How Big a Home Do You Truly Need? 5 Questions to Ask to Figure That Out
When it comes to homes, the popular credo is that bigger is better. More square feet = a larger slice of the American dream, right?
For one, bigger homes obviously cost more, and oversized McMansions can be harder to sell. As such, you’ll want a home that’s neither too big nor too small. But how do you strike that balance?
Here are five questions to ask yourself that will help you determine how much space you really need.
1. Is this my ‘forever’ home, or is ‘right now’ good enough?
While you can’t predict the future, it is possible to evaluate the likelihood you might be moving in coming years. If so, then maybe you don’t need to buy that perfect “forever home” where you’ll grow old; maybe a “right now” home is good enough.
There’s a common perception that you should be searching for your ‘forever home,’ and that pressure to find a place that has all the space you might ever need often leads buyers to purchase a home that might be too big. It’s OK to know that you’ll only live in a home for the next five or six years, and to buy a home that will serve your needs during that period. You can always re-evaluate and upgrade to a bigger space later.
2. What will my income look like later?
If you’re early in your career, odds are decent that your income will increase over the years. Or, if you’re reaching the end of your career, you may be looking at flattened or declining income. In either case, it’s never a good idea to get a mortgage at the max of what you can afford; it’s better to go small and have some wiggle room.
Nothing causes more stress than financial strain and a mortgage on a home that is a size too large is most likely to be your biggest burden, and a hard one to overcome. Happiness is often one size smaller than your dream home. That way, you can enjoy your home without dreading your monthly mortgage payment.
Also, remember more space means more time and money spent on upkeep and improvements, more rooms to fill with furniture, and higher utility bills to heat and cool the home.
3. What are my priorities?
Another question to consider is what you’ll use all that space for—and be honest: While you might dream of hosting epic dinner parties in that big formal dining room, will you really? Can you say with certainty that your in-laws will descend on you during the holidays and need a guest bedroom to crash in, or might they be just as comfortable in a nearby Airbnb?
Aside from justifying what you’ll use each space for, ask yourself what you’re giving up. If you dream of having a secret “travel fund” so you can see the world, that may be possible only with a smaller mortgage (and house). Or, perhaps you value things other than space, like school district or a walkable location. So make sure to factor in those variables, too—and make sure you aren’t sacrificing them for space you don’t need.
4. How much space do I want from my own family members?
If you absolutely must have privacy—to, say, get work done in a home office or chill out in your man cave—then that extra square footage may be well worth the money. But if you’re more the type who loves having their family members nearby, a large home gives people plenty of alone time… sometimes too much.
Recently when speaking with one of our buyers, she commented: “I’ve found that my daughter’s friends who live in large homes rarely even run into their parents.” So her preference was for something a bit smaller, because she prefers her kids a bit underfoot.
She was also seeking a more cozy vibe and a close-knit family environment a smaller home encourages. This was what the preference was for her family dynamic. You’ll have to determine yours.
5. Does this home feel spacious even if it doesn’t have much space?
Keep in mind that even small homes can feel spacious purely based on an open floor plan and lots of light. Meanwhile, large homes can still feel cramped if they’re dark or poorly laid out. So, when shopping real estate listings, know that the little number next to square footage may not tell the whole story.
For example, features like a long hallway may increase the total square footage, but they are spaces you pass through, not a true destination within the home.
So instead of focusing on total square footage, focus on the size of individual rooms where you see yourself spending the majority of your time. If all you do in your bedroom is sleep, does it matter if its massive or not?
In your experience, how much space is too much space? Or, did you find you underestimated how much room you actually needed? What did you learn about space when buying your current home? 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.
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 Pricing Myths to Stop Believing If You Ever Hope to Sell Your House
Pricing your own home is hard. Of course, you want to make a profit. Of course, all that money you spent installing a swimming pool or a half-bath will be recouped, because you’re leaving your digs in better shape than when you bought it, right?
Well, not necessarily. Too many home sellers fall prey to myths about home pricing that seem to make sense at first, but don’t jive with the reality of real estate markets today. To make sure you haven’t bought into any of this—since the buyers you’re trying to woo sure haven’t—here are some common pricing myths you’ll want to rinse from your brain so you kick off your home-selling venture with realistic expectations.
1. You always make money when you sell a home
Sure, real estate tends to appreciate over time: Home prices increased by approximately 5% by the end of 2017 and continue rising 3.5% in 2018. But selling your home for more than you paid is by no means a given, and your return on investment can vary greatly based on where you live.
2. Price your house high to make big bucks
We know what you’re thinking: “Hey, it’s worth a shot!” But if you start with some sky-high asking price, you’ll soon come back to Earth when you realize that an overpriced home just won’t sell.
While the payday might sound appealing, you’re actually sacrificing your best marketing time in exchange for the remote possibility that someone will overpay for your home.
RELATED: Home Won’t Sell? Check The Price
While certain buyers might be suckered in, this becomes far less likely if they’re working with a buyer’s agent who will know all too well when a home is overpriced, and advise their client to steer clear. And this can lead to problems down the road (as our next myth indicates).
3. If your home’s overpriced, it’s no big deal to lower it later
Sorry, but overpricing your home isn’t easily fixed just by lowering it later on. The reason: Homes that have lingered on the market for months make buyers presume that something must be wrong. As such, they might still steer clear, or offer even less than the price you’re now asking.
Bottom line: Price your home appropriately from the beginning for your best shot at having a quick and easy sale.
RELATED: The Importance of Proper Pricing
4. Pricing your home low means you won’t make as much money
Similarly, sellers are often leery of pricing their home on the low end. But as counterintuitive as this seems, this strategy can often pay off big-time. Here’s why: Low-priced homes drum up tons of interest, which could result in a bidding war that could drive your home’s price past your wildest dreams.
