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The Commonwealth Blog

Monday, December 4, 2017

Factoring in the Commute When Buying a Home

The thought of moving to a new neighborhood and maybe even a new town is exciting, especially if you’re planning to buy a house. However, before you get too caught up in the thrill of house hunting, you need to ask yourself: How far am I willing to commute?

It’s easy to put off thinking about your commute, but it can be a bigger determining factor in the home buying process than you might think. Buying a home in a rural or suburban area will get you more square footage at a lower cost than buying in a city, but if you have a long daily commute by car, the cost of gas and auto maintenance can add up quickly. One Reuters report estimates that someone with a 20-mile drive to work can expect their commute to cost them $50,000 over ten years, even after factoring in a tax deduction for business driving.

It’s About More Than Distance

When thinking about the commute from your potential new home, you need to look at more than just distance in miles. You should use Google Maps (or a similar tool) to look at the estimated drive time when you will be going to and from work. This is especially crucial if you’re commuting to Boston or another big city where traffic gets congested at peak hours.

Of course, if you are commuting into the city, you may be able to use public transportation rather than driving, which can save you time and money. If you’re buying a home outside of Boston, check to see if it’s near a stop on the T or the commuter rail. While you may still be in for a long commute, taking the train will at least allow you to use your commute to do some work, catch up on reading, or just relax before or after your workday.

If your job doesn’t require you to be at an office from 9 am to 5 pm, you may also be able to look into alternative work schedules to help you save on commuting from your new home. For example, you could see if you could start later in the morning and leave later in the evening so that you’re not traveling during rush hour, or you could ask if you could telecommute several days a week.

The Pros and Cons of a Long Commute

Maybe you’ve already found your dream home within your budget but know you’ll be facing a long commute. Before buying, you’ll need to decide if other factors will make the long commute worth it. For example, you may value the house’s location because it’s in a good school district, close to your partner’s work, or close to family members who can help with childcare.

You and your partner need to recognize that there will be trade-offs for these benefits, both in terms of the commuting cost and the time it will take out of your day, and decide if the trade-offs are worth it.

Monday, December 4, 2017

5 Winter Curb Appeal Tips for Home Sellers

You might think you’re at a disadvantage when it comes to boosting your curb appeal in the winter, but there are plenty of things you can do to warmly welcome home buyers even when the sky is overcast and there’s snow on the ground. Start with our five recommendations to brighten the winter landscape and make a strong first impression on home buyers.

Create a Safe Path to Your Front Door

Winter weather can lead to treacherously slippery walkways, so your first priority should be to make sure home buyers and their Realtors can get to your house safely. Whenever it snows or freezes, you’ll need to clear your driveway, front walkway, stairs, and front porch of snow and ice. You should also test the strength of your handrails (if you have them) leading up to the house. You need to know they can support potential buyers who may be worried about slick steps.

Add Some Striking Color

The natural colors outside your home may be muted during the winter, but that means you have a chance to make your home stand out with a few bright accents. Try repainting your mailbox, window trim, or front door a warm color like red to catch potential buyers’ eyes from the street. (A word to the wise: you should avoid applying oil-based paint when it’s under 40 degrees Fahrenheit and acrylic-based paint when it’s under 50.)

If you don’t want to paint anything, add a bright doormat and a couple of potted plants outside your front door. Look for plants and small trees that do well outdoors in the winter, such as blue holly, juniper, winter hazel, or boxwood. If you’re putting your house on the market ahead of the holidays, you may also want to add a few subtle outdoor decorations, such as a wreath on your front door or garlands around posts or fences.

Stay on Top of Lawn Maintenance

Fresh white snow can naturally boost your home’s winter curb appeal, but what happens when there’s no snow on the ground? You won’t be able to keep your lawn as green as it is during the spring and summer, but you can still rake up dead leaves and remove dead tree branches and other debris. You can also trim back bushes and trees that are becoming overgrown, keeping your yard looking neat and tidy.

