Move over, fine china — homes just might be the hottest new heirloom.
Americans are moving less than ever, according to an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. Just 4.2 percent of American homeowners moved between 2015 and 2016 — which is almost half the 7.7 percent rate reported in 1990.
According to the Consumer Housing Trends Report 2017, 86 percent of all American homeowners — defined as those who have owned their home for more than a year — have no plans to move in the next three years. Why? Those planning to stay in their homes list love of their home (58 percent) and neighborhood (45 percent) as the top reasons they don’t plan to sell.
A smaller, but still sizable, percentage of homeowners list a very generous reason for staying. Almost one-quarter (23 percent), a total of nearly 14 million households, say they’re not moving because they plan to pass down their home to a family member.
This is good news for younger generations, who may be struggling to afford to buy their own home or living with their parents while saving up to buy one. In fact, over the past two decades, there’s been a marked increase in the number of young Americans aged 18-34 living with their parents — 33.4 percent in 2016, compared to 27 percent in the late ’70s.
This increase isn’t driven by younger generations who may be putting off moving out — it’s driven by older millennials. Since 2012, the percentage of 18- to 25-year-olds living with a parent has actually started to decline, while the share of 26- to 34-year-olds living with parents continues to increase. If their parent(s) are among the households planning to pass their home down, maybe they won’t ever have to fly the coop.
Family financial gifts play a big role in helping people buy homes, above and beyond those generous families giving their entire home away. According to the Consumer Housing Trends Report 2017, 14 percent of all home buyers who purchased a home in the past 12 months used a gift from a family member or friend to help pay for the down payment. That number jumps to 20 percent for all millennial (18- to 37-year-old) home buyers.
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See the numbers behind how Americans rent, buy, sell and even think about home
Both renters and buyers face challenges in finding a place to call home, and the Consumer Housing Trends Report is a deep dive into understanding them.
They surveyed over 13,000 people to determine how Americans rent, buy, sell and think about real estate. Below, yhey break down some of the most surprising results.
More Americans are renting today than in recent decades — some by choice and some simply due to market conditions.
Thirty-seven percent of American households are renters — about 43.7 million homes — which is an increase of 6.9 million homes since 2005.
While part of this increase is due to the 8 million homes lost to foreclosure during the recession, renters today also prize the maintenance-free and flexible lifestyle renting offers.
Buying is tough in all markets. For most Americans, it’s the biggest purchase they’ll ever make and an investment they’ll tap into as part of retirement.
In particular cities, purchasing a home has become a competitive game, complete with bidding wars and offer negotiations. It makes sense that most buyers rely on agents to help them through the process.
Although some hot markets have favorable conditions for sellers, selling is still rarely an easy process.
Sellers have two main goals when they list their homes: sell their home in their preferred time frame and for their desired price. Balancing the two is a delicate dance, and most sellers are also buyers searching for a new home.
Owning a home is a lot of work. It’s also a great investment, especially in many of today’s markets where annual appreciation rates are higher than they’ve been in decades.
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With rents rising and wages stagnant, affording rent can be an insurmountable burden
While homelessness may not be viewed as a looming issue for those who are financially stable, it’s not as distant as some might think.
With rents rising faster than wages, the burden of affording rent is looming larger and larger for many Americans and, in, some cases becoming insurmountable.
According to the Consumer Housing Trends Report 2017, 79 percent of renters who moved in the last 12 months experienced an increase in their monthly rent before moving to a new place. And over half (57 percent) said that hike was a factor in pushing them out the door and into another rental. Only 21 percent of renter households didn’t report experiencing a rent increase.
Nearly a third (30 percent) of households nationwide, representing roughly 73 million adults, report they’re struggling or just getting by financially. And it’s no wonder; Americans spend on average a median of 29.1 percent of their income on rent, including many who spend a higher percentage but have lower incomes.
Increasingly, major metro areas are becoming out of reach for those who aren’t earning more than minimum wage, and this is becoming increasingly true even in markets that have historically been more affordable.
Take Houston, for instance, where the median low-income earner spends 65.1 percent of their income on the median bottom-tier rent. Then there’s notoriously expensive New York, where — along with San Francisco and Los Angeles markets — the median low-income wage will not even cover a low-end apartment. In New York alone, to afford apartments with median bottom-tier rents, renters need to shill out 111.8 percent of the median low-income wage.
With such large percentages of household incomes going toward rent, saving for the future is less of a priority — and a possibility. More than half (51 percent) of Americans say they don’t have enough money saved to support themselves for three months, according to a analysis of the Federal Reserve Board’s 2016 Survey of Household Economics and Decision-making.
Millions struggle to afford stable housing
According to the Report on Consumer Housing Trends 2017, today’s median household income for renters is $37,500, which equates to about $18 per hour — or 2.5 times the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Nationwide, in 2016, 2.2 million people lived off wages at or below the federal minimum wage, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
When it comes to renting, there is no state where a 40-hour minimum wage is enough to afford a 2-bedroom apartment, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
While renting is becoming increasingly more difficult, buying a home becomes a distant dream.“Honestly, if you’re making $37,500 per year and have no savings, it’s probably not feasible for you to buy in most markets,” Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell says.
Across all states, the median renter can expect to pay $1,430 per month on rent. It’s no wonder many Americans are struggling financially — particularly in New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Seattle, where there’s also a stronger relationship between rising rents and an increase in the homeless population.
Homelessness by the numbers
Coast to coast, there are an estimated 550,000 homeless people, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
But research used statistical modeling to estimate the uncounted homeless population, unsheltered homeless people often missed during the One Night Counts, to estimate the true number of homeless people, a number much higher than the official estimates. And as rents climb, the numbers will only grow, especially in large, tight metros, where the rent burden can become life-altering.
Take New York City, for example. The metro has the largest population of homeless people in the nation. Last year, there were an estimated 76,411 people experiencing homelessness, according to estimates. If rents were to rise 5 percent, an additional 2,982 people would be forced to the streets.
And Los Angeles doesn’t fare much better. Given the same rent hike, an additional 1,993 people would fall into homelessness. And a rent hike of 5 percent isn’t implausible, especially given that in L.A., rents rose 4.4 percent over the past year.
The geography of social mobility
Right now in L.A., renters dish out $2,707 per month for the median rent, which is almost twice the national median rent and amounts to nearly half of the median household income in the metro. With such a substantial chunk of money spent every month on rent, it’s no surprise the metro has an estimated 59,508 people without a home.
But rents haven’t always been so unaffordable. Just 17 years ago, three of the top 20 metros were rent-burdened, meaning renters paid more than 30 percent of their income on living expenses. Today, however, the number of cities that have become unaffordable have grown exponentially.
Currently, renters in nine of the same top 20 metros can expect to spend 30 percent or more of their income on rent. The biggest share spent on rent comes from Los Angeles, where renters pay nearly half (49 percent) of their income on rent.
“The places where social mobility — the ability to climb the income ladder — is the greatest are now in places that are unaffordable for most people,” said Gudell. “San Jose or the Bay Area in general, parts of Boston, for example — these places have gotten to be so expensive that a lot of people who have an income of $37,500 a year will not be able to buy a home or even afford a family-sized rental.”
The costs of housing instability go beyond financial
Unfortunately, for too many, lack of affordable housing can complicate other critical aspects of life, including health and future livelihoods.
Individuals living in shelters are more than twice as likely to have a disability compared to the general population. This includes serious mental illnesses, conditions related to chronic substance abuse, diabetes, heart disease and HIV/AIDS, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Gudell says people have better outcomes when they aren’t constantly moving from place to place.
“It’s been shown that you have better outcomes if you live in a stable environment with less frequent moves, which is easier to attain when you own versus rent,” Gudell said. “So, if you take stable environments away from people, their outcomes will most likely be worse than they are today, and that has an impact on education, on health and on income growth in the future.”
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Does your home offer any of the perks some buyers will pay more for?
To understand how much your home is worth, you have to know what affects its value. The appraisal of a home value is an estimate tool for extrapolating the real market value of your home, based on existing home-related data and actual sales prices in your area.
Thousands of data points correlate with home values and sale prices — some of which are obvious (like the condition of the home) and some that aren’t.
Here are several surprising things that can affect either the existing value of your home or the price someone is willing to pay for it, all based on data.
1. Proximity to a Starbucks
How far do you have to drive to get a Frappuccino? If the answer is “not that far,” you’re in luck.
A 2015 Zillow report found that, between 1997 and 2014, homes within a quarter-mile of a Starbucks increased in value by 96 percent, on average, compared to 65 percent for all U.S. homes, based on a comparison of Zillow Home Value Indexdata with a database of Starbucks locations.
To evaluate if this effect is isolated to Starbucks, the research team looked at another coffee hot spot (one with particular pull on the East Coast): Dunkin’ Donuts.
The data showed that homes near Dunkin’ Donuts locations appreciated 80 percent, on average, during the same 17-year period — not quite as high as homes near a Starbucks, but still significantly above the 65 percent increase in value for all U.S. homes.
2. Blue kitchens and blue bathrooms
Beyond America’s obsession with curb appeal, what’s inside your house counts a lot too — especially the colors you paint the rooms (particularly the kitchen).
