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Home Buying

How to choose your home
Choosing a neighborhood for your search
How to take charge when buying a home

Home Selling

The Basics of Marketing Your Home
Get Your House Ready to Show Buyers
How to Set a List Price for Your Home
Why Use a Realtor when Selling a Home
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Take Charge When Buying a Home

If you approach the home buying process intelligently and with confidence, you are much more likely to buy a house you’ll be proud to call home. Approaching the task of buying a home can be overwhelming; there’s so much to consider:

  • How much house can I afford?
  • How can I find the best loan?
  • Where will I come up with a down payment, and how much will I need?
  • Should I buy a new or resale home, and which will go up in value?
  • Should I work with an agent or look at homes on my own?

And these questions are just the beginning. Buying a home is one of the largest financial transactions in your lifetime – do your research so you know what you’re doing.

Here are the two most important things to remember no matter where you are on the road to home ownership:

1. You can and should understand everything that is happening in the home buying process.

There is nothing that is so complex that it can’t be easily explained to anyone with average intelligence. Just because you don’t apply for a thirty year mortgage once a week doesn’t mean you have to take the first one that comes along. You’ll need to learn some new terms, apply some new concepts and take the time to understand what you’re getting into.

If, at any point, something happens that doesn’t make sense to you, simply demand a full and complete explanation. If it still doesn’t make sense, seek help from someone you trust like your CPA, your banker or maybe an online real estate columnist.

2. In the world of real estate sales, YOU are the most important person in the entire process.

It’s easy to think that everyone else carries more weight than you. The agent talks fast and has an answer for everything. The lender may decline your loan application, and on and on.

But the truth is that you, the buyer, are the one person in the transaction that makes it all happen. If you decide to not buy, the entire process comes to a grinding halt.

So flex your consumer muscle and take command of this process. Surround yourself with a team of professionals that you have confidence in and make them work for you.

Approach home buying with intelligence and confidence, and by doing your homework, and you are more likely to buy a house you’re happy with and to know that you made the right decision.

How to Choose a Neighborhood for Your Home Search

Narrow your home search by identifying neighborhoods that are right for you. This helps keep your search focused and efficient. Your local REALTOR® can offer neighborhood information to guide you in your search.

When evaluating a neighborhood you should investigate local conditions. Depending on your own particular needs and tastes, some of the following factors may be more important considerations than others:

  • quality of schools
  • property values
  • traffic
  • crime rate
  • future construction
  • proximity to schools, employment, hospitals, shops, public transportation, prisons, freeways, airports, beaches, parks, stadiums and cultural centers such as museums and theaters

Neighborhood Search Strategies for Limited Budgets

If you’re a first time-buyer with limited financial resources, it’s wise to buy a home that meets your primary needs in the best neighborhood that fits within your price range. You can maximize your home purchase location by incorporating some of the following strategies into your neighborhood search:

  • Upcoming neighborhoods: Look for communities that are likely to become “hot neighborhoods” in the coming years. They can often be discovered on the periphery of the most continuously desirable areas.
    Check for planned future development such as additional transit; new community services such as pools and theatres; and chain stores planning to move in.
    Look for a home in a good neighborhood that is a bit farther out of the city. If commuting is a concern, purchase a home that is close to public transportation.
  • Neighborhood demand: Look at the neighborhood demand by asking your real estate agent whether multiple offers are being made, whether the gap between the list price and sale price is decreasing and whether there is active community involvement. You can also drive around neighborhoods and see how many “sale pending” and “sold” signs there are in a particular area.
  • Co-ownership: Look into purchasing a condominium or co-op, rather than a house, in a desirable neighborhood. This way you still may be able to purchase in a prime area that you otherwise could not afford.

How to Choose a Home

Here are some tips to help determine which house is best for you.

Once you’ve settled on a couple of preferred neighborhoods for your home search, it’s time to pick out a few homes to view. Having a house features “wish list” keeps you focused on which features are most important to you.

When narrowing down your home search, consider the following:

  • know what types of home you want to buy
  • determine what age and condition of the house you want to buy
  • consider resale potential
  • use a features wish list to keep focused
  • use a home search comparison chart to keep organized
  • act decisively when you find the right home

Determine What Type of Home You Want to Buy

There are several forms of home ownership: single-family homes, multiple-family homes, condominiums and co-ops.

Single-family homes: One home per lot.

Townhouse: A multi-story house in a modern housing development which is attached to one or more similar houses by shared walls.

Multiple-family homes: Some buyers start with multiple-family dwellings, so they’ll have rental income to help with their costs. Many mortgage plans, including VA and FHA loans, can be used for buildings with up to four units, if the buyer intends to occupy one of them.

