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How to Sell a Home During the Holiday Season

If you decide you’re ready to sell your home and the calendar is flipping to December, there are some who believe you’re better off waiting until after the holidays to list it, with the rationale that people are too busy shopping and preparing for family celebrations to worry about looking for a home.

But others argue that the time between Turkey Day and New Year’s actually makes perfect sense to list a property because there’s less competition on the market, more people take time off so there’s more time to house hunt and friends and family of your neighbors—who may be thinking about moving—could be visiting and want to live nearby their loved ones.

Plus, if people are making appointments to see your home during this time, odds are they are pretty serious and not just out for some prospecting, as people in the summer are known to do.

Those who decide to wait, and put their house up for sale in January, may find that others have done the same thing and that could create competition and cause prices to fall. That could put a damper on any holiday season.

One downside for listing a home during the holidays is that it is a bustling time of year and between getting ready for parties and wrapping gifts, having your house in “showing” shape could be more difficult than at other times of the year.

On the “bright” side, your home will be decorated with beautiful lights and festive decorations, creating an elegance that could attract buyers.

For homes that have lingered on the market for some time, removing it for the six weeks or so that the holiday season encompasses will allow the house to go back as a new listing in January, thereby drawing more traffic because it’s fresh. But of course, you risk losing that potential buyer who may have been looking in December.

And don’t forget, people are generally in a happier mood during the holiday season and might be more inclined to see all the positives in a home instead of focusing in on any negatives.

Common Mortgage Terms to Know Before Buying a Home

Buying a home is full of numbers, including the all-important down payment and interest rate on the loan. The process also includes a lot of terms you may not be familiar with, especially if it’s the first home you’re buying.

Your real estate agent, escrow officer and other experts who are guiding you along the way can help a lot. It can also help to know some mortgage terms ahead of time, which can make shopping for an agent and a home a little easier.

Here are some common mortgage terms you’re likely to hear during the home-buying process, and what they mean:

The gradual reduction of the mortgage debt through regularly scheduled payments over the term of the loan.

Annual percentage rate:
Abbreviated as APR, this measures the cost of credit in a yearly rate. It includes the stated interest rate and certain charges.

Written estimate or opinion of a property’s value prepared by a qualified appraiser. The appraisal amount should be close to the cost you’re paying for the home to help make getting a loan easier.

Debt-to-income ratio:
Relationship between borrower’s total monthly debt payments, including new housing expenses and gross monthly income. It’s used to determine how much of a mortgage a borrower qualifies for. The less debt, the better. The maximum ratio is 43 percent, though below 36 percent is preferable. That means that 36 percent of your income goes toward debt and living expenses.

Something of value (money or documents) that is deposited with a third party to be delivered when the condition of the contract is delivered. Escrow can be used, for example, to deposit funds with an attorney or escrow agent to be disbursed upon the closing of a real estate sale.

Mortgage insurance:
Insurance that protects lenders against losses if a borrower defaults on a home loan. It’s typically required if the down payment is less than 20 percent of the purchase price.

A preliminary assessment by a lender of the amount it will lend to a potential buyer. It isn’t an approval of credit and doesn’t signify that underwriting requirements have been met.

Amount of money owed on a loan, excluding interest. Making this monthly payment reduces the balance of the mortgage.

Part of the loan process where it’s decided if a loan will be provided to a potential homebuyer. It is based on credit, employment, assets and other factors to assess risk and match it to an appropriate rate and loan amount.

How to Design a Kitchen for Easy Entertaining

Having a living space that’s well suited for entertaining friends and family is a top priority for many of today’s luxury homeowners. From backyard barbecues to holiday dinners, the house should be designed to seamlessly accommodate any gathering. Being the heart of the home, the kitchen will always have an important role when it comes to playing host. If you need a cooking space that meets your entertaining needs, here are a few key features to keep in mind.

Open Concept
The open layout has long been embraced by avid entertainers and for good reason. When your kitchen, dining and living areas effortlessly flow together, you can interact with guests while laying out hors d’oeuvres or putting the finishing touches on the main course. It allows everyone to freely mingle without being isolated in different rooms.

Layered Lighting
Just as it plays an integral role in any restaurant, the lighting in your kitchen requires careful consideration. It should be well-lit with task lighting that makes it easy to work, but you also want the right ambience for your guests. A mix of pendant and recessed lighting, as well as wall sconces, can help keep you productive while setting the mood.

Essential Appliances
Depending on how you like to entertain, you may have specific needs in your kitchen, like two ovens for simultaneously cooking different courses, a wine refrigerator you can quickly grab a bottle from, or a warming drawer that keeps food fresh until it’s time to be served. It’s important to keep these details in mind and make sure that your cooking space meets your expectations.