According to Zillow’s 2017 Paint Color Analysis, which examined more than 32,000 photos from sold homes around the country, homes with blue kitchens sold for a $1,809 premium, compared to similar homes with white kitchens.
Blue is also a popular bathroom shade. The same analysis found that homes with pale blue to soft periwinkle-blue bathrooms sold for $5,440 more.
Walls painted in cool neutrals, like blue or gray, can signal that the home is well cared for or has other desirable features.
3. Trendy features
Joanna Gaines’ aesthetic is permeating more than just your YouTube search history. Zillow listings mentioning the shiplap queen’s favorite features — like barn doors and farmhouse sinks — sell faster and for a premium, according to a 2016 Zillow analysis of descriptions of more than 2 million homes sold nationwide.
Listings with “barn door” in the description sold for 13.4 percent more than expected — and 57 days faster than comparable homes without the keyword. Meanwhile, listings touting “farmhouse sink” led to a nearly 8 percent sales premium.
Sellers can use the listing descriptions to highlight trendy details and features that might not be noticeable in the photos.
4. How close you are to a city
If you own a home in a major American metropolitan area, you’re most likely sitting on a significant (and rapidly appreciating) financial asset. Case in point: Home values in the New York, NY, metro area are worth $2.6 trillion, per a recent Zillow analysis.
The average urban home is now worth 35 percent more than the average suburban home. Since 2012, the median home value in urban areas has increased by 54 percent, while the median home value in suburban areas is up just 38 percent.
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A little design magic can make even the tiniest bathroom feel spacious.
Small bathrooms aren’t the easiest spaces to work with. They’re usually cramped and crowded, with limited natural light and awkward layouts.
Whether it’s your powder room or your apartment bathroom that’s cramping your style, here are a few tips for making any small bathroom seem bigger — no wall demolition required.
1. Brighten the room
Bring in as much light as possible. Light, bright rooms always feel more spacious than dark and drab ones.
2. Add mirrors
Install larger — and more — mirrors than you typically would in a bathroom. The reflected light will open your small space into one that feels more spacious.
3. Streamline storage
Keep all storage as flush with the walls as possible, because anything that sticks out will chop up the space and close it in. Install recessed shelving and medicine cabinets instead.
4. Eliminate clutter
Nothing crowds a space faster than clutter. A good rule of thumb: If you don’t need it there, store it elsewhere. Pare what you keep in the bathroom down to the bare necessities.
5. Raise the bar
Raise your shower curtain bar all the way to the ceiling — it’ll draw your eyes up and make the ceiling seem taller, creating the illusion of a larger space.
The same goes for any window treatments. Raising sheer curtain panels to the ceiling also creates the illusion of a larger window, making the small bathroom seem larger.
6. Hide the bathmat
Having a bathmat on the floor all the time can make your bathroom feel smaller. Put your bathmats away when you’re not using them to expose the flooring and make the space appear larger.
7. Install a sliding door
Swinging doors can take up almost half the room, depending on how small the space is. A sliding barn door or a pocket door won’t encroach on your bathroom’s already limited real estate.
8. Think pedestal sink
The added bulk of a full vanity takes up valuable space, so try a pedestal sink instead. You may not have a place for soaps or towels on the vanity, but there are plenty of wall-mounted solutions perfect for bathroom accessories.
9. Choose light-colored flooring
Even if your walls and ceiling are light and bright, a dark floor will negate their effect and close the space in. Keep the flooring light to create a space with a bright and open flow.
10. Go frameless, clear and cohesive in the shower
Clear glass shower doors make the room appear larger, while frosted glass breaks up the space and makes it seem smaller. The same goes for a frame around the glass. A frame can make the area seem choppy rather than smooth and open.
Additionally, install the same shower tile from floor to ceiling. The seamless look from top to bottom adds cohesion and openness.
Just a few changes to your small bathroom can make dramatic differences in how open it feels. Once you’ve tried these tips and tricks in the bathroom, apply them throughout your home! It’s all about creating the illusion of space.
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Your diploma represents a vital step on the road to success. Next up: establishing a good credit history.
If you’re a recent college grad, you’ve likely heard speeches about pursuing your passions and believing in yourself, but you probably haven’t heard much about establishing a good credit history. Here’s what you need to know.
It matters — a lot
Qualifying for mortgages, auto loans, apartments and even jobs has become dependent, to some degree, on your credit history.
Find out where you stand
The first step is knowing your current status. Access your credit report by visiting Annual Credit Report.com. Make sure all the information on the report is accurate, because errors can — and do — occur. Damaging discrepancies need to be corrected right away.
Build a credit history
Your credit history is one of the key factors making up your credit score, the all-important three-digit number that determines the rates you pay on everything from credit cards to mortgages to auto insurance.
The best time to build a credit history is when you’re young, and the best way to start a credit history is to get a credit card. This may sound counterintuitive, but if you don’t have a credit card, the scoring system has no information to go on for assessing your creditworthiness, so you come across as a credit risk.
Research credit card options
While many of the major issuers offer cards geared toward new applicants with little or no credit history, you might stand a better chance of getting a card at a credit union. Size up your card options on a site such as LowCards.com.
Gas cards and department store cards are also typically easy to get and can be a good place to start if your options are limited.
Another possibility — especially if you don’t have any credit history or your credit is damaged — is to get a secured card. These cards work just like a regular credit card, except that you place a security deposit with the credit card issuer to obtain one. They typically require $200 or more for the deposit, and this amount becomes the credit line for the account.
Use credit responsiblyThe way to keep your credit score high is to spend responsibly within your means. Don’t use more than 30 percent of your available credit, and pay off your balances in full and on time every month. Your payment history contributes to 35 percent of your credit score, so this point is important.
Chip away at student loans
Student loans are a form of debt, and are therefore taken into account as part of your credit score. And while you may be worried about a lender seeing all of this debt (likely tens of thousands of dollars), there’s no need to be concerned if you’re handling your finances properly. Just be sure you’re managing your debt obligations and repaying them on time, every time.
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Learn how to navigate the deals and come out on top.
Why pay full price for something if you can get what you want, plus another item, at a discount? This is called bundling, and researchers have been studying the pros and cons of it for decades.
Although many consumers think of bundling as a modern concept — it’s often used to combine TV, internet, and phone services, for example — the practice has been around for years in a variety of forms.
As a homeowner or renter, navigating the benefits and pitfalls of bundling household services means using a little common sense and a bit of economic reasoning. It also requires being aware of when and how products are bundled.
What is bundling?
Everything from fast-food combo meals to items in a two-for-one deal could be considered bundled, especially if sold at a lower price than the separate parts.
For households, bundling might mean purchasing home and car insurance together at a slightly lower rate — the average American, for example, saves 16 percent when bundling the two policies, according to the latest data from InsuranceQuotes.com.
The possibilities for bundling household services abound, according to Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance: “You might find someone on Craigslist who can help with electrical, plumbing, and air-conditioning/heating needs. You’ll likely get a discount, because you’ll be bringing that person more work.”
Mixed versus pure bundling
There are several types of bundling, each with varying levels of consumer benefit, according to George John, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. As a homeowner, you’ll most likely encounter these two types:
In such a scenario, consumers are worse off, because the seller increases its profit by requiring such a deal. The company can get away with it “because they have a very strong market position,” John says.
Understanding your needs is key
Why are so many services offered in bundles? “This is somewhat controversial, but it turns out that companies make more money when they offer you discounts on those bundles, because consumers get tempted into buying it,” John says.
To win at the bundling game, keep your needs in mind, and stay strong in the face of alluring deals. Bundles are a true victory for consumers only if they genuinely need all parts included in it.
When consumers fail to shop around for the other items in the bundle and go for the packaged deal instead, they often walk away with products they don’t want or need — and sometimes pick up lesser-quality goods along the way.
Finally, the touted time-saving advantage of combining bills, which service providers sometimes use as a selling point, may not economize that much time, especially if a consumer would be signing up for automatic bill payments anyway.
Service providers “want to take your attention away from the fact that it’s actually a price move. They want to tell you that you’re getting a better experience if you bundle,” John says.
Consumers triumph when they control what’s in the bundle. Have a nanny who you pay a little extra to make dinner each night? That’s a bundle. “It’s totally a good deal, because you know the benefit that comes from having the same person watch your child and cook for you. You’ve made the judgment,” John says.
At the end of the day, discipline is key. Saying no to unnecessary items, looking for other options instead of pure bundling, and refusing to be duped by false benefits will ensure you win the bundling game.
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Your parents' rite of passage may not make sense for you
When the Baby Boomer generation was venturing into adulthood, it was common to buy a “starter home” — a modest, small dwelling. As their families grew and careers advanced, they moved into bigger or better homes.
Now, many people struggle to come up with the down payment for a first home. They may wonder if it’s smarter to wait and save more money so they can buy a home that makes more long-term sense, or go the other route, buying a starter home and planning to stay in it for more years.
It’s a personal, practical and financial decision, but here are some pros and cons of buying a starter home.
Pro: Build stability quicker
Lots of lessons come from homeownership. It exposes you to a new set of decisions and circumstances.
