Be a smarter buyer with this bonus information checklist

When you’re home hunting, information is power. The more you know before you make an offer, the better. Usually when two homes are equally appealing, digging into the details can make a difference. Here’s a list of “bonus information” that most buyers overlook or forget to ask about while they’re shopping for a house:

Homeowner’s association rules: Certain neighborhood covenants may be a deal maker or breaker for you, so if there’s a set of guidelines you’ll be required to adhere to, get them up front. They can cover everything from paint schemes to lawn design and beyond.

Utility bills: Most sellers won’t balk at sharing with you what utilities cost annually. Water, power, gas, and even telecommunication or cable service provider bills can help you get a better idea what it will cost monthly to live in the home.

Pest control: In areas where pests can be a problem, asking for information about who has been maintaining pest control (and how much it costs) can help you plan financially and get a sense if the sellers have been keeping up with pest issues.

Service providers: Save yourself some leg work and ask the sellers who they like for lawn maintenance, pool maintenance, home repair work, house cleaners, and appliance repair. Not only will the list save you time, but the providers will already be familiar with the home’s condition and systems.

Home insurance company: You can bet the company insuring the home will want to continue to keep the business, and getting this cost information and provider contact info from the buyer is a good idea.

Floor plans: Having a floor plan will help you understand whether or not your stuff is a good fit for the home. Not every seller will have these handy, but sometimes a seller’s agent will be willing to get a current floor plan put together if it’s important to you.

They may seem like small details, but they can make all the difference.

I love helping home buyers make informed decisions about their next home. I can help you walk through the pros and cons of every detail. Get in touch today:

Teresa Butler

Worthington Realty

614-565-8161

Teresa@TeresaButler.com

Protect Yourself: Use an Agent When Buying from a Builder

Q: Do I need to hire a real estate agent to represent me when I buy a new home from a builder? 

A: Legally, no. But if you don’t, you might be missing out on some tangible benefits that impact your wallet and how much you get for your money.

There are many reasons why an agent is a sound investment during the purchase process with a builder. While some of them can be quite complex (and go beyond the scope of this blog post), here are a few highlights:

Market Value Compared to Purchase Price: How much money are you going to be able to come out of pocket for your down payment? If you don’t want a nasty surprise when it comes to disparities between your agreed upon purchase price and the actual market value of the home, you’ll want an agent with access to information which will help you accurately assess the true value of that brand new home.

Negotiation Power: Real estate agents are professional negotiators, and often an agent can get more from a builder than you would on your own. While some of this might be related to purchase price, other perks may include property or home upgrades.

Financing: It’s probably no surprise that your builder will have preferred financing partners to work with. Many of those “partners” pay good money for the opportunity to handle your loan. But is it the best loan at the best rate? An agent can be both a sounding board for financing terms and a source for trusted alternatives.

Contract Expertise: While your real estate agent isn’t an attorney, they know a great deal about the ins-and-outs of property contracts. This includes builder’s contracts, which may have provisions that put you in dicey territory should something unforeseen happen. Protect yourself with an agent.

These four reasons are a good place to start, but there are plenty more. The bottom line is: The builder will have their own system in place to maximize their profit and minimize their costs. Shouldn’t you?

I’m more than happy to help you buy from a builder:

Teresa Butler

Worthington Realty

614-565-8161

Teresa@TeresaButler.com

 

The Truth Behind Renting vs. Buying a Home

Are you doing the math these days around renting versus buying a home? Trying to decide if you can afford to buy? If so, you’ve probably Googled one of the many “rent versus buy” calculators out there to help you get a handle on your budget.

True, they’re helpful, and they can also help clue you in to things like insurance expenses and property taxes, but they overlook a number of key factors in the decision.

  1. A mortgage is a surefire way to build wealth. Provided you don’t buy more home than you can truly afford, your mortgage is like a mandatory savings account. A portion of your payment each month is going straight into your equity in your home. With renting, it’s your landlord who is building equity, not you.
  1. The tax situation has profound implications, especially in expensive markets. Until the laws change (and there’s little probability they will any time soon), your mortgage interest and property taxes are deductible on your income taxes. In expensive markets, this can represent massive deduction. (Also remember: Early on in a traditional mortgage you pay the most in interest and your deduction is the highest.)
  1. Renting puts your wallet at the mercy of the market more often than buying. If you have a year-long lease on an apartment, your rent could go up significantly should the rental market heat up. Your rent isn’t likely to stay the same over a long period of time. In most cities, in fact, it will steadily go up. With a standard mortgage, however, your payments are fixed and predictable. It might seem like a lot at first, but if you buy within your means, it’ll seem like less and less of an expense as the years go on.
  1. A mortgage gives you more future financial flexibility. The longer you have a mortgage, the more equity you build. The more equity you build, the more options you have to borrow against that equity or use it in ways which may be advantageous for debt and tax purposes. With renting, no such long-term benefit exists.

