Southwest Florida Real Estate and Community News

Native of SW Florida, Realtor® blog

Dec. 1, 2017

U.S. consumer confidence improved again

NEW YORK – Nov. 30, 2017 – Consumer confidence, which had improved in October, increased even more in November.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index now stands at 129.5 (1985=100), up from 126.2 in October. The Present Situation Index increased from 152.0 to 153.9, while the Expectations Index rose from 109.0 last month to 113.3.

"Consumer confidence increased for a fifth consecutive month and remains at a 17-year high (Nov. 2000, 132.6)," says Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board. "Consumers' assessment of current conditions improved moderately, while their expectations regarding the short-term outlook improved more so, driven primarily by optimism of further improvements in the labor market."

Franco says that consumers are "entering the holiday season in very high spirits and foresee the economy expanding at a healthy pace into the early months of 2018."

Current situation
Consumers' assessment of current conditions improved moderately in November. The percentage saying business conditions are "good" increased from 34.4 percent to 34.9 percent, while those saying business conditions are "bad" declined from 13.5 percent to 12.7 percent.

Consumers' assessment of the labor market also improved. Those stating jobs are "plentiful" increased from 36.7 percent to 37.1 percent, while those claiming jobs are "hard to get" decreased slightly from 17.1 percent to 16.9 percent.

Short-term economic outlook
Consumers' optimism about the short-term outlook was also more favorable in November. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased slightly from 22.1 percent to 22.4 percent, while those expecting business conditions to worsen decreased from 7.0 percent to 6.5 percent.

Consumers' outlook for the job market was also more upbeat than in October. The proportion expecting more jobs in the months ahead increased from 18.7 percent to 22.6 percent, while those anticipating fewer jobs declined from 11.6 percent to 11.0 percent.

Regarding their short-term income prospects, the percentage of consumers expecting an improvement decreased marginally from 20.3 percent to 20.1 percent, while the proportion expecting a decrease was virtually unchanged at 7.6 percent.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was November 14.

© 2017 Florida Realtors  

Reprinted with permission Florida Realtors. All rights reserved. 

Nov. 28, 2017

USF: What do buyers dislike about a neighborhood?

MIAMI – Nov. 27, 2017 – The 2017 Sunshine State Survey from the University of South Florida asked respondents to judge the livability of their own neighborhood and what would deter someone from moving in. It also asked them to predict what the neighborhood will be like in five years, according to Susan A. MacManus, project director.

For the survey, each respondent answered a series of question including this one: "Some community leaders are worried about having enough people to live and fill job openings in their communities. If someone you knew was considering a move, would any of the following keep them from choosing to move to your community? Would ___ be a big problem, somewhat of a problem, or not a problem?"

Respondents were asked to rate 10 possible deterrents listed here in order of concern:

Traffic congestion. Nearly three-quarters of Floridians feel the pain of traffic congestion: 72 percent feel that traffic jams are "somewhat of a problem" or worse, with over a third (34 percent) saying that congestion is "a big problem." There is some indication that the problem is getting worse as the economy improves and more people move to Florida. Those most likely to identify congestion as a big deterrent to in-migration are unemployed workers (40 percent), full-time workers (39 percent), persons of prime working age— ages 35 to 54 (40 percent), Hispanics (40 percent), and those with higher household incomes, who are more likely to live in suburbs (41 percent).

Cost of buying a home. Seven-in-ten Floridians say that the cost of buying a home would be a problem for someone considering moving into their community. These concerns track with rising home prices in the state – up 30 percent across most markets, according to some estimates. Younger Floridians are more likely than older Floridians to say that the cost of buying a home would be a problem for someone considering moving to their community: 76 percent of those ages 18 to 34, compared with 62 percent of those ages 80 and older. Three-fourths of black (75 percent) and Hispanic (77 percent) respondents say that the cost of buying a home is a deterrent to potential newcomers, compared with 65 percent of whites.

Those living in a household earning $75,000 or more are more likely to say that the cost of buying a house would be a problem for someone considering a move to their community (74 percent), perhaps because of a greater awareness of the costs of homeownership (as they are more likely to own a home) or the escalation in property values in their neighborhood.

Rental housing costs. About 70 percent of Floridians identify the cost of rental housing as a possible deterrent to potential residents of their community – 29 percent say it's a big problem, while another 40 percent say it is somewhat of a problem. With population steadily growing in the state and more upper-income residents choosing to rent rather than buy, the demand for rental housing is outstripping availability, and new developments are increasingly tailored to high-end customers. Both trends drive up prices.

