Month: October 2015

Building a New Home? Add These Upgrades While They’re Cheap (and Easy)

If you’ve decided to build your home from the ground up, determining which extra features are worth adding—and which are equivalent to flushing stacks of hundreds down the toilet—can be tough. And while it’s OK to put off some decisions, certain additions are prohibitively costly to retrofit. You’re dreaming of radiant heating, you say? It’s way better to install now than sacrifice thousands of dollars later.

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Not sure what’s a must-do right now? Here are some of the easiest things to add to a new home that will save you a few migraines down the road.

Cable conduits

In today’s increasingly connected world, future-proofing your home for whatever innovations come next out of Silicon Valley is essential. Luckily, building from scratch allows you to customize your setup to your needs, both now and later.

Yes, smart home features are increasingly going wireless, but that doesn’t mean you should skip running cable conduits throughout the house—especially if you see a big home theater or full-home sound system in your future, both of which work best plugged in directly. Adding an extensive system of cable conduits can make hooking up entertainment much simpler.

Plus, your own hard-wired system amounts to an eavesdropping-proof local network.

Worst-case scenario? You don’t use it, opting for all-wireless instead—but at least it’s there and it’s a feature buyers will appreciate as well.

Radiant heating

As we indicated earlier, radiant heating, typically integrated into the floor, is energy-efficient but not remotely cheap to install. You can expect to pay at least $6 per foot for your system in new construction. Adding it later? Watch that number double (or more).

And it isn’t for everyone. Consider confining it to one room, because it actually can be a limiting factor in future design changes, since the contractor will need to work around it or replace it by zones. But did we mention that if you’re going to install it you should install it now? Install it now.

Outdoor outlets

Holiday lights or evening barbecues in the backyard might seem like little more than a distant fantasy when building your new home—especially if it’s 20 degrees outside—but if you’re big on decorating and entertaining, install outdoor electrical outlets now.

Adding outlets later can cost upward of $250 each. Adding them during construction, when walls are still open and a licensed electrician will be on site? It’s a no-brainer (and cheap, too).

Accessibility

You never know what the future might bring—for yourself or your guests.

Shouldn’t your home be capable of entertaining a prize-winning physicist or a popular president without obstacles to their entry? Uh, yes.
Aside from any luminaries who might be getting on in years, you might consider designing for wheelchair accessibility for you, or a parent. In new construction, contractors recommend making hallways and doors wide enough for wheeled traffic to travel through and turn around. And reinforcing the bathroom walls will allow you to add grab bars later without opening up the walls. After all, anything that is going to require opening the walls rates high on the difficult-to-retrofit scale.

Double-check your plans through the eyes of someone bound to a wheelchair, and ask if it is still so user-friendly. Are you placing all of your switches too high or your outlets too low?

Make the investment in your future well-being now, when it’s just a minor expense. Accessibility is important to plenty of buyers as well. It can actually clinch a deal.

Central vacuums

Forget the Roomba. Central vacuums just make sense. These built-in systems for sucking up dirt and debris not only reduce allergens, they also last longer than traditional vacuums and can potentially increase a home’s value. Installing one in an old home can cost up to $1,000 and requires finding a hidden, quiet spot for the motor in the garage or attic.

The addition later on results in needlessly long pipe runs or less-than-ideal positioning of inlets.

If a smooth, stress-free vacuuming experience is a high priority, your best bet is to install central vacuuming early, when your builder or architect can work it into your existing floor plan.

Eco-friendliness

When you’re building a home, why not take steps to reduce its impact on the environment? During construction is the ideal time to install energy-efficient features that will save you money down the line. Contractors recommend adding reduced-flow showers, low-flush toilets, and reduced-flow faucet aerators, especially if you live in a state affected by drought.

Make sure to choose windows and doors with high energy performance ratings, and talk with your builder or architect about adding skylights—which can add much-needed light to a dark room in addition to reducing heating costs and improving ventilation.

Are you building the home you want now—or the home that will serve you well for 20 years? In new construction, future-proofing your house can save you thousands of dollars. And lots and lots of angst.

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Purchasing A Home? Don’t Wait Forever for ‘The One’

When you’re dating, you can spend years searching for the perfect relationship only to—possibly—wait too long and miss out on something great. Suddenly, over your sad microwave meal and bottle of cheap red, you’re looking back on your life choices, wondering what could have been if you hadn’t been so darned picky.

