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Tips for Finding the Perfect Neighborhood

Your neighborhood has a big impact on your lifestyle. Follow these steps to find the perfect community to call home.

Is it close to your favorite spots Make a list of the activities  movies, health club, church, etc.  you engage in regularly and stores you visit frequently. See how far you would have to travel from each neighborhood you re considering to engage in your most common activities.

Check out the school district. This is especially important if you have children, but it also can affect resale value. The Department of Education in your town can probably provide information on test scores, class size, percentage of students who attend college, and special enrichment programs. If you have school-age children, visit schools in the neighborhoods you re considering. Also, check out www.schoolmatters.com.

Find out if the neighborhood is safe. Ask the police department for neighborhood crime statistics. Consider not only the number of crimes but also the type  such as burglaries or armed robberies  and the trend of increasing or decreasing crime. Also, is crime centered in only one part of the neighborhood, such as near a retail area

Determine if the neighborhood is economically stable. Check with your local city economic development office to see if income and property values in the neighborhood are stable or rising. What is the percentage of homes to apartments Apartments don t necessarily diminish value, but do mean a more transient population. Do you see vacant businesses or homes that have been for sale for months

See if you ll make money. Ask a local REALTOR or call the local REALTOR association to get information about price appreciation in the neighborhood. Although past performance is no guarantee of future results, this information may give you a sense of how good of an investment your home will be. A REALTOR or the government planning agency also may be able to tell you about planned developments or other changes in the neighborhood  like a new school or highway  that might affect value.

Make personal observations. Once you ve narrowed your focus to two or three neighborhoods, go there and walk around. Are homes tidy and well maintained Are streets quiet How does it feel Pick a warm day if you can and chat with people working or playing outside.

Reprinted from REALTOR magazine (REALTOR.org/realtormag) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS .
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

6 Reasons to Reduce Your Home Price

By: G. M. Filisko

While you’d like to get the best price for your home, consider our six reasons to reduce your home price.

Home not selling That could happen for a number of reasons you can’t control, like a unique home layout or having one of the few homes in the neighborhood without a garage. There is one factor you can control: your home price.

These six signs may be telling you it’s time to lower your price.

1. You’re drawing few lookers
You get the most interest in your home right after you put it on the market because buyers want to catch a great new home before anybody else takes it. If your real estate agent reports there have been fewer buyers calling about and asking to tour your home than there have been for other homes in your area, that may be a sign buyers think it’s overpriced and are waiting for the price to fall before viewing it.

2. You’re drawing lots of lookers but have no offers
If you’ve had 30 sets of potential buyers come through your home and not a single one has made an offer, something is off. What are other agents telling your agent about your home An overly high price may be discouraging buyers from making an offer.

3. Your home’s been on the market longer than similar homes
Ask your real estate agent about the average number of days it takes to sell a home in your market. If the answer is 30 and you’re pushing 45, your price may be affecting buyer interest. When a home sits on the market, buyers can begin to wonder if there’s something wrong with it, which can delay a sale even further. At least consider lowering your asking price.

4. You have a deadline
If you’ve got to sell soon because of a job transfer or you’ve already purchased another home, it may be necessary to generate buyer interest by dropping your price so your home is a little lower priced than comparable homes in your area. Remember: It’s not how much money you need that determines the sale price of your home, it’s how much money a buyer is willing to spend.

5. You can’t make upgrades
Maybe you’re plum out of cash and don’t have the funds to put fresh paint on the walls, clean the carpets, and add curb appeal. But the feedback your agent is reporting from buyers is that your home isn’t as well-appointed as similarly priced homes. When your home has been on the market longer than comparable homes in better condition, it’s time to accept that buyers expect to pay less for a home that doesn’t show as well as others.

6. The competition has changed
If weeks go by with no offers, continue to check out the competition. What have comparable homes sold for and what’s still on the market What new listings have been added since you listed your home for sale If comparable home sales or new listings show your price is too steep, consider a price reduction.

