By Arielle Kass
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 1/27/2014
Home sales in metro Atlanta rose in December as prices continued to increase, the Atlanta Board of Realtors said.
Sales of homes in the 11-county metro region were up 1.9 percent in December from a year ago. The median sales price of $196,000 was a 21 percent increase over December 2012.
Atlanta Board of Realtors president Todd Emerson said in a statement that the increase in both sales and prices during the traditionally slow holiday season is a “good harbinger” for the spring selling season.
“We expect these statistics to begin rising as the warmer weather arrives, but this reversal of the downward trend established over the last several months is a welcome change,” he said.
You’ve found the house. The bank is in your corner. You’ve got a top notch real estate agent watching your back.
It’s time to pull the trigger. It’s time to buy your house.
Until you’ve been through the homebuying process a time or two, the jump from “prospective buyer” to “buyer” can seem confusing. The process, so long as the bank is in your corner from the start, is actually pretty straightforward.
To whom should I make the check out?
If you’ve hired a good real estate agent, which I’m sure you have, the process will be even easier. Your real estate agent will be your guide as you navigate this jungle.
The first step is to make an offer to purchase. The exact rules and contracts can vary, so lean on your agent to guide you. If the form is endorsed by the National Association of Realtors, then odds are you’re good to go.
Because there is so much variation from state to state and so much nuance to the “Offer to Purchase Contract,” I’ll speak only generally here. Rely on your agent. Remember, the agent is financially rewarded when the house sells. Your agent wants your offer to be accepted, and he or she wants you to be able to afford it. If the bank says no, the agent doesn’t get paid.
The seller will probably negotiate with you. That is to be expected and is totally normal. Remember to stay calm and negotiate from strength. You’ve done your homework, and you know what the home is worth.
Its easy to become emotionally attached at this point. But you have to stick to your financial plan. If the seller is unreasonable, you must be willing to walk away from the deal.
With a little luck, you’re offer will be accepted. Congratulations!
The next step is to notify the bank and formally apply for your mortgage loan. The sooner, the better, as the bank has a multi-step process it must begin and complete before your offer to purchase expires.
The bank will ask you to sign a smorgasbord of government-required disclosures, although the changes in bank regulations over the past few years makes this part of the process much easier.
Pay attention to the disclosures. They are important. Do not let the banker rush you to sign. You’re on the cusp of borrowing a huge sum of money. Understand fully what you’re signing up for.
Other people in the process you’ll need to know
There are a handful of other professionals who will play a part in your journey to homeownership. Again, lean on your real estate agent for help; think of him or her as your project manager.
Your agent can make recommendations of whom to hire and what prices are reasonable, and he or she will coordinate everyone’s schedules.
First, you’ll need to buy insurance for your new home. This is as simple as calling a few insurance agents to price-compare. When you’ve selected one, just notify your bank of your choice, and it will coordinate from there. Pretty simple.
Your real estate agent can also help you select a licensed home inspector to inspect the property for damages, structural integrity, termites, and other issues hiding behind the walls. When the inspection report is finished, there will invariably be something the inspector found that he or she recommends fixing.
The choice is up to you, but it’s usually worth going back to the seller to negotiate for most or all of the fixes to be done before closing the loan. Again, to beat a dead horse, your real estate agent can help you assess the report and advise you on the best course of action.
Your real estate agent can also help you select a lawyer to close the loan for you. The lawyer will take care of filing all the paperwork properly with the government and ensuring that all the loan documents are correct. You will need to notify the bank of your choice so it can coordinate the loan closing with the lawyer.
Meanwhile, back at the bank
While you and your real estate agent are making things happen out in the real world, the bank is hard at work behind the scenes.
The bank will order the appraisal, which generally takes two to four weeks to complete. The bank will give your financial statements and application a final review. They’ll communicate with the insurance company and tax assessor’s office to determine your obligations there.
The bank will ask you if you would like to escrow the payments for insurance and property taxes. What this means is that you will pay the the money to cover insurance and taxes to the bank monthly with your loan payment. The bank holds the money and pays the insurance and property taxes when they are due.
The downside is that you’re giving the bank your money and sacrificing the interest or other value that money could bring to you if it were not escrowed at the bank. To each his own. However, I recommend escrowing. The peace of mind is worth more than the small amount of opportunity cost.
The bank will also calculate all the sources and uses of cash in the loan closing. This includes all the taxes, fees, and other monies you will be required to pay at closing. These fees vary substantially by state and bank, but the bank will disclose an estimate to you upfront. So pay attention to the disclosures!
When the appraisal is complete, the bank will give your loan package one final review and, hopefully, approve the loan.
The closing table
When closing day finally arrives, you will head to your lawyer’s office to sign all the paperwork and receive the keys to your new home.
