If you’re looking to cash in on this booming seller’s housing market,(link is external) you may want to put more focus on the home’s exterior. A home’s outward appearance plays a big role in whether potential buyers want to tour the interior. HomeLight, a real estate referral company, offers up several ways to give the home’s curb appeal an instant makeover:
1. Update the light fixtures
Updated light fixtures can change the way the front of a house looks but has an added benefit of making it safer when you use brighter bulbs too. Most outdoor lighting fixtures are much smaller than they should be. (That may had been intentional on the builder’s side; smaller fixtures are less expensive.)
Tip for choosing the right fixture: When you’re choosing a new light fixture, take cues from the home’s architecture, color, and your location. For the size, choose a fixture that’s one-third of the height of the door if you have only one light and one-quarter the height if you have a light on both sides of the door.
2. Upgrade windows and doors
Updating your windows and doors are a great way to improve the overall look of your home while also being energy-efficient. Consider adding window boxes, shutters, or even painting the trim for an added pop of color.
When upgrading the front door, be sure to choose a new door that matches the home’s style. Or you could follow the latest front door trends for 2021–glass elements, custom hardware, wood stains, or darker paint colors.
Painting your house is a huge task, but it can pack a huge punch! Just imagine the statement you’d make by ditching the boring beige, dulled white, or dated yellows. If you want to modernize your house, consider painting the house black or navy blue. Or, if you want to achieve that comfy-cottage look, try a light shade of gray or even a very pale shade of pink.
4. Add wood and/or stone elements
Adding wood or stone elements to the exterior can help give a home a “wow” factor. Even if you don’t want to put stone veneers on the exterior, you could add stone and wood elements in other ways, like by using stone to line the walkway, a wooden fence, or even stone or wooden lawn ornaments.
5. Hire a professional landscaper
There’s a huge difference between do-it-yourself landscaping and landscaping that’s completed by a professional. A professional landscaper can make your lawn a luscious green carpet that’ll make you want to kick off your shoes. They’ll know which native plants to choose to make a yard warm and inviting. They can also create water features, intricate flower beds, build retaining walls, and more.
6. Refinish walkways and the driveway
The walkways and driveway get a lot of use, and all that wear and tear will need an update over time. A professional landscaper or hardscaper also can upgrade your driveway and walkway by using stone, brick, or cement. But if you’re on a budget, a good power-washing may also give a curb appeal boost.
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Homebuyers who make a 20% down payment and waive appraisal and inspection contingencies are on the rise, based on the May 2021 REALTORS® Confidence Index (RCI) Survey which reports monthly transactions from a random sample of REALTORS®1.
Among all buyers2 who obtained a mortgage in May, the share of mortgages associated with at least a 20% down payment rose to 52% in May 2021, up from around 40% in 2011. Among first-time buyers, nearly one in three made a down payment of at least 20%, up from around 25% in 2011. This trend reflects the decline in the share of buyers who obtain mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Veterans Administration (VA) which insure zero and low downpayment loans.
Buyers With Conventional Financing Edge Out Potential Buyers Obtaining FHA and VA Loans
According to information provided by REALTORS®, conventional conforming mortgages (mortgages that conform to guidelines set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), accounted for 74% of mortgages obtained by homebuyers in May 2021, an increase from about 65% during 2018 through 2019. Meanwhile, the share of FHA-insured mortgages to total mortgages in fell to 14% in May 2021 from about 20% in past years. The share of VA-guaranteed loans has also decreased to 7% in May 2021 from about 10% in past years.
Highly Competitive Market Is Resulting in Appraisal and Inspection Waivers on Contract Contingencies
According to REALTORS®, sellers are wary of the appraisal and inspection process. REALTORS® have reported that buyers who make an offer using FHA or VA financing find it hard to compete against other buyers who are offering cash or using conventional financing.
“It is extremely difficult for FHA/VA buyers to get accepted in a multiple offer situation. They are on the bottom of the hierarchy”
“Buyers using VA Loans are being discriminated due to ‘known low appraisals with VA loans’ which is not right at all.”
“VA Loans are at a complete disadvantage — sellers need to be offered an incentive to give more consideration to a VA Loan offer. There are a lot of misconceptions regarding VA appraisals and VA loans.”
Appraisals present a hurdle for homebuyers with VA and FHA financing at a time when prices are rising fast and homes are selling swiftly with little inventory on the market. In May 2021, the total inventory of homes (unsold) on the market was equivalent to 2.5 months of the monthly sales pace, well below the ideal level of 6 months. Appraisals, which are based on comparable sales and/or automated valuation, will always lag behind the “real-time” price based on current demand-supply fundamentals. In May 2021, the median existing-home sales price rose at a record high of 24% year-over-year, the highest annual pace since 19693. VA appraisals take anywhere from 5 to 15 days4, but properties are typically on the market for 17 days.
Homebuyers are waiving appraisals in order to close the transaction quickly. REALTORS® reported that among contract contingencies waived by the buyers, the most common contingency that buyers waived was the appraisal contingency (28%) followed by the inspection contingency (25%).
Homebuyers who are able to waive contract contingencies are those who pay cash or use conventional financing. In contrast, FHA and VA buyers are not able to waive the appraisal or inspection contract contingencies according to FHA and VA guidelines. The home inspection assesses the condition of the home and the property location to ensure that the home meets minimum property requirements (MPRs) pertaining to the safety, structural soundness, and sanitary conditions (e.g., space requirements, entry/exit, drainage, topography, HVAC systems, gas connection, roofing/crawl spaces, lead/radon, etc.).5
FHA inspection standards may be tougher to meet, especially for sellers who want to sell the home “as is.” For example, the FHA inspection guidelines require that the “heating unit is adequate and in good working condition,” the “water heater in good working condition,” that there are “working smoke detectors in the home,” and that the “sink in good working condition and with no leaks.” In fact, FHA standards sometimes even involve stipulations beyond the house itself (e.g. “If the home is in close proximity to an airport and its flight pattern, that may result in extreme noise hazards that could disqualify the home from being financed with an FHA loan.”).6
While inspection standards are important for ensuring that buyers are protected, they can create a disadvantage for prospective homebuyers in a highly competitive housing market. First-time homebuyers, buyers with less than excellent credit scores (FHA borrowers can have a credit score of as low as 580), and low-income and low-asset borrowers who are not able to afford a 20% down payment are mostly likely to get disadvantaged.
A home is the largest investment most people make in their lifetime. Buyers should be protected so that the price paid for the home is worth its value. Unfortunately, in a housing market where sales are moving swiftly, the time to undertake the inspection and appraisal is creating a hurdle for buyers obtaining FHA-insured loans who are typically first-time buyers and buyers obtaining VA-guaranteed loans.
1 The May 2021 survey was sent to 50,000 REALTORS® who were selected from NAR’s more than 1.4 million members through simple random sampling and to 5,876 respondents in the previous three surveys who provided their email addresses. There were 3,316 respondents to the online survey which ran from June 1-8, 2021; among these respondents, 1,653 had a client. NAR weights the responses by a factor that aligns the sample distribution of responses to the distribution of NAR membership.
2 The RCI Survey asks the respondent about the characteristics of their last transaction during the month. These transactions make up a random sample because the characteristic of the last transaction (e.g., whether the buyer obtained government or conventional financing) is random.
3 NAR started tracking single-family existing home sales since 1969 and total existing-home sales (single-family and condos/coops) since 1999. Single-family home sales make up 88% of existing-home sales in May 2021.