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Space Matters: Closets an Important Selling Point, No Matter the Market

May 1, 2013 5:32 pm

When it comes to preparing a home for sale, one of the last areas sellers often think about are the closets. However, closets are an important selling point for any home, as space is something that potential buyers can always use more of.

One of the easiest ways to make the closets in your home more appealing is by clearing out the clutter and making them seem larger than they really are. This applies to closets in your bedroom, bathroom, hallway and even the kitchen. If you really want your closets to stand out as a selling point, spend a day getting rid of everything you don’t need—you’ll be surprised how many things you come across that you haven’t used in years.

Once you’ve cleared out all your closets, it’s time to organize them. For closets with clothes, stagers recommend using wire hangers to keep everything organized. It’s also a good idea to group shirts and items by color, with darks on one side and lights on the other. This will make the closet “pop” and provide a more eye-catching impression.

Additionally, nothing should ever be on the floor of the closet. Use shoe racks to organize any footwear and small drawers and shelves to hold sweaters, socks and other items that you can’t hang. Simple and inexpensive shelving can do wonders and are easy to install. If your budget allows, utilize a professional closet organizer and have him or her do their magic. This will really make your closets stand out among prospective buyers.

When it comes to linen closets, make sure each shelf is neat with the newer towels and sheets in front. You also want to do away with any old bathroom fixtures, bath toys or hotel shampoos that may have found their way into the closet over the years. Again, space is the desired effect.

In the kitchen, discard food that’s been sitting around for ages, make sure baking items aren’t spilling out of their bags (use old bread bag containers if they are) and clean up your spices.

You should also think about what a closet says to a potential buyer. For instance, if a bedroom closet holds clothes for just one, it might suggest a recent divorce or death, and that could lead to a low-ball offer. On the other hand, if closets are jam-packed with stuff, it can be interpreted that there’s just not enough space in the house, sending potential buyers out the door.

The main key with closets is to allow buyers to see the true size and functionality of the space. You don’t need to have a walk-in closet to impress people. You just need to treat each closet as if it was another room in the house.

For more tips to prepare your home for sale, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Understanding Disclosure and Its Role in a Real Estate Deal

May 1, 2013 5:32 pm

Is there mold in your home? What about termites? Do you have an old heating tank buried in your yard? If you’re in the process of selling your home, it’s necessary to disclose these problems—in most cases—to a buyer before a sale can be completed.

While disclosure laws differ from state to state, in most cases, it’s against the law to fraudulently conceal any major problems in your home. This includes everything mentioned above to whether your basement floods during heavy rains or if part of your foundation is crumbling.

Property disclosure plays a very important role in a real estate deal. Today, it is almost standard for written disclosures to be included in the contract. And when you sign one, it must be truthful. If not, you’re looking at costs and possibly a lawsuit.

When it comes to property disclosure, you should always talk with your real estate agent and/or attorney about what’s required to disclose. You can also check with your town’s City Planning Department about local ordinances and disclosures that can come into play.

Generally, you’re only responsible for disclosing information that you personally know about, so it’s not necessary to hire an inspector to come look for problems regarding conditions that weren’t brought to your attention when you purchased the home.

However, some states do require more investigation on your part. In fact, there are laws on the book in certain states that require a homeowner to search for some of these major problems—especially mold and lead paint—whether you see problems or not.

In California, sellers are required to disclose any possible risk that could result from natural disasters, such as the home being in a flood plain, earthquake zone or its susceptibility to wildfires. A disclosure like this will enable potential buyers to understand the financial risk and danger they could face, plus warn about problems they may experience in buying insurance for the home.

If you’re buying a home, regardless of your state’s laws, you should demand a disclosure statement be part of the contract. This will protect the buyer in case something shows up after the sale.

Asking a seller to disclose material facts means you’re asking them to disclose anything they know about the house that might be problematic. While you can’t force someone to sign a disclosure (again, depending on the laws in the state), you always have the right to leave any deal, and you might end up forcing a buyer’s hand.