5. You can add the cost of any renovations you’ve made
Let’s say you overhauled your kitchen or added a deck. It stands to reason that whatever money you paid for these improvements will be recouped in full once you sell—after all, your home’s new owners are inheriting all your hard work.
The reality: While your renovations might see some return on investment, you’ll rarely recoup the whole amount. On average, you can expect to get back 64% of every dollar you spend on home improvements. Plus that profit can vary greatly based on which renovation you do.
6. A past appraisal will help you pinpoint the right price
If you have an appraisal in hand, from when you bought or refinanced your house, you might think that’s a logical place to start to price your home. It’s not!
An appraisal assigns your home a value based on market conditions at a specific date, so it becomes old news very quickly. In fact, lenders typically won’t accept appraisals that are more than 60 days old because lenders know markets can change quickly.
7. Your agent might overprice the house to make a bigger commission
Don’t even go there.
While it’s true that an agent’s commission is based on the selling price of a house, the disparity will end up being negligible. For example, the difference in commission between a $300,000 house and one that’s $310,000 is about $150.
No real estate agent is going to lose a sale for the sake of a couple hundred dollars.
Do you have any home selling myths to add to our list? Sound off on The Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page or our Twitter 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.
What is the Cost of Waiting Until Next Year to Buy a Home?
Over the course of the last 12 months, home prices have appreciated by 7.0%. Over the same amount of time, interest rates have remained historically low which has allowed many buyers to enter the market.
FREE DOWNLOAD: Your Guide To Home Buying
The Most Critical Steps To Take When Buying Your Dream Home
As a seller, you will likely be most concerned about ‘short-term price’ – where home values are headed over the next six months. As a buyer, however, you must not be concerned about price, but instead about the ‘long-term cost’ of the home.
The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae all project that mortgage interest rates will increase by this time next year. According to CoreLogic’s most recent Home Price Index Report, home prices will appreciate by 4.7% over the next 12 months.
What Does This Mean as a Buyer?
If home prices appreciate by 4.7% over the next twelve months as predicted by CoreLogic, here is a simple demonstration of the impact that an increase in interest rate would have on the mortgage payment of a home selling for approximately $250,000 today:
If buying a home is in your plan for 2018, doing it sooner rather than later could save you thousands of dollars over the terms of your loan.
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How to Interview A Listing Agent
Is interviewing a Real Estate Agent such a daunting task?
Too many people rush into choosing a Listing Agent. Once the idea of selling pops into their minds, they may choose the first Agent that crosses their path, whether via postcard, a Facebook Ad or billboard. In fact, 72% of home sellers contacted only one Real Estate Agent before deciding on the ‘right Agent’ they like sell their home through.
The big question here is how does one avoid choosing the wrong Real Estate Agent for the job?
Either you interview a Real Estate Agent and decide to hire him right there and then; or you opt to interview a couple of Real Estate Agents. Whichever route you as a home seller decide to take, make sure you have prepared at least a handful of questions, which should quickly determine whether your decision to hire that Real Estate Agent was the good one (or not)!
Most Real Estate Agents will not expect you to be asking these types of questions!
FREE DOWNLOAD: The Ultimate Home Seller’s Guide
This list of 10 questions to ask when interviewing a Listing Agent will come in handy in separating the wheat from the chaff:
Question #1: How long have you been a Real Estate Agent?
As much as enthusiasm and passion a beginning Real Estate Agent might bring to the table, when it is time for contract negotiation, it will be the (negotiation) experience of the Agent which will bring the deal to a successful close!
The more contracts a Real Estate Agent has written over the years, the more experience he will have in detecting, avoiding, preparing, anticipating potential pitfalls! As any experienced Real Estate Agent can attest, there’s no such thing a ‘simple contract’ – every contract is unique and will require a customized legal frame work, making sure the terms and conditions of the deal are ironclad!
Of course, you’ll always have these superstar Agents who are making a killing in their first year of real estate, but those are the exception to the rule!
The other nine questions below will filter through whether you’re dealing with such a super-talented Agent or just a fly-by-night individual!
Question #2: How many real estate transactions did you close last year?
This might perhaps be seen as a rude or inappropriate question to ask if it were asked in any other field than real estate.
Real Estate Agents are always talking amongst one another about production numbers, as it’s an integrate part of their business models, annual goals, and getting more business!
Whereas the abstract figure won’t necessarily tell you a lot (other than give you a rough idea how much commission the Agent made), it does give you an idea of how active the Real Estate Agent is.
It might be tempting to look at the total number and use it as the sole measuring stick on how successful the Agent was, but one needs to put it into perspective:
The Real Estate Agent who sold the lower number of properties over the past 12 months might not immediately be your first choice, neither should the Agent who sold 50 properties in a particular year.
And why might that be?
Agents who give the highest listing price, do get a lot of business from home sellers, who don’t necessarily know any better, until it’s too late and the property has been exposed to the market for way too long! The overpriced properties you see lingering about for months on end, and plenty of expired listings are proof of that.
In other words, the ratio of houses the Agent eventually sells versus the (overpriced) properties that he still has on the books (which is called the sales-to-listing ratio) will be an important number to watch.
Thus, while not immediately evident by hearing a raw number, put into context, it is very revealing who is the better Agent: a Real Estate Agent who sells 16 out of his 20 listings compared to another Agent who sells 35 out of 70 listings!
Question #3: Is being a Real Estate Agent your full-time job?
There is this misconception that being a Real Estate Agent must be such an easy job, which offers lots of free time, days off, and can make you bundles of money. But if you interview a Real Estate Agent who’s been around the block, you will more than hear something completely different!
