Some Reasons to Hire a Real Estate Appraiser

A real estate appraiser can do more than help you determine the value of your home and property. Here are four ways a solid real-estate appraisal can help in other areas:

– Settle your estate. A real estate appraiser can help you valuate your property. A clear understanding of your estate’s worth will help you organize wills and inheritances.
– Purchase insurance. Without a recent appraisal, it’s possible to underinsure your home. Have a real estate appraiser determine the current value of your home before you buy insurance.
– Reduce property taxes. Have your property appraised if you suspect its value has decreased. A lower home value isn’t ideal for selling, but it will save you from paying higher property taxes.
– Determine future improvements. A professional appraiser will highlight the areas of your home that need work. Based on your appraiser’s recommendations, you’ll know where to start your home upgrades.

Should You Know About Second Houses and Investment Properties

Second homes are a great choice whether you’re looking for a summer retreat or an investment property. There is a laundry list of considerations to think about before making such a huge investment, however. Make sure you’re informed about all your options before you buy.

A Smart Purchase

There are two reasons most homeowners buy a second home: as a vacation property or investment. Regardless of what you use your new house for, any second home can easily be both of the above. Real estate is one of the safest and most profitable long-term investments a person can make. And if you’re careful about where you purchase your new home, there’s no reason it can’t be a weekend getaway for you and a money making rental property as well!

Rent It or Not?

A smart purchase in a desirable area means your new vacation home can double as a place to rent out to others when you’re away. By charging a reasonable rate to pre-screened, short term renters, you can easily make enough to pay for your new mortgage payments and even pocket a little bit extra on the side. Of course, not every homeowner wants to deal with the hassles of trusting their home to strangers. If that sounds like you, don’t fret. By being smart about where you buy and what you purchase, you’ll end up with a home that is attractive to both renters and future buyers. Either way, purchasing a second home is a win/win proposition.

Additional Considerations

Here are a few ideas to consider as you begin your search for the perfect new house:

– Look for homes with great views and ones that are close to parks and open space. Not only will these features make them more attractive to renters looking for a vacation getaway, but they also increase the re-sale value of your home. Unobstructed views of mountains and oceans can add up to 60% to a home’s value, while proximity to parks and open space can raise property values up to 20%.
– Calculate possible rental rates before you buy, whether you plan to rent or not. You might change your mind later about renting out your home when your away, but even if you don’t, a house that demands higher rent makes it more attractive to future buyers.
– Think about selling your current home and buying two new homes! If you’ve been paying down your mortgage and have lived in your current home for a while, think about using the equity you’ve built up in your current residence to help purchase your second property. And if you’re close to retirement and the kids have all flown the coop, think about downsizing to a smaller home for your primary residence as well. You could easily end up owning two homes for about the same price you were paying for the first!
– Look for a Low Maintenance Home. This is important for several reasons. For starters, you won’t be there all the time to keep up on maintenance chores, and when you are there you won’t want to waste your vacation working on the house. Secondly, most vacation homes are in areas where the elements take their toll. Whether it’s a seafront property or a mountain getaway, these climates tend to wear on a house quicker than in other areas. Purchasing a solid home built with low maintenance materials will ensure your time and money are spent on nights on the town instead of on mounting repairs.

Renovate Your Home for Best Selling

Everyone selling a home wants to pad the profit margin and get top dollar for the property. Yet, buyers on the other end want to make sure they’re getting a deal. Fortunately, it’s possible to make both parties happy at the closing table. It all starts with an honest look at the house and careful evaluation of how well it matches up with the potential buyers’ expectations. With these renovation tips for getting the best selling value help sellers prepare their properties for a big sale.

Make the first impression memorable.

When it comes to real estate, first impressions count. In fact, many buyers decide within a few minutes whether they want to add a home to their short list of options or ignore it altogether. For this reason, spending a little time and money on the entryway pays off. The to-do list for this task should include the following:

Take down old spider webs.
Sweep the floors.
Add a coat of paint to faded floors.
Remove or replace broken furniture.
Repair broken doorbells.
Spruce up the area with potted plants, flowers, and throw rugs.

Install an awning or portico over the front door.
Homeowners who don’t have the time to clean themselves should hire a professional cleaning service to do this for a few hundred dollars. One final consideration for the entry area is replacing the existing door, especially if it shows signs of age like, is drafty, or doesn’t fit the house’s architectural style. This project has minimal costs and brings a 75 to 100 percent return on the investment.

Give the house room to grow.

In general, buyers still prefer houses with open floor plans that offer flexibility. According to Consumer Reports, millennials say this is the second-most important characteristic they look for in a home. To create this, sellers can remove non-structural walls like a partial divider between a kitchen and living room or replace a bulky kitchen island with a portable one that frees up room in the center of the kitchen. In small rooms, replace heavy drapes with shutters or blinds that create a streamlined look or install cabinetry or storage units to keep space-hogging clutter out of sight. Other ways to show off the flexibility of the floor plan include finishing the basement and converting the attic to an additional bedroom or office space.

