Living it up by Downsizing

People buy and sell homes for many reasons. Perhaps they need to relocate for a job, or maybe they simply want a change of scenery. However, according to the National Association of Realtors®2015 Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends Report, if you are 50 years old or older chances are you are selling your home to downsize.                                                

The reasons for downsizing can vary depending on what stage of life the person or family is entering. For younger baby boomers, those born between 1955-1964, the reason to downsize might be that all of their children have moved out, or maybe the home has just become too expensive to maintain. For older baby boomers (born between 1946-1954) and members of the Silent Generation (between 1925-1945) who are entering or are in retirement, downsizing can help increase a nest egg or decrease the amount of work needed to keep up the home.

For many people it is as simple as one day realizing that there are rooms in your home that you never go in, or that keeping the house clean has become a full-time job. When that time comes, looking into buying a smaller home is the next logical step.

Some of the benefits that come with downsizing are:

Saving money. Not only is a smaller house less expensive to purchase, the ancillary costs of the home are also reduced. You will likely use less electricity to heat, cool or light a smaller home. This could bring down your utility bills. Less house also means less to maintain, meaning costs for repairs, gardening, etc., will go down as well.”

Less to clean and maintain. If you decrease the size of your living space, logically you decrease the space you need to clean. Downsizing can also force you to re-examine your ‘stuff’ and how much of it you actually need, helping you to declutter. And owning fewer things also means less to dust.

More free time. With less to clean and take care of comes more time for other things. What would you do with an extra five-to-ten hours a week? For those starting their retirement, this is more time to start a new hobby, spend time with your family or to simply relax and enjoy. Who wants to spend their retirement making sure the rooms no one uses are clean?

 

If you are considering or in the process of downsizing, the most important thing you can do is hire a MetroTex Realtor. Realtors can provide valuable counsel, discuss listings, show you homes in person and negotiate on your behalf, and Realtors with NAR’s Seniors Real Estate Specialist designation (SRES) are experienced and knowledgeable in meeting the specific needs of older buyers. Contact MetroTex Association of Realtors or visit dfwrealestate.com for information on working with a Realtor with the SRES designation.

Realtors® Help Buyers Move to New States

Buying a home can be a complicated process, and being an out-of-state buyer can make the process even more challenging. According to the National Association of Realtors®, while buyers last year moved a median of 12 miles from their previous residence, two in 10 buyers moved more than 100 miles.

Buying a new home and moving is stressful no matter what the situation, but moving to an unfamiliar area or new state adds whole new levels of necessary preparation and expenses. However, with just a bit of planning and a lot of organization, you can make the process substantially easier on yourself.

Here are a few tips from the MetroTex Association of Realtors to help streamline your long distance home purchase and move:

Find a Realtor. Whether you are moving across the street or across the country, hiring a Realtor is the best move you can make. When you are looking for homes in a new state, having someone familiar with the area, neighborhoods and local market conditions is an invaluable asset. Realtors have unparalleled knowledge of their communities and can help you navigate the complex, sometimes overwhelming, process of homebuying.

Establish Timelines. Knowing the day you are moving is just one of many dates you will need to figure out. When do you need to sell your current home? When can you take a trip to the new state to view potential homes? Considering those questions and having a breakdown of what needs to be done and by when will help you prioritize tasks and keep you from scrambling at the last minute.

Tour Potential Homes Online. Traveling back and forth between states to look at homes is time consuming and cost preventative for most, but that shouldn’t prevent you from beginning your home search online. Digital real estate listings on sites like dfwrealestate.com often include photos and videos guiding you through the home, the same way a Realtor would if you were there physically. Though you might eventually have to make a trip out to your new state to purchase your home, touring a few homes online can help you narrow down your choices and save you time and money.

Moving. Long distance moves can be an expensive process, so make sure you ask for estimates from a few moving companies before committing. If you are really hoping to save money a do-it-yourself move might be your best option. Make sure to consider the cost per mile, insurance, gas and taxes when price shopping for a moving truck. And if you have any pets, make sure to research hotels that allow animals or arrange with your airline to have your furry friend travel in the cabin with you.

Homeownership is not only an investment in your financial future, it is an investment in your life in your new home state. Homeowners are more likely to be engaged in local issues and more involved with their neighbors, so work closely with your Realtor to find a house that is going to make this new place really feel like home.