With rents rising most in Florida's largest and most diverse cities, residents from racial and ethnic minorities and younger Floridians are hit hardest. Thus, it is not surprising that rental housing costs are identified as an in-migration deterrent by a larger share of Hispanics (83 percent), those ages 18 to 34 (73 percent), and women (74 percent) – each lower wage earners, on average.

Availability of public transportation. Overall, two-thirds (67 percent) say that the availability of public transportation would be a problem for people considering moving into their community; 38 percent see it as a "big" problem – a higher share than for any other issue examined. More women (40 percent), Hispanics (42 percent), those not in the work force (47 percent), those with a household income of less than $35,000 (41 percent), older Floridians ages 55 to 64 (42 percent) and ages 65 to 79 (40 percent), and college graduates (41 percent) point to the lack of public transportation as a reason to deter future residents from moving in to the community.

Except for college graduates, the other demographic groups have larger shares of low income and/or disabled persons, less likely to drive and more likely to rely on public transit to get around.

Availability of affordable long-term health care. Sixty percent of Floridians say that accessing affordable long-term care would be a problem for someone considering a move into their community – either "big" (22 percent) or "somewhat" of a problem (38 percent). Among those most likely to say that long-term care affordability is "a big problem" are Baby Boomers (30 percent) and lower-income Floridians (30 percent). Boomers are more attentive to the costs of long-term care; while those with low incomes worry that neither they nor others in similar circumstances could afford long-term care in their community.

Commute time to work. A majority of Floridians (58 percent) say that commute times would be either a "big" problem (21 percent) or "somewhat" of a problem (37 percent). Those most likely to identify commute times as a "big" problem are Hispanics (27 percent), those ages 35 to 64, full-time workers (25 percent), those with a household income of at least $35,000 but less than $75,000 (26 percent), and college graduates (25 percent).

Access to quality health care. Floridians are split over whether access to quality health care would be a problem for someone considering a move into their community. Nearly equal shares say that access to quality health care would not be a problem (49 percent) as say that it would be a problem (48 percent)" somewhat of a problem" (31 percent), a "big problem" (17 percent).

Majorities of millennials (57 percent), blacks (61 percent), Hispanics (54 percent), part-time workers (53 percent), the unemployed (62 percent) or not working (58 percent), and lower-income (56 percent) Floridians say that healthcare access poses either "a big problem" or "somewhat of a problem" to potential newcomers. These gaps in opinion follow health insurance trends: 13 percent of Floridians are uninsured, and the uninsured are disproportionately young, poor and non-white. Floridians, especially in these groups, are more likely to work in low-skill service jobs, and many of their employers either do not offer health insurance or offer plans that are unaffordable for low-income people.

Quality of schools. People with a child in school are less likely to say that school quality would be a deterrent to future buyers than current residents without children (51 percent vs. 46 percent). So, too are wealthier individuals, who can better afford to choose locations with good schools than those with household incomes of $35,000-$74,999 (52 percent vs. 41 percent).

Public safety. A majority of Floridians do not see public safety problems as keeping someone from moving in to their community, but 39 percent do (7 percent view it as a "big problem" and 32 percent as "somewhat of a problem.") Even crime rate data send mixed signals. While both property and violent crime rates have halved in the state since 1996, both rates are still substantially higher than the national average.

Black (49 percent), Hispanic (50 percent), and low-income (47 percent) Floridians are most concerned about public safety. Minority Floridians are more likely to live in urban areas, where the number and rate of crimes tends to be higher, while low-income people tend to live in poorer communities, also with generally higher levels of crime.

Availability of public parks and recreation spaces. Few say that the availability of parks and recreation places would be a "big" problem (6 percent) or "somewhat" of a problem (19 percent) affecting a potential in-migrant's decision. A larger share of women (29 percent) and lower-income persons –household income below $35,000 (30 percent) – cite the availability of parks and recreation spaces as a negative in their community.

Women (mothers) are generally more aware of the location and condition of the parks around them. And previous research has found that poorer persons tend to live a greater distance from green spaces.

More information about the USF study is posted online.

© 2017 Florida Realtors

Reprinted with permission Florida Realtors. All rights reserved. 

Posted in Buying a Home
Nov. 22, 2017

More vets, military members using VA loans for homes

WASHINGTON – Nov. 21, 2017 – For most of his life, Marrio Pearson gave little thought to being a homeowner. If the 45-year-old U.S. Army veteran thought about it at all, he found plenty of reasons why it was a bad idea. He thought he was too old to buy a house. He wasn't sure he would stay in Washington. He might take a job elsewhere. He figured being single made it too difficult.