Ceiling fan in V-roof

Today’s homebuyers also show interest in energy efficient homes, as they view them better for the environment and more cost-effective over time. Since houses lose considerable heated and cooled air through inefficient windows and doors, sellers can boost their home’s value by replacing aging ones with energy efficient models. Another option is to replace siding with newer material that is fade resistant and offers more insulation. One such product is fiber-cement siding. Although it costs more than vinyl siding, it offers an attractive look and excellent durability. Other energy-efficient remodels include:

Replace traditional light fixtures with LED lights.
Add solar panels to the roof.
Replace an aging air conditioner or heating system.
Install tubular skylights to bring in natural light.
Add or replace insulation in the walls and attic.
Homeowners who are not sure how energy efficient their homes are can hire a professional to evaluate the home. These individuals can also give tips for improving the energy efficient of the home.

Find the right floors.

Buyers inspect houses from top to bottom, and they do pay attention to the surface they’re walking on. Sellers need to replace broken tiles or damaged laminate flooring, scrub stains out of carpet, and spruce up natural hardwood. It’s also a good idea to get rid of mismatched floors or dated pieces made from vinyl or linoleum around the house. Updating the flooring doesn’t cost as much as other home renovation projects, and it makes a big difference in the look of the room. Natural hardwood and cork floors are popular with today’s buyers who want durable, yet eco-friendly floors. Flooring is also an important consideration for buyers who have concerns about allergens. Instead of carpeting, the prefer hard-surface floors like laminate or tile since they are easier to clean and do not harbor potentially dangerous allergens.

Give the heart of the home some character.

Kitchen remodels still rank at the top of the list of most desired home renovations, which should be no surprise since the kitchen is the busiest room inside. These renovations range from simple upgrades of fixtures and hardware to complete remodels, such as replacing the following:

Cabinet and drawer pulls
Appliances and sinks
Flooring
Cabinets or cabinet doors
Counter tops
Faucet

Stainless steel appliances remain popular with buyers who enjoy the sleek, modern look they bring to the room. Durable counter tops made from material like quartz and sustainable flooring like cork also score points with buyers.

Know More About Home Appraisals

There are any number of reasons why you might want to get a home appraisal. They can reduce your property taxes, aid in selling or buying a home, facilitate divorce proceedings, and enable home refinancing (including preventing foreclosure). Of course, depending on your circumstances, you may be hoping for a lower or higher home appraisal. Regardless, you should know a little about the process and how it works, both to decide if a home appraisal is in your best interest and to take any possible steps to influence the final appraisal number.

Home Appraisers

Given that home appraisals are often used by mortgage lenders, local governments, and real estate agencies, it should come as no surprise that these individuals go through a regulated licensing process. The Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) sets and maintains guidelines to help ensure a uniform appraisal process. That said, a home appraisal is essentially nothing more than an opinion about what your home and property is worth, albeit the opinion is supposed to be an objective one.

This is done primarily by looking at how comparable-sized homes are selling in your neighborhood. Generally, at least three of these comparable homes must be considered to generate a valid appraisal. Naturally, a home appraiser will adjust the final value for specific home improvements and the general condition of your home, but this home comparison starts the baseline value of your home.

Preparing Your Home for Appraisal

There is generally less that can be done to influence a home appraisal than most people think. Clutter and dirt has no effect on a home appraisal unless it has begun to affect the structural integrity of the house. Most home appraisers have seen it all when it comes to appraising a still furnished home, so there’s no need to be embarrassed by your clutter. The most hideously painted walls, too, won’t make a bit of difference. Neither will the most posh home furnishings.

On the other hand, the general condition of your floors and walls will have an impact on the value of your home. Fix any damage in the drywall; clean your floors to make them look as well-maintained as possible. If you’re trying to get a higher home appraisal, make sure you have paperwork on any home improvement projects that aren’t obvious. If the laminate flooring, for example, still has three years left on its installation warranty, show this to the home appraiser. Some general outdoor landscaping may also be in order, but otherwise don’t spend a bunch of time or money on smaller items that won’t have any bearing on your home appraisal.

Conducting Your Own Home Appraisal

While you can’t guarantee what your home appraisal will be, doing your own research can help you predict where your appraisal may come in at. This can be useful in deciding whether hiring a home appraiser is worth the cost. If you’re not at least in the ballpark of where the property value needs to be to refinance your home, it’s probably best to save what money you do have. At the same time, know that mortgage brokers may pressure the home appraiser to overprice the home to get a larger loan amount. In the rare circumstance that an appraisal needs to be challenged, doing your own research can also help your cause.

At the same time, if you’re getting your home appraised to sell it yourself, you’ll want to let the appraiser know this. Typically, home appraisers run to real estate agencies to get their home comparisons. If you can tell the home appraiser specifically what other homes have sold for in your area, that’s even better. As objective as the process is supposed to be, these factors can have a dramatic effect on the final value the appraiser reaches.

Know Some Reasons Your House Isn’t Selling

It’s heading towards late summer and your house still has that “For Sale” sign out in the front yard. Remember, it’s not your house anymore, so you may have rearrange a few things in order to make it seem like somebody else’s dream home. Here are the top five reasons houses don’t sell, and how to go about addressing these particular predicaments.

