Area Real Estate News & Market Trends

You’ll find our blog to be a wealth of information, covering everything from local market statistics and home values to community happenings. That’s because we care about the community and want to help you find your place in it. Please reach out if you have any questions at all. We’d love to talk with you!

Nov. 9, 2019

How to Apply For a Homestead Exemption

 

Congratulations on buying your home!  Now let's make sure you save on your taxes.  

 

 

What is a Homestead Exemption?

Homestead exemptions are granted by the county appraisal district where the property is located.   The exemption reduces a homeowner's property tax bill by removing part of the home's value from taxation.   All Texas homeowners may receive a general residence homestead exemption on the value of their property for school taxes upon application.  Other taxing entities may also offer exemptions of some percentage of the home's value.   In addition to the Homestead Exemption, there are exemptions available to homeowners who are over 65 or disabled and require the same application process.

Who Qualifies?

These requirements must be met to receive the exemption:

  1. You must own your home on January 1st of the year for which you are apply
  2. You must reside at the home as your principal residence on January 1st of that year and not claim any other property as a homestead

How to Apply for a Homestead Exemption

 

Your Homestead Exemption will be denied unless all of the required documents show the same homestead address.   First, fill our the application specific to your county appraisal district, then mail all of the documents to the appraisal district for your county. 

  1. Go to your country's appraisal district website and download the Residence Homestead Exemption Application (Form 50-114)
  2. Include a copy of your driver's license or identification card.   Your driver's license needs to be from the Texas Department of Public Safety (TX DPS), and the address must match the homestead address.

Here is a reference list of most North Texas Counties:

 

Appraisal Districts:

 

Collin County 469-742-9200 www.collincad.org

Dallas County 214-631-0910 www.dallascad.org

Denton County    972-434-2602 www.dentoncad.com

Hunt County 903-454-3510 www.hunt-cad.org

Kaufman County 972-932-6081 www.kaufman-cad.org

Parker 817-596-0077 www.parkercad.org

Rockwall County 972-771-2034 www.rockwallcad.com

Tarrant County    817-284-0024 www.tad.org

Van Zandt County 903-567-6171 www.vanzandtcad.org

Wise County 940-627-3081 www.isouthwestdata.com

Click Here for Your 

Tarrant County Homestead Application

Aug. 30, 2019

5 Real Estate Reality TV Myths Explained

5 Real Estate Reality TV Myths Explained

5 Real Estate Reality TV Myths Explained | MyKCM

Have you ever been flipping through the channels, only to find yourself glued to the couch in an HGTV binge session? We’ve all been there, watching entire seasons of shows like “Property Brothers,” “Fixer Upper,” and “Love It or List It,” all in one sitting.

When you’re in the middle of your real estate-themed TV show marathon, you might start to think everything you see on the screen must be how it works in real life. However, you may need a reality check.

Reality TV Show Myths vs. Real Life:

Myth #1: Buyers look at 3 homes and decide to purchase one of them.
Truth: There may be buyers who fall in love and buy the first home they see, but according to the National Association of Realtors, the average homebuyer tours 10 homes as a part of their search.  

Myth #2: The houses the buyers are touring are still for sale.
Truth: Everything is staged for TV. Many of the homes shown are already sold and are off the market. 

Myth #3: The buyers haven’t made a purchase decision yet.
Truth: Since there is no way to show the entire buying processin a 30-minute show, TV producers often choose buyers who are further along in the process and have already chosen a home to buy. 

Myth #4: If you list your home for sale, it will ALWAYS sell at the open house.
Truth: Of course, this would be great! Open houses are important to guarantee the most exposure to buyers in your area, but they are only one piece of the overall marketing of your home. Keep in mind, many homes are sold during regular showing appointments as well. 

Myth #5: Homeowners decide to sell their homes after a 5-minute conversation.
Truth: Similar to the buyers portrayed on the shows, many of the sellers have already spent hours deliberating the decision to list their homes and move on with their lives and goals.

Bottom Line

Having an experienced professional on your side while navigating the real estate market is the best way to guarantee you can make the home of your dreams a true reality.

Aug. 28, 2019

A Latte A Day Keeps Home Ownership Away!

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A Latte a Day Keeps Homeownership Away!

A Latte a Day Keeps Homeownership Away [INFOGRAPHIC] | MyKCM

 

Some Highlights:

  • The pumpkin spice latte is launching soon, so you may be tempted to spend your extra cash on a daily caffeine fix, but that small expense can add up to a big number – fast!
  • Saving for a down payment takes a little discipline, so limiting your extra purchases (like a latte a day from your favorite coffee shop) will help you get there faster.
  • Depending on where you live, putting away just a small amount each day will get you to the average down payment you may need for homeownership faster than you think.

 

Dallas Fort Worth:  $7,000 Down Payment needed for a $200K House.  


Call me 817-668-0311!

 

For more information on Free Down Payment Assistance

The Texas Real Estate Commission requires me to give you the following information:

Information About Brokerage Services

Free Home Analysis
Download My App!
Seller's Resources
Buyer's Resources

 

Sascha Chatman

REALTOR®

Chatman Realty Group

Office: (817) 668-0311

Cell: 903-293-1028

sascha.chatman@kw.com
Click here to start using Bombbomb!

Posted in Buying Tips
Aug. 27, 2019

Rates Are Down in Fall 2019

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What’s the Latest on Interest Rates?

What’s the Latest on Interest Rates? | MyKCM

 

Mortgage rates have fallen by over a full percentage point since Q4 of 2018, settling at near-historic lows. This is big news for buyers looking to get more for their money in the current housing market.What’s the Latest on Interest Rates? | MyKCMAccording to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey,

the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) rate averaged 3.60 percent, the lowest it has been since November 2016.

