Pros and cons of High density housing

Imagine plunking a city the size of Paris or Los Angeles onto the map of North Texas. With our current infrastructure, we’d need to add a million homes or more. And then we’d have to address traffic, water supply, and other utilities. If current projections are accurate, we will add another four million people to the Metroplex in the next decade or so, making our population rival the size of most major global cities. Traffic and suburban sprawl are already straining our resources, so what should urban planners do? One proposition is to in-fill urban centers with high density developments – think high rises, old warehouses repurposed into loft apartments, and other multi-family housing.

There are plenty of considerations to make when developing high density housing. Environmental concerns and quality of life are probably the things that most often come to mind.

What are the major drawbacks to high density housing? Let’s take a look:

  • Traffic. When populations are concentrated, traffic congestion is a given. Public transportation and walkability of neighborhoods becomes increasingly important as traffic snarls and parking hassles grow. The traditional model of developers being required to provide a set number of parking spaces per anticipated user encourages more cars on the road, leading to more traffic issues.
  • Cost: Builders naturally want to make the most profit out of each development. That tends to mean that high-dollar housing in city centers crowd out affordably priced housing, driving out long-time residents, families and smaller businesses.
  • Potenital reduction of outdoor spaces: Amenities like parks and other green spaces don’t in themselves provide income to developers, and must be planned in high density developments to provide improved quality of life for would-be residents.

Benefits to high density housing include:

  • Geographically easier to manage school districts. Sprawling school districts are costlier to manage because of the difficulties in managing transportation and infrastructure across wide areas. Compact developments are more efficient and cost-effective.
  • Lower cost to maintain infrastructure for governments. Public roads, services, and utilities are much more expensive to maintain when homes and business are spread apart. Greater distances require more material to build and more crews to maintain than more compact footprints. Similarly, public services like effective police and fire departments are less costly when service areas are smaller.
  • Sprawl doesn’t pay the bills. Low density developments often do not provide a large enough tax base to cover the costs of public services. Mixed use developments with retail and apartments tend to pay a higher commercial tax rate and provide more services privately than communities made up of single family homes.
  • Higher density development helps attract new employers. Employers want to be where their workforce is, rather than try to attract workers to come to them. Communities that are convenient to work and lifestyle are thus more attractive for both employers and their workforce. 
  • Higher-density development can increase property values. Although location and school district are the two most obvious determining factors of value, the lifestyle benefits of high density communities can drive up their market value when done well. When there is a strong sense of community, or lots of amenities within a neighborhood, density and diversity can add a value of their own. Indeed, some experts believe that having multifamily housing nearby may increase the pool of potential future homebuyers, creating more possible buyers for existing owners when they decide to sell their houses.
  • Believe it or not, higher-density development generates less traffic than low-density development per unit. While residents of low-density single-family communities often have two or more cars per household, residents of high-density apartments and condominiums tend to have only one car per household. When public transportation is readily available, people in walkable communities will often opt to use it.
  • Gets rid of urban blight. Infill development to repurposes unused or abandoned lots and buildings into vibrant, tax-paying and revenue-generating parts of the community.

Resources
Higher-Density Development Myth and Fact

High-Density Development Strategies for More Sustainable Growth

5 tips to hire the right moving company

It’s a great feeling when you’ve found the property of your dreams. It’s not such a great feeling to start planning how you’ll move your belongings into it.

Hiring movers can help you take some of the stress out of your move, but only if you find the right one. In addition to review and ratings websites, word-of-mouth recommendations are a good way to identify your options. Your MetroTex Realtor is another great resource for learning about reputable movers in your area.

Once you have a few companies in mind, narrow down the competition with these tips.

Three is the magic number

Choosing one company without doing your research could lead to a frustrating experience, but calling a dozen moving companies for estimates can take too much time. Instead, decide on at least three companies you want to learn more about. You’ll get a good sense for average rates and offerings for your area. You may even be able to use their estimates to your advantage later.

Get an in-person assessment

Most people aren’t a good judge of how much stuff they have, and while some companies have online tools that create an estimate using your best guess, you should ask your picks to visit your home and take inventory for an accurate estimate.

During an in-person assessment, you’ll be asked about what you’re planning to take, the moving supplies you need, and about your heavy or fragile items. Your movers will need to know the layout of your new property, too, so don’t forget to tell them about the three flights of stairs or that they’ll have to park on the street.

Ask questions

There are plenty of questions you can ask depending on your situation, but make sure to get answers to these in particular:

  • Are you licensed for in- or out-of-state moves? The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles licenses moving companies, which must have an active TxDMV certificate on file to operate legally. Find out if a company is licensed at apps.txdmv.gov/apps/mccs/truckstop.
  • What type of insurance do you carry? (They should at least carry workers’ compensation insurance.)
  • What insurance coverage do you offer for my belongings? (valuation or replacement coverage)
  • Can I pack myself? Will my items be covered if so?
  • Is your crew bonded? (protection in case of employee theft, vandalism)
  • Are there items you won’t transport? (light bulbs, batteries, gas)

Don’t hold back information

Be upfront about what you need your movers to do, whether it’s packing and unloading, assembling or dissembling items, or heavy lifting. You may think you can get a deal by glossing over details, but you’ll ultimately pay more for your hidden extras, and your movers won’t be pleased.

Negotiate the deal

You’ll receive an estimate from your moving companies based on several factors, such as the distance of the move and the potential gas expense, the weight or square footage that your items will use in the moving van, and labor costs. This is where having more than one estimate will come in handy. Don’t be afraid to tell your top pick if you’ve received a lower estimate that appeals to you, or roughly how much you want to spend. Look for other areas in which you can negotiate, such as free junk-hauling services or reduced rates for extra supplies or a different move date.

Your movers can be a huge help, but only if you put in the effort to choose the right one.

Get more tips about moving, plus advice on buying, selling, and leasing property in Texas at dfwrealestate.com.

The reason for rising property taxes may not be what you think

By Vicki Fullerton and Jaime Lee

It didn’t feel good, did it?

It’s the biggest check you’ll likely write all year. You just paid your property taxes.

It’s no longer a matter of if your property taxes went up, it’s how much … but this doesn’t have to be the case.

Take a second to review your property tax bill and you’ll likely see that the largest portion goes to your school district.

In fact, more than half (53.97%) of all local property taxes paid by Texas property owners in 2015 were levied by school districts, according to the Texas Comptroller’s most recent Biennial Property Tax Report.

Texas properties are in high demand, which translates to increased market value and higher appraisals, making Texas real estate a wise investment. Some blame skyrocketing local property taxes on these increased appraisals.

It’s safe to say all Texans want their properties to rise in value, so let’s not vilify increasing appraisals. But we also want a sustainable way to fund our state’s public school system.

There is a way we can realize increasing appraisals, decrease our local property tax burden, and still fund our public schools: Increase the state’s contribution to public education so property owners aren’t bearing the brunt at the local level.

This won’t be an easy task, but we at the Texas Association of Realtors agree with former State Rep. John Otto, who chaired the House Appropriations Committee in the 2015 legislative session, about how to start.