One surprise benefit that strikes most people is the stability they feel when they become homeowners. They might feel more grounded, and a part of a larger community.
After making a few cosmetic changes to make a home “theirs,” many new homeowners find they enjoy nesting at home, having friends over, and enjoying their own space.
Con: Buying twice means moving twice
Think you’ll be ready to upgrade in just a few years? It might be more cost-effective to save and stretch for the larger house, so you can stay in it longer.
Although mortgage rates are low, there are costs associated with buying and selling a home: title insurance, inspections, brokerage commission, along with a handful of loan fees.
Plus packing up and moving twice can be expensive and exhausting. Some prefer to pick one house for the long haul. While staying put and continuing to rent may seem wasteful in the short term, it might be a more strategic move.
Pro: Build equity sooner
Although not the guarantee it was a generation ago, odds are good that when you get into your first home, you can realize some equity. If you can commit to at least five to seven years, there’s a chance you can come out well ahead.
By making improvements that add value, you can take the equity you’ve built and apply it as a down payment on the next home. In essence, the starter home might help you purchase your dream home.
Con: You may spend more than you planned
There are soft costs to home ownership. Property taxes and mortgage payments aren’t the only expenses to owning. You’ll need to furnish your new home, purchase window coverings, and pay for landscaping improvements.
You’ll likely want to paint, refinish the floors, or change the carpet before moving in. And, you’ll surely make mistakes along the way by hiring the wrong contractor, making a poor landscaping decision, or mistakenly waiting to install the new AC condenser.
Some parts of homeownership are trial and error. It adds up. You might be better off avoiding those expenses by renting and saving for your long-term home.
Pro: Start realizing the tax benefits
When you own a home, the interest portion of your monthly mortgage payment can be written off, dollar for dollar against your income. If you spend $1,000 per month on mortgage interest, at the end of the year, you can deduct $12,000 off your taxes.
When you pay rent, the money goes to your landlord, and that’s it. The sooner you own, in theory, the faster you can save some money — perhaps toward your next home.
Con: Homeownership isn’t a sure thing
The world moves at a faster pace today, and that affects home values. Just a generation ago, people stayed closer to home, got married earlier, stayed married forever, and kept the same job through retirement.
Today, people choose to stay single longer, and may even purchase their starter home solo. Divorce rates are higher, the global economy moves people all over the world for work, and we prefer to stay more mobile.
That means homeownership may not be part of the equation. What happens if you buy your starter home and then get a job transfer, divorce, or the opportunity of a lifetime to live abroad? You might be stuck being an accidental landlord or selling your home at a loss.
It’s up to you
If you play your cards right, you can get into the starter home sooner rather than later and make a smart financial decision. If you buy the right first house, are open to building sweat equity, and plan to hang out there for five to seven years, there’s a good chance that you’ll have made a smart move.
This decision will enable you to get into a larger home, in a better neighborhood or school district, or maybe just your dream home.
Homeownership is a personal choice, and there is no one path to take. Stick within your comfort zone, and always go with your gut
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Happy owners, happy tenants — it all starts with the right property manager.
You would never turn your home over to a stranger, so choosing a property manager shouldn’t be any different — finding one you trust is vital.
“You are entrusting probably one of the biggest investments you’ll make into the hands of someone else, so you want to make sure you feel confident that they’ll handle things the way you want them to,” says Grace Langham, CEO of Nest DC, an award-winning boutique property management firm in Washington, D.C.
Dependability and trustworthiness are two key points all homeowners should keep in mind when assigning their home or condo to the loving care of a third party. But before handing over the keys, consider these six other factors to help you find the right property manager.
With so many players involved — owner, tenant, and manager — communication is critical. Some owners prefer lots of updates, while others want few. Regardless of your desired amount of communication, the quality of it is crucial.
A property manager’s availability and response rate get to the very heart of their job. In your initial contact, look for clues about their speed, courtesy, and availability.
“Once signed on, a good manager will do what it takes to keep you in the loop, whether you prefer emails, phone calls, or texts,” Langham says.
When it comes to renters, a property manager’s duty is twofold: Find quality residents, and ensure they are treated fairly.
Happy renters often stay in a residence longer, and are more reasonable when things break. That said, finding good residents requires legwork.
“Bad tenants can be one of the most costly things for an owner,” says Nathan Miller, president and founder of Rentec Direct, a property management software company.
Evictions are expensive, especially when owners are forced to forgo several months’ rent, and damage can be costly. That’s why running a credit check and performing a background screening for criminal and eviction reports are musts, according to Miller.
Property management fees tend to be fairly standard, Miller says — usually between seven to 15 percent of a month’s rent, but most often around 10 percent. Sometimes, a condo may cost slightly less than a stand-alone house because there’s less home and yard to maintain.
The owner is also on the hook for maintenance costs, and often pays a finder or leasing fee — up to a full month’s rent — when a new resident moves in Ask if you will still be charged, even if the unit stands empty.
Some property managers also charge a lease renewal fee and sometimes tack on a project management fee when dealing with excessive bureaucracy or paperwork, such as insurance claims. Verify the fee structure and services provided before signing any contract.
House visits and other specs
When it comes to inspections, a property manager should be proactive. That means taking a peek at your property no less than once (and maybe even twice) a year to ensure that everything is in good shape.
Such time-consuming tasks mean it’s important for a property manager to maintain a reasonable caseload. Miller says his ideal property manager oversees between 500 to 1,000 properties. “Once they get above that size and they’re managing many, many thousands of units, you’ll lose the personal touch,” he says.
Finally, you want to find a property manager that specializes in a type of unit: single-family homes, apartment complexes, or high-end houses, for example.
To maximize a home’s earning potential, property managers should know how to deftly market a unit so that it doesn’t stay empty long. This includes everything from posting it on well-known rental websites to taking quality photos that make it pop.
Miller says the property manager should also ensure a home is leased at market rent, and analyze that rate semiannually. You want to know you’re not being shorted income by charging too little.
Finally, the proper software can indicate that a management firm has what it takes to succeed. “We’re lucky to be a company that’s eight years old,” Langham says. “We started with all this technology that’s really friendly to the millennial generation, which is a lot of the renter base.”
Collecting rent and submitting maintenance requests via an online interface makes interactions between all parties a breeze, meaning owners and tenants can move on with their busy lives. After all, at the end of the day, that’s what having a property manager is all about.
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Time is money, so keep the profits coming with this advice from Christina El Moussa of HGTV's "Flip or Flop."
If you’ve been flipping for a while, you know that selling a flipped house takes patience, and that some houses sell faster than others. While many factors affect how quickly a house sells, Success Path has three tips to help you sell your flipped houses faster.
Make a good first impression
Like a job interview, your house needs to make a good first impression. Regardless of how great it is on the inside, the outside appearance matters, and it can be the deciding factor for whether or not the potential buyer bothers to inquire further about the house.
There are many ways to give your house a quick facelift:
Use the reach of social media
Social media is no longer just a place to keep in touch with distant friends and family. It’s a powerful marketing tool for companies and a platform for connecting with customers — both current and potential.
Most social media platforms have special tools for connecting with specific target markets, narrowing the demographics to match your product or service. Use these tools to your advantage! People spend a fair amount of time on social media, so why not put your house right in front of the people looking for a house?
Start by posting on local real estate pages, or even create your own house-flipping page where you can create ads to show specifically to the demographic of your choice. Don’t wait for the right buyers to find your ad — let your ad find the right buyers.
Don’t skimp on major improvements
The ultimate goal may be making a profit, but you’ll quickly learn the hard way that cutting corners or trying to skip major improvements altogether will cost you more in the long run — and may ultimately put you in the red.
If you’re flipping a house that needs a new roof, but you don’t have roofing experience, don’t ignore the roof or attempt to do it yourself. These things take time and money, and doing it yourself will likely result in costly mistakes. Buyers will look at the bones of the house, so if they see a shoddy roof job, poor plumbing, or major renovations done haphazardly, they’ll be turned off.
Before you even buy a house to flip, budget for hiring out major renovations or projects. Even if the house you want to flip seems manageable for your skill set, always assume that you’ll discover hidden costs and jobs that require a professional.
Don’t give your potential buyers any red flags. Be upfront about the renovations, particularly the ones done by a professional. Squashing their concerns will leave a good impression and ease their minds as they explore the rest of the house.
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No matter your budget, there's always an upgrade or two that'll up the resale ante.
Whether your home improvements are for you or potential buyers, consider their impact on your home’s potential resale price before picking up your toolbox (or the phone to call a contractor).
A brand-new kitchen or bathroom will undoubtedly wow potential buyers, but there’s no guarantee you’ll recoup the money you put into those pricey remodels.
To help you navigate the choices that lead to the best return on investment, we asked two industry experts (and one enthusiastic DIYer) to weigh in.
“Renovating the kitchen is always the biggest way to add value to your home,” says Grace Fancher, real estate agent at Kansas City firm Sarah Snodgrass. “People love to cook, and everyone tends to gather in the kitchen. If you add seating, such as an island with barstools, buyers go crazy for that.”
A full remodel is a major investment, but smaller projects make a big difference if you can’t — or don’t want to — go all out. “Nicer appliances really stick out to potential buyers — even if you’re planning to take them with you,” Fancher says.
