Top Home Staging Tips

The biggest killer of homes sales is distracted buyers. If buyers can’t see themselves in the space because they’re too distracted by the things that are in it now, it won’t make the cut. Buyers may remember the house with the wall-to-wall collection of velvet Elvis paintings, but they won’t remember if it had a good floor plan. Stage your house well to get the best return on your investment.

Clear out the clutter: The goal with staging is to show off each room’s full potential. Keep that in mind as you pack away your mementos, favorite things and collections. These things may mean a lot to you, but they won’t connect with buyers and may prove to be a distraction. Remove furniture that is out of proportion to the room, if possible and borrow from other rooms or rent staging furniture. Above all, make each room fairly neutral, tidy and functional. Then you tackle the closets and junk drawers and make them look like the Container Store bases their catalogue off of your ideas. It doesn’t matter that you’ve got a storage facility down the street full to the rafters with 13 years’ worth of half-used crayons and school glue. Buyers won’t see it.

Keep it clean: Kitchens and bathrooms are magnets for fingerprints, grease and grime. Make sure the walls are clean as can be. Start by dusting them down with a microfiber duster on an extension pole. If the dirt sticks, try a cleaning them with vinegar. Mix a solution of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts warm water in a bucket, wet a sponge with the solution, and gently rub your walls clean. Work top to bottom and dry with a lint free towel. Test a small area first to make sure your wall surface doesn’t react to the vinegar. Don’t forget the baseboards!

Freshen up grout and caulk: Make sure your grout lines are clean. Try scrubbing with a paste of baking soda and water first. Apply fresh grout to any areas where it’s missing or cracked. Replace caulk in the shower and along the backsplash if there’s any sign of mildew that won’t clean easily.

Gleaming glass surfaces: Wash your windows inside and out, including screen and tracks. Make sure mirrors and glass tables are sparkling clean. If you’ve got soap scum on your shower doors, hit them several times with a descaling cleaner, or take it off the hinges, take it outside and carefully clean with steel wool and a solution of 1 part muriatic acid to 10 parts water (wear gloves, a mask and eye protection. Muriatic acid is strong stuff).

Don’t take it personally: People get distracted by family photos. While you’re trying to sell your house, they’re counting kids and grandkids, evaluating that 80s hairdo and wondering aloud how old you are based on your lipstick choices. Keep their focus where it needs to be by packing away the personal touches, including family photos.

Tidy up for showings: This is the mother of all mother-in-law visits. Remember that every surface should be clean, from the inside of the oven and under the kitchen sink to the very far recesses of your closet. There will be no dirty dishes in the sink or overflowing baskets of laundry on the couch. Unfolded laundry? You’ve never heard of such a notion – even if it means driving off with your kids holding baskets full of mismatched socks in the back seat. Your newly staged home is five-star-hotel-spotless-Martha-would-be-impressed clean.

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 dfwrealestate.com to find a realtor or find your next home.

Can we afford this hot market?

It’s no secret that sales prices have been rising at a healthy clip in North Texas since 2012. When you realize that the average sales price of a home has increased more than $83,000 since 2011, it’s astonishing. In fact, while the 25-year average increase is about 4 percent, most of the past five years average prices rose at double that rate.

As Realtors, we’ve seen the excitement and the challenges of a red-hot housing market first hand. We know that a good listing will get a lot of offers quickly. We know that buyers will often have to be prepared to be patient. We know that even though we’re very busy, inventory is low and sometimes it’s hard getting deals all the way to the closing table.

We’re also getting a lot of questions. People are asking things like, “are we in a bubble?” and “this market can’t last much longer, can it?” Whenever possible, we like to answer these questions with data. We point to census data and population studies that indicate a very strong growth trend in population in DFW for the next 20 years or more. We look at the businesses relocating here, and the strength of the industry mix that we have. We also compare how low are our price levels are when you look at similarly-sized cities in the US. In these ways we can say that yes, we could see this kind of market becoming the new reality for Dallas-Fort Worth.

But we worry, too.

We worry because we see how year after year, average prices have been increasing by 8 percent, and we know that most people don’t have incomes rising at that level. We worry because the number of new listings isn’t keeping up with demand. For the second year running, December inventory levels languished at 1.9 months. That certainly won’t help keep prices in check! We worry because we have 36,000 agents in our MLS and only some 8,500 sales every month, or about 17,000 sides. There’s some pressure for you.

So again, we look to the numbers for reassurance. This time, the facts were troubling. Throughout Texas, we have both census data and MLS sales data for 318 towns. We compared the median household income in those towns and to the median sales price of single family homes. Of the towns we studied, one-third of them had sales prices higher than what HUD considers affordable in relation to income.* Almost all of those towns (100 of the 105) were within the NTREIS market area, and 25 of them were within the Greater DFW area, in places like Dallas, Denton, Lewisville, Euless, Grapevine and Irving.

In a nutshell, that means that a family living in North Texas earning the median income is finding it harder and harder to buy a typical home where they live. They’re going to have to find someplace more affordable to live or find a way to increase their income.

Now that we’ve raised the alarm, what can you do to make a difference? As a Realtor, you can help your clients by educating them on the importance of credit, savings and ways to fund a down payment. You can support our legislative priorities by watching for news from TAR and TREPAC and joining us when we storm the Capitol in April. You can register and vote in your local elections. North Texas is a great place to live, in part because Realtors like you keep it that way.

*105 (33%) fell within the margin of error of having a median sales prices higher what would be considered affordable assuming the following criteria: 30 year conventional mortgage at 5% annual interest rate, with 20% down payment , 1.93% annual property tax rate (statewide average) and $1600 annual homeowners’ insurance (statewide average) with the total cost of housing reaching no more than 30% of income, not including utilities or maintenance costs. Areas of concern within DFW: Addison, Bartonville, Cockrell Hill, Copper Canyon, Cross Roads, Dallas, Denton, Euless, Fairview, Ferris, Grapevine, Haslet, Hebron, Highland Park, Irving, Lewisville, Lucas, Northlake, Princeton, Prosper, Roanoke, Shady Shores, University Park, Westlake, Wilmer.

