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The Commonwealth Blog

Monday, October 2, 2017

How to Spruce Up Your Home Using Textures

What makes for a well-designed space? Expertly-crafted furniture, gorgeous accessories, complementary colors, and the right lighting are a great start. But there’s another step to add dimension to the spaces in your home—texture.

If all the items in a room are the same texture, it’s flat. Different textures, like wood, velvet, different textiles, create movement. Textures create variety within a space, drawing the eye in, but also creating comfort. The key to texture within any room is balance, using it in the right amount so as not to overwhelm the viewer. Find how much texture you like within the space, whether it’s a few fluffy pillows, or a combination of different textiles, plants, and wood.

So how do you add texture to a space? We’ve got a few ideas:

Rugs

You can find rugs in a variety of textures, from woven creations to cowhides, that complement the design of a room. Rugs can help draw different elements together, so pick a rug that either fits with the color scheme or aesthetic of other elements from the room or is neutral.

Textiles

Textiles are the most commonly-added decorative textures for home spaces. You can use pillows, bedding, tablecloths, and throw blankets to add depth. Mix textiles with different fabrics, thicknesses, and colors to achieve a comfortable look for your home. Since these items are relatively easy to move around and replace, you’ll have plenty of room to experiment.

Plants

While many people don’t think of plants when they’re thinking about adding texture, they’re a fantastic addition to your home. Plants purify the air and can improve your mood. Place your plants in the bathroom, bedroom, and your living room to freshen the air and create a natural feel.

Baskets and Woven Accessories

Use a variety of baskets bunched-up in your living room to create a textural explosion. You can find inexpensive baskets at discount stores, flea markets, and yard sales. Add painted-on color and patterns to your baskets for an intriguing twist.

Wooden and Rough Furniture

Rustic wooden pieces, such as a dining table with a live-edge table top, provide a wonderful way to use furniture to add texture. Materials such as velvet and mismatched chairs can also help to personalize a room. Consider an antique chest or set of drawers for another unique touch.

Texture as Art

If you find the idea of adding new textures scary, putting a small amount in a frame in the form of textile samples can help you get used to the idea. You’ll still be adding texture to your space, and your friends will love your creativity.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What Is Debt-to-Income Ratio and Why Does It Matter to You?

Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is the percentage of your monthly pre-tax income that goes toward recurring monthly debt payments. You can determine yours by adding up your monthly debt payments and dividing them by your gross monthly income.

Let’s say that you make $5,000 a month before taxes. You pay $200 towards student loans every month and $400 for your car loan. You want to buy a home that would require you to put $1,000 per month towards your mortgage. When you add up those recurring debt payments, you get $1,600. Dividing $1,600 by $5,000, you find that your DTI is 32%.

Your DTI can be further broken down into the front-end ratio and back-end ratio. The back-end ratio is your total DTI, while the front-end ratio only includes the percentage of your income that goes towards housing expenses, including your mortgage payment, property taxes, and homeowner’s insurance.

How Does Your DTI Affect You as a Home Buyer?

If you’re planning to buy a home, your debt-to-income ratio is a number you should know. That’s because it can affect your ability to qualify for a mortgage. Lenders don’t want to approve buyers who have a very high DTI. They want to loan to buyers who they are confident can make on-time mortgage payments, and they may worry that buyers who already have a lot of recurring monthly debt will have trouble making those payments.

In most cases, 43% is the highest DTI you can have to qualify for a mortgage. However, the rules change if you’re trying to qualify for a Federal Housing Association (FHA) loan.

The official DTI caps for an FHA home loan are 31% for the front-end ratio and 43% for the back-end ratio. While these are the official maximum debt-to-income ratios, the Department of Housing and Urban Development gives lenders some wiggle room if they can prove the buyer has “significant compensating factors.” These factors could include a good credit score, substantial cash reserves in the bank, or the ability to put forward more than the 3.5% minimum down payment. With certain compensating factors, a borrower could have a back-end DTI as high as 57%.

