saying, “We would never have been able to enjoy ourselves in [an older] house.”

2. A good school district

Even if you don’t have children, you should make sure the house you’re eyeing has desirable schools nearby, says Tina Maraj, a Realtor® with Re/Max North Orange County in Fullerton, CA.

Does it matter if you’re not looking to have a few kids? Well, things can always change. But even if they don’t, good schools typically translate to a higher resale value—potential buyers with families will want to be in the right district.

Just make sure to do your research and determine where the home sits in relation to the school district boundaries.

“Often agents will advertise a property as being near such-and-such school area, but not necessarily specify the district, which can be very confusing,” Maraj explains. “It can be a real eye-opener if a buyer closes and they’re on one side of a main street that is the dividing line between the top-rated and the lowest-rated high schools.”

Go to the school district’s website to get a map of the district boundaries.

3. The floor plan

Does the home fit your minimum criteria in terms of number of rooms and the flow of the main living areas? If not, cross it off your list, says Sarah Garza, a Realtor and military relocation specialist with Trident Homes Realty in Arnold, MD.

Garza can share some personal cautionary tales: A military spouse, she’s moved 12 times in the past 20 years, buying and selling nine homes in the process.

“I regret that I compromised on layout in the past,” she says. “When I really needed four bedrooms, I’ve gone to three and then wished I hadn’t.”

Sure, you can add on. But don’t use that option as a fallback, Maraj warns.

“You can change a layout to make it an open floor plan, but it’s a lot more difficult to change the bedroom and bathroom count,” she says. “In the long run, you could end up having a lot of problems and taking on a really big financial undertaking.”

4. The neighbors

During your search, don’t just focus on the house you’re interested in—check out the neighboring homes as well, Maraj says. Are the properties well-kept, or candidates for an episode of “Hoarders”?

The condition of the properties around you can affect your future resale value. And they can just plain drive you crazy. Make sure you look—and listen—any time you visit your prospective home.

“You can’t change the house in front of you or to the side of you,” Maraj cautions. “And if there’s a barking dog every time you’re viewing the property, that’s another thing that you absolutely cannot change.”

5. Your budget

You’ve probably already determined how much you’re willing to pay for a home—and you shouldn’t budge on that number. But you should also dig in your heels on the additional costs beyond the sticker price. That means setting a budget for your monthly payments, HOA dues, utility costs, and real estate taxes—and sticking to it. (Hint: You want to do this before you start looking at homes, and definitely before you start making offers.)

Yes, a lender will give you a pre-approval and tell you how much house you can afford. But this is just one piece of the puzzle, and the costs of homeownership can still land you in a mountain of debt if you’re not careful, Kessler points out.

“I try to do a lot of pre-planning with clients about what can they really afford, as opposed to what the bank tells you,” Kessler says. “You never want to be house poor.”

6. Commute time

If you’ve already determined that you’re willing to take on a 30-minute commute, don’t allow yourself to be swayed into anything longer, Garza says.

“Sometimes buyers fall in love with all the shiny bells and whistles of a house that’s an hour away from work, and want to compromise on what they’ve told me from the beginning,” she notes. “I tell them, ‘I know it doesn’t matter right now because you really love this house, but that’s two hours every day that you’ll be sitting in the car and not enjoying your house. Is that worth it to you?’”

She adds: Until you’ve actually driven the route to and from your potential home and your office, at the times you’ll be commuting, you should never consider compromising.

In some large cities, being just a few miles from the highway can tack on an additional hour of commuting. Could you handle that after a long day in the office? Think carefully before making the sacrifice.

7. Parking

Speaking of your car, if you own one (or two), you absolutely want a guaranteed spot to park, whether that means an enclosed garage, a driveway, or assigned parking.

“There are many communities that now restrict outside parking, guest spaces, and overnight parking, which could be a real homeowner nightmare if you have to fend for yourself,” Maraj says.

To avoid frustration after you’ve closed a deal, stick to your guns about the things that are most important to you while making your choice, and ignore the rest of the noise.