“A discussion needs to take place to determine the proper way to share public education costs between the state and local property taxes,” Otto said. “And once that goal is achieved, school districts should be able to lower their tax rates when the state no longer receives the benefit of growth in property values.”

The state used to pay a much larger share of the cost to fund public schools. It was only a few years ago that Texas public schools were funded 50% by local property taxes and 50% by the state.

Today, your share of the funding through local property taxes is about 62% and the state’s share is about 38%. This imbalance is largely because the state is benefiting from increased property values. Translation: You are paying more in local school property taxes because your property value went up as the state share decreased.

Over the next two years, it’s estimated that Texas public schools will see an additional 165,000 students at an added cost of $2.65 billion.

Over that same two-year period, the state will receive the benefit of your local school property taxes growing by $3.56 billion simply because properties increased in value. This will further reduce how much the state contributes to fund schools, which will then further increase your share – and the cycle will continue. 

If the Texas Legislature doesn’t act to balance state and local contributions to public education, who will pay this cost? You will.

To further complicate matters, depending on your ZIP code, your money may not stay local. There are mechanisms in place to distribute school property taxes from some so-called “property wealthy” school districts to “property poor” school districts. 

So how do we resolve this situation?

Our school finance system has become so complex that taking any steps toward reform will require addressing several other areas of funding. Maybe you’ve heard terms like Robin Hood, ASATR, recapture, and golden pennies, all of which play a role in the system.

There is no easy answer to comprehensive reform, but we have to start the discussion.

Former State Sen. Florence Shapiro witnessed this firsthand when she served as chair of the Senate Education Committee from 2003-2012. “There are many issues that need to be resolved in the Texas school finance system. We have discussed fairness and distribution in the system for decades, yet an equitable solution has not been enacted.  Furthermore, the imbalance of state vs. local share of public education funding has become an increasing problem as we rely more and more on local property taxpayers’ money.  The Legislature must significantly reform the public school finance system.  There are many voices to be heard and this Legislature seems poised to listen and take action, for which I commend my former colleagues.”

The leaders with the power to change this system are meeting right now. The 181 elected members of the Texas Legislature are responsible for determining the state’s budget, including the state’s share of public school funding.

It’s a great sign that the House set aside $1.5 billion in its proposed budget specifically to address recapture, ASATR, and equity, thereby ensuring that public school taxes are devoted to public schools and not spent on something else.

And we agree with former Sen. Shapiro and former Rep. Otto that it’s time to discuss the proper way to share public education costs between the state and local property taxes. Once that goal is achieved, school districts should be able to lower their tax rates and give local property owners the break you deserve.

It will take a lot of work to revamp our school finance system, but we believe Texas schoolchildren and taxpayers are worth it.

Vicki Fullerton is chairman of the Texas Association of Realtors.

Jaime Lee is governmental affairs communications manager for the Texas Association of Realtors.

More mortgage terms you should know

In our previous post, The ABCs of mortgage terms you should know, we covered quite a few basic mortgage terms. Today we’re continuing the topic with fifteen more key terms you should know. Use these terms to help your clients understand the mortgage process.

DTI (Debt to Income Ratio): The debt ratio is the total amount of money owed to all creditors (including credit card bills, loans, etc.) compared to monthly income and assets. A low debt ratio is more desirable to lenders, and most want to see a debt ratio (including mortgage) of 43 percent or less.

Disclosure: Disclosure documents provide details about the mortgage agreement, including how much interest would be paid over the life of the loan, and what the terms of the loan are.

Discount Points: Paying points on a mortgage is essentially pre-paying interest on a home loan. Paying points allows a borrower to secure a lower interest rate on the loan.

Dodd-Frank Act: The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was passed as a response to housing crisis of 2010. It made sweeping changes to the the nation's financial services industry. For mortgage lenders and consumers, it created tougher regulations mortgage lenders and created minimum lending standards. Consumers mostly see the impact of Dodd Frank in the disclosures they see when applying for credit and in the availability of credit. Some consumers with lower credit ratings may need to provide more supporting documents to demonstrate their creditworthiness.

Down Payment: The amount paid to the lender upfront in order to secure the loan. Some types of loans do not require a down payment (e.g. USDA, VA) while others require large down payments (sometimes up to 50 percent down in the case of foreign nationals without local credit history).

Earnest Money: A deposit placed on a home after the contract offer has been accepted by the seller. An earnest money deposit is meant to be a good faith gesture to emphasize the intent to complete the terms of the contract.

Equity: The amount of value in the home if it were sold and the remaining balance of the mortgage paid off. The amount of equity in a home increases as mortgage payments are made and/or the market value increases.

Escrow: An escrow account is created to hold money for some purpose. When buying a home, the earnest money deposit and any other payments made toward the sale of the property are held in escrow until the transaction is closed and funded. Escrow accounts are also sometimes used by lenders to collect payments for property taxes on behalf of the homeowner.

Fannie Mae: A government agency that buys mortgages from lenders to provide them more cash to create new loans. This loosens the credit market by encouraging lenders to make more loans.

FHA (Federal Housing Administration): A government-run agency that provides insurance on FHA-approved mortgage loans, in order to increase credit options for consumers. The goal of FHA loans is to help increase the affordability of housing.

FHA Funding Fee: The upfront cost and monthly premium you pay when you get an FHA. Also called the upfront mortgage insurance premium (UFMIP), the fee equals 2.25 percent of the mortgage amount.

FHA Limits: The FHA has established limits on amount it can insure on government-backed loans. These limits vary based on factors such as location, type of property, and parameters for conventional loans. In Dallas, Denton, Collin and Tarrant Counties, the FHA loan limit was recently raised to $362,250.

FHA Requirements: Guidelines that applicants must meet in order to be approved for an FHA-backed loan.

Fixed Rate Mortgage: A mortgage with an interest rate that remains the same for the entire term of the loan.

Freddie Mac: A government agency that buys mortgages from lenders in order to sell them to investors. The agency works to stimulate the real estate market and increase availability of low cost housing. This is meant to be in competition with Fannie Mae

HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit): A type of loan in which the lender agrees to lend a maximum amount within a specified time frame, where the collateral is the borrower's equity in his/her house (similar to a second mortgage). Home owners are issued a line of credit from which they may draw funds and they make payment based on the amount drawn. Because it is a line of credit, homeowners may choose to only take out the amount they need as they need it.

HOEPA (Home Ownership Equity and Protection Act): A law designed to reduce the unnecessary payment of private mortgage insurance (PMI) by homeowners who are no longer required to pay it (they have enough equity in their home that it can no longer be considered a high-cost mortgage).

Home Equity Loan: A loan that is based on the amount of equity in a property. This is also known as a second mortgage since it is in addition to the primary mortgage.

Home Inspection: A professional evaluation of the condition of the house and its systems.

HUD (The Department of Housing and Urban Development): A government agency that implements programs and policies that stimulate the real estate market and ensure the Fair Housing Act is followed.

Easy ways to make Earth Day matter every day.

Guest blog by Brenda Masse, Green Scene Home Inspections

Earth Day 2017 is almost here, and it’s time for your annual round of Green Guilt. But seriously, it’s a great time of year to take stock of every day ways you can reduce waste, save energy and positively impact your environment. Here are a few easy ways to make Earth Day every day.

