8 Maintenance Tasks All Homeowners Should Do Once a Year
You have the basics of homeownership maintenance down. You change the ceiling blade direction every summer and winter, you scrub the inside and outside of your windows each spring, and you remove every drop of water from your sprinkler system before the first frost.
But are you sure you’re getting everything done?
These eight annual maintenance to-dos are easily forgotten—but checking them off once per year can save you some major headaches, heartaches—and money!
1. Salt your water softener
You’ll need to take a trip to your local home maintenance store for this project. If your water heater features a rad built-in water softener, skipping regular maintenance can cause irreversible damage.
Let’s say you’ve purchased a home with a 2-year-old hot water heater. Pretty new, right? Well, if the previous owner skipped salting the softener, letting mineral build up inside the unit, it will sound like a rock tumbler.
Should that happen, a few intense flushes should do the trick. But don’t wait.
At the end of the day, regular maintenance will prevent damage and will help you avoid a major expense down the road.
2. Test your well water
Having your own well can be a perk—sweet, fresh-from-the-earth water, with no bill! But in-ground water is subject to all sorts of contaminants, including high levels of nitrates, sulfates, or microorganisms. To keep your gut happy and prevent nastier health issues, make sure to test your well water every year. (Shallow wells can require more frequent testing.)
Many municipalities offer free water screening. If yours isn’t so kind, you can send samples to a nearby laboratory for analysis.
3. Update your disaster kit
You don’t have to be a prepper to be prepared. Even minor storms can knock out power for a days. Darkness is a lot less miserable with basic supplies. Every household needs a disaster kit—essential supplies that can keep you going in an emergency. Include necessities such as a first-aid kit, a three-day supply of nonperishable food, plenty of water, printed maps, and a whistle.
Dig through your kit once a year, and check the expiration dates of all of your food, look for broken seals, and make sure none of your necessities have been used or gone missing in the previous 365 days. Check your stock against Ready.gov’s extensive list of basic disaster supplies.
4. Know your humidity
Humidity—especially in the basement—is an early warning sign of future problems. High humidity can cause mildew and black mold. Left unchecked for a significant period of time, it can even cause structural damage. So pick up a hygrometer, and check your levels at least once a year.
If the reading is low, don’t assume you’re in the clear. Too little humidity might not be as dangerous as high levels, but it can still cause sore throats and itchiness—and damage the house. Wood might crack, paint can chip, and electronics could be permanently damaged. Shoot for humidity levels that fall between 30% and 50%.
5. Check for termites
Many homeowners tend to take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to these wood-eating buggers—but once a year, make sure termites are on your mind.
Ultimately, an annual termite inspection is typically less than $100, and can save you thousands.
6. Take a photo
You’d never skip snapping a shot of your kid on her first day of school each year—so why wouldn’t you do the same for your house? On the anniversary of your purchase, step outside with a camera and shoot a picture of your home in its current state. Over the years, you’ll be astonished by how much your home has evolved.
7. Save 1% of the home’s value
The typical rule of thumb is that a home costs 1% of its value in maintenance fees each year. For example, if you’re purchasing a home worth $300,000, expect to pay $3,000 each year to keep it in shipshape condition.
While you should be regularly saving throughout the year, taking the time once annually to investigate your bank accounts can keep you out of hot water. And, of course, the 1% rule is only an estimate—when it comes to homeownership, anything can go wrong.
A new roof might cost $7,500 (or more—way more). Serious foundation issues could ring in at $40,000. And new siding might require a $10,000 payment. Adding more to your home savings account is never a bad idea. But at the very least, make sure you have the bare minimum.
8. Create a donation pile
After a few years in your home, you might be astounded to find out just how much unnecessary stuff has piled up. Once a year—perhaps around spring-cleaning—do a deep dive into your closets, drawers, bookshelves, and garage. Toss or donate anything you haven’t touched in the past year.
RELATED: Do I Have Too Much Stuff?
Here’s what not to do with all that newly empty space: Fill it up again. But if you fail, well, you’ll be sorting through it again next year when you do these steps all over again.
As a homeowner, what annual home rituals do you keep? What advice might you have to new homeowners when it comes to ongoing home maintenance? Sound off on The Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page or our Twitter or Instagram feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.
7 Questions to Ask a Home Inspector Before Your Home Inspection Even Begins
Given a Home Inspector is charged with checking out a home for any flaws before you buy it, s/he’s an important safeguard who could protect you from purchasing a lemon—and squandering tons of cash in repairs.
So, how do you find a reputable home inspector?
It boils down to interviewing home inspectors to gauge how thorough a job they’ll do. To help, here are some of the best questions to ask.
Bonus: This will also help you know what to expect! Knowledge is power, my friends.
1. “What do you check?”
A lot of people don’t know exactly what a home inspector is going to do… it’s a lot! A home inspector scrutinizes a long list of more than 1,600 features on a home. They inspect everything from the roof to the foundation.
Going into the inspection with a clear understanding of what the inspector can and can’t do will ensure that you walk away from the inspection happy.
2. “What don’t you check?”
There are limits. For instance, inspectors are restricted to a visual inspection – they cannot cut holes in walls for that look behind the curtain.
As a result, an inspector will often flag potential problems in the report and you will have to get another expert – a roofer, HVAC person, builder, electrician, or plumber – to come back and do a more detailed examination.