What Should You Do If Your DTI Is High?

If you’ve been dreaming of buying a home with an FHA loan but your debt-to-income ratio is too high, the best thing you can do is work on lowering it. The two most obvious ways to do this are to increase your monthly income or pay off any loans you can to lower your monthly debt payments. That may be easier said than done, and it will likely be a gradual process, but it will help you get in a more financially secure position so that you can feel good about purchasing a home.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Benefits of Buying a Home in the Fall

Fall isn’t normally considered a popular time to buy a home. With falling leaves, impending holidays, and dropping temperatures, many buyers have other things on their mind. Spring and summer are more popular seasons for real estate due to better weather, time off from school, and wider availability of houses.

But fall isn’t all about Halloween and Thanksgiving, turkeys and trick-or-treating—it can be a great time to buy a house. Reduced competition and motivated sellers make autumn a great time to look for a new house. Read on to learn more about why you should look for a home this fall.

Reduced Competition

After the summer is over, the number of people actively searching for a home typically decreases. The glut of summer buyers have bought their homes, and many of those who didn’t will wait until the new year. Granted, when you’re buying in a hot housing market like Boston, you’re never guaranteed to have a competition-free home buying experience. However, you may find there’s less pressure to close quickly or get into a bidding war in the fall.

Lower Prices for Your New Home

This reduced competition leads to lower home prices. Motivated home sellers mean fall is a great time to make offers. On average, October home buyers pay 2.6% below market value for their homes, resulting in significant discounts. If you’re looking for a deal on your next home, fall may be the best season to look.

Time to Get Ready for the Holidays

House hunting during the fall season may mean your seller wants to settle down in their new home to host Thanksgiving and get unpacked before Christmas. Offering a quick closing can get you a better deal and give you the advantage of securing the home you want. Having some flexibility around the holidays and being able to move quickly can help you save on your home purchase.

Save Money with Tax Credits and Home Improvement Bargains

Getting into a home before the end of the year can help you with some tax deductions, like your closing costs, property taxes, and any mortgage interest you’ll be paying. If you get all your paperwork signed before New Year’s, you can claim it in on your tax returns for this fiscal year and hopefully get a nice refund to pay for some home improvements.

Additionally, if you purchase during the fall, you’ll likely move in just in time for some major sales on home appliances you may want to upgrade. Look out for deals on refrigerators, washers and dryers, ovens, even TVs in December and January. You can save just as you’re furnishing your new home.

Get Extra Attention from Your Realtor

By shopping during the slow season, you’ll get more time with your Realtor, mortgage broker, and other professionals you’re working with. You’ll have more time to sort out your finances, take time looking at homes, and ask any questions you need about the home buying process.

Monday, September 18, 2017

What to Look for in a Real Estate Photographer

Hiring a professional real estate photographer could mean the difference between a home selling in days or sitting on the market for months. Cell phone photographs, especially if they’re low-quality or crooked, can be a red flag that dissuades potential buyers from visiting the home in person. In today’s real estate market, buyers often look first at the MLS and other real estate websites to find potential listings. The quality and variety of your real estate photos can boost showings and lead to sales.

By working with a professional real estate photographer, you can help your clients and yourself when selling their home. Follow these steps to choose the right photographer for the job.

Find an Expert in Real Estate Photography

Even if you know photographers in other fields, try to find someone who understands the real estate business. You’ll be making your life a lot easier if you find a professional who understands the specifics of the real estate industry, including how to shoot homes, the time constraints, and what kind of photos you need. A photographer who can provide high-quality images of the rooms in the home, a virtual tour, and a video walkthrough, can greatly increase showings.

Make Sure They Can Commit to a Quick Turnaround

In real estate, time is everything. Work out an agreement with your photographer to receive the images as quickly as possible, possibly within 24 or 48 hours through a platform like Dropbox or Google Drive. Uploading your edited images to the MLS and other websites so potential buyers can see them is integral. If your photographer can’t deliver quickly, he/she probably isn’t right for you.

