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Spring Cleaning These 4 Outdoor Areas Will Save You Money

spring-cleaningSpring is on it's way, and for homeowners, it's a reminder to take care of the little -- but important details -- that need tending around the house. While spring cleaning the interior of your home is important, the exterior can often go neglected for too long. This can lead to costly repairs and higher utility bills. Read on for the most important areas of the home to inspect and clean this year.

Air Conditioner

Avoid sweating at the hottest time of year. Hire a technician to re-tune your cooling system to manufacturer-rated efficiency. Prices range from $75 to $200. Also, have the technician check and clean the drains to remove water back-up and clogged algae. This costs up to $100.

DIY: Replace dirty filters every one to three months. This will decrease your energy costs and prevent damage to the AC.

Gutters

Avoid water damage to your home by cleaning clogged gutters. Clean them yourself with a homemade gutter scoop, or hire it out for $90 to $225 for a 2,000-square-foot home. In addition, add downspout extensions to carry water at least 3 to 4 feet from your home's foundation. Ten feet of 4-inch corrugated plastic pipe costs about $7.

Roof

Use a pair of binoculars to find damaged, loose or missing shingles without risking your neck. If necessary, hire a handyman to repair a few shingles. Asphalt shingles cost around $95 to $125. If the damage is greater, hire a roofer. It costs $100 to $350 to replace a 10-by-10-square-foot area. Additionally, check and repair breaks in the flashing seals around vent stacks and chimneys.

Siding

Professional power washing services cost between $300 to $500, and ensure you don't get water between the siding. However, if you prefer to do it yourself, read on ...

DIY: Check for cracked or gaping caulk. Seal these with stucco in color-matched acrylic caulk. Next, scrub the siding with a soft bristle brush, soap and water. Rinse each section with a garden hose before it dries.

Remove tar, paint drips or other caked on marks with non-abrasive bathtub cleaner or a nylon scrub pad. Avoid using paint thinner, nail polish remover, spot or paint remover, chlorine bleach or furniture cleaner on vinyl, as they can damage the surface of the siding.

Whether you plan to stay or to sell, this is by no means a comprehensive list of tasks to maintain your home. For more ideas, check out this Spring Cleaning Checklist, provided by Home Service Reports.

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Austin Real Estate Facts and the Mixed American Mindset Revealed

austin-real-estate-infographicEach year, the National Association of Realtors releases the Housing Opportunities and Market Experience Survey (HOME). This cleverly coined, monthly survey gathers American consumers’ opinions about the housing market. At the end of the year, data from the 12-month period is compiled into a larger report -- the HOME survey. Here, at my Austin real estate blog, you’ll often find hometown tidbits among the articles. This month, we'll compare the hot and happening Austin real estate environment to the current American mindset about their own markets. The results might surprise you.

Home Ownership: A Good Financial Decision?

In 2015, the HOME survey found that 88% of U.S. households believe owning a home is a good financial decision. And a whopping 87% of U.S. households believe homeownership is part of their American Dream. They cited the most appealing aspects of home ownership as ...
  • A place to raise a family - 36%
  • Owning place of one’s own - 26%
  • A nest egg for retirement - 14%
  • Financial security now - 3%
  • Being part of a community - 8%
  • Settling down - 4%

Home Affordability and the Renters

Though people are holding onto American Dream ideals, the HOME survey found that -- across the country -- affordability was named the biggest roadblock to owning a home. Similarly, here in Austin, affordability has been a hot-button topic in real estate news. In November 2015, a report released by the Austin Board of REALTORS® (ABoR), revealed the median price for Austin-area single-family homes was $270,000. Meanwhile rent prices here are also known to pinch the pocketbook. Austin’s median rent price, in 2015, was $1,683, compared to the national average of $1,382. With figures like these, it’s probably no wonder 83% of the HOME report’s current renters want to own a home in the future. According to the survey, a whopping 94% of renters ages 34 and younger say they aspire to be homeowners in the future. Interestingly, according to the Realtor.com 2016 Housing Forecast, Millennials -- those ages 25 to 34 -- are predicted to be among the top buyers in the Austin area in 2016. So it looks like Austin’s younger set might be ahead of the pack in terms of buying power, but they’re still purchasing later in life than their parents did. From a 2015 Austin Monitor article: “I think if there’s any trend, it’s that Millennials are buying homes probably later in life, because of college debt, because they’re maybe starting families later and, of course, (because of) affordability,” Omar Hossain, with Frost Bank, said. This leads us to the following points found in the HOME survey… Why Renters Don’t Currently Own
  • Can’t afford to buy (53%)
  • Currently need flexibility (19%)
  • Don’t want responsibility (11%)
What Would Cause Renter to Buy
  • Lifestyle changes such as marriage and/or starting a family (33%)
  • Improvement in financials (26%)
  • Desire to settle down in one location (13%)

Feelings About the U.S. Economy and Willingness to Buy

Among the renter households surveyed, 45% believe the U.S. economy is currently in a recession, and 43% of renters believe the economy is not currently improving. However, Mark Sprague, state director of information capital at Austin’s Independence Title Company, believes differently -- at least when it comes to Austin. “The Federal Reserve’s recent decision to raise interest rates is a sign of a healthy economy, and we’re fortunate that Austin has one of the strongest economies and housing markets in the nation,” he said. Recession or not, people’s belief and desire for the American dream of home-ownership remains strong. As it turns out, 78% of those who think our economy is in a recession still want to purchase a home in the future. Similarly, 76% of renters who believe the economy is not improving say they want to one day own a home.

