Area Real Estate News & Market Trends

You’ll find our blog to be a wealth of information, covering everything from local market statistics and home values to community happenings. That’s because we care about the community and want to help you find your place in it. Please reach out if you have any questions at all. We’d love to talk with you!

June 16, 2022

Summertime To-Do’s for Your Home & Yard

Can your home and yard handle the summertime heat and humidity? Dont neglect certain tasks that will protect your home and let you enjoy it to the fullest when summer is here.

Keep It Cool

Even if its hot outside and you want to keep it cool inside.

  • Get your A/C system serviced professionally. Get you A/C checked out before it starts to get hot. Even if your system is relatively new, you want to get your heating and cooling system maintained at the change of seasons. This preventative service can help you can avoid any emergency problems.
  • Sign up for a yearly maintenance contract with a HVAC company. Having a service contract with a cooling and heating company means that they will reach out to you before the change of every season. That way your system will get serviced at the appropriate time. Plus, if you do have any emergencies in the middle of the season, your service call will be a priority and move to the top of their list. Email for a list of recommendations.
  • Clear away debris around your outside air conditioning unit. Make sure you dont have shrubs, weeds or other growth too close to your unit. My A/C guy says they should be 2ft away! You want it to work properly and be as efficient as possible.
  • Clean and replace your units air filters.  Dont forget to do this and stick to your manufacturers recommendations. Your A/C unit will be working in overdrive to keep you cool, so do your part to make it work effectively. You can order air filters online to keep it simple and easy.
  • Go shopping for portable or window A/C units (or even fans). Not every home has central A/C; or maybe some of your rooms are more stifling than others. You might be surprised to see how many more (and improved) options are out there to help keep your home cool over the summer… oscillating fans, ceiling fans, attic fans, window A/C units and portable A/C ones. And many are more energy efficient and less noisy!

Prevent Moisture and Mold

Summer means higher levels of humidity. This excess moisture in the air causes mold and mildew.  High humidity levels can wreak havoc on your home and stuff. It can warp wood and cause condensation on walls. Plus, it damages your electronics, musical instruments, books, clothing and more.

  • Check your basement. Basements can become musty and moist, especially on humid days. If you have a basement or live in a lower level condo, tackle this problem before it gets out of hand. No one wants to deal with health concerns from mold or have ruined items.
  • Get a dehumidifier to remove moisture. Make sure you buy the right dehumidifier and the correct size for the room. You can adjust humidity levels to better draw the moisture out. Youll find ones that either come with a bin that you have to empty, or you can connect a tube to a drain so it empties continuously. Whatever you do, dont buy one that will overflow if you forget to empty it! Keep in mind dehumidifiers vary according to how many pints of moisture they can remove in 24 hours.
  • Manage your indoor humidity levels for summer.  Try to reduce the humidity levels to 40-50% at most. Your programmable thermostat may indicate your homes relative humidity. There are several lifestyle changes and solutions that you can do to help with humidity levels.
  • Ventilate in high moisture areas in your home. Make sure that bathrooms or kitchens have vent fans or at the very least, an open window. (Dont take long hot showers!) Consider getting a home ventilation or humidification system if you dont have one so you can set appropriate levels for your home in summer and winter. Run the A/C when you can to curb moisture. And if you have a crawl space, make sure to insulate it with a plastic vapor barrier and install vents.
  • Help prevent mold in your home. Too much moisture in the air is a health concern and can worsen your allergies and asthma. Mold is dangerous and having a dehumidifier running continuously can help reduce your home and basements moisture. Again, make sure you check humidity levels in your home and maintain proper levels. If you think you have a mold problem – it even can happen behind walls or under carpets — contact a professional. You definitely want to avoid major health issues for your family.
  • Summertime Chimney Work. Believe it or not, the summer can be a great time to get your chimney and fireplace swept or to have any other work done on the inside or outside. Since the busy time for chimney companies tends to be in the fall, you might be able to negotiate a great discount now. Give it a shot!

Yard Work for Summer Days

Your yard should be in pretty good shape by summer but the heat can take a toll on your lawn, trees, flower beds, and pots.

  • Have your trees trimmed … period. Summer storms and trees full of leaves with unstable branches can only bring disaster. No one wants a tree to crash though their home or hit their car. Call today to make that appointment if you havent done it for a couple of years. Better yet, have a tree service come out regularly to ensure your trees are healthy and not diseased. Remember to budget for tree service and possible removal in your maintenance plans so that youre well prepared.
  • Check on exterior drainage systems and consider improvements. Summer means big thunderstorms due to the heat. To prevent costly water damage to your home, now is the time to make sure all of your drainage systems are operating properly and that they move water away from your home. Consider getting downspout extenders for gutters, having your landscaping slope away from your homes foundation, or installing storm drains in your yard or even a French drain system.
  • Remove leaves and debris from all area drains, gutters, and window wells. Again, preventative maintenance is key when it comes to water overflow damage. Prevent this from happening by monitoring and continuing to clean up around your home.
  • Add a splash of color with some annuals that can withstand the summer heat. As you enjoy your yard, patio or deck this season, bring some color to your surroundings. Work with your local garden center to see what will thrive best in your yard, especially if you have direct sunlight or if want more low maintenance plants.
  • Keep Watering. As the temperature rises throughout the summer, keep watering your lawn, plant beds, and containers. DON'T water in the middle of the day or the evening - watering too late in the day can cause disease on your grass. Early morning is best! And if you head out of town, dont forget to ask a neighbor to continue to water as necessary.
  • Clean, power wash or stain/seal your deck and patio. Its still a good time to get your deck and patio power washed or cleaned. Brighten them up and make them sparkle for your summer entertaining. Its also a good time to protect them with new stain or sealant. And, dont forget about having your homes siding power washed or cleaned, depending on what the manufacturer recommends.

Keep Mosquitos (and other Pests) at bay

Its good to be vigilant when it comes to mosquitos, ticks, rats and other summertime pests.  Make it a standard practice for your yard, and continue to monitor and adjust during the summer months.