Discuss Image Rights with Them

When hiring a professional photographer, work out an agreement for image use for any pictures taken. Listing photos on MLS are often syndicated to other real estate sites, which can violate photographers’ copyright terms. Work out a specific image licensing agreement with your photographer for how you need to use the photos, including for promotional purposes.

Be Specific Regarding Your Needs

Especially when first working with a photographer, give them specific direction on what areas of the home you want to be shot, what kinds of angles you want, and other photography preferences you have. It can be useful to provide a sample listing and join them on a shoot for one or two listings until you’re comfortable with their style and editing. Remember, you’re paying for the photographer’s services, and the final product is a home you’re selling.

Monday, September 18, 2017

6 Curb Appeal Tips for Selling Your Home During the Fall

If you’re part of the majority of Americans who rank fall as their favorite season, you may be happy to put your home on the market at this time of year. Fall brings some pleasant weather and warm natural colors, but it also has its own set of curb appeal challenges. Follow our tips to keep your home exterior looking great as we move into the season of orange leaves and pumpkin décor.

Keep Your Front Yard Looking Tidy

It may feel like the leaves are falling faster than you can gather them up, but it’s important to stay on top of your raking so that your front yard looks tidy all season. In addition to raking regularly, you should cut back any dead plant growth and pick up tree branches that have fallen in your yard. Don’t forget to clear leaves and other debris from your gutter and downspout. These may seem like minor things, but they can make a huge difference in the way your home looks from the street.

Add Plants That Thrive in Fall Weather

The weather may be cooling down, but you don’t have to pack up your gardening gloves yet. There are plenty of flowers and other plants that grow and bloom during the autumn season, including mums, asters, heleniums, and the aptly named fall crocuses. For more ideas, head to your local garden center and ask for recommendations for fall-blooming flowers. If you don’t feel like maintaining a full garden of fall flora, you can always pick a few potted plants to keep on your front porch.

Clean Your Windows and Siding

If the trees in front of your house are starting to lose their leaves, your home will look more exposed, and it’ll be easier to tell if it’s dirty. Don’t leave potential home buyers thinking your house looks dingy. Give your windows a good wash; this will improve your curb appeal and help more natural light filter into your home. If your siding is starting to look grimy, clean it with a pressure washer. They’re available to rent if you don’t want to buy one. Just make sure you read all the instructions that come with the pressure washer so you don’t accidentally damage your siding.

Give Your Door a New Coat of Seasonal Paint

If your front door could use a fresh coat of paint, why not choose a hue that fits with the season? Go for dark red, slate gray, moss green or another color that calls to mind the fall months (while still looking good the rest of the year).

Illuminate Your Walkway and Porch

As the days get shorter, it’s more important than ever to have good outdoor lighting. Even if home buyers aren’t stopping by in the evening for showings, they could still drive by to take a look at your house later in the day. Keep your walkway well-lit with ground-insert solar lights, and brighten up your front door with decorative light fixtures on both sides.

Choose Seasonal Décor with Wide Appeal

It’s fine to spruce up your outdoor space with some seasonal decorations, but don’t go overboard. Some pumpkins and gourds on the front porch or a leafy wreath on your door could be a nice touch, but fake cobwebs over your windows or a giant inflatable witch in your front yard are probably too much. Keep in mind that not everyone has the same taste in seasonal decorations as you, and stick to simple décor that will have broad appeal.

Monday, September 11, 2017

5 Lighting Ideas That Home Buyers Will Love

As a home seller, the last thing you want home buyers to think when they visit your home is that they’ve stepped into a cave. Lighting is an important consideration when staging your home, and a few inexpensive upgrades can go a long way toward brightening a potential buyer’s mood. Here are five tips for elevating your home’s appearance with light:

Replace Your Outdated Light Fixtures

If your light fixtures look like they’d fit into a haunted house attraction, or even if they’re in good shape but out of style, consider upgrading. Light fixtures with clean, straight lines will add a modern feel to your home and fit with most design styles. If you have a limited budget to update your lighting, focus on the rooms that buyers will pay the closest attention to: the kitchen, bathrooms, and master bedroom.

