All posts by Mark Zilbert

Don’t Forget These Selling Points

Don’t Forget These Selling Points

Sure, touting that recent kitchen or bathroom renovation will surely attract the attention of potential buyers. But are there other qualities about your home that might entice someone to take a closer look? Here are some selling points that many sellers frequently forget to mention. Don’t be one of them!

Energy efficiency

Purchasing a home is a huge expense. Many buyers will be attracted to homes that feature energy efficient upgrades that will save them money on their utility costs over time. If you have energy efficient appliances, dual pane widows, new insulation or LED lights in your home, be sure to use that information in your listing.

Green features

In addition to energy efficiency, some buyers will be looking for homes that have environmentally friendly features. These could include recycled or sustainable building materials, an organic garden or a backyard composting station.

Chemical-free home maintenance

Buyers with children or pets may have a heightened sense of awareness about what types of cleaning products they use in their home. Many people today prefer to use organic or chemical-free cleaning solutions on floors and countertops, and if you’ve adopted the same methods, you should let buyers know. This also includes touting any hypoallergenic HVAC or air filtration systems you have in place.

Recent upgrades

While upgrades to the kitchen and bathroom can make a deal, there are other upgrades you shouldn’t fail to mention. Have you recently repaved the driveway or installed a new garage door? Has the roof been repaired or replaced? Did you turn the attic into a usable living space? Have you put in new carpet or flooring? These all deserve to be mentioned in your marketing materials.

Storage space

While it could be argued that Americans have too much stuff, you can be sure most people won’t be letting it go anytime soon. Most buyers place a premium on ample storage space, so you should emphasize it. This includes walk-in closets, a pantry in the kitchen, a storage system in the garage or any built-in shelves or cabinets around the house.

Senior features

Buying a home is a huge undertaking, and some buyers know that they would rather not have to do it again. If there are features that would appeal to buyers looking for a home for the rest of their lives, you should let them know. This could include a lack of stairs, extra-wide hallways, a front door level with the sidewalk, low-maintenance landscaping or even a mother-in-law unit that could double as a space for a caretaker.

Nearby amenities

Lastly, is your home located near amenities like a supermarket, restaurants, or even a state or national park?  Is there a gym that is within walking distance? A popular performance venue just down the road? A commercial district that features every big-box store anyone would ever want to visit? These are all selling points that could appeal to the future tenant of your home.

The bottom line is – if you’re getting ready to sell, don’t overlook some of the smaller details of your home. It could be just the thing that attracts the perfect buyer.

Compliments of Virtual Results

Need an Air Conditioner But Don’t Have Ducts?

Need an Air Conditioner But Don't Have Ducts?

As scorching or humid summer days approach, you may be second-guessing the purchase of that vintage or historic home you’ve had your eye on. In fact, in many places homes as new as 15 to 20 years may not have air conditioning. If your home doesn’t have ductwork and is missing the attic, basement or crawlspace to add it, what can you do?

In know, I know … visions of unsightly window air conditioners dance in your head and the though of giving up a window makes you wince. Be encouraged … other options exist to see you through the hottest days.

Ductless air conditioners

Used extensively in Europe and Asia, and often seen in hotels in the United States, a mini-split or ductless air conditioner mounts one unit on the inside wall and one unit on the outside wall. The inside unit blows cool air into the room and houses any climate controls and the outer unit that brings in the air and expels the “condensate” or moisture through a drain. Between the two systems run refrigerant lines, the power source and the tubing.

Mini-split systems work great for retrofitting an older home, or for adding air conditioning to a room addition not connected to the main ductwork. In fact, installation typically requires just a three-inch hole for the conduit to pass through. While often the two units mount back to back, if necessary, situating the outdoor unit as far as 50 feet away offers more flexibility. In fact, cooling rooms on the front of your home, but situating the condenser unit I a less conspicuous location allows for installation even in highly regulated neighborhoods.

