Home Buyers

Thinking About Buying vs. Renting?

The decision to buy a home is not one that is taken lightly by most. It is among the largest purchases (if not THE largest) one will make in their lifetime. Not everyone is in a position to buy vs rent. For this reason, as realtors in the Northampton area, we always suggest that a potential buyer start the process by speaking with their local bank or a mortgage broker to determine whether they can afford to buy and, if so, what purchase price is within their range.

To me, real estate has always made sense as a place to invest money. It seems less fickle than the stock market, and you have the added benefit of being able to live in and enjoy your home, while (hopefully) building equity. While the following piece from the Daily Hampshire Gazette uses the San Diego real estate market to make it's point about the benefits of home ownership - it is still a salient one. If you are in position to be able to buy a home vs. rent, it is an investment worth making. It's always a good idea to work with a knowledgeable buyer agent when purchasing a home. In this way, you are more likely to negotiate a fair price, and choose a home that has solid resale value. Read on for more about buying vs. renting.

Buy vs. rent: Can you afford to wait?

Buying a home is probably the biggest financial decision most of us will make. Dreamtime


By San Diego Tribune Staff
Thursday, November 09, 2017

Buying a home is probably the biggest financial decision most of us will make. While many variables factor into that decision, one key element is whether it makes more financial sense to buy a home rather than renting one.

According to industry experts, it depends on how long you plan on staying in a home.

“Given certain parameters, I can tell you that if you intend to be in a home for three to five years, it is almost always better to buy,” noted Matt Brady, a loan officer at Skyline Home Loans.

That’s because even though there is sizeable upfront expenditure when buying a home, you’ll be seeing the benefits after a few years.

Principal reduction is the amount paid on the cost of the home itself and not the interest. The idea is that by the time you plan on selling the home, you’ll have paid some of the cost of the house and will get more for it than you paid for, resulting in spending less over time than you would have renting a similar place.

Although home prices are high in San Diego — the median price is $535,000 for a home, $400,000 for a condo and $623,750 for new construction — area rent is also high and increasing. The median rent for a one-bedroom is currently $1,560; for a two-bedroom, it’s $2,020, according to the latest figures released by Apartment List, a national rental marketplace. That’s a 4.6 percent increase over last year.

Brady calculates the financial benefits of owning a home this way:

According to the National Association of Realtors, most people own a home for approximately nine years before selling. If a renter initially pays $2,200 for a two-bedroom home, after nine years, the rent will have increased to $3,000 at a 4 percent increase per year.

While the renter will have paid around $40,000 less in rent over those nine years than a buyer who purchased a $400,000 home, the owner’s home will have appreciated by about $200,000 in those nine years, Brady said. (And while no one can predict the future, most analysts assume that home prices will continue to rise and that San Diego will stay apace with the national average of a 4 percent annual increase).

The homeowner also will have paid down the mortgage by about $73,000 and had the added tax benefits of owning a home, which according to Brady would be about $40,000. In nine years, a buyer is ahead more than $225,000 from someone continuing to rent.

“The bottom line is unless you can rent the $400,000 house for $1,500, it makes much more sense to purchase it,” Brady said.

Buying a home is not for everyone. Renting is often less stressful and more flexible. But if you’re ready to settle into one place for a while, go over the numbers to see what works best for you.

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Design Elements for Modern Homebuyers

As realtors, we are first-hand witnesses to the changing tides of desirable home design elements for home buyers. Seven years ago, when I became a realtor: granite and poured concrete were all the rage for kitchen counters, everyone seemed to be looking for an open concept living space, flat yards bested yards with any slope, and stainless appliances were a must-have. It's interesting to see preferences for certain types of layouts, paint colors, building materials, design elements and landscaping choices ebb and flow over time. I even notice that my personal preferences change, depending upon what I'm seeing more of. I've grown to love marble in kitchens and baths, but I can imagine that, over time, I might tire of their stark whiteness and required maintenance.

The following article from my favorite home and design blog, Apartment Therapy, talks about *modern* homebuyer preferences. While the Northampton area isn't overflowing with Sub Zero or Viking appliances, per se, I agree that the other elements of this article hold true.

