Jun 18

Solar Energy?

By Antoinette Johnson | Uncategorized

Home buyers are showing high demand for solar energy homes, and they’re willing to pay a lot extra for homes that have them too.

In fact, a new study shows the average premium for homes with solar panels is an extra $14,329 to the sales price. That represents 3.74 percent more than the average sales price, according to a new study from The Appraisal Journal, a professional publication for appraisers.

More consumers have been investing in solar, and companies are making solar more in reach by even waiving upfront costs in some cases. For example, in 2014, SolarCity partnered with Bank of America Merrill Lynch to fund an estimated $400 million in solar power projects that year and in 2015. Home owners were able to install solar panels without paying any upfront costs. Other companies are allowing home owners to lease solar panels to waive the potential $35,000 installation investment.

Source: “Study: Home Values Increase When Solar Panels Get Installed,” HousingWire (March 29, 2016)

Jun 11

Pet Damage Repair 101

By Antoinette Johnson | Uncategorized

I know most of us all love our pets but they do sometimes leave their mark.  My two dogs Foxy and Bandit are a Labrador/German Shepherd mix so as I am sure you can imagine they are a handful.

Here are some tips that I have used and that you can use to freshen up your home before you decide to put it on the market. RISMedia recently spotlighted several things home owners can do to remove pet-related problems around the house.

Read more: The Power of Pets

Carpeting: This would be a good time to get the carpets professionally cleaned. But in the meantime, to wipe up any pet accidents right away, blot it with a paper towel and then apply a mixture of equal parts of water and vinegar to soak it up. If the stain is really bad, use pure vinegar, the article suggests. After the area has been soaked up, scrub hard to clean the carpet more deeply and leave a touch of baking soda until it dries. Then, vacuum the area.

Hardwood floors: For any pet odors absorbed on hardwood floors, be sure to handle gently as to not harm the wood. “Vinegar starts removing bad smells immediately,” notes writer Megan Wild, a blogger for Your Wild Home. “Alternatively, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide can also do the trick. All three could weaken the sealant or cause bleaching if not applied carefully or if left too long, so don’t leave the area unattended.”

Leather furniture: Claw marks on leather furniture can look unsightly. To make the claw marks less visible, try applying white vinegar with a soft cloth. “The vinegar makes the leather swell, which may hide the marks,” Wild notes. Then, use leather polish, which will further help conceal the scratch marks. If the marks are more severe, you may need to get a leather repair kid, which includes a solution tinted with about the same color as the damaged material.

Source: “How to Repair Cat and Dog Damage Before Moving,” RISMedia (March 29, 2016)

Jun 04

4 Landscaping Mistakes

By Antoinette Johnson | Uncategorized

I recently posted an article about how to increase your homes curb appeal. This week I am going to write about 4 things to avoid doing when trying to prepare your home for potential buyers.

Good landscaping could potentially boost a home’s value anywhere from 6 percent up to 28 percent, according to a Clemson University study of homes in Greenville, S.C.

So that means a bad landscape design could potentially dent a home’s value by that much. And that isn’t chump change; it equates to potentially thousands in lost money just from poor curb appeal.

Realtor.com® recently highlighted several do-it-yourself landscape disasters to avoid:

1. Huge Piles of Mulch: Don’t overdo it with the “mulch volcanoes” that pile high over the trunk of a tree. Mulch needs to be applied loosely. “Mulch mounds may look like the norm, but it’s a harmful practice,” says Michael Rittenhouse Rigby, an arborist in central Virginia.

2. Overplanting: Some home owners don’t think through their plantings before they start planting. The result? An overgrowth of plants that quickly become unruly. In general, tall plants should go in the back; small plants in front. Also, avoid planting too many large plants. They may have a tough time taking root. Small foliage, on the other hand, tends to have a better chance at survival.

3. Disrupting tree roots: If you end up expanding your home or garage, per se, make sure you maintain a sizable distance from any large trees in the yard or take special precautions to protect the tree’s roots. It can take awhile to see the damage of roots from large trees, but eventually it will show itself. Trees can be costly to remove or cause damage to your home if they fall. Hire a tree specialist prior to any construction projects in your yard.

4. Too much gravel: Just like mulch, you can quickly overdo it here. Landscaping with gravel can save water but it reflects heat and can potentially damage even the hardiest of plants, landscapers note. What’s more, gravel may get mixed into the underlying soil and then make it more difficult for plants to absorb rainwater. Use gravel cautiously.

View more landscaping mistakes at realtor.com®.

