Realtor Safety Tips

Your job is important – and so is your safety!

Work During the Day

Show properties before the sun sets. If you have too much work and know that you will be working after hours, schedule the in-office work to be done after dark. If you are going out or meeting with a client, do it in the sunlight. If you don’t have a choice but to show a property after the sun sets, make sure you let at least two other people know where you are going and with whom. Make sure that you turn on all the lights in the home and keep the blinds up if you are showing a property at night, so that anyone outside the home can see exactly what’s going on inside.

Create Prospect Identification Forms

So that your office has information on all of your clients, take a copy of each client’s ID and scan it into your computer. Then, ask them to fill out a short prospect identification form – with name, phone number, address, email address, etc. When you are done with the information, make sure you properly discard it. Having a file on your clients helps in other ways too – if you are out of the office, your coworkers can see the client’s file – and the information can be used for marketing purposes later.

Don’t Be Too Public

Don’t share a lot of personal information with your clients. Do business with business contact information, not your personal cell phone number and email address. Don’t put your personal information on business cards or flyers, and don’t use your middle initial or your maiden name if you are a married woman. Use your office address instead of your home address. Don’t tell your clients (even in friendly conversation) where in town you live or about your family. Giving out too much information can make you a target for spam calls, identity theft, and worse.

Run Open Houses Wisely

At the end of an open house, don’t assume that everyone has left the building just because all the cars outside are gone. Check all of the rooms, closets, cabinets, and the backyard before you lock the doors. If you don’t feel comfortable closing up an open house by yourself, call your local non-emergency line to ask an officer to clear the house for you – or hire a security agent for the evening.

Tell Your Clients About Stranger Danger

Everyone tells their children not to talk to strangers  – you should say the same to your client. Advise them to never show their homes or host open houses on their own. Tell them not to talk to other agents or buyers without you as a middleman, and to refer all inquiries to you. Alert them that not all agents, buyers, and sellers are not always who they say they are, and that they should be safe.

Wear Your Realtor ID

Always wear visible company identification like a badge. You should also clearly mark your vehicle with your company name. If you ever need to get into a neighborhood that has a security gate, identify yourself quickly with a homeowner, or require assistance from the police when showing a home, this identification will be invaluable. It also acts as a visual cue for clients and open house visitors – the more often they glance at your name tag, that’s another time your name and the name of your business has gone through their mind.

Walk in the Back

When you’re showing a home, always have your prospect walk in front of you. Direct them from a position that is slightly behind them, but not exactly. If things somehow end up with you in the front, slow down a little bit to allow them to catch up to you – then at least they will be at your side, not behind you, where you cannot see them or what they are doing, and where it would be easy to overpower you.

Protect Your Electronics from Viruses

Safety goes beyond personal safety – you must also protect your business and the computers in it. Viruses can destroy computers, and viruses that steal information can take the details on every single client you’ve ever had. Never open an email from someone you don’t know, and if you get a strange message from an email address that you know, check with that person to make sure that they were not hacked before you open their email. Be aware of the websites you visit, and don’t give your information out all over the internet.

Check for Cell Service

When you’re showing a property to a prospect, make sure that you have cell service. You want to be able to reach the outside world somehow if there is a problem, and sending up a smoke signal because your phone isn’t working isn’t the best way to go about things. Check in advance to make sure that your phone is serviceable before you go show the property to a prospect. It can save lives!

Keep Your Client’s Stuff Safe

Before walkthroughs, have your client pack away their valuables. You don’t want their great great grandma’s jewelry or their precious laptop stolen. Also, tell them not to leave out anything with their name on it, such as mail, bills, or other paperwork. All jewelry should be removed from the home entirely or hidden well. Easy to pick-pocket items such as headphones, iPods, or keepsakes should also be hidden or removed.

Create an Office Distress Code

With your co-workers, decide on an official distress code. This word or phrase is not one that is commonly used in your industry, but can be worked into any conversation in front of a client without them realizing that you are calling for help. This can allow you to signal to your coworkers that you are in danger without alarming the client that you are standing with. For example, use the phrase “red file”. If you feel you are in danger, call up your office (casually). Tell them that you are with Mr. Smith at his property, and you need them to email you the contents of the red file. This alerts them to where you are, with whom, and that there is a problem.

Create a Safety Excuse

A lot of people have been on a bad date and wanted to get out without alerting or embarrassing their date. So what do they do? They fake a family emergency, and leave. You can use this in your business, too. If you are out with a client or a prospect and feel uncomfortable or unsafe, but not enough to use your code word, a safety excuse removes you from the situation. You can claim you just got an urgent email and need to step outside to call your office, or that you left a file in your car. If you want to imply that you will shortly have company (and therefore not be alone with the person you are alone with), let them know (casually) that another agent with buyers is on the way.

Check Out Potential Dangers When You Arrive

When you arrive to your destination, check out what’s around you before your client shows up. Is there currently any questionable activity in the area? Are you parked in a safe, well lit, and busy location? Can your vehicle be blocked in by another vehicle? Are there other people in the area who could help you if you needed it? Make sure the back door to the building you are in is unlocked so you have another path of exit if you need. Assessing your situation could save you later.

Meet the Neighbors

If you think it will be a long time before a property sells, and that you will be showing it often, go introduce yourself to the neighbors. It works both ways – the neighbor will no longer wonder who you are and why you are going in and out of their neighbor’s house all the time, and you will be at a little more peace knowing that they know and recognize you and your vehicle, and that you have built a little rapport with them in case you ever need assistance.

Carry Less

Don’t have your purse or briefcase on you when you go to show a house. If you need to carry a lot of paperwork, use a plain folder or a padfolio. When you are going to be alone with a client, don’t have anything on your person that you would be devastated to have stolen. Carry only non-valuable business items, and do not keep your wallet in your back pocket, wear a lot of jewelry, or leave your purse or valuables somewhere visible in your car for any passers-by to see. You may even consider leaving your smart-watch in the car while you show a house. The less interesting you look to steal from, the less likely you will be stolen from.

Ways to Save for A Down Payment

Even if you don’t plan to purchase a house for several years yet, you’ve almost certainly thought about how you will save up for a down payment. You must slowly set aside a lot of small amounts of money – investing in stocks simply won’t work here. Before you begin saving for your house, you should know a ballpark of how much you want to save up. Sit down with a mortgage lender or broker who can let you know how much of a mortgage you qualify for – and what percentage of that amount you should aim to save up for use as a down payment.

In today’s lending market, you should expect to make a 20% down payment. This is the average, but you can pay more if you wish – or less if that’s all you can manage. 20% is not a requirement, but the minimum advised payments for the best deals. If you put down less, you will likely be paying a higher interest rate, which can come back to bite you later. Weigh the pros and cons to come up with a number for what you wish to save up for a future down payment, and let that number be your ultimate goal.

The idea of saving up for a down payment can be stressful. The amount looks quite big – and it is. On top of that, it  can take a long time to save up for if you don’t know what you’re doing or how to plan your budget. Of course, you could squirrel away a little money here and there each paycheck, but that won’t do it. You’ll have to get creative – here are our best ideas for saving up for a down payment.

Transfer a Fixed Amount Into a Savings Account Every Month

Of course, we still have to mention it – probably the most basic and most reliable way to gather up money for a down payment on a house is to simply save money. It is also the most convenient way to save, as most big banks will allow you to set up automatic direct deposit into a savings account. As long as you can commit to only using these savings for your down payment and nothing else, you can sit back and watch your money roll in – and all it will take from you is a trip to the bank to set up the savings account.

Skip Family Vacations for Now

When you’re trying to save up for something as financially hefty as a down payment, it doesn’t make sense to drop multiple thousands of dollars on a trip that will only last a few days. Your new house will last forever! Use your money on that. If you save up the money you would have spent vacationing, you can make a huge contribution towards a down payment. To supplement the need to get out of the house, save money by taking “in-town” trips. You will be surprised how many fun things are right up the road from you – no trek to Hawaii involved.

