Buying With Friends Isn’t Like Renting

You’ve been living with your best friend since freshman year of college, and it’s been a blast. So why not pool your money and go in on a house together? After all, it’s easier to buy when you have two incomes.

It’s true that co-buying a home with friends or family can make it easier to own a home. And it can reduce your upfront costs.

But there are a few unique differences to co-buying. Here are three you should consider and discuss before you jump into the process.

1. What type of ownership will you have?
Don’t assume that splitting the mortgage determines the ownership.

If one person will be paying a larger portion, you might want to be tenants in common. This also allows you to transfer or sell your share of the property at any time. But if you want to divide the ownership equally, you can choose to be joint tenants.

2. How are your credit scores looking?
When two buyers are on a mortgage app, lenders use the lowest credit score to determine the interest rate.

Do you both have excellent credit? If not, you could have only one person on the mortgage loan, but you’ll only be able to count one income to determine the loan size.

3. How will you pay your bills each month?
This sounds like a minor detail, but it’s important to be on the same page about finances before the bills come in.

Will you pay bills out of a joint household account? Or will one person pay the full bill and have the other pay them back?

Once you’ve discussed your plans for the finances and ownership, your best bet is to have a legal agreement prepared ahead of time.

Have more questions about co-buying a home? Reach out today to discuss your needs and get the process started.

Get in touch with Matt now to get started!

Best practices for kicking off your home-buying journey

Open houses are the gold standard in real estate. They’ve been around for decades and will be ingrained in the buying and selling of homes for years to come.

The average buyer attends three open houses, according to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report, a survey of more than 13,000 homeowners, sellers, buyers, and renters. Seventy-one percent of all buyers attend at least open house, and first-time buyers are even more likely to go (77 percent attend one open house or more).

But as a buyer, are you making the most of your open house visits?

Here are some best practices and helpful questions for buyers at all ends of the home-buying spectrum.

Use the open house to learn the market without committing

For the most part, open houses are just that — open. They make it possible for anyone to see a property in a certain time period, without an appointment or even being a very serious buyer.

New buyers should leverage the open house opportunity to get a feel for the market. In today’s world, using online search tools, mobile apps and the open house, a buyer can start to get a feel for pricing and the market before committing to an agent. Most importantly, open houses are some of the best ways for buyer and agent relationships to start.

You don’t have to sign in (but don’t be rude)

The biggest fear of some newer buyers is that a real estate agent at an open house will be all over them, ask for their contact information and then start harassing them for the next three weeks. It does happen, but it’s also common courtesy to at least recognize and say hello to the agent at the open house. Don’t forget, in addition to trying to sell the home for her client, for safety reasons, the agent is keeping a look out for who is coming and going. It’s polite to say hello and introduce yourself to the agent, but you can also politely decline to sign in.

If you’re an active buyer, you should make yourself known to the agent. Let the seller’s agent know who your agent is and don’t be afraid to express interest. When it comes time to review an offer with a seller, listing agents like to put a face to a name.

Watch the other buyers

You can tell a lot about the activity and marketability of a home by watching the other buyers. If you observe a lot of people walking in and out quickly, the home probably has some issues. Are the buyers hanging around, asking questions of the listing agent and huddling in the corner talking to their spouses or partners? If so, it could be a sign this is a well-priced and “hot” listing. If you’re interested, too, observing other buyers at the open house could help you learn about the competition.

Ask the agent questions

The real estate agent is there for a reason. It’s his job. If he is the listing agent, ask him questions. He is a direct line to the seller. He should know more than anyone about the property and the seller. Your agent can funnel your questions to the listing agent. But if you’re there, ask away. Watch the agent’s facial expression and reaction to your questions. If it’s a competitive market, ask questions such as: “Why is the seller selling?” “Is there a certain day to review offers or have you had a lot of showings?” In a slow market, ask how long the property has been on the market and what the seller’s motivations are. A good agent will engage you because it’s good for his seller.

Be open to meeting your future agent

When considering a new doctor, lawyer or CPA, you don’t get the chance to see them in their element until you’ve decided to work with them. Not true for real estate agents. Some of the best buyer/seller/real estate relationships begin at open houses.

A good agent is wearing two hats at the open house. In addition to watching the serious buyers and getting feedback for the seller, an active agent is also looking to interact with future clients.

Face to face, informal and relevant, the interaction with an agent at an open house is important. You can get a feel for a person just from a brief meeting. If you sense the agent could be someone you could work with, ask some open-ended questions, such as “How’s the market?” and “What areas do you cover?”