Plus, life always seemed to get in the way. He got divorced. He got laid off. He got a new job.

On top of all that, he worried about the cost and the length of the loan.

"$300,000 sounds like an astronomical amount," said Pearson, a senior quality assurance engineer at a cybersecurity company. "The thought of 30 years of paying for something was very intimidating."

Pearson eventually overcame his reservations and bought a $330,000 rowhouse in Washington's Historic Anacostia neighborhood in October 2016. He put down just $2,500 and financed the purchase with a Veterans Administration Loan.

Using a VA loan rather than a conventional or Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan, Pearson saved money by obtaining one of the lowest interest rates on the market. He also did not have to scrape together a downpayment or pay mortgage insurance.

"It turned out to be way easier than everything I had read online," Pearson said.

A VA loan proved the most affordable way for Pearson to buy his home. Because of that affordability, a record number of veterans and service members are taking advantage of the loan program. The 740,000 VA loans last year were the most in a single year, and up more than 300,000 from three years ago.

The low interest rate is the biggest reason why many veterans and service members are using the program. VA loans have had the lowest average interest rate on the market for the past 41 months, according to Ellie Mae. As of September, the average interest rate for a 30-year fixed VA loan was 3.99 percent. It was 4.26 percent for a conventional loan.

The VA home loan benefit was part of the original GI bill in 1944. Not only did Congress want to help veterans obtain an education, it wanted to help them buy a home.

"It gave millions of Americans who served in World War II the opportunity to build wealth and realize the dream of homeownership," said Jeff London, director of the loan guarantee service at the VA. "A lot of historians credit the GI bill for the economic boom, not only from the education standpoint, but also from the wealth-building and the building of America when it comes to homeownership."

Veterans have long had some of the highest rates of homeownership among all segments of society. Their homeownership rate is close to 80 percent, compared with 64 percent for the general population.

"People talk about this idea that homeownership seems to mean more to many veterans and military families," said Chris Birk, director of education at Veterans United. "Many see it as owning a piece of the American dream that they vowed to defend."

To be eligible for a VA loan, a military member must serve 90 consecutive days on active duty during wartime, or 181 days during peacetime, or six years in the guard or reserves. Some veterans are under the misunderstanding that they must use the benefit immediately or lose it, or that if they used it once, they can't use it again.

"In the past, many veterans believed that this is a one-time benefit," London said. "That's not the case. This is a lifetime benefit."

Besides the low interest rate, another big advantage is that a downpayment is not required. As long as a veteran has his full VA loan entitlement and remains below the loan limit, he does not have to put money down. The limit is $424,100 for most counties. In more expensive markets, it is $636,150. A veteran can borrow above that amount but would need to put money down.

Although a veteran doesn't pay mortgage insurance, he is required to pay a VA funding fee, which is typically 2.15 percent of the loan amount. Many borrowers finance the fee.

"The only real downside I see is the funding fee," said Craig Fauver, a Virginia-based real estate agent. "Putting no money down, plus adding on the funding fee, you are immediately underwater. You're starting at 102 or 103 percent of your value."

VA loans tend to work best with single-family homes in suburban or rural areas. They are more difficult to obtain in urban markets, where entry-level housing tends to be a condo or co-op. The VA doesn't guarantee loans for co-ops, and condos must have VA approval.

The uptick in VA loans has come despite the program's reputation. Many veterans shied away from it because they thought it wasn't worth the hassles or headaches.

"Unfortunately, in the past, if a veteran or service member wanted to utilize the VA benefit, sometimes lenders or Realtors would steer them away from the program because there was a notion that VA is too hard to work with, there is a lot of red tape," London said. "We've spent a lot of time, effort and resources to get the word out about the program."

Pearson is thrilled with his new home. His mortgage payment is about $100 more than what he previously paid in rent. And best of all for the Washington Nationals season ticket holder, it is close to the stadium.

"I ended up finding a place in Southeast," he said. "It met my requirements of being able to ride my bike to the baseball stadium. It was less than a mile to a Metro station. The neighborhood had a lot of potential. The only thing I didn't get was a garage."

Pearson pays extra on his mortgage each month and rents out his basement on Airbnb.

"I'm trying not to be in debt for the rest of my life," he said.

When he finally signed the papers at closing a little more than a year ago, Pearson says, he became emotional at the thought of being a homeowner.

"Sometimes I go home," he said, "and I cry again, because it's my home."