Repaint Your Fence

You should ideally paint or stain a wooden fence every two or three years to help protect it from the elements. If you have a wooden fence in front of your house that hasn’t been painted or stained in several years, choose a clear day and spruce it up. Just make sure you understand how the weather will affect your paint. The Balance has a guide to cold weather painting that’s worth reviewing before you grab your roller and brush.

Upgrade Your Outdoor Lighting

The days are short in the winter, so it’s more important than ever to make sure your home looks good at night. If you don’t already have path lights bordering your walkway, consider adding them now. This will improve the safety of your walkway as well as the appearance of your home. You may also want to add decorative sconces or lanterns on either side of your door. For a festive touch, try adding LED string lights to any trees or bushes in your front yard. A little extra light can go a long way towards brightening your home in the winter.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Tips for Storing Your Stuff When Staging Your Home

When you’re selling your home, it’s important it looks its best for open houses and showings. You need it to look ready for the new owners to move in and decorate it to their tastes. Clearing your home of clutter can help you sell your home more quickly—but what do you do when you have limited space to store your excess belongings?

Here are some tips to help you keep your belongings out of sight, and out of potential homebuyers’ minds.

Pack Up the Unnecessary

You likely don’t need everything you currently have in your home. Pack up non-essential items like extra linens and out-of-season clothing, and toss out items you don’t need. Donate clothing and other items that are still in good condition to a local organization. Store your boxes in a garage, shed, or if necessary, an off-site storage unit.

Decluttering will allow you to open your space and let homebuyers imagine your home as their own. Start with your kids’ playroom, your unused closets, the basement, and other areas where clutter tends to accumulate. You’ll quickly see the results of packing up your home.

Organize What’s Left

You can’t place everything into storage; many of your possessions are required for everyday use and are important for staging. Make sure to organize things in decorative baskets, bins, and storage containers. Reorganize kitchen cabinets in case buyers decide to look into them. By storing your items well, you’ll be able to quickly clean up before a home showing and help your home sell more quickly.

Search for Inspiration

If you’re running out of ideas for storage, other home sellers might be able to help. Go to open houses for other properties in your neighborhood, look at listings online, and take a look at model homes. You’ll get plenty of ideas for how to organize your home and present it to your buyers. You may even get some staging inspiration. You can also ask your Realtor for help with organization, as they have lots of experience selling homes.

Ask for Help from Friends and Family

Whether you’re moving across town or the country, packing up can be difficult. Your friends and family can be an asset in helping you move furniture, downsize, and even organize for showings. Utilize this network for a garage sale, help with donating items, or even moving to your new home. You can save money and clean up faster.

Storing belongings in your home while selling is a challenge, but you can do it with these tips. Start decluttering and make a plan with your family and Realtor. You’ll be ready and organized when your house is on the market.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Home-Buying Factors You Might Not Have Considered

When you’re buying a home, there are many important things you consider, especially as a first-time homebuyer. You look at the kitchen, the backyard, the neighborhood, the total price, and many other factors. But there are many intangibles that you can miss if you’re not aware.

Buying a home is more important than just purchasing a piece of property. You’re changing your life in a significant way—so do your research and look into these factors before placing your offer.

School District

The school district your home is in can be indicative of other neighborhood factors. Parents and potential future parents should research a new home’s school district so that they feel good about their children’s education. Even if you don’t plan to have kids, you should still pay attention to the school district. Schools can have a major effect on taxes in the area, and they’ll also have a major effect on resale value.

HOA Fees and Rules

If your new home is under a homeowners’ association (HOA), ask for the fees and contract. Many HOAs have restrictive rules on fences, backyards, paint colors, and much more. HOA fees can become a significant monthly expense, so factor those into your budget. If you can, compare homes with and without HOAs and determine which option is best for you.

Neighborhood Characteristics

When moving to a new area, it’s sometimes easiest to just consider commute time and distance to amenities, but the neighborhood itself can be extremely important. Consider what the community is like, what sort of businesses are located there, crime statistics, and other important factors. Take a walk around the neighborhood, meet some neighbors, and see if you like the feel.