Keep Your Lighting Complementary

No matter what light fixtures you decide to add, make sure they complement your current design scheme. For example, aged bronze pendants might look right at home in an industrial-style kitchen but could be out of place in a farmhouse-inspired kitchen. Think about how you can coordinate your lighting with the layout of each room, as well. You could, for example, add multiple pendants or a linear chandelier over a long dining room table, or an attention-grabbing chandelier to a foyer with a high ceiling.

Don’t Neglect Task Lighting

It’s easy to get caught up in adding attractive new light fixtures, but you also need to think about practical lighting. Make a note of areas that could benefit from better lighting, such as the mirror in your bathroom, the counter space under your kitchen cabinets, or the stairs leading to your basement. Home buyers may not pay much attention to task lighting that’s doing its job, but they’ll most likely notice if an area is poorly lit.

Brighten Up Your Entryway

Make a strong first impression with a well-lit entryway. If you have a two-story home with a foyer, consider adding a chandelier (orb chandeliers are a particularly popular choice). For a one-story entryway, consider adding a semi-flush ceiling fixture and wall sconces. Think about adding dimmers to your entryway lighting so that you can establish a warm, welcoming environment.

Let There Be (Natural) Light

Don’t overlook the value of good natural lighting in your home. To make sure that buyers see your home in its very best light (quite literally), thoroughly clean your windows before showings and pull the blinds or draperies back as far as they will go. Repainting dark rooms with bright colors will also help reflect natural light so that your home is nicely illuminated.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Must-Do Autumn Activities in the Boston Area

New England is famed for its beautiful fall season, and if you’re fortunate enough to live in the greater Boston area, you’ll be able to enjoy an abundance of autumn activities. Get out and enjoy the weather before winter hits: we’ve got 6 recommendations for quintessential Boston activities to try this fall.

Pick Your Own Apples

It’s hard to talk about fall in New England without talking about apple picking. Escape from the city for an afternoon and gather a peck or bushel of apples at a nearby orchard. There are several Massachusetts orchards (including Brooksby Farm, Dowse Orchards, and Belkin Family Lookout Farm) that are within 25 miles of Boston. Many pick-your-own apple orchards also have stores where you can indulge in treats like apple cider donuts and pies.

Check out the SoWa Open Market

The SoWa Open Market runs on the weekends during the summer as well as the fall, but there’s no better time to go than September and October, when temperatures start to drop and colorful fall produce makes an appearance. Boston’s largest outdoor market features a mix of local food, artisan crafts, and vintage goods. There’s also a beer garden for the over-21 crowd.

Go on a Brewery Tour

If you’re a fan of seasonal craft beers, fall is the perfect time to go on a brewery tour in the Boston area. Learn all about the brewing process at Samuel Adams, Slumbrew, or Harpoon, and then head to the taproom to try the breweries’ latest craft creations. Many local breweries and brewpubs also put on weekly events, like trivia, concerts, and food truck pop-ups.

Stroll Through Arnold Arboretum

Arnold Arboretum, located in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, is one of the best places in Boston to check out fall foliage. Docents run themed tours (such as Fall Birding and Seed to Tree), so consider playing tourist and boosting your flora and fauna knowledge. You can also explore the Arboretum on your own, checking out maple trees, conifers, and more.

Watch the Head of the Charles Regatta

Every October, the Charles River plays host to the world’s largest two-day rowing event. Even if you can’t tell a sculler from a sweep, the Head of the Charles Regatta promises to be an exciting spectator sport. Stake out a spot between the Anderson and Weeks bridges (the halfway point of the race) or head to the Weld Boathouse, where you can watch the race and check out a selection of food and retail vendors.