Why open houses have been around for decades

At any open house, there are people at every stage of the home-buying game, from just testing the waters to looking at homes daily, making offers and working closely with an agent. For someone new to the market, it’s helpful to know the best practices for visiting open houses and interacting with the real estate agent. For more experienced buyers, the open house is an opportunity to make a second or third visit, getting a closer look at the details and uncovering things you may have missed earlier. There are lots of reasons why open houses have been around for decades — and why you should take full advantage of them.

Take full advantage of the open house by asking questions to learn all you can about the home and listing.

Don’t Get Blindsided by Closing Costs

Have you ever decided to buy something, only to find out about additional costs at the end? The last thing you want is to be surprised by unexpected fees – especially at your closing.

You’ve made your financial calculations. Extra charges at the eleventh hour could make all your plans go bust.

But you can’t just skip the closing – that’s when the legal ownership is transferred.

Want to avoid being blindsided at your closing? Here’s how to plan ahead for closing fees:

What’s the deal with closing costs?
Closing costs typically run about 2% to 5% of the purchase price and are paid to lenders, attorneys and other third parties. Buyers often have more closing costs than sellers because most fees are related to the new mortgage loan.

Common closing costs for buyers:

  • Loan processing fees
  • Home appraisal and inspection fees
  • Property taxes

Common closing costs for sellers:

  • Mortgage payoff fees
  • Title transfer fees
  • Attorney fees for handling the closing

How can you lower the costs?
After applying for a mortgage, you’ll receive a Loan Estimate from the lender. It summarizes the loan terms, such as the loan amount, interest rate and all closing costs. Comparing Loan Estimates from different lenders is important.

Page 2 of the Loan Estimate also details the services you can shop around for, such as surveys, appraisals and title searches.

Are closing costs ever negotiable?
Yes. A seller or buyer sometimes agrees to pay part or all of the other party’s closing costs. This is something we can negotiate into the purchase agreement.

As for paying the closing costs? Some lenders will allow you to roll the cost into your mortgage. However, you’ll pay interest on it for the life of the loan. Paying cash upfront is a smarter option if you have the funds available.

Have more questions about closing on a home? Or are you ready to get your home search started? Reach out today.

7 home maintenance tasks sellers must do before listing

Proactive is the buzzword when addressing both cosmetic and mechanical components of a listing

It’s that time of year again, the 2019 selling season is upon us. If you have clients getting ready to put their home on the market, the task list to prep for the market can seem endless.

To make it easy, we walk you through the seven things sellers should do before putting that for sale sign in the ground.

Spruce up the exterior

Let’s face it, the exterior of the property is the first thing a buyer will see whether online or driving by. Now is the time to make sure it looks its best.

Walk around the entire exterior of the home, and conduct an assessment.

Consider pressure washing, painting, having the windows cleaned, cleaning out gutters, trimming back any overgrown or dead landscaping, cleaning the front door and changing out any worn door hardware that may look old and corroded. And make sure the front doorbell actually works!

Service the heating/cooling system

A home inspector is going to check this anyway, so beat ’em to the punch by having the system serviced and cleaned. When was the last time it was serviced anyway?

It’s better to take care of any repairs that may need addressing now versus waiting until a buyer decides to make an offer.

Do a light bulb check

Make sure all of the lightbulbs are working and free of dirt and debris. Yes, these need cleaning too — just make sure they are off. Don’t forget to check the outdoor lights as well.

Check the smoke detectors

Maybe sellers took the batteries out the last time they were playing Top Chef in the kitchen.

Now is the time to make sure that all smoke detectors are working and have new batteries. Replace any old ones as an inspector is likely to flag those during a home inspection and recommend that they be replaced.

Blue tape it

Conduct a thorough walk through of the interior of the home. If there are any nicks, dents or scratches on the walls and moldings, blue tape them so sellers can go through and have each area repaired.

The more wear and tear a home appears to have, the more the buyer is going to chip away at the asking price.

Deep clean, and declutter

Now is the time to give the home that deep clean it needs. Consider hiring a cleaning crew to tackle this; the more hands, the better.

Deep cleaning means wiping down all of the baseboards and moldings and cleaning cabinets, appliances (including the oven) and every corner from top to bottom including light fixtures and ceiling fans.

It’s also a good time to gather all those unwanted closet items together to donate as well as any unused furniture and decor. The less stuff in the house, the less there is to organize and keep clean.

Clear out the garage

Often overlooked when preparing a home for sale, don’t forget this space. Make sure the garage is clean, in good repair, organized and that you can actually walk through it.

Consider painting the floor or having an epoxy finish put down. And that ceiling? Buyers also look up when touring this space, so make sure any drywall cracks or loose seams are repaired.

