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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.

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 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.

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.

Common First-Time Home Buyer Mistakes

1. They don t ask enough questions of their lender and end up missing out on the best deal.

2. They don t act quickly enough to make a decision and someone else buys the house.

3. They don t find the right agent who s willing to help them through the home buying process.

4. They don t do enough to make their offer look appealing to a seller.

5. They don t think about resale before they buy. The average first-time buyer only stays in a home for four years.

Source: Real Estate Checklists and Systems, www.realestatechecklists.com.

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

5 Feng Shui Concepts to Help a Home Sell

To put the best face on a listing and appeal to buyers who follow feng shui principles, keep these tips in mind.

1. Pay special attention to the front door, which is considered the  mouth of chi (chi is the  life force of all things) and one of the most powerful aspects of the entire property. Abundance, blessings, opportunities, and good fortune enter through the front door. It s also the first impression buyers have of how well the sellers have taken care of the rest of the property. Make sure the area around the front door is swept clean, free of cobwebs and clutter. Make sure all lighting is straight and properly hung. Better yet, light the path leading up to the front door to create an inviting atmosphere.

2. Chi energy can be flushed away wherever there are drains in the home. To keep the good forces of a home in, always keep the toilet seats down and close the doors to bathrooms.

3. The master bed should be in a place of honor, power, and protection, which is farthest from and facing toward the entryway of the room. It s even better if you can place the bed diagonally in the farthest corner. Paint the room in colors that promote serenity, relaxation, and romance, such as soft tones of green, blue, and lavender.

4. The dining room symbolizes the energy and power of family togetherness. Make sure the table is clear and uncluttered during showings. Use an attractive tablecloth to enhance the look of the table while also softening sharp corners.

5. The windows are considered to be the eyes of the home. Getting the windows professionally cleaned will make the home sparkle and ensure that the view will be optimally displayed.

Source: Sell Your Home Faster With Feng Shui by Holly Ziegler (Dragon Chi Publications, 2001)

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

But Seriously, What Can I Afford

One of the most important questions you need to ask yourself in the home buying process is:  How much can I pay for a house and still have a life

Ultimately, only you can decide what you can afford to spend monthly on a house payment and still be able to live the lifestyle you wish. However, a calculation provided by your mortgage lender may help you to make your determination.

When applying for a home loan, your mortgage lender will do a calculation that reveals the maximum amount the lender will lend to you. The calculation is based on a simple formula: The proposed house payment plus any fixed monthly debt payments (like credit cards and car payments) divided by your gross monthly income (your total wages before taxes are taken out) equals a percentage. Typically, mortgage lenders want that percentage to be less than 42%.

This equation is illustrated in the example below:
$1,230 (House Payment + Fixed Monthly Debt)
3,000 (Gross Monthly Income)
———
41%

Based upon this equation, after adding up your debts and reviewing your income, you may discover you can afford a pretty big mortgage payment. On the other hand, you may want to look at that number a little closer. If you borrow the maximum amount allowed, you may find that your house payment is more than you can afford based on other monthly expenditures not accounted for in the equation. For instance, the equation doesn t take into consideration money you might spend on recreation activities. If these are important to you and you don t want to give them up, you may need to keep your house payment lower than the maximum allowed in order to pay for these other expenditures.

Your best bet is to develop a budget and consider all of the typical expenses you have.

Use the form below to add up all of your monthly expenses. If there are some expenses  like auto insurance  you only pay every six months or yearly, divide by the number of months to determine your monthly expense. It s best to get everything down on paper.

Take a few minutes now and create your budget by listing the major categories where you think you have or will spend money during a typical month.