1.      Get rid of incandescent bulbs. Switch to LED or fluorescent. They cost a little more, but they save you money in the long term. They last longer, are more energy efficient, don’t put out heat, and there are MANY more options available to you now than with incandescents. Fluorescent and LED bulbs come in every shape, size and color.

2.      Nix disposable cups. From your favorite coffee to take-out sodas to those little plastic wine cups at parties – when you think about it, this unnecessary trash really piles up! Each time you can replace a reusable cup with a disposable one makes a difference, so bring your own coffee mug, carry one of those cool wide-mouth bottles or steel containers for take-out, and purchase washable plastic wine cups for your next cocktail hour!

3.      Use cloth towels. This one can be tough. It’s so much easier to clean that small (or super-gross) mess with disposable paper. Try keeping one roll and using it like gold – only when you really need it. For day to day cleaning, keep washable rags handy. Cut up old T-shirts or bath towels into more convenient sizes or find one of the cute reusable towel products out there for a more aesthetically pleasing choice.

4.      Recycle your batteries. We are all guilty of tossing these in the trash, but batteries contain corrosive, toxic materials that we don’t want in our soil or water. Designate a container in which to keep used batteries and simply drop them off at Home Depot, Staples, or one of the many businesses that provide this service. If you’re not buying rechargeable batteries, give them a try. They last much longer and when they do eventually run out – recycle them!

5.      Stop junk mail. This is an easy one and so worth the minimal effort. Sign up for online bill-pay for all bills, and only print the statements you absolutely need hard copies of. Then go to this siteto find out how to get your address off junk mail lists.

There are so many small decisions we make each day that, put together, add up to a big difference. This Earth Day, take stock of the choices you’re making at home and as you go through your day, and see how many ways you can make your footprint smaller!

 

Top 3 car care tips for REALTORS

When you’re a REALTOR, your car is a critical business tool. If it’s not working, neither are you. The good news is, you don’t have to be an automotive expert to keep your car in good shape for the many, many miles you’ll put on it.

Actually read your owner’s manual. Follow your vehicle’s service schedule. Don’t rely on your dealer or your mechanic to tell you when service is due. The manufacturer of the car knows what’s best for it. Newer cars may have longer service intervals, up to 20,000 miles in some cases. When the time comes for service, make sure all of the items detailed in the manual are addressed and that all of the proper types of fluids and replacement parts are used. Don’t skimp on cheap parts. Use reliable brands. Keep in mind that the service schedule is not simply an oil change. It also involves maintenance of the cooling system, drive train and other systems. Following the schedule also ensures you the get the most out of the manufacturer's warranties.

One caveat: the nature of doing a lot of showings often means lots of short trips and city driving. Check your owner’s manual to see if you fit the description for going on what is known as an extreme-use maintenance schedule. If you’re doing a lot of short city trips in our very hot climate, you might need to service your car more often, maybe as much as twice as often as the regular maintenance schedule.

Check your oil level regularly. Every car will use up some oil between changes. Certain models will use more than others. Try to check your oil level about once a month or so to make sure you maintain proper levels and top off as needed. Your owner’s manual will tell you what type of oil is needed. Here’s how to check the level: (1) turn off the engine and wait about 5 minutes. (2) Under your car’s hood, locate the dipstick. It typically has a picture of an oilcan on it. (3) Pull the dipstick out and wipe it off with a paper towel. (4) Push the dipstick back in again, all the way and pull it back out. The dipstick will have two marks at the bottom, usually either lines or holes. If the oil line is between the two marks or holes, then the level is good. Replace the dipstick and you’re on your way. If it’s below the bottom mark, you need to add a quart of oil. Never add more than a quart at once time. You’ll risk adding too much oil and that’s no good for your engine.

Check tire pressure and rotate regularly. Replacing tires can get expensive, and under inflated or unevenly worn tires will need replacing more often than those that have been properly maintained. Check your tire pressure every time you tank up just to be sure. You can find the proper psi either in your owner’s manual or on the door jamp inside the driver’s side door. Rotate your tires every 7,500 miles. If you can’t remember the mileage when you rotated them last, call the shop and ask. They usually keep a record. Then calculate how much time and miles have passed and estimate when you’ll need to rotate them again. Set a reminder in your calendar.  

These are the most basic things you can do to keep your car (and your business) running at peak performance. We’ll cover more car care tips in upcoming blogs. In the meantime, stay safe out there!

Buying a Home in Dallas From Another City

Guest blog from Brenda Masse, Green Scene Home Inspections

More people are moving to Dallas every day. In fact, more people moved to Texas last year than any other state.  People relocating to Dallas often find themselves buying a home while living in another city, state or country. It can be hard to know where to begin, especially in a hot market like Dallas where you often have to act quickly to secure a deal. Here are some tips for out-of-town buyers:

1. Figure out your timeline.

Make a timeline that includes both the “drop-dead-have-to” dates and the ideal, best-case-scenario dates. When do you absolutely have to be moved and settled? Decide how many times you can reasonably travel to the new city prior to moving within this timeframe.

2. Find a Realtor in the new city. 

Find a professional Realtor®, someone who specializes in relocation who will guide you to the right neighborhoods, schools and amenities for you and your family. He or she should provide you with information about your new city: transportation, medical, dining, entertainment, arts & culture – anything and everything you need to know about your new home.

* Pro-Tip: Before you schedule a trip to your new city, take an inventory of your furnishings and belongings with measurements of large items so you can make sure your stuff will fit while you’re in the actual space.

3. Make decisions about what you want.

Make a list of things that are important to you in your home and your neighborhood. Indicate which things are MUST HAVES and which ones are preferences you’d be willing to concede if necessary. Likewise, make a list of things you absolutely don’t want, and share these lists with your Realtor. The more your Realtor understands what you’re looking for, the more he or she will be able to help you from a distance.

4. Tour homes online.

Have your Realtor set you up with an MLS search so you can tour homes online. Sites like Zillow and Trulia sometimes have outdated information. Use the Google Street View feature on homes you may be interested in, so you can see a satellite view of the street and the other houses on the block to get a feel for the neighborhood.

5. Make financial arrangements.

This can be a challenge from out of state. A good first step is to get pre-qualified by a lender in your current town, one that has a location in your new city, so that the lender can help facilitate the process for you. Ask your Realtor for help – they work with lenders every day, and can recommend people that can work with your specific needs.

6. Be prepared to act quickly.

In a fast-moving market like Dallas, you may not be able to travel every time you are interested in a home. Sometimes homes here have multiple offers within hours of listing on the MLS. Your Realtor can tour homes for you and walk you through them virtually. If you have to act quickly, don’t be afraid to make your best offer to try to get a home you like under contract. You can arrange to view the home in person during the option period, and worse-case scenario, you’re out the option fee if you decide it’s not the right home for you after all.

Green ways to save money at home

The best ways to save money around the house also happen to be great eco-friendly suggestions as well. It’s all about looking for ways to conserve. Eco-friendly habits around the house try to not use more resources than needed, and that often means taking a few simple steps that can end up saving you a lot of money.