  • Keep mosquitos from breeding in your yard. Mosquitos love standing water – any amount! So do your part to cut down on places where they can breed. Double check for standing water in your yard and any outside containers – such as wheelbarrows, flowerpots, buckets, watering cans, garbage cans, kidstoys. Even the little bit in your gutter drain can lead to breeding. Store items in your garage and shed as much as possible.
  • Be proactive about mosquitos – both larvae and adults. Take protective measures for mosquito control to prevent larvae from flourishing. Look into non-toxic solutions such as nonchemical larvicides (Mosquito Dunks for larvae; Mosquito Bits for adults); goldfish, koi, and mosquitofish that prey on these pests; and solutions to make the water move” more. Put the Dunks or pellets in your gutter drains to prevent larvae.
  • Make sure your door and window screens dont have holes. A simple task you can do today! Walk through your home and check all of your screens. No one wants a buzzing mosquito nearby while trying to sleep! You can patch a screen yourself if you like … check out DIY instructions on YouTube.
  • Use an oscillating fan to blow mosquitos away. Little known fact: mosquitos are weak fliers. It's true! So, a fan is an easy solution for an outside gathering on your deck or patio or keep them away. Plus, a standing fan is great way to cool things off on a hot night too.
  • Hire a pest control service to manage any summertime problems (rats). The summer means more spiders and, yes, rats in some more urban areas. Do your part and keep your garbage contained and clear out debris in your yard so you dont have a tempting home” for critters. A pest service can offer suggestions and solutions on how to deal with any problems, inside and outside of your home.
  • Avoid having long grass to prevent ticks. Mow your lawn regularly and remove leaves and debris, where ticks can thrive. Check yourself, your kids, and pets after being outside.

DIY Projects in the Sun

Take advantage of summer mornings or late afternoons for some outside projects that need ventilation or sunny weather. Fumes wont bother you and items can dry in the sun.

  • Spiff up inside or outside furniture. Its a perfect time to strip, sand, or stain any flea market finds. You can even spray paint something a fun, bright color without worrying about the mess (still put down newspapers or covering to protect your grass or patio).
  • Clean windows and screens. If you havent done this yet, a summer morning is the perfect time before it gets too hot. Spray wash your screens with a hose and the summer sun will dry them quickly.

And don't forget - I got a guy! So contact me if you need any recommendations for service providers.

Remember to enjoy your summer!

Posted in Homeowner
June 14, 2022

Choosing The Very Best Buyer’s Agent for YOUR Unique Home Search

This step-by-step series will take you through the entire home-buying process — from finding a buyers agent to settlement day, and even to maintaining your home after youre all moved in. Every buyer will find this information-packed series easy to follow and understand. Make sure to tune in for the next few weeks!

The first item on the agenda when youre looking to buy a home is to choose a real estate agent that is the best person to represent you, and also someone that can help you through every single one of the many steps in buying a home. 

You will be spending a lot of time with this person, so make sure its someone thats right for you and your specific home buying needs and goals.

Keep these 10 factors in mind when you start considering agents:

1. Recommended by people you trust. Theyll give you honest, unfiltered feedback on what they went through and if theyd go with the same agent again (a key sign!). After you get that feedback, first check out an agents website to see if they are still active and also passionate about working with buyers like you.

Some agents focus on a particular price range (such as a high-end market) or neighborhoods, so even a great agent for your friend may not work for you because of your different needs and budget.

Remember, you dont have to go with the first agent you meet. Just like when you choose a doctor or other important advisors in your life, you want to check around first and see if this is the best choice for you and your goals.

2. Specializes in the type of home, area and/or the type of buyer that corresponds to your goals. Its better to narrow down your search to real estate agents whose expertise matches your criteria. For example, if youre a first-time buyer, then those agents who deal with first-timers all the time know how to provide more guidance (lots more hand-holding!) and keep up-to-date on assistance programs just for that market.

If youre a condo buyer, then an agent specializing in condos knows the intricacies of dealing with this type of purchase and condo associations.  Whatever it is you are looking to buy, just make sure your agent is experienced in that particular segment of the market.

3. Makes you comfortable. Your gut will tell you if this is someone you can work with for a period of time, and if you will feel at ease when asking any questions or expressing your concerns. Youre going to have a working relationship with this person and it will be stressful and exhausting at times.

Go with someone who can reduce such tension, has a sense of humor at times, and doesnt scare you even if buying a home is a scary endeavor for you. Think of your real estate agent as your buying coach (and sometimes therapist and sometimes cheerleader and all the other things you might need along the way! Marriage counselor?).

4. Takes the time to listen to you in order to help you realize your needs and wants. You should never be forced or feel like youre forced into anything at any time! A good agent has the skills to help you realize what you need and want by asking you questions and actually LISTENING to your answers. Questions ranging from, Do you want to walk or bike to work?” to Do you want a large yard or green space nearby?” will help you uncover your wants and needs. 

This process can take time but its an important step before you even start visiting homes. An agent who has your best interests at heart will know that youre not looking for just a house or a condo but a place you will call home. And most importantly, focuses on finding the right home for YOU and no one else.

5. Respects your time AND your timetable. Your agent knows youre busy so its important they are organized and efficient when it comes to house hunting. Theyll ask you what days and times work best with your schedule.

Even more importantly, your agent shouldnt rush you if youre not ready to buy (especially if you think you want more time to explore a neighborhood, etc.) or just get cold feet (thats okay!). But a good agent also knows when youre ready for that nudge forward if the market dictates quicker decision making.

6. Communicates clearly and regularly. Make sure your agent is easily reached via cell phone, text, or email; and gets back to you in a timely manner. And, on the flip side, that the agent keeps in touch with you on a regular basis with updates on listings and other information on your home search.

A good agent will communicate and guide you step-by-step along the way when buying a home, from getting a mortgage to the final closing. Having explanations upfront on whats expected next will help decrease any anxiety and stress since youll be informed and prepared. Find out an agents communication style from start to finish in the home buying process.

7. Negotiates well and has your back at all times. Buying a home is a business transaction and your friendly agent also needs to have negotiation skills that will benefit you and your offer. The entire transaction should ultimately be a win-win for both the buyers and sellers (you never want to play dirty!) but a good agent knows when to be assertive in order to get the deal done.