The lawyer will walk you through all the paperwork and ensure that you fully understand everything you’re signing. If you have questions, ask! You are paying him or her, so don’t get shy. Get your money’s worth!
If you will be bringing any money to closing, such as your down payment, fees, or other closing costs, make sure to bring a certified check from your bank. Most lawyers won’t accept a personal check or card transaction.
When everything is signed, witnessed, and ready to go, you can proudly call yourself a homeowner. The lawyer will file everything officially at the Register of Deeds office for you a day or two later.
Realtor Home Buyer Study Shows Promising Green Trends
December 11, 2013 • By Nathalie Sanderson
A 2013 study by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) shows home buyers are thinking green when it comes to choosing a new residence, spurring much-needed demand in a chilled housing marketplace.
In its annual Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, NAR found a still-rising premium on eco-friendly homes and communities in the U.S. housing market. Buyers are looking for homes designed or retrofitted with planet-friendly features like high-efficiency windows, water metering, and geothermal heating and cooling.
According to the Profile, the top priorities were heating and cooling costs, energy-saving appliances, and energy-efficient lighting. In the Northeast, nearly 40 percent of buyers said heating and cooling costs were their single greatest concern. The report found that new home buyers also attached importance to solar power, green landscaping techniques, and eco-conscious community perks, like easy community access for less commuting.
A Greener Market
From the world’s most expensive homes, outfitted with satellite-controlled irrigation and solar arrays, to modest LEED-certified granny flats, more and more home buyers are seeking housing with an environmental conscience. Requiring less energy and raw resources, green homes are helping slow the daily juggernaut of garbage bound for overflowing U.S. landfills. In a nod to climate change woes, forward thinking housing also keeps carbon usage to a minimum.
The use of green building materials has continued to climb through the recession. From new builds to remodels, opportunities abound for buyers and sellers to join the movement for sustainable housing. Today’s $116 billion global market is expected to swell above $250 billion by 2020, market analysts at Navigant Research projected this year.
These real estate trends benefit not only the environment, but buyers and sellers, too. Developers are racing to earn eco-credentials like LEED certification to prove their mettle in this greener market. Consumers are responding positively, driving vital demand in a recession and helping to bring down the price of earth-friendly materials.
Serving Human Health
Acknowledging new LEED certification rules, green-minded developers are increasingly introducing features in support of human health. Embracing this theme was last month’s 12th annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, the world’s largest building sustainability event.
Held in Philadelphia, this year’s gathering emphasized non-toxic construction furnishings that promote rather than contaminate indoor air quality, such as low-biocide paints or low-VOC flooring. Echoing this sentiment, the U.S. Green Building Council released its latest round of environmentally friendly construction standards, dubbed ‘LEED v4,’ at the Greenbuild conference.
The LEED v4 updates have drawn attention for a revamped focus on materials safety and transparency. The tough new benchmarks directly take on the human health dimension of environmental health because, noted one LEED VP, there’s no point in creating an airtight, energy-efficient structure only to fill it with hazardous toxic materials.
Sentimentality can be a powerful disincentive to declutter. How could a loving daughter sell her family silver, even though she dislikes the pattern? How could parents ever discard a painting by their young budding Picasso, even though he’s now 30 and hasn’t picked up a paint brush in 20 years?
Most home owners avoid those tough decisions and schlep possessions from house-to-house. But it’s far smarter to shed before moving. Not only does it clear out space to make a listing look its best, it also saves on moving costs to transport less stuff.
1. Study the entire house. Sellers shouldn’t tackle every room in one fell swoop. Advise them to go room-by-room, starting at the front door. Sellers should pretend they’re seeing each room for the first time, says Kammie Lisenby, CEO of The Organizing Experts in Seattle. The goal is to make rooms resemble those in a hotel, says professional organizer Katrina Teeple, owner of Operation Organization in Los Angeles.
2. Make piles. Sellers should organize piles as they clear each room — for example, stack items to keep, give to family or friends, donate to a charity, sell online, get hauled away, and consign. They should bear in mind the size of the home they’re moving to, their degree of sentimental attachment, and the financial value of each item. It’s best to put highly personal items aside in the keep pile, such as family photos they don’t want buyers to see during showings, says Lisenby.
3. Create a spreadsheet. A master list of what rooms will require organizing tasks can be helpful. This will also aid in prioritizing expenses, such as home improvements, paint, and staging elements. To play it safe with finicky buyers, sellers should go neutral in paint and decor, says Teeple.
4. Empty closets. Often becoming a graveyard for all the belongings home owners don’t know what to do with, clean, spacious closets are a coveted feature among buyers. Izsak suggests eliminating anything not worn or used in the last two years. Aim to dispose of 50 percent of wardrobes since most people only wear 20 percent of their clothes 80 percent of the time, he says. The remaining items should be stored on uniform rods, or in labeled, see-through bins, says Teeple.