Multi-Purpose Island
The kitchen island is both a place for food preparation and one that people tend to gather around while conversing. To keep it multi-functional, you need ample space for slicing and dicing as well as an area where people can sit at bar stools while snacking on appetizers.

Smart Tech
When it’s time to entertain, smart technology can be a lifesaver, whether it means giving a voice command to turn on some music or preheating the oven on your smart phone while giving guests a tour of your new abode.  

Helpful Tips for Moving Pets Into a New Home

When you move into a new home, you’re starting a new chapter for everyone in your family, including your pets. And just like everyone else, moving is an adjustment for dogs and cats.

Making the transition as easy as possible for your animal friend isn’t just beneficial for pets, it also makes your life easier. Failing to provide your dog or cat with the basics it needs to be happy can lead to them becoming disruptive as you unpack and move things around the house.

Animals are always unpredictable, but here’s how you can make your move easier for the four-legged members of your family.

Pack the Essentials:
Figure out the things that your dog or cat needs right away and pack those together. These will include their bowls, food, a bed, litter box and some favorite toys. If you’re driving to your new home, bring these yourself if there’s room in the car.

As You Pack and Unpack:
One of the trickiest things about cats and dogs on moving day is that doors are constantly opening and closing as movers repeatedly enter and exit the house. Consider having your pet stay with a friend or relative during the move. If that isn’t an option, clear out a room for the animal and secure it with a gate. Even if it annoys them, it’s better than them leaving the house and getting lost.

Buy Them a Gift:
Dogs love getting a new toy, so buy your pooch something fun to play with and give it to them when you arrive at your new house. There’s a good chance it will keep them busy for a while as you bring things into the house.

Set Up a Pet Area:
When you first looked over your new home, did you envision a spot that your pet would like? Set up a bed for your dog or cat in that area. Felines, of course, love to rest in places that gets lots of sunlight, so set up a bed or scratching post near a window.

Make Sure the Yard is Secure:
If your new home has a nice back yard, your dog is likely going to spend a lot of time there. Let Fido explore and have fun, but first make sure fencing and gates don’t have gaps or loose boards. Also keep doors from the yard to the house closed while you’re bringing boxes and furniture into your new house. If you leave them open, your pet can get in the house from the yard and leave through the front door.

With some smart thinking and planning, your furry friend will be settling into its new surroundings in no time.

Why Isn’t Your House Selling?

There’s nothing more disappointing when you’re selling your home than to have another open house go by with no bites or someone coming to see your house and not making any sort of offer.

There are lots of reasons why a house might not sell, and if you’re in a hurry to make a deal and get out, there are some things you need to consider to figure out the reasons your home remains on the market.

Here are some of the typical reasons a house might not sell.

This is normally the most logical reason why a house isn’t selling. The price is either not comparable with others in the area or is just too high considering what might need to be done once someone moves in. This is also an easy fix—though one that might hurt the most. Lower the price and see what happens. You might even create a bidding war and get the amount closer to what you originally hoped.

Does the roof have shingles that need replacing? Are the appliances old and falling apart? If your house has clear, visible problems, chances are people are going to be wary about making an offer. It makes sense to spend a little money and make the repairs needed to have your house looking good.

Bad Curb Appeal
Speaking of “looking good,” people can be turned off quickly. If the first impression they have is of a yard that’s cluttered with leaves or a driveway loaded with junk, you’re probably sending the wrong message. Clean it up and make their first impression a favorable one.

Bad Photos
With the advancements in mobile cameras and the price of professional digital cameras dropping, there’s no reason to ever have blurry or bad photos of your home on marketing materials. Photos should be the best representation of the room as possible, meaning clean, spacious and lots of light.

Inspection Problems
If you’ve had people interested, only to see the deal fall apart during the inspection part of the negotiations, then the things they are finding are probably going to keep others disinterested as well. Fix any major issues and ensure that the inspection brings back a solid report.

Factors That Could Unexpectedly Impact Your Real Estate Appraisal

Although everything in your home is essential, there are certain things that the appraiser will be looking for that don’t include the home’s position, square footage and the number of rooms in the house.

