Month: June 2015

So You’re Getting Evicted. How’s This Going to Go Down?

Facing eviction? Chances are, you’ve seen it coming for a while. Maybe tension between you and your landlord is at an all-time high, or you’re running a few months late on rent, or they finally got wind of your banned-per-your-lease puppy. You’re not alone—it happened to 3.4 million tenants in 2014.

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Whatever the reason, your landlord can’t just show up one day and dump your things in the street—there’s a legally determined process for evicting a tenant.

First of all, be sure that your landlord’s gripe legally qualifies as grounds for eviction. What valid grounds entail varies slightly from state to state—here is a general resource to consult for rules, although we recommend getting in touch with a lawyer or your local tenants’ organization—but most evictions occur due to either nonpayment of rent or breaching the lease.

Here’s what to expect if you’re getting evicted.

Step 1: First notice

If your landlord tries to force you out by changing the locks or shutting off your utilities, stand your ground.

There has to be notice given, a housing counselor for the United Tenants of Albany, who acts as a mediator in court. The landlord can never take matters into their own hands.

That notice comes in a few forms:

30-day notice to vacate, which can be issued without cause on a month-to-month lease. If you don’t comply, further eviction proceedings will occur.
Pay rent or quit notice, which (depending on your state) gives three to five days to pay rent or get out.
Cure or quit notice—like the pay rent or quit notice, this gives you a few days to stop violating the conditions of your lease.
Unconditional quit notice, which requires the tenant to leave immediately.
Step 2: Summons

If you don’t follow the terms of the notice, things get murkier. Generally, a landlord will serve you with an official summons to bring you to eviction court. There, you’ll have the opportunity to argue your case in front of a judge. Most of the time, you’ll receive either a monetary judgment or an eviction order.

Don’t ignore the court papers. Don’t blow it off. You can go and defend yourself. She recommends calling the local bar association, legal aid, or tenant’s rights organizations, which can provide mediation and advocacy in court.

Step 3: Court

Outside help is your best chance of fighting the eviction, but if that’s truly a luxury you cannot afford—and, if you’re behind on rent, it very well might be—bring any supporting documents to court and spend some time formulating your argument. (Pine Tree Legal Assistance offers a comprehensive list of winning arguments.)

If you were withholding rent for a valid reason, like the landlord not making necessary repairs, you may have a strong argument in court. Even if it’s just life that’s keeping you from paying rent—you lost your job and unemployment is taking a while to come in—tell your story to the court.

Step 4: The judge’s decision

The judge listens to both sides. Sometimes, courts will work out payment plans and hold off evictions as long as payments are made. No one is trying to make anyone homeless.

These payment plans are far superior to eviction, so if you’re offered one, take it without hesitation. But say you do lose: Either you’re ordered to pay back rent or the landlord gets the eviction order—or both.

If the court issued just an order for money, there are sources that can help you. Don’t give up just because the amount you owe seems overwhelming.

Social services is the first place to go to. If you’re working or have a job lined up, often they’ll provide help paying back rent. Otherwise, your local legal aid society and tenants’ organizations might be able to assist.

Step 5: The eviction

Your landlord can’t evict you himself: Your local sheriff or marshal will come by to escort you from the property. It’s not a comfortable thing. The sheriffs change the locks, the kids are crying, and it’s always very stressful. Typically, you’ll have some notice before law enforcement comes—most experts recommend leaving of your own volition beforehand to avoid the stress.

What happens next?

Unfortunately, an eviction can affect your job and apartment search, as well as your credit score. Many states have searchable eviction databases that landlords and employers can access, and your credit report will register on the public record as a ding on your account.

It doesn’t mean the tenant was wrong. We always caution landlord that the record doesn’t mean you’ll be a bad tenant. Maybe you were withholding rent but agreed to leave—it still shows up the same way. If this is your situation, keeping thorough records of the case can help if you need to prove your trustworthiness to an employer or future landlord.

How to avoid eviction

When you’re first served notice, comply immediately. If possible, pay back rent (with the help of legal aid, if necessary); stop violating the lease; and, if a 30-day notice is served, use that time to arrange housing so you won’t overstay your lease.

