4 Ways to Use Your Tax Return to Boost Your Home’s Exterior

Did you receive a nice chunk of change with your tax return? Consider using it for home improvement projects that will increase your home’s curb appeal. The following upgrades are all under $3,000.

1. Replace door No. 1
As one of the first things a prospective buyer sees, your front door is critical to your home’s curb appeal. Buy a new door and spruce it up with shiny new knobs, locks and knockers. An energy-efficient door can help you save money on bills and may make you eligible for federal tax credits next year.

2. Refresh the garage
That dented garage door panel you no longer notice? Prospective buyers will. Two new garage doors will set you back just under $3,000 and do wonders for spiffing up your home’s exterior.

3. Get lit
Illuminating your walkway, installing motion-sensor lights or adding lighting fixtures that highlight your home’s architectural features or landscaping help your property look as appealing at night as it does during the day. Added light also helps keep your property secure.

4. Add outdoor living space
Decks and patios are among the top features buyers look for. Use your refund to install a stamped-concrete patio or a small deck, and it’s almost like adding another room to your home.

3 Questions to Ask Before Listing Your Home

 

Are you considering putting your home up for sale? Before you do, be sure to ask yourself these three questions.

1. Is now a good time?
Talk with a Realtor who knows your specific market (find one here) and can analyze the current sales inventory and trends. A good agent can determine whether it is a prime time to sell your home to get the best price. There may be all kinds of reasons to wait a season to sell, such as a glut of homes on the market similar to yours.

2. Is the price right?
Setting the right price and understanding how that price was calculated is critical to getting top dollar for your home. An experienced Realtor can provide comparable sales in your area, and evaluate the specific features of your home to set a price that will bring you the most value for your house in the shortest time.

3. What’s my exit strategy?
You never know how quickly your home will sell, so establish a plan in case it happens quickly. Before you list it, know where you’ll go if a buyer swoops in immediately, whether it’s temporary housing, your brother’s basement or your next home. Having a post-sale plan takes some of the anxiety out of selling your home.

 

8 Tips for First-Time Sellers

 

If you’re selling a home for the first time, it’s quite a different ballgame from what you experienced as a first-time buyer.

Ultimately, you’re in control of the process. You call the shots on prepping your home for sale, deciding on a listing price, accepting (or rejecting) offers, and a host of other factors.

But you might want to heed the following tips:

1. Hire an experienced real estate agent
A real estate transaction is filled with complexities and nuances that a professional, skilled agent can help you navigate. Ask friends and family to recommend an agent they’ve used and were pleased with, or search for a local RE/MAX agent.

2. Detach yourself from the process
You’ve made memories to last a lifetime in your first home, and saying goodbye is hard. But be careful not to let your emotional attachment get in the way of making sound decisions, particularly when it comes to staging and pricing your home. Try to see your home as a potential buyer would. Pretend you’re a potential buyer and walk through your home. Make a list of what you like about each room – and the things you’d change.

3. Don’t overprice
Some sellers might think that in today’s low-inventory market they can overprice their home and get top dollar. In reality, if you price it competitively, you’ll create a flurry of activity and (possibly) get in a situation where multiple offers are rolling in. Overpricing at the start hurts your chances of getting a quick sale, especially if numerous price reductions are needed.

4. Declutter and stage for a quick sale
Buyers who tour your home will have a hard time picturing themselves living in it if they only see paint colors or décor that fits your own unique style. Repaint the walls with neutral, earth-tone colors, and remove excess decorations from walls. Consider renting a storage unit to store large furniture that overpowers your main living areas; rooms should appear as spacious as possible.

5. Make the necessary repairs/upgrades
Ensure that all systems and appliances are functioning properly, as these items will come up in a home inspection that might cost you more money and, possibly, the whole sale down the road. The rule of thumb is to make improvements to your home that will help the property show well, but don’t put a ton of money into capital investments such as a basement refinish or high-end flooring, particularly if such upgrades aren’t consistent for your neighborhood. You likely won’t get that money back in the sale.

6. Give your home curb appeal
Your home’s front exterior is the first thing potential buyers will see when they drive by, and it’s likely the first photo that will appear in an online search. Give your front door a fresh coat of paint, add some bright flowers to your entryway, and make sure that any cracks or major cement damage is fixed. Consider renting a pressure washer to get rid of the grime and buildup on the outside of your house, and definitely keep the yard mowed and tidy. A little elbow grease goes a long way to making a positive first impression on buyers.

7. Keep an open mind for negotiations
What’s more important to you: Walking away with your asking price (or more)? A quick closing time? Putting out as little up front cash in closing costs as possible? All of these are considerations you’ll need to make as you evaluate offers. Also, keep in mind that you have the ability to negotiate with counter-offers. Sometimes, you can sweeten the deal by offering to pay a buyer’s closing costs (if feasible), or leaving some appliances behind. A few concessions can go a long way in the negotiation process, and your Realtor can work with you to carefully evaluate and respond to each offer.