3. “What do you charge for an inspection?”
Home inspections usually cost between $300 and $600, though it will depend on the market, the size of house, and the actual inspector. Generally, you’ll pay the inspector the day of the inspection, so you’ll want to know in advance how much and what forms of payment are accepted.
Beware of inspectors who quote you a very low price. That’s often a sign they’re having trouble getting customers.
Spending on a good inspector will more than pay for itself in the long run.
4. “How long have you been doing this?”
Or perhaps more important: How many inspections have you done? A newer inspector doesn’t necessarily mean lower quality, but experience can mean a lot—especially if you’re considering an older home or something with unusual features.
5. “Can I come along during the inspection?”
The answer to this should be a resounding yes! Any good inspector will want prospective owners to be present at the inspection.
Seeing somebody explain your house’s systems and how they work will always be more valuable than reading a report, and it gives you the opportunity to ask questions and get clarifications in the moment.
If an inspector requests that you not join him, definitely walk away. Run!
6. “How long will the inspection take?”
Inspections often take place during the work week, when the seller is less likely to be around. Knowing how much time you’ll need to block out will keep you from having to rush through the inspection to get back to the office. You’ll get only a ballpark figure, because much will depend on the condition of the house. But if you are quoted something that seems way off – such as a half-day for a two-bedroom apartment, or just an hour for a large, historic house – that could be a red flag that the inspector doesn’t know what he’s doing.
7. “Can I see a sample report?”
If you’re buying your first home, it can be helpful to see someone else’s report before you see your own. Every house has problems, usually lots of them, though most generally aren’t that big of a deal. A sample report will keep you from panicking when you see your own report, and it will give you a sense of how your inspector communicates. It’s another opportunity to ensure that you and your inspector are on the same page.
Always remember that your Patrick Parker Realty Real Estate Expert has a network of trusted home professionals and experts we’ve been working with for years. Don’t be afraid to ask us for referrals.
Do you have Home Inspector nightmare stories to tell as tales of caution? How about Home Inspection successes? Share your comments the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, Twitter or LinkedIn, or on our Instagram feed. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm email newsletter for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.
5 Crucial Questions Home Buyers Should Ask Sellers Before Moving In
Moving into a home you’ve just bought is exciting—and sometimes exasperating. That’s because, although you might love your new place, you don’t know it all that well—which means that sooner or later, you’re bound to end up in a situation where you’re floundering cluelessly with the circuit breaker, or petting a neighbor’s seemingly adorable Pomeranian who nearly nips off a finger. Home, sweet home, right?
Yet you’d be surprised by how many of these unfortunate surprises home buyers can circumvent merely by asking the person who sold them the home some pointed questions before moving in. Sure, you’ll also be soaking up intel from the seller’s disclosure agreement, the home inspector who gave a thumbs-up to the place, and eventually even the neighbors. But truth be told, there’s nothing better than hearing about a home straight from someone who’s been living there for umpteen years. So go ahead and ask!
FREE DOWNLOAD: The Ultimate Home Buyers Guide
Just keep in mind that some sellers might feel tight-lipped if they think your questions might jeopardize the sale. As such, many of these questions are best asked near the end of the process—like during your walk-through or at closing.
1. Are there any special quirks about the house?
A thorough inspector will point out any oddities that are unsafe or devalue the house, but only someone who’s lived there will have a handle on all the unique characteristics worth mentioning—light switches in unexpected places, doors and windows that stick up or down, poltergeists, you name it. This question is most effectively asked during the final walk-through.
RECOMMENDED: ‘I’m wondering if you can tell me anything I might need to anticipate moving forward?’ Be subtle but persistent.
2. Have you had any past problems with the house that you’ve fixed?
True, sellers are often required to disclose most existing problems or issues related to the home. But what about past problems that have since been repaired?
RECOMMENDED: ‘I’ve read the disclosure statement. Is there anything else that has happened or that you’ve done that would be helpful to know?’ Use the disclosure as a jumping-off point to learn about what’s not listed.
3. Where are the water shut-off valve, sump pump, circuit box, and more?
Hopefully, the home inspector will locate all of these things and point them out to the new buyer as part of educating them about their new house, But not all inspectors do. So these are some important safety questions.
Ask the seller to show you not only the location of these valves, switches, and pumps, but also how they work. If you’re moving into an older home, chances are that many of the utility features will be unique in their operations, so rather than fumble around blindly, it’s a no-brainer to lean on the seller.
4. How is the neighborhood?
This is a great question to help establish rapport between buyer and seller, and is also best asked near the end of the buying process.
RECOMMENDED: ‘Tell me about the neighborhood.’ Keep it light.
Often the good, the bad, and the ugly will tumble out if approached conversationally. While you’re at it, if you’re new to the area, consider asking the seller for recommendations for everything from grocery stores to their favorite restaurants.
5. Is there anything you want to leave behind?
This one doesn’t so much help you get to know your home, but it might result in a few nice bonuses. It’s worth a shot to see if the seller is willing to part with large items he or she might not want to bother moving.
Most things that are being left, such as appliances, are dealt with in the original contract, but as it gets closer to closing, sellers are often wanting to unload some other things too. You might get lucky and wind up with something great.
