The Benefits of Staging When Selling a Home

Seller’s market conditions persist in cities across the country, as inventory continues to fall short of demand. Under these kinds of conditions, sellers typically enjoy competing offers from buyers.

But that doesn’t mean sellers should skimp on the home staging. By staging your house for buyers, you can increase the chance for a quick sale and a full-price offer. And those are good things!

What Is Home Staging?

Home staging is when you take proactive steps to make your house more appealing to the majority of buyers. “Majority” is the key word here. Some people will dislike a certain property no matter what kind of staging is done. Taste is subjective, after all. But there are certain steps you can take to make your property appeal to the majority of potential buyers. And that’s precisely what home staging is all about.

The staging process can include such things as:

* Landscaping the yard, when applicable
* Painting the inside and/or outside of the house
* Replacing outdated fixtures with modern ones
* Arranging, adding, or removing furniture to maximize space
* De-cluttering the entire house
* Cleaning the house thoroughly from top to bottom

In some cases, these kinds of actions might be unnecessary or even cost-prohibitive. For example, a new or recently updated home with modern fixtures won’t require any new knobs, sink handles, or light fixtures. But an older home with outdated fixtures might need extra attention (unless the fixtures are antiques that add charm).

What’s the Point?

Now you know what home staging is, and what it involves. But what’s the point? What can you get out of it, as a home seller?

As a seller, your mission is to sell your house as quickly as possible, and for the best possible price. Staging can help you achieve these goals, and in several ways. It creates aesthetic value, which helps to support your asking price. It presents your home in the best possible light, which will make buyers more inclined to make an offer.

Above all, effective home staging helps you set your house apart from others that are listed for sale in the area. This is especially important in a crowded market with many similar properties for sale.

When buyers look at a well-staged home, they tend to say things like:

  • “I got a great vibe from that house.”
  • “I didn’t want to leave.”
  • “I could see myself living there.”
  • “The owners have taken good care of that house.”
  • “It seems nicer than the other homes we’ve looked at.”

This is the kind of mindset that can lead to an offer.

Home staging allows you to create a favorable impression in the mind of potential buyers. And these kinds of impressions tend to “accumulate” as the buyer moves through the home. So if you stack enough of them in your favor, you’ll have a much better chance of landing a strong offer. And that’s your primary goal as a seller.

Article provided by MetroDepth content service.

How to Prepare for a Competitive Real Estate Market

Home buyers who are planning to enter the real estate market can benefit from having their financing arranged ahead of time. What does that mean exactly, and why is it so important in the current real estate market? Here’s what you need to know.

Many real estate markets across the country are highly competitive right now due to a lack of supply. There are plenty of people in the market looking to buy a home, but there’s not enough inventory to go around. This supply and demand imbalance puts upward pressure on home prices and makes things more competitive for buyers.

Mike Fratantoni, chief economist for the Mortgage Bankers Association, recently cited this as one of the primary factors influencing the market right now. “The major constraint in the market right now is the lack of supply,” Fratantoni told CNBC. “The absolute number of units on the market is near an all-time record low.”

Competing in a Tight Real Estate Market

In a competitive real estate market, home buyers want to have every possible advantage going for them. Among other things, home buyers can benefit from having their financing lined up ahead of time, before they even start looking at houses.

This might mean one of two things, depending on your money situation:

  • If you’re planning to pay cash for a house, the seller will probably want to see bank statements proving that you have the funds in the bank.
  • If you’re like most home buyers, and you will be using a mortgage loan to help finance your purchase, the seller will probably want to see that you’ve been pre-approved by a mortgage lender already.

Benefits of Mortgage Pre-Approval

Mortgage pre-approval is basically a kind of financial pre-screening process. This is where a bank or mortgage company reviews your current financial situation to determine (A) if you’re a good candidate for a home loan, and (B) how much you can borrow. This helps you, the buyer, in two ways:

  • Getting pre-approved for a mortgage can help you narrow down your housing search to the kinds of properties you can actually afford, based on your financing. This will make your house-hunting process more efficient.
  • Mortgage pre-approval could also make sellers more inclined to take your offer seriously, since you’ve been working with a mortgage lender already.

Both of these things could give you a much-needed advantage in the marketplace. This is especially important in an active real estate market where homes are selling quickly, and where multiple offers are a common occurrence.

