Real Estate Outlook – Spring 2014

I’ve read a very interesting opinion about the real estate market, and I love the analogy. The current real estate recovery is like a marathon. Last year, buyers and sellers sprinted out of the gates at full speed, fueled by low interest rates and affordable home prices. The press and social media were full of stories about limited housing inventories, bidding wars and multiple offers. In 2013, real estate was sexy and headline-worthy (much like me!).

As we are well into 2014, it’s clear we’ve only run the first few miles of this marathon. Last year’s excitement will surely wear off, and there will be a lot less flashy magazine covers, posts, tweets or evening news stories about real estate. Most experts predict a slower, steadier, more even “pace” this year in most of the country, even as interest rates and home values inch up.

This doesn’t mean 2014 won’t be as good a time to buy real estate. It helps to look at the bigger picture and not get caught up in the micro stats or the latest headlines. Sure, we likely won’t see interest rates as low in 2014 as we did in 2013. But to put that into perspectiveinterest rates were as high as 18 percent in the 1980s, yet people still bought homes.

As you approach buying a home this year, it helps to focus on the long term by keeping the following five best practices in mind. These were best practices for home buying a generation ago. And they’ll most likely still be practical when the next generation of home buyers sprints out of the gate.

Buy when you’re ready

Just because you didn’t buy last year when the market was getting hot doesn’t mean you’ve missed out. Could you have gotten in when the rates were at their lowest and values near the bottom? Sure. But were you ready to buy then? Maybe not. The main thing to remember is that you should buy a home when you can afford it, you have your financing and you’ve found a home that meets your needs. That will always be the best time to buy.

Home buying is a journey

Despite how quickly the world works today, you can’t force a home purchase. It’s not like buying a television or a laptop. A home is a much more expensive and complicated purchase. It’s where you can feel safe and calm from the outside world, a place you can customize to your needs, and where you will make lasting memories. Because of this, buying a home comes with emotional and practical implications on top of the financial ones. Remember that a home is your place to live first and an investment second. Take the time you need to find the right home.

Real estate is local

The national real estate news headlines may be about multiple offers and bidding wars. But that situation may only be relevant to one part of the country or even to just a handful of cities. Even down to certain styles of homes!

Meanwhile, the neighborhood where you want to buy a home still has distressed sales and is more of a buyers’ market.

All that really matters in real estate is what’s happening in your own community. If you’re interested in getting into the market, follow the local economy and housing markets. Get connected to a real estate agent who has “feet on the street.”

Go with your Mind and Not With Your Heart

You know your financial situation better than anyone. You know your down payment amount, credit score, amount of savings and the upper limits of what you can afford to put toward homeownership every month.

You should also speak with a mortgage lender to find out what you REALLY can afford

Stay focused on what you know, stay local, take your time and don’t let outside forces sway your decision to buy a home. A good Realtor will not pressure you, but lead you to homes you might love AND can afford. People have bought and sold homes for years, at higher prices and with higher interest rates.

If done right, you’ll be the winner of this marathon. To speak with a winning Realtor, look no further. Call, click or email and let me find you the right home.

http://www.NormaSellsNJHomes.com

 

 

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Get Rid of Road Salt Stains

Our roads and sidewalks are covered with salt and de-icers that help us trudge through the winter weather. But those snow and ice-busters can take a toll on your shoes, clothing, and floors. Cleaning up the salt needn’t involve specialized solvents or expensive services that are full of potentially toxic chemicals. With a moist rag, a dry brush, and a dab of distilled white vinegar, you can easily removed dried on salt before it does serious damage. Here’s how.

Floors: Salt crystals can act like sandpaper underfoot, dulling a floor’s surface or damaging a finish. And once the surface is damaged, the underlying materials can be damaged or stained by water and other foreign matter that soaks in. First line of defense: Immediately remove water droplets that may contain salt. For that, I keep a Swiffer-type mop handy, outfitted with rectangles of old terry-cloth towel, which I can launder and reuse. To pick up salt that’s dried onto floors without scratching the finish, you’ll first need to spray the floor with warm water, or water mixed with a splash of vinegar. Let the liquid sit for a minute or two, and wipe it up with a dry towel on your trusty mop.

Cars: Dried road salt and de-icer stains look nasty, and can actually damage your car. Wipe off spots and thin coatings with a soft cloth dipped in water or a solution of half water and half vinegar. In the event that your car is too dirty to spot clean, take it to a car wash rather than wash the car in your driveway. Car washes send oily, polluted water off to the treatment plant, rather than letting it run off into storm drains and into streams.

