How to Find the Perfect Neighborhood

By David Hakimi Location, location, location. Half of buying a home is all about finding where you want to live. You might’ve found your dream house, but it’s not in your dream neighborhood. So, what should you be watching out for? Here’s how you can find the perfect neighborhood: Check It Out Online Ah—the internet. It provides an immense amount of information. It’s easy and entirely accessible for everyone, so you don’t have any excuses not to take advantage of it. Look up what everyone is saying about a neighborhood you’re interested in. Do people actually enjoy living there? What do they like and dislike about it? Google the crime statistics for the area; safety should be top of mind. You don’t want to get stuck in a neighborhood with a high break-in rate—take your safety and security seriously. At the same time, if you have kids, look up schools in the area. What are they rated? Most school systems have a rating scale based off mostly academics. Find out if they’re good options for your children. Scout It Out Literally. Do drive-bys, and do them at different times of the day. Get a feel for a certain neighborhood. Is there a soccer field or baseball diamond close by? You’ll want to know before it’s too late whether or not cars will be lined up on your street. Make sure you’re in the know. You don’t want things like that to come up as a surprise after you’ve moved in. Furthermore, check out the traffic patterns in the area. What’s that intersection near the home you’re interested in really like during rush hour?...

The Biggest Mistake New Homebuyers Make

As a first-time homebuyer, you’re dealing with a whole new world, with a lot to learn and a complicated set of rules to navigate. And no matter how prepared you are, there will undoubtedly be mishaps along the way. In fact, many new homebuyers often make one common mistake. As real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran recently told CNBC, the biggest mistake first-time homebuyers make is neglecting to save enough money for closing costs (a mistake Corcoran herself made when buying her first home). While you’ve worked hard to come up with the necessary down payment, forgetting to factor in closing costs can leave you short on funds when it comes time to seal the deal. How much do you need to factor in for closing costs? That depends on where you live and the type of loan you’ve chosen, so talk to your real estate agent. A good rule of thumb, however, is to anticipate adding on an additional 2 – 5 percent of the total cost of the home to the final price. What are closing costs? Fees due at closing cover a variety of costs, such as property taxes, homeowners insurance, prepaid loan interest and title insurance, as well as the inspection, application, attorney, appraisal and courier fee, as well as the fee for pulling your credit report. How can you prepare for closing costs? Your lender will provide an estimate of your closing fees with your Loan Estimate within three business days of receiving your loan application. Keep in mind that this is just an estimate; you will receive a revised Loan Estimate should your closing fees change along...

What Comes With the House? Negotiating Fixtures

By John Voket After receiving a piece of furniture as a last-minute gift from a friend who was selling and moving, the buyer became upset assuming they would inherit the item even though it had not been agreed upon. Something that should be assumed to come with the house is known as a ‘fixture.’ But what counts as a fixture is the basis for many real estate disputes, according to Elizabeth Weintraub at thealance.com – even when that feature or fixture is outside the building. Generally speaking, she says, a fixture is not required to exist inside the house. Landscaping, or any type of plant with roots firmly ensconced in the ground, is considered a fixture, Weintraub says. Connecticut REALTOR® Kathy Hamilton says determining what will stay with the home and what will go with the previous owner will vary by seller and contract. She first suggests checking the listing, however, because a seller may have already specified any such items included in their asking price. When it comes to any questions about which items will stay, Hamilton advises both sellers and buyers to know the “screwdriver rule.” For the most part, she says, if it takes a screwdriver to remove, it’s considered part of the home – this includes shelves, light fixtures and even curtain rods. But, if it’s hung on a nail, or is a piece of movable furniture – even a grand piano – it’s likely not included in the sale. Devon Thorsby at U.S. News & World Report says states have different standards regarding what things are included in a home sale, but light fixtures...

Beware Location Remorse: Over a Third Have ‘Neighborhood Regret’

By RISMedia Staff You can change a house—location is tougher. According to new research by Trulia, 36 percent of Americans have “neighborhood regret,” or would have moved to another neighborhood than the one they reside in today. The feeling is heightened in metros, where 46 percent are dissatisfied with their pick, but less pronounced in rural areas (31 percent) and the suburbs (30 percent) The portal surveyed 1,000 Americans in Austin, Chicago and San Francisco who moved in the past three years. What makes a neighborhood suitable? Forty-eight percent of those surveyed were motivated by the “vibe,” 37 percent were affected by crime rates, and another 37 percent were attracted to easier travel to work. Attributes that led to regret? Lack of public transit, noise and traffic. Is your neighborhood is a problem? For future moves, prepare through research. Look up neighborhood photos—something just 38 percent of those surveyed did—and plan a time to visit. Only 37 percent explored the neighborhood’s popular spots, and 47 percent did not go at night. Remember, as well, that your agent is an expert on the local market. Contact them for help with your move. Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2018. All rights...

