How Important Is Square Footage?

square footage

Buyers tend to think bigger is better, but a smaller home may actually feel more spacious than a similar home with a larger footprint. That’s what makes the emphasis on size over livability so frustrating – it’s not really an accurate gauge for living space.

Living space is roofed, enclosed, heated, cooled and finished out. But, because there is no accepted standard way to consistently measure interiors, square footage is typically measured from the exterior of the home as length times width. This is so that banks, tax appraisers, roofers, painters, real estate professionals and others can have a handy number to enable them to commoditize, price and negotiate homes and services.

Interiors are always smaller than exterior square footage suggests. The thickness of the exterior walls, insulation, wall boards and sheetrock can vary. Some spaces aren’t for walking around, like the empty space beneath stairwells, or the code-required space around water heaters and other systems.

If you’re shopping for a home and see descriptions online, you know there’s a lot of difference between 3,400 sq. ft. and 1,400 sq. ft., but a few feet more or less between similar homes doesn’t matter. If the home’s interior is well-planned, spaced appropriately, furnished wisely, and clutter-free, it will feel like there’s more living space.

If you’re selling a home, your Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Select Realty professional can help you find ways to make your home appear more spacious. You can start with letting in more light and eliminating extra furnishings.


Be Ready for Unexpected Expenses

unexpected homeowner expenses

Congratulations, new homeowner! You’ve overcome the biggest hurdle – buying your first home – and now it’s time to switch your attention to maintaining and protecting your investment. Your electrical, water, gas and A/C systems may be working fine for now, but sooner or later, you can expect a major repair or replacement expense. All you need to do is be prepared.

Plan ahead. The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors offers a handy reference called The Standard Estimated Life Expectancy Chart for Homes. Compare the chart to your inspection report and you’ll be able to gauge how much life is left in your appliances and systems. If you know that your A/C unit is 10 years old and the life expectancy is seven to 15 years, you have the heads up to prepare for a major repair or replacement soon.

Review your homeowner’s insurance. How much is your deductible? That’s the amount you’re responsible for when you use your insurance for an expense like a hail-damaged roof. The higher the deductible, the more money you should set aside, just in case.

Build reserves. Many repairs or replacement costs won’t be covered by hazard insurance, so reserves are your rainy day fund. This money you’ve saved or set aside should be quickly and easily accessible through a savings account or a short-term certificate of deposit.

Set aside an emergency-only credit card. Keep one credit card at zero or a low balance so you’ll have a back-up source for payments.


Getting A Mortgage Loan Despite Student Debt

mortgage advice

According to StudentLoanHero.com, high outstanding student loans can keep you from qualifying for a mortgage loan, but here are two quick ways you can improve your chances of getting approved.

Refinance Your Student Loan. Federal loans offer benefits such as income-driven repayment options and access to loan forgiveness or cancellation. You can consolidate your loans into one payment, but the interest rate won’t change. If you refinance with a private lender, you’ll lose those benefits, but you could go from paying 8% to as low as 3.25% interest, giving you lower monthly payments that save you thousands of dollars.

Improve Your PITI and DTI. The lender wants to know one thing – can you afford a monthly mortgage payment? Lenders use two ratios – gross income to monthly payment and the amount of debt- to- income. PITI is your total monthly payment including loan principal reduction (P), homeowner’s insurance(I), property taxes(T), and interest rate(I). Divide your target monthly payments by your monthly gross income and PITI should be no higher than 28% to 31%. DTI is adding all your monthly debt payments, including child support, credit card bills and student loans and dividing the total by your monthly gross income. The percentage should be no higher than 36% to 43%.

The results will tell your lender which loan programs will best fit your needs and keep your monthly payments within the correct ratios. Meanwhile, retool your budget to save more and spend less and use the difference to pay off credit cards.


Five Improvements that Scream Cheap

cheap home improvements

If you’re a seller refreshing your home for resale or an investor selling a remodeled home, you should know that some updates won’t impress today’s homebuyers. Inexpensive updates in lieu of the more durable and sustainable materials that buyers prefer may scare buyers into wondering where else you cut costs. 

Single coat paint – Single coats can leave a ghost of the previous color that peeks through, nor do they deliver the rich color and texture of carefully applied second coats.

Peel and stick tiles– Nothing says cheap like peel and stick tile for floors or backsplashes. Yes, you can remove them, but the real thing wears and looks better.

Faux Granite – What makes granite beautiful and the focal point of a kitchen or bath is the natural veins and spots of color. While some laminates and quartz closely copy granite, you’re better off choosing a solid color countertop replacement and putting the wow factor somewhere else, like a decorative tile backsplash.

Acrylic one-piece shower/tub— It may look clean and new, but you don’t want your bathroom to look like it belongs in a motel. Spend the money for a new tub, fresh grouted tile and a contemporary glass door.

Painted cabinets – Paint eventually chips and doesn’t really update worn, outdated cabinets. It doesn’t make up for the lack of easy sliding drawers, pull-out shelving and hidden hinges that are standard features of modern cabinets. New factory-painted doors could be an inexpensive update that will look and wear better.


Buying a Condo Just Got Easier

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently revised its condominium loan policies to allow consumers greater access to mortgage loans that are federally guaranteed through the Federal Housing Administration(FHA). After Oct. 15, 2019, as many as 60,000 additional condo units will meet FHA-certification, making them eligible for buyers to purchase with an FHA loan.

The new guidelines will extend project certifications from two years to three, allow for single-unit mortgage approvals, allow a higher owner-occupant vs. renter occupancy ratio, and increase the number of units eligible to be purchased with FHA loans in a single project.

