6 Easy Tips for Staging Your Own Home

There’s no question that staging your décor is advantageous when you’re trying to sell your home.

The strategic editing and placement of your furnishings can be enormously important to boosting its appeal. In a recent NAR survey, in fact, 77 percent of buyers’ agents agreed staging is important to helping potential buyers envision a given home as their own. Fortunately, conducting your own staging need not be complex; you should be able to mimic professional techniques by following a few easy guidelines:

  • Prioritize by room. The NAR reports you’ll get the most visual impact by staging your living room, master bedrooms, kitchen and extra bedrooms(s), in that order.
  • Deep clean. Everything must be groomed, sparkling and odor-free inside and out.
  • Divide and conquer. Plan to remove about half your furniture to give the impression of optimal space. If it’s all unpresentable, use stylish rental pieces or fake “pop-up furniture” for showings. Tip: Wherever possible, move display furniture away from walls (a technique known as “floating”) to create groupings that are tied together visually with area rugs.
  • Accessorize inside and out. Create an atmosphere of airiness, friendliness and cheer by selectively adding new flowers, potted plants, attractive seating and welcome mats outside, perhaps fresh flowers and bowls of fruit inside.
  • Optimize light. Add brighter light bulbs, pull back curtains, clean windows and clean (or perhaps update) light fixtures to add to the overall impression of positivity. 

List of 55+ Communities by Town in Suffolk County

A comprehensive list of adult communities listed alphabetically by town.

Amagansett

  • The Ocean Dunes

Amityville

  • Snug Harbor
  • The Polo Club
  • Village Estates
  • Bay Shore

Bayshore

  • Daniels Way
  • Mystic Pines
  • Windcrest

Blue Point

  • Springhorn
  • The Vineyards at Blue Point

Bohemia

  • The Hedges
  • Windcrest Cottages

Bridgehampton

  • Newman Village

Calverton

  • Calverton Meadows
  • Foxwood Village
  • Windcrest East

Center Moriches

  • The Vineyards at Moriches

Central Islip

  • Courthouse Commons
  • Islip Landing

Copiague

  • Cambridge Square
  • Harborview Estates
  • Hidden Harbor Estates

Commack

  • Hamlet Golf & Country Club

Coram

  • Country Village
  • Strathmore Gate East
  • The Oaks

Cutchogue

  • Harvest Pointe

Dix Hills

  • Stone Ridge

East Islip

  • Bel Laurel
  • East Islip Gardens
  • Westbrook Village Villas

East Quogue

  • Eagles Walk

East Setauket

  • Setauket Meadows

Eastport

  • Eastport Meadows
  • Encore Atlantic Shores

Islip Terrace

  • Providence on the Park

Kings Park

  • Country Point

Lake Grove

  • Encore

Lindenhurst

  • Narragganset

Manorville

  • Country Pointe Woods
  • Greenwood Village

Medford

  • The Courtyards at Meadowbrook Pointe

Melville

  • Stratford Park
  • The Club at Melville
  • The Coves at Melville
  • The Greens at Half Hollow

Miller Place

  • The Vineyards

Moriches

  • Dover
  • The Waterways

Mt Sinai

  • Plymouth Estates
  • Strathmore Woodbridge Terrace
  • The Villages at Mount Sinai Park

North Babylon

  • Primrose Condos

Oakdale

  • Locust Cove
  • Oak Creek Commons
  • Windmill Gate

Port Jefferson

  • Village Vistas

Ridge

  • Leisure Glen
  • Leisure Knoll
  • Leisure Village

Riverhead

  • Glenwood Village
  • Saddle Lakes
  • Stoneleigh Woods
  • Sunken Ponds Estates

Sayville

  • Pinewood Gardens
  • Sunrise Village

Shirley

  • Country Pointe
  • The Manors at the Colony Preserve

Southold

  • Colonial Village
  • Founders Village

St James

  • Fairfield at St James
  • Kensington Gardens

Stony Brook

  • Strathmore Gate
  • The Knolls
  • The Oaks

Westhampton

  • Westhampton Pines

Westhampton Beach

  • La Coquille

What are your some of your favorites on the list?

See one that we missed or an error in the list? Drop a comment below.

Top 10 Things Buyers Wish They Knew Before Buying

Ever wonder what you’re missing as a first-time buyer? What home buying tips do homeowners wish they knew before buying their first home?

The many homeowners I’ve talked to about their first buyer experience all have lots of different home buying tips. But I’ve seen the same ten mentioned over and over…and over.

So today we’re going to look at those top 10 home buying tips buyers wish they knew back when they were looking at their first homes.

  1.  You can change almost everything except the location. Look past that paint color.

    The first of our home buying tips is one of the most common. You’ve probably heard it before. Cosmetic issues, like paint color, don’t matter! You can so easily change them once you move in. Instead, pay attention to the things you won’t be able to change: the location, the condition of the structure, and maybe the layout (if you don’t want to take on a large renovation). 

    But it’s surprisingly difficult to look past ugly furniture, stained carpet, and outdated fixtures when you’re house hunting because those things all contribute to the overall feel of the home from the moment you walk in the door. Remember that when you become sellers!

    So take a deep breath before you walk inside and commit to focusing on the more permanent features of the home. 

  2. Closing costs add up fast.

    Many first-time buyers are surprised by the closing costs, which average ​3-6%​ of the purchase price. These costs cover things like:

    • Loan application
    • The appraisal
    • Attorney fees
    • Rate-Lock fees or Points
    • Credit reports
    • Upfront insurance premiums
    • Title policies & searches
    • Loan origination fees
    • Prorated property taxes
    • Recording fees

    The fact is it takes a lot of work by a lot of people to confirm your funding and complete the transfer of the property. And all these fees add up rather quickly.

    But once you’re aware of them, you can plan for them. So take a little time to research these fees. And if you have questions about them, just give me a call or shoot me an email.  

    And something else to keep in mind: one huge benefit to the buyer is that you don’t have to pay your real estate agent. In the vast majority of real estate transactions, the seller actually pays the agent fees for both the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent. So don’t try to go through the buying process alone. Especially as a first-timer! 