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

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9 Things Real Estate Agents Wish You Knew About Selling Your Home

| Sep 20, 2017

When it comes time to sell your house, having a great listing agent is one of the keys to making it happen. And yet, the agent can’t do it all—your help is needed. Help your agent help you!

Ideally, you will have an open, honest relationship with your listing agent. But even then, there are some things your agent might be reluctant to tell you. Whether to spare your feelings or because he assumes you already know, here are some things your listing agent wishes you knew. Listen up and learn!

1. Your stuff is lovely, but…

“While your home may be beautifully decorated, it still looks like your home, not the buyer’s,” says Teresa Stephenson, vice president of residential brokerage at Platinum Properties in New York.

In particular, clutter can make a home feel cramped and leave a bad first impression.

2. Stop hiding things from me

Leaky faucets? Termite infestation? An air conditioner that barely blows cool air?

“Don’t keep any of your home’s flaws from your agent because you are scared it might hurt your sale,” says Karen Elmir, founder and CEO of the Elmir Group in Miami.

Remember, your listing agent is on your side and knows what must be fixed or what can slide—so go ahead and share the good, the bad, and the ugly. Whatever you hide from an agent could rear its head as a nasty surprise later.

3. You need to fix a few things

Katie Messenger, a Realtor® with Bello Dimora Real Estate Network in Kentucky and Cincinnati, wants clients to know they might have to spend a few bucks to make their house look its best.

“Replace the trim the dogs scratched up. Clean the scuff marks off the walls. Power-wash the algae off the vinyl siding,” she says. “To you, it’s totally normal because you’ve lived with these issues for years. To buyers, these will look like expensive repairs, which means they’ll have to lowball you, or not make an offer at all, because your house ‘needs a lot of work.’” Even if it actually doesn’t.

4. Your remodeling might not pay off much

Blood, sweat, tears, and a heck of a lot of cash might have gone into your remodeling projects, but that doesn’t mean there’s a guaranteed payback for any of it, as illogical as that might seem.

“An ROI, or return, on a home’s upgrades does not necessarily increase value,” says Michael Kelczewski, a Realtor with Brandywine Fine Properties Sotheby’s International Realty in Delaware and Maryland.

It largely depends on what kind of home improvement you do; here’s a list of some common renovations with their return on investment.

5. Be nice: Don’t overprice!

While listing at a high price and then coming down as necessary seems like the best way to avoid leaving any money on the table, you could actually be shooting yourself in the foot.

“If you overprice your home, buyers may not catch that, but buyer’s agents will,” points out Doc Reiss, managing broker at Town & Country Real Estate in Port Angeles, WA. “When a home is overpriced, buyer’s agents will either avoid bringing their buyers or, worse yet, they use it as an example to sell another property: ‘See how much nicer this one is for the price than the last one we saw?’”

6. Cleanliness really does count

Do people really not clean their house before it’s shown to potential buyers? Yep.

Andrew Mak, an agent with Corcoran in New York, says things like a greasy stove, dust on the floors or furniture, and unkempt bathroom fixtures like the shower, sinks, and toilets are noticed most during a showing.

“The kitchen and the bathroom are the two main areas where cleanliness—or lack thereof—is most obvious,” says Mak. Gross. (You did want to sell this house, right?)

7. Have some patience

Yes, we know you thought your beautiful house would fly off the market the moment it hit, but that’s not always the case. In fact, realtor.com data show that homes sit on the market for an average 66 days.

“The real estate process is a long process from showings to inspections to negotiations,“ says Kelczewski. “Be patient! Persevering leads to success.”

8. Don’t hurt the messenger

“When I present a lowball offer, a long list of repair items, or a low appraisal, I am just relaying information from another party,” Messenger says. “I know it’s an emotional and sometimes frustrating process; however, I am not the one writing ‘insulting’ offers, performing home inspections, or appraising the home.

“I am a representative of your best interests, so know that I am always in your corner to fight for what makes the most sense for you—not all of the other parties involved in a real estate transaction,” she says.

9. Selling your home isn’t a spectator sport

“Some sellers don’t realize that hiring a real estate agent doesn’t mean they get to sit back with a bag of popcorn and watch the home sale unfold,” says Jonathan Self, a Realtor with Center Coast Realty in Chicago.

