The power of a deck

The addition of any amount of usable square footage to a property increases its value. Customized decks are a hot trend in home upgrades. A great-looking deck may entice more people to come see your home.

Building or updating an existing deck isn’t simply a great investment, it provides unique opportunities to personalize your yard. With many families staying home to save money, why not create the perfect location for entertaining?

Experts agree that multi-level decks—a series of deck levels connected by stairways or walkways—are a very popular option. One level can be used to catch the sun, one can be positioned for shade and another can be set close to the house for entertaining and barbequing.

While wood decks are the most popular, they also require more upkeep. For that reason, people are considering composite materials as a viable option. They may cost more up front, but ultimately last longer and require less maintenance.

By designing your deck with accents, lights and unique accessories, you can transform your backyard and make a sizeable impression on potential buyers.

Five tips to beautify the bath

Updating a tired-looking bathroom is a great way to increase a home’s resale. The fixes don’t need to be costly or labor intensive:

  1. Beautify: Add decorative glass, stone tile or accents to make a bathroom stand out. Extra-wide wall tiles are popular and wood cabinets can be embellished with carved wooden inlays.
  2. Lighting: Add more lighting options around the room to reduce shadows and glare. Mood lighting around the tub area is also very popular.
  3. Bath/Shower: A new tub and a spa-like atmosphere can do wonders for a bathroom. Adding a massage element to the showerhead will appeal to buyers.
  4. Update Fixtures: Changing the fixtures in a bathroom can add a great deal. From cabinet handles to faucets, the addition of brushed nickel or other metals is always a huge hit. And if space permits, add a second sink.
  5. Think Green: Install fixtures that save water. A low-flow showerhead, low-flow faucet aerator and a dual-flush toilet can save thousands of gallons of water. Energy-efficient windows is another easy option.

A renovated bathroom offers an intimate, contemporary feel and is one of the things people will remember about a home.

Finding the Perfect Neighborhood

There’s an episode of the TV series “How I Met Your Mother” where the characters decide to buy a home only to learn later that it sits downwind from a sewer plant. The message is obvious: A buyer must do his or her due diligence on prospective neighborhoods to avoid those kinds of mistakes. Here are a few tips:

Investigate the surrounding area: Good schools boost your property value. Research the closest parks and community centers and consider how busy streets impact the neighborhood. Check out stores and restaurants in the area. You may be used to a 5-minute drive to the grocery store, only to find out that your new home is 25 minutes away from the nearest place to buy milk.

Get to know prospective neighbors: Walk through the area and say hello to people. Ask them for their impressions of the neighborhood. While you’re at it, look around. Are there lots of kids on the block? Do people walk or jog through the neighborhood at night? A neighborhood can speak volumes by itself.

Research the Homeowner’s Association: What are the regular fees? Are there lawn or construction restrictions? Knowing these things can really make an impact.

A good real estate agent can furnish you with a wealth of local information and take you on a tour of the closest commerce centers, restaurants and shops. A little groundwork will help ensure that your dream house is surrounded by a dream neighborhood.

Six questions to help gain insight on a prospective home

When buying a home, you have to consider factors such as the home’s layout, condition and more. The seller must disclose the property’s condition that may alert you to issues such as mold, defective water heater or leaky roof. Here are six questions you should pose to the seller for additional insight before you make your final decision:

  1. Why is the seller selling the house?
  2. How much did the seller pay for the home?
  3. What does the seller like most and least about the property?
  4. Has the seller had any problems with the home in the past?
  5. Are there any nuisances such as barking dogs, airplane traffic or planned changes to the community?
  6. How are the public schools in the area?

Knowing all you can about a prospective home will help you make a more informed decision as well as make an appropriate offer. Your real estate professional can be a great resource in helping you get your key questions answered and give you advice on how to evaluate your findings.

Thinking About Co-ownership with a Friend?

Friends often share holidays, vacations and important moments in life. Why not buy a home together? Joint ownership makes sense, especially for those unable to afford a home on their own. Each can enjoy a real estate investment, and can even strengthen the friendship.

The opposite could happen as well. Friends can feud over the most trivial of things, placing the long-term housing investment at risk. Here are some tips for surviving co-ownership with a friend:

  • Disclose financial information: Know what you’re getting into. Agree upon the type of home and location, and are comfortable with living with one another.
  • Consult with an attorney: A contract is vital, as is listing each person’s name on the deed and the mortgage papers. The percentage of ownership must be clearly stated in the contract, including details of each person’s share of the down payment and the way in which mortgage payments are to be divided. This sets the stage for deciding each one’s share upon sale.
  • Get pre-approved for a mortgage: Odds are those buying a home will need to jointly qualify as co-borrowers on a single mortgage in order to purchase a property held in tenancy in common or joint tenancy.
  • Understand wants and needs: Options and terms will be contingent on each individual’s credit history, financial health and obligations—as well as what you’re both looking for in a house. Discuss all of this ahead of time.
  • Have an exit strategy: Job changes or unexpected romances could evolve where marriage will soon be in the picture. What happens then? This should be agreed upon before the house is bought.

Finding the perfect home for two can be a challenge. Just make sure that when buying any real estate with friends, you don’t let the friendship cloud your judgment.

Your mortgage: Pay attention to the points

In terms of your mortgage, a point is an additional loan fee that is paid to the lender in exchange for a lower interest rate. It’s called “buying down,” and it allows you to reduce your rate for the life of the loan.