  3. There’s just so much paperwork.

    Transferring real estate from one party to another is a big deal. There are hundreds of details to confirm before the transfer can happen. And to make sure we’re all on the same page, we’ll all agree to everything by signing a stack of paperwork. 

    First, we’ll go through the offer (and possible counter-offer) paperwork. The purpose of this mini-stack of paperwork is to list the terms of the proposed purchase (price, closing date, fixtures to be included in the sale, etc). The seller may not agree with all terms proposed in the original offer, in which case they will draft a counter-offer. Consider this the first round of negotiations. 

    Then there will be several government-required disclosures to sign: lead-based paint warnings and property condition disclosures are the most common. 

    After the home inspection, there may be a second round of negotiations if material defects are present. 

    Then there’s the big one: the loan paperwork. No one will loan you hundreds of thousands of dollars without some serious paperwork. You’ll complete a loan application with a credit check, provide all financial statements, proof of income, and residential history. And toward the end of the process, you’ll have a very official loan-signing session with a notary.  

    Luckily, as your real estate agent, I can help you navigate all the transaction paperwork. And I can refer you to highly-qualified, service-oriented lenders who can walk you through those loan documents. 

  4. The home inspection is worth every penny.

    Get the home inspection. I know it will cost a few hundred dollars, but it is worth every penny! 

    Best-case scenario: you pay a few hundred dollars to confirm that there’s nothing terribly wrong with the property. Now you can sleep at night knowing your home is as safe as can be. 

    Worst-case scenario: there is something terribly wrong with the property. So wrong that you just can’t move forward with the purchase. In that case, the few hundred dollars spent on the inspection potentially saved you tens of thousands of dollars in structural repairs. 

  5.  Inspections list everything, and it’s terrifying.

    Understanding home inspections is another of our most common home buyer tips. First-time buyers will inevitably panic (at least a little) when they first receive the home inspection. 

    The home inspector’s job is to list every possible problem he or she finds on the property. So you will receive dozens of pages of “problems” with the home. This is a safety hazard; that isn’t up to code. Mold, asbestos, lead paint, etc. It’s honestly frightening the first time you see one.  

    From a liability standpoint, your inspector has to recommend that you fix every little problem right away. But in the real world, you get to decide how you handle these potential problems. You may decide that many (probably even ​most) of them simply aren’t worth fixing immediately.   

    So don’t panic when you see the long list of recommended repairs. The best thing you can do is provide a copy of the inspection to your real estate agent to review together. We’ll determine together the big ticket items to address and the best way to handle the negotiations.

  6. It could take months to find the right home. Or you could find it tomorrow.

    Most buyers are prepared to look for about a month to find the right home. Many buyers are prepared to look for a few months. Few buyers are prepared to find the right home tomorrow. But it could happen!

    When you start your home search, mentally prepare yourself for the possibility of finding your new home right away. The amazing thing about real estate is that every property is a snowflake; they’re all unique. So when you find a home that suits you, you may want to jump on it. Even if you haven’t had a chance to compare it to dozens of others. The right fit may not come around again for a while. 

    But there’s a fine line here. You also don’t want to buy a property because you feel pressured to make the leap. Don’t let your Agent, your parents, your peers or anyone else pressure you into buying. Just ask yourself, “will I be okay if another buyer swoops this property up while I’m taking my time to think it over?” 

  7. Good agents are priceless.

    When property listings became available online, most people figured real estate agents would soon be replaced by the Internet. But here we still are! Why?

    • Experience:​ Most people only handle a few real estate transactions in their lives. Real estate agents (like me) have handled hundreds, so we’ve seen it all!

    • Paperwork:​ You remember that mountain of paperwork we referenced earlier? I deal with that paperwork every day of the week. I can help you with it (even the parts that hardly make any logical sense!).

    • Local Expertise:​ I know these neighborhoods. I can often tell at a glance if a home is overpriced for its neighborhood in the current market conditions. Comprehensive market reports are available upon request. You want that insight!

    • Professional Networks:​ You need a lender? I know the best! How about an inspector? Or an experienced attorney? Great service professionals can be hard to find, and I’m your connection to an entire network of them.

    • I’m a Buffer:​ Emotions run high in real estate transactions. The seller is trying to part with the property they called home for years of their lives. You’re trying to make the property a blank slate for the next several years of your life. A little distance between these two parties is a good thing.

    • Negotiation Skills:​ When you distill my occupation to the single most important task, I negotiate for a living. I have the market knowledge to back up my terms, and I’m happy to put those skills to work as your advocate!

      You’ll forgive me for being a little biased here, but I’ve poured my time and my soul into understanding this market, helping buyers find homes, and helping sellers move forward. The human element to these often-emotional transactions can’t be quantified or qualified by algorithms. 

      Even if you don’t choose me as your agent, please work with an agent! Take advantage of their knowledge, experience, and skill. Especially if this is your first time buying. You have nothing to lose and tons to gain from leveraging a qualified agent.  

  8. There’s always a trade-off.

    When you’re looking at homes, remember: your “right fit” may not be a “perfect fit”. 

    Sure, if we all had unlimited resources, we’d all be living in our dream homes. Although we’d probably find something wrong even then, because…human nature.

    One of our hottest home buying tips is to abandon perfection and expect a trade-off. Do you splurge for the closet space and settle for smaller bathrooms? Or trade an open floor plan for a smaller backyard?  

    Smart buyers know the difference between “compromising” and “settling”. 

    Settling is buying a property you don’t really even like because all your peers are buying property and you don’t want to be left behind in the Game of Life. 

    Compromising​ is taking a smaller-than-ideal house in a great neighborhood because you know you’ll benefit from the better-than-average school district and high resale values of the desirable zip code.

    Don’t be afraid to compromise in your home search. 

  9. There are organizations and programs to assist first-time home-buyers. 

    Did you know HUD (the US Department of Housing and Urban Development) offers programs to assist first-time home-buyers? Home-ownership is so advantageous that the government wants to make it more accessible. Take advantage of these programs! 

    There are several different programs available depending on your income levels and the type of property you’re looking to buy. I’m happy to help you navigate these programs. Just contact me if you’re interested in learning more about your options! 

    One word of caution: don’t allow these programs to over-extend your finances. You might qualify for a 3.5% down-payment FHA loan, but if that will make your monthly mortgage payments difficult to meet, it’s probably not worth it. Owning a home won’t improve your life if the monthly expense leaves you with too little money to enjoy your life.