While one might initially be going through training and learning the ropes on a part-time basis, providing a professional service to your clients does require a full-time Real Estate Agent.
How is the part-time Agent going to handle all the incoming viewing requests, specific property inquiries by home buyers or property valuations for home sellers if he’s too busy working another job?
Nevermind what might happen if there’s talk of writing an offer at the ‘wrong time’ for this part-time Agent. Time constraint? Availability? Imagine as a home seller to be losing such an interested home buyer because the (part-time) Agent’s agenda can’t accommodate!
Needless to say, hiring a part-time Real Estate Agent is not advisable!
Question #4: How often can we expect feedback from you?
Perhaps the line of questioning ought to go in the direction of who will be providing the feedback!
Is the Real Estate Agent working on his own, together with a personal assistant or is there an entire team behind the scene? And more importantly, who will end up being the person you, as the home seller, will get all the feedback from?
It’s only normal for a home seller wanting to know what the home buyers have been saying about their property during the viewings over the course of the week. Most well-oiled teams have this part covered with a feedback system to make sure the home seller gets proper, timely information about buyer feedback!
Not only before the property is sold, but also during and afterwards, it’s vital for the Agent to keep the home seller in the loop of where they stand in the process: is a home inspection due or is the bank appraisal taking place soon? Plus, will the Agent be present during those activities as well?
Each of those events, as small or big as they may be, requires feedback to the home seller. This is where a professional Real Estate Agent (and/or team) stands out from the crowd! There’s no such thing as too much feedback!
Question #5: How do you normally communicate with your clients?
Depending on how the Agent responds to the previous question, you’ll lead right into this one.
Once you’ve established the frequency or timing of the feedback, you need to figure out which communication medium your Agent uses with other clients.
When you interview a Real Estate Agent, you need to make sure to inform the Real Estate Agent of your preferred method of communication!
Some people are stuck on a personal phone call following every showing appointment, others might be too busy and rather prefer you to send them a text message or email them a summary of what happened during the viewing.
Having said that, one of the biggest complaints people have against Agents is the lack of communication.
If an Agent happens to be in a client meeting and can’t pick up the phone, we all know that those things happen and a return call afterwards will set everything straight. However, I’m referring to the blatant lack of respect on part of a lot of Real Estate Agents who believe returning phone calls the same day is something of an unnecessary luxury. This Agent is in control of the sale of your life’s most expensive asset, so the least he can do is treat you with respect by returning your call(s) ASAP!
Question #6: Can you provide us with a recent list of client references?
There are pretty much two options you could go with:
(1) ask the Listing Agent for a list of recent client references, which is something he’ll more than likely have written out on a personal testimonial page on his website. You can also check sites like Zillow and Google for online reviews that the Agent cannot filter.
(2) maybe a better option would be to request the details of the last few homes he sold and consequently contact those people yourself. It might take a little bit more time and effort, but the feedback you’ll get from these previous clients will more than likely be quite informative, and more importantly, be unprepared by the Agent!
Question #7: How did you determine the asking price of our home?
Here, you have a couple of popular ways to arrive at the market value:
The most commonly used method (as well as the best one) is the Comparative Market Analysis (CMA), which allows the Agent to look at the recently sold properties in your immediate vicinity, as well as the current properties for sale, all within a similar size, look and price range, in order to arrive at a fair market value!
RELATED: The Importance Of Proper Pricing
As you interview a Real Estate Agent, nothing stops you from asking him to show you some proof regarding the CMA’s conclusions.
Question #8: Will you personally be taking pictures of our home?
How often have you browsed a property portal and come across some incredibly bad pictures? What was the Agent thinking? And how did the seller approve that marketing material?
This makes you stop and think who could have possibly have taken those unprofessional photos?
Whereas there are Agents who have particularly good photography skills and appropriate equipment to present your home at its best, the majority of Real Estate Agents don’t.
The importance of having great photos as part of your marketing cannot be stressed enough!
Bottom line: unless this Real Estate Agent is half a pro at taking real estate photos himself, insist on a Professional Real Estate Photographer.
Question #9: Which advertising tools will you be using to market our home?
Besides the traditional advertising tools, such as ads in newspapers, magazines, postcards, billboards etc., any decent Real Estate Agents needs to have a strong online presence.
Marketing should be happening all over! Your property needs to get exposed to as many potential home buyers as possible!
As a quick reminder, 90% of the home buyers start their home search online!
RELATED: Your Unique Marketing Plan
The internet is where all the researching and reading up happens, months before the home buyer even contacts the Agent!
Through the Agent’s online activities across many social network platforms, his personal website, and an active blogging calendar, chances are very good that the home buyers will keep running into that Agent’s content during their information-gathering phase. And who will they more than likely be contacting to help them find homes for sale on the Jersey Shore once they’re ready? After all, without even having met the Agent, these home buyers already have quite the impression of him due to this dominant online presence!
Question #10: Do you provide any additional services?
Sometimes it’s nice to know whether the Agent can offer you something different from the other Agents.
Any experienced Agent will immediately suggest helping out with the presentation of your home: from the cleaning & decluttering, to some of the needed repairs to the house, to getting that garden up-to-date, with extra attention pruning the shrubs & trimming the lawn.
Provided that the Agent has been working in the local area for many years, he’ll be able to set you up with a list of vendors as well, ranging from local handymen, attorneys, moving companies, to name but a few.
Keep in mind that the better Agents have your best interest at heart and don’t mean anything personal or hurtful if they point out potential negatives throughout the house.
The Real Estate Agent’s advice shouldn’t be taken lightly, as it is in their interest as well to have a more desirable and saleable product to present to buyers!
