Showing Your Home During the Holiday Season

Winter is always a slow season for real estate. Most people are too busy with the holidays to think about buying or selling. But it does happen. Buyers willing to look during winter are already a captive audience, since they clearly have a reason to buy, but you can still do your part as the seller to seal the deal. In addition to improving your curb appeal, which is an excellent motivator at any time of the year, you can use the season to your advantage in winter.

Make your home inviting. Add more lighting, especially outdoors. It gets dark earlier in winter, and prospective buyers want to be able to actually see your home. If you have a fireplace, turn it on, or turn up your heater. Winter is colder even in places that don’t get snow, especially after work hours. Staging your home for the holidays can also help. Even if you don’t celebrate or aren’t feeling particularly festive, a plate of cookies or season-appropriate decorations will let people know someone does call this place home.

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Remove the Stress from Upsizing for Your Children

Most couples that don’t have children yet begin with a starter home, that’s a bit smaller but has everything the couple needs for now. That’s fine, but many of them don’t know how best to handle upsizing once they decide to have children. Many families don’t want to deal with the stress of a home purchase while experiencing the stress of a pregnancy. It’s an understandable thought process, but the stress of moving with a small child is actually much greater than the stress of moving while pregnant. It’s always best to move before the child is born.

You might think that puts a tight deadline on your home search. That’s where a real estate agent comes in. A professional agent only needs to know what you want done, and they’ll get it done. You don’t need to fuss over every detail throughout the process. Though, you can still help the agent, and yourself, out a bit by working on decluttering your home before it’s sold. This ensures a faster sale while also doing some of the packing work early.

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Find the Right Architect for You

If you’re interested in a custom-built new construction home, you’re going to need to talk to an architect, unless you are one, of course. That means you’re going to need to know what to ask them. Many people are only interested in whether or not the architect is available and has time for a new project. While that is certainly important, since the project won’t happen if the architect isn’t available, there’s a lot more that goes into picking an architect.

Interview multiple architects before picking the right one for your project. Take a look at their portfolio. Even highly versatile architects will have some recurrent themes or design quirks. You might even ask them directly what they consider their specific aesthetic to be. And if a particular architect is a specialist in the type of design you want, you’ll know they have plenty of experience with it. Ask about their fees in detail. Cost comparison is important, and not even just the bottom line. Not all architects provide the same list of services or calculate costs in the same way. A low cost may just mean that this architect isn’t providing services like obtaining waivers or communicating with the construction crew to make adjustments or verifications. Most of the time, fees are a percentage of the overall cost of the home, generally ranging from 5-20%. If you’re planning to build a luxury home, you may be able to save money by looking for an architect that charges a flat rate, who are less common.

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Level Up Your Curb Appeal

Curb appeal is important for anyone trying to sell their home, since it’s the first impression prospective buyers have. Often, just cleaning up and taking care of your lawn is a big help, but it’s not enough if you’re competing with other sellers in the same area. Here are some hints to help you get ahead of the game.

For most people, the garage serves a practical purpose, holding your vehicles — or possibly just storage. But chances are the garage door takes up quite a bit of the outer facade of your home, and making it look nice could give a big boost to curb appeal. Repaint the trim or the garage door itself, or even fully replace the door if it’s showing signs of wear. Another functional-yet-aesthetic addition is lawn or patio furniture. Outdoor seating makes your home feel welcoming. On the more artistic side, yet still serving some purpose, are fixtures such as wind chimes or bird baths. Purely artistic sculptures also boost curb appeal. Whatever type of art features you use, it’s a good idea to position them symmetrically. There are some people for whom asymmetry as a certain appeal, but for most, symmetry is preferable. Once you have some ideas, it’s best to get a second opinion from friends or neighbors. Most homeowners have trouble assessing their own home with a critical viewpoint.

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Beachfront Property Carries Risks and Rewards

Many people dream of owning a beachfront property. The biggest thing holding people back is that they can’t afford it, since beachfront properties are particularly expensive. But there are other considerations to make before diving into a purchase, even if you think you can afford it.