  10. Your finances need to be in order ​before you even start looking.

    This is probably the single most important item on our list of home buying tips. Your finances must be ready for the purchase before you even start looking.

    The state of your finances will determine your buying power in the real estate market. Before you even start looking you want to make sure your finances are in order:

    • Do you have good (better yet, ​great) credit?
      This will dramatically impact your interest rate and the amount you pay for your loan over the long term.

    • Do you have an emergency fund?​
      Homes require maintenance. Will you have money available to fix the A/C or replace the water heater?

    • Can you ​comfortably afford the monthly payments? 
      The monthly payment is more than just the principal and interest of your loan. You’ll also need to cover insurance and taxes.  Don’t forget your utilities and non-housing expenses!

    • Have you been pre-approved?​
      Before you even start your house-hunt, get pre-approved for a home loan! Pre-approval means running your financials by a lender to see how much of a home loan you can get approval for. It helps you search for properties within your price range, and it strengthens your offer (when that time comes!) by proving to the seller that you’re a serious buyer who will most likely be able to secure funding to close the deal. You can contact a local lender to get your pre-approval started today. Feel free to reach out if you need any help choosing a lender.  

When you’re ready to start your search, please contact me. I love helping buyers find their new homes and would be honored to work with you! 

8 Essential Tips for Long Island New Home Buyers

Fifty years old. That is the median age of a home in Suffolk County.[i]

Long Islanders know land is at premium. As of this writing, out of 12,105 available residential listings on the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island, just 1008 listings (8.33%) are brand new houses for sale.[ii]

An aging supply of residential structures and a dwindling supply of buildable land is a bad combination.

Despite the abundance of new construction homes, the benefits of a new house are undeniable. The ability to design your home and floor plan, significantly reduced energy costs and minimal initial replacement costs are just a few of the tremendous benefits a new construction home can offer.

There is a right way to go about buying a new construction house on Long Island. Avoid dreaded Buyer’s Remorse by adhering these 8 Essential Tips Long Islanders Must Consider When Buying a New Home:

  1. Know your timeline to close.

    Sometimes this can be the deal breaker. If you need to vacate your current residence next month and you do not have an interim place to stay while your home is being built, then chances are a new construction will not work for you. Hopefully you read this post before it gets too late!

    There are a lot of different factors that will determine just how long it will take to build your home. Here are a few questions to consider before sealing the deal:

    • Has a building permit been issued by the town or municipality?

      Some municipalities are fairly quick with their approval process and others not as much. If the permit requires a variance by the zoning board then that can add an extra wrinkle to the process, too. If permits are in place, ground can be broken quickly. If not, it may be several months before construction can begin.

    • What time of year is the foundation expected to be poured?

      If it’s the dead of winter the ground if frozen, your land clearing or foundation pour may incur a slight delay. Plan accordingly.

    • Does the builder own the land at the time of contract signing?

      There are times that builders enter into contract to build you a house before formally closing on the parcel of property. Yes, this is possible and quite common. Typically, this means permits may not be in place or other procedural title issues may be delaying the sale.

      The larger the home the more time it will take to build. Smaller homes can be built in just a few months. If the builder has the permit and owns the land by the time you’re ready to commit, it could take as little as three or four months from contract to close. However, let’s say you have a 3000 square foot house that still needs a permit. The timeline more likely will fall in the nine to twelve-month range. Sometimes more. The ability to plan ahead and be flexible with timelines is one of the most important traits of a successful new construction home buyer.

  2. Consider Energy Efficiency Upgrades.

    Current energy efficiency standards for new construction homes are extremely favorable towards a home buyer. At minimum, a buyer is receiving an energy efficient utility system and windows/doors rated for energy efficiency.

    Owners of new construction homes have significantly cheaper utility costs versus the average Long Islander living in an older house.

    Take advantage of the opportunity to explore additional energy efficiency options to further reduce your energy costs. Think long term and try to free up more disposable income. Items like dual flush toilets and LED lighting won’t break the upgrade bank and it’ll save a considerable amount of money over the long haul. If the budget permits, consider solar or geothermal.

  3. Are there clearing restrictions on the land?

    Some towns, as a consideration for allowing a building permit, will restrict the number of trees the builder (or future buyer) can remove from the property. This is called a deed restriction. It can be as high as 50%! That half-acre lot you’re buying could end up being just a quarter-acre of usable space. Do your due diligence up front if you’re dreaming of a grass-filled backyard oasis.

  4. Get your estimate of property taxes from the town directly.

    Most towns are unable to provide a definitive annual property tax amount until the house is built and ready to be lived in. That doesn’t exactly help you try to determine your expected budget, does it? Your lender will also need an estimate of taxes to properly underwrite the loan. Most towns will be able to provide a written or verbal estimate of the property taxes by calculating purchase price, lot size, square footage, bedrooms, etc. Try to confirm this directly from the source instead of just taking someone’s word for it.

  5. Research your location extensively.

    Look into future developments and planned downtown revitalizations. Long Island has many ambitious projects planned for the immediate and near future. How are they going to affect your quality of life and the future resale value of your brand-new home?

    Look into all the surrounding properties to the lot you’re looking to purchase. Especially look at other vacant lots of land in the vicinity. What is their current zoning? Do as much research as possible to ensure that location is the right fit for your current and future needs.

  6. Confirm whether there’s an HOA or not.

    If this is a new subdivision or community, verify up front whether there will be a Homeowner’s Association to take care of any common areas, if any. If there’s a beautiful entrance way that is professionally landscaped with in-ground sprinklers, someone is paying for it. Find out whether that someone is you.

    More importantly, an HOA will have a separate layer of rules to follow. Restrictions on future additions to the property, fencing, exterior color schemes are just a few of the many items that can be regulated by a Homeowner’s Association. It’s important to know all this up front instead of waiting for that fine from the HOA to arrive in your mailbox for not adhering to their rule book.

  7. Get your financing in order now.

    This should be the first step any buyer takes before purchasing a residence and it’s especially important for new construction buyers. Just because the house may not be ready to close for six months doesn’t mean you won’t need your financing to break ground. In fact, it’s a necessity.

