Blog :: 11-2015

Welcome to our blog! Here you will find posts about can't miss properties, local events, and more! Here at Maple and Main Realty we pride ourselves on our knowledge of the Northampton area. Feel free to leave a comment, we would love to hear from you! If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact us

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 Your Home Uncluttered

Having moved into our new home just over a year ago, we are finally getting close to feeling "moved in" to our new space. We downsized by 30% from our previous house in, and we sold, or gave away a large amount of our belongings before moving into this new home. Our goal is to live in an uncluttered space from here on out. It turns out this is much easier said than done. It's not only the accumulation of stuff that can lead to clutter, but how you live in your space from day to day. More to the point, it's about getting into the habit of putting things in their proper place as you move through your day, each day.

I spent time this past week sifting through the remains of our packed boxes, and getting rid of clothes and toys that the kids have outgrown. I usually donate these items to the Hartsprings Foundation in Springfield, MA, who will come pick up gently used clothes, games, toys, linens, furniture, etc. I sorted through the piles on our coffee table and other surfaces, and spent some time rearranging our living room. I find this room to be a challenge because it's a large open space, connected to the kitchen and entryway. I want it to feel cozy, not cavernous (or cluttered and messy). Once I had the furniture arranged to my liking, and had gotten rid of the accumulated clutter - I felt much better! A friend of mine, who works as a professional organizer, once told me that the key to organization is not just that everything has it's place, but that you have to go through your drawers, cabinets, toiletries, closets and file cabinets (etc) a few times a year to keep things organized! I was reminded of this during my cleaning/organizing frenzy.

I came across this blog post on the Apartment Therapy website, which gives tips about how to keep a small living space uncluttered. The truth is, I think it applies to homes of all sizes. I also think that in setting expectations for your family members, that they should follow the same rules of putting things in their proper place as they go, everyone in the household feels more comfortable, and knows where to look for things at any moment! Read on for these simple words of wisdom.

 

10 Everyday Habits to Make Any Small Space Dweller Happier at Home

 

Alana's Brooklyn Railroad

 

There are plenty of habits everyone should adopt to keep a home reasonably clean and tidy. Here are ten worth practicing in any size home, but especially vital for people living in small spaces when even a small amount of clutter can make your home look and feel messy.

1. Make your bed each morning. In a small room, the bed may take up half the space or more so if it's not made it will look unkempt even if everything else is in order.

2. Take care of your dishes as soon as you're done with them. If you have a dishwasher, put them in it. If you don't, try to wash them right away or, at the very least put them in the sink. Keeping counters clear in a small kitchen is key.

3. Process your paper mail each day. Small space living is a constant fight against "piles". Try to deal with your mail soon after you bring it in—recycle, file, shred, etc.—so you don't end up with even a small pile (which is always a slippery slope).

4. Digitize as much as you can. If you have a piece of paper that *might* be important, but you're not sure—take a photo of it and then recycle it.

5. Straighten as you go. Get in the habit of straightening and returning things to their homes as you walk around your home. Gabbing on the phone? This is an ideal time to do some straightening.


Christina's Sunny South Austin Digs

6. Put your coat and bag away as soon as you get home. Don't drape them on a chair or leave them on a table. As my husband likes to say "don't put it down, put it away."

7. Deal with in-store or online returns as soon as you can. Don't let boxes or packages or items clutter up your space and don't take the risk that you will lose receipts and other documentation.

8. Break down unwanted cardboard boxes immediately and take them outside to recycle as soon as you can.

9. Cook from your pantry. How many half boxes of pasta are in your cabinet? Or cans of beans you bought for a recipe and never used? Be vigilant about using stuff up before your cabinets are a complete jumble.

10. Put your clothes away each night before bed. Don't let them accumulate at the end of your bed, on a chair or, the worst, on the floor.

Do you have any useful habits in your small home to defend against clutter and mess?

(Image credits: Sherrie and Oliver ; Kate Bowie Carruth )

 

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.