Surfing for Homes

By Dan Krell
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Before computers became common place, brokers kept track of their listings just as libraries kept track of their collections-by card catalogues. As a matter of fact, you can see these old cards for your self at the Rockville office of Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, Inc. (MRIS), the local multiple list service (MLS).

During that time before the MLS, brokers were not required to share information and listings with other brokers. This proprietary system allowed the broker to maintain the buyers that came to seek information on homes for sale.

Looking back, home buying was not complicated. Home buyers would go to the local real estate office and see what homes were available. Homes for sale and other information were limited to what your Realtor knew. Most likely, the only homes your Realtor showed you were homes that were listed by that real estate firm. Needless to say, the real estate industry has come a long way since then.

Since the advent of the multiple list service, technology has made a huge impact on the real estate industry. Presently, searching for the right home has never been easier. Home buyers can look for homes on the internet and get listings via email and cell phones. As a matter of fact, if you go onto the internet, you will have hundreds of Realtors (including myself) as well as Real Estate Companies offer to send you home listings.

With all of this information flying around, what’s the most reliable and accurate information available?

The most reliable and accurate information available for Realtor listed homes is through MRIS. Unfortunately, if you are not a real estate professional, you can not have a membership to peruse the database. The good news is, however, that all the other databases and online searches of Realtor listed homes are fed by the MRIS. The quality of the information depends on the website’s ability to update their information from MRIS and how it disseminated.

Several popular internet searches are HomesDataBase.com, Realtor.com, and Homes.com. All three offer searches on the internet without filling out information forms. If you choose additional information or services from these sites, you must fill out an information page giving at least a name and email address. Although you get to search on your own, the sites do promote realtors and other real estate professionals.

If you are a busy professional and do not have the time to search online, you can have listings emailed to you as homes come on the market. If you complete the homes prospector page of HomesDataBase.com, you can save your search criteria and have any new listings sent to you as they come onto market.

There are many more internet based services which include JustListed.com, Homegain.com, RealEstate.com, and many more. These websites forward your information to a local Realtor who will send you the information you seek. All these sites are useful and you can get the information you desire as long as your search criteria is specific enough. Unfortunately, if your search criteria are too specific, you will miss seeing homes that you may actually consider buying.

Alternative sites to search for local homes include the Washington Post website (WashingtonPost.com) and Craig’s List. (washingtondc.craigslist.org). Both sites publicize all homes for sale that have been advertised by for sale by owners and Realtors, however Craig’s List is a grassroots site that does not allow commercial advertisements.

Having all the technology and information available online is useful, however there are drawbacks. The main drawback is that most of the information is limited and you must contact someone for additional information.

No matter what manner of internet home searching you choose, you will be more informed than not having done the search at all.

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice.
This column was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel 11-14-2005. Copyright 2006 Dan Krell.

A Final Walk Through Is Not Always A Walk in the Park

by Dan Krell © 2006

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A Final Walk Through Is Not Always A Walk in the Park

So your home inspection went well. The pest inspection came out all right. Everything is a go with your financing, and the title is clear. Settlement is two weeks away, are you excited about your home purchase? You should be-congratulations! Although everything looks perfect, don’t take your final walk through lightly.

As a home buyer, you have the right to inspect your purchase prior to settlement. As a matter of fact, both the Maryland Association of Realtors (MAR) contract and the Greater Capital Association of Realtors (GCAAR) regional contract have clauses that state your right as a homebuyer to receive the home in the same condition as the day you contracted to purchase the home.

Each clause, although worded slightly differently, states that the home will be delivered to the home buyer free of debris and that all mechanicals, cooling, heating, plumbing, electrical systems, and smoke detectors to be in operating order at time of possession (usually settlement). The MAR contract states that the home buyer can inspect the property up to five days prior to settlement. Both contracts’ make allowances for additional provisions which include home and environmental inspections.

Ok, so there are provisions for the final walk through in my contract, but what is the purpose of having a final walk through and what should I be looking for? The general reasons for having a final walking through is to ensure (among other things) that the home has not been damaged between contract ratification and settlement, that all the seller’s possessions and all trash are removed, items to remain are actually in the home, all mechanical systems and appliances are operational, and that all repairs listed from your home inspection were completed.

Your Realtor should provide you with a checklist of items to be checked by both of you during the final walk through. Generally, you should be looking for cosmetic and structural changes to the home which include damage to walls, staircases, and doors that occurred during the seller’s move prior to settlement; any items that should have been removed by the seller but left behind; and any item that was removed by the seller but should have remained in the home. Additionally, you should check the operation of appliances, air conditioning or heating (depending on the time of year), and any electrical devices including smoke detectors. Finally, you should check that the seller has completed all repairs as agreed in the home inspection addendum.

