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9 Things to Know About Homeowners Associations

9 Things to Know About Homeowners Associations

Restrictive rules and high fees are just some things to watch out for.

Buying a condominium, townhouse, or single-family home within “a planned development” pretty much spares you much of the responsibility for the upkeep of your home and its surroundings. It also allows you to enjoy the use of swimming pools, gyms, and any other amenities available only to residents of the development. Unsurprisingly, though, these potential pluses come at a price to both your finances and your freedom as a homeowner.

Moving into a planned development often requires you to join the community’s homeowners association (HOA) and pay its fees to help cover the upkeep of common areas, shared structures, and exteriors. Membership also binds you to the association’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions, or “CC&Rs,” Those rules could thwart your dream of having a purple front door, say, or of leaving your RV in the driveway, since the CC&Rs typically include stipulations about the appearance of your home and the vehicles you can park outside it.

Statistically speaking, Americans have a one in five chance of living in a home that’s part of an HOA, according to a data analysis by applied microeconomist Wyatt G. Clarke. Since Clarke’s estimate was drawn up (in 2017), properties with HOAs have further surged.

Is life in a planned development a good option for you? And, if so, which ones have HOAs that may suit you best? The answers to those questions depend not only your finances but your enthusiasm for shared amenities, tolerance for rules and regulations, and comfort with self-government—since most HOAs are overseen by volunteers who live in the development.

Before you buy a home that makes you part of an HOA, here’s what you need to know, and the questions you should ask both the association and you and your family.

1. Fees Range Widely

Trulia study which used American Community Survey records, found monthly HOA fees averaged $331 a month in 2015. Averages ranged from a low of $218 month in Warren, Mich., to a high of $571 in New York City. Trulia found dues to be generally higher in older buildings and complexes with more units overall.

The number and size of the development’s amenities also affect rates, according to Nate Martinez, a real estate agent at RE/MAX Professionals in Glendale, Ariz. For example, a development that’s guarded by a gate, and has a clubhouse and golf course is likely to levy higher fees than one that offers minimal security and only a modest common area.

Fees can differ even within a development, due to variations in square footage, location, and orientation, all of which can affect how much upkeep the property will require.

What to Ask

What are the home’s current fees and and what is it’s fee history?
Most multiple listing services (MLSs) include HOA fees in the property listing. That should ensure you can access the information through REMAX.com, Zillow.com, Realtor.com, and other listing sites, according to Martinez.

You should also find out how often fees have increased over time, and by how much. If you can, obtain a printed history of HOA dues by year for the past 10 years. Martinez says that the fees for an HOA are typically increased no more than annually.

Are future increases already planned?
In Martinez’s experience, HOA increases are customarily mapped out three to five years in advance, using estimates of the future costs of utilities, labor, maintenance, and more.

Examine these projections if they’re available. Since they’re only estimates, Martinez suggests you also check the the amount by which fees are permitted to increase every year under the HOA’s bylaws. In a new complex, that research can help determine whether initial HOA fees have been attractively, even artificially, underpriced in order to attract homeowners and are liable to increase significantly over time to cover the gap between revenue and costs.

Alternatively, the opposite can also be the case—that is, HOA fees for a new development may actually go down slightly over time as more homes are added to the development and more homeowners are available to share the HOA’s fixed costs.

2. What You Get For Your Money Varies, Too

When you buy a home in a managed community, you’re actually buying a bundle of legal obligations and entitlements in addition to physical living space, says John Manning, managing broker at RE/MAX on Market in Seattle. The precise rights, services, and amenities for which the HOA is responsible may range as widely as the fees being charged. “A gated community may have gate maintenance as the only agreement between homeowners, or there may be an HOA in place with a legal authority to manage much more,” he says.

What to Ask

What’s covered by the monthly dues?
Look at what is included (and not included) that will affect your household finances. Will you have to pay for garbage pickup, for example? Are utilities included? Which ones? What about cable and/or internet service?

How much are you likely to enjoy the amenities?
Keep in mind you’ll pay for perks, such as recreational facilities, whether you use them or not. Find out the hours for amenities, such as pools and tennis courts, to determine if they’ll work with your schedule. If you’d think you’ll want to share these facilities with friends or family, check the rules and fees that pertain to guest use.

How do the dues compare with other developments?
Line up the fees—and their inclusions and exclusions—against those of other developments in the area, especially those that are already on your shortlist. “If you want to know about HOA ranges for your region, the best resource would be through a professional real estate broker who’s knowledgeable about homeowners associations,” says broker Manning.

3. Monthly Fees May Not Be All You’re Charged

An HOA may adopt one of several approaches to financial management. These choices especially affect how it funds unexpected expenses and such capital investments as replacing an HVAC system.

According to John Manning, managing broker at RE/MAX on Market in Seattle, “Some associations prefer a large cash reserve on hand to meet maintenance, legal, or management obligations as they arise. Others have lower fees and rely on special assessments—funds levied outside of HOA fees­­­­­­­­—for repairs and maintenance.” These levies are smiliar to the tax assessments sometimes levied by local governments.

Here’s how the assessment route works: When a major expense, such as replacing a roof or elevator, comes up—and the HOA’s reserves lack the funds to pay for it—the association may charge each homeowner a special assessment. These levies can run into the thousands of dollars.