    Get your anticipated closing costs confirmed.

    We get it. This is Long Island and we have absurdly high closing costs that can run anywhere from 4 to 6% of the purchase price. One of the few downsides to building a new home is the higher closing costs. It’s common for a buyer to pay additional taxes and fees associated with buying a new construction home. New York State Transfer Tax, a final survey and the cost to hook up to the utility companies are typically paid by the buyers of a Long Island new construction house. Many times, upgrades are also required to be paid out of pocket.

    Don’t be surprised if the builder requires you to be pre-approved for a mortgage through a lender of their choice. They can’t require you to use any specific lender however they certainly can require a second set of eyes on your finances to ensure you’ll close once the house is finished. There is no cost or obligation to the buyer, but it provides a valuable vote of confidence for the builder. Trust is a two-way street.

  8. Understand the contract.

    This should go without saying but sadly there are instances otherwise. Meet with your attorney and discuss, at minimum, your contingency deadlines, timeline for the builder to finish construction, and language pertaining to upgrades and warranties.

    If you haven’t finalized it by this point, then the specifications sheet that details everything that’s included in the house should be supplied. This can sometimes be the biggest bode of contention between a builder and a buyer during construction. Just because the model house had a fireplace doesn’t mean it’s automatically included in the house you’ve entered into an agreement to buy. Ideally, it’s done beforehand but contract signing is the final opportunity to verify every single detail before your agreement is legally binding.

    For some people, buying a home can feel like a daunting task. This especially true with buying a new construction house. It doesn’t have to be. There is a right way to do it. These tips will hopefully serve as a building block for your pursuit of a new construction house.

[i] Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk

[ii] Source: The Multiple Listing Service of Long Island

50 Ways to Make Your Home Sell Faster

Some suggestions and ideas to improve your home’s appearance and help you prepare to sell it faster!

Throughout the House:

  1. Open the blinds, pull up the shades, and let in the sunlight. Clean all light fixtures.
  2. Create a positive mood. Turn on all lights, day or night, and install higher wattage bulbs to show your home brightly.
  3. Remove clutter from each room to visually enlarge them.
  4. If you have a fireplace, highlight it in your decorating.
  5. Keep your home dusted and vacuumed at all times.
  6. Replace the carpet if it does not clean up well.
  7. Have a family “game plan” to get the home in order quickly, if necessary.
  8. Air out your home for one-half hour before showings, if possible.
  9. Lightly spray the house with air freshener so that it has a chance to diffuse before the buyer arrives.
  10. Put family photos away.
  11. Improve traffic flow through every room by removing unnecessary furniture.
  12. Create the feeling of a spacious entry area by using decorative accents and removing unnecessary furniture.
  13. Putty over and paint any nail holes or other mishaps in the walls.
  14. Paint all interior walls a neutral color to brighten the home and make it look bigger.
  15. Repair or replace any loose or damaged wallpaper and paneling.
  16. Wash all windows inside and out.
  17. Use plants in transitional areas of your home.
  18. Make the most of your attic’s potential
  19. Remove and/or hide excess extension cords and exposed wires.
  20. Open doors to areas you want potential buyers to see such as walk-in closets pantries, attics, etc.
  21. Remove all smoke and pet odors.
  22. Replace and/or repair banisters and handrails.

In the Kitchen:

  1. Microwave a small dish of vanilla twenty minutes before showing and place it in an out-of-the-way location.
  2. Highlight an eat-in area in your kitchen with a table set for dinner.
  3. The kitchen and bathrooms should always be spotlessly clean.
  4. Expand your counter space by removing small appliances.

In the Bedrooms:

  1. Create a master suite effect in your decorating.
  2. Depersonalize bedrooms and decorate in a neutral scheme.
  3. Make sure that the beds are made and the linens are clean.
  4. Organize your closets, remove unnecessary items and put them in storage.

In the Bathroom:

  1. Do not leave towels around and wipe down the sinks and shower areas after each use.
  2. Re-caulk the tub and shower areas if needed.
  3. Repair or replace broken tiles in the shower/tub.
  4. Install neutral shower curtains.
  5. Put out fresh towels and decorative soaps.

Outside:

  1. Keep the yard mowed and raked at all times.
  2. Use flowering plants to dress up the yard, walkway, and patios.
  3. Remove all toys, bicycles, tools, unsightly patio furniture, and trash from the yard.
  4. Porches, steps, balconies, patios, sunrooms, and other extensions of the house should be kept uncluttered and swept.
  5. Paint all entrance doors.
  6. Make sure the garage and shed doors open easily. Fix and paint doors if necessary.
  7. Clean and shine all hardware accessories indoors and out (door knobs, knockers, lamps, mail box, address #’s, etc.).
  8. Trees and shrubs should be trimmed and pruned.
  9. Replace your door mat.
  10. Be sure the front doorbell is in good working order.
  11. Be sure the front door and screen door works perfectly. Ensure a smooth and squeak-free operation.
  12. During periods of inclement weather, ensure walkways are shoveled, swept, and free of any hazards.
  13. If you have a pool, ensure it is free of dirt and debris.
  14. Turn on your pool jets and create a flowing effect on the surface.
  15. Remediate occurrence of insects (bee hives, ant hills, water bugs, etc.).

Remember that First Impression is key and we want to ensure the home shows to the best of its ability to potential buyers.

The Ins and Outs of Setting a Price for Your Home

It’s a big decision with a lot of factors, but don’t worry — you have backup.

Everything has value. Especially your home.

And when it comes to selling your home, assigning a price to that value is complicated. You made memories there. You’ve got a major financial interest in the place, too.

Buyers think of value, but they’re more concerned with price. And your home’s price is one of its most attractive — or unattractive — features. The right price can attract buyers, quickly. The wrong price may mean the house sits on the market, which can create the vibe among buyers that there’s something wrong it. (If the home buying process is Instagram, think of a wrongly priced home as a photo that isn’t getting any likes.)

It’s your agent’s job, as the real estate expert — mining his or her expertise and knowledge of the market — to determine the best price for your home. But it’s your house. You need to have your own idea of how much your property is worth. Here’s how to get it.   

Work With Your Agent

This is crucial. Your agent brings the right mix of industry expertise and knowledge of your local market to the table. 