Having a final walk through is just as important when you are purchasing a new home as when purchasing an older home. The builder will schedule a final walk through with you and your Realtor. When having your final walk through on a new home, the builder will check that all the mechanicals, heating, cooling, appliances are operational. Additionally, they will check that any customization that you ordered is correct. You should point out any cosmetic defects, such as dings in the wall, unevenness in paint colors, or any thing else that is not satisfactory. The builder is usually happy to repair or replace items until satisfactory.

If while conducting your final walk through you notice a problem with the dishwasher, what can you do about it? Occasionally, when conducting a final walk through, there are some problems. For example, it is not uncommon for the air conditioning to fail in the summer, or one item from the home inspection addendum was not repaired. If that happens, you have a couple of options. Your first option is to ask the seller for a monetary credit at settlement so you can make the repairs after settlement. Your other option is to delay settlement until the seller makes the necessary repairs.

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice.
This column was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel 11/14/2005. Copyright 2006 Dan Krell.

Homebuying tips for First Time Homebuyers

By Dan Krell
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Every homebuyer needs information and support to help them maneuver through the sometimes confusing and often overwhelming home buying process. Even for veteran home owners, who are moving up to a larger home, the process can be perplexing and overwhelming. If you are a first time homebuyer, however, you will definitely need specific information to help you through the wonderful experience that is home buying.

When buying your first home, you should look to the professionals who assist you through the process. Choosing the right lender, realtor, home inspector and title company can make the difference between having a great first time home buying experience and a regretful experience.

The very first thing that you should do is consult with a lender to get pre-qualified so as to know how much home you can purchase. In order to do that, you need to find a lender. From the outside, choosing a lender might seem as simple as looking at the rates in the paper to see who will give you the best interest rate. However, it is not that simple. The rates and ads that appear in the paper are usually teasers to get you to call. I have found that many buyers that I have worked with either have used their local banks or have developed a relationship with a loan officer from a local mortgage company. Using your local bank or credit union can be good because they know you and want to make you happy to keep your business. Who ever you chose, make sure they can deliver what they promise.

I have found that many homebuyers do not put much thought into the Realtor that helps them purchase their home. Some of the ways that homebuyers have found their realtor include referral, internet, and open houses. Many Realtors have a strong referral base of past clients and friends where many homebuyer referrals originate. The referral is a wonderful way to find a Realtor because the person that referred you obviously trusts the Realtor to help you with your major purchase. Make certain the Realtor you chose can give you the time you need, as a first time homebuyer, to help you understand the process and make the right decisions.

Two of the lesser considered professionals that play a role in your home buying experience are the home inspector and the title company (or attorney). Choosing competent home inspector is important to the quality of your home inspection. In choosing a home inspector, you should interview them to understand their philosophy in conducting the home inspection and what kinds of defects are important to address. In searching for a home inspector, one good place to start is the American Society of Home Inspectors (www.ashi.org).

Choosing a title company or title attorney can be a bit more confusing because title work and title insurance seems very straight forward. You should interview a few title companies or attorneys before you choose so you can get an idea how they will conduct your settlement. Again, the title company or attorney should give you enough time so as you can understand the legal issues that surround your home purchase.

If you are uncertain where to begin in choosing the right professionals to help you in your purchase, you might consider attending first time home buyer classes. One place to start is the Housing & Communities Initiatives, Inc. (www.hcii.org), a local non-profit organization.

As a first time homebuyer, you will require additional time and support from the professionals who will help you buy your first home. Referrals and interviewing is the good way to start to develop the necessary relationship to build your trust.

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This column was originally published 8/15/2005 in the Montgomery County Sentinel. Copyright Dan Krell 2005.

Landlord tips for the investor

Landlord Tips
by Dan Krell
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The real estate market in the Metro DC area has broken sales records for the last few years. Each year sales numbers and average home prices surpass the previous year by a wide margin. Besides the many homebuyers who are buying homes for their own families to inhabit, there are the devout few who are always on the lookout for a bargain home to turn into a rental property. With home sale prices rising seemingly as fast as a jet taking off the runway at Reagan National Airport, it may be a wonder how, or more appropriately why, investors buying homes for rental properties.

Serious investors are a remarkable breed. They come from all walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds. Although they have a diverse background, their one commonality is accumulating wealth. The goal for the average investor is to accumulate real estate and sit on it as the value appreciates. The payoff for the investor is when they sell off their assets and retire.

