Don’t skip the home inspection – old, new, or renovated

homesLike the 49ers seeking gold in California, real estate investors have flocked to D.C. in recent years to seek their fortunes. As home values rebounded, many distressed homes were snapped up by investors with the intention of renovating/rehabbing, and then selling them. For many home buyers, these “flipped” houses have become home; however, for a few, the dream has become a nightmare.

Martin Austermuhle reported on WAMU (A Dream Home Becomes a Nightmare; wamu.org) about D.C.’S house flipping environment and highlighted one family’s dream turned nightmare. Characterized as a “cautionary tale of home-buying in a hot real estate market,” the story was basically about how rotted wood in the porch has led to a multimillion dollar law suit between the purchasers and the rehabber.

If you haven’t received the memo, “house flipping” is once again a bad thing – or is it? Unfortunately, “flipping” has become synonymous with fraud and scams because of the attention that it received in the mid 1990’s (as the result of widespread fraud and scams that involved flipped homes). At that time, several cities (Baltimore being one) were known for flipping scams because of the investors’ ability to purchase a home for very little money and turn it around for a big profit.

Although, there should be nothing wrong with buying a distressed property, rehabbing and selling it (aka home flipping); flipping has generally become the term used when there is an accusation of fraud or con involved with a rehabbed home. During the 1990’s, flipped homes were the center of many mortgage fraud cases that took advantage of lenders by providing false income statements, fraudulent credit reports, and/or fraudulent appraisals. In these cases, the investor was not the only scammer; as accomplices often included: loan officers, appraisers, title agents, real estate agents, and even “straw” buyers.

Many home buyers were also scammed into buying homes in disrepair that were represented as being rehabbed. And believe it or not, some of these homes were nothing but shells (e.g., gutted).

In the aftermath of the flipping crisis of the 1990’s: lenders wrote off hundreds of millions of dollars, lawsuits were filed, and a movement grew to educate home buyers about the need to conduct home inspections. Mortgage underwriting changed to safeguard against future scams with the introduction of title seasoning (length of ownership).

Legitimate rehabbing of distressed properties has always been a viable industry; and can transform an eyesore into a livable home. However, just because renovations have been made to an old home doesn’t mean that it is now brand new!

When buying a home, you must do your due diligence regardless of the age of the home. A thorough home inspection should be conducted, even on new homes. Although home inspectors don’t have x-ray vision, the technology they employ can sometimes make it seem as if they do. Besides the routine identification of deferred maintenance, home inspectors can typically identify issues with renovations and can usually identify code violations. Furthermore, you should check permits when considering a home that has been renovated or expanded. Many jurisdictions offer online services to search permits; locally, the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services has such a search portal (permittingservices.montgomerycountymd.gov).

If you’re buying a home, you might also consider working with an experienced Realtor®. A seasoned professional is not only knowledgeable about neighborhood price trends and disclosures; many are skilled to work in tandem with the home inspector to negotiate repairs.

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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.

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New settlement rules may facilitate much needed communication

homesSigned into law July 21st, 2010, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (aka Dodd – Frank) was intended to improve accountability and transparency in the financial system, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices, and to end “too big to fail.” The Act created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which enforces regulations to protect consumers and implements rules such as the Qualified Residential Mortgage (also mandated by Dodd – Frank).

Five years after enactment, Dodd – Frank seems to be the Act the keeps on giving with the upcoming implantation of Sec 1098; which states that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)shall publish a single, integrated disclosure for mortgage loan transactions” in a “readily understandable language” so as to help borrowers understand the financial aspects of their loan clearly and to be nontechnical.

The new disclosure and settlement statement is intended to present important information conspicuously to help consumers decide if the mortgage is affordable and give warning about undesirable loan features. The new forms seek to standardize fee and cost disclosures so as to make shopping for a mortgage easier. One of the more important aspects of the new regulation is that the new Closing Disclosure is to be given to the borrower at least three days prior to settlement. During the three days prior to closing, changes to the Closing Disclosure that increase charges are prohibited (unless allowed by exception).

