Selling Your Home

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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The Benefits of Adding Solar Power to Your Home

In our development in Florence, MA, just 2.5 miles from downtown Northampton, MA, it seems that solar panels are going up on yet another neighbor's home on a weekly basis. We started the process of interviewing local solar providers last year, but had to put the project on hold for a variety of reasons. Now we are ready to open this can of worms once again. Luckily, our neighbors have done a lot of research, which they are happy to share. The following article from Apartment Therapy does a nice job of explaining the costs and benefits associated with installing solar panels on ones' home. The good news is that buyers do seem to be willing to pay more for solar power - so you needn't stay in your home long enough to see a direct return on investment. 

Can Solar Power Pay Off? One Homeowner Crunches Real Numbers

By Julie Sprankles 

Aside from the obvious benefit of helping the planet, solar power can be pretty enticing to homeowners who are tired of paying an arm and a leg for their electric bill every month. Given that outfitting a home with solar panels comes with considerable costs upfront, though, is doing so practical from a financial standpoint? Can solar power in fact pay off?

For starters, it's worth noting that the benefits—as well as costs—of installing solar (also called photovoltaic) power systems will vary from house to house. This makes sense, right? Your house might be much larger than my house. My house may be in an area where solar power is more readily available and therefore more affordable. The variables go on and on.

In general, however, there are a few universal benefits of installing solar power: it lowers your electric bill, minimizes your carbon footprint and, depending on where you live, it can even bump up your home value.

On the flip side, you'll need to drop a pretty penny upfront in order to buy the equipment and pay for the installation. The big question, of course, is whether the potential savings will outweigh those upfront expenditures—or, more pointedly, whether you'll actually be able to save money (or make money, if the value of your house goes up considerably) should you invest in solar power.

How much does solar power cost to install?

Let's talk numbers, shall we? A solar power system for an average-sized house in the U.S. can run anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000. If those figures give you a serious case of sticker shock, don't fret just yet—many companies allow you to "lease" the equipment, which dramatically reduces your upfront costs. But should you decide to purchase outright, you may qualify for government incentives that cut the cost of the system. In all 50 states, installing a solar power system qualifies the homeowner for the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit. This tax incentive allows you to claim a credit of 30 percent of qualified expenditures for your system and, most importantly, helps to shave down the time it would take for your savings to equal out or exceed your initial investment.

If you're the type that likes online calculators, you'll be particularly happy to learn that Google has come up with a handy little number-cruncher to give you an approximation of the costs and savings you can expect with solar in your own home. Called Project Sunroof, the tool relies on high-resolution aerial mapping to calculate your specific roof's solar energy potential. According to Google engineer Carl Elkin, the site "figures out how much sunlight hits your rooftop through the year, taking into account factors like roof orientation, shade from trees and nearby buildings, and local weather patterns."

Technology... crazy, huh?

When I plug my home's address into Project Sunroof, it spits out an aerial thermal image of my street that is, if we're being honest, pretty damn impressive in its detail. The fact that my roof is glowing bright yellow clues me into the fact that sunlight is aplenty, but the site spells it out for me, too.

By their estimate, my roof receives 1,606 hours of usable sunlight per year. Based on 3D modeling of my roof and nearby trees, the site figures I have 564 square feet of roof available to be outfitted with solar panels—and they recommend an 8-kilowatt system, which would cover 40 percent of our household electricity usage.

What does all of this mean for my bottom line and, theoretically, yours? That, yes, a solar power system can pay off.

With the system covering around 40 percent of my household electricity usage, my 20-year benefits of utilizing the system would total $37,000. If the upfront cost of a system after tax incentives amounts to $17,000 and we deduct that from the benefits, the 20-year savings comes out to $20,000. In other words, it would take nine years to pay back that initial investment.

You may be thinking, "Yeah, but this only pays off if I actually stay in the home for nine years." In which case you may be relieved to learn that research conducted by the Department of Energy in 2015 showed that buyers are happy to pay more for homes with solar power systems.

The study, which was cited by The New York Times, revealed that buyers were willing to pay a premium of $15,000 for a home with a solar power system, compared to a similar home without one. The only caveat is that these findings apply to systems that are owned, not leased.