Review Your Expenses

We all know someone who has so many monthly subscriptions (video streaming services, music streaming services, monthly surprise box deliveries, food delivery services…) that they can’t name them all. Don’t be that person! Look over your expenses and see where you can cut back. If possible, try to cut back on more than just monthly subscriptions – can you be more frugal with your water usage to lower your water bill? Can you spend a little less on groceries? Can you buy store-brand for a while, instead of organic superfoods? Can you reduce your twice-monthly water jug delivery to just once a month? Take the money you end up saving by doing this and put it towards your down payment.

Investigate Your High-Interest Rate Debt

Check out the fine print on your credit cards. What is your interest rate? If you have multiple credit cards, make note of which is the highest interest and which is the lowest. Start by paying down your highest interest rate card. When you’ve paid the entire balance, close it, and start working on the next highest interest rate card. Don’t want it to take that long? Transfer your balances to the card with the lowest interest rate, then close the other accounts. Take the money you would have spent on interest and put it in your savings account for your down payment.

Borrow From Relatives

We’ve all heard the jokes about calling your parents for money – but there’s nothing wrong with it if they are willing and able to help you. In fact, it’s incredibly common for parents (or other family members) to help out with a down payment when it comes to buying a first home. Over 50% of first time home buyers as well as home buyers under the age of 30 say that their parents helped them with a down payment. The only thing that is required of you is to include the amount on your loan application. You cannot also take a loan from a family member to use on a down payment – it must be a gift, and the family member must write a letter stating as much.

Borrow From Your Retirement Plan

A lot of retirement plans allow certain penalty-free withdrawals – a common one is for home buyers. Many employer-sponsored 401(K)s or profit sharing plans allow employees to borrow against their own savings to purchase a home. If you don’t know, and your plan is sponsored by your employer, you can ask your HR department or your payroll department to help answer your questions. If your plan is not employee sponsored, you can call an accountant or a financial advisor to help you.

Sell One or Some of Your Investments

Think of it this way – you aren’t getting rid of your precious investments, you’re moving them into another investment vehicle (your new home). This is because you accrue equity in your home as you make payments on your mortgage. As your home value increases, your investment does too. Look at your current investments, and sell off what you can. It may help a lot! Use the money you get from selling and put it towards your down payment.

Get a Second Job

This can be stressful, but is worth it if you have the time. If you are already currently living off of what you make, you can put all of your money from your second job towards your down payment. Just make sure that you really do this. Suddenly having a few extra thousand dollars a month can end with impulsive spending sprees, which detracts from the whole reason you got a second job in the first place. If you don’t have time for a full time job, get a part time one. Even just a few extra payroll hours per week can make a big difference.

Look Into Down Payment Assistance

There are a lot of organizations, government and otherwise, that exist to help people come up with the money for their down payments. Check to see if you qualify for down payment assistance from the Federal Housing Administration, the US Department of Agriculture, the Rural Housing Service, and the Veteran’s Administration. You can also look into local housing authorities to see if there is anything that they can do to help you. Check with your bank, too! Just make sure that you read all of the fine print and that you do your due diligence – don’t just take any amount of money you are offered without asking questions.

Start a Side Hustle

A side gig can act as a “second job” on your terms, where you set the times you work and decide what you want to do. You can walk dogs, referee sports leagues, tutor school children, babysit, pet-sit, mow lawns, do nails out of your home, have a yard sale, or sell off your unwanted items. If you add in just 16 hours per week making $10 per hour, you get an extra $120 a week after taxes to put towards your down payment! In two years, you’ll have an extra $12,400. It adds up fast!

It can be extremely hard to save money for a down payment when your rent keeps going up every year. When the median rent rises 32% in ten years but household incomes don’t increase by much at all, your ability to save money is what takes the bullet. It is estimated that it would take a person under 30 seven years to save for a 10% down payment. But by using these simple tips, you can make it a little easier. Wise money behavior sets you up to make home ownership a blessing instead of a financial burden.

Building a Sustainable Home

Sustainable housing is one that makes good use of resources and energy use to ensure there is minimal impact on the environment because of the house. The overriding principle in sustainable housing is that it must involve less energy and less waste, lower environmental impacts, and more re-use. Making a house sustainable can be done with a few small cheap projects all the way up to total home renovations – and when you’re building, you can add as many “green” aspects to the house as you want. Here are some of our best ideas.

Good Insulation of Walls

This aids in cooling, and saves on energy costs. Insulation keeps the temperature of the home stable, and badly installed insulation means the house will have to work much harder to heat and cool itself, which drives up your monthly bills and can cost a lot more over time.

Aim for the Sun

Orientate a new home for max sunlight exposure. Aim your house to the south if you want the most sunlight over the course of the day, or to the east or west if you want intense direct sunlight for half of the day. Aim your house to the north if you want little sun.

Choose Appliances with Energy Efficiency

A regular electrical appliance won’t make the cut as far as a sustainable house goes. Swap them for energy saving certified products instead. They may have a bigger price tag right now, but over the time you live in your new house, you will save multiple times what you pay for it.

Use Non-Toxic Building Materials

This may also cost a little more – the cheapest you can get is builder’s grade and those barely make the cut to be used at all. So expect the use of non-toxic building materials to run up a bill. However, non toxic building materials lower environmental impacts the house could pose.

Use Local Materials

Use lumber cut locally, products made locally, and buy as much as you can in-person. Not only does this improve the local economy, but it cuts down on transportation costs to get the products from wherever they are to you. Less traffic emissions is always a plus in our book.

Minimize Resource Waste

During construction, recycle as much waste as you can and reduce the amount of waste in general. To give an example, home building materials can be sourced from demolished projects which have been recycled. Talk to your general contractor to learn more about this.

Use Renewable Electricity Resources

This one is a little more expensive up front but literally saves tens of thousands of dollars over time. To achieve this you will install either a small scale wind turbine or a micro hydro system. Wisely choosing the power company that will offer renewable sources is also a good thing.

Build the House How You Want It The First Time

If you can handle it, build your house exactly how you want it the first time around, so that later you do not have to remodel and create more environmental waste and hardship. Think of the future – if you know you want to expand your family, build the house to reflect that.

Use Native Plant Life for Curb Appeal

If you live in a cold climate and purchase warm weather plants, they likely won’t live very long, and to replace them will mean the transportation of new plants. It will also support the bees and other pollinators to use local plant life when you are setting up your garden.

Install Solar Panels

Probably one of the most popular options, solar panels do a lot to make a home more sustainable. You can also choose to have a single solar panel instead of outfitting your entire house if finances are an issue. The one solar panel will still greatly offset your energy usage.

Use Energy Saving Bulbs

When the light fixtures are built on your new house, make sure you use energy saving bulbs. They last many thousands of hours longer than regular light bulbs and they are also easier on the electrical usage of the house. Replace incandescent lightbulbs with fluorescent or LED bulbs.

Use Multi-Socket Extension Loads

A home’s power consumption can be reduced by up to 15% if multi-socket extension loads are used. Of all of the choices to lower power consumption, this one is one of the choices with the biggest impact. One of the only other ways to reduce your impact this much is to go solar.

Build a Compost Station

Composting kitchen waste will reduce the amount of house waste in landfills, and will also reduce the costs associated with collecting the wastes. You can compost any organic material, and then use it as fertilizer in your garden – which yields more organic material that you can then compost.

Choose Organic Bedding

This choice has less to do with home-building decisions, but is still so important that we cannot surpass it. Cotton linen usage accounts for almost one third of insecticide usage in the world. Changing your bedding to organic cotton or bamboo is much more sustainable.

Choose Energy Efficient Windows

These windows keep the house cooler during the summer and warmer during the winter thanks to their excellent insulation. Regular windows do an okay job of insulating the house, but that is what these windows are specially made to do. You will save on your energy bill for sure.