Are you a recent homebuyer? Do you have questions you wished you asked? Let us know on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page or on our Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram Feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICE email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.
6 Bad Habits to Avoid If You Hope to Sell Your Home in 2017
Everyone has a few flaws. But if you plan to sell your New Jersey home in 2017, these foibles can literally cost you—we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars. What’s more, many homeowners may not even be aware that certain actions can hurt their odds of selling their home (that is, until it sits on the market with no takers).
To help clue you in, here’s a list of regrettable blunders to kick to the curb starting now, even if you plan to put your home on the market next year:
Bad Habit No. 1: Overimproving your home
Dying to install new kitchen cabinets or retile your master bath? Home sellers often assume any upgrades they make to their home will pay them back in full once they sell, but that’s rarely the case. On average you will recoup just about 64% of the money you spend on renovations once you sell—and certain improvements can actually work against you if they’re unusual or undesirable in your market.
For instance, as much as you may be dying for a bidet in your bathroom, many others may not. Likewise, even if you consider a new swimming pool a plus, many homeowners don’t want the hassle of maintaining it (or the dangers if they have young kids).
Do this instead: Check out blog post on Home Improvements that offer the Biggest Return on Investment to see which upgrades provide the best value – and ask your Agent for advice on which amenities are hot (or not) on the Jersey Shore.
Bad Habit No. 2: Renovating without permits
We know it’s a pain to apply for permits before you knock down that wall or add a deck, but this corner-cutting will come back and bite you when you decide to sell. Without proper permits, buyers may worry whether the work done on your place is up to code—and as a result refrain from making an offer.
Do this instead: Don’t be a scofflaw; pull necessary permits. Usually, building permits are required for any renovation that involves opening/building walls, electrical, and plumbing changes.
Bad Habit No. 3: Limiting showing hours
Sure, no one wants to leave their home at dinnertime. But buyers are busy juggling work, family, and looking for a new home. If you limit showings to a few hours on weekends, you might miss a potential sale.
Do this instead: Stay flexible and cooperate with buyer’s agents who want to show your house, even if it’s inconvenient.
Plus, limiting showing times gives buyers the impression that the you may be a “difficult” seller. That can turn them off even more.
Bad Habit No. 4. Overlooking curb appeal
Even if you lavish tons of attention on prepping the inside of your home for buyers, it’s easy to overlook the outside. But keep in mind, your curb appeal is the very first impression buyers have of your home, so it pays to put some elbow grease into prettying up the exterior, too.
Do this instead: Make sure your paint job is pristine and your lawn is tidy and mowed. Also replace dead shrubs, prune trees, put out some potted plants, mulch garden beds, and freshen mailboxes.
Bad Habit No. 5: Relying heavily on open houses
Open houses were a great way to sell a house in, like, 1975. These days, the vast majority of houses are sold through the Internet.
Do this instead: While you can and should hold open houses, don’t depend on them too much. Look for Agents who mine for buyers by using the Internet and Social Media.
Bad Habit No. 6: Not following your Agent’s advice
Sure, you no doubt know more about your home than anyone else. But your Real Estate Agent knows more about how to sell it. And your Agent may make some suggestions you might not like to hear, like that you need a new paint job or that the asking price you had in mind needs to be lowered a bit. It’s tempting to take offense or just ignore this advice, but if you do, you could risk seeing your house sit on the market and grow stale.
Do this instead: Listen to your Agent. That doesn’t mean blindly following all advice. But when it comes to pricing, consider the comps your agent presents, not your gut feeling or wishful thinking. Agents buy and sell hundreds of houses in their career; you’ll probably buy and sell a handful in your lifetime. You’re paying for their experience, so follow their advice.
Want advice about selling your home? Contact us today for a free consultation or visit us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICE™ email newsletter for articles and tips like these delivered straight to your inbox.
27 New Year’s Resolutions for Homeowners
Heading into a new year, we feel an obligation to make resolutions.
Personal resolutions can be motivating, exciting or just plain silly. This year I will… eat healthier, save money, run the Long Branch 5K, learn to surf in Monmouth Beach, do the Asbury Park Polar Bear Plunge.
As a homeowner, resolutions can also be empowering. Some are mission-critical for a solid financial year, others maybe fall in the wish list.
Need ideas? This list should get you started:
1. “Lose weight.”
Losing the weight of excess possessions save time (you know, like looking everywhere for your shoes in a cluttered bedroom), money (where did I put that bill?) and your mind (psychologists agree that clutter and stress go hand-in-hand).
2. Get organized.
The logical next step to decluttering is to find a logical place for what’s left.
Need inspiration? Walk through a home storage store or get yourself on Pinterest for some seriously clever organizational ideas.
3. Save energy.
Saving energy is good for the planet and it’s also great for your pocketbook. EnergyStar appliances are just the start.
• LED bulbs are much more efficient and now come in warmer tones and dimmable options for a more homey feel. Use a lighting calculator to measure energy and cost savings.
• Water heaters expend energy storing hot water. The Department of Energy says tankless water heaters are 8 percent to 34 percent more energy efficient than standard water heaters, depending on usage.
• Going solar no longer has to be ugly roof additions. Have you seen the new Tesla solar tiles?
Saving on energy can even have some great tax implications! Check out our article on the best energy enhancements for optimal tax write-offs.
