It is finally summer; time for barbecues, summer camp, and family vacations. In recent years we’ve heard of people shortening their vacations, staying closer to home, or going nowhere at all for “staycations”. Another way to save money, while still getting away, is to leverage your own home for a home exchange.
A home exchange—often called “house-swapping”—is a money-smart vacation idea that’s been around for a long time. With virtually everyone feeling the economic squeeze, some exchanges are more popular than ever before.
Why a home exchange? Since accommodations are usually the priciest part of a vacation, a home exchange saves money, allowing travelers to take longer vacations and perhaps splurge a bit on dining, tours, or shopping. Larger families appreciate how homes meet their needs for space, meals, and a good night’s sleep. And, home-swappers often say they enjoy “living like the locals,” especially when traveling internationally.
How it works. The basic idea of a home exchange is that two families agree to live in each other’s home (usually at the same time) at no cost—it’s considered an even trade. Exchangers find one another via home exchange website that provides detailed listings of available homes. Exchanges take place within the United States or internationally, and the length of stay is whatever the parties agree upon. Exchangers typically do not meet in person but get acquainted via phone calls and emails before the exchange happens. Details, including pets, the use of a car, and cleaning are all agreed upon ahead of time, usually in a written contract provided by the website.
What makes a house desirable? You might be surprised! As a general rule, home exchangers are looking for location, location, location. They want to explore attractions in your area, attend an event, or visit family. A beachfront house in California is highly desirable, as is a condo in an exciting city—and even a home in the suburbs will appeal to the right travelers. Because swappers are primarily looking for a convenient jumping-off point for their adventures, your home’s age, floor plan, and furnishings don’t matter too much, as long as it’s clean, comfortable, and accommodating.
Vacation homes are ideal. Whether it’s a rustic cottage on a secluded fishing lake or a condo at a popular ski area, a second home is ideal for exchanges. Logistically, you don’t have to vacate your primary residence, and you have more flexibility as to when the swap can happen. For this reason, many retirees—who often own second homes and enjoy freer schedules—find home exchanges especially appealing.
First steps. If you’re intrigued, start by exploring a few websites; you can view a lot of information for free. Home exchange websites typically charge an annual membership fee of $50 to $100 to list your home. If you decide to join a service, you’ll provide several photos and a detailed description of your home. You’ll also post your desired destination(s) and travel dates, and you’ll be able to peruse the homes that meet your criteria. It’s common to trade information with several homeowners before finding just the right match, and the process may take several months.
Focus on the basics. Once you’ve agreed to an exchange and are preparing your home for guests, think about what makes a hotel room enjoyable. A clean, clutter-free home is universally appealing, and comfortable mattresses and attractive bedding are a must. Your kitchen should be well organized, and internet access is a big plus. Your guests know they’re staying in someone’s home, so don’t worry about scuffed baseboards and well-worn furniture. Likewise, don’t expect five-star accommodations when you step into your host’s home.
Is a home exchange right for you? If the very thought of others living in your home and sleeping in your bed—or you in theirs—makes your palms go clammy, an exchange is probably not for you. But many travelers are hooked!
What are your summer vacation tips?
When you think of your home, it likely conjures up feelings of safety, shelter, and comfort. However, accidental injuries in the home are one of the leading causes of harm to children 14 and younger. By taking certain precautions, many of these accidents can be prevented.
While supervision is the best way to keep your children safe at home, you can’t watch them every second. Childproofing, to whatever degree you are comfortable, will go a long way toward keeping your littlest loved ones safe and healthy at home.
Here are some tips to get you started.
Many accidents happen with or around water.
If you have children at home, it’s advisable to adjust your water heater to no higher than 120 degrees to prevent scalding. Furthermore, you should never leave a small child unattended in a bath tub, even for a few seconds. And be sure to safely secure doors that lead to swimming pools and hot tubs, including pet doors. When cooking or boiling water, turn pot handles in, or better yet use the back burners, to prevent little hands from pulling them off the stove.
Household chemicals can be very harmful to children.
It’s important not to keep poisonous materials under the sink, even if you have a cabinet guard in place. Keep dangerous chemicals up high and in a room that isn’t accessible to your little ones. Seemingly innocuous medicines can also be dangerous. Make sure your medicine cabinet is out of sight, mind, and reach.
