One of the greatest things about owning property on Orcas Island is that you are, well, on an island. Let’s face it, who doesn’t like being surrounded by water on all sides? Okay, so maybe it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you are into the whole water thing, purchasing land here can be a great investment in your future. The only thing that could be better? Your own personal piece of rocky beach, waterfront property!
Before you get too caught up in your reverie of owning a slice of heaven, keep in mind that San Juan County has been raising the bar the last several years on issues surrounding the exchange of waterfront parcels. Part of this comes from FEMA, who has been pushing their National Flood Insurance Program after taking a big hit following Hurricane Katrina. So, what does this mean for you as a buyer? Regardless of whether the property you are looking at is high or low bank, flood insurance will be required to receive approval from the Building Department for building plans and occupancy.
Now for the good news: you can get an exemption for flood insurance by providing a FEMA Elevation Certificate. The purpose of this certificate is to prove that your structure, or planned structure, is above the Base Flood Elevation. Base Flood Elevation, as defined by FEMA, is the “computed elevation to which flood waters are anticipated to rise during the base (1-percent-annual-chance) flood event”. Thankfully Elevation Certificates are not difficult to get; however, the process does take time – on average 2-4 months – so it’s important to start this as soon as possible.
To begin, you will want to contact a local survey company as they can help walk you through each stage. Initially they will probably perform a preliminary field review, which can often determine if the structure, or proposed structure, is above the base flood elevation. In San Juan County, these elevations can range anywhere between 11 and 18 feet. If the preliminary findings are not enough, the surveyor will work with you to attain the required elevation certificate.
Here is a look at what to expect from this process:
- The Corps of Engineers will be employed to determine the base flood elevation for the specific site in question, taking into account the local ecology. Their determination generally takes 1-3 weeks.
- An Elevation Certificate will need to be completed by a Professional Land Surveyor. If the parcel in question has been built on, the surveyor will check several things including: the structure of the building and foundation, constructed and non-constructed flood openings, square footage, will take photos of all sides of the building, and will measure the elevation of the lowest adjacent grade. Both the survey and the certificate can normally be completed in less than a week.
- A FEMA application will need to be completed and include the findings from both the Corps of Engineers and the Professional Land Surveyor. Once this package is submitted, they have 60 days to review the findings.
Only after this entire review process will FEMA remove a structure or parcel segment from the flood plain, meaning as a buyer, that you will no longer be required to purchase flood insurance.
Tip: If you are purchasing waterfront land that has not been built on, talk to a survey company before beginning projects. Most will work with you prior to the design or construction phase to ensure that any buildings will be above the flood zone.
If you have questions and/or concerns about this topic, please contact us here.
Seattleites love to come to the San Juan Islands in the summer. Although right in their backyard, it can feel like a whole world away. With everyone wanting to come when it’s sunny and warm(-ish), the island population on Orcas easily triples in the high season. While summer is definitely fun, for those wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of city living, winter is really the time to come visit. I know, it’s cold, and wet, and yada yada. But keep in mind, the islands actually get milder weather than the city, all year long, which make a trip out here all the more enjoyable. Aside from the weather though, here are five other reasons why a winter stay should be on your To-Do List:
1. The Views are Better.
Okay, so everyone loves to see lush greenery and pretty flowers when they travel (or stay at home for that matter), but let’s face it, not having the trees covered with leaves can really improve your view. And since you are paying to stay in a house, or fun little B&B, having a nice view makes it all worthwhile, especially on this island. So cozy up in your temporary residence, have a cup of something hot, and enjoy being able to look out across the water from your couch.
2. You can actually get into a restaurant.
Vacations are all about the food, and sitting down in a restaurant you have maybe never heard of, in a place you maybe have never been, is both refreshing and exciting. In the summertime, high tourist season, it can be nearly impossible to get seated, unless you are one of those people who is good at planning way ahead. (I’m really more into spontaneity myself.) In the winter, though, most nights of the week you can walk right into a place and find yourself at a table, no wait time. That said, it is worth making a reservation for the weekends, but a day or two in advanced should be all the planning you need.
