What are Prepaid Costs When Buying a Home? [Real Estate Insider]

Buying a home is more expensive than you might think. The largest cost you hear about is the down payment, but there are several other expenses that add up to quite a bit more. From taxes to insurance and fees, here are some of the prepaid costs you can expect to owe at or before closing day. 

Pre-Paid Costs for Buying a Home

Homeowner's Insurance

A mortgage originator will typically require a year's worth of mortgage insurance paid at closing. The premium is determined at a yearly rate, but most lenders will allow you to incorporate that payment into your monthly mortgage bill. 

Mortgage Interest

The creditor adds on the interest between the closing date and the amount due at your first payment at the end of the first full month. For example, if you close on the 15th of the month, you pre-pay the interest through the 30th (or 31st) at closing. Then, your next payment will include an entire month's worth of interest. Most people try to close at the end of the month to reduce the amount spent on interest at closing. However, there are some benefits to closing near the beginning of a month. Most lenders are busy at the end of the month, so if you close in the beginning and something goes wrong, the lenders might have more time and resources to solve the issue. 

Property Taxes

The buyer typically pays the remainder of the property taxes due that year at closing. So, a purchase earlier in the year may have to front more cash to cover the gap. Vice versa for a late-year purchase. However, this portion is negotiable depending on how the market is responding. Some sellers will offer to cover a percentage of the taxes to attract a potential buyer. 

Earnest Money

Someone will need to collect money when you make an offer on the house to prove you're serious about buying the home. Some real estate brokerages collect the earnest money shortly after you make the offer. Sometimes, they'll have you send it directly to the title company to hold in escrow. Regardless, your real estate agent should know where to take the money and how much you'll need send. 

The amount of earnest money typically depends on the size of the purchase. Most contracts require 1%-3% of the total value. For example, if you make an offer for $200,000, you can expect the earnest money due to be around $2,000. This check will be contributed to your down payment at closing, but it's helpful to know that you'll need to have this money accounted for when you make an offer. 

Down Payment

The biggest expense when buying a house is the down payment. Most lenders require at least 3.5% of the total loan up-front. This would be the case for an FHA mortgage. A conventional mortgage usually requires close to 5% with a good credit score. Some speciality loans, such as VA or USDA loans, might have 0% down options, but you typically have to pay a small percentage of the mortgage at closing. 

There are down payment assistance programs available to most home buyers who make less than the median income in their area. If you think you might struggle to save enough money for the required down payment, talk to your trusted lender to see what programs they offer. 

Mortgage Fees and Closing Costs

Mortgage Origination Fees

The mortgage originator charges a fee for processing the loan. All of the work they put into collecting paperwork and setting up the mortgage goes into the total costs due at closing. 

Title Fees and Insurance

The title company is responsible for providing information on the property and making sure there aren't any legal issues before the transaction occurs. Most title companies require the buyer to purchase title insurance to protect the buyer and the title company from legal action if an issue is discovered after the deal closes.

Sales Taxes and Fees

Federal, state, and local governments play a role in such a large exchange of property. As a result, there are sales taxes involved because the transaction is taking place between two parties. For example, most states charge between 2-5% at the state level, and local governments can add to that if desired. There may also be a local ordinance that a city or county employee inspects the property prior to change in ownership.

Other Expenses

Appraisal

Most mortgage companies will require an appraisal for the property for a few reasons. First, they want to make sure the amount of the loan would be protected and they could resell the property for a similar price if the loan is defaulted. Also, it provides valuable information about the property for the buyer, so they have a full understanding of the property they're purchasing. 

The average appraisal costs around $500. Depending on the area and demand for appraisals, it can range from $300 to $800 in the very expensive areas. The buyer is responsible for purchasing the appraisal, and the results will be available for review before the closing date. 

Inspection

Another expense that is meant to protect the buyer is a buyer's inspection. Private inspection companies will send out a professional to examine the property and look for any obvious or potential issues. The price of an inspection depends on the size of the property since the inspector is responsible for examining every inch. A standard inspection will cost $300-$400, and there are add-ons based on the situation. Most inspectors will recommend having a sewer professional examine the plumbing, which will cost a bit more. You can also request special inspections/treatments for termites, mold, and radon. Any of these additional services will cost more, and your inspector will tell you if they think it is necessary. 

Survey

Most real estate agents will recommend the buyer have a survey done on the property after making an offer. Surveys mark off the property lines and tell you if there are any potential encroachments or easements on the property. For example, most utility companies have an easement to enter your property to "read the meter" or perform routine maintenance.

A survey will also map out any unusual or unique attributes on the property. For example, some people own the road in front of their property and are responsible for maintenance. It could also reveal improvements done on the property over time and give dimension of different structures. A survey can cost anywhere from $150 for a basic drawing, or closer to $500 for a full-fledged service where they mark the boundaries and examine the structures. Talk to your real estate agent about what they think is necessary for your circumstances. 

Pre-Purchase repairs**

In rare circumstances, your lender might require repairs on the property before they fund the loan. If there are structural issues or hazardous conditions such as mold or radon, they can withhold the mortgage until the problems are resolved. Any repairs will fall on the responsibility of the buyer unless they can negotiate it into the contract with the seller. Beware of possible warning signs and ask your inspector to emphasize any structural or hazardous problems when they're examining the home. 

Remodeling Projects With the Highest ROI

With the housing market booming as it is right now, it’s important to consider investing in property to turn around and sell for profit. One way you can do that is by purchasing homes that can use some updates but utilizing the remodeling options that will have the best return on your investment. 

That is exactly what you’ll find here. The list below goes into detail about several remodeling options that are not only great for homes but also for your ROI. When you purchase a home to sell, make sure to consider these options below to help you get the most out of your purchase and resell. You’ll be glad you did when you see how well it works out and how it attracts buyers to the home.

Siding Options

There are numerous house siding options to choose from that offer low maintenance, durability, and appeal to the potential buyer. When you’re considering options to redo the outside, take a moment to look at the house from a variety of angles. The street view, in the driveway, and even the back of the home help you to get the full picture. You want to choose something that is not only durable and low-maintenance but also offers curb appeal and value. 

Some of those options that do just that include:

  • Stucco 
  • Wood
  • Fiber cement siding
  • Stone Veneer
  • Brick
  • Metal

One of the most popular options is fiber cement siding. Not only is this a low-maintenance option, it also gives you the most variety in the way the home looks as well. It’s a great choice to get a huge ROI.

New Garage Door

One vital part of the home is the garage area. When the door doesn’t work properly or looks run down, it can be a detriment to the resale value. It’s easy to add a new door and get a great ROI. People want the garage of the home to work properly and protect their items that are stored there. When it comes to the cost of a garage door, this is actually a great way to invest into the home and get a return. You can easily add a new door to update the look of the residence and offer security to the new buyers.

Basement

One item in the home that may need to receive some TLC is the basement area. Is the basement in the property heated or closed in for use? By taking time to remodel the basement into a climate-controlled space, you can increase the square footage that the home provides. Providing heating for basements is easy to do with radiant floor heating. This allows you to heat the area without having to change anything in the current HVAC system you may already have. 

This type of heating allows efficiency, durability, and comfort all at the same time. You’re sure to love the ROI you’ll receive from this addition and the increase in space.

The Flooring

Take a look at the flooring in the home. Does it look worn out or old? Consider replacing it with faux wood flooring to help with the ROI of the property. There are so many faux wood options out there that provide a classic elegance to the home without all the maintenance needed in real wood flooring. You can choose from a variety of styles and types, such as laminate wood, to help update the inside of the home. This is a huge appeal to those who are looking to buy which will help you to sell the home quicker once completed.

These seemingly simple updates can help make a huge difference in the return you receive on your property investments. By installing these along the way, you can turn around and resale the home for a profit larger than you might have first thought. These durable renovation options help you to add value and appeal to potential buyers down the road.

Andrea Erickson is a contributor to Innovative Building Materials. She is a blogger and content writer for the real estate industry. Andrea is focused on helping fellow homeowners, contractors, and architects discover materials and methods of construction that increase property value, maximize energy savings, and turn houses into homes. 

HomeTraq Joins National Fintech Accelerator

HomeTraq joins nationally recognized fintech and insurtech accelerator program, RevTech Labs, for their Fall Cohort. They are joined by seven other startups from around the world.

The eight startups making up the class represent a range of solutions across both the financial and insurance industries. The RevTech Labs team connected with close to 4,000 companies from around the world, narrowing the numbers down to 61 through an internal screening process and selecting only eight final companies after hosting a Selection Week with program partners and sponsors. 

The accelerator program provides each startup founder with intensive mentorship from leading bank executives, business development professionals, attorneys and venture capitalists. 

For the fall, RevTech Labs is offering a hybrid program to provide both value and flexibility to startup Founders. “All our advisory board, task force meetings and curriculum sessions will continue to be hosted virtually through Zoom,” says Jasmine Boyce, RevTech Labs Program Manager. “We intend on facilitating an in-person roadshow to New York for Fintech Week and other in-person opportunities to engage our Founders. With the recent spike in COVID, we will continue to monitor the CDC guidelines in order to make the safest and most strategic decision for our upcoming cohort.”

HomeTraq is excited, and honored, to be a part of this cohort to continue serving consumers and growing socially responsible real estate.

Questions to Ask Your Realtor Before Closing [Home Selling Guide]

Getting an offer on your home is a great feeling. You can take some time to celebrate, but understand that there are still some important decisions to be made before the house is sold. Consider these key topics before closing to make sure nothing is delayed when closing day comes. 

Common questions to ask your realtor after an offer: 

  • Does the buyer have proof of loan approval? 
  • Will the buyer want an inspection?
  • What closing costs do you anticipate? 
  • Is an attorney required to finalize the contract? 
  • Is the contract negotiable?

Most agents will have all of these answers laid out for you, but it's important to have knowledge as the seller as well. Don't be afraid to ask your realtor any questions you have during the process. Here are a few common questions that may spark discussion with your realtor when a buyer is interested in your home. 

Does the buyer have evidence of loan approval?

When you receive an offer, it's natural to request some proof that the buyer is good for the amount they've offered. Some buyers will want the buyer to be pre-approved before they make an offer. Of course, they won't have proof of loan approval if they make a cash offer, but that scenario is extremely rare. 

Have your agent request the buyer's agent to send over some paperwork from their loan officer that states how much they are approved and make sure the date is relatively recent as their status may change frequently. 

Will the buyer want an inspection?

One crucial step in the process that comes before closing is the inspection period. Some buyers will have an inspection done shortly after they have an offer and acceptance on the home. An inspection is done to protect the buyer from any issues they didn't notice during their tour. After the inspection, the buyer may back out of the contract or request credit based on the inspection. Getting through the inspection phase is a big step towards closing. 

One way to avoid big surprises during this phase is to enroll in a Pre-Listing plan, which includes having an inspection and appraisal done on the home before placing it on the market. Getting an inspection may seem like a waste of money, but it can save you from a buyer backing out of the contract if the inspection finds a major problem. If you have an inspection before listing the home, you can fix any issues before the buyer notices them. If there are no surprises, they are less likely to back out of the contract after making an offer. 

What closing costs do you anticipate?

In some areas, the buyer pays for the entire commission on the sale. If this is the case, you'll negotiate the rate of commission when hiring your selling agent. Some sellers don't realize that there are several other closing costs that they'll have to cover. For example, you might have to pay for title insurance, closing fees, and attorney fees. Don't let the fees sneak up on you at closing. Ask your agent up-front what is typical in your area and how much sellers usually pay at closing. 

Another example of closing costs is credit extended by the seller to the buyer for any issues that come up during an inspection. If your inspector misses something or you choose not to have an inspection done before listing, their inspector might find some issues. The buyer will likely request a credit for those issues. At that point, you can accept or deny the request or give a counter-proposal. Credits reduce how much the seller takes home after the sale. 

Is an attorney required to finalize the contract? 

As mentioned in the previous section, some states or municipalities require a real estate attorney to validate the sale. Each party will need an attorney to sign off on their contract before closing to complete the sale. Attorney's aren't always cheap, so be sure to ask your agent well in advance whether they typically have a real estate attorney involved. 

A real estate attorney can review the closing disclosure and make sure everything is up to code. They can also help interpret any confusion about differences between the loan disclosure and the closing disclosure. An attorney will serve your best interest and ensure that the contract is valid and you are protected. 

Is the request negotiable? 

There are specific steps throughout the process that are negotiable. Two of those steps are after the initial offer and after the buyer has an inspection done on the property. It is typical to receive counter-offers at both of these stages. However, there are deadlines to consider in each stage. If your agent doesn't mention a deadline, be sure to ask them how long you have to respond to an offer or counter-offer to ensure you don't miss the deadline and lose an opportunity. 

Also, if you're unsure about an offer, ask your realtor for their advice on whether you should accept the offer or counter with another offer. It is common for an offer to get countered, and some post-inspection requests get denied as well. Just be sure to consult the realtor to make sure you're making the right decision before denying an appeal so you don't lose the sale entirely. 

Trendy Neighborhoods for Young Professionals: St. Louis & Kansas City

You might be a recent college graduate, starting a career in a new city and wanting to meet other young professionals doing the same. You might be newly married and wanting to start a family in an area with other young couples. 

Whatever your situation, location is one of the most important factors when looking for a home, and it's nice to move to an area where you can meet people on a similar life path. To help figure out what area is best for you, let's dive into the most trendy, up-and-coming neighborhoods for young adults in St. Louis and Kansas City. 

St. Louis

Kings Oak/McRee Town

These neighborhoods are next to St. Louis University, so it's a very student-centered living area. It's in the center of nightlife adjacent to downtown and close to the beautiful Forest Park. The Grove is the highlight of nightlife in the area with a whole strip of bars, breweries, clubs, and a brand new tiki bar. These neighborhoods are within walking distance or a short Uber ride away from all of the restaurants and nightlife there. It's also close to downtown if you find yourself needing to travel there for work.

Shaw/South City St. Louis

These neighborhoods give similar vibes to Kings Oak/McRee Town, but there are fewer college students living there, so more removed from the university. There is Tower Grove Park that has a great farmer's market and an amazing holiday light display during December. It's also home to the original, famous Ted Drewes frozen custard. 

Kirkwood/Webster Groves

These two neighborhoods are more family-friendly, and about 20 min from downtown. Both have great school districts and Webster is even set up where most kids can walk to school. They are still great for young professionals as well because they are close to great food, breweries, and shops. Downtown Kirkwood is home to a farmer's market, Kaldi's coffee, great restaurants, and a St. Louis favorite, Strange Donuts. 

Kansas City

Midtown/Plaza

This neighborhood is an area within downtown KC. It's definitely the most centrally located to all restaurants and nightlife. The most popular is the Power and Light District which includes upscale restaurants, bars, clubs, and shopping. There are a couple of universities in the area, including the University of Missouri-Kansas City, so the average age is college/young professional age. The Plaza is also a popular area to shop with boutique stores and restaurants.

Mission

This neighborhood is a suburb of Kansas City (on the Kansas side) and has a good urban/suburban mix feel. There are plenty of places to rent as well as buy, so many young professionals decide to live in this area. This area is more family-friendly with good school districts, but there's still access to fun entertainment and nightlife. 

Lee's Summit

This area is another suburb of Kansas City but on the Missouri side. This is a much quieter area with a cute downtown, much like the downtown in Kirkwood. It has shops, restaurants, bars, and an Amtrak train station. It's 30 minutes from downtown, so still close enough to go for a night out but not in the middle of the hustle and bustle. 

If you're a young professional looking to move, both St. Louis and Kansas City are great cities with a mix of the hustle & bustle of city life and the family-friendly suburban life. Feel free to check out some of our other blogs that give helpful advice (especially for first-time homebuyers) about the home-buying process.

Should I Sell My Home in Today's Market? [2021]

Mortgage rates are still low despite the pandemic, and people are still buying houses. This is great news for someone considering selling their home. It's still a tough decision, right? If you're on the fence, we've listed a few options to think about to decide if the timing is right for you. When in doubt, speak to a trusted real estate agent or contact a broker about whether now is a good time to sell your home. 

1. Market condition

Selling your home could be an excellent financial decision. Especially if you plan on downsizing, you can make a significant profit from a successful sale. Keep in mind, you can make more money, depending on the market's condition. 

For example, you might have heard a realtor talk about a "buyer's" or "seller's" market. All of this jargon has to do with how quickly houses are selling, housing inventory, and the price at which they're being bought/sold. 

Right now the market is a seller's market. Homes are selling quickly, many at more than the asking price, because of the low inventory. This can allow you to have a high resale value on your home and a high amount of home equity. 

2. Timing

The first question you should ask yourself is if you're personally ready to go through the process of selling your home. Selling your home is a ton of work. Even if you can afford to have someone pack and move your belongings, the home sale process is still mentally and emotionally draining. You can do anything you can put your mind to, but make sure you're prepared for the roller coaster. 

An excellent way to eliminate some of the stress involved in selling a home is to find a great selling agent. A selling agent will help you prepare your home for showings and guide you through every step of the way. They can offer recommendations and even participate in the negotiation process to make sure you're getting the best deal. Involving an agent from a well-known broker can also increase attention to your home because they probably have tons of clients looking for a home exactly like yours! 

3. Location

Location is one of the biggest topics buyers consider when looking for a home. Location includes subcategories like schools, crime rate, cost of living, and area housing reports. Most buyers already have an idea in their minds of what they want their new neighborhood to look like. How people perceive your community will likely have a considerable impact on the amount of interest your home gets. 

If you live in a high-interest area, you can use that to your advantage. Popular neighborhoods include areas with good school districts, safety ratings, and healthy real estate markets. You can find the information about your school and safety ratings on HomeScout. Just type in your zip code and select a house in your neighborhood listed for sale. Scroll down, and you'll see a "lifestyle information" category with ratings for your area. 

While the location is still very important, many jobs have continued with remote work even as COVID restrictions have been reduced. It's important to think of the inside of your home as well and if it can accommodate remote work. 

4. Access

It might be hard to find time to let people in to tour your home if you're still living in it. You might not have a choice, but you should probably consider if your schedule will allow for a lot of home tours. You could always plan an open house to invite many people to see your house at a time that works with your schedule, but you might be missing out on an entire group of buyers if you can only let people in on the weekend. The best time to list your home for sale is when the agent can have access to the home at a time that works for the prospective buyer. 

If you can move out of the home before you allow tours, there are ways that you can make an agent's life super easy! To make a home more readily available to prospective buyers, many sellers put the house in a secure SUPRA lockbox. Once your agent has electronic access, they can schedule a showing at any time. This eliminates any potential scheduling hassle, and they don't have to request access every time they have a tour. Additionally, many home-sellers have all but eliminated “by appointment only” requests as it creates an additional scheduling barrier. 

5. Move-in ready/Updated

Millennials are now the largest generation, and they are starting to buy homes at higher rates. Real estate studies have shown that in a time of "instant gratification," Millennials are less interested in fixer-upper houses than previous generations. Younger generations prefer move-in-ready homes, and they're willing to pay for them. If you think your home needs some attention, it might be worth your time to update your home before you put it on the market. Your pocketbook will thank you! Check out our previous post about cheap and easy ways to DIY update your home. 

This is also a chance to take advantage of recent structural improvements such as a roof or plumbing. They can help you receive a nice profit on your home if they're new. 

If you can't afford to update your home, you can always negotiate closing credit. Closing credit is a discount on the sale in exchange for the costs the buyer will incur to update the house before they move in. This isn't ideal, but it is an option if you'd rather not deal with it yourself. 

6. Should I talk to an agent?

Absolutely! Talk to an agent that you trust about what steps you should take to sell your home. They can offer recommendations and set you down the path for success. Preferably, find an agent who has experience representing sellers. Ask for references, if necessary. They will have previous clients who can vouch for their work. Avoid agents who also have clients looking to buy a home. This could be a conflict of interest, as it's hard to have both parties' interests in mind. 

A Competitive Housing Market: when will homes be less expensive?

There has been much conversation about the increase in cost and competition in the 2021 housing market. Many say this isn't going away any time soon. Here's an update on the status of the market mid-way through the year and what we are predicting to see next.

The 2021 Housing Market

The graphic above explains the St. Louis, MO market and just how much median sales prices have increased since 2020. This paired with the large decrease in inventory of homes for sale has continued to increase prices for homebuyers. This trend is being seen all across the U.S. since COVID-19 hit. 

We understand that the housing market is very stressful for people at this time and many are wondering what their next move should be. Should you try and wait out the increase in prices? Should you go ahead sell your home while it's worth more? While we can't definitively give you an answer, we can give you information on where the market is headed so you can make the best decision for you. 

What's next in the market?

According to Edward Pinto, the director of the American Enterprise Institute's Housing Center, the above-average prices are not a temporary thing. He believes that prices could stay higher for years because people are placing a higher value on their homes. Even as the country is recovering from the pandemic, many businesses are still having their employees work remotely, which means people are spending more time in their homes. 

Also, with the combination of low housing inventory and high demand from home buyers, the market will stay competitive. Until the market balances itself out, homeowners will continue to drive up the price of for-sale homes. 

People who were originally working in large, expensive cities are moving to more affordable parts of the country like the midwest. As their jobs stay remote, they want more space and more bang for their buck. Suburbs and smaller subdivisions are seeing the largest influx of potential homebuyers. 

Next Steps

While buying a house in this market is hard, it's not impossible. Speed is your friend in the competitive marketplace. It's also important to mention that mortgage rates are at an all-time low, most at about 3% right now. This can help if you're needing to put more money down for a house than you were expecting. 

But waiting for more of a market balance in the coming months might save you a chunk of change as well if you're not in a rush to move.

Something that might help you decide your next move is getting your home evaluated. You may be surprised at how much your current home has increased in value. 

Follow the link below to request a free home valuation.

https://explore.hometraq.io/home-valuation-request

5 Red Flags to Look Out for in your Online Home Search (Real Estate Insider)

Real estate websites offer you convenience and control when you’re looking to buy a new home. They feature home search options that let you customize your choices at a granular level, including price range, square footage, bed and bathroom count, and acreage, among other filters. And if you know what to look for, these sites can also clue you in to potential problems that homes of interest may have.

When you start thinking about buying a house, it’s easy to let your emotions run the show. Before you know it, you’re stalking homes for sale on a home searching tool like HomeScout, Zillow, or Realtor.com.   Understanding the steps of the home-buying process empowers you to make smart decisions about your home purchase.  Use an online home searching tool like HomeScout to get a handle on values in your area and their potential.  Get unfiltered, accurate, personalized & private access to 100% of homes available.  

See Homes Now

As you compile the list of properties you’d like to live in one day, note the areas of concern you have and ask your real estate agent about them before taking a tour. Below are five pieces of listing information on real estate websites that might tip you off about problem homes.

Market Time

You’re certain you’ve found your dream house. It’s in your price range and located in the vibrant neighborhood with good schools that you’ve been reading about in the paper. Every box is checked on your personal ‘needs list’: 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2850+ square feet, a new kitchen, and a big, beautiful backyard. And then you see how long it’s been posted: 558 days. Oh boy. There is no consensus among professionals as to what the maximum time of home listing should be in order to attract buyers, but if it’s been on the market for multiple months or more than a year, it may be safe to assume that one of two things is happening: 1. Its listing price is too high, or 2. there is something unattractive about the property that is keeping it from selling.

Heating/Cooling

When you’re searching for a new home online, it’s important to think about your relative comfort during seasonal extremes. If you live in a hotter part of the country, air conditioning is a must. Conversely, if you live in the Midwest or Northeast, efficient and reliable heating will be a big concern. Certain terms will tip you off if the home you’re considering doesn’t have central heat or air conditioning: Pellet stove, wood stove, window unit, wall heater, multi-zone, multi-split, and ductless, among others. However, if you’re more tolerant of temperature fluctuations, non-HVAC systems may save you money while reducing your carbon footprint. 

Drainage

To some folks, not having a municipal sewer system is a deal-breaker when looking for the perfect home. If the idea of wastewater sitting under the lawn in a big tank is unattractive to you, look for the word ‘septic’ within the home’s description. Septic tanks are really the only option for rural properties, and they’re not a bad option because they’re generally less expensive due to zero municipal obligations. If you find a home in a city or large town and it isn’t integrated into the sewer system, you’ll want to find out why. A brand new home that hasn’t been hooked up to the city sewer system may involve significant future or front-end costs that might not be disclosed in the online listing.

Location

You want to be close enough to the city to give you modern convenience when you need it, but far enough away so you get that sense of separation from the hustle and bustle you’ve always wanted. When you’re conducting your online search, you might come upon a house that looks perfect in every way… until you zoom out in the bird’s-eye view. If the house is close to a freeway, airport, or active train tracks, you can expect noise! Look for at least a one-mile sound buffer from trains, planes, and automobiles if peace and quiet are important to you.

Pictures

You love to garden and fish, and you desire mountain views and access to hiking trails. One house you’ve found online is set on 15 acres of mixed woods and meadows and backs up to a river and national forest. Image after image reflects the beauty and pristine surroundings of this rural palace. But wait, what about the inside? If the listing you like only includes outdoor images but few interior shots, your suspicions should be raised. Ask your real estate agent to send detailed shots of the actual house before you seriously consider it for purchase.

Why Do I Need An Agent To Help Sell My Home?

You may have seen a "for sale by owner" (FSBO) sign when driving around on a Saturday afternoon and say to yourself, "I never knew you could sell your own home!" It's true; you can sell your home without the assistance of a licensed agent. In some cases, it may save you money. However, it will likely not save you any time, effort, or stress. 

Selling your home FSBO puts a lot of extra pressure on your household to get everything in order.  We recommend interviewing agents and choosing an agent you're comfortable with and has experience selling homes in your area. Not only will it speed up the selling process, but it takes much of the work out of your hands and places it on the realtor (it is their job, after all). 

Take a look at some of the primary reasons we recommend finding a great selling realtor to help sell your home:

Realtors Offer Experience and Expertise

Taking the stress off of yourself and your family members is enough reason to forego the idea that using an agent isn't worth the price. If you need more convincing, consider how helpful it would be to have someone in your corner that knows the market. They can tell you what is selling faster than others, then help you position your home on the market appropriately. 

Someone who has been helping other people sell homes in the area can tell you what buyers are looking for right now. They can also give you a better idea of a fair listing price based on several different factors. They may have access to an automated valuation model (AVM) that uses the same variables as appraisers to determine the value of your home. They can also emphasize your home's popular features that you may not have considered before meeting with them. 

Also, licensed real estate agents are professionally trained and certified to sell homes in your state. Their extra knowledge and experience could lead to a quicker and easier sale. They can work through all of the rough patches and offer recommendations based on their experience. In all, it's always helpful to have another person helping you make big decisions. 

Agents Can Conduct Buyer Screenings

Real estate agents have screening processes where they can verify the buyer's identity wanting to tour your home. In other words, they serve as an extra security barrier for your home. Sometimes, making a sale without a professional involved can be tricky. 

As much as we would like to deny it, there are people out there who wish to take advantage of others. Knowing this, agents have ways to confirm the identity of a prospective buyer and ensure that everything is safe before they enter your home. Selling your home FSBO could mean less security. Inviting strangers into your home could be dangerous without the right levels of preparation and protection.  

Also, selling agents can work with buying agents to double-check that the person is correctly identifying themself. In other words, if a buying and selling agent is involved, there is an extra layer of protection. Agents can make appointments with buyers before the tour to get a better read on the individual before letting them enter your home. 

To prevent individuals from knocking on your door and ask to tour your home, you can ask your realtor to post a "Do Not Inquire Within" sign on the for-sale sign in your yard. 

Agents Have Networks

The agent may work for a brokerage with many other buying agents looking for a home for their clients. They scan the listing site for their clients' homes and communicate to help their clients find the best houses. This is one of the most significant advantages of listing with an agent. They can speed up the selling process and get a ton of interest in your property if the conditions are right. 

Even if the market is slow or they don't have an extensive network, there is still an advantage to having a realtor. Getting a selling agent gives your home credibility among other agents. There is a certain level of trust among real estate agents. For example, if your home is listed FSBO, a buying agent might be skeptical about contacting you for their client. Although, if you have an agent, they either already know your agent and are comfortable contacting them, or they will reach out and get to know them. Either way, having an agent puts you on a level playing field among buyers' agents. 

A Realtor's Fiduciary Duties

Finally, all real estate agents must maintain a specific level of responsibility to keep their license. These duties are all geared toward making sure your best interest is behind every decision. As the seller, you are protected by ethics laws that ensure your sale goes smoothly and with your safety and satisfaction in mind. 

Here is a list of fiduciary duties that real estate agents must follow to keep their license:

  • Care: You show reasonable care for your clients in the transaction, which could very well include their safety.
  • Obedience: You obey your clients’ wishes—most want to keep themselves and their belongings safe.
  • Loyalty: You are loyal to the client, which means placing their interests above your own. You are their guardian in this transaction.
  • Disclosure: You disclose relevant facts to the transaction, and safety for buyers and sellers may be an important disclosure!

Helping Mortgage Lenders Reach Underserved Neighborhoods

Since the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) was introduced in the 1970s, lenders have struggled to find new and meaningful ways to serve low-to-moderate (LMI) communities and tackle homeownership inequality. They do their best to donate to charity or help their community through fundraising and community events. Unfortunately, low-income individuals still have a much harder time getting a mortgage. We've created a Socially Responsible Real Estate Technology that will increase your mortgage business and improve your lending opportunities in LMI neighborhoods. 

The Problem: Unequal Access to Real Estate Resources

Homeownership Inequality

In a 2020 Forbes article titled Redlining’s Legacy Of Inequality: Low Homeownership Rates, Less Equity For Black Households, Real Estate writer Brenda Richardson states, "The national homeownership rate is lower for Black families than white families—44% versus 73.7%." She continues by suggesting this homeownership gap contributes to the overall wealth inequality in the US. Minorities don't have proper access to mortgage lenders and can't accumulate assets.  

