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Negotiate Like A Pro: 6 Tricks For Winning A Stalemate

Learn how you can not only play the negotiation game, but also win.


When my husband and I first started the hunt for Atlanta, GA, real estate, I cringed at the tough negotiating he was doing, as did our agent. “You sound like a fast-talking big-city businessman,” she said to him in her smooth drawl. But as cringe-worthy as it seemed at the time, he was just engaging in some tried-and-true horse-trading — trying to make a deal that both sides could feel good about.

You might be the type of person I was; the kind who never questions the price of an item. If that sounds like you, it can’t hurt to brush up on your negotiation skills, whether you’re buying or selling real estate. When selling your home, your first reaction might be a big “oh heck no” when you get a lowball offer, but take a deep breath and at least consider your options.

Here are six negotiation skills for doing more than just playing the game: for winning.


Price your house right
There’s a difference between the price you want to get (or what you think the house is worth) and what the market will bear. “Pricing is not based on how much a seller needs to net,” says Brian Horan, a broker who specializes in Los Angeles, CA, real estate. “Sellers always seem to need a certain amount, but that has nothing to do with the price of tea in China.” Look into neighborhood comps to give yourself a more realistic idea. A savvy real estate agent will also be able to provide a benchmark for asking prices that reflect market valuations.

Consider the first offer
“Really pay attention to your first offer,” says Chris Leavitt, star of Million Dollar Listing: Miami. “Because that will probably be your best one.” Leavitt, who once sold a Miami Beach, FL, condo for $34 million, the highest condo sale in Florida history at the time, knows a little something about negotiating. “Your best offers usually come at the beginning, so it would be a mistake to not listen to those offers, regardless of what they are,” he says.

Think like a salesperson
“All home sellers should establish their BATNA before listing their house for sale,” says Patrick Malone, senior partner at The PAR Group. (No, he isn’t telling you to become Batman.) “BATNA” stands for “best alternative to a negotiated agreement” and serves as a negotiator’s fallback option in case there’s no deal. Having a BATNA puts you in a stronger negotiation position. Maybe you’ve decided that if you don’t get your bottom line, you’ll rent the place and try again later, or maybe you’ll renovate and stay. Keeping your BATNA in the back of your mind can help prevent you from agreeing to a bad deal out of desperation.

Don’t be an emotional seller
It’s probably best not to listen to Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” before you enter negotiations with a potential buyer. Garratt Hasenstab, managing broker with the Verdigris Group, advises buyers to do their best to stay levelheaded throughout the process. “This is business, simple as that,” he says. “Rational thinking, business skill, and negotiation skill are what it’s all about.” Hasenstab also recommends that your real estate agent find out the buyer’s prequalification amount from the bank or what the buyer’s desired purchase price is. The more information you have about a buyer’s financial situation and needs, the better position you’ll be in when it comes time to negotiate.


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To-Dos: Your May Home Checklist

With Mother’s Day and Memorial Day coming up this month, there is plenty of incentive to get those outdoor spaces ready to entertain. Tick these 10 items off your to-do list so you can get to the good stuff: hanging out around the grill, kicking back on the porch and savoring the season.

Paint or stain your home’s exterior. Longer days and generally milder weather makes May a good month to schedule house painting. If your home has a wood-shingled exterior, replace any damaged shingles and have a fresh coat of stain applied if needed.

Check exterior lighting. Make sure all outdoor lights are in working order, including motion-sensing security lights. Replace bulbs or schedule repairs as needed.



Inspect kitchen and bath fixtures. Keeping an eye on these areas can help prevent costly water damage and repairs later on. Regrout or caulk around counters and tile as needed. If you come across any slow leaks, have these repaired as well.

Check safety devices. Test smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors; replace batteries as needed. Check the expiration date on your fire extinguisher and replace it if necessary.

Clean scuff marks and touch up paint. Use a product like Magic Eraser to remove scuff marks from walls and baseboards. Touch up paint as needed on interior walls and trim.

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How To Refinance Everything In Your Life


Ever wished you could have a do-over on the terms of your auto or student loan? Guess what? The benefits of a refi aren’t just for homeowners.


Let’s play a little word-association game. What comes to mind when you hear the word “refinance”? If you answered “mortgages,” you’re not alone. A mortgage is the one type of loan that’s probably most frequently associated with refinancing. But refinancing goes beyond just helping people give their mortgages a makeover: Did you know that the concept of a refi can apply to just about any kind of loan, from your student loans to your auto loan?

Whether you’re renting a pricey studio apartment in San Francisco, CA, or a home in Richmond, VA, if you’re a renter with any type of loan, it’s worth understanding how the process works — and how it can help you.

How can renters take advantage of refinancing?
You can refinance almost any type of debt, not just mortgages. If you have car loans or student loans, for example, you may be able to refinance them. Refinancing simply means you’re taking one loan and replacing it with another, with the new loan having different (and preferably more favorable) terms than the old one. You may want to refinance a loan to get a better interest rate than your original debt carries or to reduce the monthly payment you make. You can also consolidate many loans into a single one. Any of these outcomes can make personal debts easier to manage — and therefore easier for you to repay.

If you have a variable-rate loan and long for a more stable monthly payment, you may want to refinance simply to secure terms that present a little less risk. For example, swapping that variable-rate loan for a loan with a fixed interest rate could help with budgeting. But if you’re thinking about refinancing a loan to enjoy one or more of these potential benefits, it’s important to understand that there are two kinds of refis to choose from: rate-and-term and cash-out.