It’s a Buyer’s Market

All real estate is local. So depending on what part of the country your house is in, it could be that the buyer’s have the leverage in that area or neighborhood. A high price can quickly turn off a buyer and prevent them from entering the door. It’s the hardest thing you’ll have to ever do but don’t be afraid to lower the asking price. You or your realtor will need to check what recent, comparable homes have sold for in the last few months to get an accurate picture of what buyers will pay for your home. In areas where it’s a buyer’s market, you will need to aggressively price your home in order to catch the eye of the limited amount of buyers. Keep in mind that it is the market and facts that dictate how much your home is worth, not what you think it should sell for based on the money you’ve invested in it.

Adverse Investments

You’ve spent a lot of time fixing your home, but did the money go to the right places? For example, there’s nothing wrong with sprucing up your landscaping, but if you have a backyard full of decks, fountains, and streams, yet your kitchen is dated and falling apart, you may be not be getting the proper mileage out of your remodel. Even an outdoor pool isn’t a great bargaining chip since only 20% of buyers (aside from the Southwest) look for this in a house. So if you’re struggling to sell and still have equity built up, think about renovating a few key areas. The biggest sellers are kitchens and bathrooms. Other rooms may take a fresh coat, but these two areas are crucial. And don’t get crazy with granite counters or hardwood floors (this could actually inflate the price, making it less marketable). Instead, refinish the cabinets. Replace a vanity with a pedestal sink. Get a couple new appliances. These small investments instantly double the appeal of a room.

Don’t Live in the Dark

You have a great house but can anyone see it? It’s amazing how sellers spend time and money on renovations only to not highlight these selling points. What’s even more remarkable is what a little light can do to a room. Open up the space by adding natural light or larger windows (even if this means just opening the drapes). Take down the dark, busy wallpaper and wood paneling: not only is this stuff probably outdated, it can make a room feel claustrophobic. Repaint the walls a lighter shade and install light fixtures (or add more if needed). Install spotlights in your yard or track lighting under the cabinets to highlight counter space. Buyers want their future house to be open, airy, and inviting, so just a few brightening installations can help a small room become roomier.

That Is So You!

Two words you never want to hear at an open house: “That’s . . . interesting!” Yes, you’ve made your house a home. You’ve made it part of your personality. That’s great, but when you’re selling it’s not about you. Therefore you have to remove your life from the space and allow the buyer to imagine their life moving in. It’s hard to cut the apron strings, but keep your as home neutral as possible. This doesn’t mean you have to paint every wall white (this sterile remodel can actually decrease its value), but strange never sells. Take down the animal heads from the study. Remove the keg fridge from the kitchen. Most people don’t own a ping pong table, so get it out of the living room and into the garage. Get rid of the leopard-print rugs. Take down the “interesting” art pieces. Eliminate anything that appears unusual to the rest of the general population.

You’re On Stage

Staging is important to conceal the blemishes and highlight the features. It’s not unethical to put your best foot forward. You’re just trying to get buyers interested; inspections and negotiations come later. So hide the eyesores: put a slip cover over an old couch, cover the A/C unit with a window treatment, or place a rug over a stain. Then enhance the selling points: clean the windows, cut the grass, set out flowers in the kitchen, and light candles in the bathroom. And if you’re already moved out, rent furniture for the open house: a furnished home always looks bigger and better than an empty space.

Know Best Time to Buy a House

You know you should buy a home. Eventually. But timing matters when it comes to such an enormous and potentially life-changing purchase. Which begs the question: When is the best time to buy a house? Does such a moment exist when all lights turn green, guaranteeing this is a decision you won’t regret?

While there’s no crystal ball in real estate, there are some fairly easy-to-read signs that a home purchase is something you should consider. Let’s dive into some of the factors that can influence whether the time is right for you to pull the trigger.

Your finances

For many people, knowing when to buy a home all comes down to the numbers. Here are the biggest pieces of that equation.

You have a down payment: If you need a mortgage to buy a home, you should know that most lenders will want you to show them the money—that is, have a sizable down payment. For most conventional loans, you’ll need to scrape together 20% of a home’s price, or $60,000 on a $300,000 home. Amassing that cash can be challenging, but know that some lenders can require as little as 5% down. You also may want to check into down payment assistance programs; many homeowners are surprised to find that they qualify.
You can afford a monthly mortgage: How much you can afford in monthly mortgage hinges on your income and debts. Higher income is good, of course; higher debt is bad. Check out a mortgage calculator for an easy way to plug in your salary and debts to see how much home you can afford in your area.
You have a good credit score: Your credit score is a measure of how well you’ve paid off past debts. Lenders look at this number to prognosticate how well you’ll pay them back, too. If you have no credit history, you should get some fast (lenders will want to see at least a year of payments under your belt). If your credit score is poor, you may want to do what you can to bring it up to snuff, because a higher credit score means you’ll stand to land a better loan.
Market conditions

Housing markets go through highs, lows, and bubbles—much like stocks. As such, you may be wondering whether current market conditions are conducive to buying (e.g., “Wow, you can buy a whole townhouse for under two hundred grand?”) or a total rip-off (e.g., “a two-bedroom for a half-million, seriously?!”).