Access to Agents

Especially in areas where most residences are rented rather than owned, prospective buyers have a hard time finding an agent to show them a home they're interested in. They might even have a hard time finding for-sale homes in the first place. Unfortunately, some agents refuse to serve certain areas if the homes are valued too low. 

With HomeTraq, the buyer is protected from discrimination because the agent won't see the buyer's face or name before they accept the showing request. Also, some agents won't show buyers a house before they're pre-approved for a loan. In this case, agents are to serve as an educator and encourage the buyer to talk to a lender. 

Redlining

The act of redlining is illegal, but the effects continue to impact low-income neighborhoods. Showing consumers that not only is redlining a thing of the past, but you're encouraging LMI communities to apply for a loan is an admirable mission. 

The Solution: HomeTraq Home Touring Technology

Down Payment Assistance

Notifies the buyer and financial institution when a requested home tour falls in a neighborhood that qualifies for Down Payment Assistance based on FFEIC census tracts. Hundreds of thousands of dollars go unused by potential homebuyers every year. Most of the time, it doesn't get claimed because the buyers don't know it's available. HomeTraq educates buyers and can make the homeownership dream a reality for those that don't think they can afford it. 

Increase Mortgage Business from your own Customer Base

HomeTraq is a real estate solution to a mortgage problem. When partnering with HomeTraq, we refer customers who come through a lender's pipeline back to their mortgage services. Also, we notify the mortgage officer when their customers are shopping around. 

Financial institutions lose 93% of the mortgage opportunities from their own customers every year. HomeTraq can double your mortgage conversions by simply notifying the lender when one of their customers is home shopping. The cost of acquisition is much lower than other lead gen sources because you only pay when your customer goes on a home tour. 

Automated Home Valuation (AVM) and what it can do for your Tax Assessment

Your property value determines how much you pay in real estate taxes. A bad assessment could cost you hundreds, or in extreme cases, thousands of dollars a year. Good thing you can contest your property's assessment and possibly get some money back in your pocket. 

How to find out how much your home is worth

An Automated Valuation Model (AVM) is a tool that generates a rough estimate of your home's value based on tax records and other comparative factors. You can request a valuation of your property by entering your address and email into a valuation request form:

https://explore.hometraq.io/home-valuation-request

Some AVMs are free to use and available to the public. A more detailed report might cost somewhere around $20. Each model is different, so if you're not happy with the first valuation, it's not a bad idea to get a second opinion. Keep in mind, an AVM is a rough estimate based on publically available data. 

If you're serious about contesting your property taxes, you will need more than just an automated report to plead your case. Professional consulting firms are available to help, but it might cost you some time and money. However, if you feel your taxes were wrongfully calculated, it might be worth digging a little deeper. 

How it impacts your property taxes

Tax Assesors in your local Treasury use what is called "fair market value" to determine the value of real estate in their area. They use a similar process to AVMs by evaluating similar properties that recently sold in the area, and compare them to the tax records for your property.  

Assessments are somewhat subjective because they're an estimate based on many factors. While a lot of Treasury departments have automated methods, there is a human element to determining property value. So, it is possible to argue that an assessment is inaccurate. Particularly, homeowners tend to contest their assessment when the estimate seems too high. If your property is valued at a higher price, you'll owe more in property tax.

If you're looking to sell your home, it's exciting to get a high valuation. However, if you don't plan to sell and get a surprising valuation, it might be worth looking at other options.

Resources to contest your tax assessment

Contesting your property assessment is a commitment, but it could be useful if you want to save some cash. Certain companies like Admiral Consulting help you contest your assessment for a percentage of what you save over a few years. Depending on how much you believe the assessment is wrong, it may be worth your time to talk to someone about your options. 

Some customers are seeing up to a 10% spike in their real estate taxes from last year. $3,450 is the median property tax amount in Missouri for a home that's valued at $250,000. An assessment that is off by 10% would add almost $400 to your tax bill. Even for a modestly-priced home, it's worth speaking to someone about contesting your property tax. 

All the resources you need through socially responsible real estate


HomeTraq is focused on helping you, as the buyer, through all the hoops and hurdles of the home buying process. We want to make the home-buying process is a great experience by facilitating convenient home tours and working to connect you to the financial resources that matter to you the most.

What's Socially Responsible Real Estate?

Homeownership inequality can be hard to overcome. A socially responsible real estate technology focuses on equality for ALL homebuyers. We work to provide resources to buyers that close the homeownership inequality gap and focus on eliminating discrimination in the home-buying process. That also includes encouraging lenders and agents to develop and promote programs in low-to-moderate income and majority-minority census tracts.  

The Home Tour Experience

We want you to be comfortable in every step of the home-buying process, and that includes home tours. You can request a home showing using HomeTraq and quickly receive a confirmation from one of the agents in our network. We want to protect you as a buyer, so we never share your demographic or personal information with the agent. This buyer anonymity prevents discrimination in the home buying process and allows you to work with multiple agents, ultimately deciding which one you wish to continue to work with. 

Financial Resources for You 

One of the other biggest steps in the home-buying process has to do with all things financial. When buyers use HomeTraq's services, they are connected with financial options and assistance based on the properties they're interested in. If you book a home tour with HomeTraq, once the tour is confirmed, we will let you know if that home qualifies for special loan programs and whether you might qualify for Down Payment Assistance. 

Down Payment Assistance

Lenders offer a variety of down payment assistance plans based on a variety of variables like low-to-moderate income, majority-minority census tracts, or first-time home-buying status. We understand one of the biggest hurdles can be the down payment, so we want to help you find every financial opportunity. We will work to connect you to these assistance programs if you qualify or if a property you're interested in qualifies. Many funds in these programs go unused because buyers don't know about them, and we want to fix that. 


If you want some more information about finding Down Payment Assistance (DPA) in your area, check out this blog post: https://www.hometraq.com/blog-details/how-to-find-down-payment-assistance-in-your-area



What can I list as a bedroom or bathroom? [Listing Requirements Explained]

Having a realtor that will create a marketing strategy for your home is a great resource. However, you may want to use your personal social media account to share the house as much as possible. In this case, you'll need to know the requirements to ensure your online description is accurate. 

For example, you'll likely want to share how many bedrooms and bathrooms your home has, which can influence the house's perceived value. Buyers will pay more money for homes with more beds/baths. Find out if you can say your home has more or fewer bedrooms, bathrooms, and what you should call it if it doesn't meet those requirements. 

Bedroom Requirements

Some states vary in their requirements, so be sure to double-check with your realtor. The one thing that is consistent among all states is that you can't just turn any extra space into a bedroom. 

Most states have minimum size requirements for the length and width of the room. Also, there is likely a minimum height requirement. Most states require a space to be at least 70 square feet and 7-feet high to consider it a bedroom. Also, the bedroom must have two modes of entry/exit for safety reasons. That's why your attic space with only one door and no window does not qualify. 

Sometimes, homeowners will turn an attic area into a bedroom for younger children because the ceiling is too low for an adult. Even though it worked as a bedroom for your case, it wouldn't qualify as a bedroom to the buyer. Bedrooms also need to have a heating and cooling element, and a space heater doesn't count. There has to be some way to warm up the room and cool it down. In some cases, the window can, or a fan can qualify as a cooling element. 

A common misconception is that a bedroom must have a closet. Most states do not require closet space, either with or without a door. Although it may be a requirement for most buyers, a bedroom doesn't legally need a closet to qualify. 

Bathroom Requirements

Bathrooms also have a few requirements, which are slightly more straight-forward than bedrooms. For instance, you may have heard of a half-bath or full-bath. The terminology comes from the method real estate professionals use to distinguish between the functionality of the bathroom. 

Bathrooms are categorized into four quarters: sink, toilet, shower, and bathtub. The two most commonly used categories are half- and full-bathrooms. The most reasonable explanation is that most bathrooms that have a shower also include a tub. For half baths, there's always a sink with the toilet. You may also see a 3/4 bath with a toilet, sink, and shower, but no tub. It would be incorrect to list this as a full bath because the shower doesn't include a tub. Rooms with only a sink are usually considered utility rooms or have other appliances like the kitchen. 

Alternative Options

If you have a room that you'd like to advertise but can't call it a bedroom or bathroom, you've come to the right place. Extra storage space is highly sought after, so you can call it a storage closet or simply an additional room. If it has certain elements or good natural light, you can call it a home office. Home offices are extremely popular during the pandemic as buyers are looking for ways to separate their home and work-life. 

Another option is to call it a bonus room. Homebuyers love extra space that they can make their own. A room without a label may not be all that bad, considering homebuyers might have another use for that room. Extra rooms that can serve multiple purposes are great for buyers who need an art-studio, gaming room, extra storage, or a nursery. The options are endless for an extra room, so don't be too discouraged if you have a room that doesn't meet the requirements. 

Two vs. Three-Car Garage

Another popular discussion is the requirements for labeling how many cars can fit into a garage. Some will argue that a garage must have a door for each car that can fit into the garage. In other words, the garage must have three doors to be considered a two-car garage. This is not the case, as some garages may have a large door that can fit two cars. 

It comes down to square footage. Three cars must be able to fit comfortably to call it a three-car garage. Typically, the width you need is about 10 feet per car at a minimum. A good rule of thumb for width is to add a few feet onto the dimensions to ensure the driver can swing open their doors without damaging the paint. So, a 12 foot by 12-foot area is plenty of space for one car. Therefore, 24 foot by 24 foot would be a two-car garage, and so on. 

One final aspect to consider is storage space. Some people like to store their bikes, tools, recreational equipment, etc., in their garage. So if you have a 24x24 garage with two cars, you may need additional space to store your belongings. In all, a bigger garage is always better. If you only have two vehicles, but it's a three-car garage, you'll still use that extra space. 

Technology is Taking Over the Real Estate Industry

In a rapidly changing real estate market, everyone is trying to find a new way to improve their services. Technology has played a key role in helping agents and lenders adapt to the demand for a faster, easier method to buy a home. From scheduling a tour online, live video tours, and online loan options, real estate technology looks a lot different than it did a few years ago. 

Apps and Online Listing Websites

The age of calling an agent or driving around town to see which homes are for sale is long gone. There are tons of online resources consumers can use to search for homes; you don't even need to leave your couch. Find a home from your phone and schedule a tour without calling anyone. 

Some online listing sites are waiting for you to submit your contact info so they can sell it to lenders and agents. If you request to tour a home, you might get bombarded with calls and texts. HomeTraq does not sell your info, and the only contact you'll get with an agent is through our private messaging system.  It doesn't matter how you find the home you want to tour, but the website you use to request a tour does matter. If your lender refers you to our platform, you can be sure that your contact info is secure, and you'll only be contacted if absolutely necessary. 

Our online MLS partner Xome offers all the details you'll find through Zillow, Trulia, and any other online listing website. 

More Automation/Faster Scheduling

ShowingTime

Possibly the largest scheduling software in the real estate industry, ShowingTime allows agents to share calendars and conveniently schedule showings without communicating with the listing agent. 

In the past, agents would figure out when their client is available, then call the listing agent to make sure the house will be open at that time. Worst case scenario is that the buyer would have to work with the agent's schedule and hope that their calendars match up. 

Calendly

Some MLSs use Calendly to keep track of the seller's schedule rather than ShowingTime. Unlike ShowingTime, Calendly is less real estate-focused and more general use. Calendly can be helpful if a real estate agency has multiple agents working with a particular client. They can share their calendars and schedule showings as a group rather than one agent's availability.

Lightning Fast Showings

The consumer is in more control than ever before. You can schedule a tour based on your availability, and the agent has to make it work. 

Key Codes and Electronic Entry

Many sellers are utilizing technology for convenience when they put their home up for sale. In the past, they might have to leave a key under the plant or give a key to the listing agent. The safety risks with either of these options are apparent. Now sellers have opted to transition to safer, more convenient options for allowing entry into their homes.

One option is to leave a lockbox on the front door with a code to access the key. They can leave the key in the box without fear of someone finding it and breaking into their home. Others have electronic key codes installed on their front door. Apps like Ring or August are padlocks that an agent can unlock by entering a code.

Drone Use for Pictures of Listings

Drones have become popular in a lot of industries recently, but it's becoming a cool addition to real estate marketing efforts. Buyers love looking at overhead pictures of houses or large pieces of land. Getting an aerial view of the home gives you a better perspective of the square footage and helps you to better understand the layout. Not to mention, for larger homes with a pool or a large yard, it's just beautiful to look at. Some drone photographers will even take indoor pictures if the house is big enough. Drone pictures are becoming a necessity in commercial real estate, but it's a little less common for residential homes. 

VR and Digital Tours

COVID-19 did have one positive impact on the real estate industry. Most companies were encouraged to improve their virtual showing options. Most real estate markets carried on business as usual, but social distancing became a priority. So, listing agencies had to find a way to safely show homes to prospective buyers.

 There is a slight difference between a VR tour and a digital layout tour. An owner might walk through the house while taking a video to give an idea of how the home is laid out. Another option would be for a digital designer to work up a draft of the home's layout. Finally, some agents agreed to offer a live video tour where they could video chat with the buyer while walking through the home. This is very helpful for a buyer as they can ask questions about the home and get real-time feedback about what the agent thinks. 

Online Banking/Mortgage 

Financial technology (FinTech) has become a major component for lenders in recent years. Banks that haven't transitioned to an online platform are behind the times and are likely suffering. Lenders have invested millions in capital to upgrade their online pre-approval and lending software. Most borrowers can now get pre-approval or even a full mortgage without physically talking to a lender. 

How You Can Save Money on Your Home Sale [Real Estate Insider]

By spending around $500 up-front, you can save thousands of dollars on your home sale and have the luxury of a quick and comfortable ride to closing day

Does this seem like an investment that you're interested in? Here are some key factors that can determine how quickly your home gets sold and how much money you can save during negotiations:

  • Agents agree to lower commission rates.
  • Buyers love that your home is free of major issues.
  • You can save money on expensive repairs or "closing credits."
  • You have proof that your home is listed at a reasonable price.

Putting in the work before listing your home is an industry secret that saves agents the time and resources it takes to get a house ready to sell. By going through a Pre-Listing program, your home will be free of any significant issues that the buyer may find, which puts you in a great position to attract serious buyers who are searching for a move-in ready house. In return, the seller saves valuable time and some serious cash on the sale as a reward for the hard work they put in before listing their home. Take a look at some of the ways sellers are saving money by utilizing HomeTraq's Pre-Listing services: 

Agents Agree to Lower Commission Rates

Realtors who are partnered with HomeTraq have agreed to a 4% commission rate on houses where sellers have participated in the pre-listing program to some extent. A typical commission is around 6-8% for a home sale, and it typically comes out of the seller's pocket. Keep in mind, the seller and buyer's agents both get a cut of the commission. Thus, the seller pays a commission for the buyer's agent as well, which they agree upon in the contract with their selling agent. In other words, you pay for an agent that doesn't even represent you. It's in your best benefit to get a lower commission and keep more money in your pocket. 

Suppose you're using an agent outside of the HomeTraq network. In that case, you can still utilize our pre-listing model and request a reduced commission rate. Most agents appreciate the fact that you are making their life more comfortable. By consulting professionals about selling your home before agreeing on the contract, you are putting in the work for them. Your home will be in excellent condition to sell before they step into the picture, and they just have to find the buyer. We can negotiate a reduced commission, so more cash from the sale goes into your pocket.

Buyers Love That Your Home is Free of Issues

Gaining insight into the problems gives you the power to fix them before the buyer is even aware of the issue. If buyers see your home as "complete" and the house is more attractive, they may be willing to offer more money for a well-prepared home. 

An issue-free home comes from having an inspection done before you allow buyers to tour the home. Getting an inspection before the sale might seem like a waste of money because the buyer's lender will also have an inspection done by someone in their network to ensure the home doesn't have any major defects. However, getting ahead of these problems could save you a ton of money in the long run. 

Move-in ready homes are the most popular listings on the market. Most buyers aren't looking for a home to fix up and turn around for profit. Therefore, having a home with few issues is the best way to ensure you get substantial interest in your home. More interest leads to more tours, and more tours mean a higher chance for an offer. 

You Can Save Money on Expensive Repairs and "Closing Credits" 

You can preemptively fix the issues however it works best for you. Once the buyer becomes aware of any problems, they can negotiate closing credit with stipulations like requesting a specific contractor or other specifications. 

As the owner, you want to be in the driver's seat. Once you offer your home for sale, the buyers are interested in how the problems get fixed. If you do them before listing your home, you have complete control over how much you spend on the repairs. For example, if the buyer finds out about an issue from their inspection, they can request a $3,000 credit to fix it. In reality, it may only cost $50 to hire someone to come fix it. You run the risk of scaring away the buyer if you come back with a low counter-offer. Having a pre-inspection dramatically reduces the likelihood of this happening. 

You Have Proof That Your Home is Listed at a Reasonable Price

One great way to get a quick estimate for the value f your home is to use an automated valuation model (AVM). Many mortgage companies use AVMs so they can confirm pre-approvals for buyers. However, sellers can utilize the same software to determine how much they should list their home for.

Not all AVMs are created equal, so they aren't seen as an official "appraisal." They still consider several factors that the appraiser will evaluate, such as square footage and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Some will go more in-depth and utilize other properties in your area for comparison and even ask for tax records on the home.

Tax records are another key component of the pre-listing program. Ensuring that your tax records are accurate and up-to-date is a key step to estimating the real value of your home. If anything on the record is inaccurate, you could get an incorrect valuation. While AVMs are fast, they are not as meticulous as a full appraisal. Appraisals can take weeks to complete, but they are as official as it gets. If you want to be sure about your home's value, you should get your property appraised. In this case, you will have the most powerful negotiating tool. If the offer is below the appraised value, you would have an easy case for your counter-offer already on-hand. 

What is Home Staging and Why Should I Do It? [Home Selling Tips]

Real estate agents have found that staging your home is a valuable asset to quickly gain interest in your home. Many homebuyers are looking for a home that they can see themselves moving into quickly. A house that needs updates is definitely a turnoff, but it goes further than that. Buyers visualize how they would use the space in each room. What works for you might not be appealing to them. So, arranging furniture in a way that shows off the room is the best way for someone to see themself using that space. 

What is home staging? 

  • Setting up your house in a way that is attractive to buyers. 

Why should I hire a professional stager/interior designer?

  • Staging your home could help you sell your home faster and increase the perceived value of your home.

How much does it cost to stage my home? 

  • It varies depending on the size of your home and how much you're willing to spend. The cost may include hiring a staging professional and renting furniture and/or decorations. You can expect to pay anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000, but the return on investment is worth it. 

You decorate your home based on what you like. You also have it set up for functionality rather than attractiveness. You have to live in your home every day, so you arrange your furniture and decorations based on what works best for you. One common misconception when selling a home is that homebuyers will "look past" your furniture and decorations to see the home's true bones. I mean, they're not buying your furniture, right? 

What is Home Staging? 

In short, home staging is setting up your house in a way that is attractive to buyers. There are many different ways to stage a home, and it varies depending on the size and style of the house. There really isn't a perfect science for home staging, which is why it might be a good idea to hire a staging professional who knows what is appealing to buyers.

One option for home staging ideas is asking your real estate agent what similar houses in your area have done to prepare their homes. Sometimes, it may be good enough to rearrange your furniture and take down your more personal decorations. In other areas, it may be the case where they'll recommend renting furniture and decorations to give your home a new look. Whatever the case, there are usually some adjustments you can make to give your home a look that will be appealing to most buyers. 

Why Should I Hire a Professional Stager/Interior Designer?

In a competitive market, having an attractive interior could be the difference between a fast close and a long wait. If there are many options on the market, buyers are more likely to flock to homes that have an interior that "wows" them and stands out. A professional stager can give your home the facelift it needs to stand out from the crowd and get tons of potential buyers in the house for a tour. 

An agent can give recommendations and provide valuable insight into what other sellers have been doing to stage their homes. They might also know what is selling quickly and what has taken a long time to sell. Once they communicate this information, you'll have a better idea of what areas to emphasize and what parts you should rearrange. Ultimately, a home stager can work with your realtor to determine what will look best.  

Many buyers use online listing platforms to find homes they want to tour. Nowadays, sellers rely on a great first impression to get buyers into their homes. A great marketing campaign can help, but part of a great marketing campaign includes attractive pictures of your interior. Curb appeal is important, but once they swipe right on the pictures, they're looking inside your whole home. The better your interior pictures look, the more likely they are to request a tour. A professional stager will give you a better shot at catching the buyers' eyes and securing that home tour. 

Finally, staging your home can increase the perceived value of your home. If someone can see themself living in your home, they'll be willing to pay more for it. If the market is competitive, you could have multiple buyers get into a bidding war over your home. A staged home is one that will stand out over non-staged homes. As we said earlier, a home that stands out will get more interest, which gives it a higher value. Also, the faster you sell the house, the less time you have to pay for the usual expenses of owning the home. 

How Much Should I Spend on Staging? 

On average, a seller can expect to spend $2,000 to $5,000 if they commit to staging. Most realtors will agree that this is a wise investment because you can get a great return on investment. It varies depending on the size of your home and how much you're willing to spend. The cost may include hiring a staging professional and renting furniture and/or decorations. The goal of staging is to declutter, organize, and modernize your home to be more appealing. Some homes will require more resources than others. At a minimum, real estate professionals suggest staging at least the living room and one or two bedrooms. You can leave the rest of the rooms to the buyer's imagination. 

The more work you put into updating and staging your home, the more the buyer will appreciate your home. The degree of staging may depend on your area as well. If you live in a high-end neighborhood, you may need to invest in some luxury items and refurbish your home. Interior designers can offer recommendations on cozy yet fashionable furniture that can take your home to the next level. On the other hand, if you live in a rural or suburban area, you may look for a more modern or rustic style than luxury. Luxury items are likely to be more expensive, but they might be necessary if you want to sell your home for its full value. 

It's okay if you're still on the fence about hiring a staging professional to prepare your home to sell. Speak with your realtor about how much work they think you need to do on your home. The return on investment for staging a home is becoming more attractive because buyers search for photos online and desire a move-in ready home. If you do the staging right, you may get a great return on investment. 

To Build or Not to Build [Are buyers choosing to build because of low inventory?]

Deciding whether to buy a home or build a new one is becoming a popular question as housing inventory remains low. US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported 1,682,000 building permits for new residential constructions in February alone. This is a 17 percent increase from February 2020. Whether this increase stems from low inventory or a shift in society's preferences, building new residential homes is becoming more popular to new homeowners. 


Many of our buyers are struggling to find a home that meets their requirements, or they're afraid to overpay for a home because prices continue to rise. Still, buying a home is part of the American Dream, and everyone is looking for a way to make that dream come true.


If you're trying to decide if you want to buy an existing home or build a custom home, here are some facts that should help aid your decision. 


Key takeaways: 

  • Benefits of customizing a home
  • Benefits of buying an existing home
  • Cost of building materials and labor
  • Time is money 


There are pros and cons to each. Ultimately, it's up to you to weigh your options and decide which one is best in your situation. In general, people who aren't moving very far and have lots of time to invest in the process will have a better experience building a new home. Also, if you have a very specific taste that you're not going to find in an existing home, you might have to go the custom build route to get what you want. If you need to move quickly, you might not have enough time to start a new build. Customizing your home is a dream that many buyers only.

Benefits of Customizing a Home


Have you ever made a list of everything you'd like to have in a home? We have, too! A lot of those dreams can come true if you decide to build a custom home. You can have that man cave you've always wanted or space for all of your artwork. Want an inground pool dug in your back yard with an industrial-size kitchen? The possibilities are endless if you can find the right designer and architects. 


You are involved in nearly every step of the way and can control the design process to ensure you get everything you want. Building a new home can be a great way to see the quality of materials being used. In buying an existing home, your best guess at the home's status is through an inspection. The home might meet the requirements at the time, but it's hard to predict how long different parts of the home will last. Being involved in the building process, you get to observe and essentially manage the quality of materials and can better predict how long each material should last. 


Benefits of Buying an Existing Home


The assumption with an existing home is that it is already built. Naturally, it's easier and faster to move into a residence that is already standing. Even during the time it might take to tour, make an offer, and close the deal, it's still significantly faster to buy an existing home than to wait for a new structure to be built. 


If you need to move quickly or don't have time to wait on a new build, you can move into an existing home as soon as the owners allow. Even better, if the home is move-in ready, you won't have to do any extra work. Existing homes are convenient, fast, and predictable. 


Costs of Building Materials and Labor


The size of your home and how expensive it will be to build relies heavily on how much it will cost to build. The cost of imports and tariffs on wood, steel, and other materials fluctuate according to the global market. Getting approved for a $250,000 mortgage could go a long way when the cost of materials is down, but it might not cover everything you'd like if materials are expensive. You also have to consider the amount of labor the contractors will use to build the home. If you want a massive home, you might have to pay for a few more workers than a smaller home would require. 

Time is Money


If you've ever talked with someone who waited for new construction, then you've probably heard horror stories about how long it took for them to build the house. It's pretty common for new home construction to get delayed or knocked off schedule in some way. The longer it takes to build the home, you're probably losing money somehow. Whether you're paying the architect during this time or paying rent while you wait, it's expensive and takes a significant amount of time to build a home. Keep that in mind when making your decision. 

Real Estate/Mortgage Laws and Regulations (Resources for Consumers)

Consumers can equip themselves with the resources to make their own decisions. HomeTraq was created to give the consumer more control over the real estate process. Real Estate agents spend days or even weeks studying all of the laws and regulations surrounding real estate transactions. We have dug up some resources so the consumer can have access to the same resources that agents, brokers, and lenders use to stay up-to-date with the regulations. 

See below two agencies that create laws to protect consumers. Educating yourself on consumer rights is a great way to avoid any unlawful acts that might put you in a bad position. We've got you covered! If you have any questions or believe you've been misled, here's a great place to look:

Consumer Federal Protection Bureau (CFPB)

The CFPB was formed to protect consumers' rights. It is not specifically for real estate, but there are sections about financing, such as mortgage loans, bank accounts, and services, credit reports and scores, etc. Anything to do with banking, loans, and credit will have resources in the CFPB portal to offer advice on financial planning and laws that protect you as the consumer. 

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

Another group that advocates for consumers' rights is the Federal Trade Commission. In fact, if you feel like you've been treated poorly, misled, or the victim of fraud, the Federal Trade Commission may step in to investigate. Otherwise, you can use the site as a resource to gain insight into how the regulations are evolving. 

Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA)

Commonly known in the real estate industry as "RESPA," the real estate settlement procedures act is designed to increase transparency in the mortgage transaction. Lenders are required to share the full disclosure with their clients at least 3 days before the closing date. If something changes within this 3-day period, the lender is required to relay that information to the borrower and push back the closing date to accommodate any changes. 

RESPA also protects consumers from unnecessary closing fees and limits the use of escrow accounts. It also limits the illegal exchange of money known as "kickbacks," where lenders and real estate professionals would hand over clients in exchange for cash. To be clear, referral fees are different and completely legal. Kickbacks are an unlawful exchange of money for services. 

Truth in Lending Act (TILA) 

TILA is another example of a disclosure act, but this one applies to more types of loans such as credit cards and auto loans. The lender is required to provide sufficient information to the borrower at least 3 days before closing, and the borrower has the right to back out of the loan at any time within the three-day period. Similar to RESPA, if anything changes within the 3-day time frame, the lender must share that information and allow the borrower sufficient time to review the changes and back out at any point. TILA was designed to allow consumers time to think about their purchases and not fall for pushy sales tactics or coercion by the lender. 

Community Reinvestment Act (CRA)

Fair lending laws also protect consumers from discrimination. In the past, lenders have chosen to refuse loans to minority and low-income individuals. The CRA prohibits these practices and penalizes lenders who don't comply. Since the CRA was introduced, low-to-moderate income communities have seen an increase in access to loans. Banks and mortgage companies are encouraged to provide the necessary resources to everyone in their constituency, not just the well-off neighborhoods. 

Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA)

Similar to the CRA, the ECOA requires banks to consider all credit applications. The CRA mainly pertains to mortgage loans, but the ECOA covers all other major loans. Banks and credit unions cannot discriminate based on sex, race, age, religion, or any other non-financial category. With the increase in technology, it's fairly easy to determine the credit score and DTI of most people, so there is no need to consider any other characteristic. There never was a need, but now it is illegal to do so. 

3 Steps for Curb Appeal - Spring Tips for a Happy, Healthy Lawn

It might come as a surprise that curb appeal truly does impact the value of your home. For sellers, it can be the difference between someone requesting a tour of your home or driving right past it on their way to the store. Sometimes, buyers will consider the condition of the lawn in the category of "move-in ready." In other words, you may have a beautiful house on the inside, but if the yard isn't maintained, it could be a turnoff. 

Springtime is an exciting season for those that like to spend their time gardening and general lawn upkeep. Even if you're not a huge outdoorsman, there are still three simple steps that you can take to really upgrade your lawn and have the neighbors trying to keep up with your green grass. 

3-Step Process for Keeping a Beautiful Lawn

  • Recover: remove any unwanted remnants of leaves, twigs, and moss that could hinder your lawn's growth.  

  • Prepare: feed your lawn to help it come back better than ever

  • Maintain: keep up with anything that might impact the health of your lawn throughout the spring, so it's prepared for the hot summer days. 

This may seem like a ton of work, but you can complete two of the three steps on the same day. Raking leaves, picking up sticks, and trimming bushes is something you do on a Saturday afternoon, and your lawn will reap the benefits for the rest of the season. Maintenance will be much easier after you've done this, so maintaining curb appeal should be a breeze. 

RECOVER


Step 1 for having the best lawn in town is cleaning up after the long fall and winter days that have covered your green grass with leaves, moss, and other debris. Even if you cleaned up your lawn before the first snow, there's still a good chance that leaves from other houses have blown into your yard and sat there for weeks. 

Once the snow comes around, it compacts all of the dead grass and leaves into the soil and clogs up the pores. If you don't treat this, the rest of your work will be for nothing because your grass won't get the right amount of water, nutrients, and sunlight to become happy and healthy. 