How to Know If You’re Paying the Right Price for Your Home

In today’s real estate environment, where bidding wars are heating up in many markets, it can sometimes be tough to know if you’ve paid a fair price for the home you just bought. If you’re working with a real estate professional whose expertise and guidance you trust, chances are he or she has negotiated the best possible price for you. But here are some other ways to know if you’ve paid the right price: Consider the neighborhood. Location really is everything when it comes to a good real estate investment, so if you’ve bought a home in a great area, surrounded by homes of comparable or better condition, odds are you’ve made a good investment and your home’s value will appreciate over time. Your real estate agent should show you comparables of what other homes in your neighborhood sold for and are valued at. Pay attention to the inspection report. If the inspection report comes back with any issues that will require a major investment to repair, this should be reflected in the price you pay for the home. If the owner doesn’t take care of the repair, the price should come down accordingly. Use AVMs (automated valuation models) to get an idea of the value of your home and the neighborhood over time. Ask your real estate agent to recommend a couple they believe are most accurate. The AVM may reveal that while you feel you’re paying too much, the appreciation in a few years’ time makes the investment well worth it…or vice versa. Take your personal circumstances into account. Ultimately, what you pay for the home has everything to do with...

For Sale! Top Tips for First-Time Home Sellers

By Hannah Whittenly Selling a home can be very lucrative, but you need to make sure you don’t make any major mistakes. Many first-time sellers hit roadblocks that end up costing them time and money. Here are a few simple tips that will help you sell your home quickly and at the right price: Focus on Minor Upgrades Unless you have endless funds to spend on major renovation projects, you should stick to minor upgrades. A handful of inexpensive updates could potentially increase the value of your property by thousands. Some of the projects that you might want to consider include painting the walls, replacing old faucets and installing new light fixtures. You will also need to spend some time decluttering your home before any potential buyers come inside. Don’t Neglect Your Home’s Curb Appeal Some buyers might not even ask to see your home if it looks dingy or outdated from the street. Luckily, improving the curb appeal of a home doesn’t have to be an expensive or time-consuming process. In addition to mowing the lawn and trimming the bushes, you should also pick up any clutter in your front yard. Painting your front door is another simple way to improve the appearance of your home and make it more appealing to buyers. Be Ready to Make Sacrifices You’ll probably need to make at least a few sacrifices if you want the offers to start coming in. A buyer might ask for small favors like leaving a few of the appliances behind; carefully consider these. Making a few small concessions could result in an immediate bid. You might also have...

Smart Homes: The Way of the Future or a Risk to Homeowners?

Smart Homes: The Way of the Future or a Risk to Homeowners? By Liz Dominguez Glitches of early iterations aside, AI-based technology has come a long way, and has an increasingly active presence in the lives of homeowners who are looking for convenience and savings in a pushed-for-time era. From adaptive thermostats that automatically gauge energy usage and alter temperatures for optimal savings, to smart home speakers that use sophisticated artificial intelligence to provide services and information in real-time, a smart homeowner can now cross off a variety of menial tasks from their daily to-do list without doing more than speaking a phrase out loud or clicking a button on their mobile device. What is the true cost of this convenience? Some gadget adopters are reporting invasion of privacy, security risks, and more. For those who have not yet invested in smart home technology, these factors are largely holding them back; in fact, it is the second-biggest reason for hesitation for 17 percent of non-users, behind price (42 percent), according to a recently released report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), “Smart Home, Seamless Life: Unlocking a Culture of Convenience.” In addition, 56 percent of surveyed individuals stated they would choose encryption to protect their data when creating their own smart home. What are these misuses of technology that could lead to privacy or security risks? These are a few of the reported instances thus far: 1. Gadgets May Be Susceptible to Hacking Last August, Wired published a story about a British security researcher for MWR Labs, Mark Barnes, who was able to install malware on an Amazon Echo device, turning it into a...