First of all, you need to know why you want to own a beachfront property. And no, just being able to say you own it is not a good reason. Do you love the beach or the ocean and want to live right on the sand? Do you want a vacation property? Are you just looking for a lucrative investment? Renting out beachfront property is actually not easy. Being expensive to buy means it’s also expensive to rent, so most renters are going to be short-term vacationers. Your home isn’t going to be consistently occupied unless you’re the one living there, in which case you aren’t earning rent. But if you can afford to keep it, the return on investment when you eventually sell is going to be quite high.

Another concern is the weather risks of beaches. These areas are often significantly more prone to heavy winds and flooding than inland areas. Check out the area, be aware of the risks, and make sure to purchase insurance that protects against wind and water damage. And even if the building itself isn’t damaged, shoreline erosion over time can reduce your property values.

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When to Consider a Shorter-Term Loan

The most common mortgage loan length is 30 years, which offers the lowest monthly mortgage payments. But that isn’t the only option. Shorter-term loans require larger monthly payments, but they have other benefits.

Shorter loan lengths, such as 15- and 20-year loans, ultimately result in less money spent over the course of the loan. The reason is twofold: Not only are you paying interest for a shorter period of time, but shorter loans actually also have lower interest rates. The monthly payments will still be higher since it needs to be paid off faster, but you’re saving money in the long run. So, shorter-term loans are a good idea if you’re not worried about being able to make monthly payments. If you have concerns about making payments, consider talking to an accountant about your taxes. Mortgage interest and property taxes are both deductible, as long as you are itemizing. If you weren’t itemizing before, doing so may mean the extra monthly payment really isn’t all that much more.

Refinancing also doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start your payments all over again. It’s possible to switch to shorter-term loan as part of a refi. This is especially beneficial if your loan doesn’t actually have all that much time left. If at all possible, when refinancing for a lower interest rate, try to take a loan with the same length as the remaining life of your current loan. This will ensure that you’re definitely saving money in the long run. You may even be able to find even shorter loan lengths, such as 10 years.

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Small Homes Can Still Feel Spacious With These Tips

The most surefire way to enlarge a space is, of course, to expand it. But what if you don’t have the lot size or the money to expand? There are still things you can do within the square footage you have to make our home seem bigger than it is.

A couple of these methods still involve renovation, but don’t require any additional space, since it’s all within the existing structure. If your kitchen has an island, consider removing it. Island kitchens can be fashionable, and offer more storage and counter space, but can make it harder to maneuver or make the kitchen feel cramped. Open floor plans also increased the perceived size of the property. Look for interior walls that don’t need to be there, such as between the kitchen and dining room, and think about cutting them out. Your space will look much bigger, and not only by the thickness of the wall.

If you don’t want to do anything too drastic, there are psychological effects you can take advantage of. Using see-through materials such as glass enables you to see more of your home’s square footage without necessarily being in the room. These can be glass room dividers, windows in doors, or even something as small as a glass staircase railing. Mirrors have a similar effect, reflecting the square footage behind you into your vision. Your choice of colors also matters. Painting the walls in a lighter color doesn’t change the size of the room at all, yet still makes it feel larger. You can even use lighter shades of wood flooring.

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The Next Steps After a Successful Purchase

Once a transaction closes, new homebuyers are eager to get to the celebrating. Go ahead and celebrate, but don’t get ahead of yourself. While the real estate agent’s job is done, the homebuyer’s isn’t. Owning a new home also means many of your financial specifics have just changed. Don’t fall behind on your paperwork and payments because of out-of-date information.

Make sure your mortgage payments are properly set up. Verify the date of your first payment and get it in before it’s late. Consider setting up automatic payments to ensure that they’re on time. Your property tax amount also may have changed, and you’ll need to update your homeowner’s insurance.

There are also a couple things that may not need your immediate attention, but that you should be aware of. Loans are one thing that banks and other lenders often sell to each other. It’s entirely possible that who you owe money to will change, and this is especially important to keep track of if you are sending physical checks. The other thing to look out for is scams. They’re going to increase in frequency immediately after a sale, as scammers often try to pose as insurance companies selling home insurance or mortgage insurance.