Clean out your dryer lint trap and shorten the vent. Clogged lint traps are a fire hazard and can reduce your dryer’s efficiency by as much as 75%. Cleaning it will save energy and reduce wear and tear on your dryer. Go one step further and clean out and shorten your vent hose. First, disconnect it and clean it out. Trim the hose length so that it's just long enough for you to pull the dryer a few feet out from the wall. Your clothes will dry faster, too. Better yet, hang your clothes out to dry instead of using a dryer at all. If you don’t have a yard, or your HOA forbids clothes lines, invest in a drying rack.

Unplug electronics. Unplug electronics when you’re not using them and eliminate phantom power drain. You can use power strips and timers them to automatically turn off the charge each night. You could also consider a smart power strip, which only turns on power to devices if the control device is turned on first. For instance, a DVD player and sound system will only receive power if the TV is on.

Change your lightbulbs. Get rid of your incandescent light bulbs and replace them with CFL and LED bulbs. If you’re remodeling, consider a fixture with an integrated LED bulb that never needs replacing. Install dimmer switches where low lighting is acceptable, and turn off lights when you leave the room.

Stop the drafts and leaks. Properly sealing cracks around windows and doors could save more than 10 percent on your heating bills. Start by caulking or weather-stripping around windows, and install a door sweep on all of your exterior doors. Use expanding-foam sealants to fill in gaps around plumbing where pipes enter your house through exterior walls

Be better with your blinds. In the winter, make sure blinds and curtains are open on sunny days to let in the warmth of the sun. Pull them closed or use reflective drapes in the summer to keep heat at bay.

Switch to a programmable thermostat. Invest in a programmable thermostat and use zoned central heating, so that it only runs when and where you really need it.

Replace an old water heater or add insulation. Heating water accounts for about 11 percent of your utility bills, higher if your water heater is more than ten years old. A more efficient model could save you 10 to 20 percent on water heating bills. Tankless heaters save about 40 percent on water heating costs. A water-heater blanket could save you between 4 and 9 percent on your heating bills, if you’re not ready to replace.

At the very least, turn down the thermostat on your water heater. Most are set at 140 degrees F, but 120 or even 110 degrees is hot enough and reduces the risk of scalding.

Close doors to lower the square footage. Keep closets and pantry doors closed to reduce the amount of square feet that are climate controlled.

Have your HVAC System regularly cleaned and tuned.  Tune-ups can save 10 percent or more on heating bills. A tune up will remove soot and dust buildup, and ensure that everything is running at peak efficiency. Make sure your ductwork is free from leaks and you’ll save even more. Make sure to regularly replace your air filters.

Replace your appliances with Energy Star rated ones. Save up to $80 per year in energy costs for a refrigerator, $130 annually on utility costs for a washer and $30 for the dishwasher when you upgrade to more efficient models.

Add more insulation to your attic. You can reduce your heating and cooling costs by 30 percent by adding more insulation to your attic, ceilings, and around recessed lighting fixtures.

Wash Clothes in Cold Water. Most detergents work well in cold water, so it makes sense to save on energy costs and switch to cold when you can. Plus, washing everything in cold water means that you no longer have to separate the colors.

Cut back on your water bill. Installing low-flow faucets could save you up to 60% on your water bill.

Plant a deciduous tree on the south, west, or east side of your house. Once mature, its shade can cut your cooling costs by up to 30 percent.

Install a ceiling fan. Run a fan in the winter to keep heat pushed lower to the floor. Reverse the direction in the summer to push cooler air down.

The ABCs of mortgage terms you should know

If you’re applying for a loan or helping clients through the closing process, you’ll need to know a few mortgage terms. While you should always refer your clients’ specific questions about their situation to their lender, it’s still a good idea to familiarize yourself with common terms and practices in Texas. Pay particular attention to the abbreviations. There’s a lot of alphabet soup out there, especially for first time buyers and buyers who haven’t been in the market since the TRID changes. Know the terms or use these definitions to create a guide for your clients. This list covers the ABC’s. Watch our upcoming posts for more definitions.

Amortization: An amortized loan has regular payments of both principal and interest that are paid within the term of the loan. Amortization schedules detail the monthly payments and how much of each payment goes to principal and interest.

Annual Income: All the income earned over a year including wages, salary, tips, bonuses, commissions, and overtime.

Appraisal Fee: The appraisal fee is the amount charged by the appraiser who assesses the value of the property in question.

Appraisal Report: An appraisal is the value of the home as determined by the appraiser. An appraiser will consider the age, size, location, condition, and features of the home as well as recent sales in the neighborhood of similar properties. The lender uses the appraisal report to determine the maximum loan amount for which the property qualifies.

APR (Annual Percentage Rate): The cost of borrowing money from the lender, as a percentage of the mortgage amount. The APR includes the interest rate as well as all other fees that are paid over the life of the loan.

ATR (Ability To Repay): Lenders are required to make a reasonable, good faith determination of a consumer's ability to repay a mortgage.

ARM (Adjustable Rate Mortgage): Adjustable rate mortgages have interest rates that change periodically. Such loans have an introductory period of low fixed rates, after which the interest rate may vary, depending the terms of the loan.

Balloon Payment: Loans with a balloon payment are characterized by very low monthly payments with a large “balloon payment” paid at the end of the mortgage term.

Bankruptcy: After bankruptcy, the borrower must wait before borrowing for a mortgage again. For a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, borrowers must wait two years plus any additional amount of time as required by the lender. People who have filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy may borrow again once all of the payments to the bankruptcy have been made and a minimum of one year has passed. Other requirements must also be met in addition to the waiting periods.

Cash-out Refinance: A cash-out refinance is when you replace your current home loan with a new mortgage. You agree to a larger loan amount in order to use the equity you've earned on your home.

CFPB (Consumer Finance Protection Bureau): The CFPB was created enforce federal consumer financial laws and protect consumers in the financial marketplace.

Closing Checklist: Closing checklists are important to keep track of all the items needed prior to closing.

Closing Costs: Closing costs is a tally of all the fees and costs that need to be paid before or at the time of closing.

CD (Closing Disclosure): A confirmation of the transaction provided to consumers, sellers, and their agents. A closing disclosure affirms the terms of the loan (in the case of borrowers) and the amounts paid or credited to each party to settle the transaction.

Co-borrower: Co-borrowers allow their income, assets, and credit score to help others qualify for a loan and/or get lower interest rates. Co-borrowers are equally liable to pay back the loan in the case of default by the borrower.

Conventional Loan: Conventional loans are provided by lenders who are not insured by the government. These mortgages require higher down payments and typically have fixed terms and rates.

Credit History/Credit Report: A history of a person’s borrowing and payment habits. It demonstrates a person’s financial habits and gives the lender an idea of how likely one is to repay a loan.

Credit Score: A number assigned to a person’s credit files based on their credit report. On a scale of 350 -850, a credit score of 720 or higher is considered “excellent” or “prime.” A credit score from 690 – 720 is considered “good” while a score of 650-690 is a “problem” or “fair” score. A score in the 350- 650 range is considered “poor.” A person is thought to have no credit if their score is below 349.