Hidden Costs

There’s much more to your home than just the mortgage costs. It’s important to consider all the costs, such as insurance, property taxes, utility costs, and more. You’re now responsible for all your repairs, so buying a home warranty could be a good choice to reduce your costs. You may need new appliances, depending on your housing market or the condition of the home’s appliances. If you use certain kinds of loans (such as an FHA loan), you may need mortgage insurance as well.

Talk to your Realtor about these factors and others before purchasing a home. They’ll help you make the right decision for you and your family.

Monday, November 20, 2017

6 Easy Winter Home Improvement Projects

When the weather outside is frightful, it’s a good time to tackle some home improvement projects. It’s a win-win situation: you’ll have something to keep you busy on those winter weekends when you just can’t bear to go outside, and you’ll beautify your house in the process.

You don’t have to be a DIY expert to tackle home improvement projects this winter. We’ve got six ideas for easy projects that anyone can do.

Decluttering Deep Dive

Let’s start with the project that doesn’t cost anything or require any specialized equipment: decluttering. Decluttering might not seem like the most fun home improvement project, but look at it this way: whatever you do now, you won’t have to do during the spring cleaning season. (And that translates to more time outside when the weather is pleasant.)

To make your decluttering manageable, tackle one room at a time. Set up “Toss” and “Donate” boxes for the items you’re ready to part with. You can cut down on the sheer amount of stuff in your house and feel good that someone else may benefit from your donated items.

Insulation Update

Winter is a great time to check on the insulation in your attic and crawlspaces. If your insulation is lacking, you could be wasting heat and driving up your utility bill. Adding more insulation will help reduce heat loss while keeping your house cozy (and your utility bill affordable) all season long.

If you’ve never added insulation to your attic before, check out this helpful how-to video from This Old House.

Creative Kitchen Backsplash

Adding a new tile backsplash to your kitchen wall is an inexpensive remodeling project that can make your kitchen look dramatically different. With an almost endless variety of tile styles, patterns, and colors available to you, it should be easy to find an option that complements your kitchen décor scheme and fits your personal style.

The Home Depot regularly holds workshops for DIY tiling projects, so check your local store to see what’s coming up. If there aren’t any upcoming classes, the Home Depot also offers video tutorials online.

Smart Shelving

Adding to your home’s square footage is a pretty big project, but it’s easy to get more use out of your house’s vertical space. This winter, install some floating shelves or a built-in bookshelf to maximize your storage space. A built-in bookshelf sounds fancy, but it’s fairly inexpensive to make one with components from IKEA. The finished product will look anything but cheap.

Fireplace Mantel Makeover

Now that it’s cold enough to light a fire in the hearth, your mind may be on your fireplace. Painting your mantel can help spruce up your fireplace and make it the center of attention this season. If you have a wood mantel, you’ll need to sand it and prime it before applying several coats of paint in the color of your choice. It’s best to tackle the painting part of this project on a day that you can crack the windows open. If that’s not an option, make sure you choose an environmentally-friendly paint that won’t fill your house with toxic fumes.

For those who have some carpentry skills and are feeling ambitious, it’s also possible to build your own custom mantel. This Old House has another video tutorial that walks you through the process.

Interior Door Upgrade

Getting tired of looking at your interior doors? Give them a fresh look. Repainting your interior doors is one of the most obvious ways to upgrade them, but you could also replace the door knobs or add molding to a flat door to give it dimension. If one of your interior doors swings into a small space, you could replace it with a streamlined sliding door.

There’s no reason to get cabin fever this winter: get creative with your home DIY projects and make something that will last for years.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Realtor Work-Life Balance Tips for the Holidays

The kids are out of school, the invitations to ugly sweater parties are rolling in, and you’re still scheduling appointments with the client who must be in a new house by the end of the year. Your work schedule as a Realtor is never conventional, and around the holidays, it can be especially challenging to balance your responsibilities with your personal life.