Clothing: Anything that’s weather-resistant, such as snow boots or water-repellent jackets, can be cleaned a soft cloth dipped in water or a water&vinegar mix (experiment with amounts. Start with 1 tablespoon of vinegar in a quart of water, and gradually add more vinegar if needed). Then wipe them clean with a dry cloth. For everything else, just let the salt dry and then brush it off, either with a specialized clothes brush or an inexpensive hairbrush with soft bristles. It’s incredibly fast and easy! Make sure beforehand that any mud is completely dry, too, or you will work it in rather than remove it. If the mud is ground into the fabric, start by brushing off what you can, and then toss the item into the laundry. If laundering is not an option, sponge the dirty areas with a moist cloth, and pat off the dirty water with a dry cloth (test the method in a small, hidden area of the clothing if you have any concern the fabric might get damaged). Move on to a water-vinegar mixture if plain water doesn’t quite do the trick.

Leather: Salt can damage leather, so to preserve leather shoes it’s a good idea to clean it off as quickly as possible. Dip a clean, soft rag in a one-to-one solution of water and vinegar and wipe away salt or dirt (you may need to do this repeatedly to get out all the salt). Saddle soap is also good for cleaning leather items, and is usually made from ecofriendly, natural ingredients. Rub the saddle soap onto a moist sponge then apply it to the leather in a circular motion, and buff it with a dry cloth. If you can’t find saddle soap, make your own by melting two tablespoons of beeswax in a shallow, wide-mouthed Mason jar set in a saucepan of simmering water (do not heat the beeswax directly on the stove, as it can ignite if overheated). After the wax has melted, remove the jar from the water and stir in ½ cup of olive oil until blended, and stir in 1 cup of grated castile or Ivory soap and ¼ teaspoon of lavender or tea tree oil until blended (the oils are optional, but they offer some protection from mold, in addition to smelling nice). Store covered at room temperature.

If a misstep into a deep puddle of snowmelt leaves your shoes soaked through, remove any unattached insoles, dump out any water, and clean as above. Then stuff the shoes full of crumpled newspaper and allow them to dry. Avoid the temptation to put them near a heat source (and certainly not in the clothes dryer), as high heat may damage the leather more than getting it wet does. To speed the drying process, replace damp newspaper with dry as it soaks up the moisture.

After cleaning leather, and especially if it has gotten soaked, it’s a good idea to apply some sort of conditioner. The simplest and safest is plain old olive oil: Rub on the oil with a soft rag, and allow the leather to absorb it (test a bit in an inconspicuous place first to see you like the effect or not). Continue to wipe on a thin layer of oil every few hours until it no longer seems to disappear into the leather. Buff off any excess oil with a dry, soft cloth. Another option: You can rub a beeswax-based leather conditioner onto your dry shoes or jacket to condition and protect them.

Suede: To get mud or salt stains out of suede, blot the suede item with a cloth dipped in undiluted white vinegar then blot the material until dry using a dry, soft cloth. Afterwards, brush the suede with a clean terry-cloth towel or soft suede brush in circular motions, raising the nap so the fabric looks clean and new.

 

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Is It Time To Buy A Home Now in 2014??

You can be sure even in the face of uncertainty.

Pundits and professionals can’t agree on the state of real estate markets and whether prices are on the way down, but if you’re sure you want to become a homeowner, or to sell and move into the next “best place,” go for it.

That’s not encouragement to jump in over “your financial head,” or to go against obvious warning signs in your local real estate market. This is encouragement to take a close look at exactly what is more uncertain than usual, and how you can protect yourself against often-overlooked real estate problems.

Remorse-avoidance is to use the professional to learn about local market and sales patterns for the past few years. With professional advice, become your own best advocate since you don’t want to be a sheep led to the deal, but an active force in making an informed decision.

Avoid Buyer’s Remorse Using Foresight

1. No one knows for sure

Whenever you, or anyone you rely on, thinks they know for sure what is happening in the real estate market, you’re in trouble. Everyone is smart about real estate in hindsight. Beforehand, success with real estate is less about knowing you’re right, and more about foresight – taking steps to be sure you’re not proven dangerously wrong after the deal. Be reasonably sure going in – more sure, than unsure – and cover your financial vulnerability. Then, you’ve got a good chance things will work out and that you can recover quickly if they’re off a bit.

2. Whose market is it anyway?

Online and off, economists and real estate pundits make sweeping statements about “the real estate market.” Some identify the location their statistics refer to; others speak in sweeping regional or national terms. Either way, these experts speak in generalities. You must deal in specifics – a specific real estate property. In reality, the real estate market is as local as one side of the street over the other, or one end of a street over the other; one condominium building over another, or condominium floor over another. The more you learn about the specific side and end of the street you want to buy on, or about the specific condominium building or floor where you want to live, the better off you’ll be. What happens to real estate prices in your preferred neighborhood and community may be very different from what economists are generalizing about. What experts say about real estate in Flemington, or any other city is not equally true for all properties, and may not be reflected in the selling price of the one you want to buy.

3. Invest, Don’t Win

Multiple offers and bidding wars are “no win” situations for buyers. The “winning” buyers have not won, because they are not investing in real estate, they’re spending on emotion. Keep your emotional distance from real estate until you own it.