4. Build green.
Going green is more than energy usage. It’s also about sustainability and healthful choices in finishes.
• Change out laminates and carpets for natural hard surfaces.
• Remove asbestos (with a professional).
• Use sustainable and recycled materials like bamboo, cork and Vetrazzo.
• Need to paint? Go with a low- or no-VOC non-toxic paint.
• If you’re texturizing a wall, try Earth plaster instead of gypsum.
5. Get healthy.
Create a workout space, so there’s no excuse when the weather turns. If you’re looking to move, check out neighborhoods with nearby trails, fitness centers and amenities.
6. Just fix it.
You’ve walked by that broken switch plate how many times?
Go through the house like a home inspector and create a checklist of repairs that need to be done. When it comes time to sell and appraise your house, you’ll be glad these were done.
7. Set yourself (debt) free.
Those who carry debt and struggle to pay it off are twice as likely to develop mental health problems, according to a study by John Gathergood of the University of Nottingham.
Paying off debt sets you free in so many ways, plus it’s great for your credit score. Think of all the things you could do in the future with the money you save on payments and interest (maybe even pay off your home early — see #20).
8. Remodel right.
Is it time to update a dated bathroom? Replace the garage door?
If you’re wondering what improvements will lead to a better return on investment when you sell, check out our article on which home renovations offer the greatest return on investment. Our Agent’s can also tell you what improvements are best for your neighborhood and house type.
9. Maximize your mortgage.
A recent Zillow study showed that Americans spent more time researching a car purchase than their home loan. Since the Fed announced that it’s planning three rate hikes in 2017, it’s wise to refi sooner than later.
Have you reached the loan-to-value needed to remove your mortgage insurance? Make an appointment to talk to a lender for a mortgage checkup.
10. Learn to DIY.
The more minor fixes (and if you’re really skilled, major fixes) you can do yourself, the more money you save.
11. Plan to maintain.
Create a maintenance calendar to remember those routine maintenance tasks, such as replacing furnace air filters, changing smoke detector batteries and winterizing sprinklers.
Whether it’s a paper calendar or your iCal on your phone, plan out scheduled maintenance so you won’t hear that relentless beeping of the smoke detector in the middle of the night — or run out of propane before the steaks are done (tragedy!).
Is this the year to buy a rental property? Or a vacation home?
This will really require you to understand your financial situation, so talk to your financial advisor and an Agent who understands investment properties.
13. Take an inventory.
That new flat screen television and 360 viewer you got for Christmas are going to need coverage. If disaster happens, do you really know what’s in your house?
14. Do the double check.
The Insurance Information Institute says a standard policy covers the structure and possessions against fire, hurricanes, wind, hail, lightning, theft and vandalism.
Most other disasters are add-ons. Talk to your insurance agent and make sure you have not only enough property coverage but also enough liability coverage.
15. Get a “CLUE”.
Your homeowners’ insurance premiums are dependent on a number of factors, such as credit score and the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) report of claim history.
You can request a free report from LexisNexis.
16. Make your neighborhood better.
Get involved with your local HOA, neighborhood watch or community events. The first step to a better neighborhood is your personal involvement.
For news, information about issues that effect your community and to keep in touch with your neighbors; you can also join the Community Facebook Pages and Group we maintain. Like the Bradley Beach, New Jersey Facebook Page or join the Groups for Bradley Beach, NJ Residents, Ocean Township, NJ Residents or our Jersey Shore and Monmouth County Lifestyle Group.
17. Save water.
Dry climate areas struggle for water in dense population centers. Watering restrictions can turn your grass brown and overuse can cost you with tiered billing. Even the New Jersey climates experience seasonal droughts or below average reservoir levels.
Xeriscape what you can outside and look for indoor appliances that use less water. If you live in a state with conservation legislation, get those regulators on your shower heads and hoses.
18. Get dirty.
Landscaping is essential to curb appeal. So this year, really plan to keep up with it or think about going to a more easy-care style.
Out back, consider a garden to save money on better produce. Get a composter for garden and food waste.
19. Plan for emergencies.
Natural disasters and social disruptions are unwanted, but they happen. To be ready, you actually need to prepare!
Do you have a family evacuation plan? Emergency supplies? Go to ready.gov for a ton of ideas on prevention and disaster preparedness.
20. Get smart.
Smart home features make your home more efficient and easy to use, even remotely. Look for these to be the “wow” factor that could make your house stand out. Who doesn’t love Alexa-enabled appliances?
21. Make extra mortgage payments.
You can take thousands of dollars and years off your mortgage by putting an extra amount towards the principal each month. For a $400,000 at 4.25 percent interest with 25 of its 30 years left, you could save $21,107 and take two years off by paying an extra $100 per month.
RELATED: How To Pay Your Mortgage Off Early
What could you save? Try Bankrate’s handy extra payment calculator.
22. Pay off your second mortgage.
Whether it’s a one- or multiple-year plan, it won’t happen if you don’t budget for it.
23. Scrutinize your property tax.
If you live in an area where your home value has dropped since the last assessment, you need to really look at that bill.
Is the assessment correct? Is it going up faster than the sale prices of comparable homes? You can appeal via your local appraisal review board.
24. Optimize your withholding.
If you’re a first-time homeowner, you’re going to enjoy those new deductions. Be sure to talk to your tax advisor about adjusting your paycheck withholding accordingly (unless you like Uncle Sam making money off your income instead of you!).