Build Water Tanks to Collect Rain Water

Collect rainwater in tanks for use in bathrooms and the garden. You can’t drink it, but you can flush a toilet with it, water your plants with it, or flush the gutters with it. Rain water harvesting will assist in reducing waste of piped water, which helps out the environment.

Use a Programmable Thermostat

Thermostats are made to help give you more control over your home’s temperature, so keep the environment in mind while you are setting it. Keep your house a little warmer or cooler than you would like when you are not around or sleeping, depending on the season.

Install Low Flush Toilets

Low flush toilets can significantly assist in reducing water waste compared to traditional toilets. Traditional toilets use around 6 liters of water per flush, and low flush toilets use around 4.5 liters (or less!) per flush. This amounts to thousands of gallons of water per year!

Use Eco-Friendly Paints

Everyone knows to avoid lead paint, but that isn’t enough when you’re trying to be as eco friendly as possible. The use of paints that are plant or water based are much better than the traditional paints, which contain chemicals that are harmful to the local air quality.

Use Motion Sensing Lights Instead of Switches

Have you ever forgotten to turn a light off? If you switch to motion sensing lights, you won’t have to worry about that anymore. You’ll also save a ton in electricity – and you’ll know that you’ll only be using electricity when you really need it.

Install Skylights In Top-Floor Rooms

Skylights provide a ton of natural light as well as a little room-warming thanks to the sun. That means they are highly energy saving and reduce energy consumption by a lot! They also don’t take up a lot of wall space, meaning that you can install as many as you want!

Use Sustainable Flooring Materials

Everyone wants good looking floors, but you really can have it all with sustainable flooring materials – they look fantastic and durable, but are also great for the environment too. This is another thing that you can ask your general contractor about – they will likely point you to bamboo flooring.

Choose The Site Wisely

Avoid hazardous areas like flood zones. If you can’t, make sure your home is able to withstand the hazard. You don’t want to have to build your house twice – it’s not good for the environment! Whatever natural disaster you’re facing, make sure your house is protected against it.

Build a Smaller House

Less work, less emissions, less energy consumption, and less damage to the environment – smaller houses are just more sustainable. A larger house requires a lot more of everything, even the bad things. Try not to over-do it on the size of the house. It’s less wasteful!

Use Air Sealing

This is one of the lesser know energy efficient home ideas that people often forget about. It prevents air from exiting your house – conditioned air that you’re paying for. Make sure there is sealant at all exit points of the house – the windows, doors, vents, electrical conduits, and any other places.

Consider Efficient HVAC Design

Your AC and heat will be the largest source of energy consumption in your home. You want to use an efficient, well designed system. Consider a smart thermostat, zones, efficient equipment, mini split units, and more. HVAC is a huge portion of energy consumption and should be efficient.

A sustainable house is a home that has the least possible negative effect on our environment. What we build matters, and so does how we build it.

Reasons Your Home Isn’t Selling

Has your home been on the market for what feels like forever? You listed your home and it has been showing, of course, but no offers have come in. You know you need to make some changes, but what can you do? What should you prioritize? How do you know where you’re going wrong?

When the average number of days a home is on the market ranges from 75 to 145, a home will sell for the most amount of money in the first 30 days that it is on the market. This is because potential buyers start to wonder what is wrong with a home if it hasn’t sold in 30 days. With that being said, you want your house to sell fast! The longer it sits on the market, the more the sale will fall below list price, so you want to solve this issue as quickly as possible.

Here are some reasons your home likely isn’t selling as fast as you want it to.

The Price is Too High
We know – your house is precious to you and you feel it’s worth top dollar. But pricing a house too high is an extremely common mistake. 51% of agents say that pricing a home incorrectly is the biggest mistake a seller can make. Pricing a home for sale can be hard – you want to make a profit, but you want to be fair when you decide on a number. There are a ton of ways to look at data points to determine a fair market value for your home, but the best way to get an accurate number is to work with an appraiser and an agent. Your appraiser has no horse in the race of your house selling, so you know he or she will give you an accurate number. Also, it is your agent’s job to position their listings where they sell in the coveted first 30 days. They will be able to tell you if your asking price is too ambitious. Either way, don’t let your house sit on the market for any longer than a month without doing a price drop, no matter what anyone tells you. It can be disappointing, but isn’t the end of the world – 22% of sellers in the last ten years have reduced their asking price at least once.

Your House is Too Unique

Either you have a property that is snatched off of the market the first week, or you don’t – and one reason you might fall in the “don’t” camp is because your house is a little too unique. Very large homes, very high end or expensive homes, homes in strange areas, or homes with odd and unusual features can take a lot longer to match with a dream buyer. If you have the expendable cash, see if you can bring your home a little closer to neutral. Make sure the walls are all white, the flooring is a neutral color and style, the outside of the house has attractive landscaping that would be easy for anyone to uphold, and more. If a small remodel isn’t in your best financial interest, you can change your marketing strategy. For example, if you are trying to sell a home with multiple complete living spaces (such as a duplex turned home), change your strategy towards using the other space as a rental for extra income, instead of trying to sell one family two homes in one. Make it work for your buyer. Selling a unique home may also require the listing of the property in places other than the local online real estate sites. More eyes on the listing means more opportunities for things to work out.

Your Staging is Off-Target

Staging matters. It helps your buyer picture their own stuff in your house, and the better they are able to do that, the more likely they are to buy from you. Un-staged or badly staged homes can come off as cluttered, small, dark, and as if the potential buyer is invading someone else’s space. Typically, a properly staged home sells for more money and in a shorter amount of time. Staged homes sell 87% faster than un-staged homes, for example, and for 17% more. 96% of surveyed realtors agreed that staging has a noticeable effect on potential buyers, and that they are a lot more likely to favor the house in that case. Remember too that staging is not only about making your house look clean, orderly, and neutral. It is also about fixing up the small things that can distract people from your house as a whole – scuffed paint, floors in need of a polish, or highly outdated fixtures. Buyers have a lot of trouble seeing past those things to focus on the potential of the house. Incorrect staging could fail to show off your home’s assets or highlight flaws that you don’t want your buyers to notice.

Your Curb Appeal is Non-Existent

You stage the inside of your home, and you should stage the outside, too. After all, the first thing your buyer sees of your house is the outside of it. If your yard is littered with children’s toys, dead landscaping or grass, trash, or yard decorations, it’s likely to turn off a potential buyer. You don’t want to turn off a buyer before they even reach the front door! Of course, the planting of a few flowers in the front garden aren’t going to net you an additional 50K on your house, but it is proven that lawn care gets an average of 303% ROI and general landscaping gets an average of 100% ROI. Upgrade your curb appeal – clean things up, grow some grass, plant those flowers, and repaint the shutters. If you don’t know where to start with this (or don’t have the time to do it), hire a professional landscaper. They can help tell you the easiest and cheapest ways to make your yard look amazing in the smallest amount of time. Don’t forget the backyard, either – touch up the stain or the paint on your fence, and if you don’t have a fence, install one! Make sure the trees in the yard are living and attractive, and not fall-risks.

Your Listing Photos Are Bad Quality

Over half of buyers look online before they even consider visiting a house they’re interested in, and photos you took on your flip phone aren’t going to make them want to come take a tour. If your listing photos don’t show how amazing your house is in crystal clear quality, no one is going to come tour it. If your house has been on the market for a long time with no tours or offers, consider updating your listing photos. Take the photos with a real camera – it’s worth the extra effort. Listing photos taken with professional cameras typically get around 60% more page views than listing photos taken on cell phones. In fact, good photos can increase the selling price of your home starting at around $1,000. If you don’t have your own camera, hire a professional. Your agent should be able to help you arrange this or arrange it for you. It’s one of the things your commission to them is supposed to pay for. If they don’t provide the photographer, find someone yourself. A little investment will deliver massive returns.

