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Tips for Buying in a Tight Market

Increase your chances of getting your dream house in a competitive housing market, and lower your chances of losing out to another buyer.

1. Get pre-qualified for a mortgage. You ll be able to make a firm commitment to buy and your offer will be more desirable to the seller.

2. Stay in close contact with your real estate agent to find out about the newest listings. Be ready to see a house as soon as it goes on the market  if it s a great home, it will go fast.

3. Scout out new listings yourself. Look at Web sites such as REALTOR.com, browse your local newspaper s real estate section, and drive through the neighborhood to spot For Sale signs. If you see a home you like, write down the address and the name of the listing agent. Your real estate agent will schedule a showing.

4. Be ready to make a decision. Spend a lot of time in advance deciding what you must have in a home so you won t be unsure when you have the chance to make an offer.

5. Bid competitively. You may not want to start out offering the absolute highest price you can afford, but don t go too low to get a deal. In a tight market, you ll lose out.

6. Keep contingencies to a minimum. Restrictions such as needing to sell your home before you move or wanting to delay the closing until a certain date can make your offer unappealing. In a tight market, you ll probably be able to sell your house rapidly. Or talk to your lender about getting a bridge loan to cover both mortgages for a short period.

7. Don t get caught in a buying frenzy. Just because there s competition doesn t mean you should just buy it. And even though you want to make your offer attractive, don t neglect inspections that help ensure that your house is sound.

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

Making an Offer on a Short Sale What You Need to Know

Are you looking to buy a new home Are you thinking that now’s a great time to find bargains Before you make an offer, it pays to know a little about the seller’s situation.

If a home is being sold for below what the current seller owes on the property and the seller does not have other funds to make up the difference at closing the sale is considered a short sale. Many more home owners are finding themselves in this situation due to a number of factors, including job losses, aggressive borrowing against their home in the days of easy credit, and declining home values in a slower real estate market.

A short sale is different from a foreclosure, which is when the seller’s lender has taken title of the home and is selling it directly. Homeowners often try to accomplish a short sale in order to avoid foreclosure. But a short sale holds many potential pitfalls for buyers. Know the risks before you pursue a short-sale purchase.

You’re a good candidate for a short-sale purchase if:

* You’re very patient. Even after you come to agreement with the seller to buy a short-sale property, the seller s lender (or lenders, if there is more than one mortgage) has to approve the sale before you can close. When there is only one mortgage, short-sale experts say lender approval typically takes about two months. If there is more than one mortgage with different lenders, it can take four months or longer for the lenders to approve the sale.

* Your financing is in order. Lenders like cash offers. But even if you can t pay all cash for a short-sale property, it s important to show you are well qualified and your financing is set. If you’re preapproved, have a large down payment, and can close at any time, your offer will be viewed more favorably than that of a buyer whose financing is less secure.

* You don t have any contingencies. If you have a home to sell before you can close on the purchase of the short-sale property or you need to be in your new home by a certain time a short sale may not be for you. Lenders like no-contingency offers and flexible closing terms.

If you’re serious about purchasing a short-sale property, it’s important for you to have expert assistance. Here are some people you want to work with:

* Experienced real estate attorney. Only about two out of five short sales are approved by lenders. But a good real estate attorney who’s knowledgeable about the short-sale process will increase your chances getting an approved contract. Also, if you want any provisions or very specialized language written into the purchase contract, a real estate attorney is essential throughout the negotiation.

* A qualified real estate professional. You may have a close friend or relative in real estate, but if that person doesn t know anything about short sales, working with him or her may hurt your chances of a successful closing. Interview a few practitioners and ask them how many buyers they’ve represented in a short sale and, of those, how many have successfully closed. A qualified real estate professional will be able to show you short-sale homes, help negotiate the purchase when you find the property you want to buy, and smooth communications with the lender. (All MLSs permit, and some now require, special notations to indicate that a listing is a short sale. There also are certain phrases you can watch for, such as  lender approval required. )

* Title officer. It s a good idea to have a title officer do an initial title search on a short-sale property to see all the liens attached to the property. If there are multiple lien holders (e.g., second or third mortgage or lines of credit, real estate tax lien, mechanic s lien, homeowners association lien, etc.), it’s much tougher to get that short sale contract to the closing table. Any of the lien holders could put a kink in the process even after you ve waited for months for lender approval. If you don t know a title officer, your real estate attorney or real estate professional should be able to recommend a few.