She also suggests replacing tired finishes with fresh, neutral materials. “You don’t want to be too trendy, but you want it to look up-to-date,” she says. “Everyone loves clean, white subway tiles now, but they’re really a timeless look.”
Replacing dated countertops (quartz is your best bet, according to Fancher) and flooring is also worth the time and money.
The smallest rooms in the house can have a big impact on its value, so Fancher suggests adding a second bathroom or upgrading existing ones so your home features at least two full baths.
Joe Monda, co-owner of Seattle-based general contracting firm Promondo, agrees. “People are spending more on upgrading their houses before listing them,” he says. “They really want to maximize the potential house value.”
But if you’re remodeling a bathroom just to put your house on the market, keep it simple. “Most people don’t want to pay for upgrades, so you want it to be a neutral space that doesn’t look straight out of the big DIY warehouse stores — even if it is,” says Fancher.
She adds that an easy solution is spending a little more on details, like high-quality towel bars and upgraded hardware for those big-box store vanities.
Not in a position to remodel? “Re-grouting tile, or even just using one of those grout paint pens, gives any bathroom a fresher look,” says Sharyn Young, a self-proclaimed DIY addict from Minneapolis.
“The brighter a room feels, the bigger it looks,” says Fancher. “And when you’re selling, you want every space to look as big as possible.”
She recommends replacing flush-mount ceiling lights with recessed and/or pendant lighting — a relatively cheap upgrade that looks modern and makes a huge impact.
“LED lighting has changed everything,” says Young. “There are so many readily available, inexpensive options now that are easy to install. I added Ikea under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen of my last house, and I was amazed at how that one simple upgrade made the space feel larger and cleaner.”
Like lighting, a new coat of paint can also make a space feel cleaner and brighter. Stick to neutral shades, such as light gray and beige, and if you don’t have time or budget to do the whole house, start with the living areas you see when you first walk in.
An even quicker fix is refreshing just the trim. “Beat-up, dirty trim can give buyers a subtle impression that the whole house is dingy,” Fancher says. “Repainting gives a sharper look and shows the buyer that you’ve taken care of the house.”
“A lot of people overlook how important landscaping is, especially when you’re selling in the spring or summer,” says Fancher, adding that you can increase curb appeal by just putting down new, dark-colored mulch, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on planting.
Monda suggests paying special attention to the entry. Repair or replace any damaged stepping stones, concrete paths, and porch plants, then give the front door a fresh coat of paint and add some potted plants. “You want people to be excited to walk in the door,” he says.
On Point Homevestments
Many people are still wondering whether or not real estate is one of the best investment strategies for long-term wealth building. Is investing in homes still a smart investment for the average individual? Is a home still the best investment of a lifetime for most Americans? If so, why are some pessimists still questioning the rebound in the news?
Behind the Headlines
Real estate companies will always boast about the benefits of acquiring real estate because it is their job. That is, unless of course, they have gotten into the rental business and make their money by touting the benefits of renting instead. Let’s be honest; statistics can be found and twisted to support any point of view and argument. Entire years of real estate statistics have been revised in the past, new indexes have been created to restart the clock, and even the national GDP was revised. Most don’t even bother to tune into job and unemployment numbers anymore due to how skewed different data sets have become.
Even though the most conservative figures show housing rebounding, especially in hot areas like San Diego, there continue to be doubters. However, it doesn’t take much more than a little common sense to figure out real estate is still the best investment for most of the population. This applies to affluent individuals with top 1% income, as well as those that need to pinch pennies. Stocks have continued to demonstrate extreme volatility and risk. While UT San Diego reports local real estate is still 50% undervalued.
In the stock market, plenty of Americans have lost 6 figures, literally overnight. Direct investment in real estate isn’t that volatile, and nothing is ever lost until a property is sold. For example; some Southern California homeowners saw their home values rise and fall on paper during the last couple of decades, but if they don’t sell for a few more years when prices exceed their previous peak, they will come out handsomely.
Invest in Real Estate, Even if You Can’t Afford Your Dream Home
One of the top excuses for many not to buy a house is that they can afford their ideal dream homes yet. Of course, unless they invest in real estate in some way now, the odds are against them ever being able to afford that dream home. Incomes haven’t been going up, but rents and home prices have. Those wanting to buy a home should not invest any money in stocks or bonds, but should prefer cash. Of course, in reality, cash depreciates too. It can be at risk whether it is in the bank or under the mattress.
Investing in real estate is the best way to build up more wealth and cash to buy that dream home. Can’t find a home you’d live in even for a few years? Then buy a rental property.
Many Americans are sadly being seduced into the lifelong renter mindset without realizing the horrific consequences it could be dooming them to. Consider those paying 50% of income in rent right now. Rents have been going up 20% a year in many places. If rent goes up another 20%, many could be priced out of both buying a home and renting too! Then what?
With Americans living longer, and with company retirement plans evaporating, they also need to consider where they will live for 40 years of retirement on limited income? Even legendary billionaire investor Warren Buffett, with all of his endeavors into energy, insurance companies and holding sizable stakes in companies like Coke and Wells Fargo, still calls his own home his best investment ever.
On Point Homevestments
Everything you need to know about buying a home — on one index card.
A home is often the biggest financial investment you’ll make in your lifetime. In fact, a recent Zillow analysis reports that the typical American homeowner has 40 percent of their wealth tied up in their home.
1. Buy for the long run
A home is a significant investment, not to mention a linchpin of stability. According to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2017, the majority of Americans who sold their homes last year had lived in their home for at least a decade before selling.
Some are even staying for the long haul. Almost half (46 percent) of all homeowners are living in the first home ever purchased. In short: Buy a home you want to live in for at least five years — one equipped (or ready to be equipped) with the features and space you need, both now and in the future.
2. Buy to improve your life, not speculate with money
Your home is more than a financial investment; it’s where you sleep, eat, host friends, raise your children — it’s where your life happens.
The housing market is too unpredictable to buy a (primary) home purely because you think it will net a big short-term financial return. You will most likely be living in this home for several years, regardless of how it appreciates, so your first priority should be finding a home that will meet your needs and help you build the life you want.
3. Focus on what’s important to you
Today’s housing market is short on inventory, with 10 percent fewer homes on the market in November 2017 than November 2016.
So, focus on finding a home you can afford that meets your needs — but don’t get distracted by shiny features that might break your budget. Nice-to-have features often drive up the price tag for things you don’t particularly value once the initial enjoyment wears off.
Make a list of your basic needs, both for your desired home and for your desired neighborhood. Stick to finding a home that meets these needs, without buying extra stuff that adds up.
4. Set a budget and stick to it
It’s important to set a budget early — ideally before you even start looking at homes. In today’s market, especially in the more competitive markets, it’s incredibly easy to go over budget — 29 percent of buyers who purchased last year did.
The most common culprit? Location. Zillow’s data indicates that urban buyers are significantly more likely to go over budget (42 percent) than suburban (25 percent) or rural (20 percent) buyers.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Local schools matter, and psychologists tell us that a short commute improves your life. But be realistic about your local market and about yourself. Know what you’re willing to compromise on — be it less square footage, home repairs or a different neighborhood.
5. Aim for a 20 percent down payment
If you can afford it, a 20 percent down payment is ideal for three reasons:
6. Keep a six-month strategic reserve
While a down payment is a significant expense, it’s also important to build up a strategic reserve and keep it separate from your normal bank account.
This reserve should cover six months of living expenses in case you get sick, face an unexpected expense or lose your job. A strategic reserve will not only save you from financial hardship in an emergency but also provide peace of mind.
When we accumulated a strategic reserve, my wife and I finally felt ready to build for our future. Without it, we were living from paycheck to paycheck, anxiously managing our cash flow rather than saving or budgeting.
7. Get pre-approved, and stick with a fixed-rate mortgage
The pre-approval process requires organizing all your paperwork; documenting your income, debt and credit; and understanding all the loan options available to you. It’s a bit of a pain, but it saves time later. Getting pre-approved also shows sellers that you’re a reliable buyer with a strong financial footing. Most importantly, it helps you understand what you can afford.
There are a variety of mortgage types, and it’s important to evaluate all of them to see which is best for your family and financial situation. Those boring 30- and 15-year mortgages offer big advantages.
The biggest is locking in your mortgage rate. In short: A 30-year fixed mortgage has a specific fixed rate of interest that doesn’t change for 30 years. A 15-year fixed mortgage does the same.
These typically have lower rates but higher monthly payments, since you must pay it off in half the time. Conventional fixed-rate mortgages help you manage your household budgeting because you know precisely how much you’ll be paying every month for many years. They’re simple to understand, and current rates are low.
One final advantage is that they don’t tempt you with a low initial payment to buy more house than you can afford.
8. Comparison shop to get the best mortgage
Though a home is the biggest purchase many of us will ever make, most home buyers don’t shop around for a mortgage (52 percent consider only a single lender).
The difference of half a percentage point in your mortgage rate can add up to thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the loan. It’s important to evaluate all the available options to make sure you’re going with the lender who meets your needs — not just the first one you contact.