If your credit has been dinged, be prepared for a few tough years on the rental markets. You may have to pay higher security deposits or more in rent, or work with a rental brokerage service. But even in the worst circumstances, an eviction isn’t life or death—you can get through it with your dignity intact.

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Couldn’t Sell Your Home Last Season? Here’s How to Relist It So It’ll Move

If a home lingers on the market too long, it begins to acquire, well, a reputation. Deserved or not, the home may be perceived by buyers as flawed or overpriced. So in the interest of avoiding a bad rep—or becoming the real estate equivalent of the last kid picked for kickball at recess—some sellers pull their listing from the market and take some time to reassess and, eventually, relist.

young boy watching soccer game from behind goal on sidelines.

Of course, it’s not as easy as pulling the home one day and relisting the next. Even if you take a home off the market and start over with a new agent, it won’t necessarily appear as a new listing. Your local multiple listing service has rules that determine what qualifies as new.

In Chicago, for example, you’ll need to have your home off the market for as long as six months before it can count as new. In Jacksonville, FL, you only have to wait 45 days. Since the rules vary from city to city, make sure to check with a local broker about how long your home must be off the market before it can be “new” again.

In the Washington, DC, metro area, your home has to be off the market for at least 90 days to reset the “days on market” ticker to zero. It’s not a total reset, because the property record will still indicate the home’s previous exposure to the market.

Property sales and listing history are easy for any prospective buyer to find. While a lingering listing might be giving your home a bad rep, she thinks marketing plays an important role in getting your home sold.

Getting a new MLS number is much less important than what I call ‘juicing’ a listing with something new that will grab the attention of buyers.

The first thing an agent can do is analyze why your home didn’t sell and then address that issue.

Sometimes it’s the price, but often it’s the way the home shows in person or online, or a lack of targeted marketing. Sometimes it’s as simple as realizing that the photos were taken on a cloudy day and it makes the rooms look too dark.

Photos more crucial than price

You want to have a freshened listing re-sent with new photos and new lighting to entice buyers.

It’s especially important to send seasonally appropriate photos. If it’s spring, you don’t want to start off with a photo that shows fall leaves or piles of snow, because that’s an instant tipoff that the home has been sitting on the market.

It’s also important to take new photos if the home has been staged or updated in any way. At the same time, only attractive photos should be displayed with the listing. Some agents upload dozens of photos just to meet a quota rather than showcase only the most enticing photos of a home.

Price changes that work

A small price change may serve to trigger an email alert to buyers who have set up a home search based on their price range. For example, if your home is priced at $255,000, you’re not reaching buyers who’ve set their search for homes priced between $225,000 and $250,000. Reducing the price to $249,900 will draw new attention to the property without a deep price cut.

The key is that even if you juice the listing with a price change, you also need to change the photos so that buyers stop and look at it and wonder if they’ve seen the property before.

Staging and timing crucial to sale

Shopping online makes a huge difference. Buyers today are looking at 15 to 20 properties every night, so your photos have to be perfect to make your home stand out.

Whether it’s staging, photos, or a new agent, avoiding the dreaded rep of a lingering listing is something every seller must consider.

So, You Started a Bidding War. How Do You Pick the Best Offer?

The housing market is on the rebound, home prices are rising, and, for the first time in nearly a decade, two or more offers at the same time is a common occurrence.

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It’s a good problem to have if you’re a seller. But before you lean back in your chair and daydream of the piles of money you’ll be sleeping on, there’s one more thing to think about: Now that you started that bidding war, how, exactly, do you choose the best offer?

The best strategy is to play offers against one another and take the highest price, right?

Wrong! While money is a major consideration, real estate agents are counseling their clients to look at a variety of factors when entertaining multiple offers.

People are prone to get excited when they have an offer they like. But you have to look behind the cover of the book, so to speak. The price is on the front page. It’s the first thing people see, but you can’t judge the book by its cover.

Contingencies, closing dates, and all-cash offers, oh my!