One way to deal with compacted soil is to rake the entire lawn with a high-quality rake to break up the loose, dead debris. Even if there aren't any leaves, raking the grass will loosen up the dead debris and allow your grass to breathe better. 

Another option is to use an aerator or pitchfork to create holes for the nutrients to absorb into the soil. This may take more time, but it is very effective at breaking up dead grass and other problems that might cause your grass to die. 

Trimming dead limbs on trees and bushes is another good wait to give your landscaping a facelift. Dead or dying limbs take unnecessary nutrients from the healthier parts of the plant. By removing these, the healthy parts of the plant can shine through. For example, a plant that is about to bloom might bloom twice as much if you remove the dead limbs, which will make it more vibrant and attractive. 

PREPARE


Step 2 comes after you've cleaned up the lawn and removed any debris that could get in the way during the preparation phase. Preparation primarily refers to the hot summer that will kill your grass if it's not healthy and maintained. This phase can look like a few different things. Most landscapers like to fertilize and water the lawn to give it extra nutrients. The best way to get a healthy lawn is to feed it regularly. Most fertilizers recommend applying it spaced out every few weeks to avoid over-feeding or burning up the grass. 

Another option would be to repair unhealthy patches in the grass rather than fertilizing the whole lawn. If you find any dead spots or areas that you would like to improve the grass, place some sod down to encourage growth in that area. You might consider watering it a few times after first putting it down, so the roots have enough fuel to grow down into the soil. 

Weeds can create a problem when the March and April showers start to roll around. Weeds steal nutrients from the grass and can grow pretty quickly if you don't keep an eye on them. An easy way to prevent or stunt weed growth is to lay a fertilizer that includes weed prevention/weed killer. Beware not to use a weed killer like roundup that will also kill your grass. The bag will clearly state that it only kills weeds and is safe for grass and other plants. If you would rather save money and avoid the fertilizer, you can always do it the old-fashioned way and pull them by hand. Fertilizer will save you tons of time and energy but might cost a little bit upfront. 

MAINTAIN


Along with keeping up with the weeds and fertilizing a couple of times, the third step consists of usual lawn maintenance once a week or so.  Mowing your lawn and scrounging for weeds will keep your grass strong and encourage continuous growth. If your grass gets too long in the early stages, it might use up all the nutrients too quickly and will stunt the growth later in the season. Of course, don't mow the grass too soon after you spread fertilizer or water the lawn. If it's wet, you might pull some grass out of the ground or create divots. 

Maintenance also includes keeping it full and robust throughout the summer. You never know when a buyer might be ready to take a tour. Keeping your lawn clean and strong will keep you prepared for any opportunity. 

Why are homes so expensive right now? (Home Value Increase Explained)

We've spoken to many customers who are irritated with the price of homes at the moment. Some of them have even vowed to hold off on buying a home until the market cools down. There's no right answer to how you should handle a hot market because everyone's situation is different. For sellers, a hot market means you could get a better deal on your home. For buyers, it means you might have to compete with other offers or save up a little more for your down payment. We simply want to give you the information you need to decide what works best for your situation. 

Below are some key terms that you'll need to understand before making your decision.

Key Terms

  • Market Value

  • Appreciation

  • Median Home Price

  • Inventory

  • Demand

Market Value

The market sets the price of a home. Real estate agents and appraisers use what we call comparables or "comps" to determine home value. Comps use recent home sales in that area that are similar in sq footage, beds/baths, condition, and acreage. If a home of similar standing sold for $300,000 last week in the same neighborhood, the agent might be comfortable listing your home at a similar price. The amount buyers are willing to pay for a home will determine the home's market value. 

Median Home Price

The median home price is similar to the average, but not quite. It's the price of a home that is exactly in the middle of all homes sold. For example, if 100 homes were sold ranked from the most to least expensive, the median price would be the price of the 50th ranked home. Statisticians try to avoid using averages because extremely high or low prices can skew them. The vast majority of homes are sold around the median price.  

In 2019, the median home price was around $275,000 and increased to around $300,000 in 2020. This is an increase of about 8%. In the past, the median home value has increased year-over-year at a 2% to 3% rate. 8% was a pretty big jump. From 2020 to 2021, the median home price jumped nearly 15%, which is almost twice as much as the previous year. 

Appreciation

Appreciation means "to increase in value." Homes are one of the only purchases you can make that may be worth more in 10 years than it is right now. Cars, boats, shoes, etc., almost always lose their value (depreciate) as soon as you take them home. As you saw from the median home price, existing homes will increase in value year-over-year. As long as it's kept in reasonable condition, a home that was bought in 2019 for $275,000 could now be worth $350,000. Every region is slightly different, but if your neighborhood is consistent with national trends, you probably have some equity in your home by now. 

Why are homes so expensive? 

A combination of factors goes into determining the market value of a home. As previously mentioned, home values are determined by how much a consumer will reasonably pay to buy a home. As long as people continue to pay what some would consider being "over market value," houses will continue to be listed at high prices.  So, what factors go into determining market value? 

Inventory (supply)

I'm sure you're tired of hearing this from us, but it really does play a huge role in the market value. Going back to basic economics, supply and demand are the two core factors that set market value. There simply are fewer homes on the market. Between the uncertainty of COVID-19 and low refinance rates, homeowners are holding off any plans they may have to move. 

With the vaccine becoming a factor and many states are starting to resume normal operations, people might become comfortable with moving on with their previous plans. For now, however, inventory is significantly lower than in previous years around this time. Homes are a hot item right now, as many people are searching for larger spaces. Inventory is a major reason why homes are so expensive right now. 

Buyer (Demand)

The other side of the formula is the incredible demand for larger homes. People are working from home or homeschooling their children. Most have discovered that using their kitchen table as an office desk doesn't cut it. Not to mention, they have no extra room to escape their daily lives, so they're ready to upgrade homes. More demand combined with fewer for-sale homes means more competition and bidding wars among buyers. 

Mortgage Rates

All of the advertising about low mortgage rates has sparked the interest of potential buyers who have been on the fence for a while. Those leisurely lookers who said, "maybe one day I'll buy a home" have finally decided that now is the time to act because mortgage rates are at record lows. This adds to the pent-up buyers' demand that only adds to the competition. 

Millennials

The millennial generation has taken over the baby boomers as the largest home-buying group. Millennials took a little longer to commit to buying a home, but they've begun to move into suburban America in droves. Some have decided to build homes rather than purchase an existing one, but that will likely slow down, as the cost of materials has increased due to COVID-19. 

Competition

When demand is higher than supply, consumers will compete to buy the same home. Competing offers means the value could increase. Someone may offer the listing price or higher if it means they have a better chance at getting the house. This cycle continues. As one home in the area sells for above market price, other houses are listed at that price because of "comparables." As a seller, you want to get the best deal, and as long as buyers compete over homes rather than walk away due to the high prices, sellers will continue to list their homes at a high price. 

What does this mean for buyers? 

As a buyer, you'll need to be prepared for competition. Put in the work up-front, and you may be rewarded with an accepted offer in an extremely hot market. 

What does this mean for sellers?

You may have heard someone say that it's a seller's market. Okay, sure, but what does that really mean? It means that sellers are in the driver's seat. Depending on their location, they may get multiple offers on their home and have a buyer by the end of the month. It also means that housing prices are high, so you could get a fantastic deal on your sale. If you've thought about selling your home, now would be a great time to get the most bang for your buck. 

Race into the Spring Housing Market [Real Estate Insider]

Housing inventory (supply) has remained low, and home prices are rising to record highs. There are plenty of buyers, and many homes are selling very quickly. Most for-sale homes are selling in less than a month. If you're a seller, now would be the time to sell your home to get great value from massive buyer competition. When there's low supply, expensive houses, and a lightning-fast housing market, what does that mean for buyers? We've compiled a list of best practices for how buyers should handle the housing market as it begins to heat up with the nice weather. 

How do I handle the spring housing rush?

  • Use the next few weeks to prepare

  • Act and react quickly

  • Request pre-approval ASAP

  • Use HomeTraq to get in the house quickly


Getting ahead of the game is the best way to buy a home as soon as it enters the market. Do your research, be prepared, and act quickly when the time comes, and you can still land a beautiful house, even in a competitive market. 

Use the next few weeks to prepare

Even though it's warming up outside, it's technically not Springtime yet! Fair-weather buyers and sellers are only starting to think about their next move. If you prepare now, you can still be well-prepared by the time the market starts to fly. Here are a few resources that we've created with advice on setting yourself up for a successful transaction. 

Preparation is key in a fast-paced market. We see for-sale homes get multiple offers in a week. You have to be confident in your decision when the time comes to make an offer. Arranging your finances, creating a must-have vs. would-be-nice list helps. Once you know what you need, you can sign up for a tour quickly when you see something go on the market that checks those boxes. 

Request pre-approval ASAP

Being in the right mindset and organizing your finances is an important first step. Once your mind is in the right place, and you're ready to start touring, you should get pre-approved for a mortgage. Pre-approval will tell you how much you can afford and confirms to the seller that your offer is valid. 

Once you're pre-approved, you can narrow down your search to a specific price range. Pre-approval takes less than 10 minutes to apply, and it's a pretty accurate snapshot of your finances. Buying a home is a huge investment, so you'll want to protect yourself by preparing your mind and your mortgage options. 

Act and react quickly

You probably get the point by now. The market is super competitive for buyers right now. We talked about being prepared, both financially and mentally. You've read our blogs about buying and selling best practices, and you know that when the home of your dreams goes up for sale, you'll need to act fast if you want a shot. However, there are just some things that are not in our control. 

We can prepare every last detail and still get thrown a curveball halfway through the process. That's when we need to think on our feet. Sometimes you'll apply to see a home, and the seller will cancel the showing. Or, you make an offer, and they counter with a number so high there's no way you'll come to a common ground. When other buyers are involved, you never know what might happen. Simply put, be ready to get thrown a curveball. If you anticipate something going wrong, you won't be shaken too badly when it happens, and you can recover quickly. Ask a friend, call your agent, or just take a moment to process everything. Then get back out there and keep fighting for your dream home!

Use HomeTraq to get in the house quickly.  

There's no time to wait on a call back from the selling agent to see if the home is available to tour. Not to mention, you never want to tour a home without representation. HomeTraq solves both of those issues. When you apply for a home tour at hometraq.com, an agent will meet you at the door just like an Uber driver will pick you up from the bar. You get representation and expertise from a local real estate agent, with no commitment to use them again in the future. You also get to choose a time that works for you rather than going off the agent's schedule. You're in control and can work at your pace. Have a weird work schedule? Schedule three tours on your day off. It's the best way to ensure you see every house in a time where homes aren't sticking around long.  

How To Repair Your Credit to Obtain a Mortgage [Real Estate Insider]

Your credit score plays a key role in obtaining a home loan. Credit repair companies exist to help raise your score and get a better interest rate. These can be useful, but most of the time, there is nothing they can do to improve your score quickly. Honestly, raising your credit score takes time, and many of the concepts you can do without a credit repair company's help. Here are some ways to effectively improve your credit score and finally get that loan for your dream home. 

How To Improve Your Credit Score


  • Consistently make payments on time.

  • Pay down existing debt.

  • Don't open more credit lines or borrow more money.

  • Don't close out existing credit lines.

  • Look into potential credit boosters.


The two categories that have the largest impact on your score are your payment history and current credit utilization. If you have tons of debt and don't make payments on time, it might take some time to raise your score. However, you've come to the right place if you're looking to take some steps in the right direction. 

Consistently make payments on time.

The two key points here are "consistency" and "on-time." We know life happens, and sometimes it's hard to make ends meet. There's no shame in paying the monthly minimum. Late/missed payments are the worst-case scenario for your credit score. Using a credit card for transactions is fine as long as you consistently pay the minimum back each month. This is a great way to build your score if you have a thin credit history. It becomes harmful for your credit score when you use it to borrow more than you can afford. Once you miss a payment, it stays on your credit record for several years.

For a FICO credit score, which is what most major lenders use, payment history accounts for 35% of your overall grade. Combine that with the fact that missed payments stay on your record for around seven years, and you can see how it would be hard to improve your score with too many missed payments. Create a reminder on your phone or write it down on your calendar to make sure you don't miss any credit card or loan payments. 

Pay down existing debt

Another big chunk of your credit score is the amount of debt you currently owe. Most banks don't like to lend money to someone who already has a large amount of outstanding debt. Also, use your Debt to Income (DTI) ratio when evaluating your finances for a mortgage. So, your best bet is to start attacking any of the larger loans you may currently have to lower your DTI. Lowering your DTI will also positively affect your credit score because it will decrease your total amount of existing debt. 

Total debt accounts for 30% of your credit score if they're using the FICO model. This means that even if you're making payments on time over several years if you don't decrease your total debt amount in that time, you're still at risk of hurting your credit score. 

Don't open new credit lines or borrow more money.

This idea goes with the previous two sections, which discuss reducing your debt and maintaining consistent payments. Adding on more debt or giving yourself more opportunities to borrow money would go against the two most essential credit categories. If you're working to pay down existing debt, it's counterproductive to take one more obligation. Even applying for more credit cards or consolidating debt into one account could impact your score. Also, most of these tasks require a credit inquiry, and too many credit inquiries in a year could negatively impact your score. 

Don't close credit lines.

One detail that I've found interesting is that even closing credit lines can hurt your score. Any activity can hurt your score, so just stick with what you have and do your best to pay off the debt you currently have. If you plan to get a mortgage within a few years, you might want to stick with your current number of credit lines. Mortgage companies make money from the interest you pay back on loans. They want to discourage closing credit lines because they don't want to lose your business. However, they also don't want you to have so much debt that you can't afford the loan. It's an endless cycle, but we all have to play the game. Luckily, we have the tricks that can help you get back on track. 

Look into potential credit boosters

You may have seen some advertisements about credit boosters recently. With the increase in online banking, credit companies have improved the experience to include more payments in your credit history. For example, Experian has introduced Experian Boost, including utility, rental, and streaming service payments to your history. Some borrowers have seen a 10-20 point increase in their score from these services. Not to mention, it won't include your missed payments in the report. 

Credit boosters are an excellent resource for someone who is close to mortgage qualification and just needs a little push over the threshold. Unfortunately, you can't rely solely on a credit boost to lift your score by more than a few points. You have to be making the payments through your bank account, so if you are paying the landlord or your roommates through a cash app like Venmo or PayPal, the credit report company may not recognize these as valid.  

Visit one of these three leading credit websites for more resources:

Equifax - https://www.equifax.com/personal/

TransUnion - https://www.transunion.com/

Experian - https://www.experian.com/

More About Xome (Our FREE online MLS service)

Our previous blog post about Xome gave you a brief overview of how it works and what you can do with it. This post breaks down some of the details you'll notice when using the home search function. Look out for more posts about the home value, finance, and sell-side later on. For now, here's a look at some of the neat features you can use when browsing for a home in Xome. 

Here's a quick demonstration of how to filter your home search in Xome

Click on the image for the property details

There's much more under the hood when you click on the preview image of a home that catches your interest. The listing agent has written out a description of the property from their perspective that gives you some insight into the home's feel.

Under the description, you'll find the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage, and property type. Sometimes they include the price for square foot, which is helpful if you're looking to flip the property for some profit. If the price per square foot is not included, you can just take the listing price and divide it by the number of square feet. For a $300,000 home that is 2,373 sq feet, the price per square foot is about $126.

School district info that links to a description of their scores

Schools play a huge role in the price and culture of an area. Good school districts typically come with higher-priced homes. To get an idea of the school districts in an area, you can see the "Nearby schools" section in Xome. It gives you a quick overview of the schools in that zip code. If you want more info, most of the schools link to another website with a more detailed description. 

Walk, Transit, and Bike Scores

If you'd prefer to walk or bike to work, school, etc., you can see how each for-sale home scores in local transit. The "Walk Score" function breaks it down into three different categories. The transit score tells you how accessible public transportation is within that neighborhood. Walk and bike score tell you how common it is for people in that community to walk or bike to get around.

"Comparables" or similar homes recently sold nearby


See information about other similar homes in the area. Real estate agents use "comparables" to determine the value of a particular home. Want to get ahead of the competition and make an accurate offer? Use comparables to see what other homes in that area are selling for. If you find a similar home with a lower listing price, you may have some leverage in negotiations. 

More information about the area

The area statistics section includes population statistics to give you a better idea of the economic strength in that neighborhood. Unemployment rates, job growth, taxes, and median household income says a lot about the area. Depending on what you're looking for, this could be one of the most helpful ways to see what kind of neighborhood you're walking into. 

Ways you can filter your home search

Xome offers tons of filters you can use to customize your home search to find exactly what you want. There are tons of different options! In a hot market with tons of homes for sale, you may be able to find a home that meets every single requirement. Otherwise, you can use these filters to narrow down your search to find the best option that's currently available. Make sure you have pending and sold homes switched off unless you specifically want to see previously sold homes. It will only take away from homes that you can actually tour. 

Keywords, commute time, and HOA fees

Determining a home's distance from your work, school, or gym is no longer an estimate. You can find out exactly how far the home is from any address by applying the commute filter. Also, you'll find that some homes will share the HOA fees in the description. If you'd rather have a home with no HOA fees or only ones with a garage, Xome has your back! Use our home search service for the best experience, AND you never have to call an agent to set up a tour. Home Showings Simplified. 

3 Factors Contributing to the Low Housing Inventory [Real Estate Insider]

Buyers are out in full force, so what gives? Why is housing inventory so low despite the high demand? It usually takes a few external factors to change the housing market as it has in recent months. Here are some possible explanations for why fewer people are listing their homes despite the promising upward trend of eager homebuyers:

  1. Uncertainty - Homeowners are uncertain about their financial future and afraid to take the risk. 
  2. Low Rates - Owners are enjoying low mortgage rates that they fear will go away after the pandemic. Also, they may have recently refinanced due to the low rates. 
  3. Baby Boomers are Homebodies - Older generations (Baby Boomers especially) are settled in and content in their current residence. 

1. Uncertainty Surrounding Finances and Employment

Finances and employment are two key considerations when buying or selling a home. Although plenty of people are lining up to buy a home, it's the current homeowners who are content to stay where they are right now. Uncertainty has made current homeowners settle in, and they're prepared to ride out the pandemic in their current homes. 

Also, the idea of selling their home is tied to finding a new place to live. If the inventory is already low, they'll need to know where they're going to move before selling their current home. If they can't afford any of the houses on the market or can't find any they like, they'll probably wait until they can.

Unemployment

COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in many homeowners' financial plans. Whether it has impacted you directly or not, everyone has been holding onto their wallet a little tighter since the pandemic hit. You may hear stories about record-high unemployment rates, or you've been impacted yourself. Either way, most people don't want to make a big financial decision during a time of severe uncertainty. 

Financial Stability

Even the fear of potential unemployment can cause homeowners to rethink selling their homes. They know that what they're doing right now is working, and as long as they can keep on the same course, they can survive. Financial security is the first step to buying or selling your home. During COVID-19, it may be the case that many homeowners don't feel financially stable enough to sell their homes. It's relatively expensive to prepare your home for sale if you're going to do it right. Therefore, homeowners must be in a stable financial position, which is less common during a pandemic, leaving so many unemployed. 

Health Concerns

Concern for health and safety is an easy explanation during a pandemic. Simply put, some people fear the uncertainty that comes with an invisible virus to which there is no known cure. Some people choose to put a hold on listing their home because they don't want other people touring their house. It's an unfortunate reality that has caused many homeowners to hold off on selling their homes. 

Loan Forbearance

Homeowners who have experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19 have been able to reduce or even delay their monthly mortgage payments due to the CARES Act. Mortgage companies have agreed to work with homeowners who might be having trouble making their payments. Instead of selling their homes to get a smaller monthly payment, homeowners can delay their payments for an amount of time that is agreed upon between the mortgage companies and their clients. So, many people may be taking advantage of this forbearance and staying in their current homes.

2. Owners are Enjoying Low Mortgage and Refinance Rates

Mortgage interest rates have been trending downward for the past several years. Homeowners have enjoyed record-low interest rates, which might explain why so many new people are interested in buying who have previously rented. Also, there are tons of advertisements saying, "It's a great time to refinance your home!" While that may be subjective, many homeowners have opted to take advantage of the low refinance rates, which may be why they're not selling. 

When you've been living in your home for a few years, you may qualify for a lower rate through refinancing. Homeowners might have decided to refinance for a lower rate or even cash in on their built-up equity. Either way, it wouldn't be financially wise to move soon after refinancing, so homeowners are holding off on any dreams of moving into a bigger home to save some money. Homeowners know that mortgage and refinance rates are at all-time lows, so they're saving money instead of moving on to their next home.  

3. Older Generations are Settled In

Millennials are moving out of the city and are ready to start their lives in a single-family, suburban home. So, why is it so hard for them to find a home right now? One possible explanation is that Baby Boomers are happy with their current homes and have no interest in moving. Baby boomers still own most single-family homes, and they're not putting them up for sale. Millennials are the largest population and are trending toward becoming the largest group of homeowners. 

Until recently, tons of millennials have chosen to rent rather than buy. They are coming upon the age where they have more money, and they've started families. The demand has steadily increased as Millennials are taking over the homebuying industry. The supply hasn't been able to keep up with demand because Baby Boomers still own a majority of the single-family homes and are content to stay right where they are. 

Millennials are having to find other options like renting or building new homes. Unfortunately, it takes more time and money to build a new home than to buy an existing one. Millennials who can't afford to build a new home may be stuck with renting until the Baby Boomers start selling their homes again. 

How to Find Down Payment Assistance (DPA) in Your Area

Building enough funds to buy a home could take a long time, and it's hard work. Saving enough money for a down payment doesn't have to be what's holding you back from buying a home. Finding down payment assistance is the first step in financing your new home. You just have to find a lender that will work with you and provide guidance on where to look for down payment assistance (DPA). Some new homeowners put little-to-no money down on their homes. Every situation is different, so here are some guiding principles on finding down payment assistance in your area. 

It's Like Applying for a Scholarship

If you've applied for a college or trade school scholarship, then you know that nearly every scholarship has different qualifications. I once came across a scholarship when I was applying for college that the recipient had to be born on a specific month. While I don't believe state and local down payment funds are this specific, I can say that none of them are built the same. Different assistance programs are available based on income, geographic location, and the last time you've owned a home. Some plans are for low-to-moderate-income buyers, and others are built to assist minority groups. Prospective home buyers have to research and see which category they fall into to find the right DPA program.

DPA for First Time Buyers

It can be difficult for a first-time buyer to enter the home buying world. Financing companies and state and federal governments have tried to make it more accessible for new homebuyers to take out a loan. If you've been renting for a long time, you won't have a history of mortgage payments for lenders to evaluate, making it more difficult to approve a loan amount. Different organizations have provided down payment assistance specifically for first-time buyers to bridge the gap, so they don't have to settle for a huge interest loan. 

It may also be more difficult for some buyers to save a ton of money for a down payment. Instead, some lenders will offer low-to-no down payment mortgages to allow new buyers the chance to enjoy homeownership. Your best bet for ensuring a reasonable rate on your loan is to build up your credit. If you've taken out other loans for things like cars, student loans, or personal loans, you likely already have a substantial credit history. Continue to pay off those loans, and don't take out any more loans until you've spoken with a trusted bank or lender. 

Once you're sure your credit is in good standing, it's time to evaluate your expenses against your income. Understanding how much you can afford for a mortgage depends on how much money you make per month vs. how much outstanding debt and expenses you have. Once you know your debt-to-income (DTI), you'll have a better idea of how much you can afford. Finally, start saving for a small down payment. Lenders can help you out, but the likelihood you get a 0% down loan is small. Saving up some cash is your best bet to ensuring you get the loan. 

Common Mortgage Qualifications

We wanted to throw in some qualifications for standard mortgage options so you can compare your finances. If you're somewhere close to these benchmarks, you're in an excellent spot to be able to take out some type of mortgage. Even better, if you meet these qualifications and you're a first-time buyer, you should have some good options when choosing to buy your first home. 

Conventional Mortgage

  • Usually requires a minimum credit score of 620
  • 5-percent down payment, some programs allow 3-percent
  • Debt-to-income around 50% or less
  • Usually requires Private Mortgage Insurance until you reach 20% equity. 

FHA Loan (Government-backed: Federal Housing Administration)

  • Usually requires credit score to be a minimum of 580
  • 3.5% minimum down payment
  • Additional fee: mortgage payment premium for the life of the loan. 

Veterans Affairs (VA) Loan

  • Only available to veterans or their spouses
  • 0% down payment
  • No Private Mortgage Insurance required

If you qualify for any of these options, then you should have a good idea of how much you'll need to save for the down payment. If you don't meet the requirements, you can still search for other down payment assistance options in your area. 

Talk to a Trusted Lender

The best way to get sound financial advice is to speak with a mortgage professional. They can explain your financing options and help you make a plan that fits your needs. You will also have a better idea of the types of down payment assistance options in your area and can tell you which ones you should pursue. 

Before you start your home search, you should talk to a lender about pre-approval. Having the peace of mind going into your home search is a great feeling. A pre-approval will tell you how much you're likely approved to borrow, and it will guide your home search. Besides, you don't want to waste your time touring homes that don't fit your budget. Also, you'll be ready to make an offer when the right house does come around. Once you're ready to get serious, talk to a loan officer about pre-approval so you can start your home search. 


What is Xome and How Do I Use It?

We recently partnered with a new online listing platform called Xome. You can still use any listing site to find homes and to tour through HomeTraq. We wanted to provide some extra info on Xome in case you have trouble navigating the new technology. 

In short, here's everything you can do in Xome: 

  • Search for active homes in a certain zip code
  • Request info for active homes
  • Get started with selling your home
  • Receive a free valuation of your current home
  • Earn pre-approval for a mortgage
  • Contact a mortgage professional about financing

What is Xome?

An online listing platform that you can use to find for-sale homes in your neighborhood. Xome is GPS enabled, so you can enter the zip code or even the exact address of the home you want to view. Xome uses MLS data to provide up-to-date info about current for-sale properties and historical information on those properties. 

What Can I Do with Xome? 

Search for Active Homes by Location

Type in the zip code in which you'd like to search for a home and utilize the "filters" function to pinpoint your search. Possible filters include price range, number of beds and baths, square footage, listing status, property type, and commute time (to school, work, etc). Using these filters will help you find a home that meets every requirement.  

Select a home that piques your interest to learn more specific details or ask a question about the house. Fill out your contact info, type in your question, and select "request info."

Scroll down to see a detailed description of the home. This section also includes historical information such as previous sales prices and distance from public transportation and schools. All of the information you'll need to know about the property is at your fingertips. 

Get Started with Selling Your Home

If you select "sell" on the blue banner at the top right section of the home screen, it will take you to this page:

The selling page offers helpful hints when selling preparing your home for sale. For more information, select the "Get Started" button to apply for HomeTraq's Pre-Listing Services. Pre-Listing Services are a great way to save money on your home sale. Learn more about how to save money on your home sale from one of our recent blogs at hometraq.com.

Receive a Free Valuation of Your Current Property

Once you've learned about common pre-listing practices, you can find out how much your current home is worth through an Automated Valuation Model (AVM). An AVM takes publically available information to create an estimated listing price for your home. The automated process is the beginning stages of what will eventually turn into a full appraisal. If you're serious about selling your home, use an AVM to be prepared when you speak to a real estate agent. Click on this link to learn more about determining your home's value

Earn Pre-Qualification or Contact a Mortgage Professionals about Financing

Financing is a critical part of the home buying process. Earning pre-qualification should be the first step in your journey because it tells you how much credit you're likely allowed to borrow. Through the "Finance" tab, you will find standard financing terms and financing FAQs.

If you wish to get pre-approved for a loan, select "Get Started" to be directed to a loan officer. They can answer any questions you may have or explain your potential financing options. 

Ready to Tour Your Dream Home?

Once you've found a home you'd like to tour, enter the property address into "Book A Showing" on the HomeTraq website. Once confirmed, you can attend a no-commitment home tour with a real estate agent. Everything is communicated through the HomeTraq platform, so they never receive your contact info, and they won't call you until you're ready. 

Popular Renovation Trends for Homeowners

Kitchens have become one of the most important parts of a home. Homebuyers are looking for a large kitchen with updated appliances. Not only do they want space, but they have a specific theme in mind as well. Keep up with some of these common kitchen trends to show everyone that you take your interior design seriously. 

Kitchen Trends 

Bright Colors with Dark Floors

Dark laminate or hardwood floors are timeless additions to any room. You have to be careful with dark colors because they can make a room seem dark. The perfect way to compliment dark flooring without losing too much brightness is to fill the rest of the kitchen with vibrant colors. Also, tons of lighting is a bonus when you have company or if you enjoy cooking. 

Backsplash/Statement Tiles

Another way to get creative with your kitchen design is to add a backsplash with a quirky or exciting style. Many homeowners will plaster tiles to the walls behind their sink and/or stove to use as a statement piece. It's also a great way to attract eyes to your brand new appliances. Another idea for a popular backsplash is to use a vibrant wallpaper or adhesive laminate flooring that you really like. 

Quartz Countertops

Quartz is becoming one of the most popular uses for countertops in modern kitchens. It has a lot of similarities to marble, but it's much cheaper. Quartz countertops are easy to clean, and they give your kitchen an elegant look at a lower cost. Not to mention, it'll last forever because it's some of the strongest material you can use. Quartz can come in many different colors and styles, so it's pretty customizable. Whether you want a bright, glossy countertop, or a dark or speckled design, you can get just about anything you want.

Recycled Materials and Composting

Going green is another new trend that has made its way to the kitchen. Sometimes green can be taken literally because homeowners are growing their own plants and herbs right in their kitchens. This will give your space a pop of green that many homeowners are growing to love. Also, homeowners are getting more energy efficient in the kitchen. Appliances that consume less energy and maintain heat better are great options. Also, home cooks are taking on composting to do their part to save the environment. Collecting brown or green food scraps and repurposing them in the soil is a great way to reduce the amount of food waste going into the landfill and eventually harming the environment. Composting stations are becoming a more popular item in many environmentally-cautious homeowners' kitchens. 

