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How to Create Curb Appeal Before Selling

September 3, 2008

You hear the word tossed around a lot in real estate circles. You hear it mentioned on home-selling programs on HGTV and other networks. But what exactly is “curb appeal,” and why should you care about it when selling your home?

In this article, we will start by answering this fundamental question. Then we will take a closer look at the elements of curb appeal, and how you can use them to increase your chances for a quick sale! But first, a definition.

What is Curb Appeal?

Let’s start with a basic definition, just so we are on the same page. Curb appeal is the first impression people get when pulling up in front of your house. It is their perspective from the curb, literally. It’s the first and most powerful impression your house will make on potential buyers, so it’s a topic you should take seriously.

Curb appeal encompasses many things, each of which we will discuss in more detail. These elements include your landscaping (lawn, shrubs, trees and flowers); your home’s entryway; the doors and shutters; and the overall appearance of the home (paint, structural integrity, etc.).

When potential buyers pull up in front of your home, they will try to imagine themselves in it. They will also imagine pulling up to the house after work each day, inviting friends over, etc. Will the house give them a sense of satisfaction and joy when they pull up to it? Will they be proud when they have guests over? Or do they have a negative impression right from the start?

You can rest assured that all buyers will go through this mental (and sometimes verbal) checklist when they first visit. It may happen in a flash, mostly on the subconscious level. Or it may happen over a span of fifteen minutes, as the buyers stand out front waiting for their agent to arrive. But it will certainly happen. And as the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Take the Test

We will get to the specific tips and techniques in just a moment. But first, I want to teach you a simple but effective way to assess your current level of curb appeal. Take a notepad out in the street in front of your house. Now imagine you’re a buyer, and you’ve just pulled up in front of the house in your agent’s car. Remember, it’s not your house — it’s just one you’re thinking of buying.

On your notepad, write down anything that catches your eye in a bad way. The grass is turning brown, the windows are dirty, the bushes look shabby, that sort of thing. Be as specific as possible. Draw a sketch if necessary. For instance, if there’s a particular area of the lawn than needs attention, or a certain part of the facade that needs painting, write those details down.

When you have finished your list, it will serve as your plan of attack for improving your curb appeal. Prioritize the items by putting the most noticeable items at the top. This will be important later on, when you divide your list into (A) things that must be done and (B) things to do if time allows.

Curb Appeal Essentials

The notepad test will be more effective if you know what to look for. So review this list of curb appeal tips before and after you create your list.

– Start by assessing your lawn. The grass should be green and healthy (unless it’s winter). If your lawn has problems such as brown patches, you need to address those problems right away. Turning a lawn around can take time, depending on how severe the problems are.

– Is the exterior paint chipped or faded? If so, give it a fresh coat. It’s relatively inexpensive, and it will do wonders for that critical first impression we talked about.

– When evaluating the paint, pay particular attention to the shutters, doors and trim. Sometimes you can get away with hosing them off. Other times they simply need to be painted. If the doors and shutters are painted different / contrasting colors, you may want to standardize them.

– Planting fresh flowers can really brighten up a yard. Healthy shrubs can do the same, and they don’t cost much either. If you don’t have a green thumb, enlist help from a friend of family member who does.

– The windowpanes should be spotless, and the frames around them should be free of dirt, chips and defects.

– Lighting can be used for aesthetic and safety reasons at the same time. If you have potential buyers coming by in the evenings, light up the walkways and entry. Consider using decorative lighting to illuminate landscaping features, trees, etc.

– Do you have vinyl railings, shutters or storm doors outside your home’s entryway? If so, give them a good washing. You would be amazed at what a little elbow grease can do for these areas. It’s quick, easy and affordable — all you need is a hose, a bucket and some concentrated car wash liquid.

Create a Plan of Attack

The key here is to avoid taking on too much work at once, or spending too much money. You need to strike a balance of cost versus gain. If you bite off more than you can chew and create a long list of improvements, you could delay your ability to show the property. Start small. Using the notes you created earlier (when standing in front of your house), create a checklist of all the projects you feel are necessary.

