Thursday, October 15, 2020

Four Things Sellers Should Do Before the Sign Goes in the Yard



Just like buyers should be pre-approved before they begin to look at houses, Sellers should have their home pre-approved.  The reasons are similar: appeal to the "right" buyers, discover issues with the home early, improve marketability, increase negotiations position and close quicker.

For the seller, there are few things that need to be done before the sign goes in the yard and definitely before prospective buyers see the home.  The first is to understand that once you decide to sell the home that it needs to appeal to the broadest base of buyers and that means depersonalizing your home.

Once the home is sold, you will need to pack your things for the new home.  Think of this as starting the process early.  Get moving boxes and make decisions on what you intend to give away or discard in each room and closet.  Identify and pack those items before the home goes on the market. This will be the first wave of making your home more marketable.

When your home hits the market, it needs to be a neutral commodity and not "your" home.  A good rule of thumb is to remove items that involve religion, hunting and sports.  That means removing personal items like family photos or collections displayed in the room.

Next, in round two, go through every room to remove the items that make too large of a statement or take up too much room.  Pool tables may be appropriate in a game room, but they are not in a dining room or a living room.

Personal collections may have taken you years to accumulate and you're proud of them but the people who come to see your home will either not appreciate them or they will become distracted by looking at them instead of the home.  The livability of your home needs to be the focal point.  The buyers need to visualize themselves living in the property that will become "their" home.

The four most important rooms to address are the primary bedroom, kitchen, living room and dining room.  These rooms have a major influence on buyers when determining whether "it is the right home."   Bright colors, possibly used as accent walls, should be neutralized. 

After you have depersonalized the home and removed non-essential items that could make the rooms or closets look small, you might want to consider another technique referred to as staging.  Rearranging furniture so the room shows to its best advantage is simple and doesn't cost a thing.  You might decide that a coffee table or statement piece would be nice and your REALTOR® or stager can suggest a place to rent it rather than buying it.

Once the home is depersonalized and staged, you are ready to have a professional photographer take the pictures that visually describe your home to potential buyers long before they ever look at the home physically.  These will be used on websites, portal sites, MLS, and social media.  Anyone with a point and shoot camera thinks they are a photographer but a pro with the correct wide angle lens, who understands lighting and has an "eye" for what makes a great picture is worth every dime you'll spend.

One more consideration should be to have the home inspected before it goes on the market.  It won't replace the buyer's inspections but it will discover any items that need repair and they should be done before the home goes on the market.  This will probably save you money because it might cost less to repair them than they'll want in second round of negotiations when their inspector finds it.

Another benefit is that if their inspector identifies a problem area that your inspector did not, you have a basis for legitimate disagreement that could just be personal opinion instead of a "fact."

While the process of depersonalizing should take part before you put the home on the market, you'll want you have the benefit of your real estate agent's experience to help you with the process.  At age 18, a person can expect to move nine more times but by age 45, they may only expect to move another 2.7 times.  Your REALTOR®'s experience can be valuable not only in saving your time and money but actually, make the difference in a successful sale.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Selling or Buying Smart Homes



More and more homeowners are employing smart home technology within their homes.  It may start with a video doorbell or lights and progress to other devices.  The smart-home device market is rapidly growing and Forbes research expects it to grow from $55 billion in 2016 to $174 billion in 2025.

The popularity of these high-tech features will require a few additional steps to consider when selling a home.  The seller should determine which items will and will not stay with the sale of the home and identify them in the listing agreement.

Confusion can arise when a home's marketing mentions its smart-home technology and is unclear if a piece like the hub, which is easily considered personal property but is integral to the working of the system.  Some might consider it an accessory and others a component.

A smart home can contain multiple technology devices connected to the Internet that allow them to be controlled or accessed from computers, tablets or most commonly, on mobile apps.  Many of the devices can also be accessed through a hub like an Amazon Echo or Google Home.

Thermostats and lights may have been some of the first such devices but the video doorbells added a new level of WOW factor by being able to see and talk to the person at your door and even get a video recording.  Porch pirates are now seeing their images on social media caught in the act thanks to these devices.

Homeowners sometimes start with one item like a smart sprinkler system control.  When they find out how cool it is and that it actually saves them money not to mention how convenient it is, they starting planning their next smart-home device purchase.  Some of these items absolutely are permanent and become real property and others, border between personal and real property.

If the seller is including smart devices with the sale of the home, they should have administrative access and any personal information removed and return the devices to the default settings.  The seller should also review the privacy settings and delete the permissions for their personal mobile devices.  For the benefit of the buyer, any manuals or warranties should be left for the new owner.

Equally as important, the buyer should verify that the smart devices have been returned to their factory settings and no longer coupled with the seller's mobile devices.  The buyers can create their own account to register the devices in their name.  Then, as security updates are available, they will be notified.  At the same time, the buyer will want to create new access codes and preferences.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Alternative Investments



In a recent article, The Wall Street Journal reported that investors have rarely been this flush with cash.  The economic uncertainty due to the pandemic and the volatility of the stock market has caused assets in money-market funds to increase to approximately $4.6 trillion, the highest level on record according to Refinitv Lipper.