Use safety latches and gates.
It’s advisable that you use safety latches on drawers, cabinets, toilets, and windows, as well as place covers on all electrical outlets. Gate off stairways and entrances to rooms, such as garages, that contain dangerous or fragile objects.
Secure furniture and other objects.
Heavy furniture, electronics, and lamps must be secured to prevent a child from pulling them over. Bookshelves and entertainment centers often come with devices that attach them to walls so that a climbing child won’t topple the furniture. The end-caps on door stoppers can be a choking hazard, so it’s advisable to remove them. Place plastic bumpers on sharp corners or edges of coffee tables, entertainment centers, and other furniture to prevent cuts and bruises.
Install a carbon monoxide detector.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that consumers purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors in addition to smoke alarms. Be sure to test both devices regularly and replace batteries as needed. The American Red Cross advises families to learn first aid and CPR, and to devise an emergency evacuation plan for fires and earthquakes.
Emergency contact info.
Last, but not least, in case an emergency does happen, always keep numbers for your child’s doctor, your work and cell, and other emergency contact info in an easily found place, preferably near the phone.
Accidents can and will happen, but by following a few small steps you can have peace of mind knowing that you’ve done everything you can to protect your family from harm in your home.
When you love your home but want to make some changes, how do you know where to begin? As a real estate broker and advisor to my clients, I am often asked what improvement projects are most worthwhile or where money is best invested.
In today’s market, I am consistently seeing that buyers are looking for the “cream puff” listings. They want a home that is well maintained, “move in” ready, priced well, and in a good location. No surprise there, right?
As I work with clients, whether they are preparing to move now or just looking to improve their home for their own enjoyment, I find a few things that consistently show rewards in the end.
Beginning with maintenance items such as roofing, siding, paint (both interior and exterior), windows, and a couple secret weapons that are often overlooked, which offer a huge impact and are more reasonably priced than you may think, are new garage doors and outdoor fixtures. Remember you never get a second chance to make a first impression!
Outdoor living areas have become all the rage by giving the homeowner an opportunity to add additional entertaining space to their home. The options here are endless depending on your budget and amount of space you have to work with, but this can be a great way to improve the function and finish of your home.
Take a minute to ask yourself, where do I spend most of my time in my home? Kitchen, kitchen, kitchen! We all love to eat and hang out in the kitchen. As a result, improvements here are always a good place to start.
Owner’s bedroom suites and bathrooms are also very popular areas for improvement. The range of options for these areas is vast based again on size and budget.
Consider replacing hard surfaces, base and trim, fixtures, and doors. Think outside the box and ask an expert for help choosing something that might set your home apart. Why use the same six-panel door that everyone has? Change it up a bit. Starting with the solid bones using neutral tones and embellishing with accessories to add a splash of color and your own flair is always a winner!
The more open, clean, and well maintained your home is, the greater your return on your investment will be. Buyers in today’s market have access to an abundance of information and have a good eye for short cuts. Work done just to “flip” a home will be called out very quickly! Always ask a professional for advice. You will find your favorite contractor or real estate professional will be more than happy to spend some time helping you make educated decisions that will meet your needs and show long term return.
By Aimee Shriner
Windermere Real Estate/Northeast Inc.
Orignially posted on RGN Construction’s blog.
All photos are from www.rgncon.com
When it comes time to sell a home, most people want the property to sell quickly for the highest possible return. Setting the correct listing price is the most important step in reaching this goal. Price a property too low and it might sell quickly, but you could pocket less profit. Set it too high and you run the risk of pricing yourself out of the market.
Why overpricing a home is risky
Some sellers want to list their home at an inflated value, believing that they can always lower the price down the road if needed. But this can be a risky strategy. New listings generally get the greatest exposure in the first two-to-four weeks on the market, so setting a realistic price from day one is critical. If a home is priced too high, your strongest pool of prospective buyers is eliminated because they think it’s out of their price range. Conversely, buyers who can afford it will compare it to other homes that have been fairly priced and decide that they can get more home for their money elsewhere.