The voice and most trusted resource for all things real estate, the MetroTex Association of Realtors is comprised of more than 16,000 members across North Texas. For more information on buying or selling a home, or to find a Realtor, visit dfwrealestate.com.

How homebuyers can save money on their home purchase

In the rising tide that’s buoying the Texas real estate market right now, there’s still one group lagging behind the rest: first-time homebuyers.

Fewer new homes being built, high demand for existing homes, and more stringent mortgage application requirements have made it harder for those trying to get into their first home to make the dream happen. There aren’t quick fixes for all these issues, but prospective buyers who take advantage of existing down payment-assistance programs can give themselves a leg up and save a significant amount of money in the process.

In the Texas Association of Realtors 2015 Profile of Texas Homebuyers and Sellers, saving for a down payment was cited as the most difficult step of the home buying process—across all types of buyers surveyed. So while first-time homebuyers traditionally face the greatest challenges to saving for a down payment, anyone who qualifies for an assistance program can reap the benefits and make this part of the process easier.

Another surprising benefit of down payment-assistance programs

The housing data company RealtyTrac recently published a report that found down payment-assistance programs are saving buyers an average $17,776 over the course of a 30-year fixed rate loan for a median-priced home. This shows that beyond the initial boost that helps homebuyers purchase a property, assistance programs have a long-term positive effect for buyers of all stripes.

If you’re in the market for a home and are worried about your ability to come up with a large enough down payment, there are a number of programs your Texas Realtor can help you investigate. The Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation offers down payment-assistance programs for low-income families. The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs offers assistance through its Taxable Mortgage Program, including more competitive interest rates along with down payment- and closing-cost assistance. There also might be down payment-assistance programs specific to the city or county where you’d like to purchase a home. Find an even broader list of homebuyer assistance programs from the Texas Association of Community Development Corporations at texasdevelopmentdirectory.com.

Find the program that pays off for you

Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or are otherwise able to qualify for down payment-assistance programs, there’s no reason to leave money on the table—especially when taking advantage of these programs pays off in the long term. To get more information about the programs that might be available to you, contact a MetroTex Realtor. Find one to work with and learn more about buying, selling, and leasing property on dfwrealestate.com.

Buying a Home? How REALTORS work on your Behalf

When you’re buying a home, it’s important to choose a Realtor to represent you before you start looking. Hiring a buyers’ agent will help you get the right house for you, and will ensure that the process goes smoothly. But what exactly does a buyer’s agent do?

First let’s look at the players in a transaction. A buyer’s agent must put your interests above all others, including their broker’s own interests. They must inform you of any material information about the property or transaction received by the broker. They must also answer your questions and present any offer to or counter-offer from you; and they must treat all parties to a real estate transaction honestly and fairly.

To avoid disputes or misunderstandings, you must have a signed Buyer representation agreement with your agent. Once you have an agreement established, you can rest assured that you will be represented fairly. With a buyer’s representation agreement, your MetroTex Realtor will help you work with existing homes, builders, and properties for sale by owner.

Once you have full representation in place, your MetroTex Realtor will help you find a reliable lender to help you get pre-qualified and pre-approved for a loan. That means that in addition to looking at your credit and income, your lender will look at your entire financial picture and make sure that you have all of the paperwork and credit-worthiness needed for the loan you want. You’ll be able to bid on a house knowing that you can actually close on it.

When you go to view a property, chances are the seller will not be present. However, there are times when a seller will wish to be home for the showing. In those cases, your MetroTex Realtor will handle the interaction with the seller so that you don’t have to worry about revealing too much information that could hinder your negotiations.

Your MetroTex Realtor will also explain the money you will have to put up front to secure the contract and to give you the right to inspect and if necessary opt out of the contract. How much money you’ll need, and how long the right to terminate lasts will depend on the offer and the property. It’s all part of writing a good offer. At this time, your agent will also review the seller’s disclosure with you as well as the inspection report. That way, you’ll know what you’re buying.

Once you’ve completed negotiations and you’re getting ready to close, your MetroTex Realtor will monitor where the transaction is in the process. For instance, you’ll need to know that the title company has a good survey and that there are no legal claims on the property that might interfere with the closing. The lender will have to ensure that the property appraises for a high enough percentage of the loan amount and that they can approve the loan in time for closing. Finally, your buyer’s agent will coordinate with the seller’s agent your final walkthrough, closing time and move-in date.