Have you recently interviewed a Listing Agent to sell your home? What did you learn? Did you rush through the process with regrets? Share your story on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, on our Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICE™ eNewsletter for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox.
What Is a Real Estate Agent’s Commission?
Ever wonder what exactly a Real Estate Agent does? Are they worth the commission? Ever wonder if you’re paying too much for commission? Even consider going it your own via FSBO?
You may have a great Agent and they don’t communicate with you all they’re doing. Or, you may also have a rock star agent and who’s doing so much it hasn’t even occurred to you all the fine details going into your home sale.
Here are a few facts that might help you sleep at night and have some peace about residential real estate commissions:
1. Real estate agents are sole proprietors
That means that even if they are a part of an agency, they are small business owners and cover all their own costs and carry all the risk. Do you own or have you ever owned your own small business? Then you know you wear ALL the hats and all the responsibility falls to you. Not to mention, your rather high tax rate!
They invest in you and your home. If they take on a listing, that means they’ve calculated the cost of marketing, photos, and time – lots and lots of time. High quality marketing – online and offline – and maybe even virtual tours. All that cost money. There’s considerable overhead if you are active in the field.
They have no salary and no real predictability in income. One deal may have to last them many months or maybe even longer.
2. The sale of your home may be covering for the loss of another
Deals fall through ALL. THE. TIME. Your particular sale may go pretty smoothly – great! I guarantee you it has ended up covering for a major loss on another deal. It’s the nature of business.
3. The real work begins once a contract is accepted
It may feel like all an agent does is show up sometimes for an open house here and there and put a sign in the yard. Or every time they come over, they’re telling you things you need to spend money on. But the real work is done behind the scenes and is intensified once an offer is accepted. Getting to the closing table is more and more challenging.
Pat Vredevoogd-Combs, a former president of the National Association of REALTORS, testified before the House Financial Services Committee on Housing to stark federal complaints about residential real estate industry pricing.
She submitted a list of 184 things that Listing Agents do in every real estate transaction as a part of her testimony to the committee. She stated, “By all accounts the general public is not aware of all the services that agents provide to sellers and buyers during the course of the transaction, probably because most of the important services are performed behind the scenes.”
Here is the list of (just) 184 things residential real estate agents do:
1. Make appointment with seller for listing presentation.
2. Send a written or e-mail confirmation of appointment and call to confirm.
3. Review appointment questions.
4. Research all comparable currently listed properties.
5. Research sales activity for past 18 months from MLS and public databases.
6. Research “average days on market” for properties similar in type, price and location.
7. Download and review property tax roll information.
8. Prepare “comparable market analysis” (CMA) to establish market value.
9. Obtain copy of subdivision plat/complex layout.
10. Research property’s ownership and deed type.
11. Research property’s public record information for lot size and dimensions.
12. Verify legal description.
13. Research property’s land use coding and deed restrictions.
14. Research property’s current use and zoning.
15. Verify legal names of owner(s) in county’s public property records.
16. Prepare listing presentation package with above materials.
17. Perform exterior “curb appeal assessment” of subject property.
18. Compile and assemble formal file on property.
19. Confirm current public schools and explain their impact on market value.
20. Review listing appointment checklist to ensure completion of all tasks.
Listing Appointment Presentation
21. Give seller an overview of current market conditions and projections.
22. Review agent and company credentials and accomplishments.
23. Present company’s profile and position or “niche” in the marketplace.
24. Present CMA results, including comparables, solds, current listings and expireds.
25. Offer professional pricing strategy based and interpretation of current market conditions.
26. Discuss goals to market effectively.
27. Explain market power and benefits of multiple listing service.
28. Explain market power of Web marketing, IDX and MLS.
29. Explain the work the broker and agent do “behind the scenes” and agent’s availability on weekends.
30. Explain agent’s role in screening qualified buyers to protect against curiosity seekers.
31. Present and discuss strategic master marketing plan.
32. Explain different agency relationships and determine seller’s preference.
33. Review all clauses in listing contract and obtain seller’s signature.
After Listing Agreement is Signed
34. Review current title information.
35. Measure overall and heated square footage.
36. Measure interior room sizes.
37. Confirm lot size via owner’s copy of certified survey, if available.
38. Note any and all unrecorded property lines, agreements, easements.
39. Obtain house plans, if applicable and available.
40. Review house plans, make copy.
41. Order plat map for retention in property’s listing file.
42. Prepare showing instructions for buyers’ agents and agree on showing time with seller.
43. Obtain current mortgage loan(s) information: companies and account numbers
44. Verify current loan information with lender(s).
45. Check assumability of loan(s) and any special requirements.
46. Discuss possible buyer financing alternatives and options with seller.
47. Review current appraisal if available.
48. Identify Home Owner Association manager is applicable.
49. Verify Home Owner Association fees with manager–mandatory or optional and current annual fee.
50. Order copy of Home Owner Association bylaws, if applicable.
51. Research electricity availability and supplier’s name and phone number.
52. Calculate average utility usage from last 12 months of bills.
53. Research and verify city sewer/septic tank system.
54. Calculate average water system fees or rates from last 12 months of bills.
55. Or confirm well status, depth and output from Well Report.
56. Research/verify natural gas availability, supplier’s name and phone number.
57. Verify security system, term of service and whether owned or leased.
58. Verify if seller has transferable Termite Bond.
59. Ascertain need for lead-based paint disclosure.
60. Prepare detailed list of property amenities and assess market impact.
61. Prepare detailed list of property’s “Inclusions & Conveyances with Sale.”
62. Complete list of completed repairs and maintenance items.
63. Send “Vacancy Checklist” to seller if property is vacant.
64. Explain benefits of Home Owner Warranty to seller.
65. Assist sellers with completion and submission of Home Owner Warranty application.
66. When received, place Home Owner Warranty in property file for conveyance at time of sale.
67. Have extra key made for lockbox.
68. Verify if property has rental units involved. And if so:
69. Make copies of all leases for retention in listing file.
70. Verify all rents and deposits.
71. Inform tenants of listing and discuss how showings will be handled.
72. Arrange for yard sign installation.
73. Assist seller with completion of Seller’s Disclosure form.
74. Complete “new listing checklist.”
75. Review results of Curb Appeal Assessment with seller and suggest improvements for salability.
76. Review results of Interior Decor Assessment and suggest changes to shorten time on market.
77. Load listing time into transaction management software.
Entering Property in MLS Database
78. Prepare MLS Profile Sheet–agent is responsible for “quality control” and accuracy of listing data.
79. Enter property data from Profile Sheet into MLS listing database.
80. Proofread MLS database listing for accuracy, including property placement in mapping function.
81. Add property to company’s Active Listings.
82. Provide seller with signed copies of Listing Agreement and MLS Profile Data Form within 48 hours.
83. Take more photos for upload into MLS and use in flyers. Discuss efficacy of panoramic photography.
Marketing the Listing
84. Create print and Internet ads with seller’s input.
85. Coordinate showings with owners, tenants and other agents. Return all calls–weekends included.
86. Install electronic lockbox. Program with agreed-upon showing time windows.
87. Prepare mailing and contact list.
88. Generate mail-merge letters to contact list.
89. Order “Just Listed” labels and reports.
90. Prepare flyers and feedback forms.
91. Review comparable MLS listings regularly to ensure property remains competitive in price, terms, conditions and availability.
92. Prepare property marketing brochure for seller’s review.
93. Arrange for printing or copying of supply of marketing brochures or flyers.
94. Place marketing brochures in all company agent mailboxes.
95. Upload listing to company and agent Internet sites.
RELATED: Your Custom Home Marketing Plan
96. Mail “Just Listed” notice to all neighborhood residents.
97. Advise Network Referral Program of listing.
98. Provide marketing data to buyers from international relocation networks.
99. Provide marketing data to buyers coming from referral network.
100. Provide “Special Feature” cards for marketing, if applicable/
101. Submit ads to company’s participating Internet real estate sites.
102. Convey price changes promptly to all Internet groups.
103. Reprint/supply brochures promptly as needed.
104. Review and update loan information in MLS as required.
105. Send feedback e-mails/faxes to buyers’ agents after showings.
106. Review weekly Market Study.
107. Discuss feedback from showing agents with seller to determine if changes will accelerate the sale.
108. Place regular weekly update calls to seller to discuss marketing and pricing.
109. Promptly enter price changes in MLS listings database.
The Offer and the Contract
110. Receive and review all Offer to Purchase contracts submitted by buyers or buyers’ agents. 111. Evaluate offer(s) and prepare “net sheet” on each for owner to compare.
112. Counsel seller on offers. Explain merits and weakness of each component of each offer. 113. Contact buyers’ agents to review buyer’s qualifications and discuss offer.
114. Fax/deliver Seller’s Disclosure to buyer’s agent or buyer upon request and prior to offer if possible.
115. Confirm buyer is pre-qualified by calling loan officer.
116. Obtain pre-qualification letter on buyer from loan officer.
117. Negotiate all offers on seller’s behalf, setting time limit for loan approval and closing date.
118. Prepare and convey any counteroffers, acceptance or amendments to buyer’s agent.
119. Fax copies of contract and all addendums to closing attorney or title company.
120. When Offer-to-Purchase contract is accepted and signed by seller, deliver to buyer’s agent.
121. Record and promptly deposit buyer’s money into escrow account.
122. Disseminate “Under-Contract Showing Restrictions” as seller requests.
123. Deliver copies of fully signed Offer to Purchase contract to sellers.
124. Fax/deliver copies of Offer to Purchase contract to selling agent.
125. Fax copies of Offer to Purchase contract to lender.
126. Provide copies of signed Offer to Purchase contract for office file.
127. Advise seller in handling additional offers to purchase submitted between contract and closing.
128. Change MLS status to “Sale Pending.”
129. Update transaction management program to show “Sale Pending.”
130. Review buyer’s credit report results–Advise seller of worst and best case scenarios.
131. Provide credit report information to seller if property is to be seller financed.
132. Assist buyer with obtaining financing and follow up as necessary.
133. Coordinate with lender on discount points being locked in with dates.
134. Deliver unrecorded property information to buyer.
135. Order septic inspection, if applicable.
136. Receive and review septic system report and access any impact on sale.
137. Deliver copy of septic system inspection report to lender and buyer.
138. Deliver well flow test report copies to lender, buyer and listing file.
139. Verify termite inspection ordered.
140. Verify mold inspection ordered, if required.
Tracking the Loan Process
141. Confirm return of verifications of deposit and buyer’s employment.
142. Follow loan processing through to the underwriter.
143. Add lender and other vendors to transaction management program so agents, buyer and seller can track progress of sale.