5. Clear off counters and bookcases. Get rid of books that won’t be reread, particularly now that so many people read online. Add a few home decor items for sparkle. When in doubt, follow the “rule of three,” a mantra among home stagers, by clustering items into threes to create visual appeal. The final effect should reflect a neutral style.
6. Inspect the home’s exterior. Depending on the time of year, sellers may need to hire a professional to clear leaves, snow, or ice, so that they don’t hide a home’s features. Messiness and wear and tear on the outside indicates to buyers that the inside hasn’t been cared for well.
7. Check curb appeal all around. While the front yard is key to making a good first impression, more home owners spend time out back, so sellers should be sure lawns, shrubs, trees, and amenities like a fence and air conditioning condensers are maintained.
8. Spruce up the kitchen. This is the home’s most popular gathering spot and another place where everything gets dumped—backpacks, car keys, cell phones, etc. The rule of three applies here, too. Tell sellers not to stuff anything into a pantry or cabinets; get rid of it if it hasn’t been used in a few years. Also, clean out the refrigerator and freezer.
9. Make bathrooms spotless. Not every seller has a spa bathroom to unwind in, but clean grout, tiles, shower door, and vanity can make a big difference in an average bathroom. Clear out the prime real estate of a medicine cabinet, add crisp white or other neutral towels, fresh soaps, and a plant, Teeple suggests.
10. Purge basements, attics, and garages. These are a home’s purgatories—where stuff goes to never see the bright light of day, says Izsak. Anything that’s been moved at least twice and not opened needs to be reassessed, says Chris Seman, president of Caring Transitions in Cincinnati, a relocation service. Separate the items to be stored in see-through bins to reveal their contents; do so by categories, such as holiday decorations; and be sure bins are labeled clearly and have lids to keep out pests.
11. Professionalize an office. With more home owners working from home, a separate room or corner for an office can boost sales appeal. Have sellers clear up paper piles and file documents—but remember, most home owners only reference 5 percent of their files, says Seman. The work area should include good illumination, a comfortable chair, and clean equipment, says Izsak.
12. Get rid of belongings. Now it’s time for your sellers to rethink what to do with everything in piles. Here are some upsides and downsides to these decisions:
Sell or auction through an online vendor like Craigslist or eBay or at a flea market. Downside: It may take time to get the desired price.
Leave at a consignment shop to get stuff out of a house now. Downside: Proceeds get shared, and it may take a while to sell.
Give away to family, friends, or a nonprofit such as freecycle.org. Some communities let residents leave stuff outside their house with a sign, “Take it!” Upside: It gets rid of things fast. Have a group haul it away such as 1-800-Got-Junk? Upside: This avoids driving it to a dumpster. Donate to a charity. Upside: It gets out of a house, helps someone in need, and provides a deduction. Fill out IRS Form 8283 if total exceeds $500. Organize a yard sale. If time is of the essence, the seller could hire a professional who sets up tables, takes money, and gets rid of what doesn’t sell. Downside: Proceeds get shared.
13. Don’t repeat collector mania. Once sellers move into their new home with fewer possessions, advise them to purchase carefully. Sending organization ideas and decluttering tips is a great way to keep in touch with past clients. Check out HouseLogic’s REALTOR® Content Resource for helpful home staging, maintenance, and organizing articles you can use in your newsletter or blog, or share them on your social networks for free.
OCTOBER 2013 | BY BARBARA BALLINGER
Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this.
Copyright 2013 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®
This is a simple idea who’s time has come. Check out DoorBot from this article by Springwise.com.
DoorBot is a system that aims to replace the doorbell with a camera that broadcasts direct to homeowners’ smartphones.
Rich wood flooring can spell instant warmth and patina in a home. Here’s an overview that can help buyers and sellers evaluate wood floors.
Just as with ties and hem lengths, wood flooring styles change. Colors get darker or lighter; planks get narrower or wider; woods with more or less grain show swings in popularity; softer or harder species gain or lose fans; and the wood itself may be older, newer, or even pre-engineered with a top layer or veneer-glued to a substrate to decrease expansion and contraction from moisture.
Here are key categories for consideration:
This is what some refer to as “real” wood because the wood usually ranges from three-eighths to three-quarters of an inch in total thickness to permit refinishing and sanding. Thicker floors have a thicker wear layer to allow for more frequent refinishing and sanding, so they can withstand decades of use, says architect Julie Hacker of Stuart Cohen and Julie Hacker Architects. It also can be stained, come from different species of tree, and be sold in numerous widths and lengths:
- Width and length: Designer Steven Gurowitz, owner of Interiors by Steven G., is among those who prefers solid flooring for many installations because of its rich, warm look. Like other design professionals, he’s seeing greater interest in boards wider than the once-standard 2 ¾ to 3 ¾ inches — typically 5 to 6 inches now but even beyond 10 inches. And he’s also seeing corresponding interest in longer lengths, depending on the species. Width and length should be in proportion. “The wider a board gets, the longer the planks need to be, too, and in proportion,” says Chris Sy, vice president with Carlisle Wide Plank Floors. These oversized dimensions reflect the same trend toward bigger stone and ceramic slabs. The downside is greater cost.