Buyers recognize and appreciate homes that have been taken care of. Taking some time to invest in home maintenance before selling will likely yield a big payoff when it becomes offer time.

Time for Heating Systems 101

If your current heating system yields cold hands and frozen toes — it might be time to upgrade.

Heating your home accounts for an inordinate portion of your utility bill, so it pays to choose the most efficient heating system possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should upgrade to a different type of system, however.

Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to convert from forced air to central heating, or vice versa, since the benefits rarely justify the cost. Instead, upgrade to a more efficient version of your existing furnace or boiler when it’s too expensive to repair — but weigh your options carefully.

Here’s a rundown of the most commonly used heating systems, along with their advantages and disadvantages, to help you make the most appropriate choice for your home, climate and wallet.

Furnaces

Also known as forced air, furnaces are the most commonly used heating systems in the U.S. because they’re reliable and relatively inexpensive. Gas furnaces are rated for efficiency by their annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating. This shows how much energy is successfully converted to usable heat.

If your furnace needs to be replaced, the silver lining is that modern furnaces are more efficient than ever, and some premium models even reach an AFUE rating of 97 percent. When purchasing a furnace, choose one that’s appropriately sized for your home so that it doesn’t put undue wear and tear on your system or waste energy.

ProsCons
Inexpensive to installReliable and low-maintenanceHave a long life span, especially electric modelsCan be retrofitted to filter and clean your home’s airAlready installed in most homes, thus easier to replaceCan produce and kick up more allergensWarm air is easily lost through ducts and within the houseGas furnaces can be dangerous, creating a risk of fire or carbon monoxide poisoningFurnaces powered by electricity are safer, but cost more to run

Boilers

Boilers use water to generate and distribute heat through pipes and radiators, heating the air, floors, wall and baseboards as it travels in a loop. They can be powered via natural gas, electricity or propane, and they use the following systems to distribute heat:

  • Steam radiators are the old-fashioned metal things you’ve seen along the walls in older buildings.
  • Hot water radiators are the newer reincarnation and allow more control and versatility.
  • Hydronic radiant floor heating treats the entire floor of a room like a giant radiator, using tubing under the flooring to distribute heat to toasty toes. While efficient, hydronic radiant floor heating is expensive to install and replace.

Like furnaces, boilers are rated by AFUE score.

ProsCons
Usually runs more quietly than forced air systemsDoesn’t kick up dust, which makes for much better air qualityCan be retrofitted to heat waterCan be more efficient than forced air systemsBoilers are often more expensive to purchase and install than forced air systemsWater can leak when the system is damaged or nears the end of its lifeMost boilers are powered by natural gas, which isn’t available in all areasAren’t necessary in areas with mild winters

Heat pumps

These extremely efficient systems take advantage of existing temperatures (either outdoors, underwater or underground) to heat, cool and humidify your home.

There are three types of heat pumps:

  • Air-source heat pumps are the most common and circulate refrigerant between the outdoor heat pump and indoor air handler.
  • Split ductless systems use one to four indoor air handlers, which are mounted high up on walls and controlled by a remote.
  • Geothermal systems are incredibly efficient because they take advantage of temperatures in the ground, pond or a well, but they aren’t practical or affordable for most homeowners.

When selecting a heat pump system, consider the size, noise output and efficiency rating. The heating efficiency is measured by heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF), and the cooling efficiency is measured by seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER).

ProsCons
Very efficient, saving lots of money in the long runCan be used all year for both heating and coolingCan be modified with a desuperheater, which assists in heating your waterNewer models are appropriate for colder climatesNaturally dehumidifies the home in summer, making it ideal for the SoutheastMore expensive than forced air or central heatingInappropriate for small lotsFans can be noisyRequires more maintenance than other systemsIn cold climates, you may require an auxiliary heating system that kicks in when temperatures become too low

6 DIY Myths You Need to Stop Believing Immediately

If hours upon hours of HGTV binge-watching has taught us anything, it’s that pretty much anything can be DIY’d. New deck? Go for it. Updated bathroom? You could have the walk-in shower of your dreams in a weekend’s time.

What’s more, those TV pros make it look so easy. So if you have a big renovation on the horizon, we can understand the temptation to ditch the general contractor and tackle the job yourself.

And on the one hand, we don’t want to squash your ambition. Believe in yourself and anything’s possible, right? But on the other hand, overblown ambition—fueled by more than a few myths about what it really takes to DIY a home renovation—can lead to an expensive disaster.

Have you caught yourself making these assumptions about your DIY project? Set yourself straight before you start swinging the sledgehammer.