Once it has been decided to reduce the price, you’ve unnecessarily lost time and money. Your strongest prospective buyers may have found another home, while the over-inflated price could result in a negative impression amongst agents and buyers who are still in the market. Not to mention, reengaging buyers after those first critical few weeks can be very challenging. As the saying goes, “time is money”; so the longer a home is on the market, the lower the selling price will likely be in relation to the initial listing price.
Setting a home price too high has other costs
When a home languishes on the market, the seller loses in a number of ways. Each month the home goes unsold is another month of costs to the owner in mortgage payments, taxes, and maintenance—expenses that are not recovered when the home is sold. Furthermore, until the house is sold, the owner is on hold and can’t move forward with whatever plans prompted the decision to sell. If the seller is still living in the home, it can also be fatiguing to keep the property in ready-to-show condition month after month.
How to set the right price for a home
It’s not easy to be objective about your own home. That’s why it’s best to have a real estate professional work with you to set a reasonable price. According to a study done by the National Association of REALTORS®, homes that were sold using a real estate agent netted an average of $25,000 more than those without agent representation.
There are a number of factors that your agent will consider when determining a sales price for your home. Here’s a quick overview.
- Comparable sales. One of the best guides to pricing your home is knowing what recent buyers were willing to pay for similar homes in your area. So, one of the first things your agent will do is prepare a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA). A CMA is a written analysis of houses in the community that are currently for sale, homes that have recently sold, and homes that were offered for sale but did not sell. While no two homes are identical, the report highlights only homes that most resemble yours. The CMA will include details about these properties, such as the number of bedrooms and baths, square footage, noteworthy amenities—and the listing price and sale price. The report will also include the Days on Market (DOM) for each property, which is the number of days it took to sell the home once it was listed. The CMA helps determine a price range that will be appropriate for your home.
- Unique property features. Since no two homes are exactly alike, looking at comparable sales is just one part of the equation. Many properties have distinctive features that add to their overall value when it comes to pricing. The importance buyers place on different features can vary by region, but examples might include a particularly pleasing view, artisan-quality interior detailing, outdoor entertaining space, or exceptional landscaping.
- Current market conditions. The real estate market is constantly fluctuating, and those cycles have a direct impact on pricing. Here are some of the market conditions an agent may consider when evaluating how to price a home:
- Are home prices trending up or down?
- How quickly are homes selling?
- Is the inventory of homes on the market tight or plentiful?
- Are interest rates attractive?
- How is the overall economy performing? Is the local job market strong or in decline?
- Current market conditions. The real estate market is constantly fluctuating, and those cycles have a direct impact on pricing. Here are some of the market conditions an agent may consider when evaluating how to price a home:
Other factors that can impact pricing include the condition of the home, seasonal influences (i.e. summer versus winter), condition of surrounding neighborhood, local amenities, and how quickly the seller needs to move.
There are a lot of factors that go into setting a home’s sales price, but it’s by far the most critical step in the overall selling process. The best course of action is to look to your real estate agent for guidance; they have the experience and market knowledge that will help you achieve your goals and reach a desired outcome that best fits your individual needs.
With the increased emphasis on global warming in recent years, combined with rising energy costs, more and more people are asking what they can do to make their homes more energy efficient. Energy conservation can be as simple as closing your curtains at night, changing a light bulb, turning down your thermostat, or closing the fireplace damper. Many of the most inexpensive solutions quickly pay for themselves in conservation, which you ultimately benefit from when you get your power bill.
One of the biggest ways you can conserve energy is to take advantage of “off-peak” hours. This is a step that everyone can take because it simply involves shifting your power use of major appliances, such as washing machines, dryers, and dishwashers. Puget Sound Energy recommends using these appliances outside of peak hours—peak hours are between 6am-10am and 5pm-9pm. Studies show that by shifting a portion of your energy use, consumers can significantly lower wholesale electricity prices, which saves everyone money in the long run.
Another way you can save energy is by washing your clothes in cold water and only running full loads. When using the dryer, toss in a couple of dry towels with your clothes to help speed up the drying process. It’s also important to clean the lint trap in your dryer after every load and make sure the dryer hose and vent are clear.
There are several steps you can follow to reduce your home’s demand on heating during the winter months. Conventional measures, such as setting back your thermostat, are effective at reducing energy consumption. It is recommended that you keep your thermostat set between 65 and 72 degrees during the winter months. Keep in mind that by simply lowering your thermostat one degree, your furnace will use seven percent less energy overall. It’s also important to clean your furnace filter frequently—doing so will enable your heating system to run more efficiently and cost-effectively.