Living Room Trends

Dull, monotone themes are starting to become a thing of the past. Homeowners are choosing to incorporate their favorite colors and patterns into the whole home instead of just with a "statement piece." Interior designers and everyday homeowners agree that if you love something, you shouldn't have to contain where you use it. If you love a style, color, or pattern, the new trend says to go crazy!

Upholstered Chairs for Dining Room Table

Upholstered chairs are more comfortable, and you can add some color that fits your style. When you're looking to host guests, you can hang out all day and not have to worry about getting uncomfortable. Homeowners have started to add warm and cozy tones in their dining room so they can spend more time relaxing and take advantage of the space for multiple purposes.  

Neutral Tones with Pops of Color

While gray, white, and other dull colors are becoming less popular, you may see some homeowners choose to use them as a base for more exciting colors. Accent walls are a thing of the past because people are really starting to let their imagination run. However, there may be a time and a place to use a neutral color like gray, black, or white to make your personality shine, but neutral tones are being used less as a style and more as a vessel for creativity. 

Rustic/Farmhouse Inspired

Anything from barn doors and wood furniture to recycled steel and earthy tones, rustic farmhouse themed living rooms are HOT. Recycled, repurposed, and refinished wood is the best way to give your living room a farmhouse look. A great DIY project is to refinish wooden furniture and make it look new while still leaving some character. Rustic can mean a lot of things, but the best way to make the decor look farmhouse-inspired is to make it look rugged and sturdy while still maintaining a charming, down to earth feel. 

What to Look for in a Final Walkthrough [Real Estate Insider]

There are many stages involved in a home sale. Between the offer and closing day, the buyer probably doesn't have access to the home. The final walkthrough allows the buyer one last opportunity to confirm any necessary changes and evaluate the house before the final transaction. 

Why do you need a final walkthrough? 

After an inspection, most buyers will request something to be fixed or updated before the closing date. Most sellers are trustworthy and will complete the tasks before closing. For the buyer's protection, they can evaluate the home one last time before signing the papers. 

The final walkthrough allows you to inspect a home for any problems that have occurred between the time of the tour and the closing date. The process of selling a home can take weeks or even months to complete. A lot can happen between the inspection and the closing date. Some sellers choose to live in the house until the day before closing. Merely living in a home increases the chances of something being broken or misplaced than if they moved out early. 

Even if they've moved out of the home well in advance of the closing date, there are still some problems that could occur. For example, an abandoned house is more vulnerable to break-ins or vandalism. It's a reality that home buyers should be aware of and look for during the walkthrough. Also, empty homes might attract various critters or pests. The point is, even if they're not living in the house, that doesn't mean you shouldn't meticulously evaluate the property during the walkthrough. 

What to Look for in a Walkthrough

It's important to be observant during the final walkthrough and anticipate what you're looking for before entering the house. The buyer and their agent will walk through it together, so be sure to ask if you have any questions or need recommendations on what to look out for. You'll want to study every part of the home to ensure nothing has changed. Take a look at everything from the outside of the home, locks, keypads, passcodes, and of course, every room inside the house. 

Outside and Around the Home

It's easy to overlook the outside of the home, but you should consider being thorough if you're going to make such a large purchase. Take a lap around the exterior and make sure there isn't any damage that wasn't there when you made the offer. This includes the roof, siding, landscaping, garage, and any other exterior structures that come with the property. If the sellers agreed to leave outdoor furniture, then make sure it's still there. Otherwise, make sure they've removed anything you didn't agree to keep with the house. 

Take a good look at the windows and screens from the outside. If there has been poor weather, the screens could have fallen out, or the window might have cracks. You can also take a look at the mailbox to make sure it is still standing and hasn't been damaged. Everything is supposed to be in the same condition or better than you last saw it, so don't be afraid to look with a critical eye. 

Inside the Home

Once you've done the exterior check, it's time to head inside. Be sure to be very observant when looking for potential issues. The first thing you want to check is anything that you've agreed upon from the inspection. The seller is responsible for updating or fixing any problems they find during the inspections. It may be hard to confirm that they fixed some things, so be sure to ask for receipts or proof that the project is complete.

Next, you'll want to look for anything that could potentially be a deal-breaker. Anything that might cost you a chunk of change once you move in because you'll be responsible for fixing anything after you sign the papers. That list should include the HVAC system and thermostat, light fixtures, outlets, garbage disposal, or any damage that would require a professional to fix. 

You'll also want to check any plumbing such as sinks, toilets, and showers. Make sure the water is running, drains well, and the pipes don't leak when used. Any appliances that would be expensive to replace should be working correctly and should have been cleaned. 

Another thing you should check is that all doors close, latch, and lock properly. Doors that are propped open might be a sign that the door doesn't stay open on its own or doesn't shut properly. Windows should open, stay open, close, and latch like they did when you came through the first time. If anything is off, be sure to mention it to your agent. 

Keys, remotes, passcodes, and security systems

If the home has a security system or anything digital like a thermostat, don't forget to check that they're working well and that you know how to use them. If not, be sure to ask the owners to show you how to use it before you sign the papers. 

Most homes have remotes for their automatic garage doors, so be sure to test those. Also, digital padlocks for exterior doors are becoming more common, so make sure you get the code and test it as well. You should get multiple keys, so test the keys and make sure each key works and goes to the door they said it does. Feel free to check any other remotes that are being left with the house as well. It's best to ask the owner to fix it if it doesn't work rather than figuring it out yourself. 

What to do if you find an issue at the walkthrough

If you find something that you think needs to be fixed or replaced, there's still time to work it out with the owners. It might delay the closing or change the terms of the deal, but it's better than having the responsibility of fixing it yourself. If it's a bad enough problem or it breaks the terms of the contract, the buyer can still back out before they sign the papers. However, the best-case scenario is that the buyer and seller can work out a new deal. Most sellers either won't notice the problem until you bring it to their attention, or they already know about it and are expecting the buyer to ask about it. Either way, the seller should be willing to compromise and move on with the sale. 

How List Price is Different from Sale Price [Real Estate Insider]

The terms list price and sale price are often used interchangeably. What you might not know is that they both represent two completely different values.

They can get confused because they both sound like they are talking about the same thing. You're selling your home, so you're listing it at the sale price, right? Not quite. Many homeowners and realtors will list a home at a higher price than they anticipate to be the selling price. Keep reading to find out the nuances between a listing price, sale price, and how the market can dictate each one. 

Here's the list of items that are discussed in this article: 

  • List Price or "Asking Price"
  • Sale Price
  • Appraised Value
  • Market Value

All of these standard terms are intertwined in some way. Still, it's essential to understand the difference to understand the buying or selling process better and communicate with realtors. 

List Price or "Asking Price"

Sometimes known as the "asking price,"  list price is the posted value of the home. The number that you see on the listing site or on the yard sign is what experts call the listing price. Typically, the list price is much higher than the sale price because the sellers anticipate a counter-offer that is lower than the asking price. 

There is an art to selling a home. Since it is customary for the buyer to find reasons to ask for a lower price, the sellers typically overprice the home. An overpriced home is only the listing price, and both the buyer and seller know that they can negotiate the price before closing. 

Keep in mind, the seller doesn't have to budge for a lower price, but they may lose a buyer's interest if they decide against negotiating. Most sellers will agree to a lower price to keep the buyer's interest and make the sale. In cases where the market is competitive, or the seller feels like they can get a higher sale price, they may hold out for a better offer. Otherwise, they compromise to ensure the house gets sold. 

Sale Price

The sale price is the final value of the home once it has been sold. This value is generally different from the listing price because of negotiations. Sometimes the buyer might agree to pay the listing price and won't ask for credits or discounts, but that is rare. 

In a competitive market, the sale price can even be more than the asking price. For example, if multiple buyers are interested in a home, they might get into a bidding war. In this scenario, the sale price could rise above the asking price. A seller can reap the benefits of a competitive market when multiple people are interested in their home. Consider it a major win if the sale price is equal to or above the asking price. 

The seller's goal is to list the home at a higher price, so they get a sale price close to the house's actual value. Appraisals and pricing experts play a significant role in determining value. The strength of the market can make appraised values fluctuate based on supply and demand. As a whole, the sale price is the final result of how the buyer and seller agree to negotiate values and the asking price. 

Appraised Value

The appraised value is a professional valuation of a home based on tons of factors. Typically, an appraiser has been involved in a market for a long time, either as a real estate agent or a lender. While appraisals are subjective, there are usually a few key factors that will guide the bulk of the appraisal.

For example, most homes are priced similarly based on square footage, number of beds, baths, and location. Other factors include the home's condition, the strength of the market, and how it compares to other similar homes in the area. For a more detailed description of how appraisers evaluate a home, check out another blog titled "How to Determine Your Home's Value."  

If a seller decides to have an appraisal before listing their home, it might impact their listing price. Lenders will always require an inspection and appraisal at the buyer's expense, and they could come back and ask for a price reduction after the appraisal. We recommend sellers have an appraisal before deciding on a listing price so they can minimize the risk of listing the home too high or too low. 

An important tidbit to remember is that the appraised value of a home can vary based on the housing market's strength. This reality means appraisers have to consider the condition in the market in their valuation. The next section defines market value and talks about how the market can impact a home's value. 

Market Value

Market value refers to the impact supply and demand can have on home sales. Supply means how many homes are for sale, and demand is the number of interested buyers. If the market has tons of buyers and not many sellers, those who choose to sell can get away with asking for a higher price. On the other hand, if there are many houses for sale, the buyer can get away with a lower price. Either way you look at it, the market is dictating the outcome.

Let's say you're looking for a home to buy. There are tons of viable homes on the market, so you can be picky. If you tour a home and would like to make an offer, you can afford to ask for a lower price because if they decline, you can move on to another home. Likewise, if you can see yourself buying only one or two homes, you have to be much more careful about negotiating a price. The market has impacted the value of the house. 

The seller's perspective is the same but from the opposite side. If there are tons of potential buyers, they can decline an offer that they think is too low. On the other hand, if they only have interest from one buyer, they have to decide how desperate they are to sell the home. It's valuable to understand what kind of market you're in before you make any important decisions. If you play your cards right, you can use the market to your advantage and get the better side of the deal. 

Online Marketing Guide for Sellers [Pro Listing Tips]

No doubt, marketing your home plays a huge role in how quickly you sell your home. Your real estate agent should have some ideas for marketing or know of some potential buyers already. If not, it may be on the seller to help their agent market their property and create some interest. We've put together some ideas to create interest in your home.

Spend Time on Your Listing

Take great pictures and include several

There's no doubt that the pictures play a huge factor in whether or not someone comes to tour your home. If there are some great pictures, buyers will want to see the house for themselves. Buyers want to have a decent opinion about the home before they take the time to tour it. Taking great pictures also reduces the possibility of major surprises so that the tour will be more positive and effective. 

A common problem we see with online listings is the lack of pictures on the listing. You can have a great description craftily written with exciting phrases and beautiful stories, but the buyers really want to see the home. A good description paired with great pictures is fantastic, but a great description with poor pictures could be detrimental. Pictures catch the buyers' eyes and carries them to the description. Without photos, they may never get there. 

Carefully write out the description (Include Details)

Agents spend a lot of time developing descriptions that fit the home they are describing. A poor description or one that seems too good to be true can turn the buyer away immediately. On the other hand, a well-written, descriptive explanation of the home can really attract a buyer. Be sure to include details that you think the reader might want to know about the home. 

Highlight the key elements

If there is something in your home that will stand out, be sure to include that in your description. Take a few pictures of it to go along with a mention in the description. In fact, if you feel like it is something that will attract buyers, mention it a few times if you can. Emphasize any part of your home that might get people in the door. Take the time to think about your home and what you've enjoyed the most while living there. Chances are someone else will enjoy it as well. 


Be particular about when and where you post

Social media is great, but it may not reach an MLS

I am all for getting the word out to the public as much as possible when selling a home. Social media is a great way to let your family and friends know that you're selling and spark some interesting conversations. However, social media may get the message out to the people who are genuinely interested in buying. 

Consider listing your home on any popular online listing site that gets a ton of views. Local real estate agents may have a network of listings that they keep track of, so that would be a great place to start. Utilize every opportunity to list your home on a site where buyers are definitely searching for homes. Social media is a wonderful tool, but it may not get the word out to the right people. 

Certain times of the day may get more traffic

Marketing experts agree that there are certain times of the day that get more online traffic than others. Think about when buyers might be scrolling through listing sites and try to make your postings along with that schedule. If you think they'll log on after work, wait to post until after 5 pm. If you feel a lot of retired people will be interested in your home, then maybe around lunchtime is a good time to post. Being strategic about when, where, and how often you post could give you an advantage over other sellers. 

Repost if the home has been listed for too long

Depending on the platform, your listing may fall to the bottom if it has been posted for too long. More listings will come in and be placed at the top of the bunch because they are new and fresh. After a week or two, if your listing hasn't gotten any attention, consider changing some of the descriptions and reposting. Another option would be to take some new pictures if the ones you used aren't gaining attention.

At the least, you should refresh the listing, so it isn't market as an old listing. Many of the popular sites will tell you how long the house has been listed. A listing that has been left for weeks or even months may raise some questions. Buyers might wonder why the house hasn't attracted other buyers, and they may even wonder what might be wrong with the home. You don't want to let their imagination run, so keep updating the listing even if you don't have anything to hide. 

Know Your Audience

Think about who is most likely to buy your home

In marketing, we call this a target audience. The best way to market to a buyer is to cater the content to your most likely customer. In other words, adjust your strategy and aim it at your target audience, so it is more attractive to that particular buyer. 

If you think your home will most likely be attractive to younger buyers, then try to highlight the key parts of the house that you believe younger buyers will like. Maybe the younger buyer will want a large back yard for activities or cookouts. Or, perhaps you think your home would be perfect for retired folks because it's all on one level, and you have a great security system set up. Whatever the case, take some time to figure out your ideal buyer and target your marketing directly at their persona. Of course, don't lose track of other types of buyers because, at the end of the day, you'll probably sell your home to just about anyone who is willing to buy. 

Hire Some Help

There's no shame in asking for help. In fact, it may lead to a faster, smoother sale if you can find the right team for the job. 

Get with an agent who may already have leads

When interviewing agents, ask if they have a network of other agents with clients who are looking to buy. If they already have leads who may be interested in your home, you might already be on track to a quick sale. 

Find a staging professional to help decorate

Staging is useful for tours or preparing the home for photos. As much as I'd like to believe that people don't care about how the house is set up, they do. Some sellers think that they don't need to organize their home because their stuff will be gone when they move in anyway. 

On the contrary, it is imperative to buyers that the home is appealing. They want to know how their furniture will fit in the house and if there's enough space for them. Staging the home is one way to ensure that your home is neat and arranged in a way that buyers will love. Hiring a stager could be an excellent investment for potential sellers. 

Professional photographer to take pictures

Earlier, we talked about how important pictures are for getting prospective buyers through the door. One way to be sure that your photos are aesthetically pleasing is to hire a professional photographer to help you out. They can help with camera angles, rule of thirds, and all the other photography terms that I'm not qualified to talk about. They can even work with the stager to see what shots might work best and which parts of the house to highlight. You can go as deep or as shallow as you'd like into hiring people to help with pictures. One thing is for sure, you can never be too particular about the pictures you post on the listing site. 

5 Home Improvement Projects for Ambitious Homeowners

Some projects are worth the work. We've all heard about painting the walls to look fresh or organizing your space to look clean and tidy. Let's take it to the next level and talk about some more ambitious DIY projects that may take some time, but you'll be glad you did it in the end. 

Here are 5 home improvement projects that will impress all the neighbors and make them want to renovate their whole house to keep up. 

  • Install Floating Shelves
  • Update Your Staircase and Railings
  • Paint the Tile and Backsplash (even the floor tiles!)
  • Do Some Landscaping
  • Improve Your Outdoor Lighting

Install Floating Shelves

Did you know that you don't need a massive cabinet to store all of your belongings? Designers have turned the idea of cleanliness into part of your home's decor. Rather than hanging a cabinet or throwing everything in a closet, you can hang some floating shelves to organize your belongings that you wouldn't mind your guests seeing. Put some floating shelves in your kitchen to show off some of that new set of pots and pans. You could also hang some in the bathroom for your towels. Floating shelves take up much less space than a standing cabinet, so you'll have more room to maneuver in a tight space. 

You can also use floating shelves as a vessel for other decorations or pictures. Rather than nailing all of your photos to the wall, give the wall some texture and character by placing stand-up picture frames on the shelf just like you would on top of a cabinet or nightstand. If you like greenery, you can set some plants or succulents on the shelf to add that pop of color that everyone is trying to find. Floating shelves are so versatile, and you can arrange them however you'd like. 

Update Your Staircase and Railings

Some people overlook how much their staircase can add to the design of the home. Think about all the square footage a staircase takes up. Now consider that spare to be a blank canvas for whatever theme or style you're hoping to apply to your home. Let your creativity run wild and think of your staircase as any other floor in the house. It may take some extra time and effort, but you won't be disappointed with the results.

Add a Runner

A quick and easy way to spice up the staircase steps is to add a carpet runner down the middle. Whether you want to add a touch of color or a vibrant design, you can turn your beige staircase carpet into a burst of color by adding a runner. You can either have it done professionally for a couple of hundred bucks or take the project head-on by adding the carpeting yourself. Either way, runners for your staircase is becoming a popular design trend.

Paint the Steps/Railing

If your staircase is hardwood, you can paint the steps any color you want. A popular style is to paint the stairs one color and paint the gap between each step another color. This style adds some contrast and makes your staircase more interesting. Once you're done with the steps, you can paint any wooden railings connected to the stairs. Painting your steps and railing is often overlooked, but it's just like replacing the flooring in your living room or hallways. 

Paint the Tile or Backsplash

Tile flooring is common in bathrooms, kitchens, mudrooms, and laundry rooms everywhere. Still, tons of homeowners don't think of their flooring as part of the house's design. We say you should utilize every corner of your home to make it yours in every way. Want to paint your tile? Go for it! 

Many interior designers map out ways you can tastefully add some flare to your bathroom floor. One example is laying stencil or painter's tape to add a pattern or design to a blank tile. Another option is to paint a row or two of tile an accent color to give it some dimensions and character. However, you choose to paint the tile, make sure you have fun with it. Just like your walls, your floors are a blank canvas for whatever your heart desires. 

Do Some Landscaping

If the weather is right, you can give your front yard a facelift. Whether you want to hire a professional landscaper or do it yourself, updating your lawn is a great way to gain some attention from the outside. Some common landscaping projects include trimming bushes or trees, planting some flowers or other plants, and laying some mulch or pebbles to accent your plants. 

More ambitious homeowners can take on some bigger projects like laying stones, building a patio, or adding an archway or pergola over their existing landscaping. Whether you plan on going all-in or simply cleaning up your front yard, landscaping can go a long way to make your home look great and increase the property's value if you plan to sell in the future. 

Improve Your Outdoor Lighting

Once you're done with landscaping (or before), you can add some lighting so people can enjoy your landscaping after it gets dark. Bright outdoor lighting is a good investment if you like to host barbecues that go into the evening hours. Rather than packing up and heading inside, you can enjoy the outdoors well into the night if you have good lighting. Also, it adds an element of safety, as people are less likely to mess with your property if it is well-lit. 

If you want to show off your beautiful home, you can add some uplighting to the outside. Tasteful outdoor lighting can make a lovely home into an awe-inspiring home from the outside. Many nicer homes like to use outdoor lighting to accent their homes or highlight certain parts of their exterior or landscaping. Investing in some outdoor lighting is a great way to make your neighbors notice the work you're putting into your beautiful home. 

Trying to Decide Where to Move? [Real Estate Insider]

It can be challenging to decide where to settle down and plant your roots. If you're considering moving but can't decide where to start, you've come to the right place! 

Everyone has different priorities. What is important to a family of four might be drastically different than what a single bachelor might want from a home. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to finding the right neighborhood, but we can give you some standard tools that prospective homebuyers use to find their ideal location. 

We developed a list based on common factors that homeowners use to find the right location. First, you'll want to prioritize these categories to determine which ones are more important to you. 

  • Crime Rating
  • Entertainment/Night Life
  • Quality of Education
  • Cost of Living
  • Access to Restaurants and Grocery Stores
  • Activities and Fitness

Most of these factors directly impact the price of the home. A friendly neighborhood with quality education and tons of nightlife will likely be more expensive than a smaller area with little access to grocery stores and restaurants. Finding out which category is most important to you is a good start to finding a great home that fits your desired lifestyle. 

If you're still stuck after reading through this list and can't figure out what you want from a neighborhood, you can take a quick and fun quiz to figure out which neighborhood fits your vibe.

Crime Rating

One of the most significant factors home buyers consider is the safety of the neighborhood. Naturally, they don't want to move somewhere that they won't feel comfortable. So, check out the area's crime rating to see if you'll have any cause for concern. Most popular listing sites will include information about the crime rating in that area. If they don't, a quick google search will do the trick. You can also read a few local newspaper segments to get a feeling of what kinds of things are going on in that area. 

Entertainment/Night Life

Entertainment is especially important to younger generations and single home buyers. The ability to go out and be social is crucial for maintaining a healthy life and meeting new people. Some sites will offer a general "entertainment" rating, but they might not dive deeper into the types of entertainment you can find. You might need to do some additional research to determine what sorts of entertainment and nightlife are near the location. 

Some home buyers might want a trendy, late-night pub with live music they can frequent, while others might consider entertainment to be movie theatres and game stores. This might require some extra digging to make sure the area fits your vibe. Google is a great resource, but you may want to consider driving around or even attending some of the hotspots to see if it fits your desires. For younger generations, if the nightlife is right, they will settle for less in other categories. 

Quality of Education

Parents with kids rely heavily on the quality of schools in the area when deciding where to move. School quality is also a major contributor to the cost of living and housing prices. If you're lucky, you can find an affordable home in a nice neighborhood where the property value will significantly increase. Otherwise, if you're willing to splurge, you can get a beautiful home in a neighborhood with an excellent school system. Your kids will be well-educated and live in a respected community with other families who value education. 

Be cautious when moving into a neighborhood with a good school if you don't have kids. The cost of living is typically higher because the school relies on local taxes to fund its programs. Thus, an excellent school means you're paying higher taxes. If you aren't interested in funding the school system, then you might want to avoid an area with a high-end public school system unless you're interested in paying taxes for other kids to have a quality education. 

Cost of Living

The cost of living is directly related to all the other categories. If it's a nice neighborhood with tons of entertainment, low crime rates, quality education, and easy access to stores and markets, the cost of living is typically higher. So, if you want a cheaper home, you may have to sacrifice in other areas. Otherwise, you can have the luxury of living in a great neighborhood, but you're probably going to have to pay for it. 

One way to gauge the cost of living is to research the different tax rates in the area. If you're not already familiar with the area, checking out the property tax, sales tax, and state income tax is a good start. Places with a higher cost of living are usually attributed to a higher tax rate. Also, natural and organic grocery stores will be a bit pricy, so an abundance of those will run up the food bill. Finally, look at the prices of food and drinks in some of the local restaurants, and you'll get a good idea of what you'll be paying in other categories as well. 

Access to Restaurants and Grocery Stores

Cooking all week is exhausting. Sometimes you need to be able to order in some take-out or take the whole family to a nice restaurant. Most families prefer to be within driving distance of a few restaurant choices. Local or regional cuisine is preferable, but any kind of gastropub or diner should do the trick. Whatever you're into, be sure to check out the local food scene before you make the leap. It's a real bummer if you have to drive an hour or more to get some sushi or pick up some of that BBQ we love so much. 

For the fancy chefs among us, it may be necessary that a grocery store with tons of fresh produce is nearby. If that's the case, you probably don't want to live too far from a grocery store. While food deserts are becoming less prevalent thanks to a recent push to end food insecurity, grocery stores might still be hard to find in some neighborhoods. Double-check that there is a quality grocery store within walking/driving distance from your desired location so that a quick trip to the store doesn't have to be a full-day event. 

Activities and Fitness

I like to golf, while some people like to do yoga. Whatever you're into, there's likely a home nearby. If your idea of fun is working out at planet fitness or going to a spin class, you may not want to live in a rural community. Likewise, if you enjoy long walks in nature, fishing, and camping, you probably shouldn't live anywhere near a planet fitness. Figure out what lifestyle and activities are important to you, and keep that in mind when choosing a location. 

How To Negotiate Terms with Your Real Estate Agent

Many sellers see real estate agents as a necessary evil. Some would even say they are crude salespeople who are only looking for a quick buck. On the contrary, most realtors are there to help you make a sale and are willing to work with you to get it done. Many realtors are willing to negotiate their terms to make it work for both parties. They may have a base contract which they give to every client, but almost every realtor will adjust those terms to fit your preferences better.

If you find a realtor that won't negotiate their terms, that's okay. Some agents get enough clients with their base terms that they don't need to compromise. One way to avoid this is to look for less-experienced agents. Newer agents will be more eager to help and more likely to take a lower commission to secure your business. If an agent seems to be a tough negotiator, that might be a good thing. If you have a hard time negotiating terms with a realtor, that likely means they will be tough during negotiations with a buyer (which means a better deal for you when they're representing you). I would definitely want someone like that on my team on closing day. 

Hopefully this makes you feel better about working with an agent. Less than half of all sellers actually discuss the contract or negotiate the terms before signing. They may not know that nearly every aspect is negotiable, especially the commission. The initial commission rate is typically the standard in your region. You can choose to go with the standard or negotiate based on what you think is appropriate. Not every home sale is created equal, so the commission rate doesn't need to be either. 

Here's What You Should Know About Commission

The seller and realtor agree on a commission rate when they sign the contract.

As the seller, you will sign a contract with the realtor when you agree to work together. For the most part, this contract is to ensure that you sell your home through that agency. What the seller may not know is that the contract lays out an agreement that lasts until the home is sold. Even if you haven't discussed a listing price, you've agreed to a commission rate once you sign the contract. Make sure you plan out how much you're willing to spend on commission before you agree to the terms. 

The commission rate will vary by region or even by the real estate agency.

What may be expected in one area might seem too high or low in another. Some agents can do very well at a 4-6% commission, while others will suggest 7-9%. It's important to know what is typical in your area and whether that realtor has a history of negotiating the commission rate. Plus, if they know you've done your research, they're less likely to try to take advantage of you. 

There is no official "standard rate," although the realtor may have a typical rate that they use. 

Your realtor might say that somewhere between 7-9% is "standard" to get you to agree to the terms. It may be a standard because people agree to those rates, but there is no legal or professional standard for commission rates. Some agents will agree to rates as low as 4% if the seller plays their cards right. If you keep in mind that the realtor wants your business and that you have other options, you're on the road to breaking the "standard" that they're trying to convince you to subscribe to. 

The commission is split between the selling and buying agents (terms agreed upon in the contract).

Another vital part of the contract is the buyer's side commission. The terms of a home sale contract will include the total percentage the seller agrees to and breaks down the commission split between the buying and selling agent. Whenever you ask for a lower commission, that means you're asking the selling agent to lower their cut of the profit. This is an important detail to remember when negotiating, as some agents may see it as an insult. If you're confident enough and make a good case for why you want a lower commission, they will understand. 

Your agent might find a buyer and represent them too (dual agency).

Sometimes the selling agent will try to bring in one of their own clients to buy the home. In this case, they will get both the buying and selling sides of the commission. Another term for this scenario is dual agency. Representing the buyer and seller is a conflict of interest and can get tricky. It may be unethical or even illegal in some states. Try to avoid this situation if possible.

Helpful Hints for a Successful Negotiation

Prepare Your Home Before Contacting the Agent

There are many things you can do to your home before going into contract with an agent. Pre-Listing activities are becoming more popular because they can save the seller thousands of dollars in commission. Anything from having an inspection to staging your home will mean less work for the realtor and gives you a better case for a lower commission.

Refer a Friend to that Agent

If you have a friend or family member that may be buying or selling their home soon, share their contact information with the realtor. Giving them more business opportunities may make them more likely to negotiate and give you a better deal. Think about it: 4% commission from two clients is more money than 6% from one. This is a great way to save yourself and your friend some money while helping out your agent. It's a win-win!

Make it Easier on Your Realtor

Similar to going through the pre-listing process, you'll want to show the realtor that you're giving them all the tools for a successful sale if you want to negotiate a lower commission. Ideally, you can stage your home or at least clean and organize everything before the tours. Another benefit will be if you're already moved out of the house and offer them full access through a lockbox or giving them a key to the home. Either way, allowing them to tour the home at any time is an advantage because they can get as many people in the house as possible. Anything you can do to make their life easier will give you a better shot at a lower commission. 

Avoid Requesting Lower Buyer's Side Commission

Typically, you'll want to avoid decreasing the buying side commission. Buyers' agents won't want to show their clients the home if they know it has a lower commission than other similar homes. This means you're essentially asking the selling agent to take a smaller cut. Be very sensitive to this because you don't want to offend anyone or make them feel like they're not worth a higher commission. 

Do's and Don'ts of Decorating Your Home for Tours [Seasonal Real Estate]

Preparing your home to sell can be challenging. Cleaning out your home so others can tour every inch and evaluate whether they like it or not can be stressful. Thankfully, we've developed some common themes over the years that have set sellers up for success. There's a delicate balance between decorating your home just enough before you've done too much. Here are some helpful tips to give you the best shot at decorating your home in a way that buyers will appreciate. 

Do's for Decorating Your Home to Sell

Here are some pointers to think about when setting your home up for tours. 

Do Strive for Minimalism

Staging your home can be fun and exciting. If you think about HGTV and all of the creative ways professional designers can transform a room, that might give you some inspiration for preparing your home to sell. Try to keep the extra decorating and staging as minimal as possible. 