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How to Facilitate High-End Home Sales

Home prices are high, which means fewer prospective buyers are able to afford your home. But the buyers don’t necessarily realize that, without a solid grasp on their financing options. That’s certainly not your fault, but there are things you can do to make sure you are avoiding dealing with people who don’t have a chance. Specifically, take hints from the luxury market. Your home may not have been in the luxury market a few years ago, but it could be now. Even if it isn’t, some of these tips may still be useful for you.

Real estate agents can do a lot of the work for you, if you know what you’re looking for. A good real estate agent will encourage any buyer that they represent to get a pre-approval letter from a lender, regardless of their budget. If they don’t have one, you’re probably better off not dealing with them. The type of open house you have is a big factor. While traditional open houses give you the greatest number of options as far as potential buyers, most of them won’t work out or are just looking and aren’t even interested. Worse, they can open up your doors to potential thieves, who often target higher-end homes. Consider a broker’s open instead, which would be attended only by agents who already have a buyer who is more likely to be seriously invested in buying a home. That will also let you know who the agent is that’s working for them, a potentially important piece of information. If the buyer’s agent is a specialty luxury agent, they will have already vetted their client, since they have as little interest in you do in working with a buyer who can’t afford a high-priced home.

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Lower Stress of Selling Your Home With These Tips

Major life decisions are always stressful, and selling your home is certainly no exception. But many sellers stress more than they need to because they haven’t properly prepared for the sale. While a good agent will be there to advise you, most decisions are ultimately yours to make, so you need to do your own homework as well.

Speaking of good agents, that’s the first thing you need to make sure of. Research agents who work in the area and discuss your goals with them. All agents have their own strengths and weaknesses, even if they don’t specialize, which many of them do. The best performing agent may not be the right agent for your particular needs. Ensure your agent knows whether you’re looking for top dollar or just need to sell fast, because that’s going to affect the listing price and timeline.

Your agent will hopefully provide you with an in-depth analysis of comparable properties. Even before you receive it, you should have a decent idea of your home’s value. If it’s drastically different from what your agent thinks, discuss that with the agent and try to reach an understanding. You could even find that you don’t actually want to sell because you’ll be making much less than you expected. Or maybe there are certain repairs that you didn’t feel were urgent, but may have a significant effect on your home’s value.

Once you start to receive offers, be smart and make appropriate adjustments. Read through the offers carefully, and look for a pre-approval letter if the prospective buyer requires a loan. A first offer doesn’t have to be final — don’t reject every offer with minor issues, but also don’t acquiesce to every buyer demand. Some deals simply won’t work out at all, but many can be negotiated through counteroffers.

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Landscaping Key Factor in Home Values

It’s common knowledge that first impressions are important, and that maintaining strong curb appeal can boost interest. But curb appeal is important for your bottom line even if you aren’t struggling to get interested parties. A well maintained lawn or garden, just one tree, or even patio decorations can vastly improve your home’s value, perhaps by 30% or more in some areas.

Those buyers weren’t surveyed directly, according to observations by real estate agents, the types of landscaping buyers are most interested in are grass, trees, and flowers. 64% of agents thought grass was most important, 59% say trees, and 52% flowers. Hardscaping — outdoor design that doesn’t involve living things — is also important. 58% of agents stress the importance of well-maintained decks. 54% focus on the driveway, and 47% say an outdoor kitchen is valuable.

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Four Inexpensive Storage Strategies

The best way to save money on storage is by utilizing space as efficiently as possible. In some cases, there may be small storage spaces already in your home that aren’t explicitly designed for that purpose, but work just as well. Alternatively, it’s possible that storage areas that are built for that purpose could benefit from a more efficient structure at minimal additional cost.

Every house has a bedroom, or at least a space where you put your bed. In your bed is on a frame, there’s going to be a bit of space under it. That space isn’t an inescapable void where errant socks and jewelry are lost forever. It’s a spot to put a few small boxes. If your home has multiple stories, there’s usually some space underneath the stairs. It may even already look like a storage area, but if it doesn’t, feel free to add a shelf or cabinet.