While the systems themselves cost much more than a window unit—often $1500 to $2000 per 12,000 BTU/hour cooling capacity—energy savings could increase because there is less loss than a typical duct system and less air leakage than a window system. One additional advantage comes from the minimal exposure to pests through the small entry point into the wall.

Portable Air Conditioners

A portable air conditioner is a unit that houses the blower and condenser in a single unit. They expel warm air through a small vent duct placed in an exterior window. Some portable units have two ducts … one to bring in fresh air and one to expel warm air and moisture. Additionally, many have condensation trays similar to dehumidifiers that need emptying on a regular basis.

Some portable units make quite a bit of noise, and others weigh up to 85 lbs., so “portability” may be subjective.

Other options

If your climate’s hot or humid the whole summer, you’ll want to invest in some form of air conditioning, but in more moderate climates with just a couple weeks of hot days, consider cooling with more traditional methods like ceiling fans, tower fans or even better, a whole house fan. A whole house mounts in the ceiling at the home’s highest point … such as above the top of the stairwell landing … pulls air from windows through the house and vents into the attic. Ranging from $200 to $800, a whole house, high capacity fan runs more quietly and efficiently at lower speeds. Even at hotter temperatures, the moving air evaporates perspiration from the skin, allowing inhabitants to feel cooler.

Compliments of Virtual Results

What Matters Most? Why Location Trumps Everything!

Home Location

Take a lesson from that old real estate adage “location, location, location.” Many seasoned homeowners will tell you that the size of your home and the amount of space you have—including extra living rooms, game rooms, or even acreage — becomes far less important to you in short order if the location is wrong.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • How long is my commute to work? At first blush, the thrill of ownership may overshadow a long commute. Eventually, however, many commuters begin to feel that their families get to live in the home and they just visit for a few hours in the evening and on weekends. If being part of family life is important to you, look for something closer to your work, even if it’s a little smaller.
  • Is it near to my children’s schools? As children progress through school, the number of activities for them to be involved in increases dramatically. If the commute to their school for ball games, drama club, band practice and the like is too long, either you’ll spend all of your family life on the road or your children may miss out on things that could be important to them.
  • How far away is shopping? Living on rural property or in a newer housing development may seem like the perfect opportunity, but if you run short on milk for breakfast, is it an hour round trip to the nearest market? Or, if you choose an urban condo for its great walk score to restaurants and nightlife, do you have to have a vehicle to drive just to find groceries? The inconvenience of far-away shopping affects the enjoyment of your new home.
  • Do I enjoy activities in the nearest community? Whether urban, suburban or rural, your connection to your community affects your satisfaction and contentment with your location. If you prefer the theatre, but live in a community that only celebrates agriculture, your quality of life may suffer. Conversely, if you love the great outdoors, but your city only offers indoor activities, you may need to rethink the location of your home.

Other considerations:

Of course, one of the biggest reasons to consider location is the future sale of your home. No matter how lovely your home is, or how perfect in every other way, its location can make or break a future sale.

But, if you’re concerned about the environment, the location of your home can leave a larger or smaller carbon footprint. An EPA study points out that a home’s location relative to public transportation, energy sources and the actual housing type significantly affect energy consumption.

Before beginning your home search, take time to reflect on what is most important to you. Then, let your real estate professional in on the secret. He’ll narrow his search to those locations that fit your needs, wants and desires best.

Compliments of Virtual Results

Does Size Really Matter?

Does Size Really Matter?

Now that you’re embarking on home ownership, you might wonder how large a space you actually need. After all, apartments tend to be a bit smaller than the average home and the siren song of extra space lures many a buyer into purchasing the biggest bang for their buck. While the size of houses increased during the early 2000s, the new home market shows a 15 percent decrease in square footage for the average home.

While some buyers yearn for more space, others have downsized … even while their children still live in the home. In fact, a trend toward very small homes has increased in popularity in recent years.

While no one can decide what’s exactly right for your situation, here are some things to consider:

How much space do you really need? vs. How much space do you want or can afford?

