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4 Ways to Tell How Fast Your Home Will Sell

by Judy Reed

for sale

It’s not just location, location, location — although location is certainly important. Lots of other factors make one house hot and another one not.

Here are data-driven pointers from Zillow Research that help identify which homes are likely to fly off the market (in 60 days or less):

  • Keep calm and price it right. The housing market is improving, but take care not to overheat your listing price. Homes priced more than 12 percent above their Zestimate® home values are almost half as likely to sell in 60 days as those priced closer to their estimated values. The sweet spot is between the Zestimate and six percent above it — a range where homes sell about as quickly as those priced below their Zestimates.
  • Take a picture, but not too many. The optimal number of listing photos is 16 to 21, but it’s better to have too many than too few. Having fewer than nine photos lowers your chances of selling in 60 days by two percentage points.
  • Size matters. As a rule, smaller homes (under 1,100 square feet nationally) sell the fastest — about nine percentage points faster than the largest homes in a 60-day window — but that doesn’t hold true for all markets. In San Francisco and Indianapolis, for example, small homes take the longest to sell.
  • Get the word out. Page views on Zillow are a strong indicator of how quickly a home will sell. Listings with 280 or more page views in the first week were three times as likely to sell in 60 days as those with fewer than 100 views. That’s powerful incentive to make sure your agent spreads the word early by posting your listing online.

Before you start going to open houses, pay down high interest debt now.

The higher the interest, the higher your priority should be in getting it squared up quickly. Many people pay close to the minimum on their credit card debt in favor of growing their savings, despite the fact that their payment often doesn’t even cover interest. Monthly interest for credit cards for people with near perfect credit can still hover around ten percent or more, often double or triple your student loan payments.

buy-house-student-debtPay down your cards as quickly as you can, and only use them in an emergency situation. With this extra interest-payment savings, you can pay additionally on your student loans, lessening their overall burden, or tuck away money for a down payment. This will improve your credit score too, helping you get better terms on your loan.

Be mindful of your Debt-to-Income ratio.

One of the biggest factors for people who can’t get a loan despite having a good job and some savings is their DTI, or Debt-to-Income ratio. Lenders study your monthly income compared to how much you spend paying down debts such as your loan payments, credit cards, auto loans and any other installment or revolving debt.

This is among the biggest hurdles for people with student loan debt in getting loans. Look into where your DTI is early in the process so you know how far away you are from securing good terms on a loan, then make actionable steps toward that goal before you sit down with a lender.

Investigate down payment assistance programs.

Chances are if you are making payments towards your student debt, you aren’t putting a large amount of money aside for your down payment. Many young people who have smaller savings look immediately to FHA loans, but especially in high dollar metros in places like California or New York, your FHA standard 3.5 percent can still cost tens of thousands of dollars (plus, many have higher interest rates and require mortgage insurance).

Every state and many cities have programs in place to assist qualifying homebuyers in paying their down payment. Whether they’re helping first time buyers or stabilizing neighborhoods, down payment assistance programs can be a great help to buyers whose savings have been affected by their debt load.

Consider crowdsourcing.

Sometimes the needs of the market lead people to innovate in ways wholly unfamiliar to generations before them. For our parents’ generation, signaling a stranger to drive you around was called hitchhiking; for our generation, we call it Uber.

The same type of dynamic exists in financing your investment. If you’re starting out with debt, getting more people on board or looking for a different way to kick off your investment can lessen the initial weight you carry. Alternative approaches to financing, from crowdsourcing collectives and co-ops to pitching in with trustworthy friends to get off the ground, are becoming more popular as the cost of buying a home increases in major metros.

Other alternative financing strategies such as buying owner-financed homes, rent-to-own and developing vacant land are also growing in popularity among creative youngsters looking to get started sooner rather than later.

Distressed properties.

Swing a hammer like your grandpa did. Chances are, if you are a young and indebted person with limited assets to work from, a distressed property that needs some renovation will be more in your range than a new or updated turnkey home. Do what you can yourself to save money on contractors. Remember to consider the cost of your renovation and the degree of repair that is needed; the cost of contractors can vary widely from region to region based on demand and availability.

first-propertyBuy wisely.