3. Winter storm wave watching is amazing.
There is nothing like a good wind storm when you are tucked into an island getaway. The salt spray off the top of the waves that are rolling into the beach can be mesmerizing, especially if you are actually on the beach. So bundle up, grab a coffee, and enjoy the show.
4. You can have the trails to yourself.
Whether you are into hiking or mountain biking, it is very possible to find yourself the only person on the trail in Moran State Park. While there is the potential to pass one or two other wandering souls (with their four-legged companions) on the more popular trails, the outer trails can be almost eerily quiet. Best of all, if you are lucky enough to hit one of those crisp, clear days, the view from the top of Mount Constitution is absolutely spectacular. And even if you genuinely like other people, sometimes it’s nice not to have to share.
5. The locals are happier.
The truth is, summer is stressful for locals on the island. Most are working multiple jobs and trying to make enough in four months to carry them through the rest of the year. Islanders want to be helpful, they often just don’t have the time to sit and chat with every person who walks through the door. Winter, however is a whole different experience. This time of year, with most businesses running on a skeleton crew, the locals love swapping stories. Be careful though, it is easy to get caught up for extended periods of time. Still, winter provides the best opportunity to get your insider tips on what to see and do around the islands.
Ready to plan your trip? Visit the Orcas Island chamber of Commerce to find out what’s happening during your stay, and to see the most updated list of restaurant hours.
Need a place to stay? Make it a true getaway by renting your own house at off-season prices. Check out Vacation Doorways, who serves three of the major islands.
The Windermere Foundation had another banner year in 2016, thanks to the continued support of Windermere franchise owners, agents, staff, and the community. Over $2.2 million was raised in 2016, which is an increase of seven percent over the previous year. This brings our total to over $33 million raised since the start of the Windermere Foundation in 1989.
A large amount of the money raised last year is thanks to our agents who each make a donation from every commission they earn. These funds enable our offices to support local non-profits that provide much-needed services to low-income and homeless families in their communities.
|SUMMARY OF FUNDS, GRANTS & DONATIONS IN 2016|
|Number of individual grants fulfilled:||664|
|Average grant amount:||$2,581|
|Average donation to the Windermere Foundation:||$122.05|
|Total funds provided in 2016:||$1,951,878.78|
So how are funds used? Windermere offices get to decide how to distribute the funds their agents raise so that they may help organizations in their communities. Our offices have helped to fund school lunch and afterschool programs, supported non-profits that provide housing assistance to homeless families, donated to food banks, purchased school supplies, provided meals and gifts for families in need over the holidays, fulfilled wishes for children through Make-A-Wish programs, and purchased shoes, clothing, blankets and other items to help keep families warm during the winter months.
This year was also marked by a new partnership between Windermere and the Seattle Seahawks to help #tacklehomelessness. During the 2016 football season, Windermere donated $100 for every Seahawks home game tackle to YouthCare, a non-profit organization that provides essential services to homeless youth. At the end of the season, the #tacklehomelessness campaign raised $35,000, which is being used to help fund YouthCare’s transitional housing program.
Thanks to our agents, offices, and everyone who supports the Windermere Foundation, we are able to continue to make a difference in the lives of many families in our local communities. And not just during the holidays, but throughout the year. If you’d like to help support programs in your community, please click on the Donate button.
To learn more about the Windermere Foundation, visit http://www.windermere.com/foundation.
Posted January 24 2017, 9:15 AM PST by Christine Wood
Whether you’re buying or selling, accurately pricing a home requires professional assistance from someone who knows the neighborhood.
The “estimated” home prices you see posted online can be off by tens of thousands of dollars—not because they are dishonest, but because the computer programs generating these guesstimates don’t take into account the current condition of a house, the amenities that are included, the qualities of the surrounding neighborhood, and so much more.
