Sunday, April 21, 2013

Now Is The Time To Sell in Aventura

Selling your home? In most parts of the country, including right here in Aventura, you have finally regained the upper hand.

To get your best price, though, you need to finesse your timing, list competitively and match your marketing strategy to local conditions.

Lower your sights to make more money.
Rising prices breed rising hopes: In a recent poll, brokers complained that 75% of homeowners think their agent's recommended listing price is too low. Pricing your property above recent sales to cash in on the momentum may slow down deals, and sitting on the market too long can stigmatize a house.
Catch buyers' attention -- and get multiple offers -- by pricing your home in line with comparable sales.

Trading up? Move fast. Downsizing? Go slow.
It's tempting to postpone selling to hold out for a better price. But if you want to move to a larger place, act sooner rather than later. True, higher-end homes aren't rising as quickly, but the gap is small. So while you'll be able to sell your home for more if you wait, the appreciation on the trade-up home will be greater.

When you're downsizing, the math works the other way, so it pays to wait.

Get ready for your home's close-up.
Smaller fixes that pay off the most, according to a HomeGain poll of real estate professionals and consumers: cleaning and decluttering, brightening (adding lamps and clearing window obstructions), and solving electrical and plumbing problems.

Sellers who stage their homes -- rearranging or replacing furniture to bolster appearance -- usually do so just before an open house. The better time to glamorize: right before you post your listing online, where 90% of buyers look first. Says president Errol Samuelson: "Web appeal is the new curb appeal."

Use a professional photographer and get tight shots of fixtures and other details. The cost: $200 to $500 for a gallery of 30 to 40 photos. Homes between $300,000 and $400,000, shot professionally, sold for about $3,000 more than those with amateur images.

Source: CNN Money

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Packing Tips

Whether you're moving across the city or across the country, these packing tips from Real Simple will be sure to get your things there in one piece:

Use the right size boxes.
Put heavy items, like books, in small boxes; light items, like linens and pillows, in bigger ones. (Large boxes packed with heavy items are a common complaint of professional movers. They not only make the job harder but also have a better chance of breaking.)

Put heavier items on the bottoms of boxes, lighter items on top.
And if you’re loading the truck yourself, pack heavier boxes first, toward the front of the truck, for balance.

Don’t leave empty spaces in the boxes.
Fill in gaps with clothing, towels, or packing paper. Movers often won’t move boxes that feel loosely packed or unbalanced.

Avoid mixing items from different rooms in the same box.
It will make your packing quicker and your unpacking a lot easier, too.

Label each box with the room it’s destined for and a description of its contents.
This will help you and your movers know where every box belongs in your new place. Numbering each box and keeping an inventory list in a small notebook is a good way to keep track of what you’ve packed―and to make sure you still have everything when you unpack.

Tape boxes well.
Use a couple of pieces of tape to close the bottom and top seams, then use one of the movers’ techniques―making a couple of wraps all the way around the box’s top and bottom edges, where stress is concentrated.

If you’re moving expensive art, ask your mover about special crating.
Never wrap oil paintings in regular paper; it will stick. For pictures framed behind glass, make an X with masking tape across the glass to strengthen it and to hold it together if it shatters. Then wrap the pictures in paper or bubble wrap and put them in a frame box, with a piece of cardboard between each framed piece for protection.

Bundle breakables.
As you pack your dishes, put packing paper around each one, then wrap bundles of five or six together with more paper. Pack dishes on their sides, never flat. And use plenty of bunched-up paper as padding above and below. Cups and bowls can be placed inside one another, with paper in between, and wrapped three or four in a bundle. Pack them all in dish-barrel boxes.

Consider other items that will need special treatment.
Vansant says his movers treat TVs like any other piece of furniture, wrapping them in quilted furniture pads. He points out, however, that plasma TVs require special wooden crates for shipping if you don’t have the original box and can be ruined if you lay them flat. If you’re packing yourself, double-box your TV, setting the box containing the TV into another box that you’ve padded with packing paper.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Buyer Think Twice

This article from Trulia suggests 6 reasons buyers should think twice before buying a home:

Buyer’s remorse is no joke. It has killed many a home buying deal. But buying a home is serious, life-changing business, so some level of deliberation, concern and even rethinking the whole thing, before signing on the dotted line, is actually sensible and smart.

