Vacation home buying

Buying a vacation home

Vacation Home
Vacation Homes (infographic from realtor.org)

A trip to the beach or mountains may have you wondering about owning your own vacation home.  And as it happened you’re not alone!  An April 1st 2015 National Association of Realtors® press release estimated that vacation home sales bounced back to peak levels in 2014.  There was a massive 57.4% increase over 2013 sales!  In contrast, during the same period there was an estimated 7.4% decrease in investment home sales. And an estimated 12.8% decrease in owner occupied home sales (realtor.org).

Although your motivations may be personal, the NAR’s 2015 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey revealed that there are various reasons to buy a vacation home.  Not a surprise, a majority of those surveyed (33% of respondents) indicated the primary reason they bought was to use for vacations or family retreats.  However, 19% of respondents indicated their purchase was for a future retirement home, while 11% or respondents bought for the home to be used as a rental property.

Do the research

You’ll find vacation homes in different styles, sizes and prices.  However, your favorite destination may dictate the price range and style.  You may realize that although you are able to afford the week’s rental at your favorite retreat, you can’t afford to buy a vacation home there.  However, if you broaden the search area, you may find suitable and lower priced vacation home nearby.

Benefits

You may have heard others talk about the benefits of their vacation home, such as being able to visit any time they desire without having to worry about reservations, or restrictive check-in and check-out times.  They usually don’t have to worry about having too many guests either, as they can invite whomever they wish to keep them company.  And they don’t have to worry about special accommodations – it’s their home after all!

Disadvantages

There are benefits of owning your own vacation to be sure.  However, it’s probable that you may not hear vacation home owners talk about the downside.  Jeff Brown, writing for US News and World Report, stated: “A second home can produce a wonderful family tradition or turn into a stress-inducing money pit.” (The Pros and Cons of Investing in a Vacation Home; usnews.com; February 10, 2016).  Brown quoted Alison Bernstein, founder of Suburban Jungle, saying: “It is less expensive to stay in hotels in various destinations than it is to upkeep a home, including the hidden expenses of caretaking, overall operations of a home and property taxes…However, for those that are able to enjoy it, it is definitely worth it.”

Brown points out the increasing costs of ownership.  Property taxes, insurance, and possibly a condo or HOA fee can increase.  Additionally, the vacation home requires regular maintenance just like your primary residence.  Repairs may compel you to make extra trips to work on the home rather than being a relaxing holiday.

Brown cautions that a vacation home may not be the best vehicle for investment because of the volatility of resort property.  Additionally, if you need the money, it’s more difficult to tap the equity in a second home.  Applying the tax advantages can be tricky too, so consulting with a tax professional before buying a vacation home would be wise.  Self-managing the property can become aggravating, as it can be difficult to find tenants during the off season; however, hiring a management company can be pricey.

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Home owner savvy

Home owner savvy
Home maintenance schedule (from homezada.com)

The playwright Oscar Wilde must have been fond of the idiom “nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing,” because he used it in back to back works; first in The Picture of Dorian Gray, and then a variation in Lady Windermere’s Fan.  Today, corrupted forms of Wilde’s phrase are wrongly attributed or misquoted – but the point is well made.  More psychologist then poet, Wilde seemed to characterize a core consumer behavioral trait of seeking short term gain vs long term value – which applies to home owner savvy!

Consumers in the 19th century were much like consumers today, such that they sought out to get a bargain; often times overlooking the costs from which it comes by.  And what may have been in Wilde’s time a conflation of price and value, is still common today – especially for home owners.  While many home owners pride themselves on their frugality in home maintenance, they don’t realize the consequences of their poor choices when it comes time to sell their home.  Home owner savvy is also knowing about value.

Today’s home owner’s frugality comes honestly as a result of the great recession.  A McKinsey Global Institute consumer sentiment survey from a year and half ago sums it up in the title: America the frugal: US Consumer Sentiment Survey (Martinez, Motiwala, and Sher; mckinsey.com; December 2014).  Martinez, Motiwala, and Sher wrote in their economic analysis that “…Multiple years of austerity have left consumers with altered views about spending. Almost 40 percent say they will probably never go back to their prerecession approach to buying…

While looking to spend less on maintenance and home repairs, home owners often ignore the effects of their thriftiness on the long term maintenance costs of their home.  Trying to spend less often means becoming reactive to maintenance issues, instead of proactive.  Reactive maintenance typically means that the plumbing, electrical, or roof issue the owner is repairing, may have been an ongoing problem that may have also affected other systems of the home.  However, proactive home maintenance is an ongoing process that can prevent minor problems from becoming costly major issues and is home owner savvy.