Find out more about your agents past experiences and tactics at the negotiating table, especially when dealing with multiple offers.

8. Knows the local market inside and out. Go with an agent who really knows the local market in terms of inventory and pricing, the vibe of different neighborhoods, and just stays on top of listings so you can jump in before the crowd. Some agents are more attuned to whats going on and this can be a big plus when homes are selling fast.

Also your agent should have a network of other reliable professionals, such as mortgage lender, home inspector, title company, etc., that you may need along the way. Your agent should be suggesting them to you, and not you to them.

9. Looks at real estate as a financial tool that can empower your life. This will be one of the biggest purchases of your life and you dont want to have any regrets. Your agent should respect how real estate can change your life for the better and see the possibility it has for your economic stability and security.

A good agent knows that buying this home can be a stepping stone for your next home and so on. Your agent should want you to dream big, but still help you find ways to stay on budget.

10. Never says good-bye. Your agent shouldnt view this one purchase as the end of your relationship but just the beginning — expect them to be there for you over the long-term and ready to work with you when its time to sell and move on. They should be someone you trust to turn to with any of your homeownership concerns – a real estate resource for life!

Keep coming back here each and every week to learn more about the home buying process and reach out to me anytime with questions about how what you are learning applies to YOUR specific situation.  Just like every real estate agent is unique, so is every buyer and Id love to help you apply what you are learning in this series to YOUR home buying plans. Email me and lets schedule a time to talk.

Posted in Buyer
June 14, 2022

“Love Buying a Home” Series - Whether your 1st time or it's been a Long Time!

If youve been thinking about buying a home and are just not sure of the steps involved or even where to start, then this 14-part series is a MUST read for you.

Each week, youll get great tips and easy-to-understand how tos that will help you be successful in purchasing a home in todays market. And, its all delivered to you in sequential order so you know what to do when … one bite-sized chunk at a time!

If you’re a 1st-time buyer, this is likely all new for you. This series will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and calm any fears you may have about not knowing what you dont know.” 

If you've bought a home before but maybe it's been while, this series will be a great refresher for your next home purchase!

Week 1: A Long time/First-Time Guide – An introduction to this Love Buying a Home series (what youre reading right now!). It gives a breakdown of all the topics week-by-week. Keep on reading below for more information about this great series for first-time buyers.

Week 2: How to Find the Very Best Buyers Agent — You want to choose a real estate agent who is the right person to represent YOU through the many steps in buying a home. Think about whats important to you and what you are looking for in a home and then make sure your agent has experience that meets these specific needs and goals.

Week 3: How Your Needs and Desires Lead to Home Sweet Home”  Youll get a breakdown of the honest questions no one else is asking you about your home search, and the exact questions you need to ask yourself BEFORE you start house hunting. This list goes way beyond how many bedrooms and baths you want. Youll learn that this often overlooked step will determine everything that happens during your entire home-buying experience.

Week 4: Do the Math — A Mortgage You Can Afford – Figure out how much home you REALLY can afford! Youll get a formula for determining how to arrive at the exact price range that works for your budget to get a home you love that doesnt change your current lifestyle. No buyer wants to be stretched too thin (or be shortchanged!). Learn how to do the math so you know the monthly payment for every home you see out there.

Week 5: Where to Find Money for Your Down Payment – Learn all the secret ways to get more bang for your down-payment buck. I want to make sure you arent putting every dollar you have into being a homeowner. Youll figure out what the right” down payment amount is for your goals and budget, and learn how to find cash if you dont have enough funds in your personal savings.

Week 6: Five Steps to Obtaining a Mortgage — Have you ever tried to make sense of all the mortgage options available out there? Its definitely not one-size-fits-all” these days. Youll get a rundown of the various mortgage options out there, as well as the low down on private mortgage insurance (PMI) and why you may need it (and why its not all that bad!). Once youre pre-approved for a loan, youre ready to seriously start looking at homes.

Week 7: Its the Fun House Hunting” Guide — House hunting can be fun, but it also can be overwhelming and stressful at times. Find out the ways you can shop productively (and strategically!) with tactics that will streamline your search. Youll know what to look for and what to stay away from, the pros and cons of condos and townhomes, and the real deal with as-is” homes.

Week 8: Make a Winning Offer Without Going Overboard – Youve found a home you love and want to buy, but whats next? No worries since weve got all the steps covered: figuring out your offer price, determining your earnest money deposit, some clever negotiation tactics, and even how to compete with multiple offers.

Week 9: Under Contract: Locking in Your Mortgage and Getting a Home Appraisal — Did you know that you have to wait until after you are under contract until you can lock in your interest rate? (See, you are already learning something!) Heres how to work with your lender so you avoid any possible fluctuations and more money out of your pocket. Plus, the bank loaning your money requires you to get the home appraised at this time, and you’ll get the scoop on that here. 

Week 10: How to Navigate a Home Inspection You dont want any surprises after you move in, right?! Both old and new homes should be inspected. Heres the breakdown of what to expect during your home inspection, the most important parts of an examination, and also what to do if any red flags arise.

Week 11: Buying a Condo? Review those Condo Docs! -- This step happens AFTER you are under contract. Seems backwards, but thats how the process works. Youll only have a few days to read sometimes hundreds of pages of documents so this handy guide will help prepare you. Purchasing a condo unit or townhouse is kinda like buying into a business, so you need to know how financially sound the entire condo community is before you finalize your contract.

Week 12: Almost There … Pre-Closing Details for Buyers You have a few more details to handle before the big day and heres a breakdown of whats next on your list, such as obtaining hazard insurance and a home warranty (and why), and when/how to connect utilities for your new home. You want to be prepared and ready to ensure a smooth transition to becoming the owner of this home.

Week 13:  How to Make Your Settlement a Success — Youve finally made it! But, there are still lots of items to cross off your to-do list, including your walk-through, getting title insurance, and your closing costs. This handy list will make sure youre prepared and ready for this eventful day, so that it ends with your new homes keys in your hand.