144. Contact lender weekly to ensure processing is on track.
145. Relay final approval of buyer’s loan application to seller.
146. Coordinate buyer’s professional home inspection with seller.
147. Review home inspector’s report.
148. Enter completion into transaction management tracking software program.
149. Explain seller’s responsibilities of loan limits and interpret any clauses in the contract.
150. Ensure seller’s compliance with home inspection clause requirements.
151. Assist seller with identifying and negotiating with trustworthy contractors for required repairs.
152. Negotiate payment and oversee completion of all required repairs on seller’s behalf, if needed.
153. Schedule appraisal.
154. Provide comparable sales used in market pricing to appraiser.
155. Follow up on appraisal.
156. Enter completion into transaction management program.
157. Assist seller in questioning appraisal report if it seems too low.
Closing Preparations and Duties
158. Make sure contract is signed by all parties.
159. Coordinate closing process with buyer’s agent and lender.
160. Update closing forms and files.
161. Ensure all parties have all forms and information needed to close the sale.
162. Select location for closing.
163. Confirm closing date and time and notify all parties.
164. Solve any title problems (boundary disputes, easements, etc.) or in obtaining death certificates.
165. Work with buyer’s agent in scheduling and conducting buyer’s final walkthrough prior to closing.
166. Research all tax, HOA, utility and other applicable prorations.
167. Request final closing figures from closing agent (attorney or title company).
168. Receive and carefully review closing figures to ensure accuracy.
169. Forward verified closing figures to buyer’s agent.
170. Request copy of closing documents from closing agent.
171. Confirm the buyer and buyer’s agent received title insurance commitment.
172. Provide “Home Owners Warranty” for availability at closing.
173. Review all closing documents carefully for errors.
174. Forward closing documents to absentee seller as requested.
175. Review documents with closing agent (attorney).
176. Provide earnest money deposit from escrow account to closing agent.
177. Coordinate closing with seller’s next purchase, resolving timing issues.
178. Have a “no surprises” closing so that seller receives a net proceeds check at closing.
179. Refer sellers to one of the best agents at their destination, if applicable.
180. Change MLS status to Sold. Enter sale date, price, selling broker and agent’s ID numbers, etc.
181. Close out listing in transaction management program.
Follow Up After Closing
182. Answer questions about filing claims with Home Owner Warranty company, if requested.
183. Attempt to clarify and resolve any repair conflicts if buyer is dissatisfied.
184. Respond to any follow-up calls and provide any additional information required from office files.
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Avoid These 5 Major Mistakes People Make When Hiring a Mover
Moving is stressful. And when you’re busy finding a new place to live, selling your current home, and then packing up your entire life, selecting the crew who will move your stuff is likely last on your to-do list. That’s ironic, because you’ll be entrusting them with all your life’s possessions.
Even if you manage to hook up with The Most Amazing Moving Company Ever, we can’t promise bad stuff won’t happen. But you can prevent some unnecessary duress if you have the right team in place. The process starts by schooling yourself in what not to do.
Here are five of the top mistakes people make when hiring a mover…
1. Waiting too long
So you’ve wait until the weekend before your move to make those calls to moving companies. Well, if you procrastinated in your search, you won’t leave any time to do adequate research and get estimates. That means you might not get the best rate (spoiler: Moving’s expensive!) and worse – you could get scammed.
Plus, delaying selecting a mover can reduce your options – and unfortunately, unlicensed and unethical operators rely on this aspect of human nature to take advantage of consumers.
Take the time to get three in-home written estimates and, time permitting, visit the moving company in advance of making your final decision.
2. Being a total cheapskate
No, you don’t want to pay more than you have to for a move. But beware of being too budget-conscious.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is going with the cheapest estimate. The cheapest bid typically means that the company uses casual, inexperienced laborers who don’t care a whole lot about your belongings.
Conversely, higher-end estimates almost always assure trained, professional, and experienced crews who will show up, smiles on their faces, and move your stuff safely and efficiently.
In other words: If there is a hiccup, they will figure it out. They’re not leaving your stuff on the front lawn.
Disreputable movers often lure customers with lowball prices and then hit them with unreasonable charges or, in extreme cases, even hold their belongings for ransom.
This actually happened to an educated member of the Patrick Parker Realty team after being displaced by Hurricane Sandy. There weren’t many choices due to so many displacements, but this member of our team did all her research. However, when the movers showed up that day, they turned out to be an outsourced crew by the original moving company she had hired.
So be diligent from the time they arrive at your door. Look for consistencies and inconsistencies, such as license numbers that should appear on the moving truck. Make sure everything that was discussed beforehand, is what is being delivered the day of your move and all paperwork being presented to you before the work begins aligns with all conversation and paperwork you’ve kept during the research process.
3. Not asking the right questions beforehand
A professional mover will be happy to answer any questions you may have, so if they seem uncertain or won’t give you straight answers, that’s probably a mover to avoid. Ask them about the moving process so you understand what they will be doing and when they will be doing it, from start to finish.
Here are some questions we recommend asking before selecting a moving company:
• Are you licensed and insured?
• Are you a certified professional mover who meets the standards of the American Moving & Storage Association?
• Are you a member of your state’s moving association?
• What price are you willing to put in writing as a “not to exceed” threshold price?
• What are the dates you can commit to for pickup and delivery for my move?
• Can you give me some references of people you have recently moved?
• How are your crews selected?
• Have you ever done business under another name?
• What actions do you take to ensure that the people who come into my home are skilled, professional, and safe?
4. Falling for fakes
The internet is awesome. right? Whether you’re looking for comprehensive info on the best mortgage rates, or you simply must know immediately the name of that song that goes; “da-da-da-da-dah-ooh-ooh-yeah”, the web is there for you.
And it’s there for you to find your next mover, too. But we shouldn’t have to tell you that online info can lead you astray. Double check your info by getting moving company referrals from an industry trade association or use a site that verifies and vets moving companies.
Sure, there are sites like Yelp you can rely on, but don’t do yourself a favor thinking that if you use a pay-for site like Angie’s List that the search results are any more credible. Our aforementioned team member, that’s where she first found her mover before she performed her interview and research. When she contacted Angie’s List to make them aware of what happened, she was told that their listings are paid listings and they do not vet the businesses on their site. That is disturbing given what Angie’s List and other site’s like these imply in their ads.