So although there's no hard-and-fast rule for whether or not solar power systems will pay off in every unique situation, they can certainly save you money immediately on your electrical bill whether you buy or lease. And if you have the capital to make the full investment upfront, you could be looking at paying off the system in less than a decade and enjoying sizable savings and a big ROI in the long-term.

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.

Summer Projects Worth Doing!

Another Northampton summer is finally upon us. For many people this means, among other things, that new light may be shed upon various projects required to improve your home or property, which weren't apparent during the winter months. 

I love finding encouragement to support a hard won decision. We finally decided to green light our screened in porch construction after two years of hemming and hawing -- and we are super excited that we will have an outdoor space which keeps the bugs out! In addition, look at the words of wisdom I happened upon from the wonderful Apartment Therapy website below - this just happens to suggest that our decision was a good one!

Summer Projects That Will Give You Good Return on Investment

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

You don't have to do a total renovation to increase the value of your home. Simple home improvement projects — like landscaping, new doors or shutters, or just a new paint job — can do wonders, majorly transforming the look of your house and bumping up its value.

Landscaping

It's well-agreed that boosting your home's curb appeal will pay off when it's time to sell — though estimates range from 100 to 1,000 percent ROI. Regardless of the exact numbers, it's clear: You'll likely get out more than what you put in. Realtor.com has some ideas, ranging from weeding and maintenance to planting trees (which almost always add value).

Painting

A freshly painted home can get you a 5 to 10 percent premium when you go to sell. It's a no-brainer to paint over those rooms that are scuffed or really need it, but if you're looking to sell in the near future, you can also use paint to appeal to buyers and command a higher sale price for your home. For instance, a recent study from Zillow found that blue is a color likely to bump up the selling price of a space.

Decks and Patios

If you were thinking about getting a deck, patio or porch already, good news: It offers a 90.3 percent average return. You also get a good return if you revamp the deck you already have. You want to make sure all the boards, railings and stairs look sharp and are in safe working order. No one wants a deck that looks like a hazard to have their kids around. And adding things like lighting, planters and gates can up the value even more.

New Doors

Both garage door and entry door replacements have a high return on investment, at 80.7 percent and 98 percent, respectively. Spicing these up can increase the curb appeal over traditional, drab doors. It'll give your place something unique that other homes won't have.

by Sarah Landrum

Jun 23, 2017

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!

Paint it Black!

As an admitted design junkie, those of you who have read my blog before know that I am a huge fan of the Apartment Therapy website and blog. A good friend of mine, who has an amazing eye for design, recently traveled to Amsterdam. When she came back, she told me she intended to paint all of the woodwork on her windows black, like many of the houses she saw during her travels. This is a woman who means business. When she has a vision, she makes it happen. I was curious about this trend, and whether it would appeal to me as well. I happened upon this story on Apartment Therapy which makes the use of black paint as an accent look extremely appealing! I think the key is to choose one element in a room, which will make the rest of the room "pop".

As realtors, we here at Maple + Main Realty see trends come and go with some frequency. Paint is a great way to update a space without commiting to a large, expensive renovation. In addition, paint can be painted over if you tire of the look! And a fun trend such as limited use of black paint can freshen up a space and make it look as if you have done more extensive work than you have. 

Check out the article from Apartment Therapy here:

 

7 Things to Paint Black Today

 

There's a reason black is a classic: it's dark, it's beautiful, it matches with almost everything. And it's a great way to add a little contrast, drama and depth to an interior that needs a little extra pizazz. Here are seven weekend painting projects that will add a little bit of black -- and a whole lot of style -- to your home.

 

Your stairs.

Paint just the railing, or just the stairs, or both for a little extra impact.

 

 

Doors.
Add instant class to any space, without the trouble of painting a whole room.



 

 

The bathtub.
If you have an old cast iron tub, painting the outside is a great way to refresh your bathroom without remodeling. Ohmega Salvage has a great guide to this.



 

 

Kitchen cabinets.
Try just the upper cabinets, just the lower cabinets (the two-tone look is in) or go for broke and paint them all.



 

The fireplace.
Give the focal point of the room a little extra oomph.


 

The ceiling.

Painting your ceiling black is a bold choice that can make a large room seem cozier, and will make any room much more dramatic.





 

Bookcases.
If you love your bookcases, painting them black is a great way to set them off -- and draw attention to all those lovely volumes.