What you need to know about rate-and-term refinancing
If you’re interested in refinancing something like an auto loan or student loans to get a better interest rate or change the loan term, consider rate-and-term refinancing. This type of refinancing can be beneficial to borrowers if you originally took out your loan when interests rates were much higher than what you can get today. It’s also helpful if you need to alter the amount of your monthly payment. A refi can update the loan term, and changing the length of that term will impact how much you owe each month.


What about cash-out refinancing?
Cash-out refinancing offers you an interesting option. Going with this type of refi means that your new loan is for more than your existing loan. You get the difference between the new loan and the old in cash. It’s great to have this extra money in hand, but keep in mind, this increases the debt that you carry. You’ll need to repay the entirety of the loan plus the cash you received, and you’ll have to pay interest on all of it.


Before refinancing everything, consider the downsides
While both these refinancing options can be helpful to borrowers, there are some downsides. Just because you carry some debts doesn’t mean a refi will help you manage your repayment or will save you money over time.

If you want to refinance student loans, for example, you need to remember that this process replaces your old debt with a new one — and that new loan will come with new terms and benefits. Some federal loans are eligible for benefits like payment programs or even loan forgiveness. If you refinance, you could be disqualified from accessing that repayment help.

And refinancing any loan comes with a cost. You’ll be originating a whole new loan, so expect to pay fees just like you did when you originally borrowed the money. This could eliminate any savings you’d accrue over time via a lower interest rate, so always do the math before making your decision. Refinancing could cost you more money in interest over time too. Changing the terms of your loan may lower your monthly payments, but it could also mean you make those payments for a longer time. Stretching out the life of your loan also means paying more in interest. It’s important to weigh the costs, because you might be surprised to find that continuing to pay down your current loans could remain the best option for you.


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The Pros and Cons of Month-to-Month Leases



Navigating the rental market isn’t easy. Between bait-and-switch listings on sites like Craigslist, deceptive landlords, and confusing legal language in lease agreements, finding the right apartment can be a time-consuming, mentally taxing process. But before you even begin your search, you’ll need to determine whether you’re looking for a short- or long-term lease.

Not sure where you stand? Consider these advantages and disadvantages to month-to-month leases — then decide what makes the most sense for your needs.

Pro: You get greater flexibility


If you’re thinking about buying a property in the near future, or moving to a new city, a short-term lease gives you more flexibility and can save you money in the long run. When you sign a 12-month (or longer) lease, you’re legally obligated to pay 12 months of rent even if you decide to move before the lease expires. (Read: breaking a long-term lease will cost you.)

Granted, “some landlords will let you terminate a 12-month lease early if you find a new renter to take your place,” says Joe DeFilippo, a real estate agent and rental specialist with City Chic Real Estate in Washington, D.C.

However, if you want to be able to move on short notice without paying a penalty, a month-to-month rental is your best option. Bear in mind you’ll still need to give the landlord at least 30 days’ notice (or more, depending on the lease agreement).


Con: You pay more in rent


Owners want rental property occupied at all times so they can continually collect rent. But when a tenant moves, finding a replacement can be a hassle — and there’s a chance the unit will be vacant for a while. Therefore, month-to-month renters pay a premium, says Rae Wayne, an agent with The Bizzy Blondes Real Estate Team in Los Angeles.

How much more you’ll pay depends on the market. In Washington, D.C., month-to-month leases cost on average 50 percent more than 12-month leases, says DeFilippo. In Manhattan, landlords usually charge 15 percent to 20 percent more — and rent is high in New York, points out Marin King, an attorney and real estate agent at Keller Williams NYC.


Pro: You can (usually) switch to a long-term lease


In general, if you’re a good tenant, the landlord will be open to you converting to a 12-month lease, but there are some circumstances where that’s not the case. For example, if the owner is planning to make the property their primary residence in the near future, you’ll eventually need a new place to live. Find out what the landlord’s motivation is before signing a lease.

Con: Your rent isn’t fixed


Arguably the biggest benefit of signing a 12-month lease is that you get to lock in your rental rate, which makes it easier to manage your budget.

Meanwhile, when you’re on a month-to-month lease, the landlord could decide to raise your rent on a whim and — depending on where you live — may only need to give you 30 days’ notice.

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You Can Do WHAT On My Property? Know Your Easement Rights


If you’ve got an easement, your potential new neighbor might have a legal right to a portion of your land.


Picture this: You’ve fallen in love with a gorgeous home on a corner lot in Fort Lauderdale, FL, but on the day of your home inspection, you’re shocked when your new neighbor drives right through your property on their way to work. A chat with the home inspector and an investigation of property records reveals something concerning: There’s an easement on your potential new property. Your neighbor needs to drive on your land to access theirs — and is fully within their rights to do so.


What’s a homebuyer to do? Start by learning the good, the bad, and the ugly about property rights and easements.

What are property easements?

An easement gives a person or entity a legal right to use someone else’s land. But that doesn’t mean your neighbor can just start growing tomatoes in your yard. An easement is “not a right to possess the property, but rather to use it for a stated purpose,” says Bob Tankel, a Pinellas, FL, attorney who specializes in community association law. For example, a utility company might have the right to dig up a section of your lawn to install or maintain phone, power, and cable (maybe even fiber-optic) lines.


What should you know about easements before you buy?

Start with the basics: It’s important to know whether there are any easements on a property before you close, where they are, and what type of easements they are. Some easements, for example, remain after you buy the house, but others can be canceled. This depends on whether the easement is an appurtenant easement or an easement in gross.

“Appurtenant” means belonging to someone else. So an appurtenant easement is one in which the neighbor sought and now owns the easement, such as in the case of that driveway access. An appurtenant easement stays with the house if you buy it.