 

What Modern Homebuyers Are Looking For (Hint: It's NOT Granite Countertops)

Brittney Morgan
Oct 25, 2017
 
(Image credit: Emma Fiala)
 
When looking at homes, we all have our own preferences for different home features—one person might want a huge, modern kitchen and another might not care about the kitchen as much as they care about having walk-in closets. But which features are most commonly used as selling points for homes?

Trulia pulled data from homes for sale on the site over the past year to see what design features are most popular for listers, pitting different features against each other. While some trends and design staples unsurprisingly won out—looking at you, subway tile and hardwood floors—others didn't necessarily come out on top, and some were just plain missing (seriously, no mention of granite countertops? I'm shocked!).

Here's how the most popular design features fared against each other.

Marble Countertops vs. Quartz Countertops

The Winner: Quartz countertops—they're more expensive up front, but marble countertops require more maintenance by comparison, which can add up.

Soaking Tubs vs. Claw Foot Tubs

The Winner: Soaking tubs. Claw foot tubs may seem more luxurious, but soaking tubs were far more popular according to the data.

Hardwood Floors vs. Carpet

The Winner: Hardwood floors. According to Trulia, real estate agents frequently see a strong preference for hardwood floors from clients, because they're easier to clean and long-lasting.

Basketweave Tile vs. Subway Tile

The Winner: Subway tile—although Trulia admits the numbers for each were so close, it's nearly a toss-up.

(Image credit: Hayley Kessner)

White Cabinets vs. Dark Cabinets

The Winner: White cabinets, and real estate agents point out that lighter, brighter cabinets can make a kitchen look bigger.

Sub-Zero Appliances vs. Viking Appliances

The Winner: Sub-Zero appliances—although, like the tile style toss-up, Viking appliances were just barely behind.

Bay Windows vs. Floor-to-Ceiling Windows

The Winner: Bay windows. Another close call, but bay windows were still the more popular selling point.

Electric Stoves vs. Gas Stoves

The Winner: Gas stoves—while they're more expensive initially, they save money in the long run as gas in general is less expensive than electricity. Gas stoves were far more popular than electric stoves among listings.

 

 

Potential Pitfalls of Buying a Short Sale

Over the years, I've had a handful of homebuyers ask me about the process of purchasing a short-sale or bank-owned property. In theory, it sounds great! A Northampton area house being sold below market value - what could be better? But, the reality of of purchasing such a property can be rife with potential pitfalls.

I assisted a young couple in the process a couple of years ago. They were interested in a lovely 4 bedroom, 2 bath home with a wrap around porch, garage and private yard in Easthampton, MA - a short sale. The home was empty, we couldn't confirm that the boiler worked, and mold was growing in the basement. Ultimately, my buyers had to back out of the purchase because they needed to sign another year's lease for the apartment they were renting or risk being homeless while the unpredictable closing time frame for the purchase of the short sale unfolded before them. 

I came across this article below from Apartment Therapy  which outlines possible issues that can arise during a short sale purchase.

Thinking About Buying a Short Sale? Read This First

by Tara Mastroeni 9/15/2017

Many buyers, especially first-timers, are enthralled by the prospect of buying a short sale — and it's not hard to see why. Bottom basement sale prices make these transactions seem like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, most of the time, these too-good-to-be-true deals also come with a huge catch.

Before you commit to buying a short sale, read this first. We've outlined a few red flags that you should be aware of prior to taking the plunge. Take the time to consider each of these possibilities and decide if you're prepared to take them on, If so, you can move forward having made an informed decision. If not, then you know that focusing on traditional sales will probably be a better fit for you — one less thing to worry about!

It Could Take a Long Time to Settle

The term "short sale" is misleading. Rather than describing a transaction that can be settled quickly, it actually refers to the fact that a bank has agreed to let the sellers come up "short" on their loan in order to avoid foreclosure. In exchange for this opportunity, the sellers have agreed to give the bank the final say when it comes to accepting an offer. Before the sale can move forward, the offer must go through a lengthy approval process, which can take up to 3 to 6 months, on average.

During the approval process, the bank must first review the sellers' financials — their debts and assets — in comparison to the proposed sale price in order to decide how much of a loss they're willing to take. That documentation must be reviewed by several different departments, which often slows things down significantly. Additionally, if there is more than one loan on the property, each bank will need to make sure that the offer satisfies its needs.