Source: “6 Landscaping Mistakes That Will Destroy Your Yard,” realtor.com® (March 29, 2016)

May 28

4 Things Buyers Should Look For.

By Antoinette Johnson | Uncategorized

As a Buyer you should always try and learn as much as you can about the potential property you are buying. Here is a simple list of 4 things that you should not forget to look for.

Home sellers sign a disclosure document that they’re being upfront about any problems with the home.

“However, it can be very tempting for some to tell white lies or conveniently forgets facts,” says Wendy Flynn, owner of Wendy Flynn Realty in College Station, Texas. “In fact, a very large number of real estate lawsuits stem from owners misrepresenting their property.”

Realtor.com® recently featured some of the most common cover-ups that real estate professionals say they and their clients eventually discover.

Water damage: Water stains could be signs of leaks. “Many sellers try to conceal water intrusion in the basement, for example, with a pile of cardboard boxes or suitcases,” says Frank Baldassarre, owner of Ace Home Inspections on Staten Island, N.Y. If the home has obvious red flags – such as an odd odor or visible wall cracks – you may want to request removing a large picture frame to take a look at what may be behind it, Baladassarre says. Also, some home owners may try to use a fresh coat of paint to conceal water damage. As such, home owners may want to ask when the house was last painted. “If it was a year ago, they’re probably not trying to hide water stains,” says Baldassarre.

Bad foundation: Look for any jagged cracks in the wall. Zigzag cracks may signal a foundation problem, says Flynn. A bad foundation also could prevent cabinets and doors from closing properly.

Neighbor nuisances: “Home owners have an obligation to disclose what are called ‘neighborhood nuisances,’ but if they don’t, buyers have to rely on their word,” says Carrie Benuska, a real estate professional at the John Aaroe Group in Pasadena, Calif. “I know people who have asked their neighbors to keep noisy dogs inside during showings or only open their homes during strategic times of the day.” Buyers will want to take a walk around the neighborhood at different times of day to assess the area for themselves.

Temperature changes: “If you walk into a room and there’s a subtle shift in the atmosphere—maybe the air feels dry or damp—ask the owner what the room feels like throughout the seasons,” says Benuska. “The culprit is usually poor insulation, sometimes as a result of the owner adding a second room or floor to the home.”

Source: “How to Spot the Top Problems Home Sellers Try to Hide,” realtor.com® (April 4, 2016)

May 21

Home Much Does Buying A Home Really Cost?

By Antoinette Johnson | Uncategorized

I always tell my buyer clients up front that there are a number of costs associated with Home Ownership that people should keep it mind when they are planning to buy a home. Potential Home buyers may take a look at their projected monthly mortgage payment and feel like it’s cheap — especially if they’re used to paying skyrocketing rental costs. But buyers need to be prepared that the budget for a home is much more than just a monthly mortgage payment.

 

I have made a list of these potential costs that you should definitely include in your budget before moving forward!

1. Property taxes: Property taxes average about 1 percent of the home’s value. It will vary considerably depending on location. For example, the median property tax in Alabama is $538, while in New Jersey, taxes are $7,335.

2. Insurance: The cost of homeowners insurance will depend on numerous factors, such as the size of the home and its age. Some lenders may require extra insurance, such as flood protection.

3. Maintenance and repairs: Home owners may want to budget an extra 1 percent of their home’s value per year for home maintenance projects.

4. Furniture: If they need to outfit a new home, home owners will want to budget for furniture.

5. Closing costs: Closing costs can range anywhere from 1 percent to 5 percent on the sale price of the home.

6. HOA fees: Some neighborhoods or condos require home owners to pay an HOA fee to cover the maintenance of common areas.

7. Mortgage insurance: When borrowers have less than a 20 percent down payment on a loan, lenders often require them to then buy mortgage insurance, which will be added to their monthly payment.

8. Landscaping and lawn care: Equipment and the cost to maintain a lawn or pay for landscaping services is another additional cost to figure in.

9. Pest control: Home owners may need to pay several hundred dollars per year for pest control.

10. Inspection and appraisal costs: A home inspection can be smart prior to closing to see if any hidden house problems lurk. The inspection may cost $500 or more, depending on the size and location of the home.

Source: “10 Hidden Costs of Homeownership,” The Motley Fool (April 3, 2016)

 

May 14

Buyer Cheat Sheet

By Antoinette Johnson | Uncategorized

Buyers! I have not forgotten about you and I have prepared an ultimate guide for you guys to get the house you want.  As usual one of my clients inspired me to write this post and I hope it helps you all out.