To answer this question, you’ll need to spend some time determining your family’s lifestyle:

  • How many people will live in the house? Brothers of a similar age can easily share a room, for example, but teens may do better in a separate space from their younger siblings. If grandparents share the home too, they may enjoy their own living area.
  • Do you often have out-of-town guests? If so, you’ll need sleeping room for guests, and even an extra bath.
  • Do you have lots of indoor hobbies? Sewing, crafting and woodworking in your living space can make day-to-day life difficult for the rest of the family. If you have indoor crafts, you’ll need a home with an extra room, a large garage, workshop, basement or attic.
  • Do you work from home? Both for tax purposes and for your own sanity, you may need an office with its own door. Being able to “leave work” is a boost for most home-based entrepreneurs, too.
  • Does a larger home require more maintenance? If more space just means more time cleaning, you might be happier in a smaller space, but if a smaller space means constant purging and organizing, a little more room to store your stuff can fill the bill.
  • Do you plan to keep the home into your empty nest or retirement years? If so, you may be willing to live with less space-per-person now so that you have a paid-off home that’s just the right size later.

Talk to your professional

Deciding how much space you want or need, and how you plan to use it is important before you begin to look. Your agent may show you a beautiful home that you become infatuated with, but that isn’t really right for your needs … but if she knows your needs and how you want to live, she’s more likely to show you the home that becomes your long-time love—no matter what size it is.

Compliments of Virtual Results

Home Loans Especially for College Grads

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With outstanding student loan debt topping $1.2 trillion, and more than 40 million borrowers carrying student loan debt, the age of first-time homebuyers is edging upwards. Among millennials, homeownership is down from 43 percent a decade ago to just 36 percent today. Even though rates on mortgages are relatively low, the overall debt-to-income ratio of potential homebuyers in their 20s and 30s is relatively high.

Graduating from college or getting that advanced degree can propel your career, but student loans hanging over your head might make buying that first home more difficult. According to a 2012 study, qualifying for low-downpayment loans—or any loans—for those with higher debt loads due to student loans can be particularly unattainable. But newer options are coming available for successful college graduates that might open up doors for potential homebuyers.

USDA Loans

A specialty loan type geared toward rural housing, the USDA Home Loan Underwriters consider a college degree to be a “compensating factor” when evaluating applications for home loans. They have special ways of calculating student loans that are in deferment or are in an income-based repayment (IBR) status depending on the documentation of your arrangements, so keeping great records on your student loans is really important.

FHA Loans

When calculating the debt-to-income ratio for FHA loans, the Federal Housing Administration calculates loans that are deferred beyond 12 months differently than loans that may require payments to begin sooner. Again, the FHA lender requires supporting evidence regarding your loan’s deferment status. If you are a co-signer on a student loan, your lender’s standards may differ, too.

How can you qualify?

Data from top lenders shows that about an equal number of loans to millennials with student debt are funded as are denied. That means that other factors regarding student loan debt affect approval during underwriting. According to some analyses, a difference in monthly student loan payment amounts of $500 versus $300 can derail a loan, as can a few points one way or the other on a credit score.

Check out new loan products

Standard loan underwriting by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae may continue to slow home mortgages to graduates with student loans, but some lenders are creating options for graduates in good standing.

Requiring as little as ten percent down, a SoFi mortgage has flexible debt-to-income requirements in its underwriting process for graduates with education debt. While not yet available in all state, these loan products are available in twenty-three states and the District of Columbia. Expansion to other states is in the works.

These mortgages do not require private mortgage insurance (PMI) or loan origination fees, saving new millennial homeowners a little more in the monthly outgo, too. According to their website, loans tend to close in as few as 21 days due to their streamlined underwriting process.

Compliments of Virtual Results

Should I Haggle Over the Price?

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Buying a home, especially for the first time, is emotional. You’ve saved and scrimped for months—years even—and now you’ve found the home of your dreams. You’re in love and you don’t want someone else to get it.