Another word of caution: Beware of blindly trusting that the company you’re hiring is who it says it is… another scheme; some disreputable movers try to lure customers in by using names that are similar to reputable companies. Check the reputable company’s website to make sure the local agent is affiliated with the brand name it is claiming.
In addition, disreputable movers are often changing their name to escape consumer groups and bad reviews. Be cognizant of where your Mover is located on Google Maps and if there was ever another moving company located at that address, it a red flag. Sometimes you’ll find, as our team member did, there’s not even an office located at that address.
According to the American Moving & Storage Association, the lack of a physical, local address is a telltale sign of a fake mover. Here are other red flags:
• No federal motor carrier number, which shows the mover is registered with the federal government for a state-to-state move
• Movers who refuses to visit your home to provide a written estimate for an interstate move… Responsible moving companies will provide in-home estimates and explain why the pricing is the way it is
• Movers who seem uncertain or unresponsive, especially when asked about their claims process if something gets damaged or lost
Ultimately, add this to one of the many reasons you should never buy or sell without a Real Estate Agent. Your Agent has a huge network of trusted professionals that handle every aspect of the buying/selling/moving process. Do not hesitate to ask your Agent for a Moving Company referral.
5. Agreeing to pay a deposit or pay in cash
If you’re moving across town, this one’s a huge red flag.
Typically, you should not be required to pay a deposit to have your items moved, most companies request payment at the time of delivery.
If you’re moving out of state, your moving company could request a deposit. But make sure it’s reasonable.
A reasonable down payment should be in the hundreds of dollars toward your state-to-state move, rarely exceeding 20%.
Similarly, avoid movers that demand cash instead of allowing payment by credit card.
We hope you don’t, but do you have moving horror stories to share? What tips would you add to our list? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page. You can also visit our Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram feeds. And don’t forget to sign up for our monthly HOME ADVICEtm email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.
5 Reasons You Should Never Buy or Sell a Home Without a Real Estate Agent
You’re DIY’ing this real estate thing, and you think you’re doing pretty well—after all, any info you might need is at your fingertips online, right? That and your own judgment.
Oh, dear home buyer (or seller!)—we know you can do it on your own. But you really, really shouldn’t. This is likely the biggest financial decision of your entire life, and you need Real Estate Agent if you want to do it right.
1. They have loads of expertise
Want to check the MLS for a 4B/2B with an EIK and a W/D? Real estate has its own language, full of acronyms and semi-arcane jargon, and your Real Estate Agent is trained to speak that language fluently.
Plus, buying or selling a home usually requires dozens of forms, reports, disclosures, and other technical documents. Real Estate Agents have the expertise to help you prepare a killer deal—while avoiding delays or costly mistakes that can seriously mess you up.
FREE DOWNLOAD: The Complete Home Buyer Guide
2. They have turbocharged searching power
The Internet is awesome. You can find almost anything—anything! And with online real estate listing sites such as yours truly, you can find up-to-date home listings on your own, any time you want. But guess what? Real Estate Agents have access to even more listings. Sometimes properties are available but not actively advertised. A Real Estate Agent can help you find those hidden gems.
Plus, a good local Real Estate Agent is going to know the search area way better than you ever could. Have your eye on a particular neighborhood, but it’s just out of your price range? Your Real Estate Agent is equipped to know the ins and outs of every neighborhood, so she can direct you toward a home in your price range that you may have overlooked.
3. They have bullish negotiating chops
Any time you buy or sell a home, you’re going to encounter negotiations—and as today’s housing market heats up, those negotiations are more likely than ever to get a little heated.
You can expect lots of competition, cutthroat tactics, all-cash offers, and bidding wars. Don’t you want a savvy and professional negotiator on your side to seal the best deal for you?
And it’s not just about how much money you end up spending or netting. A Real Estate Agent will help draw up a purchase agreement that allows enough time for inspections, contingencies, and anything else that’s crucial to your particular needs.
4. They’re connected to everyone
Real Estate Agents might not know everything, but they make it their mission to know just about everyone who can possibly help in the process of buying or selling a home. Mortgage brokers, real estate attorneys, home inspectors, home stagers, interior designers—the list goes on—and they’re all in your Real Estate Agent’s network. Use them.
FREE DOWNLOAD: The Complete Home Sellers Guide
5. They’re your sage parent/data analyst/therapist—all rolled into one
The thing about Real Estate Agents: They wear a lot of different hats. Sure, they’re salespeople, but they actually do a whole heck of a lot to earn their commission. They’re constantly driving around, checking out listings for you. They spend their own money on marketing your home (if you’re selling). They’re researching comps to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
And, of course, they’re working for you at nearly all hours of the day and night—whether you need more info on a home or just someone to talk to in order to feel at ease with the offer you just put in. This is the biggest financial (and possibly emotional) decision of your life, and guiding you through it isn’t a responsibility Real Estate Agents take lightly.
Did you try the DIY route and the go Agent? Tell us about your experience. Sound of on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, our Twitter or LinkedIn Feeds or on our Instagram account. 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 Reasons To Sell Your Home In 2017
Planning to sell in the new year? Get a head start by listing early.
Being early has its benefits: “The early bird catches the worm” or “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” You get the idea. So if you’re thinking about listing your home for sale in Monmouth County or on the Jersey Shore in 2017 — or if you already know you will — why not do so early, as in January or February? By getting in on the real estate market at the beginning of the year, you could benefit in some unexpected ways. Here are six of them.
1. There’s low inventory
When inventory’s low, it’s usually a great time to put your house on the market. Your new listing could cause buyers to pounce when there’s little competition, especially if your home is in a desirable neighborhood. Research conducted by Trulia revealed that 2016 was the year of low inventory.