8. Get ready for closing
Once you’ve accepted an offer and signed a sales agreement, you’ll start prepping for a closing. Also called “escrow” or “settlement,” closing is the final meeting between the buyer, seller, their agents and a loan officer (or an attorney, in some states) where the buyer pays their portion of the costs to the seller and the buyer’s new title and any mortgage liens are properly recorded. The closing agent will calculate what monies are due to the owner and what credits need to be applied to the transaction, such as taxes, title fees and other closing costs.

4 Spring Lawn Care Tips to Grow Curb Appeal

 

A great lawn can serve as a green calling card for your home. Here are a few things you can do this spring to help your lawn – and curb appeal – flourish.

1. Test before you invest
Find out the acid and alkaline levels of your soil with a testing kit from the hardware store before you shell out bucks for fertilizer and seed. The test will help you determine the right products to help your lawn flourish.

2. Give it some air
Grass and soil can get compacted during the winter, making it difficult for oxygen and nutrients to reach root systems. Aerating, or poking holes in the lawn, helps. You can hire a lawn service to do this, buy a rolling tool, or use inexpensive strap-on attachments for your shoes that aerate the lawn as you march around.

3. Seed or weed
Spring is prime time for seeding sparse areas of your lawn or applying a natural herbicide to prevent crabgrass and other weeds from sprouting. Don’t do both, as the herbicide will also kill the grass seeds.

4. Mow tall
For the lushest lawn, set your mower to the tallest setting and cut only about the top third of the grass. Taller blades promote healthier root systems and help shade the ground soil, preventing it from drying out.

 

6 Decisions to Make Before the Home Search

1. What’s your budget? See how your finances stand up to the 28/36 rule, which lenders use to see what you can afford to pay each month. A financial adviser or your real estate agent also can help you crunch the numbers. Going through the mortgage pre-approval process lets you know how much lenders will allow you to borrow – plus it helps you show sellers that you have the funds to backup your offer.

2. What do you need in your new home? How many bedrooms or bathrooms do you need? What about a large kitchen, a home office or a playroom for the kids? How many cars need covered parking? It’s critically important to ensure the home you select meets your family and lifestyle needs.

3. Do you want a condo or single-family home? Condos come with much less maintenance. You typically won’t be shoveling snow in the winter or replacing the roof, but you’ll likely pay monthly association fees to cover services and repairs in the community. Houses, on the other hand, come with more privacy and freedom to customize. They also come with full responsibility for maintenance.

4. How do you feel about living under covenants? Depending on where you buy, you may have to pay homeowner association (HOA) fees in addition to your mortgage. There are benefits to HOAs, such as maintenance, community centers, and maybe even a pool or gym. But you also could be faced with more restrictive rules about the look of the outside of your home, down to the color of your front door, types of window coverings, and whether you can plant flowers in your yard.

5. What school district do you want to be near? Even if you don’t have children in the house, local schools will affect your property value. Prospective homebuyers tend to search with education in mind. Do your research on the schools in the areas you’d like to live in.

6. Should the home be move-in ready? Ask yourself how much elbow grease you’re willing to put into a home – or how much you’ll pay someone else to do the work. Fixer-upper homes can be great after the work is done, but you’ll want to figure out your renovation budget before you start your home search. A203k home-renovation loan might be the right resource for you. If you’re not ready for the extra financial commitment of rehabbing a home, or you can’t or don’t want to wait for remodeling projects to finish up, then a home that’s move-in ready might be right for you.

 

Transform Your Bedroom for a Great Night’s Sleep

 

Do you struggle to some catch shut-eye? Beyond counting sheep or working your way through “War and Peace,” here are some things you can try to encourage zzzz’s.

1. Skip the bold wall colors
Soft, muted colors on the walls and floors help create a relaxing environment in your bedroom. Keep the bold carpets and wild walls for the rest of your home.

2. Design for sleep
Condition your mind to relax in your bedroom by making it a single-purpose area. That means moving the desk, lounge chair, or even treadmill out of the room. Trying to read in bed can send mixed signals to your brain as well.

3. Embrace the darkness
Does outside light invade your sleep sanctuary? Black-out curtains can keep your bedroom pitch black, which helps cue your body that it’s time to sleep.

4. Banish screens
Keep distractions to a minimum by leaving phones, tablets and laptops outside your bedroom. And if you truly can’t think of dozing off without a nightly dose of Jimmy Kimmel, keep your TV in a place where it can be hidden when you turn it off, like in an armoire with doors.

5. Install dimmers
Dimming your bedroom lights about an hour before you hit the hay helps lure your brain into sleep mode.