The current inventory situation across the country also underscores the importance of having professional help from an experienced real estate agent. An agent can help you find a property that meets your needs, evaluate the seller’s asking price, and make a strong offer in a timely fashion. This is the key to success in a competitive real estate market.

The Different Types of Home Inspections Explained

Home inspections are a common source of confusion for first-time home buyers, because there are several different types of inspections that can take place. Here is an overview of the most common types of inspections you could encounter during the buying process.

Primary Home Inspection

When you hear people talk about a “home inspection,” they are generally referring to the primary inspection that is conducted by a licensed home inspector. It’s always a good idea to have a property professionally inspected before buying it.

The inspector will examine the home’s foundation, roof, electrical system, installed appliances, heating and cooling systems, and overall condition. When he’s finished, he will give you a detailed inspection report that explains his findings.

Keep in mind that when you buy a house, you are generally buying it in “as-is” condition (unless specific provisions are added to the contract saying otherwise). For this reason, you want to make sure you know what is, and is not, working in the home. You’ll also want to know what repairs might be needed, and how much they might cost. For all of these reasons, the primary home inspection is essential.

Termite Inspections

Home inspectors typically don’t look for termites or other wood-destroying insects. So this is usually a separate inspection. This inspection is done on behalf of the buyer and the mortgage company. You might even have to provide a copy of the inspection for your mortgage lender. This is especially true if you live in an area where termites are common. You might be able to skip this process if termites are not commonly found in your area. Termite damage can be extensive and expensive. So these inspections are usually worth the cost.

Well Water Inspections

Depending on where the home is located, you may also need a well water test to make sure the water is potable (safe to drink).

Home Appraisal / Appraiser’s Inspection

If you are using a mortgage loan to buy a house, your bank or lender will send a licensed home appraiser out to evaluate the property. The appraiser is primarily concerned with the market value of the home. He will also examine the overall condition of the property, as it relates to the value.

Final Walk-Through Inspection

Home buyers typically perform one last inspection near the end of the real estate transaction, just to make sure the house is in the same condition it was in when they agreed to buy it. During this final “walk-through,” as it is known, you’ll want to ensure that everything is in working order, and that the house has not been damaged in any way since you first signed the contract.

As each inspection takes place, keep in mind that no home is perfect. You’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of every house in order to make the right purchasing decision.

You can expect a number of inspections to take place during your home buying process. Most of these inspections are for your benefit, as the home buyer, so you need to take each inspection seriously and consider the outcome carefully.

Heads Up Home Buyers: Mortgage Rates Just Took a Big Jump

Are you thinking about buying a home in 2018? Are you on the fence about entering the real estate market? If so, you might want to consider buying sooner rather than later. Mortgage rates just rose again, and economists from Freddie Mac and other groups are predicting that they could rise gradually throughout 2018.

Mortgage Rates Hit Highest Level Since December 2016

During the week of February 8, 2018, the average rate for a 30-year fixed home loan rose to 4.32%. Rates haven’t been that high since December 2016. This is based on the weekly mortgage industry survey conducted by Freddie Mac. The average rates for 15-year fixed mortgages and 5/1 ARM loans rose as well. Those are the three categories tracked by this survey.

According to the Freddie Mac report:

“The U.S. weekly average 30-year fixed mortgage rate rocketed up 10 basis points to 4.32 percent this week. Following a turbulent Monday, financial markets settled down with the 10-year Treasury yield resuming its upward march. Mortgage rates have followed. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate is up 33 basis points since the start of the year.”

This is actually the continuation of a trend that began a few weeks ago. For a while now, mortgage rates have been following a steady upward path. You can see that clearly in the chart below. During the latter half of 2017, and into the beginning of 2018, the average rate for a 30-year mortgage hovered below 4%. Then it crossed that threshold and shot up by 25 basis points (0.25%), which brings us up to the latest reading.

Chart: 30-Year Loan Rates Over the Last Year

The chart below, courtesy of Freddie Mac, shows average rates for a 30-year fixed home loan going back one year. As you can see, rates are higher now (on the right side of the chart) than they’ve been all year.

Chart: Average mortgage rates over the last year | Source: Freddie Mac PMMS

This is not surprising to industry watchers and analysts. Last year, economists from the Mortgage Bankers Association and Freddie Mac were predicting that rates would rise gradually throughout 2018. Some forecasts suggested that the average rate for a 30-year mortgage would reach 5% by the end of this year. And that’s entirely plausible, given this recent uptick in lending rates.