In a seller’s market, home buyers need to be willing and able to act fast to snag the home they want. This spring, areas across the country are facing a limited number of homes for sale. Realtor.com® offers up a cheat sheet for surviving a seller’s market.

  • Be on call. “If you’re only looking now and then when it’s convenient, you’re probably wasting your time,” says James Malmberg, a real estate professional in Sherman Oaks, Calif. He suggests treating house hunting like job hunting. If someone calls with a lead, follow up promptly to gauge whether it could be a good fit and don’t linger.
  • Bring the paperwork. To be taken seriously, buyers would be wise to get a mortgage pre-approval letter as well as a “proof of funds” form from their bank to show they have enough to cover a down payment. They’ll be able to act quicker when they do find the right house.
  • Limit the contingencies. In a seller’s market, buyers may need to drop some of the contingencies to score the house. Sellers prefer the fewest number of hurdles to closing as possible. If your buyers come in with several contingencies — such as “if” they secure financing — the sellers are more inclined to bypass their offer and take another with less hassle. Also, “don’t waste your time lowballing a seller,” advises Sean Kelley, a real estate professional with Howard Hannah in Pittsburgh, Pa. “Always put in an aggressive offer.”
  • Cast a wide net. Search for homes outside prime locations if faced with limited or high-priced choices. Buyers need to carefully consider what they’re willing to compromise on. “Sometimes properties sit, even in a seller’s market, because of a problem that is scaring other buyers away,” such as some renovation work that may need to be done, Malmberg says. Those “flaws,” however, might not be a big deal to your buyers. “Finding a house this way can also cut down on the amount of competition you will face,” Malmberg adds.

Source: “Surviving a Seller’s Market: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet,” realtor.com® (April 7, 2016)

May 06

Buying Guide: While You Have Debt

By Antoinette Johnson | Uncategorized

Thousands of people are graduating from college with student loan debt and are worried that they might not be able to buy a house.  I have some good news, this might not be the case!

With mortgage rates remaining near historic lows, many financial experts are making the case that student-loan debt doesn’t have to hold back millennials from buying a home. But the message isn’t getting across: Nearly 70 percent of millennials say they are delaying a real estate purchase because of their student debt load, according to a new survey by CommonBond.

Forbes.com recently highlighted whether a person with student-loan debt was ready to become a home owner with the following assessment:

  • Debt-to-income ratio isn’t everything. Yes, the proportion of your income that goes toward paying your debt is a central determinant of whether you’re ready to buy a home. Most lenders require a debt-to-income ratio of 36 percent or less to qualify for a mortgage. But a buyer with student-loan debt shouldn’t worry that their number will automatically disqualify them. The key is that they pay their bills on time and still have enough income left over to compensate for their debt.
  • You can still handle more debt. The best interest rates tend to go to those who can offer a 20 percent down payment, but loans are available that require as little as 3 percent down on a home. How much more debt can you take on? If you can handle your student-loan debt and a bit of a higher mortgage balance and still be comfortable, that’s one way to make it work. Or, if you can save up enough for a larger down payment while paying down student debt, that might be a better option. But potential home buyers need to take into account all the extra costs of home ownership beyond just the monthly mortgage payment. Check out: Help Buyers Add Up Extra Costs of Ownership
  • Make a budget. To save for the down payment, would-be buyers need a budget in place. Katie Brewer, a certified financial planner in Dallas, suggests budgeting with broad buckets: fixed expenses, variable expenses, and longer-term goals (e.g. paying down debt, buying a home, or saving for retirement). Brewer recommends keeping fixed expenses to 50 percent or less of your overall budget. There’s no one budget style that is more effective, however. The important part is to just pick a method and then start working toward the goal — saving for a down payment, in this case.

Source: “How to Save for a Home When You Have Student Debt,” Forbes.com (April 4, 2016)

Apr 29

Wells Fargo Settlement

By Antoinette Johnson | Uncategorized

I recently got a chance to spend some time with my husband for a well deserved movie night.  We decided to watch The Big Short starring, Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling.  It is about the mortgage crisis that took place in the early part of the century.

At the end of the movie it highlighted the fact that as we all know the banks were bailed out and only one person went to jail.  I found this article on the settlement that Wells Fargo had to pay and it definitely helped me sleep a bit easier at night knowing that there was at least a little justice served.

Wells Fargo will pay $1.2 billion to the federal government in what will mark a record-setting recovery settlement for the Federal Housing Administration.