The ABC’s of FHA Loans

By Barbara Pronin Like all mortgage loans, FHA loans require proof of steady income and employment as well as a minimum down payment. But they are attractive to consumers because they are government-backed, offering more attractive interest rates and less stringent qualification requirements. Beyond that, how much more can you share with your clients about FHA loans? Here are seven fast facts to help you brush up: Credit requirements – With a credit score of 580 or higher, a borrower can qualify for an FHA loan with a down payment as low as 3.5 percent. Those with scores between 500 and 579 need down payments of 10 percent. Under certain circumstances, such as insufficient credit history, exceptions may be made. Check with an FHA specialist. Down payment funds – In addition to using their own savings, borrowers can use a gift from family members and/or an assistance grant from a state or local government to make the down payment. Closing costs –The FHA allows sellers, builders and lenders to pay some of the borrower’s closing costs, such as appraisal, credit report or title expenses, as an incentive for the borrower to buy the home. FHA-approved lenders only – Because the FHA is an insurer rather than a lender, borrowers must get their loan from an FHA-approved lender. Mortgage insurance – Two mortgage insurance premiums are required on all FHA loans. The upfront premium is 1.75 percent of the loan amount, which can be financed as part of the loan amount. The second, called the annual premium, is paid monthly. It varies based on the loan amount, the length of the loan, and the initial...

5 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Moving Company

Moving can be a stressful, time-consuming and frustrating experience. The excitement of relocating to your new home can be quickly perturbed by the annoyances of moving day, which is why most homeowners choose to hire a moving company to do the job for them. However, your personal belongings are important to you, and, as such, it doesn’t do any good to hire a mediocre moving team that might damage your delicate items or break irreplaceable heirlooms. If you’re new to the moving game, here are five important questions to ask any company you’re seeking to employ: Do you have any references? No matter the job, references are a large part of what secures your trust and comfort in the person’s ability to perform the task effectively. When looking for movers, be sure to ask the company if they can provide references or a link to some reviews of their business, just to be sure they’re legit. What specific services do you offer? Moving companies vary in terms of what they’re willing to do for you. There are some companies that might refuse to move large items, and only provide the lifting and packing of smaller items. Before you call a moving company, be sure to know exactly what items you need to have moved. If you ask questions, and the response is anything but what you’re looking for, at the very least, you should look around for better options. Do you offer in-home estimates? Knowing what needs to be moved is one thing, but understanding the cost of labor to get the job done is another. Finding a company...

The Benefits of Homeownership

June is National Homeownership Month, “a time to celebrate and promote the modern American Dream of owning a home,” says National Association of REALTORS® President Elizabeth Mendenhall, a sixth-generation REALTOR® from Columbia, Mo., and CEO of RE/MAX Boone Realty. “Homeownership changes lives and enhances futures, and many Americans see it as one of their greatest hopes. These individuals are counting on the nation’s 1.3 million REALTORS® to champion and protect homeownership and help make it more affordable, attainable and sustainable.” In addition to the obvious benefit of providing shelter, owning a home has a far-reaching ripple effect for owners and their families. Here are just some of the many long-term benefits of homeownership: Owning a home is a secure long-term investment. While markets fluctuate over the short-term, provided you stay in your home for an extended period of time, it will most likely increase in value and yield a substantial return on your investment, making it one of the safest ways to invest your money. You’re building equity. As the experts at discover.com explain, when you subtract the amount you owe on your home loan from the total value of your house, the amount left over is your home equity—the dollar value that actually belongs to you. You build equity by reducing the amount you owe on your loan with each monthly mortgage payment, and also as your home increases in value. You benefit from tax deductions. Even though certain tax deductions were at risk during this year’s tax reform bill, homeowners still benefit come tax time. Talk to your accountant to find out exactly if and how the new tax laws...

Surviving a Relocation

Relocating to a new area can be an exciting proposition. It can also be a process that’s full of stress. Here are some tips from relocation pros to help ease the strain and emphasize the positive when moving out of town: 1. Lighten your load. Getting rid of unnecessary paperwork, clothing, knickknacks and furniture is essential with any move, but even more so when you’re relocating out of town or out of state. Not only will this save on moving costs, it will save you unpacking time on the other end, allowing you to focus on that new job that brought you to the area and on getting to know your new community and neighbors—all of which is more important than stacking books you don’t need onto shelves. 2. Hire a pro. While you may have opted for DIY moves in the past, relocating out of the area warrants calling in the pros. If you’re being relocated by your employer, this is probably being covered, but even if you’re not, make room in the budget for moving professionals. Ask for referrals, get at least three quotes, and carefully go over all of their policies, including insurance for damages and loss. 3. Transition kids. Children add a whole new layer to the relocation equation, so make sure you make them top priority. Do your research to find the schools that will be the best fit and set appointments to meet with school counselors as you get to town (or even before you move, if possible). Find out where your kids can resume their favorite activities, whether it’s dance or hockey, and get some...