Close-up Of A Man’s Hand Filling Real Estate Appraisal Form At Home

We will look at other factors involved in the house appraisal or valuation, and many of these are dictated by the market, so it will be worth trying to meet the criteria for buying a house!
1. The Floor Plan is Dark and Does Not Flow
Older-style houses were traditionally closed-off with lots of rooms, so it may be worth knocking down a few walls and opening your home up if you are doing a renovation. Homebuyers now favor an open layout for easy living. This is especially true if you have the perfect aspect of a South-facing back garden. Letting in the light could prove financially beneficial during the appraisal process.
When you knock down walls, it can be a fantastic transformation in an older home. In many cases, you move what real estate appraisers refer to as functional obsolescence. For example, walking through a dining room to get to a bedroom is not ideal.
By removing walls, you can often change the lighting patterns and the home’s flow, creating a much more desirable floor plan today’s buyers will appreciate.
If your home doesn’t need a floor plan change, there are other ways to create the illusion of light, including:
– Painting your walls a bright color or even a bright white
– Using strategic mirrors to reflect the light
– Erecting some large seascapes or other artwork reflective of light
– Arranging furniture to create an excellent open flow
Doing these things can make the home look that much more appealing to not only homebuyers but also an appraiser.
2. The Condition of Your Driveway
Before getting the appraiser in, you may have to give your driveway a quick makeover. The driveway is the first thing visitors to your home will see, so if it is asphalt, even it out to get rid of cracks. Getting a driveway seal coat can go a long way toward improving the appearance.
3. Any Strange Odors Coming From Inside
There may be a cracked sewage pipe under your house—and if there is, fix it. Get a plumber in to have a look. Mold can also smell terrible, so check for it.
If you have to deodorize under the floor in your house, start with a few bags of garden lime to neutralize the odor. Throw open the windows and burn incense (sandalwood) when no one is there.
4. Outdoor Shed and Outbuildings
If your outdoor shed looks ramshackle and unpainted, get it repaired and painted before the appraiser comes over. A wooden shed will look nice painted cream with green trim and a green roof. The main thing is that it is made to look neat and clean.
You don’t want the shed to impact negatively on your property sale. Plant a small garden bed along the side of it, with a few seasonal flowers.
5. Unsightly Neighbors
When appraisal time comes, no one wants a bad neighbor. If your neighbor never mows the lawn, get the contractor in to do your yard and offer them a free mow at the same time. It will be worth it to ensure the appraiser doesn’t downgrade your property.
Get any overhanging branches cut back and generally tidy up the yard. Make sure that their rubbish bin has been taken inside.
6. A House With a Terrible Past
It’s better to not buy a house where a recent murder has occurred, as you can’t do much about the past. The appraiser could take this into account.
Final Thoughts on Factors That Impact Your Appraisal
Chat to your real estate agent about what else you should do to get more ideas on what impacts a house appraisal.

6 Security Tips for Your New Home

Buying and moving into a new home is exciting, but it also requires a lot of attention to detail, from closing the deal to figuring out the logistics of getting all your belongings from point A to point B. Amid all the excitement, planning and unpacking, many new homeowners overlook one essential factor: the security of their new house.

If you’re moving, consider these six tips from the home security experts at ADT to help keep your family and your property safe and secure:

Change the Locks. You never know who lived in your property before you moved in. Do yourself a favor and change the locks regardless of the situation.

Transfer or Invest in a Security System. There’s no better way to ensure your home is secure 24/7 than installing a home security system. Burglar-proof your house by adding video surveillance and motion sensors for complete security. If there’s already a security system in the house, have it properly looked over and reactivated. If you’d like to bring the security system that you’re currently using to your new house, consider relocation services.

Install Indoor and Outdoor Lighting. Don’t stand out as the “new neighbor” by being the only dim house on the street at night. Keep your family protected by making your house look occupied at all times using light automation.

Keep Your Outside Area in Excellent Condition. Did you know burglars see the exterior of your property as a bullseye? If your lawn is unkempt or you have large shrubbery, burglars will see that as an invitation to break in.

Talk With the Neighbors. Having trusted neighbors can immediately make living in a new place much safer. They may be able to help keep your house look occupied while you’re away by simply picking up the newspaper, shoveling your walkway, etc.

Remind Your Kids to Be Cautious. Moving to a new neighborhood means a lot of unfamiliar faces for you and your family. Make sure your children are aware that they should never let a stranger into the house, leave the garage door up when they come in or go exploring too far until you’re more familiar with the area.

By taking care of these security measures when moving, you can turn your focus to truly enjoying your new, safe home.

How to Save for a Down Payment If You’re Currently Renting

If you are renting an apartment but want to buy your own home, you’ll have to save enough money for a down payment first. The amount will depend on the price of your dream home and the terms of your mortgage, but it’ll most likely be several thousand dollars more than you currently have in your bank account. Saving money for a down payment while putting a significant percentage of your monthly income toward rent can feel daunting, but you can do it if you make some strategic decisions and commitments.

Figure out How Much You Need
If you have a pretty good idea of where you want to live and the size and features you want in your future home, you can look at recent sale prices and come up with a ballpark estimate of how much you’ll need for a down payment. Having a target can help you stay on track.

See Where Your Money Goes & Look for Ways to Cut Expenses
Keep track of every dollar you spend for two or three months. Knowing where your money goes can help you identify areas where you can make changes to save. For example, you may be surprised at how much you spend on things like eating out and entertainment.