With an easement in gross, you have more say. If, for example, the property has a path that leads to a fishing pond, the original owner might have granted a neighbor access to the property to get to the fishing spot. That’s considered an easement in gross, and it does not remain once the property changes hands. So if you wish to put up a fence (or just don’t want your neighbor traipsing across your property), you have the right to end the agreement — just be prepared for an awkward first introduction with that new neighbor.

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The 6 Most Common Rental Scams (And How To Avoid Them)

Here’s what to do when finding an apartment goes from annoying to criminal.

There’s almost no way around it: Finding an apartment can be stressful. The search, the competition, the upfront money … they’re all reasons most of us try to move as infrequently as possible. (The additional expense and frustrations of moving all of your stuff probably also play a role.) But sometimes the rental process goes from merely aggravating to actually illegal. While the vast majority of rental listings are legitimate, rental scams are out there, and they’re not always easy to spot. “Recently, we’ve been encountering a lot of fraud that doesn’t fit the historical norm,” says David Peters, director of engineering at HotPads, a Zillow Group company that powers Trulia rental listings.

Here are six of the most common rental scams out there, along with suggestions for how to avoid them.


1. Fake credit requests

One common rental scam involves a request for a credit report. Here’s how it works: The scam artist posts a fake apartment listing online and asks to check the credit reports of potential renters using a link they provide. The link redirects to a credit report company that uses a referral program; the scammer can earn up to $18 per credit report request.

The credit report itself may be legit, but the need to obtain it in the first place isn’t, since the apartment listing is bogus. To avoid this scam, don’t release your credit report through a link from a potential landlord; instead, when you’re satisfied a landlord is legit, get your credit report through one of the three credit-reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) and have a hard copy available for the landlord when you meet them.


2. Sketchy real estate agent services

Another common rental scam: fake real estate agent services. These services offer to generate a list of preforeclosure or rent-to-own rental properties for clients — appealing because of their lower price points — and then request either a sign-up fee or a monthly fee of up to $200. The list the client receives is usually full of sham real estate listings, either fake or expired, and it’s impossible to get a refund on the sign-up fee. Skip this one by searching rental listings for free on Trulia!


3. Asking for money before you see the apartment

“The most common type of scam we encounter involves convincing a renter to send a deposit, first month’s rent, or application fee before allowing them to see inside a unit or without meeting in person,” says Peters. Imagine: You find a terrific online listing that seems as if it’ll be snatched up immediately, so the request for money upfront may not seem entirely unreasonable. And unlike some scam listings of the past, which might include misspellings or photos stolen from another site, these write-ups seem completely aboveboard. “Fraudsters are constantly adapting to improve their odds of successfully stealing money from renters, so they’re making their fake listings look increasingly legit,” says Peters. Still, there shouldn’t be a cost for admission, so if you’re asked for cash upfront, walk away. “There is never a reason to send money without viewing an apartment or meeting in person,” Peters adds, especially if the request is for a money transfer. This is because it’s basically impossible to stop payment on a wire transfer, unlike a check or credit card payment.


4. A copy-and-pasted ad

Say a legitimate landlord writes up a compelling listing for their newly vacant apartment and posts it online. A scammer can very easily copy and paste the listing but significantly lower the price, which will generate furious interest. Otherwise known as the “clone scam,” this maneuver is especially aimed at someone who’s busy or renting from out of town and is willing to put down money sight unseen.

Another clue will be a request for an unusually high security deposit, since the scammer is seeking to take off with as much money as possible, as fast as possible. “We try hard to make sure you never come across fraudulent listings, but if you come across a scam listing on Trulia, report it to us so we can get better at preventing them,” Peters says. “Click ‘Report this Listing’ on the listing page, and we will review the listing, remove it, and block other related scams. If you’ve been scammed, also contact your local law enforcement and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).”

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Read Before You Refi: 5 Tips For A Higher Home Appraisal

If you’re refinancing, these home appraisal tips can help.


If you’re hoping to refinance the mortgage on your home, there’s one big roadblock between you and that lower rate: the home appraisal. If your appraisal is low, you might not be able to refinance at all, or you might be facing less-than-optimal loan terms, including potentially paying for private mortgage insurance. If your appraisal results in a higher assessment, you’ll quite likely have more loan options available to you — often with lower interest and better payments.

To start your appraisal prep, make sure your home is clean (inside and out). Appraisers are human, after all, and can be swayed by how pristine (read: well-cared-for) a home looks.
Here are five more home appraisal tips to ensure your home appraises as high as possible.


1. Make those small repairs you’ve been postponing


Your house isn’t going to morph into a mega-mansion overnight, so some of the considerations for an appraisal (such as the number of rooms, square footage, and location) aren’t negotiable. But you can make the most of your home’s features. “Make sure that all the major systems have been serviced and that everything in the home appears to be maintained and functional,” says Ingrid Vincent, a Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts real estate agent. For appraisers, the condition of a home often matters more than the year it was built. Tackle any DIY home projects that you’ve put off.


2. Enhance your home’s curb appeal

You might not pay much attention to your home’s exterior, especially if you typically enter and exit through the garage or a side door. But curb appeal matters to potential buyers, and it matters to appraisers too. The Appraisal Institute states that properly maintained landscaping can enhance a home’s value. If you’re wondering what else you can do (besides mowing the lawn) to boost curb appeal, Cassy Aoyagi, president of FormLA Landscaping in California, gives these tips for a quick landscaping fix:
  •     Strategically place container gardens
  •     Mulch flower beds
  •     Wipe down existing foliage and outdoor lights
  •     Stage patios or porches with seating and pillows

3. Create a file of all recent improvements, upgrades, and tax documents

If you spend any money on your home, save all your receipts and keep them in a filing cabinet. (Or digitize the documents and store them on your computer.) It’s also a good idea to take before-and-after photographs of any improvements and upgrades. By staying organized, you can easily prove to the appraiser what you did to improve and upgrade your home, and how much you spent. Also be sure to include documentation for any permits that were pulled as part of home improvement projects.