John Riha invoked Ben Franklin’s “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” when writing about home maintenance and house values (How Much Value Does Regular Maintenance Add to Your Home?; houselogic.com).  He repeats a common theme that regular preventative maintenance doesn’t only save you money down the line, but can add to a home’s sale price.  Riha quotes University of Connecticut and Syracuse University studies that implies the value of a regularly maintained home may increase by 1% a year!

Riha recommends a “proactive maintenance strategy” to help stay on top of necessary repairs and system replacements.  He suggests saving 1% to 3% of a home’s cost for regular maintenance.  To help keep it “interesting,” he suggests repairing and updating one room per year.  If you are unsure where to begin, a home inspection may help identify areas of immediate concern; as well as develop a regular maintenance schedule.  Also, keeping records of ongoing repairs and upgrades will cement in a home buyer’s mind the amount of care you had for your home.

Home owner savvy is not necessarily about being frugal with home maintenance, which is also not about knowing the price of everything; but in reality, diminish the value of their home.  Regular home maintenance can not only keep you comfortable and safe through the year, it may help you sell your home faster and for more!

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Vacation home preparation

vacation home preparation
Vacation home preparation (infographic from Tower Hill Insurance thig.com)

Summer vacation home preparation is much like preparing it for the winter or severe weather.  Much of the plan is conventional wisdom and incorporates penny pinching advice intended to prevent a potential hazard.  The goal is to anticipate and minimize problems while your away by safeguarding the home’s systems and implementing a security plan.

Many electrical items we use are considered to be “zombie” appliances; meaning they use electricity even when not in use.  Unplugging such items as the toaster, Keurig, and other small appliances that won’t be in use while you’re away will conserve energy (and may save you a few pennies).  More so, shut down (and unplug) your computers and printers to not just conserve energy, but to also thwart hackers while your away.

Some people play with their home’s thermostat to save some money.  The thought is that by setting the thermostat temperature much higher than usual, the air conditioner will not run as much (or at all).  However, if you have a basement or cellar, you might consider setting the thermostat temperature to a more reasonable temperature to prevent mold from growing in your dark and humid basement.

Some shut off the water to the house to prevent a water hazard.  However, shutting off valves at faucets, fixtures, or appliances may be a better plan if your home has a sprinkler system.  And to prevent someone taking advantage of your absence and wash a car or two in your driveway, you might also consider shutting off the valves to the exterior hose bibs.

Besides protecting your home’s systems, think about home security too!  First, refrain from posting your plans on social media.  Although you may want to inform your Facebook friends and Twitter followers of your itinerary, broadcasting vacation plans in such a way could also get the attention of a would be criminal looking for their next break-in.

Although storing your valuables in a safe place could minimize loss, consider implementing crime deterrents as well.  Installing motion activated lights on the home’s exterior may deter activity around the home at night; while electronic devices, such as the camera-doorbell, can notify you if there is any activity around the house during the day.

You may also consider implementing some common tactics to make it seem as if you never went on vacation.  Having a few lights on a timer will appear as if someone is turning lights on and off.  Besides having a neighbor pick up the mail and newspaper (many stop their paper and mail while they’re away), have them park in your driveway to make it seem as if someone is coming and going to and from the home.  Additionally, have a neighbor or friend check in on the home regularly to ensure it is secure.  Depending on the length of your vacation, they may drop in a few times, picking up any packages left at the door and adjusting the thermostat as necessary.

A summer vacation home preparation idea if your home is on the market – consider restricting showings to be by appointment only to ensure the house remains secure.  Talk to your agent about how to contact you in case of an emergency, your agent may check in on the home regularly too.  Don’t worry about missing out on a great offer on your home – if you will have email access, your agent can send you any offers and have you sign them electronically.

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Housing bubble countdown

Housing Bubble
Cycle of housing bubble (infographic from estate123.com)

The March S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index (spindices.com) was announced May 31st to reveal a 5.2% increase in home prices.  Although down from last March’s 5.3% increase, home prices seem to be appreciating at a regular pace, with the metro areas of Portland, Seattle, and Denver leading the way with double digit gains (year-over-year price increases of 12.3%, 10.8%, 10.0% respectively).  As home prices climb, so too are the claims that we are experiencing a housing bubble.

Those concerned about the next bubble have been ringing the alarm bells since last fall, when the combination of limited inventory, multiple offers, and rising prices created an environment in some regions that was reminiscent of the go-go market just prior to the last market bust.  And like the broken watch that is correct twice a day, those naysayers may eventually be correct – but it may not be for another eight years.