So it can be tough to know the difference between (a) the normal, unwarranted buyer’s remorse every home buyer should expect, think through and move past, and (b) the mental alarm bells that should be heeded because there is truly good reason to revisit whether this purchase is the right thing to do.

Home buyers, we’re here to help. If you’re suffering from a case of buyer’s remorse at any stage before your contingencies are removed, list out the things that come to mind when you fantasize about backing out of the deal. If your list contains any of the following items, express your concerns to your spouse or co-buyer and your agent. Then, consult with your mind and your heart about whether you’re ready to move forward - or not.

1. It’s too expensive. If you’re buying a house in 2013, it’s completely understandable to have a moment of panic at the sound of the price you’re paying or the sight of all those zeros. It’s a big purchase you’re making, possibly the biggest one you ever will, and those who enter into it with not even the slightest twinge of being nervous might not be taking it as seriously as they should.

That said, fears that a home are too expensive vis-a-vis the other recently sold homes in the neighborhood or the town’s market and future appreciation prospects in general are worth exploring and evaluating before you decide on your offer price or sign a final counter-offer. Your agent can help you understand the complex interacting factors you should consider, including the likelihood of the home to appraise at a given price point and the historical data on sales and home value trends in your area.

2. It’s too expensive for you. For years, I've heard buyers express concerns about being ‘house poor,’ meaning that they spend so much on their monthly mortgage payments that they are too broke to do much else. Unless you’re fortunate enough to live in one of those parts of the country in which it is less expensive to own than to rent a home, it’s almost inevitable that there will be some sort of lifestyle revision you’ll need to make post-homeownership.

Most people who have been renting for a long time will find themselves having to make some sacrifices after they buy, in terms of eating out less, going out less, splurging on vacations, clothes and other discretionary spending - this is just par for the course, sensible, and not a good reason not to buy.

On the other hand, there are occasions in which buyers are approved for mortgages beyond what they can truly afford and maintain financial integrity, in terms of still having enough money left over post-mortgage payment for saving, investing and other monthly budget line items that the mortgage banks don’t consider (e.g., children’s school tuition, medical expenses, etc.). If you have set yourself a home buying budget lower than your lender has set for you, get and stay clear on what the wiggle room is - if any. If you feel like you’re exceeding it or getting in a red zone with a particular property, heed those internal read flags.

3. The location is not quite right. I’d probably rank location choice right up there in the top 3 home selection regrets I hear after the fact from home owners. Clearly, the location you can live in is limited by your budget - you can’t expect to live in Beverly Hills on $100K. But I’m talking more about the various location choices and judgments every buyer has to make within their price range:
  • between a home in the city, near work, or a home in the quiet suburbs where you get much more space - and a much longer commute,
  • near shops and conveniences, or off the beaten path
  • next door to a school or at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac
  • in a row of townhomes with shared walls and an HOA or in an older neighborhood with lots of land between homes - you get the gist.
Location compromises should be made carefully and consciously. If that electrical pole in the front yard really bothers you and you talk yourself out of that concern, ask yourself: are you going to end up hating to drive up to your house every night? The neighbors who seem to take a lot less care with their yards now might become a real thorn in your side over time. That extra 20 minutes of commute time might not be as minor a lifestyle change as you can talk yourself into believing - in fact, researchers have found that the longer commutes lower overall happiness, so don’t lengthen yours without serious consideration.

In particular, don’t dismiss noise and traffic concerns without giving it real thought - a friend of mine quickly moved his young family out of the home they’d bought in a new town when they realized that the street was so busy that it was nearly impossible to even pull in or out of their own driveway - much less to let the kids play outside.

4. You have qualms about the future of your job. I've known people who felt a need to fast forward their home buying plans when they get wind of changes coming down the pike at their companies. This happens a lot for buyers who have been house hunting for a long time and are concerned that a layoff would render them unable to qualify for their mortgage.

This is likely. And that’s unfortunate. But what’s more unfortunate is to proceed with buying a home, taking on a mortgage obligation and depleting your savings for the down payment, then having an interruption of income because you get laid off or - worse - being forced to sell quickly because of a job transfer out of the area. If you’re confident you can get work at another company or you have sufficient cushion to handle a temporary interruption in income, go for it. But if you have serious concerns about the short-term stability of your job, think long and hard before buying a home without a well thought-out financial plan in place.

