Making the Most of An Open House Visit

Open houses are the gold standard in real estate. They’ve been around for decades and will be ingrained in the buying and selling of homes for years to come. But as a buyer, are you making the most of your open house visits?

Here are some best practices for buyers at all ends of the home-buying spectrum.

Use the open house to learn the market without committing

Couple Looking at homeFor the most part, open houses are just that — open. They make it possible for anyone to see a property in a certain time period, without an appointment or even being a very serious buyer.

New buyers should leverage the open house opportunity to get a feel for the market. In today’s world, using online search tools, mobile apps and the open house, a buyer can start to get a feel for pricing and the market before committing to an agent. Most importantly, open houses are some of the best ways for buyer and agent relationships to start.

You don’t have to sign in (but don’t be rude)

The biggest fear of some newer buyers is that a real estate agent at an open house will be all over them, ask for their contact information and then start harassing them for the next three weeks. It does happen, but it’s also common courtesy to at least recognize and say hello to the agent at the open house.  Don’t forget, in addition to trying to sell the home for her client, for safety reasons, the agent is keeping a look out for who is coming and going. It’s polite to say hello and introduce yourself to the agent, but you can also politely decline to sign in.

If you’re an active buyer, you should make yourself known to the agent. Let the seller’s agent know who your agent is and don’t be afraid to express interest. When it comes time to review an offer with a seller, listing agents like to put a face to a name.

Watch the other buyers

You can tell a lot about the activity and marketability of a home by watching the other buyers. If you observe a lot of people walking in and out quickly, the home probably has some issues. Are the buyers hanging around, asking questions of the listing agent and huddling in the corner talking to their spouses or partners? If so, it could be a sign this is a well-priced and “hot” listing. If you’re interested too, observing other buyers at the open house could help you learn about the competition.

Ask the agent questions

The real estate agent is there for a reason. It’s his job. If he is the listing agent, ask him questions. He is a direct line to the seller. He should know more than anyone about the property and the seller. Your agent can funnel your questions to the listing agent. But if you’re there, ask away. Watch the agent’s facial expression and reaction to your questions. If it’s a competitive market, ask questions such as: “Why is the seller selling?” “Is there a certain day to review offers or have you had a lot of showings?” In a slow market, ask how long the property has been on the market and what the seller’s motivations are. A good agent will engage you because it’s good for his seller.

Be open to meeting your future agent

When considering a new doctor, lawyer or CPA, you don’t get the chance to see them in their element until you’ve decided to work with them. Not true for real estate agents. Some of the best buyer/seller/real estate relationships begin at open houses.

A good agent is wearing two hats at the open house. In addition to watching the serious buyers and getting feedback for the seller, an active agent is also looking to interact with future clients.

Face to face, informal and relevant, the interaction with an agent at an open house is important. You can get a feel for a person just from a brief meeting. If you sense the agent could be someone you could work with, ask some open-ended questions, such as “How’s the market?” and “What areas do you cover?”

Why open houses have been around for decades

At any open house, there are people at every stage of the home-buying game, from just testing the waters to looking at homes daily, making offers and working closely with an agent. For someone new to the market, it’s helpful to know the best practices for visiting open houses and interacting with the real estate agent. For more experienced buyers, the open house is an opportunity to make a second or third visit, getting a closer look at the details and uncovering things you may have missed earlier. There are lots of reasons why open houses have been around for decades — and why you should take full advantage of them.

Source: http://www.zillow.com/blog/making-most-of-open-house-visit-151896/

10 Turn-Offs For Potential Buyers

As real estate markets continue to recover around the country, buyers are out in full force. Many of today’s buyers make judgments about homes within moments of seeing a listing online. They are also more cautious than before the housing crisis. They want to make sure they’re buying the best house and for the best amount of money. For sellers, that means giving buyers what they want. Though it’s a home first and foremost, it’s also an investment. If you’re planning to put your house on the market, here are ten ways you might be turning off potential buyers.

Flickr: Elliot Cable

1. A garage turned into something else.

If you’ve sacrificed the garage for something other than the garage, the trade-off might actually be a turn-off, especially to people where parking is at a premium. Even in the suburbs, most people want a covered, secure place to park their cars. Don’t forget that a garage often doubles as a storage location. The garage houses everything from lawn mower to the excess paper towels and cleansers. If you convert your garage into something else, you’re likely to force a buyer to look elsewhere.