There’s a Specific Issue

Every potential buyer in the world will ask their agent – is there anything wrong with this house? If you have a glaring issue, it could be driving people away in droves. Have your agent ask tourers what would have to change for the house to be their dream house. If you get a lot of similar answers, you know what has to be changed. Once you know that there is an issue and have identified what it is, you can work to fix it. If you hear that multiple buyers are having trouble envisioning their furniture placement in your house, tighten up your staging efforts. If they want more light, paint the walls whiter, open the windows, and declutter. If it’s a bigger issue that you can’t afford to fix right now, knock a little off of your asking price. Some things can’t be changed, such as your proximity to busy roads, construction, or a “bad neighborhood”, so make sure your asking price reflects any specific issues your home has.

It isn’t too late to sell your home. No matter how long it’s been sitting on the market, there is a reason why. With the right adjustments to your home’s price, listing, staging, curb appeal, condition, and photos, it will sell. There is a happy buyer for every unique home! The worst case scenario? You take your house off the market for a while, fix it up, then relist it. If you need to or want to, you can start over with a new agent, too.

The Ultimate House Hunting Checklist

If you are looking at prospective homes, you probably have an idea of what you want. But do you have a list? Of course, everyone wants a big kitchen and a sizeable yard, but there’s more to it than that. Having things on paper means that you won’t miss anything or forget about it later. Also, you must look beyond size, condition, and number of rooms. Here are some other things you should look over before you make an offer on a house.

The Location

You can fix almost any imperfection in a home except for it’s location. When you are looking at a specific house, consider any potential home’s proximity to your work, the nearest doctor, and the nearest grocery store. Think about the charm of the neighbor hood, how the home is situated on the lot, the privacy you have from your neighbors, the ease of access, the parking situation, the noise from neighbors, the noise from traffic, the noise from pets, and access to public transportation.

The Site

Look at the site of the home. Is the house on a hill? If so, does it have a view? What about a lot of stairs to climb to get to the front door? How about a walk out basement? Do the neighbors windows look directly into yours? Is the yard suitable for the number of kids and pets you have? Is access to the property safe regarding driveway elevation or access to the front door? It is very expensive to change these things, so make sure you are okay with how things are from the first.

The Neighborhood

The house needs to meet your expectations, sure, but so too does the neighborhood. You should own the smallest home in the nicest neighborhood that you can afford. Drive through the neighborhood in the mornings, the afternoons, and the evenings to see how things change throughout the day. Are the homes in the neighborhood consistent in size and features? Are the yards tidy or messy? Are there any abandoned cars or stray animals running around? Would you feel safe walking to the mailbox at night? Are there a lot of children – and if there are, are you okay with their noise level?

The Curb Appeal

Your landscaping should reflect your lifestyle. If you live a laid back life, then you probably don’t want a hard-to-maintain yard. If that’s the case, it’s likely that your curb appeal will tank, considering all the plant life in your yard has died! However, if you have a green thumb, make sure there is a lot of room for a garden. A brick home is the easiest to maintain, unless you live in an area with a lot of earthquakes. Check to make sure the roof is in good condition, as well as the driveway.

The Size and Floor Plan

Does the layout of the house make sense? Do you really need as many bedrooms and bathrooms as the house has? Do you have enough furniture to fill the house? Do you have too much stuff and you need more storage space? Is the kitchen set up properly for how you will use it? Think about how the space will be used and whether it will be beneficial to your lifestyle now and in the future. You don’t want to buy a home while you’re wearing rose colored glasses and then later find out that it’s not the one for you.

The Bedrooms and Bathrooms

Decide how many bedrooms and bathrooms you really need. Sure, it’s great to have a couple of guest rooms, but you’ll be paying to heat and cool those rooms when they’re empty. If you think you’re going to add onto the house later in terms of bedrooms and bathrooms, make sure that you confirm that you’re allowed to do this with an architect so you don’t buy the house knowing you need one more bedroom – then not be allowed to build that room.

The Kitchen

It is said that the kitchen is the heart of the home. And so it should be! Of course, you can always remodel, but if that’s not in your budget after paying out a down payment, make sure that you can live with the kitchen that comes with the house. It doesn’t have to be your dream kitchen, but it should be workable. If the most that needs to be done is an inexpensive makeover, it’s as good as perfect! Don’t even worry about the appliances, as they can also be easily replaced.

The Storage

The older the home is, the less storage space it tends to have. If you have a lot of extra stuff, make sure there’s a place for it all to go. You can always add storage space, but you may have to sacrifice living space in your rooms to do so if you don’t want to add onto the house. Don’t forget about outdoor storage either – is the garage enough, or will you have to build a small shed out in the yard? Will you have enough room to fit your car in the garage after you get all of your storage stuff in there?

The Lighting

Some people love bright, sunny rooms. Some people like to keep it dark and cozy. Whatever your preference, check out the indoor and natural lighting options. If you prefer all natural, or you have a lot of window plants, does enough sun come in the windows to meet your needs? A hint – southern facing windows tend to get the best light. If you prefer more yellow, dimmed lightbulbs, and the house is currently sporting clinical, bright white bulbs, that’s okay – it’s just a matter of changing them out.

The Finishing Touches

A small, simple house can still look spectacular thanks to small details such as moldings, door frames, window treatments, hardware, and fireplaces. If you really want your new home to be a stunner, consider finding a place that already sports these finishing touches. If the house is your dream house but still needs a little touching up, that’s okay too – most of these changes are quite cheap and simple to do by yourself. Just be prepared to add these elements yourself if they are not present at the home tour and are important to you to have.

The Plumbing

Do the toilets flush? How is the water pressure? Are any of the pipes under the sink leaking? Is the water heater leaking? Make sure that all of the plumbing and pipes are acceptable – because you’ll be stuck with them once you get the keys. If you (or the inspector) notices an issue, you can ask the seller to fix them before you move in, or ask for money off of the price of the house so you’ll have extra cash on hand to fix the issue without stressing your finances much more than they already are after putting down that down payment.

Compare the features of the homes you view and rate them from one to five, with one being “poor” and five being “excellent”. View each house and neighborhood from that lens, and judge what you liked and what you didn’t like. This list can keep all of your thoughts in one place, making it simpler for you to pare things down and make a decision.

Other tips for house hunting:

  • Bring a phone or a camera for taking photos and videos of each house.
  • Only tour a house if you approve of the neighborhood.
  • Take notes as you walk through each house – you’ll forget the details later.
  • Revisit your top three favorite houses – it will help refresh your memory.
  • Talk to the neighbors to learn more about the house and the area.
  • Visit the house at night when neighbors are home. How is the parking and noise level?
  • Check your cell phone signal in the house. Make sure it’s strong.
  • Compare home values between your potential house and others in the neighborhood.
  • Ask your realtor about average monthly bills for each property you visit.
  • Hire a home inspector to check the electrical, heating, air conditioning, security, plumbing, insulation, water, and sewer systems to make sure everything is up to date and safe.
  • Check for damage to the foundation, driveway and pool by looking for cracks.
  • Make sure that the garage door functions.
  • Look for signs of pests such as ants, termites, or rodents.
  • Keep your expectations as realistic as possible.
  • Stay in your budget – you set it for a reason!
  • Ask your realtor about any known damages or home history.

House hunting can be stressful, but organizing and ensuring that each home is properly checked over can help you feel much more at ease and put together while you tour homes. You should never buy a home without first knowing everything you can about it. The only way to avoid that is to investigate and do your due diligence on each home you visit.

Real Estate Open House Ideas for 2020

A lot of agents have given up – some say that the open house is dead. This isn’t true! You just need to know how to do it. Here are the best open house ideas for you to use in 2020!