More from HouseLogic
How to ready your home for sale at little cost (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/5-tips-prepare-your-home-sale/)

How to review offers on your home (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/6-tips-choosing-best-offer-your-home/)

Other web resources
Setting the right price

More on setting the right price (http://public.findlaw.com/abaflg/flg-4-4a-1.html)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who made strategic price reductions that led to the sale of a Wisconsin property. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

7 Tips for Staging Your Home

By: G. M. Filisko

Make your home warm and inviting to boost your home’s value and speed up the sale process.

The first step to getting buyers to make an offer on your home is to impress them with its appearance so they begin to envision themselves living there. Here are seven tips for making your home look bigger, brighter, and more desirable.

1. Start with a clean slate
Before you can worry about where to place furniture and which wall hanging should go where, each room in your home must be spotless. Do a thorough cleaning right down to the nitpicky details like wiping down light switch covers. Deep clean and deodorize carpets and window coverings.

2. Stow away your clutter
It’s harder for buyers to picture themselves in your home when they’re looking at your family photos, collectibles, and knickknacks. Pack up all your personal decorations. However, don’t make spaces like mantles and coffee and end tables barren. Leave three items of varying heights on each surface, suggests Barb Schwarz of www.StagedHomes.com (http://www.StagedHomes.com) in Concord, Pa. For example, place a lamp, a small plant, and a book on an end table.

3. Scale back on your furniture
When a room is packed with furniture, it looks smaller, which will make buyers think your home is less valuable than it is. Make sure buyers appreciate the size of each room by removing one or two pieces of furniture. If you have an eat-in dining area, using a small table and chair set makes the area seem bigger.

4. Rethink your furniture placement
Highlight the flow of your rooms by arranging the furniture to guide buyers from one room to another. In each room, create a focal point on the farthest wall from the doorway and arrange the other pieces of furniture in a triangle around the focal point, advises Schwarz. In the bedroom, the bed should be the focal point. In the living room, it may be the fireplace, and your couch and sofa can form the triangle in front of it.

5. Add color to brighten your rooms
Brush on a fresh coat of warm, neutral-color paint in each room. Ask your real estate agent for help choosing the right shade. Then accessorize. Adding a vibrant afghan, throw, or accent pillows for the couch will jazz up a muted living room, as will a healthy plant or a bright vase on your mantle. High-wattage bulbs in your light fixtures will also brighten up rooms and basements.

6. Set the scene
Lay logs in the fireplace, and set your dining room table with dishes and a centerpiece of fresh fruit or flowers. Create other vignettes throughout the home-such as a chess game in progress-to help buyers envision living there. Replace heavy curtains with sheer ones that let in more light.
Make your bathrooms feel luxurious by adding a new shower curtain, towels, and fancy guest soaps (after you put all your personal toiletry items are out of sight). Judiciously add subtle potpourri, scented candles, or boil water with a bit of vanilla mixed in. If you have pets, clean bedding frequently and spray an odor remover before each showing.

7. Make the entrance grand
Mow your lawn and trim your hedges, and turn on the sprinklers for 30 minutes before showings to make your lawn sparkle. If flowers or plants don’t surround your home’s entrance, add a pot of bright flowers. Top it all off by buying a new doormat and adding a seasonal wreath to your front door.

More from HouseLogic
Spring cleaning guide (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/spring-cleaning-guide/)

Green cleaning products for the bathroom (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/green-cleaning-products-for-the-bathroom/)

Green cleaning products for the kitchen (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/green-cleaning-products-for-the-bathroom/)

Other web resources
How to make a small room look larger (http://www.lowes.com/cd_Ten+Ways+to+Make+a+Small+Room+Look+Larger_506205068_)

How to arrange bedrooms (http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/arranging-your-bedroom-furniture.html)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who occasionally rearranges her furniture to find the best placement-and keep her dog on his toes. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Q-A Series – YOU’VE FOUND IT

Q. WHAT DOES A HOME INSPECTOR DO, AND HOW DOES AN INSPECTION FIGURE IN THE PURCHASE OF A HOME

An inspector checks the safety of your potential new home. Home Inspectors focus especially on the structure, construction, and mechanical systems of the house and will make you aware of only repairs,that are needed.