Copyright © 2017, Winston-Salem Journal, Winston-Salem, NC., Kathy Orton, The Washington Post.

 Reprinted with permission Florida Realtors. All rights reserved. 

Posted in Buying a Home
Nov. 13, 2017

Study: Homes more affordable now than 20 years ago

NEW YORK – Nov. 13, 2017 – Homes are actually more affordable now than they were in the late 1990s, according to the latest Mortgage Monitor Report by Black Knight Inc., a mortgage data and performance information provider.

Interest rates have declined 40 basis points over the past six months, but the bulk of the potential savings is offset by the accelerating rate of home price appreciation across the country.

"Rising home prices continue to offset the majority of would-be savings from recent interest rate declines, which has kept affordability near a post-recession low," says Ben Graboske, executive vice president of data & analytics for Black Knight. "That being said, when viewing the market through a longer-term lens, affordability across most of the country still remains favorable to long-term benchmarks."

As of September, 21.4 percent of the median income nationwide was required to purchase a median-priced home. From 1995 to 1999, that percentage was 24.2 percent, and from 2000 to 2003 it was 26.2 percent, according to Black Knight's report.

While the monthly payment needed for a median-priced home is up $100 from a year ago, the national "payment-to-income" ratio remains 2.8 percent below averages from the late 1990s, according to the report.

"In looking at the affordability landscape across the country, we certainly see varying levels of affordability in each market compared to their own long-term benchmarks," Graboske says. "But, by and large, the overall theme is that affordability in most areas, while tightening, remains favorable to long-term norms."

Black Knight researchers note that 47 of 50 states' payment-to-income ratios remain below their 1995–2003 averages. Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., are the lone exceptions, where payment-to-income ratios are higher today than their long-term benchmarks.

Source: Black Knight Inc.

© Copyright 2017 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688  

 Reprinted with permission Florida Realtors. All rights reserved. 

Posted in Buying a Home
Nov. 9, 2017

Millennial homebuyers send chill through rental markets

NEW YORK – Nov. 8, 2017 – Amid an uptick in the housing market, the homeownership rate is now increasing, in part because millennials are reaching the age when they're forming families and settling down.

On the flipside, that development has helped lead to a slump in the residential rental market.

For most of the current economic expansion, declining homeownership rates have led apartment owners to raise rents far faster than the pace of inflation. But the Census Bureau last week reported that homeownership increased to 63.9 percent in the third quarter – the highest level since 2014.

Analysts and investors are now wondering whether the rental market's good times are coming to an end.

Still, the homeownership rate remains below its historic norm of 65 percent, and future growth could be slowed by forces such as rising interest rates and last week's tax code overhaul proposed by House Republicans. But the rise in homeownership comes as other forces weaken the rental market, including a surge in supply from developers hoping to cash in on rising rents.

In September, the seasonally adjusted rate of apartments under construction was 596,000, nearly twice the long-term average of 300,000 units, according to U.S. Census data.

Source: Wall Street Journal (11/07/17) Grant, Peter; Kusisto, Laura

© Copyright 2017 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

  Reprinted with permission Florida Realtors. All rights reserved. 

Posted in Buying a Home
Nov. 6, 2017

NAR: U.S. home prices rise 5.3% in 3Q

CHICAGO – Nov. 2, 2017 – Severely lacking inventory levels across the country pinched sales growth and kept home prices rising at a steady clip in nearly all metro areas in the third quarter, according to the latest quarterly report by the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

The national median existing single-family home price in the third quarter was $254,000, which is up 5.3 percent from the third quarter of 2016 ($241,300). The median price during the second quarter increased 6.1 percent from the second quarter of 2016.

Single-family home prices last quarter increased in 92 percent of measured markets, with 162 out of 177 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) showing sales price gains compared with the third quarter of 2016. Fifteen areas (8 percent) recorded lower median prices from a year earlier.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the housing market's performance during the third quarter was underwhelming.

"The stock market's climb to new record highs, the continued stretch of outstanding job growth and mortgage rates under 4 percent kept homebuyer demand at a very robust level throughout the summer," says Yun. "Unfortunately, the pace of new listings was unable to replace what was quickly sold. Home shoppers had little to choose from, and many had outbid others in order to close on a home. The end result was a slowdown in sales from earlier in the year, steadfast price growth and weakening affordability conditions."

Yun says that price appreciation moderated a bit in the third quarter, but "home prices still far exceed incomes in several parts of the country – especially in the largest markets in the South and West where new home construction simply is not keeping up with job growth."