(Image credits: Design Sponge; SF Girl by Bay; Martha Stewart; My Domaine; Design Sponge; Apartment Therapy; Birgitta Drejer via Trendenser)

 

Low Inventory of Houses for sale in the Pioneer Valley?

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, our local Northampton, MA newspaper, ran an interesting article this week about the dearth of inventory of homes for sale in the Pioneer Valley. The article suggests that homeowners are staying put, vs. downsizing or retiring and moving, as a contributing factor to the low inventory of homes for sale. The article also points out that while there may be low inventory of houses on the market, it's a very good time to buy, as mortgage interest rates remain low. 

A quick check of the MLSPIN (Multiple Listing Service Property Information Network) - the MLS database for Western MA, today shows 69 homes for sale in the $200,000 to $500,000 range in Amherst, Northampton and Easthampton; and 29 listings in the $505,000 to $1,500,000 range in the same 3 communities. On a micro level, what we realtors at Maple and Main tend to see, is that the majority of buyers we work with are looking to buy in the under $500,000 range, but within walking distance to town. The problem is that houses which fit that description are few and far between. While you may find a house that is within the under $500K price range and close to town (whether it be Northampton, Florence or another local community), it will often need some TLC, have a small yard, be on a busy road - or have some other perceived negatives. Once the spring market becomes active, we do tend to see a great deal of foot traffic at our open houses -- as if buyers have been waiting in the wings for inventory to hit the market.

The article also states that it pays to be ready to go, so that you can take immediate action when the house you are looking for becomes available. This means being prequalified with a (local) bank so that you can make a competing offer right away. And to have a buyer agent with whom you are working, so that you can monitor the MLS together, and be ready to see houses as they become available.

65 Fairview Street in Northampton. Sold in 2015 by Maple and Main Realty, LLC

 

For the full article, read on below.

 

Inventory woes hit Valley’s housing market


By DAVE EISENSTADTER

Monday, February 22, 2016


NORTHAMPTON — The buzz words that have always made the Valley’s housing market attractive — stability and steady growth — remain the same in 2016, but experts are sounding an alarm over another phenomenon that is pulling the market down.

There simply aren’t enough homes for sale, said Rick Sawicki, owner/manager of Sawicki Real Estate in Amherst and 2016 president elect of the Real Estate Association of the Pioneer Valley.

“There’s a lack of inventory and that’s across the state,” Sawicki said in his office earlier this month. “That’s why sales haven’t bounced up as much as we’d like them.”

Sawicki believes the market has bounced back to where it was in 2007 and 2008 before the recession that slashed housing prices. But due to pent up demand, the houses that are going on the market are being quickly snatched up, he said.

This is good news for sellers looking to unload their homes quickly, though prices have yet to bounce back to pre-Recession levels. The good news for buyers is that interest rates remain at historic lows, but they’ll have to act fast to snare their dream home.


At the market’s peak in the spring of 2008, for example, there were about 130 houses for sale in the Amherst area. The average over the past several years has been 70 for sale. Now there are 38 houses on the market, he said.

In 2014, 1,062 houses were sold in Hampshire County and that number increased 17 percent in 2015 to 1,242, according to statistics compiled by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. The median price of homes sold in the county dropped slightly in 2015, to around $257,000 compared to $260,000 from the year before.

Hampshire County is lucky because it has the five colleges, Sawicki said. Unlike in other states where residents can depend on factories that might close or move overseas, the University of Massachusetts and the other institutes of higher learning are stable, he said.

The region has slow years when UMass has hiring freezes, but then will have great years when the university expands, he said.

“The plus side for us is that they are not going anywhere,” he said.

The new reality?

Sawicki said he and other Realtors are just now starting to figure out why there have not been as many homes for sale. People are staying in their homes longer rather than downsizing due to drops in housing prices. People are also working for more years rather than retiring, he said.

Additionally, would-be first-time owners are saddled with college debt, which has become a centerpiece of the presidential campaign on the Democratic side, he said. That means some live with their parents, giving further incentive for their parents to keep their larger home.

Sawicki hopes this isn’t the new reality.

“We don’t see as many first-time home buyers,” he said. In prior years before the recession, Sawicki said about a third of his customers were buying their first home. At the moment, he said he does not have any.