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Well, the same goes for house hunting. You can drive yourself crazy searching for your dream home. You’ve found houses that have come close, after all. So the perfect one is bound to appear soon, right?

Not necessarily. We know the hunt can be emotionally draining, but at some point you have to go from house hunter to home owner.

We’re not encouraging you to make a choice that will fill you with buyer’s remorse. But to borrow a line from the Rolling Stones: You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes … you get what you need.

We can’t give you love advice (and trust us, you would not want us to), but we do happen to know a few things about real estate. Here are three questions to ask yourself; the answers will help you determine whether it’s time to settle on a home that might not be what your dreams are made of.

1. Are my expectations realistic?

Everyone has a dream home. Mine is a Craftsman with Victorian high ceilings, art deco details, and a Mid-Century Modern feel. But here’s the thing. That Frankenstein of architectural styles doesn’t exist—and your dream home probably doesn’t either.

There is no such thing as a ‘perfect home’.

There’s always going to be something not so lovable in each house you view. The key to finding the right home is setting realistic expectations.

You can find a home that meets almost all of what you are looking for.

Make a list of your dream features and amenities before you start house hunting—but be willing to let some of those features go once you start looking at properties. It helps to score each feature on a scale of 1 to 10—that way you (and your partner, if you have one) are on the same page about which amenities are deal breakers and which are simply nice to have.

2. How many properties have I viewed?

Once you’re house hunting, it can be nearly impossible to decide when you’ve looked at enough houses. After all, the perfect house could be listed any day now.

Go ahead and view online listings as much as you want. There’s no harm in real estate stalking in your spare time, but you should set a limit for actual viewings.

If you go view more than eight homes [without finding anything], there’s a good chance you’re confused as to what you’re actually looking for. You’re trying to piece together a home that doesn’t exist.

If you find that you’re searching for your own Frankenstein (it won’t work, I promise), take a moment and ask yourself how many homes you’ve visited. Have you reached the (self-imposed) cap? If so, make a list of each property’s strengths and weakness, and then get ready to compromise.

3. What am I willing to compromise?

If you’ve set realistic expectations and looked at more than a few houses, it’s time to start making some tough decisions. It might feel like settling, but you’ll probably thank us later when you’re finally a homeowner.

Just make sure you’re not compromising on something you’ll regret later.

If you’re going to compromise, do not compromise on location.

The real estate adage “location, location, location” bears repeating here. After all, a great house won’t matter much if you’re driving two hours to work every day or the only nearby grocery store closes at 7 p.m.

If you’re not sure where to compromise, ask your Realtor. That’s what they’re there for.

The exception to the rule

After months of searching (especially in competitive markets), you might feel the pressure to choose something—anything—just to achieve homeownership and stop throwing away your money on rent.
We’re going to contradict ourselves a bit here and tell you this: Sometimes it’s OK to keep looking. When you’re deciding on a home, you should always consider the current market, even if it means you’ll be shopping for a little while longer.

If you are having trouble finding a home and you have proper expectations, don’t settle—especially if you’re in a hot market.

If you’re in a sellers’ market, homes can go quickly and you might just be missing the window of opportunity. It might make sense to wait a little longer than rush to try to beat out an overzealous buyer.

After all, competition can breed short-lived desire—and you don’t want to be stuck with a dud after the admirers have moved on to the next attraction.

Can You Still Get a Seller to Pay Your Closing Costs in Today’s Housing Market?

Home prices have risen across the country, and in many areas, the hot market has transformed a buyer’s haven into a seller’s market. With that change, buyers may have less leverage than they did during the market’s down years. Despite that, here is how you may still be able to obtain a seller credit for closing costs.

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A credit for closing costs involves the seller of the property you’re interested in purchasing receiving less net proceeds in exchange for crediting you monies at closing. For example, if you’re making an offer to buy a home at $450,000 and you’re asking for a $10,000 closing costs credit your offer is really $440,000 as the additional $10,000 transfers from the seller to you. Also known as a seller concession, a credit for closing gets your foot in the door with less of your own funds needed.

Let’s rewind the clock to three years ago for a moment. In 2012 unemployment topped 8%, consumer confidence was bleak, and doom and gloom rattled the housing market. Home buyers were in the driver’s seat, and sellers were practically begging for offers. During this time, obtaining seller credits were not only reasonable, but also very common. Banks holding foreclosed inventory would often offer concessions to offload homes to meet year-end goals for shareholders. Fast-forward to 2015: Unemployment has dropped significantly, and consumers are feeling more optimistic about their financial health. What can you do now?