To understand whether your agent is pricing your home properly, read through each of the steps below. Use what you learn about your home’s fair market price to evaluate any price your agent recommends.

Throughout the pricing process, a good agent will:

Listen to your needs

Take into account your research

Use his or her knowledge of the local market to help you pick the best asking price 

You’re a team. It’s in both of your interests to price your home correctly — a timely, profitable sale is win for everyone.  

And Yeah, You Should Also Check the Internet

Pricing a home is both art and science. To understand what will inform your agent’s pricing decisions — and to be prepared to bring your own educated input to the conversation — start with a pricing research phase.

This includes taking advantage of online estimating tools — but only to an extent. Property websites like realtor.com® and Zillow enable you to plug in your home’s address to see approximately how much your house is worth. They base their estimates on your home’s square footage and real estate data they’ve collected, such as recent home sales in your local market.

But those results are estimates based on generalized factors, not your unique situation. If at any point the price you see in an online calculator doesn’t align with what your agent suggests, prioritize the agent’s advice. 

Online estimators also have a reputation among real estate professionals for misleading buyers and sellers alike with less-than-optimal pricing information. But as a starting point, they have their utility.  

Know Your Local History

What your home’s listing price should be largely depends on what similar homes, or “comps,” recently sold for in your area. To price your home, your agent will run the average sales prices of at least three comps to assess your home’s value.

What constitutes a comp? A number of factors, including a home’s: 

  • Age 
  • Location
  • Square footage 
  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms 

Agents will look into the difference between each comp’s listing price, and the price it sold for. He or she will consider price reductions and why they happened, if relevant. All the while, your agent will also rely on inside knowledge of housing stock and the local market. That nuanced understanding is invaluable, particularly when measuring the unique aspects of your home with raw data about comps.

When selecting comps, agents generally look for properties that sold within a one-mile radius of your home, and in the past 90 days. They find these homes using the multiple listing service (MLS), a regional database of homes that agents pay dues to access.

Size Up the Competition

In addition to recently sold homes, your agent will also look at properties that are currently for sale in your area. These listings will be your competition. But because listing photos don’t always tell the full story, a good agent will check out these homes in person to see what condition they’re in and to assess how your home sizes up.

You can do the same. For additional perspective, you can also get in touch with your local association of REALTORS®. Ask if they have information to offer about your neighborhood and the local market.

Understand the Market You’re In

The housing market where you live can greatly impact your pricing strategy. 

If you’re in a seller’s market, where demand from buyers outpaces the number of homes for sale, you may be able to price your home slightly higher than market value.

But if you’re in a buyer’s market, where buyers have the advantage, you may have to price your home slightly below market value to get people interested. 

You can see local market trends by checking the online resource realtor.com®. It offers charts that display important housing market data, such as a city’s average listing price, median sales price, and average days a home is on market. It’s a lot of information. At any point, you can ask your agent to help you make sense of how your local market will influence your home’s price.

Put Your Feelings Aside

As previously mentioned, many sellers think their home is worth more than it is. Why? Because memories. Because sentiment. Because pride.

But you have to stay objective when assessing your home’s value. Buyers, after all, won’t know your home’s personal history. What makes your home special to you may not be something that entices them. Read: They may want to convert that craft room you worked so hard to perfect into a man cave.

The lesson: As much as possible, set aside your emotional attachment to your home. It will make it easier to accept your agent’s realistic, clear-eyed calculation of its price.

Remember: It’s All Relative

As you and your agent are talking price, the local market may throw you a curveball or two.

In some markets, for example, it could make sense to price your home slightly below its fair market value to spark a bidding war. 

Of course, there’s no guarantee a pricing strategy such as this will pay off. Similarly, there’s no one-size-fits-all playbook. Your home should be priced for its own local, or even hyper-local, market. Period. Confer with your agent before you decide to try any market-specific pricing tactics.

Be Savvy With the Dollar Amount

Pricing your home requires careful attention. In some cases, fair market value may not be precisely what you should list it for — and the reasons can be subtle. 

For example, if comps show that your home is worth $410,000, setting that as your asking price can backfire — the reason is that buyers who are looking online for properties under $400,000 won’t see your home in search results in that case. This explains why many agents use the “99” pricing strategy and, for example, list $400,000 homes for $399,000. The idea is to maximize exposure.

Have a Heart-to-Heart With Your Partner

Not the sole decision maker in your household? Talk to your partner about your home’s price before it’s listed. You can use this worksheet as a guide for that discussion.

The reason isn’t just to foster the kind of open communication that’s important to any relationship. It’s that if you’re not on the same page about price or the other things that are important to you about sale, each subsequent step of the selling process will be impacted by that tension. 

Keep Your Head in the Game

You’ve considered your agent’s advice, and the two of you have agreed on the right price for your home. Hey, champ! Your house is on the market.

Even after the listing date, price should be an ongoing discussion between you and your agent. Markets are fluid, so it’s possible that you’ll have to make tweaks. 

In any case, it’s important to to stay in continuous dialogue with your agent, the MVP of Team Sell Your House. Together, keep your eyes on the price.

Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

The Everything Guide to Selling Your First Home

How to figure out exactly what you want, and how to work with the experts who’ll help you get it.

Selling, a famous salesman once said, is essentially a transfer of feelings.

You love and cherish your home. You want the next owner to fall in love with it, too — through photos, through words, and through the experience of walking through your front door. But, perhaps most, you want to get the price you want.

This isn’t a small task. Selling a home requires work. It requires time. The journey isn’t always easy. There will be frustrations. But when you seal the deal and move on to your next chapter — wow, what a blissful, boss feeling.

Below, we preview each step in your journey. We’ll discuss how to know what you want (and what your partner wants, if you’re selling together). How to understand the market, and ways to make a plan. And most importantly? How to create relationships with experts and trust them to help you get the job done.

Now, let’s talk about selling your house.

Know, Exactly, What You Want

First things first: You need to know what you want (and what your partner wants) in order to sell your home with minimum frustration. Why are you moving? What do you expect from the process? When, exactly, should you put that For Sale sign in the yard? We can help you get your thoughts in order with this home selling worksheet.