Joss Whedon, the mastermind behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer says, “Never sit at a table you can’t walk away from.” That is, don’t begin a negotiation if you’re not willing to say “no” if it doesn’t move in the direction you favor. The truth is…if you can’t walk away from that home, you probably won’t do well and may even give up more than you need to.

When you’re negotiating over the purchase of a home that you’ve become emotionally invested in, it’s more difficult to stand your ground or walk away when the haggling becomes fierce. To succeed in a negotiation, you need resolve based on facts, not emotions.

Base your resolve on knowledge of the market: knowing the market gives you the advantage moving on to another similar home if this one doesn’t work out.

Let your professional do the haggling: Your real estate professional knows which areas in the deal might be negotiable and which probably aren’t. She also knows, or can learn, more about the home’s situation.

  • Has it been on the market for a while?
  • Is it being sold by the former residents? Or, is it being sold by a nephew that inherited it? Is it part of a divorce? The more you know about the seller, the better you can judge if they’ll negotiate. Public records can give you some information about both the property and the seller.
  • Are there circumstances in the neighborhood that can give you wiggle room (i.e. a shopping mall going in near by, periodic odors wafting in the home’s direction a couple times a year from nearby industry)?
  • Know what the nearby comparable homes sold for and why (updated kitchen, new bath, in-ground sprinklers).
  • Ask! If you don’t ask, you don’t know. The more questions you ask, the more information you have to negotiate with.
  • Stick to the basics and don’t get hung up on easily changed decorations, appliances, carpeting or window treatments. You’re buying the structure.
  • Avoid contingencies. If you’re asking for concessions and negotiating the price, don’t expect the seller to agree to a contingency on the sale of the home you currently own.
  • Determine which is most important to you: location, price or size. Then, craft your negotiations around the on that is most important to you and your family.
  • Know if you’re in a buyer’s market, a seller’s market or a balanced market so you can tailor your negotiations to the market forces. In a seller’s market, try negotiating for simple additions to sweeten the pot, but don’t offer low-ball pricing unless you know the seller is in a distressed situation. In a buyer’s market, push for options on closing times, upgrades to flooring or appliances or keeping the patio furniture. In a balanced market, expect negotiations to take longer, or agree to things like splitting costs.

You want the seller to feel that he came out well, even if you win some concessions in the negotiations. When both the buyer and seller feel good about the transaction, the negotiations will be smoother and more positive.

Compliments of Virtual Results

Futuristic Kitchen Upgrades

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A recent display at the Saloni design fair in Milan, Italy, featured parts of Concept Kitchen 2025, a collaboration between IKEA, the IDEO design firm and Swedish design students. Their exhibit showcases concepts from tables that double as computers and cooktops to food storage appliances that read RFID chips on food packaging that programs the correct storage temperature via “smart induction cooling technology.”

In addition to technological advances, the displays included more traditional and even ancient technology such as naturally cooling terracotta storage boxes for root vegetables, potatoes, garlic or onions.

Other technology included ingenious designs for collecting gray water to reuse for watering plants or pre-washing dishes, faucets that respond to the intensity of touch by increasing or reducing water pressure, and visible food storage that encourages healthful snacking.

Many of the designs promoted the concept of small but adjustable living. Since many people will live in cities where space is scarce, kitchens with adjustable to fit the needs of the user with more or less storage, changes in the height of shelving, expandable tables and other surfaces, and other options.

While these designs may be incorporated into future appliances and kitchen items, some items may be in stores sooner. Move over, Jettsons … check out these futuristic kitchen helps available now.