25. Pay bills, especially your mortgage, on time.
It goes a long way to improving your credit. “The longer bills are paid on time, the higher the FICO Score should rise,” says myFICO. “That’s because as recent “good payment” patterns appear on a credit report, the impact of past credit problems on a FICO Score fade.”
26. Cook dinner.
You know that fabulous kitchen you had to have when you bought your home? Use it!
The USDA’s 2016-17 Food Price Outlook shows the price of groceries decreased in 2016, with a less than 1.5 percent increase in 2017, but restaurants will continue to climb beyond 2016’s 2.4 percent increase.
You’ll also eat healthier at home by controlling what goes into your body. If you own a home with a less-than-stellar kitchen, cooking will probably motivate you to make some appliance and feature upgrades that will pay off when you sell.
27. Get hip.
Dated cabinets and 1980s fixtures don’t help your resale value. Evaluate your style and start looking at upcoming (not past) trends.
Although we’re still in a “sellers’ market” that will likely change in the next few years. A modern home (unless it’s a historic property) is simply more appealing and makes the buyer feel like it’s move-in ready.
Your house is your biggest asset. While not all of these resolutions are essential, aim to start out by focusing on your mortgage and personal finances. What do you have to add? Where might you start? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to sign up for our monthly HOME ADVICE eNewsletter for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox.
Here’s to a healthier, happier and successful New Year!
10 Low-Cost Tweaks to Help Your Home Sell
Many homeowners won’t even consider listing their home, because they can’t afford extensive remodeling to get it ready for sale. But sometimes it’s not the major renovations that buyers notice.
Consider this checklist of cheaper to-do’s before hanging that for-sale sign.
1. Quick-clean the exterior and landscape.
They don’t call it curb appeal for nothing. Check for loose or clogged gutters and broken or missing flashing materials, which help prevent leaks behind the gutters. Cut the lawn and trim the bushes. Make sure the garage doors open and close properly. Wipe down lawn furniture. Fix any dangling shutters.
Estimated costs: Completely replacing gutters can be expensive; replacing just parts is more economical. A 10-foot gutter starts at $6; downspouts start at $8. High-end garage doors cost $1,000, but a decorative garage door hardware kit starts at $19.
2. Make that door (and doorbell) stand out.
Many homeowners don’t come in through the front door, but prospective buyers do. If you’ve ever gone house hunting you know it takes a moment for your Realtor to get inside that lockbox to get the door open. During this time, buyer’s are sizing up the immediate exterior. Fix cracked or peeling doorways with a fresh coat of paint and be sure the bell actually rings.
Estimated costs: Exterior paints start at $30 a gallon; doorbells are $10 and up.
FREE DOWNLOAD: The Ultimate Guide to Selling Your House
3. Evaluate every entrance.
It’s not just the front door that will get the once-over. Doors offer a huge bang for the buck visually, so update interior doors or at least replace hinges and knobs. Junky bifolds with double-swing or heavier solid-core doors can also stand to be replaced.
Estimated costs: Bronze door hinges can cost $3; solid-core, unfinished pine interior doors start at $99.
4. Look down.
People walk in and wipe their feet. One of the first things they’ll notice is the condition of the floor, says Goode. Stained carpets, raggedy rugs and scratched floors are fairly easy fixes.
Estimated costs: You can rent a carpet steam cleaner for $60; the cost of area rugs varies significantly.
5. Select the right scent.
Beware the four most dreaded words in real estate: “What is that smell?” Buyers will associate musty odors with mold damage or disrepair, so eliminate any nose agitators. Clean out litter boxes, make sure your animals are bathed, banish the kids’ stinky sports equipment to the basement or garage, and throw out that science experiment in the fridge. Find one scent (or complementing scents) you love and use it throughout the house to avoid scent overload.
Estimated costs: Scented candles can cost $10; plug-in odor eliminators start at $17.
6. Spot treat any blemishes.
Walls are an excellent canvas, but they also clearly display age, dirt, indifference, even foundation issues. Fix any scuff marks, nail holes and paint cracks. Remove all peeling wallpaper and repaint in neutrals to maximize the natural light.
Estimated costs: Spackling paste starts at $18; interior paint costs $28 a gallon and up.
7. Have a place for everything.
If buyers see that your stuff doesn’t have a home, they won’t want your home. Make sure anything that’s not on display — shoes, coats, papers, pots, pans — is tucked away and neatly organized.
When closet space is at a premium, repurpose other areas for storage. Finish the garage walls and floors and add some simple storage to make the room part of the home. This can yield great return on investmet!
Estimated costs: Attractive bins and baskets cost $20 and up; basic shelving systems start at $200.
8. Check the tracks. You may no longer notice that lopsided utensils drawer, but potential buyers will. New cabinetry may be out of the question, but fix bent drawer tracks and slides, replace dangling pulls and tighten screws and handles.
Estimated costs: Basic rail-drawer-track kits start at $3; decorative cabinet knobs start at $4 each.
9. Give the appliances some elbow grease.
Buyers want stoves that shine, not evidence of last week’s tuna casserole. Clean the oven, refrigerator, microwave, sink and any other appliance that will be included in the purchase of the home.