If a seller does refuse to sign a disclosure, and you still want the house, it should send up a red flag that something might be wrong. This should encourage you to invest a little more when it comes to an inspection and do your due diligence about the neighborhood. In the end, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to making sure the home of your dreams doesn’t turn into a nightmare.

To learn more about disclosures, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Simple Tips for Hosting a Successful Garage Sale

May 1, 2013 5:32 pm

Whether you just purchased a home right up the road from your current residence or across numerous state lines, you undoubtedly have a lot of items that will be packed up and transported to your new location. However, if you’re looking to make your move a little easier—or your new home simply doesn’t have room for all your belongings—a garage sale is a great way to get rid of items that you’ll be leaving behind.

When it comes to hosting a successful garage sale, it’s crucial that you think beyond simply throwing stuff on tables in your yard. For a truly successful sale, you need to advertise, organize and create a shopping experience that will entice people to stop in and buy.

If you’re planning on having a garage sale, the first thing you should do is go through every room in your house and decide what items you won’t be taking with you. Any and everything not going should be sold at the sale, even if you only get small change for the item. Keep in mind that planning for and hosting a garage sale isn’t something that can be done in a day or even a weekend. Start getting things ready about a month before you plan to hold your sale.

As you find items, start grouping them into different sections. For instance, place all items for the kitchen together and then create separate piles of clothes, toys, books, etc. It’s crucial that everything stay organized so that you don’t end up with a mish-mash of things that will make people think you just threw everything together.

Once you’ve collected everything you plan to sell, it’s time to tackle the key to any garage sale: pricing. People love bargains, so make sure you take emotions out of your pricing decisions and make things very affordable. Use stickers for pricing so people aren’t constantly asking how much something is. It’s also a good idea to offer buy-one-get-one-free options or three-for-a-dollar type pricing to compel people to buy more. When people try to bargain for a lower price (and they will!), let the items go. Remember, this is more about disposing of your things than making a quick buck off of them.

Whether you live in an area that gets a lot of traffic or on a quiet street, make sure you take to social media to announce your sale. You may also want to think about taking out an ad on Craigslist or putting an ad in your local circular, school or church bulletin. Don’t forget to hang up plenty of signs around the area a few days before your sale so people can make plans to drop by. If you have big-ticket items like furniture, musical instruments, lawn equipment or something unique or antique looking, mention them in the ads and take photos, as this is a great way to really entice people to come.

For the sale itself, be kind, offer up water or lemonade and be ready to make some deals.

If there are any large items left over after the sale that you don’t plan on taking with you (be it a pool table, couch, piano, dining set, etc.), offer them up for free on Craigslist or Freecycle. Not only will this save you time and money, it will also save you the hassle of having to lug these items to the dump.

For more information about holding a successful garage sale, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


In this Edition: Property Disclosure

May 1, 2013 5:32 pm

Our lead story in this month’s Home Matters, brought to you through our company's membership in RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN), examines how to set up and throw a successful garage sale. Other topics covered this month include why foreclosed properties may be a smart option for buyers looking to achieve homeownership and what you need to know about homeowners insurance before picking the policy that’s right for you. We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Home Matters and as always, we welcome your feedback. Email us anytime!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Get the House Ready for Guests in 20 Minutes or Less

May 1, 2013 1:06 am

The spring and summer entertaining season has arrived. From Mother's Day brunches and Father's Day barbecues to bridal showers and graduation parties, people host an endless string of events in their homes during this time. However, busy schedules can often make it difficult to prepare for guests and give the house a thorough cleaning from top to bottom.

To help hosts get their homes in order, Bissell partnered with home and lifestyle expert Evette Rios to share quick and easy tips that will have a house guest-ready and fresh in no time.

Rios advises starting with the following tasks: do the dishes, make the bed, clear clutter, and vacuum and sweep high-traffic areas, like the kitchen and living room, to clear up dirt, crumbs and hair. Sprinkle some deodorizing powder on carpets, wait for a few minutes and vacuum as usual. Not only does the powder clean up to three times better than vacuuming alone, it also eliminates odors and leaves behind a light fresh scent.