Some of the other risks faced by buyers of short-sale properties include:

* Potential for rejection. Lenders want to minimize their losses as much as possible. If you make an offer tremendously lower than the fair market value of the home, chances are that your offer will be rejected and you ll have wasted months. Or the lender could make a counteroffer, which will lengthen the process.

* Bad terms. Even when a lender approves a short sale, it could require that the sellers sign a promissory note to repay the deficient amount of the loan, which may not be acceptable to some financially desperate sellers. In that case, the sellers may refuse to go through with the short sale. Lenders also can change any of the terms of the contract that you ve already negotiated, which may not be agreeable to you.

* No repairs or repair credits. You will most likely be asked to take the property  as is. Lenders are already taking a loss on the property and may not agree to requests for repair credits.

The risks of a short sale are considerable. But if you have the time, patience, and iron will to see it through, a short sale can be a win-win for you and the sellers.

* Not all real estate practitioners are REALTORS . A REALTOR is a member of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS and is bound by NAR s strict code of ethics.

Note: This article provides general information only. Information is not provided as advice for a specific matter. Laws vary from state to state. For advice on a specific matter, consult your attorney or CPA.

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

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.

How to Get an Offer on Your Home

1. Price it right. Set a price at the lower end of your property s realistic price range.

2. Prepare for visitors. Get your house market ready at least two weeks before you begin showing it.

3. Be flexible about showings. It s often disruptive to have a house ready to show at the spur of the moment. But the more amenable you can be about letting people see your home, the sooner you ll find a buyer.

4. Anticipate the offers. Decide in advance what price and terms you ll find acceptable.

5. Don t refuse to drop the price. If your home has been on the market for more than 30 days without an offer, you should be prepared to at least consider lowering your asking price.

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

Negotiate Your Best House Buy

By: G. M. Filisko

Keep your emotions in check and your eyes on the goal, and you’ll pay less when purchasing a home.

Buying a home can be emotional, but negotiating the price shouldn’t be. The key to saving money when purchasing a home is sticking to a plan during the turbulence of high-stakes negotiations. A real estate agent who represents you can guide you and offer you advice, but you are the one who must make the final decision during each round of offers and counter offers.

Here are six tips for negotiating the best price on a home.
1. Get prequalified for a mortgage
Getting prequalified for a mortgage proves to sellers that you’re serious about buying and capable of affording their home. That will push you to the head of the pack when sellers choose among offers; they’ll go with buyers who are a sure financial bet, not those whose financing could flop.

2. Ask questions
Ask your agent for information to help you understand the sellers’ financial position and motivation. Are they facing foreclosure or a short sale Have they already purchased a home or relocated, which may make them eager to accept a lower price to avoid paying two mortgages Has the home been on the market for a long time, or was it just listed Have there been other offers If so, why did they fall through The more signs that sellers are eager to sell, the lower your offer can reasonably go.

3. Work back from a final price to determine your initial offer
Know in advance the most you’re willing to pay, and with your agent work back from that number to determine your initial offer, which can set the tone for the entire negotiation. A too-low bid may offend sellers emotionally invested in the sales price; a too-high bid may lead you to spend more than necessary to close the sale.
Work with your agent to evaluate the sellers’ motivation and comparable home sales to arrive at an initial offer that engages the sellers yet keeps money in your wallet.

4. Avoid contingencies
Sellers favor offers that leave little to chance. Keep your bid free of complicated contingencies, such as making the purchase conditional on the sale of your current home. Do keep contingencies for mortgage approval, home inspection, and environmental checks typical in your area, like radon.