A real estate agent’s appraisal will not only consider the selling prices of surrounding properties, as the online services do, but also take into consideration a host of other criteria. For instance, when it comes to assessing the surrounding neighborhood, the following factors can often significantly affect the market price of a home:
The quality of neighborhood schools has a dramatic impact on home price, whether buyers have school-age children or not. In the most recent study on the subject, researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that above-average public schools (those with math scores 4.6 percent better than the average) increased the value of nearby homes by 11 percent (or an average of $16,000) in the St. Louis area.
A park within walking distance
Parks are so important to families today that simply having one within a quarter mile can increase the value of a house by 10 percent, according to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
The impact that retail areas have on home values depends on the type of community. According to a study recently released by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, homes in urban areas sell for six percent to eight percent more than average if they’re within a quarter mile of a retail cluster (shops and restaurants). However, in suburban communities, it’s the homes that are a mile from any retail centers that sell for the most (homes located closer than that actually sell for eight percent less than average).
Because we’re a car-oriented society, most people are willing to pay more to live within a couple miles of an on-ramp to a major highway or freeway, which saves gas and speeds commute times. However, if the home is located too close (within a half mile of the freeway), the associated noise and air pollution can push the price in the opposite direction.
Vacant lots in the vicinity
Being surrounded by vacant land can be a good thing in rural areas, but it’s usually a negative for urban homeowners. A recent Wharton School study found that higher concentrations of unmanaged vacant lots in an urban neighborhood drag down the values for surrounding homes by an average of 18 percent.
Proximity to nuisances and environmental hazards
Two recent studies (one from an Arizona assessor’s office, the other by the University of California Berkeley) show that homes located near a landfill or power plant usually sell for four to 10 percent less than more distant homes. The same can usually be said for homes located too close to manufacturing facilities—especially those that make lots of noise or produces noxious odors.
According to a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the value of a home decreases by one percent for every foreclosed home within 250 feet of it. Why? The lower sales prices of foreclosed homes can quickly drag down the neighborhood’s comparable prices. Plus, the owners of these properties usually don’t have the money or interest in maintaining them after they go into foreclosure, which can create an eyesore for all the other homes in the vicinity.
Percentage of homeowners
Are there more owners than renters living in the neighborhood? If so, property values are usually better than average. Homeowners tend to take better care of their property than renters or landlords, which improves the curb-appeal for the whole community.
Some communities have a wealth of quality public services available to them—including regular street cleanings, scheduled street repair, graffiti removal services, landscape maintenance, neighborhood beautification efforts, and more. Needless to say, homes lucky enough to be located in those areas typically command higher property valuations.
Home sellers can use these factors to justify a higher asking price. Buyers can use them to try and negotiate something lower. However, when it comes to attaching specific dollar amounts, that is something best left to your real estate agent, an objective professional with a deep understanding of the local market.
Posted July 8 2016, 11:00 AM PDT by Tara Sharp. Read the original here.
I believe that the big story for the coming year will be first-time home buyers. Since they don’t need to sell before purchasing, their reemergence into the market ensures that sales will continue to increase, even while inventory is limited. Thirty-one percent of buyers currently in the real estate market are first-time buyers, but it would be more ideal if that figure was closer to 40 percent.
Why don’t we have enough first-time buyers in the market? With Baby Boomers working and living longer, we aren’t making much room for Millennials to start their careers. Plus, the major debt that the younger generation owes on student loans ($1.3 trillion today) hugely impacts the housing market. But the bigger issue is lack of down payments. Before the recession, many Millennials could look to their parents for help with down payments; however, these days that is not as much the case.
I would also contend that the notion of Millennials being a “renter generation” is nonsense. In a National Association of Realtors survey, 75 percent of them said that buying a home would be the most astute financial decision they’d ever make; however, 80 percent said they don’t think they could qualify for a mortgage. I do believe that Millennials will eventually buy, but they’re delaying their purchasing decisions by about three years when compared to previous generations, which is about the same amount of time they’re waiting to start families as well.
Mortgage rates have risen rapidly since the election, and unfortunately, I do not see a turnaround in this trend. That said, they will remain cheap when compared to historic averages. Expect to see the yield on 30-year mortgages rise to around 4.7% by the end of 2017. For those who have grown accustomed to interest rates being at historic lows, this might seem high, but it’s all relative.