5. You and your co-buyer are at odds. Whether or not your are legally married to your co-buyer, you will effectively be legally bound by your real estate and mortgage obligations if you buy a home together. If you are having intense, intractable conflicts about the sort of home to purchase, how much to spend, when to buy, where to buy or even whether to buy, think twice, thrice, pause and rethink once more before you sign on the dotted line.

Unless a deep, respectful compromise is reached that everyone feels good about, these conflicts can turn into long-term resentments and disrupt the relationship on a larger scale.

6. You think you’ll be okay - so long as you can sell at a profit or refi in the next 12 months. Are you a professional contractor or investor? A real estate professional who can buy and sell with very low costs? Do you have so much cash to burn that you could sell at a loss and not sweat it?

If your answer to these questions is no, you should not buy a home planning to refi or sell it in a super-short time frame. In fact, this was one of the ways people got into trouble at the top of the market during the last cycle - buying homes so pricey they couldn't afford them after attractive short-term financing terms changed, on the assumption they’d be able to refinance before they ever had to truly pay the piper.

If the house you’re buying doesn't seem likely to be able to work for your life and your family for at least 5 to 7 years, and you are pretty certain you’ll need to sell it sooner than that, consider:
     (a) whether a different type of home might be a better, long-term choice, or 
     (b) whether it makes sense for you to buy a home at this stage of your life.

This time frame gives you a good bit of space to ride out shifts in the direction of the market, if you need to, minimizing the chances of living in a home that no longer meets your needs and being unable to sell it.

If you have fears on this list, and address them, you might decide to move forward anyway. But if you do, it’ll be with the calm, unpanicked assuredness of having faced your fears, articulated them and put an action plan in place for handling theses issues. And that’s a position of power from which you can feel good about moving forward with your home purchase, even if you once had qualms.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What is Pre-Approval and Why Do You Need It?

Source: Trulia

When shopping for a home, you're going to be asked at some point whether you've been "pre-approved" or whether you have mortgage "pre-approval." You're going to want to answer "yes" to these questions -- buyers who can are in a much better position to purchase a home. Why? Read on to find out.

What is pre-approval?

In real estate lingo, to say you have been "pre-approved" or that you have mortgage "pre-approval" means you have a commitment in writing from a lender to lend you a specific amount to buy a home under certain conditions (e.g., length of the loan and interest rate). A pre-approval holds more weight than a loan pre-qualification, which is an estimate of how much you may be able to borrow.

Why is it important?

It's important to have pre-approval for several reasons: It will let you know how much you can spend on a home and the size of mortgage you'll be able to obtain, it will give you an advantage when it comes time to bid on a property, and it will speed up the process when you find a home you want to buy.

When you have a pre-approval letter for a loan, you'll know exactly how much you can borrow, and possibly the length of the loan (15 years, 30 years, etc.) and your interest rate. This will give you an idea of how much you can spend on a home and what your monthly payments will be like should you purchase the property.

Buyers prefer sellers who have their financing in place. They don't want to choose a buyer who seems to be a qualified buyer, but can't come up with the funds to buy the house.

If you are pre-approved with a reputable lender, you may be able to win a bid over another buyer should multiple buyers be interested in a particular home -- even if the offers from the other buyers are higher.

When it comes time to place an offer on a home, having a pre-approval letter will speed up the process. That's because you won't have to wait to hear from a lender as to whether or not you've been approved.

How do you get it?

You'll want to talk to a few lenders to search out loans that will best suit you and your financial situation. The lenders will require certain information, including: your income, your employment situation, how long you've been employed, and any debts you may have -- e.g., student loans, car loans and credit card debt -- and the source of your down payment.

You may be asked to show your tax returns, bank statements and W2 forms. The lender will use this information to determine the maximum loan you can qualify for and your monthly mortgage payment.

The lenders will also check your credit report and whether you have funds for a down payment and closing costs.