What to Ask

How large is the HOA’s reserve fund?
According to Manning, the size of the reserve fund will depend not only on the HOA’s approach but also on the building’s age, condition, and amenities. Developments often draw up multiyear plans for repairs and capital investments, including their annual costs and the expected balance in the reserve fund at the time the outlays will be required.

Ask to see those documents, paying special attention to how well the needed expenditures line up with the balance of the reserve fund. Professional help can be valuable when poring over these spreadsheets. His company’s, Manning says, is to “have the clients discuss the financial statements with a CPA [who is an] expert in analyzing [developments’] financials.”

Is there a record of any past special assessments?
The HOA should be able to provide such a list. Ask, too, if any special assessments are planned in future. Note that economies of scale may mean that special assessments for a certain capital expense may be smaller in HOAs that have many members and higher in smaller HOAs, where a similar expense will have fewer homeowners to fund it.

4. Fees Will Figure Into Your Mortgage Approval

When contemplating a property purchase in a planned development, you’ll of course factor the impact of its HOA dues into your overall finances. So, too, will prospective mortgage lenders.

As they do with property taxes (which, by the way, are not included in HOA fees at most developments), banks will consider your monthly HOA fees when deciding how large a mortgage you’ll be able to afford. As a result, you may wrestle with vexing tradeoffs as you decide among properties. Higher HOA fees could leave you with a smaller approved amount to spend on your house compared with choosing an alternative property with low or no fees.

Interestingly, the presence of fees doesn’t necessarily reduce the value of a property; if anything, there’s evidence of the opposite effect. The research by microeconomist Clarke found that, after equalizing for home size and location, properties that were part of an HOA sold for an average of about 4% more than those who weren’t in an association. The premium is highest, he found, when the house and development are new; it declines with age.

What to Ask

What will your overall monthly costs be, including HOA fees?
Your prospective lender can provide the mortgage-payment figure, and you should already have the property-tax and HOA-fee numbers. If you’re just starting on your home search—and don’t yet have relationships with any lenders—use a free online mortgage calculator (like this one from NerdWallet) to estimate the likely mortgage payment for the principal you’re seeking, and to enter other relevant information, including your planned downpayment.

What effect will fees have on your maximum approved mortgage?
Again, any lender you’re talking with can provide this. Alternatively, many online mortgage calculators, including the one we linked to above, also allow you to request quotes from mortgage lenders on rates and maximum approved amounts.

5. Your Comfort with the Covenants Counts

Since the rules and regulations of any particular HOA may be unique, don’t rely on second-hand information or past experience at other developments to learn what a HOA’s rules and covenants are. And think hard about whether you’ll be able to live with them.

What to Ask

What are the current rules and regulations?
If you can’t find the CC&Rs online, at the HOA’s website, ask your real estate agent to acquire them for you or obtain them through contacting the HOA directly. Be sure to check if the document is up-to-date before you proceed too far into the buying process.

Can you live with the provisions for exterior use and appearance?
You could find you’re restricted in more ways than you might assume. In addition to governing door color and the like, CC&Rs may limit how tall your grass can grow, whether you can plant or remove trees, which types of vehicles you can park on the street or in your driveway (bans on parking RVs are not uncommon, for example), how high fences can be, and which types of coverings you can use on street-facing windows.

Is the development sufficiently “green” for you?
If environmentally friendly living is a personal priority, check the HOA’s green provisions, beginning with what can be planted around your home, and how that vegetation may be maintained.

For example, some HOAs do not allow xeriscaping, an environmentally friendly form of landscaping for arid climates, and may limit the size and composition of any garden you plant. The rules may also dictate the use of particular fertilizers, pesticides, or sprinkler systems to maintain the yard and ban the likes of compost piles and solar panels.

Are there occupancy restrictions?
Check for any language that might prevent you from, or even just complicate, renting out your property. What’s considered customary can depend on the jurisdiction. “In the Seattle area, it is common to find prohibitions on short-term [vacation] rentals. HOAs have an interest in limiting the percentage of non-owner-occupied units, as mortgage lenders may be reluctant to lend on buildings that have high rental occupancy,” says Manning.

6. Developments Differ in How They Handle Conflict

As in any community, disagreements arise within a planned development, sometimes over certain residents bending or breaking the rules. Before you buy, explore how rules are set and enforced and what penalties are imposed against rule-breakers.

What to Ask

Outline the penalties imposed for violating rules.
Sanctions can be strict. In some HOAs, the outcomes may include being fined or sued, or having the HOA place a lien on your home. Pay particular attention to whether the HOA can foreclose on your property for nonpayment of HOA dues or nonpayment of fines resulting from CC&R violations.

How are potential violations handled?
Ask about the process for resolving any conflicts, as well as how the HOA manages adding or amending rules.

What’s the recent history of violations and other conflicts?
Request a list or other accounting of conflicts and rule violations the association has had to resolve. If that information doesn’t detail lawsuits, ask about those. Has the HOA sued anyone? Been sued? If so, what were the outcomes of those legal actions?

7. The HOA’s staffing and reputation matter

Since the association essentially serves as a hyper-local government for the community, it pays to look into who runs it and how well those people function together.

What to Ask

Describe the structure of the HOA.
It’s very common for HOAs to be overseen by community residents who hold their positions as volunteers and are elected by association members. However, some associations are entirely managed professionally. If a private company manages the HOA, investigate its reputation before you buy. If the HOA has some employees, or companies to which it contracts out tasks, ask about these entities and the work they do.

