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Dorothy’s got it right — there really is ‘no place’ like a perfect home

Three key areas for heel-clicking consideration when buying and selling a home

It’s springtime, finally! And, what better time to find a new home to enjoy the warmer weather. It can also be a cozy spot to cuddle up in the cooler months as well.

But before beginning your search, there are three points of consideration to deal with first: finding the right real estate agent; if your the seller, making sure that your place is well-maintained and desirable; and if you are the buyer, doing your due diligence when it comes to selecting the best place for your lifestyle.

Real estate agent selection matters

Buying or selling a home can be a long and difficult process. Sometimes there’s a snag in your financing or the entire sale falls through due to some minor detail. Dealing with lenders, inspections and all the paperwork involved in the purchase of a home can also be confusing, especially for those who have never bought a house before.

During the entire process, though, you should always have an ally by your side. Your real estate agent is someone who will guide you through the process, answering every question you have and assisting you with every task that must be done before you’re a new homeowner. Working with your agent should help to alleviate stress, but if you’re working with someone you’re not comfortable with, it can actually increase the amount of stress you’re dealing with.

Working with a real estate agent who seems to intuitively understand what you need makes the entire buying process much, much easier. Sometimes the process is made easier just by them displaying common sense. For example, if you have several children, seeing homes that only have one bathroom or only two bedrooms may be a waste of your time. Good agents will highlight homes that have good-sized backyards for kids to play in or that offer plenty of space for families to grow. Any agent can take your list of needs and match it with some houses, but not all of those properties are going to be right for you. A great agent is able to tell from your personality which ones will work.

You also need to find an agent that knows the type of house you’re looking for. For example, there are some real estate agents who specialize in older homes. If you want to purchase a house in a historic neighborhood, you may want to seek out one of these experts. They have often spent time researching the history of the area. They can give you information about what particular regulations apply to owning a home in a neighborhood that has been declared historic. Many of these agents even live in older homes themselves.

If you’re looking to live in a specific neighborhood, you also want to have an agent who understands that neighborhood’s particulars. One way to determine if your agent does, is to drive the neighborhood looking for real estate agent signs. If you see several with the same name on it, chances are that the agent does a lot of business in the area. They’re likely to know more about it than an agent who doesn’t have a single house for sale in the neighborhood. For example, these knowledgeable agents will often be able to tell you where the local schools are, what traffic is like and answer any other questions you might have.

If you’re selling your home, having a great agent is just as important. You want an agent you know is going to go the extra mile to sell your home. Your agent should be willing to be honest with you about the state of your house. You want someone who will look at all of the small issues with your home and tell you exactly how they will impact its selling price. You need someone who is going to tell you honestly when he or she thinks your listing price is wrong.

You also want to work with an agent who has a great eye for detail and creativity. He or she can point out places where your home could be improved or staged differently in order to bring in more interested buyers. He or she should point out spaces that are too dark or look too crowded and work with you to determine how to best present those areas.

If you’re a member of the LGBTQ community, working with a real estate agent  who identifies as gay or lesbian can help put you at ease. These real estate agents understand the specific needs of the LGBTQ community and can help you find a home that meets those needs. Finding one of these real estate agents to work with is very easy due to GayRealEstate.com. It features a list of LGBTQ real estate agents across the country, so you can find a professional no matter where you live or want to move.

Working with a great real estate agent makes buying or selling your home a much easier process and, in some cases, can even make it a fun process. On the other hand, working with someone who seems disinterested in your needs or who simply doesn’t understand what you want can make everything much worse.

Selling a home requires making it desirable

Photo Credit: olgasun via Adobe Stock

Do maintenance first

Before considering expanding or remodeling, make sure your home is solidly built. Take care of any leaks or other issues before you do anything else. Buyers aren’t going to be impressed by your in-ground pool if the roof has a leak or your floorboards are loose. Paint and replace anything broken before you start putting money into other things. Redo the floors if you have stains on the carpet, cracked tiles or old linoleum that’s looking pretty dingy.

Bathroom and kitchen remodels

Two of the areas where remodels can really impress potential buyers are the bathroom and the kitchen. People spend more time in these two areas than they might think, and you can often recoup upwards of twice what you put into remodels. Upgrading your kitchen with stone or granite countertops can add a touch of class to the space. The same goes with putting in cabinets that are entirely made of wood or using wood or stone floors instead of laminate. Anything that appears traditional is often quite popular.

In the bathroom, walk-in showers are currently more popular than large bathtubs. Those on the go simply don’t have time to relax in the tub, so they’re looking for a good-sized shower they can hop into and out of fairly quickly.