Architectural designs to watch for in 2017 and beyond

The rise of technology and the changing needs of today’s generations are pushing some big changes to contemporary architectural design. We’ve already been seeing some trends toward sustainability beginning to shape our homes. Here are some more changes you might start to notice this year.

Sustainable materials and design. It’s not enough anymore to have Energy-Star appliances, a tankless hot water heater, some Tyvek wrapped around your house to call it energy-efficient. Homes need to be designed and built with sustainability in mind from the ground up. Designs featuring homes made from alternative, locally-sourced materials are already being built around the world and the trend is accelerating. Here in North Texas, the trend is toward rainwater harvesting, use of geothermal HVAC systems, solar and wind power, and orientation of homes to maximize cross ventilation. Attention is also being paid to reduce the amount of waste when building a home. Stick-built homes - those built on-site from scratch – produce more waste than modular homes. To satisfy the demand of the consumer for a custom home and the need to reduce waste, some builders are incorporating a mix of modular units within larger semi-custom designs. One application is to build modular rooms (like kitchens and baths) and assemble them in custom designs. Another application is to assemble framed wall off-site and deliver the pieces for final assembly on the job-site. Both of these methods reduce waste, and save time and labor needs.

Multiple master suites. There are so many reasons having multiple master suites makes sense. With rising housing costs, there are more households that are choosing to have several generations living under one roof. Dual-income families might want live-in help with children. Others may choose to have roommates to help defray housing costs. Whatever the reason, having multiple bedrooms with en suite bathrooms will become more common.

Going vertical and adding in more nature. The rising cost of land, especially in urban areas, is causing many architects to think vertically. Smaller footprints with more stories, or cantilevered upper levels may become more common. Rooftop gardens are another amenity that both maximizes space and adds more natural features to a home. Expect to see more of them in urban locations. Quiet spaces, like those rooftop gardens, or small green courtyards and meditation rooms will offer residents a place to unplug and relax.

Incorporation of clean lines. Through the playful use of materials, space and shape, architects are encouraging homeowners to connect more to nature. You’ll see more use of a variety of natural components, irregularly shaped structures, moving walls and other elements, and a variety of colors and materials in design. The overall effect is meant to be clean and soothing, but not predictable or boxy.

Are you ready for National Gardening Month?

No matter if your thumb is green or decidedly brown, you can still get out in the garden and brighten up your spring with a little planning. Celebrate the wonders of a beautiful spring season and give your dirt a little turn this spring.

You’ve got to start with well-prepared soil. You can start with a little bit of rototilling on dry soil to break up the surface. Avoid going in too rigorously, though. You don’t want to destroy all of the earthworms in the area or burn up the organic material too quickly. Add in compost and expanded shale and finish preparing the bed with a good digging fork and you’ll be well on your way to a very nice growing medium. Make sure to pull up weeds or at least the tops and enough of the roots that they don’t plague your garden all summer long.

Next you’ll want to make sure that you feed the plants going into the ground. Many gardeners like a 10-10-10 synthetic fertilizer for vegetable gardens. For an organic garden, try soybean meal, which adds nitrogen. Many local nurseries have soil test kits available if you’re not sure what your soil needs. Add an inch or two of compost over the prepared bed and you’ll be ready to start planting. Make sure to leave yourself set walking paths so you don’t trample down all of that freshly tilled soil.

Some great early crops for April include tomatoes, peppers, snap beans, zucchini, radishes, cucumbers, corn, and squash. Look for proven, adapted varieties. Talk to other gardeners in your area, or contact your county’s Master Gardener (search online, they’re easy to find). Good plants and flowers for planting in early April include cannas, gladiola corms, ground covers, warm-weather annuals, perennials, and turf grasses.

If you’re not feeling like planting much, but want to just keep up with the plants you already have, it’s a good time to get out and do some maintenance. Prune shrubs and vines once they’re done blooming. Check your roses and other ornamentals for signs of powdery mildew, which is common in the spring. If you spot it, there are treatments available at your nursery. Turf grasses should be fertilized at the beginning of the month. You can use a weed and feed product as long as it’s safe for your type of grass.

Finally, if you need an inspiration, check out the final weekends of the Dallas Blooms Festival at the Arboretum. Return again in a couple weeks, too. The annual explosion of azaleas toward the end of April is always magnificent.

The MetroTex Association of REALTORS is the largest professional real estate association in North Texas. Comprised of more than 18,000 real estate professionals, MetroTex is celebrating 100 years of service to the community in 2017. To connect with a MetroTex Realtor, or to find information about buying, leasing, or selling a home in North Texas, visit dfwrealestate.com.

Realtors share their top staging tips: What to update

Sometimes it’s hard to know whether you should spend money updating your home when you’re planning to sell it. There’s a fine line between making it as appealing as possible and spending more than you’ll get out of the updates. Fully updated homes will sell more quickly and often for more money than those with a more – ahem – pre-owned aesthetic. That doesn’t mean you should spend all of your equity putting in the updates you never enjoyed for yourself. Here are the ones that make the most impact. Talk to your agent about what makes the most sense for your budget and goals.

(Note: We’ve looked at some of the very best ways to put your best foot forward with Crank up the curb appeal and gotten you in the right frame of mind for staging with How to get started. We added some room by room tips with How to create style. Start with them first if you haven’t already read them.)

First, consider that a well-maintained home is most attractive to buyers. Most don’t want a big honey-do list when they walk in the door, so try to eliminate the impression that they’ll be buying a project. Start with the obvious repairs. Walk through each room and make a list of anything you see that is broken, worn, or in otherwise poor condition. These could be things like nail and tape pops in the ceilings and on walls or settling cracks in the drywall, running toilets, or cracked outlet covers. Make sure doors and drawers open and close properly, and polish hinges and handles. Give natural woodwork a once-over with orange oil to restore its gleam. Now that everything is clean and repaired, let’s take a look at what could use updating and where it’s wise to spend time and money.

Lighting is probably the next most affordable fix. Put the maximum wattage bulbs in your fixtures. Dust your lamp shades and bulbs. Add more lamps if you can. Open up blinds and let as much natural light in as possible. If your lights are dated and can be easily painted or upgraded, then do so. Most people will turn their noses up at a cheap-looking builder grade fixture. Ditch the Hollywood lights in the bathrooms and fluorescent box lights in the kitchen for more current styles if you can.

Paint is the one thing most people will do before listing a home and so a fresh coat of paint is something buyers will expect. Choose sophisticated neutral colors. Choose middle neutrals of warm honeys, steely blues or cool pewter to create a refined setting. If you have patterned wallpaper, you might want to think about removing it and having the walls textured and painted instead. Don’t neglect the doors, baseboards, window sills and trim. If they’re dingy and cleaning doesn’t help, a fresh coat of paint will do wonders. If you have built-ins, paint the insides with a contrasting color or deeper shade on the color strip that you’ve used in the rest of the room to highlight the objects displayed within.