How do residents view the association?
Talk if you can to some of the building’s current owners—preferably ones who are not on the HOA board and have lived in the building for several years. How collegially does the board function? Are differences in opinion usually handled civilly and constructively? Be alert for indications of frequent, even perpetual, drama. As with some other governing bodies, HOAs can be hampered by egotism, power plays, and petty politics.

What’s it like to serve on the board?
Schedule time to speak with the HOA president, to get a sense of whether you want this person making decisions on your behalf about the development. Ask the president, too, about interest among residents in serving on the board: Is there high motivation to do so, or relative indifference? This conversation may also motivate you (or not) to serve on the board yourself one day, a move that would require getting elected and giving up some free time for your new responsibilities.

8. The Property May Not Be in Compliance with the HOA

Don’t rely on being properly alerted to any lingering issues between the association and the current owner of a house that interests you. Failure to ask about these problems in a timely way could result in you inheriting them when you take possession of the property.

What to Ask

Does the home have any problem points with the HOA?
Some potential issues may be obvious, such as dead or overgrown landscaping or flaking paint. Conversely, has the owner made exterior improvements or other changes to the property without getting HOA approval? If these changes are not in compliance with the rules, what could happen to you if you owned the property?

How can these snafus be settled?
You may be able to force the owner to fix the problems as part of the sale agreement or provide cash at closing.

9. Insurance Responsibilities Are Often Divided

As with the ownership of property, insurance provisions within a planned development can be divided, too, with the HOA covering some perils or areas and the homeowner responsible for others.

What to Ask

What are the applicable insurance requirements?
These are often mandated by state law. In Florida, for example, a condominium HOA must insure all common property, which includes every part of the building up to a unit’s unfinished drywall. Meanwhile, the homeowner is responsible for insuring all personal property within their unit, including appliances, flooring, cabinetry, window treatments, and the like.

Check the law for the state you’ll be living in to for the precise division of requirements. Confirm the HOA for the property you’re considering is adhering to those requirements.

What additional protection may be wise?
Catastrophe insurance is particularly important if you’re considering a condo or townhouse purchase in an area prone to major natural disasters, such as floods, earthquakes, blizzards, wildfires, tornadoes, or hurricanes. “In the Pacific Northwest, earthquake insurance is very common [in planned developments], though not required,” says Manning.

Check whether the HOA provides additional coverage as a perk for owning within the development. “[A] forward-thinking HOA can make a condo building more attractive” in this way, says Manning. They might add “earthquake and other types of hazard insurance, [which] will be reflected in the homeowner’s HOA dues.” You should, of course, confirm if such additional coverage also extends to the areas that are the homeowner’s legal responsibility, or only to those under the HOA’s purview.

The Bottom Line

Living in a planned development—and being governed in part by the rules of an HOA—can be a mixed blessing. It offers the prospect of exchanging some control over your home for the reduced responsibilities of maintaining it, and for the benefit of enjoying shared amenities and security. It can, however, also trade the diverse look of a typical neighborhood for a more uniform appearance, albeit one with a lower chance of a neighbor’s decorating taste or sloppy maintenance habits becoming a problem for you.

How well you embrace those tradeoffs will contribute to how happy you’ll be in a condominium or other “planned home.” If you decide to proceed with a purchase, be sure to engage professionals, including a real estate agent, who are familiar with planned developments and HOAs since there are a number of unusual aspects to these compared with buying a single-family home.

Are Closing Costs Tax Deductible Under the New Tax Law?

Are closing costs tax deductible? What about mortgage interest? Or property taxes? The answer is, maddeningly, “It depends.”

Basically, you’ll want to itemize if you have deductions totaling more than the standard deduction, which is $12,000 for single people and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. Every taxpayer gets this deduction, homeowner or not. And most people take it because their actual itemized deductions are less than the standard amount.

But should you take it?

To decide, you need to know what’s tax deductible when buying or owning a house. Here’s the list of possible deductions:

Closing Costs

The one-time home purchase costs that are tax deductible as closing costs are real estate taxes charged to you when you closed, mortgage interest paid when you settled, and some loan origination fees (a.k.a. points) applicable to a mortgage of $750,000 or less.

But you’ll only want to itemize them if all your deductions total more than the standard deduction.

Costs of closing on a home that aren’t tax deductible include:

  • Real estate commissions
  • Appraisals
  • Home inspections
  • Attorney fees
  • Title fees
  • Transfer taxes
  • Mortgage refi fees

Mortgage interest and property taxes are annual expenses of owning a home that may or may not be deductible. Continue reading to learn more about those.

12 Tips for Selling Your Home for a Better Price

Building Prosperity: 12 Tips For Selling Your Home For A Better Price

Are you planning to sell your home in 2019? A lot has changed about the real estate market in recent years, and if you want to get the best price for your property, there are a few important things you’ll want to consider.

The experts at Forbes Real Estate Council have an inside look at market trends and understand what it takes to make a profitable sale. We asked a panel of members to share their best tips for homeowners looking to sell this year. Here’s what they had to say.