  • Minipresso: This miniature espresso machine can travel with you anywhere. It is lightweight, compact and operates by hand so it does not impact on the environment.
  • Indoor microgarden: Grow your own herbs without the dirt or mess in an origami-inspired paper gardening kit.
  • SpreadThat: An advanced butter knife that uses your body heat to soften the butter as it slices offers up the perfect spread.
  • Interactive Prep Pad: a scale and prep area that keeps track of nutritional values to help you reach your health goals.
  • Furtif knives: These laser-bonded, titanium carbide kitchen knives only require sharpening once every couple of decades or so.
  • WiFi enabled Crock-Pot: When timing is everything, this slow cooker allows you to control it from wherever you are via your 3G, 4G or WiFi enabled smart device. You can adjust the cooking time, the temperature or turn it off from wherever you happen to be, so dinner is ready right on time.
  • ChillThat icecream dish: A step of from frosty mugs, this cool number keeps your icy treat frozen while you eat it. The refreezable bowl and cover are composed of an engineered thermal absorption material that protects your ice cream while keeping it the perfect temperature.

Compliments of Virtual Results

Why Use Wood-Look Tile?

Wood-Look Tile

A newer trend sweeping the building industry is the use of wood-look porcelain or ceramic tiles. While natural wood flooring is still an optimal choice for most homes, here are some reasons you may want to take a second look at wood-look or wood-grain tiles:

Humidity situations:

  • Moisture: if you live in a humid or moist climate, natural wood may succumb to warping or swelling when exposed to excess moisture. Fluctuations in humidity levels where the level in the air is higher than the level in the wood can cause a condition known as “cupping.” Cupping is when the floor has a washboard appearance and feels uneven underfoot.
  • Lack of moisture: in the reverse situation, where the wood has more moisture than the air, the moisture in the wood evaporates and causes shrinkage. In plank wood flooring, gaps may form between the planks. Parquet flooring exposed to low humidity may loosen and break apart. Even in typically high-humidity areas, running a furnace in the winter can reduce indoor humidity enough to damage wood flooring.
  • Properly laid porcelain or ceramic wood-look plank tiles give the rich look of wood, but do not swell or shrink with excess humidity or arid conditions.

Temperature control:

  • In warm climates, the cost of air conditioning can be a budget breaker. Ceramic and porcelain tiles are cooler to the touch and can help reduce the need for excessive air-conditioning.
  • At the same time, ceramic and porcelain tile is not as cool to the touch as marble, for example, so in colder climates it is not too cold in the wintertime. If your climate tends to extremes, you can mitigate the cold flooring in winter by installing radiant or hydronic (circulate water) heating mats under the tile.

Durability:

  • Tile comes in five varying grades of durability rated from light traffic to extra heavy traffic. The choice of tile should reflect the traffic and use that it will receive. Tile strength is graded by the Porcelain Enamel Institute and rated for hardness from Group 0 (only wall tile) to Group 1 (I, or PEI1) through Group 5 (V, or PEI5).
  • Compared to wood or carpet, ceramic or porcelain tile is water, stain and wear resistant. That means you can get a wood look in your kitchen or bath and not worry about damaging the floor if your dishwasher floods or the kids start a water fight in the shower.
  • Scratches can mar the look of wood flooring, requiring expensive sanding and refinishing. Laminate flooring like Pergo cannot be repaired once scratched—those individual planks need to be replaced. Depending on the grade, ceramic or porcelain tile is nearly impervious to scratches from normal wear and tear, so if you’re one of those homeowners that like to move the furniture every week or two, but love the look of wood flooring, wood-like tiles are a win-win.

Resale value

For homeowners, along with all other considerations is the concept of resale value and return on investment (ROI). Wood flooring increases home values, but wood-look ceramic or porcelain tile can add the same or similar value over the long-term. Additionally, tile often is less expensive to install, so your return on investment can be even greater.

The best choice is the choice that fits you and your family’s lifestyle, continues to look good for years and is easy to maintain.

Compliments of Virtual Results

Help for Prospective Homebuyers

Help for Prospective Homebuyers

While there is no dearth of advice when it comes to saving up to buy a home, some of us just need a little more help.

Introducing the Housing Counselor

What, you ask, is a housing counselor? Different from a real estate agent or broker, a housing counselor is a neutral party that does not make money from the purchase (or sale) of a home. Her sole mission is to:

  • Educate potential homeowners so that when they make the decision to purchase a home, they are reading financially, and
  • Help them keep the home once they’ve purchased it.