Flickr: Apuch

2. A bedroom turned into something else.

Aside from location, one of the first things a buyer searches for is number of bedrooms. Why? Because it’s an important requirement. You might think having a wine cellar, with built-in refrigerators, in your home will make it attractive to potential buyers because it was attractive to you. And while it’s true many people work from home today at least part of the time, that doesn’t mean they want a dedicated home office—especially one with built-in desks or bookcases that would need to be removed. If you must convert a bedroom into something else, make sure you can easily convert it back into a bedroom when you go to sell.

wood under carpet

3. Carpet over hardwood floors.

Many people today like hardwood floors. They are cleaner looking, add a design element, don’t show dirt as much, and they’re definitely preferred over carpets for people with allergies. If you have nice hardwood floors, show them off. Let the buyer decide if he or she wants to cover them. It’s easier for a buyer to purchase new carpeting of their choosing than it is for them to get past yours.

Flickr: Nancy Hugo

4. Over-the-top lighting fixtures.

A beautiful chandelier can enliven a dining room. But it can also turn off buyers who prefer simpler, less ornate lighting fixtures. Did you fall in love with a dark light fixture on a trip to Casablanca? That’s great. And you should use it for your own enjoyment. But when it comes time to sell, replace it with something more neutral.

Photo: Zillow Digs

5. The kid’s room that is a miniature theme park.

Little kids have big imaginations. They tend to love Disney characters, spaceships, super heroes, and such, and their parents are often all-too-willing to turn their rooms into fantasy caves. But the more you transform a kid’s bedroom into something resembling a Disneyland ride, the more you’ll turn off most potential buyers. Your buyer might have teenage children who will see the removal of wallpaper, paint or little-kid-inspired light fixtures as work. If you can, neutralize the kid’s rooms before you go on the market.

Flickr: Chris Graziloi

6. An above-ground pool.

Does it get hot in the summers where you live? Wish you had a backyard pool but can’t afford to have a ‘real’ pool installed? Then you might be tempted to buy and set up an above-ground pool. For most potential buyers, though, these pools are an eyesore. Also, an above-ground pool can leave a big dead spot of grass in your backyard — another eyesore. If you must have it, consider dismantling it before going on the market. Of course, be sure you’re really ready to sell or you may be stuck without a place to cool off next summer.

pool

7. An in-ground pool.

You might assume that a gorgeous backyard pool will make a splash with potential buyers. Except in warm climates, where pools are truly an important amenity, many people see a backyard pool as a huge maintenance issue — not to mention a liability. If you live in an area where pools aren’t that common, seriously consider your decision. If you’re planning to be in the home for the long haul and you’ll get lots of use out of it, go for it.

Flickr: Laura D'Alessandro

8. Avocado-green kitchen fixtures.

If your home is decades old and the kitchen looks like something from The Brady Bunch, consider investing in a quick once-over. Some new stainless steel appliances and granite countertops can be installed in no time and the cost and hassle is a lot less than you think. More buyers prefer to move right in. Do the work for them and you increase your bottom line.

Flickr: Jocelyn

9. Cigarette smell through the house.

Over time, the smell of smoke permeates your home. It gets into the carpet, drapes, wood paneling, just about everywhere — a big turnoff to most buyers today. Getting rid of the smoke smell can be a big job. If you’re a smoker, seriously consider how you want to present your home to the market. For a long- term smoke-filled home, it means new paint, removing carpets and doing lots of deep cleaning.

Flickr: Tom Childers

10. Keep Fido’s bed and toys front and center

Let’s face it; family pets bring a lot of joy to the home. But, they don’t always bring the same joy to a prospective buyer. Dog’s toys, filled with saliva, dirt and dust can be a sore both for the eyes and the nose. If you have a pet, put a plan in place to move the food and water bowls as well as the toys and dog’s bed to a better location, like the garage. Homes that smell and show like animals can scare buyers off.

It’s your home — for now

Part of the joy of owning a home is that you can do whatever you want with it, to it, and in it. You should enjoy it. But if you want to sell it easily and for top dollar down the road, try to picture how others might react to any renovations, additions or modifications you make. The more specific you get — such as turning your kid’s room into a miniature castle from Cinderella — the harder it will be to sell your home later, and the less return on investment you’ll get. When considering changes to your home, always consider resale.