Estimated costs: Most cleaning products start at $4; elbow grease is free.
10. Finish with finishes.
Bathroom gut jobs can be pricey, but replacing finishing elements such as faucets, showerheads, towel racks and toilet paper holders can significantly brighten a room. If you have polished chrome faucets or shower valves, you can pick up any chrome accessories and they will match, unlike satin nickel or oil-rubbed bronze. New shower curtains, towels and mats will also help the room look updated and clean.
Estimated costs: Showerheads can cost $40 and up; bath towels start at $10; faucets are $70 and up.
What tips do you have for sprucing up the home on a budget? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, on our Twitter feed or on LinkedIn. And don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly Patrick Parker Realty HOME ADVICE eNewsletter for articles, tips and guides like this delivered straight to your inbox.
Sealing The Deal: Making The Offer And Closing
So you’ve found a home and want it to be yours. Here’s what to do next.
If you’re ready to make an offer on a property, you’ve most likely done a lot of hard work to get to this point: You found a New Jersey real estate agent, whipped your credit into shape, chose a mortgage lender, determined your down payment, decided what type of loan you want, and (finally!) found your dream home. Now the challenge is writing a winning offer, fulfilling necessary contingencies, and getting to the closing table, where you’ll receive the keys to your new digs.
You’ll need to take a calculated approach if you want to ensure you’re getting the best deal. Follow these crucial steps to make an offer and get to the closing table:
1. Craft a compelling offer
Inventory is low in many metros. The number of starter homes on the market has dropped by 43.6% since 2012 — and first-time homebuyers today shell out 5.6% more of their income toward a home purchase than they did four years ago. This means you may have to go up against a number of other buyers when you make an offer.
You may even have to offer more than a home’s listing price to persuade a seller to accept; your real estate agent will help you come up with a compelling offer. Also, especially in a competitive market, it’s important to know just how high you’re willing to go in the event the seller asks you for your best and final offer, and then let your agent step in to handle the negotiating.
If you get into a bidding war — and can’t increase your purchase price — try pulling on the seller’s heartstrings by writing a personalized offer letter. Say what you love about the property (“Your home is around the corner from our son’s school.”) and explain why you love their home (“We love the beautiful hardwood floors you’ve taken such great care of.”).
2. Get your contingencies going ASAP
Once a seller has accepted your offer, you’re off to the races! Now it’s time to complete your contingencies, which are the conditions put in the contract that must be met for the contract to be binding.
Here are some of the most common contingencies you’re likely to encounter during this process:
• Financing contingency. This clause in the purchase agreement states that your offer on the property is contingent on being able to secure financing. The main goal of a financing contingency is to ensure that if you can’t obtain a loan, you’ll be able to get your earnest money deposit back. The clause specifies that you have a certain number of days within which to get your mortgage approved by your lender. Many lenders recommend homebuyers allow for up to 14 days. During this time, your loan will go through underwriting and — assuming everything checks out — you’ll receive a firm written commitment from your lender, which you then deliver to the seller to lift the financing contingency. This contingency is less common in hot markets; sellers are more likely to choose a buyer who has been pre-approved for a mortgage.
• Appraisal contingency. This clause states that in order for you to qualify for a loan, the property must be assessed by a third-party appraiser and found to be valued at (or above) the agreed-upon purchase price. Your lender will approve the loan only up to the appraised value. So if your agreed loan amount is $300,000, but the house appraises at $290,000, your lender is unlikely to agree to finance the sale. You and the seller will need to negotiate to determine whether one (or both) of you will cover the remaining $10,000 — or whatever the remaining cost is. If the appraisal is lower than your offer, you do have options. Sometimes everyone has to compromise to get to the closing table: the seller might have to come down on price; a buyer might pay more money in closing costs; or both real estate agents might need to take a lower commission. Alternatively, if you think the appraisal was inaccurate, you could get a second appraisal and then have your lender compare the two before deciding what loan amount you can receive. You also have the option to walk away from the purchase; this might be your best move if you feel uncomfortable paying more than what you initially offered for the property.
• Home inspection contingency. There’s more to a house than what first meets the eye. A home inspection contingency — strongly recommended by real estate agents even when you’re buying a brand-new home — states that you will get a licensed home inspector to check the property within a specified period after you sign the purchase agreement (typically seven days). Once the inspection is complete, you’re allowed to request that the seller make repairs; in many states, you’re required to give the seller a copy of the report. It’s up to you to decide what repairs you request. The seller then has the option to make the repairs or counter. If an agreement can’t be reached, the buyer can back out of the deal with their earnest money deposit intact. A home inspection contingency can give you peace of mind, since you learn exactly what condition the home is in before you decide whether to go through with the purchase. If your soon-to-be basement is covered in black mold, for instance, that may not be a home you want to purchase, with or without mold remediation.
• Lead-based paint inspection contingency. This contingency is typically used when purchasing a home built before 1978. Only certified inspectors can perform lead-based paint inspections. (Your general home inspector may already be certified.) You’re not required to do a lead-based paint inspection, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends getting one if young children will live in the home.