Week 14 BONUS: Maintaining Your New Home – Heres all you need to know as a new homeowner. When you walk through that front door, your life changes and youre now responsible for everything (not a landlord!) Paying the electric bill, keeping home and repair documents organized, understanding how your home works (furnace, water heater, air conditioner, oh MY!) and making sure you schedule in regular maintenance and upkeep (HVAC and more) throughout the year.

I hope you enjoy this weekly series and learn a lot. Know that each buyer has unique circumstances and I’d love to talk to you about yours. Together, we can put together a plan for how to make your first (or next) home a reality. Be sure to email me at least two to three months before you’d want to start looking for a home so we can get all your ducks in a row well before we start seeing homes!

Posted in Buyer
June 13, 2022

Why You Should Know Your Exact Credit Score

Are you giving your credit score the attention it deserves? If you’re even thinking about buying a home or refinancing your current one in the near future, then you need to show it some love. Make sure you understand the ins and outs of your score and what you can do to make it more attractive to lenders.

How Is Your Credit Score Determined?

Your FICO credit score is the one way a lender can tell if you are a responsible borrower and if they should take a risk and lend you money. Your credit history – if you’ve paid your bills on time or if you’ve “maxed out” your credit cards – will show up on your credit report. Lenders will analyze your report and determine a loan’s conditions and interest rate based on your credit score.

Remember, a credit score has nothing to do with your income or investments. Your credit score is based on how you’ve handled your credit card payments and other loan payments, like your car or student loan or your current mortgage if you have one.

It also takes into account if you’ve declared bankruptcy, have a tax lien, or if you’re being sought by a collection agency.

Each of the three different major credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax – all collect your credit information and calculate your score. Keep in mind, your credit score will likely vary slightly from each bureau.

Why Your Exact Score Matters

The higher your credit score, the lower the interest rate on your mortgage. It’s that simple. And with a lower interest rate, you’ll save more money over the course of your loan.

Don’t assume you will get the advertised interest rate you see online or elsewhere. Even though you may have “good” credit, if it’s not what lenders consider to be the highest score – 740 or above – you will not get the low advertised rate.

If you have a score of 740 and above, you will get the best rates and have more loan options to choose from. For a range of 720-740, you have to pay an additional .125% on your loan. If you’re in either of these groups, you’re considered a low risk and lenders are willing to work with you.

A score of 680 is still considered good, but your interest rate will be considerably higher. As your score gets lower, you’re considered more risky and you’ll be offered higher interest rates and fewer loan options.

When you start getting below 660, some lenders may deny your loan application completely or you’ll have access to only one or two loan options that may be available.

If you’re refinancing, most banks expect a FICO score of at least 620 and will also see if you have a good debt-to-income ratio.

Start Monitoring Your Credit Score Today

Not knowing your credit score could lead to an unpleasant surprise when you apply for a loan.

You should start to monitor your credit score from all three bureaus about 3-6 months BEFORE you even start looking for a home or plan to refinance. The earlier you start, the more time you can repair any credit issues if there are any.

It’s easier now than ever to track your credit score. You can sign up online for myfico.com or other credit monitoring companies. Myfico.com alerts you to any changes to your credit reports via email or text. It’s a great way to get an overview of your credit report and to find out which factors are affecting a low score.

You’re also entitled to one free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus every 12 months. You can get it through AnnualCreditReport.com. Most experts say to stagger these reports so that you get one every 4 months.

How to Raise Your Credit Score

  • If you need to impress a lender in the coming months, here’s a rundown of how you can improve your credit report and increase your score:
  • Analyze why your score is low and then create a plan to rectify the issue.
  • Make payments on time all the time. No matter if it’s a few dollars or thousands, a late payment will hurt your score. This makes up 35% of your FICO score.
  • Increase your score by having a higher credit limit on your cards but maintain a low balance - it shows you’re credit worthy. The credit bureaus want to see that you have available credit you aren’t using. Even though it sounds counter-productive, call all of your credit card companies to see if they will increase your limit … but don’t use it!
  • Never make major purchases during the time your loan is processing. It’s not the time to buy a car and have more inquiries on your report. It looks like you are racking up new debt and that could lower your score.
  • Think twice before you cancel a credit card. You can increase your score by continuing to build on years of positive account history, showing that you have handled credit responsibly.
  • Keep credit card balances low since high balances can affect your score. It’s best to keep your debt-to-credit ratio 30%; or better yet even lower (divide your total balances by your total credit limits). That means don’t spend your credit limit each month, even if you pay it off! This utilization rate is about 30% of your score.
  • Negotiate with creditors if you’ve been a good customer in the past and then had one or two late payments because of unemployment or other circumstances. You can ask for a “good-will adjustment” and have them remove that blunder from your report.
  • Look out for errors or anything suspicious on your credit reports that could affect your score. You can dispute this information. It’s a good idea to monitor your report regularly.
  • Pay off your parking tickets and even library fines. You don’t want these “trivial” fines to be turned over to a collections agency. These little slip-ups could do significant damage to your score.

 

Now that you know everything about how your credit score is determined and how to increase it, you’ll be on the way to getting the best interest rates and loan programs available.

Posted in Homeowner
June 13, 2022

Buying a Home with Others

You love hanging out with certain friends or have the perfect roommate in your current rental. 

Youve got a great relationship with one of your siblings who lives nearby. 

You and your partner have been together for years and want something more permanent.

Should you buy a home with them?

Its not uncommon for family members or unmarried, unrelated people to purchase a home together as either an investment property, a vacation home, or as a way to afford a more expensive house or condo in a certain neighborhood.

However, there are some key points to consider before making this type of financial decision:

Choose Your Co-Owner(s) Carefully. This is the most important step before you go any further since you want to make sure your co-owner(s) is financially sound, has a good credit history for mortgage requirements, no outstanding liens, has life insurance, and is overall a trustworthy, responsible person when it comes to finances, bill paying, etc. Just because hes a good buddy from work doesnt mean you should buy a home with him. Of course, you also want to have someone you like and will enjoy living with on a daily basis if its a home you will share together.

Create an Ownership Agreement. You may get along and think alike in many ways, but its important to get everything in writing. Its like a prenuptial agreement but for homeownership! Its worth the expense upfront to get a good attorney now who can help you write up a detailed agreement and who can go over the pros and cons for your particular situation and finances.