In the kitchen, freshly painted or glazed cabinets can update a look, but if you’re not inclined to take on that big of a project, try updating the hardware and drapery. Make sure appliances are spotless. Dated appliances and countertops are going to deter some buyers, so if it’s in your budget to update them, then it’s not a bad idea. If you can’t afford it, then make sure they’re as tidy as possible.

Now let’s talk about flooring. Can the carpets be salvaged with a really good steam cleaning and re-stretching? If not, you may want to replace them. It stinks to have to spend the money on it, but most people really get turned off by dirty or worn carpets. The “carpet allowance with acceptable offer” thing happens, but honestly, most people don’t want the hassle. Yes, buyers may be inclined to rip out the carpet and replace it with hardwood floors anyway, but try not to think about it too much. You’d rather they see your home in top condition and get a favorable impression than see it in less than prime condition and think they can cut the price because you obviously don’t care that much. If you’ve got hardwoods that are in poor condition, get estimates to see if they can be refinished. They often can be (even pre-finished engineered wood floors can often be refinished a couple times). It will make a big difference.

In the bathroom, updated tile, sinks and shower enclosures are most requested by buyers. If you can’t afford to refinish the bathrooms entirely, try painting the vanity or replacing the faucets. Fresh grout and caulk and a clean shower pan makes a big difference in the overall impression in the minds of buyers, too. Bathrooms must be spotless and the fewer visible personal items left out, the better. People don’t want to think of others using the facilities. As best you can, create a luxury feel with fluffy new towels, spa accessories, and a new bath mat.

Watch for our final article in this series, It’s showtime! where we’ll give you tips on what to do right before your buyers arrive.

National Flood Insurance Reform

NAR formally weighed in with the House Financial Services Committee on principles released late last year for the reform of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The NFIP is up for reauthorization on Sept. 30 of this year, and NAR is encouraged that this is an early priority for the Committee. While many of the principles align with NAR’s call for enhanced flood mapping, mitigation flexibility and private market options in addition to the NFIP, the principles are very broad and do not include detailed legislative proposals.

Specifically, NAR supports:

  • Reauthorization of the NFIP, flood mapping and mitigation. According to NAR research, the NFIP was essential to successfully completing half a million home sales in 2015.
  • Inclusion of the Flood Insurance Market Modernization and Parity Act, as unanimously passed by the House 419-0 last Congress (H.R. 2901 by Reps. Ross [R-FL] and Murphy [D-FL]).
  • Providing more flexibility with mitigation assistance and adjusting the increased cost of compliance provisions to enable policyholders to mitigate risk before the property floods.
  • Directing the technical mapping advisory group to develop state flood mapping programs like North Carolina’s that use Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology to improve granularity at lower cost than FEMA’s flood maps.
  • Aligning the NFIP’s rate setting parameters with those of the private market. According to independent actuarial research conducted for NAR, having more than one risk rate table would enable the program to charge rates closer to the risk for many properties now overpaying into the program.

NAR has offered to lend its members’ experience and resources to assist the Committee in developing detailed proposals of these needed changes.

While the proposal includes many positive aspects, questions remain. Specifically:

  • How long of a reauthorization is the Committee seeking? NAR supports at least a 5 year reauthorization plan.
  • How much reinsurance will NFIP be required to purchase and will Congress authorize appropriations to pay for this? If not crafted well, a large cost increase over a smaller revenue base could result in the need for very large rate increases.
  • How would a phase-out of NFIP be structured for properties valued above NFIP coverage limits? NAR policy supports ensuring access to flood insurance in all markets at all times, especially since it is a requirement for federally-related mortgages. Depending on where the NFIP limit is set, a proposal could inadvertently transfer flood risks back to taxpayers if policyholders lose coverage and have no choice but to again rely on disaster relief in the event of flooding. NAR is also concerned that additional coverage phase-outs could potentially create more confusion for consumers.

How to make your offer more attractive … without increasing it

Before you submit an offer on your dream home, get pre-approved or pre-qualified for a mortgage loan. Either one can make your offer more attractive to the seller, but they mean different things.

What are your qualifications?

To get pre-qualified for a mortgage loan, you provide a lender your approximate income, current debts and any important details from your credit history. The lender will then use these details to determine how much you may be eligible to borrow. You may receive a Conditional Qualification Letter from the lender, which determines your likelihood of getting a home loan. However, it’s important to know that all information submitted during pre-qualification is subject to verification when your actual loan application is submitted. There is no guarantee that you will receive a home loan until your financial situation is actually verified.

Seeking approval

Being pre-approved for a loan typically means that the lender has gone one step further and verified your financial situation. When you get pre-approved, you will complete a mortgage loan application and may have to pay an application fee. Your lender will commit in writing to fund your loan, but only after an extensive examination of your financial situation and pending a successful appraisal of the home and a few other conditions.

But I haven’t found a house yet

Being pre-approved for a mortgage loan doesn’t mean you are borrowing the money or that you are obligated to. It just means the lender must stand behind his written commitment to fund the specified amount unless something changes with your situation. Think about how attractive your offer will be to the seller if you submit it with a letter pre-approving you for the loan.

Can the lender change his mind?

Some situations could cause a lender to withdraw from funding a loan even after a pre-approval letter is issued. If your credit situation changes between the time the pre-approval letter is issued and the loan’s funding, then the lender could change the interest rate or even deny the loan application. So, while you’re buying a house, it’s important not to apply for credit cards or other loans that could change your credit situation.

Avoid surprises in your credit

The best way to check out what a lender is going to see in your credit history is to get a copy of your credit report. This document lists your financial history, including total debt and whether you pay your bills on time. Regularly checking your credit report is the best way to spot identity theft, credit report errors or other blemishes that could affect your ability to buy a home.

By law you are entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the three credit-reporting bureaus—Experian, Equifax and Transunion. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to find out how to get your free reports.

By taking steps to secure your finances, you increase your ability to get pre-approved for a home loan. And this will put you one step closer to being in the home you dream about for you and your family. For more information about buying and selling property in Texas, I encourage you to visit dfwrealestate.com

Texas Probate: Selling an estate with or without a Will

When a person inherits a property that they want to sell, it’s important to make sure all of the legal paperwork is handled properly before that listing ever hits the MLS. Here’s a brief explanation of Texas probate law. It’s not a complete picture, so please consult an attorney if you have questions.

When someone dies without a Will, the estate must be shared in accordance with rules determined by the State, known as the Texas Probate Code. If there is no joint tenancy with survivorship in the deed to the property, then before a house may be sold, a clear title and heirship must be determined. While that is in process, typically a family member will need to take over the maintenance of the property, including property taxes, insurance, utilities, lawn care, cleaning out the contents of the house, and any needed repairs to preserve the value of the property.

If a Will exists then it generally must be executed and probated in court before the house is sold. To do that, a probate hearing is held, wherein all of that person’s property is be gathered, their debts paid, and the remaining assets distributed according to either the provisions of his or her Will. This is assuming that there is no dispute over the validity of the Will or distribution of assets. This generally takes about 30 days.

When no will exists, an Affidavit of Heirship may be prepared. This involves providing a complete family tree to demonstrate who the rightful heirs are and their relationship to the deceased. It’s easiest if there haven’t been a lot of marriages, or the pool of decedents or other heirs is small.