4. Beyond interest rates

Before you step into a house or condominium unit, talk to a mortgage broker about exactly how much money you can borrow and what that will cost you. Also discuss the range of contract terms, like early repayment, that are offered by various lenders in the area. Not only do you want to understand what you’ll be pre-approved for, but you also want to know what that mortgage will cost you each month and each year in interest. Thanks to computers, these figures are easy to calculate. You’ll also benefit from a preview of costs if interest rates double or hit double digit in the first ten years. What alternatives will you have for paying down the mortgage more quickly than the standard 25 years, and how much will that cost and save you each month? These figures will give you a clear idea of how tight to your buying maximum you can go for long-term value. Living “house poor” is not easy, but getting into this situation is.

5. Inspect inspectors

Too often a home inspection is a last minute, “merely a formality” detail. Buyers pay for this sloppy approach after they move in and unreported problems pop up. Start your list of inspection questions now. What do you need to know to make the most of all eventualities, positive and negative? Arrange questions by room or function, so you can cover all your quandaries while you go through the inspection as the inspector’s new side-kick. Be there with your measuring tape, camera, and flashlight to discover problems before they get expensive. Bring your contractor if you plan renovations, so you can get two professional points of view at once. You’re paying for this. If the investigation is not thorough, you’ll be paying for the errors and omissions after you move in. Check the inspection guarantee to learn if you have any recourse if the inspector is wrong (usually little). Search out a reputable, knowledgeable inspector beforehand.

6. My Must Haves

Know why you must have your “must haves.” If granite counters and stainless steel appliances are in fashion, that does not make them “must haves,” just current cosmetic fads. “Must haves” should be features and benefits of the property that withstand fashion. Location is still the prime “must have” as it cannot be changed. Know whether corner lots and swimming pools add value or not in your chosen area. What construction styles and sides of the street (South facing? West facing?) are prized? How do you intend to use the property and for how long? That knowledge dictates what must be in place when you buy, and what you can afford to do later.

7. Pro Parking

However you feel about cars, invest in real estate with parking. In most areas, parking is a valuable commodity and becoming scarce. Onsite parking makes it easier for visitors and gives you more room to spread out.

8. Square footage standards

Square footage is based on measurement of the exterior of houses, and cannot be accurately calculated by extrapolating inside measurements. If figures are quoted, what do they really mean to you? To give yourself a frame of reference, measure your rooms and three of your largest pieces of furniture. Now you can compare with something you understand.

9. Once is not enough

Arrange for a second visit so you can see how accurate your first impression was. Bring a contractor or knowledgeable friend, so you can look beyond the obvious to see the true pros and cons of the real estate. Measure to see if your furniture will fit and to estimate replacement costs for flooring or drapes if you didn’t do that earlier. You’ll probably notice things you missed the first time. Hopefully, this will make you like the property more so an offer will be the next step. If problems are now visible, you’ve saved yourself some serious buyer’s remorse.

Your choice – buy with foresight or you might experience remorse in hindsight. Or, there’s the other choice – don’t get into the real estate market. Then you may remorsefully realize in hindsight how smart you would have been if you’d bought with foresight. Your choice again.

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Home Sellers Compare Improvement Ideas With Realtors

Among Realtors there is almost no doubt how small renovations can affect a sale.The services of real estate agents can be invaluable, but it seems that many sellers already know how to sell their homes. And when it comes to home improvements before putting their houses on the market, agents and sellers mostly agree on what is the best course of action, according to a recent survey conducted by Realtor.com.

The real estate site asked 450 Realtors about what type of projects and investments they would recommend, and what they see as the mistakes homebuyers make. Realtor.com also asked 1660 homeowners about the types of improvements they made or plan to make before selling their home and their budget for those renovations. Generally, the answers were aligned.

Recognizing the value of small renovations

Among Realtors there is almost no doubt how small renovations can affect a sale. Nearly 90 percent believe such improvements would help the house sell faster, while 72 percent believe it would help sellers receive a higher offer. Nevertheless, 70 percent of Realtors think a common mistake of sellers is that they underestimate the power of simple home improvements.

Home improvements do not have to be expensive, yet most sellers do not realize they will significantly reduce their (houses’) time on the market.

We have found that homeowners do recognize the value of small improvement projects. Only 30 percent of respondents say they do not plan any improvements. The rest hope their home improvement projects would help sell their home faster or even achieve a higher selling price. Moreover, about 24 percent of sellers plan to keep their home improvement budget between $2,000 and $5,000, some 22 percent plan to spend $5,000 to $10,000, and nearly 17 percent plan to spend $10,000 to $20,000, according to the survey.

The right home improvements

Once again, most Realtors — about 66 percent — say another common mistake among sellers is not making the right home improvements. Happily, renovations they recommend and the ones sellers are doing are generally the same. The top three areas that house sellers focus the most of their time and budget on are the kitchen, bathrooms and the exterior of the home. These are same three areas of the house that Realtors recommend improving.