Buyers will want to be able to imagine how they would use that space. Filling the room with too much furniture and decorations can distract them and keep their imagination from running free. Also, an area with too much furniture can make the buyer feel crammed or make the room seem too small. Realtors agree that the best selling point is a spacious room. Keeping the furniture and other decorations to a minimum is the best way to make the room feel spacious. 

Do Go with Seasonal Decor (Within Reason)

It's perfectly acceptable to spice up your decorations with seasonal tones and holiday decorations. During the holiday season, buyers might like to see how they can utilize their space for decorations. For example, a thoughtful touch of traditional Christmas decorations is great around the holiday season. Getting buyers in a joyful mood could be a successful advantage. 

Keep in mind, you should probably stick with generic decorations that nobody will be offended. We expand on what types of decorations to avoid in the "Don'ts" section. Be sure to use seasonal decorations wisely, as they can turn off the buyer if you take it too far. However, the good news is that you can still keep up some seasonal decorations around the holidays; you just might have to reign it in if you plan to invite buyers over for tours. 

Do Stage Your Home

What a buyer might imagine from your home might be different than how you have it set up to live in. In other words, staging might not be the most "functional" setup, but it's definitely the most appealing to buyers. Whether you want to hire a professional interior designer or stage the home yourself, it's crucial to arrange your furniture and decorations in a thoughtful way that will be appealing to buyers. 

Some buyers even purchase rental furniture and place their used furniture in storage. This is a great idea if you've already moved out and the place is empty. You don't have to stage every room if you've already moved out, but staging up the living room and one bedroom can give the buyer something to imagine. 

Stagers can also help with decorations that fit the style of the home. Some people have excellent design sense and can make their home look perfect. If you're like me, you probably don't have a good understanding of style, and you'll need to hire a professional. Either way, staging your home can be complicated, but it could pay off in a quick sale or a high offer. 

Do Remove Any Personal Items

This serves two purposes. First, there's an element of safety. You might not want everyone who comes into your home to see your kids' pictures that might tell them more than they need to know. Try to take down all your family portraits or any other decorations that might be considered personal to you. 

Also, we want buyers to feel comfortable when touring the home and imagine settling down with their family. When they see your family, it might make it harder to imagine themselves living there. Instead, seeing all of your personal items might make them feel like a guest rather than seeing themself living there. At the end of the day, you're selling the home, so you want others to feel like they can be comfortable buying the house for their family. 

Do Have Pleasant Scents

You want to make the buyers feel like they've already moved in and they're relaxing while the cookies are baking in the oven. If you're not into baking, you can light a candle that gives off a warm and cozy feeling. Some sellers don't realize that you want to make the place feel like home in as many ways as possible. Filling the air with wonderful smells could be a great way to put them in the right mood and really enjoy touring the home. Just don't take the candles overboard because some people are sensitive to strong perfumy smells. 

Do Shoot for a Warm and Cozy Feel

The best thing you can do to prepare your home is to make it feel as comfortable as possible. The number one factor a buyer is looking for when buying a home is, "could I see myself living here?" The emphasis on living includes relaxing, hanging out, hosting guests and family members, or just going through everyday life. Some select buyers might be looking for a luxury home with fancy furniture they'll probably never sit in, but most buyers want to know that they can feel safe and comfortable in their home. 

Don'ts for Decorating Your Home to Sell

We've found a few key factors that turn off buyers the most when they're touring a home. Consider these "don'ts" when setting up your home to sell. 

Don't Leave Up Controversial Decorations

This goes along with the emphasis on comfy and cozy homes. Try to avoid decorations that will make the buyer feel uncomfortable. This could range anywhere from religious or personal decorations to political, sports teams, or otherwise. It's okay to stand up for what you believe, but if you want a better shot at selling your home, avoid controversial decorations. Instead of making the buyer feel welcome and comfortable, divisive decorations could make them feel like an outcast, which is the last thing they would want for their own home. They will associate your home with negative thoughts and will probably move on to tour a different house. 

Don't Go Crazy with Holiday Decor

We mentioned that it is okay to have fun with decorating your home according to the season. However, you definitely can take it too far if you're planning on hosting tours. A common question we get is, "Can I still put up my Christmas decorations?" The answer is a complicated yes and no. Certain decorations will add a great pop of color and set up a cozy theme for the buyers. Others may distract from the home rather than compliment the space. 

Try to stick with traditional decorations like door wreaths or a Christmas centerpiece. Something that will replace standard decorations you probably always use. Avoid adding any garland or bright lights that can be distracting. Also, anything you'll have to continually monitor and keep clean, like a Christmas tree or poinsettias, could be too much work when you're already busy keeping the place spotless. Finally, any Santa, Frosty, or religious-themed decorations could be distracting as well. It's best to stick with generic decor that no one is likely to notice.

Don't Leave Out Expensive/Valuable Decorations

Remember to stow away any items that are important to you or that you wouldn't want a strange to know you have. When selling, your agent is inviting tons of people to tour your home, and it might be hard to keep track of everyone, especially if multiple people come on the tour. It's vital to remove any valuable items if you're going to host an open house because the realtor definitely can't keep track of everyone. We recommend finding a trusted friend or family member to keep your items safe while you're showing the home or take it with you when you leave the house. Buyers typically don't want the seller there because they might get intimidated, so you won't be there to protect your antiques and valuables. 

Don't Ignore the Cluttered Areas

Clutter can make some people anxious. This point ties back to minimalism and the idea that less is more. You may be used to the stack of papers on the counter, but it may catch some unwanted attention by the buyers. Even a bookshelf with stacks of books could be a bit too much if they're not arranged flawlessly. Most people like an empty space, and as long as you have a few essentials in the room, you've got a great start. Remember to declutter any spaces even if that cluttered space is typical to your day-to-day life. 

Don't Fill Up Closets and Storage Space

Full closets make it seem like you're using every inch of that space. A full closet may make the buyer feel claustrophobic or worry if there's enough storage space. Cleaning out the closet and leaving plenty of extra space will show the buyer that there is more than enough storage for their odds and ends. Even if you use every inch of the storage, you can make it seem like you have plenty of space and put the buyer's mind at ease. Buyers will want to look at every inch of your home, so be sure to organize all the rooms, even if it'll take some time to clear out.

Tips for Selling Your Home in the Winter [Real Estate Insider: Winter Season]

When the snow starts to cover the ground around the holiday season, the real estate market takes on a different form. In the summer, buyers are active, and you may see interest from many different types of buyers. In the winter, the remaining buyers have a different perspective. Once the summer rush slows down and cold weather sets in, the people left searching for a house are serious. Buyers that are willing to stick it out through the cold, wet, snowy days are ready to buy a home ASAP. Sellers must be prepared and ready to move quickly if they plan to sell their homes in the winter. Below are some helpful hints to make your home stand out to buyers during the winter season. 

Mix-Up Your Marketing

The winter weeds out the less motivated buyers, so people who show interest in the winter are serious about buying a home. This means that your marketing strategy should cater more toward those who still remain. 

Refresh Your Posts with New Photos

If your home was listed in the summer or fall, you might need to freshen up some of your photos. If there's snow on the ground when the buyer does their research, but your images show a picture in the heat of the summer, they may wonder why your home has been on the market for so long. Adjusting your marketing with more recent photos may avoid any unwanted questions. You can still keep your old summer photos up as well. They will give the buyer an idea of what your property looks like in the summer. Just be sure to occasionally update the post so it doesn't show that your home has been listed for a long time. 

Increase Your Social Media Presence

Another strategy may be to up your social media presence to draw more attention to your home. People are less likely to drive around town to look at for-sale homes in the winter. Besides, there are typically fewer people searching for homes in the winter anyway. There are still plenty of buyers surfing the web for new listings, and they could reach out to you at any point. Continually updating your listing to be at the top of buyers' feeds is the best way to draw attention to your home when it's cold outside.

Keep Your Driveway and Sidewalk Clear

Curb appeal is a little different in the winter. In the summer, you can have a pristine yard with wonderful landscaping. As soon as it gets cold, all of your beautiful plants get covered in frost and snow. Keeping up with snow removal is an excellent alternative to the typical curb appeal you hear about when it's warmer. 

Buyers probably don't want to hike through snow and ice to tour a home. If you can keep your driveway and sidewalk clear of any snow or debris, that will leave a great first impression. It may sound weird because buyers shouldn't care about snow in the driveway. It's about the home, right? Well, studies have shown that there's a lot more you can do to sell your home besides keeping the inside neat and tidy. Putting in the extra work outside might increase traffic to your home and create a more inviting atmosphere. 

You could always hire a snow removal company to clean up your driveway after every snow. That would save you some time and give your back a break. If you choose to do it yourself, be sure to clear more than enough space for other cars and have a clean walkway to your front door. The more comfortable you make it to get into your home, the more likely you are to have increased buyer interest. 

Make Your Home Warm and Cozy

Once you get buyers in the door, there are several ways you can make them feel more at home. Realtors agree that buyers are looking for a home that makes them feel warm and cozy, especially when it's cold outside. Make comfortability your number one priority when staging your home and inviting buyers over for tours. Here are a few tips for conducting a tour in the winter:

Keep the Heat Up

If you're like me, you like to conserve your heat and save some money on utilities. In the winter, as long as your home is above 65 degrees, that's good enough, right? When you're inviting people over to your place for a tour, you might consider cranking the heat up to a temperature that will be more comfortable for your guests. A cold home might raise some questions about the insulation or how well the heater is working. 

Eliminating any cold air drafts is a good way to conserve energy, but you probably don't want buyers to see all of your draft stoppers. Draft stoppers can be another turnoff, so try not to cut any corners. Keep the heat running and get rid of anything that might indicate a cold home. A comfy cozy house is what most buyers are looking for in the winter.  

Take advantage of the fireplace

Fireplaces are a major attraction in the winter. You can add to the ambiance and contribute to the cozy theme by throwing a log on the fire. Even if you don't have a fire burning for every tour, definitely consider making the fireplace a focal point of that room. Fireplaces are trendy and make everyone feel cozy when they're around one. An added bonus is you can utilize the fireplace to cut back on heating costs. 

Offer Baked Cookies and Hot Coffee/Chocolate

Sellers typically provide a snack for buyers during an open house. You can take that a step further and offer snacks that go along with the cozy theme. There's nothing better than a cup of hot cocoa on a chilly afternoon. Have them sit by the fireplace on a comfy sofa with a warm mug of cocoa, and they can invasion themself in the home already. The added sensation of brewing coffee or baking cookies is the wonderful aroma that will fill the air when your guests arrive. Setting the entire scene and making them feel cozy through all of their senses is the goal here. 

Use Pops of Color to Brighten the Mood

Winter days can be dark, dull, and dreary. Lighting up the room as much as you can make buyers feel merry and bright rather than dark and gloomy. Turning on all the lights and even turning on a lamp or two can lighten up a room and make the buyer feel more welcome. Utilize as much natural light as you can, too. Any attempt to make the buyer feel excited and energized rather than gloomy can give them a better feeling about the home. 

Look out for Possible Issues 

Unfortunately, winter also brings out some problems that you might not notice in warm weather. Pipes may leak when they get frozen and melt, or you might discover that your heater doesn't work as well as you'd like. Keep an eye out for a potential issue that an inspection might find so you can fix it before the buyer makes an offer. Buyers in the winter are serious and like to move quickly, so be sure to stay on top of any issues that might result from the cold weather. 

Win the Winter with these 5 Household Updates and DIYs [Winter Real Estate]

Just because the winter months are approaching doesn't mean progress has to stop. If you feel like the cold weather and shorter days are a sign of lazy days snuggled up in a blanket watching old re-runs, you're absolutely right! When you've gotten your fix of Hallmark movies or watched the entire Fast and Furious series twice, and you're ready to find a new hobby, here are some ideas for productivity when it's too cold outside to mow the lawn. 

Overview of 5 Updates and DIYs:

  1. Decorate for the holidays
  2. Deal with drafts and update insulation
  3. Organize your storage room
  4. Install new faucets and cabinet handles
  5. Update any outdated furniture

1. Feeling Festive? (Light It Up)

Nothing screams winter like the holiday season. It's fun to drive down the street and see all your neighbors putting up Christmas lights and inflatable Santas. If this year has you down, there's no better pick-me-up than the colorful glow of red, green, and white lights when the sun sinks down too early. I can smell the hot cocoa and hear the Christmas carols now. 

Putting up holiday decorations is a great escape from whatever responsibilities you have for that day. Besides, the laundry and dishes can wait another day. The warm feeling you can get from decking the halls to make your home feel cozier outweighs the stress of everyday life. If you're in the mood, take the time to slow down from your crazy, stressful life and enjoy putting up Christmas decorations with some Mariah Carey Christmas tunes playing. 

2. Deal with Drafts to Save Some Cash

With below-freezing temps filling the forecast for the foreseeable future, it may finally be time to address those leaky windows and doors that cause your electric bill to skyrocket. You may not know how much harder your furnace has to work to make up for the heat you lose from cracks and holes that let all your heat escape. Especially in older homes where the house has had time to settle, it may be a good idea to check for places where the air can escape and consider filling them.

You can save some serious cash if your home is adequately insulated. If there's nowhere for the heat to escape, the furnace doesn't have to work as hard to keep the area heated. Less exertion means less energy usage. Less energy usage means the money stays in your pocket instead of the electricity bill. Also, beware of whether your heater is electric, gas, or water. If you have a water boiler, you may not see the damage to the electricity bill. If you feel like you're spending too much on utilities during the winter, it may be because of poor insulation caused by cold air drafts. 

3. Tackle that Pesky Storage Space

We've all been there. The storage room that has collected years' worth of old decorations and gifts from distant relatives that you felt bad about throwing away. If you haven't heard of Marie Kondo, you should check her out on Netflix or her website KonMari. We don't pretend to be experts on cleaning and organizing, but she does. Her motto is everything should "spark joy" in your life. If it doesn't spark joy, maybe it's time to find another place for it. It can offer a new perspective on whether something "sparks joy" might be just what we needed to tackle that old storage room that has been causing stress in our lives for years and years. 

4. Install Some New Faucets

A fun way to mix up your daily routine is to replace some of your most frequently used faucets. It can give you a fresh vibe in the room and encourage some other renovations once you've tackled that one. Once you've replaced the faucet, maybe it's time to change the cabinet handles. Perhaps the drawers and doorknobs. One quick task could spark interest in other areas, and all of a sudden, you've renovated your whole kitchen. Or, you can just stick with the faucet. Either way, good on you for taking the initiative to spice up your life and replace the faucet. It's the small wins that mean the most. 

You'd be surprised how much you can change the look of your kitchen or bathroom just by making minor updates like faucets and handles. Some newer faucets have more functional options like water filters or high-pressure settings to help clean difficult dishes. Also, replacing your faucet can set you in the right direction to update the whole room you may have been putting off.

5. Update Some Furniture

There are many different routes you can take. Whether you want to take the easier option and buy new furniture, more power to you! It is the most expensive option but the best way to update any living space. If you're looking for a less expensive option, you can re-upholster it or give it a fresh new look. Living room furniture comes in all shapes and sizes, so you may have to do some research to find out what kind of fabric you'll need. If you have leather furniture, you can get it re-covered. Depending on where you got your furniture from, they might be able to help you find a replacement fabric as well. 

If you're feeling crafty, you can update your dressers, nightstands, coffee tables, and other wooden furniture that you think needs a facelift. A fun DIY project would be to paint and/or refinish to match the rest of your furniture or go with a completely new style altogether. If you have a heated garage or shed, you can take it out there and paint away. Otherwise, be sure to lay down an old blanket or plastic cover so you don't get any paint where it shouldn't be. 

Problems an Inspector May Uncover from a Home Inspection

Are you thinking about getting a home inspection?   Are you curious what a home inspector may discover on a home inspection for your home or one that you are interested in?   Here are are many of the possible issues an inspector may find from a home inspection.

  • Damage to Roofing/Shingles
  • HVAC/Heating System
  • Plumbing and Well-Water
  • Structural/Foundational
  • Electrical/Wiring Issues
  • Safety Guidelines/Local Regulations
  • Water Damage
  • Ventilation/Radon Levels

Damage to roofing/shingles

Anything on the roof that could cause future problems will be reported in the inspection. Common types of damage include damaged or missing shingles, faulty gutters, or even structural damages to the roof itself. It's important to keep an eye on your roof throughout your time with a home, especially during phases with poor weather such as hail and high winds. Damage to your roofing can lead to water leaks and will exacerbate over time. Damaged shingles can cause water damage and even leak to different parts of your home. Even though you can't see your roof, it might be useful to get a quick inspection every once in a while to ensure your roof and gutters are still in good shape. 

HVAC/Heating System

Heating and cooling are complex systems that seem to fail more often than we'd like. Have you ever noticed that they stop working as soon as you need them the most? Keeping up with your HVAC systems and having them serviced before you need them is the best way to prevent future problems. For example, you don't want to discover issues with your heater after the temperature starts to drop. Likewise, there's nothing worse than your A/C unit randomly stopping during the hottest week of the summer. A helpful hint would be to have a yearly tuneup for you A/C in the late winter and have your heater prepped in the fall before the temperature starts to fall. You might also have a professional look at your units before you have an inspection to prevent any unnecessary surprises. 

Plumbing and Well-Water/Radon Levels

Many people don't realize that inspectors test different environmental levels, such as radon. Leaks in your pipes or water wells could lead to unsafe radon levels. It can be pricey to get these levels under control, and it could turn away a potential buyer if they find out that toxic gas levels are high. It might not be a bad idea to have a yearly radon test done to ensure everything is under control because it can be difficult and expensive to get the gas levels down once they reach a certain level. Different plumbing leaks can lead to water damage and even compromise your home's structure if it goes too long without being addressed. 

Structural/Foundational

Structural damage sounds scary and detrimental, but it's more common than you'd think, especially in older homes. Any combination of issues can lead to structural damage, but the most common cause is your home settling over time. What can be so frustrating is that there's nothing you can do about your home settling, as it's an unavoidable natural occurrence. Typical outcomes from a house settling over time are random cracks or seams in your walls and ceilings, gaps in your window frames, porches pulling away from the home, water damage from leaks or cracks in the exterior, and cracks in the foundation. Foundational cracks can be pricey as they can lead to radon and other gasses rising through the soil underneath your home. 

Electrical/Wiring Issues

Some electrical issues are above my pay grade. Whether you're a certified electrician or have some other skills that don't include wiring complicated electrical instruments might determine whether or not you keep up with your home's wiring and electrical issues. Some outlets and/or light fixtures may go out and, if you're like me, you just ignore it because it's not essential to your daily life. An inspection will undoubtedly discover any electrical or wiring issues that you've been neglecting. Fixing the electrical issues before a buyer has an inspection could save you the heartache of a buyer requesting way more closing credit than necessary to resolve a simple outlet that doesn't work. 

Safety Guidelines/Local Regulations

There are an unspeakable amount of safety guidelines and local regulations that you wouldn't know about until you had an inspection. For example, every staircase needs a handrail, and there can be no lead-based paint anywhere in the home. Also, there have to be locks on every exterior door and window for safety purposes. Simple nuances that an inspector will mark on an inspection that you may not realize if you've lived in the home for years. It may not be necessary at the time, but it could be the difference between whether or not you can sell your home. 

Water Damage

Water damage can occur from poor drainage of rainwater, roof damage, or any leaking internal pipes. Standing water outside of your home can damage the exterior and compromise the foundation. On the interior, if you have any pipes leaking or standing water, it can rot wood beams or lead to mold and mildew that can cause health issues. In other words, current water damage or past signs of water leaks like stains or rotting wood will likely be reported on the inspection. Buyers are wary of water damage because it is hard to get rid of and can wreak havoc on the home if not adequately addressed. 

Ventilation

Inspectors will look to make sure there are exhaust fans and proper ventilation in necessary areas such as kitchens and bathrooms. They will also check to make sure carbon monoxide levels are normal and that there are windows in all the bedrooms. There also has to be a way to cool down an area in every bedroom, including a window, fan, or A/C unit. If anything can produce fumes, the inspector will make sure that the exhaust systems and ventilation are operable and that the fume levels are normal, and there are no concerns. 

Explaining Escrow in Real Estate Transactions


An escrow is a third-party entity involved in transactions where one or more of the parties must fulfill specific
stipulations or contingencies before the transaction can occur. 

An escrow agent can either hold onto the money until the contract takes place or simply oversee the process to ensure both parties are operating according to the established agreement. 

Have you ever been involved in buying or selling an item on eBay or Facebook marketplace? In my experience, with one of these platforms, you know very little about the other person, and you hope that they hold up their end of the deal. You drive to the agreed-upon location with the item (if you're the seller) or a handful of cash (if you're the buyer), and you shake hands and swap the cash for the item. Sometimes you might count the cash before you drive off, and other times you trust they gave you the right amount. You might have even been tricked a time or two. I like to bring along a close friend or family member to make sure the transaction is legit. 

Regardless, some transactions are too large to risk that something goes wrong in the middle. Worst case scenario, you hope to back out of the transaction before something goes south. Without a third party involved, you may not get the chance to back out once the exchange has happened. 

Escrow is most commonly used in real estate transactions, but it can be used for any transaction where one of the parties is unsure about the other party or simply wants to make sure everything runs smoothly. 

Whenever there is a transaction with conditions (commonly called "contingencies" in real estate), either party can include an escrow to ensure the other party holds up their end of the deal. 

How is Escrow Used in Real Estate? 

Once someone makes an offer, a lot can happen between the offer and closing day. Between the inspection, appraisal, closing credits, negotiations, and all the closing fees, a lot needs to take place for the transaction to become official. Much of the time, an escrow can be used to protect the buyer's interest while they wait for the inspection/appraisal results. They'll use an escrow to ensure that the house is in good condition beyond what they could tell during the tour. If something comes up, they can back out of the contract. The escrow is involved to make sure the buyer still wants to buy the house after all of the dust settles. 

Escrow agents ensure that each party fulfills their part of the deal before they proceed with closing. For example, if a contract has a pending inspection, the closing or escrow agent will be responsible for communicating with the seller and/or buyer to confirm the inspection happened. Also, they will share the buyer's requests with the seller after the inspection. If the inspection reveals any significant issues, the buyer may want to back out of the agreement. Therefore, the escrow agent will return the money to the buyer safely. 

Typically, the closing agent serves the same function as an escrow agent. However, you may have a closing agent in addition to an escrow agent, depending on the circumstances. Some states require a closing/settlement agent, while others use an escrow agent and real estate agents to close the transaction. Either way, it's important to know the difference. 

The seller might use an escrow agent to wait on mortgage approval to come through. If a buyer wants to place a deposit on a home, but they only have been pre-approved, the buyer might need an escrow agent to monitor the contract until the approval goes through. The seller wants the entire amount at closing, so a deposit won't be enough to seal the deal. Another name for the act of putting down a deposit is called "earnest money." A buyer can opt to place earnest money on a home until they can get loan approval. A seller might want to get an escrow agent involved if the buyer intends to make an offer with earnest money.  

As you can see, several things can compromise a sale. Since buying or selling property is such a massive transaction, the escrow agent protects each party to make sure nobody runs off without holding up their end of the deal. 

Who Does the Escrow Protect?

The best way to describe an escrow is that they are a neutral party. They are accountable to both sides of the transaction and are legally bound to representing both sides. Their only goal is to have a smooth transaction where the established contract is completed and that both sides have completed the terms they agreed upon. 

A closing agent gets involved because real estate agents have a financial interest in the transaction through commission. Some people would argue that an agent will try to persuade the opposite party one way or another to get a bigger paycheck. An escrow is neutral and doesn't have a financial interest in the sale. Therefore, their only interest is that the contract closes without any major hiccups. 

Although the buyer may entrust the escrow with a certain amount of money (down payment or earnest money), an escrow is not considered a "trustee." One might believe that the escrow will serve the buyer's needs before the seller because the buyer has money involved. The escrow is duty-bound to serve both sides of the transaction, which is the main difference between an escrow and a trustee. Besides, the seller gives the escrow the deed to their home, so they have a significant interest in the transaction as well. 

How To Determine Your Homes Value [Home Selling Guide]

Whether you're thinking about selling your home or just curious about how much your home might be worth, there are several routes you can take to determine your home's value. 

Methods for determining property value: 

  • Use an Automated Valuation Model (AVM) to calculate an estimate. 
  • Consult a realtor or someone with knowledge of real estate sales in your area. 
  • Have an inspection to find out if any codes or regulations have changed since you bought the home. 
  • Research the market on various listing sites. 
  • Get a formal appraisal on your property for the most accurate value. 

Depending on how serious you are about selling your home, you can get a few different opinions on your home's value. The quick and easy methods like using an AVM or scanning a listing site can get you in the right ballpark, but they're not the most official methods for determining property value. If you are sure you want to sell your home, it might be a good idea to take the extra time to talk with a professional about your home's value so that you can list it at the right price. 

Use an Automated Valuation Model (AVM)

Mortgage companies use automated valuation models to get an estimate of the home's value. AVMs allow them to get a quick response to a complicated question because the housing market is always changing. However, this automated method is not the most accurate way to determine home value. It merely allows the mortgage lender to quickly pre-approve a loan while waiting for the real appraisal to come through. 

For sellers, an AVM is a great tool to start narrowing down a listing price. Sellers can get a quick estimate of how much their home is worth, so they can have a better idea of what their finances will look like post-sale. An AVM might not be the best option for determining a listing price due to the housing market's volatility. While some AVMs take into account local data and might consider the market trends to some extent, it's better to get more information in addition to an AVM to get an accurate read on your property's real value.  

Research the Local Housing Market

Another way to find a rough estimate of your home's value is by researching your local real estate market. Comparing your home to other homes in the area is a valuable way to find out the market's state and help you decide whether or not it's a good time to sell your home. Researching the local housing market can tell you how many homes similar to yours are for sale in your area and how quickly those homes are selling. If homes similar in size, quality, and condition to yours are selling quickly, your home may be more valuable than you think. 

Researching different listing sites such as HomeScout can tell you similar homes in your area's price. Several variables go into home valuation, but it can give you a ballpark idea of your local market. Selling your home at the right time is just as important as listing it at the right price. Having insight into your area's housing market can help you sell your home quickly and get the most value out of the sale. 

Consult a Real Estate Professional

Once you're serious about selling your home and have done some research for yourself, it might be time to bring in a real estate professional to help you get the ball rolling. They can offer great insight into the market and give you the resources to sell your home at a great price. 

First, realtors have connections. They have a network of other agents who have serious buyers. Realtors work with each other to help their clients buy and sell homes. More competition could mean a faster sale at a higher price. Speaking of cost, realtors can recommend a solid listing price that will make your house competitive compared to other similar homes they've seen sell in your area recently. Combining your research with their experience could be the best way to determine an appropriate listing price. 

They can also give recommendations on how to stage your home to make it most appealing to the current market. It may seem silly, but how you present your home could be a great asset to make your home seem more valuable. Without this insight, you could be missing out on some extra cash. 

Inspections Save Money

Gaining information from an inspection can be a valuable tool for narrowing down your home's value. While an AVM gives you an estimate, you can use that base value and compare it to your inspection to get an even stronger estimate for a listing price. 

For example, if an AVM determines that a home is valued at $300,000 and an inspection shows that a $1,500 repair needs to be done on the A/C unit before the house is sold, you'll either need to repair the A/C yourself or offer a credit at closing. Either way, your home is reduced in value until the A/C issue is rectified.

Note: having an inspection before you sell the home can save you money on the overall sale. Hiring a contractor to fix the unit before the buyer can request closing credit is advantageous because they will likely request more credit than it will cost to repair the unit. Getting ahead of the game can save you some cash on the sale. 

Appraisal for a Quick Sale

The most accurate valuation of your property is an official appraisal. A real estate professional will evaluate every inch of your home and compare it to similar homes in your area. They will then take into account the current status of the housing market and give you a certified valuation of your property. An official appraisal can cost anywhere from $200-$700, depending on your region. 

An appraisal could lead to a faster sale for a few reasons. First, having an appraisal before inviting buyers in to tour your home will give them the confidence that you have an accurate listing price. Buyers are sometimes hesitant to commit to a home until they know that the listing price is close to the house's true value.

Also, it will save time during negotiations. If the seller has a certified appraisal on-hand, the buyer doesn't have much wiggle room. They know how low you're willing to go before you lose money on the sale. Also, they already know the home's condition beforehand, so there isn't much to negotiate. Ultimately, having an appraisal gives you the best chance to sell your home quickly and ensure you don't lose money on the sale. 

Win the Winter With These 5 Home Selling Tricks [Winter Real Estate]


With the holiday season approaching, the summer buying frenzy is coming to a close. The leaves are turning, and pumpkin spice season brings in a new demographic of buyers. The difference between summer buyers and winter buyers is their motivation. 

Winter buyers are serious about finding a home. In cold regions and during the holiday season, people looking to buy a new home are highly motivated. Whether they are relocating due to work or school, or want a fresh start, if they're touring your property during the holiday season, they are serious about buying a home.

Preparing your home for sale during the holidays takes a different strategy than during peak season. Here are five ways to make your home stand out to serious winter buyers: 

  1. More strategic marketing
  2. Embrace the holidays (but not too much)
  3. Stick to a competitive selling price
  4. Increase curb appeal
  5. Prepare your home for photos

Make Your Home Stand Out

Winter buyers mean business. If they are willing to spend their time during the holidays to look for homes rather than snuggled up next to the fire watching Hallmark movies, they really want a new home. This is advantageous to sellers as long as they have the right plan in place and are prepared for when the time comes.

1. Start with strategic marketing

Listing your home during the holiday season is slightly different than during peak season. Homebuyers typically like touring houses that have been freshly listed. This gives them confidence that there isn't an offer already on the table, and they're not wasting their time competing with other offers. 

Consider posting or re-posting your listing late the night before a popular touring day like Friday or Saturday. The serious buyers will be up in the morning looking for new listings to tour that weekend. If they see a new listing in their price range, they will jump on it quickly. 