However, before you do a bathroom remodel, consider adding another bathroom if your home only has one. While single buyers won’t mind, married couples and families will often state a lack of second bathroom as a deal-breaker. Older houses, in particular, tend to have only one bathroom, so adding a second definitely needs to take priority there.

More space

Increasing the square footage of your home is another way of increasing your selling price. Sunrooms, finished basements and even a new garden shed can help attract buyers. The basic rule of thumb is that for every 1,000 extra square feet of space you add, you can increase your selling price by around 30 percent. Adding a bathroom, as mentioned, needs to be the first addition you consider. Other great options include sunrooms, family rooms and safe rooms. If you live in an area with frequent tornadoes, a safe room can greatly boost your asking price. On the other hand, if you live in a warmer climate that has fairly mild weather, a sunroom may be the better option.

Popcorn ceilings

Many older homes have popcorn ceilings, but very few people actually like them. This type of ugly ceiling can also hide asbestos if it was installed prior to the late 1970s, and that can be a problem. You’ll want to have the ceiling tested by a professional before you list the home to make sure that’s not an issue. If it is, hope that the ceiling is in fairly good shape. If it is, that means the solution is to simply seal in the asbestos using spray paint. If it’s not, the entire popcorn ceiling treatment will have to come down, and that can be quite costly. Even if there’s no asbestos, removing popcorn ceilings isn’t easy or cheap.

Complete carpeting throughout the home

Today, people want hardwood floors, even if they’re fake hardwood. Some families, especially those with young children, are likely to look at a home with wall-to-wall carpet and start thinking about the mess the kids will make. If you have carpet throughout, consider replacing it in a few rooms such as the kitchen, the dining room, and the entryway. If that’s not an option, be sure to have all of the carpet professionally cleaned.

Acrylic faucet knobs

Many older faucets have acrylic knobs that appear to be large, see-through pieces of glass or crystal. They’re definitely a sign of an outdated bathroom or kitchen for several reasons. First, they tend to look cheap. Second, they’re difficult for the elderly and young children to use. They’re also difficult for some with disabilities, which means a home with this type of faucet doesn’t mean the Americans with Disabilities Act standards. You can replace these faucets with easy-to-use levers for a fairly small amount of money.

Vanity strip lighting

If your bathroom has a strip of bare light bulbs over the vanity, it’s a good sign that the home was built or at least remodeled during the 1970s. This style of lighting was very popular in those days, but today, it’s definitely not. Replace this old light fixture with a nice fixture that includes bulb shades. You could even put in wall sconces on each side of the mirror as long as the style matches the rest of the bathroom.

Bright or unusual shades of color

You might love hot pink so much that you painted your master bedroom that color, but chances are, most potential buyers won’t share your tastes. If you’ve painted your home bright colors that reflect your personality, you might want to consider repainting before you sell. Many real estate agents recommend going with a warm but neutral color. Fortunately, painting your home is a fairly easy and inexpensive change you can make to help potential buyers see themselves living there.

The exterior

While making the interior of your home look amazing is one thing, it’s a waste of money if no one ever sees it. You want to make certain that the exterior of your home looks great, which is why many real estate agents recommend investing in some repairs and updates. Replacing the siding on your home is one of the best investments you can make, as is doing some simple landscaping. Putting in a new fence can also be a great way of adding some value to your home, especially if your current fence is sagging.

Fix horrible landscaping

Does your home look like it’s decorated for Halloween all year round? If so, it likely has zero curb appeal. If your exterior doesn’t look inviting, potential buyers may never see its amazing interior. Make sure the lawn is nicely mowed, the flower beds look good, and there aren’t any dead branches or other dead plants around. You can even add a few pots of annuals here and there for a little extra color if none of your current flowers are blooming. This is probably one of the easiest fixes you can do since simple landscaping doesn’t cost too much and you can do much of it yourself.

Let a stager work their magic

A professional stager is an expert in bringing out the best a room has to offer. Their mission is to make every room in your home look inviting, light, airy and beautiful. They do many things that an interior decorator would do. In fact, some staging professionals also offer interior decorating services to clients who aren’t moving. However, there are a few differences between staging a home and decorating one.

Is using a stager that important?

Professional staging is a relatively new industry. Real estate agents used to do all of the staging themselves if their clients were still living in the house while it was on the market. However, agents aren’t professional decorators, and many simply didn’t have the time it often takes to professionally stage an entire house. Some people didn’t see the point of staging, either.

However, in the last 15 to 20 years, staging has become recognized as a crucial factor in selling your home. The Real Estate Staging Association was even created to certify professional stagers and create a set of industry standards. According to a number of surveys done by the association and by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), staged homes sell on average 43 percent faster than homes that aren’t staged. That alone is a great reason to use a stager.