Nineteen metro areas in the third quarter (11 percent) experienced double-digit increases, down from 23 areas in the second quarter (13 percent). Overall, there were more rising markets in the third quarter compared to the second quarter, when price gains were recorded in 87 percent of metro areas.

Total existing-home sales, including single family and condos, slipped 3.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.39 million in the third quarter from 5.56 million in the second quarter, but they're still 0.2 percent higher than the 5.38 million pace during the third quarter of 2016.

At the end of the third quarter, there were 1.90 million existing homes available for sale, which was 6.4 percent below the 2.03 million homes for sale at the end of the third quarter in 2016. The average supply during the second quarter was 4.2 months – down from 4.6 months in the third quarter of last year.

Last quarter, the uptick in the national family median income ($71,775) did little to stave off continued weakness in affordability from the combination of higher mortgage rates and home prices compared to a year ago. To purchase a single-family home at the national median price, a buyer making a 5 percent downpayment would need an income of $55,142, a 10 percent down payment would require an income of $52,240, and $46,435 would be needed for a 20 percent downpayment.

"Affordability pressures are frustratingly occurring in places where jobs are plentiful and incomes are rising," says Yun. "Without a significant boost in new and existing inventory to alleviate price growth, job creation could slow in high cost areas in upcoming years if residents begin exiling to more affordable parts of the country."

The five most expensive housing markets in the third quarter were the San Jose, California metro area, where the median existing single-family price was $1,165,000; San Francisco, $900,000; Anaheim-Santa Ana, California, $790,000; urban Honolulu, $760,200; and San Diego, $607,000.

The five lowest-cost metro areas in the third quarter were Decatur, Illinois, $86,300; Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio, $88,900; Cumberland, Maryland, $96,400; Wichita Falls, Texas, $113,800; and Elmira, New York, $117,300.

Metro area condominium and cooperative prices – covering changes in 61 metro areas – showed the national median existing-condo price was $237,200 in the third quarter, up 5.4 percent from the third quarter of 2016 ($225,100). Ninety-three percent of metro areas showed gains in their median condo price from a year ago.

Regional breakdown

Total existing-home sales in the Northeast dropped 7.9 percent in the third quarter and are 0.5 percent below the third quarter of 2016. The median existing single-family home price in the Northeast was $283,800 in the third quarter, up 4.1 percent from a year ago.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales declined 3.3 percent in the third quarter and are 0.8 percent below a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the Midwest increased 5.6 percent to $202,400 in the third quarter from the same quarter a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the South fell 4.4 percent in the third quarter but are 0.2 percent higher than the third quarter of 2016. The median existing single-family home price in the South was $226,100 in the third quarter, 5.5 percent above a year earlier.

In the West, existing-home sales increased 2.8 percent in the third quarter and are 1.9 percent above a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the West increased 7.0 percent to $373,700 in the third quarter from the third quarter of 2016.

© 2017 Florida Realtors  

Reprinted with permission Florida Realtors. All rights reserved. 


Posted in Buying a Home
Oct. 18, 2017

How to buy the last house you’ll ever buy

How to buy the last house you’ll ever buy


NEW YORK – Oct. 17, 2017 – My husband and I bought what we thought was a starter home 20 years ago. Now we think of it as our "forever" home, where we plan to retire and live out the rest of our days.

We got lucky, because most of the features that make our place good for "aging in place" – the single-story layout, open design, wide doorways – weren't on our must-have list when we were newlyweds.

We're not the only people who didn't think far enough into our future. The vast majority of homebuyers and remodelers don't consider what it might be like to grow old in their homes, says Richard Duncan, executive director of the Ronald L. Mace Universal Design Institute, a nonprofit in Asheville, North Carolina, that promotes accessible design for housing, public buildings and parks.

"We think aging is what happens to other people," Duncan says. "Nobody puts away money to save for that good-looking ramp they've always wanted."

Concerns for everyone

Consider these figures:

  • Only about 1 percent of the national housing stock can be considered truly accessible, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, with basic design features such as no-step entry, single-floor living, wide hallways and doorways, electrical controls reachable from a wheelchair and lever-style handles on faucets and doors.
  • Homeowners ages 55 and over account for half of the nation's home improvement expenditures, but fewer than 1 in 10 older remodelers tackled a project that would make their homes more accessible, the center found.
  • Eight out of 10 people 65 and older want to remain in their current homes as they age, but the lack of accessible features means many will have to leave those houses or risk a worse quality of life, says Rodney Harrell, director of livability thought leadership at AARP Public Policy Institute.