The FHA certifies eligibility for both condo projects and individual units, but according to the National Association of REALTORS, only 17,792 FHA condo loans were originated in the past year, out of approximately 8.7 million condo units nationwide.

The new relaxed guidelines are a significant improvement as condos are often more suitable and affordable to many singles, couples and small families who wish to take advantage of easier qualification, low-down-payment FHA loans – particularly first-time buyers.

Any impediment to buying a property can impact its desirability and market value.  With approximately 84% of homebuyers purchasing a condo for the first time, the relaxed rules will promote more “affordable and sustainable homeownership, especially for credit-worthy first-time buyers.” The result should also make condos more marketable and easier to resell since the pool of available buyers and loans will be larger. 

Contact your Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Select Realty professional for more information.


Should You Buy a “Haunted” House?

Spooky houses look like they haven’t seen a living occupant, gardener or handyman in years. Many so-called haunted houses are so dilapidated they look occupied by ghosts, or they’ve been on the market so long, buyers suspect there’s a skeleton hidden in the closet. But that house for sale that gives you the creeps may actually turn out to be a good investment.

So what makes a house seem haunted? It could be the tumbleweed landscaping, paintless trim, broken steps or crooked roof—, material problems that can easily be repaired or replaced. But a house can also carry a stigma (which has nothing to do with the home’s structure) that evokes fear or repulsion, including a history of death within the home from murder, suicide or suspicious circumstances. The house could previously be occupied by an unsavory hoarder, drug dealer or occultist.  Or, there could be a real ghost. MMMMWWWWAAAA!

Would you be able to look past a home’s creepy appearance or scary reputation? According to Realtor.com, nearly half of homebuyers wouldn’t touch a haunted house, but one in three buyers would purchase one if they could get a lower price. 

That spells opportunity, especially if the home is in a nice neighborhood. If your low offer is accepted, get an inspection and renovation estimate from a local contractor. If the total costs are lower than or equal to the other home values in the area, you could end up with the friendliest bargain on the block.


Protect Your Possessions with a Home Inventory

We pay for home insurance to protect our homes and possessions in case of burglary, damage or fire. But if calamity were to strike and you should need to recount what was lost, would you be able to remember everything? To save yourself the worry and the trouble, take time now to create a home inventory. This can help you keep track of everything you own, and it speeds up the insurance claims process.

The best way to create a thorough inventory is to physically walk around your house from room to room and build your list. Take pictures of everything, including serial numbers and receipts where you can. For each item, try to include a description, when it was purchased and an estimated value.

There are a variety of tools available to help you. You can simply write everything down in a notebook, create a spreadsheet (Microsoft Office has templates online), or use one of the new inventory apps on your computer or smartphone. The Insurance Information Institute and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners offer free apps with secure online storage. Many insurance companies have their own apps, as well. The best tool is the one that you will actually use.

Creating an inventory now isn’t difficult, though it can be a little time-consuming. But it is well worth the effort, and if disaster strikes, you’ll be thanking yourself later.


Risks When Buying a Short-Sale Home

If you are looking to buy a home at a significant reduction in price, you might have heard about pursuing a short sale. A short sale can occur when a homeowner can no longer pay the mortgage and wants to sell the property for less than the amount currently owed on the loan. This tactic has the potential to save you money, but it also has its risks. Here are few you should look out for:

Time — The short-sale process generally takes longer than the regular closing process. The seller’s mortgage lender needs to approve the sale, which typically takes about two months. If there are other liens on the house (such as a second mortgage or home-equity line of credit), those lenders must approve it as well. Sometimes final approval can take six months or more.

Deal falls through — Sometimes the lender’s approval might come with conditions that the seller is unable or unwilling to meet, and they will back out of the deal, even after months of time already invested.

Extra costs — Lenders rarely agree to pay for extras that a seller would typically take care of (such as inspections and repairs), so your closing costs could be higher.

Deferred maintenance — Cash-strapped sellers may have let maintenance and repairs go by the wayside, resulting in a lot of fixing-up that the buyer would be responsible for.


6 Keys to Selling your House

Every homeowner’s dream is to sell their property quickly and for the best possible price. The more time a house sits on the market, the more likely it is that the price may have to be lowered in order to attract interested buyers. So your job is to make your home as appealing as possible. It might take a little bit of elbow grease, but it will be worth it when your house sells faster than the ones already on the market.

Here are some areas to focus on so you don’t lengthen your sale by overlooking the basics.

1. Clean. Every corner of your house needs to sparkle. The appearance of a dirty home will turn off most buyers. Hiring a cleaning service to scrub kitchen and bathroom floors, dust and polish all woodwork, and clean carpets is well worth the cost.

2. Odors. You have to eliminate bad smells, not just mask them. Remove the source of the odor if possible (carpets, trash, litter boxes), and use enzyme cleaning products. Pet smells are so pervasive, some sellers even board their pets while their house is for sale.

3. Light. People like light and spacious, not dark and cave-like. Clean your windows and keep them clear of trees or shrubbery. Remove blinds and drapes to clean them thoroughly. Increase bulb wattage in areas where you need more light.

4. Repairs. Prospective buyers like to make sure everything in the house works. They will turn on lights, open drawers and test faucets. Fix or replace broken or missing hardware, grease hinges and joints, repair cracked caulk, and make sure your outlets work.

5. Clutter. Potential buyers don’t want to see your stuff. They want to envision their belongings in your house. Make your decor as impersonal as you can. Bonus: minimal furnishings can make your home appear bigger.

6. Curb Appeal. If you don’t have it, buyers will drive right on by. The National Association of REALTORS® estimates that adding curb appeal can boost your sale price by up to 4 or 5 percent. Keep the lawn and garden neat, add some potted plants, repair cracks in the driveway, use a power washer or even repaint your exterior.