Members share a few ways you can sell your property for a better price.Photos courtesy of the individual members

1. Speak To An Agent Before Fixing Up The Home

Many homesellers spend a lot of time and money fixing up their home to sell — but it’s critical to speak with an agent before you do any work.  An expert agent familiar with your neighborhood and market can provide you with recommendations that will generate the best return on your investments and highest sales price. In many cases, agents can also recommend reliable and trustworthy vendors. – Lisa FettnerReferralExchange

2. Think S.M.A.R.T.

Selling your home in 2019 will be different from years past. Consider adding Smart technology to the house. Next, Market the property at a fair price with high-quality media and collateral. Then Add value to the buyer by offering unique incentives. Repair the obvious defects pre-listing, and Time your listing properly. Thinking S.M.A.R.T. in 2019 will help sell the home in a changing market. – Christopher LazarusSellect Realty

3. List Your Home For Slightly Less Than You Want

In a buyer’s market, I find that it’s often best to slightly underprice your home in order to get top dollar. By underpricing, you will create a sense of urgency and competition for your property that very well could result in multiple bids or even a bidding war. You never want to chase the market down, so even if you don’t get multiple bids, you will still attract interest while others adjust. – Stephen Glen KliegermanHalstead Property Development Marketing

Forbes Real Estate Council is an invitation-only community for executives in the real estate industry. Do I qualify?

4. Have Your Realtor Act As A PR Agent For The House

Armed with high quality, professional photos, your realtor can showcase the listing across online social media platforms, and possibly even pitch the home to major online publications. Getting the maximum exposure on your listing will garner the most interest and may even sway buyers who weren’t specifically shopping in that neighborhood. – Beatrice de JongOpen Listings (YC W15)

5. Research What Current Buyers Want

We’re late cycle and at peak prices, so the buyers shelling out top dollar have equally high expectations. I’d review online publications like Houzz, which releases yearly market data on what resonates the most with buyers. Everything from materials, color schemes, layouts and which fixes yield the highest ROI are included. If you’re a seller, this should be on the top of your to-do list. – Ari AfsharCompass

6. Price Your Home Ahead Of The Market

Price, market reach and negotiations will be key in 2019. Buyers are becoming more price-sensitive as the market shifts. Homes must be priced ahead of the market. Our jobs as agents will be to get the property in front of the buyers for whom it’s right for. Proactive marketing and strategic deal making will be key. Finally, savvy negotiations will get homes into escrow and keep them there. – Kofi NarteyThe Nartey Group – Compass

7. Stage Your Property

Staging a property is one of the most important things a homeowner can do when selling their home. It’s often difficult for a prospective homeowner to visualize a home’s potential without proper furniture placement and a modern design aesthetic. Getting your home staged will give it that extra “wow” factor. – Hillary LegrainFirst Savings Mortgage Corp.

8. Consider Your Timing And The Cost Of Waiting

Before locking into a long-term listing contract with a traditional real estate broker, test what the market will give you cash today. Do the math carefully on what it will cost you to wait to sell for three or six months on a traditional listing, and factor in weather and market direction risks. You might find selling sooner to an all-cash buyer is more profitable. – Kent ClothierReal Estate Worldwide

9. Update The ‘Money Rooms’

With the market shifting, buyers are more selective on the homes they make offers on. Most of them want a home that is turn-key, so focus on what I call the “money rooms.” They’re the rooms people spend the most time in: kitchen, family room, master bed and bathrooms. Updating those rooms, whether it be a major remodel or fresh coat of paint, will produce a higher ROI than other areas of the home. – Brad LeCompass

10. Justify Your Price Tag

Be thoughtful in the home you’re selling. Today’s buyers are looking for intelligence, and they want a much more holistic understanding of how their home is juxtaposed within their micro-market. People are willing to pay for better quality locations, unique yield on properties, construction, design, team, etc., but the price tag on everything has to be justified. – Cody VichinskyBespoke Real Estate

11. Consider Whether Your Home Can Be Divided And Rented Out

What will make your home stand out in a crowded marketplace?  Today, home buyers and property investors alike are seeking out the “unicorn property,” which is a home that is (or can be) divided to accommodate a secondary living space for the new revolution of shared-economy travelers. Put in a bit of work and investment and create a second unit that will help pay the new owners’ mortgage. – Garratt Hasenstab, The Mountain Life Companies™

12. Price Fairly For A Buyer’s Market

This year it’s not necessarily going to be a seller’s market because interest rates are going up and so is inventory. That means more product on the market than prior years. So if you don’t want your house sitting for a long time you should probably price it fairly. You don’t want to find a property that you want to buy but haven’t been able to sell. – Engelo RumoraList’n Sell Realty

Forbes Real Estate Council is an invitation-only, fee-based organization for senior-level executives in the real estate industry.

Forbes Real Estate Council is an invitation-only, fee-based organization for senior-level executives in the real estate industry.

Harvest Home Fair Looking to New Generation to Keep Fair Alive

Harvest Home Fair looking to new generation to keep fair alive

Posted: 9:54 PM, Feb 17, 2019
Updated: 12:54 AM, Feb 20, 2019

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CHEVIOT, Ohio — Last year’s Harvest Home Fair was declared a wash after rain drenched the area over the entire weekend.

The event is normally attended by tens of thousands of people from all over Greater Cincinnati, and it’s the primary form of fundraising for the Kiwanis Club of Cheviot-Westwood. After the fair concluded in September, the organization ultimately lost money.

That’s not its only problem. The average age of a Harvest Home Fair volunteer is 69, and leaders worry the 159-year-old event will disappear with their generation.

“People nowadays are really busy and they don’t join service clubs like the used to,” fair chairman Peter Rebold said. “We need new blood in the fair to keep it going.”

As the Kiwanis Club deals with waning membership numbers and increased strain on the organization after last year’s fair left them in the lurch, they hope newer members will help step up and take on some of the challenges of putting on the 2019 fair.