As you can see, there are a number of things that your MetroTex Realtor will do when you are buying a home. It’s important that you are properly represented at every stage of the process. 

Is it Better to Remodel or Move?

You should sell. It’s a great time to be in the market. Take advantage of today’s interest rates and the hot market.

At least, that’s what you expect to hear if you ask someone whether you should remodel or move. But the quick answer isn’t always the best one for your situation. A better solution is to consider the pros and cons with your MetroTex Realtor to figure out which decision is in your best interest. Even if you don’t end up listing your house right now, you’ll be more likely to get the most out of your house later - if you take the time to have a conversation. Here are our thoughts about what to consider when your house just isn’t meeting your needs any more.

How long are you planning to keep the house? If you love the neighborhood but hate the bathroom, then a renovation keeps you in the house and neighborhood where you are comfortable. If you need more space because your family is growing and you want a long-term solution, then it’s probably time to go. Think about where you are in life and what’s coming down the pike in the next 5 years. If you think you’ll move again soon anyway, then it might be best to update enough to get the most bang for your buck on resale but save the big spend for your next downpayment.

How much are you planning on doing to the house? For most homeowners, the big list includes updating flooring, kitchens and baths. Keep a running tally in your head of roughly how much you’re thinking about spending. A typical bath remodel of flooring, tub/shower surround, cabinets, paint, sinks, lights and faucets can run between $6000 - $10,000 depending on size and quality of finishes. Kitchens average from $15,000 - $50,000 or more. Installed carpet is typically about $5-7/sf and hardwoods average $8-15/sf. Of course, you’ll want your MetroTex Realtor to recommend contractors to give you more accurate quotes, but you’ll have a general idea of how much you will need to spend to get the house you want. If you are thinking about moving a lot of walls, plumbing, or adding on, then unless you are absolutely in love with your location, it’s probably time to start looking for something else.

How much equity do you have in the house? If you have a lot of equity in the house, then you’ll have more financing options to pay for the remodel. You can consider a home equity line of credit or home equity loan rather than paying cash or opening several lines of credit at the big box stores. Interest on home equity loans is tax-deductible like a mortgage so it takes the sting out of the bills a little. Alternatively, if you don’t have much equity, you could end up putting yourself underwater. Granted, in this market you likely wouldn’t stay underwater too long, but you might not want to pay for an extensive remodel if you’re planning to sell soon anyway.

Are you willing to put up with construction mess for 3, 6, or 12 months? Because no matter how long you think it should take, it will take longer.

What do you think your house would sell for as it is? What would it sell for if you updated a little? And what would it sell for if you completely remodeled? Finally, what would your budget be if you bought new? Would that budget get you what you want?” Your MetroTex Realtor can provide comparable property evaluations that consider homes in similar condition to yours and homes that have already been remodeled. This will give you a good idea of how much you could expect to recoup from your remodel should you need to sell soon. Remember, homes that have been updated will sell more quickly and for more money than those that haven’t. But updates that are more than 10 years old don’t really count for much on the resale market. 

Going DIY? Make Sure to "DIR": Do it Right

These days, it seems like everyone is looking for ways to save a few dollars while also making those much-needed home improvements. Thanks to YouTube instructional videos and HGTV’s ideas and inspiration, homeowners can now tackle a lot of home improvement projects themselves. And while those DIY projects are fantastic (not to mention impressive!), it’s important for homeowners to know their limits. It’s important to remember that while there are a lot of really cool things you can DIY, you’ll need to make sure to “DIR” - Do It Right. Otherwise you could spend a lot more time and money fixing the disasters than you would have if you’d asked for help in the first place. Here are some lessons we’ve learned from our encounters in the REALTOR world. 

Plan, Revise, and Plan again.

You’ve seen a really great idea in a magazine and want to add a window seat, or build in a banquette, or extend an island. That’s great! But before you build, measure once, twice and three times. Cut the new design out of newspaper and lay it on the floor. Walk around the space and make sure that doors open and close without obstruction, chairs can be pulled away from the table and people can still walk past, and that traffic still flows well. Don’t be the guy that builds a gorgeous new bar and can’t fit it through the door. Or the one that removes a partial wall only to realize that’s where the only light switch for the room was located. Think through every possible scenario before changing a room’s layout, and if you’re not sure your idea will work, ask a designer to come over for a consult. You might be able to modify your idea enough to make it work in your space with some helpful guidance.