Explore a Corn Maze

Navigating a corn maze is up there with apple picking in terms of classic fall activities. Fortunately, the greater Boston area is home to some creative corn mazes that will challenge both kids and adults. If you love puzzles, you should visit the Marini Farm Corn Maze, where you have to answer a series of questions on a game sheet to find your way out of the maze. The average time to complete the maze is 90 minutes, but there’s also a 20-minute “mini maze” for younger kids. If you’re looking for a fun way to spend an afternoon, visit Connors Farm, where you’ll find a seven-acre corn maze and lots of other family activities, like hay rides, pig races, and pumpkin picking.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Initial Steps to Take When You Start House Hunting

You’re taking the first steps toward buying a home—a thrilling and scary decision. There are several initial steps you need to take before embarking on your home search to prepare yourself for the journey ahead. Home buying can be complicated and emotional, but properly prepping will help you have all the pieces in place. Following our advice and taking these initial steps can help you avoid mistakes in your purchasing process.

It’s normal to be worried when purchasing your first home, but by working through these steps, you’ll gain confidence and feel more comfortable buying a house.

Get a Credit Check

Before you even start searching for a home or decide what your budget is, check your credit. Use these tips to improve your credit score before buying a home. You can check your credit score for free with your credit card issuer, or by using a free site like CreditKarma. Paying down your credit cards, making on-time payments, and eliminating any large debts will help you improve your score.

Develop a Budget

Even before you go to get a mortgage pre-approval, decide the maximum amount you can afford to spend on a home: total and monthly. Determine what your down payment will be, what kind of mortgage term you want, and what you’re looking for in a home.

Search for Homes Online

Once you’ve figured out your budget, you can start looking for homes online. This process will give you a better sense of what your budget will get you and present you with some listings you can ask your Realtor to take you to. Use your online searches to stay on top of listings and forward anything you’re interested in to your Realtor as soon as you see it come on the market.

Get Your Team Together

Whether you decide you just want a Realtor, or you want to use a mortgage broker and real estate attorney as well, it’s important to have a solid team behind you. An experienced Realtor will help you find a home that meets your needs, a mortgage broker will assist you in finding the lowest rate, and a real estate attorney can help sort through all the legalese. You decide what’s essential for you. However, first-time home buyers should always rely on Realtors for help in buying their first home.

Meet with Mortgage Lenders and Get Pre-Approved

Before you set out on your house hunt, you need to get pre-approved for your mortgage, through your bank or another lender. Shop around for the best rate, and you can save tens of thousands over the life of your mortgage. You want to make sure you get a true pre-approval and not a prequalification. You’ll need to provide income verification, credit information, and other financial information for a preapproval, so be ready.

Once you’ve gotten all these initial pieces together, you’re ready to start your home search. Work with your Realtor to schedule showings and find the right home for you.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Dogs Can Be Motivating Factor for Millennial Home Buyers

A new survey from SunTrust Mortgage reveals millennial home buyers (aged 18-36) who recently purchased their first home were more concerned with having a better space/yard for their dog than many other factors. Dogs were only behind building equity (66% of home buyers) and more living space (36%), and ranked higher than marriage (25%) and birth/expected birth of a child (19%). For millennial home buyers, dogs are one of the most crucial factors in a home purchasing decision.

While this may seem surprising at first glance, many millennials are marrying and having children later in life. Dogs, however, are a sign of responsibility and often come earlier in relationships. Many single home buyers have dogs of their own as well. Buying a home allows home buyers to circumvent restrictive rental property rules about dog ownership, and evade the hardships of walking up and down stairs to take their pet outside. A yard and home can be a major boon for dog owners.

Many millennial home buyers find that dogs make their lives more fulfilling, and having a home can make owning the pet easier. If you’re looking to buy a pet-friendly home, here are some things to consider in the process:

The Flooring

You likely have a preference when it comes to hardwoods, carpet, or tile. But have you thought about what type of flooring is best for your dog? If your dog sheds a lot, carpet could be a pain. Hardwood can show stains and discoloration from accidents and can get scratched from a dog’s nails. Tile, laminate, and vinyl can be the most resilient if they’re high-quality. While flooring is easily replaceable, if you can’t see yourself doing it, you may want to select a different home. If not, choose the home you want and upgrade the flooring before you move in or sometime down the line.