If I were to gaze all the way into 2018, my crystal ball takes me to the dreaded “R” word. Like taxes and death, recessions are another one of those unwanted realities that inevitably comes to visit every so often. Irrespective of who was voted into the White House, my view remains the same: prepare to see a business cycle recession by the end of 2018, but, rest assured, it will not be driven by real estate, nor will it resemble the Great Recession in any way.
Posted January 11 2017, 11:30 AM PST by Matthew Gardner, Chief Economist, Windermere Real Estate
2016 was another stellar year for the Seattle housing market, in which a surplus of buyers and a deficit of sellers drove home prices higher across the board. So, can we expect to see more of the same in 2017? Here are some of my thoughts on the Seattle/King County housing market for the coming year:
1.Our market has benefited greatly from very healthy job growth, driven in no small part by our thriving technology companies. Economic vitality is the backbone of housing demand, so we should continue to see healthy employment growth in 2017; however, not quite as robust as 2016. Migration to Seattle from other states will also continue in the coming year, putting further pressure on our housing market.
2. Are we building too many apartments? The answer to this question is “maybe”. I believe we are fast approaching oversupply of apartments; however, this glut will only be seen in select sub-markets, such as South Lake Union and Capitol Hill. Developers have been adding apartments downtown at frantic rates with many projects garnering very impressive rents. In the coming year, look for rental rate growth to slow and for concessions to come back into play as we add several thousand more apartments to downtown Seattle.
3. The Millennials are here! And they are ready to buy. 2016 saw a significant increase in the number of Millennial buyers in Seattle, and I expect to see even more in 2017. The only problem will be whether Millennials will be able to find – or afford – anything to buy.
4. Home prices will continue to rise. But price growth will taper somewhat. The market has been on a tear since bottoming out in 2012, with median home prices up by a remarkable 79% from the 2012 low, and 14% above the pre-recession peak seen in 2007. Given the fact that interest rates are now likely to rise at a faster rate than previously forecasted, I believe price appreciation will slow somewhat, but values will still increase at rates that are well above the national average. Look for home prices to increase by an average of 7.5 – 8.5% in 2017.
5. More homes for sale? I am optimistic that inventory levels around Seattle will increase, but it still won’t be enough to meet continued high demand.
6. This is my biggest concern for the Seattle housing market. Home prices – specifically in areas with ready access to our job centers – are pulling way ahead of incomes, placing them out of reach for much of our population. This forces many buyers to move farther away from our job centers, putting additional stress on our limited infrastructure. We need to have an open discussion regarding zoning, as well as whether our state’s Growth Management Act is helping or hindering matters.
7. New Home Starts/Sales. As much as I would love to say that we can expect a substantial increase in new homes in 2017, I am afraid this is not the case. Historically high land prices, combined with ever increasing construction and labor costs, slow housing development, as the price of the end product is increasingly expensive. This applies to single family development as well as condominiums. We should see a couple of towers break ground in 2017, but that’s about all. Vertical construction is still prohibitively expensive and developers are concerned that there will not be sufficient demand for such an expensive end product.
8. Are we setting ourselves up for another housing crash? The simple answer to this question is no. While home price appreciation remains above the long-term average, and will continue to be so in 2017, credit requirements, down payments, and a growing economy will all act as protectors from a housing crash in Seattle.
Posted December 29 2016, 11:00 AM PST by Matthew Gardner, Chief Economist, Windermere Real Estate
One area of the real estate market that is thriving right now is rental property.
All indications suggest that the rental market will continue to improve because of low vacancy rates and rising rents. In fact, the demand for rentals is predicted to far exceed supply through 2016, with 4.5 million new renters expected to enter the market in the next five years.
What to consider before buying a rental
Being a landlord has its challenges. The recession took a toll on rental prices for a few years and any future economic downturns could do the same. Once the job market returns to normal, there’s a strong possibility that more people will choose to move from rentals into homes of their own. And the demand for rental properties could become oversaturated at some point, resulting in an investment bubble of its own.