The three most important factors are that the lender offers a loan program that caters to their specific needs (76 percent), has the most competitive rates (74 percent) and has a history of closing on time (63 percent).
9. Spend no more than a third of your after-tax income
It’s better to regret spending too little on your home than spending too much. One-third of your after-tax income is a manageable amount. This isn’t always possible if you live in a place like San Francisco or New York, but it’s still a good yardstick for where to be.
10. Be willing to walk away
Buying a home is a time-consuming, stressful but ultimately rewarding endeavor — if you end up closing on a home that meets your needs. But it’s important to manage your expectations in case you don’t immediately find a home you can afford with the features you need.
Always be prepared to walk away if the sellers don’t accept your offer, the home doesn’t pass a rigorous inspection or the timing isn’t right. Hold fast to your list of must-haves, stick to what you can afford and don’t overreach or settle.
It’s no tragedy to miss out on any particular house. Remember that you’re playing the long game. You want to be happy 10 years from now.
On Point Homevestments
We shed some light on buying a home as a couple so you’re not in the dark when it’s time to sign on the dotted lines.
When couples start a new journey as homeowners, questions can linger as to whose name (or names) should be listed on the mortgage and title. Many couples want a 50/50 split, indicating equal ownership to the asset, but sometimes that isn’t the best financial decision. Plus, with more than one person on the loan, the legalities of who owns the home can get tricky. A home is often the largest purchase a couple or an individual will make in their lifetime, so ownership can have big financial implications for the future.
Title vs. mortgage
For starters, it’s important to note the difference between a mortgage and a title. A property title and a mortgage are not interchangeable terms.
In short, a mortgage is an agreement to pay back the loan amount borrowed to buy a home. A title refers to the rights of ownership to the property. Many people assume that as a couple, both names are listed on both documents as 50/50 owners, but they don’t have to be. Listing both names might not make the most sense for you.
Making sense of mortgages
For many, mortgages are a staple of homeownership. According to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2017, more than three-quarters (76 percent) of American households who bought a home last year obtained a mortgage to do so.
When a couple applies jointly for a mortgage, lenders don’t use an average of both borrowers’ FICO scores. Instead, each borrower has three FICO scores from the three credit-reporting agencies, and lenders review those scores to acquire the mid-value for each borrower. Then, lenders use the lower score for the joint loan application. This is perhaps the biggest downside of a joint mortgage if you have stronger credit than your co-borrower.
So, if you or your partner has poor credit, consider applying alone to keep that low score from driving your interest rate up. However, a single income could cause you to qualify for a lower amount on the loan.
Before committing to co-borrowing, think about doing some scenario evaluation with a lender to figure out which would make more financial sense for you and your family.
If you decide only one name on the mortgage makes the most sense, but you’re concerned about your share of ownership of the home, don’t worry. Both names can be on the title of the home without being on the mortgage. Generally, it’s best to add a spouse or partner to the title of the home at the time of closing if you want to avoid extra steps and potential hassle. Your lender could refuse to allow you to add another person — many mortgages have a clause requiring a mortgage to be paid in full if you want to make changes. On the bright side, some lenders may waive it to add a family member.
In the event you opt for two names on the title and only one on the mortgage, both of you are owners.
The person who signed the mortgage, however, is the one obligated to pay off the loan. If you’re not on the mortgage, you aren’t held responsible by the lending institution for ensuring the loan is paid.
Not on mortgage or title
Not being on either the mortgage or the title can put you in quite the predicament regarding homeownership rights. Legally, you have no ownership of the home if you aren’t listed on the title. If things go sour with the relationship, you have no rights to the home or any equity.
To be safe, the general rule of homeownership comes down to whose names are listed on the title of the home, not the mortgage.
On Point Homevestments
Do your homework to get the best deal on a brand-new home.
If you’re in the market for a brand-new home, you’ve got a ton of options. Sales of new homes surged to an eight-year high in 2015, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau, and single-family production is estimated to reach 840,000 units in 2016, an 18 percent increase over 2015, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
Unfortunately for home buyers, new residential construction is coming at a steeper price: Last year the average price of a new home jumped to $351,000, up $100,000 from 2009, reports the NAHB.
Nonetheless, there are still ways you can save when buying a new home. It’s like shopping for a new car: You need the right strategy to nab the best deal.
Ask prospective builders these six questions in order to find the right home at the right price.
“What financial incentives do you offer for using your preferred lender and title company?”
The bad news: Production builders are often reluctant to set a precedent for negotiating sales prices. (Custom builders tend to be more flexible.)
“If a new home is listed for $370,000 and it sells for $360,000, the next buyer in the development is going to want to pay that lower amount,” says Craig Reger, a real estate broker at Keller Williams Realty in Portland, OR. However, many offer handsome incentives to buyers who use their preferred lender and title company.
Some may even knock off up to $10,000 in closing costs, says Peggy Yee, a supervising broker at Frankly Real Estate in Vienna, VA. Others will sweeten the deal by negotiating prices on finishes, such as upgrading carpet to hardwood floors.
You should still shop around and get quotes from at least two other lenders before making your decision. But don’t just pay attention to the interest rates. “You need to compare each loan estimate’s terms to make sure you’re getting an apples-to-apples comparison,” says Chris Dossman, a real estate agent with Century 21 Scheetz in Indianapolis.
“Which are the standard finishes?”
When you tour a development’s model home, keep in mind that you’re previewing a high-end version of the standard home. “The model has all the bells and whistles,” says Dossman. Therefore, you need to find out from the builder which options are standard, which options are upgrades, and what each upgrade costs.
One way to cut costs: Move into the home without an upgrade, then hire a contractor to do the work. “Builders charge a huge markup on certain finishes and products,” says Reger. “The builder might charge $4,000 to $6,000 for a high-performance air conditioner, but you may be able to get another company to install that same unit for as low as $2,500.”
Granted, opting for the latter means you’ll probably need to pay the contractor in cash. “For some people, the benefit of paying the builder to do upgrades is that they can roll the costs into their loan amount,” Reger points out.
“What are your long-term plans for the community?”
Depending on the size of the land, the builder might be planning several subdivisions. This could impact your decision to buy.
For example, let’s assume that only a few homes have been built and sold. If the developer plans to construct an additional 50 homes and you’re one of the first people to move into the neighborhood, you may have to deal with loud construction crews for several months.
There’s also the risk that the builder loses funding and another company takes over the development. Dossman advises proceeding with caution: “If the builder changes and a lower-quality builder takes over, that could affect the value of your home.”
“What are the homeowners association rules and regulations?”
Each homeowners association (HOA) has its own Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) and bylaws. Get these from the builder and review them carefully.
“I’ve seen HOAs that don’t allow storage sheds in the backyard, solar panels, or private fences,” says Reger.
In most cases, the HOA can assess a homeowner penalties for infractions, and some associations are more restrictive than others.
Also, look into when you’re required to start paying HOA dues. Many builders cover the costs until at least 50 percent of the homes in the development are sold, says Yee.
“What warranties do you provide?”
Most builders offer a one-year workmanship warranty and a 10-year structural warranty, says Reger. Make sure the warranties you receive explicitly state what is and isn’t covered, and what the limitations are for damages.
You should also receive manufacturer’s warranties on the washer and dryer, hot water heater, air conditioner, kitchen appliances, and roof.
“Can you connect me with some of your past clients?”
Always check references when vetting home builders, says Dossman. Ask past clients questions such as, “How responsive was the developer when you expressed concerns?” and “Would you use the builder again?”
Caveat: Most builders will only provide glowing references, so you should still scout out some past customers on your own. You can find these people through reviews on Angie’s List, or knock on doors of homes in the neighborhood that have already been built.
Wondering if new construction is right for you? Search new construction listings, and get more home-buying tips and resources to help you decide.
On Point Homevestments
When you've got to buy a house from across the country, start with a winning strategy
Searching for a house locally is not without its difficulties. Add hundreds or even thousands of miles to the equation, and it becomes infinitely more complicated.
Though long-distance house hunting has its unique challenges, it’s not impossible. In fact, with the right agent and the convenience of modern technology, it’s never been easier to buy a house remotely.
Here are a few critical factors to keep in mind when you find yourself in a home search from afar.
Do your homework
When it comes to long-distance home shopping, “the Internet is your friend,” remarks Meghann Shike of Synergy Realty in Nashville. “You know the neighborhoods you live around, but you know nothing about your new one. You don’t know where the mall is, the [grocery store], or the schools.”
Though nothing can substitute checking out the neighborhood in person, Shike recommends looking up commute times to work, crime rates in the area, and, most importantly, how the schools rank. Even if you don’t have children or don’t plan to have children, it’s still good to know the quality of the schools for resale purposes.
One of the biggest pieces of the long-distance house-hunting puzzle, however, is to make sure you’re researching who the best local real estate agents are. It’s always crucial to hire an agent you trust, but with a long-distance search the agent can make or break the experience.
“You’re going to want someone local on the ground — someone who is very familiar with the city, neighborhood, and prices,” Shike says. “You need to get a feel for how that person operates. Are they available to talk to you? You’re going to have more questions than you realize, and your agent is going to need to be there to answer them.”