Condominiums: With a condo, you own “from the plaster in.” You also own a certain percentage of the “common elements” – staircases, sidewalks, roofs, etc. Monthly charges pay your share of taxes and insurance on those elements, as well as repairs and maintenance. A homeowner’s association administers the development.

Co-ops: In some cities, cooperative apartments are common. With co-ops, you purchase shares in a corporation that owns the whole building, and you receive a lease to your own unit. A board of directors, comprised of owners and elected by owners, supervises the building management. Monthly charges include your share of an overall mortgage on the building.

Decide What Age and Condition of Home You Want to Purchase

Weigh your needs, budget and personal tastes in deciding whether you want to buy a newly constructed home, an older home or a “fixer-upper” that requires some work.

Consider Resale Potential

As you look at homes, you may want to keep in mind these resale considerations.

  • One-bedroom condos are more difficult to resell than two-bedroom condos.
  • Two-bedroom/one-bath single houses generally have less appeal than houses with three or more bedrooms, and therefore have less appreciation potential.
  • Homes with “curb appeal,” i.e., well-maintained, attractive and with a charming appearance from the street, are the easiest to resell.
  • The most expensive houses on the street, or ones with anything unusual or unique are not suited for resale. The best investment potential is traditionally found in a less expensive, more moderately sized home.

Use a Features Wish List to Keep Your Search Focused

Make a features wish list to clarify which features are most and least important to you when looking for a home. Using this features wish list will keep your house hunt focused and effective.

Use a Home Comparison Chart to Keep Your Observations Organized

While house hunting, it’s a good idea to make notes about what you see because viewing several houses at a time can be confusing. Use a home comparison chart to help you keep track of your search, organize your thoughts and record your impressions.

Act Decisively When You Find the Right Home

Before you begin the home buying process, resolve to act promptly when you do find the right house. Every REALTOR® has stories to tell about a couple who looked far and wide for their dream home, finally found it, and then said, “We always promised my Dad we’d sleep on it, so we’ll make an offer tomorrow.” Many times the story had a sad ending – someone else came in that evening with an offer that was accepted.

Resolve that you will act decisively when you find the house that’s clearly right for you. This is particularly important after a long search or if the house is newly listed and/or underpriced.

The Basics of Marketing Your Home

Your REALTOR®’s marketing efforts and considerations will include advertising, showing the property, how long the house has been on the market and whether you’re buying another home. Your home should be listed, whenever possible, through a Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

Advertising and Promotion

Properties are commonly advertised through real estate agent Web sites, Internet home search/listing services, classified advertising and real estate guides. Promotion efforts through office and MLS tours are a good way of getting other buyer agents to view your home and to promote it to the buyers they are working with.

Even with all these advertising avenues, ” For Sale” signs on front lawns are still remarkably effective. Many REALTORS®promote their Web sites on the sign and use brochure boxes with the signs to market the property. When appropriate, and with your permission, your REALTOR® may send a mailing about your property to neighbors. Sometimes one of them has a friend or relative who always wanted to live near them. You never know how far reaching the benefits of word-of-mouth advertising by friends, relatives and neighbors can be.

Showings and Open Houses

To prepare your home for viewing, make it as bright, clean, cheerful and serene as possible. Always look at your home from the buyer’s point of view. Your REALTOR® will probably find a tactful way to suggest that you be absent while the house is being shown to prospective buyers, because your presence will inhibit their actions and conversations. They won’t feel free to open closets and cabinets, test out the plumbing and discuss their observations objectively as they walk through the house. It goes without saying that your children and pets should not be on the premises either.

If your REALTOR® has scheduled an open house, you may want to notify the neighbors, and assure them that they’ll be welcome. They’ll jump at the chance to poke around in your house, and sometimes they can turn up a buyer among their friends.

Quick tips for showings and open houses:

  • Clean or replace dirty or worn carpets.
  • Open all curtains and blinds.
  • Replace any burned out light bulbs and turn on all lights.
  • Clear all clutter.
  • Clear all countertops.
  • Wash and put away any dirty dishes.
  • Set the dining room or kitchen table if you have particularly nice linen or china.
  • Simmer a few drops of vanilla on the stove.
  • Put on soft music.
  • Burn wood in the fireplace on cold days, otherwise, clean the fireplace.
  • Put fresh towels in the bathroom.
  • Take any laundry out of the washer and dryer.
  • Leave the house so your REALTOR® is free to deal with prospective buyers in a professional manner.
  • Put pets in cages or take them to a neighbor.