“We’re walking kind of a fine line because people say, ‘Well, we need to change the fair because it’s been the same thing forever,'” Rebold said. “The other side says, ‘Well, that’s why it’s so cool. It’s been the same thing forever. It’s the one thing that doesn’t change, man. We have the fair.'”

Aging members are in need of help from younger members to take on many of the jobs associated with planning and executing the Harvest Home Fair. Rebold also said members want to see the fair continue, but the organization will need a boost in membership and volunteer recruitment to pull it off.

It’s also important to bring in new blood to help innovate and make necessary changes to keep the fair relevant.

“We have to preserve what’s there, but we need to keep up with what’s current to keep people interested too,” said Rebold.

After the funding hit the Kiwanis Club took from last year’s fair, a Gofundme was established to help recoup some of the losses. Without the help from the annual fundraiser, the Kiwanis Club has not been able to provide many of the services and community donations it would normally.

5 Ways Sellers Can Prepare to List a Home in January

 

Keeping your home off the market until the new year might be the right move. Here’s how to take advantage of that extra time.

By Devon Thorsby, Editor, Real Estate |Nov. 30, 2017, at 10:49 a.m.

5 Ways Sellers Can Prepare to List a Home in January
Brand new modern construction. warm and inviting.

Putting in a little work now may ensure a quick home sale when 2018 rolls around. (Getty Images)

Thanksgiving has passed, the weather has turned cold and everyone has their mind on the holiday season as the year comes to an end. For the residential real estate industry, that means sales go quiet.

The seasonal real estate cycle typically sees a decrease in buyer demand during the last couple months of each year, as people turn their attention to family gatherings for the holidays and wrapping up projects at work before the new year.

Where you’ll see the biggest change in sales over the ebb and flow of the seasons is the number of days a property is on the market. Realtor.com reports the U.S. housing market hit its lowest median days on market in June 2016 with 65 days, climbing to 89 days in December 2016 and hitting its peak in January 2017, with a median of 96 days on market. The trend appears to be repeating itself. The housing market hit its low for this year again in June, at 60 days, and is now climbing up, with the most recently reported number being 73 days for October.

But fewer active buyers and more days on market doesn’t mean you can’t sell your house during the winter months. Especially if you’re pressed for time and need to sell quickly, particularly hot markets see many eager buyers looking to snatch up available properties while the competition is still recovering from Thanksgiving dinner.

[Read: 6 Do’s and Don’ts for Selling Your First Home.]

In New York City, for example, many international buyers looking for property in the city use the holiday season as an opportunity to tour a few available listings to “scout the market,” says Ross Evangelista, a licensed real estate salesperson with Stribling & Associates in New York.

Even with some potential out-of-town buyers shopping the area, listing your property during the winter months means you’ll need to be more flexible with the sale price. With fewer buyers stopping by, demand is lower.

For those who aren’t in a rush, taking your property off the market or waiting to list it until after the holiday season can lead you to more interest, more offers and – hopefully – a higher final sale price, says Timur Loynab, a real estate agent and principal at CondoNest, the condo resales division of the District of Columbia-based brokerage McWilliams Ballard.

“I believe strongly that it is not only a good idea to go dormant during the holiday season and the winter market in general, I think it’s a strategic move to make,” Loynab says. “Because, in general, the holidays and the winter real estate market is a time of doldrums in our industry – your pool of buyers shrinks considerably.”

If you’re not pressed for time, the combination of your holiday schedule, your agent’s possible vacation time and the reduced number of buyers can make waiting to list until after the new year the right move. “If the logistics aren’t there, don’t push the issue,” Evangelista says.

With your home off the market for the holiday season, here are five things you can do now to make a splash when you list the property next year.

Boost your curb appeal. While working on your property’s exterior appeal during the winter may not be the first thing that comes to mind, it may have something to do with why buyers haven’t been eager to make an offer on your property.

“If your lawn is lackluster and there isn’t any curb appeal, you’ve lost your buyer already,” Loynab says.

There may be no leaves on the trees and the grass may not be the vibrant green it is in spring, but a manicured lawn, some landscaping with flowers or plants that will continue to look nice in the colder weather and maybe even a fresh coat of exterior paint on your house can make a big difference.

“You want to always make a good first impression, and it starts the minutes the prospective purchasers enter your property,” Loynab says.

[Read: 8 Projects to Bring Your 1950s Home Into the Modern Age.]

Remodel where it will help. Another problem area may be one of the key rooms buyers pay the most attention to when touring a property. If your kitchen, living room, master bathroom or master bedroom need a lot of work, buyers may rule out buying your house because it will be too much work.

If that’s the case, Loynab recommends weighing your options to update one or more of those rooms in the most cost-effective way possible – replacing fixtures and repainting cabinets, for example. The plus side of off-season renovations is that contractors are less in demand during the winter.

“Those contractors are not only readily available, but their services are often a little less expensive because there isn’t this feeding frenzy for their services,” Loynab says.


RELATED CONTENT

Why Winter Can Be an Excellent Time to Sell Your Home

Don’t delay. If you have a house to sell, put it on the market now.


Remove the holiday decor. A winter wreath can be a nice touch, but if your property is going back on the market in January, take down your holiday decorations before any would-be buyers walk in your door.