Myth No. 1: Home improvement shows are adequate DIY tutorials

Watch Jonathan and Drew Scott rip out a kitchen wall, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you can DIY an open-plan layout, too. All you need to do is Hulk-smash your drywall! You might even picture getting the kids involved (with proper safety gear, of course).

It’ll take more than watching these guys for 22 minutes to master DIY remodeling.

HGTV

But take it from us: Set down the sledgehammer. Step away from the wall.

“Remodeling has become so ubiquitous through various media like television shows that many homeowners view it too casually, sometimes treating it more like a hobby than an expertise,” says Jason Biddle, who runs aging-in-place home resource The Helping Home and has managed multiple major renovations in his own home.

“It’s increasingly common to naively jump into a renovation, lacking the necessary level of respect for the task at hand,” adds Biddle

To give your project the respect it deserves, take the time to thoroughly research it in advance. Biddle recommends reading construction resources like “The Visual Handbook of Building and Remodeling,” to familiarize yourself with all the crucial details you’ll need to know.

And when in doubt, call for help.

“Know your experience level and have the wisdom to know when you can handle a project yourself and when you should seek the help of an expert,” says Tonya Bruin, CEO of To Do-Done Renovations.

Myth No. 2: Buying materials online saves time

Assembling the materials for your DIY renovation from the couch can seem fun and easy, but think twice before you click “add to cart.” Whenever possible, it’s better to buy materials in person. At a store, you can check quality (is that tile prone to cracking?) and make sure you’re getting what you pay for.

When you buy online, “you take on all the risk and can’t verify details for things,” says Matthew Breyer, the president and lead designer at Breyer Construction & Landscape.

Imagine that enormous cabinetry order you placed finally arriving—only to realize the hardware wasn’t included, the shelves are the wrong size, or the construction is poor.

If you’re set on purchasing online, check your order thoroughly to ensure every piece you need is included—and build in time for returns or exchanges.

Myth No. 3: Painter’s tape is for rookies

The tape is your friend

BanksPhotos/iStock

We’ll admit painting is one of the simplest DIY jobs. But that doesn’t give you license to skip the painter’s tape.

Many DIYers paint without tape “because it takes time and effort to apply, or they feel like they’re painting experts and don’t need it,” Bruin says. “However, it’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make. The only way, as a DIYer, to get sharp, clean lines is to use tape around your edges.”

Myth No. 4: DIY projects are cheap

Sure, when you do projects yourself, your labor costs will be less—but materials still cost money (and there’s also the value of your time).

“The costs will still most likely cause some sticker shock,” Biddle says.

Once again, we’ve got television to blame. Just because Chip and Joanna Gaines knock out a whole-house renovation for $70,000 doesn’t mean you’ll do the same.

“The unrealistically low budgets on HGTV shows mislead viewers into thinking that their own remodeling efforts won’t be very expensive,” Biddle says.

And don’t forget to budget for the inevitable screw-up.

“Some renovation projects are simple enough in theory, but they can quickly turn into a headache and end up costing you a lot of money having to fix mistakes,” Bruin says.

Myth No. 5: You can knock out your DIY project in a weekend

“The term ‘DIY’ has a connotation of brevity,” Biddle says. “Watching a four-minute online tutorial or reading a one-page magazine article can lead homeowners to believe that the project will be a breeze. If there are only five steps involved, then surely it can’t take too long, right?”

But even small projects can be a big deal. Shatter a box of tiles? That’s a trip to the hardware store. Take a break to watch a few episodes of “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”? Before you know it, that’s a weekend lost.

“Even relatively simple endeavors can easily turn into a time suck,” Biddle says. “Add in that many DIYers are weekend warriors with full-time jobs, and it becomes obvious why the ‘little’ project takes three months to finish.”

Myth No. 6: All your mistakes can be covered with paint

No one’s expecting your work to be perfect. Installing cabinetry is hard; hanging shelves requires masterful precision; and getting all the decking boards aligned … well, good luck with that.

But don’t think no one will be the wiser if you cover up your inexperience with a thick coat of paint. Paint can’t hide that the cabinets are uneven. And when it comes to your deck, paint can actually make the problem worse. (Make sure to choose a type of paint designed for decking, otherwise there’s disaster ahead.)

“We look at dozens of decks that were just painted with a product that did not adhere to the wood,” Breyer says. “Now the entire deck is peeling and unusable.”

Myth No. 7: Cleanup is easy

It will hopefully be no surprise that renovations can be messy. A big dumpster can eliminate some of the pain—but not everything can be disposed of that easily.

“Many building materials are actually considered hazardous,” Breyer says. Your old flooring could have asbestos, and the drywall you tore down might be covered with lead paint. Governments have specific regulations about how these materials must be disposed.