How Long Has Your House Been on the Market?

Professional appraisers sum up their entire body of knowledge in three words: ” Buyers make value.” Your home is worth as much as a buyer will pay for it.

If your home has been on the market for months, it’s a clear message that the property may not be worth what you’re asking for it. This is particularly true if there haven’t been many prospects coming to see it. What you do at that point depends on whether you really need to sell, and whether you’re working with a time limit.

If you’re not really motivated to move soon, you can always wait – years if necessary – and hope inflation will catch up with the price you want. The problem is that in that time, your home begins to feel shopworn. Buyers become suspicious of a house that’s been for sale for a long time.

If you really do need to sell, with your REALTOR® discuss a schedule for gradually dropping your price until you find a level that attracts buyers. There’s no point in saying, ” We simply can’t sell our house.” Anything will sell if the price is right.

If You’re Buying Another Home

You may wonder what will happen when you’re selling one home and buying another – how will all the details work out? This is a common situation and REALTORS®, lawyers, and title and escrow companies have plenty of experience in arranging contracts and loans so that the two transactions dovetail smoothly.

And should you sell your home first then buy or buy first then sell? Ideally, it’s best to find a home you like and make an offer subject to selling your current home. This generally works in a normal market. However, in a “hot” market most sellers will not accept a “subject to sale” offer. In this case you need to sell your home first and then buy a new home in the interim period between selling and vacating your house.

If you find that you need to buy the next house before you’ve received the proceeds from the present one, lending institutions can sometimes make you a short-term ” bridge” loan to tide you over between the two transactions. Make sure you fully understand the exposure and emotional investment before proceeding with this type of loan.

Get Your House Ready to Show to Buyers

A house that “sparkles” on the surface will sell faster than its shabby neighbor, even though both are structurally well maintained.

From experience, REALTORS® also know that a “well-polished” house appeals to more buyers and will sell faster and for a higher price. Additionally, buyers feel more comfortable purchasing a well-cared for home because if what they can see is well maintained, they assume that what they can’t see has probably also been well maintained. In readying your house for sale, consider:

  • how much should you spend to prepare your house for sale?
  • exterior and curb appeal
  • interior appeal

Before putting your house on the market, take as much time as necessary (and as little money as possible) to maximize its exterior and interior appeal.

How Much Should You Spend to Prepare Your House for Sale?

In preparing your home for the market, spend as little money as possible. Buyers will be impressed by a brand new roof, but they aren’t likely to give you enough extra money to pay for it. There is a big difference between making minor and inexpensive polishes and touch-ups to your house, such as putting new knobs on cabinets and a fresh coat of neutral paint in the living room, and doing extensive and costly renovations, like installing a new kitchen.

Your REALTOR® is familiar with buyers’ expectations in your neighborhood and can advise you specifically on what improvements need to be made and which improvements are most effective. Don’t hesitate to ask for advice.

Maximizing Exterior and Curb Appeal

When preparing to put your home up for sale, your first concern is the home’s exterior. If the outside, or “curb appeal” looks good, people will more than likely want to see what’s on the inside.

Here are some tips to enhance your home’s exterior and curb appeal to buyers:

  • Keep the lawn edged, cut and watered.
  • Regularly trim hedges and weed lawns and flowerbeds.
  • Be sure your front door area has a “Welcome” feeling.
  • Paint the front door.
  • In spring and summer, add a couple of pots of showy annuals near your front entrance.
  • In snowy areas, keep walks neatly cleared of snow and ice.
  • Check foundation, steps, walkways, walls and patios for cracks and deterioration, and fix any problem areas.
  • Remove and repaint any peeling paint on doors and windows.
  • Clean and align gutters.
  • Inspect and clean the chimney.
  • Repair and replace loose or damaged roof shingles.
  • Repair and repaint loose siding and caulking.
  • Reseal old asphalt.
  • Keep the garage door closed.
  • Store RVs and old cars elsewhere while the house is on the market.

Maximizing Interior Appeal

You want your home to look as spacious, bright and clean as possible. Also the home should look neutral – without a lot of your personal and sentimental objects – so buyers can begin to imagine living there.