Stability continues

Craig Della Penna of Murphy Realtors said at his Florence office earlier this month that the key to the Valley’s stability in this market is its connection to walkable downtown areas.

“Places like Southern California and Arizona, places where there were huge tracts of cookie cutter locations, took it on the chin the worst,” he said. “That doesn’t fit the description here.”

According to Della Penna, historic neighborhoods featuring grid-pattern streets, sidewalks and porches are the ones that are resilient and popular.

“That is the location of the future,” he said. “That type of a layout held stronger and after the recession that is where people want to be.”

He said living in the communities of the Valley brings out civic engagement in people, and residents find themselves more invested in their neighborhoods.

“That means joining thankless long hours on boards and commissions here in the city as a volunteer, or they will participate in ways they probably didn’t where they used to live,” he said.

Della Penna’s specialty is selling houses near conservation land, particularly near bicycle trails that have been converted from old railroad tracks. He believes that such trails have the power to revitalize neighborhoods.

As for the recession, Della Penna said he knew the region had moved beyond it shortly after the 2012 election. Sixty prospective buyers came to an open house the following month in a Florence location.

“Realtors that were experienced around here, we knew we were out of the recession,” he said.

Della Penna had 25 sales in the past year, he said. At the same time, his business skews toward the higher end houses, meaning that he has not sold to as many first-time buyers. He described the market as a seller’s market, meaning that those selling homes have the upper hand over those buying them.

Interest rates

Though they have to act fast, buyers can still take advantage of historically low interest rates despite a recent rate hike approved by the Federal Reserve.

“We heard so much about the federal rate going up, but in actuality rates have come down,” Barbara-Jean DeLoria, senior vice president and director of mortgage lending at Florence Savings Bank, said in an interview this month. “The fed has lowered the interest rates over the past few weeks, which is really interesting.”

Florence Savings Bank offers a 3.75 percent 30-year mortgage.

“We really are at the bottom,” she said, referring to the rate. “In my 25 years of banking I have seen rates that have been at 12 percent, 7 percent and now as low as 3.5 percent.”

She said she does not expect rates to rapidly increase any time soon. “I don’t think the state of the economy can sustain that,” she said.

DeLoria said the bank determines a potential buyer’s debt-to-income ratio to decide what amount they can afford to borrow. By prequalifying a customer in this way, it gives that customer the knowledge of what they can afford and the power to negotiate, she said.

Mortgages are on the rise in the area. Florence Savings, for example, in 2014 approved 400 mortgages, and in 2015 the number was 523, according to DeLoria.

Countywide, the value of all mortgages rose about 17 percent — from $667 million to $782 million — keeping up with the increase in home sales, according to DeLoria.

Realtor Rachel Simpson of Goggins Real Estate based in Northampton is waiting for the spring.

In the winter of 2014, sales were down because of the cold and snowy weather, and then the market picked up in the spring, as it always does, she said.

Up until some recent snowstorms, the market remained active, but it is slow due to a lack of houses on the market.

“There’s a lot of buyers looking for inventory and there isn’t much inventory,” she said.

The hottest time of the market is the spring, and for that reason many prospective sellers and buyers wait until then to become active in the market.

At the same time, preparing to buy or sell can take time, so Simpson is advising sellers to start cleaning their house and preparing it for showings and buyers to go out and look at some homes.

Simpson said with online listings there is a lot of cursory information available, but that nothing replaces going to see a house in person.

“I encourage people to look and not to be afraid to go look at something even if they are not sure,” she said. “The more you know, the better off you are and the better informed you’re going to be to putting in an offer.”

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@gazettenet.com.

 

The Pioneer Valley has some of the hottest real estate markets in the Bay State!

Great news for homeowners in the Pioneer Valley! According to this article on the Boston.com website, home sales in the Bay State in 2015 indicate that of the 25 "hottest" cities, we are cornering the market! East Longmeadow, Westfield, Holyoke and Easthampton all make this list! This means that house sales have increased significantly in each of these four local communities, all within striking distance of Northampton, since 2014.

We Maple and Main realtors have certainly noticed this trend first-hand. Easthampton alone showed vigorous home sale activity during our busy Spring/Summer market of 2015. We look forward to a continuation of this trend in Hampshire, Hampden and Franklin counties in 2016 and beyond! 