Next, prioritize your projects by level of importance. Organize the list by things that must be done immediately, things that can wait, things that aren’t a big deal, etc. That way, if you run out of money or time, you’ll have the most important items out of the way first. And remember to start with the lawn! Making the grass greener is a gradual process, so start that right away.

Conclusion and Going Forward

Let’s summarize some key points. Curb appeal is essential when selling a home because it gives buyers a good first impression. On the other hand, if they get a bad first impression when pulling up to the house, they will carry that negativity into the house with them. This is not something you want.

Do what is necessary to improve your home’s outward appearance, but don’t take on so much that you postpone the listing / showing of the property. And get help where you need it, if you’re not handy with a certain project. All of your efforts will pay off in the end.

About the Author: Brandon Cornett is the publisher of the Home Buying Institute, which also features a section on landscaping tips and ideas. For more advice on this subject, visit the landscaping section at www.homebuyinginstitute.com/landscaping

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10 Things You Must Do Before Buying a Home

September 3, 2008

by Brandon Cornett

Buying a home is often the largest personal finance transaction a person makes in his or her life. So it’s critical that you make the right preparations and do the proper research. Regardless of unique situations and special circumstances, there are ten things you must do before buying a home.

1. Study the home buying process.
This will allow you to make better decisions and act confidently. Home buying lingo is a big part of this, so be sure to read through a few home-buying glossaries before you get into the thick of things.

2. Obtain your credit report.
Get a copy of your credit report and review it for errors. You can get copies from all three credit bureaus at once by visiting www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Mortgage lenders will review your credit with a fine-toothed comb, so you should do the same … before they review it.

3. Fix credit errors quickly.
If you find an error on your credit report, go to the company’s website where the report came from (TransUnion, Equifax or Experian) to contest it. It can take time to clean up an erroneous credit report, so get started as soon as you spot the error.

4. Check your debt-to-income ratio.
Mortgage lenders like to see a borrower’s debt at (or below) 20% of net monthly income. If your debt exceeds 20% of your net monthly income, try to pay it down for applying for a mortgage loan. You’ll have an easier qualification process and will likely qualify for a better rate.

5. Determine your budget.
Use an online mortgage calculator to get an idea of how much you can afford to pay each month, and what that equates to in terms of a home price. This will give you a budget to work from, which will help you weed out the homes that are beyond your comfort zone.

6. Start saving your cash.
This is one of the best things you can do before starting the home buying process, for a couple of reasons. First of all, mortgage lenders like to see that you have some cash reserves on hand. Secondly, you’ll need cash reserves for any unexpected fees or costs that might arise (which is common).

7. Get pre-approved for a loan.
During pre-approval, a mortgage lender will review your credit, finances, debt, etc. and conditionally qualify you for a certain amount of mortgage. Sellers will take you more seriously if you have a pre-approval letter, and the process also helps identify any problems with your credit or other qualifying factors.

8. Avoid new lines of credit.
Try to keep your financial situation as “stable” and favorable as possible. It’s a good idea to pay down some debt (see item #4 above) and to save up some cash. But the worst thing you can do is take out a new loan / line of credit. At best, this could make the qualification process take longer. At worst, it could tip the debt scales into the “greater than 20%” zone, which will make it harder to get a loan.

9. Validate the asking price.
It’s called an “asking price” for a good reason. No asking price is set in stone, and everything in real estate negotiable. So don’t accept an asking price as being reasonable until you validate it through careful research. Compare the home / price to recent sales in the area. Your real estate agent can provide a comparative market analysis (CMA) to help you with this step.

10. Get a home inspection.
It is never — I repeat, never — wise to skip the home inspection. A house is a sizable investment, and the last thing you want is to find a bunch of things wrong with it after you’ve taken ownership. Home inspections are very affordable, and you cannot put a price on the peace of mind you’ll have as a result of your inspection.