It’s estimated that lighting accounts for 10 percent of your overall home energy bill, so another way you can conserve is by using energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs, known as CFL light bulbs. CFLs use approximately one-quarter of the energy of equivalent incandescent bulbs, they give off warm, indirect light, and they last ten times longer than average light bulbs. When shopping for CFLs, look for those with the Energy Star label on them—this ensures that you’re purchasing a product that has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
For more information about energy conservation, please visit www.energystar.org.
Posted by Windermere Guest Author
If you are a homeowner, you probably know all-too-well how costly home repairs can be. And, thanks to Murphy’s Law, appliance break-downs seem to happen at the worst possible time—like when you are selling your home. For this reason, it is in the best interest of all home sellers to consider purchasing a home warranty.
A home warranty offers many advantages to the home seller, the least of which is a peace of mind that your major home appliances are covered in the event of a break down. Most home warranties cover both parts and labor of your home’s most vital systems and major appliances. This protects the home seller from potentially large, unexpected repair bills and also allows the buyer to purchase the home with more confidence. Additionally, a home warranty is usually for the term of at least one year, so any unforeseen repairs/replacements are also covered well after the home has been sold. A home warranty also provides a competitive edge over those homes without warranties because it communicates confidence to buyers. This can add up to a faster selling period, resulting in a more convenient process for all involved.
A home is probably the single largest investment you’ll ever make, so the last thing you want as a home seller or buyer, are unexpected home repairs/replacements. Major appliance replacement can cost you several thousand dollars, and during the process of a home sale/purchase, your budget doesn’t often allow for costly expenses. A home warranty is designed to protect you from these types of expenditures. Furthermore, it is convenient for home sellers because a home warranty offers after-sale liability. While an inspection may find many faults that are covered by a home warranty, it cannot account for latent problems that are beyond an inspection’s scope, or problems that occur down the road. In most cases, a home warranty will cover these expenses, alleviating potential financial burdens for the seller once they have sold the home.
When considering a home warranty, it’s important to ask the right questions. Warranties vary from one company to the next and there are also many different types of coverage available. Your Realtor should be able to help you with this process. First and foremost, you should identify which components of the home will be covered by the warranty. It’s also important to attain annual costs and the charge for service calls. You will want to ask what the total dollar limit is on the warranty and what the limits are for the individual items that are covered. Many home sellers purchase home warranties, which are then passed along to the homebuyer when they move into the home. As a homebuyer, you may want to look into whether or not the coverage can be renewed once the warranty has expired.
According to American Home Shield, one of the largest home warranty companies in the nation, the average home warranty customer uses their warranty plan 2.3 times. Furthermore, the number of home warranties is increasing with every year because homeowners are becoming more informed of their benefits. Eventually home warranties will become commonplace, as buyers and sellers realize the advantages they offer. Ultimately, what it comes down to is that a home warranty is a very simple, cost-effective way to purchase a peace of mind for both homebuyers and sellers alike.
Cooking and dining alfresco is arguably the single greatest thing about warm weather in spring and summer, but most backyard barbeques involve a million trips to and from the kitchen. As such, one of the hottest trends in new home construction is outdoor kitchens. Outdoor kitchens typically feature a comfortable eating area with a combination of cabinets, sinks, warming drawers, prep counters, ranges, and refrigerators—all within arm’s reach of the grill. Outdoor kitchens provide a natural gathering spot for friends and family and can add to the value of your home.
How elaborate your outdoor kitchen should be depends on how often you plan to use it. Some people enjoying dining outdoors every evening, while others reserve it for special occasions and social gatherings. Regardless of the frequency of use, you need to use materials that do well in all kinds of weather. Stone sinks, stainless steel cabinets, and slate countertops will withstand the Seattle rain, as well as the months that pass between barbeque seasons. Many outdoor kitchens also feature pergolas or other roof structures to shield guests from sun and rain. Something else to consider is adding an outdoor gas heater or fireplace, which will extend the amount of time you can use your outdoor kitchen into the fall and winter months.