Have a travel budget
When Kyle and Samantha Steele found out they were going to be moving from Oklahoma City to Columbus, OH for Kyle’s new job, the couple looked at listings online, got in touch with real estate agents, and picked an upcoming weekend to house hunt in person.
The Steeles’ agent showed them multiple houses, but nothing was quite right. Then they found out that many of the older neighborhoods in the area didn’t have great access to high-speed Internet. That’s when they decided to build.
Their agent was instrumental in guiding them on their short house-hunting weekend, and in finding a builder. “[Our agent] basically helped us with everything, every step of the way,” Kyle states. “When we couldn’t find anything, she helped us find model homes in the area we’re building in, and showed us three different model homes. She answered questions, and helped us find the building company. She even helped us find a hotel for the weekend.”
Inevitably, unexpected appointments came up during the building process that required one of the Steeles to be present. “We had to make an appointment to meet with the design studio to pick out the floors and the carpet,” Samantha remarks. “So far, I’ve been to Ohio twice.”
The couple advises long-distance house hunters to prepare and plan ahead, especially for last-minute travel. “Be flexible,” Kyle says. “Make sure you have a few thousand dollars in reserve that you can spend on plane tickets and a hotel — because you will have to go back and forth.”
From the agent perspective, Shike recommends planning a house-hunting trip that’s at least four to five days long, so you’re not cramming in tons of showings that you won’t remember at the end of the day.
Know what you want
When you’re in the market for a home, you should always have a running list of features you want, but it’s especially crucial when you’re buying from a distance.
“I like to tell my clients to do a ‘top five.'” Shike says. “What’s your non-negotiable? Is it being able to step out the front door to walk your dogs? Do you want to walk your kids to school?”
Knowing exactly what you want out of a house and location allows your agent to help you narrow down neighborhoods and homes more easily, and assist you in making an offer quickly, which is especially important in a fast-moving market.
“Buyers need to get over the fear of writing an offer when they haven’t seen the house in person,” remarks Shike. “I can video chat our way through the house, but I can’t get you on a plane [to get here] in the same time the local people can who are shopping.”
Overcome remote home-buyer jitters
For those buyers who are nervous about making an offer sight unseen, Shike says there is the possibility of adding a clause in the contract that the sale is contingent on the buyer seeing it.
Of course, there is also always the option of renting first before you take the plunge. “You could rent for the short term or get a six-month lease, which is enough time to get settled in your job or routine,” recommends Shike. “That can be nice for buyers who are a little more anxious about the process — to relieve that anxiety.”
Overall, buying a house from a distance shouldn’t necessarily be looked at as a negative experience. In fact, Shike believes it can give many shoppers new opportunities, and buyers are often more excited when purchasing long distance.
“It can be a nice change of pace for people,” Shike adds. “Another benefit to moving long distance is a fresh start: a new neighborhood, new culture, new people, and new experiences everywhere.”
On Point Homevestments
Rule #1 of the best week off at home: Plan ahead.
You don’t need to stay in a hotel and play tourist to have a proper staycation. Look no further than your own home for a staycay dreams are made of.
Make no mistake, an at-home staycation doesn’t just mean a lazy weekend on the couch. Turn your humble abode into a resort made for relaxation with a few days of planning and prep work.
Here’s your guide to creating the ultimate staycation.
Tackle chores in advance
Sure, a hotel stay comes with amenities like maid and room service, but you can have a work-free staycay with a bit of planning.
Make a list of chores you want to tackle a few days before your staycation begins. At the very least, cover the basics, like washing linens, dusting, and vacuuming.
For an added level of sparkle, schedule some time to clean your windows. That way when you’re staring out to your backyard garden or pool (aka your staycay resort spa), your windows will be as spic-and-span as those at a five-star bed and breakfast.
Don’t ruin your staycay by thinking about household tasks you should be doing. Better yet, for a totally chore-free staycay, consider setting aside extra cash for a housecleaning service to do the work for you beforehand.
Maximize your comfort
Maybe your home is already perfectly comfy and cozy. But for maximum staycation relaxation, why not add a few extra comfort elements to make your home feel like a luxury B&B?
Create designated spaces
Think about what kind of environment will best help you reach peak relaxation. You can do a quick makeover of your bathroom to create a calming home spa, or carve out a quiet corner for a meditation or reading nook. Just think Zen.
If a spa setting is more your style, look at bath pillows, aromatherapy candles, and bath oils. Or if you simply crave a reading corner, pick up some new reads that have been sitting on your wishlist for too long.
Don’t forget the kiddos: Create a designated craft or board game corner, or come up with a few activities they can enjoy during your staycay.
Look outside for added comfort ideas, too. Whether you add a hammock, porch swing, or patio furniture, look for ways to blend your staycay lounging with the great outdoors.
If your family members are big fans of the outdoors, set up your camping gear in the backyard for part of your staycay, or try out a DIY firepit and enjoy fireside chats and s’mores.
Manage meals ahead of time
Just like with tidying up your home and amplifying relaxation spaces, you’ll want to plan your meals ahead of time for a quality staycation.
Don’t waste precious relaxation time during your actual week off figuring out menus. Pick your favorite family recipes, plan which meals you’ll have delivered from favorite eateries, and knock out grocery shopping before your staycay begins. Bonus tip: When you do go on that grocery store run, pick up a few special snacks and treats for everyone.
If you enjoy cooking, consider using some of your staycation time to make more intricate meals than you typically have time for — or bring in a local chef for a family cooking lesson.
Plan ahead to make it count
With a few well-planned tasks on your pre-staycation to-do list, you can turn your house into a staycay sanctuary. Map out what you want your staycation to be like and delegate tasks. Soon you’ll be ready for a few days of ultimate relaxation — without ever having to leave your home.
On Point Homevestments
Who foots the bill when the maintenance issues roll in? It depends, so get to know your tenant rights.
One of renting’s major benefits is that you don’t have to worry about upkeep, maintenance and expensive repairs. So when things go bad — your dishwasher stops working, the roof is leaking or the bugs just won’t go away — your first call is usually your landlord.
But how do you know what’s really their responsibility and what falls to you? And what do you do if they refuse to handle the repairs?
Read on for the most common rental issues and how to get them fixed quickly.
Water damage & mold
Easily one of the nastiest discoveries you can find in your home, mold is a common problem — especially in humid or rainy climates. And while most mold doesn’t cause health problems, some types can cause respiratory issues, headaches and allergy symptoms.
Since there’s no easy way for the average tenant to know if the mold in their home is dangerous or not, it’s always best to ask your landlord to get rid of it.
While there’s no federal law that dictates mold exposure limits in rental housing, some states and cities have put guidelines in place. But, even if your state doesn’t have specific mold regulations, your landlord is still responsible for providing safe, livable housing.
In addition to requesting that your landlord remove the mold, make sure they find the source of the mold, whether it’s a leak in the roof or around the windows, failing plumbing, or a basement that’s not watertight. If the underlying water damage isn’t addressed, the mold will likely return.
The one time a landlord may be able to reject your request for mold remediation is if they believe it’s a result of your behavior — if you don’t keep your home well-ventilated, don’t clean regularly or run a humidifier too much.
Your landlord is responsible for keeping any appliances that came with the unit in good working order. They’re also required to do the preventive maintenance that keeps your appliances up and running, like replacing worn hoses or servicing the air conditioner.
If you brought some of your own appliances, like a microwave or a washer and dryer, you’re typically responsible for repairing and replacing them.
Perhaps the most important appliance your landlord is responsible for is your furnace. Local and state laws require landlords to provide adequate heating, so if you’re having trouble keeping your home warm, reach out to your landlord immediately.
In some warm-weather states, landlords are also required to provide air conditioning. It may not be required in other states, but if your unit has air conditioning, your landlord is required to maintain it.
Remember when we said that landlords are required to provide tenants with a safe, livable space? That includes pest-free living, but there are a few more gray areas with pests than with other maintenance issues.
Whether your landlord is responsible or not depends on a few factors, including the state you live in, the type of rental unit and the type of pest. For example, in some states (but not others), landlords are legally required to manage bedbug infestations, which are an increasingly common issue.
In some states, landlords are responsible for all pest control, unless you’re renting a single-family home and they can prove that the pests are a result of you not keeping your home clean.
No matter where you live and what local and state regulations are, let your landlord know about any kind of pest as soon as possible. A good landlord should want to address these issues quickly to avoid having them spread to different units.
What if my landlord isn’t cooperating?
In a perfect world, your landlord would fix every problem, without issue, in a timely manner. But in the real world, that doesn’t always happen.
Consider these tips for getting landlord repair issues handled quickly and completely:
On Point Homevestments
What if your dream home just happens to have ancient wiring and a cracked foundation?
So you’ve set your sights on a home that, to put it mildly, needs a little repair work. The stairs are creaky, and you’ve noticed a leak (or three).
Still, your mind is made up. What’s a love-struck home buyer to do?
If your heart is set on a fixer-upper, this advice from real estate experts can help you make that “needs-work” house a home.
Check the zoning
“Any municipality has zoning districts, and you need to know what uses are permitted,” says George Vanderploeg, a luxury real estate broker with Douglas Elliman in New York. Knowing the zone is important because it will tell you what you can and cannot do to the home.
