Jan. 22, 2020

Buying a Home? Know your Musts

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Bay Street Realty Group

Buying a Home? Know your Musts

A fenced-in yard. Double sinks. A wrap-around porch.  An open floor plan. Solar panels. There are just so many things we want our new home to have.

However, when shopping for our dream home, it’s essential to steer the dream a little bit more toward reality. No home will have every single feature you desire, so before you set out on the search, sit down, think hard and narrow down your list of must-haves.

Must-haves are usually rooted in practicality – a classic case of needs vs. wants. Some important musts, therefore, often involve:
  • The number of bedrooms and/or potential to turn a room into an additional bedroom – are you planning on children? Need space for an in-law to move in?
  • The master bedroom – is it big enough for your king bed and does it include a master bath?
  • The number and condition of other bathrooms
  • The yard - how much space and privacy do you need to be happy?
  • The kitchen – do you need a new kitchen with high-tech appliances or are you willing to update down the road?
  • Closet space – is there adequate storage for your current belongings with room to expand?
  • The school district – an obvious factor if you have or are planning to have children, but also important if you don’t as it will affect your home’s resale value
  • Proximity to work – are you willing to commute or is a walkable community a high priority?
  • New construction – are you looking for a maintenance-free environment or the charm of an older home with DIY options?
Of course, your musts are very unique to you and, therefore, may vary from the above. The key factor in determining a must-have from a nice-to-have is whether it is something that can be cost-effectively and efficiently accomplished down the road, such as crown molding or an outdoor kitchen. Musts should be those features that are difficult and costly, if not impossible, to handle on your own, such as a bigger garage or a new roof.

Remember that above all, your “dream” home will be the one that grabs you for some intangible reason or for a combination of unexpected features you never knew you wanted until you saw them. So try to keep your must-list to a minimum and your open mind to a maximum—and most of all, enjoy the process.
Jan. 3, 2020

Earnest Money

Who Keeps The Earnest Money Deposit in a Home Purchase?

When buying a home, many folks have no idea what role earnest money plays in a real estate transaction. The earnest money payment forms part of almost all real estate contracts and agreements. It is a payment that you make to the seller of the property in good faith, proving you can back up your offer with cold hard cash. The idea is to show you are serious about buying the property. The money will be held in an escrow account.

If this is the first time you are purchasing a home, it may seem like you are handing over money and getting nothing in return. That, however, is not the case. Once the earnest payment has been received, the seller will take the property off the market, and the earnest payment will go towards the cost of the home. It forms the financial cement indicating you’re a sincere home buyer.

Does it always work out that way? No, it doesn’t, and since the earnest payment can be rather large, it is a good idea to understand what can go wrong before you hand over the cash.

It is also vital not to confuse a down payment with an earnest money deposit. A house down payment and earnest money are not the same things. The resource at Maximum Real Estate Exposure does an excellent job explaining what earnest money is, how it works, and how it differs from down payment funds.

How Much Should I Put Down?
It is only serious buyers who should put down an earnest money deposit. Let’s be honest; we are talking about a substantial amount of money. An earnest money deposit can be anywhere between 1 – 5% of the purchase price of the home.

So, if you are buying a home for $500,000, the earnest money will range from $5,000 to $25,000 and potentially more. That is a lot of money to put down to ask someone to take a property off the market.

Before you hand it over, you need to make sure that you have a contract covering the payment. That purchase and sale should include all of the obligations of each of the parties. From a buying standpoint, you will want to make sure there are essential contingencies, such as a home inspection and procuring financing.
When making an earnest payment, you’ll want to consult with your real estate agent on what is a traditional amount in the local market.

The Earnest Payment Makes the Purchase Contract Official
Handing over the earnest money effectively seals the deal. Once all of the financial issues have been settled, the property is now yours. That is unless something goes wrong. This is where it is crucial to have a buying agent on your side. He or she will look after you and make sure that everything stays on track.