Do Your Research

Unless you bought your home last week, the housing market changed since you became a homeowner. Mortgage rates fluctuate, inventory shifts over time — these are just a few of the factors that affect the state of the market, and every market is unique. Educate yourself on what to expect. Start with our study guide on the market. 

Interview and Select an Agent

This is the most important relationship you’ll form on your home selling journey. Pick the right agent and you’ll likely get a better sales price for your house. Here’s how to find and select the expert who’s right for you.

Price Your Home

How much is your home worth? That’s the … $300,000 question. Whatever the number, you need to know it. This is how your agent will help you pinpoint the price.

Prep Your Home for Sale

Today, home buyers have unfettered access to property listings online, so you have to make a great first impression — on the internet and IRL. That means you’ll have to de-clutter all the stuff you’ve accumulated over the years, make any necessary repairs, and get your home in swoon-worthy condition. Here’s how to stage your home. 

Market Your Home

Home buyers look at countless listings online. The best-marketed homes have beautiful photos and compelling property descriptions, so they can get likes — which can amount to buyer interest — on social media. Some agents are even using videos, virtual tours, texts, and audio messages. It’s time to consider how to promote your property.

Showcase Your Home

One of the best ways to get buyers in the door is to have an open house. This is your chance to show off your home’s best assets, and help buyers envision themselves living there. Know how your agent will organize, advertise, and host the event to ensure it’s a success.

Receive Offers

Yes, you might get offers plural, depending on your market. Assuming you’ve collaborated with your agent, you’ve likely positioned yourself to receive attractive bids. Your agent will review each offer with you to determine which is best for you. (Read: The offer price isn’t the only factor to consider: Here’s why.)

Negotiate With the Buyer

To get the best deal for you, you’ll likely have to do some negotiating. Your agent will help you craft a strategic counteroffer to the buyer’s offer, factoring in not only money, but contingencies, etc. Let’s talk about how to ask for what you want.

Negotiate Home Inspection Repairs

Ah, the home inspection. It’s as much a source of anxiety for buyers as it is for sellers. Nonetheless, most purchase agreements are contingent on a home inspection (plus an appraisal, which will be managed by the buyer’s lender). This gives the buyer the ability to inspect the home from top to bottom and request repairs — some even could be required per building codes. The upshot: You have some room to negotiate, including about certain repairs. Once again, your agent will be there to help you effectively communicate with the buyer.

Close the Sale

Settlement, or closing, is the last step in the home selling process. This is where you sign the final paperwork, make this whole thing official, and collect your check. Before that can happen though, you’ll have to prepare your home for the buyer’s final walk-through and troubleshoot any last-minute issues. We’ve got you covered with this closing checklist. 

Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

Tax Deductions for Homeowners

Tax Deductions for Homeowners: How the New Tax Law Affects Mortgage Interest

Tax changes for 2019 change the landscape for homeowners.

Tax season is upon us once again, and to make it even more interesting this year, the tax code has changed — along with the rules about tax deductions for homeowners. The biggest change? Many homeowners who used to write off their property taxes and the interest they pay their mortgage will no longer be able to.

Stay calm. This doesn’t automatically mean your taxes are going up. Here’s a roundup of the rules that will affect homeowners — and how big of a change to expect.

Standard Deduction: Big Change

The standard deduction, that amount everyone gets, whether they have actual deductions or not, nearly doubled under the new law. It’s now $24,000 for married, joint-filing couples (up from $13,000). It’s $18,000 for heads of household (up from $9,550). And $12,000 for singles (up from $6,500).

Many more people will now get a better deal taking the standard than they would with their itemizable write-offs.

For perspective, the number of homeowners who will be able to deduct their mortgage interest under the new rules will fall from around 32 million to about 14 million, the federal government says. That’s about a 56% drop.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll pay more taxes,” says Evan Liddiard, a CPA and director of federal tax policy for the National Association of REALTORS® in Washington, D.C. “It just means that they’ll no longer get a tax incentive for buying or owning a home.”

So will you be able to itemize, or will you be in standard deduction land? This calculator can give you an estimate.

If the answer is standard deduction, you’ll be pleased to know that tax forms are easier when you don’t itemize, says Liddiard. Find instructions for IRS Form 1040 here.

Personal Exemption Repealed

One caveat to the increase in the standard deduction for homeowners and non-homeowners is that the personal exemption was repealed. No longer can you exempt from your income $4,150 for each member of your household. And that might temper the benefit of a higher standard deduction, depending on your particular situation. 

For example, a single person might still come out ahead. Her $5,500 increase in the standard deduction is more than the $4,150 lost by the personal exemption repeal.  

But consider a family of four with two kids over 16 in the 22% tax bracket. They no longer have personal exemptions totaling $16,600. Although the increase in the standard deduction is worth $2,420 (11,000 x 22%), the loss of the exemptions would cost them an extra $3,652 (16,600 x 22%). So they lose $1,232 (3,652 – 2,420).

But say their two kids are under 16, giving them a child credit worth $2,000. That offsets the loss resulting in a $758 tax cut.

The takeaway: Your household composition will probably affect your tax status.

Mortgage Interest Deduction: Incremental Change

The new law caps the mortgage interest you can write off at loan amounts of no more than $750,000. However, if your loan was in place by Dec. 14, 2017, the loan is grandfathered, and the old $1 million maximum amount still applies. Since most people don’t have a mortgage larger than $750,000, they won’t be affected by the cap.

But if you live in a pricey place (like San Francisco, where the median housing price is well over a million bucks), or you just have a seriously expensive house, the new federal tax laws mean you’re not going to be able to write off interest paid on debt over the $750,000 cap.

State and Local Tax Deduction: Degree of Change Varies by Location

The state and local taxes you pay — like income, sales, and property taxes — are still itemizable write-offs. That’s called the SALT deduction in CPA lingo. But. The tax changes for 2019 (that’s tax year 2018) mean you can’t deduct more than $10,000 for all your state and local taxes combined, whether you’re single or married. (It’s $5,000 per person if you’re married but filing separately.)

The SALT cap is bad news for people in areas with high taxes. The majority of homeowners in around 20 states have been writing off more than $10,000 in SALT each year, so they’ll lose some of this deduction. “This is going to hurt people in high-tax areas like New York and California,” says Lisa Greene-Lewis, CPA and expert for TurboTax in California. New Yorkers, for example, were taking SALT deductions around $22,000 a household.