When it comes to low-cost projects, the top three areas agents recommend are decluttering, painting and landscaping projects that cost less than $500. Keep it clean and organized. Paint it. One-hundred dollars of paint can add thousands to your net. Think of it as makeup for your house.

Sellers, it seems, agree wholeheartedly. While painting is the top low-cost project sellers plan, decluttering is a close second and taking care of the exterior is third.

Agents and sellers also generally agree on what is definitely not important. Only about 8 percent of Realtors recommend spending time on the closets, and only about 5 percent recommend spending time on the garage. Similarly, less than 10 percent of sellers spend time on the closets, while less than 12 percent spend time on the garage. In addition, Realtors selected custom closets, hardscaping (landscaping for paved surfaces such as driveways) and installing new windows as the three least important projects, with all three of those projects in the bottom four of seller priorities.

Sellers and Realtors do not always agree

Despite the similar thought processes, Realtors and sellers had a few disagreements. About 56 percent say touch-ups should start one to three months before the house hits the market. However, nearly 30 percent of homeowners are planning to do the improvements more than a year before the house goes on the market.

There are some small low-cost projects that Realtors recommend doing that sellers are not prioritizing. About 72 percent of Realtors recommend steam cleaning the carpet, but only about 30 percent of soon-to-be sellers have it in the works. Same goes for a professional house clean — only about 20 percent of sellers plan to have this done despite more than half (53 percent) of Realtors recommending it.

Finally, agents and sellers differ on whether the front yard or backyard is more important to spruce up. Far more Realtors recommend spending time on the front yard compared to the back (64 percent to 31 percent). However, more sellers are focusing on the backyard compared to the front (33 percent to 28 percent).

Buyers get a good feeling within the first 30 seconds of seeing the home and that means from the curb. The front yard is critical.

Please look through my other Posts for suggestions on getting your home ready to sell. As a Professional, I’m always happy to give hints and idea.

HTTP://www.NormaSellsNJHomes.com

 

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Preparing To Buy Your Home

Preparing to buy a home is a bit like preparing to go on a very long journey. You have to have your finances in order, know where you’re going, what you’re hoping to accomplish and how much time and how much money you can afford to spend.

Financial matters. When it comes to owning real estate nothing is more important, for obvious reasons. As we’ve seen, if you get locked into a mortgage you can’t afford, the result can be devastating. But even if you can afford the mortgage, you might not want to be “house rich and cash poor”. You have to consider other things that are important to you such as travel and your spending habits. If for instance, you like to travel for months at a time, it might be wise to consider a smaller house with a less expensive mortgage instead of a large home with a big mortgage, which could cause you more work and less financial ability to spend on other things you like.

Another consideration is the length of time you want to have the mortgage. Many young people choose a 30-year fixed mortgage but if you’re a senior citizen you might want to opt for a 15-year loan. The best thing you can do is make a list of your financial matters and the questions you have about buying a home and then consult with a highly experienced loan officer. A knowledgeable loan officer can be like having a tour guide with you all the time in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. The jargon used in the mortgage industry documents can be confusing. Having someone who can clearly explain the documents, what to expect, the time frame, and the process is priceless.

Debt-to-income. The ratio of your debt-to-income is vital when purchasing a home. These guidelines have become stricter since the housing crisis so it’s critical to consult with experts about your personal financial situation. Generally speaking, you should have a debt-to-income ratio of no more that 36 percent–meaning all you owe (including your mortgage, taxes, and insurance) should not equal more than 36 percent of your income. Remember there are still monthly expenses of your home on top of your debt. And, of course, the less you owe and the more you make, the better position you’re in for buying a home and creating your own financial freedom.

These days, along with keeping your expenses and debt manageable, a key factor to buying a home is having a healthy downpayment. Most lenders would consider 20 percent a good downpayment. The more you bring in, the less you have to borrow. Remember the collapse of the housing market was brought on by small or no downpayment loans and many buyers who simply didn’t understand the risks.

Know how long you’ll stay. This is really important because the cost of buying and selling a home is expensive and very time-consuming. If you’re not planning on staying in your home more than seven to ten years, think about renting. You may still decide to buy, but you need to understand the cost of purchasing and maintaining a home. Investigate the economic difference between buying and renting. Be realistic about how frequently you’ve moved in the past and whether you’re now ready to settle in for several years. You can always rent your home out but this assumes that you’ll be a landlord (willing to take on all those duties) and then also have to find another place to live and either rent or buy.

After considering all of these factors and making certain that you’re ready to buy, then take the next step and call me. I can help you further prepare to buy the home of your dreams.

Contact me through my website or just call me. I have lenders who I can suggest and Weichert Gold Services can also help you with Title Services, Insurance and even moving! Find me at http://www.NormsSellsNJHomes.com

 

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Checklist for Selling Your Home (Or Staying!)

This is a great checklist if you’re planning on selling your home. But it’s actually a great list for home maintenance.