Sadly, the adage for stocks applies to housing, too: It’s impossible to perfectly time the market. Yet there is still something to be said for considering economic conditions.

“You should never buy a home you can’t afford, but sometimes market conditions offer a little incentive to get off the sidelines,” says Mark Abdel, a real estate professional with Re/Max Advantage Plus in Minneapolis–St. Paul.

You’ll want to consider the following:

Inventory: Look through listings for your area. If the majority of houses have been sitting on the market for more than six months, then the market is slow and prices should be OK. But if many properties get snapped up in months, or even weeks, this suggests you’re in a seller’s market—and that’s where buyer bidding wars could drive up prices. Of course, they could just continue to climb, or they may have peaked and go down. Local real estate agents can give you the lay of the land and their predictions, but just remember it’s anyone’s guess what could happen next.
Interest rates: Interest rates on home loans also fluctuate depending on market conditions. Currently interest rates are fairly low but have been inching up fast, which has many thinking of buying a home before they rise even higher. Make sure to check out interest rates in your area.
Renting vs. buying: A final factor to consider is whether it’s cheaper to own or rent, based on the market conditions in your area. You can figure that out with our rent vs. buy calculator.
Does time of year matter?

Conventional wisdom says to buy during the peak seasons of spring and summer, when there may be more options. But that also translates into more competition and potentially higher prices. That’s why you shouldn’t neglect fall and winter for home shopping, especially if the other conditions above line up.

“Buying off-season usually gives buyers more negotiating power for both the price and the closing date,” Abdel says, because off-season sellers are often more motivated to sell and therefore may be more willing to make a deal.

How long should you stay put?

Last but not least, one final factor to consider regarding when to buy a house is whether you plan to stick around. Buying a home carries a bunch of upfront costs, so it’s generally best you don’t sell soon after you’ve closed the deal. Typically home buyers should expect to stay in their house at least five years to make this investment worthwhile.

All About Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)

How Does HELOC Work?

Home equity line of credit (HELOC) works like a credit line. You will receive special “equity” checks that can be used to advance yourself a loan up to your approved available balance. Simply write the loan amount you need.

Some lenders will also provide credit card-like access to your HELOC line account. You can use this like a credit card and all transactions will be posted to your home equity line account.

QUICK TIP: Over the life of a loan, remember the loan with an overall lower APR is less costly than a loan with a higher APR.
One word of caution. Even though your account is protected against fraudulent use, the last thing you need is to have your home exposed to potential fraud in the event you lose your card or someone obtains access to your card numbers.

It’s recommended that you use the special equity checks to access your HELOC account. Keep and protect them in your home. Never carry these checks with you.

When you need to access your home equity line of credit account, write the loan amount you need with your equity check and deposit it in your bank checking or money account. Then use the debit or check card that came with your money account to charge transactions at retail and other establishments.

How Are HELOC Rates Determined?

Home equity line rates are variable and indexed to the PRIME RATE or some other rate index. This means your rate can increase or decrease whenever the PRIME RATE changes. The rate (APR) is calculated by taking a margin (percentage) and adding it to the PRIME RATE.

Whenever the PRIME RATE increases, your monthly payment due will likewise increase. Whenever the PRIME RATE decreases, your monthly payment due will likewise decrease.

The interest (APR) that will be charged to your home equity line of credit account will be only on the amount you actually use, not on the total amount of your credit line.

If the lending institution uses an index other than the “PRIME RATE,” request to view historical changes for the index rate being used. Compare this trend against the historical trends for the “PRIME RATE” to note frequency changes in APR and how high the interest rate has climbed.

All HELOC accounts must list the rate cap for the account. This cap may vary by state.

What Are HELOC Payment Terms?

Minimum payment terms for home equity lines of credit may include one of the following plans:

Interest only plus any penalty-related fees
Percentage of the principal plus interest and any penalty-related fees
Keep in mind that any principal repayment will not reduce your balance to zero at the time your HELOC account closes. You must pay an additional amount to reduce your balance to zero over a repayment term.

These repayment terms may vary by lender. You should be able to pay down your home equity line account at any time without prepayment penalties. If not, find another lender.

With most programs, you can advance yourself a loan as many times as your like, as long as the advance does not exceed your approved available balance:

The advance feature is usually available for 5-10 years at most lending institutions, at which time you may renew your home equity line option, pay off the loan amount, or convert your home equity line balance over to a fixed rate equity loan amortized at repayment terms set by the lender.

Again, these terms may differ by lender. Some lenders do not offer a renewable feature or allow conversion of the home equity line balance over to fixed-rate amortized loan.

Be sure to review the terms before making your final decision.

Home Equity Loans

How Do Home Equity Loans Work?

The home equity loan is a fixed rate loan. The money is advanced to you when you close your equity loan. This advance is a one-time loan, with no further advances made on your account.

How Are Home Equity Loan Rates Determined?

Home equity loan rates are fixed and set by the bank. The rate will not go up or down during the repayment period of the loan.

What Are Home Equity Loan Payment Terms?