"While these tasks may seem very small, they make a huge impact on the home's appearance and create a sense of order," Rios said. "It will give the impression that you've spent a lot of time and energy on chores when you've only used a few minutes of your day."

Everyday household items can also double as effective tools for cleaning and freshening. Old socks, pantyhose, cotton swabs and vanilla extract are just a few of the items that Rios cites as her must-haves when she needs to tidy up quickly. An old sock is great for dusting blinds; inexpensive pantyhose from the drug store wipe away residue that collects on decorative candles; and a cotton swab dipped in vinegar cleans hard-to-reach grime in window tracks.

"Some of these tips may seem unconventional, but they really work wonders," Rios said. "One of my favorite tricks to freshen a room is to put a few drops of vanilla extract on an unlit light bulb. When it's turned on, the bulb heats up the extract and lets off a delicious scent. Guests love that the house smells so sweet!"

Whether entertaining last-minute guests or planning an all-out party, hosts with the most will be able enjoy all their events when the stressful task of rigorous cleaning beforehand is made simpler.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


REALTORS Urge Preserving of Homeownership Tax Policies

May 1, 2013 1:06 am

As Congress pursues comprehensive tax reform it should focus on doing no harm to housing and America’s 75 million homeowners by maintaining current tax laws for homeownership and real estate investment, the National Association of REALTORS® said.

NAR President Gary Thomas testified before the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee concerning Federal tax provisions that affect residential real estate. Thomas said that homeownership has had long-standing support in the country because of its many benefits to individuals and families, communities and to the nation’s economy.

“REALTORS® know that homeownership is an investment in your future and for many people, owning a home helps them gain a foothold into the middle class,” said Thomas. “NAR remains committed to preserving the current tax measures for homeownership so that millions of Americans can continue to build the kind of financial security that owning a home can provide.”

In his testimony, Thomas said the current tax code contains housing-related provisions that help facilitate homeownership, build wealth for families and provide stability to communities. Altering these policies could marginalize current and future home buyers as well as jeopardize the nascent housing recovery and the overall economy.

Thomas urged specific support for maintaining the current deduction for home mortgage interest. The mortgage interest deduction helps many families become homeowners, which is the foundation for a healthy middle class, and it is vital to the health and stability of housing markets.

The mortgage interest deduction primarily benefits middle- and lower income families. Sixty five percent of families who claim the deduction earn less than $100,000 per year, and as a percentage of income, the biggest beneficiaries are younger middle-class families.

“The mortgage interest deduction makes sustainable homeownership more affordable for millions of middle-class families; these families are the nation’s backbone,” said Thomas. “Protecting these hard-working Americans should be Congress’ top priority as it pursues comprehensive tax reform. On behalf of our one million REALTOR® members and millions of homeowners, we urge Congress to do no harm to housing.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Real Estate Spending Trends - Grounds, Lawn and Landscape Care

May 1, 2013 1:06 am

A new U.S. online survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of PLANET, the national trade association of landscape industry professionals, shows that consumers are looking to increase spending on hardscapes (outdoor kitchens, patios, decks, water features, and walkways) and other specialized services (irrigation and lighting). Hardscaping is comprised of outdoor living spaces and paved, non-living components of a landscape.

The study surveyed 2,219 adults ages 18 and older, of whom 1,830 have a lawn or landscape. Consumers were asked about their spending on professional lawn and landscape services from lawn care and landscape maintenance to tree care, water features, and outdoor lighting.

Overall Spending Trends

While overall consumer spending is expected to remain steady in most categories, landscape maintenance (mowing, edging, leaf cleanup) will see a modest increase in spending ($700 on average in the coming year vs. $600 in the past year), while spending will increase to hire a professional for hardscapes and specialty services ($2,300 on average in the coming year vs. $1,680 in the past year).