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Pros And Cons Of Buying During Real Estate’s Hottest Season


 

Data suggest spring is the best time to buy a home, but buying during peak season has its disadvantages.


Whether it’s the warmer weather, the pending summer break from school, or simply a seasonal mental shift, spring is hot for real estate. (In some markets, the spring home sales season even gets an early start.) “Statistically, spring has been the busiest season to purchase a property,” says Maria Babaev of Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Roslyn, NY.

But is spring really the best time to buy a house? While there are certainly some advantages to buying during the coming months, there are also plenty of disadvantages. If you’re focused on optimal timing, consider these variables.


Pro: There’s more inventory
It really is like clockwork: When April rolls around, property listings multiply like crocuses. One reason is that homes simply show better in the spring, with all the blooming flowers and the lack of snow. Sellers also feel more motivated once the warmer weather rolls around. And then, of course, success begets success. Potential sellers hear about all the bidding wars that result from springtime listings and figure it’s best to wait out the winter chill, then get a piece of the April action.

Con: There’s more competition
There are many more homes to choose from, yes, but there are also more buyers looking at those homes. Many, many more. Spring produces a rush of potential bidders who, like many sellers, have sat out the previous season in hopes of having more options now. And more buyers, alas, means bidding wars and higher prices, says Babaev. Plus, anticipating this higher demand, sellers may have priced their homes a bit higher than they would in winter.

Pro: It’s the perfect time for families to shop
Choosing to move your family is stressful no matter the time of year, but at least in the summer you won’t have to balance packing up your house with school pickup and moving dates with graduation dates. To execute the ideal summer move, you have to start house hunting … now. “Many families that are purchasing homes would like to be settled in their new residences prior to the start of the school year,” says Babaev. “With a standard transaction taking 60 to 90 days to close, they must be in contract by mid-June, which means they should really get serious about looking and making decisions in April/May.”

Con: The stress of relocating your family can lead to bad decision making
With all the pressure to buy a home before the school calendar starts anew, it’s a lot easier to start compromising … and compromising … and compromising. If you’re looking to change school districts before fall, the desire to purchase anything could start to override common sense. Just remember that it’s possible you’ll be in your new home for a long time, so don’t make a hasty decision.

10 Ways to Dazzle Homebuyers This Spring

Spring is a key time in the property market and, thankfully, it’s easier to make your home look sparkling and inviting when the sun’s shining. Use the warmer weather and longer days to prepare your home for sale by following these tips, which don’t cost much but make a world of difference. The sooner you sell, the sooner you can be moving into your new home.

1. Remember first impressions count.

Set the tone for buyers with a beautiful front yard and exterior. Whether you have a driveway, a small garden or a large landscaped frontage, make it look the absolute best it can. In spring, add bedding plants in hanging baskets or tubs and make sure the lawn and shrubs are well-trimmed.

Fix that squeaky gate, loose fence board and ivy in the gutters too.

2. Pep up your porch and hallway.

Once buyers cross the threshold, they need to see that your home is clean and tidy and has plenty of space. Store your coats, shoes, strollers and bikes out of sight. A console table with a pair of lamps and a large mirror in the entry is a classic way to present your home as spacious and attractive.

Be wary of any unpleasant odors from pets, shoes or cooking. Don’t try to mask smells with a spray air freshener. Instead, remove the source of the problem, clean thoroughly, air out the space and use a room diffuser or scented candle to create a luxurious and welcoming scent for visitors.

3. Deal with the little jobs.

Tend to any little defects and unfinished projects. Your buyers will notice these subtle visual hints at damage or neglect, even if it’s subconsciously.

You might not be seeing the chips in the paintwork or scuffs on the woodwork, so before you have the real estate agents over, take lots of photos from different angles and really scrutinize them. List everything that needs to be done, then either tackle the odd jobs yourself or hire a handyman or decorator.

Remember, buyers may be put off by signs of neglect or poor maintenance and either walk away or make a low offer.


4. Cull the clutter.

Bathrooms should be neat and tidy. There should be plenty of storage to stash everyday toiletries, leaving space to display fluffy towels, scented candles and pretty jars and soaps.

The better you make your house look for the photos, open house or viewings, the quicker it will sell, so stash your odds and ends out of sight — and always put the toilet seat down!

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How To Hack Your Electric Bill


Want to know how to save electricity? These hacks can help save you cash too.


You turn off the lights when you leave a room. You unplug small appliances when they aren’t in use. You think you’re being pretty smart about your energy consumption, yet every month your electric bill keeps creeping up. You shudder to think how high it could go in the summer months — especially if you’re cooling off an apartment or home in Phoenix, AZ, during mid-July. You’re not alone. On average, American households spend $110 a month on their electric bill.

Before you start plotting a move to cooler climes, find out how to save electricity with these hacks and then start focusing on more fun tasks — like what to do with all of the money you’re saving!


1. Identify the “energy vampires” in your home


“Appliances that use a remote control, have a continuous display, or have an external power supply all continue to use energy, even when they’re turned off,” says Gene Wang, CEO and co-founder of People Power, a company that provides apps, cloud, and mobile service.