Research everything you throw in that dumpster, otherwise you might get slapped with a fine. Hooray—another unexpected expense!

Hot Decor for Winter 2019 Will Give Your Home a Cool Refresh

Just like fashion, decor trends change from season to season. And the cooler light of winter demands a different look—a space where you’ll happily hunker down, comfy and snug until the ground thaws. (Those palm leaf–print linen throw pillows scattered around your living room aren’t exactly cozying up the joint up, are they?)

So you should treat your home to the same eye you give your wardrobe when the weather forecast shifts. It’s time to revamp with the coldest season’s hottest home trends. After all, you’re going to be stuck inside anyway—so you might as well get to work redecorating, right?

Dusty pink


Photo by Sims Hilditch
Call it (if you must) the “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” effect: Vintage dusty pink will be huge in the home decor world this winter, experts predict.

It “conjures up thoughts of being soft, yet strong,” says Paula Taylor, lead designer at Graham & Brown, a wallpaper design and manufacturing company. “It has a duality to its personality and is sophisticated, yet fun. You may see dusty pink upholstery lightening up dark dining chairs, for example, or even to create an accent wall with a wall covering that will bring some character to a lifeless room.”

The move toward pink isn’t a winter fling, either. Our 2019 decor forecastsays all shades of the rosy hue will continue to reign supreme in the coming year.

What to buy:

———

Dark wall colors


Photo by Branca, Inc.
While designers might be turning to light pink for furniture and accessories, they’re going to a dark place for paint colors.

Despite conventional wisdom, a dark wall looks chic—and not at all depressing, insists Marina Case, principal designer at The Red Shutters. In fact, dark colors such as black and navy can make your furniture and art really pop.

But take note: This trend looks best in interior spaces—such as hallways and powder rooms—rather than in a large living space that has a lot of natural light.

“You would think [dark colors] make a room look smaller, but they actually make the room look larger,” Case says. “For example, an entry foyer or a bedroom vestibule is a great place to do a dark wall. And as for how to accessorize, white moldings look great against this look.”

What to buy: Racoon Fur 2126-20, Benjamin Moore

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Grass-cloth furniture


Photo by Elms Interior Design
Grass cloth—that handwoven stuff that was all the rage in the ’60s and ’70s—is making a comeback in a big way. Typically used for wallpaper, grass cloth today is found on coffee tables, benches, mirror frames, and more. It might seem strange to incorporate such a summery trend during this particular season, but adding a low-key tropical feel during winter’s most frigid months can really cheer things up.

“Grass cloth is trending because it adds a whole other texture to the room, and manufacturers have figured out how to do it successfully with furniture,” Case says.

But budget buyers, beware: This look might not be for you.

“Making grass cloth is not an easy process, so you can expect to pay a higher price for this type of furniture,” Case says.

Indeed, grass-cloth furniture on Etsy can easily run upward of $1,000. True grass cloth is handwoven, so if you stumble upon something that looks like a steal, it’s probably not the real deal.

What to buy: Custom grass-cloth mirror, Etsy, $300

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Maximalist fabrics and prints


Photo by Studio G Interior Design Ltd
This season, expect to see our living spaces embrace the maximalist trend. (The Romanoffs would surely approve.)

“This winter will be a celebration of luxurious fabrics like brocade, silk, damask, and velvet,” says Emily McCrary, a home decor expert at House Method. “Find these in rich colors—like magenta, chartreuse, emerald, crimson, tangerine, and inky black—and loud patterns that announce themselves proudly.”

It’s a decor scheme that might seem excessive, McCrary says, but trust us—it has a natural fit in your home in the gloomy wintertime.

“We see luxurious fabrics, wild patterns, and maximalism rise in popularity during winter, because we crave the warm jewel boxes of our homes, we love throwing parties, we love celebrating the excess of the holidays,” McCrary says. “It lays the perfect palette for the spirit of the season—even after the holidays are over.”

What to buy:

———

White-painted floors


Photo by Johann Grobler Architects
You wouldn’t dare mess with your beautiful, natural wooden floors, right? Well, design experts suggest you might want to consider painting hardwood floors (and wood-paneled walls) white.

It’s a decor choice that’s certainly not for the faint of heart. But it’s a “big risk, big reward” scenario, promises Gillian Grefé, a design expert at Havenly.com.

“These days, risk-taking is being seen in more permanent places like floors and countertops,” she says. “The application of white instead of ‘natural’ colors is bolder than you’d think, and it is an easy, quick, and affordable update.”

Grefé says her clients may be skeptical at first, but love the look in the end.

“People are enjoying the delight in taking a risk,” she says.

By  | Dec 21, 2018