But, even when you do get pre-approved, remember that there are some caveats: Pre-approval letters can be time-sensitive and are subject to an appraisal on the home you're purchasing, so while a pre-approval gives you a firm idea of how much you may be able to borrow, it's still not a concrete guarantee that you'll get the loan.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Safe Neighborhood

The list of question every buyer asks about the various properties during a house hunt is relatively predictable.  How many bedrooms does it have? Baths? Square footage? What are the HOA dues?  What’s the school district?  

Then, we get more specific, personalizing the questions based on our own vision, aesthetics and lifestyle needs: Can that wall be moved?  Is there space for Grandma’s dining room table? Is there a shady spot for an orchid house in the backyard?

When it comes to crime, most of us simply don’t ask any questions at all, as (a) agents might be prohibited from doing much beyond pointing us to law enforcement sources, and (b) we tend to assume most neighborhoods are either ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ low-crime or not. The truth is never so black and white. Fortunately, technology has made it easy-peasy for us to get a deeper, more nuanced, and more usable understanding of the crime that takes place in our neighborhood-to-be, which in turn allows us to make smarter decisions about which home we buy and how we live in it, once we buy it, than we could have even ten years ago.

The key to tapping into this nuanced crime information is asking the right questions. Here’s a short list of the right questions to ask about crime before you buy a home.

1.  Do any offenders live nearby? In most states, Megan’s Law and similar provisions mandate that certain individuals with histories of criminal convictions must register their home addresses with local authorities, who in turn are required to make this information available to the public. Google “your city, your state Megan’s Law registry" to find sites where you can type in an address (like the address of the home you’re considering buying) and find a list of registered sex offenders in the area. Many of these sites will also offer you a map showing your address and the relative locations of the homes of the registered offenders.  The reality is that every neighborhood - even very upscale areas - has someone living in it who has committed a crime in the past, so don’t completely freak out if you happen to find someone in your neighborhood-to-be with a history of sex offenses. The utility of this information is that it empowers you and your children to recognize these dangers and to take care to avoid hazardous situations. That said, if you happen to have young children and notice that the Megan’s Law map has a halfway house with a dozen registered sex offenders living right next door to your target home, that information might change your decision about whether that property is the right one for you.

There is also power in following the path of the information you are given on these registry sites.  Many will surface information like what the registrants’ crimes were, when they happened, the registrants’ photos and more useful intelligence. This information can help you evaluate the degree to which you should be concerned before you buy.

2.  Was the home a drug lab?  You think your home’s former owner’s food or pet smells are toxic? That’s nothing compared to the truly unpleasant and health-impairing effects some have experienced after buying a home that turned out to have been a methamphetamine lab in a former life.  If the sellers know this about a home, they should certainly disclose it. Unfortunately, many of these homes end up sold by banks as foreclosures, or by estates, trusts, landlords or other corporate owners who don’t know the home’s past - or don’t have a legal obligation to disclose it.

Get the answer to this question to the best of your ability via this two-step process:(a) talk with the neighbors - they often will reveal whether the house had a shady past, then(b) search the federal Drug Enforcement Association’s Clandestine Laboratory Registry, here:

3.  What sorts of crimes happen in the area. Where and when do they happen? Crime happens virtually everywhere. But the details of crime patterns vary widely in various neighborhoods. One side of town might be plagued with an overall low crime rate, but the crime that does happen tends to be violent crime after dark. While another neighborhood across town might have lots of car break-ins during the day while people are at work, but not much going on after residents get back home - and not much violent crime at all.  

This sort of information can be highly useful to a buyer-to-be, as it can help you make decisions not just about whether or not to buy, but also about whether to park your car outside (or not), whether to get an alarm and where in a given neighborhood you might prefer your home to be (e.g., interior cul-de-sac vs. thoroughfare in the same area).

Trulia Crime Maps offer precisely this sort of nuanced information, allowing you to view your town and neighborhood’s crime rate in heat map format showing the relative violent and non-violent crimes that have taken place recently in different parts of town. It also provides information on crime trends, in terms of the frequency of criminal activity taking place at various hours of the day, and the most dangerous intersections in your town or area. offers another angle on nuanced crime data, breaking down crime types with easy-to-scan icons and providing data for communities all over the country.