You want to make sure you are on the same page on how you will own the home; how ongoing expenses such as utilities, mortgage, property taxes, homeowners insurance will be divided up and paid; and how an owners share will get transferred when necessary. What about renting out your share if you move and dont want to sell? Who gets the tax deduction since unrelated people cant file a joint tax return? There are lots of things to consider when writing up this agreement.

Work this all out with your co-owner(s) now when everyone is calm and willing to discuss. You might also want to add a clause to your ownership agreement in which a third party mediator would be brought in to handle any future disputes that cannot be resolved easily.

Youll be happy you have this document since it will prevent misunderstandings (and possible court proceedings) later on and will help you settle a situation when something does arise.

Decide on Ownership Title. First and foremost, the co-owners need to agree on how the propertys title will be held, which is basically the type of joint ownership:

  • Tenants in Common (TIC) – Most friends or unrelated owners choose this type of ownership so that each co-owner has a separate legal title. The shares in a TIC can be equal or unequal percentages depending on how much someone will be contributing toward the home. In this arrangement there is no right of survivorship, so each co-owner can pass along his or her share via will to others outside the ownership agreement. However, the co-owners can make an arrangement to have “right of first refusal” so that the remaining owners can decide if they want to buy out the other owner or his/her heirs if that’s the case.
  • Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship (JTWROS) – Most married couples have this form of joint ownership, so if one spouse dies, the survivor automatically becomes the sole owner. Some family members or unmarried couples buying together also may choose this type of arrangement and share one title between the co-owners so that the home stays in the “family”.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) - Some co-owners decide to create an LLC or a trust to hold the property’s title. This makes moving owners on and off the title easier.

Again, work with your attorney to determine what would be the best type of ownership for your situation and finances.

Create a Co-Habitation Agreement. This is another document that you should get in writing with details on everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, that may come up – how to divide responsibilities for home maintenance and repair; who buys furniture and appliances; who gets access to the home and when (especially important for vacation homes); rules for pets, smoking, visitors, overnight guests, future boyfriends or girlfriends moving in, big parties, groceries, etc. etc.

Youve probably lived with roommates at some point in your life or at college, so you know what daily habits can make or break any harmony in a living situation. Anticipate what can come up and discuss with your co-owner(s) now to set up some ground rules. Since you own a home with them, you just cant walk away with little notice but need to be responsible and compatible in order to make your ownership agreement work.

However, no matter how great things may be going, you are going to need an exit plan…

Create an Exit Plan. You cant plan life when it comes to joint ownership – getting married, a new job in another city, a change in finances – but you can be prepared. Weve already discussed above how different types of joint ownership can affect how one owner can transfer shares to another or not. This is where right of first refusal” comes into play. But how will you agree on a sales price – get two appraisers and average their findings? What if youre a domestic couple not married and no longer want to own a home together?

As you can see, it can get complicated and that is why you should work with your attorney and include a detailed exit plan in your Ownership Agreement. Together all co-owners should come up with a fair, agreeable plan now so that you can begin AND end on good terms.

Buying a home with others – either friends, family members or a partner – can be a wonderful experience but just remember to plan carefully since you will be dealing with them financially over the long term. 

But, there are details that need to be worked out before moving forward. If you’re thinking of going this route, let’s talk well before you are ready to start looking at houses. Email me and we can schedule a time to talk through what you need to know.

Posted in Buyer
June 13, 2022

Should You Get a Home Equity Loan or HELOC?

As a homeowner, you should have gained some equity in your home since living there and paying your mortgage down. Have you ever considered using this equity to finance some of your needs if you dont have the cash flow?

A home equity loan or line of credit are two ways to get the necessary funds to finance an addition to your home, start your own business, consolidate credit card debt, or finance another major need. However, you dont want to think of it as your own personal ATM … that could be dangerous!

As a reminder, you should always consult a financial advisor before considering the best course of action to take.

Heres a brief rundown:

Whats a Home Equity Loan?

The equity in your home is basically the difference in the homes market value and what you still owe on it. For example, a home thats worth $250,000 but has a $200,000 mortgage balance has $50,000 in equity.

Therefore, a home equity loan (or term loan) allows you to take a loan amount based on your homes equity plus other factors such as your income.

This loan is sometimes called a second mortgage. Upon the loans approval, you get a lump sum and must repay a certain amount each month subject to a fixed interest rate, just like a first mortgage.

The length of the loan is usually shorter than first mortgages – it can be from five to fifteen years.

Whats A Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)?

With a line of credit,” you are approved for a certain credit limit based on your homes equity. This loan functions almost like a credit card in which you can withdraw money when you need it over the lifetime of the loan, such as 10 years. You only pay interest on the amount you withdraw and not on the total amount approved.

Credit lines have variable interest rates rather than fixed rates so your repayments can change depending on the interest rate at the time you withdraw money.

You should carefully review all requirements, fees, penalties and how often the interest rate is adjusted since HELOCs can vary depending on the lender.

Advantages of These Loans

  • You have the freedom to use the funds for whatever your need or needs may be, unlike student and auto loans that are very specific.
  • Interest rates are usually much lower than credit cards.
  • Interest paid on your loan is tax deductible.
  • Additional fees and closing costs for this loan can be rolled into the actual loan amount.

Disadvantages of these Loans

  • If you cant pay back the loan, you risk losing your home.
  • You must pay back the loan in full if you move so have an idea of your future plans. (You can get a new loan to pay back this loan though.)

Other Important Factors

  • Get a realistic idea of your property situation. If you bought your home at a good time and it’s located in a strong market, then you should have substantial equity. If you’re underwater on your mortgage, then your home is not a candidate. First and foremost, take the time to review your particular neighborhood and your own home to see if these loans are an option for you.
  • A lender will look at your complete financial picture. It’s not just your home’s equity that a lender will consider. They want to make sure you can repay the loan (and you don’t want to lose your home!). As part of the approval process, a lender will review your income, debts, and other financial obligations as well as your credit history.
  • Ask yourself “why” you are taking out one of these loans. You should NOT use this loan for everyday expenses on clothing, vacations or gifts but rather for a very specific project or need. Taking out a loan just to have access to money for frivolous expenses is not wise.
  • Consult with several advisors. Your situation is unique to you so get advice from several sources -- talk to me about the housing market, a lender about the implications of taking on more debt, a financial advisor about your larger financial picture, and a CPA about how this will impact your tax situation.