- Palette: Gurowitz and others are also hearing more requests for darker hues among clients in the northeastern United States, while those in the South and West still gravitate toward lighter colors. But Sprigg Lynn, on the board of the National Wood Flooring Association and with Universal Floors, says the hottest trend is toward a gray or driftwood. Handscraped, antique boards that look aged and have texture, sometimes beveled edges, are also become more popular, even in modern interiors, though they may cost much more.
- Species and price: Depending on the preference of the stain color, Gurowitz favors mostly mahogany, hickory, walnut, oak, and pine boards. Oak may be the industry’s bread and butter because of the ease of staining it and a relatively low price point. A basic 2 ¼-inch red oak might, for instance, run $6.50 a square foot while a 2 ¼-inch red oak that’s rift and quartered might sell for a slightly higher $8.50 a square foot.
- Maintenance: How much care home owners want to invest in their floors should also factor in their decision. Pine is quite soft and will show more wear than a harder wood like mahogany or walnut, but it’s less expensive. In certain regions such as the South, pine comes in a harder version known as heart pine that’s popular, says Georgia-based designer Mary Lafevers of Inscape Design Studio. Home owners should understand the different choices because they affect how often they need to refinish the wood, which could be every four to five years, says Susan Brunstrum of Sweet Peas Design-Inspired Interior. Also, Sy says that solid planks can be installed over radiant heating, but they demand expert installation.
Also referred to as prefabricated wood, this genre has become popular because the top layer or veneer is glued to wood beneath to reduce expansion and contraction that happens with solid boards due to climatic effects, says Sy, whose firm sells both types. He recommends engineered, depending on the amount of humidity. If home owners go with a prefabricated floor, he advises a veneer of at least one-quarter inch. “If it’s too thin, you won’t have enough surface to sand,” he says. And he suggests a thick enough substrate for a stable underlayment that won’t move as moisture levels in a home shift.
His company’s offerings include an 11-ply marine-grade birch. The myth that engineered boards only come prestained is untrue. “They can be bought unfinished,” he says. Engineered boards are also a good choice for home owners planning to age in place, since there are fewer gaps between boards for a stable surface, says Aaron D. Murphy, an architect with ADM Architecture Inc. and a certified Aging in Place specialist with the National Association of Home Builders.
Typically defined as recycled wood — perhaps from an old barn or factory — reclaimed wood has gained fans because of its aged, imperfect patina and sustainability; you’re reusing something rather than cutting down more trees. Though less plentiful and more expensive because of the time required to locate and renew samples, it offers a solid surface underfoot since it’s from old-growth trees, says Lynn. Some companies have come to specialize in rescuing logs that have been underwater for decades, even a century. West Branch Heritage Timber,for instance, removes “forgotten” native pine and spruce from swamps, cuts them to desired widths and lengths, and lays them atop ½-inch birch to combine the best of engineered and reclaimed. “The advantage is that it can be resanded after wear since it’s thicker than most prefabricated floors, can be laid atop radiant mats, and doesn’t include toxins,” Managing Partner Tom Shafer says. A downside is a higher price of about $12 to $17 a square foot.
A new competitor that closely resembles wood, Gurowitz says porcelain wood offers advantages: indestructibility, varied colors, “graining” that mimics old wood, wide and long lengths, quickness in installation, and no maintenance. “You can spill red wine on it and nothing happens; if there’s a leak in an apartment above, it won’t be destroyed,” he says. Average prices run an affordable $3.50 to $8 a square foot. The biggest downside? It doesn’t feel like wood since it’s colder to the touch, Lynn says.
When home owners are making a choice or comparing floors, Sy suggests they ask these questions:
1. Do you want engineered or solid-based floors, depending on your home’s conditions?
2. Do you want a floor with more natural character, or less?
3. What board width do you want?
4. How critical is length to you in reducing the overall number of seams?
5. What color range do you want — light, medium, or dark?
6. Do you want more aggressive graining like oak or a mellower grain like walnut?
7. Do you want flooring prefinished or unfinished?
8. How thick is the wear layer in the floor you’re considering, which will affect your ability to refinish it over time?
9. What type of finish are you going to use? Can it be refinished and, if so, how?
10. For wider planks that provide greater stability: Where is the wood coming from, how is it dried, what is its moisture content, and what type of substrate is used in the engineered platform?
APRIL 2013 | BY BARBARA BALLINGER