After the Affidavit of Heirship is complete, an attorney may prepare a deed transferring title to the proper heirs. Both the Affidavit of Heirship and the new Warranty Deed are filed with the county in which the property is located. Only after those steps are complete may the heirs begin the process to sell the house. Again, this process is best handled by an attorney who specializes in probate law as the process may be lengthy if not handled properly. Understand that the sales contract must be approved by the court prior to closing. An experienced attorney can handle this though it may day take a little longer than a traditional closing.

Do bear in mind that in Texas, there are a number of different kinds of estate administration, depending on how the will (if present) was written and who the beneficiaries are. In any case, the title company makes the rules. If the title company insists that you take extra steps in order to remove an exception from the commitment, you do it. If they tell you to get all beneficiaries to sign the deed, you’re going to have to persuade them all to sign.

When you are presented with the opportunity to list the home of an estate, be sure to ask questions about the probate process right away. You don’t need all of the answers right away, but you need to know if the would-be sellers seem to have their ducks in a row. Do you have every signature that will be needed at the closing on the listing agreement?

Once you have the listing, make sure to advise buyers that a special provision will need to be made to subject the contract to the approval of probate court. Be prepared to present a certified copy of the appraisal to the court. Also be sure to advise the buyer that possession will be determined by the court as a confirmation of sale, and not upon the typical same day “closing and funding.”

Our best advice is to develop a good relationship with an attorney who practices probate law before you encounter this type of transaction so that you are prepared to do business when the time comes.

Realtors share their top staging tips: How to get started

Getting a house ready for market can be a daunting task. The to-do list can get long and sometimes it’s hard to know how to prioritize projects. We’ve covered how to get your curb appeal up to snuff previously with Crank up the curb appeal. Now let’s focus on getting started inside.

Before staging can begin, you’ve got to purge. A well-staged home will feel spacious and light. That’s hard to accomplish if it’s full of your stuff. You’ll be moving soon anyway, so it’s a good time to start going through your things and getting rid of anything that no longer fits, doesn’t get used, you no longer want or need. Hold a garage sale or donate these things. Use offsite storage if you want to hang on to some things, but they don’t need to be in the house for showings. The goal is to have minimally used cupboards, shelves, and closets. Buyers will be checking inside them to see how efficient the space is. That’s why you should store off-site whenever possible. You want to show a house with plenty of storage space. Consider removing excess or oversized furniture to open up more space.

Again, closets are no exception. It doesn’t help to pack things away if your closets are bursting with boxes. Aim to have about 30 percent of open, unused space in closets to emphasize their spaciousness. Neatly hang clothes on matching hangers, and evenly space out those hangers. Folded items should be stacked neatly and organized by color. Shoes, bags, and accessories should also be organized. Get some matching tailored-looking cardboard boxes to store extra items. Try to make everything look as catalogue-perfect as possible.

Depersonalize. This is important. You’re trying to sell the house, not show off your style. Your style will be moving with you, so it’s ok to pack it away. Now is the time to detach from what made the house uniquely yours. Box up photos, collections, diplomas, books, knickknacks, kids artwork and other personal items. They are distracting to buyers. You want people to view the home as their potential home. You want them looking at the structure of the house and imagining themselves living in it. You don’t want them to get distracted. If your house is filled with personal items, buyers are likely to forget about looking at the space. You wouldn’t believe how long buyers will stare at photos of people they do not know. It’s much better to leave a blank slate.

Spring clean like Martha Stewart is coming for dinner - and she’s bringing your mother in law and the Queen along with her. Your house has never been this clean. Those sparkling windows could be worn as jewels. Every surface is sparkling clean – from those gleaming grout lines to those baseboard that look like they’ve never seen a speck of dust. Hire professionals to deep clean to give yourself a head start if you can. Every inch much be absolutely pristine. It is absolutely essential. If you have pets, have all of your rugs and carpets steam cleaned and deodorized. Pick up and organize toys. Pack most of them away – the kids can survive with fewer toys for a little while. Remember that families with kids might be tempted when they see how wonderfully you’ve organized your kids’ room.

 

Realtors share their top staging tips: How to create style

Today we’re getting to the big Ta-Da! It’s time to start turning up the style in your newly ready-to-be-staged home.

Start by making sure every room is used with a clear purpose and one that makes sense for the space. Return spaces to their original purpose when possible. If you’ve been using a spare bedroom for storage, clear it out and put it to better use as an office or guest room. An open landing could be an artist’s nook or reading room. Borrow furniture from other rooms in the house or from friends, or rent a piece if you need to fill out the space well. Buyers want to see that every bit of the house is usable space, so make sure that rooms are used well and that it all makes sense together. Take advantage of niches, alcoves, window seats, by creating vignettes. Pay special attention to awkward spaces by making them functional. Try adding display shelving, hooks or cabinets to provide utility.

Next, try rearranging your furniture. The goal is to emphasize natural focal points in the room. Most people will push everything up against the walls, and that doesn’t always make the best use of the flow or give the best presentation. Create symmetrical arrangements in the living room, by using seating pairs to create conversation groups. Think about moving lamps and accessories to different rooms or purposes to freshen up the look. Many of us have more than we need, so take out a few items, rearrange what’s left and see what you think. By paring down what you have, rooms will look more spacious.

Now go room by room, and think about the ideal setting for the space. In the master, create a relaxing retreat. Use neutral colors and soft or muted patterns. Keep it tidy, tailored and comfortable. Crisp linens, a neatly folded blanket draped on the arm of a wingback chair, and freshly laundered curtains make a room pleasant and inviting.

In the bathrooms, make sure that counters are cleared, and bars of soap, if present, are new. Towels should be clean and neatly folded. Bottles and personal hygiene items should be stowed away out of sight. Toilet lids should be closed. If you use potpourri, make sure it’s not overpowering. People will suspect you’re trying to mask something if the smell is too strong.

In the living room and dining room, try to use symmetrical, coordinating lamps. If you’re using slip covers, choose light colors. Add bright colors with coordinated pillows and accessories. Avoid over-sized centerpieces, as they can be overly formal and staid. Opt for groupings of candles, art glass, or pieces of driftwood instead.

In the kitchen, make sure counters are cleared. Put away small appliances and clear magnets from the refrigerator. Hang fresh new towels, polish every surface and make sure cupboards are emptied of all but the bare necessities. Fresh drawer and shelf paper will brighten things up, as will a neatly arranged, sparsely filled pantry. Have a decorative bowl of fresh fruit or flowers sitting out.

If you’re really stuck for ideas, tour a few model homes or design centers. That’s the kind of staging professional designers are doing and what your competition will be. Remember, you’re not just competing with other homes on the market. You’re also competing with buyer’s expectations based on what they’ve seen on TV, in catalogs and online. Stage to satisfy a contemporary taste.

This spring, crank up the curb appeal

Our very best advice for sellers for staging from the street

Whether or not you’re planning on selling your home this spring, boosting your curb appeal will make your home look great and it will make your neighbors green with envy. If you are planning to sell your home this spring, it might just put a few extra dollars in your pocket.