Having a line of credit is not right for everybody. Be sure to reach out to me so we can talk about how much equity you have and whether it’s a good option for you. I can also recommend lenders who can help you if you choose to move forward with this type of loan.

Posted in Homeowner
June 13, 2022

How Accurate Is Your Home’s Online Estimate?

Who hasnt checked out online real estate sites for price estimates of their own home, a neighbors home, or even a beach house when on vacation?  We all have!

Its easy to see why these sites and apps are tempting to use since buyers and sellers can get housing information directly to their fingertips.

However, keep in mind, these estimates are not as accurate or as consistent as you may think.

Thats why you shouldnt insist your home be priced like your favorite online estimate – you could overprice it and your home could sit too long on the market without any interested buyers OR you might see a disappointing number online that might be too low given today’s buyer demand.

Here are 5 reasons why online estimates shouldnt be your only resource for pricing a home as a seller or when scouting homes as a buyer.

Heres what these sites are doing:

  1. Calling estimates a starting point” when determining a homes value.  What does that even mean? It means to get a more accurate analysis of what your home is really worth, a licensed professional, such as a real estate agent or an appraiser needs to actually see the inside of your home.  Why is that important?  Because every home is different from where exactly it sits in the neighborhood to what upgrades you’ve done or don’t have compared to the most recent sales.On top of that, buyer demand often commands prices, higher or lower, than what the most recent sales would suggest. You need someone who knows what’s going on behind the scenes to bring the demand factor to the pricing table as well. 
  2. Relying on data and information and not their own assessment of a home. These estimates are calculated by using public and any user-submitted data or corrections. They dont conduct a physical inspection of a home, so if there are any inaccuracies in the public information, it cant be corrected on the spot. Square footage from the tax records, for example, are notoriously incorrect and that is a huge factor in an online assessment of your home.  Especially if you’ve added any square footage to your home that is not reflected in the tax records, your online estimate will be incorrect.
  3. Lacking direct knowledge about the local market or your particular neighborhood. Certain neighborhoods can be really hot and in demand, but just a few blocks over in another neighborhood, prices start to drop. An online estimate can’t differentiate neighborhoods as much as youd expect. They use data from an area much larger than your neighborhood. Many times they use sales data from an entire county to extrapolate changes in the housing market. 
  4. Plus, their systems dont take into consideration the condition of other homes on the street, if there is a feature your home has that others don’t, or even if the home is on a busy road. Thats why it’s best to have a professional physically go to your home, look around and put together a market analysis showing you how your home compares to other homes.
  5. Determining calculations based on a computer system not a person. Computers are helpful for so many things, but they lack the ability to pick up the nuances that really change the value of a home, which is why when it comes to accurate pricing, human insight wins over the data-cruncher. Online calculations are based on an algorithm that can only use quantifiable data and not anything subjective – like the quality or the appeal of a home. It cant systematically gather and verify” certain information, such as a lovely flat backyard thats great for entertaining, new granite countertops in an open concept living space, or if that master suite bedroom addition really rocks. It only knows the number of bathrooms or bedrooms and nothing descriptive about them.
  6. Showing uncertainty by providing a Value Range consisting of a high estimate to a low estimate. For example, if the estimate is $300,000, it could have a Value Range of $260,000 – $340,000.  For another $300,000 home, the Value Range could be $285,000 – $320,000. See how the second range is less wide and closer to the estimate?
  7. The wider the range indicates that less data is available for their final calculation. A smaller range between the prices means there was more information to come up with the estimated value. So keep that in mind when looking at estimates and realizing that there might not be enough information for a more accurate estimate.

As you can see, it can be fun” to check out online estimate sites if youre curious, but dont depend on them when the time comes to price your home. If you want to know what your home is really worth, even if you aren’t selling anytime soon, call or email me and I can do a quick walk-through of your home and provide a more accurate number for you quickly - and at no cost!

Posted in Homeowner
June 11, 2022

How An Appraisal Can Make or Break a Sale

No home sale is ever final until you get to closing. That is a fact and explains why real estate signs say "Contract Pending" before being replaced with "Sold."

There's a lot that goes on after a buyer's offer is accepted by the seller. And a key factor in getting to closing day is a successful home appraisal.

When the appraised value of a home comes in below the contract price, it could cause the sale to fall through. This translates to no new home for the buyer and no final sale for the seller. Yikes!

This is happening all the time in Chicago despite the bidding wars over homes. Sometimes the price gets pushed up more than what the recent sales would suggest is the value of the home.

What can you do -- as a buyer OR seller - to prevent a low appraisal, or, in the event of a low appraisal despite doing everything right, still have the sale go through? Read the strategies and insights below and prepare for one of the most important yet overlooked parts of a home sale—the appraisal.

Home Appraisal 101

First, let’s discuss the basics of the appraisal process—what it is and why it’s a necessary step as part of a purchase.

A bank needs to make sure that the money they are lending is for a home that actually exists, is habitable, and that they are not lending more than the home is worth. 

To that end, the bank will hire a licensed appraiser to visit the home and do two things. 

  1. The appraiser will verify the home exists and is habitable 
  2. The appraiser tours the home to make notes about how it compares with the other homes that have recently sold nearby. These homes are called comparables, or “comps” for short.

Then, the appraiser will look at the comparables (sales over the last six months) to help determine the current value of the home that someone is buying. The valuation is also based on market trends, supply and demand, time on market, and takes in consideration any extenuating factors such as upgrades or something like being on a higher floor or end unit.  

Since it's never an "apple-to-apple" comparison, the appraiser will make adjustments to the appraisal for some features of a home -- a finished basement, a desirable view, or updated appliances or HVAC systems. Remember, however, some improvements don't add as much value as you would like ... such as a new half bath, landscaping, etc.