Here are some tips to enhance your home’s interior appeal to buyers:

  • Give every room in the house a thorough cleaning and remove all clutter. This alone will make your house appear bigger and brighter. Some homeowners with crowded rooms actually rent storage garages and move half their furniture out, creating a sleeker, more spacious look.
  • Use a professional cleaning service every few weeks while the house is on the market.
  • Remove the less frequently used, and even daily-used items from kitchen counters, closets, basement and attic to make these areas more inviting.
  • Make sure that table tops, dressers and closets are free of clutter.
  • Pay special attention to the kitchen and bathrooms: they should look as modern, bright and fresh as possible. It is essential for them to be clean and odor free.
  • Repair dripping faucets and showerheads.
  • Buy showy new towels for the bathroom, and put them out only for showings.
  • Spruce up a kitchen in need of more major remodeling by installing new curtains and cabinet knobs, or applying a fresh coat of neutral paint.
  • Clean walls and doors of smudges and scuff marks.
  • If necessary, repaint dingy, soiled or strongly-colored walls with a neutral shade of paint, such as off-white or beige. The same neutral scheme can be applied to carpets and linoleum.
  • Check for cracks, leaks and signs of dampness in the attic and basement, and fix any problem areas.
  • Seal basement walls if there are any signs of dampness or leakage.
  • Repair cracks, holes or damage to plaster, wallboard, wallpaper, paint and tiles.
  • Replace broken or cracked windowpanes, moldings and other woodwork.
  • Inspect and repair the plumbing, heating, cooling and alarm systems.

How to Set a List Price for Your Home

How to Set a List Price for Your Home

Setting the list price for your home involves evaluating various market conditions and financial factors. During this phase of the home selling process, your REALTOR® will help you set your list price based on:

  • pricing considerations
  • comparable sales
  • market conditions
  • offering incentives
  • estimated net proceeds

Pricing Considerations – Find a Balance Between Too High and Too Low

When setting a list price for your home, you should be aware of a buyer’s frame of mind. Consider the following pricing factors:

If you set the price too high, your house won’t be picked for viewing, even though it may be much nicer than other homes on the street. You may have told your REALTOR® to “Bring me any offer. Frankly, I’d take less.” But compared to other houses for sale, your home simply looks too expensive to be considered.

If you price too low, you’ll short-change yourself. Your house will sell promptly, yes, but you may make less on the sale than if you had set a higher price and waited for a buyer who was willing to pay it.

TIP: Never say “asking” price, which implies you don’t expect to get it.

Price Against Comparable Sales in Your Neighborhood

No matter how attractive and polished your house, buyers will be comparing its price with everything else on the market.

Your best guide is a record of what the buying public has been willing to pay in the past few months for property in your neighborhood. Your REALTOR® can furnish data on sales figures for those comparable sales and analyze them to help you come up with a suggested listing price. The decision about how much to ask, though, is always yours.

Competitive Market Analysis (CMA): The list of comparable sales a REALTOR® brings to you, along with data about other houses in your neighborhood that are presently on the market, is used for a “Comparative Market Analysis” (CMA). To help in estimating a possible sales price for your house, the analysis will also include data on nearby houses that failed to sell in the past few months, along with their list prices.

A CMA differs from a formal appraisal in several ways. One major difference is that an appraisal will be based only on past sales. Also, an appraisal is done for a fee while the CMA is provided by your REALTOR® and may include properties currently listed for sale and those currently pending sale. For the average home sale, a CMA probably gives enough information to help you set a proper price.

Formal Written Appraisal: A formal written appraisal (which may cost a few hundred dollars) can be useful if you have unique property, if there hasn’t been much activity in your area recently, if co-owners disagree about price or if there is any other circumstance that makes it difficult to put a value on your home.

TIP: If you do order a market value appraisal, make it clear you don’t need an elaborate, or full narrative report, i.e., the kind that’s complete with photos of the house and neighborhood. Floor plans and a site map is sufficient in most cases.

Market Conditions – Is it a Buyer’s Market or a Seller’s Market?

A CMA often includes a Days on the Market (DOM) value for each comparable house sold. When real estate is booming and prices are rising, houses may sell in a few days. Conversely, when the market slows down, average DOM can run into many months.

Your REALTOR® can tell you whether your area is currently in a buyer’s market or a seller’s market. In a seller’s market, you can price a bit beyond what you really expect, just to see what the reaction will be. In a buyer’s market, if you really need to sell promptly, offer an attractive bargain price.

If You Price High, Set a Schedule for Lowering the Price

Some sellers list at the rock-bottom price they’d really take, because they hate bargaining. Others add on thousands to the estimated market value “just to see what happens.” If you want to try that, and if you have the luxury of enough time to feel out the market, sit down with your REALTOR® and work out an advance schedule for lowering the price if need be.

If there haven’t been many prospects viewing your home after three weeks, you may need to lower your list price. If that doesn’t bring any prospective buyers, you may need to lower your list price again. Plan on doing that regularly until you find a level that attracts buyers. Make a written schedule in advance, before emotion takes over and you’re tempted to dig your heels in.