If selling, you can significantly influence the selling price of your house by preparing it and your property before putting it on the market! Here are suggestions to improve a buyer’s first impression of your home. By all means, look carefully at walls, floors and ceilings for signs or wear, marks or need for repainting or wallpapering. And, don’t forget to look at trim, including doors and windows.

But selling or staying, still a great list you should review every year!

CURB APPEAL – Property seen from the street:
o Healthy, weed-free, neatly cut, trimmed lawn
o Shrubs trimmed neatly
o Trees, shrubs trimmed to not touch the house
o Sealed black-top driveway
o Weed-free driveway, front walk, shrub areas
o Toys, garden tools, clutter removed from yard 

HOUSE EXTERIOR – Front view from the street:
o Recently painted siding
o Recently painted, touched-up trim
o Repair, repaint fences, gates
o Clean, align gutters, downspouts
o Wash, align shutters
o Wash all windows, storms, screens 

FRONT DOOR ENTRANCE AREA – Exterior:
o Clean, wash, scrub front steps, porch as needed
o Check front doorbell and bell light
o Replace welcome mat
o Paint or wash storm door, lubricate hinges
o Polish brass door lockset and brass hinges
o Clean and wash front door tread 

FRONT DOOR ENTRANCE AREA – Interior:
o Clean interior entry area or foyer of all clutter
o Reduce volume, clutter in the front hall closet
o Clean and polish the front entry floor
o Wash, polish and replace bulbs in light fixture
o Remove fingerprints, scuff marks on trim, walls
o Paint to lighten and refresh entrance area 

LIVING-FAMILY-DINING ROOMS:
o Repaint or touch up walls, ceiling and trim
o Repair or replace damaged molding, trim
o Remove electric plates, clean and replace
o Refinish, clean, wax hardwood and vinyl floors
o Shampoo carpeting

BEDROOMS:
o Repaint, repaper, touch up walls, trim, ceiling
o Replace or clean drapes, bedspread, accessories
o Shampoo carpet or clean, polish floors
o Organize, clean out, neaten all closets
o Clear off top surfaces of all bedroom furniture
o Put all clothing away, out-of-sight 

BATHS:
o Paint or wallpaper using light colors
o Scrub tile, bleach, repair grout
o Check to see that drawers/doors open easily
o Clean, polish floor as appropriate
o Clean out medicine cabinet, wash inside and out
o Seal around tubs and showers
o Check for evidence of water at toilet base
o Replace old toilet seats
o Replace shower window curtains
o Buy a set of new, color coordinated bath linens 

KITCHEN:
o Paint walls, ceiling, trim white or light color, or
o Wallpaper with small pattern and light colors
o Remove wax, scrub, re-polish floors
o Wash, wipe down, wax cabinets/appliances
o Thoroughly clean range, ovens
o Clean out refrigerator and wash interior
o Empty dishwasher, clean around controls
o Check operation of all appliances
o Neatly arrange and clean food storage areas
o Reorganize and clean out cabinets and drawers
o Neatly arrange and display dishes in cabinets
o Clear all clutter from countertops
o Check to see that drawers/doors open easily
o Wash or replace curtains
o Clean or put away pet feeding, watering dishes 

LAUNDRY:
o Check operation of appliances and clean them
o Clean, organize laundry area, remove clothes
o Provide adequate (bright) light to area 

GENERAL:
o Remove clutter, papers, unnecessary items
o Replace burned-out bulbs throughout the house
o Remove cobwebs from ceilings, corners
o Remove paint splash on tile, floor, cabinets
o Wash, polish all door hardware, handrails
o Reorganize, clean out all closets
o Replace switches, outlets that don’t work
o Add colorful plants, flowers to several rooms
o Replace or rejuvenate pillows, accessories
o Clean out, sweep, organize garage
o Organize, make neat basement and attic storage

Remember that I’m Certified in Home Staging! If you need help or have any questions, please call me! Visit my website at http://www.NormaSellsNJHomes.com

 

 

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Myths and Truths for Winterizing Your Home

The snow is falling — and so is the temperature. As we break out the down comforters and turn on the heat, many of us don’t realize how much we are needlessly spending to keep warm. U.S. households will likely spend about $2,175 this year on home energy, with space heating accounting for about 31 percent, or $674, of that cost, according to the Alliance to Save Energy, or ASE, an organization based in Washington, D.C. But do you know just what will run up your bill and leave you out in the cold?

There are plenty of old wives’ tales floating around telling you the best way to keep your house toasty. We uncovered the truths behind these common myths that wind up toasting your holiday savings. These are the best and cheapest ways to weatherize your home, whether you’re a homeowner or a renter.
Myth: Turning off the heat in your home during the day is the best way to conserve energy.

Fact: Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish, especially if you live in an area with a risk of frozen water pipes. Completely turning off the heat, letting the temperature drop and then reheating your living space could actually be more expensive than lowering the temperature of your home, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA. Keep in mind that repairing burst water pipes and any resulting damage can easily cost thousands of dollars.