Firm timelines for closing and mortgage associated matters, have always been a crucial aspect of the home purchase contract. Not adhering to the dates specified in the contract usually has consequences. However, changes to Realtor® contracts are being considered to reflect the three day waiting period. What was once a firm timeline may no longer have the “time is of the essence” feel, as future contract revisions may not hold the buyer in breach of contract if the home does not close by contract settlement date. Carryover issues may also include implications to meeting loan commitment and appraisal contingency timelines.

If you’re buying a home, note that there are a number of situations that could cause your closing date to be rescheduled because of a “reset” to the three day waiting period, including a loan product changes, 1/8% increase in APR, and/or there is an added pre-payment penalty.   Additionally, other lender actions may also require you to reschedule closing; such as a lender required repair with reinspection.

Many in the industry are also concerned about routine buyer and agent pre-settlement walkthroughs. Rather than prior to closing, they will have to be scheduled to allow for negotiation on potential issues without resetting the three day waiting period (and cross your fingers that nothing happens to the home the three days prior to closing).

However, CFPB Director Richard Cordray was quoted emphasizing “The timing of the closing date is not going to change based on the final walk-through…” in a National Association of Realtors® (realtor.org) May 12th press release reporting on speakers at a regulatory issues forum.

The complexity and implications of the new regulations will undoubtedly cause some confusion in the first days of implementation. However, the new rules inadvertently address one of the weak links to the real estate transaction – communication. Many are beginning to recognize the necessity for everyone involved in the transaction to be proactive and communicate with each other to ensure compliance.

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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.

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Basements, humidity and dehumidifiers – what’s the problem?

homesThere seems to be a misconception of the relationship between basements, humidity and dehumidifiers; which probably results in the dehumidifier being one of the most misunderstood and least respected household appliances. This is apparent because many first time home buyers are turned off to any home where they see a dehumidifier, thinking there is a moisture problem. The dehumidifier doesn’t even have to be running; it could be turned off and tucked away in a closet.

The battle that all home owners deal with is keeping moisture out of the basement. Of course, regular maintenance can retard water penetration from the exterior: having the proper grading and extending downspouts will keep rainwater away from the home’s foundation. And serious water penetration issues should be resolved by licensed professionals. However, if the home doesn’t have a foundation or water penetration issue, basement humidity is still an ongoing battle. And if your home has an in-ground basement, chances are you know what I am talking about.

Believe it or not, it’s not necessarily a water problem that dictates humidity in a basement; but rather it’s physics. More precisely: thermodynamics and entropy. Put simply: temperatures in your home seek equilibrium, and warm air will move toward cooler air. Basements tend to be cooler than the upper floors because warm air rises. However, as the temperature seeks equilibrium, the warm air will also move toward the cooler basement air. When warm air meets cold air, the air condenses and develops humidity.

Although humidity is generally thought of as the amount of moisture in the air; according to Dehumidifier Basics(energystar.gov), it is most commonly referred to as “relative humidity” or RH. “RH is the amount of water vapor actually present in the air compared to the greatest amount of water vapor the air can hold at that temperature.” An RH between 30% and 50% is considered to be optimal. When RH is above 50%, bacteria and mold may grow.

If you don’t have a dehumidifier, you might consider buying one to help maintain the optimal RH in your basement. Dehumidifiers are differentiated by capacity, which is described as pints per 24 hours (measured by the size and conditions of the area where the unit may be placed). Energy Star provides a chart to help you decide the capacity best suited for your needs.

If you already have a dehumidifier, you might be surprised to know that most units are not meant to be operated in areas that are below 65°F (according to Energy Star); however, there are models that are designed for lower temperatures. If you use your dehumidifier in temperatures below 65°F, the unit may not function properly even though you may hear the compressor running. Below 65°F, frost can form over the condensing coils inhibiting the unit from removing moisture from the air. If your unit frosts, it should be unplugged and allowed to defrost.