4.  What anti-crime features does - or can - the home have?  Review your disclosures and talk with the sellers (through your agent, of course) about what anti-crime features the home currently has. This will allow you to prepare for any upgrades, downgrades or changes you’ll want to make.  For example, if a home has security bars that were installed 3 decades ago, you might want to have them brought up to code with a fire release bar, or removed altogether.  Or, perhaps the sellers currently have the home wired for an alarm that can be armed, disarmed and video monitored remotely - if you want to continue that service, you’ll need to get that information and make the account change when you take over the other utilities and home services.

5.  What does the neighborhood do to fight crime - and how can I help? Neighborhoods across the country fight and prevent crime the grassroots way, by maintaining strong connections between the home owners and neighbors who all have in common the desire to live and raise their families in a safe, secure, thriving place.  Don’t hesitate to ask your home’s seller and/or any neighbors you talk to about whether there are any neighborhood associations, neighborhood watch groups, email lists, social networks, regular meetings, block parties or other community connections in which you can actively participate.

On the other hand, the home might not have any anti-crime features.  So, if there is a particular alarm or monitoring system you like, it is smart to check in with that provider before close of escrow to find out whether they can provide services to the new address and, if so, what it will cost and take to equip the home and start service up at closing.

Source: Trulia

Friday, February 15, 2013

Real Estate Love Letter

In a world where an ”XO” text message or Facebook relationship status change signifies deep emotion, the long-form love letter seems to be a dying art. So it is somewhat surprising that the seemingly cut-and-dry, numbers-and-negotiation-riddled realm of real estate is one of the last bastions of the love letter.

Many agents advise both their buyers and sellers to keep a calm, cool and collected demeanor throughout the transaction, out of concern that demonstrating emotion will spark greedy sentiments and advantage-taking desires in the hearts of the folks on the other side of the table. And there’s truth in this: walking into a house and salivating is never advisable. But there are some times when putting your heart on your sleeve - and your pen to paper to express your love for a home you’re buying or selling - is just what your transaction needs to bring things together and get you the results you want.

1. Seller → Buyer: Video Love Letter. Your agent might be telling you that video is THE NEXT BIG THING in marketing a home. And you know what? They’re right. In a recent survey of house hunters, 70 percent cited “touring a certain home” as their reason for viewing videos in the course of their search for a home - and 86 percent said their purpose for watching a video was to learn about a particular area. Fifty-one percent of them pointed to YouTube as their primary video source.

Many home marketing videos are simple tours of the property. But what makes a video a love letter expressing why you love the house (and why a buyer will, too) is ensuring that the swoon-worthy features of the home actually make it into the video! If you have a delightful backyard, have the videographer shoot it alight at night, as well as during the day. If there are custom built-ins, high-end appliances or secret spaces with smart organizers inside - there should be shots of these things, rather than just a couple of broad sweeps of the camera across the room.

If your neighborhood is the epicenter for local shops, farmer’s markets and such, have the videographer incorporate and label shots of these things - ideally after the footage of the house - to paint the fuller picture for the viewer of the full experience of life in your home. If you’d like to do some sort of personal narration about how much you have loved living in this home, and expressing heartfelt best wishes for the next owner, that can be a nice touch - but keep it uber-short.

Work with your agent to be sure the YouTube description of your video includes a link to the home’s Trulia listing, and vice versa. Also make sure the name of your town, neighborhood and “home for sale” appear in the YouTube description of your video love letter about your home, to make it more likely that the right folks will find it when searching the web.

2. Buyer → Seller: Multiple Offers. So, you finally found the one. Perfect porch - swing included. Coffee shop downstairs in the building. Gingerbread-laden Victorian ready for fixing. Whatever floats your boat, as they say. The only thing is, there are about 5, 15 or 50 other people who think this property is their one - and all of them are making offers to buy it.

As a buyer, there’s no better time to write the seller a love letter about their home than when you are competing in earnest with other offers. (Logistically, this is something your agent will include when they submit your offer and loan approval documentation.)

In fact, the love letter should briefly explain why you like their home, but it should also go into more detail about your love for your family, your life, your career, your town, etc. and why you think their home is the perfect launching pad for the next stage of all of these relationships. It is not overkill to humanize yourself or your family by including a photo - pics of babies and dogs go over well, though some agents feel that photos can work against you in cases of an ornery or biased seller.