What’s more, while the income from a rental property can be significant, it can take at least five years before you’re making much more than what you need just to cover the mortgage and expenses. In other words, the return on your investment doesn’t happen overnight.
However, in the long run, if you select the right property, it could turn out to be one of your best investment decisions ever—especially since rental real estate provides more tax benefits than almost any other investment.
Tax deductions for the taking
One of the greatest things about owning rental properties is the fact that you’re able to deduct so many of the associated expenses, including a sizeable portion of your monthly mortgage payment.
The commissions and fees paid to obtain your mortgage are not deductable, but the mortgage interest you pay each month is, including any money you pay into an escrow account to cover taxes and insurance. Whatever your mortgage company reports as interest on your 1098 form at the end of each year can likely be deducted.
For example, you may be eligible to deduct credit card interest for goods and services used in a rental activity, repairs made to the building, travel related to your rental (local or long distance), expenses related to home office or workshop devoted to your rental, the wages of anyone you hire to work on the building, damages to your rental property, associated insurance premiums, and fees you pay for legal and professional services. However, as is the case with any transaction of this type, be sure to consult your attorney or accountant for detailed tax information.
What to look for
As with any real estate investment, the location of the property and its overall condition are both key. But with rental properties, there are some other, unique factors you’ll also want to consider.
Look for a building with separate utilities (water, electric, and gas, etc.) for each rental unit. This will make it far easier to legally charge for the fair use of what can be a very costly monthly expense.
If your property is one of the few rentals in the neighborhood, there will be less competition for interested renters.
Rentals that are near popular public transportation options and/or major freeways (without being so close that noise is an issue) are usually easier to rent—and demand more money.
Properties with small yards and fewer plantings are far easier and less expensive to manage.
Not only is off-street parking a desirable feature (people with nice cars usually don’t like to park on the street), it’s also a requirement for rental properties in some communities.
How to start your search
Unlike homes, rental properties do not typically have a visible ‘for-sale’ sign standing out front (as landlords don’t want to irritate, bring attention to their current renters, or turn off any prospective renters). Therefore, if you are interested in a rental property, your best option is to schedule an appointment with your real estate agent/broker to discuss your investment goals and identify what opportunities currently exist in the market place.
Posted September 7 2016, 11:00 AM PDT by Tara Sharp
Well, it’s December; the time of year when we look to our crystal ball and offer our housing market predictions for the coming year. And by crystal ball we mean Windermere’s Chief Economist, Matthew Gardner, who has been travelling up and down the West Coast giving his annual forecast to a variety of real estate and financial organizations. Last month’s surprising election results have created some unknowns, but based on what we do know today, here are some thoughts on the current market and what you can expect to see in 2017.
HOUSING SUPPLY: In 2016 the laws of supply and demand were turned upside down in a majority of markets along the West Coast. Home sales and prices rose while listings remained anemic. In the coming year, there should be a modest increase in the number of homes for sale in most major West Coast markets, which should relieve some of the pressure.
FIRST-TIME BUYERS: We’re calling 2017 the year of the return of the first-time buyer. These buyers are crucial to achieving a more balanced housing market. While rising home prices and competition will act as a headwind to some first timers, the aforementioned modest uptick in housing inventory should help alleviate some of those challenges.
INTEREST RATES: Although interest rates remain remarkably low, they will likely rise as we move through 2017. Matthew Gardner tells us that he expects the 30-year fixed rate to increase to about 4.5 percent by year’s end. Yes, this is well above where interest rates are currently, but it’s still very low.
HOUSING AFFORDABILITY: This remains one of the biggest concerns for many West Coast cities. Some markets continue to see home prices escalating well above income growth. This is unsustainable over the long term, so we’re happy to report that the rate of home price appreciation will soften in some areas. This doesn’t mean prices will drop, but rather, the rate of growth will begin to slow.
Last but not least, we continue to hear concerns about an impending housing bubble. We sincerely believe these fears to be unfounded. While we expect price growth to slow in certain areas, anyone waiting for the floor to fall on housing prices is in for a long wait. Everything we’re seeing points towards a modest shift towards a more balanced market in the year ahead.