Rental Property Deduction: No Change

The news is happier if you’re a landlord. There continue to be no limits on the amount of mortgage debt interest or state and local taxes you can write off on rental property. And you can keep writing off operating expenses like depreciation, insurance, lawn care, and utilities on Schedule E.

Home Equity Loans: Big Change

You can continue to write off the interest on a home equity or second mortgage loan (if you itemize), but only if you used the proceeds to substantially better your home and only if the total, combined with your first mortgage, doesn’t go over the $750,000 cap ($1 million for loans in existence on Dec. 15, 2017). If you used the equity loan to pay medical expenses, take a cruise, or anything other than home improvements, that interest is no longer tax deductible.

Here’s a big FYI: The new rules don’t grandfather in old home equity loans if the proceeds were used for something other than substantial home improvement. If you took one out five years ago to, say, pay your child’s college tuition, you have to stop writing off that interest. 

4 Tips for Navigating the New Tax Law

  1. Single people may get more tax benefits from buying a house, Liddiard says. “They can often reach [and potentially exceed] the standard deduction more quickly.” You can check how much you’re likely to owe or get back under the new law on this tax calculator.

  2. Student loan debt is deductible, up to $2,500 if you’re repaying, whether you itemize or not.

  3. Charitable deductions and some medical expenses remain itemizable. If you’re generous or have had a big year for medical bills, these, added to your mortgage interest, may be enough to bump you over the standard deduction hump and into the write-off zone.

  4. If your mortgage is over the $750,000 cap, pay it down faster so you don’t eat the interest. You can add a little to the principal each month, or make a 13th payment each year.

By: Leanne Potts. Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

William Rugen is not a licensed CPA or Tax Preparer. Consult a tax professional.

Are Closing Costs Tax Deductible?

Are Closing Costs Tax Deductible Under the New Tax Law?

Here’s the scoop on what’s tax deductible when buying a house.

Are closing costs tax deductible? What about mortgage interest? Or property taxes? The answer is, maddeningly, “It depends.”

Basically, you’ll want to itemize if you have deductions totaling more than the standard deduction, which is $12,000 for single people and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. Every taxpayer gets this deduction, homeowner or not. And most people take it because their actual itemized deductions are less than the standard amount.

But should you take it?

To decide, you need to know what’s tax deductible when buying or owning a house. Here’s the list of possible deductions:

Closing Costs

The one-time home purchase costs that are tax deductible as closing costs are real estate taxes charged to you when you closed, mortgage interest paid when you settled, and some loan origination fees (a.k.a. points) applicable to a mortgage of $750,000 or less.

But you’ll only want to itemize them if all your deductions total more than the standard deduction.

Costs of closing on a home that aren’t tax deductible include:

  • Real estate commissions
  • Appraisals
  • Home inspections
  • Attorney fees
  • Title fees
  • Transfer taxes
  • Mortgage refi fees

Mortgage interest and property taxes are annual expenses of owning a home that may or may not be deductible. Continue reading to learn more about those.

Mortgage Interest

Yearly, you can write off the interest you pay on up to $750,000 of mortgage debt. Most homeowners don’t have mortgages large enough to hit the cap, says Evan Liddiard, CPA, director of federal tax policy for the National Association of REALTORS®. But people who live in pricey places like San Francisco and Manhattan, or homeowners anywhere with hefty mortgages, will likely maximize the mortgage interest deduction.

Note: The $750,000 cap affects loans taken out after Dec. 17, 2017. If you have an loan older than that and you itemize, you can keep deducting your mortgage interest debt up to $1 million. But if you re-fi that loan, you can only deduct the interest on the amount up to the balance on the day you refinanced – you can’t take extra cash and deduct the interest on the excess.

Home Equity Loan Interest

You can deduct the interest on a home equity loan or a second mortgage. But — and this is a big but — only if you use the proceeds to substantially improve your house, and only if the loan, combined with your first mortgage, doesn’t add up to more than the magic number of $750,000 (or $1 million if the loans were existing as of Dec. 15, 2017).

If you use a home equity loan to pay medical bills, go to Paris, or for anything but home improvement, you can’t write off the interest on your taxes.

State and Local Taxes

You can deduct state and local taxes you paid, including property, sales, and income taxes, up to $10,000. That’s a low cap for people who live in places where state and local taxes are high, says Liddiard. To give you an idea of how low: The average amount New Yorkers have taken in state and local tax deductions in past years is about $22,000.

Loss From a Disaster

You can write off the cost of damage to your home if it’s caused by an event in a federally declared disaster zone, like areas in Florida after Hurricane Michael or Shasta County, Calif., after a rash of wildfires.

This means standard-variety disasters like a busted water pipe while you’re on vacation or a fire caused because you left the toaster on aren’t deductible.

Moving Expenses

This deduction is also only for some. You can deduct moving expenses if you’re an active member of the armed forces moving to a new station.

And by the way, no matter who you are, if your employer pays your moving expenses, you’ll have to pay taxes on the reimbursement. “This will be a real hardship to many because it’s non-cash income,” says Liddiard. Some employers may up the gross to provide cash to pay the tax, but many likely will not.

Home Office

This is a deduction you don’t have to itemize. You can take it on top of the standard deduction, but only if you’re self-employed. If you are an employee and your boss lets you telecommute a day or two a week, you can’t write off home office expenses. You claim it on Schedule C.

Student Loans

Anyone paying a mortgage and a student loan payment will be happy to hear that the interest on your education loan is tax-deductible on top of the standard deduction (no need to itemize). And you can deduct as much as $2,500 in interest per year, depending on your modified adjusted gross income.

Ways to Increase Your Eligible Deductions

There are some other itemize-able costs not related to being a homeowner that could bump you up over the standard deduction. This might allow you to write off your mortgage interest. Charitable contributions and some medical expenses are itemize-able, although medical expenses must exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.

So if you’ve have had a hospital stay or are generous, you could be in itemized-deduction land.

Also, if you’re a single homeowner, it could be easier for you to exceed the standard deduction, Liddiard says. The itemized deductions on your house will probably more quickly break the $12,000 standard deduction threshold than a couple’s similar house will break their $24,000 threshold.