For a condo unit, an appraiser will consider the number of units in the condominium community, how many are on the market and how many were sold. The most weight is given to homes that have sold in the same building since buildings are so different, even in the same neighborhood.  

Appraisal Law Changes Process

The appraisal process went through a change a few years back when the Home Valuation Code of Conduct was passed. This law was meant to make appraisers more independent and not "hired" by the real estate agents, buyer, seller, or bank handling the transaction. 

But in some cases, appraises may not be local to the area where they were appraising homes, especially when appraisal management companies are involved.

There's been some questioning of how well these appraisers know the neighborhoods and the "true" value of a home when an appraisal comes in too low.

What a Buyer Can Do

If you've found a home you love but the appraisal comes in too low, you'll need to consider several options. Should you still purchase the home if the value is lower? Do you think the appraisal is not accurate in the current demand or the market? It's good to have a strategy in place.

Remember, the seller wants to sell their home. Even though they would love the higher contract price, they may have to renegotiate with you - but most likely will want to appeal the low appraisal as a first course of action.

Here are some options if you encounter a low appraisal:

  1. If you think the appraisal is flawed, you can challenge the appraisal. As a buyer, you now have the right to receive a copy of appraisals and computer valuations and other data.
  2. Switch lenders to start over again with a new appraiser.
  3. Save more money so you have more leeway in putting more down or making up the difference on a low appraisal if you truly want the home and there are other buyers in line to snap it up.
  4. Work with the seller to see if they will lower the price or help pay for some of the closing costs or any other costs.
  5. Make sure your offer includes an appraisal contingency so that you do have the option to exit the sale if the value of the home is lower than the contract price. However, having this contingency may weaken your initial offer - especially in a competitive market.

What a Seller Can Do

If an appraisal comes in lower than the contract price, it may mean the end of the sale with this particular buyer. However, there are steps you can take to help avoid this and to also move the sale along.

It might be worth the time to work with this buyer rather than start all over again, but you just might have to do that if many of these actions below don't work.

  1. Provide details on any home improvements to the appraiser so nothing is missed. Your agent can contact the lender so they can connect with the appraiser who is hired to evaluate your home.
  2. Ask to review the appraisal to see if any adjustments were made, especially if you submitted information to the appraiser. A lender has to comply with the request within 30 days.
  3. Appeal the appraisal for a reconsideration of the value of the home.  Provide the comparables you and your agent think represent the home’s value better and why. You will need to show any discrepancies between the appraisal and any improvements or unique features of the home.
  4. Ask for another appraisal, but you would have to pay for it. However, if it's an FHA loan, an appraisal stays with that home for 6 months so you can't ask to switch lenders or get a new appraisal.
  5. Ask the buyers if they are willing or able to pay for the higher contract price and make up the difference themselves. Some buyers may be willing or able to make a larger down payment. If it's a tight market, the buyers may feel the pressure to pay since there could be another buyer or 2 in line who IS able and willing.
  6. Renegotiate with the buyer to offer a lower price, or pay for closing costs. If you don't have any other potential buyers, you may need to make such accommodations so that the sale does go through.

All this said, if you've got an all cash buyer in the mix, you won't have to deal with a bank or appraisals at all. That's a big plus as a seller.

As you can see, a lot goes on “behind the scenes” during the appraisal.  The good news is that both buyers and sellers have options to continue the sale if the appraisal comes in too. 

This part of the home buying process can feel mysterious and overwhelming, but that’s what I’m here for!  Email me and we can talk more about it so you understand things fully. It’s never too early to start!  Plus, understanding the process makes moving forward a whole lot less nerve-racking once you are ready.

Posted in Buyer
June 10, 2022

How to Challenge Your Property Tax Assessment

Homeowners like to see their home increase in value — it means you made a good decision purchasing this property. Kudos to you!

But before you start high-fiving about how much your home is worth, you might want to take a closer look at your tax assessment.

Remember … the more the house is worth, usually the higher the assessment, and the higher your tax bill.

Local jurisdictions send out property tax assessments each year, and you might be faced with these two dilemmas when you get yours:

  1. What happens if you’re not happy with it and think it’s too high?
  2. How do you prove that the true market value of your home is less than the assessor’s estimate?

Review Your Assessment Carefully

Whether you’re a new homeowner or not, you should carefully look at your assessment each year to look out for mistakes and understand the process. That way, you’ll know what steps you need to take if you want to appeal it in order to lower it.

This is why you are receiving a copy of your bill when your mortgage lender is actually the one paying it—because you, as the homeowner, are actually responsible for any mistakes.

So when you receive this copy, take the time to make sure everything is accurate before your lender pays it.

Depending on home prices in your area, it could be an accurate reflection of your current home’s value. Or … maybe not.

It’s up to YOU to find out, since most local governments aren’t in any rush to reduce tax revenue on their own.

Many times you have a limited time to appeal, so know the deadline and the process in your jurisdiction! Become familiar with it now, so you’re prepared when you get that letter in the mail. Deadlines are very strict and must be met.

Must-Do Steps for the Appeals Process

Here are four steps you need to take to see if you should appeal your assessment.

1. Do Some Research

Records are kept at your tax assessor’s office and can be reviewed any time to find out what your assessment value is for your property. 

  • Assessors use either replacement value or comparable sales prices to determine a home’s fair market value, which is considered the estimated price a home would fetch on the open market.
  • Depending on the jurisdiction, the assessed value can be the full market value or a percentage of the market value (an assessment ratio).
  • Homes aren’t always appraised every year but the assessor may apply average price increases from recent sales to adjust values for an entire area until the next full re-evaluation, which could be every 3, 7, 10 years or only when the property changes hands.
  • Find out when the last full appraisal was in your area and how the value has been calculated since then. The longer the time has been since the last full appraisal, the more likely that the assessment value is off.

2. Correct Errors

  • Make sure the description of your home is accurate. Verify the lot size, the number and type of rooms, and the square footage. This is very important, so look closely.
  • Look for mistakes, such as a half-bath recorded as a full bath or a screened-porch that’s included in your year-round living space. It happens more than you think, so double check.
  • Don't forget - there is a homestead deduction if you are an owner-occupant of your home. If you are a past client of mine, there is a good chance that this was applied for when you closed on your home. But make sure your bill says you are receiving this deduction if you qualify, and take immediate steps to correct this if necessary.