You'll Need to Pay Most of the Transaction Costs

In a normal sale, buyers and sellers have a chance to negotiate who will cover the closing costs, aka the one-time fees associated with the sale that are collected at settlement. (The exact charges will vary, but they can include anything from the cost of inspections to property taxes and title insurance.) Both parties will also negotiate who is responsible for taking care of any necessary repairs on the property.

Since the bank is already taking a loss on the value of the loan in a short sale, it's unlikely that they'll be willing to assume any further costs. Most short sale contracts include a clause where the buyer agrees to take on sole financial responsibility for covering these fees, so if you decide to move forward, be sure that you have enough immediate cash on hand to account for these additional expenses.

You Could Be Held Responsible for the Sellers' Debts

When a debt goes unpaid, a lien or judgment is filed with the court system. Some will follow the individual who's responsible for the debt, while others get attached to a particular property. In a typical sale, a title company or attorney will perform a search to identify these debts and work with the seller to resolve them before settlement.

In a short sale, things may go a bit differently. Depending on the seller's financial situation, these debts may become assumed with the transfer of a deed, meaning that anyone who buys the home will automatically become responsible for their repayment.

Bottom line: Be sure to read all of the paperwork that comes with a short sale carefully before submitting an offer so that you'll be informed of the specifics of that transaction. You should always know exactly what you're agreeing to before signing any legally-binding documents.

Lighting Updates to Attract Home Buyers

One of the many services that we realtors provide our seller clients, is to preview their homes and make suggestions about affordable updates that can give a dated home, or room, a fresh appearance. It rarely makes sense for someone who is planning to sell their home to make a deep pocket investment such as a total kitchen or bathroom renovation. Style choices are subjective, and expensive renovations that a new buyer would want to "undo" can actually negatively affect the bottom-line sale price.  Sometimes a fresh coat of paint and some new light fixtures can go a long way towards making a space feel updated and attractive.

Since we do tend to have a fall upswing in home sales here in the Northampton area, now would be a good time to call your realtor for an opinion about which affordable updates to make before putting your house on the market. This recent article from the Boston Globe gives sound advice about light fixture choices:

Ask the Stager: Tips for choosing lighting that attracts buyers

   

Inspired by factories and older buildings, industrial-style fixtures are now used in contemporary kitchens.

Inspired by factories and older buildings, industrial-style fixtures are now used in contemporary kitchens. Tim Lee Photography/Staging by Staged To Move

Kara Woods - Globe Correspondent

August 15, 2017 11:00 pm

Updated interior lighting is one of the most efficient ways to get a potential buyer’s eyes to light up. Just like a fresh coat of “greige’’ (a color between beige and gray) paint, lighting has the power to change the entire feel of a room instantly. It’s an affordable fix with maximum impact.

We’re currently using the transitional style of lighting to get our clients’ homes showcase ready. A mix between traditional and contemporary, its streamlined and sophisticated look tends to appeal to the broadest audience.

Here are a few of my go-to transitional-style light fixtures:

Dining room/kitchen

The “orb,’’ or round fixture, is replacing the traditional six-candle chandelier. In addition to a dining room or kitchen, these fixtures also light up a foyer.

The Solaris 6-light sphere chandelier by Crystorama Lighting. —Photo by David Turner;Staging by Stage To Move

Kitchen pendants

When updating or installing kitchen pendants, it can be tricky to determine the size fixture you’ll need and how many will fit in the space. The rule of thumb is to space the lights 30 inches apart and 30 to 36 inches above the island surface.

Popular styles that will make your kitchen shine include:

Industrial 

Inspired by factories and older buildings, this style is now used in contemporary kitchens. Industrial-style lighting is common in Restoration Hardware designs.

Glass or clear pendants in a transitional style

Selected for its clean, linear lines, this style creates visual impact without taking up a lot of visual space. A favorite among stagers, potential buyers are able to move their eyes easily over, and through, the entire space. Stick with a polished nickel or chrome finish.

The kitchen pictured below had outdated bronze lantern-style fixtures that felt heavy and blocked the view of the large kitchen and eating area. When we installed these lighter glass fixtures, they opened up the space and showcased the full potential of this beautiful kitchen. (We also painted the cherry cabinets white, which also brightened the space.)