The question becomes should an investor be "out of the market" until things settle down or should they seek to find alternative investments to produce satisfactory results.  Even in the middle of this uncertainty, residential rental property has been a stable performer.

Rents are continuing to increase along with values.  Investor mortgages are available at 80% loan-to-value at fixed interest rates for 30-year terms.  Most other investments must be purchased for cash or at best, are limited to low loan-to-value loans, at floating interest rates for relatively short time frames.

The use of borrowed funds, especially at today's low interest rates, contribute to the rate of return and in some cases, increase it.  This characteristic is known as leverage.

Income properties enjoy specific tax advantages like long-term capital gains rates lower than ordinary income rates, standard depreciation, which is a non-cash deduction, as well as expensing many big-ticket items in the year purchased.

Tax deferred exchanges are available for investors wanting to avoid the tax due on sale and defer the profit into the replacement property.

One of the most cited reasons people invest in rental homes is that they feel they are more in control.  They understand a rental home because it is the same type of property and requires the same maintenance as the home they live in.  They can make the decisions to improve it, repair it, what rent to charge and when to sell it.  For most owners, a home represents their largest financial asset.  That familiarity becomes a natural bridge to decide to invest in rental property rather than something they are less familiar.

If you'd like to know more about the benefits, download the Rental Income Properties guide and call me at (205) 915-7653 to discuss what kind of opportunities are available.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Smart Sprinkler Controller



It seems like most homes have sprinkler systems and if they do, they have some form of controller to automatically turn the water on and off for the time and days you feel necessary.  It seems like basic functionality and if it isn't broken, you may not feel the need to replace it. 

Today, there are so many smart home devices that are not only convenient, but they'll end up saving you enough money to pay for the upgrade.  There are different manufacturers, but you should at least consider the Rachio if for no other reason than the easy installation procedure. 

The process is simple.  Unplug the old controller and disconnect the wires being sure to label which wires went to which stations.  Using the Rachio template, mark three spots on the wall, drill holes in the drywall, insert the anchors into the holes and screw the new controller to the wall. 

This model has convenient wire connectors that do not require crimping a wire around a screw.  It is quick and easy to put the numbered wires in the corresponding slot.  The directions are simple and easy to follow.  When complete, connect the power source and plug it into a wall socket. 

Now, install the Rachio app to your phone and continue following the instructions to connect the controller to the Wi-Fi.    In minutes, you'll be sitting in a lawn chair making adjustments and seeing what it will do. 

Some of the features you'll find very convenient are the multiple schedules that can be created and easily switched from one to another.  As you set up each zone, you can take a picture of the area and be able to identify with a glance which area you want when individually selecting one. 

Another thing you might like is that when you're trying to track down a broken head or just need to adjust it, you can turn on a zone from your phone while looking at the yard.  When you identify which head is the culprit, turn the water off from your phone, make the adjustment or repair and turn the water back on to test it without having to go back and forth to wherever your controller is located. 

Rachio will even monitor the weather to skip a scheduled cycle in case of rain, high wind or freezing temperatures.  You could literally be anywhere in the world where you have an Internet connection and you'll be able to adjust your watering cycle.  This device really does save time and money while being fun to operate. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

How Does It Measure Up?



People are always looking for a "down and dirty" way to determine the value of a home and square footage seems to be one of the most common things used by people whether they are buyers, sellers or real estate agents.  While it seems straight forward, there are several variances that can lead to inaccurate determinations.

The market data approach to value uses similar properties in size, location, condition and amenities to compare with the subject to arrive at a price.  Differences in any of these things can affect the price per square foot.  Appraisers are trained and licensed to make these adjustments but the differences are not necessarily objective and that is where opinions start to influence the value.

Even if a person were to make accurate adjustments, they would be based on the assumption that the square footage of the comparable properties is correct.  That leads to the next area of concern: how was the subject property measured.

It is commonly accepted to the measure the outside of the dwelling on detached housing.  Is it customary in this area to include porches and patios under roof and if so, do they get full value or only partial value?  Is there any value given to the garage since it isn't living area?  What about other areas that do not have HVAC coverage?

Some areas don't give consideration to basement square footage at all.  Others might give some value if it is finished or has access directly to the outside like a walk-out basement.  Similarly, attic space could be finished and under HVAC but if the ceiling height is not standard for the home, it may not receive value.

The problems become exacerbated when different comparables are not treated consistently and yet the common denominator ends up being an average of the square foot price of each.   This is calculated by taking the sales price and dividing it by the number of square feet being quoted.

The source of the square footage should be listed to help determine the accuracy.  It could be what the builder said it was to the original purchaser.  If there is a set a plans available, that might seem credible but it is not uncommon for the builder to make changes while the home is being built which could increase or decrease the square footage.