Source: http://www.zillow.com/blog/10-turn-offs-for-potential-buyers-151383/

5 Tips for Navigating the Next Generation of Real Estate

Family leaving houseTimes have changed since the real estate boom of the 1980s. New technology, the flow of information, the global economy and a shift in societal structures have altered the real estate game forever. This isn’t our parents’ real estate market. And some of the strategies that were put to use in the ‘80s, if implemented today, would cause financial harm or result in missed opportunities — or both.

Here are five tips to consider as you explore buying or selling in this next generation of real estate.

1. We have evolved: Owning might not be for everyone

The typical home buyers of last generation got married in their early 20s, moved to a single-family home in the suburbs, got a 30-year fixed mortgage and planned to pay it off. Buying a home happened once, maybe twice in a lifetime.

It’s no longer standard practice to live in your hometown after high school or college. In fact, it’s more common for today’s professional to take a job in Denver, Dallas or even Dubai. Additionally, that stable long-term job, with access to a pension after retirement, has all but evaporated. Buyers change jobs more often than ever. The flexibility granted by renting has provided a different picture of today’s American Dream for many.

2. Technology speeds things up: But don’t rush a real estate purchase

Not unlike most industries, technology and the Internet have sped up the processes of looking for, transacting or selling a home. A great new listing could hit a buyer via a text from their agent, an email alert from the local MLS, a notification from Zillow on a mobile device and maybe even an old-fashioned phone call from the buyer’s agent. The actual real estate transaction process has been sped up as well. Clients can sign contracts or review property inspection reports and disclosures on a mobile device during their beach vacation. Even so, no matter how quickly we move or how much technology can make our world efficient today, buying or selling a home should never be rushed.

3. The real estate agent’s role has shifted: But a good agent still matters

Before the Internet and online listings, some people believed the real estate agent’s only value was to provide access to the listings. It’s always been a highly emotional and financial decision, and a good local agent likely did more than just open doors in the 1980s. Today, an additional part of the agent’s role is to make sense of the information. Data alone is meaningless without color. A good local agent, living and breathing their market, will add more value than ever. Finally, in many parts of the country, where attorneys are not involved in real estate transactions, the agent is the center of the transaction. Don’t settle. If you are not impressed with your agent, find another. The right agent can make all the difference.

4. It’s a seller-beware culture today: Do your homework

Search is in the DNA of millennial or Gen Y buyers today. They simply won’t take anyone’s word for anything. They will search, research and double-check everything. A smart seller today needs to be armed and get one step ahead of the buyer. Today’s buyers have much more at their disposal, and so it’s the seller who needs to beware. Not knowing what the buyers are seeing or staying one step ahead of them can affect your bottom line when going on the market today. Leverage today’s resources and technology and think like a buyer before going on the market. Once you go live, there’s no turning back. If you aren’t completely ready to sell, don’t list.

5. Know all of the loan options available today: Choose carefully

Access to dozens of loan products didn’t exist just 15 years ago. Banks have developed new products to evolve with the times. The acceptance and use of some of those products, for some people, led to a steady stream of foreclosures years later. When I bought my first home in 2004, my father suggested I get a 30-year fixed mortgage. I thought he was crazy. I didn’t know what I’d be up to in five years, much less 30. A buyer today needs to spend some time researching loan options and consider them in the context of their personal situation. Work closely with a good local mortgage professional to help decide which type of loan makes sense for you – now and in the future.

It’s emotional — and that’s not likely to change

No matter the decade, the changes in consumer behaviors, or the type of home, real estate transactions will always be more personal than any other. Add to this the changes in technology and the access to information, and it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. Unlike buying a new flat-screen TV or selling a used car online, buying or selling a home will always be an emotional purchase. A home is where people have made some of their most important memories, a place that has been constant through the ups and downs of life. While the world may be speeding up on what seems like a daily basis, it’s always a good idea to take it slow when buying or selling a home.

Source: http://www.zillow.com/blog/the-next-generation-of-real-estate-150749/

Why Being Pre-Approved for a Loan Matters

Approved-098f7b-300x205.jpgSo much has changed in the past few decades that the old ways of buying or selling a home simply won’t work today. For decades, buying a home was pretty much the same thing: You shopped around, made an offer and then went to the bank to get a loan. If you were denied or there were problems, you walked away.

Today, a buyer needs to speak to the bank and get approved prior to shopping and definitely before making an offer on a home. Not beingpre-approved today won’t get you past the front door. Here’s why:

Markets move faster today

With online listings and so many real estate resources available to buyers and sellers, it’s easy to quickly get a property in front of the masses. Buyers aren’t waiting on a call or fax from their real estate agent like they did in the 1980s. Instead, motivated buyers get push notifications from Zillow or texts from their agents and see homes as soon as possible. It’s more efficient.