First impressions go a long way in sales. Most people will drive by homes before booking a showing, so you’ll want to make sure it looks appealing before it hits the market.

Start by cleaning up. Rake up any remaining leaves, mow and edge the lawn and pull up those pesky weeds. You know they grow faster than your grass this time of year. You might as well get rid of them and save yourself from having to mow again too soon. If you’ve got bare spots, add fresh sod or reseed. Pressure wash the house, walkways, and driveway. Here’s a great tutorial on pressure washing your brick to make it look great. Now, take a look at the lights and hardware. Clean and polish where possible. We don’t want any dead bugs in the entry lights! Replace fixtures if they’re too dated or corroded. Wash the windows.

Next, address the flower beds, trees and hedges. Pull any weeds out of the beds and add mulch where needed. Remember that you need to leave some foundation exposed (about 6 inches) to discourage termites. If your soil or mulch level is already that high, you’ll need to remove some before you add more mulch. Inspectors will catch that every time. Trim trees and hedges neatly and appropriately to their species. Raise the canopy of trees if branches are too low to the ground. Wash flower pots and fill them with fresh plants. Add fresh flowers and greens to beds when the danger of frost is over, or hang flower boxes on the window sills. Add a fresh doormat and stage the entry with a piece of porch furniture if there’s room, or potted plants if not. At night, keep lights on and illuminate pathways with solar lights to make the drive up feel welcoming.

Make sure the house numbers on the house, curb and mailbox are easy to read and in good condition. Replace them if necessary. Inspect the doorbell and locks and ensure they are in good working order. Repair or replace them as needed.

Now, take a step back and look at the front porch. Does the door need painting or staining? Are there posts or columns that could use a fresh coat of paint? Refresh them to coordinate with the trim, but not blend in with the house. Popular choices are red, black, blue, or wood stain. If you have a banister or steps, make sure they’re sturdy and not loose or creaky.

Be sure to hide any yard equipment, hoses, children’s toys, trash bins and recycling containers. Everything should look neat and tidy. If you have a wood pile, make sure it is neatly stacked away from the house. If you’ve got muddy areas from rainwater run-off, get some river rock or crushed granite and address it that way. Ensure downspouts are connected at the base and replace any that have been smashed or run over while mowing.

 

Staging your home? What Not to do in 2017

Don’t be too gender-specific in shared spaces. Living rooms and master bedrooms should appeal to everyone. Get rid of features and accessories that seem too gender-specific. Paint the walls a neutral color and choose bedding and accessories that complement the overall color scheme.

Don’t let loose boards trip up your deal. An old deck can be a big liability, especially if it has a loose board or railing that could cause splinters or make someone trip. Freshen up your deck by replacing rotted boards, lightly sanding and then staining. Wash deck furniture and add some fresh pillows to liven up the space. Add some fresh potted plants and place settings to make the space feel like it’s ready to entertain.

Don’t go to the dark side. Cool and cozy are appealing features to some buyers, but dark and dreary isn’t on anyone’s list. Pull up the blinds, open the curtains, and turn on all the lights. Add more lamps to dark corners. No one ever complains that the house they were viewing was too well-lit. Make your house as bright and airy as possible.

Don’t confuse buyers. Rooms have a purpose. Stage them so buyers know what it is. Clear out excess furniture and try to give each room a focal point. Even if you have successfully used a room for several purposes over the years, don’t assume your buyers will want to do the same. Let them believe you have exactly the space you need and it has one clear purpose.

Don’t raise a stink. Pets and great food are wonderful things, but buyers don’t want to know that Fluffy lives here, or that your favorite meals begin and end with garlic and Roquefort. If you have pets, you will most likely need to old carpet which, in all honesty, probably smells even if you don’t notice it. A fresh coat of paint will help neutralize odors as well.

Don't spend a lot to stage or renovate. Don’t assume you can predict the finishes the new owners will want. Fix the things that are broken and worn out but don’t go overboard. It’s more important that the home feels clean and maintained than on the cutting edge of home improvement television style. You can pick up some trendy accessory pieces if you like, but limit those as well. Remember, we are trying to clear away clutter! Also, don’t buy a lot of new furniture to stage the space. Pare down and simplify or rent staging furniture if necessary, but save your budget for your new home.

Celebrating 100 years of service in North Texas, MetroTex is the area’s largest REALTOR association.  We are an advocate for homeowners, private property rights, the real estate industry, and real estate professionals. MetroTex is comprised of more than 18,000 members. Go to www.dfwrealestate.com to find a realtor or find your next home.

Is your garden trending in 2017?

We expect the line between indoor and outdoor living space to become increasingly blurred in 2017 as more and more homeowners turn their attention to creating lifestyle spaces in their homes and backyards. Increasingly, those spaces are incorporating both natural and entertainment elements.

Probably the biggest trend to watch in our area will be the addition of a lot of technology into your outdoor living space. You’ll see unique applications of lighting using OLED technology – which can be very thin, flexible, color changing, and tied into smart home systems to coordinate with other landscape features. There will be a big uptick in the use of wireless audio and wi-fi incorporated into landscapes. Automation will also be on the rise, with autonomous lawnmowers and smarter irrigation technology coming to market.

Indigenous materials are also becoming increasingly important as homeowners want to honor the natural landscape, encourage native species, and conserve water. Nurseries are beginning to stock more highly regional materials. Hyper-local gardening is becoming a big buzzword, wherein boulders, trees and plants are being relocated within a few miles or even within the same garden to keep that native feel. You’ll also see that idea in the furnishings and décor being used. Locally crafted pieces or items made with native materials will be in demand. Also trending in 2017 will be a turn toward more organic shapes flowing around smaller, more intimate furniture groupings. It will be a mix of an old-fashioned, shabby-chic or DIY aesthetic with bold pops of modern-lined pieces or colors.

Speaking of color pops, landscape trends will be taking a page from the fashion world with color blocking in 2017. You’ll see lots of solids in rugs, curtains, pillows and pots this year to be combined in interesting ways. Walls and fences will get color, too, as a way to draw attention further into the landscape and create spaces.

Of primary importance will be incorporating lifestyle elements into the outdoor space. Whether you’re adding that outdoor kitchen or the low-maintenance gas fire pit, enjoying leisure time outdoors and making the space about entertaining will continue to be a focus in 2017. An interesting shift is that play space isn’t just for kids these days. You’ll see a return to the days of outdoor family gaming, including space for things like corn hole, lawn Yahtzee, or tetherball. The focus is less on play structures and more on unstructured play, where it’s ok for kids to dig, climb, and explore. Designers are incorporating rock beds, fruit trees and freeform logs into their designs to create a more wild, less manicured space. There is less emphasis on expansive lawns and more use of grasses that need less mowing and less water. Some are opting for artificial turf in play areas and beds of prairie grasses and native wildflowers in other areas to reduce the need for water. For those who want a more natural feel, organic gardening is making a stronger than ever showing. Plants that attract pollinators are becoming increasingly important as honeybees face more environmental threats.

Will you be updating your backyard in 2017? What features do you plan to incorporate?