Sam Khater, Chief Economist at Freddie Mac, notes how this is great news for homebuyers. He states,

“…consumer sentiment remains buoyed by a strong labor market and low rates that will continue to drive home sales into the fall.”

As a potential buyer, the best thing you can do is work with a trusted advisor who can help you keep a close eye on how the market is changing. Relying on current expert advice is more important than ever when it comes to making a confident and informed decision for you and your family.

Bottom Line

Even a small increase (or decrease) in interest rates can impact your monthly housing cost. If buying a home is on your short list of goals to achieve, let’s get together to determine your best move.

The Texas Real Estate Commission requires me to give you the following information:

Information About Brokerage Services

Free Home Analysis
Download My App!
Seller's Resources
Buyer's Resources

 

Sascha Chatman

REALTOR®

Chatman Realty Group

Office: (817) 668-0311

Cell: 903-293-1028

sascha.chatman@kw.com
Click here to start using Bombbomb!

Aug. 23, 2019

Fall Staging Tips

Warm and cozy are the feelings that are most suited for fall decorating. Pumpkins, apple picking, hay rides, cider – they all solicit feelings of comfort. As you prepare for the fall season, consider what needs to be cleaned up for hosting guests, celebrating upcoming holidays, and being comfortable as the weather becomes cooler.

If you are prepping for a home sale, keep decorations minimal and simple; clean, tidy, and welcoming should be the ultimate goal. Here are a few more ideas for both indoor and outdoor staging and/or decorating for fall:

FRESHEN UP

A clean coat of paint is always a great way to provide a facelift to an area instantly. Keep the colors neutral and make sure they look professional. Consider power washing the exterior of your home, as well as clearing downspouts and gutters.

FOLIAGE

Incorporate fall foliage into decorations, such as simple vases with branches of leaves, a bowl of gourds, or apple cinnamon-fragranced candles. Outside, rake up loose leaves, pine needles, pine cones, and other foliage debris. 

WARMTH

Add throw pillows and comfy blankets draped over chairs or couches as an invitation to settle in. Use candles or wax warmers with a single spiced scent to add aromatics. A clean welcome mat and/or door wreath can create a warm entrance.

LIGHT

Lack of light can make a space feel small; this may be cozy, but it’s not always appealing. Use lamps to create soft lighting, and if you have a fireplace, have it cleaned and burning for showings or guests. Consider adding walkway lighting outdoors to enhance your yard and curb appeal.

Looking to sell? Let’s talk about getting your home ready for fall, including what you can expect to get and how to best position yourself for a great offer. Give me a call, shoot me a text, or reply to this email to schedule a meeting today.

Posted in Selling Tips
Aug. 8, 2019

How To Maximize Space In A Tiny Home

Inevitably when you're watching one of those tiny house reality shows (we know you know which ones we're talking about, HGTV!), a buyer who's looking at a tiny house says something along the lines of, "Well, there isn't much space/storage room, is there?"

That's a given when it comes to a tiny house. The clue is in the name, after all -- a tiny house just isn't going to have a lot of room, especially for storage space, and especially for the little extras that can make your house feel bigger.

But thanks to modern design, there are a lot of ways you can maximize space in a tiny home without sacrificing any of the attributes that make it attractive -- or tiny. 

Invest in lots of windows ...


One of the best ways to make any room feel bigger is by lighting it up, wall to wall, corner to corner. This is usually easiest to do by adding windows, which can be especially effective when placed high up toward the ceiling in a tiny house, leaving room on the walls.

More windows do take up space, of course, but if living somewhere that feels light and airy is important to you, then windows are the very best way to accomplish that goal.

... Or floor-to-ceiling shelving


Of course, you'll want to think strategically about your tiny house's layout because with every decision you make to add something, you'll probably be forgoing something else you might like. So instead of a lofty window, maybe you'd rather install a wall of shelving where you can stash books, plates, clothes, whatever you want to stash.

Put shelves or hooks on your doors


Doors that swing open and shut aren't always the best idea in a tiny house (more on other options below), but if you really love that aesthetic, then you can still maximize space by adding some storage options to those doors. Hooks can work on either side of the door, and shelves can be a good option for the side of the door that swings away from the room (so you don't end up smashing the shelves on a wall). They can be a storage spot for bags or coats or whatever you might have needed in a coat closet in a larger home.

Use space outside


Especially if the weather is mostly nice where you live, investing in a big deck or porch where you can eat, set the kids up with homework, or just settle down and read can make living in your tiny home much more, well, livable. Some tiny homes even have an outdoor cooking space for grilling or baking outside, but if you don't want to go that far, seating for several people and maybe a hammock can go a long way toward making you feel like your house is richer in square footage than it actually is.

Let there be skylights


When your wall space is already taken, one excellent way to add light to a space without adding windows is through skylights. After all, you probably aren't going to hang shelving from a sloped roof; it's real estate that you can't really do much with except for let in some light, so if you feel like windows just aren't cutting it, consider installing a skylight or two.

Lose the walls entirely ...


Open spaces tend to look bigger than walled-off spaces -- consider the trend of having a kitchen/dining/living room space that flows into each other; it makes all three areas feel more spacious than they really are. Even though walls only take up inches in reality, they seem to have a disproportionate effect psychologically.

A totally open tiny house might not be feasible for you, and there are definitely other options if you have to have walls or room dividers of some kind. But if you can, open up as much space as possible to give yourself the illusion of a bigger room.

... Or use lots of sliding doors or curtains


If you must have divided space, hanging curtains or installing sliding doors can be an excellent alternative to a wall, which takes up more room than either one. Plus, with a curtain or sliding door, you can keep the space open when you want to feel like your tiny house has more square footage than it really does, then draw the curtains or slide the door shut when privacy is more important than airiness and space.