So what’s causing this recent rise in borrowing costs? Several things. Over the last year, the Federal Reserve has been gradually increasing the short-term federal funds rate. This can have an indirect affect on consumer borrowing costs. The Fed’s policy changes, along with general economic improvements, are partly what’s driving the rise in interest rates — including those used for mortgage loans.

And some economists are predicting that we will see a continued yet gradual rise in rates throughout 2018.

All of this makes a good argument for buying a home sooner rather than later. Home buyers who postpone their purchases until later in the year could encounter higher mortgage rates. And when you consider the fact that home prices are still rising in most parts of the country, there’s even more urgency.

Granted, you should never make a home purchase until you are 100% ready to do so, financially and emotionally. It has to be the right move for you, one that will improve your qualify of life in some way. With that being said, it might make sense to buy sooner rather than later to avoid possible rate hikes and home-price increases.

Note: Mortgage rates can vary from one borrower to the next due to a number of factors, including credit history and the type of loan being used. The numbers presented above are based on averages reported by Freddie Mac.

The Hidden Cost of Home Ownership

If you’ve never owned your own property before, there are some costs you should prepare yourself for ahead of time. Should you take out a mortgage, you’ll have your monthly mortgage payment, but often there are additional costs and fees added that a new homeowner will not expect. Listed below are items you should expect to pay once you become a homeowner.
Property Taxes
When you rent, you are not responsible for the property taxes on the property. But when you become a homeowner, you’re expected to pay yearly property taxes, of which go to public works, wages for government workers or public school boards. Based on the current value of your home, property taxes are assessed every year and will likely change to reflect an increase (or decrease) in your home’s value. Property taxes can be paid at one time, or they can be divided into 12 payments over the course of a year and added to your mortgage payment. When you’re trying to determine what your mortgage payment will be each month, don’t forget to factor in property taxes.
Home Maintenance
When you live in a rental property, most maintenance is performed by the landlord or a property manager. When you become a homeowner, those maintenance costs fall upon you. When you purchase a home, all maintenance items should be considered when it comes to your overall budget. Will you want to replace all the appliances? Will the property need new windows or a new roof? Does the home need basic upgrades? Most people in the industry suggest you allocate 1% of your home’s worth for maintenance costs every year, but the reality is that 1% is likely the minimum – you should plan on more than 1% maintenance costs each year as a homeowner, and if you plan on any larger renovations, bet on the costs to be even higher.
Mortgage Insurance
Most people, when they buy a home or property, are able to do so by taking out a mortgage loan. If you put less than 20% of the cost of your property down, you’re required to have Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). PMI protects lenders if the borrower defaults on their loan. PMI is charged annually, and it will typically cost 0.5% to 1% of the entire loan amount. The payments are generally paid each month rather than in a large one-time payment. If you plan on taking out a mortgage loan, and you don’t have 20% to put down, expect to add private mortgage insurance payments to your other monthly bills.
Supplemental Insurance
Do you live in an area prone to natural disaster? As a homeowner you’ll need to have regular home insurance to protect your home or property from typical things (plumbing issues, roof leaks, etc.) that homeowners encounter. Should you live in an area that’s prone to weather-related issues (floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes) you will want to purchase supplemental insurance to make sure your home is covered should nature decide to show herself.
Landscaping and Lawn Care
When you rent a condo or an apartment, it’s highly likely you are not spending a lot of time outside in a yard. When you buy your own property (should it have a yard or some kind of outdoor area), expect some hidden costs to come in the form of lawn care. Does the yard need some major landscaping? Are you going to mow it yourself, or will you hire a company to do it? Do you have a lawn mower, rakes, snow or leaf blower, yard tools, shed, and any other items needed to keep your yard looking great year-round? A yard comes with extra costs, so be sure to know how much you want to spend on upkeep per year.
HOA Fees
If you’ve been renting your previous residence, it’s likely you haven’t had to pay Homeowners Association (HOA) fees for your apartment or rental. Should you buy a house, condo or townhouse in a neighborhood with common areas, a clubhouse, pool, or any other kind of community meeting places, it’s likely you’ll move into a neighborhood with an HOA. HOA fees can vary in terms of what the HOA covers within the community, but unless you know through your Realtor or through the homeowner the monthly fee, you can expect to spend anywhere from $10 to hundreds of dollars per month on HOA fees.
Buying your first home or property is a huge step in anyone’s life. Before you start your property search, make sure you consider all of the items above when you’re thinking of buying a home or property and during your property search.