Bronze lantern-style fixtures that felt heavy were replaced with transitional-style glass fixtures, Birch Lane by Northport Pendant, that opened up the space. —Photo by Anthony Acocella; Staging by Staged To Move

Bathroom

Sconces

  • Stick with straight, clean lines and a polished nickel or chrome finish.
  • Avoid the glass shades that look like a bell — in other words, pronounced curves.
  • Stay away from sconces with mini shades.

Stick with clean, straight lines for bathroom sconces. Shown here is the Hewitt single sconce. —Courtesy of Pottery Barn

Overhead

  • Stick with the same rule of thumb as the sconces — opt for straight, box-like lines.
  • Stay away from curves or bell shapes.
  • Select polished nickel or chrome finishes. For overhead bathroom fixtures, select polished nickel or chrome finishes. Shown here is the Alcott triple sconce. —Courtesy of Pottery Barn

Hallway

This situation typically calls for a semi-flush-mount light, meaning there is a small gap between the ceiling and the fixture.

Hallway lighting typically calls for a semi-flush-mount light, meaning there is a small gap between the ceiling and the fixture. The fixture pictured here, by Progress Lighting, features a low-slung shade. —Courtesy of Progress Lighting

Final thoughts

A couple of things to keep in mind as you select lighting and prepare your home for sale:

1. Be sure to combine the new lighting with existing fixtures. For example, if the sconces in the hallway are brushed nickel, pick a semi-flush fixture in the same material so they coordinate.

2. Focus your staging budget on high-priority areas, which include the first floor (or public spaces), the master bedroom, and the master bath.

Kara Woods, an award-winning home staging and design professional who specializes in the luxury market, teaches at the Academy of Home Staging and serves as Northeast regional vice president of the Real Estate Stagers Association. Send comments and questions to Address@globe.com. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp.

41 Pine Island Lake, Westhampton MA NEW LISTING

Check out our new lakeside listing at 41 Pine Island Lake in Westhampton, MA.

Front view of house with stone patio and private outdoor shower on the right side. Storage shed sits behind house

Private beach, steps from the house

View from kitchen, looking towards dining room and living room. Sleeping loft above.

Living room, overlooking the lake

Kitchen, with small balcony off the side of house with steps down to the patio

The larger of the two bedrooms

Wonderful getaway beach bungalow on the peaceful Pine Island Lake in Westhampton. This cozy home features 2 bedrooms, a newly constructed 245 sf insulated sleeping loft with skylights, a separate office on the first floor which could be used as a third bedroom, an open concept living/dining room off of the well-equipped kitchen. A Jotul propane stove for heating and ambience. Step outside onto the spacious patio to enjoy beautiful sunsets, private beach with great freshwater swimming, fishing and kayaking or canoeing, or just a chance to sit back and unwind and take in the views. Pine Island Lake does not allow motor boats which adds to the tranquility of the setting. Property has a large storage shed and private outdoor shower. Tight tank septic installed in 2005. 60 Gallon hot water heater installed in 2011. This home is the perfect spring/summer and early fall getaway - just 20 minutes to downtown Northampton!

Contact Julie Starr to set up a private showing. This home is offered at $345,000. There is a $225 annual HOA plus $100 fee for private road maintenance.

 

Gorgeous, Historic Downtown Northampton Condo - Price Reduced!

I've said it before and I'll say it again - 2 Pomeroy Terrace, Unit 3 in Northampton is a special and unique property! A seamless mix of historic and modern elements blend together to create a cozy, yet spacious, and beautiful home. A stone's throw to all that Northampton has to offer, and conveniently located within a mile of the entrance to 91 - this 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath condo has so much to offer! Newly reduced price of $399,900! This is a must-see unit! 

- Beautifully maintained grounds and building.

- Healthy financial picture for this well-established condo association. No special assessments expected for the foreseeable future

- 1 bay garage for each unit, with ample parking for a second vehicle.

- Subletting allowed (though all units are currently owner-occupied).

- Condo association is pricing central air right now. Buy now and opt-in for central air in Unit 3.

- This unit has a beautifully remodeled 4 year old kitchen, but has the most original architectural details in the building. Dentil moldings, pocket doors, parquet floors, hand-carved mantle piece, etc.