Your role in building the Dallas of tomorrow

Let me throw a crazy idea at you. Today, you can change the future of Dallas. You, the private citizen and you the REALTOR can make a few calls today that can build our city’s future.

We work with buyers. We work with sellers. We work with tenants, landlords, and investors who want to become buyers, sellers and landlords. We’re not urban planners or high rollers. Most of us don’t know a thing about commercial investment. We don’t have to.

South Dallas is primed for investment. Mayor Rawlings is ready. The City Council is ready. DART has already opened new service lines. There are plans in place to redevelop South Dallas to make it an inclusive, attractive place to live, work and invest. And that’s where you come in.

In your day to day dealings with people of all kinds, you can mention to them the Grow South Initiative that already making great things happen in Dallas. You can tell people about the Trinity Forest Golf Club, the Texas Horse Park, and the Trinity Audubon Center. Tout the Alamo Drafthouse, the Texas Theater, the Dallas Zoo and the Texas Discovery Gardens. If your buyers want historic homes, there are some fine examples in South Dallas.

Even if your clients aren’t keen on moving right now, they can still invest in South Dallas through the not-for-profit investment fund Impact Dallas Capital. The fund is designed to encourage investors of all kinds to provide long-term capital for investing in the development of the area while providing an acceptable return for its investors. If your clients are business owners, encourage them to investigate the tax and employment incentives offered by the city, county and state to grow in South Dallas. Your job as their REALTOR isn’t to give them financial advice, but you can advise them to investigate the opportunities in their city, if for no other reason than to stay informed of the developments and new businesses around them. They - and you - may discover new opportunities. Just take the time to look.

Here are some great resources to find out more:

http://www.dallasgrowsouth.com/

https://impactdallascapital.com/about

http://www.dallas-ecodev.org/incentives/

 

Dormant yard? Get your green thumb dirty anyway

Weather can be so fickle in North Texas in January. It’s hard to know if the weekend will be a great one for planting new trees and laying down fresh mulch or if you’d be better off indoors snuggled up with a good seed catalog. There are a few things you can do to perk up your spirits and get your green thumbs in the dirt no matter what Mother Nature decides to do. Just make sure to plan ahead and try to be a little flexible, if necessary.

If you’re staying indoors, it’s a great time to incorporate houseplants. Ferns, Chinese evergreens, and anthuriums are all good options for winter light conditions and their fresh green hues can really brighten up a space in the winter. A great one for novices is sansevieria, also known as sword plant among other names. It can handle infrequent watering, too. It’s a pretty and forgiving plant.

Another good January activity is to start planning your garden. You’ll be able to start seeds indoors in a few weeks for transplanting at the end of February. If there are specials heirlooms you want to try and need to order the seeds, it’s a good time to think about doing that now. Good early vegetable starts include tomatoes, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and lettuce. Petunias, begonias and impatiens are nice flowers to go ahead and start now.

When you do get a chance to get outside, it’s still a good time to plant new shade and fruit and nut trees. It’s also time to plant any chilled tulip bulbs and roses. Mulching beds that didn’t get finished in the fall should be a priority at this time as well.

If your trees and evergreen shrubs need pruning, now is the time, while they’re dormant. Prune carefully to remove damaged branches, cutting flush against the remaining branches on shrubs and along the branch collar on trees. In the case of shade trees, remove some lower branches to allow the sun to penetrate to the soil below.

Remember to recycle your Christmas tree if you haven’t already done so. Call your city to find out where your local recycling program is, or recycle your own by using the branches as mulch around bushes and chopping the trunk into firewood for next year.

Finally, don’t forget the wildlife this time of year. This is a crucial time for our outdoor friends, so keep your feeders stocked and your bird baths filled with clean water. It’s also a good time to erect bat houses. Many species hibernate at this time of year, and installing a bat house now gives the house a chance to weather so they’re ready when the bats are active.

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.

Property owners need to understand the debate about school finance reform

If you own property Texas, you probably already know that property tax rates are pretty high compared to other states. While the state of Texas doesn’t collect property tax, the average county tax rate is about 1.93% before you add in other local jurisdictions, like cities and school districts. Over the past decade, we’ve seen some of the highest rate increases in the country. At the same time, state funding to public schools has decreased dramatically. In fact, school financing has become such a hodge-podge of local policies, state mandates, and short term “fixes” that a recent Texas Supreme Court ruling advised the legislators make addressing the “byzantine” school funding system a priority.

This all concerns property owners in Texas because when the state decreases funding to schools, local districts have to make up the difference somewhere. Usually that means asking for increases in local jurisdictions. Further complicating the matter is the state’s policy of compelling wealthier districts to share their collected taxes with poorer districts, also known as Robin Hood laws. Whether or not you agree with the principle of the law, if you happen to live in a Robin Hood district, it means you have less say over how your tax dollars are being spent.

Property owners also are right to be concerned about school finance reform because while state legislators can claim to have decreased the tax burden, it becomes a moot point when homeowners end up paying more out of pocket every year to cover expenses the state no longer pays. The effect of the tax breaks and budget cuts is more pressure on homeowners and the housing market.

Consider the fact that for many homeowners, the property in which they live is their biggest investment. It is in their best interest to see the value of that investment rise. The great news for homeowners is that property values are indeed rising, and quickly. On the local level, living in a great school district does tend to make the housing stock more desirable for the resale market, and increases the perceived quality of life in the area. It is in a homeowner’s best interest to have great schools nearby. Funding those great schools is becoming more expensive for homeowners because the state is paying less of the bill. Because state law requires property taxes to be based on the value of property, when values go up and rates don’t change, tax bills rise. That puts people in the uncomfortable position of not being able to afford their single biggest investment when it increases in value. That doesn’t seem right. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

Some advocates for school finance reform are calling for the state to fund half of the cost to educate each child in Texas. Others believe the state should create a voucher program which could potentially send taxpayer dollars to private or online schools as well as public and charter schools. The debate over whether the system needs a complete overhaul or a series of smaller tweaks will be raging in Austin this month. No matter what the outcome, the implication for homeowners in Texas will be massively important.

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. For more information about buying, selling, or renting a home in North Texas, visit dfwrealestate.com.