Understanding Home Owners Insurance

Understanding Your Homeowner Insurance Policy As homeowners, none of us can ever truly be prepared for tornadoes, floods or other natural disasters. But having adequate insurance can reduce potential losses. Surveys have found that nearly half of homeowners couldn’t identify or verify the value of all their possessions if they were lost in a disaster or know whether their insurance will cover all of their home repairs. A homeowner policy usually doesn’t cover: flood, earthquake, landslide, mudslide, sewer backup or identity theft. Your homeowner policy may not cover claims related to: dog bites, swimming pools, trampolines or operating a business from your home. Sites such as and MSN are good places to help you better understand your policy (cash value or replacement costs?), know your coverage (are floods, earthquakes and water-line breaks covered?) and document your valuables (just what do you have, how much is it worth and how do you prove it?). It is also good to understand your policy as it relates to fire. As someone who recently had a family member lose their home to fire, please find out if your policy provides for temporary housing costs and learn how they place value and reimburse you for your belongings. If nothing else, you will have peace of mind knowing how the process works. Additionally, please don’t put off purchasing that fire proof safe for important papers and valuables; and consider using automatic web-based back up systems for your computer so that you do not lose all your data. is one such service that is easy and invisible while providing a huge value at a low cost and I am sure there are others.

The Home Buying Process: 7 Steps to Success

Home buyers tend to have a lot of questions about the house hunting and buying process. This is particularly true for first-time buyers who have never navigated their way through it before. This article lays it all out for you, from start to finish. Here are seven steps you should take when buying a home.

1. Review your credit situation.

Credit scores are an important qualifying factor for home buyers who need mortgage financing. The FICO score, in particular, is the one most commonly used by mortgage lenders. According to industry experts, home buyers generally need a credit score of 600 or higher to qualify for a loan. But that number is not set in stone, and some loan programs are more flexible than others.

You can order your credit reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, and then review them for errors. You can also order your credit scores (different from your reports) to see how you stack up against the national average. A higher score could help you qualify for a better mortgage rate.

2. Determine your monthly housing budget.

A mortgage lender cannot tell you how much of a monthly payment you can comfortably afford. They can only tell you the amount you qualify for. You should determine your home-buying budget for yourself, before shopping for a loan. The idea is to get a basic budget on paper, including the most you are comfortable spending each month toward your housing costs. This will come in handy later on.

3. Get pre-approved for a mortgage loan. 

If you’re planning to pay cash for a home, you can obviously skip this step. But if you’re like most home buyers, and you need mortgage financing to complete your purchase, you can benefit from getting pre-approved.

Pre-approval is when a mortgage lender reviews your financial and credit history to determine your “creditworthiness.” When you get pre-approved for a specific loan amount, you’ll be able to narrow your house search to that price range.

Having a pre-approval letter also shows sellers that you are serious about (and capable of) purchasing their home. This can make a big difference in active real estate markets, where the seller may receive multiple offers from competing buyers.

4. Find a real estate agent to help you.

All home buyers can benefit from having professional help from an agent. This is especially true if you are buying a home for the first time, or in a new city you’re not familiar with. An agent can help you find a home that meets your needs, evaluate the seller’s asking price, put together a strong offer, and negotiate effectively based on current market conditions.

5. Start house hunting.

House hunting is the most exciting part of the home buying process. This is where you and your agent visit homes to find one that matches your needs. If you have a smart phone, be sure to bring it along so you can take pictures. And focus on the more permanent features of the home, such as the location, the lot, the square footage, etc. Don’t worry about the paint or the decor — you can always change those things.

6. Make a smart offer based on market conditions.

Once you’ve determined that the seller’s asking price is fair and reasonable, you are ready to make an offer on the property. In most cases, it’s wise to make the offer contingent upon the home inspection. It gives you a way to back out of the deal if the inspector uncovers an issue you’re not comfortable with. Your agent will help you prepare an effective offer. It’s one of their core skills.

7. Attend closing to sign your paperwork — and get your keys! 

Once you’ve made it through the inspection stage, you’re ready to attend the closing. (It’s also called “settlement” in some parts of the country.) This is when the title to the property is transferred from the seller to the buyer. You’ll also be signing a lot of paperwork and paying any other fees that are due.