It’s not the only reason, though. Those who have their home staged often get their full asking price, and some even make over that price. In most cases, all you have to do is to invest about 1 percent of your asking price in staging to see results. Because of this, more than a third of all real estate agents now stage every home they list, according to a 2015 NAR survey.

Staging in the world of online listings

The internet is partially responsible for the creation of the staging industry. Today, nearly every home that’s listed with a real estate agent appears online in the Multiple Listings Service (MLS) system, on the agent’s website and on other sites. Many potential buyers browse these listings before they even approach an agent so they know exactly what properties they want to see. Between work, hobbies, their children and other demands on their time, buyers simply can’t look at dozens of properties like they used to. Instead, most do their research ahead of time, before, they find a real estate agent

This means your home’s online listing has to really shine. It’s now doing the bulk of the advertising for your home. If the photos posted online are of messy rooms with poor lighting taken from awkward angles, you’re not going to see many interested buyers. For many, these photos provide the first impression of your property. They have to be outstanding.

That’s where the stager comes in. They will transform each room in your home into an organized, perfectly arranged space that potential buyers can see themselves in. Often, your stager will remove a lot of your personal effects to help make the room more of a blank slate. This is one way in which staging differs from interior decorating. With the latter, you’re trying to add more of your personality to the room. With the former, you want to remove some of your personal touches.

Finding a professional stager

Many real estate agents have formed professional relationships with a local professional stager. Usually, these stagers are familiar with the type of homes that the agent sells. For example, those who specialize in historic homes will work with a stager who knows how to make older homes look gorgeous. For those who identify as LGBTQ, a gay or lesbian agent will likely work with a stager who is also part of the LGBTQ community. If you’re interested in working with an LGBTQ real estate agent in your area, you can find a professional through GayRealEstate.com, a website specializing in LGBTQ real estate.

Take advantage of staging

While staging may add another small upfront cost, it’s something that more and more professionals are seeing as a necessity. The numbers clearly show that staging does have an impact on how quickly your home sells and the final price. If you plan on selling your home, consider bringing in a stager. You may be surprised at how they transform your property and at how quickly you get offers.

Selecting the home of your dreams

Photo Credit: inga via Adobe Stock

Finding the right property to buy can take a lot of effort. In fact, it can be a little overwhelming when you’ve got an entire city of homes to choose from. That’s why it can be very helpful to narrow down your search area. The reason this helps so much is that it can prevent you from feeling overwhelmed. It also helps your real estate agent because he or she can more easily focus on finding homes that perfectly meet all of your needs without going through a huge list of potential properties.

Price range

The first thing you can use to narrow down your home search is price range. Most cities have neighborhoods that are more expensive than others. You may find that your budget rules out parts of the city without anything else factoring into the decision. This is especially true for many downtown areas or new neighborhoods with large homes.

Are school zones important?

For parents, another major factor concerns school zones. Many parents have researched schools in the area they’re moving to and have picked a few that stand out from the others. They will want to find a home within these school zones so they don’t have to question the quality of their child’s education. There may also be several school zones parents want to avoid for whatever reason.

Type or style

The types of homes you’re looking for may also help you narrow down the part of the city you live in. Some neighborhoods may not have any condos, for example, while downtown areas may have only condos and no single-family homes. Some houses may have good-sized yards, which is certainly going to be an attraction for those with families or pets. Other neighborhoods may feature houses with very small yards, which might be more attractive to those who don’t enjoy yard work.

Style can also help you decide on where to live, although it’s often not the deciding factor. Some neighborhoods feature homes that look very similar. If you like that style, you may want to see a number of houses in that area. If you don’t, you may be able to cross off the entire neighborhood just by looking at one property.

Commute time

Driving distance may also play a factor in where you want to live. You may want to have a fairly short commute or at least be able to avoid majorly congested routes on your drive to work. If you drive your children to school every day, that commute will also factor into your housing decision. You may even want to think about the drive to the grocery store or to any other places you frequently visit. In fact, some people decide which neighborhood they want to live in based on the amenities nearby.

Understand the costs

Buying a home isn’t as simple as paying the asking price. In fact, there are many other costs, and you need to be prepared for that. These costs may include mortgage insurance, homeowner’s insurance, title insurance and a number of other things you might have to pay for. Sometimes, the seller pays some of these costs. Other times, they’re all on you. It depends on the deal you and the seller agree to. You can talk to your real estate agent about what costs you might have on top of the price for the property itself.

Check builder credentials

Buying a brand new house can be exciting — you often get to be involved in the construction, selecting flooring, colors and more. However, you do want to research the builder and make certain that they’re known for building high-quality homes. Some cut corners in order to meet deadlines or come in under budget. The last thing you want is to purchase a brand new home and then have to make major repairs within a year or two.