• HOA documents. This isn’t a contingency per se, since you don’t include it in the purchase agreement, but it’s a legal right given to all homebuyers who purchase a home governed by a homeowners’ association. The seller must provide you with what’s referred to as the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions, or CC&Rs: legal language for the association’s rules and regulations. These documents include the association’s bylaws, board minutes, record of reserve funds, master insurance policy, annual budget, a history of special assessments, and information on fineable infractions (e.g., some associations penalize residents for walking a dog without a leash).
Depending on the age of the community, you could receive hundreds of pages. As a homebuyer, you’re entitled to a period to review the documents once you receive them from the seller. (The number of days allotted varies by state.) If you decide to back out of the deal by citing that you have an issue with the HOA documents, you must notify the seller during the specified review period.
3. Assemble your closing team
Once the seller has accepted your offer, you’ll need to choose a title company to oversee certain parts of the transaction. The title company is responsible for verifying that the title to the property is legitimate, which ensures that you become the rightful owner of the home. A lot of the work that goes into doing the title search happens behind the scenes: checking that there are no outstanding liens, judgments, or unpaid taxes on the property, nor any easements, restrictions, or leases that affect ownership of the home. The title company acts as a liaison between both parties; it also typically oversees settlement.
4. Keep your finances in check
Until you reach the closing table, you need to make sure that your financial information remains the same, specifically your credit report and your bank accounts. Buying a car before you get to closing, for example, could damage your credit score — and since your loan still needs to go through underwriting, a lower score may negatively affect your mortgage (e.g., if your score drops from 760 to 690, you could wind up paying a higher interest rate or losing your mortgage entirely). A shopping spree for new furniture is also a bad idea — wait until you get the keys!
Moreover, the underwriter needs to be able to track where the down payment is coming from to approve the loan, so avoid making any large deposits or transfers to your bank accounts. If you need to move money, tell your lender what you’re doing and why.
5. What you need to bring to closing
It’s settlement day! But before you’re handed the keys to your new home, you need to go through closing. The morning of your settlement, you’ll go with your real estate agent to do a final walk-through of the house. Pay attention to any repair work the seller had done. (The seller should have shared receipts from contractors to show that licensed professionals completed the repairs.)
Assuming the home is in good shape, you’ll make your way to closing, where you’ll meet with a representative from the title company, your real estate agent, and your loan officer for settlement. (Caveat: Your lender isn’t required to be at closing, but you probably want your loan officer there in case of any last-minute issues with the loan.) The seller may or may not join you at the closing table; if they have already moved out of the area, for example, they will often sign their documents remotely.
By law, the title company must provide you with a copy of your closing documents three days in advance of settlement. Take time to review these so there are no surprises at the last minute.
The day of settlement, bring:
• Photo ID
• Homeowners insurance certificate
• A cashier’s check or proof of wire transfer for the exact amount of money you need to close
• Your co-signer (if applicable)
• Your checkbook in case there are any last-minute changes. (You still have one of those, right?)
6. Prepare for the future
Now that you’re a happy homeowner, you’ve got responsibilities: maintenance, repairs, utilities, and more (including that mortgage payment)! If you used a local lender, your mortgage will probably be sold to a larger financial institution. This won’t affect your monthly payment — it simply means you’ll be writing checks to a different company. (If you want to get technical: you’re now paying off your loan to a mortgage servicer rather than a mortgage lender.)
Traditionally, homeowners make mortgage payments on a monthly basis. However, many mortgage companies give you the option to use a biweekly payment plan. If you choose to do so, know that biweekly installments don’t necessarily save you money in interest. In most cases, the mortgage company applies the money to your loan only when it receives your full monthly payment amount, so even though you’re making payments every two weeks, you’re still effectively paying your mortgage only once per month.
Congratulations on your new home!
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A Quick ‘Cover Your Bases’ Home Prep Checklist
Selling a home doesn’t happen overnight. To maximize your sale price, stand out from the competition and sell quickly, your home needs to go on the market in tip-top condition.
You only get one chance to make a good first impression in real estate. Once your home’s listing goes live, the days on market start ticking. In the Internet age, with access to so much information, buyers will punish a seller whose home has been on the market for many months. If you can’t make the effort to get your home in it’s best condition, hold off on listing it.
Prepping the home rarely happens in one weekend. It takes time and thoughtful planning. If you intend to sell your home this season, here are a few steps you should take now:
Today’s buyers have research in their DNA and will investigate all they can. Check with your local building department and ensure there are no outstanding issues with your home.
RELATED: To Sell Your Home Think Like A Buyer
Verify that property records reflect your home accurately, and prepare to remedy any discrepancy. Make sure your title report is clean, and talk about potential disclosure items with your agent. Banks won’t lend if there are outstanding issues, and you don’t want to jump through hoops at the eleventh hour. Researching now will keep you one step ahead of the buyers.
It may seem counterintuitive to spend money on a property inspection, but you need to know about your home’s condition. If there are issues — big or small — you need to address, it is better to know about them early so you can either remedy them prior to going to market or account for them with a lower listing price.
The last thing you want is for the buyer to uncover flaws once they are under contract. You will
get stuck paying more under those circumstances than it would cost you to address the issues now.
As you prepare to sell, think of your home as an investment and start to see it through the eyes of potential buyers and the market. When you’re trying to sell your home, the less-is-more approach applies.
Put away big furniture and personal items. Store or put away all the things you won’t be using until you move into your new home. In the kitchen, make space in the cabinets for items you will need to use daily, but will want to put away for showings.