 

These are the 25 ‘hottest’ cities and towns in Massachusetts:

Photo credit: Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe - Holyoke, MA



By Megan Turchi @meganturchi

February 5, 2016 

It was a big year for home sales in the Bay State.
The recent 2015 Massachusetts Housing Report from Waltham-based Lamacchia Realty points out that 83,961 homes sold in the state last year, a 9 percent increase from 2014. The average sale price of these homes also went up 3.6 percent.
Lamacchia Realty attributes this increase in sales to factors such as loosening mortage guidelines, low interest rates, increased home equity, and an overall stronger local economy.
But of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, some saw the number of home sales increase more than others.
As Anthony Lamacchia of Lamacchia Realty notes in his most recent report about the hottest housing markets of 2015, when a town or city sees a big jump in home sales from one year to another, it’s a strong indicator that it is “becoming a sought-after location for homeowners”—in other words, a “hot” market.
This could also be an indicator for what we can expect to see in these cities and towns throughout 2016.
Here is Lamacchia Realty’s list of the 25 hottest towns and cities in Massachusetts real estate for 2015:

 

Buying or Selling a Home In Today's Market

Local, Northampton MA, finance writer, Ilana Polyak, recently wrote the following article for CNBC.com, and interviewed our very own co-owner/manager of Maple and Main Realty LLCJulie Held for the article! Although real estate transactions are handled differently from region to region - this article has many salient points for local buyers and sellers alike. Read on for some solid advice on buying or selling a home!

Buying and selling a home: What you need to know

There have been rumblings for years from the Federal Reserve that interest rates are going to rise. But so far that hasn't quelled homebuying activity. Median existing single-family homes clocked in at $229,400 in the second quarter of 2015, up from $177,000 in 2012, a rise of more than 29 percent.


Phillip Spears | Getty Images

In some markets, such as New York and San Francisco, prices have climbed much faster than the national averages, due to a supply-and-demand imbalance. That means buyers must do their due diligence and be in good financial shape before showing up at an open house; otherwise, it's likely they'll lose out to others more prepared to make a solid offer.

To navigate this often complicated and stressful process, here's what both buyers and sellers need to know about homebuying.


For buyers ...

Are you mortgage-ready? Banks' willingness to lend money ebbs and flows with the economy, said Las Vegas Realtor Linda Rheinberger, regional vice president of the National Association of Realtors.

"The pendulum is swinging," she said.

To be sure, borrowers with a credit score of 760 or higher (850 is the highest score) get the best interest rates. On a $300,000 mortgage, top borrowers would pay about $100 less per month than those with a score between 660 and 679, according to Fair Isaac, a credit score company.

If your credit score isn't up to snuff, take some time to fix it before you start home shopping.

"You can turn your credit around in six months," said Linda Ferrari, a Los Angeles real estate broker and author of "The Big Score: Getting It and Keeping It." "If there are a lot of challenges," she added, "it might take a year."
Start by getting a copy of your credit report, Ferrari said. First, look for any errors and correct them. Second, pay down some debt. You can improve your score quickly by keeping the amount of money you owe to less than 25 percent of the credit you have available. That could boost your score by 25 points, Ferrari said.

Preapproval: a must-have. In a hot real estate market, a mortgage preapproval can make all the difference between winning a bid or not.

"If there are multiple buyers, you want the seller to know that you know what it takes to get this deal done," said Jeff Goodman, a New York-based real estate agent with Halstead Property.

And if yours is the only offer on the table, a preapproval might help you snag a property for less than asking price, Goodman said. It signals that you've done most of the legwork already and there aren't likely to be delays.

"In real estate, time kills deals," he said.

What's more, preapproval tells you how much you can borrow, explained Julie Held, co-owner and broker of Maple and Main Realty in Northampton, Mass.. "Otherwise, you may be looking at completely the wrong price range," she said.
It's important to know the difference between preapproval and prequalification, which people often use interchangeably. They're different. Prequalification is an estimate of how much you can borrow. A prequalification may or may not affect your credit. It all depends on whether a lender checks credit reports during this stage and how often you apply.

Preapproval goes a step further and analyzes your creditworthiness. After that, all that's left for the lender is to evaluate the property you wish to buy.