Posted December 12 2016, 9:00 AM PST by Jill Jacobi Wood, OB Jacobi & Geoff Wood
Sean Justice/Getty Images
High demand and low interest rates drove housing sales in 2016, and 2017 is shaping up to be another good year, albeit with a few minor caveats.
While home prices for starter-to-midrange homes are pushing upward toward pre-recession peaks, especially in secondary markets, they’re stabilizing in higher-priced areas.
Prognosticators see the robust markets of Seattle, Portland and Denver as 2017’s top performers, with 10 percent to 11 percent price growth. If mortgage rates rise modestly as expected in 2017, sales elsewhere may normalize with smaller price appreciation, especially as housing starts rise to fill the inventory breach.
But it sure looks like another seller’s market again in 2017, and likely in 2018, with a few localized exceptions such as the overwrought Atlantic City, New Jersey and Detroit urban markets.
As we march into the latter part of the decade, homeownership remains a practical long-term hold and self-enforced savings plan.
Here are 10 tips to adapt to the latest market conditions.
1. First-time homebuyers: Get that starter home now
Well, you’d best gyrate into action. And we mean now! More than half of the home sales (52 percent) in 2017 are expected to be to first-time buyers, and mostly to the millennial set (19 to 34 years old), many moving from urban rentals, research by the National Association of Realtors shows. That means competition — and bidding wars — could become fierce in the spring for such “starters” in desirable areas.
While there’ll be less inventory this winter, there’ll also be less competition per unit and a higher percent of motivated sellers.
2. Sellers: Hire the right agent
Oftentimes, the best investment a seller can make is time spent researching agents. A bad hire can cost sellers tens of thousands of dollars and months of worried waiting.
First, look at an agent’s’ online marketing material and listings. Is there good photography or video? Does it “pop”? Are descriptions accurate and complimentary without seeming exaggerated?
Then, look at profiles of the agents on LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media; and be sure to read web reviews. What kind of vibe is an agent sending out?
Narrow your search to three agents and interview each, ideally in person. Ask for sales-activity reports, existing listings and time-on-the-market averages, plus the requisite local comps.
A seasoned listing agent also will know the best times for open houses and how to initiate a price war if the market allows. Never consent to a listing contract of longer than 90 days in a seller’s market. You can always extend.
3. Buyers: There’s more loan money out there
Those who couldn’t get mortgages during the downturn because they didn’t have 20 percent to put down can find affordable financing again.
Borrowers with FICO scores as low as 690 are now getting conforming mortgage loans (those under $417,000).
One telling sign: About two-thirds of mortgage refinancing were getting approved in the fourth quarter of 2016 compared to just one-half of those at the end of 2014.
However, borrowers without a 20 percent down payment will still likely pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI, until they hit the 20 percent to 25 percent equity mark.
The best rates go to those with 800-plus credit scores, though 750-plussers are getting virtually the same terms.
Unfortunately, those seductive interest-only loans are also on the menu again. Avoid them. They’re affordable at first since you’re not paying principal, but then years later, well … see the Great Recession of 2008.
4. Sellers: It may be a seller’s market but …
Home sellers can do several simple things to enhance appearance, increase buyer interest and boost their home’s profile:
- Renew selectively: Instead of wholesale renovations from which sellers recoup maybe 60 percent on investment, do light makeovers everywhere, with an eye on the kitchen and bathrooms. They’re far more cost-effective.
- Clean, clean and clean some more: It’s hard for buyers to picture themselves living in a dirty house. Scrub floors, baths, kitchens, windows and walls, and be sure to clean, vacuum and deodorize rugs. This is simple but effective.
- Depersonalize, declutter: Show the space, not the contents. Box up family photos, kids’ school papers and excess art, and store bulky and worn furniture. Organize your closets to make them look half empty.
- Illuminate: Think bright and cheery. Open drapes and add brighter light bulbs in dark areas. Repaint where needed but use neutral colors.