Translation: Simply remembering to turn off your plasma TV isn’t enough. According to Wang, even when it’s turned off, a TV still sucks up 1,400 kilowatt-hours annually, which could mean an extra $150 per year added to your bill. Invest in a smart power strip and plug like-used devices such as TVs, game consoles, and cable boxes into the same one, advises Wang. Not only will the device cut off phantom power, but it can also be set to turn on and off automatically.

2. Invest in a power monitor to optimize energy usage times


“You want to use power when the energy rates are lower and there’s less demand on the power grid,” says Joel Worthington, president of Mr. Electric LLC, an international electrical installation and repair company. A power monitor can help you figure out how much energy you’re using throughout the day so that you can make changes accordingly. For example, you may find it’s more economical to run the dishwasher just before bedtime.


3. Wash clothes in cold water and line-dry


According to Project Laundry List, if you dry four loads of laundry in an electric dryer per week, it’ll cost you an extra $110 per year (that’s basically a membership to Hulu). Wash your clothes in cold water whenever possible and then hang them to dry on your own DIY version of an indoor clothesline (if DIY isn’t your thing, check out laundrylist.org for ready-made products for line-drying inside).

4. Use small appliances for small meals


Eating alone? Heat up your food in a toaster oven, which can use up to half as much energy as an electric oven. In the mood for a cup of tea? Heat the water in an electric kettle rather than turning on a stove burner. And when you do use your stove-top, be sure to use the burner closest to the size of your pot. According to SmarterHouse.org, “a 6-inch pan on an 8-inch burner wastes over 40% of the heat produced by the burner.”

5. Install motion-activated power outlets


Can’t remember whether you unplugged your curling iron before you left the house? Use a motion-activated outlet adapter. It will automatically turn off a gadget or appliance that’s plugged into the adapter when it senses no one is in the room using it, says Worthington. If you’re a renter, mention this option to your landlord, who will probably be only too happy to reduce wasted energy use (and potentially prevent fires too).


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Are You Ready for a Hot Seller Season?


April 1st isn’t just April Fools’ Day, it’s also the start of seller season in the real estate business. Take a tip from a house flipper: If you’re thinking of selling your house, now is the time to get it ready and get it listed. Homes show better in the spring — and you’re more likely to sell your house quickly and at a good market value.

Now, you might be thinking that selling your house during such a competitive season isn’t the best idea. But I’m here to tell you that there’s really no time like the present. You can sell a house in any season; my husband and I have sold in all kinds of markets.

However, even with a lot of competition, spring is just a great time to show off your house’s best assets and really get people to envision themselves living there. All you have to do is follow a few simple but effective tips so you can position your house correctly on the market, save yourself stress and disappointment, retain negotiating power, and not feel backed into a corner.


Pay attention to first impressions


You might be tempted to just pull some weeds and put down new mulch in your yard, but take a look at it and ask yourself if you could do more for your curb appeal. That doesn’t mean that you have to do a ton of landscaping that’ll require a lot of upkeep and watering.

Remember, your buyers are going to be looking at your property with an eye toward maintenance. Here in California, where Tarek and I live, we’ve been having ongoing issues with water restrictions. El Nino is doing its best to refill our reservoirs now, but adding landscaping that’ll require a lot of watering could still be a bad idea for sellers here. A better idea would be to go with low-water grass and drought-tolerant plants.

Think of the climate in your area, and go with low-maintenance plants for your yard. Visit your local garden center and explore using native plants. Then work on sprucing up your front and back patio to show your potential buyers how they can spend their time outside relaxing and/or entertaining friends on a lovely spring afternoon or evening.

If you’re planning on spending money to improve your home to get it ready to go on the market, make sure that you focus on projects like this that’ll really go the distance for you. Take the time to clean up and make your porch and entryway really attractive, because you know your buyers are going to stop there while the real estate agent gets into the lockbox to let them in.

You may not need to replace the front door or buy all new furniture for the porch and patio, but pay attention to all the entry points to the house. Some homeowners are in the habit of entering the house through the garage, so it’s a good idea if the area where home buyers enter the house says “welcome home,” too.

Make it look like a model home

As real estate investors we buy houses that have “lost their pretty,” were badly neglected, or have been abandoned altogether. The houses are empty. So, typically we are not dealing with sellers. However, as real estate agents we have dealt with many sellers. Tarek and I know that the emotional connection to a house can be very strong.

An appropriate mindset is important. It can be difficult, but at some point it’s a good idea to stop thinking of the house as your home, and focus on the business transaction. Getting the house to sell fast is, by definition, the objective of house-flipping. You can take the same tack and do everything you can to get the house ready.

Make a real effort to de-personalize the space. It will be easier for a buyer to see themselves living in the house if it looks like a model home. Do more than just clear clutter. Remove family photos and children’s artwork. Edit your collections, books, closets, cabinets, pantry, and end tables. Try to make the house look as big as possible by making it look as though there is room to spare.

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13 Surprising Extras That Add Value To Homes





These bonus features are 13 good reasons to love what you’ve got.


Most people who watch home renovation shows on TV can quickly spout off the home improvement projects that bring added value in the eyes of potential buyers. The first projects most people mention: kitchen and bathroom remodels. But sometimes you just don’t have the time, patience, or budget to do a full overhaul, especially if you’re looking to sell in the near future. But if you don’t have a new kitchen or master bathroom, don’t fret. What if we told you that your home could already have the features that can ultimately increase your home’s price tag? It’s possible!

Whether you’re looking for how to increase home value in a new, cost-effective way or want to focus on upkeep and helping these spaces look their best, here are a few everyday “extras” that buyers love right now.