Run a Facebook Live Stream

People want what other people want. It’s a fact of life. With that being said, there is no better time to stream and record a video walk through of your listing than during your open house, when it’s full of people – competition for other buyers! This also allows potential buyers to view the house remotely and ask questions that the realtor can answer in real time. It’s like House Hunters – live! After the live stream is over, you can post the full video of it on social media for even more people to watch.

Use a Sign In App

In the old days, those who visited an open house would sign their name and contact information onto a paper sheet. It can be hard to read some people’s handwriting! The difference between a letter or two could also be the difference between an awesome lead and no lead at all. Thankfully, now there are apps that can take the place of these confusing and hard to read sheets. The open house visitors will simply type their information on a tablet instead. The apps will then forward the client’s information to your contact database, where you can sign them up for emails or follow up later by phone.

Virtually Stage the Home With Different Décor

Most people have a really hard time trying to visualize their style in a space. You can offer your visitors staged images that show the many different ways a room could be used with online décor websites. Virtual staging can make a difference! You can show them different uses for different rooms, too – that second bedroom could be a guest room, an office, a craft room, a nursery…

Skip the Alcohol

Some agents used to swear by offering people a glass of wine or champagne, saying it lowered their inhibitions a little and made them like the house more. People do love a free drink – but it’s not worth the extra crowd. Best practices says to avoid the libations. Social host liability laws in some areas mean that you could be sued if someone drinks too much and then gets hurt. Also, those people who only showed up for the free champagne and don’t care about the house? Well, they’re now clogging up your email prospect list.

Invite the Neighbors

Well, you don’t have time to go knocking on all their doors – but you could design and leave a door sign. At the end of the day, an open house is about your client, but you should also focus on the whole experience of the listing. Take advantage of the area. Obviously, the neighbors likely aren’t looking to buy the house across the street, but their presence could shout to random passers-by that something interesting is going on there, that house must really be nice on the inside for all those people to be there looking at it! Even those few extra folks in attendance could really draw a crowd for you.

Hold Raffles or Contests

Even if the prize is just a small gift card, everyone loves a free gift just for showing up. In exchange for their contact information, you can enter those visiting your open house into a drawing for a gift or prize. Advertise your plan to do this on social media and all of the flyers and other notifications for the open house. You never know, someone who just came to be entered in the raffle could end up loving the house – and being it’s next owner – all thanks to a small gift card or a fruit basket!

Give Out Paperwork

Floor plans, FAQ, and HOA information. Get this paperwork together, make tons of copies of it, and staple everything into packets for your open house visitors. The floor plans will allow people to start thinking of how their furniture could fit into the house. The FAQ saves you time from having to answer the same questions over and over. HOA information does the same. You can also include paperwork on the building itself, rental restrictions, what’s around the area in terms of shopping, schools, and entertainment, and more. This information helps the visitors to imagine themselves living in the home.

Give Yourself Enough Time to Market It

You want the advertisements to be up long enough for people to actually see them! Three days should be enough. The open house is not meant to sell the home, but instead as a lead source method of what you can deliver to the seller. Use those three days to properly prepare for and advertise the open house via cold calls, face to face interactions, flyers, social media, and more. It will show your seller that you are really on the ball, and willing to go above and beyond to make things work for them.

Schedule it Strategically

You don’t want to schedule your open house for 8 AM on a Monday when everyone is at work. The best days for open houses are the weekend of course, and the best time is around noon. If you absolutely must have the open house on a weekday, shoot for a Thursday, around 6 PM. If the home is in the city, try to line up the open house right before the local happy hour starts. Choose your hours wisely – it doesn’t matter if someone seriously loves the house, they won’t come if they have work when the open house is happening.

Get Someone to Check People In While You Mingle

You don’t want to be stuck at the door, reminding people to check in and handing out your FAQ packets, instead of on the floor, mingling and chatting. You don’t have to do everything on your own! If you are taking the time and making the effort to promote and host a great open house, then you owe it to yourself to be able to work the crowd. Have someone else on hand to help you out, checking people in, refilling drinks, and answering questions about the listing if you’re busy with someone else. Don’t get stuck at the front door – mingle with your guests, and hire someone else to help you!

Promote the Open House to Fellow Agents

It’s important for you to send a reminder to the local brokerage community a few days before the open house. There are various email marketing platforms today that make it easy to send flyers and information directly to brokers. They may not have time to make it themselves, but they might be able to pass the information on to one of their clients who is looking to buy. It might net you a few more folks in attendance, so it’s worth the extra work of reaching out to your fellow agents.

Don’t Allow Your Seller to Attend

When a potential buyer is touring the house, they could make comments that offend the seller, or ask tough questions that make them uncomfortable. Some sellers will want to be involved, but send them out to the movies during the open house. It’s better for everyone. You want the potential buyers to get the information they need without the rose colored glasses filter from the seller, and you certainly don’t want to risk your buyer showing deep offense to a seller because they stated that great-grandma’s quilt is ugly. To keep your seller in the loop, meet them for lunch the day after the open house and let them know how everything went.

For That Matter, Fido Isn’t Invited Either

Unless it’s a fish, pets aren’t welcome to the open house, either. You don’t want your seller’s dog protecting his property and biting a potential buyer, and you don’t want to risk the seller’s cat running out the front door in all of the commotion. Also, a lot of people have intense animal allergies and cannot be around pets. You want your prospective buyers leaving your open house with ideas of how they will decorate the rooms when they buy it, not itching their eyes and making an appointment with their allergist.

Don’t Miss Your Follow Up Window

You worked hard to promote the open house, harder to host it, and now you have to work even harder to follow up on it. Don’t miss your chance to solidify a buyer’s interest after the show is over. Within a few days, you need to reach out to every person that left their information on the sign in sheet, whether they left their email or their phone number. Remind them who you are and of the house for sale, and ask them if there is anything else you can do for them in regards to the house. For fun, ask them their favorite part of the open house – then you know what to do again next time!

Good Habits for a New Home Owner

Are you a new home owner? Congratulations! You got through the mortgage process in one piece. Thankfully, you’re out on the other side – with a new house to boot! You probably want to do everything that you can to make sure that your new house is taken care of so it will last far into the future, don’t you? If that’s the case, then you’ve found the right place. Here are all of the habits you should start today as a new home owner.

Change the Filters

Whether it’s your air conditioner, furnace, drinking water faucet, or even your ice dispenser, make sure you’re changing all of those filters as required. Not only does this keep dust, germs, and bacteria at a minimum, you will also improve energy efficiency, which is good for your home’s long term health.

Save Energy

Speaking of being energy efficient, keep an eye on your home’s energy output and look for ways to reduce it as much as you possibly can. This can be as big of a deal as installing all new appliances or a small thing like swapping incandescent bulbs for LEDs or CFLs. It also includes regular maintenance of energy based appliances such as your HVAC system.

Clean the Gutters

Just because you can’t see the leaves doesn’t mean they don’t exist. One of the most common causes of basement flooding is overstuffed gutters that keep rainwater from exiting the rooftop. You should be sweeping out your gutters once a month and perhaps twice a month from August to April, when the leaves fall and it gets particularly grim outside.

Maintain Curb Appeal

Just because you spend most of your time on the inside doesn’t mean that you don’t have to keep up with the outside. The outside of your house is an extension of the inside, so you should take pride in it. It helps with your resale value, too! Trim your hedges and bushes, add flowers and trees, and keep the grass cut and the weeds pulled.

Check Home Safety Equipment

Check your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms every month without fail. Change their batteries every six months whether you think they need it or not. Make sure the gauge on the side of your fire extinguisher is in the green. If not, it needs to be replaced. Always replace a fire extinguisher once it’s been used, even if you haven’t used all of the spray.