Your monthly payments are fixed. The amount and number of payments depend on the repayment terms of your loan. Lenders offer a range of repayment terms, generally from 5-20 years.

You may pay off your home equity loan at any time, but you should check the lender’s prepayment terms. Some lenders will charge a prepayment penalty under certain circumstances.

How Much Can You Borrow with HELOC or a Home Equity Loan?

The approved available home equity line or home equity loan balance is secured by the equity in your home. The total amount approved depends on your LTV position, which is determined by taking a percentage of the appraised value of your home and subtracting the balance owed on the existing mortgage.

How To Preparing Your Home for the Market

Before you put your house on the market, set aside some time to spruce it up and maximize its sales appeal. Houses that are clean, uncluttered and in good repair sell faster.

A few weeks prior to listing your house, do an inspection tour, trying to look at things through the eyes of a stranger. Make a list of things that need to be cleaned and repaired and estimate the time, cost and priority of each chore. Take a particularly good look at your bathroom(s) and kitchen. Time and money invested in painting and refurbishing these key rooms will have maximum impact. Click this link to use a home inspection to your advantage.

Real estate agents who are interested in listing a home often provide recommendations for increasing its sales appeal. Pay attention to their suggestions. They know what matters to buyers and can be objective about your home’s flaws.

To-do list for sellers

Prior to showing your house:

Get rid of clutter on shelves, countertops and closets. Consider packing seldom-used items you don’t want to discard in boxes and storing them until you move.
Put excess furniture and items that are showing wear in storage until you move.
Rearrange the remaining furniture attractively. (Ask your agent or a friend to help you decide what goes where.)
Wash and/or paint walls that are dirty or chipped.
Wash blinds and clean curtains.
Shampoo carpets.
Fix leaky faucets and appliances that don’t work.
Get rid of junk that’s accumulated in your basement and garage. (You’ll have to do this before you move anyway, so why not get a head start?)
Consider having a yard sale.

While your house is on the market:

Keep the house clean. Tidy up, vacuum and dust daily, if possible, and do laundry before it piles up.
Keep the house clean. Tidy up, vacuum and dust daily, if possible, and do laundry before it piles up.
Keep a list of things to do and places to go while prospective buyers are viewing your house.
Cut or buy fresh flowers every few days.
Bake cookies or a pie on weekend mornings when you expect a lot of traffic, and before open houses, to make your home more welcoming and cozy.

After your house is sold:

Make sure you keep everything clean and in good working order.
Do any repairs you’ve agreed to look after in the sales contract.

If you have small children and find it hard to keep the house tidy, think about hiring a cleaning service or a neighboring teen to help you. You can also ask your real estate agent about the possibility of intensively marketing your home for a short period of time, then holding an auction to reduce the period during which it will be on view.

If you have older kids, ask them to keep their rooms tidy and to take on chores like daily vacuuming and dusting.

How To Prepare Your House for Sale

You want to sell your home for the best price. Start by enlisting a real estate agent and making a list of needed projects, to maximize the potential of your home.

Use this list to determine what to do before listing your home for sale:

1. Enlist a Real Estate Agent

An agent experienced with the market in your neighborhood is the most qualified person to determine how potential buyers will perceive your house.

2. Evaluate Your Curb Appeal

Curb appeal is critical because many prospective buyers will only drive by your home. Ideally, you want every person who stops and looks at the house from the curb to be sufficiently enamored that they want to come in to see more.

Curb appeal is made up of three primary components:

Front entrance
Landscaping
The rest of the front of the house
Front Entrance
The front door, porch and any surrounding windows and structures form the focal point for your home. A freshly painted door and polished door hardware can make it more attractive. Easy-to-read house numbers, a freshly painted mailbox and functioning porch lights are also important. The doorbell should work reliably. Sometimes a drab entrance can be dressed up with a couple of potted plants.

Landscaping
Another major component of curb appeal is landscaping. This includes the lawn, plants and such structures as retaining walls, walkways and steps. The trees and shrubs need to be well trimmed. Garden beds should be well defined and freshly mulched.

And, keep in mind that many homes have overgrown shrubs that hide the house and make it look smaller.

Also, consider power washing the concrete surfaces to make them appear new again.

Home’s Exterior
Look at the rest of the front of your house. Is the siding clean? Is the paint in good shape? Are the windows clean and clear of spider webs? Are the gutters clean and hung securely?

3. Update the Interior

Kitchens and Bathrooms
Kitchens and bathrooms can present problems. The question is whether renovating a kitchen or bath (or adding a bath) will ultimately pay for itself. If a kitchen is not updated, but is on par with the other houses on the market, no major changes need to be made.

Often a fresh coat of paint, a new countertop and a new floor are sufficient to bring a kitchen up to speed without great expense. The same is generally true of bathrooms.

Reduce Clutter

The next major issue to consider when getting your house ready for sale is often the least expensive and the most troublesome: getting rid of clutter. This is where the advice of an honest outsider, or better yet, a professional organizer, is important. If you are unable to take on the clutter problem immediately, the best thing to do is to put things into storage until you’re ready to sort through them or move.