1. Fences


Fences make good neighbors, but they’re also a pretty good investment — especially when you consider that homes without fences are typically priced significantly lower than their fenced-in neighbors. The style of fence matters, though: A chain-link fence is generally passed over by buyers, and some towns have even offered to pay homeowners to get rid of them. Instead, opt for natural materials like cedar, which bring privacy while adding plenty of curb appeal. We’re particularly in love with this craftsman-inspired number for sale at 502 Brinkerhoff Ave., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.

2. Stainless steel appliances


Although trends come and go, the desire for stainless steel appliances seems here to stay. Quality always counts, but even homes listed in more affordable price ranges can benefit from including these in the sale — or quickly adding them before listing the property. “If the seller were to spend about $2,000 on stainless steel appliances, their home would sell much faster, and they’d probably double what they spent,” Ellis says. “Most first-time homebuyers don’t have cash to make these improvements themselves.”

3. Walk-in closets


Let’s face it: We all have too much clutter, making a roomy closet a highly sought-after feature in homes for sale. This popular extra might not increase your home’s sale price — but it just might help you sell faster in a competitive market, ultimately saving you from making extra mortgage payments. “I showed a great townhome in Tribeca,” says Laura Cao, a New York, NY–based associate real estate broker with Douglas Elliman. “It had everything but a master walk-in closet. Deal killer.”

This reaction from buyers isn’t limited to New York either: Jeff Lowen, real estate agent with The Real Estate Expert Advisor, says that walk-ins or large closets “have gone from a desired amenity to an expectation these days.” He suggests the addition of cedar accents or custom storage accessories like in this home for sale at 2313 Warfield Ln., Nashville, TN 37215, to make yours stand out. 
 

4. Pool


“This feature can add a great deal of value to a home — depending on the location,” says Than Merrill, former host of A&E’s Flip This House and CEO of FortuneBuilders. According to Merrill, here are the top five cities where owning a pool pays off:

    Cape Coral, FL: A pool here can increase your asking price by $46,130 on average, 22.5% above the average asking price.
    La Quinta, CA: A pool can increase your asking price by a whopping $109,250 on average, 21.1% above the average asking price.
    Naples, FL: Look for a bump of about $73,870 on average, 18.7% above the average asking price.
    Windermere, FL: Pools here can increase your asking price by $72,500 on average, 14.2% above the average asking price.
    Palm Harbor, FL: A pool can boost your asking price by $35,100 on average, 14.1% above the average asking price.

 


Homes with 'Subway Tiles' or 'Barn Doors' Sell Faster and For More Money

Ever wonder why some homes sell for a premium and others don’t? While timing definitely plays a part, turns out mentioning certain home features in your listing description can yield quite the premium– both in how fast the home sells for, and for how much.

According to a new Zillow Digs analysis, for-sale listings touting features like “subway tiles” or “barn doors” can sell for as much as 13 percent more than expected, and nearly 60 days faster than homes without those features.

“When it comes to real estate listing descriptions, words matter,” says Svenja Gudell, Zillow chief economist. “Your listing description is an opportunity to highlight specific details and finishes that might not be visible in photos. Craftsman-style homes and amenities resonate incredibly well with today’s buyers — so if you’ve got them, flaunt them!”

Zillow Digs analyzed listing descriptions from over 2 million homes sold nationwide to see how certain keywords referring to home features, amenities and design styles impacted their sale price. This report stems from an analysis in the New York Times best-seller, “Zillow Talk: Rewriting the Rules of Real Estate,” which looks at how certain listing descriptors like ‘unique’ or ‘captivating’ can impact final sale prices.

Curious what other home features made the list? See below for the top 5 keywords. You can find the full analysis with all 15 words here.

Barn doors


 

Homes mentioning “barn door” in their listing description sold for a hefty premium — 13.4 percent more than expected and 57 days faster. These rustic sliding doors are often found in modern craftsman-style homes, and are used on bedroom closets and kitchen pantries, among others.

Shaker cabinets


 
Listings touting “Shaker cabinets” sold for 9.6 percent above expected and 45 days faster.

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Questions To Expect To Be Asked When Buying A Home



What Are Some Of The Common Questions You Should Expect To Be Asked When Buying A Home?


If you’re going to be buying a home in the near future there are certain questions to expect to be asked.  It doesn’t matter if it will be the first home you’re purchasing or the twentieth home.

It’s important that you understand that the questions you’ll be asked are not asked for the purpose of snooping.  The questions to expect are asked to help better serve you and make sure the home buying process is an enjoyable and successful one.

Below are the most common questions to expect to be asked by both a lender and a real estate agent when buying a home.  The mortgage consultant and a real estate agent are two of the most important professionals you will need during the home buying process.  Having an understanding why these professionals ask the questions that they do can truly make the home buying process much easier.

Questions To Expect To Be Asked By A Lender When Buying A Home

One of the most important pieces to the home buying puzzle relates to the financing.  It’s important when buying a home you understand what the top mortgage FAQs are but also what questions to expect to be asked by a lender.  Below are some of the most common questions to expect to be asked by a lender when buying a home.



 

Where Do You Work & For How Long?

One of the first questions to expect to be asked by a mortgage consultant relates to where you work and for how long you’ve worked at your current employer.  One of the primary reasons this question is asked is to help the mortgage consultant understand your employment history.

Depending on the type of financing a buyer is attempting to obtain, the length and type of employment factors into whether a buyer will be accepted for the mortgage or not.  One of the most common reasons a mortgage is denied after approval is due to changes in employment.