The key here, of course, is accepting the fact that you must buy a home you can afford which is priced in accordance with the market. Even if you’re not ready today, having a conversation with a Realtor(tm) will help you prepare for tomorrow.

How does renting look now? Should we have a conversation?:

Teresa Butler

Worthington Realty

614-565-8161

Teresa@TeresaButler.com

6 Tough Home Pricing Truths

The pricing conversation is always a challenge. You want top dollar for your home, and your real estate agent will, too. After all, a better commission comes from a better price. But a lot of psychology and strategy goes into home pricing, and if you don’t go in with your eyes wide open, you could end up heartily disappointed.

Here are some tough truths about home pricing. While they can vary a little depending on unique market conditions, they should all be in the back of your mind as you prepare to list.

  1. Some agents will try and “buy the listing.” Sad but true: Some agents will tell you what you want for the home is accurate, even if it’s too high. Figuring they can manage disappointment and reductions down the line, the less-than-ethical agent will try and cut off the more honest competition by telling you the price you think you should get for the listing is the price you should shoot for.

 

  1. Nobody cares what you paid for the home. No buyer in the history of real estate has ever agreed to pay more for a home because of the profit a seller hopes to get. Yes, you may have sunk $150,000 in renovations into the basement, but the market will dictate the pricing, not what you “think is right.”
  1. Lowball pricing is risky. Yes, you can generate a lot of interest by undercutting other listings on the market, but people may still attempt to negotiate. While you may stay firm on your price, you could find yourself making contract compromises you’d rather not make.
  1. Precise pricing suggests you’re less wiling to negotiate. List a home for $403,750 versus $400,000 and you’re basically broadcasting a kind of inflexibility. This may or may not be part of your pricing strategy, but whatever you do, don’t do it unconsciously.
  1. Seasonal timing can influence pricing. Are you the only comparable home on the market in January? You might be able to get a little more, especially if schools are good.
  1. Infomercial pricing can make a difference. Have a million dollar home? Swallow your pride and try your hand in the $990K+ range. Slipping under the seven-figure mark can cast a slightly wider net for buyers.

Most homes sell within 3% of a market-savvy asking price, so go with an agent who is willing to explore the deep local conditions. Curious how much your home might be worth right now? I’d be happy to put together a no-obligation pricing matrix for you:

Teresa Butler

Worthington Realty

614-565-8161

Teresa@TeresaButler.com

What to look for in a home warranty

The idea of a home warranty can sound great. According to the National Association of Realtors, a home warranty is defined as, “a service contract, normally for one year, which helps protect home owners against the cost of unexpected covered repairs or replacement on their major systems and appliances that break down due to normal wear and tear. Coverage is for systems and appliances in good working order at the start of the contract.”

It sounds simple: You insure critical systems in the home, and should something go wrong with those systems, the cost of repairs is largely covered by the insurance company. And it’s true, a home warranty can give you exceptional value, especially in the first year of home ownership, when you’re still getting a feel for the overall health and maintenance status of your home.

Sellers often offer a home warranty to allay buyers’ concerns over their first year in the home. In fact, in states where foreclosures are common, home warranties are practically the norm. If a buyer likes two homes about the same, a warranty can be a competitive advantage.

But as with all insurance policies, the fine print matters. When researching home warranties, you must be certain of what the policy covers, and how the insurance company honors claims. For big ticket items like heating and cooling systems, the home warranty can be a massive cost savings, often reducing out-of-pocket expenses to less than 10% of the total. However, with smaller appliances and simple repairs, the claim can cost you as much as the repair would on its own. Plus, it’s vital to know if the warranty will replace versus repair aging appliances. (Many companies will try and repair an old stove or refrigerator rather than replace the unit with a more energy efficient model.)

You should also be aware when a home warranty isn’t required on certain home features. For instance, if you have a dishwasher or hot water heater that is already under manufacturer’s warranty, the home warranty coverage may be superfluous. If you have major systems with considerable age on them, though, the warranty can be worth the investment.

Be aware of the terms of the warranty when it comes to maintenance and neglect. Occasionally home warranty companies will try to get out of paying for repairs or replacement by claiming you haven’t kept up with routine maintenance issues. To ensure you don’t get caught out on these technicalities, understand how the insurance company justifies these claims.

Insurance is always a complex business, but don’t shy away from investigating a home warranty if you’d like some protection from major, catastrophic repairs. It all comes down to the terms of the contract, and with a little diligence you can get the coverage you need. If you have any questions about where to get home warranty quotes, get in touch with me today: Teresa Butler, Worthington Realty, 614-565-8161, Teresa@TeresaButler.com

What to Look for When Evaluating School Districts

Given the way most communities work, the location of a home dictates the local school district. The quality of the school district can have a direct impact on the value of your home. Even if you don’t have kids or don’t have to plan kids, the quality of the local schools can positively or negatively effect your home’s value. Buyers tend to prefer homes in good school districts, either because they have school-aged children, or they are thinking of resale value down the line.