2. There’s more urgency
There are plenty of reasons people need to get in a home fast. Many companies transfer employees at the start of a year, for one. Whatever the reason, if you encounter a homebuyer in the dead of winter, they probably need to buy sooner rather than later. And unless you’re in a hot climate, January and February are not the months most people want to be out hitting the streets to browse. Winter buyers often have a sense of urgency — when they find what they’re looking for, they’ll make an offer.
3. Spring starts early in warm markets
If your home is in a warm climate, you could really benefit by listing your home for sale in early spring. “Traditionally, our real estate website has at least double the number of visitors starting the day after Christmas,” says Patrick Parker, Broker/Owner of Patrick Parker Realty.
“While homebuyers may not be personally visiting houses as quickly, they will be looking online. We advise that listing a home earlier helps a home stand out in the market.”
Also, when the weather outside is frightful, retirees and people in the market for a second home seek a more temperate climate.
4. There’s early movement for lower price points
The lower-price-point markets move a little earlier. If you’re a first-time homebuyer and are currently saving in preparation to buy, you might have earmarked that tax refund coming to you for the purpose.
“When these potential buyers get a refund on their taxes, they’ll sometimes use that as a down payment to roll into a purchase,” says Parker. The sooner you turn in your tax return, the sooner you’ll get your refund, usually in fewer than 21 days.
5. There’s a new administration
Speculation and uncertainty abound whenever a new administration takes the helm. If you think the Trump administration will make it tougher for people to buy a home, you might want to sell early in the year.
It is common for people to worry when reforms laid out by the new Republican platform could potentially force buyers to fork over larger down payments. This could be a challenge for many home sellers as the pool of eligible homebuyers begins to shrink. Of course, speculation is just that. But if you believe this to be true, it makes sense to sell your home now.
6. There’s a potential interest rate hike coming
Some people are concerned about rising interest rates this year. If homebuyers think rates will rise, they might buy sooner rather than later.
The interest rates have been very low for a long time, as they begin to tick up, you will start to see consumers’ buying power drop because of the cost to cover mortgage payments. It is all an unknown, but there is some thought that rates could continue to rise in 2017 like they have been doing slightly at the end of 2016.
What tips for selling your home in early 2017 do you have? Share your suggestions on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page or on our Twitter or LinkedIn feed. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.
How Do You Find a Real Estate Agent?
There are NO standards for Real Estate Agents. GOOGLE every Agent considered and verify everything they say
Hiring a Real Estate Agent is a job interview – someone is going to be responsible for one of the largest transactions in your life. Incredibly, studies consistently show that the majority of buyers and sellers fail to treat Agent selection seriously.
In a field with few to no established performance standards, ridiculous self-aggrandizement and bogus production reporting, how are the qualified and high producing Agents found? In about 15 minutes with Google search and seven direct questions.
Before anything, GOOGLE every New Jersey Real Estate Agent that you are considering. Real Estate has exploded with the internet; any productive Agent understands and embraces this. Examine reviews, their website, articles, social media…they will be your representative. After that, a few simple and very direct questions will narrow the pool. It’s possible Uncle Jack or Aunt Cathy won’t make the cut.
1. Are you a full-time Agent?
This question must be asked because so many Agents are not, Real Estate is a second, third or fourth job. It is impossible to effectively work part time; the speed of transactions, increased legal requirements and fluid market mandate full attention. Society has been conditioned to expect answers quickly, at all times. Agents that can’t or won’t pay attention cost clients money and opportunity.
2. How long have you been actively selling Real Estate and for whom?
Two years of full time work or about 20 personal transactions is a recommended minimum. The skills required for contracts, data collection, negotiation etc., cannot be taught in a class room. Many “discount” firms exist often housing Agents that want to hang their license at a place that doesn’t charge full fees. Research into the firm is as important as that for the Agent.
3. What are your personal production levels over the last three years?
If an Agent can’t live off their earnings, they are not producers. A full-time Agent should have at least 10-12 transactions per year personally completed, not as part of a team, an office or some other entity. Some Agents tie into office or team production – focus on their production only and be certain to verify this.
4. Verify the figure you are provided and request a copy of their report.
Personal stats must be for the Agent only – not a team or office. Request a copy of their personal production; this can be pulled off the MLS or from their Brokerage firm.
5. Is your managing Broker on site at your office and responsible for it?
Many discount firms have “Broker pools” – not specific managing Brokers that guide Agents. When things go bad and that Agent is clueless, will the Broker step up?
6. Please provide five references over the last year that I can call.
This will verify experience with past clients and by keeping the date within a year; it will demonstrate experience in the current market. Call the references and ask questions.
Also understand the difference between Real Estate Agent references and testimonials vs. reviews. References and testimonials you receive from your prospective next Agent will always present that Agent in the most positive light. Unsolicited reviews, however, are more honest. Websites like Zillow and Trulia are great resources for Jersey Shore Real Estate Agent reviews.
7. Please provide a copy of your resume.
Every Agent likely has an alphabet of nonsensical designations; most are obtained by writing a check. Many Real Estate designations were invented during the crash as a way of generating income for various associations – don’t fall for the nonsense.
These are reasonable, direct questions; others can be added as needed. This type of pre-screening should be completed ahead of any listing appointments or before meaningful meetings begin. Obviously, there are a plethora of additional, more specific questions depending on the circumstances, but a few minutes spent ahead of time will save time and money down the road.
Selection of a Real Estate Agent is arguably the single most important decision a buyer or seller makes. Until consumers demand high standards, the problem of inept and incompetent Real Estate Agents will remain.
How did you successfully interview your last Agent? Or, did you fall just short of all due diligence an end up in a nightmare scenario? Sound of on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds, and don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly email newsletter for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox.
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