That said, it’s essential to think through the multiple offer love letter in the overall context of the fever-pitched negotiations. Will a love letter help you beat out offers of tens of thousands of dollars more than yours? No, it won’t - so it’s essential that even if you do write a love letter, you still make your most competitive offer, price-wise, in light of the comparables, your budget and your level of desire to secure the place.

So what, then, is the advantage you gain from writing a love letter? It might get you a counter-offer when you would normally have gotten an outright rejection. It might get you the leg up on a buyer offering the same amount of money, when the seller is already aware that that dollar is the most the place will appraise for (so countering for more is not a great option). And it might get you some seller graces and above-and-beyond cooperation later in the transaction, like furnishings thrown in or time extension requests granted, if you are the victorious winner. So, for something that costs nothing, it might just be worth it, even if the chances it will help you best a buyer offer thousands more than you are between slim and none.

3. Seller → Buyer: Written Home/Neighborhood Love Letter. It should be clear at this stage of the game that your house will need to speak for itself - it’s location, condition, price and even staging create a holistic package that buyers will scrutinize in evaluating whether or not it’s a love match. But when you have a beautiful home in a fantastic neighborhood, it can still be a powerful thing to have a love letter about your home and neighborhood, with a few other extras, sitting in a binder on your counter.

Buyers fantasize about how happy their families are and will be in the property - so letting them know about the years of joy your family has experienced there only adds to the good vibes.

Buyers might not know all the charming, fun or convenient amenities your neighborhood has to offer. I have lived and run in my neighborhood for almost four years, and just stumbled across a new secret staircase into the park by the lake last week! If your home is otherwise likely to be sought-after by hikers, dog-walkers, foodies or film buffs and your neighborhood has amazing offerings for those types of folks, say so in your love letter. I’ve seen an amazing binder filled with a family’s love letter about their home, their neighbors and their neighborhood, complete with a list of all their favorite neighborhood vendors, restaurants, the names and numbers of their housekeeper and gardener - and even some menus from the restaurants that deliver to the address!

Many listing agents are starting to include any pre-listing inspection reports and disclosures in a binder that remains in the property during showings, as well as being emailed to buyers’ brokers in digital format upon their request. These “disclosure packets,” which tend to increase the chances of getting an as-is offer up front, and reduce the chances that the buyer will try to renegotiate mid-stream, are a great spot to include your love letter and any supporting materials. If there’s something that needs major fixing in your home, and you want to explain anything about it, this might be a good place. If you’ve invested thousands in upgrading it, this is a good place to brief the buyer on that, too.

Work with your agent to create a strategy about what details to include, and make sure your agent signs off on the final version before you put it out for the world to see.

4. Buyer → Seller: Unlisted Home. Did you ever see the War of the Roses, with Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny deVito? At the beginning of the Roses’ ill-fated marriage, they found a storybook home that wasn’t on the market by stalking it, writing a note to the seller and ultimately, being in the right place at the right time when the elderly seller passed away.

  • This sort of thing does actually happen, on occasion, in real life - a buyer actively pursues a home that is not for sale, simply because they love it, and the seller agrees to sell. This is tricky territory, as often:
  • buyers seeking an unlisted home can be seeking to get an infeasibly low price or seller-financed deal, which the seller has no reason to accept (i.e., before accepting a lowball offer, the seller would put it on the market)
  • sellers simply have no interest in selling the place, or they would have it on the market
  • some scam artists send seemingly handwritten letters to sellers en masse, making them skeptical of the occasional legitimate buyer who writes them a love letter
  • sellers might have unrealistic expectations about what they should get for the home, or only be willing to sell for top dollar
  • there are legal restrictions in some states on making proactive approaches to home sellers who are behind on their mortgage or in some state of foreclosure, which wanna-be buyers should take care to observe (a quick consult with your own broker or a real estate attorney is in order, before you send a seller a love letter on an unlisted home).
That said, if you’re looking for a very unusual type of property in a market where few are sold (e.g., an equestrian property near the city) or there are only a few homes in your area that fit your specifications, it’s not a bad idea to submit letters putting sellers on notice that you are interested in their property and would love to discuss buying it. If the seller does bite, you would be well-advised to bring a broker, attorney or title/escrow professional into the transaction to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected and responsibilities are met in the course of the transaction.
Source: Trulia