Above all, buy a home that is going to make you money, not just the one you can afford. Thanks to advances in real estate data, we are learning more and more new things about the types of trends that appeal to different buyer demographics. Buying a home with a higher walk score, for example, can boost your rate of appreciation more than homes in car-reliant neighborhoods according to several studies.

Know about buyer trends and get a home that will earn you money in the long term, rather than trigger migraines. People whose lending options are limited may feel pressured to aim lower on the quality and location of the home they invest in for obvious reasons, but often it’s better to wait than buy an unmarketable property.

With time and patience, young people who are still paying off their education can get started on buying a home. Growing an investment with a moderate student debt burden requires preparation, but it can be done — and done successfully!

If done right, buying an investment property can provide you with the type of financial security that even makes it possible to pay off your debts more quickly than expected.

How to Refinance a Jumbo Mortgage for Less

by Judy Reed

If you’re completing a refinance on a home that you owned for less than 12 months, some jumbo financing investors may also require you to refinance using a different loan, such as a loan issued by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Furthermore, some jumbo investors have a requirement that specifically states if you’re refinancing a home that you’ve owned for less than 12 months, the original purchase price needs to be used as consideration for the value no matter what the current market supports.

Still if you plan to refinance this year, you would be well served to ask your mortgage company to qualify you on their jumbo programs, if they offer any, as well as the traditional Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac loan so you can determine which mortgage loan program will align with your payment, cash flow, and equity objectives.

If rising mortgage rates have spooked you into refinancing but your loan size is more than $417,000, pay particularly close attention. Traditionally, these loans cost homeowners more, but there are new investors in the marketplace offering better rates and deals on larger mortgages.

The big question to ask

It doesn’t matter where you apply to refinance a mortgage—whether it’s a bank, credit union, mortgage broker, or even a direct lender—the investor determines whether your loan will cost more or not.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac purchase loans up to the maximum conforming loan limit, designated by county—it’s often $417,000 but can be as high as $625,000 in high-cost markets. For example, in Sonoma County, Calif., it’s $520,950.

In terms of pricing, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans are ideal if your loan is $417,000 or lower. However, any loan of $417,001 or more that goes to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac will likely cost more than if it were going through a different investor. So make sure to ask your lender: “Where’s my loan going?”

Up until recently, Fannie and Freddie have been the main players for loans above the maximum loan limit. Just this year additional jumbo investors have entered the market—including Wells Fargo, Chase, and many others, and they’re buying loans made by banks, credit unions, brokers, and direct lenders.

Jumbo investors offering an alternative

Ask your mortgage company about its “jumbo” mortgage offering. This would be especially beneficial if you’re trying to refinance a loan size bigger than $417,000, because jumbo investors specifically cater to this market.

This means that jumbos may even be lower-priced than loans $417,000 or under—which are the ones that are normally considered the best-priced mortgages in the marketplace. Working with a jumbo investor may help you avoid being subject to the pricing adjustments (a big driver of cost on mortgages) that Fannie and Freddie impose, which could help you refinance for a lower interest rate and payment.

Let’s compare Fannie/Freddie to a jumbo investor:

Other times the jumbo option may make sense

There are some other potential advantages to working with a jumbo investor. Let’s say you have a first mortgage on your home at $400,000 and an $80,000 home equity line of credit that you would like to consolidate into one. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would consider this scenario to be a “cash out refinance” because the added HELOC debt wasn’t used to acquire the home, and your mortgage company will charge you more for the loan being over $417,000 and for “cash out.” You could expect as high as .5% of the loan amount being absorbed either in the interest rate or paid for by you (based on whatever interest rate you choose) at close of escrow or paying in cold hard cash at closing.

A jumbo investor, however, will likely consider the loan in this scenario to be “rate and term,” which offers better pricing.

It’s important to remember that some jumbo investors recognize a jumbo mortgage loanto be anything bigger than $417,000. Other jumbo investors characterize a jumbo mortgage to be anything bigger than the maximum county conforming loan limit. So be sure to talk to your mortgage company when discussing jumbo loans.