And it's not just the elderly who are affected. Ask anyone who worries about aging parents tumbling down steps or becoming increasingly isolated in family homes that are hard to navigate.

"If you can't get in and out easily, it's a huge barrier to staying connected in the community," Harrell notes.

These concerns are more than just professional for Duncan, since he and his wife are currently renovating a home to make it more accessible after moving from Chapel Hill to Asheville, North Carolina, to be closer to their daughter. The Duncans had renovated their previous home to allow his disabled father to visit, but finding a new home that had even some of the features they wanted proved a challenge, Duncan says.

What to seek in your last home

Since truly accessible dwellings are rare, people can focus instead on finding one that can be easily adapted to their needs as they age, Duncan says, such as a home with at least one bedroom on the same level as the kitchen, a full bathroom and the laundry room.

The couple ultimately found a first-floor condo and are remodeling it to widen the master bedroom doorway, replace the thick carpeting with solid-surface floors and add a Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat that is easier to adjust. Future projects will include making the front entrance and back porch "step-free" (they now have 2-inch and 3-inch rises, respectively) and creating a "curbless" or step-free shower.

No-step entries are good for people in wheelchairs, of course, but they also make life easier for people with walkers, teenagers in casts or anyone wheeling a big-screen TV through the door, Harrell notes.

Other important features to look for include:

  • Open floor plans that minimize the number of hallways and doorways older people have to navigate.
  • Hallways in main living areas that are at least 42 inches wide and bedroom and bathroom doors that are 32 inches wide for wheelchair access.
  • Baths and kitchens that can be made more accessible.

For example, standard wheelchairs require a 5-foot turning radius and showers without steps. People can help their future selves by choosing a home with a bathroom that's spacious enough to maneuver a walker (or a person plus a caregiver) and a shower that's large enough to include a chair or seat. If homeowners aren't ready to add more supports – and you should know that "stylish grab bars" are no longer an oxymoron – they can at least reinforce walls during a remodel so that adding bars later is an option.

"You don't need to create an institutional-looking home," Harrell says. "You just need to think about your future needs."

AP Logo Copyright © 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of "Your Credit Score."  

Reprinted with permission Florida Realtors. All rights reserved. 

July 30, 2017

Making a GREAT first impression

In today’s age of consumerism, every buyer is comparative shopping.  Make a small investment in time, money and effort in your home will give you a solid advantage over competing properties.  Pay attention to detail now because first impressions count with buyers and you have one chance and it starts with curb appeal.

Exterior Appearance:

  • Keep lawns cut:  A uncut lawn will make a buyer feel there are other things about the home that are also neglected which could lead to not wanting to see the home.
  • Trim hedges and shrubs:  As with the lawn, this affects the curb appeal when left neglected.
  • Weed and edge gardens:  What is the point in having a garden if it doesn't’t add beauty to the home and yard.  Freshen up the plants by taking off any dead leaves and flowers, weed & edge the area and add some fresh mulch to add a new fresh feel to the garden.
  • Clear driveway and clean up oil spills:  Make sure the driveway is always clear of toys, bikes, trash cans, and other items.  If there is oil on the driveway, clean it with some solvent from an auto store or K-mart, then wash it so it is clean of all spills.
  • Clean out the Garage:  The garage should be viewed as a garage to be able to put a car in, not a storage shed.  When a buyer see’s that the garage is used for storage they will assume the home to too small and has a lack of storage.  It will also free up your driveway making curb appeal better if the car is in the Garage and the garage door closed.
  • Touch up paint:  If the exterior of your home, garage, or any other out building is in need of paint or repair, do it before the home goes on the market.  Again, first impressions are everything!
  • Maintenance:
  • Repair leaking taps and toilets:  If not when a buyer is looking at the home for the first time, when they choose to purchase and have an inspector check out the home, these little things will be brought up and asked to be repaired.  Addressing now is better than later.
  • Clean furnace and filters and if you have an Air Conditioner, do the same:  Doing this should be done as normal maintenance yearly to add to the life of these expensive items.  The working condition of these items will be a major concern of any buyer.
  • Tighten door knobs and latches:  Double check interior and exterior knobs and latches so that they are not loose and in good working order.
  • Repair cracked plaster:  If your home has plaster walls and are in need of repair, you may want to consult a plaster expert for a price and have it professionally done.
  • Clean and repair windows:  Make sure all windows are clean and replace cracked or broken glass.  If you have slider windows make sure the tracks are clean and oiled so that they slide easily.
  • Repair seals around tubs and basins:  If this is needed, you can purchase caulking at a Hardware store and replace and repair where needed.
  • Replace defective light bulbs:  If the home is shown when lights are needed, you want to make sure all bulbs are in working order.  Bathrooms and other smaller area’s need to be well lighted.
  • Oil squeaking doors:  Check all the doors in the home, including the closets for any squeaking that there might be.  Use a little Oil to correct the squeaking.
  • Repair squeaking floor boards:  Repairing squeaking floor boards can be difficult depending on what you have for floor coverings.  If you do not want to attempt it yourself, we suggest you call a professional flooring company.