Although some units are designed to be placed against walls, Energy Star recommends placing your dehumidifier in an area that allows free circulation of air around the unit for optimal operation. And of course, refer to manufacture’s manual for operation and electrical safety warnings.

Maintaining a comfortable RH level in the home can be achieved, and it starts by proper home maintenance. However, a dehumidifier may be necessary for optimal comfort. Energy Star (energystar.gov) provides consumer information about selecting and safely operating a dehumidifier.

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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.

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Millennials redefining American Dream – and it’s not what you think

home for saleThere is no doubt that the baby boom generation has fueled the housing market for over four decades. That’s right, our vision of the American Dream was shaped by those who are said to have been born between 1946 and 1964. Success was measured against a standard of working at one job or career for a lifetime, buying a suburban house to raise a family, and do it all on a single income.

As time passed and the economy changed, single income families became passé. Many struggled to keep up with the Jones’ and maintain the American Dream. The Dream became twisted into maintaining a lifestyle at all costs, even by financing it with their home’s equity.

In fact this meme was used in a Lending Tree commercial that ran prior to the housing bust. The commercial starts with the character “Stanley Johnson” introducing himself, and then posing with his family proclaiming they are great. The scene pans out to show his home as he continues to describe his four bedroom home being located in a great community. He then shows off his new car. And is proud to point out he is a member of the local club. He rhetorically asks with a smile while grilling in the backyard, “How do I do it?… I’m in debt up to my eyeballs…” And the commercial ends with “Stanley” mowing the lawn as he proclaims, “Somebody help me…”

At the time when the commercial ran, cash-out refinancing was popular. But in retrospect, the dark comedy seems prophetic of what went wrong with the American Dream. And as some have wondered if the American Dream died with the housing bust, it is becoming apparent that the dream is being redefined by Millennials (those born between 1980 to 2000) – and it may not be exactly what you think.

Millennials have been blamed for holding back a strong housing recovery by delaying household formation and not buying homes. But Brena Swanson of HousingWire proclaimed that to be old news in her April 28th article (Hey Millennials — You know nothing about housing finance; housingwire.com). She reported that many housing economists have declared 2015 as the year of the Millennial. Furthermore, she reported that by the end of 2015, Millennials are expected to be the largest home buying group; which may be derived from recent polls indicating that they believe it’s a good time to buy a home.

But don’t blame Millennials if 2015 doesn’t turn out they way housing economists expect. Why should the problems of a housing market be attributed to a generation who refuses to walk lockstep with older generations? Gen-X blogger, Jeremy Vohwinkle, pegged it in 2007 when he wrote about the problems with the housing market being rooted in an antiquated vision of the American Dream (The Real Estate Generation Gap: The Baby Boomers Are Trying to Sell, but Who’s Buying?; genxfinance.com). He proclaimed that the Baby Boom real estate cycle (starter home, upgrade to large home, downsize to retirement home) is not what younger generations want.

So, it’s not that the American Dream is dead, as some have thought; it is just being reinterpreted, most likely being restored to its original intentions. And rather than keeping up with the Jones’, it appears to be that the American Dream for Millennials is focused on increasing their quality of life – and whatever that brings with it.

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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.

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Housing market is partying like it’s 2006

house for saleAfter month’s worth of good housing market news, many optimistic home buyers and sellers are preparing for their jump into the market. But some caution that not all the data is positive and the jump into the market should be taken with care.

Have you noticed when there is positive housing news, someone offers data that throws a wrench in the recovery party? Maybe we’ve just become overly analytical about the housing market, looking for reasons to be optimistic. If one month’s home sales exceed expectations, the buzz is about how the market is recovering and anecdotes about multiple offers and fast sales are talked about as if it is the norm. However, when there is a disappointing month, some will try to explain it away giving reasons such as winter weather (even though the data is already seasonally adjusted) or some other one-time incident.