5. Remain unemotional
Buying a home is a business transaction, and treating it that way helps you save money. Consider any movement by the sellers, however slight, a sign of interest, and keep negotiating.
Each time you make a concession, ask for one in return. If the sellers ask you to boost your price, ask them to contribute to closing costs or pay for a home warranty. If sellers won’t budge, make it clear you’re willing to walk away; they may get nervous and accept your offer.

6. Don’t let competition change your plan
Great homes and those competitively priced can draw multiple offers in any market. Don’t let competition propel you to go beyond your predetermined price or agree to concessions-such as waiving an inspection-that aren’t in your best interest.

More from HouseLogic
Determine how much mortgage you can afford (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/4-tips-determine-how-much-mortgage-you-can-afford/)

Keep your home purchase on track (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/keep-your-home-purchase-track/)

Plan for a stress-free home closing (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/7-steps-stress-free-home-closing/)

Other web resources
More negotiating tips (http://www.freddiemac.com/corporate/buyown/english/purchasing/offer/negotiate.html)

Develop a homebuying strategy (http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/article-29746.html)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has to remind herself to remain unemotional during negotiations. 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.

It s Mine! It s All mine!

TAKING POSSESSION

Typically, the day escrow closes on your new home, you will be able to take possession of the property. Congratulations! Here are a few hints on closing day to keep in mind:

Check to see when you will actually take possession of the house. Often, a transaction has to be recorded at the City or County Recorder s office for it to be official.

Resist the urge to do any work to the house before escrow closes. If the deal falls through, you are out time and money.

Be sure to do a walk-through of the house before you sign final papers and move in. Is the house in the same condition as it was when you agreed to buy

5 Things to do Before Putting Your Home on the Market

1. Have a pre-sale home inspection. Be proactive by arranging for a pre-sale home inspection. An inspector will be able to give you a good indication of the trouble areas that will stand out to potential buyers, and you ll be able to make repairs before open houses begin.

2. Organize and clean. Pare down clutter and pack up your least-used items, such as large blenders and other kitchen tools, out-of-season clothes, toys, and exercise equipment. Store items off-site or in boxes neatly arranged in the garage or basement. Clean the windows, carpets, walls, lighting fixtures, and baseboards to make the house shine.

3. Get replacement estimates. Do you have big-ticket items that are worn our or will need to be replaced soon, such your roof or carpeting Get estimates on how much it would cost to replace them, even if you don t plan to do it yourself. The figures will help buyers determine if they can afford the home, and will be handy when negotiations begin.

4. Find your warranties. Gather up the warranties, guarantees, and user manuals for the furnace, washer and dryer, dishwasher, and any other items that will remain with the house.

5. Spruce up the curb appeal. Pretend you re a buyer and stand outside of your home. As you approach the front door, what is your impression of the property Do the lawn and bushes look neatly manicured Is the address clearly visible Are pretty flowers or plants framing the entrance Is the walkway free from cracks and impediments

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

7 Tips for Short Sale Success.

By: G. M. Filisko

Have to sell your home for less than it’s worth Our seven tips will help you get the best price.

When you owe more on your home than it’s worth, but you have to sell, you need to squeeze every dollar possible from the sale.

Here are seven tips for navigating the short-sale process.

1. Know who you owe
A short sale has to be approved by any company that has a mortgage or lien against your home. That includes your first, second, or even third mortgage lender, your home equity line lender; your homeowners or condominium association; and any contractors who’ve placed a lien on your home. Make a list and start talking to everyone early in the process. Ask what documents they’ll need from you.

2. Pick your short sale team
You’ll need to work with a team of short sale experts, including a real estate agent, real estate attorney, and your accountant. Look for agents and attorneys who advertise themselves as short sale experts. Interview at least three, and listen carefully for signs that they understand the complexities of the short sale process.
Agents should explain how they’ll arrive at a suggested price for your home. Ask them to show you a sample short-sale package or for an example of a prior short-sale success.

3. Get your documents ready
Gather the paperwork your creditors and mortgage lenders asked to see, like your listing agreement and a hardship letter explaining why you need to do a short sale. You’ll also need proof of what you earn and what you owe as well as copies of your federal income tax returns for the past two years.