My Monthly Budget
Housing
$ ___________ Estimated house payment & association fees
$ ___________ Estimated property taxes, insurance, PMI
$ ___________ Electricity, gas
$ ___________ Phone
$ ___________ Water, sewage, garbage
Food
$ ___________ Groceries
$ ___________ Fast Food
$ ___________ Dining out
$ ___________ Beverages
Other living expenses
$ ___________ Personal care (hair, toiletries)
$ ___________ Laundry and dry cleaning
$ ___________ Clothing/shoes/hats
$ ___________ Gifts
$ ___________ Monthly membership dues/subscriptions
Transportation
$ ___________ Car payments
$ ___________ Gas & oil
$ ___________ Normal car maintenance
$ ___________ License and registration fees
$ ___________ Auto insurance
$ ___________ Parking fees
$ ___________ Bus, taxi, subway, carpool
Educational expenses (if applicable)
$ ___________ Tuition
$ ___________ Books
$ ___________ Lab fees
$ ___________ School supplies
Childcare and pet care (if applicable)
$ ___________ Day care
$ ___________ Baby/pet sitters
$ ___________ Medical/Veterinary
$ ___________ Toys
$ ___________ Special foods
$ ___________ Clothes
Expecting the unexpected
$ ___________ Traffic Tickets
$ ___________ Car Repairs
$ ___________ Medical/Dental care
(Insert other categories unique to you here)
$ ___________ ____________________________
$ ___________ ____________________________

$ ___________ Total Monthly Expenditures

* Taxes, insurance and PMI (private mortgage insurance) costs vary. Your real estate agent can help you estimate these.

Next, determine your monthly income below:

Wages and tips
$ ___________ (less taxes and other deductions)
$ ___________ Investment Income
$ ___________ Other
$ ___________ Total net monthly income

Finally, subtract your total monthly expenditures from your total monthly income. Note: Your net income, used in determining what you can afford, is different than your gross income, used to determine what you qualify to borrow.

$ ________ Total Monthly Income: (transfer $ amount from above)
– $ ________ Total Expenditures: (total of your expenses above)
= $ ________ Ending Balance

Now that you have everything down on paper, borrowing the maximum allowed may not look too good anymore! You may want to consider buying a little less house to keep a little more of your life! You may have heard the term  House rich, cash poor. That phrase was coined by people who didn t budget beforehand!

Finally, once you have a general idea of what type of house payment you can afford each month, you ll want to determine what that monthly payment will buy you in terms of the selling price of a home. Based on your estimated monthly payment, should you be looking at homes selling in the $100,000, 200,000, or $300,000 price range Your real estate agent can estimate this for you, or you can check out a  mortgage calculator on-line, which will ask a few simple questions and then do the calculation for you.

Simple Tips for Better Home Showings

1. Remove clutter and clear off counters. Throw out stacks of newspapers and magazines and stow away most of your small decorative items. Put excess furniture in storage, and remove out-of-season clothing items that are cramping closet space. Don t forget to clean out the garage, too.

2. Wash your windows and screens. This will help get more light into the interior of the home.

3. Keep everything extra clean. A clean house will make a strong first impression and send a message to buyers that the home has been well-cared for. Wash fingerprints from light switch plates, mop and wax floors, and clean the stove and refrigerator. Polish your doorknobs and address numbers. It s worth hiring a cleaning service if you can afford it.

4. Get rid of smells. Clean carpeting and drapes to eliminate cooking odors, smoke, and pet smells. Open the windows to air out the house. Potpourri or scented candles will help.

5. Brighten your rooms. Put higher wattage bulbs in light fixtures to brighten up rooms and basements. Replace any burned-out bulbs in closets. Clean the walls, or better yet, brush on a fresh coat of neutral color paint.

6. Don t disregard minor repairs. Small problems such as sticky doors, torn screens, cracked caulking, or a dripping faucet may seem trivial, but they ll give buyers the impression that the house isn t well-maintained.

7. Tidy your yard. Cut the grass, rake the leaves, add new mulch, trim the bushes, edge the walkways, and clean the gutters. For added curb appeal, place a pot of bright flowers near the entryway.