- Cool, peaceful downstairs bedrooms with hardwood floors and exposed brick. Laundry downstairs in unit as well.

Contact Julie Starr to set up a showing!

 

Living Room with curved seating area and original (restored) windows

Pocket doors and hand carved fireplace mantle - looking into dining room and kitchen from living room

Dining room into kitchen

Remodeled kitchen with custom cabinetry and granite countertops - views of Mt. Tom in the distance.

Kitchen into dining room

Cozy master bedroom

Pocket doors and parquet floors

Hand-carved mantlepiece from the mid-1800s.

Exposed brick, hardwood floors and storage closets in lower level.

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What's with the Low Inventory of Homes for Sale in Northampton?

LOW INVENTORY OF SINGLE FAMILY HOMES FOR SALE

According the the MLSPIN (Pioneer Valley chapter of MLS), there were 61 single family homes listed for sale between March 1st and May 1st of 2016 alone. Here we are in mid April of 2017, and there are only 45 single family homes on the market in Northampton. Some of these are new construction opportunities, and some are already under agreement. 

Pictured Above, 32 Liberty Street in Northampton, MA

Agents within our office have anecdotes of packed open houses, with multiple offers being submitted and buyers being outbid on the few houses that have come on the market this spring. This article from realestate.boston.com confirms that housing inventory in Massachusetts is at an all-time low.

Whatever the factors are behind the dearth of new single-family listings - the fact is that now is a great time to sell! Buyers are eager to buy, interest rates are still low. So, if you are a seller thinking about possibly selling your home - the first step is to reach out to your agent to find out what our opinion of market value would be. There is no question that the demand is high, and many houses are selling for above asking price in this climate. Contact us today to set up your comparative market analysis!

The Joys of a Properly Finished Basement

This time of year, better known as the "spring market" to Northampton Area realtors, we find ourselves showing a lot of houses to potential buyers. With all of the rain we've been having, the dryness (or dampness) of a basement is at the forefront of the minds of home buyers. There are many factors that can add to or take away from the potential livability of a basement space. Inheriting moisture problems from a previous owner is something one hopes to avoid when purchasing a home. 

A few years ago, friends of mine purchased a ranch in Florence. It was in solid shape, with a damp basement. They intended to ultimately turn the basement into living space. The advice they received from their contractor was to demo the space and live with it for a year to see if/where/when/how water was getting into the basement. This was great advice! They eventually found an area where water was seeping in - not from below ground, but from the outside. They put in a perimeter drain, and diverted the downspouts from the gutters away from the house. Presto! No more water in the basement. Now they have begun the project of finishing their basement properly. 

The article below, from the RAPV newsletter, gives good advice about how to properly finish a basement.

How to Finish Your Basement Right!

 

Like most things, planning a basement renovation is easier when you have all the right tools at your disposal. Read on to learn about a few tips and tricks you can use to make your project as quick and inexpensive as possible.

Tip #1: Find a good contractor.

Finding an experienced contractor can help make the renovation proceed as smoothly as possible. The contractor will be able to help you acquire all the necessary building permits that might be required by your city. This person's business network and connections can also be a huge asset when you are arranging subcontractors to help you with specific parts of the basement renovation. 

Tip #2: Choose the right materials.

You will have to order or purchase the building materials for each phase of your basement upgrade, and it is important to make sure you choose the best materials for the job in every scenario. A good contractor will be able to help you make the right decisions about each of your building materials. 

Tip #3: Increase airflow.

The basement tends to be the coldest room in the house. Many homes have the furnace at one end of the basement, making the opposite end chilly by comparison. Consider installing ducts with an in-line fan in order to even out your basement's temperature.

Tip #4: Check for signs of possible water damage.

Before you proceed with the renovation, check the foundation for cracks and check the basement floor for any pools or drips. Repairing any potential problems before you begin to renovate can save a lot of time and money down the road. If you live in a particularly damp climate, you might want to consider adding a vapor barrier before sealing off your walls and floors. Another way to reduce moisture in your basement is to offset the interior walls from the home's exterior walls. This can be done using thin strips of wood or metal, and can also be used to balance out an uneven exterior wall.