Your buying agent will explain to you that the earnest money deposit is one of the four components that form part of the sales agreement. Without earnest money, the contract is likely not considered legal in most American states and foreign countries for that matter. One of the many things a buyer’s agent does is protect a buyer’s earnest money deposit by keeping up with contract performance time frames.

The Earnest Money Deposit – When Will It Come Through?
The earnest payment is best described as partial payment for the home you are about to buy. On average, the earnest money is handed over soon after an offer has been accepted. That is generally between 24 – 48 hours.

Some buyers who invest in prominent expensive properties may be asked how they obtained the money to make the deposit. This is to make sure there is no fraud, and that the money has come from legit sources.

Most of the time, buyers are asked to provide bank statements, deposit slips, and proof that the money has been in your account for at least 60 days. In some countries, it is easy to make offshore transactions, but that does not go for the United States. This can make it hard for foreign investors who often rely on financial resources from abroad or offshore.

Once the earnest money deposit is submitted, it is held by a third party, such as a real estate company or lawyer, until the completion of the home has gone through.

Specialist escrow companies have sprung up around the real estate industry, and many buyers and sellers turn to them.

What Happens If the Deal Falls Through?
Should the seller presume the earnest money is theirs the moment it has been submitted? Absolutely not. The seller will never see the money unless there is a default on the buyer’s part. Most of the time, a buyer’s lawyer or buying agent, will make sure there are clauses in the contract that protects the buyer.

There are many things that can still happen. If the home inspection brings up certain red flags, the buyer may just say thanks, but no thanks. The appraisal process might also affect the earnest money deposit. If there is an appraisal contingency that states the home must appraise for the purchase price and it doesn’t, the buyer will not have to proceed.

Financial problems such as the mortgage falling through will also mean the buyer can have his money back. Too many issues discovered in the home inspection are perhaps the most common reason for the earnest money being returned to the buyer. Yes, you can try to negotiate a new deal, but it doesn’t always work out.

The buyer being unable to sell his own home is another reason a sale could fall through. In real estate circles, this is known as a home sale contingency. The seller failing to stick to a moving out schedule is yet another problem that creeps up from time to time.

Does the Seller Ever Keep the Earnest Money?
Yes, the seller has the right to keep the money under certain circumstances. If the buyer decides to cancel the sale without a valid reason or doesn’t stick to an agreed timeline, the seller gets to keep the money. These are the most common ways a buyer will lose their earnest money.

Adhering to an agreed schedule is very important when it comes to buying and selling a home. The real estate business is all about making commitments and following them through. You may be one in the chain of many, and making sure that everything works out for all of you, is a bit like walking a tightrope in a circus. It is not easy, and you should not underestimate the skill of your local real estate agent.

If you are the buyer, it is imperative to have a professional with experience on your side. A buyer’s agent will help you to negotiate the earnest money deposit, make sure the entire home buying process runs smoothly, and ensure that you get the best value for money as far as the total purchase price of the property is concerned.

Final Thoughts on Earnest Money Deposits
So when answering the question “who keeps the earnest money when a home sale falls through?” it boils down to who violated the terms of the contract. If a buyer defaults on one of their commitments or time frames, they will lose their money. If, however, the buyer backs out of the transaction do to one of their contingencies, the seller will not be able to keep the earnest money.
Both buyers and sellers need to know the ins and outs of earnest money.

Bill Gassett is a nationally recognized real estate leader

Dec. 26, 2019

Is Building a Gazebo a Good Idea?

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Bay Street Realty Group

Is Building a Gazebo a Good Idea?

Your backyard should be an oasis where you can relax and enjoy a meal and conversation with family and friends. A gazebo can add to the aesthetics of your yard and provide shelter from rain and shade on a hot day. If you’re thinking about building a gazebo, consider these important facts:

Reasons to Build a Gazebo
A gazebo is a stand-alone structure that often has an elaborate style. It can be round or octagonal and has a closed roof and floor to provide protection from the elements. A raised structure keeps the floor of the gazebo off the ground, and the roof is supported with beams or walls. The sides may be open or may have walls or screens to keep out insects. It is even possible to run electricity to a gazebo.