Many housing counselors work for non-profit and not-for-profit organizations. They offer unbiased information, recommendations and options for each client’s circumstances. Their information and advice takes into account the potential homebuyer’s financial history, family situation and time of life, and future goals and plans. To them, it’s all about you … not about making a sale or commission.

When you develop a relationship with a housing counselor, you can maintain that relationship through all phases of your homeownership experience. In fact, coming to the table to purchase your first home with the advice of a housing counselor makes the job of your professional real estate agent more focused and directed. You already know how much you can afford, and how much you need. You’ll know which loan options will for you.

When a Housing Counselor is required

Sometimes, meeting with a housing counselor is a requirement of being approved for a loan. This often is true in the case of homebuyers utilizing low-downpayment loans and government subsidized loan programs. If you’re wanting to purchase a home after a bankruptcy or foreclosure, a housing counselor can help you find programs set up directly to assist you if your situation has improved, despite what your credit history says.

Sometimes a required meeting with a housing counselor helps you fully understand the ramifications of alternative financial products, such as a HUD reverse mortgage or possible federal and local grants that might be available for your situation. When you meet with a housing counselor, they’ll show you the various loan options available and explain how each one works, what the requirements are for approval and how it can impact your finances now and in the future.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) offers advice on owning a home, keeping a home and loan options. Their website offers links to HUD-approved housing counselors to help you through the process.

If you are working with a housing counselor, let your real estate professional know. We can coordinate our search with the recommendations from your housing counselor so that your home buying experience is optimal for you. Knowing ahead of time helps us define the parameters in our search to show you the very best options for your home purchase.

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Lofts — Not Just for the Young

 

Lofts — Not Just for the Young

As a real estate trend, loft living is here to stay. Originally thought of as live/work spaces for artists and musicians, the term “loft” evokes transformed warehouses and industrial spaces with exposed brickwork, open pipes and electrical conduits and other industrial-type accoutrements such as old wood or concrete floors. While the original concept of a loft is the transformation of an old commercial building into big, open living spaces, modern lofts can include new construction and spaces with walls, too. Buyers drawn to loft living include historic artistic residents, young professionals and even empty nesters and Baby Boomers.

Easy care

While artists are looking for more space and young professionals want to be nearer to work and nightlife, empty nesters desire the spaces as an answer to their need for less demanding upkeep. With no yard to mow or flowerbeds to tend, roofs to replace or leaves to rake, the urban life is a great draw for active mid-life professionals once their children leave home.

Easy access

Living in a warehouse just for the sake of living in a warehouse is not what we’re talking about here. Even in small communities, downtown living typically means being nearer to activities, theatres, public libraries, medical care, shopping, offices and public transportation. For some, living nearer to the places they like to go means they’ll actually get to experience events more often. Leaving work, driving home to the suburbs only to turn around and come back into the city for a show, concert, gallery opening, etc. is a huge effort compared to stepping out the front door of your loft building and walking a couple blocks to the theatre district.

Alternatives

As urban loft living grows in popularity, the strict definition of a loft as a transformed warehouse, commercial or industrial building has given way to some new construction and to the so-called “soft lofts.” Due to the popularity of actual converted lofts, savvy developments replicating some of the features of traditional lofts into new construction offer an option for urban loft-style living in newly-built buildings that take advantage of the urban atmosphere and open floorplans. But, they offer lower-cost utilities with the use of more ecologically designed windows or more efficient heating and cooling options. Often, soft-lofts use recycled materials and renewable resources. Additionally, rather than one large space, a soft-loft may have actual walls dividing bedrooms from kitchens and other more traditional apartment features including built-in closets.

Community

A most compelling reason for loft living in an urban area is the sense of close community that many residents claim from living and working near to where they also shop and play.

If you’re interested in learning more about loft-style condominiums or commercial buildings that might make a great loft conversion, we can guide you through the ins and outs. Give us a call today and we’ll get started.

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