“Despite the sluggish economy, our core landscape maintenance services are holding steady, while consumers are deciding to increase their investment in projects that encourage ‘staycations’ and outdoor entertaining, and ultimately improve the resale value of the home,” said PLANET CEO, Sabeena Hickman, CAE, CMP.

Who is spending the most on landscape services?

Men outpace women when it comes to hiring professional landscape help over the past year (39 percent vs. 32 percent), and younger adults, ages 18 to 34, stand out as most likely to have hired professionals for the building of outdoor living spaces, patios, and walkways over the past year (9 percent vs. 3 percent of those age 35+).

In general, 35 percent of those with a lawn/landscape have hired professionals to do lawn and landscape services over the past year, with those in the South (38 percent) and West (40 percent) being more likely to have hired a professional than those in the Midwest (29 percent.)

Why do consumers find value in hiring landscape services?

The most often cited reasons for hiring a professional for lawn/landscape services are as follows: “They don’t have the knowledge, skills or physical ability” (42 percent), and “they don’t have the right equipment” (42 percent) to do the landscape work themselves.

Interestingly, younger adults (18 to 34) were more likely than their older counterparts to say “don’t have the patience” as a reason to hire a professional.

“Eighteen to 34 year olds might be more digitally connected than their parents, but they are still putting a high priority on outdoor entertainment areas. They are looking to landscape professionals to take on work that is not only time-consuming, but also requires a high degree of expertise to be done well,” added Hickman.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Americans Set Higher Standards for Their Communities

April 30, 2013 1:02 am

Americans' expectations for their communities have risen and in some cases changed, according to findings released from the Y Community Snapshot. Respondents rate education and community involvement as increasingly vital to building and sustaining strong communities, a +7.4 and +4.8 percent change from 2012. The survey also found a 30 percent gap between what people say is most important in creating a strong community today and how satisfied they are with their own community's performance in those areas.

Y Community Snapshot participants ranked providing a safe environment for children as the top priority for a second consecutive year. Their local school systems were ranked as the second most important factor impacting their community's strength – up from fifth place last year. In addition, 64 percent of parents believe an educational achievement gap exists within their community, specifically as it relates to an individual's income, status or wealth.

The Y Community Snapshot, commissioned by YMCA of the USA (Y-USA), is a consumer survey measuring how Americans view quality of life in their communities nationwide. The survey is based on factors such as community member involvement, and the quality of a community's services ranging from education to promoting healthy lifestyles.

According to the survey, Americans are looking more to education to help improve the quality of life in their community. In fact, five of the top 10 most important community strength drivers focused on education and children. Forty percent of respondents believe that it's the responsibility of schools, colleges and other educational institutions to improve the quality of life across communities.

Additionally, the ability to offer employment opportunities and job training for teens and young adults jumped into the top 10 most important drivers for building a strong community, with an increase of more than 5 percent over last year.

Other key findings include:
  • Public education is the number one area respondents say they would allocate local tax dollars to in order to strengthen their community. Nearly half of parents (46 percent) rate their community's school system or child's school as average or below average in providing the resources, services, people and programs to help students who want or need additional or extra assistance, support and opportunity.
  • Three of four respondents (72 percent) feel the "educational achievement gap" reduces, limits or negatively impacts a young person's chances, opportunity or ability to succeed in adult life.
  • About three-fourths (72 percent) of parents say they currently use or have used some form of childcare (defined as "any service,” excluding personal babysitter, where someone else is caring for your children, including daycare).
  • Over 40 percent (43 percent) of parents who currently use or have used childcare rely upon before or after-school programs or daycare.
Source: YMCA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Demand for Pet Friendly Rentals on the Rise

April 30, 2013 1:02 am

Findings from a recent survey reveal it is more likely renters could be living next door to a pet owner compared to recent years. This year, 75 percent of renters surveyed said they are pet owners, compared to 43 percent in 2012. These findings align with the improving U.S. economy, according to an American Veterinary Medical Association survey released last year; the difficult economy played a very strong role in the first decline in pet ownership since 1991.