Many homeowners choose to add a gazebo to their yard because of its attractive appearance. A gazebo can lend an air of serenity to a property, inviting people to come in and relax. A large gazebo can be an ideal place for a band to perform at a backyard gathering.

A gazebo can provide privacy and security. If your yard isn’t fenced in, or if it has a fence but it isn’t tall enough to keep people from seeing into your yard, an enclosed gazebo can offer more privacy.

If you decide to sell your home in the future, prospective buyers will consider the design and appearance of your yard. A gazebo is an attractive feature that many homes don’t have, which could make your house stand out against the competition and help you get a better price.

How to Choose a Gazebo
Gazebos can be constructed from wood, vinyl, wrought iron or aluminum. Hardwood is the most commonly used material, but vinyl and aluminum last longer.

If you’re considering buying a gazebo, carefully consider the size of the structure and the amount of available space in your yard. You don’t want to choose a gazebo so large that it overwhelms the yard or doesn’t leave you with enough space for grilling and socializing or for your kids to play.

Gazebos are often sold in do-it-yourself kits. If you decide to buy one of those, ask some family members or friends for help assembling it. If you don’t purchase a DIY kit, you’ll need to hire a carpenter to build your gazebo. The overall cost will depend on the materials used, the size, the amount of labor required if you hire a carpenter, and whether you choose to include electricity.

Consider the Benefits of a Gazebo
A gazebo can be the perfect place to relax and entertain guests. It can enhance the appearance of your yard and increase your home’s resale value. If you’re thinking about buying a gazebo, explore a variety of materials, styles and options.

Dec. 18, 2019

5 Success Tips for First-Time Home Sellers

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Bay Street Realty Group

5 Success Tips for First-Time Home Sellers

Selling a home can be very lucrative, but you need to make sure you don’t make any major mistakes. Many first-time sellers hit roadblocks that end up costing them precious time and money. Here are five simple tips that’ll help you sell your home quickly and at the right price:

Focus on Minor Upgrades
Unless you have endless funds to spend on major renovation projects, you should stick to minor upgrades. A handful of inexpensive updates could potentially increase the value of your property by thousands of dollars. Some easy projects to consider include painting the walls, replacing old faucets and installing new light fixtures. You’ll also need to spend some time cleaning and decluttering your home before any potential homebuyers come inside.

Don’t Neglect Your Home’s Curb Appeal
Some buyers might not even ask to see your home if it looks dingy or outdated from the street. Luckily, improving your home’s curb appeal doesn’t have to be an expensive or time-consuming process. In addition to mowing the lawn, getting rid of weeds and trimming the bushes, you should also pick up any clutter in your front yard and consider planting some fresh flowers. Painting your front door is another simple way to improve the appearance of your home’s exterior and make it more appealing to buyers.

Be Ready to Make Sacrifices
You’ll probably need to make at least a few sacrifices if you want the offers to start coming in. A buyer might ask for small favors like leaving a few of the appliances behind; carefully consider these. Making a few small concessions could result in an immediate bid. You might also have to sacrifice your nights and weekends so that buyers who work during the day can see your home.

Work With a Real Estate Professional
Working with an experienced real estate agent is possibly the best step that you can take to make this process a little bit easier. An agent can help you stage your home and connect you directly to motivated buyers. These professionals almost always work on commission, and that means you won’t have to worry about any unmanageable upfront costs.

Set the Right Price
Before you put your home on the market, you also need to come up with a fair asking price. Overpricing your home could drive away interested parties and make the process much more stressful than it needs to be. Conversely, setting a price too low could mean you miss the opportunity to make more money off the sale. Again, this is where a real estate agent can add value; a professional has the expertise to gauge market conditions and other factors to come up with the best asking price for your property.

By following these five tips, you’ll be in a much better position to sell your home.