Add a loft


Most tiny homes don't have room for two full stories, but a common solution to the issue of space is found in lofted beds or bedrooms. A loft in a tiny house can often accommodate a queen-sized or even king-sized mattress, and when you're asleep, it doesn't matter if your body is physically close to the ceiling; you won't notice at all. Some people even sleep better in a space that feels cozier and more enclosed, once they get used to it.

If you can add a loft to your tiny house and use it for a bedroom or storage space, you'll be freeing up that much more floor space and giving your place a little boost in terms of feeling bigger than it is.

Turn under-stair space into awesome storage


Not all tiny homes have stairs, but for those that do, there's usually some lucrative storage space to be found underneath the stairs. You could do like the bigger houses do and use an under-stair closet, but you can also get really creative in a tiny home: Maybe you can create small cubbies with drawers or baskets under the stairs, or perhaps that space will be where you put your bookshelves. Whatever you do, don't neglect that prime real estate under the stairs -- it's not just for pre-Hogwarts Harry Potter anymore.


Use mirrors wisely


Wall space is usually at a premium in a tiny house, but one very intelligent way to use that space is with mirrors, even if they're serving as a backdrop to a shelf. While windows are one of the best ways to let more light in, mirrors reflect and bounce back the light that's there, plus they can make your tiny home feel twice as big when they're placed correctly.

In a tiny house, a wall mirror probably makes more sense than a floor mirror. You can find or get mirrors cut that exactly fit your wall and reflect the entire house back at you -- don't be surprised if you feel like you're living in a mansion once they're installed.

Don't be afraid to max out one room (but make it your favorite)


People like tiny houses because they're drawn to the minimalist lifestyle, naturally. But most of us also have a "favorite" room in the house, one where we spend most of our time and energy, where we feel like we're at our very best. Perhaps it's the kitchen, or maybe you're more of a bedroom dweller, or it could be the dining room where your kids sit and do their homework.

Whatever the case, don't hesitate to go all-out with one room in your tiny house. This really should be just one room, and maybe it's a space that you can take partially or mostly outside, like the living room or dining room. Once you take any tendencies toward maxing out one room beyond that one room, you'll find your tiny house really won't support it ... but there's no harm in giving yourself one room where you feel like you aren't making any sacrifices of comfort for space.

Don't box in your storage


Optical illusions are a fabulous way to make your tiny house feel bigger. Even though you might not actually be saving space, using doorless cabinets is one way to help maximize the space in your kitchen (especially if you hang a mirror behind those plates or appliances). On a similar note, using a hanging rod for a closet instead of building an actual closet with a door does actually save space while also making the room appear bigger because you can see around the "closet" to the walls. 

Small appliances can slide in and out on drawers


The kitchen is one place where many people in tiny houses end up making a lot of sacrifices. Storing small appliances can feel especially like a burden, but there are some interesting solutions by way of sliding drawers that let you slide out an appliance when you're using it and tuck it back away and out of sight when you're finished. Toaster ovens, coffee machines, and other items you use every day but don't have the counter space to keep out and ready can still be turned on quickly and put to good use before you slide them back home.

Consider a breakfast bar


Instead of a dining area inside, one nice solution for tiny homes is to build a breakfast bar that connects to your kitchen counter. It's just a little bit of extra space, but having somewhere to sit and drink your coffee or tea while getting ready for the day -- or winding down with a beer or glass of wine at night -- can make all the difference in making a place feel like "home."

Put lights under shelves


Natural light is all well and good when the sun is out, but when it's hiding or down for the night, you might need to boost the light in your tiny home using artificial means like actual light bulbs. Not all light fixtures are maximized for tiny home use, but you can often find some good places to put light when you look underneath shelves, drawers, kitchen cabinets, and other storage spaces. You can get some nice, bright lights for relatively cheap and save yourself the headache of figuring out what kind of lamp will be small yet powerful enough to suit your needs.

Look underneath for storage


Another time when it pays to "look underneath" is when you're seeking out storage space. You might be pleasantly surprised by how much storage is available in your tiny house when you can think creatively about it. Can you hang some baskets underneath your sink to hold cleaning supplies? Could you add drawers under your bed or sofa where you can keep extra blankets, bedding, or clothes? Some creative tiny-house enthusiasts are even able to find storage space underneath bathtubs -- so crawl around for a little while and see whether you can identify any storage opportunities that you've been quite literally overlooking.

Murphy beds are back...


If you haven't lofted your bed, then a murphy bed -- a bed that folds out from a wall -- can be another excellent option for a tiny house. Many areas offer specialists who can make custom murphy beds that look like a desk or a table when they're folded up, then unfold into a spacious and comfortable bed when it's time to sleep. This way you can make your bedroom multitask as a dining room or study area, only getting out your bed (which, let's face it, is probably one of the biggest items of furniture most of us own) when it's time to use it.

...And fold-out desks and tables are in


Beds aren't the only items of furniture to get the fold-out treatment. Fold-out tables and desks can work very nicely in tiny homes with limited space, and they work exactly like it sounds: You fold them out when you're ready to use them, then tuck them away when you're all finished until you need them again.

By being conscious of the space you're using in your tiny home and doing your best to help every square foot multitask depending on the time of day, you'll find that you have a lot more room than you thought you would in the tiny home of your dreams.

Posted in Buying Tips
Aug. 8, 2019

16 Common Mistakes That First-Time House-Flippers Make

When you binge-watch a little too much HGTV, it's easy to come to some crazy conclusions. Conclusions like, "House flipping looks easy! I should try it!"

Well, maybe you should -- we sure won't stop you! -- but before you jump into your very first home flip, make sure you know what common mistakes first-time flippers are in danger of making so that you can avoid the same fate.