Let’s say you secured a mortgage loan for $500,000 without points, at 4.6% on a 30-year mortgage, your payment would be approximately $2,560 a month. If you paid two points ($10,000), the interest rate would go down to 4.1% and the monthly payment would decrease to around $2,415, a savings of $145 a month.

It would take you about eight years to recoup the money you paid up front. If you are planning on staying in your home a while, this will save you money in the long-run. Before deciding, ask yourself:

  • How long will I keep the home?
  • Do I have extra money to pay points?
  • Could that money be better used for something else?

Some may suggest that a smarter option is to invest that $10,000 because you could do much better than your $140 savings, but you have to weigh the variables.*

Here are three simple rules of thumb in determining your particular course of action:

  • If you plan to stay in the house for less than three years, do not pay points
  • If you plan to stay in the house for more than five years, pay 1 to 2 points
  • If you’ll be in the house for three to five years, paying points doesn’t make a significant difference

Since points are interest-payment related, they may be deductible on your taxes in the year that you close. See your tax advisor for details.

Mortgage points can add up to valuable savings over the course of your loan, but the future isn’t always predictable. Even if you “plan” on staying in your home for 20 years, changes in your career or family life could alter that plan.

 

* The above example is for illustrative purposes only. Be sure to check with your financial or tax advisor regarding your particular situation.

Costs for first-time buyers

Buying a new home can be a huge, complex undertaking, especially when it’s your first time. That’s why it’s important to have an experienced real estate agent guiding you along the way.

The biggest mistake new buyers can make is underestimating the costs of buying a house and maintaining it over time. Many experts agree that homeowners should have 1%-3% of their homes’ purchase price in savings for improvements and surprise expenses. It’s wise to have at least six mortgage payments in the bank after a closing. These estimates may not work for everyone, but if you are spending above your means on a new home, you may quickly find yourself in financial trouble.

Inspections are important for the first-time buyer, as they list repairs that will be needed for the home. A buyer should put together a short-term and long-term plan based on the inspection so they know how much money they will need in the months and years ahead.

Renters are accustomed to paying basic utilities. Homeowners, on the other hand, must also pay for water, sewer and trash collection—as well as property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, homeowner’s association dues, yard care, snow removal and other expenses unique to your location.

Buying a home is one of the largest investments you’ll make. Your real estate agent will help each step of the way, first helping you establish a realistic price point for your home purchase and a clear understanding of your monthly expenses.

Making color work in your home

Don’t be offended if an agent suggests that you paint before placing your home on the market. They understand “color psychology.” Since people’s reaction to color is immediate, it can have a tremendous influence on their daily choices.

You can make your home stand out from the competition, sell more quickly and at a higher price if you use color effectively. Blues will feel cool, reds and oranges feel warm. Deeper shades of color imply intimacy and serenity.

Lighter exterior colors are favored because they can make the property seem larger. For older homes, you may want to consider historical accuracy, as this could be a big selling point as well.

For the interior, consider the purpose of each room. Kitchen and dining areas painted in “food colors” such as coffee browns, celery greens and scrambled-egg yellows will make the rooms feel more natural. Hallways are a great place to bring in the exterior colors for overall harmony. Master bedrooms in medium shades of green or blue for warm selling seasons, and rouge red for cooler weather. Other bedrooms can be painted in creamy tones of green, blue or a pale shell pink. Shades of blue, green or lavender can form a relaxing atmosphere in the bathroom.

When thinking about color, common sense helps. You should match other things in your home and keep a comfortable environment as well.

The trend toward multi-generational living

Although your home may have housed a traditional family consisting of mom, dad and two kids, savvy real estate agents will tell you, that in order to attract more buyers, staging your house as one fit for multi-generations is the way to go.

A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center states that a record 57 million Americans (18.1% of the U.S. population) were living in multi-generational households.

This trend is coming from all directions. Young adults are moving back home, the elderly are moving in with their middle-age children and middle-aged children are moving back with their elderly parents.

As a result, agents are highlighting features such as finished walkout basements and bonus bedrooms. When it’s being suggested to transform your office or basement into a bedroom, you should be listening. Any home that contains bonus space is a viable candidate for a buyer who might be planning to bring an ill or out-of-work family member back into the fold. A home’s accessibility is important for people who might be living with aging parents who use wheelchairs or walkers. Creating a complete, accessible living space on one level with safety features can make a home attractive to people of all ages.

Staging your home with kids around

Homeowners with young children face a common challenge when their house is on the market: How do you keep the home clean and ready for prospective buyers? Keeping that “staged look” as the kids create instant messes can be overwhelming. Children’s bedrooms are the worst when getting a home ready to sell—toys, clothes and activities.

  • Limit the number of toys and activities that children play with each week and adding and subtracting as the kids get bored.
  • Pack away extra toys, stuffed animals and books.
  • Organize remaining toys neatly in baskets, boxes and bins and display only a few items on shelves.
  • For those with infants, keep your nursery tidy by storing all extra diapers, wipes, lotions, baby bottles and clothes in a dresser or nearby closet.
  • Emptying the diaper pail frequently will help ensure that the room smells fresh and clean.
  • Removing furniture that doesn’t serve a purpose can help the room appear larger.
  • Having kids share rooms allows you to set up the unoccupied room as a guest room or home office, adding extra value to your home.

Once your current home sells, the new home will provide your kids with exciting new adventures. If that doesn’t make them more cooperative in helping keep the place, then there’s always plan B: bribe them with ice cream, outside!