Source: Hannah Whittenly/RISMedia’s Housecall

Dec. 18, 2019

Mortgages Are Going to the Dogs

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Bay Street Realty Group

Mortgages Are Going to the Dogs

A third of millennial-aged Americans (ages 18 to 36) who purchased their first home say the desire to have a better space or yard for a dog influenced their decision, according to a recent survey conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of SunTrust Mortgage, a division of SunTrust Banks, Inc. Dogs ranked among the top three motivators for first-time home purchasers and were cited by more millennials as reasons for buying a home than marriage/upcoming marriage (25 percent) or the birth/expected birth of a child (19 percent).

Only the desire for more living space (66 percent), and the opportunity to build equity (36 percent), were identified by more millennials as reasons they purchased their first home.

According to Dorinda Smith, SunTrust Mortgage president and CEO, renting can be expensive and stressful for dog owners, making homeownership a better living situation.

Among millennials who have never purchased a home, 42 percent say that their dog – or the desire to have one – is a key factor in their desire to buy a home in the future, suggesting dogs will also influence purchase decisions of potential first-time homebuyers.

SunTrust offers the following tips when considering a first-time home purchase:

Understand your initial expenses. The down payment and closing costs can really add up, but don't forget to budget for moving expenses. These include everything from truck rental to setting up water, power, cable, internet and more.

Organize your finances. While there are different types of loans for different needs, your finances will be thoroughly evaluated during the credit application. Make sure they are organized so you can better retrieve them throughout the application process.

Get pre-qualified. Lenders can use your income and credit history to give you an estimate of the home loan amount for which you qualify. The pre-qualification amount can be a helpful guideline when you are considering which properties to purchase.

Create a realistic timeline. Even with a pre-qualification, loans can take weeks to be finalized. Work with a loan officer to decide the best type of loan for your situation and make sure your loan will be ready in advance of your closing.

For more information about preparing to buy a home, please contact me.

Source: SunTrust Banks, Inc.
Nov. 26, 2019

4 Don'ts When Putting Your House on the Market

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Bay Street Realty Group

4 Don'ts When Putting Your House on the Market

So you’ve decided to put your home on the market. Congratulations! Hopefully, you’ve brought a rockin’ real estate professional on board to help you list your spot, and together you’ve done your due diligence on what price to ask for. As you start checking things off your to-do list, it’s also important to pay mind of what not to do. Below are a handful of things to get you started.

Don’t over-improve.
As you ready your home for sale, you may realize you’ll get a great return on your investment if you make a couple of changes. Updating the appliances and replacing that cracked cabinet in the bathroom are great ideas. However, it’s important not to over-improve, or make improvements that are hyper-specific to your tastes. For example, not everyone wants a pimped-out finished basement equipped with a wet bar and lifted stage for their rock-and-roll buds to jam out on. What if your buyers are family oriented and want a basement space for their kids to play in? That rock-and-roll room may look to them like a huge project to un-do. Make any needed fixes to your space, but don’t go above and beyond—you may lose money doing so.

Don’t over-decorate.
Over-decorating is just as bad as over-improving. You may love the look of lace and lavender, but your potential buyer may enter your home and cringe. When prepping for sale, neutralize your decorating scheme so it’s more universally palatable.

Don’t hang around.
Your agent calls to let you know potential buyers will be coming by this afternoon. Great! You rally your whole family, Fluffy the dog included, to be waiting at the door with fresh-baked cookies and big smiles. Right? Wrong. Buyers want to imagine themselves in your space, not be confronted by you in your space. Truth be told, it’s awkward for them to go about judging your home while you stand in the corner. Get out of the house, take the kids with you, and if you can’t leave for whatever reason, at least go sit in the backyard.

Don’t take things personally.
Real estate is a business, but buying and selling homes is very emotional. However, when selling your home, try your best not to take things personally. When potential buyers lowball you or say they’ll need to replace your prized 1970s vintage shag carpet with something “more modern,” try not to raise your hackles.

Nov. 26, 2019

Fast and Easy Ways to Improve Your Credit Within Months

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Bay Street Realty Group

Fast and Easy Ways to Improve Your Credit Within Months

Improving your credit score can take a few months. So if you’re looking to get an auto or home loan, or want to apply for a new credit card, an early start can give you time to raise your credit score and then get a loan or new credit card at a better interest rate.