The bottom line?”You should not turn the heating system totally off if there’s a chance of freezing

Myth: Using a wood-burning fireplace will reduce your heating bills.

Fact: ”Fireplaces are designed primarily as entertainment-oriented appliances. They are not designed for heating large areas,” says Ashley Eldridge, director of education for the Chimney Safety Institute of America, or CSIA. “While there are some modern fireplace designs that do heat, most of your heating will come from a central furnace.”

Solution: Decorate your mantle, but limit lighting a fire to the times when you want to add a cozy touch (s’mores, anyone?).
Myth: Portable space heaters are energy hogs.

Fact: ”Space heaters can be an energy-efficient option in a poorly insulated house when it is acceptable to only heat a small area,” says Sherman.

Solution: If your home doesn’t come with central heating, a portable space heater may be your best bet for warming up. However, not all space heaters are created equal; do your research before buying.

“High-temperature heaters have a radiant component and feel warm like a fire does,” Sherman says. “Unvented combustion space heaters usually use a cheaper fuel but emit contaminants that can be hazardous. They are banned in some jurisdictions because of health risks. There are almost always better options.”

If your home already has central heating, using an electric space heater can help save money — if you are willing to turn down the home’s main heating system. Consider using a portable electric space heater if you and your family tend to gather in one room for a few hours. But always keep these safety tips in mind: Clear a 3-foot zone around the space heater, never plug the unit into an extension cord, and remember to turn off and unplug the heater when unattended, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Myth: You have to buy a lot of expensive materials and products to weatherize and insulate your home.

Fact: For renters and homeowners on a budget, redecorating your home during the winter can be an inexpensive way to insulate your home.

Solution: You probably remembered to switch out summer bedding for heavier sheets, blankets and duvets, but did you forget your windows? Heavy drapes can indeed help conserve warmth, but make sure drapes don’t block any floor registers, radiators, or baseboard heating units — otherwise it could be a fire hazard. It’s also a good idea to open drapes, blinds (and) shades on sunny days on the sunny side of the house to get free solar heat.

If you have ceiling fans, remember to switch to winter mode. When looking up, blades in winter mode (and on a low setting) should be rotating clockwise, pushing hot air that rises back down to the floor.
Myth: Electric blankets waste energy.

Fact: Electric blankets use very little energy. They are definitely more energy-efficient than the same-weight blanket and a higher room temperature.

Solution: People can feel cold at different times and at different temperatures. If you or your family members can’t agree on a room temperature, don’t automatically turn to the thermostat to suit everyone’s comfort level. Instead, using an electric blanket may help solve the Goldilocks-like temperature dilemma until everyone feels “just right.”
Myth: Your water heater always works efficiently.

Fact: Heating your water typically accounts for close to 20 percent of your household utility bills. You could save 664 kilowatt-hours per year, or about $72, by lowering the thermostat of a 50-gallon electric water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, down from the manufacturer’s default setting of 140 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the EPA.

Solution: Wrapping the tank with a fiberglass blanket also helps retain the heat longer, says David Slater, an Association of Energy Services Professionals member from CLEAResult Consulting. The blanket slows down how quickly the water heater loses heat, so you’ll use less energy to maintain the tank temperature.

You can find water-heater insulation blankets from about $20 at big-box stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s. Install the fire-resistant blanket with the included safety straps or foil tape, and keep the blanket wrapped around the water heater year-round. “Do not use a bedroom blanket,” Slater says.

Thanks to the contributors for this article!

If you’re looking to buy a more energy-efficient home, remember to give me a call. You can find me through my website at http://www.NormaSellsNJHomes.com

 

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2014 Will Be Stricter for Home Buyers Looking for a Mortgage

If you’re in the market for a new home, it’s going to become more difficult to get a loan in 2014. If you do get a mortgage, you’ll qualify for a lot less than expected.

Most people are not aware of the problem yet. We’ll all start hearing more about Dodd-Frank Mortgage Reform setting stiffer lending rules for 2014.

The biggest thing is that debt-to-income ratio. It’s going to be tighter. Right now, you can go up to 50 percent of your gross income. That will drop to 43 percent of your gross income in 2014. How does that affect you?

Say for example you make $60,000 a year. Add in a $500 a month car payment and $100 a month credit card payment. Right now, you’d qualify for a mortgage up to $190,000. But when the new reform act kicks in next year, you’ll only qualify for $160,000. And then, you might not even qualify at all. As Realtors, we run into that number quite a bit, where people are in that 46, 47 percent, 48 percent. And if we can’t go over 43 after January, then that’s going to hamstring a lot of people.

So why the change?

They’re really trying to just protect the consumer. Because there was a time when things were just way too loose. In the new year expect to put more money down, or find a cheaper home.

One last thought. There are many programs for first time home buyers. Also, there will be more creative ways to mortgage a home to help buyers. Here in the Hunterdon and Warren areas, most properties can be bought with a USDA mortgage. Before you go out to look for a new home, it is imperative that you first get pre-qualified and pre-approved.