Transactions happen at the same speed. If you’re not approved for a mortgage when you make an offer, the seller risks waiting weeks to see if your loan will go through. That’s not good for them. Show that you’re pre-approved, and you’ve eliminated one huge hurdle for the seller.

Know what you can afford

People today are focused on their monthly payments more than the total purchase price. Why? Because, unlike the typical buyer a generation ago, many of today’s buyers don’t plan on staying in their homes for 30 years. Instead, they can commit to 7 to 10 years and are open to alternate mortgage options that could save them money on their monthly payments.

It’s helpful to know exactly what a $425,000 mortgage will cost vs. a $500,000 mortgage on a monthly basis. Also, in some parts of the country, there are options for FHA loans with as little as 3 percent down. Knowing all your options before you start shopping allows you to shop and buy smarter. There’s no sense looking at homes in the $400,000 range if you can afford more, and vice versa.

Competing with pre-approved buyers

Few buyers today get into the real estate market without forging a relationship with a local mortgage professional. It’s simply smarter to have your ducks in a row. In a competitive market, you may facemultiple offers on one property. If you don’t have a pre-approval letter to go with your offer, you have zero chance of getting your offer accepted. Not being pre-approved means you aren’t a serious buyer in the eyes of the seller.

Getting pre-approved means organizing all your documents, documenting your income, debt and credit, and understanding all the loan options available to you. There should never be a cost to be pre-approved for a loan. And you aren’t committed to a mortgage when going through the pre-approval. Got a signed contract from a seller? Then you’re ready to lock in a rate and choose the mortgage that’s best for you.

Source: http://www.zillow.com/blog/why-being-pre-approved-matters-150278/

Popular Apartment Amenity Trends for 2014

Shopping for an apartment isn’t just about finding a unit that has an updated kitchen, walk-in closet and hardwood floors. In addition to your wish list of in-unit features, there are also shared community amenities to consider. From basic perks like parking, on-site laundry and fitness centers to more elaborate features such as lazy river pools and pet spas, there are amenities to suit the needs of every renter.

We talked to Jennifer Staciokas, vice president of marketing and training at Lincoln Property Company, to find out some of today’s most popular amenities.

apartment private yard

Private outdoor spaces

Apartment living doesn’t have to mean sacrificing yard space. “Private landscaped backyards are great for pets or residents who want outdoor space. It’s way bigger than a patio and feels like you have a yard,” Staciokas said.

An expanded patio area in a first-floor unit can serve as extra space for entertaining, gardening or playing. These units have been so appealing to renters that Staciokas has seen rent increases of $150 to $200.

Barista-run cafes

One of the perks of apartment living is convenience — whether it’s a community gym, proximity to public transportation, or in this case, free coffee. Residents at Lincoln Property Company’s Dallas community can order specialty coffee drinks from the on-site cafe. Instead of trekking over to the nearest coffee shop, residents can order from the barista downstairs and be on their way.

“It’s free for residents, so it’s a money saver, too,” Staciokas said.

apartment pet spa

Pet spaces

Pet-friendly communities used to be difficult to find, but their popularity is growing thanks to renter demand. With these pet-friendly apartments comeamenities for renters to enjoy with their furry friends.

“Dog parks are popular, but we make them more interactive like having agility items or toys, and seating areas for residents,” Staciokas said.

Full-service pet spas with washing and drying stations are another pet-friendly perk that’s convenient and budget-friendly for residents.

Delivery lockers

High-density apartment communities present the risk of package delivery mix-ups or even worse — stolen mail. Management companies have started to eliminate these risks by installing delivery lockers. These lockers are convenient for residents and securely store larger deliveries until they can be picked up. When a delivery arrives, residents receive an email containing a code, which they then use to access their package.

Whether you live in a suburban community or urban high-rise, amenities are no longer there just to add convenience to apartment living. They are also providing a sense of community to make renters feel at home.

Source: http://www.zillow.com/blog/popular-apartment-amenities-2014-148588/

Best Times to Buy, Sell or List a Home

A common question from a buyer or seller is: what is the best time to buy or sell a home? In the clothing world, it makes sense to get the best “deal” on winter clothes at the end of winter and that you will likely will pay top dollar for a swimsuit in April. Does the same trend hold true for real estate purchases and sales? Not really. But there are some considerations a buyer or seller should make as they enter the market that could have an impact on the transaction.