Jumbo credit still tight

While pursuing a jumbo mortgage refinance, credit requirements for these loan types are still relatively tight. These programs want strong borrowers with good credit, a low debt-to-income ratio and equity in the home. For example, if you’re trying to roll HELOC debt into the refinance, there can be no draws on the home equity line of credit in the past 12 months. (Before you begin your refinancing process, it helps to have an idea of your credit standing—you can get a free credit report summary on Credit.com to see where you stand.)

 

Open House This Weekend!

by Judy Reed

Come see us this Sunday, 6/21/15 from 1pm-4pm!!

 

In Memory of Those Who Served...

by Judy Reed

Here are some strategies you can use to get offers fast.

The theory of under-pricing

Under-pricing means that you go to market with a list price that is just below what the comparable sales in your area support.

You can’t pinpoint the exact market value of a home until it sells. But before you list, there’s always a range. If you price your house at or below the bottom of the value range, you are under-pricing the home.

In many West Coast markets this strategy will work effectively. Take this San Francisco home, for example: priced at $1.1 million, it received 10 offers and sold for $1.425 million in less than a week.

Risk alert: If you price your home low, this plan could backfire — big time. If you don’t know your market and this strategy doesn’t work, you’d better be ready to accept that list price.

Staging and market presentation

Well-priced homes that also show well sell quickly. If you want a quick sale, you need to invest some serious time in getting the house ready.

Prepping the home means taking out large pieces of furniture and personal items, painting, replacing carpets, finishing floors and even doing some minor renovations.

Enlist the help of a home stager and take their advice, and you can be assured a quicker sale. The investment of time and money will pay itself back.

Risk alert: If you go overboard on staging or you don’t spend the time and money in the right places, it could be a waste. Don’t make staging decisions in a vacuum. Focus on kitchens and bathrooms, de-cluttering and cleaning. When in doubt, ask for help.

Disclose and inspect upfront

In most of the country, sellers complete real estate transfer disclosures and present them to the buyer, and the buyer simultaneously inspects the home — all once they are in escrow.

What often happens is that buyers discover things they don’t like, or uncover issues. When this happens, they may lose confidence in the home or the deal.

By presenting disclosures upfront, and even providing buyers with a copy of a recent inspection report, you can help them get more comfortable with the home. If you price the home to account for whatever work needs to be completed or for disclosure red flags, buyers will feel more confident, and may make an offer much more quickly.

Risk alert: There is little risk in disclosing and inspecting. If you try to hide something and the buyer discovers it later, you can expect the deal to fall apart — or maybe even face a lawsuit down the road.

Selling your home is a major undertaking. Spend time strategizing and preparing the home for the market. Pricing, staging, presentation and disclosure go hand in hand. If you want a quick sale, price it right, present it in its best possible light, and go out of your way to make buyers feel comfortable with all aspects of the home.

4 Reasons to Buy a Home This Spring

by Judy Reed

The home buying season is about to get under way, and it’s expected to be a busy one. Here are four factors that are likely to influence buyers.

Low mortgage rates

Everyone knows that the low-rate party is coming to end. Zillow is forecasting that mortgage rates – currently around 4 percent for the 30-year fixed – will rise to 5 percent by the end of 2015.

Granted, a 1-percent rise may not sound like much, but it’s a great motivator to get in and buy now. After all, a 1-percent increase in rates reduces affordability by a whopping 11 percent.

Confidence

Zillow’s Housing Confidence Index (ZHCI), which is designed to offer insights into homeowners’ and renters’ intentions and attitudes concerning the housing market, is a forward-looking gauge of housing market health. And things are looking up.

Confidence in the housing market is higher this year than it was last year — among homeowners as well as renters, many of whom are now rethinking their attitudes toward home ownership and are ultimately becoming more interested in buying.

High rents

Rental affordability is as bad as it’s ever been across the U.S., in part because there are not enough new, affordable units to meet demand. Renters can expect to spend 30.1 percent of their income on rent, while home buyers can expect to spend about 15.3 percent of their monthly income on a mortgage payment.