Fortunately, we’ve got five tips to bring more balance to your holiday season.

Bring Some Holiday Cheer to Your Workday

Even if you’re working right up to the holidays, you can still find little ways to boost your mood (and the mood of everyone around you). If you work at a brokerage, bring your favorite holiday dessert to share with your co-workers. (You could also bring this dessert to a home seller client to make their next showing extra festive.) When you’re working at your desk, put on your headphones and play some holiday music. Stop by your favorite coffee shop after a showing and treat yourself to a peppermint latte.

Make the Ultimate To-Do List

Make a couple of to-do lists—one for work and one for your personal life—to carry you through the end of the year. Create separate columns on each list for “must do” and “want to do” activities. Get started on as many of the “must do” activities as you can before the holidays so that you’ll have time for the “want to do” activities as the year winds down. Keeping all your tasks organized like this will help you sort out your priorities and keep your work manageable.

Block Off Time for Family Activities

Winter tends to be a slower time of year in the real estate industry, but you may still have clients who need to schedule appointments in the evenings or on the weekends due to their work schedules. To avoid giving up too much of your personal time, block off certain weekend and evening hours for clients and other hours for your family. Be firm about your boundaries, and don’t schedule appointments with clients during your family time. You may even want to turn off your phone during your time with your family so that you can be fully present.

Take Advantage of Your Flexible Schedule

One nice thing about working a non-traditional schedule is that you may find yourself with some personal time while other people are at the office. Take advantage of this flexible schedule during the holiday season. If your kids are on Winter Break, plan some activities to do together during the middle of the week. And if you’re planning to do some in-store gift shopping, go during non-peak hours so that you can avoid the worst of the holiday crowds.

Take a Break

If you can afford to, take a week or two of vacation around the holidays so that you can fully disconnect from work. Even if you’re not traveling anywhere, you’ll get more time to spend with your family at home during the holiday season. You may also want to plan some day trips or holiday excursions in town to help you unwind. You’ve worked hard all year and deserve the time to do something for yourself.

Monday, November 13, 2017

5 Smart Home Features That You'll Start Seeing Everywhere

Are you looking to make your life just a little bit easier? If you’re shopping for a new home or looking to install smart home gadgets in your existing home, the number of available products is growing rapidly. You can control your lighting, your thermostat, or even set up an entire connected system to control from your smartphone.

From smart speakers to smoke detectors and home locks, this technology space is ushering in the connected home. Companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, Philips, and more are investing in this technology, and it’s becoming increasingly common to see smart features in homes.

Smart Speakers

There are many smart speaker options available right now, but Amazon’s Echo speakers with Alexa are undoubtedly the most ubiquitous. You can use them to play music, control other smart home gadgets, ask questions, and even purchase items from Amazon. With upcoming options from Apple, and Google’s Home line available, smart speakers are becoming a fixture in every home.

Smart Thermostat

What started with Nest (now part of Alphabet, Google’s parent company) is now the standard in thermostats. Control your thermostat from your smartphone, as it learns your habits, saves energy, and even integrates with voice assistants like Alexa. Many smart thermostats feature touchscreen interfaces and multiple sensors for individual rooms so that you can maximize your energy savings.

Smart Home Locks

Protect your home by always having a secure way to enter using a code, your smartphone, and integration with Apple’s HomeKit platform with a smart lock. There are several options on the market from established deadbolt companies and new technology startups, but they all offer ease of use compared to carrying a key. Most smart locks’ designs are simple and elegant while also serving the practical purpose of keeping you safe.

Smart Light Bulbs

While the Philips Hue series may be the first name that comes to mind, other smart light bulbs are growing in popularity. Some allow you to change the light color, adjust brightness, and control everything from a single hub. No more forgetting to turn off the lights: you can control them from anywhere, set schedules to turn them off, and even have your lights welcome you home.