3. Compare to Other Homes

  • Look at public records at the assessor’s office to see how your home stacks up to comparable homes in the neighborhood. “Comparable” means homes of the same size, age, and general location. For example, homes near a busy road are valued less than those next to a quiet park or wooded area.
  • Hire a realtor or an appraiser if you can’t do the legwork yourself.
  • Determine if your tax savings warrants a challenge … will the payoff be worth the effort?

4. Seek the Appeal

  • If your assessment seems high and unfair, make sure you have the proof and the paperwork to back up any claims. You can’t just cry wolf - so be prepared.
  • The appeals procedure will vary by jurisdiction and it is critical to understand the system — deadlines vary. Again, you may want to seek the assistance of a tax professional, appraiser, attorney, or real estate agent to help you out. 

Don’t feel like you have to do this on your own! Please reach out to me. I can answer questions, or can help you with calculating your home’s value. Or, if you’d rather, I can put you in touch with a great property tax attorney that can do all this for you!

Posted in Homeowner
June 10, 2022

Choosing your Perfect Neighborhood

Where you live affects everything about your lifestyle. Every. Single. Day.

Read the above statement again and let it sink in.

Why? Finding a location that matches your wants and needs is so critical to your happiness in your home and in your daily life.

Think about this … you can always change or alter something you don’t like about a particular home. You can paint the walls, upgrade a kitchen, or even budget for a large addition.

What you can’t do is change the location!

You may love everything about your new home, but if you are frustrated with your neighborhood or it doesn’t fit with who you are or who you want to be, then you aren’t going to be satisfied … ever. 

You can probably find a similar neighborhood with the same feel and conveniences of a favorite neighborhood, and it could be more in line with your price range.

That is why not limiting yourself and doing research on all sorts of neighborhoods is worth your time before you start house hunting. There could be a hidden gem just for you!

First, we will cover how you can learn more about neighborhoods and provide some research tips. Then, we will give you some guidance on how you can figure out what characteristics you most want in a neighborhood or location.

Your list of “wants, needs, & musts” is what should drive your search for a home and compatible neighborhoods.

Neighborhood Research 101

If you’re ready to buy a home, then schedule some time now to gather as much information you can on different neighborhoods. Don’t cancel out certain areas since you might be surprised how compatible they are to your lifestyle and budget.

Do Some Foot Work 

  • Even though the internet can give you lots of information, it’s still good to do some research on foot and face-to-face.
  • Ask friends, family or colleagues about neighborhoods they like, have heard about or even live in. Talk to people who live in the different neighborhoods you are considering. What do they like? Think about their answers and how their life or daily habits compare to yours? There are lots of choices and new communities all over so be adventurous and use these personal contacts!
  • Plan to visit friends, family, colleagues and see their neighborhoods in person. Meet them for lunch or dinner, walk around, visit stores. You’ll get a better feel for the atmosphere and amenities of the area. You should get honest and direct answers about schools, crime, traffic, parking etc.
  • Drive around both day and night, rush hour and weekends, and as much as possible to see how the neighborhood works and functions on a daily basis. This might seem excessive but you want to see it on good days, bad days, and everything in between!
  • Find out from your contacts if their neighborhood has a good community listserv or e-newsletter and sign up! Whether it is via email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or however they may keep neighbors updated, you’ll be able to monitor posts. These can give you a more inside look at a particular location – events, activities, a sense of the community feel, and any ongoing concerns by neighbors.

Why Neighborhoods Matter

It’s the little daily habits that can make a big difference in where you live. A certain neighborhood may or may not match what you love to do every day or even need to do every day. Why frustrate yourself from the get-go?

Determine what you like most about your day. Really consider what you do and don’t like about your current neighborhood. Write it ALL down.

Keeping asking and answering questions such as these:

  • Do you love being able to walk or bike to work? Do you love going to your local coffee house every day? Do you like to go for runs outside? Do you need to walk your dog or live near a dog park?
  • Do you want to be near work and have a short commute?
  • Do you love to be near restaurants, theaters, or close to more vibrant hot spots? Do you hate crowds, busy streets and traffic?
  • How important is a car and/or parking space to you? Do you want a car-free life where you can walk, metro or bike everywhere? Or can you not imagine your life without a car?
  • Is community important to you or schools, recreation centers or park space?
  • Do you feel the need for green space, grass, trees and lots of open space? Do you love to garden or want a large backyard for children or dogs? Or is a playground or dog park nearby sufficient?

Same Vibe, Different Neighborhood

Once you determine what you like most about certain neighborhoods, you can then pinpoint which neighborhoods meet these “needs, wants, & musts.”

And, if prices don’t match your budget, then you can still find the same “neighborly” vibe but for less cost in another location. If your “must” is being able to walk to work or be near mass transit, then everything else could change (the home’s size, condition, etc.).

Your budget will determine what type of home you can afford in a particular neighborhood – such as a detached home, townhome or condo unit. But, you can always tweak your budget or rethink some of your “musts” if you’re way off base and can’t even find a comparable neighborhood.

Don’t Forget About Resale

There are certain factors in a location – both desirable and undesirable — that you should consider for resale value.

Does the neighborhood have good schools? Is the home on a busy corner lot? Crime and traffic can also affect a home’s value.

Also, keep in mind that revitalizing neighborhoods can be on your list if more popular and expensive neighborhoods are out of your price range. An up and coming neighborhood could be a bargain if you time it right, but do your research and be confident it’s heading upwards.

As you can see, do your research! You’ll be more satisfied with your purchase if you know about different neighborhoods. They’ll be no “what ifs” or “should haves” that will haunt you in your new home.

If you are having a hard time deciding which neighborhood or neighborhoods you want to live in, I can help with that! Don’t feel like you have to have everything figured out before you reach out!

My job is to help you along the way, even before you are ready to buy.  I may even be able to connect with clients that live in the neighborhoods you are considering to give you the inside scoop!  

I can’t wait to hear from you. Just email me and we can schedule a time to talk more.

Posted in Buyer