If you haven’t yet figured it out, housing economics is not cut and dried – there is truth in opposing views. The good news is that those who are positive about the housing market are probably correct; the bad news is that those who urge caution are also probably correct. The truth is that since 2010, the housing market has cycled with a two year period oscillating between positive and negative data – one year showing promise, while the next disappoints.

Sure, home prices have increased in recent years, with the sharpest increase occurring from 2012 through 2013. But rebounding home prices are like the sword of Damocles hanging over the housing market: as home prices rebound, affordability has become an issue for many home buyers.

Furthermore, there is a consensus that interest rates will rise sometime in the near future; and some are worried about the effect on the housing market. Spencer Jakab of the Wall Street Journal made this clear in his March 30th piece (Spring Puts Bounce in Housing Market: Home Prices May Get a Second Wind: wsj.com) by explaining the relationship between mortgage costs and affordability.

Jakab starts off by saying “The demise of the housing recovery has been greatly exaggerated.” And points out how home prices have rebounded, while February home sales were as good as (if not slightly better than) February 2014 (regardless of the two year cycle). He also indicates that although home prices have not reached their pre-crisis levels, they are at the highest levels since the crisis. However, he cautions those who are ready to call it a housing recovery trend. He states: “Once the Federal Reserve starts raising interest rates, likely sometime this year, affordability will begin slipping. Say 30-year mortgage rates are a percentage point higher a year from now, and prices are 5% higher. Then a monthly mortgage payment, assuming a typical down payment, would rise by about 18%.

Considering that average wages increased 2.1% during 2014, an 18% increase in the cost of home ownership could arrest home price appreciation and possibly cause a déjà-vu market liken to 2008-2009. If you don’t remember: homes were on the market for extended periods; home prices decreased; and home buyers and sellers retreated.

So why should we get all excited about a little good news? Rather than focusing on 2 data points each month (comparing a month’s data to the previous month, and the same month from the previous year), maybe it’s time to focus on the bigger picture.

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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.

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So how’s that internet working out for you?

homeIf you’re like many other Americans, internet reviews persuade your choice of online purchases. Internet reviews have become so influential that it is life or death for many restaurants. Even service industries have added weight to internet reviews. But a recent Amazon lawsuit, once again, has many talking about the authenticity of internet reviews.

The gaming of internet reviews was first given attention in a 2011 New York Times exposé by David Streitfeld, when he described the effort for businesses and individuals to appear better than their competition by saying: “…an industry of fibbers and promoters has sprung up to buy and sell raves for a pittance.” And at that time, Cornell researchers concluded, at the 49th annual meeting of the Association of Computational Linguistics (Proceedings of the 49th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics, pages 309–319, Portland, Oregon, June 19-24, 2011.), that the detection of fake reviews is “well beyond the capability of human judges;” and recommended an analysis of reviews to include, among other things, psycho-linguistically motivated features.

Since the issue was brought to light in 2011, you might think that the practice of using fake reviews might have dwindled. On the contrary.  It seems as if the practice has become increasingly sophisticated to circumvent the controls that are meant to weed them out. You can still find services that will write reviews – for a fee; fake reviews have even become specialized, where “reviewers” advertise to place their evaluations on specific websites. Furthermore, you can find online classified ads offering payment for reviews or to “swap” reviews for free.

In response to the seemingly persistent problem, Amazon is the first to take legal action to crack down on fake reviews. Jay Greene’s April 8th Seattle Times report (Amazon sues to block fake reviews on its site; seattletimes.com) indicated that the Amazon suit alleges that such reviews are deceptive and harmful to those who don’t abuse the review system. And according to CNET (Amazon sues alleged reviews-for-pay sites; cnet.com), Amazon (like many online sites) has invested in monitoring controls to foil fake reviews; but people seek out to game the system.

I hear you asking: “Surely, real estate agents don’t post fake reviews, right?”