Not having the finances

Before you flip a house, you have to buy it. Depending on whether you're paying all-cash or getting a mortgage loan (and whether you already own a primary residence or not), you will have to secure a down payment for the home, plan on paying mortgage interest for the months that you carry the mortgage, pay for utilities, and pay for the expenses of actually fixing up the home.

You might be tempted to assume that this will be a quick and easy project, but similar assumptions have taken down more experienced house-flippers than you. It's much better to overestimate how long it will take then to underestimate -- that way you can make sure you have enough money to cover the flip.

One money-saving tactic could be to move into the house while you renovate it (then you won't be paying rent elsewhere). Be warned, though, that unless you live in the home for two years, you will still have to pay capital gains tax on any profit made from the flip.

Buying the wrong property

Like Goldilocks, you want a home that's "just right" -- not too expensive, or you won't make any money, and not in too bad of shape, or you'll spend more than you planned to fix it.

Paying too much for a home is one of the worst things you can do as a house flipper, so it might help to secure some real estate expertise from a local professional who can give you a good idea of what fair-market prices look like and help you ascertain if your offer looks good or if you want to seek out a better deal.

Additionally, a professional can help you understand how much profit you could potentially make, which is also easy to overestimate as a first-timer. And they can make sure you're following the 70% rule. What's that? Well ...

Not following the 70% rule

Most fix-and-flip investors who have been doing the job for a while know and adhere to this rule. It's not very complicated, but you may be tempted to indulge in some creative math to make the numbers work -- resist! That's a form of rule-breaking.

You do not want to pay more for a property than 70% of its fixed-up fair-market value.

So in other words, if you're eyeing a home, and you have it on good authority from several people that after you fix it, you could sell it for $200,000 -- do not offer more than $140,000 for that home. That is your 70% threshhold.

This will give you wiggle room to pay for the repairs and upgrades and to still make a profit.

Forgetting to make the budget

Are you getting the idea yet that flipping a home is a big exercise in math? Well, if you haven't started laying all these costs out in a spreadsheet and figuring out what you can spend where, then start.

You'll want to consider both the cost of the home (either paying for it outright or paying the monthly mortgage plus insurance, taxes, and any other expenses), the costs of the upgrades, the amount of time those upgrades will take, and the time on market once it's ready to sell.

Again, a real estate professional (or another experienced house flipper) can give you a solid ballpark for all of these metrics if you don't even know where to start.

Not getting an inspection

When you're paying cash and you're in a hurry -- and you already know there's a lot to fix in the home -- then it can be tempting to skip the pre-sale inspection. Why bother?

Because that inspector might find a serious problem that's going to cost you more to fix than you can afford. Foundation or structural issues are usually not cheap to solve and can eat up most (if not all) of your budget if they emerge unexpectedly.

Plus, when the time comes to sell the home, you'll know that everything was done to get it into perfect condition if you bothered with an inspection!

Not securing the right permits

Before you start pulling out the sledgehammers for demolition, it's a good idea to ascertain which permits you're going to need for your upgrades. You don't want to do all the work on a project only to discover that you needed a permit and might need to redo some or all of it.

Again, a real estate professional or someone who's flipped houses before can help you here. They will have an idea of what permits are needed and can help you start the application process before you need them (not after).

Multitasking

When it's time to actually get started on the work, you may be tempted to flit from project to project so that you can feel like you're accomplishing something. Why continue working on that item that's going to take a week to finish when you can just run over and finish two or three things really quickly?


If you've read anything about research on multitasking, then you already know the answer: It makes you much less efficient than if you focused on one thing and saw it through to the end.

Make a list of things that need to be done, and if you want to feel that sense of accomplishment, then plan to spend your morning working on major projects, and your afternoon on little items that help you feel like you've finished at least one thing.

Overestimating what you can do yourself

With the existence of YouTube, it's pretty tempting to think that you can do anything with the right tools and a video.

But this is a major investment, and you are probably not qualified to do most of it. Putting a wall up or refinishing a floor? Sure, maybe. Any plumbing and electrical help will definitely require a professional, though, and you might want to consider finding a general contractor who's willing to pitch in where you need.

If you have direct experience making a specific type of home repair, and you liked your results, then go ahead and assume you could do it again. If not, then for your first flip, hire a pro and watch them work so you decide if DIY might be an option -- next time.

Not playing well with others

No flipper is an island, and that is especially true for first-time flippers, who haven't yet discovered their core crew of people who can help them get the fixes in, and in quickly. You'll need to rely on strangers to help you finish the job, and some people are better at doing that than others.

If you don't deal with feedback well, don't manage relationships well, or just generally don't like working with people, then you should perhaps reconsider this method of money-making. You're going to need to work with others, and work well with them; if that's beyond your scope of ability, then maybe funding a flip and collecting some of the profit is a better choice.

The good news is that if your first flip goes well, you'll be on your way toward building a crew for future flips.

Running out of time

You're almost to your sales deadline, but the house is only half-finished. This is a real nightmare for a flipper, but it's a common one when it's your first flip and you have no real idea how long the fixes are going to take.

Overestimate how long you'll need to finish the job, especially if you're working by yourself. Leave yourself time to undo and redo some work (because you'll probably mess something up), and don't create a timeline that's going to squeeze you beyond your abilities.

Don't know how long it's going to take? Bring in a general contractor and ask for time estimates. Add 50% or double the time on any jobs you plan to do yourself if you've never done it before.

Remodeling according to your personal taste

Many first-time flippers forget that they aren't renovating the house for themselves -- they're doing it for a future buyer. And those flippers end up getting less for the sale than they could have because they insist on revamping the house according to their own personal taste instead of what sells best on the market.

A real estate agent can help give you a reality-check here and tell you that your preference for a separate kitchen, dining room, and living room is going to hurt the sale, or help you understand whether there's really a demand in the area for a garage with a rock-climbing wall installed.