“As a general rule, the tidier the better. You don’t know what [type of background] your buyer is coming from,” Evangelista says, noting that a lot of religious or cultural decorations can distract from the rest of the home. Once the holidays have passed, pack up your holiday decorations and put them back in storage.

Keep winter scents around. You can, however, keep your seasonal scented candles out. “If it’s right after the holidays, you might want to keep some of the nice smells if you’re going to list in January,” Evangelista says.

The smell of evergreen, chestnuts and peppermint can help buyers connect their own fond memories of home with your property. Diffusers, sprays and plug-in air fresheners can serve as a substitute for candles, but be sure that no scent overpowers the space.

[See: 7 Things to Consider When Picking Out Paint Colors for Your Home.]

Keep it off market for a reset. A big reason you’re opting to take your property off the market is to keep it from looking like it’s been sitting on the market for an extended period of time with no interest. “Many buyer agents simply will not show listings to their clients with high days on market,” Loynab says.

Some local multiple listing services – where your real estate agent markets the property to other professionals – require a property be off market for a minimum period of time before the days on market counter can reset. Strategize with your agent to determine when will be the best time to bring your property back on the market.

In the Washington area, for example, Loynab notes a property has to be off the market for 90 days. After that, “Your days on market are reset back to zero,” Loynab says, making it a fresh, new listing.


The Little Things: Small Decisions That Can Impact Your Home’s Sale Price

A young woman tidying her house

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Minor moves for a bigger payoff.

A lot of thought goes into preparing your home for sale, and most decisions depend on the amount of investment you’re willing to put in before the house goes on the market and how big your return will likely be. So it may come as a surprise that many seemingly minor changes can make a significant difference on your house’s sale price. Small updates won’t fix every problem spot, of course – as Andrea Di Giuseppe, founder and CEO of TREND Transformations puts it: “If you still have your kitchen giving you the vibe of the ‘Golden Girls,’ well, maybe you need to refresh it completely.” The following little decisions may help you appeal to potential borrowers.

How Often Should You Replace Carpet?

 

While your carpets don’t have an expiration date, several signs indicate it may be time to replace that floor covering. Threadbare areas, warping or stretching, and odors or stains that do not go away no matter how often you clean the carpet are all clues that it may be time to replace that old carpet.

Worker's Hands Rolling Carpet
credit: AndreyPopov/iStock/GettyImages

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Age Matters

While a carpet may not need to be replaced just because it’s old, a typical lifespan for modern carpeting is five to 15 years, depending upon the quality of its construction and the amount of foot traffic it receives on a regular basis. A carpet in a spare, rarely used bedroom will last longer than the same carpeting in the main hallway in your home, simply because it is rarely tread upon. Even in a seldom-used room, the padding beneath the carpeting may deteriorate over time, especially if it’s not of high quality. Once the padding deteriorates, the carpeting may feel lumpy or not as comfortable underfoot, and it may wear out more quickly.

Flattened Fibers and Contorted Carpets

If your carpet’s pile once stood tall but now looks flat and matted in some areas no matter how hard you try to remedy the situation, the carpet may be past its prime. Polyester and olefin fibers are prone to matting, especially in the areas walked upon the most. Even Berber carpeting made from looped fibers may succumb to matting over time. If you’ve cleaned, combed and done all you could to fluff old carpeting back up, but nothing seems to help, it’s time to replace the carpet. A carpet that seems stretched beyond its original shape, creating ripples, warps and tripping points throughout the room, is also ready for replacement.

Threadbare Wear

Even a carpet with short fibers, designed to be durable and last for years, wears out eventually. If you can see horizontal threads of the backing material through the top of the carpeting in some areas, it’s time to replace that carpet. No amount of cleaning or fluffing will remedy the situation. Fraying along edges or in thinning areas of the carpet is another sign it’s time to take out the old and bring in the new. These types of wear are likely to occur in heavily used areas such as hallways, stairs and the footpath between frequently used rooms.

Shifting Shades

If the carpet’s shade is significantly lighter in one area than another, or if the entire carpet seems to be a different hue than when you purchased it, its fibers have faded. Age and exposure to sunlight, air and cleaning materials may change the color of dye on some carpet fibers. While fading alone may not be enough to warrant replacing the carpet if it still seems in fairly good shape, you may want to replace it if the color appears uneven or if it has other issues.

Scents and Stains

If you’ve just cleaned the carpet and it still smells like a wet dog — even if you don’t have a pet — it may be time to replace that funky floor covering. Carpet traps dirt, dust, debris and allergens, and over time, it becomes more difficult to remove all of the problematic materials even with a deep cleaning, which may also be an issue for those with asthma and allergies. As for stains, you may be able to hide a stain or two under furniture, but several stains that do not disappear even after professional cleaning may mean it’s time to consider a new carpet, especially if the stains are in a highly visible area and the carpet is past its prime.

6 Tasks Every Homeowner Should Do in November

Here’s how to make that happen (along with a few other timely tips):

#1 Wash Bed Pillows

A bed with white lines and fluffy blue-green pillows Image: Laura W.

You love your trusty, old, perfectly-snugged-to-your-head pillow. But guess what’s also snug against your head? Fungus — 4 to 16 species to be precise. Gross!

With fall being the height of guest season, you’ll want your guest pillows fresh, too. Pop them in the washing machine and dryer for an all-over clean feeling. (But check manufacturer advice, too. Some pillows shouldn’t be washed, but replaced instead.)