If you live in an area where rental costs are high, consider relocating. You might have a longer daily commute, but cutting your rent bill could give you hundreds of extra dollars each month to put toward your down payment. If moving isn’t an option, consider getting a roommate to share expenses.

Utility bills can fluctuate from month to month as your usage changes with the season. If possible, find an apartment with some or all utilities included. The rent payment may be higher, but paying the same amount each month can make budgeting easier. If you can’t find an apartment with utilities included, look for ways to use less electricity and water.

Increase Income & Reduce Debt
You can earn additional income by taking on a part-time job. Whether you capitalize on an in-demand skill that you have or look for odd jobs or a freelancing gig, every extra dollar can bring you closer to your down payment goal.

If you have credit card balances, high interest rates can cause you to pay thousands of dollars extra. Paying off your debt means that money could go toward a down payment instead. Eliminating credit card debt can also raise your credit score and help you get a mortgage with a lower interest rate.

Focus on a Goal & Create a Strategy
Saving money for a down payment can be tough if you’re paying to rent a home, but it can be done. Set a goal, figure out where your money is currently going each month and then look for changes you can make to reduce your living expenses. A multi-pronged approach can help you reach your goal faster.

Touring an Open House? Here are 8 Things to Look For

When you’re searching for your dream house, you’ll likely spend a good chunk of time touring open houses—and while you may have a list of ‘must-haves’ or ‘no-no’s’ in mind, it’s easy to be distracted by color and/or other cosmetic touches that keep you from noticing more critical factors. Experienced real estate agents know what to look for. But if you’re touring on your own, here are eight things you should definitely be alert to.

  • Signs of Water Damage – They may not be obvious, so look for water marks on the ceilings or brown water marks on the walls. If there’s carpeting in the basement, be sure it is dry and be wary of a musty odor.
  • Foundation Cracks – While these, too, may not be obvious, check for misaligned doors or windows, sticking doors or sloping floors, which may be signs the house is not solidly anchored.
  • Too Many Stairs – They may not bother you now, while you are young and healthy, but will Grandma be able to handle them—and will you when you are her age?
  • Closet Space – Picture your things fitting into the existing closets. If you think perhaps there is not enough space, you’re probably right.
  • Storage Space – Where will you store your holiday ornaments, camping gear and out-of-season sports equipment? Think not just about closet space for clothes, but about space to store all your extras.
  • Water Pressure – Lackadaisical water pressure can be a big issue in the kitchen or the shower. Turn on the taps full blast for a minute to see how the water runs. 
  • Natural Light – If you’re touring the home in bright daylight with all the lights on, try turning the lights off to get a better idea about natural light. 
  • An Aging Roof – A home inspector will note it, but why wait until mid-transaction to realize you may need to budget for replacement? Check for an abundance of damaged or missing shingles, or signs of water damage in the attic.

Escrow: The Nuts and Bolts

To some home buyers and sellers, and perhaps to some less experienced real estate agents, the escrow process is something of a mysterious experience where a lot of money and documents change hands until a property is magically turned over to the new owner during a projected ‘close of escrow.’

In fact, at its essence, escrow is a clearing house – a neutral third party whose job it is to carry out all the written instructions agreed upon by buyer, seller, and lender, and hold in trust the buyer’s earnest money and other applicable funds and documents until conditions are met and the transaction can be completed.

But the escrow process has many moving parts, and having a reputable, approachable escrow officer can help demystify the experience and keep things moving toward a timely closing.

Here is what you and your clients can expect from your escrow officer

  • We receive and hold the buyer’s funds in a non-interest trust account
  • We review and comply with all agreements of the sale as detailed in the purchase contract and joint escrow instructions
  • We manage preparation of the grant deed (for seller’s signature) and the estimated closing statement and any other documents needed to clear title
  • We receive loan documents from the buyer’s lender and prepare estimated closing statements 
  • We order evidence of insurance from the buyer’s insurance agent and send the signed loan documents and all lender-required items to the new lender for funding
  • We submit original documents required to clear title to the title company for recording at the close of escrow
  • We ensure that escrow is in receipt of all funds necessary to pay the seller their proceeds and that the seller has sufficient equity in the property to cover all agreed upon costs, lien payoffs, and/or invoices
  • We make sure all required paperwork is in escrow to provide the buyer with clear title to the property
  • We ensure that all conditions agreed upon by the buyer and seller, and in writing through escrow, have been satisfied

When all escrow instructions have been carried out, the closing can take place. At this time, all outstanding funds and fees are collected and paid, including title insurance premiums, real estate commissions and termite inspections. Title to the property is then transferred to the new owner, title insurance is issued, and it’s time to turn over the keys.