Walls, Floors and Countertops

Regardless of the surface, if you are going to refurbish it, choose neutral colors. With paint, that nearly always means off-white. With floors, stick to lighter colors. In most cases, if you haven’t done much painting recently, it makes sense to repaint the entire interior.

If carpets are in good shape, a professional cleaning will usually suffice. If they are old or stained, you are better off either replacing them, or removing them and refinishing the floor underneath.

In the bathroom and kitchen, replacing an older vinyl floor can easily brighten things up. Use quality materials and avoid patterns and colors that are busy. Also note any tile or caulking problems.

Fixtures and Outlets

To check electrical fixtures, go through each room and try each electrical outlet by plugging in a portable lamp. Test every light switch, replacing bulbs when necessary. Test the faucets in the kitchen and baths. Note any that are leaking or otherwise in need of servicing.

4. Prioritize Your List of Home Improvement Projects

You have now identified everything that you will need to do to prepare your home for sale. Look at your overall list and decide on the things you want to handle yourself. Nearly all do-it-yourself projects take longer than you think, so be realistic about what you can accomplish on your own.

Determine the projects you are unable to do yourself. Group the projects by category. Many times service professionals prefer to receive larger projects, and you will save money by having everything repaired and updated simultaneously.

5. Remember to Use Patience

Complete your list of repairs before listing your home on the market. Your house will be more desirable to potential buyers and command a higher selling price. Avoid putting yourself in the position of showing the house before it’s ready.

Learn More About Recoup Remodeling & Addition Investments

When undertaking large remodeling and home addition projects, it is smart to research your local real estate market to find out if your project will return your investment when it is time to sell. Depending on where you live, the right project may return 100% of your investment. That is why research is the smartest way to begin any remodeling project.

Recoup Your Remodeling Investment

Remodeling projects should be done when you are planning to stay in the house for several years, not simply for the sake of trying to increase resale value. Since you can’t guarantee that you will get a decent return, it makes the most sense to remodel when you will be able to enjoy the benefits in the long run. Only minor remodels should be considered if selling is your primary goal.

Here is a sample of returns for some of the most popular home remodeling projects. Statistics are compiled from multiple published surveys and based on major cities within states:

Minor Kitchen Remodel: 125% (Connecticut)
Basement Remodel: 98% (California)
Bathroom Addition: 96% (Missouri)
Major Kitchen Remodel: 92% (Kentucky)
Bathroom Remodel: 90% (Oregon)
Exterior Paint: 90% (Pennsylvania)
Master Bedroom: 86% (Florida)

In general, across many real estate markets, kitchen and bathroom remodeling consistently offer the highest percentage return on your investment (80-100%). Bathroom and family room additions offer a fairly high return also. A master bedroom remodel can potentially get a high return.

Certain projects such as converting a basement or an attic into functional living space varies widely from region to region. The same is true for deck additions.

Remember Curb Appeal

Repainting the exterior of your home also shows decent returns in most markets. When preparing to sell your home, at least sprucing up your exterior paint is important. Without curb appeal, potential buyers will not even stop or get out of their car to give your house a chance.

Repainting is only part of curb appeal, however. A well-manicured lawn and attractive landscaping will grab buyers’ attention as well.

Keep Your Home’s Original Design Intact

When considering a remodeling project or addition, you should not only do research in your local real estate market, but also look around your neighborhood. Any improvement you make should be consistent with other homes on your block.

An elaborate addition in a modest neighborhood will stick out and will not provide the return you are hoping for based on the fact that someone who can afford the extra money to buy your home will most likely search in a more expensive neighborhood.

Along those same lines, keep the original design of your home in mind. Stick with either the same materials or complementing ones. Aim for a flowing congruency so that your home remains tastefully appealing on the inside and out.

Think through color scheme and decor in much the same way. Bold, eccentric color schemes that will stay with the house after you sell can deter potential buyers who lean on the conservative side. Being flamboyant with your remodel is a fine idea for those homeowners who plan to stay in their home for years to come. For those of you looking to move in two to three years, choosing neutral colors for floors and walls will benefit you when it’s time to sell.

Remodel for Your Needs, Not for Resale

When trying to decide whether or not you should take the plunge and remodel, think of your own needs. If you absolutely want to add on a deck, go for it. If you have a spacious basement and could use a children’s play area, don’t hesitate.

By concentrating completely on the return you might get from a home improvement project, you are limiting your options and basing your decision on a factor that is constantly changing.

Depending on the economy and the real estate market in your area, as well as other factors, your remodeling return could be more or less than you expect when it is time to sell.

Just remember that for the immediate future, you will determine the value of a luxurious bathroom remodel or sunroom addition. The enjoyment of improving your home for the rest of your time living in it might far outweigh what money you get back when it is time to sell.

Get Your Landlord to Take You Seriously

From the old cities of the East with high-rise apartments in shoddy condition, to small college towns in the Midwest with rental homes that haven’t seen an ounce of remodeling or repair since the home was built, to rental units that must endure the long, fierce summers of the Southwest, and the moisture-ridden dwellings of the Pacific Northwest–there isn’t a region in the United States that is exempt from the renter’s nightmare scenario.