Change the Locks Every 5 Years

It’s likely that someone out there will have a key to your house if you don’t. Sure, the old owners surrendered their keys to you, but it’s not uncommon for people to make copies of their house keys for the neighbors or their parents. Keep your family safe by re-keying the entire house. Now is also a good time to make sure the locks on all the windows are sturdy. Don’t forget the garage door keypad. Change the keycode on that as well.

Check for Leaks

Ideally your home inspector checked to make sure your house was leak free, but you deserve the peace of mind. Check again. On a weekend that everyone is otherwise busy, turn off the water to the home and after a few hours, check the water meter. If it has changed at all from the time you turned the water off, there’s a leak somewhere. You should do this at least twice a year.

Check Your Water Heater

Look at the temperature on your water heater, especially if you have kids. You don’t want to accidentally scald them. Manufacturers tend to set them way too high for young ones baths, so you can turn it down if you need to. The generally accepted best temperature setting is around 120 degrees.

Clean Your Dryer Hose

You should do this yearly. It doesn’t take long and it isn’t a lot of work. Not doing it can end with your house burnt down. It happens all the time! You don’t know the last time the previous owners did it, so make sure it’s one of the very first things you do. Start your schedule from there.

Clean Your Fridge Coils

Many people don’t even know you have to do this, but it’s an integral part of refrigerator maintenance. Changing the coils makes your fridge run better and last much longer. However, some newer fridges don’t have coils, but you should still check. If you certainly don’t, there’s no need for an annual cleaning.

Emergency Preparedness

Make a plan and update it twice a year. Locate your main water shut off valve (busted pipes are practically a new homeowner initiation rite – it happens to everyone). Find the circuit box, and label all of the breakers. Find the gas shut off valve and show your family where it is. If you have one, test the sump pump, preferably before the rainy season starts. List your emergency contacts and update their information. You should also have and keep updated an emergency supply kit.

Go Through Important Documents

You never know when you’ll have a dispute with your neighbor over property lines. Store copies of all of your important papers relating to your house in a fireproof and waterproof lockbox and hide it like you would a safe. Every six months, drag it out, and go through each paper. If there’s something you don’t need anymore, get rid of it. Add papers that you’ve come into ownership of but haven’t filed yet.

Fertilize or Plant New Grass

This one is great for the spring time. When the nights are still a little chilly, grass will still grow, but weeds won’t. The more grass you have, the less space there is for weeds, crabgrass, and dandelions. You can’t use chemicals such as weed blockers or killers with brand new grass seed, so get started on this each spring as soon as the snow melts.

Sweep Out the Chimney

If you have a fireplace, you have to do maintenance care for it. Every year or so, you should have your chimney swept out. Otherwise, the buildup can start a fire. If you have a wood burning fireplace, get that swept out every time you go through a cord of wood (or every few years, whichever comes first). Don’t wait until the dead of winter to do this, either – schedule it for early Fall.

Boiler and Furnace Clean Out

Before it becomes time to turn on the heat, you should get these two things inspected professionally. Then, handle the regular maintenance on them. If you get oil delivery, your oil company should take care of this for you. With gas, you will have to call your own plumber or heating technician. They will flush out the water in it and then fill it back up a few times. That’s it!

Check for High Water Pressure

There is a line on how high your water pressure should get. Anything over around 75 lbs psi is too much. High water pressure can harm pipes, connections, and appliances alike. It also creates water hammer and wastes massive amounts of water. You can easily check this will a pressure gauge and if needed, fix it with a new pressure reducing valve. They are available at any home center.

Clean Window Weep Holes

Many sliding windows and vinyl replacement windows have weep holes on the outside bottom frame. These holes are meant to drain away rainwater that collects in the frame’s bottom channel. They tend to get plugged up with bugs and debris, which can cause the rainwater to flood over into your house because it has nowhere else to go. You can clean out these holes with a wire hanger or a paperclip.

Clean Out Window Wells

If you have a basement, make sure you do this. A clogged gutter can dump rain water into your window well, causing the leaves to act like a pool liner, preventing drainage. The water level will rise higher and higher until the pressure breaks the basement windows, flooding the basement. There is typically not insurance for this type of flood. You can also buy window well covers to take this job away.

Lube Garage Door Springs

Otherwise, they’ll need replaced a lot sooner. Coat the overhead torsion springs mounted above roller tracks with a garage door lubricant. Obviously, all springs will eventually go bad thanks to corrosion and metal fatigue, but doing this will make them last a lot longer. While you’re at it, lube the rollers, hinges, and track, too.

Check Garage Door Balance

Speaking of garage doors, a properly balanced door is less likely to injure someone and keeps the door opener from working too hard, shortening it’s lifespan. You can check the balance by closing the door then disengaging the opener by pulling the release handle. Manually lift the door about halfway and let go. A properly balanced door will not move. If it falls, the tension needs increased. If it rises, it has too much tension.

What Does Contingent Mean in Real Estate?

There are lots of confusing terms in real estate – this is nothing new. There are some that you absolutely must know if you intend to become a home owner, and some you can get away with not knowing so well. However, “contingent” is not one of those words. You should know this one!

When a family is searching for a new home (especially if they are searching online), they will typically encounter a lot of words implying the status of different homes. Of course you will see “for sale” and “closed”, but sometimes you will also run into some homes that are listed as “pending” and “contingent”. All of these phrases are meant to help you identify where the home is in the general sale process. For example, “closed” means that the house is in the final step of executing a real estate transaction. “Contingent” is another one of those words, and the subject of our discussion today.

Understanding the differences between these words can help you identify very quickly which properties are actually still available for purchase, and you will better understand how you should move forward if you are interested in putting an offer down on the home.

Here’s what contingency means – when a home is in the contingent stage, it means that the house’s current owner has accepted an offer from a hopeful buyer and that the offer comes with contingencies before things can move towards closing. That’s it! Contingencies are conditions that the prospective buyer must meet before things can move forward. As an example, a buyer may place an offer on a home, but the offer is contingent upon the buyer selling their current home first or clarifying a negative mark on their credit report. Sometimes, the hopeful buyer is able to rectify the issue at hand and move forward, but sometimes, they are not, and the house goes back to the market.

What does it mean when a house goes from active to contingent? When a listing status is “active”, anyone can make an offer because the house has not received any accepted offers to date. When the status changes from “active” to “contingent”, the home is still technically on the market and in active status, but the family who is in contingency with the seller will have “first dibs”. You can still make an offer, but it will be a back up offer and only considered if the current deal falls through. You will have the chance to move forward with the home in this case.

A contingency doesn’t always mean that the house is for-sure off the market, and you may still have a chance of getting your hands on the keys to a house in contingency – so just because that’s how it’s labeled, you shouldn’t necessarily walk away.

After all requirements have been met as defined by both buyer and seller, and a contract is officially executed, the listing status changes from “contingent” to “pending” and is no longer an active listing. When an offer has been accepted, and the only steps left are the final paperwork and closing is the exact moment that the home becomes “pending”. Unlike contingent statuses, pending status does not mean that the sale is still active, so other prospective buyers cannot place offers on the home.

First of all – Different areas have different rules about contingencies, so you want to speak with your mortgage professionals about it. You may have a better chance of edging your way in on a contingent home in some states than in others. What you read here today is a generalized version of what contingent means for a home.

What can you expect from a home that’s marked contingent? Well, there are five different types of contingencies in real estate, and each one comes with different obligations and requirements. Which type of contingency is in place can tell you a lot about whether the home will end up back on the market or whether the deal will follow through.

Here’s one type of contingency – the Financial Contingency. It’s one of the more common types. Many things can go wrong after a buyer puts in an offer on a house, and those things can affect whether or not they will be approved for the loan they’re asking for. These issues can include taking on new debt, losing or changing jobs, or other issues.