Tax-Savvy Home-Buying Ideas

If you’re a prospective homeowner with an eye to making the most efficient use of your tax benefits, here are a few ways to buy smart:

Especially in expensive areas, buy a less expensive home so you don’t hit the cap on mortgage debt and local and property taxes, says Lisa Greene-Lewis, a CPA and tax expert for TurboTax.

If you’re buying a higher price home, make a bigger down payment so your original mortgage doesn’t exceed the $750,000 cap.

How to Decide If You Should Itemize

To see whether you should consider itemizing, plug your numbers into this clever tool from TurboTax, and you’ll get their recommendation in just a few seconds.

Though every homeowner’s tax benefits will be a little different, in the end, you’re building equity, you’ll likely make money when you sell, and you have the freedom to paint your walls any color you want and get a dog.

By: Leanne Potts. Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

William Rugen is not a CPA or Tax Preparer. Consult a tax professional.


8 Tips for Adding Curb Appeal and Value

A good washing, and a bit of color are two low-cost ways.

Homes with high curb appeal command higher prices and take less time to sell. 

But which projects pump up curb appeal most? Here are financially smart ways to boost your home’s equity.

  1. Wash Your House’s Face

    Before you scrape any paint or plant more azaleas, wash the dirt, mildew, and general grunge off the outside of your house. REALTORS® say washing a house can add $10,000 to $15,000 to the sale prices of some houses. 

    A bucket of soapy water and a long-handled, soft-bristled brush can remove the dust and dirt that have splashed onto your wood, vinyl, metal, stucco, brick, and fiber cement siding. Power washers (rental: $75 per day) can reveal the true color of your flagstone walkways.

    Wash your windows inside and out, swipe cobwebs from eaves, and hose down downspouts. Don’t forget your garage door, which was once bright white. If you can’t spray off the dirt, scrub it off with a solution of 1/2 cup trisodium phosphate — TSP, available at grocery stores, hardware stores, and home improvement centers — dissolved in 1 gallon of water. 

    You and a friend can make your house sparkle in a few weekends. A professional cleaning crew will cost hundreds — depending on the size of the house and number of windows — but will finish in a couple of days.

  2. Freshen the Paint Job

    The most commonly offered curb appeal advice from real estate pros and appraisers is to give the exterior of your home a good paint job. Buyers will instantly notice it, and appraisers will value it. Of course, painting is an expensive and time-consuming facelift. To paint a 3,000-square-foot home, figure on spending $375 to $600 on paint; $1,500 to $3,000 on labor.

    Your best bet is to match the paint you already have: Scrape off a little and ask your local paint store to match it. Resist the urge to make a statement with color. An appraiser will mark down the value of a house that’s painted a wildly different color from its competition.

  3. Fix Up the Roof

    The condition of your roof is one of the first things buyers notice and appraisers assess. Missing, curled, or faded shingles add nothing to the look or value of your house. If your neighbors have maintained or replaced their roofs, yours will look especially shabby.

    You can pay for roof repairs now, or pay for them later in a lower appraisal; appraisers will mark down the value by the cost of the repair. According to the “Remodeling Impact Report” from the National Assoication of REALTORS®, the national median cost of a new asphalt shingle roof is about $7,500. And if you install a new one, you’ll get that back — plus a bit more. A new roof has an ROI of 109%.

    Some tired roofs look a lot better after you remove 25 years of dirt, moss, lichens, and algae. Don’t try cleaning your roof yourself: call a professional with the right tools and technique to clean it without damaging it. A 2,000-square-foot roof will take a day and $400 to $600 to clean professionally.

  4. Neaten the Yard

    A well-manicured lawn, fresh mulch, and pruned shrubs boost the curb appeal of any home.

    Replace overgrown bushes with leafy plants and colorful annuals. Surround bushes and trees with dark or reddish-brown bark mulch, which gives a rich feel to the yard. Put a crisp edge on garden beds, pull weeds and invasive vines, and plant a few geraniums in pots.

    Green up your grass with lawn food and water. Cover bare spots with seeds and sod, get rid of crab grass, and mow regularly. If you’re selling anytime soon, any work you do now will reap benefits in your home’s selling price, usually 100% or more according to the “Remodeling Impact Report” from the National Association of REALTORS®.

  5. Add a Color Splash

    Even a little color attracts and pleases the eye of would-be buyers.

    Plant a tulip border in the fall that will bloom in the spring. Dig a flowerbed by the mailbox and plant some pansies. Place a brightly colored bench or Adirondack chair on the front porch. Get a little daring, and paint the front door red or blue.

    Beautiful colors enhance curb appeal and help your house to sell faster.

  6. Glam Up Your Mailbox

    An upscale mailbox, architectural house numbers, or address plaques can make your house stand out. 

    High-style die cast aluminum mailboxes range from $100 to $350. You can pick up a handsome, hand-painted mailbox for about $50. If you don’t buy new, at least give your old mailbox a facelift with paint and new house numbers. 

    These days, your local home improvement center or hardware stores has an impressive selection of decorative numbers. Architectural address plaques, which you tack to the house or plant in the yard, typically range from $80 to $200. Brass house numbers range from $3 to $11 each, depending on size and style.

  7. Add a Fence

    A picket fence with a garden gate to frame the yard is an asset. Not only does it add visual punch to your property, appraisers will give extra value to a fence in good condition, although it has more impact in a family-oriented neighborhood than an upscale retirement community. 

    Expect to pay $2,000 to $3,500 for a professionally installed gated picket fence 3 feet high and 100 feet long.

    If you already have a fence, make sure it’s clean and in good condition. Replace broken gates and tighten loose latches.

  8. Keep Up With Maintenance

    Nothing looks worse from the curb — and sets off subconscious alarms — like hanging gutters, missing bricks from the front steps, or peeling paint. Not only can these deferred maintenance items damage your home, but they can decrease the value of your house by 10%.

    Here are some maintenance chores that will dramatically help the look of your house:
    • Refasten sagging gutters.
    • Repoint bricks that have lost their mortar.
    • Reseal cracked asphalt.
    • Straighten shutters.
    • Replace cracked windows.

By: Pat Curry. Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®