This over simplified and brief article is an overview of some difficulties that most real estate investors encounter. Some of the difficulties that many real estate investors encounter are tenants, maintenance of the property, and cash flow.

Finding good tenants to rent your properties is essential for success. A good tenant is described as one who pays in a timely manner and who will treat your home as if it was theirs. To find tenants, you can advertise in the local papers for tenants, subscribe to placement companies, or hire a professional management company to do all the work for you. The best tenants usually come by referral.

Making sure the prospective tenants have good references is essential. One way to do that is to ask them for a recent copy of their credit report, which would report any past delinquencies. Rental companies usually report delinquencies and non-payments to credit reporting companies like Equifax, Trans Union, and Experion. If they do not have a credit report, some investors accept references from past landlords.

Once your rental property is leased, it is important to keep it maintained. Good tenants will usually do the basic maintenance for you. If things go wrong, however, it will be up to you fix the problem. It never fails, the emergency calls will come in the middle of the night or while you’re on vacation. You will need to respond to the emergencies fairly quickly as you build your relationship with your tenants.

The most important issue with a rental property is cash flow. Cash flow is the perpetual incoming of cash so the mortgages and other real estate related expenses can be paid. Cash flow can be positive or negative. The goal with cash flow is to at least come out even, as most investors bank on the appreciation of the property itself for wealth building.

To help overcome the pitfalls of owning investment properties, some investors hire professional management companies. These companies can help find quality tenants, collect rents, and maintain the property. As the art of being a landlord is becoming legally complex, the management company and a good attorney can help you through the difficulties.

Anyone that is serious about beginning a career as a real estate investor should attend classes and find out more about the field to make an informed decision. As a real estate investor, you will find that there are many complex issues that require experience and support. However, once mastered, it can be very rewarding.

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice.
This column was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel 8/8/2005. Copyright Dan Krell 2005.

Remodel instead of Move?

By Dan Krell
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Moving up has been a right of passage for families for years. Families have been moving up for one reason or another, usually because of the need for space or just to move to a new neighborhood. However, spiraling home prices made many to re-think the usual move up, and instead make improvements on their homes. Rather than buying the four bedroom colonial they need due to a growing family, homeowners are adding rooms or enlarging the spaces they already inhabit.

If you are unsure of making improvements or selling your home, there are some factors to consider. RemodelorMove.com (www.remodelormove.com) lists the top reasons for remodeling and not moving as: 1) you like remodeling; 2) you like your home floor plan; 3) you like your neighbors; 4) you like your yard; 5) you have a great location; 6) you will get exactly what you want; and 7) you feel that it can enhance the value of your home. As you are trying to decide whether or not you remodel or move, you may find these reasons in line with your decision. This web site has lots of resources and information to help you make your decision.

If you decide to remodel rather than move, there are some considerations. According to RemodelorMove.com you should consider how long you are going to be in your home, the costs involved, and the timing of the remodeling before you move.

If you are planning to stay in your home less than a year, you have to weigh the actual cost of the improvements against the return you may get on your upcoming sale. However, if you plan to be in your home for a few more years or longer, the return on your investment should not be as much of a factor as personal pleasure and comfort.

If you are concerned with cost vs. value, a great resource that every turns to for their annual report is Remodeling Magazine, which can be found at Remodeling Online (http://www.remodeling.hw.net). According to Remodeling Magazine, return on investment depends on the value of the house itself, the value of similar homes in the immediate area, and the rate property values are changing in the surrounding neighborhoods. Some projects will recoup more than 100% of the original investment, however overall in 2004 the return of investment was 80.3%. The nationwide data they collect for their annual reports from Home-Tech Information Systems, a remodeling estimating software company in Bethesda, Md. HomeTech collects current cost information quarterly from a nationwide network of remodeling contractors, and its cost figures include a 40% margin. Costs are adjusted to account for city-to-city pricing variations.

The following are the top improvements listed in the Remodeling Magazine’s annual report in order of return on investment: minor kitchen remodeling -92.9%; siding replacement-92.8%; midrange bathroom remodeling- 90.1%; deck addition- 86.7%; upscale bathroom remodeling- 85.6%; and window replacement- 84.5%. You can view the rest of the 2004 report on the website.

Both selling and remodeling can be large propositions that can bring a lot of joy and regret. There are many resources at the library and the internet to help make your decision. Additionally, you should consult a local contractor and a Realtor to assist with costs of improvements and neighborhood home values.

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice.
This column was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel 8/2/2005. Copyright Dan Krell 2005.