Your existing cabinets can also be made to use space better. Tilting drawers have two functions: they can conform to a space’s shape while manifesting a slightly different shape while in use, and they can be detached from the cabinet to utilize more of the open space. This method is often used for storing trash bins or creating hanging racks that sit horizontally when not needed. Another way to maximize your space’s shape is to use sliding drawers in narrow spaces where one couldn’t put a cabinet, or even inside a cabinet for extra surface area.

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There’s No Need to Dread Unpacking

For some people, the worst part about moving is unpacking everything once you’ve moved in. Often it’s not actually everything; some boxes frequently end up never reopened and simply sitting in storage. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are smart ways to unpack that can help you keep organized and reduce the time and stress.

Come up with a good labelling scheme for your boxes. Don’t just throw stuff in a box and figure out what’s in it later. The best way to do this is to organize by room — know ahead of time where you’re planning to put your items, and put the boxes in their appropriate rooms before even opening any of them. The first boxes you should open are the ones with your storage units and organizers, if your items weren’t already packed inside of them. Now, remember those boxes you’re just planning to shove into storage unopened? Maybe those are seasonal decorations, in which case that’s not an issue. But maybe you don’t actually need those items. You may have brought them with you, but that doesn’t mean you’re forced to keep them. Consider donating unneeded items to save storage space and reduce clutter.

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DIY or Call a Professional?

Some people are rather handy around the house and like to do repair or patch jobs themselves. Or maybe you’d prefer not to have to do it yourself, but money is tight. Whatever your reasons, there are some things you really should call a professional for, if you don’t have experience in that field yourself. If you can’t decide whether you want to try it yourself or not, the bottom like is that structural work and potentially dangerous work should be done by a trained professional, but cosmetic work or simple repairs you can do yourself.

For most people, applying a fresh coat of paint to interior walls or cabinets is not a difficult task, and you may even have leftover paint in storage from when it was originally painted. Exterior walls, however, generally require specialized tools and can have safety concerns. Some plumbing jobs can be done yourself, such as small parts replacement, but leave the pipework and repairing major leaks to an actual plumber. Electrical systems and carpentry are potentially dangerous and should always be handled by a professional.

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Smart Fridge Features You May Like

Smart home technology has been around for a bit by now, but smart refrigerators are still a relatively recent addition. They can also be rather pricy. These two factors combined mean most people don’t have one. You may not actually know what features they have. Here are a few things it can do for you.

Smart fridges can connect to phone and television service. They have a built-in display that can be used to watch TV or videos, as well as audio services to play music or give reminders, such as alarms or notifications that the fridge is low on ice. Handy tools include a digital notebook, recipe lookup, and shopping checklists. There’s plenty that a smart fridge can do for you without you even opening the door.

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Mistakes to Avoid Before a Home Purchase

There are a plethora of articles about what to do before buying a home, especially for first-time homebuyers. But has anyone ever told you what you shouldn’t do? Of course, some of these are just a different way of writing the same things you’ve heard before. But others are advice you may not have been provided.

The biggest mistake to avoid is financing a big-cost item, such as a car, immediately before looking to get a home loan. Lenders will see that, and they’ll know you’ve just taken out a loan and will have debts to pay. That doesn’t look good for your credit score or your debt-to-income ratio. Similarly, avoid maxing out your credit card debt, even if it’s on many smaller items. It doesn’t even matter if your limit is low; what lenders look at is the percentage of your limit that is used. Another thing that may make lenders look more closely is a change of jobs. If you’ve simply moved from one company to another in the same occupation, you’re fine. But if you switched career paths or lost your job entirely, that looks like instability. All this advice continues to be relevant throughout the purchasing process — don’t make any big financial decisions until the transaction has closed.

Some other mistakes relate more specifically to real estate and not simple economic decisions. Many buyers neglect to get a preapproval before they start looking, thinking it’s a long process that they don’t want to get involved in before they find something. Yes, it does take time, but if you wait, that house you found may not be available anymore by the time the process is finished. Not only is this something sellers look for, preapproval will help you figure out what you can afford. It makes the search a lot easier if done ahead of time. Don’t try to expedite the process by just going to the first lender you find, though. The rates quoted in the news are always averages. Not every lender is going to have the same rates, and the rate isn’t the same for every situation. And contrary to popular belief, your personal bank doesn’t owe you the best rates just for being their customer. Once you know what you can afford, figure out how much your down payment is going to be. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it has to be 20% or more. That is frequently a good idea, since it avoids private mortgage insurance, but it’s still possible that paying the PMI and putting less down is a better financial decision for you. Plus, it’s almost never a good idea to put off buying solely because you can’t afford to put down 20%.

