EMERGENCY PLANS FOR YOUR FAMILY

Do you know what to do when a disaster strikes? Do your children? By creating and practicing an emergency safety plan, you can protect your family when natural disasters happen.

Fires. The National Fire Protection Association advises you to have at least two ways to escape the home in case of fire. Practice fire drills with your children at least twice a year.

Tornadoes. Tornadoes are fast and destructive. The Red Cross recommends the safest shelter for the family as interior rooms, closets, hallways or a storm shelter/basement.

Hurricanes. The Insurance Information Institute suggests learning where the nearest public shelters and evacuation routes are before hurricane season begins.

Earthquakes. Ready.gov says to practice drop, cover and hold-on drills, like getting under a sturdy desk or table, against an interior wall, or in the jamb of a door on a load-bearing wall.

Before disaster strikes, review your homeowner’s insurance and make sure you’re covered for flooding and wind damage. Document your belongings. Keep valuables, important files, priceless photographs in a safety deposit box.  Prepare an emergency kit with food, water, first aid and blankets.

You may lose some material objects, but you’ll keep what matters most – your family.


LOVING THE RANCH-STYLE HOME

All housing reflects the culture and the economics of their day, and the ranch-style home of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s is a symbol of post-World War II prosperity and an icon of the space age.

The mid-century saw the first real sprawl in communities away from town centers, made accessible by the increasingly affordable family car aided by President Eisenhower’s new highways. Land was plentiful, so most of these single story or split-level homes are situated on comparatively large lots, with kid-friendly front and back yards.

These homes are machines for living, easy and quick to build, and a snap to remodel, with most load-bearing walls located on the outside perimeter. Kitchens always adjoined the garage, convenient for unloading groceries out of the rain.

Mid-century ranch-style homes are ideal for today’s two-income, time-starved families. The only thing they need is a little 21st century flair. Just replace those linoleum floors and Jetson-era Formica countertops with contemporary stone. Install elegant French doors in place of sliding glass patio doors. Raise the eight-foot ceilings to nine or 10 feet.  Hang your flat-screen TV in place of the starburst clock, and buy some stylish retro furnishings and you’re cool, man.


STAGED HOMES SELL FASTER

In a survey released this year, the National Association of REALTORS found that 83% of buyers’ agents reported that staging helps homebuyers visualize themselves living in the home and influences them enough to make higher offers. Sellers’ agents agreed that staged homes sell faster and for more money.

These are just a few of the advantages to staging your home, but there are other benefits for home sellers. 

Staging gives you a deadline. Getting your home ready to is a lot of work, but online photos and agent showings should showcase your home at its best – decluttered, freshly painted and staged with fresh new furniture and accessories.

Staging gives you great ideas. You’ll learn a lot about making rooms flow, creating focal points, increase and improve lighting, and how to use color.

Staging helps you decide what to keep or discard. If your furnishings are hand-me-downs, out of date, or not your taste, why take it all to your next home? Staging can help you separate what you love so you’ll have far less to move.

Ask your Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Select Realty sales professional if staging is part of their service or to recommend a good stager.


HOW TO CHOOSE NEW KITCHEN CABINETS

Cabinets set the style for any kitchen, and with advances in functionality as well as beauty, your new cabinets should transform your food prep workspace.

All kitchens have trouble spots that can be fixed with the right design. Hire a certified kitchen designer, who’s adept at space planning, traffic control and up to date on the newest products.

The most popular cabinet doors today are flat fronted with hidden hardware for a modern esthetic. Look for “quiet closing” cabinets that close softly to prevent slamming. Storage that pulls down, rotates or lifts up can save your back and the need for a stepladder. Drawers that pull out under countertops are easier to use than shelves because you can see everything that’s stored. Cabinets that reach the ceiling can accommodate items you don’t use daily, like holiday dinnerware.

Many new kitchen cabinets come in various wood grains and stains, factory-painted wood, and porcelain or laminate fronts. Island cabinets often feature a contrasting color to the wall cabinets. 

Be open to new products that can save you valuable time, such as built-in drink stations, refrigerated drawers and large trough sinks. Visit kitchen showrooms with your designer for more inspiration.


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.