Experts predict the hottest color trends for 2017

When it comes to determining design trends for a new year, experts start planning months in advance. They start pulling together look books based on what’s starting to get attention online and whatever is catching the eyes of trendsetters and tastemakers. And when it comes to color and interiors, designers especially pay attention to the mood of the public. How exactly does one determine what color trends will be popular based on the mood of the public in year like the one we just finished? Thankfully, the experts have come up with a way and there are some pretty clever and interesting solutions coming our way this year. I think you’ll agree.

Designers at Sherwin Williams put it best, by describing the state of color as “restless,” and you do get that sense from all over the design world. Behr’s decision to break their 2017 recommendations for colors into three palettes certainly seems to agree. Their Confident, Comfortable, and Composed lines are a refusal to try to pin down any one mood for the year. Instead they challenge the consumer to choose their own path. Increasingly, experts are saying that this lack of definition is the trend. Any one particular look or aesthetic isn’t really becoming more important than another for 2017 – it’s more about self-reflection.

That said, paint manufacturers agree that the gray trend of 2016 is still strong, though in 2017 grays are warmer and bolder. Benjamin Moore’s Color of the Year, Shadow is a good example. It’s a medium-dark tone which is lighter than charcoal but has a sort of depth to it that can be a dramatic backdrop or a foil to a playfully bright piece of furniture.

And here’s where designers all seem to agree this year. You’ll see comforting neutral colors on the whole, and bright, bold, unexpected pops of color showing up just about anywhere else. Picture a largely neutral contemporary room with dark gray walls, light tan or white sofa, and a cherry coffee table. Or maybe you’ll find a modern white kitchen flanked by cheerful acid green barstools. What you won’t see used often is chocolate brown, sunny yellow, or bright orange. Instead colors are more reminiscent of spices, stones, or minerals.

The good news is that when even the designers can’t decide what’s definitely on trend, you’ve got a lot more flexibility when you’re updating your look. Pick colors that reflect what you’re seeing in stores now and that feel good to you, and get a designer to help. You’ll end up with a fantastic new look that is as likely to hold up as long as any other.

You can always get great referrals for interior designers from your MetroTex REALTOR. Or, for information about buying, leasing, or selling a home, visit dfwrealestate.com.

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.

The top political issues in 2017 Realtors are watching

Are mortgage rates going to rise? Will banking reform change lending practices again and impact your ability to buy a house? Are the banks headed for more bailouts? Many voters are asking these questions as we prepare for a new administration. But these issues aren’t the only ones taking top priority for Realtors this year. We have a few other issues that also need to be watched in the coming year.

Realtors keep a close eye on political affairs because we are always working to protect consumers. We know that some important policies will be addressed in 2017 and Realtors are focusing primarily on three major areas of concern. The most obvious of those is the reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program, which expires at the end of September. Congressional approval is required for the program, which provides flood insurance, manages floodplains, and develops maps of flood hazard zones. Without congressional approval, the NFIP will cease to exist. The last time reauthorization was needed, it took 17 extensions, four lapses and four long years to get authorization passed. This time around it looks like things will move more quickly. Congress has already held some preliminary meetings and it’s likely that some sort of approval will happen. As REALTORS, we want to ensure that the program requirements are written with the best interest of homeowners in mind.

Our second major policy focus will be keeping an eye on tax reform. We will be working to protect the mortgage interest deduction and state and local property tax deductions for homeowners. In the world of commercial real estate, we want to protect the 1031 exchange to preserve the flexibility of investors and businesses to preserve their cash if needed.

Finally, Realtors will be very proactive when it comes to housing finance reform. We want to ensure that if the current system including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are dismantled, then whatever replaces it still includes some federal guarantees for the secondary market, and that it retains some profits to cushion against market fluctuations. The strength of the mortgage industry and the ability for consumers to obtain mortgages must be at the forefront of any policies enacted. You can be certain that REALTORS are working hard in Washington, Austin, and right here in Dallas to ensure that your interests are heard by lawmakers. After all, we’re homeowners, too.

The MetroTex Association of REALTORS® is comprised of more than 16,000 licensed agents in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. For more information on buying, selling, and leasing property in Texas, visit www.dfwrealestate.com. 

 

Must haves you don’t necessarily need

Home renovation is experiencing as big of a boom as the housing market these days. Some of this boom can be attributed to homeowners having more equity in their homes. Other people may want to renovate rather than move because they want to stay in their neighborhoods but don’t see much available on the market.

Home improvement shows and designer magazines can demonstrate some really innovative – and impractical ideas at times. They can also lead the way in changing the way people decorate their homes. I’m pretty sure most MetroTex Realtors have had their share of clients searching for a house with ship lap on the walls or a kitchen island with a waterfall top. It’s certainly true that the Old World Tuscan style of heavy, ornate wood built ins and hand troweled plaster walls look that was popular a few years ago is quickly losing ground to a lighter, more streamlined style. It’s interesting to watch which “must haves” from just a few years ago are quickly falling out of favor.

Once an absolute must, jetted bathtubs in the master bath are among the big design changes in updated homes. People are ditching the massive built in look in favor of free-standing soaking tubs with a more sculptural or tailored design. Some homeowners are taking the once-radical step of ditching the bathtub entirely in favor of a large luxurious shower. Not long ago most Realtors would have cautioned that not having a tub in the master would negatively impact resale value, but we are beginning to see a definite shift in attitude in favor of better showers. Just keep in mind that having a tub somewhere in the house is still highly desirable for many people.

Stainless steel appliances are another big investment that a lot of people have been making over the past several years. Unfortunately, a lot of people didn’t care for the fingerprints and smudges that came with the glossy trend. Enter the new stainless steel colors of black, slate, bronze, and copper. Other trends for appliances include matte finishes and bright retro colors.

While granite countertops are still popular among many homeowners, they’ve become so ubiquitous that fashion-forward thinkers are looking to other options. Other stones like marble, soapstone and engineered quartz are gaining ground on granite, as are custom counters made out of concrete or wood. Take care to choose a surface that works with the way you live. All surfaces need their maintenance and some hold up to wear and abuse better than others.