“Selling a home is a team effort, even when you hire a real estate agent. If you can keep your home clean and tidy and arrange for someone to dog sit during showings, I can be 100% focused on selling your home for top dollar. That cooperation and partnership makes it much easier for me to do a good job for you.”

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

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What “Great Bones” Really Means

Daily Real Estate News | Tuesday, September 12, 2017

“This house has great bones.” As a real estate professional, you’ve heard the phrase countless times. You’ve probably even uttered it more than once. But what do we really mean when we say a house has great bones?

It’s a feature that all buyers want, but few can define. Understanding how to identify qualities that add up to the coveted “great bones” feeling can help you set your listing apart.  Recently, Architectural Digest’s Lindsey Mather asked a handful of designers to get specific about the qualities that give a home this elusive quality.  Here are a few distinct items to look for:

Good flow: Check how it feels to simply walk through the home. Do the rooms make sense next to each other, or do they seem choppy or lopsided? Alabama decorator William McLure says architects and designers often rely on symmetry and mirrored design elements to offer a feeling of balance to residential spaces. “It makes the layout of the house not look like an afterthought,” he says. “You want rooms that look well planned and that structurally make sense.”

All the little things: Here’s where your macro lens comes in handy: The intricate details and architectural features that make a listing stand out in the eyes of buyers are often too small to see in a wide-angle property tour photo. Fancy plaster, original fireplaces, bespoke ceiling beams, thick moldings, and vintage lighting and hardware are all worth the time to fawn over in your listing descriptions. Also, any windows that are out-of-the ordinary can really help a place stand out as different.

Plenty of headroom: Sometime we use “good bones” to refer to elements that are hard to change, according to New York–based interior designer Alyssa Kapito. “A room or a house with great bones for us has high ceilings, tall windows, and is generally well proportioned,” she says. “Everything decorative can be rather easily switched, but it’s quite difficult and expensive to get those three items on your checklist if they aren’t already there.” Make sure you check for drop ceilings, though. Good bones sometimes hide under tiles and panels.

When You’re Buying a Home, Look for These 4 Signs,” Architectural Digest (Aug. 9, 2017)

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

 

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A Sign That More Housing Inventory Is Coming

Daily Real Estate News | Monday, September 11, 2017

Homeowners who have decided to stay put in their current properties may soon be ready for a move, helping to relieve stubbornly tight housing inventory. The evidence is in Fannie Mae’s latest Home Purchase Sentiment Index, in which the number of consumers who say now is a good time to sell a home neared an all-time high. The index—which is a measure of about 1,000 consumers’ attitudes toward housing—rose 1.2 points in August to a reading of 88, reflecting a year-over-year jump of 21 percentage points in the number of consumers who looked favorably on selling. The August reading is just shy of the index’s record high of 88.3, set in July.

Meanwhile, the number of consumers who say now is a good time to buy dropped 5 percentage points in August to a new survey low for the second consecutive month. The number of those who look favorably on buying is down 16 percentage points year over year, Fannie Mae reports.

“In the early stages of the economic expansion, homeselling sentiment trailed homebuying sentiment by a significant margin. The reverse is true today,” says Fannie Mae chief economist Doug Duncan. “The net ‘good time to sell’ share is now double the net ‘good time to buy’ share, with record-high percentages of consumers citing home prices as the primary reason for both perceptions. Such a sizable gap between selling and buying sentiment, if it persists, could weigh on the housing market through the rest of the year.”

Here are some additional findings from Fannie Mae’s August sentiment index reading:

  • 36 percent: Consumers who say now is a good time to sell, an uptick of 8 percentage points from July.
  • 18 percent: Consumers who say now is a good time to buy a home, a new survey low.
  • 48 percent: Americans who say home prices will rise, up 1 percentage point month over month.
  • 74 percent: Consumers who say they are not concerned about losing their job, a 1 percentage point drop in August.
  • 16 percent: Americans who say their household income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago, unchanged from July.

Source: Fannie Mae

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

 

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