I like being affiliated with Weichert because we have divisions to help both buyers and sellers. If you need help finding the right mortgage for you, give me a call. I have many resources to put you in touch with.

Visit me at my website at http://www.NormaSellsNJHomes.com

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Getting Your Home Ready for the Spring – Selling or not.

To help property owners get the best selling price they can — without burying themselves in expenses — U.S. News created a list of 10 cheap ways to boost your home’s sales price by spring. I like this article because it’s worthwhile even to those who are just staying put. It’s great to get your home spruced up now and in the spring.

 1. Retouch the home front : If your property’s exterior isn’t appealing, no one will want to see your newly remodeled kitchen. Property sellers must first ensure that their home projects a cozy, inviting feeling.

The outside front of the home is probably the most important area for improvement, the area where you can make the biggest improvement with the smallest amount of cash.

Touching up the paint on the front-entry portion of the house can be an inexpensive but effective way to make the entire property more inviting. You would be amazed by the amount of people that drive by a house and say, ‘Ah, that’s not for me.’ And they can tell just by the way the upkeep and the outside looks.

2. Trim the greenery: Ensuring that the lawn, hedges and flowers are well-maintained helps make your home more alluring to prospective buyers. Property owners can hire professional landscapers or break out the lawn mower and get busy themselves.

Many people have landscaping that is overgrown and too heavy, and it is concealing a lot of the house. Trim the trees, trim the hedges and add a little color to the flower beds.

 3. Paint the interior: Putting a fresh coat of paint on the home’s interior is a cost-effective way to make a home more appealing to buyers. When choosing the color, homeowners should be conservative. The caution is that your favorite color may not be the favorite color of the buyer. Instead, homeowners are best off using neutral colors. Go with something that is a very light yellow or a light cream with a contrasting white, so it just looks very fresh and crisp. … Having the paint in good condition is almost more important than the color.While I don’t advocate repainted the entire home inside, just repaint the rooms where the pain has deteriorated or the color is too dark and too garish.

4. Don’t forget the floors: Improving the condition of a home’s flooring is also a smart move for sellers — and you don’t need to refinish wood floors or install new carpets to make them more attractive.

If it’s a hardwood floor, has the floor been buffed? If you have carpets, have the carpets been cleaned?”

 5. Make all major repairs: Because tighter lending standards demand higher down payments, today’s homebuyers won’t have much cash left for improvements once they’ve made their purchase. So it’s imperative for sellers to make all major home repairs — fixing the leaky roof, rebuilding the front stoop — before they put the property on the market.

6. Put appliances under warranty: To give buyers more confidence in a home’s appliances, it’s a great idea that sellers put them under warranty. Sellers can buy home warranties, which cover repair and replacement costs for many home appliances, from several different companies.

For those who list through me, or buy through me, I supply this Home Warranty at my expense.

 7. Make energy-efficient home improvements: Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is another good way to make your property more attractive to buyers. Some improvements, such as adding solar panels, still come with federal tax benefits. In addition, a growing awareness of human impact on the environment means that homes that have these upgrades will stand out from other listings. If you have some cruddy old windows that are leaky and just not energy efficient, you can put in new replacement windows and take advantage of the tax credit Those are really practical things that make your house more sellable. Many contractors will conduct a so-called energy audit free of charge to determine where efficiencies can be created. If your house is more energy efficient — you use less energy, it’s better insulated — it is going to be more desirable for a potential buyer.

 8. New light fixtures: Replacing old or broken light fixtures with new ones can also be a low-cost way to add value. Installing a new light fixture in the foyer can be a particular benefit because it can make a strong first impression on would-be buyers. Creating an inviting feeling in the interior entryway helps get home shoppers more interested in checking out the rest of the property.

 9. New stove & refrigerator: While some homeowners might think the only way to jazz up a dated kitchen is a full-on remodeling job, buying new appliances may be all you need to do. If there are updated appliances in the kitchen, it is amazing how that draws people in, and people say, ‘Wow, this kitchen is going to be great, While upscale homeowners may have to shell out for top-of-the-line appliances to maintain their kitchen’s décor, you just don’t have to go that far for the effect. You can basically have the look of a new kitchen that is going to be really enticing to someone — and what you are really trying to do is differentiate your house from somebody else’s.

 10. Freshen up the bathrooms: Getting rid of mildew stains on the bathroom and caulking can boost a home’s appeal as well. Such stains scream, ‘These people haven’t taken care of this house. It’s going to be a money pit,’

Use a razor blade to remove the old caulk, and replace it with new, mildew-resistant caulk, and rather than remodeling the entire space, homeowners can reinvigorate a worn-down bathroom by replacing cracked sinks.

Remember that I am always available to  come by and look at your home. I may be able to offer some suggestions to make it more enticing to prospective buyers. You can visit me at my website: http://www.NormaSellsNJHomes.com

 

 

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2014 New Year Resolution – Buying or Selling a Home

We make a lot of resolutions in the beginning of the year. Some are just the same ones you didn’t keep last year. Sometimes it’s easy just to keep the list and change the date at the top. Like I do.