Squeaky Clean:

  • Clean and freshen bathrooms.  Kitchens and Baths should be clean and spotless.  These are two rooms that Buyers will pay a lot of attention to and when clean and bright, they will make a great first impression.
  • Clean fridge and stove (in and out):  Even if the appliances are not included in the sale, they should be clean and in perfect working order.  Odors come from a dirty stove or fridge and can leave a poor first impression.

Create Space:

  • Clear halls and stairs of clutter:  Halls and stairs that are blocked by clutter will cause the buyer to feel the areas are small and may not be comfortable walking over items to get to another area of the home.  There is also a safety issue.
  • Store surplus furniture:  This will make the rooms seem more spacious.  Try not to store these items elsewhere in the home, garage or basement.  Renting a storage unit for unused items is worth the investment.  If these are not items you plan on moving, you may want to have a Pre Sale Garage Sale.
  • Clear Kitchen clutter off the counters and stove top:  Buyers want to have a kitchen that feels spacious and appears clean and fresh.  The stove top should never have items piled on it.  It not only looks like there is not counter space, but also is not a safe practice.
  • Remove empty boxes and containers:  These items should also be placed in a storage unit until ready to use.

At the Front Door:

  • Clean porch and foyer:  This is the first thing the buyer will see when entering your home.  Make sure the porch is free of clutter and swept clean of dirt, and (if you are in a snow or ice climate make sure it is shoveled and salted)  The foyer should be clean and is a good location for a small table with fresh flowers if there is room.
  • Ensure door bell is in working order:  You will want to test your door bell and make sure it is working so you can hear it ring when a Buyer or Realtor comes to the door.
  • Repair screen on door or other out door areas with screening:  All screens should be repaired before the home is on the market.  Screens help bring the outside indoors and many buyers want to be able to open windows and doors when the weather is nice.
  • Fresh paint or varnish front door:  The front door is always the door to have a prospective buyer come in.  It should look inviting and have a fresh look to it.
  • Repair door locks and key access:  Like the front door, this is what the buyer will see when entering the home.  If the door locks and hardware are not in good condition they should be replaced.  Make sure the key works easily in the lock if your home is going to be shown by Realtors.
Posted in Selling Your Home
July 30, 2017

Preparing Your Home to Sell


  • Make sure your lawn is mowed and edged.  The first impression a buyer will get of your home is from the outside.  Curb appeal is very important.  If you don’t have the time to keep the lawn mowed and edged, now is the time when hiring a service would benefit you.  This way you don’t have to worry about making sure it always is done in time for a buyer to see it or an open house.
  • Trim all the trees and shrubs on your property.  If you can’t reach some of your tree’s or have the equipment to trim the trees and shrubs, we suggest you hire a landscape company to get it in shape for you.  You can also rent the equipment from a rental company if you would prefer to do it yourself.
  • Plant some flowers or display large flower pots.  This is the best way to brighten up your yard and enhance that curb appeal.  You can pick up inexpensive pots at a pottery place, K-Mart, Target, Home Depot, or even at a Garage Sale.  These same places carry all types of flowers and shrubs too at good prices.
  • Sweep and clean all sidewalks and pathways.  If you are in a climate that has snow and ice, make sure you clean the sidewalks and pathways and also the decks and put down salt so it clears and no one falls.  Make sure no toys, papers, or outside tools are left in the walk-ways.
  • Repair and clean all windows.  Replace any cracked or broken windows and make sure they are clean for a well maintained look.
  • Clean all eaves and drain spouts.  Blocked eaves and drain spouts can lead to damage that will cost more than keeping them clean.  A ladder and either your hand or a small broom can clean them out or you can hire a handyman to do it for you.
  • Paint exterior areas that need painting.  Peeling or chipped paint should be taken care of for a fresh well cared for look to your home.
  • Clean or replace door knobs.  The entrance to the home should be perfect from the finish on the door to the door knob and locks.  If they are dated and can’t be cleaned, then they should be replaced.  
  • Keep Garage Door closed.  First impressions are important and even though the garage is an important space, it should not have the door left open at anytime.  You also don’t want people to think they should enter through the garage because it is open.