Don’t always opt for the cheapest solution: For any DIY project, the cheapest option, from materials to appliances, should be considered with caution. While you can save money by not putting in the highest-end finishes possible, you’ll want to make sure that the option you chose will look good. For instance, if you’re replacing flooring in a high traffic area, you’ll want to make sure that the new flooring will stand up to wear and tear. Or, if you’re painting a room, a good quality paint will mean fewer coats and a more pleasing finish. Read the reviews about products before you buy and chances are good that you’ll enjoy the final result much more in the end.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help: No one blames you for not knowing how to do everything, but you will get the blame if the end result is no good. Poor wiring, improperly fitted pipes, or poorly laid tiles can create nightmare scenarios during a renovation. Play it safe if you’re not sure how to tackle a project and call in a professional for a consultation or to do that part of the renovation. Spending a few hundred to make sure you’re safe is better than the alternative!

Use caution over holiday weekends: If you’re planning on doing a more complicated project over a long weekend, you might run into trouble if you need a pro in a hurry to help you fix a mistake or when a job turns out to be larger than you can handle. It’s better to do the tricky stuff when you’re more likely to find a professional available and when holiday or emergency charges won’t break the bank. Have a contingency plan if it all goes downhill quickly. If you plan ahead for emergencies you hope you won’t have, your chances of needing help after hours will be greatly reduced.

For more advice or for recommendations for trusted contractors, call your  local MetroTex Realtor. If you’re thinking about buying, selling or leasing a home, go to dfwrealestate.com.

Running out of Room? Raise the Roof!

If you need more space but love the location of your house, think about renovating an attic space. Carving usable space out of an unfinished area is a great way to add value to your property and can make your home more livable for your situation longer. Plus, an attic renovation typically yields a higher return on investment than creating an addition. However, there are a lot of things to consider before deciding if an attic renovation will work in your house. Here’s a quick guide to get you started.

The first thing you’ll want to do is check the building codes in your area. Typically, there are minimum requirements for ceiling height. Often you’ll need a 7’ minimum ceiling height for at least 50 percent of the renovated area. You’ll also need to add a certain amount of windows that open for egress in case of emergency. Finally, you’ll need to meet minimum standards for staircases.

Once you have the codes, you can measure to see if the space you have will be able to be modified to accommodate those codes. Take the time now to evaluate the structure of the space, including whether existing support structures (floor joists and roof trusses) are strong enough, high enough, and meet code. Decide whether relocating electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems is feasible. Finally, consider whether adding access (like an indoor or outdoor staircase) is practical and would meet code.

When creating your budget, you’ll need to know how the expansion will impact your insurance rates, home resale value, and taxes. Your MetroTex Realtor can help show you how similar homes in your area will compare to your newly renovated home.

Your budget will also need to include changes to the systems in your house.  Will you need to relocate water heaters, HVAC systems and wiring? Does your electrical panel have space to accommodate the additional load of new circuits? Finally, make sure your existing HVAC system is capable of adding another zone or you may need to upgrade your system.

If you are adding a bathroom, try to locate it over an existing bath or kitchen. The goal is use as short as distance as possible between new and existing plumbing.

To make the space the most comfortable for those in it and below, fill in the bays between the floor joists with extra insulation. A quieter floor will be appreciated. Spend a little extra and add spray foam insulation to the ceiling and walls. Foam has a higher R value per inch, so you’ll get better insulation and save the space for your ceiling height.

The fun part is finishing out the space. Because the ceiling will be a major focal point, add interest with bead board, ship lap, or decorative ceiling tiles. Maximize the space by tucking cabinets, drawers, cubbies or bookcases along the low walls. Open shelving works great in awkward spaces.

If you’re considering renovating your attic, ask your MetroTex Realtor for recommendations for area contractors and architects. You may find a hidden gem right under your roof!

Should I Buy or Build?

With the housing market as tight as it is, it’s easy to see why some consumers might want to build a home rather than try to buy one on the market. But there are still advantages to taking the time to buy an existing home. Here are some of the reasons to consider when you’re deciding whether to buy or build.

The three biggest reasons to buy and existing home are time, money, and location. When you buy an existing home, you have a pretty firm timeline in mind for your move. Once you’ve found the home you want to buy, you could move within a month or so. Even with the shortage of available homes in the area, MetroTex Realtors can monitor the market for you and send you alerts when newly available properties hit the market in your preferred neighborhood.