Neglecting the little fixes

There's a lot to do in any flip, and it can be tempting to focus on the big items -- floors, walls, windows, doors, and so on -- and ignore the little ones.

But if you think that buyer isn't going to notice that the kitchen drawers all stick, you're delusional. Change the light bulbs, oil the hinges, and make sure everything (everything!) works and works well before you call it a day.

Upgrading too much

Depending on the neighborhood, a five-burner gas-range stove might be exactly what the house demands ... but maybe not. First-time flippers often don't know where to stop with the upgrades and do too much, creating a beautiful house that's over-finished for the neighborhood, and installing features that buyers who are interested don't really want.

That doesn't mean you need to go for the cheapest option, but at least look at other listings in the neighborhood to see what the standard or "average" finishes and fixtures look like, then aim for that look. (This is another area where a real estate professional can be worth his or her weight in gold.)

Ignoring the outside

Well, the inside of this soon-to-be-flipped home looks amazing! Time to list?

Not quite. Have you paid attention to the landscaping? Put in new sod? Added flowerbeds to the garden, or otherwise improved the curb appeal of the home at all?

It's a big mistake to focus only on the inside of the home and ignore the outside. A green lawn, fresh coat of paint, and some artfully placed flowers can work wonders on that final sales price.

Listing the house before it's finished

You may think that you can show buyers what you've done and they'll be able to imagine what the home will look like when it's finished -- but this truly isn't the case. If you try to start showing the home before it's actually ready, then all buyers are going to see is a half-finished project.

They don't have access to the vision in your head. Don't try to force them to create one, or the house will linger on the market for longer than necessary ... and you'll have missed your first, best chance to make an amazing impression with your flip.

Counting on the market to pull the price up

When the market is hot, it can be really tempting to hope that it will have escalated enough in the months that your flip was being renovated to bump up the sales price. We all hear the stories about how prices are rising, so why shouldn't you expect them to rise while you work?

Because housing markets, like all markets, are subject to outside forces beyond your control that you cannot predict. If you're counting on the market to grow, and that doesn't happen -- what's your Plan B? Will you still make money on the sale, or will you lose your shirt?

Don't risk it. Make sure that you can still make a profit even if the market doesn't jump while you're working on the house. (And if it does? Consider that a pleasant surprise.)

Staging without a pro

Many flippers are also great at staging homes, and this could well be you in the future. But for your first home, do yourself a big favor and budget for a stager from the beginning.

A professional stager will tell a story with the home, tying rooms together with color and texture, and helping buyers envision their lives in your flip. Watch and learn from the pro, and then maybe you can try staging on your second (or third, or eighth) flip.

Posted in Buying Tips
Aug. 8, 2019

18 Secrets No One Tells You About Buying A House

Most homeowners aren't shy about telling you how awesome it is and all about the perks of living in a house that they own ... but they're a lot less forthcoming about the ugly aspects of buying a house and the sacrifices you make.

And yes, there is ugly, and there are sacrifices. Here's what nobody is telling you that you might need to know about buying a house (especially for the first time).

You don't need to put 20% down


In most cases and with most lenders, putting 20% down is ideal or even required. But this isn't always true. For example, the Veterans Administration (VA) offers loans for veterans that don't require any down payment money at all.

Other loan-backers, like the Federal Housing Administration, will allow loans with only 3.5% down, but buyers have to pay mortgage insurance on those loans. They're riskier because the buyer has less equity in the home, so buyers can expect to pay a percentage of the loan amount in mortgage insurance over the lifetime of the loan. (Or refinance the loan once they do have at least 20% equity in the home.)

There is down payment assistance available in both loans and grants, so it helps to talk to a real estate professional (like an agent) and see whether they know of any programs that might help you secure more money down.

... But you do need to put any new credit line plans on hold

Your mortgage rate is going to depend in part on your credit score, and your credit score is going to get dinged with every new line of credit you open before buying a home. So to get the very best deal on your mortgage loan (and potentially afford more house), make sure you're not going crazy with new credit cards right before you start shopping -- and definitely don't buy anything like a yacht or car on credit!

You're not locked into one particular lender


Some people think they should immediately dive into a relationship with the first lender that accepts them and offers to back their mortgage loan. But here's the problem with that strategy: There may be a better match out there for you, and if you don't shop around a little bit, then you aren't going to find it.

Talk to a few different mortgage brokers and ask them what their best deal is. Your credit won't get dinged by this, so please feel free to explore your options! 

Your monthly mortgage payment includes more than just the loan payback


Every month, you'll be paying back your mortgage loan -- that much you probably figured. But of course, there's also the interest on your loan (which under many contracts gets priority for repayment above the loan principal). And you'll also be paying homeowners insurance, which is required for the lender to approve the loan, plus taxes, every month.

If you're not sure how much you can afford based on all of this, it's probably not a bad idea to sit down with a mortgage broker (or five -- see above) and talk about your options.

... So the mortgage amount on portals is not necessarily accurate


It's tempting to look at the "average mortgage amount" on a real estate portal and take it as gospel truth, but often those are based on a loan with 20% down and usually don't include the insurance or the taxes. Talk to an expert to get a good sense for how much you'll expect to pay every month.

School districts are important even without kids


If you don't have kids or don't plan on having any, then you might be tempted to ignore the school district when shopping for a home -- what's it matter?

School districts definitely could be very important to buyers a few years down the road when they decide to purchase your house. And homes in neighborhoods with good schools tend to appreciate in value faster than homes in neighborhoods where the schools are just so-so. Make sure you're considering your future as you're shopping, which includes your future after this home.

You don't need to spend your entire pre-approval amount on the home


It's tempting to buy at the very top of your preapproved price range, but remember that you're going to have to pay interest on the entire amount over many years, and don't forget about the other costs of owning a home.