Tip #5: Add additional insulation.

Most basements are not as well insulated as the home's other levels, so if you are planning to start spending more time in the basement, it might be a good idea to add some extra insulation to your basement's walls.

Tip #6: Sand down your ceiling joists.

Many older homes have ceiling joists that are beginning to sag, and this can cause problems if you are installing a new ceiling in your basement. Sanding or planing these joists can help make your ceiling appear as smooth as possible. You can easily do this yourself by using a level and an electric sander. 

These basic steps can help give your newly finished basement a solid foundation to grow from and become an integral part of your family's life.

Two Elegant Homes For Sale in the Smith College Neighborhood of Northampton, MA

Spring is upon us, and, as per usual for the *spring market*, we are starting to see more houses on the market in Northampton and the surrounding areas. There are a handful of grand, high-end houses available right now for buyers who are looking in the $1,000,000 and above price range. We have two listings in the Smith College neighborhood which fit the bill! Spacious, elegant, glorious homes within walking distance to Northampton Center. 

91 Round Hill Road :This superb and rare top-tier property was built in 2008 and is located in the most desirable Smith College neighborhood, moments to the rich cultural, dining and shopping attractions of downtown Northampton. Extraordinary level of quality and finish throughout with dramatic architecture featuring a soaring two-story entry way, columns and arches, cathedral-ceilinged open kitchen, dining and great room with a grand stone fireplace. Magnificent chef's quality kitchen with double Wolf stove. Illuminated tray ceilings in the foyer and dining room, main floor master bathroom with a Japanese soaking tub and whimsical curved shower. Elegant office with wood paneling and fireplace. The lower level contains 2 more bedrooms and an open plan kitchen and living room ideal for entertaining, guests or in-laws. State of the art heating and cooling systems, high capacity generator and oversized 2-car garage. Offered for $1,700,000. Contact Julie Held for showings.

 

 

 

27 Norfolk Avenue One of the most distinctive and elegant houses in Northampton. On 1.6 acres near Child's Park, this captivating 1 story California-style contemporary has 5000 s.f.—including a recent 1250 s.f. addition. It offers gracious and light-filled open spaces, blended seamlessly with the private living areas with 5/6 bedrooms, 3 full and 2 half baths. The entry guides you into the living room, illuminated by oversized windows that look out on a serene, professionally-landscaped garden on one side and a stone patio on the other. The spacious chef's kitchen has a large island, abundant lighting, granite counters and custom cabinets. One wing of the house has 3 bedrooms, full bath and den/media space. The owner's wing includes an office, bedroom with built-ins, walk-in closet with skylight and en suite bath. Through the library, you enter the final wing with a suite of rooms including a large den, laundry room and half bath, serene multi-purpose space and large bedroom with bath. Minutes to town! Offered at $1,370,000. Contact Julie Held to schedule a showing.

37 Village Hill Road - Midcentury Oasis!

Perched on a 7.8 acre open lot, surrounded by woods, yet close to Williamsburg Center, sits this unique and charming property. The handbuilt stone fireplace, built-in cabinets, beds and seating give this home a cozy and modern feel. There is so much potential in this home and lot. Built in 1947, it does need some TLC, but with a home of this character and charm, sited on a spacious and beautiful lot, the possibilities are endless!

Currently a 4 bedroom, 1 1/2 bath home, 37 Village Hill Road in Williamsburg, MA is listed by our very own Winnie Gorman. Showings begin at the open house this Sunday, October 9th from 2-4 p.m. Bring your ideas for expansion and updates! Offered at $299,000. It won't last long!

Side Yard

View from the other side of the house

Living room with built in seating and stone fireplace

Living room

Master Bedroom

What a special property!! This charming custom built ranch, in the Frank Lloyd Wright style, is in a prime Williamsburg location. Sitting atop a knoll this handsome home is surrounded by both spacious lush lawn & breathtaking woods on three sides. Only moments from downtown Williamsburg, the best of both worlds awaits you here with the quiet, peaceful, woods offering a buffer from the outside world. A unique interior, containing a lovely stone fireplace & large picture windows that truly bring the beauty of the outdoors directly into the home. Many closets as well as generous storage offer ample space to keep things neat and tidy. A rare opportunity, indeed. Come take a look!!