The Inspector does not evaluate whether or not you’re getting good value for your money. Generally, an inspector checks (and gives prices for repairs on): the electrical system, plumbing and waste disposal, the water heater, insulation and Ventilation, the HVAC system, water source and quality, the potential presence of pests, the foundation, doors, windows, ceilings, walls, floors, and roof. Be sure to hire a home inspector that is qualified and experienced.

It’s a good idea to have an inspection before you sign a written offer since, once the deal is closed, you’ve bought the house as is.” Or, you may want to include an inspection clause in the offer when negotiating for a home. An inspection t clause gives you an ‘out” on buying the house if serious problems are found,or gives you the ability to renegotiate the purchase price if repairs are needed. An inspection clause can also specify that the seller must fix the problem(s) before you purchase the house.

Q. DO I NEED TO BE THERE FOR THE INSPECTION

It’s not required, but it’s a good idea. Following the inspection, the home inspector will be able to answer questions about the report and any problem areas. This is also an opportunity to hear an objective opinion on the home you’d I like to purchase and it is a good time to ask general, maintenance questions.

Q. ARE OTHER TYPES OF INSPECTIONS REQUIRED

If your home inspector discovers a serious problem a more specific Inspection may be recommended. It’s a good idea to consider having your home inspected for the presence of a variety of health-related risks like radon gas asbestos, or possible problems with the water or waste disposal system.

Q. HOW CAN I PROTECT MY FAMILY FROM LEAD IN THE HOME

If the house you’re considering was built before 1978 and you have children under the age of seven, you will want to have an inspection for lead-based point. It’s important to know that lead flakes from paint can be present in both the home and in the soil surrounding the house. The problem can be fixed temporarily by repairing damaged paint surfaces or planting grass over effected soil. Hiring a lead abatement contractor to remove paint chips and seal damaged areas will fix the problem permanently.

Q. ARE POWER LINES A HEALTH HAZARD

There are no definitive research findings that indicate exposure to power lines results in greater instances of disease or illness.

Q. DO I NEED A LAWYER TO BUY A HOME

Laws vary by state. Some states require a lawyer to assist in several aspects of the home buying process while other states do not, as long as a qualified real estate professional is involved. Even if your state doesn’t require one, you may want to hire a lawyer to help with the complex paperwork and legal contracts. A lawyer can review contracts, make you aware of special considerations, and assist you with the closing process. Your real estate agent may be able to recommend a lawyer. If not, shop around. Find out what services are provided for what fee, and whether the attorney is experienced at representing homebuyers.

Q. DO I REALLY NEED HOMEOWNER’S INSURANCE

Yes. A paid homeowner’s insurance policy (or a paid receipt for one) is required at closing, so arrangements will have to be made prior to that day. Plus, involving the insurance agent early in the home buying process can save you money. Insurance agents are a great resource for information on home safety and they can give tips on how to keep insurance premiums low.

Q. WHAT STEPS COULD I TAKE TO LOWER MY HOMEOWNER’S INSURANCE COSTS

Be sure to shop around among several insurance companies. Also, consider the cost of insurance when you look at homes. Newer homes and homes constructed with materials like brick tend to have lower premiums. Think about avoiding areas prone to natural disasters, like flooding. Choose a home with a fire hydrant or a fire department nearby.

Q. IS THE HOME LOCATED IN A FLOOD PLAIN

Your real estate agent or lender can help you answer this question. If you live in a flood plain, the lender will require that you have flood insurance before lending any money to you. But if you live near a flood plain, you may choose whether or not to get flood insurance coverage for your home. Work with an insurance agent to construct a policy that fits your needs.