It’s common for sellers to make cosmetic improvements before they list. Kitchens and bathrooms sell your home. Plan to have the bathroom grout cleaned and have some parts of the house painted to give it a fresh look.
Consider cleaning rugs, refinishing hardwood floors or painting kitchen cabinets. If you plan to list in the spring, you likely have a good local real estate agent on your side by now. Get their advice and ask for referrals to do the work. There are lots of inexpensive contractors who can help spruce up your home quickly.
5. Consult with An Agent
The sale of your home is likely one of your biggest financial transactions. Get a real estate agent on your team early, and make a list of all the tasks you need to complete before listing this spring. Contact one of our experienced Agents to request a complimentary consultation.
Now is the time to have those discussions. Smart planning and a good strategy will ensure a quick, painless and profitable home sale.
If you’re thinking about selling your home, we’re hoping you’ll find all the content being shared this month useful. Join the conversation throughout Staging Month by engaging with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
And don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly Patrick Parker Realty email newsletter for articles like these delivered straight to your inbox!
The 10 Sins of Selling
On average, home sellers commit up to five of these home-selling “sins” and lose thousands of dollars on their home sale as a result. The good news? All of these mistakes are easily avoidable — if you know how to identify them.
1. Not hiring a professional to sell your house
Trying to sell your home by yourself is sheer madness, and many sellers who try it soon discover this. Even if you’re in a competitive market such as Boston, and you think your home will sell easily, you need the expertise of a real estate professional to score the best deal.
FREE DOWNLOAD: Why Use An Agent to Sell Your Home
2. Neglecting necessary repairs prior to sale
You will lose money if you don’t take care of repairs before your house goes on the market, because they will most likely be discovered during the home inspection. Do necessary repairs before listing and save yourself the last-minute headache of trying to quickly fix issues such as a leaking roof or botched caulk job.
3. Refusing to remove your clutter and junk prior to the sale
Clutter eats equity and kills deals. With all that extra stuff in the way, homebuyers can’t see the home for its true potential, and the offer will reflect that.
4. Selling your house empty
While clutter is bad, selling an empty house makes buyers feel the same way — empty. They need to be able to visualize how the home looks with furniture and how functional it will be for their own family.
5. Mispricing your home
Overpricing or underpricing your house is a huge money-losing mistake. Work with your agent to list your home at the perfect price to make sure it doesn’t sit on the market for too long, or worse, make you forever wonder if you could have gotten more money.
CRITICAL READING: The Importance of Proper Pricing
6. Not setting the stage for sale day
Remember; buyers purchase with their hearts and not their heads. Create a showplace for your buyers on sale day (but don’t go overboard with music or too much potpourri).
7. Letting your emotions get in the way when negotiating
It’s not uncommon – and almost understandable. But many sellers become emotional while negotiating and lose out on creating a win-win deal. Look forward to a bright future as hard as it may be to let your house go.
8. Neglecting to complete a full set of disclosures prior to closing
This one’s simple. Be honest and reveal everything (plus, what you don’t reveal will be discovered by the buyer). Ask your Agent for help with this. Patrick Parker Realty takes our fiduciary duty to represent your interests very seriously. This includes proper disclosure.
9. Preempting the sale for maximum tax benefits
Even one day can cost you tens of thousands in extra taxes. Don’t be left a day late and many dollars short.
10. Overlooking junk fees and extra expenses at closing
Home sellers throw away thousands by not requesting and confirming a list of fees and expenses long before closing day.
Did we miss any home-selling mistakes? What have you learned in retrospect? Sound off in Comments, on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook or Twitter pages and don’t forget to sign up for the monthly Patrick Parker Realty eNewsletter for more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.
December is usually when people are looking to deck their own halls—not buy new ones. But buying a home in December and January can be a smart move.
Michael Corbett, Trulia real estate expert and a bestselling author, is a big fan of the holiday season, what he likes to call “the lull.” He says that savvy home buyers should take advantage of this time if they’re serious about buying.
“Mortgage rates are low now,” Corbett says. “The price increases that are common in metro markets are slowing, even showing an average 19% price increase last year, now showing signs of cooling.”
Corbett explains why the holidays are no time to take a long winter’s nap if you want to buy a home.
“There isn’t a lot of competition. People know they’re going to be busy or traveling during the holidays, so most deals have been wrapped up or people have put off looking until after the New Year. There are still homes on the market, but not as many people gunning for them. This is an advantage to both buyers.”
Would other key people in the equation, such as realtors and mortgage brokers, also be scarce?
Realtors love this time of year. They say they get a lot of business done because the people who are out looking are serious. As a buyer, your broker will have more time to focus on you, as opposed to other times of the year when they might be juggling more clients. You may not be able to close before the end of the year, but it’s a good time to get something under contract.
Could a homebuyer miss or overlook something while buying in the dead of winter?
Buying in winter may be the ultimate litmus test for a home, since all the big systems such as heating, plumbing and the roof and gutters are put to the test in the cold. Some of the curb appeal may be gone, but fixing landscaping is a lot less expensive than finding out months later that your boiler doesn’t work.
So if you’re looking to buy a home… in addition to that holiday shopping list; get started on that “must-haves” list and that “nice-to-haves” list and contact a Patrick Parker Realty expert today!
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