Another big player in the Tuscan look was the use of wrought iron light fixtures, doorknobs, balusters and other hardware. While wrought iron is still popular, the use of other metals is perfectly on trend. Choosing good quality fixtures is far more important than the color. If you’re mixing metals, try to keep them in the same design genre or mood so that the look flows from room to room.

If you’re considering spending money on renovations, take the time to visit a variety of showrooms and design websites to find a look that suits your lifestyle. Consider hiring a designer to help you pull the look together. Ask your MetroTex Realtor for reliable references.

The MetroTex Association of Realtors represents more than 17,000 area real estate professionals across North Texas. If you’re interested in buying, selling, or leasing a home, begin your search at dfwrealestate.com.

End-of-the-year holidays are an ideal time to sell your home

With all the activity surrounding the winter holidays, why would you even consider selling a home this time of year? Many consumers think it’s not good to list their property in the winter months, but it’s not necessarily such a bad idea.

Statistics show that the real estate market slows down a bit in October, taking off again in late January. One of the top reasons for this seasonal slowdown is inclement weather. But here in Texas, things can be quite a bit different than other regions of the country. While we may see an occasional snow or ice storm, we fare better than those living north of the Mason-Dixon Line in the winter. If you are thinking about selling your home, take advantage of the holiday season. You might be surprised. 

Use the slow season to your advantage
There are several benefits to selling this time of year. Fewer sellers on the market mean you may find the competition among them is less fierce. Your MetroTex Realtor may have more time to devote to you, and the same may be true for home inspectors, appraisers, title companies, and anyone else involved in the home-buying process. There’s another perk to selling a home during the off season: Some movers charge less this time of the year than they do during the peak seasons of spring and summer.

Attracting off-season buyers
Many homebuyers looking in the winter months are more serious than those looking to purchase during peak season. It’s pretty safe to assume that someone who wants to view your home December 31 is serious about buying. Maybe they didn’t have enough money for a down payment earlier in the year or perhaps couldn’t get financing. Whatever the case, there’s a reason they entered the market during the off-season, and that reason could be meaningful to you.

The Internet may add a significant off-season dimension to real estate sales as more and more consumers are shopping for homes online. This can mean good news for sellers. Even in the coldest of winters, prospective buyers will be viewing properties for sale from the comfort of their own living rooms.

Holiday marketing opportunities

If you’re planning to sell your home this holiday season, you should consider sitting down with your Texas Realtor to discuss holiday marketing. Holiday decorations go a long way in showcasing a home to its fullest potential. Homes that are tastefully decorated for the season seem warm and inviting, and that’s appealing to prospective buyers. Holiday lights, autumn wreaths, a crackling fireplace and perhaps some warm cider to greet open-house guests can help buyers imagine their own family in the comfortable environment.

Asking price, however, may be more important than staging the home for a holiday sale. Ask your Texas Realtor to compare similar homes sold in the winter months. Some homeowners tend to set their asking price too high, basing it on sale prices generated during peak season. Don’t let this happen to you. You and your MetroTex Realtor can compare homes that sold quickly during the high season, giving you a chance to adjust your price and terms accordingly.

Don’t let the cold weather discourage you from selling your home this winter. As a seller, you can work with your MetroTex Realtor to determine a fair asking price and brainstorm creative marketing ideas to take advantage of the season.

The MetroTex Association of REALTORS® is comprised of more than 17,000 licensed agents in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. For more information on buying, selling, and leasing property in Texas, call a MetroTex REALTOR or visit www.dfwrealestate.com

Do you know what’s in your credit report?

If you’re buying a home, it’s likely that you’ll be applying for a mortgage. But before lenders decide what they’re willing to offer you, they will want information about your employment history, salary, bank-account balances and your credit history.

Now you know that lenders will request your credit history, but are you aware of what they will find?

You can’t afford not to get your credit report

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act of 2003 made it possible for consumers to access free copies of credit reports (also called credit-file disclosures). The free reports list key aspects of your financial history.

Before you apply for a loan, you should request a free credit report to get an idea of what a lender would see. If the report has errors, you can correct them before they affect your ability to qualify for a mortgage loan. And if you find legitimate flaws, you might be able to take steps to improve your credit standing before purchasing a property. Your Texas Realtor may be able to help you find resources to repair your credit.

How many credit reports can you request?

You can request one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major consumer credit-reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. But you don’t have to get all three reports at once. How many you request and when is up to you. If you know you will be applying for a loan soon, you might choose to receive all three at the same time to look for errors or legitimate problems that only appear on one or two of your reports. You can also directly compare all three reports at the same point in time.

Or, you can space out the reports to receive one on a quarterly basis or one each month for three months in a row. Getting the reports periodically can help you monitor changes and is a good way to find out whether you have fallen victim to identity theft.

What’s in the report?

A credit report lists how much you borrow, whether you pay on time, if you’ve been sued or have declared bankruptcy. The disclosure includes some information that a third party would not receive, such as medical-account info.

It’s important to note that a credit report is not the same as a credit score. If you want your credit score, you typically have to purchase that information.

How do I get my reports?

You can request free credit reports online at www.annualcreditreport.com. You’ll be required to provide your date of birth, Social Security number and current and previous addresses so the credit agencies can obtain your information. The site is encrypted to ensure a private and secure connection. During the process, the site may ask you to verify previous addresses or accounts you hold to further verify your identity.

Once your information is verified, your report will appear on the screen and is usually available to download onto your computer. If you find errors, you should work directly with the credit-reporting agencies by submitting written documentation of the mistakes. Their sites are www.equifax.com, www.experian.com and www.transunion.com.

If you do not want to use the Internet to access your reports, you can request them by phone at (877) 322-8228. You can also mail a request to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Ga., 30348-5281.

Beware of any person or organization that sends you an email offering you a credit report or ads you see claiming to be from www.annualcreditreport.com. The FTC warns that you should not reply or click those ads, as they most likely are scams.

A legitimate report, though, that you request through the Web site, by phone or by mail can help you make sure your credit is in good shape to pursue your dream of buying a home. 

You really can afford to buy a home

You’re probably hearing that mortgage rates are at favorable levels and that now’s the time to buy a home. But maybe you’re also thinking, “I’ll never be able to afford a mortgage.”