Financial experts suggest that you spend no more than 30% of your household income on your mortgage, so if the amount you're spending is creeping beyond one-third of your household income, that could be tough to meet. So don't overextend yourself!

You'll look at homes out of your price range (and crave them)


It's only human nature to look at things you can't have, and that goes for housing, too: You will not be able to refrain from looking at homes just above your ideal price range and thinking about how nice it would be to buy that house instead of the disappointment you walked through last week.

But what's worse than living in a house that you might need to fix up a little bit? Living in a really nice house that you can't afford and having to sell it -- or worse, go through a foreclosure. Look if you must, but don't let it influence your decision-making.

You may get outbid, more than once


Some markets are hotter than others and have more cash buyers, which can be devastating if you're using a loan and don't have the wherewithal to pay cash for a house. Sellers often opt for cash buyers because the closing process is less cumbersome, and it can be hard for buyers to experience bid after bid rejected by the seller.

Stay strong and have faith that your house is out there. It might not be a smooth road, but you will get there.

Agents get paid on commission


Real estate agents typically don't get paid until the closing table, when the house is officially yours. Then the seller will cut the agent a check. This is because agents are paid on commission: They're taking a percentage of the sale.

If you have an agent who isn't upfront with you about how payment works -- or worse, one who is trying to talk you into more house than you can really afford -- then it's not a bad idea to question whether your agent is really the best fit for you. You want someone honest who will protect your interests, and that's not too much to expect from an agent.

Talk to a contractor before closing


The inspector might identify some issues that need to be addressed, and usually this is negotiated with the seller, but to be entirely sure that you understand what will be involved and how much it will cost, it's a good idea to hire a contractor and go over the inspection report. Some contractors offer free consultations, and most will be able to give you a ballpark figure to use as a jumping-off point for negotiation.

Speaking of closing: Introducing closing costs!


It costs money to close on a house, and closing costs can be picked up by the buyer, the seller, or both. This is usually outlined while negotiating the contract, but if you didn't pay close attention to those terms, then it might sneak up on you. Clarify with your agent and mortgage broker who is responsible for closing costs and make sure you've got the money available if you're the lucky winner of that responsibility.

Your mortgage will probably be sold to a servicer


After all that time looking for the right mortgage broker and lender, you may feel like it's destiny, but the reality is that your lender probably doesn't feel the same. Most lenders sell mortgage loans to a servicing company, which will be the entity collecting your checks every month for the next 30 years (unless the gets sold again, of course).

Be prepared for an announcement that your loan has been sold to a servicer and ready to cancel any checks or payments that slip out the door at the wrong time. It's unfortunate, but it does happen, and you don't want to pay your mortgage twice in one month.

Parking isn't always guaranteed


There may be a space with your condo, and perhaps you have a garage or a driveway, but if you live in a major metro area or have several kids of driving age (or roommates, for that matter), then it's possible you might have a struggle with finding parking.

This is information that's usually included in listings, and it might also help to ask agents about parking situations in different neighborhoods. Street parking might work fine, but it's usually a good idea to know how scarce or ample it is at the very least.

You'll need to buy furniture


Maybe you've bought all of your furniture at antique stores, and it just doesn't look right in your new mid-century modern home. Or perhaps you have several more rooms to fill than you did before. Whatever the case, be aware that you'll have some purchases to make on the furniture front, and budget for them if you can -- and definitely do not buy a bunch of furniture on credit before the loan closes, whatever you do.

You're on the hook for any home repairs


The nice thing about renting is that when something breaks, the landlord will theoretically be by to fix it, or send someone, sooner or later. You don't need to worry about how much the new sump pump or sewer line costs.

But all of that burden becomes yours and yours alone when you become a homeowner. The drain is clogged? The water heater won't heat water? If you don't fix it, or arrange for someone else to fix it, then it's staying clogged and cold.

Those nearby empty lots won't be empty forever


Everything changes, and some places change more quickly than others. Almost nothing gets a neighborhood riled up like the words "new development" or "strip mall," and you cannot take it for granted that the rolling (empty) hills around your brand-new pride and joy are going to remain empty, unless you happen to own all the land, too.

It's not a bad idea to stop in at your city or county offices and ask what they know about any development plans or zoning for the area, and then keep tabs on things once you move in. Better safe than sorry and surprised, right?

It might take a while to feel like "home"


You'd think that once you've gone through all of this trouble for a house, it'll automatically "feel" like yours ... but that's not necessarily true. It may take a few weeks or even months before you start settling in and feeling like a homeowner.

So if the words "this is my house" don't roll off your tongue quite like they should in the beginning, take heart: You'll be claiming it without thinking about it before you know it.

Posted in Buying Tips
July 16, 2019

4 Questions To Ask Before Buying A Home

Do you want to buy a home? (No, that isn't one of the questions.) If the answer, however, is "yes," then there are more questions you'll need to ponder before you're truly ready -- even if this is your fifteenth fix-and-flip instead of your very first home.

Before you start adding properties to your "favorite" list on your most-visited real estate portal, consider the many possible answers to these questions and then decide what's best for you. Even if you enjoy making big decisions by the seat of your pants, you'll find that a little bit of thinking and planning before taking the (huge!) step of buying a home will give you confidence that you got a good deal … and the ability to find a place that's absolutely perfect for you.

What do I want?

Homes don't just come in the single-family residence flavor -- you can buy a condo, an apartment, or a duplex, for example, and it's possible that one of those options makes more sense for you and your lifestyle today than a single-family home would.

Homes also aren't built in isolation. There will be neighbors, traffic, weather, and many other factors and features beyond your control.

What's an ideal level of neighborhood walkability for you? Would you prefer to be close to your gym or yoga studio chain, or a hiking trailhead? What kinds of schools or pet facilities are nearby? Is the area close to any large cultural or sports centers? What's the crime rate like? What's the commute like, and is there decent public transportation? Are any or all of these things good or bad for you, personally?