The State of Home Prices

Fifty percent of respondents believe home prices in their communities have gone up during the past 12 months. In Austin, they would be right. According to ABoR’s November 2015 Austin Real Estate Report, the median price for local single-family homes has increased 10% year-over-year. However, this might not be the case in other areas of the country, as 11% of HOME respondents believe home prices have dropped, and 39% believe they’ve stayed the same. About 56% who believe the economy is improving -- and is not in a recession -- also believe home prices have increased in their local community. But the 44% with a bleaker outlook -- who believe the economy is not improving -- and is in a recession -- say home prices have increased during the past 12 months.

Will Home Prices Rise or Fall? You Decide

Number of people who believe home prices will …
  • Increase (42%)
  • Decrease (9%)
  • Stay the same (49%)
While the majority is not always right, in this case, they would be correct -- at least when it comes to Austin real estate. According to the Realtor.com 2016 Housing Forecast, median single-family home prices are expected to increase, in Austin, by 5%.

In Summary

Based on the HOME survey's data, it seems Austin is fairly in step with the rest of the country. Affordability seems to be a big factor, not just here, but everywhere these days. Yet, despite this and pocket concerns about our economy, the majority seem to have remained optimistic about home ownership. Millennials are poised to step into home ownership across the country, and with Austin's younger set somewhat ahead of the pack in buying power, it appears -- at the very least -- that Austin's market mirrors our country's morale -- optimistic, future thinking and strong, like the American Dream. Did you like this article? Share it with your friends by clicking any of the social sharing buttons below....
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7 Tips to Sell a Home Fast in a Competitive Market

L6sQn4GyQdSBW7pLgEz7_DSC_0013When your home is one of many on the market, just what does it take to quickly secure a sale? Smart sellers put effort and thought into their listing game plan, as well as heed the advice of a trusted Realtor. From cosmetic updates to strategic pricing, here are my 7 tips to sell your home fast in a competitive market.

Work With a Realtor

Selling a home without the help of a Realtor is often harder than most people realize. It takes time and specialized knowledge to effectively market and position a property to sell fast in a competitive market. When deciding on a Realtor, choose someone with a proven track record, who you trust to do a good job on your behalf, and then follow their advice. Should you choose to sell a home yourself, consider consulting with a Realtor about paperwork and contracts. Many are willing to help DIY-ers.

Price It Right

A professional Realtor not only knows the market, but has information on past sales and current listings, and will help you set a fair yet competitive listing price. To set a competitive rate, ask your agent for the sale prices of three homes, in your area, that are similar to yours and have sold within the past one to three months. Set your listing price 10% to 15% below what they have sold for. Homes that look like a great deal are visited more frequently and sometimes receive multiple offers, which can result in a bidding war. As a caution, pricing your home too low can result in selling for much less than you were hoping for, so be sure to leave enough room in the asking price to bargain.

Sweeten the Deal

Incentivize potential home buyers. Make your home stand out in the market by offering to contribute to closing costs, or have the home inspected to ease buyer’s minds that your house is in good shape. Alternately, any high-end personal property that you can leave behind will help too. Examples are stainless steel appliances, or a golf cart if your home is on a golf course, for instance. Finally, ask your Realtor about other ways you might appeal to buyers in a competitive real estate market.

Make Home Improvements

Improving the condition of your home is always a good idea. Make a list of small and large repairs, and get as many done as possible. Odds and ends such as paint nicks, scuffs, loose or stuck door knobs and handles are examples of commonly needed small repairs. Also, consider having a termite inspection. These measures will allow you to proudly advertise the quality condition of your home and the low or non-existent repair bills that come with it.

Stage Your Home

Buyers want to imagine your house as theirs. Your personal effects will make it hard for them to do that. De-personalize the interior by removing family photos, religious or political paraphernalia, kitschy memorabilia and taxidermy (Yes! Even in Texas). Similarly, de-clutter the space. Clear countertops, shelves and even streamline your closets. Paint walls neutral colors, such as Coventry Gray by Benjamin Moore. In addition, get rid of any pet, kitchen or smoking odors. And, finally, tend to the home’s entrance and back yard. Give the front door a fresh coat of paint. Keep the landscaping immaculate, and create a cozy seating area out back to help buyers envision leisurely Saturday mornings in your space.

Make It Easy to Show

Homes that don’t get shown don’t get sold. If agents need to set long-advance notices to show your home, it will be more difficult for them to get their clients in, making it more likely they’ll cross your home off the list and move on to the next property. Many foreclosures and short sale listings are vacant, and can be shown anytime, for example.