How to get a seller concession

Buying power is a big factor here. The more house you can qualify for on paper, the more wiggle room you have in supporting a higher price, possibly generating a seller kickback toward your cash to close. Essentially, you are financing the fees by paying more for the home. If successful, you pay more for the home in these areas:

Final sales price
Loan amount

Generally, you will pay less for the house without a seller concession of any kind. This also means your fixed housing costs will be lower in such a scenario, since your mortgage will be smaller.

If you don’t have the cash to get the home, you can debt service the difference with the seller concession strategy, but the cost of that debt servicing can be costly in terms of your monthly payment as well as total interest charges on the life of the loan, especially if funds are tight going in. This is why it is important to be as strong as possible on paper when getting pre-approved. Your credit is a major factor in your borrowing power, and improving your scores even slightly can make a major difference in the loan amount your lender can offer. You can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see where you stand.

When to ask for the concession

If you want to ask for a seller credit for closing costs, there are two optimal times to make that request:

1. Upfront

You can request a seller credit upon submitting your offer with the guidance of your real estate agent. This strategy is more effective on homes with longer days on market. If a home has been sitting for a while without offers, the price may be too high. It’s generally more difficult to ask for a concession on brand-new listings as other strong offers may be coming in, possibly exceeding yours.

2. After inspections

Most buyers and sellers are opportunistic by nature. The buyer wants the best deal on the home, while the seller wants the maximum it can obtain for the home. Both objectives are at odds with each other. A seller may be more inclined to pay closing costs than to lower the cost of the home if there’s a “surprise” from the inspection that makes you want to run.

It’s important to understand that while you can ask for a credit for closing costs, you can also request a reduction in the house price. Say you’re in agreement to buy that $400,000 home, and your appraisal comes in at $385,000. You could ask for a credit for closing costs, but asking to reduce the total price to match the appraised value might be a better approach because it will lower your monthly housing payment. The sky is the limit. You can ask for a credit for closing costs and a reduction in the purchase price, but in most cases it’s usually one or the other. Talk to your mortgage and real estate professional about which is the most beneficial for you.

Cleaning House Before Selling

Deep cleaning your house is that top-to-bottom, take-no-dust-bunny-prisoners, mother-in-law-quality cleaning that truly maintains the value of your home.

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Here are frequently overlooked areas that a little spit and polish wouldn’t hurt:

Time allotted: 1 weekend

De-Bug the Light Fixtures

See that bug burial ground within your overhead fixtures? Turn off the lights and carefully remove fixture covers, dump out flies and wash with hot soapy water. While you’re up there, dust the bulbs. Dry everything thoroughly before replacing the cover.

Vacuum Heat Vents and Registers

Dirt and dust build up in heat vents and along register blades. Vents also are great receptacles for coins and missing buttons. Unscrew vent covers from walls or pluck them from floors, remove foreign objects, and vacuum inside the vent. Clean grates with a damp cloth and screw back tightly.

Polish Hardware

To deep clean brass door hinges, handles and cabinet knobs, thoroughly wipe with a damp microfiber cloth, then polish with Wright’s or Weiman brass cleaner ($4). Dish soap shines up glass or stainless steel knobs. Use a Q-tip to detail the ornamental filigree on knobs and handles.

Replace Grungy Switch Plates

Any amateur can wipe a few fingerprints off cover plates that hide light switches, electric outlets, phone jacks and cable outlets. But only deep cleaners happily remove plates to vacuum and swipe the gunk behind. (OK, we’re a little OCD when it comes to dirt!) Make sure cover plates are straight when you replace them. And pitch plates that are beyond the help of even deep cleaning. New ones cost less than $2 each.

Neaten Weather Stripping

Peeling, drooping weather stripping on doors and windows makes rooms look old. If the strip still has some life, nail or glue it back. If it’s hopeless, cut out and replace sections, or just pull the whole thing off and start new. A 10-foot roll of foam weather stripping costs $8; 16-foot vinyl costs about $15.

Replace Stove Drip Pans

Some drip pans are beyond the scrub brush. Replacing them costs about $3 each and instantly freshens your stove.