For instance, when interiors photographer Josh Gibson decided to renovate his 19th-century cottage in Beaufort, SC, he had to contend with the historic district landmarks commission, which required hours of research and visits downtown. Among the many requirements he had to adhere to were installing single-pane windows and maintaining the home’s unique brick-pier structure.
To research your prospective home’s zoning requirements, you can visit its municipality’s website, or arrange to meet with a staff member, who can walk you through the legalities.
Bring in a home inspector
Once you’ve made a verbal agreement to buy the house and are waiting for the contract to be drawn up, you’ll want to hire a home inspector.
A home inspector will look for structural issues and advise you on things that may or may not need to be replaced, such as plumbing, electricity, and roofing.
Your broker can refer you to an inspector, but it’s important that this person not be biased, as you’ll need an objective opinion. With this in mind, Vanderploeg advises finding someone who will work for you — not for the broker or seller.
Be sure to set aside about an hour or two to walk through the building with the inspector and ask questions. “This allows the buyer to get to know the house really well before they buy it,” Vanderploeg says.
Home buyers tend to ask questions about asbestos and termites, but Hal Einhorn, the principal inspection consultant for Old House Inspection in New York, says it’s equally important to ask about the “general age of certain systems,” as those will indicate when they’re nearing replacement. A 26-year-old boiler, for instance, is likely to go kaput soon, whereas a newly-installed air conditioning unit probably won’t be a problem for the next 20 years.
Depending on the home’s location, you may also want to ask about issues specific to its region, Einhorn says. In New York City, for instance, where the water mains tend to be dated, you’ll want to clarify that the one in your coveted home isn’t made out of lead.
And with today’s families using more electricity than ever, you’ll need to find out if the amount of power coming to the house is suitable, or needs an upgrade. Doing a little research online can be helpful.
Another important topic to bring up is any work you’re preparing to do, like upgrading the bathroom or turning a one-bedroom home into a two-bedroom, Einhorn says.
Find out the agency requirements, and if the home is in a landmarked district, make sure you know the ramifications. Will your project require filing documents, and if so, what is the process?
Hire an architect and/or contractor
Hiring an architect is important because you’ll want their take on what you can do from a design perspective, says Vanderploeg.
The architect will also be able to point out the home’s load-bearing walls, which will determine whether they can be moved around or not, says Scott Oyler, a broker with Coldwell Banker in Cincinnati.
When hiring a contractor, be sure to do your homework so you find someone you can trust. “I’ve heard of horror stories where contractors left in the middle of the job and never came back,” Oyler says — so make sure your crew has good references.
Also be sure to recruit more than one, he adds, as you can never have too many opinions.
Research tax incentives
Depending on where you live, you may eligible for a tax abatement, a tax credit for homeowners who improve their property’s value, Oyler says.
Philadelphia offers one; Cincinnati does, too. Check to see what’s available in your area.
If you decide to buy and improve a fixer-upper, have patience. Once the sawdust clears, you may just find the home of your dreams.
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Find out if teaming up to buy a second home is right for you and your pals
Given the current strength of the dollar abroad and the fast-moving real estate market at home, you may be thinking about buying a second home at your family’s tried-and-true vacation spot, on a sunny beach, or near your favorite ski destination. But what can your budget realistically get you?
If what your vacation-home fund allows is more fixer-upper than dream home, going in on a purchase with friends or family could be a great way to get much more home for your money. If you’re considering going this route, here’s how to get started.
1. Decide if it’s right for you
“The number-one reason to consider buying a house with friends is that it lowers your investment amount,” advises Bryant McClain, director of sales and marketing at Itz’ana Resort & Residences. “Unlike timeshares or fractional ownership opportunities, when people go in together and buy a property at market price, they enjoy the equity gains of the traditional real estate market.”
McClain also points out that the best candidates for shared property are those who want to use the home a few weeks a year, then rent out the home the rest of the time. (Just be sure you’re correctly set up to do so.)
Owners also have to be comfortable sharing ongoing expenses, like property management fees, utilities, insurance, and repairs.
2. Lay the legal groundwork
To protect all owners when the unexpected happens, and to avoid hurt feelings and strained friendships, McClain recommends hiring an attorney to set up an LLC, then purchasing the home through that company.
“Owning a property with friends or family is all fun and exciting on the front end, but what happens three years later when somebody wants out?” says Bryant.
Your attorney can draft an operating agreement that clears up expectations on everything from how utilities are shared to how a buyout would work if one owner wanted to sell and the others didn’t.
3. Start searching
Keep in mind that the vacation-home market moves quickly, and with multiple stakeholders needing to agree that a property is the one, it’s best to decide on your shared criteria before you start looking.
This is especially important if you’re searching from afar or if one person will be doing most of the home touring on behalf of the group. That way, when you find the right home, you can put an offer together quickly.
“Treat the whole transaction like a business,” suggests Bryant. “Make a spreadsheet with potential homes, list pros and cons, and ask everyone to vote — that’s where having an odd number of owners comes in handy.”
You should also enlist a local real estate professional with expertise in the destination where you’d like to buy. That person is best qualified to help you identify homes that are a good value, that will perform well in the local vacation rental market, and that are in locations likely to appreciate.
There’s plenty of legwork between “Hey, maybe we should buy a home together” and signing on the dotted line, but if you find the right people to partner with, approach it like a business transaction, and act quickly when you find the perfect home, you’ll be sitting back and enjoying your dream home before you know it.
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Follow these 10 tips to make the home-buying process a happy one.
The arrival of spring means it’s time to start fresh. Along with pulling out your warm-weather wardrobe and tackling spring cleaning, you may have a bigger project on your to-do list: buying a new home.
Before you start on your home-shopping journey, check out these 10 home buying tips to save you both time and money.
Find the right agent
Real estate expert Joe Manausa says the key to happy spring home buying is finding the most qualified agent to guide you through the process.
With reviews available at your fingertips, finding a real estate agent you trust can be easy — provided you take the time to do some research.
Check for agents with the best reviews, and give them a call. They’ll relieve some of the pressures of home buying, and walk you through all the necessary steps.
Sure, the three things that matter most in real estate are “location, location, and location.” Nonetheless, some buyers end up purchasing a home in a location that’s not right for them, simply because they make their choice for all the wrong reasons.
“They’re looking at a house in the wrong area or the wrong school district, but they buy it because they like the kitchen,” Manausa says.
Use the new open house
The internet has completely changed the home-buying process, making it easier to choose which homes to go see in person.
With 3-D tours available on the web, buyers can tour a home from their mobile device or a computer. Home buyers use online resources during their home search.
Buy a home, not a project
Buyers who purchase a fixer-upper can end up spending the same (if not more) than they would on a new home.
“When buying a home, pay close attention to the ‘bones’ … and avoid getting caught up in the cosmetic features,” advises Dan Schaeffer, owner of Five Star Painting of Austin.
If the kitchen cabinets are in good shape, but you want the space to be brighter, adding a fresh coat of paint is easier and less expensive than replacing all the cabinets.
Ka-ching! Be a cash buyer
Sellers are more likely to choose the buyer who already has money in hand over an offer that’s contingent on a mortgage loan.
But if you can’t pay cash, getting pre-qualified for a loan can help the seller feel more confident that you’ll be able to secure financing.
Avoid disaster — get a warranty
The last thing you want after buying a home is for something to go wrong. You protect your car, so why not your home? Manausa recommends purchasing a home warranty: “[They’re] very affordable, and cover all the things that go wrong.” Your wallet will thank you.
Make inspection time count
Small problems eventually turn into big problems. The wood could rot, drains could leak, or the electrical panel may not be up to code. “Hire experts, and always get your home inspected,” adds Nathanael Toms, owner of Mr. Electric of Southwest Missouri.
If the inspection reveals issues, be sure to deal with them effectively. For example, “it’s very important that a licensed electrician makes sure all circuits work properly,” say Dana Philpot, owner of Mr. Electric of Central Kentucky.
Put safety first
No matter the neighborhood or the home, your family’s safety should always be the number one priority after purchasing a home.
“Even if the previous owner promised to return the copy of every key, it’s always a good idea to change the locks throughout the exterior of the home,” says J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman. “If the house has an alarm system, remember to change the code — and don’t forget the garage door.”
Fix common repairs
Repairs may come in the form of patching up small nail holes or weatherproofing electrical outlets. Whatever the need, Schaeffer recommends fixing the repairs before moving in your belongings. “An empty house is easier to maneuver and clean,” he says.
For bigger jobs, find a professional to complete the repairs. Sites such as Neighborly can help you find home services providers.
Add the finishing touches
The best part about buying a new house is making it a home. Change the color of the walls, update the lighting, or add a more personal touch with a photo gallery wall.
“It’s important to find the right gallery layout by measuring the wall space, which determines the size of photos you can use,” Sassano says. “Lightweight frames are the safest option, especially when hanging on drywall.”
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Once you've got the basics, it's time to do a little more digging.
Nearly every home search starts online these days. Sorting through listings, photos, floor plans and descriptions is a great way to feel out the market for those who are in the earliest stages of the home search.