  • Remove all family photos, trophies, personal crafts, etc.  Personal items such as pictures, trophies with names, home made crafts, etc. often keep people from being able to visualize the home for themselves and distract from other features of  the home.
  • Remove all “clutter” (ie: newspapers, boxes, etc.,) it will make your home feel bigger.  Make sure the counters in baths and the kitchen are clutter free and papers either put away or in the trash.  Dishes should always be done and put away, not left in the sink.
  • Clean all your carpets.  If the carpet needs to be replaced, do so and make sure it is a neutral color.  If it does not need replacing, have it cleaned or do it yourself by renting a carpet cleaning machine.
  • Repair or paint any chipped or dirty walls.  Remember to choose neutral colors when painting your wall’s, not everyone like the bold colors or blue or red tones.  If all that is needed is to wash the walls, do the entire wall, not just spots.
  • Make doors and windows open correctly and easily.  Just use a little A-1 oil where needed so that everything opens’s and closes easily.
  • Repair and minor damages. (ie: plaster, wallpaper, creaking floor boards, etc.)  If you have wall-paper and the seams are opening up, a small tube of wall paper paste can be purchased at K-Mart or a wall paper store.  Creaking floor boards need to be repaired.  You may need to hire a flooring person to lift up the flooring to repair the boards if you don’t want to attempt it yourself.  Plaster repairs also may need the attention of an expert.
  • Add some indoor plants.  Plants add a warm feeling to a home.  Green and flowering plants both work well.
  • Additional Tips if you are going to have an “OPEN HOUSE”:
  • If possible, keep all pets out of the house.  Pet’s need to either be out of the home or in a crate when the home is shown or an Open House is planned.  Even the best Pet can have an off day and bite someone, and many buyers may be afraid of curtain pets.
  • Add some fresh flowers in a vase.  Colorful fresh flowers add warmth to a room.
  • Make all the rooms in your house smell good.  If you don’t like to bake fresh cookies, just add a cinnamon stick to water and put it in the oven on low for a nice smell or a scented candle always adds a nice aroma.
  • Clean and clear all table tops, desks, shelves, etc.  Clutter takes away from the features of the home.
  • Create as much light as possible.  Open all blinds and curtains.  The brighter the home the better.  Windows need to be clean, blinds and curtains open, and lights on when needed.
  • Add fresh towels to the bathrooms.  New fresh towels and even small soaps in a soap dish add a lot to the bathrooms.
  • Turn off all TV’s computers, etc.  During showings and Open houses,  TV’s and computers should be off.  They tend to take away the attention of the buyer.
  • Add a little music softly in the background.  Soft music can add relaxation to the buyers mood as they go through the home.
  • Never hold an Open House alone.  You are allowing strangers into your home and it is better to have another person with you.  This person should be another adult, not a child.   Also have a cell phone with you at all times if possible and an auto dial button for 911.  When showing the home, always have the buyer enter the room ahead of you so that the exit is never blocked.  If there is a basement in the home, have the lights on and have the buyer go ahead of you, again always leaving the exit open for you if needed.  Open house’s can be on any day, not just week-ends, but should always be during the day, with hours that end before dark.
Posted in Selling Your Home
July 30, 2017

Costs Related to the Sale of Your Home


Mortgage Pay Off:  Before the closing, you will sign a release for the Title Company or Attorney to get the amount that will be owed at the day of closing.  This will allow the Closing Company to prepare the closing documents and they will issue a check out of your proceeds at the closing to pay off your outstanding mortgage.

Lines of credit or Equity lines:  As with the mortgage pay off, you will have to authorize the closing company to get this information.  If there is any amounts owed, they also will be paid off and any lines of credit closed.

Prepayment Penalty:  Often, sellers think that all that is owed is the amount showing on their last statement.  This is not always true.  A prepayment penalty could be in your mortgage.  You may also owe interest depending on the day of the month that you close.

Unpaid Taxes/Liens:  This is why title work is important prior to closing to see if there are any liens or unpaid taxes on the title. These items will also have to be paid the day of closing.  The closing company cuts these checks out of your proceeds and pays them on your behalf.

Special Assessments:  Special assessments are things like water, sewer, road or other local government improvements that were assessed to the property.  In most cases they must be paid off, in others, they can be assumed by the buyer.  If they are to be paid off, again the closing company will pay these out of your proceeds.

Posted in Selling Your Home