About the Author: Brandon Cornett publishes the Home Buying Institute, a website full of advice on mortgages loans, house hunting, credit scores and more. Learn more or contact the author by visiting www.homebuyinginstitute.com

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Home Moving Made Easy – Top Tips for an Easier Relocation

September 3, 2008

Homeowners in the United States sell their homes and move, on everage, every five to seven years. That’s a lot of moving, and it can be a stressful time for anyone. But by preparing for your next move, you can greatly reduce the stress involved and simplify the entire process.

Here are some tips on how to do that:

1. Get the Right Materials

Some moving companies will come and pack up your belongings, if you pay for that service. But if you’ll be doing your own packing, you will need to obtain the following supplies:

Boxes *
Packing tape
Black markers for labeling
Scissors
Newspaper or newsprint for cushioning
Moving blankets (for high-value furniture items, mirrors, etc.)
A pocketknife (they always come in “handy”)
Some plastic storage bins (Rubbermaid, Sterilite, etc.)

* You may be able to get some boxes from your local supermarket, if you go in and ask the manager on duty. This works 90% of the time. You can also buy boxes (include specialty items like wardrobe boxes) from your nearest U-haul rental place.

2. Get Rid of Items You Aren’t Taking

A garage sale is one of the best things you can do before moving. It’s a way to purge your home of unwanted items you don’t plan to move with you. You can also donate unwanted items to your local Goodwill drop-off. The sooner you do this step, the easier your packing will be.

3. Label Boxes Appropriately

Many people think they can remember which items are in which boxes after they reach their move destination. But this rarely works. On the outside, a box is a box. So you should label each box with its contents, being as specific and thorough as possible. It’s also a good idea to put the room in big letters at the top (kitchen, master bedroom, etc.). That way, you or your movers will know where to put things on move-in day.

4. Back Up Computer Files

Before shutting down and packing up your computer, it’s a good idea to back up your files. In the unfortunate event that your computer was damaged during transit, you would at least have all of your important files.

Make back-ups of computer files and determine how you will move this delicate equipment.

5. Make Use of Luggage Items

Don’t just throw those suitcases in your car empty. Pack them with as many clothes as you possibly can. The same goes for duffel bags and other luggage items you might have. It will save space and reduce the number of trips when loading and unloading.

6. Segment Your Most Needed Items

Make a list of things you’ll need during your move — clothes, toiletries, medications, pet foods, etc. Pack these items separately into an “Open First” box (if you’re only moving locally). If you’re moving long distance, keep these items with you (as opposed to putting them onto the moving truck).

7. Choose a Reputable Mover

When researching moving companies, ask friends or family if they can refer a mover they have used. Check to see if the mover is a member of the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Ask the moving company if they have any complaints filed against them, or just check their BBB record online.

8. Conduct a Room-by-Room Check

Before your final departure from the home you’ve leaving, give each room a final once-over for forgotten items. This is especially important for out-of-the-way areas like basements, tool sheds, attics, etc.

9. Unpack in Room-by-Room Fashion

Before you begin unpacking in your new home, be sure to move all of the boxes to their destination rooms (kitchen, master bedroom, etc.). You did label those boxes, right? Properly positioning boxes prior to unpacking will reduce confusion as well as clutter.

About the Author: Brandon Cornett writes for M&M Moving, an Austin, Texas mover that does both local and interstate moves from their headquarters in Austin. Learn more by visiting www.mmmoving.com

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Mortgage Loan Rates – 5 Things a Home Buyer Should Know

September 3, 2008

by Brandon Cornett

Buying a home requires plenty of homework (no pun intended). There are new concepts to grasp, unfamiliar terminology to learn, and plenty of decisions to make along the way.

The mortgage loan interest rate is one of the topics that confuse a lot of home buyers, especially the first-time buyers who are new to the process. So in this article, I’ll explain how an interest rate gets applied to a home loan, and how it affects you as the borrower.