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Not All Basements Are Created Equal

A significant number of homes don’t have a basement at all, but there are more distinctions than simply whether or not there is one. There are actually three different methods of basement construction, and which method is used could affect durability and maintenance requirements. The three types of construction are concrete, block masonry, and precast panels.

Concrete basements are the most common and certainly have some advantages over the other types, but also have some disadvantages. Concrete basements are the most resilient, so are very unlikely to cave in. They are also fireproof. Though they are water resistant, they’re not entirely waterproof so it’s important to maintain the humidity levels and check for mold or mildew. A concrete basement will improve a home’s property value.

The least expensive type of construction is block masonry, composed of connected cinder blocks or masonry units. Unfortunately, that also means it has the fewest advantages. One thing it definitely has going for it is that it’s by far the most waterproof construction. Block masonry is still highly resilient, but for full durability it needs to be reinforced with steel rebar.

Precast panel basements, actually made in another location before being transported to the construction site, share some qualities of both the other types. Like block masonry, precast panels are waterproof, but like concrete basements, they require maintenance to stay that way. Precast panel basements can be susceptible to pest infestations, but this can be prevented with boric acid treatment. Fortunately, the individual panels don’t have any issues with resilience; it’s only the joints that need to be maintained.

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Don’t Skip Out on Title Insurance

Title insurance is one of those additional costs of purchasing a home that, unlike many other fees, is actually optional. Most people don’t want to deal with additional fees and ignore title insurance. That’s not necessarily a good idea. If you can afford to pay the fee, it’s a good investment.

There aren’t very many options available for homebuyer protection, and title insurance is one of the best. Title insurers have the best access to records and most experience detecting problems of any form of homeowner protection. Fraud is on the rise in the electronic age, and title insurance protects the homeowner from both fraudulent claims and losses. You may also not realize that title insurance, unlike most forms of insurance, is just a one-time charge. You won’t be saddled with monthly or annual payments.

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Protect Confidential Info With a Credit Freeze

Credit information is valuable to hackers looking to open accounts in someone else’s name. If you don’t need to access your credit report yourself in the near future, one action you can take to avoid this is a credit freeze. Not everyone is aware that any consumer is allowed to freeze their own credit reports, and potentially their dependents’ credit reports. And it’s now easier than ever, since it recently became free to do, as opposed to incurring a fee.

The process doesn’t take long to do, and is easy to reverse if needed. Any of the major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union — must freeze your credit if requested within one business day. Unfreezing your credit if necessary only takes up to an hour, but you’ll need to contact all three major credit bureaus rather than just one.

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Routine & Seasonal Maintenance Guide

When budgeting monthly costs, homeowners generally take into account mortgages, real estate taxes, and homeowner’s insurance. Unfortunately, they all too often forget about maintenance and repair costs. It’s a good idea to set aside 1-3% of the home’s value for repairs and maintenance. You may not always know when you need repairs, but you do need to be prepared to pay for them.

Regular maintenance can also help lower the costs of repairs. Major repairs are less likely to be necessary if you can catch problems before they get too big, and you’ll probably end up paying more for even a single major repair than for regular maintenance and minor repairs across the year. A few things you should do every month are check HVAC filters, look for water leaks, check the vent hood in your kitchen, ensure carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are operational, and look for cracks in the foundation. All of these can be done yourself, and if there’s no issue, you don’t need to pay anything.

Here in California, we don’t have much in the way of seasons, but there are still certainly cold or rainy areas of the state. If your area freezes in the winter, look for ice dams on the roof, inspect for gaps under doors and windows, and consider protecting your AC unit from snow and ice if necessary. Your windows and doors should also be inspected during the spring, if your area gets a lot of rain. You should also get your HVAC and roof professionally inspected. Take care of any clogged gutters as well.

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