Scope Out the Competition

See that your home is up to par by visiting open houses in your area. This helps you to more clearly see how your home stacks up to the competition. As you walk through open houses, take note of the things that turn you off and consider how you can improve these areas with your property. Competition in the marketplace doesn’t mean you can’t get sell your home quickly, or even for the price you want. Put these seven steps into practice to get a leg up. A Realtor will also be invaluable to the process. He’ll help you to negotiate offers and counteroffers, effectively market your home, and advise you on ways to appeal to potential buyers. Are you selling your home? Contact me to guide you through the process to the sale....
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Mortgage Closing Process Explained in 10 Steps

mortgage-closingIf you’ve followed along with our home buying blog post series, you’re aware of nearly all of the steps needed to secure your first home. As a recap, first, you got a home-loan pre-approval. And, after some searching, you found the place you’d like to hang your hat. Now that you’ve made an offer, and gotten approved for a mortgage loan, the only thing standing between you and domestic bliss is the mortgage closing. On the day of your mortgage closing, you’ll sign legal documents related to your home mortgage loan, as well as papers related to the transfer of the property from the seller to the buyer. Read on to discover what to expect from the home closing.

The Mortgage Closing Process

Step 1: Open Escrow Escrow is an account held by a neutral third party on behalf of two parties in a transaction. This protects the seller's and the buyer's financial and legal interests during the closing process. Step 2: Hire a Lawyer (optional) You might consider hiring an attorney to read over your mortgage closing documents. A lawyer can help negotiate the terms of your contract while ensuring it meets all state laws, thus preventing any future issues.  A lawyer can also do a title search (your next step) to ensure that the property is free of any encumbrances, such as liens or judgments. If you choose to forgo the lawyer, a title officer will conduct the title search. houseStep 3. Do a Title Search and Get Title Insurance “Title search” or “property title search” is the process of retrieving documents about the history of a property. This includes information about any regulations and/or relevant interests in the property that might, if not resolved, invalidate your ownership. Any third party interests will need to be resolved before the property becomes yours. Title insurance, on the other hand, covers the loss of an interest in a property due to legal defects and is required if the property is under mortgage. Note that most title insurance is lender's title insurance, which is paid for by the borrower but protects only the lender. Step 4: Address Closing Costs Depending on the state you're purchasing in, and the the type of loan you choose, you can expect closing costs to be about 3% of the total loan amount. These fees might be rolled into the principal balance of your new loan, or you might pay a higher interest rate to have your lender cover the costs. Another option is to pay the closing fee out of pocket. Many companies boost their bottom lines by charging additional fees, often referred to as "junk fees". Look out for administrative fees, application review fees, appraisal review fees, ancillary fees, email fees, processing fees and settlement fees, and ask to have these waived or at least reduced, as these figures are often inflated. Step 5: Order a Home Inspection While it's not required, a home inspection allows you to back out of the deal if there is a serious problem with the home. You might also ask the seller to fix the issue, or to pay to have it fixed. During the inspection, you'll have an opportunity to back out of the deal, ask the seller to fix it or pay you to have it fixed. Note that a pest inspection is separate from the home inspection. Have a professional scan the property for issues such as termites and carpenter ants. If either of these inspection reports reveal problems, consider renegotiating your purchase offer. contractStep 6: Lock Your Interest Rate A good lender will watch for and help you secure the lowest interest rate possible. Interest rates fluctuate multiple times a day, so lock one in that's reasonable, in relation to your credit score, and move on to the next step. Step 7: Remove Contingencies  Like a good loan officer, a good Realtor will help you draw up the most beneficial purchase offer for your situation. It should be contingent upon the following:
  • Your ability to secure financing at an affordable interest rate
  • A home inspection that shows there are no major problems with the home
  • The seller's full disclosure about any known problems with the home
  • The pest inspection not revealing any major infestations or damage to the home
  • The seller completing agreed-upon repairs
For your deal to close, these contingencies must be removed in writing by certain dates. Alternately, if you don't protest contingencies by the deadline, they are passively approved. Step 8: Fund Escrow

As well as providing evidence of homeowners insurance and any inspections at the closing, you’ll present a certified or cashier’s check to cover your down payment (if applicable), closing costs, prepaid interest, taxes and insurance. Any earnest money you paid can also be applied toward your down payment.

Your lender will distribute the money to the closing agent. In addition, your loan terms might require you to set up a new escrow account with your lender. If so, your property taxes and homeowners insurance will be bundled into your monthly mortgage payment.

Step 9: Home Walk-Through

Most home-sale contracts allow for a walk-through inspection of the property 24 hours before closing. Check to see that it has been left in the condition specified in your contract. This might include repairs the seller was contractually obligated to. If there are problems with the walk-through, you can ask to postpone the closing, or ask the seller to deposit money for repairs into an escrow account.

DeathtoStock_Wired5Step 10: Sign the Papers

The closing can be held at the title company, your lender’s office, a real estate attorney’s office, or another agreed upon location. You’ll sign a mortgage loan agreement for your lender, as well as the agreement between you and the seller, transferring ownership of the property.   Other forms you’ll sign include the following:
  • The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act - States that you understand the closing process and financial obligations related to your mortgage.
  • Truth in Lending Disclosure...
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