Only when you've taken time to thoroughly think about and narrow down the type of home and the area where you want to buy should you start thinking about other aspects of your dream home -- like the finishes, the size of the kitchen, and whether it has a big back deck or a gas range instead of an electric stove.

Some of those preferences will be just that, and some will be dealbreakers. If you've got a large-breed dog and really require a big backyard, it's okay to put that on your "must-have" list -- but try to keep that list significantly shorter than your "nice-to-have" list. You might be surprised by how your preferences shift once you begin actually looking at homes available on the market, so it's good to have some kind of idea of how important each home feature is to you and your lifestyle and also know where you have a little room to compromise.

It's smart to keep your options open at every stage of this decision-making process. If you don't have a friend who lives in the type of house and area that you're eyeing, it might be a good time to connect with a local real estate agent. They've helped people just like you buy a home before -- and they might know about perfect neighborhoods that aren't even on your radar, or which items on your must-have list are easy to implement yourself if a home doesn't currently have it.

What can I afford?

Financial experts typically advise that buyers spend no more than 30 percent of their total monthly income on housing. Another rule suggests that you spend a little more than double your annual income on a house. 

Your mortgage payment is going to cover not only the cost of the home itself, but also interest on the mortgage loan, homeowners' insurance, and property taxes. And depending on the size of your down payment, you may also need to pay private mortgage insurance on your loan, too.

You can look up property tax information by county; it's calculated as a percentage of the home's value, so property tax can shift up or down depending on the housing market, but don't count on it staying steady for the 30-year duration of your loan.

A local insurance agent can also give you a good idea of what you'll be paying for homeowners' insurance on the property. And this is an area where you might actually be able to save a little money elsewhere -- if you have a car, you often will receive a discount for packaging your auto insurance and homeowners' insurance with the same carrier. You might also want to consider some ancillary insurance, like flood or earthquake insurance (and flood insurance is required on some homes).

The mortgage interest rate is going to depend on a few factors -- your current credit score and the current market mortgage rates. A loan officer can help you figure out what your current options might be and may even offer suggestions for how to improve your credit score to get a better rate while you're saving up for that down payment.

Speaking of the down payment: Don't forget that whatever you bring to the table will be applied to the home sale amount, so you probably won't be asking for a loan that's the exact price tag of the home. For example, if the home you want to buy costs $200,000 and you have $40,000 (20 percent) to put down on the home, then you'll be borrowing $160,000 from the bank instead of the full $200,000.

There are online calculators that can help you assess some of these factors, but again, here it's smart to talk to a real estate agent. An agent can also refer you to a local insurance agent and loan officer so you can start figuring out what you need to do to become a real-deal homeowner.

Am I financially prepared?

This is a tough question to answer, and it's one big reason why you might want to start talking to real estate professionals early on in the process -- there's a lot you can do to help make this purchase one of the smartest financial decisions of your life, and most of it happens before you start dreaming up that perfect place to live.

If you aren't already connected with a loan officer, start here. These people are experts in the different types of loan available to you and how you can optimize your financial standing to give you a great jumping-off point.

You may need to do some work on your credit score before you can buy, and a loan officer can also hook you up with an expert who can comb through your credit report and tell you which debts to pay off first as well as lay out a six-month plan for polishing everything until it's shiny.

And while you're working on your credit, do yourself a favor and look up what down payment programs might cater to your situation at a website like www.downpaymentresource.com. Depending on your age, state of residence, whether you're a first-time homebuyer (it still counts if you've reverted to renting for several years!), and a few other factors, you might be eligible for free money that can only be applied toward a down payment on a home. Some programs supporting responsible homeownership require recipients to attend a few classes about buying a home and how to pay off a mortgage -- but that's time well spent if the payoff is four to five figures of cold, hard cash to put down on a home.

When you feel as financially robust as possible, ask your loan officer to pre-approve you for the loan amount you can afford. This will make it possible for you to immediately place an offer on a home if you find one that you love instead of waiting for lender approval … and you've already gotten through the hard part, so you might as well make it official, right?

How do I make the best bid possible?

There's nothing like jumping through all of these hoops -- not to mention the home search process -- only to place an offer on a home and discover that you were outbid. Or, on the flip side, that you could have offered less and still been successful!
This is where a real estate agent becomes truly valuable in the process; they've seen offers that flew and offers that flopped, and they do this every day. If you're not working with an agent yet, find one and ask for some data about homes sold on the same block (ideally) or in the same neighborhood that are a comparable size, in comparable condition, and have comparable features.

An agent can also help guide you if you're about to make an offer that's bound to be rejected because it's too far below market standards -- or if you might be able to get a deal because a home has been languishing on the market for longer than normal and the sellers are reducing the price weekly.
And a good agent can also help you regroup and get back in the game if the offer on your dream home is rejected.

Sometimes a seller considers list price to be a jumping-off point in negotiating a final sale -- and sometimes that list price is set in stone and the seller isn't going to be moved. Your agent can give you a feel for whether you really were offering a number well below market expectations or whether it's more likely to be a seller's inflexibility.

When you can answer the first three questions confidently, it's time to start searching for a home -- and when you can answer the fourth effectively, you'll be walking away from the deal with keys to the front door in your hand.

Posted in Buying Tips
June 26, 2019

4 Questions To Ask Before Selling Your Home

There comes a time in every homeowner's life when he or she realizes: "I am not the same person I was when I bought this place." Maybe your lifestyle or your family configuration has changed, or maybe the house just isn't as appealing as it was when you signed that ream of paperwork on closing day.

If you're thinking about moving on, then there are a few questions you need to ask yourself before you take the plunge and list the house. When you can answer these questions, you'll know you're in the right place emotionally and financially to move on to your next space.