Down payments and closing costs. How much to put down for a down payment varies by market and by property type.

"Twenty percent is ideal in order to avoid private mortgage insurance," Held said. Private mortgage insurance, which runs about 1 percent to 2 percent of your loan amount, will be tacked on to your monthly mortgage if you have less than 20 percent equity in your home.

First-time homebuyers under certain income thresholds can get a loan through the Federal Housing Authority for as little as 3.5 percent down. FHA will insure mortgages made through FHA-approved lenders.

FHA loan limits vary based by region. In the Bay Area and New York City, for example, the limit is $625,000 for single-family homes. Meanwhile, it is $271,050 for most counties in Alabama.

However, not all sellers will want to accept an FHA offer, because they worry that the appraisal might take longer and the inspections will be more rigorous. "The truth is, if you go in with 20 percent down and a preapproval, you're going to get the home instead of someone with 3.5 percent down and FHA financing," Ferrari said.

After the down payment, you'll still need to have cash on hand for closing costs, which typically run 1 percent to 3 percent of the purchase price. In addition to fees paid to the bank, you'll also need to pay for an inspection, property taxes and title insurance. Some lenders may roll up closing costs into your mortgage.

Remember to budget for your move, too. Along with direct moving costs, you'll probably be running out to a hardware store every few days for something new to feather your nest with.

For sellers ...

Watch the taxes. The federal allowance for how much profit you can get without paying capital gains tax is pretty high — $250,000 for singles and $500,000 for couples. To walk away without paying the capital gains tax, you must have lived in the home two out of the last five years.

But that doesn't mean you won't pay taxes on the sale of your home. Most states and municipalities also levy a transfer tax.

In some parts of Nevada, where Rheinberger of the National Association of Realtors works, that amounts to just a few dollars per $1,000 of the sale price. But in the Bay Area, where Linnette Edwards is an associate broker with Better Homes & Gardens, it runs to $15 per $1,000.

"On a million-dollar home, you're talking about $15,000," Edwards said.

In New York City, there's also a mansion tax — 1 percent of the sale price of properties that sell over $1 million.

Depending on the market, sellers might be able to negotiate this tax and get the buyer to shoulder some of this responsibility, said Edwards. But most of the time, this is the seller's responsibility.

Timing is everything — hopefully. Then there are those times when you're both a buyer and a seller. Sometimes you get the timing down just right. But if not, you could end up owning two properties at once or having a gap between selling and buying.

Contingency. If you're a seller in a hot market, you might have some leverage to push the closing date of the property you're selling to one that makes it convenient for you.
 

Goodman, the New York City broker, tells of a Harlem townhouse whose owner needed six months to clear out a lifetime of papers and mementos.

"The buyers weren't thrilled," he said. "But they got the property, even though they bid $40,000 less than someone because they were willing to wait."
Bridge loan. When you have children and pets, not to mention piles of laundry lying around, it can be nearly impossible to make your home ready for showings at a moment's notice. Families, said Goodman, often prefer to sell their home after they've moved out.

In this case, if you don't have the income to pay two mortgages at once, a bridge loan may be the answer. A bridge loan, also known as gap financing or interim financing, is a short-term loan — usually up to one year — that is backed by some form of real estate. Most borrowers take the bridge loan against their current property to finance the purchase of the new property.

Interest rates are high, however. Expect to pay about two percentage points more for a bridge loan than a conventional mortgage.

— By Ilana Polyak, special to CNBC.com

 

Keeping Up with the Needs of your Home

It's hard to pinpoint the moment at which your newly renovated kitchen or bath starts to feel and look dated. As the months and years go by, something shifts. Is it that the paint has faded? Is it that the white square tile just isn't as timeless a choice as white subway tile would have been? Are you wishing you had chosen oil-rubbed bronze fixtures vs. chrome? Whatever the case may be, time does take it's toll on our homes - both stylistically and actually. As realtors, we are often pointing out to sellers, that when faced with what to focus on with regard to house updates for resale, it's the systems that should come first. Roofs, windows and trim, HVAC systems, gutter cleaning, moisture management in basements -- all of these items may be less compelling than a gorgeous bathroom renovation - but aesthetic choices are subjective. For instance, If you spend a lot of money on a kitchen renovation in lieu of replacing an aging roof or aging HVAC system - buyers may not like your design choices; they would therefore be less likely to buy your home than a home with a slightly dated kitchen but a new roof and updated HVAC system.  Giving a house or room a fresh coat of paint can liven up the space without spending a lot of money.