Here are some ways to improve your credit within a few months:

Pay your bills on time
Payment history is the most important factor in FICO scores, accounting for up to 35 percent of a credit score. Paying your bills on time — from credit cards to utility bills — can help a lot.

Late payments stay on a credit report for seven years. The longer ago they happened, the less they affect credit scores. If a bill goes unpaid long enough the debt can be sold to a collection agency, which will be reported to credit bureaus.

Set up online alerts when a bill is due, look at your balances online and set automatic payments for a credit card.

Low credit utilization rate
Keeping a low balance lowers your credit utilization rate, which is the amount of credit you’re using. Also called credit usage, it is the second most important factor in credit scores and accounts for 30 percent of a score.

It’s calculated by dividing the total of your balances by your total credit limits. Paying off the balances in full each month should keep the credit utilization rate low — preferably not more than 30 percent on any one card or in total.

Increase your credit limit
Another part of credit usage is how much your credit limit is. Increasing your credit limit just a little by getting a new credit card can lower your credit utilization rate by giving you more money to use.

However, using that higher credit card limit could increase your credit usage, so you may want to use it rarely and pay it off in full each month.

Keep those old credit cards
If you’re thinking about cutting up some old credit cards that you don’t use anymore so that they won’t be tempting to use, forget it.

Age of credit history has a 15 percent impact on a credit score. Creditors and lenders like to see an average account age of more than five years.

Few credit inquiries
Credit inquiries account for 10 percent of a credit score. To minimize the impact on your credit score, keep credit applications to within a one-month period when you need a new credit card or loan.

So, if you’re going to apply for a new and better credit card, apply for all of them in the same month.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Contact me today with your real estate questions!

Nov. 11, 2019

8 Odd Things to Wash in the Dishwasher

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Bay Street Realty Group

8 Odd Things to Wash in the Dishwasher

Move over, dinner plates! The dishwasher can actually be used to wash a myriad of strange items. Below is a good rundown. A quick bit of common sense: if sudsing up something super greasy or grimy (like an old hubcap), don't mix your eatery into the same load.

Rubber boots and flip flops. Want to wash your favorite rubber footwear? Pop them in the dishwasher upside down.

Kitchen spongers. Toss them into the silverware tray for a speedy sanitize!

House keys. Ever wonder how filthy your house keys get over the years? So long as none of your keys have electric starters, pop the whole ring into the silverware tray.

Grill rack. Is your grill rack covered in grease? Place it on the top tray and set the heat to high to get it gleaming again.

Hubcaps. Crazy but true! Just add a cup of white vinegar to your detergent and hit start.

Nail clippers. Pop these in the silverware tray and they're good as new.

Tools. Get your favorite tools gleaming with a quick cycle in the washer.

Contact lens cases. The dishwasher is a great place to sanitize these every couple weeks or so.
Nov. 11, 2019

Public Library Resources You May Have Overlooked

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Bay Street Realty Group

Public Library Resources You May Have Overlooked

Whether you’re looking for reading material, free WiFi or even employment resources—your local public library has you covered.

If you haven’t set foot in your local library recently, make it a point to carve out some time for a visit. You’ll be surprised to learn about the plethora of resources at your disposal.

Here are some of the things you can find at your local library:

e-books and e-readers. OverDrive is one of the apps used by libraries to loan books to people with e-readers. Some libraries also loan e-readers for free, so be sure to check out this option to avoid lugging around a hefty stack of books.

WiFi. While you can get free internet access at many public places, libraries often provide much more than a simple WiFi signal. In fact, public libraries address disparities in income, geography, socioeconomics and other factors through digital inclusion. This includes free wireless internet service. Even if you don’t have a computer or printer, many libraries offer laptops for checkout.

Technology training. Nearly all public libraries offer technology training, so if you’re looking to brush up on your tech skills, get in touch with your local library to see what they offer. Many libraries offer education and learning programs that patrons can take advantage of, as well.