Explore the neighborhood

Many homebuyers forget that they’re buying more than just the property; they’re also buying the location. Spend a little time getting to know the neighborhood. You can find crime reports, school assessments, and even neighborhood demographics online. This information can help you determine where you want to live and what areas you’d like to steer clear of.

Drive around and see what’s in a 10 or 15 minute drive. You may not think that it’s important to have a gas station or grocery store nearby, but later on you might regret that decision. Also, be sure to visit the area during the day and the night. Drive around with your window down at night and listen. Do you hear dogs barking, loud music or anything else? See what the neighborhood is like on a weekday and on the weekend. You don’t want to move into a great home only to find that you’re on a very busy or loud street.

Don’t buy the first house you see

As with any major purchase, always shop around a bit. While the first home may seem perfect, remember that very few homebuyers find a house that truly checks every box on their wish list. Make sure each home you’re seriously considering meets your needs. It’s easy to get wowed by an impressive view or a remodeled kitchen, but you need to make sure you look past these things.

On the other hand, aesthetics do matter. You don’t want to buy a house that you don’t find particularly attractive. Yes, it’s easy to paint a few rooms or swap out a light fixture here and there, but major remodels can quickly add up. If you hate several rooms in the house, it may be best to continue your search instead of deciding to remodel later. At best, you’ll end up spending a lot more money to get the home you want. At worst, you’ll never remodel, and you’ll end up spending years in a home you hate.

Take your time

Unless you’re facing a strict deadline to leave your current residence, take your time with your housing search. There’s no need to rush or to settle for a home that doesn’t meet your needs. Take your time, work with your agent, and trust your intuition. The only time you should not take your time is if you live in a part of the country facing a shortage of homes for sale. In this case, once you find the perfect home, be aggressive in making your offer and in what terms you put in your offer. That way, you don’t lose your dream home to someone else.

Where do you get your mortgage from?

The first step in securing your first mortgage is to know what your options are. Many people head straight to their bank for financing, but that might not be your best option. There are a number of different programs for first-time homebuyers, including special loans through the Federal Housing Administration and for military members and veterans. If you qualify for any of these programs, you may be able to get a reduced interest rate, make a very low down-payment or otherwise save money.

If you don’t qualify for one of these programs, do your research before you select a lender. Ask your friends and relatives who have purchased homes where they received their mortgage. Some may have used a bank or credit union, while others might have gone through a mortgage broker. Typically, the best route to finding a great lender is asking the real estate agent who is helping you purchase the house. They have a wide network of contacts that they can suggest who can help you get the right type of loan for your situation. Gather as much information about these and other options before you make a selection.

Consider the market

Is it a buyer’s market or seller’s market? If interest rates have been steadily declining or holding steady at a low rate, it may be a great time to buy. If they’re not, you want to be sure the rate you’re quoted can be locked in. You may also be able to pay points to reduce your interest rate. This means you pay the lender a certain amount at closing in order to get a lower interest rate. Generally, a point is equal to one percent of the total mortgage amount, so paying these points can be expensive if you’re borrowing a good amount of money. If rates are fairly low already, you may not need to worry about this.

Do the math

Before you go in to meet with a lender to find out how much you can borrow, you’ll want to take a look at your finances and decide what you can reasonably afford. Some lenders may say you’re qualified for a larger mortgage than you can actually afford, although that’s much rarer today than it once was. Still, you want to know your budget. If your mortgage payment is going to put you in financial stress every month, you may want to reconsider. Also take into account that your mortgage may include your property taxes, homeowners insurance and some other costs. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to set aside money to pay these yourself.

What about a down-payment?

It may be possible to secure a mortgage without a down-payment, but that’s not always the case. Making a down-payment does reduce the amount you have to borrow, but it also means having a good amount of money upfront. Usually, down-payments are 20 percent of the property’s cost, but you may be able to find lenders willing to accept less.

Be prepared

It won’t do much good if you go to your lender without all of the information the lender needs to determine if you qualify for a mortgage. You might want to call ahead and ask what you need to bring so you’re prepared. Generally, you’ll need pay stubs, your most recent tax return and other financial information.

Are you ready to buy or sell?

If you’ve put some money into your property and are ready to sell it, or you are at the starting line in finding a new home, then it’s time to seek out a great real estate agent. If you’re a member of the LGBTQ community, you may find that you’re more comfortable working with a gay or lesbian agent. These experts often have more insight into your particular needs and can help you find a great home. And for those who are on the seller side, a real estate agent who is gay or lesbian can make selling your home more comfortable. You can find one of these agents on GayRealEstate.com.

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