Another source is the tax assessor.  In many cases, they don't actually measure the home but take the word of the builders or appraisers for it.  If permits were obtained to add on to the home since it was built, it should be reflected in the square footage.  However, sometimes permits are not secured properly.

After reading this, you may think that more doubts have been introduced than solutions and you are correct.  It takes diligence on the part of all parties to determine the correct amount.  The most highly trained person will be the appraiser and they should be measuring the home in its "as is" condition but understand that even a competent person can inadvertently make a mistake.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

It's Worth Digging a Little Deeper



There are hundreds of thousands of people who believe, for one reason or another, they cannot afford to buy a home currently.  Some people  may not for any number of reasons but it would be very surprising to know how many who can buy but have gotten some bad information along the way.  It's worth digging a little deeper to find out the facts.

John and Karen have been renting a home for the last five years at $2,000 a month.  During that time, the value of the home they were renting went up by $30,000 in value while the unpaid balance decreased by $18, 400.  Even though they were fortunate enough the rent remained constant over the five years, they missed out on close to $50,000 of equity that the owner realized instead of them.

Another thing to consider with today's low interest rates, it is quite common for a mortgage payment to be lower than a tenant is paying rent for a similar property.  So, in this example, John & Karen paid more to rent than a house payment would have been and missed out on the equity build-up that occurred due to appreciation and amortization.

The simple fact is when tenants like John and Karen pay their rent, the landlord is the beneficiary of the rent received as well as the equity earned.  Over time, the rent paid by John and Karen and other tenants will pay for the landlord's rental.  It a great concept and a good investment.

True, not everyone can afford a home.  A buyer needs money for a down payment and closing costs.   They also need to have income and good credit to qualify for the mortgage.  Some of these may seem insurmountable but instead of imagining that buying a home is not in the cards at the current time, talking to a real estate professional is a better route to take.

There are lots of low-down payment mortgages available including 100% financing for qualified veterans and USDA eligible buyers.  It is sometimes more difficult to find sellers willing to pay all or part of a buyers closing costs when inventory is low, but lenders do allow it.  It is a matter of finding the willing seller.

The source of the down payment could be a gift from a family member as long as there is no repayment expected.  It's amazing how many parents or grandparents might be willing to help a relative get into a home.  Funds for a down payment may be available as loans or withdrawals from qualified retirement programs like IRAs or 401k plans.  It's worth investigating based on what retirement programs you have.

Good credit is necessary to qualify for a loan but buyers should not assume that theirs is not adequate.  A trusted mortgage professional can assess a situation and may be able to suggest some things that will not only raise the score enough to be approved but possibly, even raise the score enough to qualify for a better interest rate.

There are a lot of misunderstandings about whether a person can or cannot qualify for a home at this time.  Instead of relying on second hand information or something that might be floating around on the Internet, spend some time with a real estate professional who can give you the facts, assess your situation and if necessary, point you in the right direction to get help from a trusted mortgage professional.  Call (205) 915-7653 to schedule an appointment where we'll help you dig deeper to determine whether you can buy a home now.

Download our Buyers Guide to give you more information.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Grilling Safety



More people grill in July, June & August than any other months and correspondingly, there are more injuries, as well as fires, due to grilling accidents in those months. Even though Labor Day is in September, we still need to be aware of safety.

Close to 20,000 patients per year visit the emergency room due to injuries involving grills.  Approximately half of the injuries involving grills are thermal burns.  If you are around fire, there's a chance of getting burned. 

About 2/3 of American households own at least one outdoor barbecue, grill or smoker.  Interestingly, gas grills contribute to more fires than charcoal grills.  In addition, there are over 10,600 home fires started by grills each year.

While grilling is associated with celebrations, good food, fun and friends, it is important to make sure that accidents don't interrupt your activities. 

  • Only use BBQ grills outdoors and in ventilated areas
  • Place the grill away from home or anything that could be flammable
  • Keep grill stable
  • Keep fire under control
  • Keep children away from grill
  • Never leave the grill unattended
  • The grill lid should always be open before lighting it.
  • Grease should not be allowed to build up in the grill
  • Use long-handled utensils

Gas/Propane

  • Check the tank hose for leaks before using it for the first time each year by using a light soapy water solution to see if bubbles appear.
  • You should not smell gas when the grill is lit.  Move away from the grill and call the fire department.
  • If the flame goes out, turn off the gas for 15 minutes and open the lid before re-lighting it.

Charcoal

  • Never add any starter fluid or other flammable liquid to a fire
  • Only use charcoal starter fluid and not gasoline, kerosene or other flammable liquid.
  • Keep starter fluid away from heat sources and out of reach of children.
  • Electric starters have a coil that ignites the charcoal.
  • When finished cooking, close off the grill vents to suffocate the fire and save some of the remaining charcoal.

Practice safe grilling and enjoy any occasion to cook outdoors and share time with your family and friends.