Another thing that can incur a financial contingency? Most of the time, a buyer will seek out and receive a mortgage pre-approval from a mortgage lender prior to submitting their offer, which helps them decide whether or not they can qualify for a mortgage prior to making an official offer on a home. However, pre-approvals can be obtained in minutes these days, and there is little to no fact-checking on them. Just because a pre-approval says one number doesn’t mean that’s the true number that a potential home owner is eligible to buy at. This is referred to as a mortgage contingency and often the buyer is forced to walk away from the home. Either your finances are enough or they aren’t!

If the buyer lies about or enters wrong information about their finances when applying for a pre-approval (such as information regarding their taxes or income), the pre-approval letter basically means nothing. If the interest rates are currently low, this specific type of contingency is easy to bypass and the original potential owner gets the house. However, if interest rates are currently high, people won’t typically get out of a financial contingency.

A sale contingency comes into play sometimes too. Obviously, it is easier to sell a house before buying a new one, but sometimes that just isn’t possible. A home sale contingency allows the buyer a certain amount of time to sell (and settle) on their current home in order to finance their new one. This type of contingency acts as a protection to buyers, so that if they can’t sell their current home, they’re not stuck with a second one that they can’t afford. The buyer can back out of the contract without legal repercussions.

A home inspection contingency happens when a house returns reports of unsatisfactory issues, such as roofing or plumbing issues, structural problems, electrical miswirings, radon test failure, well water testing failure, mold growth, the existence of lead paint, and more. The buyer is the one that places the contingency here – stating that they will only move forward with buying the house if the seller fixes this issue completely in a timely manner. They can also request that the price is lowered because the house is not in pristine condition. The buyer has the option to step away from the deal if the seller does not follow through with their half of the agreement.

An appraisal contingency is generally put in place for a buyer to ensure that they aren’t being ripped off and being made to overpay for a bad house. If the home does not appraise the same dollar amount that the sellers are asking for, the buyer can request a lower price and call it a contingency. The seller then can accept the lower price or back out, meaning the deal falls through. The seller also typically has the option to pay the difference in cash.

A settlement contingency becomes a factor when the buyer already has a contract in hand and a closing date for the home in question. The property can’t legally change to “sold” until the closing date takes place, and the buyer can pull out of the deal before that day. When there is a settlement contingency, sometimes a buyer will accept back up offers in case the deal falls through. If the buyer’s new home closes on the specified date, the contract remains valid. Alternatively, if the home does not close on the specified date, the contract is terminated.

So – can you put an offer on a house that is listed as contingent? Usually, yes. Most homes listed as contingent still allow other buyers to make an offer. The deal isn’t final, so the seller may find it nice to have back up offers if the contract falls through! If you are a buyer and you find your dream house in contingency status, talk with your mortgage professionals about placing an offer on the home. If the seller likes your offer the initial prospective buyer likely be given a few days to change the contingency issue. If they are unable to, their deal will fall through and you will be given a chance to buy the home. Remember – the way contingencies work by law is different with every state, so make sure that you ask your mortgage professional for the fine print on the matter. Don’t give up if your dream house is in contingency – it could still be yours!

Things Your Mortgage Broker Should Be Doing For You

You may have heard the age-old question – should I work with a mortgage broker? A mortgage broker acts as a middleman between you and potential lenders. Their job is to work on your behalf with several different lenders (banks or standalone lenders) to find the mortgage loan that works best for you and your family as well as your financial situation. A well-established mortgage broker will have a long contact list of possible lenders for you to work with, which makes things easier than you finding and contacting each lender on your own. Mortgage brokers are also licensed and regulated professionals who have been specially trained to do their job.

Here are some things that you can expect from your mortgage broker.

Help to get Pre-Approved

One of the first things you must do in the homebuying process is to get pre-approved. Your mortgage broker should be able to help you do this. A pre-approval is an offer from a lender indicating the type and amount of loan you could qualify for, and it’s based on an evaluation of your financial situation. It is not a promise, and more like a quote. You will have to submit a few pieces of information about yourself, and your broker will tell you what information is needed so that the process is as quick and simple as possible. In the past, getting pre-approved took time, but these days, you can get your results instantly through an online calculator. Your broker will also ask for a letter of pre-approval on your behalf, to act as proof that you were pre-approved for a certain amount.

A Streamlined Application Process

Without a mortgage broker, you would have to send a separate application to each and every mortgage lender you wanted to get a quote from. With a mortgage broker, you will only have to fill out one application – after that, they will do the hard work for you. You won’t have to worry about sifting through multiple piles of paperwork just to see if a certain lender is the right fit for your financial situation. In fact, while the mortgage application process is notorious for being long and tedious, having a mortgage broker help you to fill out the application will make things faster and easier. If you aren’t sure what to list in a certain area of the application, your broker will help give you some ideas.

Assistance for Special Cases

Does your financial situation mean that you will need some extra help getting a mortgage loan? If you have bad credit, work for yourself, are a first time home buyer, or a homebuyer with a previous bankruptcy or foreclosure, that’s you. Working with a mortgage broker will make getting a house much easier to accomplish. Most mortgage brokers are trained to work with folks who need some extra assistance and know which mortgage lenders will work with them and offer them good deals. There are also mortgage products on the market specifically for people who are in unique situations, and your mortgage broker will know where to find the product that you need. Buying a home doesn’t have to be a pipe dream when you have a knowledgeable and experienced mortgage broker on your side.

General Process Simplification

There are a lot of factors involved with getting a mortgage, and your mortgage broker is knowledgeable enough to help explain things when they get confusing. If you have questions, ask them! No matter how many inquiries you can come up with, you have the right to be fully knowledgeable regarding what is likely to be the biggest purchase of your life. Your broker spent a long time becoming a mortgage expert, so use their knowledge to your benefit and make sure that you ask them anything you can. To make sure that you are signing up to work with a broker who has the knowledge you will certainly be seeking, ask them about their experience in your initial interview with them. You want to work with a mortgage broker with at least three years of experience, if not more.

Lender Comparisons

If one lender is offering more money but a higher interest rate, should you take that loan instead of the smaller loan with a better interest rate? Your mortgage broker can help you figure this out. They have a lot of experience matching financial situations to mortgage loan products. If the options presented to you seem equally beneficial, you can be sure that you’ll have help figuring out which one is the best for you and your financial situation. You can also be sure that your application will be checked against many more lending institutions than if you were doing the applying on your own behalf – your mortgage broker likely has a large contact list of many different mortgage companies who can all offer different rates, which they will then compare and offer you a shortlist of your best options. All the hard work is done for you when you have a mortgage broker!

Negotiations on Your Behalf

Don’t feel comfortable telling your mortgage lender that you want a better deal? Your mortgage broker can do this for you. Save yourself the time of trying to fight for a better deal – when your mortgage broker is on your side, you’ll know that you are getting the best offer because your broker fought hard for it. Of course, it’s good to ask your broker to do this instead of just assuming that they are willing to do so and will automatically do it – but there should be no issue and your broker should be happy to help with rate negotiations. You can tell your broker your absolute maximum you are able or willing to accept as a mortgage rate and ask them to fight for that number or better. They must know your expectations in order to know what to negotiate for, so be sure you let them know when you ask them to negotiate for you in the first place.

Specialties – Maybe!

Some mortgage brokers have specialties – for example, one broker may be highly experienced in working with people who have bad credit, and another broker may have a lot of experience helping first time buyers. It depends on the broker you are talking to. To find a broker who specializes in your specific situation, ask around. You may also have some success asking any other mortgage professional you know if they have any connections with mortgage brokers who could help you. While you may enjoy working with a broker that specializes in your specific financial situation, your arrangement with a regular broker with no specialties is likely to be just as rewarding and enjoyable. You will just have a slightly quicker time if you go with someone who has experienced your type of customer a hundred times!