Many potential homebuyers feel this way, but the good news is that there is help available. Homebuying-assistance programs at the local, state, and federal level make homeownership accessible for more buyers. This could be in the form of low- or no-interest loans, help with closing costs or even mortgages that don’t require a down payment.

Help is out there

Assistance programs are available for a variety of qualifying buyers, such as first-time buyers or low-income buyers, and there are even programs available for specific types of homes. And if you don’t qualify for one program, you may meet the criteria for another.

When you decide to buy your next home, the best first step is to talk to a Texas Realtor. He’ll have the latest information about assistance programs and their eligibility requirements, and will know about any changes to existing programs.

Here are a few examples of homebuyer-assistance programs in Texas that you may not know about.

Get rewarded for doing your job

In Texas, there are homebuyer programs that certain professionals—educators, law-enforcement officers, fire fighters and military veterans—might qualify for.

In addition, some Texas cities and counties have partnered with local employers to offer housing incentives for employees who buy a home within the city or county limits. Your Texas Realtor will know if these options are available in our market.

The property itself may qualify

Instead of the buyers, some homes could meet eligibility requirements for certain state or federal assistance programs. For instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a program to encourage development in rural communities.

Or, if you’re willing to put some work into a home, the property may qualify for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s rehab program for properties in need of repair or updating.

Where to start

The list of assistance programs is extensive and varies for each buyer’s situation. You can visit TxHomePrograms.org to search for local, state and federal homebuyer-assistance programs to get an idea of the many programs available. Then, when you’re ready to make that move, ask your MetroTex Realtor to help you find which programs you may qualify for.

The MetroTex Association of REALTORS® is comprised of more than 17,000 licensed agents in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. For more information on buying, selling, and leasing property in Texas, call a MetroTex REALTOR or visit www.dfwrealestate.com

Can you buy a home if you have bad credit? Try taking these five steps

There are many variables that come into play when you decide to purchase a house. You may save for a while toward a downpayment and determine what kind of mortgage payment would work best for your budget. But is your credit situation holding you back? Buying a home with less than stellar credit is possible. Here are five steps to take to get started:

Know your credit score. No matter what you think your credit situation is, knowing your credit score serves as a good starting point when beginning your home search. You’ll be able to see if you need to improve your situation before applying for a home loan, plus it will help you determine if you are getting a fair shake from lenders.

Find a Texas Realtor. Choose a MetroTex Realtor who can help you overcome credit challenges. Interview several Realtors before choosing one, and ask for referrals. Once you have referrals in hand, call them. You need to make sure that you feel comfortable with your choice and that your Realtor can serve your special needs.

Explain your credit situation. Sit down with your Realtor and draft a thorough letter explaining your credit situation. If you have poor credit, your lender may ask you for an explanation. If your letter simply states that you couldn’t afford payments, you are more likely to have your loan application denied. But if there were extenuating circumstances that contributed to your financial situation, include those in your letter. Some lenders will consider one-time occurrences as acceptable reasons for inadequate credit, including divorce or a medical emergency.

There are two important items to include in your letter to the lender: the reason for your credit situation and why your days of poor credit are behind you. Convince the lender that the circumstances surrounding your impaired credit score are in the past. In addition, you should write a paragraph highlighting anything that may help the lender see you as a desirable client, including low debt-to-income ratio (particularly good if you filed bankruptcy), a big downpayment or job stability.

Talk to a lender. Find a mortgage broker or direct lender experienced in subprime lending. If you are credit challenged, you may find that working with a broker is your best option. Brokers work with multiple lenders and loan products, giving you a greater chance of success.

If you have a low credit score, some lenders will require a higher downpayment. If you don’t have money for a downpayment, sit down with your Texas Realtor and discuss what closing-cost and downpayment-assistance programs you might qualify for.

Be prepared for some rejections. You may have to talk to a number of brokers or lenders before you find one willing to take on a riskier loan. If your credit score is very low and no lenders seem interested, you will likely need to spend the next 12 months boosting your creditworthiness. Your Texas Realtor might be able to recommend programs or professionals who can help you determine what it would take to improve your credit score.

If you are credit challenged, following these steps can put you on the path to homeownership. If you don’t think you qualify today, spend some time improving your credit. It may put you in a better negotiating position later.

The MetroTex Association of REALTORS® is comprised of more than 17,000 licensed agents in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. For more information on buying, selling, and leasing property in Texas, call a MetroTex REALTOR or visit www.dfwrealestate.com. 

Just the facts: What buyers and sellers should know about disclosure

Have you heard the saying that what you don’t know won’t hurt you? Well, when it comes to buying real estate, that’s not the case. You need to know if the house you’re buying had a flooding issue in the past or has a defective roof.

That’s why full disclosure—a seller’s obligation to disclose facts about properties for sale—is critical for a successful real estate transaction. Buyers need to know material facts about a home—that is, anything that could affect the sale price or influence the buyer's decision to proceed with the purchase.

Most states, including Texas, require some type of formal seller disclosure to avoid disputes and lawsuits accusing the seller of not disclosing problems he knew about before the sale. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s on a disclosure form?

A disclosure form is a notice most residential sellers are required to give potential buyers on or before the effective date of a real estate contract for sale. The document covers the seller’s awareness of any defects in the property before the sale in reasonable detail.

You can access a copy of this form on the Texas Real Estate Commission’s website for public use; however, you should ask your Texas Realtor any questions you have about completing the form and what should be included. For example, if you’ve had a termite problem in the past, that’s something that prospective buyers should know. Or, if the roof has a leak, buyers need to know that, too.

There are also federal laws about disclosure your Realtor will discuss with you. For example, someone selling a home built before 1978 must disclose any known lead-based paint problems. 

Honesty is the best policy when selling

Intentionally withholding information about a property when you sell can have serious legal ramifications. Talk to your Realtor and make sure you understand your responsibilities. You don’t want to inadvertently leave something out and have to deal with the expense and possible legal consequences later.

Don't be afraid to disclose information about your property, especially things that will come up in the inspection anyway. Disclosure laws were created to protect buyers, but they also protect sellers. If all the information about a property is revealed up front, you're less likely to be involved in disputes after the sale. 