Those numbers alone are driving renters who can save for a down payment to pursue homeownership. In fact, data from Zillow shows that 5.2 million renters want to buy in the next year. That’s up from 4.2 million renters from the same time last year — almost a 25-percent boost.

Loan availability

Getting a mortgage is significantly easier than it was a year ago, and the markets are rapidly approaching pre-crisis credit conditions.

What this means to borrowers: Those who last year may have only been eligible for an FHA loan are now being offered conventional loans with private mortgage insurance. As lenders open their doors wider, borrowers have more options, with competitive terms and rates.

First-Time Home Buyer's Guide to Choosing a Neighborhood

by Judy Reed


When you’re ready to buy your first home, you’ll probably remember those three important words we always hear about real estate: location, location, location.

While the geographic location is important, it’s also the amenities around the location that make a house a home. Every buyer is different in what they desire, so you need to find a neighborhood with the location and amenities that fit your desires — and, just as importantly, your budget.

Affordability

Location is one factor that will heavily influence the price of a property. You don’t want to shop in locations you can’t afford — even though it might be fun.

The first task in your home purchase process is getting pre-approved by a bank or mortgage lender so you understand the ballpark within which you will be playing ball. Inform your real estate agent about your price range so they can identify the locations where you can afford to purchase.

Neighborhood type

You also need to figure out what works for you when it comes to the type of location you like: urban, suburban, or rural. Many people live in and love high-density areas where retail, restaurants, gyms, and grocery stores are all within a few blocks’ walk. It’s nice to be able to walk to everything — but with that comes lots of cars, people and sometimes noisy neighbors.

Other home buyers prefer quieter suburban developments that are probably going to require driving for one’s commercial and entertainment needs.

Then there are rural folks who want full quiet and no nearby neighbors. Make sure before you shop that you are shopping in the right type of area for you.

School district

Schools also make a big difference for many buyers, and a buyer will certainly pay for the best school district. School quality is one of the top items on a parent’s mind when looking for property. You can search the Internet for school ratings and check with the city or county for more information.

Of course, if you don’t have children, it’s not as big a deal.

What’s next door — or could be

You should also always consider what is next door to the property you buy. Will you be living among lots of single-family houses, or big apartment buildings?

It’s also important to know if there are currently or once were gas stations or chemical plants nearby. Drive around and look, plus check Natural Hazard Reports to see what is or was in the area.

Additionally, be cautious about empty developable lots or empty retail/warehouse properties nearby, as you never know what might end up being built there.

It’s also smart to understand the zoning on your property, as it might let the single family home next door be torn down and developed into a 4-plex rental property. That might or might not be okay with you, but you should be aware if it’s a possibility.

Holdability

One more important item to consider regarding location is your chances of owning the property a long time. If you are not sure you’ll  be happy staying a while, you’re better off passing on buying for the time being.

Considering all these issues — as opposed to making a quick purchase decision based on what your heart is telling you — should help you buy a home that is a good fit, will serve you well, and will be a good investment for your future.

condominium building

A condo can offer a good location at a less expensive price. 

Photo by Brian Weiss

Buying a home is one of the biggest and most important decisions you’ll ever make. Whether you are a first-time buyer, or a veteran homeowner looking to trade up or make a new start, you will inevitably be faced with a number of questions. Your answers will lead you to the home that’s right for you.
One of the most fundamental questions all homeowners face is whether to buy a condo or single family house. There are advantages and disadvantages of each and only you can know what’s right for you.
For Boston newlyweds Michelle and Kevin Millsom, 31 and 36, it was an easy decision. With high-powered financial careers and no children, they were drawn to the excitement of the city and wanted their fingers on the pulse. They bought a penthouse apartment with a breathtaking view of Boston’s famous esplanade and Charles River.
“We enjoy everything the city has to offer—the restaurants, theatre, outdoor concerts. We walk everywhere and find the easy access to the airport to be a plus since we travel frequently for work,” said Kevin. “When we have children, we may think about a house in the suburbs, but for now this is where we want to be.”
 