According to Lani Rosales of AGBeat, the posting of fake agent reviews are “…unethical but seemingly common practice.” She reasoned in her 2011 report (Sketchy new trend – hiring fake online review writers; agbeat.com) that there has always been an element posting fake real estate agent reviews. And she anticipated that the trend would continue, as agents coped with the down market, “…Realtors are already using and will undoubtedly increase use of these willing reviewers, making for a repeat of history where agents are painted as being ‘number one,’ having ‘impeccable integrity’ and ‘superior service’…

As we spend more time online (emarketer.com reported in 2013 that web users spent an average of 23 hours per week using email, texting, and social media), getting your online attention is big business – especially in the real estate industry. Apparently, there’s a lot of money at stake, such that a battle has be waging during the last year between Zillow Group (Zillow and Trulia) and News Corp (Move Inc and Realtor.com); alleging stolen secrets and wanting access to property listings.

And much like the fake reviews that vie for your business, the lawsuits between the real estate giants may ultimately reveal the business of the internet; which may not actually be about customer service, but really about selling a commodity – you.

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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.

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Home buyer survey predictive of spring housing market

home saleI think it’s safe to say that many of us have been anticipating spring’s warm weather; if not for a change of pace from arctic temperatures, it’s the season that the housing market swings into top gear. However, Fannie Mae’s March 2015 National Housing Surveymay support anecdotal reports of home buyer attitudes toward home prices and is making some re-think their estimation of the spring market.

The April 7th Fannie Mae (fanniemae.com) press release titled, “Lackluster Income Growth Weighing on Americans’ Housing Sentiment: Share of Consumers Expecting to Buy a Home on Next Move Reaches Survey Low” might convey that not all home buyers are looking to buy a home this year. However, the news is not all gloom and doom. Although the survey indicated that 60% of respondents said they would buy a home if they were to move, which is an all-time survey low; the percentage of those who responded that it was a good time to buy a home hit an all-time survey high. Additionally, there were fewer respondents in March’s survey who felt their financial situation would improve in the next year.

The survey is described by Fannie Mae as “The most detailed consumer attitudinal survey of its kind.” It polls 1,000 Americans on their attitudes about such things that include (but is not limited to) homeownership, the economy, household finances, and overall consumer confidence. Fannie Mae senior vice president and chief economist Doug Duncan remarked about the March survey: “… results emphasize how critical attitudes about income growth are to consumers’ outlook on housing.” However, consumer sentiment should improve as income growth is realized.

Fannie Mae’s March survey is coming on the heels of news of a possible economic slowdown. The Wall Street Journal’s Kate Davidson reported on March 25th (GDP Growth Estimates Tumble, Again: wsj.com) that the latest Gross Domestic Product estimates may be a repeat of last year. While several Wall Street economists revised lower their Q1 2015 GDP estimates from 0.9% to 1.5%, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta lowered their Q1 2015 GDP estimate to 0.2%.

If last year’s pattern is being realized, the survey’s consumer sentiment and economic news is just a blip on the radar. Remember that the Q1 2014 GDP was negative as the economy retracted, however rebounding with 5% third quarter growth. Likewise, 2014 home sales rebounded later in the year only finishing the year only 3% behind 2013 (according to the National Association of Realtors®). And as the NAR reported on March 30th that pending home sales rose during February, it is estimated that existing home sales will increase 6.4% during 2015 compared to 2014 (realtor.org).

The upshot of this data could be that consumers are saying is that it’s a good time to buy a home, but only if you can afford it. However, it’s not just about the dollar amount; home buyers are increasingly demanding value for their money. Buyers are looking at the bigger picture of the costs of homeownership including maintenance and commute to work. And this attitude can be reflected in home buyers’ push back on home prices.

If you’re a home seller, relatively low housing inventory is good news; but pricing your home correctly may be the definitive factor. And as you might anticipate home buyers competing for your home; consider that some have reported that that low appraisals have impacted their sale.