Protect yourself and your purchase

If you’re buying a new home, you want to make a solid decision, and that starts with having all the pertinent information. Ask for the seller disclosure document when you submit your offer and read it carefully. If any items concern you, ask questions and investigate.

Another step you can take to protect yourself when you find a house you like is to hire a licensed inspector. It’s a relatively small price to pay to have a professional look into all the systems and components and report to you where deficiencies or potential problems exist.

You may also want to hire specialists when you have specific concerns, or when the inspector suggests it, such as a structural engineer to examine a potential foundation problem. Yes, you will have to pay for these professionals, but you’ll want to know if there are expensive repairs in a property’s future before it becomes your property.

Consult a professional

Disclosure is a necessary part of the real estate transaction, helping to protect both buyers and sellers and ensuring lots of smiles on closing day and beyond. If you have questions about disclosure when buying or selling a home, ask your MetroTex Realtor for advice. We are knowledgeable about state and federal requirements, and we will help you determine what information to share.

For more information about buying, selling or leasing a home, I invite you to visit DFWRealEstate.com.

 

Why your REALTOR wants you to vote

Remember that Realtor that sold you your house? She wants you to vote. So does the guy that sold your neighbor his house. In fact, Realtors all over Texas really, really want you to vote this November. And they want you to remind your neighbors to vote, too. Every last one of them.

Why would someone who sells houses for a living care if you vote? Because we’re standing at a crossroads this year and property owners need to be heard. There’s no denying it. Property tax bills are getting larger. As home values rise, the number of dollars coming out of our pockets rises, too. That financial pressure is making home ownership less attractive for some. It’s making it unattainable for others. And it’s beginning to push people to the point of no longer being able to afford to stay in their homes.

And we can do something about it. Remember, we are taxpayers. We are voters. We have a voice. And we have the ability to create change.

Through our public advocacy outreach, we have encouraged local leaders to adopt the effective tax rate which would keep tax bills where they are, instead of allowing them to increase exponentially. We have changed the conversation and seen positive results. Some counties have already agreed to stabilize tax bills for this year. Unfortunately, despite our efforts and the support of Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Mike Cantrell, Dallas County voted not to adopt the effective tax rate for 2016, further increasing the tax burden on its citizens.

The Texas State Legislature is taking note. The Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief is holding hearings across the state to learn more about how the property tax burden is impacting real Texans every day. Noting the increasing difficulties taxpayers are having in meeting the rising tax burden, Senator Van Taylor (R-Plano), said “The purpose of government is to protect our rights, not to tax us out of our home.”

You can get involved, too. Here’s how:

  • Visit thehiddenpropertytax.com and encourage your clients, friends and family to watch the video. We want voters to know more about how they are impacted by the hidden property tax, and what they can do about it.
  • Contact your state senator and your state representative. Tell them you want them to stop the increasing tax burden on home owners. Visit http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx to find out who represents you and how to contact them.
  • See which candidates are supported by Realtors at www.TexasRealtorsSupport.com.

Help us protect the interests of homeowners across the state. We know we can make a difference. We already have. But our work is not finished. Everyone needs to understand the importance of participating in our state and local elections this year.

The MetroTex Association of Realtors is comprised of more than 17,000 real estate professionals across the state. If you’re interesting in buying, selling or leasing a home, visit dfwrealestate.com.

How to prep for painting like a pro

A new coat of paint can change the mood of a room and is one of the most affordable ways to freshen your décor. Doing it well takes time, but the results are well worth it. Careful preparation is key. Take the time to prepare the room and you’ll get better results and save yourself a lot of time and money. Follow our tips to make sure the effort you put into the job is reflected in the finished room.

Choose your paint wisely. Before you buy paint, know what kind of paint is already on your wall. Dab a bit of rubbing alcohol on a white cloth and rub it on the wall. If the paint softens and wipes onto the cloth, it is water-based. If it doesn’t remove any color, then it’s an oil-based paint. If you’re changing the type of paint, you’ll want to sand the walls first, and then apply a primer that corresponds to your topcoat. Measure the walls, both lengthwise and height. Most pros will recommend one gallon per every 400 square feet. You’ll need more if you’ve got a lot of heavy texture on the wall, or if it’s unfinished. Consider how you’ll use the room when deciding between flat, eggshell, semi-gloss or gloss finishes. Glossier finishes are more durable, but they can show more imperfections.

Now for the fun part: choosing a color. You can find inspiration from a favorite piece in your décor, or by looking at room scene photos of home for sale on dfwrealestate.com to see what’s trending in homes you admire. Choose a few sample colors and paint them on some foam boards. Move the boards around the room during different lighting conditions to see how the color changes from day to night and how they interact with the colors in your room. Once you’ve determined the type of paint you need and a found good color match, it’s time to prepare the walls.

First, clean the walls. Dust them from ceiling to floor with a long handled mop. Take care to clean moldings and trim with a soft brush. If the walls are dirty (think fingerprints around light switches), make sure to wipe them down. Paint won’t stick to grime. Remove anything hanging on the wall, including nails and switch plate covers. Fill nail holes and other nicks with spackle and let dry. Be sure to sand the wall lightly to ensure even coverage. If you have patches, you should texture and prime them before you go any further to prevent dull spots in the finished result.

Use painters’ tape to mask off edges and trim. As you secure the tape to your wall, press the edge down evenly into the texture without stretching the tape to ensure good adhesion and prevent paint bleeds. If you’ve got curved surfaces, use a tape with a crepe backing. They’re a little stretchy and give better coverage around curves. When the room is fully prepped, use a brush to paint a bit of base color along the tape edges to prevent seepage. Let this dry for 24 hours before applying your new color. Again, let each coat dry for 24 hours before applying the next coat or removing tape. Remove tape by using a sharp blade to score along the tape edge and then pulling the tape back over itself.

Is it OK to Overpay?

Bidding wars. Houses selling over appraised value. Sales prices that end up well over the list price. We’ve all heard the tales of woe from buyers in North Texas lately. In popular neighborhoods and price points, some buyers are feeling compelled to pay more than market value for a house, just to get something. Are buyers being taken for a ride? Or is it a smart strategic move to pay more than you think you should for a house? If there are people in the market willing to pay a higher than expected price for a home, isn’t that the market value? Is it ever OK to overpay?