So how do you know if your local schools make the grade? What signs point towards an improving or declining school district? Here are a five things you’ll want to consider:

  1. Test scores. It’s a basic measurement of student performance and educator effectiveness. Look at the performance historically for an idea of which direction things have been heading.
  1. Graduation rates. High graduation rates mean a large percentage of students complete a particular school’s program, and generally reflects well on the district.
  1. Student-to-teacher ratios. A low student-to-teacher ratio is generally positive, as it indicates a higher percentage chance of students receiving individualized attention. It also suggests that teachers at the school will be more attentive to the quality of the education as they are not overwhelmed by their student load. (If you already have a relatively high student-to-teacher ratio in a community that’s growing fast, beware.)
  1. School amenities. No, we’re not talking about hot tubs! But we are talking about athletic programs, music programs, and special education programs. If a district is impoverished and has cut all but the essentials from a public education, you may want to hold off.
  1. Local parental opinion. Ask parents what they think of the schools. How well does the staff communicate? Do the teachers seem engaged? How are the libraries? Are parents engaged, or is there little sense of community?

Though school districts are but one factor in the myriad of environmental and neighborhood conditions influencing home value, they remain an important one. Do your homework!

Curious about the local schools? I am happy to help you understand the local school district and homes near great schools. Get in touch with me here: Teresa Butler, Worthington Realty, 614-565-8161, Teresa@TeresaButler.com 

How to Build Neighborhood Connections

If you’ve recently relocated to a new neighborhood, you may find yourself struggling to break the ice with your neighbors. It can be a little daunting to just knock on doors unannounced, and in today’s day of texting and “connections at a distance” could be considered outright rude.

Still, neighborhoods are only as good as their neighbors. In a world where so many people recognize neighborhood cars over the faces of people who live around us, there’s a lot to be said for making an effort to connect with the people who live up and down the block. So how do you make those first few casual connections which lead to meaningful bonds?

Here are some tips for forming new connections with your neighbors:

  1. Throw a “move in” garage sale. Yes, most people have garage sales before they move out of their old house in order to reduce the amount of clutter they have to pack, but garage sales draw lots of local foot traffic and present super opportunities to get to know who lives nearby. If you didn’t have a garage sale before you moved, or you think you might still have some stuff to unload, why not throw a garage sale in your new ‘hood? Bonus tip: Have some free refreshments on hand.
  1. Stroll the streets. Want to get to know and be known? Get out there on foot. A routine morning or evening walk is a perfect way to say howdy and stop for a chat. Don’t wear headphones. Be open to conversations. Observe who’s out and about and use compliments and open ended questions to spark a little small talk.
  1. Be of service. If you have a skill you can share, offer it up to those nearby. This may be something small, like knife sharpening, or it may be a group project like power washing houses. Good deeds and shared labor build bonds.
  1. Start a group activity. Posting flyers for a book group, running club, or even routine cocktail hour or monthly potluck is a perfect opportunity to bring people together through a shared activity.

Step back from social media and make those neighborhood connections “IRL” (In Real Life). They can make all the difference when it comes to establishing yourself in the community.

Looking for a great new neighborhood? I’d be happy to help you sell your old home or find a new one: Teresa Butler, Worthington Realty, 614-565-8161, Teresa@TeresaButler.com

What You Need to Know about HOAs

If you’re a first-time buyer and are confused about what a Home Owners Association is (or does), you should definitely ask the right questions before you consider buying. Basically, an HOA is an organization which is designed to protect the quality of life and property values for owners within a neighborhood or shared building. How they do so, though, can vary widely. Typically when you purchase a residence subject to an HOA, you’ll be required to pay monthly dues which often contribute to major repairs or maintenance or the upkeep of common/shared resources.

But HOAs can also have a significant impact on what you can and can’t do with your own home. The HOA’s rules are detailed in what’s called covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs). To understand how strict an HOA is (or isn’t) you’ll want to understand the details of its CC&Rs before you consider buying. These might have reasonable restrictions, such as keeping junk cars out of the front lawn, or they might extend all the way to what color you can paint your garage door.