Smart Hubs

With a wide variety of smart home gadgets comes a necessity to centralize and integrate them. A smart hub accomplishes just this, combining everything into a single app which you can control from your phone. You’ll pair all your smart devices with it and then be able to manage them all from one interface.

Even More

Smart home technology is constantly growing, and there are even more gadgets out there, like smart garage door openers, connected appliances, smart smoke detectors, and smart security cameras. If they can add value to your home and your life, consider making them a part of your home and enhancing your connected lifestyle.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Pre-Approved vs. Pre-Qualified: Why It Pays to Know the Difference

Navigating the home buying process for the first time can seem complicated, but being financially prepared can help you land the home you want. Two financial terms you should start familiarizing yourself with are “pre-approved,” and “pre-qualified.” While they sound similar, there’s a significant difference between them—and it’s important to understand each when making an offer on your new home. Don’t let a misunderstanding stop you from getting the house you want. Learn more about what each term means for your financial situation.

What is Pre-Qualification?

Getting pre-qualified is often the first step in the mortgage process. You meet with your bank or lender and give them an idea of your overall financial picture, including debts, your annual income, and any assets you have. Then they’ll let you know what mortgage amount you can qualify for, in a general range. You can get pre-qualified over the phone or online, and it doesn’t require a credit check or report. This step is important so you can figure out how much house you can afford and what loan options will work for you.

However, getting pre-qualified doesn’t mean that the loan amount is certain, or even that you’ll necessarily be approved for a mortgage. It’s all an estimation that will become clearer when you get pre-approved for a mortgage.

What is a Pre-Approval?

After you’ve gotten pre-qualified, pre-approval is the next step. Whether you choose to go with your bank or a different lender, you’ll complete a mortgage application (and probably pay an application fee) and go through an extensive check on your financial background and credit. You’ll have to provide documentation, including financial records, pay stubs, and more. At this stage, your lender can give a specific mortgage amount you’re approved for—giving you a maximum budget (with your down payment) toward your future home. You’ll also be given official interest rates, loan term options, and will possibly be able to lock in the rate before putting down an offer.

Why Do Both?

As you go through the house hunting process, you can get an idea of what you can afford based on loan calculators and what you’re currently paying for rent. Pre-qualification and pre-approval together let you get on track toward finding the right priced home and getting your financing. Being pre-approved will help you move quickly when you’ve found the right house.

Remember, pre-approval and pre-qualification are not the same. While getting pre-qualified is an important step in the process, pre-approval lets you make an offer knowing your financing is in place.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Why You Still Need a Realtor When Listing Your Home in a Seller's Market

If you’re living in a seller’s market, you may have heard stories from neighbors who sold their home within three days of putting it on the market or received well over the asking price when buyers got into a bidding war. After hearing these stories, you might think that your house will practically sell itself once you list it.

Although it can be tempting to go the for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) route when you live in a seller’s market, it’s still in your best interest to work with a Realtor. Here are six reasons you should work with a listing agent, even in a hot housing market.

You Need to Price Your Home Right from the Start

It’s still possible to overprice your home and scare buyers away in a seller’s market. You may think you can price your home by using a consumer tool like Zillow’s Zestimate, but the data that powers these tools is not always accurate, which could lead you to over- or undervalue your home. A Realtor has access to the current market data for your area and can use this information to help you price your home correctly.

You Want to Reach as Many Qualified Buyers as Possible

If you stick a “For Sale By Owner” sign in your front yard, you might not have as many buyers beating down your door as you think. 88% of home buyers work with a real estate agent or broker, and many buyer’s agents avoid showing their clients FSBO homes because they don’t want the hassle of working with a (potentially inexperienced) seller. When you work with a listing agent, on the other hand, they’ll help spread the word about your home to a large network of buyers (beyond the MLS and real estate websites like Zillow and Redfin).