Well, sometimes. You see, while the market is a fickle thing, there are some circumstances that are true no matter how the real estate market is performing. And the biggest circumstances may depend on you.

Market prices rise when a lot of people are looking for the same thing. But the value of a property isn’t the same thing as the price. The price of a house depends on whether a buyer is willing to pay an amount that the seller is willing to accept. It’s not based on expert opinion, but the sentiments of two parties. Value is different. The value of a property is based on an expert’s opinion of the property. That expert, an appraiser, will consider things like other homes for sale in the area, recent sales, the type of neighborhood, and improvements to the home. An appraiser might also consider other factors depending on who is requesting the appraisal. For instance, the same house might appraise differently for a home loan, insurance policy, determining taxes, or for liquidation. When someone says they’re overpaying for a house, they mean that they’re paying a price that is higher than the appraised value. But it might not mean they’re paying too much.

Housing markets are funny things. If a neighborhood is really popular because of location, schools, or nearby amenities, then people may indeed pay more than the value of a house. And if that neighborhood traditionally holds it value, chances are they could sell the property again for what they paid for it or more. So if a house you love becomes available in a place that you’ve always wanted to live, it might make sense to pay more. Plus, if you’re buying your forever home, the price you pay today might not matter as much. Real estate tends to appreciate in value over time, so long term investors can be more comfortable paying a premium initially if it means getting the right place.

If your dream home happens to be in a transitional neighborhood, paying a little more to get what you want might be a good strategy. Lower priced homes will often have more interested buyers, and a strong offer will be more likely to get noticed. Chances are good that appraisal values haven’t kept up with market demand, though, so you’ll have to have more cash on hand. Take care though, if you’re investing in a home that needs a lot of renovation. You’ll have to watch the budget to make sure you don’t dig yourself into a larger hole than you anticipated.

If you’re thinking about buying or selling a home, it’s important to get sage advice from a professional. Visit dfwrealestate.com to find a Realtor or to browse available homes in your area.

The MetroTex Association of Realtors represents more than 17,000 real estate professionals across North Texas. 

Is your pool losing its sparkle?

Does your pool sparkle in the summer sun like an oasis? Or do you find yourself cringing when you look at the bottom of the pool. That is, when you can see it. With summer drawing to a close, it may be a good time to take a look at the condition of your backyard pool so you can get it ready in time for next year.

Most in-ground pools in North Texas will need some refurbishing every decade or so. Worn pools begin to require more and more chemicals just to keep the algae at bay. They also begin to show stains, develop leaks, or chips in the plaster. If you’re noticing these tell-tale signs, it may be time to consider giving your pool a facelift.

Fortunately, there are a variety of options when it comes to refreshing the look of the pool. The least expensive option is to drain the pool and use a high-pressure washer to clean the surface of mineral deposits, algae, rust and organic stains. If your pool is in pretty good shape, that might be all you need to return it to its beauty. Before you refill the pool, call your town and let them know of your plans. Many towns in the area offer a substantial break on your water bill if they’re alerted to your plans before you fill. If you do suspect a leak, or if your drain covers are cracked or need replacing, now is the best time to have those addressed.

If a good pressure wash doesn’t quite get rid of all stains, then you can have the surface treated with a muriatic acid wash. An acid wash will work once or twice before you’ll need to consider pricier – and longer-lasting treatments. Some homeowners with plaster pools will choose to repaint the plaster at this stage to change the color or try to extend the life of the surface for a few years. If you choose to repaint, know that a latex or acrylic pool paint is the cheapest and most short-lived of the paint options. Painting the surface with an epoxy or rubber paint can restore the pool quickly and the treatment can last up to 10 years.

If the plaster is in poor shape or if you want to really overhaul the look of the pool, you can opt to have the pool resurfaced. There are several options in pool surfaces besides plaster. You can choose a quartz finish, which is smooth like plaster, but more durable. Another popular choice is to apply an aggregate surface made of small pebbles, glass beads, or a combination of both. This type of finish is touted as having a more natural look. However, reviews of pebbled or glass bottoms indicate that these surfaces can be rough on the feet, depending on the product used, and can be more expensive than other surfaces. The most expensive option is often a marble or marble-aggregate finish. It mimics the look of a pebbled surface somewhat, but is very smooth. Any of these options should reduce maintenance and require fewer chemicals than an pool with a worn surface.

There are plenty of videos online explaining how to refurbish a pool for the do-it-yourself crowd if you want to try some basic fixes. For a complete resurfacing, you’ll want to call in a professional. Ask your friends, neighbors and your MetroTex Realtor for referrals to a reliable pool contractor.

The MetroTex Association of Realtors is comprised of more than 17,000 area Realtors throughout North Texas. For more information about buying, selling, or leasing a home go to dfwrealestate.com or call your MetroTex Realtor.

 

Questioning your property tax bill?

It’s happening all over Texas. Homeowners are glancing nervously toward their mailboxes. Very soon, those mailboxes will hold the most dreaded envelope of the year. It will contain your property tax bill. That bill will probably be higher than it was last year, and it will be a great deal higher than it was just three years ago. But why is that? Aren’t we being told that taxes aren’t being raised? So why are homeowners getting bigger and bigger bills?

Let me explain. In Texas, property taxes are based in proportion to the value of the property. The more your house is worth, the bigger the bill. It’s in our constitution. But how much you pay is up to local authorities. Counties, cities, and school districts are common examples of taxing authorities in Texas. Each one sets a rate at which properties will be taxed. That’s why when you’re shopping for a house you might see a different tax rate from one neighborhood to another. If those two neighborhoods are in different school districts, for example, they very well could have different property tax rates. Property owners might pay a different amount of taxes even if the houses are worth about the same.

Over the past few years, the property tax rates all over North Texas haven’t changed much. But appraisal values have. We’ve seen large increases in appraised values of properties for several years running. Because of this, property tax bills keep getting bigger and bigger. This is sometimes called a Hidden Property Tax. And those rapid increases are making it hard for a lot of property owners to stay in their homes. After all, not many people are increasing their incomes at the same rate that property values are increasing. Do you know anyone who gets an annual 8 or 9 percent raise? Let me know if you do. I might consider a career change.