The following article from the Daily Hampshire Gazette gives sound advice about the "whens" and "whys" to start taking on home improvement projects in an aging home.

 

 

Living Smart: Projects for your home’s difficult teen years



As your house approaches 20 years old, consider steps to improve window efficiency. (Summer Galyan/Angie's List/TNS)

By Michele Dawson Angie’s List (TNS)
Thursday, November 5, 2015


When it comes to home improvement projects on your house that’s coming of age, there’s no denying that your roof, windows and air conditioning and heating units might be getting moody, temperamental or give you the silent treatment altogether.

As your home ages, it will require more upkeep and improvements. It’s especially important to stay on top of some of the more potentially troublesome elements of your home — ones that can cause you massive headaches and put a huge dent in your wallet.

Many changes both small and large can increase energy efficiency and cut down on electricity or gas bills, as well as increase home value if and when you plan to sell your house.

If your home’s age is in the double-digits, some of the home improvement projects on your to-do list will include:

Roof repairs, shingles and gutters


While staying on top of roof maintenance should take place regardless of the age of your home, it becomes even more important in the teen years. The National Roofing Contractors Association says you should examine the condition of the shingles. Any sign of blistering, buckling or curling means it’s time to replace them. You should also check the chimneys and pipes for wear or anything that seems to be coming apart. Also, check your gutters for any shingle granules. If you’re finding healthy amounts in the gutter, that means they’re not on the shingles and your roof is missing out on ultraviolet ray protection. If you find any of these problems, consider a roof repair by a licensed roofing contractor.

Gutter cleaning plays an important role in protecting your gutters, downspouts and foundation. Keep a clean gutter by regularly hiring a gutter cleaning company, and consider adding gutter guards to further protect them.

Window replacement and repair

As your windows age, they’re bound to lose the battle with draftiness or become stubborn and stick to their frames, and you’ll likely see your energy bill increase. Checking your windows for drafts and caulking is an easy solution that can be completed in a weekend and with minimal expense. Or you might consider new replacement windows with high energy efficiency. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says you’ll save 7 to 15 percent on your energy bill, and your home’s temperature will be consistent. No more drafts if you’re sitting by the window or rooms that feel too hot in the summer. A vinyl window overhaul can cost you upwards of $10,000 to $15,000. But the good news is that you’ll recover about 78 percent of that when you sell your home, according to Hanley Wood’s 2014 Cost vs. Value Report.

Heating and cooling

Life expectancy in HVAC units is typically 10 to 15 years. Units produced today are much more energy-efficient than the models just a decade ago. If you’re constantly calling an HVAC contractor, your unit is noisy, it’s humid inside your house, your energy bills are rising, or your unit’s SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) is less than 13, then it’s time to consider replacing your heating and cooling unit with a model that boasts higher energy efficiency. A licensed HVAC contractor can perform a load calculation that gets the most efficient model for your money.

Landscaping, tree service

When your house was new, the trees and landscape were so young and nonthreatening. As the years pass, the trees have matured and provide shade and beautiful aesthetics. But your gutters are getting clogged with leaves and you start to notice bumps and bulges in the path of tree roots, heading straight to your block patio. You’ll need to start cleaning those gutters more frequently. And if your tree roots are presenting problems, you can consider installing a barrier to the roots or dig and place pack material to discourage the roots.

A tree service professional can help ensure the best health for your trees by careful pruning and maintenance.

Painting and home décor


An easy way to help your home decor retain a youthful appearance is by livening it up with a new paint job. For both the interior and exterior, a fresh coat of paint can bring a crisp, clean, bold appearance. As walls get dingy and dirty, painting a room can do wonders. And introducing new colors can make a room or exterior of your house feel new again.

Staying in tune with your house during its tumultuous teen years is especially important if you plan on selling in the near future. Buyers tend to navigate toward homes that have been properly maintained and sport newer, more energy-efficient features. And exterior work such as regular tree service and fresh paint can increase curb appeal for a better home value.