Employment resources. Libraries are a great place for those seeking employment resources, so if you’re looking for job application assistance, resume development and/or a place to practice your interview skills, check out your local library to see what’s offered. Patrons can also get a helping hand and learn how to use employment databases, as well as direct access to business information resources.

Civic engagement. Community, civic engagement or e-government programs are commonly offered at libraries. Need help completing an online government form? Your local library can likely offer assistance.

Digital entertainment. If sitting down with a good book isn’t your idea of a good time, don’t despair. Libraries offer a plethora of digital entertainment, including CDs, DVDs, audiobooks and even video games. There’s truly something for everyone.

Tools. If your to-do list is overflowing with projects—and you’re not interested in investing in a tool that won’t get much use—a tool lending library is just what you need. Patrons can borrow an assortment of tools, equipment and instruction manuals—returning the items when they’re no longer needed.

Toys. You’ve probably seen a play area full of toys and books for small children within your local library, but did you know that some libraries actually loan out toys? If your children have lost interest in the toys they have at home, a trip to the library could reinvigorate their sense of play.

Passes to local attractions. If you’re looking for something different to do with the family, look into whether your local library offers free or discounted passes to museums, zoos, science centers, botanical gardens and other local attractions. This is a great way to explore your city without breaking the bank.

Take a closer look around your local library the next time you visit. If you’re unsure about a service—and whether or not it’s available—ask a librarian for help. If they don’t offer the service you’re looking for, they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.

Nov. 11, 2019

Public Library Resources You May Have Overlooked

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Bay Street Realty Group

Public Library Resources You May Have Overlooked

Whether you’re looking for reading material, free WiFi or even employment resources—your local public library has you covered.

If you haven’t set foot in your local library recently, make it a point to carve out some time for a visit. You’ll be surprised to learn about the plethora of resources at your disposal.

Here are some of the things you can find at your local library:

e-books and e-readers. OverDrive is one of the apps used by libraries to loan books to people with e-readers. Some libraries also loan e-readers for free, so be sure to check out this option to avoid lugging around a hefty stack of books.

WiFi. While you can get free internet access at many public places, libraries often provide much more than a simple WiFi signal. In fact, public libraries address disparities in income, geography, socioeconomics and other factors through digital inclusion. This includes free wireless internet service. Even if you don’t have a computer or printer, many libraries offer laptops for checkout.

Technology training. Nearly all public libraries offer technology training, so if you’re looking to brush up on your tech skills, get in touch with your local library to see what they offer. Many libraries offer education and learning programs that patrons can take advantage of, as well.

Employment resources. Libraries are a great place for those seeking employment resources, so if you’re looking for job application assistance, resume development and/or a place to practice your interview skills, check out your local library to see what’s offered. Patrons can also get a helping hand and learn how to use employment databases, as well as direct access to business information resources.

Civic engagement. Community, civic engagement or e-government programs are commonly offered at libraries. Need help completing an online government form? Your local library can likely offer assistance.

Digital entertainment. If sitting down with a good book isn’t your idea of a good time, don’t despair. Libraries offer a plethora of digital entertainment, including CDs, DVDs, audiobooks and even video games. There’s truly something for everyone.

Tools. If your to-do list is overflowing with projects—and you’re not interested in investing in a tool that won’t get much use—a tool lending library is just what you need. Patrons can borrow an assortment of tools, equipment and instruction manuals—returning the items when they’re no longer needed.

Toys. You’ve probably seen a play area full of toys and books for small children within your local library, but did you know that some libraries actually loan out toys? If your children have lost interest in the toys they have at home, a trip to the library could reinvigorate their sense of play.

Passes to local attractions. If you’re looking for something different to do with the family, look into whether your local library offers free or discounted passes to museums, zoos, science centers, botanical gardens and other local attractions. This is a great way to explore your city without breaking the bank.

Take a closer look around your local library the next time you visit. If you’re unsure about a service—and whether or not it’s available—ask a librarian for help. If they don’t offer the service you’re looking for, they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.