5. Renters: It might be time to buy
In many cases, rents are rising faster than home values, yet mortgage rates remain low. That, and the fact that renters now account for 37 percent of households (the highest level in 50 years), seem to indicate an imminent coming-out party for renters-turned-buyers, especially if they plan to stay put for five to 10 years after buying.
There are limitless buy-versus-rent calculators like Bankrate’s calculator for renters to compare affordability. But no gauge accounts for human behavior, such as reluctance of renters to re-invest what they’ve saved from not paying property tax, insurance, upkeep, etc. Homebuying basically enforces that discipline.
RATE SEARCH: Looking to stay in your house and not sell? Find the best refi rates now.
6. If you’re a buyer, don’t believe the house is yours
Don’t bank on a done deal or other verbal promises from listing agents until you sign a contract.
In heated markets across the country, sales agents are giving buyers false hope and using their offers to bid up the price for preferred buyers who they think can pay more and close faster. Have other homes in mind.
Strategies such as preapproval (versus prequalification), proof of funding, closing flexibility and the always-risky practice of waiving inspection and repair contingencies can help sway buyers.
For added clout, tell sellers you’re willing to “escalate,” or exceed all offers to a certain limit. Some agents even advise buyers to write so-called “love letters” to sellers, telling them how much the home will mean to their families.
7. Sellers: The grass is always greener …
… in yards with a “sold” sign. Major presale upgrades typically aren’t needed, but a little greening outdoors is a must.
Surveys show that strong curb appeal can increase prices by 10 percent or more. Greener grass, whether derived from new sod or fertilizer and water, is a must.
New shrubs, plantings and flowers also project a welcoming feel. Sellers typically enjoy a 100 percent return on the money they put into curb appeal.
Another form of green, sustainable landscaping has become a value-add for buyers. Native plants, native grasses and perennials that require less water and attention fill that bill.
Do some local research or ask your local home-and-garden pro for simple “greening” tips.
FREE TOOL: Looking to buy a house? First, check your credit score for free at myBankrate today.
8. Sellers and buyers: Know the state of your market
A balanced housing market is defined as one with an average inventory of 6.5 months, according to Texas A&M University Real Estate Center research. When inventory remains below equilibrium, sellers enjoy more control over prices and terms, and the area becomes a seller’s market.
When inventory lingers well above stasis, you have a buyer’s market where sellers must get more serious about price reductions, credits and throw-ins. Of course, these averages don’t necessarily reflect demand in certain desirable and undesirable submarkets.
Go to Realtor.org for such market home sales data by state or to a local agent, business journal and daily newspaper you can read online. In 2016, the U.S. housing inventory average was under five months.
9. Sellers: House going on sale in the spring?
Do some prep work now. First, grab your camera or smartphone and do an exterior autumn photo shoot, with the leaves changing colors.
It’s a much better way to showcase your home than to wait until late winter when everything is still dead and brown and mucky. Also take some landscape shots after the first snow, ideally on a sunny day, to show how cozy your place looks in winter.
Take a preliminary inventory, too. Look through your attic, closets, basement and garage to see what stored items you’ll want to keep, give away or sell in the spring. This will help you determine whether you’ll need a storage unit when your home is on the market and if there are any problem areas that need repairs or attention.
It’s also a good time to start discussing financing options with a local lender and interview prospective listing agents who also might provide additional preparation tips.
10. Buyers: Relocating near a waterfront?
You’d best consider weather and insurance realities. Major hurricanes and floods of the past dozen years, particularly Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, have pushed the National Flood Insurance Program into a $23 billion hole, forcing flood-insurance rates to spiral.
FEMA flood-map changes are aggressively expanding flood zones, especially along the East Coast and Gulf Coast, forcing hundreds of thousands of homeowners to buy flood insurance for the first time and others to pay thousands more annually.
Parts of Florida saw 20 percent increases in 2016 and will likely see similar hikes in 2017. Insurers also are imposing coverage caps so there’s no guarantee you’ll be made whole post-catastrophe.
Some home sellers and their agents are conveniently not disclosing these realities, so buyers will have to ask pointed questions and do their own research. Go to FEMA.gov for more info.