5 Things a Buyer Should Know

1. The rates offered by a lender will vary from one person to the next. It’s largely based on a borrower’s credit score. The higher your score, the better the rates you’ll be offered when applying for a loan. This is why you see so much fine print on the advertisements of mortgage companies — there’s a lot of variance involved. So when they offer a “teaser rate” in their marketing materials, it may or may not apply to you.

2. The interest rate is one of four factors that will determine the size of your monthly mortgage payment. Collectively, these factors are referred to with the acronym PITI. The ‘P’ stands for the principal amount you borrow. The first ‘I’ stands for the interest you pay on the loan. The ‘T’ is for taxes on the home. Lastly, the final ‘I’ is for insurance (i.e., the homeowner’s policy you are required to have before closing.)

3. In order to qualify for the best rates on a mortgage loan, borrowers need a higher credit score today than they needed just a few years ago (a 750 or higher in many cases). If you’ve been watching the news lately, you can probably guess why. The subprime mortgage mess of 2007 – 2008 has led to tougher restrictions on lenders. In turn, the lending institutions have tightened up on their loan criteria for qualification, rate assignments, etc.

4. Every buyer should study the key differences (and pros and cons) between adjustable and fixed-rate home loans. With an adjustable mortgage, or ARM, the interest rate will typically start out low for an introductory period. This period commonly lasts for three to five years, after which the loan will adjust or “reset” to a higher rate. In many cases, this increase can be significant and will therefore lead to a bigger mortgage payment each month.

5. For buyers who plan to remain in a house longer than three to five years, the fixed-rate mortgage is usually the best option. As the name suggests, this type of loan will carry the same level of interest for the entire time you’re paying it (regardless of what the economy does). This offers a level of financial certainty, which for many borrowers is all the reason they need to choose this option over the ARM.

Clearly there is much more to learn about interest rates, as they apply to buying a house. But I hope the points I’ve made above give you a better understanding of this subject. I recommend you learn more about each of the items covered above, particularly the pros and cons of adjustable versus fixed mortgages. Being an educated consumer is the first step toward success in the real estate world.

About the Author: Brandon Cornett publishes a home buying blog that has offered house buying tips and advice since 2006. To learn more about this and related topics, visit the author’s blog at HomeBuyingInstitute.com

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What to Look For When Hiring a Home Inspector

September 3, 2008

The report your inspector provides will be critical to you making a well-informed home-buying decision. So when hiring a home inspector, look for a trusted advisor – not just someone you found in the Yellow pages.

No matter how busy you are, you should attend all inspections of your future home. It is your big chance to get a professional introduction to the circuit breaker panel, air-conditioning system, water heater, and other systems you may soon own.

Additionally, inspectors are not required to move furniture or look under carpets, so it is possible for even good inspectors to miss something. While you probably don’t want to move furniture around to see what the sellers are hiding-imagine the liability if you knocked over the entertainment center in your quest to look behind it – you can certainly flip back the throw rug to see if it’s covering cracked tiles.

In the end, an extra set of eyes can only help.

Never be too busy to read the inspection report. As you read the report, remind yourself that there are no perfect homes (even if it is new). It is almost certain to have some wear and tear. It is the inspector’s role to report everything that is not perfect about the home.

Many agents say they are amazed by the number of home buyers who look at the home inspection as a hurdle to jump over rather than a valuable new source of information about the property they are about to purchase.

Potential buyers should be reasonable about the repairs they ask the seller to make. In my opinion all repairs for health and safety issues are reasonable.

Use the health and safety rule to decide which items on the inspection report is worth asking the seller to repair. If the repair list is long with trivial items the seller is less likely to consider the real important repairs.

Inspections do not include opening walls to see what is going on inside hidden parts of the home; the inspector may suggest based on what can be seen from the outside further investigation. This will cost (typically the buyer) more money but it could be a good investment and provide a good basis for further negotiations.