#2 Clean the Mattress, Too

A pink note attached to a mattress Image: Anne Arntson for HouseLogic

Sleeping soundly gets even better when you know you’re lying on a clean and fresh mattress. The yuck factor: Skin cells and sweat get into the mattress, then dust mites show up for a dinner party featuring those tasty skin cell morsels.

You’ll want your guest mattress to be at it’s freshest. It’s easy to do: Vacuum it and then wipe it down with a cloth dampened with an upholstery shampoo. But be sure to let it dry; otherwise, you’re inviting mold. Also, be sure to rotate it 180 degrees to help keep it lump-free.

(Another option: if you’ve got a flippable mattress, go ahead and flip it. That, too, can help kill the yucky mites.)

#3 Insulate Windows

A living room with couch and blue roman shades on window Image: Nick Smith, photographer | Clare Gaskin Interiors, designer

Bone-chilling drafts seriously detract from the cozy vibe you want. Keep it cozy by hanging drapes as close to your windows as possible to help you keep the heat inside.

You can even add clear Velcro strips or dots to the back of the drape and attach to fasteners on the wall to help insulate. Be sure to cross one drape over the other when you close up for the night. Insulating shades can do the trick, too.

#4 Stock Up on Snow Supplies

A man in a blue coat using a snow blower in a neighborhood Image: Chiyacat/Getty

If snow is a given where you live and you’re lacking supplies, take advantage of seasonal sales now to make sure you’re not the one rushing to the hardware store at the last minute — only to find out they just sold out of ice melt.

If you have a snow blower, be sure to have it serviced and fueled up before the first winter storm arrives — and with it, price hikes on all the snow stuff.

Related: 3 Brilliant Hacks to Make Snow Shoveling a Snap

#5 Trim Tree Branches

A woman with a green short-sleeved T-shirt trimming branches Image: Michele Constantini/PhotoAlto/Getty

The last thing you need is a winter storm loosing the wrath of that mighty tree whose branches are angling over your roof. Long limbs invite pests to explore your roof for excess water to seep into cracks in the roof or siding.

Keep limbs and branches at least 3 feet from the house. Plus it’s easier to trim branches after leaves have fallen. (If it’s an evergreen, well, sorry about that. It’ll be a prickly job, but the bonus is you’ll have greenery for the holidays!)

Related7 Dirty Places Your Guests See, But (Shock!) You Don’t!

#6 Get a Chimney Sweep to Inspect the Fireplace

It’s time to dust off and sweep the chimney! Best to hire someone who knows wood-burning fireplaces. A professional chimney sweep will ensure your wood-burning fireplace burns more efficiently and will help prevent chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning during the winter. So yeah, it’s pretty important.

Tip: If you don’t already have a chimney cap, this is also the time to add one to stop wild outdoor critters from crawling down it — and (yikes!) into your house.

Why November is the Best Month to Sell Your Home

Some owners hesitate to market their homes between Halloween and New Year’s Day, believing the holiday season to be an off-peak time to sell. But the idea that houses don’t sell in November and December comes from outdated historical trends.

In fact, several studies show that, on average, homes listed during this time are more likely to sell, sell more quickly, and sell closer to the asking price. November, in particular, has some unique advantages that make it an ideal time to sell. Here are three reasons why Thanksgiving month might be the best time to sell your home.

More motivation

The idea that homes sell best in spring and summer stems from the fact that parents want to wait until summer to move school-aged children. But today, more than half of buyers aren’t married, so their decisions aren’t necessarily based on kids’ schedules.

If buyers are looking for a home in November, they’ve either waited through the busy season in hopes of a better deal, or they’re facing their own time constraints due to work changes or other reasons. For these highly motivated buyers, the traditional barriers to winter house-hunting — bad weather, short days, holiday preparations — don’t apply. If your house is available for them to view in November, these buyers are more likely to make an offer close to listing price.

Less competition

Because of the misconceptions about selling during winter, it’s true that many sellers don’t think it’s worth their time to try and sell their homes toward the end of the year, so they take their homes off the market. Their loss of a potential buyer is your gain!

Serious buyers have fewer homes to choose from over the holidays. That means less competition for you — and more buyers checking out your even more desirable home, either online or in person.

Tax benefits

A house marketed in November may lure buyers looking for year-end tax breaks. Buyers looking to lower their taxes may snatch up a home late in the year so they can deduct home purchase costs. That includes points, interest and property taxes.

And if someone sold a house during the traditional summer selling season and faces capital gains tax on the deal (because he’s an investor or lived in the house for fewer than two years), he may be highly motivated to buy in November since closing on the purchase of another house within 180 days lets him avoid paying capital gains tax.

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Check Yourself: Home Maintenance Tasks You Need to Tackle in November

We’ll be honest: We hate the phrase “transitional month.” Instead we like to think of November as a large-scale dress rehearsal for winter—the month that’s cold but not yet bone-chilling, frosty but not yet snowy. Before it gets too nasty to work outdoors, take the month to button up your home for the rough weather to come.

We know you’re busy. So your pals at realtor.com® have created a handy checklist of home maintenance tasks that need to be completed this month, plus tips for how to do them faster and easier, or with the help of a pro.

Pace yourself!