In addition to the convenience of having all your grilling accoutrements within a handy distance, a well-built outdoor kitchen also adds to the value of your home. And you don’t have to have a new home to reap the benefits. With the right space and backyard layout, owners of existing homes can easily add-on an outdoor kitchen area. When adding an outdoor kitchen to an existing home, power, gas, and water lines often have to be extended from the home, so be sure to hire a qualified contractor to do the work for you. By extending your living space outside, you have essentially increased the square footage of your home. In many cases the increase in your home’s value will equal or even sometimes exceed the cost of the project itself.
The benefits of an outdoor kitchen area and living space are many. And with the convenience of having your drinks, condiments, meat, and cooking space all in one easy-to-reach place, you can spend the precious summer moments right where you should—outside with friends and family.
What features would you include in an outdoor kitchen?
One area of the real estate market that is thriving right now is rental property. In the first quarter of this year, landlords and property managers across the country rented more apartments and homes than they have during the first quarters of the past ten years. And according to the Wall Street Journal, the amount that renters are willing to pay has also jumped to a nationwide average of $991 per month.
All indications suggest that the rental market will continue to improve because of the combination of low vacancy rates and rising rents. In fact, the demand for rentals is predicted to far exceed supply through 2015, with some 4.5 million new renters expected to enter the market in the next five years.
What to consider before buying a rental
Being a landlord has its challenges. The recession took a toll on rental prices for a few years and any future economic downturns could do the same. Once the job market returns to normal, there’s a strong possibility that more people will choose to move from rentals into homes of their own. And the demand for rental properties could become oversaturated at some point, resulting in an investment bubble of its own.
What’s more, while the income from a rental property can be significant, it can take at least five years before you’re making much more than what you need just to cover the mortgage and expenses. In other words, the return on your investment doesn’t happen overnight.
However, in the long run, if you select the right property, it could turn out to be one of your best investment decisions ever—especially since rental real estate provides more tax benefits than almost any other investment.
Tax deductions for the taking
One of the great things about owning rental properties is the fact that you’re able to deduct so many of the associated expenses—including a sizable portion of your monthly mortgage payment.
The commissions and fees paid to obtain your mortgage are not deductible, but the mortgage interest you pay each month is—including any money you pay into an escrow account to cover taxes and insurance. Whatever your mortgage company reports as interest on your 1098 form at the end of each year can likely be deducted.
For example, you may be eligible to deduct credit card interest “for goods and services used in a rental activity,” repairs made to the building, travel related to your rental, expenses related to a home office or workshop devoted to your rental, the wages of anyone you hire to work on the building, damages to your rental property, associated insurance premiums, and fees you pay for legal and professional services. However, as is the case with any transaction of this type, be sure to consult your attorney or accountant for detailed tax information.
What to look for
As with any real estate investment, the location of the property and its overall condition are both key. But with rental properties, there are some other factors you’ll also want to consider:
Utilities: Look for a building with separate utilities (water, electric, and gas, etc.) for each rental unit. This will make it far easier to legally charge for the fair use of what can be a very costly monthly expense.
Competition: If your property is one of the few rentals in the neighborhood, there will be less competition for interested renters.
Transportation: Rentals that are near popular public transportation options and / or major freeways (without being so close that noise is an issue) are usually easier to rent—and demand more money.
Landscaping: Properties with small yards and fewer plantings are far easier and less expensive to manage.
Off-street parking: Not only is off-street parking a desirable feature (people with nice cars usually don’t like to park on the street), it’s also a requirement for rental properties in some communities.
How to start your search
Unlike homes, rental properties do not typically have a visible ‘for-sale’ sign standing out front (as landlords don’t want to irritate, bring attention to their current renters, or turn off any prospective renters). Therefore, if you are interested in a rental property, your best option is to schedule an appointment with your real estate agent/broker to discuss your investment goals and identify what opportunities currently exist in your market place.
By Richard Eastern
If you’re shopping for a home, you may have noticed that a large number of the homes that are currently on the market are short sales. A short sale occurs when a homeowner owes a lender more than their home is worth, and the lender agrees to let the owner sell the home and accept less than what is owed. Lenders may agree to a short sale because they believe it will net them more money than going forward with a lengthy and costly foreclosure process.
Short sales do differ in a number of ways from conventional home sales. Here are a few things to consider if you’re thinking about buying a short sale property.