Remember, the owner and Realtor are required to disclose all information regarding the home; even new items found during the investigations of a potential buyer.

About the Author:
Have questions about buying a home? Find the answers in First Time Home Buyers Tips from Michael Mizuno. Michael is a local resident experienced with the communities in the Greater Sacramento area and a licensed Realtor.

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Florida’s existing home sales remain level in July 2008

September 3, 2008

ORLANDO, Fla. – Aug. 25, 2008 – Single-family existing home sales rose in Florida for the first time in more than two years: While only six more homes sold in July 2008 than in July 2007, it could indicate stabilization in Florida’s housing sector, according to the latest housing statistics released by the Florida Association of Realtors® (FAR).

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Ammendment 5 Off Nov. 4 Ballot

September 3, 2008

The Florida Supreme Court ruled this afternoon to uphold the circuit court’s decision to remove Amendment 5 from the November ballot.

The courts’ ruling ends a long and arduous fight to help provide property tax relief to Floridians. The court’s main consideration for removing the amendment from the ballot was the language in the amendment’s summary which said education funding would be held harmless. According to the amendment, funding would only be held harmless for the first year and then would leave education funding in the hands of the legislature.

Stay tuned for any new developments.

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It’s Who You Know!

September 3, 2008

According to the 2007 National Association of Realtors Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers you better know someone that will buy your home or you have very little chance of selling it as a “For Sale By Owner.” Only about 5% of FSBO’s succeed in selling their homes to buyers they didn’t previously know. In other words you have about a 95% chance of failure. Not good odds. How many endeavors would you undertake if you knew you had a 95% chance of failure? Then why waste precious time trying to do the impossible and sell your home in a way that has repeatedly proven to be unsuccessful?

The reality is that most homes are sold through Realtors utilizing the Multiple Listing Service. And most FSBO’s would use a Realtor if they didn’t have to pay high commission rates. Knowing this I created the FLAT FEE LISTING where sellers can literally save thousands of dollars.

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Dear Secretary of Agriculture:

September 2, 2008

Honorable Secretary of Agriculture
Washington, D.C.

Dear Sir;

My friend, Ed Peterson, over at Wells Iowa, received a check for $1,000 from the government for not raising hogs. So, I want to go into the “not raising hogs” business next year.

What I want to know is, in your opinion, what is the best kind of farm not to raise hogs on, and what is the best breed of hogs not to raise? I want to be sure that I approach this endeavor in keeping with all governmental policies. I would prefer not to raise razorbacks, but if that is not a good breed not to raise, then I will just as gladly not raise Yorkshires or Durocs.

As I see it, the hardest part of this program will be in keeping an accurate inventory of how many hogs I haven’t raised.

My friend, Peterson, is very joyful about the future of the business. He has been raising hogs for twenty years or so, and the best he ever made on them was $422 in 1968, until this year when he got your check for $1000 for not raising hogs.

If I get $1000 for not raising 50 hogs, will I get $2000 for not raising 100 hogs? I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself down to about 4000 hogs not raised, which will mean about $80,000 the first year. Then I can afford an airplane.

Now another thing, these hogs I will not raise will not eat 100,000 bushels of corn. I understand that you also pay farmers for not raising corn and wheat. Will I qualify for payments for not raising wheat and corn not to feed the 4000 hogs I am not going to raise?

Also, I am considering the “not milking cows” business, so send me any information you have on that too.

In view of these circumstances, you understand that I will be totally unemployed and plan to file for unemployment and food stamps.

Be assured you will have my vote in the coming election.

Sincerely Yours,

Jim Smith

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I need a raise!

September 2, 2008

REALTOR: “I have to have a raise in my commission,” the agent said to his manager. “There are three other companies after me.”


MANAGER:
“Is that so?” asked the manager. “What other companies are after you?”

REALTOR: “The electric company, the telephone company, and the gas company.”

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