What is my home worth?

You can find almost anything on the internet, and that includes an estimated value of your home. How convenient!

But before you go galloping off to Zillow or Redfin or even a brokerage website to try to figure out how much your house is worth, take a deep breath and resolve to remember one thing: "I shouldn't believe everything I read on the internet."

It's possible that an automated estimate is going to be spot-on, but those algorithms depend on numbers that might or might not be accurate, like the condition of your property, the square footage, any features or amenities you've added (or removed), and recent sales of properties nearby that could be comparable to your own home.

A better way to figure out how much your home might be worth is to look at your most recent property tax bill. Your property taxes change with the value of your home, so if you look at your property tax rate from last year and figure out your state's assessment rate (usually not quite the total value of your home -- it's somewhere between 80 percent and 90 percent of the home's total value, depending on the state), that can help you get a little bit closer in terms of pinpointing price.

You can also talk to a professional about your home's value; a real estate agent who sells properties in your neighborhood every day is going to be able to give you a more accurate idea of how much your particular, specific home might capture on the current market.

And a real estate professional can also explain what you can do to your home to help inch that number upward a little bit. Then you can make the call as to whether or not you want to make any upgrades or take the estimated price as-is. Which leads to the next question ...

How can I sell at the highest price possible?

When you're selling anything, you want to get fair market value for the item you're releasing, and that's exponentially truer for your house, which is probably the biggest purchase you've ever made.

If you know your neighbor's house sold for ten figures more than the highest estimate you've been able to find for your own home, that can be a tough reality to swallow. But this is where real estate professionals really earn their keep -- they can explain why that house was so desirable (maybe if you're honest with yourself, you can admit that your neighbor's view is much nicer than yours, for example), and they can also show you where you do have some room for (price) improvement.

If you don't want to call in a professional, then start with things that can spruce up almost any dwelling. One of the first and most important steps to selling your home for top dollar is to get the place deep-cleaned from floor to ceiling, including washing the windows and scrubbing down all of your kitchen appliances.

Start by attacking the clutter; it's much easier to clean a room that doesn't have a lot of furniture or objects in it, so even if you're hoping to move up to make space for all your stuff, it's a good idea to start cleaning out the items that you know you don't want to move with you. If there's still a lot left, consider a shed or an off-site storage facility where you can stash things without packing it all in your closets (where buyers are most definitely going to be looking). If you have a junk drawer or even a "junk room," now is the time to start corralling that beast.

Then get cleaning. There's no detail too small -- make sure every room in the house sparkles to the best of your ability and smells fresh and aired-out.

There may be quite a few additional projects you could tackle to increase your home's value, such as adding a deck, remodeling the kitchen, or even adding entire rooms in some cases. Those are good opportunities to discuss with a real estate professional, who can share feedback about whether the project is going to be worth the eventual return on investment when you sell the home -- and what projects will net you more money for your property.

Real estate agents also know stagers and home photographers. When a buyer falls in love with your home, it's most likely going to be from an online listing, so your listing photos should be as high-quality as possible -- that might mean bringing in a stager to spruce up the rooms and a photographer to capture the results.

How long will my home be on the market?

No one can predict the future, but experts who work in the industry can usually come close. If you haven't called an agent yet, you might need to in order to get the information you'll need to answer this question.

Ultimately, it depends on what the housing market is like in your area, but there are a lot of anomalies within a housing market -- even in markets that seem red-hot, sometimes sellers make a mistake and overprice a home that then languishes for weeks or even months longer than more realistically priced homes. And there are some neighborhoods or even specific blocks where buyers seem to be willing to do just about anything to get their foot in the door -- and other geographies where they might need to be lured in a little more aggressively.

The number of days that homes stay on the market gets shorter and shorter as housing heats up, but that number is absolutely contingent on the initial list price. Homes that need to reduce their prices to attract qualified buyers will remain on the market significantly longer than homes priced competitively from the start. It's really important to get the initial list price right if you'd like the home to sell quickly. (And remember: The longer that house takes to sell, the longer you as the seller will be responsible for keeping it in showing condition for buyers -- seven days a week.)

So even in markets where houses seem to be flying off the shelves, it's smart to talk to someone who sees those sales up close and personal every day. They can give you an educated estimate about the amount of time it should take your property to get from list to close.

How can an agent help?

Selling a home is a huge life event that encroaches on just about every aspect of your existence, from your meals to your work schedule to how often you do laundry and vacuum up pet hair. It can be an incredibly stressful time, and a real estate agent is a personal advisor that can help sellers make the best decisions possible while keeping track of all the details.

A good real estate agent will help you find the best price for your home, list it for you on the MLS, and handle all the marketing -- from photos to open houses to glossy brochures to Facebook ads. A good agent can manage your showing schedule for buyers who want personal tours and can help you decide which offer to accept if you happen to receive more than one … and a good agent is absolutely essential during the negotiation process, especially if the buyer is making demands that the seller isn't prepared to address.

A good agent will also know the best plumbers, electricians, and general contractors in the area who might be able to make any repairs or changes to the home before it closes. He or she can manage the transaction timeline, alerting you when an inspection or appraisal is about to happen and keeping you in the loop regarding financing and every other aspect of the deal.

A good agent can also help you do all of this while you're simultaneously looking for a new place to live and can help you manage that, too -- including what to do if you find a home before your current house sells.

And depending on your personal situation, there are local real estate agents who specialize in divorce, estate sales, and other tricky life events involving a home transaction.

Selling a home is as simple as listing it on the MLS and waiting for an appropriate offer to come in -- but there's so much more involved that most sellers can't handle it on their own. Answering these questions will get you a head start, but don't skip talking to an agent or three when you're actually ready to list that home; they'll be able to point out what you didn't know you were missing.

Posted in Selling Tips