According to Ted Nicolais, the real estate cycle has been steady since 1800 (How to Use Real Estate Trends to Predict the Next Housing Bubble; dce.harvard.edu; February 20, 2014).  Writing for the Harvard University’s Department of Continuing Education’s The Language of Business blog, Nicolais maps out Homer Hoyt’s cycles and found a regular 18-year cycle to the bubble and bust housing market (albeit two exceptions).

The 18-year cycle, as it turns out can be observed by analyzing trends.  An applying Henry George’s four phases of the real estate cycle (as modernized by Glenn R. Mueller), Nicolais can determine how and when the next housing bubble will occur.  (Henry George was a nineteenth century economist who studied the boom-bust cycle of the economy).

The first phase is the “recovery.”  Home prices are at the bottom, and demand increases.  Real estate vacancies decrease as economic activity increases, which fuels the economy.

real estate bubbleThe second phase is the “expansion.”  Housing inventories dwindle, there is little is available to buy, and finding a rental becomes difficult.  Nicolais explains that an issue with real estate is that once demand increases, filling inventory takes a long time.  New development can take two to five years.  Until new inventory is added, price growth accelerates; and rather than valued at market conditions, real estate becomes priced to future gains.  During a real estate boom, people buy into the prospect of “future growth” and believe the escalating prices are reasonable.

Phase three is “hyper supply.”  When the completion of new development begins to satisfy demand, inventories fist stabilizes and then swells.  Price growth begins to slow.  Nicolais stated that the amount of continued development will determine the severity of the impending recession; while demand is satiated, new inventory comes to market and vacancies increase.  He asserted that “wise” developers stop building during this phase.

Phase four is the “recession.”  New development is stopped, while projects coming to completion add to a growing inventory.  Occupancy rates and prices fall; property values and profits dwindle.  Developments in mid-construction may not be completed because they are no longer financially feasible.

Following the four phases and the 18-year cycle; Nicolais stated that the great recession was not caused by external forces, but rather occurred on schedule!  He figures that the current housing market is transitioning from recovery to an expansion phase.  And with the exception of the occasional slow down, he predicts that the next housing bubble will be in 2024.

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Get top dollar for your home

Get top dollar for your home
Get top dollar for your home (infographic from LJHooker.com)

The guarantee of “Getting top dollar for your home” is a theme in many real estate ads, as well as being promised by many agents.  Of course the goal of every home owner is to  get top dollar is the goal for every home seller!  But why is this meme still prominent, and is it still meaningful?

What does “get top dollar” mean anyway?  Getting top dollar on your sale may be relative to other home sales during the same period.  Market conditions and timing are variables that may dictate your sales price; home sale prices are lower when home buyer demand wanes, as well as sales that occur during winter months.  However, other influences on sale price include your home’s physical location and condition.  For example, homes that sit on (or are in close proximity) to a main thoroughfare typically sell for less; as well as houses with deferred maintenance and a lack of updates.

Is “getting top dollar” just about listing at a high price?  The key to a successful sale is pricing your home correctly.  Proper pricing includes analyzing your local market, and comparing your home to the most recent neighborhood sales that are most similar to your home in style, size, age, and condition.  Also, looking at market trends in three and six month segments will determine a seasonal effect.

How can you tell if your home sold for top dollar?  Certainly if your house sells for more than others in the neighborhood, you might think you got “top dollar.”  But if your neighbor sells immediately after you and sells for more; your claim to getting top dollar is now in jeopardy.  There is also the home sale price conundrum: If your house sells fast with multiple offers, you might think that the list price was too low; However, if you price your home too high, you risk over pricing such that the house might languish on the market and miss the window of opportunity.

Maybe the promise of “getting top dollar” is just a marketing ploy by real estate agents to get your listing.  A top complaint by home sellers is that their agent misled them; often citing the promise of a high sales price, only to be coerced into reducing and/or accepting a lower price at a later time.  Regrettably, there are real estate agents who resort to questionable sales tactics to get business; and unfortunately, they learn these tactics from real estate trainers, and/or develop them on their own and share with other agents.

Maybe “getting top dollar” for your house is a metaphor for being satisfied.  Although you might think you could be satisfied with just selling for a high price; customer satisfaction includes other factors too, including level of service.  It has been determined that many consumers are less interested in hiring agents whose focus is about being “#1;” rather, consumers want to be treated as if they are “#1.”

Maybe “getting top dollar” is about your bottom line.  Consider that many home buyers in today’s market are seeking “turnkey” homes, where they won’t have to worry about immediate maintenance issues – and some are willing to pay “top dollar” for such a home.  Be honest about your home’s location, condition and features.  Making some modifications can increase the sales price, however at a cost.  A cost-benefit analysis of pre-listing repairs and updates may help you decide on the projects that will add to your sales net.

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.