8. Patch holes. Repair any holes in your driveway and reapply sealant, if applicable.

9. Add a touch of color in the living room. A colored afghan or throw on the couch will jazz up a dull room. Buy new accent pillows for the sofa.

10. Buy a flowering plant and put it near a window you pass by frequently.

11. Make centerpieces for your tables. Use brightly colored fruit or flowers.

12. Set the scene. Set the table with fancy dishes and candles, and create other vignettes throughout the home to help buyers picture living there. For example, in the basement you might display a chess game in progress.

13. Replace heavy curtains with sheer ones that let in more light. Show off the view if you have one.

14. Accentuate the fireplace. Lay fresh logs in the fireplace or put a basket of flowers there if it s not in use.

15. Make the bathrooms feel luxurious. Put away those old towels and toothbrushes. When buyers enter your bathroom, they should feel pampered. Add a new shower curtain, new towels, and fancy guest soaps. Make sure your personal toiletry items are out of sight.

16. Send your pets to a neighbor or take them outside. If that s not possible, crate them or confine them to one room (ideally in the basement), and let the real estate practitioner know where they ll be to eliminate surprises.

17. Lock up valuables, jewelry, and money. While a real estate salesperson will be on site during the showing or open house, it s impossible to watch everyone all the time.

18. Leave the home. It s usually best if the sellers are not at home. It s awkward for prospective buyers to look in your closets and express their opinions of your home with you there.

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

What a Home Inspection Should Cover

Home inspections will vary depending on the type of property you are purchasing. A large historic home, for example, will require a more specialized inspection than a small condominium. However, the following are the basic elements that a home inspector will check. You can also use this list to help you evaluate properties you might purchase.

For more information, try the virtual home inspection at www.ASHI.org, the Web site of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

Structure: A home s skeleton impacts how the property stands up to weather, gravity, and the earth. Structural components, including the foundation and the framing, should be inspected.

Exterior: The inspector should look at sidewalks, driveways, steps, windows, and doors. A home s siding, trim, and surface drainage also are part of an exterior inspection.

  • Doors and windows
  • Siding (brick, stone, stucco, vinyl, wood, etc.)
  • Driveways/sidewalks
  • Attached porches, decks, and balconies

Roofing: A well-maintained roof protects you from rain, snow, and other forces of nature. Take note of the roof s age, conditions of flashing, roof draining systems (pooling water), buckled shingles, loose gutters and downspouts, skylight, and chimneys.

Plumbing: Thoroughly examine the water supply and drainage systems, water heating equipment, and fuel storage systems. Drainage pumps and sump pumps also fall under this category. Poor water pressure, banging pipes, rust spots, or corrosion can indicate problems.

Electrical: Safe electrical wiring is essential. Look for the condition of service entrance wires, service panels, breakers and fuses, and disconnects. Also take note of the number of outlets in each room.

Heating: The home s heating system, vent system, flues, and chimneys should be inspected. Look for age of water heater, whether the size is adequate for the house, speed of recovery, and energy rating.

Air Conditioning: Your inspector should describe your home cooling system, its energy source, and inspect the central and through-wall cooling equipment. Consider the age and energy rating of the system.

Interiors: An inspection of the inside of the home can reveal plumbing leaks, insect damage, rot, construction defects, and other issues. An inspector should take a close look at:

  • Walls, ceilings and floors
  • Steps, stairways, and railings
  • Countertops and cabinets
  • Garage doors and garage door systems

Ventilation/insulation: To prevent energy loss, check for adequate insulation and ventilation in the attic and in unfinished areas such as crawlspaces. Also look for proper, secured insulation in walls. Insulation should be appropriate for the climate. Excess moisture in the home can lead to mold and water damage.

Fireplaces: They re charming, but they could be dangerous if not properly installed. Inspectors should examine the system, including the vent and flue, and describe solid fuel burning appliances.

Source: American Society of Home Inspectors (www.AHSI.org)

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

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