Archive December 2018

Increase Your Home’s Value With These 4 Outdoor Improvements

A 2016 National Association of REALTORS® report on the impact of remodeling outdoors showed the importance the outdoors is playing in the way buyers see your home. According to the report, outdoor remodeling projects add value to a home on resale, while also making homeowners who plan to stay in their homes happier.

With outdoor fireplaces or fire pits and comfortable seating, small gathering spaces are poised to overtake larger backyards as the most sought-after way to spend time outside while staying at home.

Make Sure Your Outdoor Spaces Are Marketable

Because outdoor spaces have to be tailored to the needs of the buyer, it’s important to find out what the typical buyer in you area wants before opting for something that’s trendy, rather than useful, says Sharon Breslau, CRS, an associate broker with Westwood Metes & Bounds Realty, Ltd. in upstate New York.

Many buyers are going for the trendy intimate spaces, says Brad Allen, CRS, ABR, a managing partner with The Art of Real Estate in South Carolina, adding that this is particularly pronounced if they come with any kind of added entertainment area.

That can mean a deck with a great dining setup, or it could mean a pool, depending on the buyer, Sloan adds.

Bring the Outdoors Inside

The outdoor space itself isn’t the only way to experience the outdoors—how the inside interacts with the outside matters, too, Breslau says.

“Windows and doors are the eyes looking out of the house, so what do you see when you look out? Do you see a bush, or do you cut that bush down and suddenly you can see the yard and a nice hill or meadow?” Breslau says. She recommends giving thought to how the inside and the outside correspond, because a property holds more appeal if buyers like both.

Homeowner Test #1: —Can you walk all the way around your house without running into an obstacle? If so, great! This allows more light inside. If not, can the obstacle blocking your path be removed? Look for ways to open space directly around the house

Foster Year-round Outdoor Living

In warm climates, outdoor spaces can be used all year without issue. Allen currently is working with a new-construction buyer who plans to install a 14-foot-wide accordion-style sliding door that will open her basement recreation room straight onto her patio and pool.

And outdoor kitchens or fireplaces on porches are useful in all warmer-weather climates as long as they’re covered to protect from rain, Sloan says.If you’re a homeowner in the northern latitudes, you may have to think outside the box to get more use out of your outdoor spaces, Breslau says. Three-season screened-in porches allow people in colder-weather areas to enjoy the outdoors for at least a little longer in the spring and fall, but to make those spaces year-round, all you need is some insulation and a gas heater to bump up usage in the winter season.

Create a Private World

Outdoor areas are great for having fun and relaxing, but if neighbors are too close by, they can also invite unwanted guests into the activities.

Privacy concerns are leading some homeowners to find creative ways to keep their outdoor areas out of the public eye, especially in areas where zoning regulations restrict fencing.

“A lot of people use bushy trees like giant green arbor vitae or Leland cypress,” Allen says. “I have also seen sellers install lattice-style screens on the sides of their decks and porches.”

Breslau also suggests having landscapers plant anything that grows big, “things that are hedgy and easy to pop in that add a little more privacy,” including rose of Sharon or jasmine, or anything viney on a trellis that can shield the sight of any neighbors.

“Privacy means something different to every person who you ask,” Breslau says.

Homeowner Test #2: If you’re standing on your deck at your house, can you see the neighbors? Are they off in the distance, or are you totally alone and can’t see anyone at all?

Breslau also suggests using fountains to mute noises, especially a busy road in the distance. That adds another level of privacy.


HOW TO Recognize a Qualified Buyer

Offers can be exciting, but unless your potential buyer has the resources to qualify for a mortgage, you may not really have a sale. Your real estate professional will try to determine a buyer’s financial status before you sign the contract. But it’s good for you to know what buyers with follow-through potential looks like.

They are prequalified—or even better, preapproved—for a mortgage.
Such buyers will be in a much better position to obtain a mortgage promptly.

They have enough money to make a down payment and cover closing costs.
Ideally, buyers should have 20 percent of the home’s price as a down payment and between 2 percent and 7 percent of the price to cover closing costs. If they plan to make a smaller down payment, they will need to purchase mortgage insurance, through either a government guarantee program or a private mortgage insurer. Their ability to provide earnest money in a timely fashion will be an indicator of liquid reserves.

Their income is sufficient to afford the home over the long term, too.
Ideally, buyers should spend no more than 28 percent of their total income to cover the principal, interest, taxes, and insurance associated with the sale (often abbreviated as “PITI.”)

They have good credit, which they are monitoring and maintaining.
They will have recently reviewed their credit report and have actively worked to correct any blemishes or errors found.

They’re not managing too many other debts to take on a mortgage.
If buyers owes a great deal on car payments, credit cards, and other debts, they may not qualify for a mortgage.

QUESTIONS TO ASK – About Property Tax

It’s natural for the sale price of a home to loom large in your mind. But don’t forget to look at what your property tax bill might be.

What is the assessed value of the property?
Assessed value is generally less than market value. A recent copy of the seller’s tax bill will help you determine this information.

How often are properties reassessed in this area?
In general, this will happen annually, but properties in areas of slower growth may be reassessed less often.

When was the last reassessment done on this property?
Most significant tax increases on an individual property can be linked to when that property was last reassessed.

Will the sale of the property trigger a tax increase?
Depending upon where you live, the assessed value of a property may increase based on the amount you pay for it. And in some areas, such as California, taxes aren’t allowed to increase until the property in question is resold.

Is the tax bill comparable to other properties in the area?
If not, it might be possible to appeal the assessment and lower the rate.

Does the current tax bill reflect any special exemptions for which I might not qualify?
For example, many tax districts offer reductions to those individuals 65 and older.

WHAT TO KNOW…About the Home Inspection

Some items should always be examined.

Structure
The home’s “skeleton” should be able to stand up to weather, gravity, and the earth that surrounds it. Structural components include items such as the foundation and the framing.

Exterior
The inspector should look at sidewalks, driveways, steps, windows, doors, siding, trim, and surface drainage. They should also examine any attached porches, decks, and balconies.

Roofing
A good inspector will provide very important information about your roof, including its age, roof draining systems, buckled shingles, and loose gutters and downspouts. They should also inform you of the condition of any skylights and chimneys as well as the potential for pooling water.

Plumbing
They should thoroughly examine the water supply and drainage systems, water heating equipment, and fuel storage systems. Drainage pumps and sump pumps also fall under this category. Poor water pressure, banging pipes, rust spots, or corrosion can indicate larger problems.

Electrical
You should be informed of the condition of service entrance wires, service panels, breakers and fuses, and disconnects. Also take note of the number of outlets in each room.

Heating and air conditioning
The home’s vents, flues, and chimneys should be inspected. The inspector should be able to tell you the water heater’s age, its energy rating, and whether the size is adequate for the house. They should also describe and inspect all the central air and through-wall cooling equipment.

Interiors
Your inspector should take a close look at walls, ceilings and floors; steps, stairways, and railings; countertops and cabinets; and garage systems. These areas can reveal leaks, insect damage, rot, construction defects, and more.

Ventilation/insulation
Inspectors should check for adequate insulation and ventilation in the attic and in unfinished areas such as crawl spaces. Insulation should be appropriate for the climate. Without proper ventilation, excess moisture can lead to mold and water damage.

Fireplaces
They’re charming, but fireplaces can be dangerous if they’re not properly installed. Inspectors should examine the vent and flue, and describe solid fuel-burning appliances.