Q. WHAT OTHER ISSUES SHOULD I CONSIDER BEFORE I BUY MY HOME

Always check to see if the house is in a low-lying area, in a high-risk area for natural disasters (like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.), or in a hazardous materials area. Be sure the house meets building codes. Also consider local zoning laws, which could affect remodeling or making an addition in the future. Your real estate agent should be able to help you with these questions.

Q. HOW DO I MAKE AN OFFER

Your real estate agent will assist you in making an offer, which will include the following information:
– Complete legal description of the property
– Amount of earnest money
– Down payment and financing details
– Proposed move-in date
– Price you are offering
– Proposed closing date
– Length of time the offer is valid
– Details of the deal

Remember that a sale commitment depends on negotiating a satisfactory contract with the seller, not just Making an offer.

Other ways to lower ins-insurance costs include insuring your home and car(s) with the same company, increasing home security, and seeking group coverage through alumni or business associations. Insurance costs are always lowered by raising your deductibles, but this exposes you to a higher out-of-pocket cost if you have to file a claim.

Q. HOW DO I DETERMINE THE INITIAL OFFER

Unless you have a buyer’s agent, remember that the agent works for the seller. Make a point of asking him or her to keep your discussions and information confidential. Listen to your real estate agent’s advice, but follow your own instincts on deciding a fair price. Calculating your offer should involve several factors: what homes sell for in the area, the home’s condition, how long it’s been on the market, financing terms, and the seller’s situation. By the time you’re ready to make an offer, you should have a good idea of what the home is worth and what you can afford. And, be prepared for give-and-take negotiation, which is very common when buying a home. The buyer and seller may often go back and forth until they can agree on a price.

Q. WHAT IS EARNEST MONEY HOW MUCH SHOULD I SET ASIDE

Earnest money is money put down to demonstrate your seriousness about buying a home. It must be substantial enough to demonstrate good faith and is usually between 1-5% of the purchase price (though the amount can vary with local customs and conditions). If your offer is accepted, the earnest money becomes part of your down payment or closing costs. If the offer is rejected, your money is returned to you. If you back out of a deal, you may forfeit the entire amount.

Q. WHAT ARE “HOME WARRANTIES”, AND SHOULD I CONSIDER THEM

Home warranties offer you protection for a specific period of time (e.g., one year) against potentially costly problems, like unexpected repairs on appliances or home systems, which are not covered by homeowner’s insurance. Warranties are becoming more popular because they offer protection during the time immediately following the purchase of a home, a time when many people find themselves cash-strapped.

Lender or Broker?

Make an Informed Decision

When it comes time to look for financing for your upcoming purchase, there are a couple of options. You can go directly to a lender or use a mortgage broker. Your real estate agent may have a list of good lenders and mortgage brokers in your area. In addition, most major daily newspapers have home buying sections in their weekend editions. This is another good place to find information about lenders and mortgage brokers in your area. And finally, a simple search on the internet will turn up many suggestions for home loans.

A lender typically is a bank, mortgage company, credit union or savings and loan. A mortgage broker is a middleman who is usually independent of a lender. Mortgage brokers arrange loans from various sources and earn a commission for their services.

Some lenders will charge for the pre-approval process given the extra effort involved. However, do not choose a lender solely because they don’t charge for this process. Look at all of the costs involved!

To choose a good lender, do research on those in your area. Check interest rates, fees and loan terms against other lenders. Just be sure to take the time to research and compare different lenders so you get the best deal. Often, lenders will look for borrowers without any special circumstances. That is, they’ll want a good or better credit score, documented income, and a standard piece of property to lend on.