Offering Incentives to Hasten a Sale

Sometimes cash incentives are as effective as lowering the price, especially in the lower price range where buyers may be “cash poor.” You may offer to pay some or all of a buyer’s closing costs and discount points required by the buyer’s lending institution.

If you haven’t had much traffic through your house and you’re in a hurry to sell, you may want to add the offer of a bonus to the selling broker, in addition to their commission. An example of the wording for such an offer may be “to the broker who brings a successful offer before Christmas.”

Estimating Net Proceeds

Once you’ve been given an estimate of market value by your REALTOR®, you can get a rough idea of how much cash you might walk away with when the sale is completed. This can be particularly useful when you start looking for another home to buy.

To estimate your net proceeds, from the estimated sales amount, subtract the applicable costs in the three sections outlined below: seller’s costs, buyer’s/seller’s costs and closing costs.

Seller’s Costs: Subtract the following costs as applicable.

  • payoff figure on your present loan(s)
  • broker’s commission
  • prepayment penalty on your mortgage
  • attorney’s fees
  • unpaid property taxes

Buyer’s/Seller’s Costs: Additionally, your REALTOR® can tell you whether local customs or rules dictate whether the buyer or seller pays for the items listed below. Subtract the following costs, as applicable.

  • title insurance premium
  • transfer taxes
  • survey fees
  • inspections and repairs for termites, etc.
  • recording fees
  • Homeowner Association transfer fees and document preparation
  • home protection plan
  • natural hazard disclosure report

Closing Costs: As far as closing costs are concerned, you and your eventual buyer may agree on any arrangement that suits you, no matter what local practice dictates. Your REALTOR® will assist you in estimating what your final closing costs will be.

Why Use a REALTOR® When Selling a Home?

A real estate agent can help you understand everything you need to know about the home selling process.

Not all real estate licensees are the same; only those who are members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®(NAR) are properly called REALTORS®. They proudly display the REALTOR “®” trademark on their business cards and other marketing and sales literature.

REALTORS® are committed to treat all parties to a transaction honestly. REALTORS® subscribe to a strict Code of Ethics and are expected to maintain a higher level of knowledge of the process of buying and selling real estate. An independent survey reported that 84% of home buyers would use the same REALTOR® again.

Real estate transactions are one of the biggest financial dealings of most people’s lifetime. Transactions today usually exceed $250,000. If you had a $250,000 income tax problem, would you attempt to deal with it without the help of a certified professional accountant? If you had a $250,000 legal question, would you deal with it without the help of an attorney? Considering the small upside cost and the large downside risk, it would be wise to work with a professional REALTOR® when you are selling a home.

If you’re still not convinced of the value of a REALTOR®, here are more reasons to use one:

  1. When selling your home, your REALTOR® can give you up-to-date information on what is happening in the marketplace as well as the price, financing, terms and condition of competing properties. These are key factors in getting your property sold at the best price, quickly and with minimum hassle.
  2. Often, your REALTOR® can recommend repairs or cosmetic work that will significantly enhance the salability of your property.
  3. Your REALTOR® markets your property to other real estate agents and the public. In many markets across the country, over half of real estate sales are cooperative sales; that is, a real estate agent other than yours brings in the buyer.
    Your REALTOR® acts as the marketing coordinator, distributing information about your property to other real estate agents through a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) or other cooperative marketing networks, open houses for agents, etc. The REALTOR® Code of Ethics requires REALTORS® to utilize these cooperative relationships when they benefit their clients.
  4. Your REALTOR® will know when, where and how to advertise your property. There is a misconception that advertising sells real estate. NAR studies show that 82% of real estate sales are the result of agent contacts through previous clients, referrals, friends, family and personal contacts. When a property is marketed with the help of your REALTOR®, you do not have to allow strangers into your home. Your REALTOR® will generally prescreen and accompany qualified prospects through your property.
  5. Your REALTOR® can help you objectively evaluate every buyer’s proposal without compromising your marketing position. This initial agreement is only the beginning of a process of appraisals, inspections and financing – and a lot of possible pitfalls. Your REALTOR® can help you write a legally binding, win-win agreement that will be more likely to make it through the process.
  6. Your REALTOR® can help close the sale of your home. Issues may arise between the initial sales agreement and closing (also called settlement or escrow), for example, unexpected repairs might be required to obtain financing or a title problem is discovered. The required paperwork alone is overwhelming for most sellers. Your REALTOR® is the best person to objectively help you resolve these issues and move the transaction to closing.  

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