Also, large listing websites are useful but don't forget about local marketing platforms as well. Whether this means sharing your listing on social media or posting it to a local newspaper or website, maximum publicity is the key. Serious buyers will be scanning multiple listing sites. Having more visibility may be what gets your home the proper attention. 

2. Embrace the holidays [but not too much]

There's nothing wrong with getting in the holiday spirit. Decorating your house with warm tones is a great way to make your home feel cozier. If you have a fireplace, feel free to light the fire or some holiday scented candles to make it feel like home. 

Selling around the holidays is a great time to have some fun with your showings. You can play some holiday-themed music to set the mood or use some typical holiday decorations like centerpieces, wreaths, or fireplace decorations. Try to stick with generic themes, so the buyer doesn't get overwhelmed with the decorations. Too much clutter or eye-grabbing decorations can take the buyer's attention away from the home.

3. Stick to a competitive selling price

Like we mentioned, buyers in the winter want to move quickly. They don't want to wait for the price of a home to come down. If it is priced too high, they will move on to other homes. In the summer, you might see bidding wars, or you can gradually take the price of a house down if you see less interest. Consider listing the home to sell in the beginning to get buyers' attention from the start. 

Another reason to list the home at a selling price is because fewer people are looking to buy. They are a different demographic of buyers who are looking to buy right now. If they see a home at a fair price, that could be all they need to make an offer. If you miss one serious buyer because your home is overpriced, you may be waiting a long time before another comes around. 

4. Increase Curb Appeal

Having an attractive front porch is so important when listing a home. This is even more important in the winter because buyers might drive around examining for-sale homes in your area. The front of your home might be what attracts or deters someone from calling the number on the sign. 

Not to mention, most listings include a photo of the front of the home with the description. Whether they are driving around or see it online, the front of your home will make the first impression. Don't rely on your interior decoration to attract buyers. When buyers have no time to waste, the first impression is crucial. Consider hiring a landscaper to touch up around your front porch, so it is as appealing as possible. 

5. Prepare the interior for photos

So the buyer swiped right on the image of your front porch. That's great! The next thing they will see is your interior. Preparing your home inside to accentuate your home's main attractions is how you secure a tour. So, how do you prepare the interior of your home to sell during the winter? 

You start by decluttering everything you have lying around. All of the extra things that you need to live take away from the extra space. It may feel cozy to you, but a home buyer might feel enclosed. Do your best to make the rooms feel open and spacious.

One way to make the rooms feel open is by rearranging your furniture. What is most functional for your family might not be what is most appealing to the eye. Consider moving your furniture around or even removing some extra furniture to make the room feel more open. 

Also, consider arranging the furniture in a way that would be good for pictures. Make a game plan ahead of time about where you want to take the photos from and what angles you'll use. This might help you decide where the best place to move the furniture as well. 

The Seller's Guide To Closing [Closing Costs and Much More]

Closing processes vary slightly depending on the type of transaction and local, state, and municipal laws. While the differences might be subtle, it's always good to know what steps to take when preparing to close. You'll need to speak with your realtor about what costs you, as the owner, will have to cover. 

Key Takeaways: 

  • How the closing process works for the seller
  • Potential closing costs the seller will incur upon closing
  • Define closing credits and how they can be used at closing
  • Resources for closing and transferring the title

The Closing Process For Sellers

Getting an offer is a great feeling, but the race is far from over. Once someone presents an offer, a plethora of tasks needs to be cleared before you can sit down to sign the paperwork. As mentioned previously, the process varies from state-to-state and even town-to-town. Regardless, there are a few common steps that each transaction must conduct before handing over the keys. 

Inspection

You'll likely have an inspection soon after the offer. Whether their agent recommended it or the mortgage company required it, the buyer will hire an inspector to walk through your home and make sure everything is "up to code." Although the buyer will pay for the inspection, the seller will be responsible for solving any issues. 

Repairs and Renegotiation

Once the inspection is done, the seller has to fix all the problems. Whether you hire someone else to do it or solve the issue yourself, this is more time, energy, and money that you'll have to put toward the sale before closing. Also, any major issues might drive down the value of the home in the buyer's eyes. They might be inclined to lower their offer or ask for closing credit to fix the problems. Renegotiation is a standard part of home sales. 

Appraisal

Mortgage companies require the buyer to have an appraisal to ensure their loan will be covered. In other words, they want to be sure that they are lending a reasonable amount compared to the home's value. Again, no expense to the seller, but you'll have to work with an appraiser to let into your home.

Title Check

The title company will look at tax records and evaluate all legal aspects of the title. They are responsible for making sure the closing process goes smoothly, and the title can be transferred to a new owner without implications. 

Potential Closing Costs For The Seller

Although you're not responsible for the inspection and appraisal fees, there are still a few costs that might arise on the seller's side. 

Buyer's and Seller's Agent Commission

When signing the contract, the homeowner will agree to a certain commission or percentage of the sale, which will be paid to the agent at closing. A typical commission is around 5 to 6 percent. However, some agents will agree to less depending on the circumstances. HomeTraq selling agents have agreed to a 4 percent commission in exchange for HomeTraq's provided Pre-Listing services. 

The buyer will likely have an agent as well. The commission will be split between the buyer and seller agent at the time of closing. It might not be a 50/50 split because it depends on the contract. If the seller finds their own buyer, they get to keep the commission, but the seller's cost stays the same regardless. 

Title Insurance

Some states require the seller to purchase title insurance when transferring the deed to your home. Title insurance protects the seller from any mishaps or processing errors that might occur from the transfer. The lender's title insurance covers their interest in the property until the mortgage is paid off. A homeowner's title policy protects the owner's right to the property. 

Early Payoff/Mortgage Fees

Sometimes a mortgage contract will include an early payoff fee for different reasons. If the seller has an outstanding balance or their contract includes an early payoff fee, the seller is responsible for covering the difference. Any of these fees will be due at or before closing. Also, any previous liens or judgments on the property are the responsibility of the current owner. Any other outstanding dues before the time of closing, such as homeowner fees, garbage collection, and utilities, are the responsibility of the homeowner until the title is transferred to the buyer. 

Any Issues from Inspection

Some mortgage companies require an inspection before transferring the money. An inspection will happen soon after an offer is made and well-before closing to ensure the current owner has enough time to resolve potential issues before the new buyer moves in. If the inspection finds any problems, the homeowner is responsible for solving the problems and will incur the cost. This expense can vary widely depending on the condition of your home. 

Closing Credits

These are fees that the seller is responsible for paying. Sometimes sellers will offer "credits" or cash incentives for someone to buy their home. You will typically see this in cases where the home needs renovation in certain areas. The seller chooses to offer a credit to the buyer to fix it rather than fixing it before closing. It is sometimes more convenient to provide closing credit as a seller if you need to sell your home quickly.

Closing/Settlement Process Resource

alta.org: The American Land Title Association is a national association for title insurance companies. The Consumer section of their website provides a link to “HomeClosing 101,” a guide to settlement and costs, as well as a detailed description of the closing process from the perspective of the title insurer and title searcher.

Pros and Cons of Hosting An Open House [Home Selling 101]


An open house can be an excellent opportunity to host many potential buyers at once while increasing the overall awareness of your home. Especially during peak buying seasons, some realtors will host open houses every week. While this shouldn't be the only reason you choose a particular realtor, it is one consideration we recommend you make, among others. Here are some of the good outcomes that an open house can produce:

More Prospective Buyers

The main goal of an open house is to increase public awareness that your home is for sale. An open house can encourage more prospective buyers in a few ways. First, many realtors have elaborate marketing campaigns to broadcast the open house over many media platforms. When you host an open house, the goal is to get as much exposure as possible. Some realtors will encourage any buyer to tour the home, regardless of if the home fits their preferences. Getting a lot of traffic in a house is a strategic decision to promote buyer interest. 

Also, buyers might feel inclined to attend an open house because they feel less pressure. Naturally, when other prospective buyers are around, they can tour the home at their leisure without interacting with the realtor. Some people think that an agent will try to give a sales pitch to secure the commission, and they don't like aggressive salespeople. Whether that's true or not, some people are more comfortable in a croup. Plus, they didn't ask for an individual tour, therefore expressing their interest. Instead, they can say they're "just here to look" and will walk out with a clear conscience. 

Sparks Buyer Competition

Especially during peak selling months like June, July, and August, you might get a lot of traffic at one open house. When homes sell fast, or there are few homes on the market, an open house could be the perfect formula to encourage a bidding war. If a buyer notices that a few other people are interested in the home, they could place an offer soon after the open house. 

A bidding war means a few offers competing against each other to place the highest bid for your home. This would be a fantastic outcome because you are making extra money than if you chose to go with the first offer. Increasing attention on your home could mean you make more money on your home. If selling your home quickly and at a great price is the goal, an open house is one route that could get you there. However, you should keep in mind the possible adverse outcomes as well. 

Possible Cons For An Open House

While it's not guaranteed that these negatives will occur, you should still prepare for the possibility of any number of these outcomes from an open house. In real estate, it's tough to predict what will happen. Some realtors host too many open houses to reduce the number of times they have to show a home. You have to decide whether the potential reward is worth the risk of encountering any of these negatives: 

Less Individual Attention

You might get a ton of potential buyers to attend your open house. While it is great to get as much exposure as possible, having too many prospective buyers could be overwhelming for your realtor. If only a few people show up, your realtor can really give a detailed explanation and answer all of the buyers' questions. However, if you get a great turnout, the realtor might have their hands full and might not be able to address everyone's concerns within the scope of the open house. 

If your realtor cannot give each individual the necessary time and attention, it may leave some buyers feeling under-appreciated. While being overwhelmed with potential buyers might not be anyone's fault, you may lose a prospective buyer. One way to mitigate this dilemma is to offer your realtor's contact information at the door. If the agent cannot address everyone's questions individually, the prospective buyer can reach out individually at another time if they're still interested. Besides, the primary purpose of an open house is to increase exposure. Getting people inside your home and building interest is a step in the right direction. 

Attracts Unmotivated Buyers

One of the pros mentioned earlier is that an open house should increase interest in your home. With all of the extra marketing efforts (i.e., fliers, emails, social media posts), the goal is to increase exposure. However, this may include some interest from people who aren't really in the market for your home. Whether their income is too high or too low, or your house doesn't match their "must-haves," you're likely to encounter a visit from buyers who likely won't purchase your home. 

The seller should decide whether it is worth opening your home to uninterested buyers for the chance that a real buyer actually shows up. Some people enjoy touring houses with no real intention of purchasing a home. Most selling agents can differentiate between a motivated and casual client. However, realtors don't do screenings on every person for an open house. This leaves the door open (literally and figuratively) for any person interested in touring a home. 

Unlikely, but possible, you may have a neighbor or family friend show up because they have nothing better to do. Preparing your home for an open house is a ton of work. You should be sure that there is a healthy amount of interest before you decide to have one. The last thing you want is to prepare your home, have your realtor show up, and nobody comes. This is a real possibility that happens from time to time. Be sure to weigh the risk vs. reward before committing to hosting an open house. 

How To Know If A Home Is Right For Me [Home Touring Tips]


Sometimes finding the right home can be challenging. There are so many variables to consider, and the fast-paced cycle of touring homes can be demanding. We want you to savor the experience and hopefully make buying a home more enjoyable. Besides, finding a home that makes you happy should be an exciting time! 

So, instead of making a checklist of strict requirements, maybe it's time to get out there and start touring houses. You never know what you might find. Especially during a time of low inventory and extreme buyer's demand, if you're thinking about buying a home, now is the time to get out there and get in some houses. 

You'll Never Know Until You Tour

You might have a baseline idea of what you desire from a new home. Many new home buyers are looking for ample office space due to the recent work-from-home trend. Other homebuyers are touring every home they think they might like. Sometimes you have to get inside a house to know whether it's the right fit. 

Pictures Don't Tell The Whole Story

What you see online is just a snapshot of the bigger picture that you can only know if you step foot inside the home. An image might make a room look smaller or larger than in reality. Lighting and shadows can play tricks on photos, and you get a more accurate feeling of the size of the home once you're inside. 

You Might Find Something New

Realtors are human. They might forget to mention something important about the home. Besides, the online description can only say so many details about the home. Once you enter the home and are in front of the realtor, you can ask as many questions as you'd like and spend more time evaluating every inch of the home.

Also, you could find something that you didn't know you'd like. You may have never thought about buying a house with a large back yard until you find a home with an incredible back yard and fall in love. Wood flooring may have never been your style until you walk into a home with brand new wood flooring. You may never consider these details unless you get inside the home and see it for yourself.

Prices Are Negotiable

The selling agent might not mention that the listing price is rarely what the house is sold for. If a home seems out of your price range, there's usually some wiggle room. If it's close to your max budget, give it a try and take the tour. You might fall in love and decide the extra money is worth the investment. It's hard to put a price on happiness. You may also find an aspect of the house that allows you to negotiate the price down to a more reasonable number. It may be listed too high, and you're missing out on a wonderful opportunity. You never know until you tour the home and get in front of the seller. 

How Will I Know If The Home Is Right? 

Once you get inside the home, you might have a thousand questions. Once you've toured several homes, there are likely many unanswered questions floating around that will help you make your decision on which home is right for you. To help unravel some of these questions, here are some suggestions on important variables that should go into deciding on buying a home that you'll love. 

It Feels Right

Trust your gut. Nothing can replace the feeling of pure joy and comfort you feel when you walk into a home that you love. If you can see yourself living comfortably in that home, that's a great sign. If it feels like home from the moment you walk in, then maybe you've found the right place. 

On the other hand, if you feel uncomfortable or unsure about the home, take note of that too. If you don't absolutely love it when you walk in the door, chances are there's a reason for that. It's like shopping for clothes. If you don't love it in the store, you'll probably never wear it. If you don't love the home's first impression, you may never like it. 

You Start Making Plans

Another great sign you're in the right home is if you can start making plans before you buy it. For example, if you walk into a room and say, "I could see us hosting guests in this room," or "my furniture would fit great right there," those are both great indicators that you would be comfortable in that home.

You might even start making plans for other people in your life. Having thoughts like "my kids would love this room" or "this reminds me of my parents," mean you're comparing the house to your current home. Nostalgia is an instant positive. It's easy to enjoy a home that reminds you of your family. 

It Meets Your Requirements

Of course, the house has to check all of your basic requirements. Getting an emotional connection to the home is a great sign, but it still has to fit your must-haves list. If you need three bedrooms for your family and the house only has two, it might not be plausible, even if you get an excellent first impression. You can always make adjustments to your must-haves, but don't sell yourself short.  

Your Finances Are Safe

As we said earlier, you can't put a price on happiness, but don't do anything that will put you in a bad spot. There is a difficult balance between finding a great home and making sure you can afford it. Before you commit, make sure you can afford the monthly payments using an online mortgage calculator or speaking to one of our mortgage professionals. Sometimes a seller will work with you if you really like the home. Regardless, don't take on more than your finances can handle. The stress of making a larger payment than necessary will overwhelm you and take away from the joy of living in your home. 

It Surpasses Your Expectations

This is the home! It covers all of your "deal-breakers," is under your budget requirements, and it even has a walk-in closet! You finally found the home surpasses all of your expectations. If you know the home is right, don't wait. If you know that everything is right, there's no reason to sleep on it or wait until you see other homes. If the home is perfect for you, take advantage of the opportunity to buy it! The market is extremely competitive right now, and waiting any long might be the difference in whether they accept your offer or someone else steals the house. 

Talk With Your Agent

If there is any question in your mind about whether the house is right for you, feel free to run your thoughts by your agent. That's why they're here; to help you find the right home and answer any questions you might have. They have probably seen several similar houses to the one you're looking to buy. They can tell you whether it's listed at a fair price or if they think it is a good fit for what you want. Don't be afraid to get a second opinion if you're unsure about a particular house. 

How Do I Find a Real Estate Agent I Like? [Real Estate Insider]

Buying or selling a home is a significant milestone in your life. Sometimes it's hard to find the right realtor to work with. Even worse, you might commit to an agent that you're not comfortable with. Good news! You no longer have to work with a realtor that you're not comfortable with! 

The Old Way To Tour Homes

You would call an agent in the past, and they would choose a few homes for you to tour based on your interests. Most people would find an agent based on personal recommendations or a quick google search. The agent decides which properties might work for you based on what you tell them. So, what's the problem? 

Choosing an agent is an important part of the process. If you decide to go with a particular agent to show you a home, you'll likely sign a contract with that agent to show you homes until you decide to buy one. In other words, you're stuck with that agent.

The New Way To Find Agents

You can now tour homes that you like by requesting a home showing, and the agent will meet you at the door. You're no longer stuck with the same agent throughout the entire search for your new home. If you tour a home and you're not comfortable working with a particular agent, you can request another home tour and find a new one. 

You're not constrained to the agent that shows you the home. With HomeTraq, you have the luxury of touring homes as many times as you'd like and continue to tour homes until you find the agent you want to work with. Once you find an agent you like, you can work with them. There is no obligation to use an agent that you don't like.

Choosing the Right Agent

Finding a buying or selling agent is more than just someone you can get along with. Of course, you don't want to pick someone you're not confident about. More than that, you should search for an agent that is the best fit for your personal situation. Here's an example: 

Suppose you're looking for a home in the suburbs with a nice setup and room for a small family. An agent who sells million-dollar mansions on the other side of town probably doesn't know the suburban market well. Simply because they have a good reputation does not mean they are the right fit. Even further, you might get along great with that agent, but they're probably not the right agent for the job. 

Also, an agent should be honest with you and not try to sugar coat things. If an agent is willing to lie to you to get your business, nothing stops them from tricking you into a bad deal. If you have a bad feeling about an agent, get a second and third opinion. Chances are your gut is telling you the truth. 

How It Works

Log into HomeTraq and choose a home you'd like to tour. You'll get a confirmation text in an average of 3-5 minutes and get approved for a home tour from a real agent. Like Uber, you'll be made aware of the agent facilitating the tour, and you can choose whether you're willing to tour a home from that agent. You can confirm or deny that tour based on the agent giving the tour. 

Once you tour the home, you have the freedom to choose whether or not to work with that agent for the remainder of your search. Otherwise, you can schedule a new tour with another agent to continue with someone else. You are in control of your own home search. Agents can offer guidance at any point, but you decide what homes you want to tour and with whom you want to tour. 

Finding A Home To Tour

There are two routes to take. Once you find the right agent, you can work with an agent to find homes you'd like to tour. Otherwise, you can take matters into your own hands. You can find a home on any online platform or local MLS and apply to tour the home via HomeTraq. The buying process is still the same, no matter how you find the home. 

If you need help finding a home, take a look at HomeScout. We partner with HomeScout to bring you local listings with a variety of other services. For example, using HomeScout gives you access to certain information about the neighborhood, such as nearby schools, stores, entertainment, and crime ratings. Whether you use HomeScout or not, make sure to do your homework about the different neighborhoods where you're looking at homes. 


Spice Up Your Fall Decorations [7 Real Estate Tricks]


Fall has officially arrived in most parts of the country. The apple orchards are busy, pumpkin patches are thriving, and Halloween costumes fly off the shelves. 

If the same old pumpkin carving and apple picking routine leaves you bored and looking for new ideas, check out this list of creative fall decorations to spice up your interior this fall. 

Start with your Front Porch

Let everyone know that you're in the fall spirit this year by putting some fall colors on your front porch. If you're tired of using pumpkins, gourds come in every color and still go well with fall-colored schemes. 

Some people like to find corn stalks and tie them together around their poles. Dried corn stalks mean harvest season. If you're in a rural area, there's likely an abundance of dried corn stalks available. Feel free to use some on your front porch and tie them around railings or a pillar if you have a few. 

Pumpkins are a must 


There's no better time than now to start a pumpkin-picking tradition every year. My family tries to go to an apple orchard or pumpkin patch every year. It gets you in the mood for fall, and fall colors are beautiful. As the leaves begin to change, start looking for an excuse to go out and pick your own pumpkin. 

Pumpkins serve two purposes. First, you can decorate your house with fall colors. Then, when Halloween comes, you can carve them and set them on your front porch. A pumpkin will last about one and a half to two weeks maximum after opening it up and removing the seeds. They last much longer before you cut them, so buy some in early October and use them as decoration for the whole month!

Decorate a fall wreath


Wreaths aren't just for Christmas! If you're stuck inside because it's cold and windy, have a fun decorating session with your family. Making your own decorations is so rewarding, and you can enjoy them for an entire season.

You have so many options when creating your own wreath. Fall colors are so vibrant and exciting that you can use nearly any fall item and make a beautify wreath. Start with a base color like brown from corn stalks, then add pops of color from different flowers or fall vegetables. Consider buying some fake flowers and fall vegetables from your local craft store so you can reuse your wreath every year. 

If you're feeling adventurous, search for a tutorial on how to make an apple wreath. Plan a fun weekend activity with the family by picking your own apples, then making a wreath from the extras. 

Make a nice centerpiece

Nothing says fall like thanksgiving. Making a classic cornucopia could be a fun craft activity. Otherwise, you get a cornucopia with fake fruits and vegetables from various craft stores. 

If you're tired of the usual cornucopia, find some pinecones, leaves, and fall flowers. There are endless ways you can arrange these items in the center of your table to make a beautiful fall bundle. Grab a mason jar or a clear vase and make a great focal point. Then surround that with extra pinecones and leaves, and you have an envious DIY centerpiece. 

Get creative with corn husks


Corn husks are an incredibly versatile decorative piece. You can use them as a base for nearly every decoration, and you won't be disappointed. They can stand on their own as a bundle of husks, or serve as a vessel for a wreath or centerpiece before adding the "pop" of color. 

Some people like to use corn husks as stuffing for different decorations. Think scarecrows or dolls with plaid or flannel clothing. Feel free to get creative with corn husks because they are abundant and helpful if you're struggling with finding ideas for fall decorations. 

Go crazy with gourds

Gourds can fit in every corner of your home. If you want to deck out your home with fall decorations, buy a bunch of gourds and start replacing your summer decorations. Gourds are so colorful, and they'll last a while in cool weather. You can use them to decorate your front porch or add a nice touch to your fall centerpiece. Either way, when people think of fall decorations, they think of yellow, orange, brown, and white gourds. 

Squash is a close cousin to gourds. If you're in a bind and can't find any gourds to decorate your counter, you can replace them with a similar-sized squash. The main difference between squash and gourds is that squash is made for consumption, but you probably don't want to eat a gourd. 

Smell the pumpkin spice (DIY candles)Is it really fall without the smell of pumpkin spice and warm apple cider? Growing up, my mom always had candles burning. The scent would depend on the season. Warm pumpkin spice candles and freshly baked cookies were a few familiar smells. 

Decorating a candle is a cheap and easy way to turn a normal, old jar into another great fall decoration. Get some strings and tie a leaf around the jar, or tie a corn husk around the neck of the jar. If you're feeling ambitious, you can find a recipe online to make your own candle wax to go with your decorative jar.   

A New Wave of Potential Homebuyers [Remote Work]

Demand for housing continues to increase despite state and local restrictions for COVID-19. What has changed that has made people more likely to buy a home than before this virus came along? A combination of the following has created more opportunities to buy a home, contributing to a substantial new wave of potential home buyers. 

  • Record-low mortgage interest rates
  • Remote work opportunities
  • Increased interest in a second home

Low-interest rates

The national average for both 30-year and 15-year fixed-rate mortgages has plummeted below 3%. Over the past few years, average rates have stayed around 3-5%. The rates continue to trend downward and reach record lows each month. 

A lower interest rate means more affordable mortgage payments. Affordable mortgage payments open the door for new homebuyers who couldn't afford the previous rates. As interest rates continue to drop, rental prices increase, encouraging more home buyers to search for an affordable starter home. Not only are individuals more likely to buy a larger home with low-interest rates, but it also creates a whole new market of potential homebuyers. 

Remote Work 

Many employers were forced to transition to remote work when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Many states placed strict regulations on gathering unless your work was deemed "essential." Therefore, the new "work from home" trend, which was once seen as an inconvenience, has become popular among businesses across many different industries. They have noticed the financial benefits of working from home and acknowledged how many of their employees prefer the convenience of telecommuting. But what does this have to do with real estate? 

No commute

Telecommuting has its own benefits and challenges, different from commuting to work every day. The main advantage: no commute! The ability to work from home saves time and money. The obvious benefit is that you don't have to pay for gas or public transportation to get from home to work. Fewer travel expenses mean more money to spend on a house! If you're renting, you can repurpose that money for a bigger place. If you already own a home, maybe it's time for a better office? Regardless, buyers have decided that working from home is a great reason to buy a better home. 

Need more space and an office

Also, telecommuters no longer have to spend close to two hours a day driving or riding to and from the workplace. Spending more time at home has made homeowners realize that they want more space and more functional office space. Many workers have chosen to work from their kitchen table or their laptop on the couch while waiting out the pandemic. Since employers are starting to have their employees work from home permanently, homeowners are looking for homes with more space to separate their living areas from their office space. Homes with functional office spaces and separate living areas are at a premium and highly sought after. 

Priced-out renters

Thousands of people rent temporary apartments and condos because of the inflated housing prices in their area. For example, houses in California can get too pricey, especially if you work near some of the popular tech companies. As previously mentioned, rental prices are continuing to increase with cost-of-living. In turn, mortgage rates are decreasing, making it more feasible for renters to look for a permanent residence. 

However, in some places, it's still not reasonable for low-to-middle income families to buy a home. The new remote work trend allows individuals to move into more affordable areas and purchase a home, rather than renting a place close to their employer. Essentially, if you can telecommute, you don't have to live near your workplace. Experts predict that renters in high-end areas will move out of the major cities to buy a starter-home if given the opportunity to work from home long-term. 

More Interest in a second home

There's currently an exciting trend of homeowners buying a second home. This may be a result of low-interest rates. However, the work from home trend may contribute as well. Some homeowners work from home, and others have to stay home with their kids for online learning. Either way, they're spending 24/7 at home and want a break from everyday life. This has resulted in an increased desire for a second home. Most homeowners prefer their second home to be within a few hours' drive from their current residence. Some homeowners use the second home as a vacation home, while others just need a weekend getaway.

A Promising Increase in Housing Demand [Real Estate Insider]

One way that experts evaluate the health of our economy is by looking at the real estate market. There are other indicators, such as the stock market and GDP numbers, but the real estate market helps determine whether people can afford to buy a home, which is a good indicator of their financial health. 

Several economic indicators would suggest that the US economy is struggling to make progress due to the impact of COVID-19. The stock market has seen a significant decline and is trying to recover, and unemployment numbers reached record highs during the peak of the pandemic. 

The housing market seems to have eluded the effects of COVID-19 when August produced another increase in total housing demand. The number of mortgage applications increased by 3% in August, with a total increase of 25% from this time last year. 

Housing Demand Soars

This is good news for the economy. One explanation for the high buyer's demand is that people are thriving and looking for a better home. It also shows that people aren't scared to go out and buy a home, given the current circumstances. As long as the proper steps are taken to allow for safe home tours and mortgage transactions, there's no reason to be worried about getting out there and buying a new home!

Since last August, the 25% increase in mortgage applications shows that not only has housing demand recovered from the pandemic, but it continues to grow. This is excellent news if you're looking to sell your home. Unfortunately, the market has been tight because fewer people are willing to sell their homes. 

A strong economy puts individuals who were previously renting or leasing a home in a better position to buy a house and put down roots. The problem with a low housing inventory means they have less options. It may take longer than usual to find a home that meets your expectations. Be patient and wait for the right home to come onto the market. During the waiting period, you can spend some time getting your current home ready to sell, or start packing your things up early. Take advantage of your free time while you wait for the right house to come along, then you can move quickly when it does. 

High-End Housing Leads the Charge

While the market for houses around the median price ($250,000-$350,000) is tight, inventory continues to increase for high-end homes. The US has seen an increase of 44% availability for homes valued at $1 million or more.

One explanation for this increase could be that wealthy individuals have not been impacted by the pandemic as significantly as the middle-class and working-class households. We should start to see the median-level houses follow their lead as the market continues to recover from COVID-19. With the massive demand for housing, if inventory starts to increase, it could be great news for the real estate market. 

Buyer's Want Larger Houses

Many buyers are applying for homes with more square footage than their previous home. With COVID-19 forcing many people to work from home, they can manage a larger space than usual. In fact, they may need more space to accommodate an office area or for their equipment. Many companies have taken advantage of the work-from-home initiative and decided that they will continue working from home long-term. It's a great way to save money on the expenses related to having a physical office. 

Some families have had to transform their homes to fit their new lifestyle. Many kids are forced to stay home rather than go to school, so the parents have had to create a makeshift workspace for their kids as well. It has been difficult for some families to create enough space in their home for a classroom and a functional home office. 

So, the result is homebuyers looking for a new home with the space to fit all of their unique needs. The COVID-19 pandemic has posed many new obstacles for homeowners, and it doesn't seem like they are going away any time soon. The good news? Mortgage rates are trying to stay low, despite the impact COVID-19 has had on the economy, and people have not been afraid to take advantage of it.

5-Step Plan for Finding the Right Home

  1. Establish solid boundaries.
  2. Decide what you want to change.
  3. Distinguish deal-breakers from luxuries.
  4. Find a functional layout.
  5. Carefully consider the location.

Some people like to choose their homes based on gut instinct. Knowing exactly what you want is either a skill or a blessing that I don't have. For those of us who need to write everything down to rationalize our decision, we have created a 5-step plan for finding a home that fits your wants and needs. 

1. Establish solid boundaries.

Before you create a wish list, it would be helpful to know your limits. Taking a look at your budget to see how much you can afford is a great start. Once you evaluate your household income and decide what you're willing to pay, you can use an online mortgage calculator to determine what kind and size of houses are on the market within your price range. 

As long as you're still in the planning stages, you can improve your credit score as needed. Having a higher credit score will increase your chances of achieving a low-interest rate on your mortgage. While you're planning out the details, this is an excellent opportunity to get rid of some debt, improve your credit score, and save money on your loan. 