Comparing mortgage brokers is a good idea too. If one happens to offer rates and terms that are drastically better than anyone else out there, this could be a warning sign! Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. A good mortgage broker will be able to do your mortgage shopping for you. They’ll compare rates and fees, while looking for a lender that suits your individual needs. They should also be able to explain the details of the loan to your satisfaction. In addition, if any of the special circumstances discussed above low credit scores, undocumented income or a unique piece of property apply to you, a good mortgage broker can help make a difference.

ARE WE HOME YET?

There are many factors to take into account when trying to choose the right home. After you ve settled on a price range that you can afford, start asking yourself some questions:

  • What part of town do I want to live in In an urban area Near good schools (Are you single, partnered, partnered with kids )
  • Is a big house more important than location
  • How many bedrooms do you need/want Bathrooms Other amenities
  • Do you want a new home A used home A condominium A fixer-upper

Other things to consider: Are you very tolerant to loud neighbors or un-kept houses If you answer  yes, you should have no problem finding a great deal on a home. A problem may arise, however, when you attempt to sell the home. While making yourself happy with your new home, keep in mind that one of these days you may want to try and make someone else happy with it!

Choosing what part of town to live in is mainly based on your lifestyle. If you re single and enjoy a very active lifestyle, living in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood close to good schools may not be too important to you. On the other hand, if you have three small children, living in a singles condo complex might be a poor choice  or at least make you unpopular with your neighbors!

Pay attention to the quality of the neighborhood in which you are looking.  Pride of ownership shows through in how well yards and homes are maintained. If dead lawns and over-grown shrubs are the norm, you may want to think twice before buying there.

True, you might get more house for the money, but in the long run, you may have trouble re-selling it.

Think about what is going to make your home livable: bedrooms with bathrooms a removed master bedroom a two car garage a gourmet kitchen a large yard a small yard You should write up a wish list, then start looking at what is available in your price range. From there, you can whittle the list down to what you really want and what you can live without.

10 Questions to Ask the Condoboard

Before you buy, contact the condo board with the following questions. In the process, you ll learn how responsive  and organized  its members are. You ll also be alerted to potential problems with the property.

1. What percentage of units is owner-occupied What percentage is tenant-occupied Generally, the higher the percentage of owner-occupied units, the more marketable the units will be at resale.

2. What covenants, bylaws, and restrictions govern the property What grandfather clauses are in place You may find, for instance, that those who buy a property after a certain date can t rent out their units, but buyers who bought earlier can. Ask for a copy of the bylaws to determine if you can live within them. And have an attorney review property docs, including the master deed, for you.

3. How much does the association keep in reserve Plus, find out how that money is being invested.

4. Are association assessments keeping pace with the annual rate of inflation Smart boards raise assessments a certain percentage each year to build reserves to fund future repairs. To determine if the assessment is reasonable, compare the rate to others in the area.

5. What does and doesn t the assessment cover Does the assessment include common-area maintenance, recreational facilities, trash collection, and snow removal

6. What special assessments have been mandated in the past five years How much was each owner responsible for Some special assessments are unavoidable. But repeated, expensive assessments could be a red flag about the condition of the building or the board s fiscal policy.

7. How much turnover occurs in the building This will tell you if residents are generally happy with the building. According to research by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS , owners of condos in two-to-four unit buildings stay for a median of five years, and owners of condos in a building with five or more units stay for a median of four years.

8. Is the condo building in litigation This is never a good sign. If the builders or home owners are involved in a lawsuit, reserves can be depleted quickly.

9. Is the developer reputable Find out what other projects the developer has built and visit one if you can. Ask residents about their perceptions. Request an engineer s report for developments that have been reconverted from other uses to determine what shape the building is in. If the roof, windows, and bricks aren t in good repair, they become your problem once you buy.

10. Are multiple associations involved in the property In very large developments, umbrella associations, as well as the smaller association into which you re buying, may require separate assessments.

Reprinted from REALTOR magazine (REALTOR.org/realtormag) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS .
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

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