- Short sale homes sell for less, but not significantly less than market value.
Buyers hoping to snap up a home for half the market value will be disappointed. The selling price for short sales average about 10 percent less than for non-distressed properties. The bank is looking to recover as much of the value of the home as possible, so they will not accept offers that are significantly under market value. That said, with savings that can equal tens of thousands of dollars, a short sale is a great way to get more house for your money.
- Short sale properties are sold “as is”.
The lender will not be making repairs to the home. Any improvements that need to be made are most likely going to be the responsibility of the buyer. A savvy buyer’s agent/broker will get contractor bids for any necessary repairs and use those to help negotiate a lower sales price with the bank.
- A short sale will take longer than a conventional home sale.
Once you and the seller have mutual acceptance on an offer, you need to allow 60 to 90 days for the lender approval process. There are often long stretches when the offer is slowly winding its way through the bank’s system, so buyers need to be patient.
- If you have to sell your home first, a short sale is probably not the best fit.
Lenders generally will not take contingent offers on a short sale.
- A short sale is one real estate transaction that you shouldn’t attempt on your own.
Short sales are complicated transactions that involve a different process and significantly more paperwork than a standard real estate sale. An agent/broker that is unfamiliar with short sales can write an offer in such a way that they inadvertently cause their buyers to lose the deal. An experienced short sale agent/broker will protect your interest and help the process move forward smoothly.
The bottom line: As long as you can be patient, and are working with an agent/broker who understands the process, buying a short sale is a great way to purchase the house you want at a price you’ll love.
Richard Eastern is a Windermere agent in Bellevue and co-founder of Washington Property Solutions, a short sales negotiating company. Since 2003 he has helped more than 600 homeowners sell their homes. A Bellevue native and a UW grad, Richard is an avid sports fan and a devoted Little League and basketball coach. You can learn more about Richard here or at www.washortsales.com.
Buying a home is one of the most significant financial and emotional purchases of a person’s life. That’s why it is so important to find an agent that can not only help you navigate the home search process, but one who can also answer your questions and represent your needs from start to finish. Most importantly, your agent should care about your happiness and ensuring that you find the home that best fits your needs. Here are some qualities to consider when selecting a real estate agent:
- Someone you like. More than likely, you will be spending a lot of time with your agent, so look for someone that you enjoy interacting with.
- Someone you trust. One of the best ways to find an agent who you feel you can trust is to ask friends and family for a referral. Another way to do this is to interview different agents and ask for client references.
- Someone who listens. While your agent can’t read your mind, they should be able to make educated recommendations and offer advice by listening closely to your needs. Make sure you talk to your agent about your priorities, what types of features appeal to you, as well as any factors that could be deal breakers. This will arm your agent with everything they need to help find you the perfect home.
- Qualified and experienced. Make sure your agent has the qualifications and experience to meet your specific needs. For example, some agents have more experience with short sales, while others might be experts on certain neighborhoods or types of housing. Your agent should also be fully trained in contract law and negotiations.
- Knowledgeable. A great agent is someone who is out in the neighborhoods, exploring communities, visiting listings, performing marketing analyses, and collecting all the information that you need to make an informed, confident decision about your real estate needs.
- Honest. Your agent should be upfront and honest with you about every aspect of your home search process – even if it involves delivering bad news. The best real estate agents are more concerned about finding the right home for their clients, not just the home that brings in the fastest commission check.
- Local. Every community is different and all real estate is local, so it’s important to find someone who really knows the local market and can provide you with whatever information you need to familiarize yourself with a particular area.
- Connected. A well connected agent will have relationships with lenders, inspectors, appraisers, contractors, and any other service provider you might need during your home search.
- Straight forward. You want an agent who will work hard to help you find the best home, but you also want someone who will be straight forward with you about the process, the market reality, and what is realistic for you.
- Committed. Your agent should be in it for the long haul, meaning that they’re looking out for your best interests every step of the way, no matter how long the process takes. The best way to find an agent with these qualities is by asking around. In all likelihood, someone within your circle of friends or family will have experiences to share and professionals to recommend. You can also search for agents based on area, so you know you’re getting someone who is knowledgeable of the neighborhood(s) you’re interested in. Click here to learn more about the buying process.