5 Things to Check When Viewing a Home

If you’re shopping for a home right now, you’re likely seeing dozens of properties. While this is great news for prospective buyers, there are a handful of essential things you should be looking for when doing a walk-through. Roof. When entering or exiting the property, take a moment to look up. While you can’t always tell if the roof is well-maintained by looks alone, missing or warped shingles are a sign that the roof has been neglected. Rust. Check any major appliances that will be coming with the house for signs of rust or neglect. Think the HVAC system and water heater. Warping. Examine the corners of rooms and the angles of doors. Are things tilted or warped? This could point to issues with the foundation. Moisture. If the home smells musty, or the wood around the windows is soft or rotted, it’s likely that there’s some sort of moisture leak, be it from a pipe, an improperly fitted or warped window, or a funky foundation. Lots of listings. If there are numerous listings on any given street, there might be a reason why. Do your research before purchasing a property in an area that others are running from. Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2018. All rights...

Hiring a Home Inspector? Read This First

If you’re hiring a home inspector for the first time to look at a house you’d like to purchase, you may be unsure what to expect. A professional home inspection can not only educate you on the condition of the home, but can also minimize costly surprises later on; however, not all home inspectors are created equal. Before hiring that inspector, read these tips from HouseMaster. Check experience and training. Ask how long the company has been in business and about the specific formal training and ongoing education the inspectors have, and verify the company carries professional liability insurance, also known as “errors & omissions” (E&O). If the company doesn’t carry this insurance, it could indicate a poor track record or lack of experience. Ensure accountability. Buyers want to know their inspector is committed to doing their best every time. Only hire a home inspector who will be accountable to you for the quality of their service with their own written guarantee. Many home inspectors today pay third-party companies to cover issues they may miss. Discuss confidentiality. It’s not uncommon for home inspectors to offer customers certain extras, such as discounts on products and services needed during a home purchase. While everyone loves a deal, you will want to ensure your contact information is not distributed to third parties you don’t know about in exchange for these so-called savings. Inspect ancillary systems. It’s hard for first-time homebuyers to know what they need, so ask what additional services the company offers. If the home you are considering has a septic system, for example, a professional home inspection company may offer septic system inspections or...

Know What Goes Into Your Credit Score

You’re probably well aware of how important your credit score is. A good score grants you access to loans and favorable interest rates, and opens up many different possibilities for a healthy financial future. But do you know how your credit score is determined? Be aware of the factors used in credit-scoring models so you can work towards achieving a higher credit score. Here are some of the top factors, according to Credit Karma: On-Time Payment Percentage This is the percentage of payments you’ve made on time during your credit history. This plays a big role in determining your creditworthiness, so just a couple of late payments could significantly impact your score for the worse. An easy way to avoid late payments? Set up automatic bill pay or create calendar reminders for bill due dates. Credit Card Utilization This is a percentage that is calculated by taking the total of your credit card balances and dividing that number by your total credit card limits. This will show creditors how much of your total available credit you are already using. The lower your credit card utilization, the higher your credit score. Average Age of Open Credit Lines The longer your credit history and the older your accounts the better. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep older cards open and active, and to start applying for credit at a young age. Total Accounts Consumers with more accounts (or more lines of credit) often have higher credit scores because it indicates that more lenders are willing to give them credit. Having a good mix of different types of credit is...

5 Tips for Buying a New-Construction Home

Thanks to the shortage of available inventory in most markets, you can expect to start seeing more and more new construction. Buying a new-construction home is different than buying an existing home, however, so be ready to attack the process with a different mindset and specific strategies. Here are five important tips to keep in mind from U.S. News and World Report: 1. Choose an agent who works with builders. Start by selecting a real estate agent who has expertise working with builders and new-construction properties. He or she will be able to steer you toward a reputable firm whose designs suit what you’re looking for, in the location you desire. 2. Research the builder. Be sure to do your own research on the builder to determine the quality of their product and their overall credibility. Check online reviews, the state licensing board, local court records and even Google to find out if the builder has any pending lawsuits, complaints or disciplinary actions. Take it a step further and talk directly to past clients. A reputable builder will be happy to offer referrals. 3. Spend your money on size and location. When building from scratch, it’s tempting to spend your money on upgrades such as high-end countertops and bathroom fixtures, but that can quickly put you over budget. Instead, focus on choosing the right location and getting the square footage you need. Upgrades can always be made down the line. 4. Learn how to read a floorplan. Floorplans are foreign territory for many of us, so talk to your builder and real estate agent about how to accurately interpret them. Many builders offer...