You've probably decided on the general location where you want to purchase a home. The planning stages are a great time to narrow down your search to a more specific area. Common factors most homebuyers consider are proximity to grocery stores, entertainment, work, schools, and public transportation. Setting a physical boundary to where you want to search for homes may be helpful in making your decision. Casting a wide net is a good idea at first, but keep the location in the back of your mind. 

2. Decide what you want to change.

An excellent way to find a new home that you'll enjoy is to compare it with your current home. There are likely certain aspects of your home that you enjoy and maybe even are fearful that other houses might not be the same. Take this as an opportunity to make a pros and cons list of your current home. 

The pros section should include all of the positive aspects of your current home that you don't want to give up in your next home. For me, I love that my kitchen has plenty of counter space and storage because I love to cook and need a lot of room. However, I wouldn't say I like how the laundry room is on a different level from my bedroom. With these two ideas in mind, I would want to find a new home with adequate counter space and a laundry hookup on the same level as my bedroom. Making a list of all the pros and cons can give you a clearer picture of what you will want in your new home. 

3. Distinguish deal-breakers from luxuries.

When making your list of pros and cons, it's essential to keep in mind which aspects may be a luxury and which ones are crucial to you buying the home. For example, let's say my family needs two bathrooms because we have three people who get ready at the same time every morning. So, we need to have at least two showers available each morning. This is a deal-breaker because if a home has less than two showers, it won't work for my lifestyle. 

We also love to bake tons of cookies and share them with friends and family. Having a double oven will make our lives easier because we could bake all of the cookies simultaneously. However, if the home fits all of the other criteria perfectly, we could live without the double oven. The oven in this scenario would be a luxury. Figuring out which details you can live without will take some pressure off your decision. Some people even expand their pros vs. cons list from the previous home and turn that into a deal-breakers vs. luxuries list. 

4. Find a functional layout.

Having enough bedrooms, bathrooms, and storage space are important. This falls under the deal-breakers category. To take it a step further, you can consider what you would expect for the layout of the home. 

Another way to describe the layout is the floor concept or blueprint. A few details to think about under layout are the number of levels, open or closed concept, and the arrangement of the rooms. 

Some people can't deal with stairs every day, so having a home with your bathroom on a separate level might become a problem. Or, you might prefer an open-concept home because you like to host a lot of company at once. Finally, you might need to have two bedrooms close together, so you're close to your children. All of these are examples of a decision made based on the layout of the home. Having an arrangement that works for your lifestyle is a crucial aspect to consider. 

5. Location, Location, Location

If you're considering moving, you've likely already given some consideration as to where you want to buy a home. Where you live can have a considerable impact on the price of the house and the quality of living. 

When considering the location, research what nearby amenities that area offers. Search for restaurants, grocery stores, parks, recreational areas, and entertainment near the home. If you have kids, look at the scores from the local school or research nearby daycares. Establish what is important to you and where you'll need to travel the most and find a place near that area. Having a long commute to school or driving 30 minutes to your favorite grocery store might become burdensome and impact your quality of life. 

Another factor of location is the community. Finding neighbors with similar interests will make for a charming neighborhood. The location you choose will dictate what kind of neighbors you get. For someone who wants to be around families with children, you might consider a suburban area to a condo in the city. On the other hand, if you like the hustle and bustle, a home in the mountains might not be for you. The location of the house will dictate what kind of community you join.


Mortgage Essentials [Frequently Used Terms]

Whether it's your first time buying a home or you're a seasoned veteran, obtaining a mortgage can be a tricky process. There are so many options, and it may feel like too many hoops to jump through. That's why we've created a list of essential terms that bankers and brokers may use when you ask about a mortgage. 

First, you need to understand the difference between a broker, banker, and lender:

Mortgage Brokers/Bankers

Mortgage brokers are licensed originators representing multiple lenders who work as intermediaries to secure a mortgage for a borrower.

Mortgage bankers originate and fund the loan with the funds of the lender they work for, but immediately sell the loan to another lender, an investor, or directly to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Both mortgage bankers and brokers help the borrower through the mortgage application process. Then, they work with the lender who funds the loan. 

Each banker and/or broker has different fees associated with their business, so be sure to understand all of the costs involved. Some charge up-front fees, while others get paid at closing. Either way, you should do your research and understand what you'll owe to the broker/banker when you apply for the mortgage. 

Pre-Approval

Getting pre-approved for a loan has several benefits. Some homeowners want to see pre-approval before you make a formal offer on the house. Want to talk to a professional about getting pre-approved?

Move quickly

Especially when the market is crowded, having a pre-approval when others don't can make your offer stand out. It means that you can move quickly through the buying process, and the seller can get rid of their house faster. Some homeowners even require pre-approval before they consider your offer.  

Negotiating power

The idea that you're ready to buy the house can give you some leverage in the negotiating process. Your offer will have weight because they know you're serious about buying the home. 

Peace of mind

Knowing you can afford to buy the home is a great feeling. Getting pre-approved for a certain amount will give you peace of mind, so you don't feel guilty about the price of the home. 

Rate

When you hear the Mortgage Loan Officer (MLO) talk about the rate, they're referring to the interest rate associated with the loan. The interest rate is the additional percentage added to the mortgage as a result of borrowing the money. This serves as an incentive to pay the loan back on time. 

Two typical mortgage rates are adjustable-rate and fixed-rate. Adjustable-rate (ARM) means the rate will increase as the loan approaches the end. Fixed-rate, as the name suggests, means your rate stays the same through the life of the loan. We recommend choosing a fixed-rate, so you know your monthly expenses. However, an adjustable-rate might be useful in some circumstances. If you want to talk to a mortgage professional, visit hometraq.com for more info. 

Term

The term is the amount of time, or "life" of the loan. A longer-term will typically allow for lower monthly payments. However, interest is usually higher for longer terms as well. Paying more in interest means you build up equity slower. A shorter-term will allow a lower rate and faster equity. 

Points

Discount points represent the upfront payments of interest to the lender. The lower the interest rate, the higher the discount points, and vice versa. Each point is 1 percent of the loan amount. 

Origination points are charged to offset the administrative cost of processing and originating your loan. They can also include a document preparation or underwriting fee.

Down Payment

A down payment is an amount you pay in cash at signing. A larger down payment means less borrowed from a loan. A 20% down payment avoids the Private Mortgage Insurance cost (see below). However, the national average for down payments is around 10 percent, and some loans require as little as 3 to 5 percent. 

Mortgage Insurance 

Mortgage Insurance, also called MI, private MI or PMI, is generally required on mortgages with down payments less than 20 percent of the property value. MI reduces the amount a credit union loses if members do not repay their mortgage. 

Without the protection of MI, credit unions typically require a member to make a down payment of at least 20 percent of a home's purchase price, which can mean years of saving for some members. 

This large down payment assures the credit union that the member is committed to the investment and will try to meet the obligation of monthly mortgage payments to protect the investment.

A low down payment also allows members to purchase more home than they might otherwise be able to afford.

FHA vs. Conventional

FHA loans are guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration and extend credit to homeowners, particularly those who have limited down payment funds and lower credit scores.

Conventional loans are typically guaranteed or insured (when required) by private mortgage insurers. Conventional loans are purchased by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Conventional Loans

  • Generally require a 5 percent down payment,
    with specific programs allowing as little as 3
    percent down.
  • If MI is required, private Ml companies offer
    cancelable and flexible monthly or single
    premium options.
  • Private Ml on a conventional loan is typically less
    expensive than the Ml on a FHA loan.
  • Typically, a minimum credit score of 620 is
    required.
  • Often have quicker processing time than FHA
    loans.
  • Generally have a lower loan-to-value (LTV) ratio
    than FHA loans.

FHA Loans

  • Require a 3.5 percent down payment, and most
    borrowers have an FHA insurance premium
    payment for the life of the loan. Additionally, FHA
    loans have both an upfront payment (which may
    be financed into the loan amount) and monthly
    premium payments.
  • Lower maximum loan limits may be imposed
    (compared to conventional).
  • May allow lower minimum required credit score.

Become an online home shopping pro! [Real Estate Insider]

When searching for a home, you may stumble upon some terms that you've never seen before. This could complicate the process and make it more difficult to find a home you can tour. 

  • Active
  • Active Under Contract
  • Pending
  • Closed
  • Hold
  • Withdrawn
  • Expired

Why would someone list a home that is already under contract? Can we still tour a house if it's pending or active under contract? When will the realtor stop marketing a property? These are great questions that our checklist of standard listing terms can answer. 

Homes you CAN tour:

This first section is terms that you might see on a listing website or hear your realtor mention that mean you can tour the home. Keep in mind, if you can tour the house that doesn't guarantee that you can make an offer. 

Active

If a house is listed as active, you have the green light. The home is hot and ready to sell. Other categories have stipulations or red tape that restricts touring, but if a home is active, ask the agent for a tour ASAP. 

The key difference between active and active under contract is that you can be sure they have not accepted an agreement yet. This means the door is wide open for you to make the first offer. This is great news!

Active Under Contract

Active under contract means they have accepted an offer from a buyer, but they have chosen to continue to market their home in case a better offer comes through before closing. If you go to tour a home that's active under contract and like it, you can still make an offer. 

Make sure you have your realtor clarify which listing category the home is in before you commit to touring. There's nothing wrong with touring a home that's active under contract. Just because a home is under a contract does not mean they have closed the deal. There are still many hoops to jump through that could jeopardize the status. 

It's important to know if there is already an offer on the table to manage your expectations. It would be disappointing if you really like a home and find out that it's already under contract. Make sure you clarify whether there is already an offer on the table, so you know what to expect. 

Homes NOT currently open to tour:

Some houses may be listed even if they're not currently available for tours. Beneath is a list of terms you may see on a listing site, but you still can't tour them. 

Pending

A listing that is pending means the seller has accepted a contract and asked their realtor to stop marketing their home. The property is between the active and closed stages. This means there are still many hoops to jump through. In other words, the contract can be withdrawn during many different stages of the process and begin marketing again. 

Keep an eye on properties that are pending to see if something happens during the buying process that causes the buyer or seller to withdraw from their part of the contract. You may be able to tour the home later if this happens. 

As long as a home is listed as pending, there will be no new tours. However, it has not been closed, and a lot can happen. 

Closed

The property has been sold/leased, and the legal transaction is complete. If a home is listed as closed, this means all of the stipulations of the contract have been fulfilled, and the seller has transferred ownership to the buyer. For obvious reasons, a home listed as closed is no longer available to tour.  

Hold

A house listed under "hold" means the agent has paused marketing this house for various reasons. If you come across a home that is under "hold," you can still ask the realtor about why the home is being held and go from there.

This may be a case where the seller needs to get work done on the home based on a previous inspection and will resume touring once the work is complete. Any combination of events could lead to a house being put on hold, so keep a close eye on the property and check-in regularly if you're interested. 

Withdrawn

A withdrawn property has been removed from the listing by the realtor for some reason and has not yet expired. Typically, a broker will keep a property that has been withdrawn listed until it reaches the expired status, which is explained in the next section.

Why would a broker want to keep a withdrawn property listed if it's no longer for sale? Different brokers have their own philosophy, but one reason could be to make their inventory look more robust or attract interest. If it's a nice home, it could attract interest to that brokerage, and they can show you a different home that is actually for sale. 

Expired

As the name suggests, an expired home has exceeded the term agreed-upon to market that home. In other words, it has surpassed the listing term that the realtor can advertise the home. 

Make sure to take a close look at the listing status before reaching out to the selling agent for a tour. There are a few stages where you can actually tour a home and several that have restrictions. Remember, just because a home is posted to the listing site does not mean it is open for tours. 

How to prepare your home for sale [Pro Tips]


Selling your home is a big event. It can be great for your pocketbook if you take your time and manage your expectations. Before you decide to list your home for sale, here are a few tips that we think will help you get a great offer.

Pre-Appraisal

I know what you're thinking. Doesn't the bank require an appraisal from the buyer before they issue the loan? The answer is yes. The lender does require an appraisal through the buyer before they will give the loan. We still think the seller should have their home appraised by a professional before they list their home. 

As the owner, getting an appraisal will give you a realistic idea of the value of your home. Pricing your home too high could discourage potential buyers from even touring your home. This could delay the selling process. You don't want to leave your home on the market for longer than necessary because as long as it's not sold, you're still making payments. 

Getting a pre-appraisal will give your buyer confidence that your home is listed at the right price. This could shorten the negotiation process and turn a possible lead into real interest. 

Get an inspection

This is another detail that the buyer will be required to have done as well. Mortgage lenders want an inspection to protect their best interests. However, getting your home inspected before posting it for sale could be beneficial to the seller as well. An inspection can show you what areas of your house might bring down the value. For example, if your A/C unit is not working correctly, or there are some new safety features that you haven't updated, the inspection will identify these problems. 

Getting the results from an inspection could save you money in the long run. If the inspector finds minor problems, you can fix them before anyone tours the house. Typically, you can fix something by hiring a repair person or even fixing it yourself. Fixing it before you sell the place will cost you money up-front, but save you from having to lower the price at negotiations.

In other words, the house will be inspected by the buyer, regardless. They will find these problems and either reduce their offer or ask for a credit to get it fixed. Having it fixed before a buyer tours your house can save you the time and money after the buyer's inspection.

Find a selling agent

They can offer advice on what areas of the house might bring down the value. Selling agents are familiar with the current market and can tell you what types of houses are selling. This gives you an advantage because you can rearrange and update your home to reflect what recent buyers like. Also, they can help you with any necessary paperwork and negotiate the details of the contract. Having someone in your corner to advocate for your best interest is the best way to ensure you're getting the best deal for your home. If nothing else, it will give you the peace of mind that you sold your house at the best possible price. 

Updates and repairs

Once you complete the pre-appraisal, inspection, and talk to an agent, you'll know exactly what you need to do to get your home ready for tours. Maybe the inspection found a problem with the A/C unit, and you need to replace a part. Or, your selling agent said your carpet is outdated. These are common things that could bring down the value of your house.  

The good news is you don't have to take that decrease in value if you fix it before selling. It's time to get to work! Some quick and easy updates include painting walls or changing cabinet and drawer handles. If you're feeling ambitious, you can replace that outdated carpet in the guest room. Whatever the case, you'll have time to get your home ready for sale and reach its full potential on the market. Taking these steps before you list the home will save you money and make your home stand out. 


How can I ensure a successful moving day [Pro Tips]

Move-in day is approaching... How do you feel? Whether you're nervous, excited, anxious, or surprisingly content, there's still a lot of work to be done. Through all the emotions, it's easy to overlook some crucial details that could make the move-in day a little less stressful.

The first decision you have to make is whether you're going to hire a moving company or DIY and ask your friends and family for help.

Hire a moving company

If you have the opportunity to hire a moving company, it can save you a lot of time and hard work. If you're moving for work-reasons, ask your employer how they can contribute financially to your move. Some companies will partially or sometimes fully cover your moving expenses!

Ask around

There will be several moving companies that you can contact about helping you move. If you know anyone who has used any local moving companies, ask them who they suggest you use. Word-of-mouth is a great way to get honest feedback and find out who does the best job. Before you decide who to use, make sure you ask around for advice and get some reliable feedback about that moving company. 

Research each company in the area

In addition to word-of-mouth, it's a good idea to do your own research. What works for others might not fit your needs, so you should also make sure you know all of your options. You can even contact each company and ask about their availability, prices, and policies to make sure they're a good fit. You can also find some online reviews that are brutally honest about each company and see about experiences that other customers have had. 

Ask for estimates

Feel free to have different moving companies into your home to give you an estimate of how much they'll charge to move your belongings. This will give you an idea of who is the most reasonable option, and you'll get to speak to someone in person about their process. Make sure to get the estimates in writing, and see what extra charges they might impose for particular items. Get each person's name, so you have someone to contact if you decide to choose their company. 

Compare the estimates

Now that you've seen every option and talked to each potential business, you have the tough decision about who you want to choose. The price estimates might make it an easy decision. If one company charges much less than the others, as long as you're comfortable with their policies, it's a no-brainer. However, if the estimates are close, you should take a closer look at their extra fees and moving guidelines to help make your decision. 

Will you need movers insurance? 

Remember, you're entrusting your belongings to strangers. Talk to your home insurance provider to see how much of your items are covered during a move. Depending on their answer, you might need to purchase additional insurance for your valuable items. It's better to be safe than sorry. 

Another option is giving your most valuable items to a close friend or family member to maintain while you're moving. Then, you can meet up with them to get it back once you've settled into your new place. Either way, make sure you keep track of your valuable items through the chaos of moving day. 

DIY moving

First off, take a minute to notice how blessed you are for having wonderful friends and family that are willing to spend their weekend helping you move. That has to be a good feeling!

Now you can take a deep breath and start the planning. Here are some key steps you can take to get everything in order before the big day. 

Organizing and packingIt's not uncommon to allow 6-8 weeks to organize and pack your items. The more time you take to prepare, the smoother moving and unpacking will be once you get to your destination. Be sure to organize and label all of your boxes to help with unpacking. You can start with clothes that aren't in season or those fine china plates you probably won't use. Happy packing!

We also suggest transferring child records well in advance of your move so your kids can start school as soon as you get there. About a month in advance, think about transferring medical and pharmacy records, so you're good to go when you arrive.

Get a game plan

As moving day approaches, consider making travel arrangements. Think about how many cars you're going to need, which route you're going to take, and how you're going to get all of your items from point A to point B. If you have a long trip, think about where you're going to stop for lunch or even lodging for an overnight trip. Getting all of this planned ahead of time will help reduce stress when hit the road. 

Also, you're probably going to need trucks and trailers to move some of your more oversized items. Phone a friend with a truck and offer to buy them beer or pizza in exchange for their help. It's a lot easier with support, so don't be afraid to ask friends and family to help you move. For those who cannot help physically, see if they'd be willing to watch your kids while you are busy unpacking and moving items. 

Will you need to downsize? 

It's important to know if the square footage at your new place is less than your current. If so, you may need to think about what items you can leave behind. If the buyer doesn't want your furniture, you can sell it on an online marketplace. The extra cash can help offset some of your travel expenses or help replace it with smaller furniture for your new place. 

Sometimes it's helpful to request an extra trash can from your garbage service for the week of moving. You might find some things that you don't need to take and can't sell on a marketplace. Contact your waste management service to see what they charge to take extra trash or get an extra trash bin for the week. 

Give yourself plenty of time.

Make sure you allow for more than enough time to pack and move your belongings. If everything goes as planned, that's fantastic! In reality, you might get delayed somehow, and you don't want to miss work the next day or miss an appointment because you weren't there on time. In a perfect world, give yourself an extra day or two for the whole moving process so you can settle in before life begins. 

Common questions for first-time homebuyers

A lot of time and effort goes into buying a home. Especially for first-time buyers, the series of important decisions could get stressful. We have provided a list of six common topics first-time homebuyers might want to know. 

1. What should I do first?

The very first step in buying a home is organizing your finances. You'll have to apply for a mortgage before you can sign for the house, and there is a decent amount of paperwork involved. 

They'll ask questions like what is your debt to income ratio (DTI), which measures your capacity to afford another loan. They'll also ask for proof of income through a pay statement or W-2. This takes longer to collect for some than others. You might already have an idea of how much you can afford to pay monthly. If that's the case, you're ready to move on to the house hunting phase. 

If you have all of this paperwork ready, we suggest getting pre-approved for a loan. Having pre-approval gives you a sense of security and confidence in knowing you're prepared to buy a home. It also gives you an advantage should someone else make an offer that isn't approved yet. Check out https://www.hometraq.com/ to speak to a mortgage lender about getting pre-approved for a mortgage. 

2. How will I know when I'm ready to buy a home? 

If you're financially ready, then only you can decide when you're emotionally prepared. Of course, it's a huge purchase and a long-term responsibility. Once you're comfortable with the monthly expenses, you have to decide if you can see yourself in a single-family home. 

When you own a property, you can personalize to fit exactly what you want. Ready for a big industrial kitchen or paint all the walls a particular color? Then you're probably ready to buy your own home. Landlords don't want you to personalize their property because they'll likely have to rent it out to someone else eventually. If you own the house, you don't have to jump through unnecessary hoops to feel comfortable at home because you're your own landlord!

3. Should I buy a foreclosed home? 

We wouldn't suggest buying a foreclosed house if it's your first home. However, it could be an excellent investment if you're willing to put in the work. A foreclosed home has likely been neglected, and it might require a facelift. If you can renovate and update the house to be more attractive, you could re-sell the home and make some serious profit. 

If you're not interested in flipping a property, then you'll be able to update the home to fit everything you've desired from a home. Since it's so cheap, you can use the extra money in your budget to make all the changes you want. Of course, you'll have to be experienced with renovating homes or willing to learn. Either way, it could end up being a fun activity. Just be aware of the amount of work you could be getting yourself into. 

4. Should I buy a fixer-upper? 

The same idea applies here, as we mentioned in the foreclosed home section. Be ready to put in a lot of hours making your home perfect. Remember, you'll be living in this house while you're making renovations. If you want a home where you can relax and host company right away, you might consider getting a move-in ready home. Otherwise, buying a fixer-upper could be an excellent investment. Just be sure it fits your circumstances. 

5. How will buying a home affect my taxes? 

Most people can get a tax credit from the interest they pay on their mortgage. You can also get other tax perks for owning a home. For example, if you switch to more energy-efficient electricity, you can use it as a write-off. Also, sometimes you can deduct Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) from your taxes if it's included in your mortgage. Some areas allow tax deductions if you pay property taxes as well. 

6. What kind of insurance will I need? 

We hear a lot of questions about the right insurance for homeowners. Ultimately, there are two types that we recommend every homeowner get well buying a home. 

  • Title Insurance
    Title insurance protects the buyer from any complications or mistakes during the title transaction. If there are any legal issues, title insurance will help offset any attorney expenses. You can visit our post about title insurance for detailed information about how to get title insurance and what it covers
  • Hazard Insurance
    Another essential type of insurance for homeowners is hazard insurance. Hazard insurance is usually included in homeowner's insurance, which most lenders require. Make sure your homeowner's insurance provides hazard insurance and purchase it well before you move into your home. 

Should I Sell My Home? [6 Pro Tips to Consider When Thinking About Selling Your Home]

Mortgage rates are still low despite the pandemic, and people are still buying houses. This is great news for someone considering selling their home. It's still a tough decision, right? If you're on the fence, we've listed a few options to think about to decide if the timing is right for you. When in doubt, speak to a trusted real estate agent or contact a broker about whether now is a good time to sell your home. 

1. Market condition

Selling your home could be an excellent financial decision. Especially if you plan on downsizing, you can make a significant profit from a successful sale. Keep in mind, you can make more money, depending on the market's condition. 

For example, you might have heard a realtor talk about a "buyer's" or "seller's" market. All of this jargon has to do with how quickly houses are selling, housing inventory, and the price at which they're being bought/sold. Of course, if you want to get the best bang for your buck, wait until the real estate market is leaning in the seller's favor. If you have time, evaluate the market and speak to a real estate professional to find the perfect time to sell. 

2. Timing

The first question you should ask yourself is if you're personally ready to go through the process of selling your home. Selling your home is a ton of work. Even if you can afford to have someone pack and move your belongings, the home sale process is still mentally and emotionally draining. You can do anything you can put your mind to, but make sure you're prepared for the roller coaster. 

An excellent way to eliminate some of the stress involved in selling a home is to find a great selling agent. A selling agent will help you prepare your home for showings and guide you through every step of the way. They can offer recommendations and even participate in the negotiation process to make sure you're getting the best deal. Involving an agent from a well-known broker can also increase attention to your home because they probably have tons of clients looking for a home exactly like yours! 

3. Location

Location is one of the biggest topics buyers consider when looking for a home. Location includes subcategories like schools, crime rate, cost of living, and area housing reports. Most buyers already have an idea in their mind of what they want their new neighborhood to look like. How people perceive your community will likely have a considerable impact on the amount of interest your home gets. 

If you live in a high-interest area, you can use that to your advantage. Popular neighborhoods include areas with good school districts, safety ratings, and healthy real estate markets. You can find the information about your school and safety ratings on HomeScout. Just type in your zip code and select a house in your neighborhood listed for-sale. Scroll down, and you'll see a "lifestyle information" categories with ratings for your area. 

4. Access

It might be hard to find time to let people in to tour your home if you're still living in it. You might not have a choice, but you should probably consider if your schedule will allow for a lot of home tours. You could always plan an open house to invite many people to see your house at a time that works with your schedule, but you might be missing out on an entire group of buyers if you can only let people in on the weekend. The best time to list your home for sale is when the agent can have access to the home at a time that works for the prospective buyer. 

If you can move out of the home before you allow tours, there are ways that you can make an agent's life super easy! To make a home more readily available to prospective buyers, many sellers put the house on a secure SUPRA lockbox. Once your agent has electronic access, they can schedule a showing at any time. This eliminates any potential scheduling hassle, and they don't have to request access every time they have a tour. Additionally, many home-sellers have all but eliminated “by appointment only” requests as it creates an additional scheduling barrier. 

5. Move-in ready

Millennials are now the largest generation, and they are starting to buy homes at higher rates. Real estate studies have shown that in a time of "instant gratification," Millennials are less interested in fixer-upper houses than previous generations. Younger generations prefer move-in ready homes, and they're willing to pay for it. If you think your home needs some attention, it might be worth your time to update your home before you put it on the market. Your pocketbook will thank you! Check out our previous post about cheap and easy ways to DIY update your home. 

If you can't afford to update your home, you can always negotiate closing credit. Closing credit is a discount on the sale in exchange for the costs the buyer will incur to update the house before they move in. This isn't ideal, but it is an option if you'd rather not deal with it yourself. 

6. Should I talk to an agent?

Absolutely! Talk to an agent that you trust about what steps you should take to sell your home. They can offer recommendations and set you down the path for success. Preferably, find an agent who has experience representing sellers. Ask for references, if necessary. They will have previous clients who can vouch for their work. Avoid agents who also have clients looking to buy a home. This could be a conflict of interest, as it's hard to have both parties' interests in mind. 

Be Ready for Closing [Tips to consider before closing]

Closing day is approaching! Yay! You've gone through the dreaded mortgage approval process, and you're worn out from the home touring marathon. You finally get to hand over the check and sign to own the property.

Through all the excitement, it's easy to forget about some crucial details. You're not alone. Plenty of homebuyers have failed to read the fine print or purchase insurance. Of course, you just made a considerable purchase, and now you have to buy insurance? We know it's not exciting or even ideal. We've seen it before, and we want to help you remember these important details, so you're protected if anything wrong happens after you sign the papers. 

What type of insurance should I get for my new home? 

Hazard Insurance

Hazard insurance is protection for the exterior or structure of your home. Most hazard insurance policies cover things like fire, hail, lightning, trees that fall on your home, or vandalism. However, most standard policies don't cover things like tornadoes and earthquakes because they are more likely in certain regions. You may have to purchase additional insurance for these types of natural disasters. 

Single-Family Homes

Most lenders require you to purchase hazard insurance. Especially with standard, single-family homes, you won't be able to avoid it. If the lender doesn't bring it up first, make sure you mention it. They might even be able to provide recommendations for local insurance providers if you don't already have an idea of who to use. 

If for some reason, you aren't required to buy hazard insurance, it's still a great idea to buy it well before you sign the contract. We suggest you buy it well before move-in, so there is no question that you're covered if something happens, even on the first day.

Condo/Townhouse

If you're buying a condo or townhouse, the HOA should have an umbrella insurance policy. Ask for a copy of the policy to keep on hand. We suggest reading through the policy before you move in to make sure everything you need is covered. You'll likely have to purchase coverage provided by the HOA to protect the inside of your unit and its contents. 

Some hazards are not covered in a basic policy. You may need to purchase additional coverage to make sure you're covered for certain natural disasters. Read through the policy thoroughly and list out any coverages you think are necessary for your situation. It's wise to make sure you're covered for any possible hazard, even if you think it's not likely. 

Finally, talk to your credit union to make sure you cover all the necessary areas and meet their requirements. Different lenders require different degrees of coverage. They can offer additional information based on your specific scenario. 

Title Insurance 

Title insurance is coverage for your property's title that protects you from any legal actions that might challenge the validity of your title and covers any problems with the title. 

In addition to ensuring the structure of your home, you'll want to make sure you cover any issues or mistakes with the title. Having title insurance covers any error that could otherwise take the title away from you, meaning you don't legally own the property. Just like a natural disaster takes out your physical structure, legal action could take away your rights to the property. Title insurance protects you from these legal actions that could result from any contractual problems. 

Your credit union will recommend a title insurance provider, but you have the option to choose for yourself and decide on coverage options. Title insurance policies protect both you and the financial institution against losses resulting from specific claims, such as others claiming ownership to the property or undisclosed liens against the property.

A title insurance company will research public records to ensure that the seller holds legal title to the property and that there are no undisclosed liens or past due taxes.

Review Closing Disclosure

The "Know Before You Owe" rules require your credit union to send you a form called a Closing Disclosure at least three business days before your loan closes. The Closing Disclosure lists your final mortgage costs in the same format as the Loan Estimate. You should compare your Loan Estimate to the Closing Disclosure and make sure that you understand the reason for any differences. Be sure to keep a copy of your Closing Disclosure; because some of the closing costs may be tax-deductible.

Closing Agent or Settlement Attorney

In some areas of the country, you'll need an attorney to deal with some of the closing functions. They will review the closing documents and make sure everything is in line, and educate you on any differences between the loan estimate and the closing disclosure.

If it's not required in your state, you certainly don't have to hire an attorney. However, it's always a good idea to have someone who is trained to spot problems in legal documents and knows the closing process to read it over and make sure there are no problems. You can never be too careful.

If you need help navigating the closing process, reach out to any of HomeTraq's network agents or any of our professional lenders to see how they can help. If you're still looking for a home, check out our "Whats My Neighborhood" quiz to see where you might enjoy living. 