Yard and Lot Size

While you’ll likely use your yard for get-togethers and outdoor activities, your yard space is vital to your furry friend. With larger dogs, more space is necessary for them to run around and play. If your dog is of the louder sort (with extra barking), you might want to find a larger lot to remove yourself from neighbors as much as possible. You want to be a good neighbor, and your dog should be one, too.

Location and Nearby Dog Parks

While the location is an important consideration when looking for a great school district or proximity to family, your dog has needs as well. Consider if it’s safe if your dog gets out of the yard. Will you need sidewalks for walks every day? Are there dog parks nearby for your buddy to play? Choose a location that ultimately works for you, but your dog will be happy, too.

Neighborhood or Homeowner’s Associations

HOAs or Neighborhood Associations usually have rules and bylaws that govern your neighborhood and your home’s upkeep. If you’re considering a home with an HOA, check to see if there are rules that will affect your dog, such as if you’re allowed to have a fence for your dog to run around in your yard. Just like apartment complexes, HOAs can restrict what size or breed of dog you have. Do your research before buying so you don’t run into any problems while moving in.

Monday, August 28, 2017

How to Improve Your Emails as a Realtor

Do your real estate emails connect with their audience, or do they disappear into an inbox black hole? For Realtors, email marketing can be a great way to stay top-of-mind with prospects, past clients, and the larger real estate community—but only if your recipients actually read your emails. So how do you improve email engagement? There are hundreds of possible strategies, but for the sake of brevity, we’re going to focus on four of our favorite tips.

Send a Monthly Newsletter

A once-monthly newsletter is a great way to stay in touch with your email contacts without being overbearing. Rather than being promotional, your newsletter should provide something of value to your readers—think homeowner tips, household money-saving strategies, updates about local community events, and more. To encourage recipients to engage with you, consider including a Q and A section where you answer a handful of your readers’ real estate questions every month.

While you don’t want your newsletter to come across as promotional, you should include a photo of yourself and your contact information so that recipients remember you and can easily get in touch the next time they need a Realtor.

Include Clear Calls-to-Action

A call-to-action (CTA) is a button or link inviting your readers to take a specific step (e.g. “Refer a Friend” or “Get Property Alerts”). Your emails should focus on one primary CTA so that it’s obvious to recipients what action you’d like them to take. Put the CTA button in an easy-to-find place (many marketing emails place them towards the top so that readers don’t have to scroll) and make it a color that stands out from the rest of the email.

The benefit of clicking the CTA button or link needs to be clear to the reader, or else they’re not going to bother clicking. For example, if you’re trying to get readers to fill out a form for a free home value consultation, you might lead into the CTA with a line like, “Find out what your home is really worth so you can price it right from the start.”

Make Emails Mobile-Friendly

An estimated 55% of emails are opened on mobile devices, so you need to make sure your real estate emails look great on smartphones and tablets rather than just computer screens. Since smartphone screens are narrow, it’s in your best interest to use a single column format for your emails and limit the width to 600 pixels. Keep your font size at least 14-point so it’s easy to read on a small screen. If you include multiple links in your email, avoid putting them close together—touchscreen users may accidentally tap the wrong one and get frustrated.

Even if you think your emails look great on mobile devices, you should always send a test email to yourself first and open it on your phone. Make sure all images are loading, the text is legible, and links are obvious and easy to click.

Track Email Metrics

Keeping track of email metrics, such as open rate and click-through rate, is key to improving your email marketing. (Fortunately, most email platforms will generate reports with these metrics). By comparing metrics across emails, you’ll get a better understanding of what strategies, subject lines, and content work well and what falls flat. That way, you can stop wasting time on the things that don’t work and start optimizing your emails for maximum engagement.

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