HOAs are typically of greater concern to condo buyers than single-family home buyers, but they cannot be overlooked when searching for your next residence. Here are some questions you’ll want to ask yourself and the HOA before you make an offer:

  1. How comfortable am I sharing decision making about my own home? Yes, you own your property, but if you agree to abide by the CC&Rs of an HOA, you’ll need to be willing to abide by its rules.
  1. How much are the HOA fees, and how much have they increased over time? Your budget can be seriously impacted not only by current HOA fees, but anticipated increases. Sometimes HOAs can even require residents to chip in for major repairs or upgrades beyond HOA fees.
  1. What are all of the CC&Rs? Get a copy of the CC&Rs and make sure you understand all of the rules. Furthermore, see if you can sit on on an HOA board meeting or obtain notes from past meetings. This will help you understand the temperament of the HOA as well as the type of past conflicts residents have had with the board.
  1. Is the home (or unit) you’re considering in compliance with the HOA’s CC&Rs? If you’re considering an offer on a problematic property, understand a real hassle may follow.

If you like the idea of a group of neighbors who set community or building standards, a residence with an HOA may be for you. But if not, don’t worry! There are lots of other homes out there. Get in touch today:

 

Teresa Butler, Worthington Realty, 614-565-8161, Teresa@TeresaButler.com

Don’t Move It, Sell It!

Want to know the secret to an easy move? Move less stuff.

It’s obvious, but it’s true. You can save time, money, and the anxiety of finding the right place for extra stuff if you simply take the time before your big day to declutter. While you may have stuff that’s destined for the dump, the odds are you have a lot more stuff which could find a better home with someone else. So how do you quickly and easily declutter your home before the move?

  1. Start with a garage sale. You never know who will want the odds and ends that don’t seem worth moving, or who might pay top dollar for that snow ski equipment you won’t need in Florida. The garage sale is a reliable way to offload your junk. (And if you don’t have a garage sale before you move, consider having a “moving in” garage sale when you arrive. That won’t help with the ski equipment, though.)
  1. Sell your stuff online. Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, eBay, and Nextdoor are all perfectly good venues for finding buyers. While some are more hassle than others, there’s no faster way to make sure a large number of people see what you have to sell. Just keep in mind that safety is a priority when meeting strangers to sell your stuff. Beware of scammers and never invite strangers into your home if you can help it.
  1. App it up! There are multiple competing apps for selling stuff privately, including OfferUp (offerup.com), Gone (thegoneapp.com), and LetGo (letgo.com). Best of all, these work directly from your smartphone, making it easy to snap pics and post ads in a hurry.
  1. Trade in, don’t truck it. Many retail chain outlets will provide you with a way to trade-in items for credit, especially if the items are consumer electronics, games, or mobile devices. Even if the trade-in amount is low, it beats sending the stuff to the landfill.
  1. Donate it! Just because you don’t want to use it anymore doesn’t mean that someone out there can’t benefit from it. Get a tax deduction and do a good deed by dropping off unwanted possessions with Goodwill Industries or the Salvation Army. It’s good for the community, the planet, and your sense of well-being.

Don’t let extra clutter drag down your move. Set aside time before the big day to send your stuff into the world (and maybe even put a few bucks back in your pocket)! It might just buy pizza on your first night in your new place.

Contact Teresa

Sell it faster with buyer feedback

A second pair of eyes on an important document often helps spot mistakes or awkward phrasing we might miss on our own. Therapists help guide countless people through difficult situations with an outsider’s viewpoint. The same is true with selling a home: Buyers can see what’s holding your house back.

Naturally, some buyers believe complaints will help them lower the price when negotiation time comes around, but more often than not buyer feedback offers valuable insight. As the owner, you are frequently too familiar with your home to see it (and smell it!) with a buyer’s point of view.

Common buyer complaints include:

  • Foul or off-putting odors from animals, cigarette smoke, mildew, or a “closed up”
  • Poor lighting or a “dark” feel to the rooms
  • Worn flooring, dirty walls, or nasty wallpaper

Almost all of these complaints are easy fixes and involve cleaning, paint, or some floor replacement. Though a buyer could easily undertake these projects after buying the home, the initial negative impression is enough to put them off the house for good.

If you’re not living in your home while it’s on the market, you might also discover unexpected reasons why buyers were dissuaded from making an offer. If you have renters who make access to the home difficult or refuse to remove their aggressive pets from the premises, you won’t know without some feedback from buyers. “Stagnant house syndrome” is another potential problem, so it’s good to know if buyers feel like a home is airless and gloomy.

Finally, buyer feedback can alert you if there have been any vandals or pest infestations.

I always automatically send you feed back from the buyers to find out what they thought of the house… good and bad. It’s crucial to get this feedback. If, for instance, buyers consistently complain about things which can’t be changed (such as major floor plan issues or proximity to a busy road), it may be necessary to adjust the listing price on the house. On the other hand, if they are relatively simple cosmetic fixes, it’s possible to consider inexpensive upgrades.

It helps to think of your relationship to buyers as a collaborative one. They like your home enough to consider buying it, and you can learn from why they passed.

Perfect pricing and preparation are key to a quick sale. Let me help you with both: Teresa Butler, Worthington Realty, 614-565-8161, Teresa@TeresaButler.com

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