Half of the pet-loving renters surveyed by would like to believe their fellow apartment residents also adore their four-legged companions. Fortunately, it turns out they are not far off, as nearly 60 percent of renters who do not own pets said they still enjoy living around others with pets.

While nearly 65 percent of the pet owners surveyed said they live in a two-bedroom apartment or larger, many indicated they were ambivalent to the size of their space when choosing a pet. In fact, more than 75 percent said the size of their apartment only played "some importance" to "no difference" when picking a pet. The five most popular apartment pets among the pet owners surveyed are:
  1. Cat: 45 percent
  2. Small dog: 38 percent
  3. Medium dog: 21 percent
  4. Large dog: 19 percent
  5. Fish: 6 percent
Budget-savvy renters should plan for costs associated with living with pets, as 63 percent of pet owners indicated they are required to pay a pet deposit. In fact, a majority spend more than $150 annually in deposits and/or monthly fees.

However, deposits and fees do not always cover every type of pet. Renters should be specific in clarifying what types of pets are allowed, as pet restrictions vary from one apartment building to another. In fact, only 28 percent of renters surveyed said they live in a building that has no restrictions on what type of pet they are allowed to have.

The survey also reveals nearly seven out of 10 respondents adopted their pet from a rescue or shelter. As part of this survey, committed to donating $1 for every survey response to North Shore Animal League America, the world's largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Recognize and Understand Hidden Fees in Your 401(k)

April 30, 2013 1:02 am

You wouldn’t authorize a company to dive into your checking account at will to withdraw money for undisclosed “services rendered,” right? But according to financial advisor Philip Rousseaux, that’s exactly what many Americans are unwittingly doing.

“While a new law now requires disclosure of previously hidden fees applied to 401(k) plans, it’s up to you, or your financial advisor, to find and review that information and determine whether the fees are reasonable,” says Rousseaux, founder and president of Everest Wealth Management, Inc.

By some estimates, up to 90 percent of fees attached to retirement plans are hidden. As of July 1, 2012, the new Department of Labor rule requires all hidden fees attached to retirement plans and mutual funds be disclosed to employers and employees.

Rousseaux offers these tips for examining and understanding retirement plan fees:
  • Trading fees: Trading fees apply to mutual funds, which generally comprise more than half of a 401(k). These previously undisclosed fees are brokerage commissions that are charged to the plan holder every time a fund is traded. The charge is a percentage of the fund’s value, usually ranging from less than 1 percent to less than 2 percent. In some cases, trading fees can double the cost of the transaction. “If your funds are being frequently traded, you may be spending quite a bit on trading fees – in addition to the other fees associated with managing the fund,” Rousseaux says. “If you can’t determine whether the trading fees are reasonable, you should consult with an independent financial advisor.”
  • Revenue sharing: These fees occur when mutual funds and other plan providers pay a third party for administrative services such as record-keeping, which the fund is expected to perform. These may be labeled “sub-transfer,” “agent/sub-TA” or “shareholder servicing” and they’re built into the plan’s expense ratio, so it’s not a double charge. Again, the idea is to review these charges and ensure they seem reasonable.
  • 12 b-1 fees: This term – named for the section in the regulation that allows for it – applies to marketing and distribution costs. They’re generally paid as commissions to brokers who service retirement plans and they also may be paid to non¬investment professionals such as record keepers or insurance companies. Most mutual funds have share classes that provide for varying revenue amounts from 12b-¬1 fees. Brokers and record-keepers have an incentive to use funds with 12b-¬1 fees and to share classes with higher 12b-¬1 fees because they make more money.
Rousseaux notes that it’s also important to look at the expense ration for your plan, which should now be stated in dollars under terms of the new Labor Department regulation.

“Generally, the lower the ratio, the bigger the fund will grow,” he says.

Published with permission from RISMedia.