If a buyer has frequent job changes over the past couple years, it will be more challenging to obtain financing for a home purchase.  It can also be challenging if a buyer changes their field of work.

For example, recently while attempting to help a buyer purchase a home in Rochester, NY, the buyer changed their career field from a salaried employee for a company to self-employed in the past year.  This ultimately led to them not being able to purchase a home at the current moment due to their short work history in their new field of work.


How Much Money Do You Make?


Another question to expect to be asked when buying a home will relate to your income.  A mortgage consultant does not ask how much money you make because they are curious.  Knowing how much a buyer makes is critical in order to successfully get them approved for a mortgage.

The amount of money a buyer makes plays a huge role in how much of a home a buyer can purchase.  The more money a buyer makes generally means the more expensive of a home they can purchase.


How Is Your Income Paid (Hourly, Salary, Commission)?


Not only is the amount of money a buyer makes important when buying a home but how the income is paid is very important as well.  A question to expect to be asked when buying a home is how your income is paid.  Are you an hourly employee?  Do you have a yearly salary?  Are you straight commission?

Lots of buyers don’t understand why they are asked how their income is paid.  The primary reason it’s important for the lender to understand how income is paid is so they know whether their income will be a stable and guaranteed amount after the loan is funded.

If a buyer is self-employed the lender is going to require more documentation, primarily their tax returns for the previous 2-3 years, prior to issuing a pre-approval.  The reason a lender will ask for additional documentation from a self-employed applicant is to ensure they’ve earned a stable income over the past several years.  Generally a lender will average the past 2 years of net income, which is their income after any deductions, from a buyers tax returns to use for qualifying purposes.

Lenders will request similar documentation from buyers who have commission based incomes.

What Debts Do You Have?


The debt that a buyer has can sometimes make or break whether they can get approved for a mortgage or not.  Another question to expect to be asked by a mortgage consultant when buying a home is about your current debts.

A buyer who has a solid employment history and good income but has lots of debts can have trouble obtaining a mortgage.  A term that you will hear being used in the mortgage industry is debt to income ratio.  Depending on the type of financing a buyer is obtaining, there are different maximum ratio levels.

Debt to income ratios play a big part in whether a buyer can get a mortgage or not.  Debt to income ratios have become a common reason why millennial buyers are not able to get a mortgage due to their student loan debts.

Again, don’t be offended when a mortgage consultant asks you about the debts that you have, they are just doing their job and making sure your home buying experience is successful.


How Much Money Do You Have Saved In The Bank?


Some buyers are uncomfortable talking about the money they have saved in their bank accounts.  It’s important to realize that the amount of money you have saved is a question to expect to be asked.

While there are ways to buy a home with very little money, it is still important for a mortgage consultant to know exactly how much money a buyer has to work with.  Some mortgage products require a buyer to contribute a certain amount of money towards the purchase of a home.

For example, an FHA mortgage requires a down payment minimum of 3.5%.  While there are ways to successfully negotiate a seller concession, it cannot be relied on that it is a guarantee a seller will be willing to help with a buyers closing expenses.


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How To Appeal A Property Tax Assessment


 

Learn how to review your property taxes, and you may find some errors that could allow you to appeal and pay a lower tax rate.

Income taxes aren’t the only taxes raising eyebrows this time of year. Property tax bills are also hitting mailboxes across the country. And while real estate prices remain relatively steady nationwide, many local tax bills are on their way up — and it’s not easy to predict when your condo in Orlando, FL, or real estate in Chicago, IL, will be subject to higher taxes.

While it’s easy to simply grumble and pay up, you might see a significant tax reduction by learning how to review your property taxes (and, potentially, how to appeal your property tax assessment).


1. Take a closer look at your property tax bill.
The amount due is usually what grabs your attention, but that’s not necessarily the most important number on your bill. Pay attention to the rate of taxation and the assessed value of your home (which may be determined by a formula). These are the numbers that determine your total tax bill. Triple-check the rate of taxation and assessed value to make sure they are correct — both can be confirmed by calling your city or county assessor’s office.

2. Confirm that your tax assessment is up to date
.
Tax assessments don’t necessarily keep up with market value. In some cases, property tax assessments may be updated only every few years. If property values have dipped significantly in your area and assessments haven’t changed, you may want to request a reassessment.

3. Check for errors.
Criteria for assessments vary according to locality but are generally tied to fair market value. That fair market value is based not on a walk-through of your home, as a real estate agent might do, but on a list of attributes plugged into an automated valuation formula. Make sure that information is correct for your property: You can ask your assessor’s office for a detailed checklist if it’s not readily available. Particulars you’ll want to check include square footage (for both your house and your land) as well as the number of rooms and outbuildings, like a garage or in-law suite. You’ll also want to confirm your property type (commercial, residential, or mixed).
 
4. Find out how your local government assesses property.
Understanding how assessments work in your area is key. This includes not only how often assessments are performed but also how values are determined. Some properties are assessed based on recent sales, while others may be assessed based on replacement value (the property’s worth as determined by an insurance company for coverage purposes). Understand what the process for valuation is so that you can make your argument accordingly.

5. Compare similar properties.
It’s helpful to investigate the assessed value of similar properties. This is easily accomplished by checking local records and sales of homes in your area (start your research on Trulia!). Look for patterns, talk to your neighbors, and consistently follow up on home sales in your neighborhood. If you find that your assessed value is considerably higher than that of at least three to five comparable homes in your area, an appeal might make sense.

6. Check eligible tax exemptions or credits.
As you do your research, be sure to check out whether you might qualify for a homestead exemption or other tax credit. These tax breaks might lower your tax bill — even if your assessment accurately valued your home.