For instance, try looking for the most appealing (proposed) closing date and whether the bidders are willing to waive contingencies such as inspection, attorney review, and mortgage approval. By waiving their contingencies, buyers have fewer “outs” and a deal is more likely to sail through the process, he said.
And if one or more of the bidders asks for a contingency to keep the deal on hold until his or her property sells, that’s an easy buyer to eliminate from consideration.

Sellers should also know how much earnest money each bidder is offering. Earnest money isn’t a down payment, but it is money held by the real estate agent that provides “skin in the game” to guard against a buyer walking away from the deal at the last minute.

Also, while you might be dismissing a higher offer, remember that cash is still king.

Whether or not it’s a cash deal would be a factor. You’re not waiting on a loan [approval], and it may or may not be subject to appraisal.

There’s no formula. You sit down and go through the terms carefully and figure out what offer works best for you.

Buyers should also examine a bidder’s financing––how stable it is and where it’s coming from.

If you’ve got an offer that’s $5,000 more, but it’s from an out-of-state lender you’ve never heard of, those are shaky table legs. If you’ve got someone with a cash offer, with no contingencies, but the price is a little lower, you might be wiser to take a lower offer.

All the offers are so similar—how do I choose?

If there are two or more offers that are roughly equivalent, a seller can respond to more than one buyer. But a seller should be transparent about the time frame and ask for what’s commonly called a “best and highest” offer. It can be tempting to keep that bidding war going, but remember—a war can be a turnoff for potential buyers.

To negotiate in good faith, you shouldn’t sit on offers too long. You could tell someone who made an offer on a Saturday morning that we’re not going to respond until Monday. But be upfront about the fact that it’s because you have showings over the weekend.

Giving everyone a deadline narrows the focus and gives everyone the chance to strengthen their offer.

Some people seem to think that real estate is like eBay: You can go with your offer of $800,000 from Buyer A, go to Buyer B and play it off like an auction. There is nothing illegal about doing that, but it’s very frowned upon. It’s not considered ethical.

If you give everyone an even playing field, that’s the best practice.

Protect Yourself—and Your Finances—With These Creative Contingency Clauses

Think of a contingency clause as insurance. Once you find a home and make an offer, you hope everything will go smoothly; but in case it doesn’t, you have a contingency clause in place that allows you to back out of the contract without losing money.

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Most agreements already have a few key contingency clauses in place to protect against the bigger things—such as a lower-than-anticipated home appraisal—but there are contingencies that go beyond the norm. If you’re about to make an offer, consider all of your options.

 

 

 

 

Standard contingencies

Some contingency clauses are commonly used when making an offer. Some examples:

Home inspection: This gives the buyer the right to order a professional home inspection and back out of the sale if major unreported damage is found.
Appraisal: The buyer won’t be obligated to buy the home if the appraisal value is lower than the asking price.
Mortgage availability: This gives the buyer time to find financing for the home. If the buyer can’t find financing, either party can cancel the deal.
Atypical contingencies

You don’t have to stick with the standard contingency clauses. Depending on your situation, it may make sense to add additional clauses to the agreement. Some examples:

HOA rules: If you’re considering an area with a homeowners association, it may be prudent to require a copy of the HOA guidelines before you buy. HOA fees vary and if the dues are high, your annual homeownership costs will go up. Many HOAs also have rules on parking, landscaping, paint colors, and even holiday decorations. If you aren’t happy with the HOA, you’ll want the option to back out of the deal.
Selling your current home: If you’re trying to sell your home before you buy another one, you may want to put a selling contingency in place. If you’re unable to sell your current home within a certain time frame, this contingency allows you to cancel your offer.
Moving furniture early: With this contingency, you and the seller agree to allow you to move personal property in (or move in entirely) earlier than the seller anticipated. You may have to agree to pay the seller rent if you move in before closing, but it will spare you from putting your belongings in storage and finding temporary lodging.

Adding contingency clauses

A basic offer won’t automatically contain any contingency clauses. While many Realtors® include some standard clauses in every offer, you should work with your agent to make sure you’re including contingencies for everything you can anticipate before you submit your offer.

Once you’ve submitted the offer, keep in mind that the seller may submit a counteroffer with his or her own contingency clauses as well.