Spring and fall are better times for buyers

CalendarLet’s be clear. You can’t ever time a home purchase. Buying a home isn’t like buying a car or an iPad. The home buying process is a journey, one that happens on your own time and only after you’ve done enough research, seen enough homes and have your financial house in order.

At any one time there is a brand-new buyer entering the market and then another who has done enough research and becomes a very serious buyer. Nobody can control the evolution. But something for a buyer to consider is thatreal estate inventory tends to fluctuate by season. Each spring and fall we tend to see an increase in home inventory due to the seasons. More inventory means more options for buyers.

Holidays and winter are best times for sellers

It’s not conventional for a seller to list their home before the holidays or in the dead of winter for obvious reasons. But serious, eager buyers don’t care about the season or timing. At any one point of the year, there will be a very motivated, experienced buyer ready to make an offer, no matter the season. I’ve written contracts on Thanksgiving, closed escrow on New Year’s Eve and even had a serious buyer make an offer using DocuSign from a beach in Hawaii. Sellers believe that it’s more conventional to list for the spring “selling” season and then again after the summer. If you go the conventional route, you will see more competition. If you can sell “off season” you might fare better because there are still serious buyers, but less homes for sale.

Best time of day to list a home

The Sunday open house, particularly the first Sunday, is the holy grail of real estate. For decades, agents and sellers worked hard on a listing with a deadline being the first open house. The “for sale” sign, which made the listing official a generation ago, would go in front of the house the days leading up the first open house. In the digital age, the listing goes “live” online. Sellers and agents work hard to clean, paint or prep the home in time for the photo shoot. Agents and sellers tend to rush to the finish and you will see many listings hit the market late Thursday afternoon or Friday morning, with Sunday being the first showing. Instead, try listing on Monday or Tuesday and don’t do any showings until the open house on Sunday. You can build momentum and have a very strong first open house.

As much as buyers and sellers try to strategize the timing of a real estate purchase or sale, its never that easy. Unlike Macy’s or Target, who control inventory and monitory competitive activity, there isn’t one seller in real estate. Sellers are unrelated and disconnected and the types of homes are different making it nearly impossible to “time” a purchase or sale.

Source: http://www.zillow.com/blog/best-times-to-buy-sell-or-list-149743/

Let’s Bust 3 Common Home Buying Myths

If you are a first-time home buyer, friends and family members may be quick to give advice about the home-purchasing process. As a result, there could be several home buying myths that may have found refuge in the back of your mind. Unfortunately, that friendly advice can help perpetuate some of the most common home-buying myths — especially when it comes to credit.

Home-buying credit myths

Myth #1: You need perfect credit to purchase a home.
Fact: It is true that an individual’s credit score has an impact on the mortgage loan approval process and ultimately the resulting interest rate. However, perfect credit is not needed to secure approval for a mortgage loan. While credit scores can range widely, the higher your credit score, the more options you will have to find a mortgage with favorable interest rates.

Myth #2: Lenders have free rein in sharing your personal credit information.
Fact: Not so. For a lender to share your information with an affiliate (any entity that is involved in making, holding or investing in bank loans or credit extensions), generally you must first give your permission. State and federal privacy laws are in place to help protect your personal information.

Myth #3: Lenders only use one scoring model that determines creditworthiness.
Fact: There are a number of credit-scoring models used to determine credit risk in today’s marketplace. For example, many lenders use the VantageScore® as one model for determining credit worthiness. While scoring models vary, many of the same factors influence your credit score, including your payment history and your level of debt.

Get Pre-approved

Before you start hunting for a house, determine what you can comfortably afford to pay each month. Even if you are pre-approved for a mortgage, you may want to consider if the mortgage is affordable. Preapproval allows you to determine how much home you can shop for and afford. It may also give you an advantage when it comes time to negotiate your home mortgage. Understanding the factors that are important to a mortgage lender can improve your chances of finding your dream home.

Related:

Written by Becky Frost, Senior Manager of Consumer Education for Experian Consumer Services. Experian Consumer Services offers credit monitoring products like freecreditscore.com™, which has resources and calculators that help you understand how credit can impact your life. Credit is an important component when buying, renting or refinancing your home.

Source: http://www.zillow.com/blog/three-myths-about-buying-home-148160/