Here’s what most homeowners don’t understand: property tax rates don’t have to stay the same. They can increase or decrease annually, based on the needs of the taxing. Under the current system, rates have stayed pretty much the same from year to year, but counties are being given an automatic raise. And homeowners are feeling squeezed.

A different way to look at rates is to adopt an effective tax rate. Under that scenario, the property tax rate is determined after appraisal values come in, with the goal of maintaining a stable tax bill for property owners. The county would raise and lower the rate in order to collect the same amount of revenue from year to year. Increased revenues would come only from newly built homes and businesses. It’s a way of providing a predictable budget for counties and homeowners alike. Dallas County will vote on an effective tax rate in late September. If it’s adopted, it could mean meaningful tax relief for homeowners.

The MetroTex Association of Realtors is comprised of more than 17,000 area real estate professionals. For information about buying, selling, or leasing a home, visit dfwrealestate.com.

Is your décor dating your home?

If you’re planning to remodel your home, it’s a good idea to make sure the new styles you’re choosing aren’t already on the way out of fashion. Design trends wane after a few years, so chances are if you’ve liked a particular look for some time, it’s not the most current style any longer. Here are some popular looks that are quickly going the way of avocado colored ovens.

Polished stainless steel appliances were an absolute must until very recently. But the highly polished surfaces have proven to be less than ideal for families and busy cooks who don’t want to have to worry about fingerprints and smudges. Look instead for new colorways, including metallic like black stainless steel, copper, or bronze. Also gaining popularity are matte finishes in black and slate. In the right design, fun retro-cool colors are also an option.

Glossy brass or chrome fixtures will label a home “builder grade” in a big way. Upgrade your faucets, door knobs and other fixtures with a more on-trend matte finish or mix matte black with brushed gold for a luxe look.

Medium to large -sized square tiles especially in travertine aren’t are current as large format rectangular or subway tiles in porcelain or marble. Porcelain tiles that imitate other materials (think linen, grass cloth or wood) are hugely popular, as are dimensional wall tiles that provide texture and visual interest.

Granite counters are beginning to lose their 30-year reign as a must-have for upscale spaces. Gaining ground are low maintenance materials like engineered quartz, thick glass slabs and concrete. Mixing materials lends a visual interest, too. Some designers are opting for butcher block islands with quartz or marble counters in the rest of the space.

Cherry or mahogany cabinets, though sumptuous, don’t lend a modern vibe as much as newer finishes. That doesn’t mean you have to paint them all white, which is a popular trend right now. Use a mix of materials and colors in cabinets, and don’t shy away from having different upper cabinets from those on the floor. Or go for a textured finish, such as one that uses a simple striped wood grain for a striking visual impact.

Monolithic plain painted walls are giving ground to more interesting accents. Use a large format graphic patterned wall paper, a striking piece of art, or an interesting architectural feature to personalize a space and create interest.

Remember, the key to good design is to err on the side of over-simplification. Cut down on clutter to let your really nice pieces stand out. Mix in natural materials and solid colors with muted or matte finished metals to provide a calm and relaxing space. And most of all, do your research before you start so you don’t date your home before you get started.

A great way to find a reliable interior designer is to ask a MetroTex Realtor. Visit dfwrealestate.com to find a Realtor, design ideas, or a new home. MetroTex represents more than 17,000 area Realtors and is the largest real estate association in the region.

Hey, Millennials: Pursue a Career in Real Estate!

Millennials, those aged 18 to 34, are looking for a career that allows them to be independent, flexible and entrepreneurial, according to a recent study from Bentley University. A career in real estate meets all of these specifications, and also offers a laundry list of advantages and benefits that make it the perfect occupation for young professionals. 

Now that the real estate market is on the upswing, there are huge opportunities for young people to enter the industry, and joining the National Association of Realtors and the MetroTex Association of Realtors offers millennials even more advantages. With benefits such as a Young Professional Network and award programs like the ’30 Under 30’ awards, there has never been a better time for a young person to become a Realtor. Our year-long Leadership Academy provides Realtors the opportunity to become local and national leaders in the industry and in their communities.

Here are some of the advantages millennials can expect from a career in real estate:

Be your own boss. Millennials are the true entrepreneurial generation, and real estate is the ultimate profession for self-starters. Real estate agents are independent contractors, meaning agents can choose to work as much or as little as they want; it all depends on their aspirations. The success of your business is entirely in your own hands. New agents often partner with an experienced mentor agent and learn the trade from true professionals.

Earn what you want. A career in real estate offers individuals the flexibility and freedom to set their own pace and income goals. Profits are often directly linked to efforts, so agents can choose to work as much or as little as they want. Realtors have access to additional education and resources that can help grow their business and increase their income. There is really no limit on how far hardworking, motivated men and women can advance in the field.

Make your own schedule. Real estate has never been a 9-to-5 business, and while Realtors are often at the mercy of their client’s timetable, they also have a lot of freedom when creating their own schedule. If you need to arrange a doctor’s appointment or attend a family event, you can organize your schedule around it. And you may never have to ask permission to take a vacation!

Be a part of your community. Building relationships and becoming a presence in the community is an important part of any agent’s business. Realtors have unparalleled knowledge of their local neighborhoods and regional market conditions, and to maintain that knowledge, many are active participants in their community. Realtors live in the communities where they work, so helping their neighbors achieve the dream of homeownership and being a good neighbor are important. Plus, the relationships you build with your clients can turn into lifelong friendships. The more vested you are in your community, the more successful you’ll become and the more confidence your clients will have in your expertise. Becoming active in MetroTex also gives you an opportunity to join the community of Realtors at large, giving you new opportunities to grow beyond your area.

The MetroTex Association of Realtors represents more than 16,000 members involved in all aspects of the real estate industry. MetroTex is the largest REALTOR® member association in North Texas representing the entire region. Established in 1917, MetroTex is an advocate for the real estate industry and private property rights. For more information about becoming a Realtor, visit mymetrotex.com. Or for information about buying or selling a home, visit dfwrealestate.com