You’ll Connect with Other Trusted Real Estate Professionals

A good Realtor can tap into their network and give you recommendations for:

  • A photographer (who can take listing photos of your home looking its best)
  • A professional stager (who can help furnish and lay out your rooms to appeal to buyers)
  • A home inspector (who can provide an honest assessment of your home’s condition before a potential buyer brings their own inspector in)
  • Home contractors (who can make repairs based on issues that the home inspector identifies)

Your Realtor Will Handle Time-Consuming Tasks

If you’re already working full-time, do you really want to spend all your time outside of work marketing your home and arranging showings? It’s your Realtor’s job to handle these time-consuming tasks so that you don’t have to. And, since they have more experience with marketing and showing homes than you do, they’ll be able to present a more professional front to buyers.

You Need an Experienced Negotiator on Your Side

Do you know what to do if you get multiple offers on your home? Or if a buyer includes contingencies with their offer? A Realtor has experience handling these types of negotiations and will be able to communicate with the buyer’s agent on your behalf. They’ll also be able to keep emotions out of the negotiation process, which can be hard to do when the seller is handling the negotiations directly.

You Need Someone Who Understands Real Estate Law

A Realtor can help you navigate contracts and closing paperwork so that you can protect yourself legally. If any complex legal issues arise during the home sale process, they may also be able to refer you to a good real estate attorney.

Ultimately, you’ll want a Realtor on your side regardless of market conditions because they can help you get the best possible price for your home. They should be very familiar with the market and local home buying trends, which will allow them to set you up for success.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Home Features That Appeal to Young Families

It’s no surprise that parents with young children have different priorities than childless adults or empty nesters when searching for a home. Rather than just looking for home features and amenities that appeal to them, they’re going to be thinking about what’s best for their kids, from schools within walking distance to a safe outdoor space for playing.

When working with a home seller who wants their listing to appeal to parents with young kids, be sure to highlight family-friendly features such as:

A Fenced-In Backyard

If your seller has an open backyard, see if they’d be willing to add a privacy fence. This small addition can make a big difference to young parents, who are looking for a safe place their kids and pets can play. If your client’s house already has a fence, they can spruce the space up even more with some simple backyard staging. A few nice pieces of patio furniture—and maybe a grill or firepit—will help families imagine spending time together in the yard.

Recently Updated Kitchen and Bathrooms

While 62% of young homeowners say they’ve done some renovations, most aren’t looking for a labor-intensive fixer-upper. Not only do renovations require more time and energy than most young parents have, they can also be expensive. And for parents who are putting most of their savings into a down payment, closing costs, and a monthly mortgage, there may not be much of a budget for renovations or repairs. Recently updated kitchens and bathrooms appeal to young families because they’re typically the most expensive rooms to renovate.

An Open Kitchen Layout

In the past couple decades, the kitchen has transformed into a space for families to come together. Many young parents would prefer an open kitchen with room to gather for meals over a formal dining room. Open kitchens work well for quick family meals on busy weeknights, and they also let parents see into the living room (and possibly the backyard) to keep an eye on their kids while making dinner.

Three or More Bedrooms

Since most homeowners plan to stay in their home for at least five years before selling, it’s important for young parents to choose a space that’s large enough for their family, especially if they plan to have more kids. If it’s in their budget, most young parents would prefer a home with at least three bedrooms. If they find a home with an extra bedroom, they may like the idea of turning it into a home office or playroom.

Energy-Efficient Features

Eco-friendly features, such as a smart thermostat and Energy Star appliances, often appeal to young parents. These features can help reduce monthly utility bills (something that’s sure to be on the minds of budget-conscious parents) and improve the indoor environment for kids. Parents may also appreciate features like a small backyard garden or rain collection bin that could help teach their kids about sustainability.

Built-In Storage

Adequate storage space is something that all home buyers are looking for, but it’s especially important to young parents, who may feel like they’re fighting an uphill battle to keep their kids’ toys and gear organized. Built-in storage features, such as bookshelves, pull-out pantry shelves, and a closet under the stairs, are worth pointing out to buyers. Creative built-in storage will help young families maximize their space and keep clutter under control.

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