Broken appliances, heating and cooling systems, plumbing, electrical and anything and everything that can go wrong with a home or apartment is something that can happen. Rental units that appear immaculate during the move-in process are far from immune to the scores of home maintenance repairs that every single building must endure. Hopefully, you’re fortunate enough to find a landlord who is willing to keep the unit in good condition and make repairs as needed. If not, you have recourse. Whether your unit is uninhabitable from heating, cooling, electrical or has a broken appliance, holes in the drywall or a pest problem, you need not suffer endlessly.

Chain of Commands: Ask, Demand, Act

There is no reason to be confrontational at the outset of a problem. Contact your landlord and plainly state the problem you’re having with your rental unit. The telephone may be the most efficient way, but email works well in the sense that you’ll have a built-in record of the request. One of four possible outcomes will result from this request: the landlord fixes the problem, actively refuses to fix the problem, ignores the request, or says he or she will fix the problem but then fails to do so.

If the problem isn’t fixed in a reasonable amount of time, you need to approach your landlord again. This time, be sure to create a paper trail that, in a worst-case scenario, can be presented in a court setting. Explain what is wrong with the unit, to the best of your knowledge what caused this problem, clearly give your landlord a reasonable ultimatum to remedy the situation and explain what you will do if the landlord continues to ignore the problem.

Possible courses of action that you can take if you still haven’t received a satisfactory response include finding a renter’s association or local housing authority to mediate for you, seeking judicial assistance in getting the unit repaired and having the problem fixed yourself and sending the bill to your landlord.

Proportional Response: Measure the Problem, Size Up the Landlord

If this summary of dealing with your landlord sounds vague, there is a good reason for this. The situation will play a large role in the exact timeline and how confrontational you should appear. Having your furnace or heating system fail in January can register as a true emergency that, by law, the landlord must fix within 24 hours of notification. Minor cracks in the drywall or a clogged garbage disposal, by contrast, don’t rank as emergency repairs. You should also take into account your landlord’s track record or for new landlords, the general vibe you got from signing the lease and moving in. If you have an uneasy feeling, you might consider being more stern during your initial approach.

Of course, the best thing to do is to try to identify and avoid negligent landlords from the start. In the case of an individually managed property, you should meet and discuss the lease before it’s signed. This will allow you to build a rapport with your landlord. If you can generate the impression that you’re a stand-up person, you may be able to get some leniency from your landlord from time to time or garner privileges such as being able to paint your new apartment the color you want. For a property management company, you should take a look at online reviews. Few companies will receive perfect marks, but you can also easily identify the worst offenders in your area.

Why Scribes Rule the World: Make a Record of Your Landlord’s Abuse

The golden rule of dealing with landlords is to keep a paper trail of everything. Although you never hope it comes to this, many disputes must be settled through renters’ associations, local housing authorities or small claims courts. In essentially every case, your ability to produce legitimate documentation of your landlord’s offenses against your rights as a tenant will determine the outcome of these proceedings.

In some cases, you can even game the system to your advantage. One renter from Chicago, IL recounted this anecdote. “I had a door that was out of jamb. I sent my landlord an email and made a copy. He didn’t respond. A few days later, I sent him a notarized letter, formally asking him to have the door fixed. I waited two weeks and then had a friend of mine, who had owned a small handyman business, fix the door. He didn’t charge me, but I gave him a beer in exchange for a receipt for $125. I made a copy of the receipt and submitted it with the next month’s rent with a rent check that reflected the difference. So, then, the landlord tries to sue me for the rent money, and the judge looked at the notarized letter and the receipt and upheld my actions.”

While few renters are in a position to duplicate this piece of deception, creating the same, solid paper record and hiring a professional contractor will often yield a similar result in terms of getting your rental unit fixed. Keep in mind, however, that this only applies to reasonable repairs and will vary from state-to-state and, possibly even, from judge to judge. Certainly, you can’t simply claim taupe walls as a decorating grievance, paint your interior neon pink and subtract the paint store receipts from your rent.

Buying HUD Homes

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was established in 1968. It was originally developed to manage federal housing and community development programs.

HUD incorporated numerous housing agencies and assumed administrative responsibility for them. One of these agencies was the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Since 1971 the agency has been commonly known as HUD/FHA.

How Does HUD Get the Property?

The old FHA programs and the newer HUD programs act as an insurance agency for banks, savings and loans and mortgage bankers who make real estate loans to buyers and investors. HUD/FHA does not make the loan, they only insure the lender against loss in the event of default.

You apply for a real estate loan through an approved HUD lender, the lender determines whether your application is accepted, and if so, gives the money to you. Once the money has been given, the lender will receive an insurance policy from HUD that protects its financial interest.

HUD homes are sold to the public when HUD/FHA mortgages are foreclosed. HUD pays the original lender the amount of the loan due and other expenses. HUD then resells the property.

Once the loan is made by the bank, savings and loan or other authorized lender, that lender does have the right to foreclose on the property if the borrower fails to make their monthly payments on time. When the foreclosure process has been completed, the lender submits its HUD insurance policy back to them with foreclosure costs, accumulated interest and legal fees for reimbursement.