 

5 Winning Tips for Writing an Offer Letter

 

In some hot housing markets, including a letter with your formal offer to buy a home is all but required. Unfortunately, Hallmark doesn’t make a card for the occasion (yet). Here are a few tips:

 1. Get emotional
Take advantage of this opportunity to sail beyond the facts and figures to convey a personal connection to the home. Pick one or two features and talk about how they fit into your vision of the perfect home. For example, “Holiday meals are important to my family. Your large kitchen has everything I need to re-create my grandmother’s recipes, and would fit all of my relatives who like to gossip while cooking.” Or, “During our showing my children escaped to climb trees in your back yard. They fell in love with the home as much as I did.”

2. Connect with the seller
Find one or two similarities between your family and the seller’s, based on what you can discern from the home. Show you have something in common, but be careful not too dig too deep (nobody wants to sell to a stalker). For example: “We’re so excited that your home not only has a beautiful, fenced yard, but also a dog door. Our lives revolve around our two rescue pups, Sonny and Cher, who would literally leap for joy in a yard of their own.”

3. Don’t be afraid to flatter
Tell the seller why you adore specific features that have been upgraded: “We love those colorful tiles you used on the kitchen back splash. They remind us so much of our honeymoon in Portugal.”

4. Don’t whine
This is not the place to play the sympathy card. No sob stories about why you sold your last place, or how many deals have fallen through. You want the seller to feel good reading your letter.

5. Grammar matters
Check spelling and grammar. Have a grammar-nerd friend triple check it for you. You want the seller to know you put time and care into your honest appeal.

 

Sellers: How to Decide Between Multiple Offers

 

What a splendid dilemma! You’ve received several offers on your property. Which one should you choose? It’s not always the highest one.

Here are just some of the areas your agent could ask you to pay particularly close attention to as you’re weighing the options.

1. Do the math
This goes beyond simply calculating the dollar difference between the various offer prices. Before you do that, be sure to do all the math. Subtract things like closing costs, fees and potential repairs to determine the net proceeds of each offer.

2. Consider the financing
Can the buyer provide proof from the bank that there are funds to back the offer? Your agent can help verify this – and help you understand the terms of the buyer’s financing.

3. Motivation
Do the buyers have a baby-sitting parent in the neighborhood? A new job just around the corner? Buyers with extra motivation to purchase your home are less likely to press for concessions and more likely to work harder to close the deal. Some buyers even include a personal letter with their offer to explain why they want the home. These letters can be particularly helpful in multiple-offer situations.

4. Timeline
Note the closing date each offer proposes. You’ll want a closing date that best meets your needs. You can always counter a closing date, too, if the best offer doesn’t quite meet your timeline.

 

5 Projects to Tackle This Spring Break

 

March (hopefully) means the weather is warming up. If you don’t have a trip planned to an exotic locale, take some time to get ahead on home maintenance projects. Here are a few projects you can complete during a spring fling of home repair.

1. Fun with water
Power washing your home’s exterior not only adds to its sparkle factor, but also blasts away any potentially damaging mold and mildew. Rent a machine at your local home improvement store and tackle your siding, deck and driveway.

2. Check your AC
Scheduling a tune-up for your cooling system can save you bucks in the long term. Change your AC filter and schedule a pro to come check your system now, before contractors get busy.

3. Go with the flow
Pull out a ladder and unclog gutters and check that they’re connected securely.

4. Bask in the sun
Catch some rays – and brighten your home – by cleaning the interior and exterior of your windows. Try a squeegee and skip the paper towels, to avoid looking out through a filter of lint.

5. Hit the fridge
Dust and grime on your refrigerator’s coils causes the machine to use more energy to cool. Cleaning coils is easy with your vacuum’s hose attachment. Then, enjoy efficiently-made ice cubes in a cocktail after all your hard work.

And add a paper drink umbrella. After all, it is spring break.

 

7 Signs of a Dog-friendly House

7 Signs of a Dog-friendly House

7 Signs of a Dog-friendly House

Mon, March 14, 2016

Embarking on a home search for a property that must be approved by furry, tail-wagging family members? Here are a few things to look for.

1. Greener grass
Does the home have a yard? Just a little bit of a fenced-in grass can be your pup’s paradise. Be sure to check that the HOA allows you to put in a fence tall enough to keep your pooch in.

2. Proximity to play areas
Look for homes within walking distance to trails, open space and dog parks.

3. Your very own pack
Check out the neighbors’ properties for evidence of other dogs in the neighborhood, like dog toys in yards, dog doors and dog-related bumper stickers on cars.

4. Accommodating landlords
In some areas, finding apartments and condo communities that allow dogs can be challenging. The local animal shelter usually keeps lists of pet-friendly communities. Another good resource isPeoplewithpets.com.

5. Storage for Fido
A designated space for keeping leashes, toys and other belongings is a blessing when it comes to keeping the rest of your home clean (or, cleaner).

6. Camouflage
Wall-to-wall white, plush carpet is not what you’re looking for. Neither are gorgeous softwoods just waiting to be scratched. Look for homes with resilient flooring that’s easily cleaned.

7. Doggie door
Dog doors offer your pooch (and you) a fabulous taste of freedom. Check whether a home has a convenient place to put one.