Like all things, living in the heart of the city comes with tradeoffs. For the price of their two-bedroom/two-bath condo, they could buy a home three times the size, just a short 20-minute commute away. They share decision-making for their building with fourteen other tenants and pay pricey condo fees to cover the costs of insurance and upkeep. Their car sits idle most of the time in a $300 per month rented parking spot only to leave for short jaunts to the grocery store or visits to see family. But for Kevin and Michelle who want to spend their spare time out and about, the location and convenience can’t be beat.
On the other hand, Adriana Forte, 62, lives in a condo in the Boston suburb of Arlington and misses all that a single-family home has to offer. Six years ago, after her divorce, she bought a “condex,” (a two-family home with a shared wall) with the belief that managing a home would be too much for her alone. But it turned out to be the wrong decision for her. Now, she is desperately seeking a single-family house to call her own.
“It’s difficult to live with neighbors so close,” Forte said. “First there was the noise. My neighbors are night people, and every night they are just getting geared up when I’m trying to sleep. Then I found myself handling 100 percent of the finances and maintenance of the duplex—without compensation. I may as well be living in my own house!” Forte also misses the fresh air and private outdoor space. For her, maintaining a home and garden is pure enjoyment. The privacy is what she misses most.
What is most important to you? Give consideration to the following:
  • Location – Where do you want to be? Are there options for both condos and single-family houses in this area?
  • Privacy – Is it important to you to have complete privacy or do you find close neighbors to be a comfort?
  • Responsibility – Do you need total control over decisions affecting your home or are you attracted to the idea of sharing decision-making with your neighbors?
  • Maintenance – Are you a homebody who enjoys getting dirty in the yard or are you delighted with the idea of never having to cut a blade of grass again?
  • Budget – How much do you have to spend? Depending on where you want to live, a condo may be the only option that meets your budget.
These considerations and others will help you determine the best choice for you now. And just remember, if your interests and priorities change in the years ahead, you can always sell your home and make a move, this time with experience as your guide.

How Does the Color of Your Home Affect Buyers?

by Judy Reed

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It’s no secret that color is crucial when marketing a product. In fact, consumers come to a subconscious conclusion about a product within 90 seconds of viewing, and much of that judgment (62-90 percent) is based solely on color, according to the Institute for Color Research. Retailers apply these findings every day (think red sale signs) to encourage consumers to purchase their products. Can the same be said in real estate?
 

Consider this: If color influences product marketing strategies, the color of a home can be a decisive factor when selling.


“Your home’s exterior color is literally the first thing a buyer will see and comment on,” says Suzanne Otto, home stager and owner of Six Twenty Designs in Montgomery County, Pa. When preparing a home for the market, Otto recommends shades within the white, tan or gray color families. These colors resonate beyond pure aesthetics – according to e-commerce giant eBay, white indicates safety. For a homebuyer, a home with a white exterior can translate to concepts like “shelter” or “safe haven.”


Similarly, understated browns (including the aforementioned tan) signal security. Homes painted in sandy or mushroom hues read comfort and warmth. Colors like taupe, which falls somewhere between brown and gray, call to mind traditional values, homeownership included. Earthy tones like laurel green or artichoke can not only highlight a verdant landscape, but also evoke a sense of tranquility.
 

Per eBay’s assessment, blue is ideal to move product because it transcends culture. Homes outfitted with a dusty blue or blue-gray exterior may not bridge the gap between your everyday seller and an international homebuyer, but a universally regarded color can help widen the net for buyers on the home front.
 

If red signs boost retail sales, it seems likely a red home would be ideal for a speedy sale. Not necessarily – red in small doses, such as sale stickers or tags, encourages action. Red on a grander scale can cause adverse reactions. An alizarin crimson door, for instance, might be well-received by buyers, but a house in the same shade could potentially limit offers.
 

Homes in other colors can sell successfully – our retinas tend to register yellow before any other color, so a buttery yellow exterior could be an attractive option for buyers – but non-traditional colors, like oranges and purples, appeal to very specific personalities and can significantly shrink the pool of interested buyers.

It’s important for sellers to consider the home in relation to the neighborhood before swapping out the exterior color or refreshing an existing paint job. Do nearby homes share a distinct color scheme? Is each home uniquely colored? Evaluating the home’s surroundings can help sellers determine what’s most popular in their market.

 
 

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