7. Look for available freezes and discounts.
Even if your home isn’t eligible for an exemption or credit based on its value, you may be eligible for a tax break. Many localities offer property tax freezes or discounts for seniors, veterans, and disabled individuals, no matter the value of your home.


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1. Take a closer look at your property tax bill. The amount due is usually what grabs your attention, but that’s not necessarily the most important number on your bill. Pay attention to the rate of taxation and the assessed value of your home (which may be determined by a formula). These are the numbers that determine your total tax bill. Triple-check the rate of taxation and assessed value to make sure they are correct — both can be confirmed by calling your city or county assessor’s office.

2. Confirm that your tax assessment is up to date. Tax assessments don’t necessarily keep up with market value. In some cases, property tax assessments may be updated only every few years. If property values have dipped significantly in your area and assessments haven’t changed, you may want to request a reassessment.

3. Check for errors. Criteria for assessments vary according to locality but are generally tied to fair market value. That fair market value is based not on a walk-through of your home, as a real estate agent might do, but on a list of attributes plugged into an automated valuation formula. Make sure that information is correct for your property: You can ask your assessor’s office for a detailed checklist if it’s not readily available. Particulars you’ll want to check include square footage (for both your house and your land) as well as the number of rooms and outbuildings, like a garage or in-law suite. You’ll also want to confirm your property type (commercial, residential, or mixed).

4. Find out how your local government assesses property. Understanding how assessments work in your area is key. This includes not only how often assessments are performed but also how values are determined. Some properties are assessed based on recent sales, while others may be assessed based on replacement value (the property’s worth as determined by an insurance company for coverage purposes). Understand what the process for valuation is so that you can make your argument accordingly.

5. Compare similar properties. It’s helpful to investigate the assessed value of similar properties. This is easily accomplished by checking local records and sales of homes in your area (start your research on Trulia!). Look for patterns, talk to your neighbors, and consistently follow up on home sales in your neighborhood. If you find that your assessed value is considerably higher than that of at least three to five comparable homes in your area, an appeal might make sense.

6. Check eligible tax exemptions or credits. As you do your research, be sure to check out whether you might qualify for a homestead exemption or other tax credit. These tax breaks might lower your tax bill — even if your assessment accurately valued your home.

7. Look for available freezes and discounts. Even if your home isn’t eligible for an exemption or credit based on its value, you may be eligible for a tax break. Many localities offer property tax freezes or discounts for seniors, veterans, and disabled individuals, no matter the value of your home.

- See more at: http://www.trulia.com/blog/much-property-tax-try-solution/#sthash.dzVReLyt.dpuf

 Simple Pleasures: Relaxed Weekend at Home

 

To really recharge your batteries, think about what you want to do, not what you have to do, during your precious respite

 

So often we look forward to the weekend, but once it arrives, it gets swallowed up by errands and chores — and before we know it, it’s over. That hardly seems fair! If you’re ready to reclaim your weekend, begin by shifting your thinking and consider your weekend a “mini retreat” — a well-deserved opportunity to rest and recharge. And while not every weekend lends itself to this relaxed approach, even when life throws you a super-packed weekend, pulling even a few ideas from the list that follows can help slow things down enough that you can catch your breath and savor the abundance around you.


 

Morning Ideas
Start your weekend off right by savoring your first cup of coffee (take it outdoors if the weather is agreeable) and using this moment to simply breathe and relax, without feeling the need to check your phone or fire up the laptop. Instead, pick up an old school pencil and paper and make a list of things you would love to do and (equally important) things you don’t want to do over the weekend. Really dreading the weekly cleanup session? Consider calling in a cleaning service, even if these chores are something you usually do yourself. If you must clean, plan to set a timer and get it out of the way as quickly as possible.

 

Scoop up armfuls of blooms.

What could be more cheerful than flowers all around the house? If spring is blossoming where you live, all you may need to do is walk out to your garden and start snipping away. If it’s still cold (or you don’t have a garden) stop by a market, farmstead or flower shop and treat yourself to some beautiful blooms. Once you get home, trim the stems a bit (a fresh cut makes it easier for the flowers to drink water) and place them in vases of fresh water immediately. But don’t stop there — even if you bought just one bouquet, you can get more out of it by pulling out a few blooms to fill bud vases. Place a bud vase beside your bed, on the bathroom sink and in the kitchen to spread good cheer throughout your home.

 

Take a neighborhood stroll or bike ride.

How much have you really explored your neighborhood? Take a walk (bundle up if you need to) or bike ride if it’s a lovely day, and set out to discover something new. Your eventual destination could be your local farmer’s market or a favorite neighborhood cafe or shop, or you could simply wander and explore, taking inspiration from the houses and gardens you pass.


Set up your own spa-like accoutrements.

When you come in from your walk or bike ride, refresh yourself by making a pitcher of fancy water with slices of lemon, orange or cucumber and sprigs of a fresh herb like mint. Pour yourself a tall glass and sip it while paging through your favorite coffee table book.

 

Refresh your living space.

If decorating is your cup of tea, put on some music and spend some time restyling your living room. There’s no need to buy a thing — just challenge yourself to be creative and work with what you have. Sometimes moving things from room to room, putting up some new art (you can always pull from your stack of family photos) or pulling a few textiles out of hiding are all that’s needed to give a space a fresh look. Of course, if shopping is on your agenda, it’s your weekend to do what you like — but consider checking out a small, local shop or flea market instead of hitting the big stores, as you never know what treasures you’ll come across (and it’s surprisingly satisfying to stay close to home).

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