But when it comes to real estate, it’s a resolution you won’t do annually, so you’ll need to give it more consideration. So don’t resolve to buy your neighbor’s house for half of its value, or sell your $350,000 home for $500,000. Well, you could, but you’d probably be setting yourself up for disappointment right from the start.

Some things are out of a would-be buyer or seller’s control. But, as a would-be buyer or seller, you can learn from and make resolutions based on those who have been there and done that. There exists a former buyer who, if he could, would resolve to have done more legwork before buying. Conversely, there’s a current seller who resolves to take the next under-asking-price offer from a buyer more seriously. We will second-guess ourselves more harshly when dealing with our real estate goals. There is a lot at stake!

Whether you plan to buy or sell, there are some real estate resolutions that buyers and sellers can — and should — make. Here are some to get you started.

Buyers: Resolve to Get Your Financial House in Order

Planning a home purchase takes time and effort, so you should consider meeting with a mortgage professional early in the year. Know your credit score and understand what your financial situation looks like from a lender’s perspective. If you have credit issues, identify what they are and the necessary steps to correct them. Sometimes, it can take six months to see your FICO score move up the much-needed 20 points to get you a better mortgage rate. A good real estate agent can recommend an experienced, local mortgage professional. Local is always important, because many real estate deals are made on relationships, and being able to meet face-to-face with your mortgage professional can be a big plus.

Sellers: Resolve to Think of Your Home as a Product

I can’t stress this enough! Start clearing out old stuff now. If there are things deep in your closets that you don’t think you’ll use between January and the time you move, consider a storage locker or making space in the garage. Does your real estate agent suggest that the maroon bedroom needs a lighter color paint job? Get some painting bids now. Have you always hated how the bathroom vanity takes up so much space? Consider changing it now so buyers will perceive your bathroom as bigger. This will also help you spread out the costs of home repairs and changes over several months.

Buyers: Resolve to Start Feeling Out the Market Early

You may think you only need to go to open houses once you’re ready to buy. But in reality, a buyer needs a couple of months learning the marketing, understanding home values, the prices per neighborhood and the market in general. I love the HGTV show where couples are shown three homes for sale and have to pick one. Yeah, right. I very often hear from prospective buyers that they are “just looking” and buying is many months away. They don’t want me to “waste my time”. Wrong. I love working with people just starting out. My philosophy is that you can’t decide where you want to live until you decide where you DON’T. You can’t think of the type of home you want until you see ones you DON’T.

Once you engage an agent, you may make several offers before you get into your dream home. Having your agent along for the ride will allow you to compare and contrast homes you’ve visited to the home you eventually buy. The homes you see and your experience feeling out the market will serve as the building blocks toward becoming an informed buyer and making your best offer.

Sellers: Resolve to Understand Your Timing and Exit Strategy

One of the biggest stresses on a seller is trying to plan a purchase and a sale at the same time. Can you afford to close on the new home before selling? If so, for how long? Do you need to sell the property first? If so, will the potential sale price support a home purchase in the neighborhood you want to be in? If not, what other areas should you be looking in? Selling and buying at the same time brings up all kinds of financial, emotional and physical stress.

Uprooting yourself from your home is not easy. What if you have to go into short-term housing? How will you get that set up and how long would you need to commit for? If you can afford to purchase and then sell, do they need to happen quickly? Are there things you can be doing in your current home so that once your new home closes, you’ll be ready to list? It’s a lot to think about and plan for, and it helps to have a strategy in place well before you have to take action.

Buyers and Sellers: Resolve to Engage a Real Estate Agent Now

Planning a home purchase or sale takes time. Engaging a real estate agent early in the process will allow you to have an expert on hand as you start to put the pieces together. A good real estate agent doesn’t just show and sell homes: They can be your strategic adviser, even well in advance of any actual transaction.

On the seller side, if you pulled a permit to install some new windows or replace some dry rot in 2005, likely the contractor issued a permit. But did he close it out? A good agent will figure that out and clean it up before it becomes a transaction issue. You should use your agent to literally get your house and listing in order.

For buyers, having an agent with you from the start is like having an experienced second set of eyes and ears. Having so many transactions under the belt and years of market knowledge in their head, a real estate agent’s opinions, thoughts and ideas can save you a lot of time and money. What’s more, they can keep you on the right path toward identifying the best home, and they’ll see you through the process all the way to the closing.

I am a licensed Real Estate agent. I have over 20 years’ experience in Real Estate and also years of experience in banking, finance and credit. I’m a marketing genius (IMHO). I will include photos, flyers, and a virtual tour of your home. I am also a Certified Home Staging Professional. Let me give you pointers on how your home will show in the best possible light.

You can find me through my website at http://www.NormaSellsNJHomes.com

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