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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.

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Home seller expectations are high for 2015 market

Luxury HomesHave you ever waited to be seated in the new trendy restaurant? You’re anticipating the menu, and thinking about what you might eat. If the wait is too long, your patience wears thin; you begin to calculate the time to the next open table. You might even scan the dining room trying to determine how much longer individual diners intend to stay at their table. If your wait is too long, you might even decide to leave. If you do get seated, you might be disappointed with an over-priced and limited choice menu.

Today’s housing market is much like the visit to that restaurant. Home buyers are motivated to jump into the market and eagerly await the next home listing; and like the restaurant menu, are often disappointed with limited choice and high prices. Additionally, low housing inventory, much like the restaurant’s long table turnover, may leave many to look for other options; some would-be home buyers are putting off their purchases and renewing leases for another year.

One of the factors that contribute to low housing inventory is the velocity of home ownership (how often a home gets sold). And indeed, home owners are staying in their homes longer before selling, according to a special study conducted by the National Association of Home Builders (nahb.org). Dr. Paul Emrath, of NAHB’s Economics and Housing Policy, provides details in a follow up study showing a decline in home owner mobility since 2007. Single family home owners stayed in their homes for an average of 12 years between 1987 and 2007. However, since 2007 the average time the home owner stayed in their home increased to 16 years. And since 2001, first time home buyers stayed in their homes 4 to 7 years less than move-up buyers.

If you’re one of those who feel that your stay in your home has been long enough, it may seem as if the market would favor a home sale. You might believe that the low inventory environment should make your sale quick, and possibly resulting in multiple offers. After all, the low number of homes listed for sale was cited for price growth by National Association of Realtors® Chief Economist Lawrence Yun in the NAR March 23rd press release (realtor.org). And it makes sense to think that that first time home buyers should be motivated by relatively low interest rates and higher rents.

But before you set your expectations too high, consider that not all homes sell quickly – even in today’s low inventory environment. The Montgomery County average days on market during February exceeded 70 days. And even though the NAR reported a 7.5% increase in the average home prices across the country during February; the Montgomery County average sale price during February decreased 5.4% compared to the previous February and decreased 2.1% compared to January, according to RealEstate Business Intelligence (getsmartcharts.com).

If you’re putting your home on the market, don’t take home buyers for granted. Just like diners at the restaurant, home buyers have high expectations and want choices. Home buyers typically look for a combination of location, quality, and value. And just because inventory is low, buyers are not compelled to purchase your home – especially if the home is perceived to be over-priced.

For best results this spring – work with your listing agent to prepare your home, and price it according to neighborhood trends.

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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.

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Home buyer strategy to cope with a low inventory market

real estateAs the weather warms, many home buyers are venturing out making themselves known; only to be greeted with low inventories and higher list prices. The National Association of Realtors® March 23rd press release indicated that nationwide low housing inventory is pushing home prices to grow rapidly; average home prices across the country increased 7.5% during February compared to the same period last year (realtor.org).

Much like the “tire kicker;” a typical home buyer visits selected open houses and lurks online to see what’s out there before talking to a lender and/or a real estate agent. While desiring to be low-key and pretending to be demure may be the strategy of choice; acting this way during a low inventory market could lead you to miss out on the home of your dreams.

If you’re part of this year’s home buyer cohort, prepare for a low inventory market by talking with a mortgage lender and a real estate agent before you begin your search. Working with an experienced agent and lender may increase your chances of not only finding a home, but getting your offer accepted.

Even though home buyers are instructed to get qualified for a mortgage before they begin looking for a home, it is often left until just prior to writing their first offer. A lender approval not only provides you the certainty of knowing what you can afford; it tells the home seller you are capable of buying their home.