Everything You Need to Know About Credit [Real Estate Insider]

Having a high credit score is critical for getting a low-interest rate on your mortgage. Here's what you need to know about improving your credit score. 

What is a credit score?

It helps to start with the basics. Your credit score is a number that represents your credit history based on a mathematical calculation of your ability to repay your credit. Lenders use your credit score as part of the process to determine your qualification for a loan/mortgage. Landlords usually check your credit score when you apply for a lease. A popular credit company is Fair, Isaac & Company (FICO).

It would help if you had a good credit score to qualify for a mortgage with a reasonable interest rate. If you have a low credit score, you can probably still get a loan, but the interest rate will likely be unfavorable. Low-interest rates are critical for keeping your payments and overall price of the home at a minimum. So, an excellent way to get the best value for your home purchase is to have a great credit score!

What goes into calculating my credit score?

Your credit score is an algorithm that includes many different variables. To put it simply, here is a list of the percentage breakdown for how creditors determine your credit score: 

  • Payment History: 35%
  • Amount Owed: 30%
  • Length of Credit History: 15%
  • New Credit: 10%
  • Type of Credit Used: 10% 

Payment History

Payment history is the highest weighted category in the calculation. So, if you fail to make payments on time, chances are your credit score is unfavorable. Credit scores are fluid, which means you can improve them over time. Consistently making payments on time is the best way to improve your credit score.

Amount Owed

Another significant component is the amount of credit you owe at the time a lender runs your credit. This is similar to your debt to income ratio (DTI). If you owe too much already, this can hurt your credit score. Mortgage lenders want to know that you can afford to pay off their loans. If you already have several loans for cars, another house, or massive credit card debt, this can negatively impact your credit score. 

The final three categories have less influence, but can still nudge your score in the right direction. The sooner you can start contributing to your credit score, the better. Credit companies take into consideration how long you have had a credit line, and what types of credit you use (i.e., credit cards, car loan, mortgage, etc.)

What can help my credit score? 

Whether you have a low credit score or a conservative spender who wants to have the best score possible, there are several ways you can improve your credit score. The quickest way to up your credit score is to pay off any outstanding debt.

Pay off your outstanding debt

It's easier said than done, but the best way to boost your credit score to get approved for a loan is to reduce the current amount owed. The two most influential aspects of your credit score are payment history and amount owed. This tells us that the less debt you have, the more likely a lender will approve your loan. If you're looking to spike your credit score quickly, throw as much money at your debts as possible.  

Watch your score

It's also essential to keep a close eye on your credit score over time. Of course, if you're reading this blog, you probably have already checked. We suggest checking your credit score yearly to make sure nothing looks out of line. Creditors are human, and they make mistakes. It would be unfortunate if you got turned down for a loan because of an error that's out of your control. If something looks odd, talk to a lender about your options or how you can get the false information removed from your record. Don't check your credit score too often, as it may hurt your score. However, once a year is a good rule of thumb. 

Visit any of these links to check your credit score. You'll need to provide a report from one of these three major credit unions to apply for a mortgage. The scores may vary slightly. 

What can hurt my credit score? 

There are only a few things you can DO to improve your credit score. It's also important to know what to avoid, so you don't hurt the hard work you've done to get a solid credit score. Unfortunately, keeping a good credit score takes time. Unless you can pay off a lot of debt at one time, you should pay attention to what things you should avoid, so you don't make it worse. 

Don't activate more credit cards

If you don't have a good credit score, you probably shouldn't tempt yourself to borrow more money. Also, your credit score considers how many credit lines you have open. So, even activating a credit card, whether you use it or not, can hurt your credit. 

Try not to "max out" your existing credit cards. As mentioned above, lenders consider your debt. Using your entire credit line can accumulate a lot of interest if you can't pay it back quickly. Do your best to keep up with your current credit cards and focus on paying off the credit you've already used. 

Some people think that closing a credit line will help their score. Closing a credit line negatively impacts your credit. Any activity, even if it's meant to eliminate the temptation to use a card, will hurt your score. If you've paid off a card and don't intend to use it, store it in a safe place so no one can steal your personal information. You must have a credit history to get a loan, but you can't close a credit line either. Weird, right? 

Try to avoid co-signing

If you co-sign for someone's loan, you are held equally responsible for the payments. If they miss a payment, it impacts your credit score as well. Chances are if they need a co-signer, it's probably because they either don't have adequate income to get the loan by themselves, or they have a poor payment history. Try not to get involved in any unnecessary risks, especially if you plan to apply for a mortgage soon.  

Need help? 

Talk to a mortgage professional HERE if you need help improving your credit score.

What is the best way to tour homes and how do I do it?

We've all been there. You found the perfect home, and you're ready to tour it as soon as possible. You reach out to your family-friend real estate agent to speak to the owner and set up a tour. Unfortunately, your agent isn't free until late tomorrow. Next thing you know, someone snuck in and put down an offer on the house before you could even get inside. 

With HomeTraq, you no longer have to wait on a REALTOR to tour a home!

Select the link below to watch a short video explaining how HomeTraq is changing the real estate industry. 

Home Showings Simplified

How it Works

You choose the property

You do this anyway!  You find the home(s) you are interested in online.  HomeTraq gives customers total control of their home buying experience. On-demand home showings is the name of the game. You choose the property you want to tour, not the agent. Once you've decided which home you want to see, you request a viewing through the HomeTraq app, and an agent approves the showing based on YOUR request. 

You choose the date and time

One of the worst feelings is finding a fantastic home that is listed within your budget and having to wait (what seems like forever...) to get inside. HomeTraq allows you to decide the date and time you want to tour the home. It's even possible for clients to tour homes on the same day they submit a request. Also, most requests are approved by an agent within 3-5 minutes. 

No Obligation

We take it a step further by ensuring that you are not obligated to work with a specific agent. This protects you from working with an agent that you're not comfortable with. You are never required to use a particular agent until YOU choose the one you like and YOU choose to sign a buyer's contract with them. 

Our no-obligation policy serves another purpose. Since the agents know that you are not under contract with them and can back out at any time, it serves as an incentive to be as accommodating as possible. Good agents will try to give you a positive showing experience and build an honest relationship with you.

No Solicitation

We do not share your email or phone number with anyone.  YOU choose when you are ready to give it to an agent.  Additionally, not only do they not have the ability to, our network agents have agreed not to contact you until you're ready. Initial communication comes through the chat feature in the HomeTraq app.  Once you have all the details about touring a home, you won't hear from the agent until you view the home. This is meant to protect you from unsolicited calls and emails about properties that you're not interested in. 

Find Your Neighborhood Vibe

We recently launched a new quiz on hometraq.com that helps you determine what neighborhood fits your preferences and personality. The quiz is a playful way to help with what types of homes you should tour. It asks a series of questions about what you prefer in a neighborhood such as where you like to travel, what kind of neighbors you like, and where you like to shop. It takes this information and offers a score in the form of percentages. If you want to find out which neighborhoods you'd enjoy, click on "What's My Neighborhood" on the HomeTraq website. 

In-Person or Live Video Tours

The St. Louis Business Journal recognized HomeTraq for introducing Live Video Tours when the pandemic slowed in-person viewings. Agents are still showing homes in person for those who prefer to see it physically, but you now have the option to choose a virtual tour. Request a live video tour, and a network agent will virtually walk you through the house as if you were there. The agent is still available to answer any questions or fulfill any requests you may have, but it's a safer alternative to viewing a home during uncertain times. 

Other Resources

HomeScout

We partner with an online real estate service that advertises for-sale homes called HomeScout. It uses real MLS (multiple listing service) information to provide up-to-date information on available homes in your area. Here are some unique features you can benefit from if you use HomeScout in your home search: 

  • Save homes you like and get updates if its status changes.
  • Search based on the zip code you want to live in. 
  • Quick access to information about getting pre-approved for a mortgage. 
  • Speak to a loan officer about your loan options.
  • See a map of all for-sale houses in a particular area. 
  • Filter your search by price, size, number of beds/baths, or keyword search. 
  • Have access to information like nearby schools, restaurants, entertainment, and other popular amenities. 

Mortgage pre-approval

We also give you the opportunity to speak with a mortgage lender and explore your financial options. We can get you in contact with a financial professional who can answer any questions or ease any concerns you may have throughout the process. 

We know buying a home is a huge decision. Even if you're not ready to commit yet, we still recommend getting pre-approved for a loan. Pre-approval gives you the peace of mind to know your price range, and you can act quickly once you find a home you want to buy. Most sellers require pre-approval before you put down an offer on the house. 

What is a contract contingency? [Real Estate Insider]

A contract contingency is anything that makes your home purchase conditional. In other words, a contract contingency means that your purchase will be valid as long as the home meets the conditions (contingencies) listed in the contract.

Contingencies provide a safety net for you to back out of a sale without losing your deposit if something goes wrong. They protect the home buyer from any unforeseen issues that they're not professionally trained to detect. Here are a few examples of common contract contingencies. 

Home Inspection

You can buy a home with the contingency that it passes a formal inspection. The cost can vary, but it may cost a home buyer $300–500 for a home inspection. That may sound steep, but paying a few hundred dollars is worth it to avoid a costly surprise down the road!

Whether or not your new home gets a passing grade is up to you—not the home inspector—they will report to you, and you can make the decision. This provides the homebuyer with the flexibility to back out if the inspection reveals any significant problems.  Here are five issues that may cause you to reconsider:

  1. Outdated Electrical Wiring.  With today's families using more gadgets than ever, it's vital to ensure your home's electrical system isn't past its prime. An upgrade may be due if your home inspector finds overloaded outlets or a panel that's wired with too many circuits. Pay close attention to aluminum wiring if it shows up on your home inspection report. It was used between 1965 and the mid-1970s in place of copper. Aluminum poses a dangerous fire hazard due to the potential of overheating at connections.
  2. Foundation Damage.  Do you remember the parable about the wise man who built his home upon the rock? If there's one lesson we learned from that story, it's that your foundation counts! Every home experiences some degree of settling. A qualified home inspector can tell you when a seemingly minor crack spells major trouble. Watch out for bulging or bowing foundation walls, which is a sign of structural weakness that can be expensive to repair.
  3. Septic Tank Failure. If your new home comes with a septic tank, make sure trouble isn't bubbling below the surface. A septic tank that fails can cost thousands of dollars to replace. That's a stinky way to start life in your new home! Foul odors, slow or gurgling drains, and standing water are common symptoms of a septic tank that needs TLC.
  4. Water Intrusion. Water is often called the source of life, but it can wreak havoc when it creeps into places it shouldn't. Your home inspector should investigate any water stains to determine if there's an active leak and to check for the presence of mold. A brown spot on the ceiling, for instance, may indicate a faulty roof, while stains on basement walls can clue you into drainage issues—and neither is a cheap fix.
  5. Mold. A home plagued by mold isn't just gross—it can affect your health. You can typically clean up areas of mold that cover less than 10 square feet on your own without breaking the bank. But extensive growth requires professional help. The cost of removing mold from crawl spaces, walls, and ducts can easily be thousands of dollars, depending on the scope of the damage.

You can also consider getting other professional evaluations like a termite inspection or radon test, depending on the advice of your real estate agent and the age and condition of the home you're purchasing.  Just because your home inspector uncovers an issue doesn't guarantee the seller will fix it.

Appraisal

An appraisal is a formal evaluation of the true value of the property. An appraisal protects you from paying more than the home's real value.  The assessment will determine the market value of the property, and the inspection will verify that the property meets the lender's standards.

Here are the five most common issues - mostly associated with (FHA) Federal Housing Administration loans - and how they can be fixed before loan approval to keep your dreams of homeownership alive:

  1. Paint. Due to lead paint concerns, the home cannot have any evidence of peeling or chipping paint. Commonly found in: Homes built before 1978. Resolution: Repainting or removal of all existing paint is required.
  2. Utilities. All outlets, lights, plumbing, appliances, and heating and cooling systems must be operable and turned on at the primary power source before the inspection. Commonly found in: Vacant properties, real estate-owned properties, short sales, pre-foreclosures. Resolution: Faulty utility fixtures and systems must be repaired or replaced.
  3. Windows. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and some conventional investors require that barred bedroom windows without exterior access must have security release latches. Commonly found in: Garden units and street-level properties in urban areas. Resolution: Windows without security release latches must be modified.
  4. Handrails. All steps and stairways must have handrails to comply with HUD property safety standards. Commonly found in: Properties with more than one floor or elevated/lower-level entrances. Resolution: Handrails must be installed near steps and stairways that don't have them.
  5. Well, Water Supply & Septic Systems.  The well or septic tank and leach lines must be equipped, identifiable, and an acceptable distance from property lines and sources of pollution. Commonly found in: Older properties, rural properties. Resolution: These systems must be updated or replaced if they fail a water well test.

Any issues that fall outside of FHA's minimum standards will need to be squared away before closing.  The good news is that in most cases, property issues uncovered during an FHA appraisal can be resolved quickly.

Final Mortgage Approval

If you di get a mortgage, you'll have a final step before you can close on your home: getting final Approval. Final Approval is what you will need to close on your home. This does not happen until everything an underwriter requested is approved, and a Clear to Close (CTC) is issued.

Whatever you do, don't open a credit card, take on more debt, or change jobs once you're under contract. Plus, any changes in your financial situation can jeopardize your loan process. Don't make these common mistakes which can mess up your final Approval:

  • Making large purchases on credit. The higher your debts become, the less likely it is you can keep your pre-approval. A large purchase affects your debt ratio, as well as your credit score.
  • Opening new credit lines. New credit means more debt. This can bring your credit score down.
  • Significantly changing your credit history. Paying your debts down could bring your credit score down. The algorithm used to come up with a credit score is complicated. If you drudge up an old debt by paying it off now, your credit score could drop despite your effort at making things right.
  • Making unusual deposits. The bank verifies your assets several times during the loan process. Large or inconsistent deposits could raise a red flag. You have to prove where the money came from. You may have to prove you did not incur new debts to obtain the money as well. 

An experienced real estate agent can help you navigate the contingency findings and set priorities for moving forward. If the inspection reveals significant problems with the home, you can ask the seller to fix the problem, reduce the price, or cancel the contract.  Ultimately, you decide whether to walk away or negotiate with the seller, and a lot of that depends on your budget and willingness to take on a major home improvement project.  If the appraisal comes in lower than your offer price, your real estate agent will provide the best guide for what to do next.  

Once you navigate through the contract contingencies, you are finally ready to close on the purchase of your new home!

Searching For Your Next Home: Start with a Neighborhood that Fits Your Vibe

Neighborhoods have unique personalities. At HomeTraq, we refer to this as a vibe. To us, knowing the vibe of a neighborhood is critical to finding a home that best suits your needs.

“Vibe: A person's emotional state or the atmosphere of a place as communicated to and felt by others.”

5 Elements That Shape a Neighborhood’s Vibe

1. The Residents

Whether you’re introverted or extroverted, human beings are social creatures. Who we live near and around has an affect on us. 

It's important to know if you enjoy being around car enthusiasts. Do you love the sound of a supercharger whine? Maybe the shrieks and laughter of children fills you with joy. A neighborhood's residents are the single unit of measurement of a neighborhood vibe!

2. The Architecture 

The types of dwelling that a neighborhood has can certainly say a lot about the residents it attracts and what matters to them. Historical homes sturdy and full of personality and charm. Modern and streamlined designs that are elegant and efficient. 

3. The Activities

How does a neighborhood organize and does it have events? Is there a neighborhood watch? A local ice skating rink in the winter or a carnival in the summer? Maybe it has street fairs and a weekend every year when everyone has a yardsale? 

Perhaps they hold political rallies and town halls are always well attended. And maybe it’s just an unspoken, everyone does their own thing kind of vibe. Whatever it is, what a neighborhood does collectively is a big part of its vibe.

4. The Businesses

Restaurants, eateries, spas, yoga, art studios, pawn shops, 7-Eleven. Are there chain stores that are predictable and safe to find what you need or are there kitsch mom and pop shops offering unique variety? The types of businesses a neighborhood hosts is a component worth considering.

5. The Access

A dead end tucked away on a mountain road or the endless side streets of downtown. Maybe you like a lot of traffic bringing new faces and diversity to your neighborhood. And maybe you feel better knowing that only people coming down you street are you neighbors.

Ways to Research a Neighborhood’s Vibe

So you won’t be surprised when a neighbor decides to mount a unique yard display, it’s a good idea to do a bit of research on your potential new address. Here are some ways to do that:

Google Maps Street View

Checking out the area from above in Google Maps Street View may reveal nuisances not always apparent from the ground: railroad tracks behind a subdivision, a borrow pit loaded with heavy earthmovers behind that innocent-looking green space or a drainage ditch you hadn’t noticed before.

Don’t Just See a Home, Take a Walk

A good walk and leisurely drive through the area can reveal nearby amenities: bicycle paths, parks, restaurants, libraries and shops.

School District Evaluator

A school district evaluator site can help you judge local campuses. Even if you don’t have children or plan on having any soon, living in an excellent school district will yield higher home values.

HOA Fine Print and Bylaws

If you’re a pet lover, you’ll want to find out whether there are any Homeowner Association (HOA) restrictions on the size and number of pets per residence.

Visiting a Neighborhood at Different Times

Visiting a neighborhood at random times of the day or night and on the weekend — or better yet, a holiday — can disclose noise issues. And fun block parties.

Chat with the Folks that Live There

Talking to neighbors can give you a sense of the age and attitudes of neighbors. Who knew that well-appointed new development was a 55+ community? People who live in adjacent neighborhoods might give you even more of a lowdown about potential negatives than current residents.

Take Note of the Upkeep

Noting the condition of streets, sidewalks and city services can tip you off to how the neighborhood will wear in the future — and the strength of its tax base for ongoing improvements.


How do you know what your Neighborhood Vibe is?

It's simple! Just ask yourself some questions. Write down the answers and see if a specific type of neighborhood matches your personality. 


Oh yeah! You can also just take our quick fun quiz! 


Find Your Vibe at https://HomeTraq.com

Pro tips for buying, selling, or refinancing your home [Real Estate Insider]

It's never too early to think about selling or buying a home. Whether you're looking to sell your current property or searching for a place to call home, now might be the right time to prepare for a rush of homebuyers.

With COVID-19 at our heals, buyers are definitely ready for a new wave of properties to hit the market.  A low inventory of houses combined with extremely appealing mortgage rates, this spring could result in an additional explosion of potential homebuyers.  

Selling a home

If you're a homeowner looking to sell your property soon, now is a great time to begin preparing your home for tours and maximizing the potential for a quick sale. Whether this means renovating that bathroom you've been putting off for so long or updating your landscaping, now is a great time to get those things done, so you're prepared for the potential rush of buyers. 

If you're a homeowner looking to move into a larger home, a tight real estate market could be the ideal time to sell. With low inventory throughout the market, there will often be many qualified buyers looking to compete for the best properties. While it might be tempting to try to go at it alone and save some fees, working with a qualified real estate agent can save you valuable time and help you secure a higher sale price. Real estate agents understand the local market and pricing strategy, can help create a winning listing and have extensive market exposure.

On the other hand, you may be more focused on looking for a home to buy. If that's the case, it's not too soon to prepare for a brand-new inventory of houses coming on the market. While others are renovating and updating their houses, you can be getting your finances in order, so you are ready when the perfect home comes along.  

Buying a home 

Make sure you don’t rush through your research when buying a home. Now and through the winter are great times to research the type of house you want and get your finances in order. Whether that means improving your credit score or reducing your debt to income ratio (DTI), it may take some time to get in an excellent financial position to buy a house. Make sure you plan ahead to be ready for the new spring inventory. 

If you're looking to buy a second home, one important consideration is taxes. For your first home, you can usually get a tax credit for the interest on your mortgage. You may not get a tax credit for the interest on your second mortgage. Make sure to consult a tax professional to understand what to expect if you purchase a second home.

We always encourage working with a real estate agent when looking to buy a home. They will have extensive knowledge and can guide you toward the right home that works for you. A real estate agent will often have access to homes not yet listed on the market, which can be crucial to securing a sale in a tight real estate market. They can also offer recommendations based on your personal situation. Having someone in your corner when looking to buy a home is always a good idea.

Refinancing 

Refinancing your mortgage could be beneficial, depending on your circumstances. If you have been making monthly mortgage payments for a while and have a good amount of equity in your home, you might benefit from refinancing. You can request a change in the amount you pay per month, or how long you make the payments. This is known as a "rate and term" refinancing option, which allows you to negotiate with a mortgage professional about the rate and term of your mortgage. This could reduce the amount you pay for your monthly mortgage, or shorten the length of payments on your mortgage. They usually go hand in hand, so it is important to know what works for your circumstances. 

There are also options to borrow some of the equity you have gained from paying off your mortgage. This is called a home equity line of credit (HELOC) or a home equity loan. It can turn the equity you've generated from mortgage payments into cash you can use in other ways. If you're in a pinch for cash, you can refinance your home loan and claim the equity as cash or consolidate the bills to cut down high-interest rates on other payments. Always consult with a professional before you make a decision about refinancing. They can help you find the right option that fits your situation. 

Pre-approval can make the difference 

Did you know that you can get pre-approved at any time during your home search? We believe that being pre-approved to buy a home is one of the best advantages you can give yourself. Getting all of the paperwork out of the way and gaining pre-approval when you go to tour a home you like can speed up the buying process exponentially. 

Some mortgage lenders are shifting to digital mortgage and approval forms. This should make the process more convenient for the buyer as you don't have to print out a ton of paperwork and drive to the office to get approved. It may also speed up the process for approval or pre-approval. They should receive your information faster and contact you as soon as they have finished the process. For most people, a digital pre-approval process takes around 20 minutes to complete. Having a pre-approval in hand will make your offer stand out and could give you an advantage if other people are interested in the property that aren't pre-approved. 

10 Ways to Reduce the Stress of Purchasing A Home

Buying a home is considered one of the most stressful events that can happen in your lifetime. In several polls, it ranked just below “death of a family member” and “getting married”.

But why?! Why is it that buying a home is such an anxiety inducing event for most people? And how can we reduce that stress and stay on point so we can function?

Well let’s start with why buying a home, especially your first home, is akin to watching a horror movie.

Buying a Home Is A Series of Stressful Events

Buying a home is no one single event. It's a long series of events spread out over weeks, often months! Each event presents an opportunity to get an unexpected setback or to simply wait for an answer to some unknown.

These include:

  • Checking your credit report and score

  • Figuring out how much you can afford

  • Finding a real estate agent

  • Getting pre-approved by a lender

  • Repeatedly looking for homes

  • Making an offer and waiting to hear back

  • The inspection and waiting for results

  • Getting insured and setting up utilities

  • Signing the mountain of closing day paperwork

  • Actually moving in

Each of these events could yield an outcome that is less than desirable. And if just one goes off the rails, it could prime stress triggers to all the others. Making the whole ordeal one nail biting moment after another. 

Here are some of the most common stress triggers new home buyers experience during the process.

  • Asking price is too high

  • Down payment is too high

  • Seller is argumentative or unreasonable

  • Lender rejects your loan application

  • Home inspection reveals major defects in the home

  • Agent has poor communication and negotiation skills


10 Tips to Reduce Stress

Sometimes stress is unavoidable. Many psychology experts even say it's unreasonable to expect to avoid it in these kinds of situations. This is when good research and being prepared is so important to not wanting to hide under your bed pulling your hair out.

So here are ten things to remember when buying a new home and you feel your stress levels start to spike.

1. Manage Your Expectations

Managing expectations doesn’t mean lowering your standards or disregarding the things that are most important to you. If you must have a backyard for gardening, kids, pets or hosting garden parties because it makes you happier, then stand by that. It’s about managing your expectations around communication, timelines and exactly what that yard may look like. 

Not everyone you interact with while buying a home will share your communication style. So be sure to remind yourself that things take time, things change rapidly and not to judge yourself or others too harshly. 

It will make a world of difference in maintaining sanity.

2. Know What You Want: Must Haves and Deal Breakers

Like we mentioned earlier about the backyard, everyone has things they want in a new home that are “Must Haves” and things that would instantly end the pursuit; “Deal Breakers”. 

It is worth the time to sit down and write these things down. Must Have and Deal Breakers should be short, simple and not too specific. For instance, you feel you must have a yard because you have a dog and not having a park within walking distance is a deal breaker. 

There should be no bend or break in these. So if you list them out and find yourself willing to deviate from them then you know they are not really must haves and deal breakers. Make sure you are confident and clear about these to reduce stress. No second thoughts when it comes to these important items. 

3. Know Your Financial Situation Before Emotionally Investing

Getting your personal finances in order before you start looking for a home can side step so much of the heartache that comes with buying your first home. 

Getting these affairs in order will help you avoid the let down of knowing the 20 or so houses you’ve already looked at dreamily are completely out of your price range and qualifications.

How much can you afford and what type of lending can you expect? Start doing your research and write down some very specific numbers that act as a compass for what you’ll be looking at. Even if your credit is less than stellar and your savings below desired you can still find an accurate appraisal of what you can afford. It will set the tone for your search.

4. Avoid A Bidding War

Bidding on a home is not something you can always avoid. If you love a property/home, there’s a great chance several other parties do. So you may have to compete to earn the right to buy it. 

Knowing your budget can keep things black and white. What’s your walk away price? What monthly payment will break the bank and make your life stressful for years to come? 

Set a hard line that, if breached, will end the pursuit of any giving property you’re lusting after. No second thoughts. Sticking to your budgetary guns is incredibly empowering and you’ll never regret it.

5. Remind Yourself to Be Flexible

This one is the other side of must haves and deal breakers and should be added to your list as “flexible on”.  What are the things you can take or leave? Is 2 bathrooms a nice to have or a must have? 

Maybe a backyard is a must have but you are completely flexible about how large and whether or not it's fenced in. Have these internal conversations with yourself ahead of time so you don’t feel on the spot.

This is why we encourage you to keep your deal breakers and must haves as non-specific as possible. Too specific a vision of your new home may stress you out because you may not be able to find it. And if you do actually find it, it may be out of your price range or the target of a bidding war.

So as much as you put into knowing your must haves and deal breakers, take the time to say aloud or on paper what you know you’ll be flexible on.

6. Anticipate A Long Process: Think In Months

Setting a specific date of when you’ll be living in a new home before you’ve started the process is a great way to turn into a stressed out mess. Sometimes factors outside of our control make this impossible to avoid, like, having to sell the home you currently live in or an apartment lease’s end date. 

We suggest thinking about action plans and budgeting for a longer timeline. The old saying is, “hope for the best and plan for the worst.”

Maybe you need to be prepared to store furniture for a month or two. Maybe you may have to stay with friends and relatives in the interim. Maybe you work out a month to month rent with your landlord. 

Start having these conversations before you start looking. You don’t want to be caught off guard and having to make arrangements on the fly because you thought everything would be “bam, bam”.

7. It's Okay to Say No!

One of the biggest stressors is feeling like you're on rails without a break.  There are many times throughout the search, purchasing and closing when you can pump the breaks and walk away. 

These opportunities can get a little more expensive as you progress through the process but knowing where and when you can say, “no, thank you”  is critical to feeling safe and confident. 

Maybe external factors will pressure you to keep moving forward. Check in with your deal breakers, must haves, flexibles and budget. If something doesn’t feel right, hit the pause button and sit with it. You may not know immediately why you are feeling cautious, but the answer may occur within a day after just considering it.

The bottom line is that you should never feel rushed or coerced to move forward. Listen to your intuition and only move lightning fast when you are at your peak confidence. 

8. Recruit Great Listeners for Moral Support

Everyone needs support sometimes. Having someone in your life that can listen when you are stressed or give you learned advice can provide a lot of stress relief. 

These sources of support may not be the same person and they don’t always have to be experts in the home buying process. You have a trusted friend who is a great listener and knows just the right things to say to you. You may have another source of support who may be an expert at the process but not the greatest listener.

Know what you can expect from your support sources and try to call on them for the specific things they are great at. 

If you are just stressed and your anxiety is spiking, call the great listener so you can unload. (Be sure to ask their permission before you vomit your feelings all over them. Engaging with someone who can’t can lead to some devastating let downs that only compound the stress.)

If you are feeling a little lost or under informed about how mortgages and other technicalities work, call the expert, have all your questions prepared and set your brain to listening mode. 

Having the resources to tap into will keep your stress in check.

9. Take Breaks

Searching for and buying a home can feel like a never ending gauntlet of tasks and decisions. It’s completely okay take some days off. 

Designate one day a week to not think about it. Maybe your Fridays or Sundays are the days to shut off your phone and let your real estate agent know you’ll be offline. Let them manage the communication so you can have a period of recharge. 

These moments of rest and relaxation, doing the things that you love or doing nothing at all are vital to maintaining your sanity. So take them with some regularity.

Being well rested can help you make better decisions and stay calmer when things get tense.

10. Let It Go

Finally, and probably most importantly, be prepared to have a short memory. You most probably won’t buy your first, second or third choice. 

We have the tendency as normal humans to lament the opportunities we missed or the perfect homes we were outbid on. Do your best to let go of those instances because there’s a great chance it will repeatedly happen. If you dwell on they may make you feel like you have rotten luck or that fate hates you. 

That can be a recipe for stress to mount quickly on you. There are things we can manifest into existence and we can feel great when it does, but when it doesn’t, let it go and move forward. Say it to yourself aloud if you have to. 

Everyone Feels Stress When Buying Their First Home

You can’t avoid stress in your life in general, nor should expect to. Buying your first home is full of events you’ve never experienced so it's completely normal to feel anxiety.

They key to not letting that anxiety and stress overwhelm you into making bad decisions for yourself and perhaps your family. So be prepared and do your research, set up some support channels and have back up plans for living arrangements and storage.

Doing these things will arm you with the tools to make any stress that comes manageable. 

Mid America Regional Information Systems, Inc. Information from Third Parties, Deemed Reliable but Not Verified.
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