Guidance from Beginning to End

Which comes first – putting in an offer on a house you like or sending in your mortgage loan application to the lender you chose? What about touring a house or getting pre-approved for a mortgage loan? Not everyone knows the proper order of the steps you must take to get a new home, but your mortgage broker does. From beginning to end, they are there to help you and guide you to what your next steps should reasonably be. The mortgage process is ever so slightly different for everyone, but there is always a general framework that should be followed as far as specific “steps” goes. Your broker will be able to give you a run-down of what to expect and should frequently let you know what your next steps are and how you will achieve them.

Someone on Your Side

It can seem like you are “against” the seller, who is trying to get more money from you, as well as the lender, who is trying to charge you a higher interest rate than you’d like. However, your mortgage broker is on your side and no one else’s. Mortgage brokers cannot be rewarded by any specific bank or lender to push their products, and they are not paid based on the amount of a loan you get approved for. The only thing they want is to get you in your new home expeditiously.

Help Getting a Rate Lock

Once you commit to a specific lender, you can ask your mortgage broker for help getting a rate lock. A rate lock ensures that you will receive the same interest rate you are quoted for a set timeframe, regardless if rates go up or down. Typically these rate locks last for 30 to 60 days. Your mortgage broker can also help you obtain a float down clause – this ensures that if interest rates fall during your rate lock period, your rate will fall to match. You can also have your broker get a loan commitment letter from your lender, which is your rate lock agreement in formal writing. It should have the lender’s name, the interest rate and points, the date the rate was locked, and when the lock expires.

Increasing Your Home’s Value Before Selling

If you want to increase your home’s value before you sell it, there are many options you have. Some things are very low cost (or even free!), and some things involve a lot more time and money. Thanks to the wide range of possible costs when it comes to increasing your home’s value, there is an option or two for everyone. Here are our best tips for increasing your home’s value, with a cost rating for each item.

Call In an Expert (Cost: Probably Free!)

Typically, realtors and interior designers will give you a consultation for free. For this consultation, you will either invite the consultant over or send them many photos of your current home depending on what you are hoping to accomplish. For about an hour of your time, if not less, you can find out where your home needs improvements according to a trained eye and how to go about fixing things to solve those issues. The improvements may be small, such as moving around furniture that you already have, or larger, such as painting a wall or buying furniture that more closely matches. Even small improvements such as cutting down on clutter items can go a long way. You will have the choice to continue on with the consultant or handle the issues yourself. Keep in mind that if you ask for a consultation from an interior designer rather than a realtor, you might have to pay a small fee.

Get It Inspected (Cost: Low)

Once the cosmetic replacements and upgrades are done, start to consider more serious fix-ups such as your roof, your electrical system, or even removing termites. Call in an inspector and have them check out the areas of your home that no one normally thinks about. There will almost certainly be an inspection of your home via the agents of the person you are selling to, so make sure you are ahead of the game by solving any issue there is for an inspector to find beforehand. These issues may not be visible or noticeable but they can greatly reduce your home’s value. Small issues can quickly turn into bigger issues, and nobody wants to buy a home that they’re going to have to do a total roof replacement on in the first year.

Repaint Everything (Cost: Low)

There is nothing that can liven up a home more than a fresh coat of paint – on the outside and the inside. Fresh paint looks and smells “updated and new”, and that will turn into more money in your pocket. Try to stick to neutral colors or whites – this way, potential buyers will have an easier time imagining how the home will look once they’ve painted things the way they want them. Don’t forget to repaint baseboards, windowsills, outdoor shutters, your front door, outdoor siding, your backyard fence, porch steps, your mailbox, and your cabinets (if they are painted and not stained). Don’t forget to get brushes, rollers, painter’s tape, drop cloths, and more. It’s not just about the paint!

Look for Inspiration (Cost: Free!)

Get online and look up decoration inspiration – or, alternatively, check out home design books at your local library, home remodeling shows on television, design boards like Pinterest or other websites, or home magazines at the grocery store. Mark down the ideas that you like and then research to see how expensive it will be to do it. Try to keep your ideas in perspective – right before selling your home is not a good time to take on a six month total home remodeling project! Stick to small things that will take a month or less to complete. Don’t take on so many projects that you can’t finish them all in time to sell your home on schedule. Remember that there are only 24 hours in a day and you can’t do it all!

Do an Energy Audit (Cost: Free)

Most local energy companies will offer you a free energy audit where a technician will come to your home and show you how you can best and easiest maximize the energy efficiency of your house. Sure, you may not be able to buy all new energy efficient “green” appliances, but you are probably able to replace some weather stripping if your windows are not properly sealed. The technician will be able to give you cheap or low cost alternatives to throwing down tens of thousands of dollars on new appliances and solar panels. Sometimes it is as easy as a quick trip to the hardware store and half an hour of work to save money on your energy bill and make your home  a little more friendly to mother earth – which spells value when it comes to a home.

Update Your Garden (Cost: Medium)

Does your yard’s landscaping leave something to be desired? Add in some flowering shrubs and colorful plants to your gardens. Make sure that the plants you choose will flourish where you choose to put them in your yard based on their temperature, sunlight, and water requirements. If you live somewhere that droughts are common, don’t buy water loving plants – and if it is the dead of winter, perhaps leave the tropical plants at the store for now. You can also consider planting trees. The trees may be small now, and after you sell your home you won’t be able to see or enjoy their growth, but the idea that in the future they will have shade trees may be enough to get a family to make an offer on your home. Shade trees bring in huge value to an existing home by potentially cutting cooling costs up to 40% in the summers. That’s a lot!

Install a Water Filtration System (Cost: Medium)

This sounds like a huge and expensive project, but you would probably be surprised. These systems purify your water and will also lower your grocery bills, saving you (or, rather, your home’s future owners) from having to buy pitcher filters or bottled water. Usually, you can install these systems yourself – or, if you are not comfortable doing so, you can hire a plumber or a stand alone handyman for relatively cheap to install it for you. If you need an explanation on how the systems work, the plumber or handyman can help you with that, too. For recommendations on which to buy, ask your friends and family. These systems are becoming more and more popular these days and you will likely know someone who has one.

Do a Bathroom Update (Cost: Low to Medium)

Go to the smallest bathroom in your house and think about how you could make it look bigger. Visual space is different than square footage – it is the practice of making a room look larger than it actually is due to visual tricks and techniques. Replace dark colored walls with light colored ones. Remove as much “counter clutter” from the bathroom as you can, leaving only a hand towel and a soap dispenser. Instead of a small medicine cabinet mirror, try one large and flat mirror. Use a lightly colored or clear shower curtain. These small changes can make a big difference. However, if you want to make a bigger change, you can switch out the cabinetry, put down a new counter top, or add in a small privacy window to let in sunlight.

Replace Your Carpet (Cost: High)

If you are willing to spend a little more cash to raise the value of your home, consider getting rid of your carpet. Yes – all of it. The fact is, carpet is harder to care for and is going out of style. Hardwood or tile floor is the way to go if you want to sell your house fast. True hardwood will be quite expensive, so consider tile – but stay away from linoleum. If you can’t afford or don’t have time to do a total carpet replacement, look into renting a carpet shampooer for the day and cleaning what carpet you do have. If your carpets are stained or worn, this is an absolute must-do, but if they were recently shampooed or replaced, you can get away with foregoing this cost. You can also consider only replacing the carpet in one room, likely the room that there is the heaviest traffic where wear and tear will be the most noticeable.

Remodel Your Kitchen (Cost: High)

One of the biggest value adders to any house is a brand new kitchen. Most experts agree that if you only plan to spend money renovating one thing, let it be the kitchen! Outdated kitchens are one of the most popular reasons that families will pass on a house that is otherwise great for them. You want the kitchen to be a neutral color with updated cabinetry, large and open with room for socializing, and with new or like-new appliances. If you can, consider more cosmetic touches, such as new countertops, custom cabinets, or large windows. If all of this sounds like too much, consider replacing what you can – it can cost less than $25 to replace the handles on your cabinet doors and less than $100 to repaint your cabinets themselves. Anything works!