Although getting a mortgage qualification letter today is more involved than it was in bygone years, it is for the better. To comply with new rules and regulations, lenders today require a formal application before they will provide you an approval letter that can accompany your offer to purchase. You will need to provide documents indicating your income and assets to determine how much you can afford as well as verify the funds for down payment and closing costs. The application not only helps you through the home buying process, it will make your mortgage process more streamlined too.

Although hiring a buyer agent is not always a consideration during the home search, your choice of agent could affect the outcome of your purchase. Choose carefully – research has indicated that real estate agents are not all alike; veteran agents positively affect your transaction and are more efficient compared to rookies. Experienced agents offer intangible services such as understanding the nuances of the housing market, as well as having an increased ability to engage the parties in the transaction. Additionally, it was found that home buyers who employ full-time agents have better outcomes than those who hire part-time agents.

Rather than waiting to choose your agent until you’re ready to make an offer on a home, meeting and interviewing several agents could help you determine their experience and commitment. Although most buyers think of savvy agents as being expert negotiators; in a low inventory market it also pays to have an agent who thinks outside the box to seek home sale opportunities that are not typically advertised in the MLS.

A low inventory housing market presents the home buyer with a number of issues. Working with an experienced agent and mortgage lender can help you through the ups and downs of the process as well as reframing your expectations to fit the reality of market.

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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.

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You are more resilient to winter than your home

home salesDid you know that enduring a harsh winter can make you more resilient? At least that’s what University of Buffalo researcher Mark Seery believes. His research on stress and coping reveals that negative events and adversity promotes adaptability and resilience, which benefits your overall wellness (buffalo.edu).

Your home, however, may not be as resilient as your psyche. A severe winter can create the ideal conditions for water penetration into and around your home. Unfortunately, many home owners won’t know that an issue exists until there is a noticeable leak, or water seeps into the basement. Left unchecked, water leaks can not only cause water damage to ceilings, walls, and basements, it can also promote mold growth as well as structural issues in and around the house.

Ice dams are often the cause of water finding its way into the home. Occurring on exterior coverings, ice dams typically occur through the melting and rapid freezing of snow or ice, which can lift and separate the covering giving water a pathway into the house. Ice dams are common on the roof, lifting shingles and separating chimney flashing; but can also occur on siding and exterior trim as well.

Rather than taking water away from your home’s foundation, blocked gutters and downspouts can be the cause of water penetration into the basement. Gutters and downspouts can become blocked with debris any time of year; however, winter presents additional issues. Snow and ice covered downspouts are sometimes shifted or damaged; while eroded grading can redirect water toward the house.

Part of the home’s drainage system, a sump pump helps to keep water from penetrating into the basement. It is designed to collect water in a basin and pump it away from the home. After severe winter weather, a large volume of melted snow and ice can saturate the grounds and fill the basin quickly. If the pump is not operating properly (or the pump drain is blocked), water can unknowingly seep into the basement.

Winter weather can also affect the home’s walkway and driveway. Freezing water can expand existing cracks, while snow removal and ice treatments can deteriorate the stability and integrity of the materials. Not only can the sidewalk and driveway become unsightly, they can also become a trip hazard.

You may be able to examine much of your home’s exterior by walking around the perimeter. However, it may be necessary to have a licensed contractor to inspect/repair the roof, gutters, and other areas. Although your home may not need maintenance, common items that may need to be addressed include repairing/replacing lifted or missing shingles; repairing flashing; realigning gutters and downspouts; re-grading; testing the sump pump; repairing/replacing broken or missing siding and/or exterior trim; repairing window and door seals; repairing/replacing fascia boards; repairing and/or sealing walkway and driveway; and touch-up painting.

Even if your home escaped busted pipes (which many home owners experienced this year), a leaking roof, or other cold weather crises this winter; it still may be in need of urgent maintenance. As the weather warms, taking the time to check your home’s exterior and making necessary repairs could not only improve your home’s aesthetics, but may also help prevent potential issues and impede developing damage. It should go without saying that this is a priority if you’re planning to put your home on the market this spring/summer.

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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.

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