1. Weatherproof the house

Task: Locate and seal cracks and spaces that let heat out and cold air in—along baseboards, wall/ceiling junctures, windows and doors, lighting fixtures, switches, and electrical outlets. Your wallet will thank you, because energy savings from reducing drafts range from 5% to 30% per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Shortcut: Try these tricks to spot energy leaks. At night, ask a partner to walk outside while you turn off all lights and shine a flashlight along doors and windows (tell the neighbors not to call the police). The light will illuminate large cracks. Small ones won’t likely show up, however. For those, light a candle or incense stick and pass it along potential leak areas. If the flame or smoke wavers, you’ve got a leak.

Call in the pros: A home audit that finds all the nooks and crannies where energy escapes costs $375 on average. Painters ($25 to $100 an hour) will seal gaps with caulk. Handymen ($30 to $50 an hour) can install weatherstripping.

2. Check fire alarms

Task: Dead batteries cause 24% of smoke alarm failures, putting your family at greater risk of a fire. You should replace batteries or test hard-wired fire alarms twice a year. You knew this, right? Fine, we don’t mind reminding you.

Check those batteries for safety, and to stop the beeping.
Check those batteries for safety, and to stop the beeping.mphillips007/iStock

Shortcut: Don’t remember when you tested your detector last? Get into the habit of testing the alarm and changing batteries when you change the clocks for daylight saving and standard times. (Reminder: The latter is right around the corner, on Nov. 6!) If you live in parts of Arizona and Indiana, where they don’t spring forward or fall back an hour, put reminders to change the batteries on your calendar.

Call in the pros: If you’re not 7 feet tall or you have a ladder phobia, you can call an electrician ($50 to $100 an hour) or handyman to check your detector. Or, ask the high school basketball player down the street to push the test button for you.

3. Service the HVAC system

Task: Make sure your heating system is running safely and efficiently so you’ll stay toasty during cold weather and save money on energy bills.

Shortcut:  You can unclog and clean HVAC grilles by popping them in the dishwasher. (Leave out the dishes, preferably.) Also make sure you dust heating returns and change filters every one to three months.

Call in the pros: An HVAC expert ($60 to $85 an hour) is the best person to inspect and tune up your system, which will include checking controls, lubricating moving parts, and making sure no carbon monoxide is leaking.

4. Clear dead leaves

Task: Dead leaves aren’t just unsightly—they’ll also kill your lawn. Rake and bag ’em for removal.

Shortcut: Mulch leaves in place by running your mower over them and letting the pieces decompose and nourish your lawn all winter.

Call in the pros: Lawn maintenance services charge on average $50 to rake leaves. While they’re raking, have them aerate and reseed your lawn so it will green up faster in spring.

5. Clean patio furniture

Task: Before storing your outdoor furniture for the winter, take this opportunity to give them a good cleaning so you don’t have to do it in the spring, at which point the dirt and grime will be way harder to remove.

Shortcut: Brillo is a great scrubber to remove crud from plastic patio furniture. Just scrub and rinse. Or, train a power washer onto the furniture for a quick clean.

Call in the pros: A professional pressure washing costs about 8 cents to 35 cents per square foot. You probably won’t persuade one to clean only your patio furniture, but you can always add this task to a bigger job—such as pressure washing a fence or driveway—for extra productivity points.

6. Secure the home from pests

Task: Critters are just like you: When it’s cold outside, they want to go where it’s warm. “An attic offers a fantastic retreat for rodents like rats and mice to spend the winter,” says Nancy Troyano, director of technical education and training for Rentokil Steritech, a pest control company.  But unlike you, mice and snakes can get through a hole the size of a quarter. Don’t let them! Replace all damaged roof tiles and attic vents before it snows, and seal up holes around plumbing pipes and cables that enter your house.

Shortcuts: OK, there really aren’t any shortcuts to patching holes, which you’ll have to cover or fill with something such as wood putty, flexible brick, or concrete caulking. Just make sure you don’t wait too long to make the repairs, because the colder the temperature, the longer the filler will take to cure.

Call in the pros: Painters ($25 to $100 an hour) and handymen ($30 to $50 an hour) will patch holes in your home’s exterior.

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So, are you prepared for winter after checking off this list? Did we miss something? Chime in on the discussion on House Talk.

Lisa Kaplan Gordon is an award-winning writer who’s covered real estate and home improvement for realtor.com, Yahoo, AOL, and many others.

Buyers Aren’t Spooked by Haunted Houses

With inventories so tight, many consumers say they’re even willing to live in a haunted house.

Thirty-three percent of more than 1,000 consumers recently surveyed say they’re willing to live in a haunted house, and another 25 percent said they’d consider it, according to a newly released survey by realtor.com®.

“Haunted houses are a popular attraction this time of year, but we wanted to see how many people would actually live in one,” says Sarah Staley, a housing expert who commented on the study’s findings. “What we found may be a sign of today’s tight housing market, or for many living in a haunted house doesn’t have to be a deal breaker.”

Further, 47 percent of respondents said they’d live in a home where someone has died, and 27 percent additional respondents said they’d at least consider it, according to the survey.

Still, 40 percent of consumers said they’d need a price reduction in order to choose a haunted home over a non-haunted home. Also, a good neighborhood, extra square footage, and more bedrooms would convince them too, according to the survey. On the other hand, 42 percent of respondents insist they aren’t open to the idea of buying a haunted home, even for those extra perks.

For some consumers, living in a haunted house may not be considered a stretch because they claim they’ve already lived in one. For example, 28 percent of respondents said they have lived in a haunted house, and another 14 percent think they may have. They say their house was haunted because of strange noises, odd feelings in certain rooms, and even some reports of objects moving or disappearing.

Source: realtor.com®