4. Expect delays
Despite a federal rule saying banks participating in the federal government’s Making Home Affordable loan modification program (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/making-home-affordable-modification-option/) must respond to short-sale offers within 10 days, it may take weeks or months for your lender to decide whether to allow you to sell your home in a short sale–and even longer if you must negotiate with more than one lender or lienholder.
Your lender and lienholders don’t have to agree to your proposed short sale. They can reject your terms or make a counteroffer, which can create further delays.

5. Anticipate demands
Discuss with your short-sale team how you should respond to common short-sale demands from lenders. For example, are you willing to sign a promissory note agreeing to pay outstanding amounts after the sale is complete

6. Know the tax implications
Any unpaid amount of your mortgage “forgiven” by your lender through a short sale may be considered income to you under federal tax rules. Ask your attorney or accountant whether you qualify to exclude that amount as income on your tax returns under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and Debt Cancellation Act. Also ask if you’ll be required to report amounts “forgiven” by other lienholders, if applicable.

7. Consider how the short sale will affect your credit and what you must pay
Ask whether your lender will report the short sale to credit-reporting agencies. Having a portion of your debt forgiven may negatively affect your credit score, but a short sale typically damages your score less than a foreclosure or bankruptcy.
Ask you lawyer whether you’ll be responsible for paying back the lenders’ loss. If the lender says it will forgive any losses on the sale of your home, get that promise in writing.

Other web resources
More on short sales (http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/article-30016.html)

IRS information on the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and Debt Cancellation (http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=179414,00.html)

This article includes general information about tax laws and consequences, but isn’t intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer. 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.

Its a Jungle Out There!

Because there is so much money and so many different professionals are involved in the real estate purchasing process, there is always room for professional incompetence or outright fraud. Here are some things to look out for in the team that assists you in your purchase.

Real Estate Agents: This is the key person on your team! Make sure he or she is competent! We cannot stress this point more! Do your homework. All real estate agents must be licensed by the California Department of Real Estate. Visit the Department’s web site (www.dre.ca.gov) to determine the license status of an agent.

Also, talk to others who have used the agent. This is the one person you really need to trust in this process.

There are some unscrupulous lenders out there who only want their commission or points from a loan and couldn’t care less if you are getting the best loan product. There are some lending tactics that are outright fraud.

Beware of the following illegal lending practices and predatory lending tactics:
Flipping the frequent making of new loans to refinance existing loans
Packing selling of additional products without the borrower’s informed consent
Charging of excessive fees
Bait and Switch offering of very attractive terms which are not available and then pressuring the borrower into more expensive terms and hidden fees
Door-to-Door High Pressure Sales typically trying to sell home improvement contracts funded by home equity loans usually with less than desirable terms
Trust Selling salespersons who try to gain your trust based on some common background and then sell you something that might not be in your best interest
No Job! No Problem! encouraging home equity loans to those with no job or bad credit with the knowledge that the borrower will probably lose their home because they can’t make the payments
Pressuring for Immediate Sale insisting that a loan contract be signed immediately before the good deal is gone.

Prior to using the services of a mortgage broker or lender, make sure they are properly licensed by checking the California Department of Corporations web site (www.corp.ca.gov) and/or the California Department of Real Estate’s web site (www.dre.ca.gov).

Home Inspectors: The competency of this person is key in making sure you’re purchasing a structurally sound, safe home. A home inspector who misses details can end up costing you tens of thousands of dollars in the long run. Or worse, missed details could cause you or a family member harm because of bad wiring, cracked glass and other hazards.

Escrow Officer: The escrow officer is the referee in the home buying game. Just as with your favorite sport, an incompetent  or cheating  referee is a huge headache. If bad calls are made on the part of the escrow officer, it can cost you large amounts of money or kill the whole deal.

Tax Advisor: A tax advisor can be a great asset to you financially. Finding out that certain expenses are not tax deductible after-the-fact can put you in a real bind with the IRS. Ask your real estate agent, family members, friends or others you trust if they can recommend the services of a reputable tax advisor in your area.

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.

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