The settlement will go to resolving claims of loan origination violations that occurred in the mortgage giant’s FHA mortgage insurance lending program from 2001 to 2010.  During that period, Wells Fargo acknowledged to the government that certain residential home mortgage loans they approved as eligible for the FHA insurance were not. The government, therefore, had to step in and pay the FHA insurance claims whenever a borrower defaulted on those loans.

“This Administration remains committed to holding lenders accountable for their lending practices,” Secretary Julián Castro for HUD said in a statement. “The $1.2 billion settlement with Wells Fargo is the largest recovery for loan origination violations in FHA’s history.  Yet, this monetary figure can never truly make up for the countless families that lost homes as a result of poor lending practices.”

Wells Fargo officials say the settlement allows the lender to put the legal process surrounding these questionable loans dating back from 2001 behind them and finally move on.

“We are dedicated to providing access to credit to a broad range of customers through offerings that exist today as well as new products and programs on the horizon,” Franklin Codel, president of Wells Fargo Home Lending, said in a statement. “Wells Fargo has helped millions of people buy homes and we will continue to meet the financing needs of the customers and communities the FHA program is intended to serve.”

Source: “It’s Official: Wells Fargo Reaches Largest Settlement in FHA History,” HousingWire (April 8, 2016)

Apr 23

Wind Damage?

By Antoinette Johnson | Uncategorized

I always remember my son asking me, mommy where does wind come from? The air we breathe is something that most of us take for granted but did you know that wind can cause severe damage to our homes?

A new study shows why home owners need to be more concerned about wind damage.

According to data released by the insurance company Travelers, wind damage nudged ahead of hail, water, theft, fire, and others to be the top homeowner’s insurance claim. But it’s the one thing that home owners are least likely to protect their homes against, says Scott Humphrey, the second vice president of risk control at Travelers.

Wind can cause tree branches to detach and hit the home, lift up roof shingles, or damage windows and doors, Humphrey says.

To protect a home during a strong storm with high winds, home owners should ensure dangling branches are removed, secure windows with plywood, and secure a garage with vertical braces, says Crissinda Ponder, a real estate analyst for Bankrate.com. Also, home owners should be proactive in repairing or replacing any loose or damaged shingles and have door bolts to keep doors in place, she adds.

Wind damage is covered by most standard home insurance policies. However, home owners in coastal and hurricane-prone areas may find wind damage excluded from their policies and may need to purchase a separate windstorm policy.

The study revealed the following five most common causes of homeowner’s insurance claims:

  • Exterior wind damage: 25% (percentage of claims)
  • Non-weather related water damage (i.e. plumbing and appliance issues): 19%
  • Hail: 15%
  • Weather-related water damage: 11%
  • Theft: 6%

Source: “The No. 1 Thing Most Likely to Damage Your Home,” MarketWatch (April 6, 2016)

Apr 14

Ranch Homes….Have You Overlooked Them?

By Antoinette Johnson | Uncategorized

One of my clients inspired me to write this article about Ranch Homes. I have always preferred Colonial Multi-Level Homes but my clients love for ranch style homes has opened my eyes.

One-story ranch houses, once overlooked in favor of two-story homes, are back in buyers’ good graces. In fact, single-story homes are becoming so coveted in some markets that it’s prompted bidding wars.

“You see this cycle,” says Alan Hess, an architect and author of a 20th-century home design book called “The Ranch House.” “Many types of buildings will be popular for a while, then go into decline, get torn down, then inevitably there is a return of interest. The ranch house is now on the upswing in that cycle.”

Two-thirds of home buyers – or 64 percent – say they prefer a single-story home, according to a housing preference study released by the National Association of Home Builders. Broken out by age, 35 percent of millennials say they prefer a single-story home, 49 percent of Gen Xers, 75 percent of baby boomers, and 88 percent of seniors.

Yet despite the high demand for ranch homes, builders continue to largely favor constructing houses with two stories. Housing analysts say it’s because two-story homes can be built on smaller lots at a time when the costs of land are escalating. The trend is particularly evident in Southern California, the birth place of the ranch style home, which is seeing skyrocketing land costs.

Ranch homes for sale in Southern California are commanding high prices. For example, a 2,746-square-foot ranch in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles attracted a bidding war with four offers of buyers trying to escape the two-story house trend.  The house was listed at $2.099 million but sold for $2.2 million.

“With the new developments, they’re two stories,” says Manny Fierros of Ontrac Real Estate in Whittier. “When you’re able to find something with a good-sized lot, and a single story, that’s what’s attracting buyers.”

Source: “All the Rage Before Disneyland Was Built, Iconic Ranch House Back in Demand,” The Orange County Register (April 11, 2016)

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