HUD will reimburse the lender. With the lender paid off and no longer in the picture, HUD, who now owns the property, can dispose of it in any manner deemed reasonable.

How Does HUD Sell Property?

When HUD gets a property back, it turns it over to its Property Disposition Department which first secures the property from vandalism or damage. Next, this department determines if the property will be sold directly or through an outside broker.

If a broker is used, he must complete the necessary repairs required by HUD, secure the property, advertise the property, accept sealed bids, control the escrow account and make sure the escrow closes.

HUD will pay a 6 percent sales commission to agents involved in the sale, whether sold through a broker or sold by HUD directly.

HUD will allow real estate agents to acquire HUD properties. A real estate agent bidding on a HUD property could effectively reduce his bid price by the amount of commission he may earn on the sale. Clearly, this gives the agent an unfair advantage.

In addition, an authorized HUD broker will receive lists of HUD properties before the general public does. A broker could prevent the public from having access to properties.

To buy a HUD home, you must contact a licensed and approved HUD broker or other agent authorized to sell HUD-owned homes. All offers are submitted through him.

HUD properties are sold “as is.” All properties are sold on a cash basis. While paying in cash is not required, having your financing arranged without HUD is. HUD will not be required to arrange or carry financing themselves. You will need the services of a conventional mortgage lender.

Condition of HUD Homes

HUD homes can be of low to moderate value. Traditionally, however, HUD homes have been in better shape than the average VA property.

As discussed earlier, if real estate agents can bid on and buy HUD homes at an unfair advantage to the home buyer and investor, then it stands to reason that many of the nicer properties are bought by these agents. The result may be lesser quality homes left for the general public.

Locating HUD Homes

You can find HUD properties by calling a local real estate agent or authorized HUD broker, looking in the newspaper for HUD property sales or by calling HUD directly. Check you local phone book for HUD registered real estate agents.

If you contact HUD directly, they may not send you a list of properties, but they can send you a list of HUD authorized brokers in your area. HUD brokers receive new listings of HUD homes every week. If sold directly, HUD will generally place ads in newspapers, rather than place individuals on mailing lists for their single-family homes.

Buying HUD Homes

Armed with your list of available properties, narrow your selection by price, neighborhood, or size. Try to drive by the property if possible.

HUD restricts the sale of some properties to “owner occupant” only. Generally advertised under the heading, “New Listings,” HUD wants the buyers of these properties to actually reside at that property for at least one year.

The advertisement will indicate the case number, address, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, price, an unrepaired price and repair escrow amount if available. Due dates for bids are listed. There will also be a statement indicating whether or not these properties are eligible for FHA-insured financing.

If you are still interested, contact an authorized HUD agent. The bid package will state whether the home can be insured through HUD from a private lender. If the property can not be insured by HUD, ask yourself why and do you really want the property?

Inspect the property. Always do a thorough inspection inside and out of a property you intend to purchase. If necessary, hire a professional inspection service. Compare the asking price to the “sold” prices of comparable properties in the area. There is a good chance the asking price will be around fair market value.

HUD claims to use current appraisals to establish each home’s value according to age, condition, size, location, and lot size.

If you still want the property, you must submit a bid package containing a complete set of contracts to a HUD field office with your deposit of 5 percent. The deposit must be in cash, cashiers check, money order or appropriate letter of credit.

The bid package contains instructions, a sales contract, a “Forfeiture of Earnest Money Deposits” document and an addendum regarding lead-based paints.

The “Forfeiture of Earnest Money Deposit” document clearly states that if an individual buyer submits a contract to purchase a HUD home and does not perform, the 5 percent deposit will be retained by HUD on a non-refundable basis.

The buyer has 30 days to close escrow once the bid has been accepted. Extensions of this deadline can be authorized by HUD by prior written approval. Extensions are normally granted when a private lender has agreed to finance the property but needs more time to process the loan application.

The “Lead-Based Paint Addendum” disclaims any and all responsibility from the government if illness is caused by owning a HUD-owned property, whether or not it contains lead-based paint. When signed, this document completely declares HUD immune to any future claims.

HUD defines a one-to-four unit property as either a single-family, duplex, triplex or fourplex. These are properties that can be sold through HUD brokers.

HUD defines an apartment complex as a property which has five or more units contained within it. They can be walk-ups, townhouses rented as apartments and have either no garages or detached garages.

Unlike the procedure for single-family to fourplex properties, HUD likes to sell the multi-family properties directly through their Property Disposition Department in Washington, D.C.

You may bid more or less than the asking amount for any HUD home. If you are not the successful bidder, your earnest money deposit will be refunded to you. If you are the successful bidder, the earnest money deposit is credited toward your down payment. Depending on the asking price, earnest money deposits generally range from $500 – $1,000.

Benefits of Buying HUD Homes

According to HUD, some benefits to buying HUD homes include:

A real estate broker will prepare and submit your offer and deposit for you without charging you.
HUD pays up to 5 percent of the closing costs, saving you thousands.
You can move in faster if you purchase a HUD home eligible for FHA-insured mortgage because it has already been appraised.
HUD homes may be eligible for repair loans built into the mortgage and buyers may qualify for 3 percent down payments.