When you find a home you’re ready to bid on, it’s incredible how much background information you can find online. The Internet is full of data on past home sales, recorded sales prices, and the history of each sale, plus information that may not be as obvious — such as the safety of the neighborhood you’re considering buying into.
Here are three ways to use online tools and real estate mobile apps to get more details about the home you want.
Check building records
Nearly all public information and documentation is now available online, and most municipalities provide web access to building permit history. Although the law requires most sellers to disclose previous work done on the property, there may be a history of earlier work the seller didn’t know about.
For example, if there is a newer bathroom or kitchen but no history of a permit for the work, there is a chance someone did the work without a permit — and potentially not to health or safety code. And if you become the owner, this unpermitted work becomes your responsibility.
To begin your search, type “building records,” plus your city’s name into your favorite search engine. Example: “building records Seattle.”
Use Google Street View
Researching an address using Google’s Street View can be one of the most revealing options available. Street View provides a snapshot of a property at a particular moment in time, which can provide insight into the recent history of the property or neighborhood.
Be aware, however, that the image you see may not accurately reflect the home’s current state. For example, I helped a homeowner list and sell a home in San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighborhood a few years back. We planted a beautiful garden area to create a buffer between the sidewalk and the windows. But a search for the property on Google Street View revealed the windows with bars on them, and no garden. The previous owner had bars on the window, and someone had removed the bars to make the property look more inviting.
Seeing the windows with bars on them in Google Street View could raise questions for potential buyers: Is the neighborhood unsafe? Was there a history of crime in the community or on the property? Are the street-level windows safe?
Consult a neighborhood crime app
A variety of crime reporting apps for mobile devices show on a map recent crimes that have been reported, including assault, theft, robbery, homicide, vehicle theft, sex offenders, and quality of life (which often means noise complaints). It’s an easy way to get a quick overview of how safe or unsafe a neighborhood is.
So much information is available to buyers these days. You don’t need to rely solely on the seller’s or the real estate agent’s disclosures. Use online resources to find out as much background information on a property as you can, either before making an offer or during your contingency period. It is best to do as much research as possible, in order to make an informed final decision.
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Save some room in your budget for expenses after move-in
By the time you get the keys to your new construction home, you might feel stretched thin in the finance department. From earnest money and design center upgrades, to closing costs and moving expenses, buying a brand-new home is never cheap.
As you take a look at the costs on the horizon, it’s wise to look a little past your closing date. There are a few post-closing costs that are unique to brand-new homes and some that are familiar to all new homeowners.
Set aside a little money for these expenses now, and it’ll be smooth sailing once the “sold” sign is out front.
Unless you’ve negotiated a washer and dryer into the price of the home with your builder, your new laundry room will likely be a big empty space when you move in — no washer and dryer to be found.
Many builders don’t include a refrigerator either, opting instead to let homeowners choose a style that suits their needs.
Here’s a tip to ease your wallet woes: Start shopping appliance sales once you know your approximate close date. Many appliance stores will let you purchase ahead of time to take advantage of a good price, then delay your delivery until you move in.
If you’re upgrading to a larger home, your utilities will likely increase, especially heating and cooling. And if you’re moving to a new city or a location with a different utility company, you may have to pay a deposit to start service.
If you’re interested in services like cable, satellite TV, or Internet, you may have to install some equipment that would already be installed if you were buying a pre-owned home.
Look at all those big, beautiful windows in your new home! And then notice that they’re bare — no blinds or curtains in sight.
Most new homes do not come with window coverings, and they’re definitely something you’ll want to quickly look into when you move in. There are better ways to introduce yourselves to the neighborhood than through wide-open windows — or bed sheets pinned up for privacy.
There’s nothing more exciting than picking up some great new furnishings and decor for a brand-new space. You may have pieces that worked well in your old space but don’t fit your new home’s layout.
Or maybe you have a new guestroom to furnish, a deck that is begging for patio furniture, or beautiful hardwood floors that need area rugs. Set aside some money now so you can start decorating right after move-in day.
Did you know that some builders only landscape the front yard, leaving the backyard unfinished and unfenced? And, if your new neighborhood has a homeowner’s association, the rules may require you to finish your yard within a certain time period.
That means you foot the bill for landscaping your new home’s yard, and whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, it’s still an expense you shouldn’t overlook.
Setting foot in your brand-new, just-finished home is an exhilarating experience, and something you won’t soon forget. With just a little planning and saving in advance, you can spend more time making your new house a home, and less time stressing over how you’re going to pay for it all.
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Shopping for a home has evolved over the years. Here's what you need to know about the new generation of buyers.
For years we’ve seen the shift in Baby Boomers ditching their large suburban homes for the excitement of urban life. And we’re noticing the reverse from millennials: leaving behind small spaces along with the hustle and bustle of the city.
They’re open to a new world of suburban living, with single-family homes, more storage and closet space, and some outdoor space all their own.
These millennials, born between the mid ’80s and the late ’90s, came of age in a shifting cultural and social environment. Their experiences aren’t the same as their Baby Boomer parents, and as such, their preferences differ from those of their parents, who bought a generation ago.
Here are some real estate considerations to help you sell to millennial buyers.
Millennials are busy
Today’s young people work long hours, and they want to spend the free time they have with friends and family.
They’re also more transient than their parents’ generation. So, when it comes to real estate, many of them seek turn-key homes for quick and easy move-in. They can’t fathom taking the time to undertake renovating a bathroom or kitchen.
No matter how great the opportunity, many of today’s buyers aren’t interested in painting or “making it their own” as our parents did when they moved into homes they planned on living in for 30 years or more.
Home searching is like dating
Millennials grew up attached to their phones. They hail a car and order food with their fingertips. And now, instead of meeting at a bar, they date with their thumbs. Swipe right for the potential mate, or reject them by swiping left.
When it’s time to buy a home, their experience is much the same, thanks to smartphones and real estate apps. As a home seller, you and your agent must invest an incredible amount of time and money on your home’s photo shoot. If you don’t, you may never get a first “date” with your prospective suitor. If the buyer isn’t drawn to your photos, they’re on to the next place.
Bigger is no longer better
In the ’80s, a McMansion with quadruple master closets, oversized Jacuzzi tubs, formal rooms, and large basements were a sign of success, and coveted by home buyers.
Today, millennials want smaller and simpler homes on smaller parcels. Bigger houses or any land more than half an acre equals more work and maintenance to these first-time buyers, accustomed to the easy life.
You can’t make your home smaller, but if you are serious about selling and want to account for this trend, your price will need to meet the market.
Location matters more than ever
Millennial buyers want the urban experience, as best as they can get, in the ‘burbs. This means homes that are walking distance to a village or town, near the train, and in bustling neighborhoods are among the most popular.
While being away from town, secluded, and with more land was a status symbol in the ’80s, it’s a deal killer today. Unfortunately, you can’t move your home to a better location — but you can adjust your price to meet the market.
If you’re a Boomer selling a long-time family home now or in the future, and the millennial is your potential buyer (think: customer), you need to adjust your mindset to meet theirs. You can’t assume that anything related to your original home search applies today. Get ahead of it, or your home may spend many months (or even years) on the market.
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Throughout the approval process, push yourself to maintain your credit while lenders pull it.
Navigating the purchase of a home can be overwhelming for first-time buyers. Lenders require documentation of seemingly every detail of your life before granting a loan. And of course, they will require a credit check.
A question many buyers have is whether a lender pulls your credit more than once during the purchase process. The answer is yes. Lenders pull borrowers’ credit in the beginning of the approval process, and then again just prior to closing.
Initial credit check for preapproval
In the first phase of acquiring a loan, pre-qualification, you’ll self-report financial information. Lenders want to know details such as your credit score, social security number, marital status, history of your residence, employment and income, account balances, debt payments and balances, confirmation of any foreclosures or bankruptcies in the last seven years and sourcing of a down payment. This is only a portion of the total information needed for your mortgage application.
Once you’re ready to get preapproved for a loan, lenders will verify your financial information. During this phase, lenders require documentation to confirm the information in your application and pull your credit history for the first time. You may be required to submit a letter of explanation for each credit inquiry in recent years, such as opening a new credit card, and for any derogatory information in your history, like a missed payment.
Once you find a home within budget and make an offer, additional or updated documentation may be required. Underwriters then analyze the risk of offering you a loan based on the information in your application, credit history and the property’s value.
Second credit check at closing
It can take time for your offer to be accepted, and for your loan to pass underwriting. During this period from the initial credit check to closing, new credit incidents may occur on your history. Many lenders pull borrowers’ credit a second time just prior to closing to verify your credit score remains the same, and therefore the risk to the lender hasn’t changed. If you were late on a payment and were sent to collections, it can affect your loan. Or, if you acquired any new loans or lines of credit and used those credit lines, your debt-to-income ratio would change, which can also affect your loan eligibility.
If the second credit check results match the first, closing should occur on schedule. If the new report is lower or concerning to the lender, you could lose the loan. Alternatively, the lender may send your application back through underwriting for a second review.
It’s important for buyers to be aware that most lenders run a final credit check before closing, so the home-buying window is a time to prudently mind your credit.
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