Existing homes are generally more affordable than newly built homes because the cost to build increases with the price of land, labor, and materials. In May, the average sales price for an existing home in Dallas-Fort Worth was $292,719, whereas the average sales price of a new home was $395,540 – more than $100,000 more expensive. Buyers on a tight schedule and budget will often find more success in moving in quickly and on budget with an existing home.

If you’re looking for homes in a particular area, near a favorite school, close to work, or near family, chances are there are more existing homes available than new builds. Most newly built homes are going to be found in undeveloped areas on the outskirts of the suburbs, or on tracts of land that until recently were considered undesirable for building. That said, there are higher density developments being built closer to urban life. If you’re dreaming of urban living and you want new, you’re best bet will be a condo or townhouse.

Building new does have its advantages. You’re more likely to have some choices in the lot, and will be more likely to be able to pick your own finishes, so you won’t have the expense of remodeling when you move in. New homes will have some features that can be difficult or costly to add into existing homes, too. For instance, a newer home might have more energy efficient features like tankless water heaters, better insulation ratings, or higher-efficiency doors and windows. They’re also more likely to be wired for sound systems and smart home features.

If you’re considering a move, the first thing you should do is contact a MetroTex Realtor. A Realtor can help you weigh the pros and cons and can guide you through the process whether you’re buying an existing home or building. 

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

Don’t Roll Out Welcome Mat for Burglars

Summer — that glorious time of year when everyone packs up and heads out on that week-long vacation they’ve been dreaming of all year. No work, no school, no responsibilities and no worries. Scratch that — one worry: Will everything be ok at home while you’re gone? The MetroTex Association of Realtors wants to help ease minds of not just vacationers, but those simply out of their home for the day. For example, never leave a ladder lying around in the backyard, don’t leave any boxes showing large recent purchases (like that brand new top-of-the-line television) on the curb for all to see, and keep the home alarm system out of plain view from outside windows.

MetroTex Realtors can tell you that home automation is a great way to add features to deter burglars. Burglars recognize that a light left on, lights that turn on and off at the same time every day most likely indicate an empty house. You can protect your home better if you control lights and electronics while you’re away from your phone. Easy to use product lines like WeMo light switches and plugs or Philips Hue lightbulbs allow you to control the ambiance of the room from wherever you are. An inexpensive ruse is to use a product like FakeTV which simulates the flickering lights from a television. Other products, like doorbells with Wi-Fi camera offered by Ring and Skybell allow you to monitor and speak to anyone who comes to your door from your phone.

Be careful about your social media presence as well. Burglars monitor your vacation photos, check-ins and humble brags. If you’re gone, they know they’ll have plenty of time to search through your house for all of the best items. Better you wait until your home and post a photo album of the great trip you had. Check your social media settings to ensure that your check-ins aren’t public.

You should also consider mounting a wall safe, which are often too much trouble for burglars and hiding valuables around the house. Most people keep valuables in their bedrooms and thieves know it. Hide things discretely around the house to make it more difficult.

Check with your local municipal police force. Many offer home security audits to help you pinpoint where improvements can be made.

Finally, ask your MetroTex Realtor for recommendations on service providers who can help you make your home more secure. Realtors will have a list of locksmiths, security system companies, and home automation experts. 

Need a Realtor? Ask Your Friends

Few things in business are be more fraught with emotion than the home buying process. After all, a big part of finding a home is finding a connection to a place. It’s also the biggest purchase most people will make, and anxiety about choosing well is common. For many consumers, finding the right person to help you buy or sell a home is a crucial part of the buying and selling process. As a buyer, you will be spending a lot of time with a MetroTex Realtor throughout the process and that agent will be helping you through arguably one of the biggest decisions of your life. How could anyone possibly find the right one?

The first place to start is to ask your friends and family. According to the National Association of Realtors latest Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, potential buyers should talk to friends and family to get their agent suggestions. In fact, 40 percent of buyers found their agent through a referral of a friend, family member, or neighbor (while another 12 percent used an agent they had worked with before). On the seller side, 38 percent found their agent through referrals and 22 percent went with an agent they had previously used.

When you first talk to the MetroTex Realtor that’s been recommended to you, ask them how many referrals they typically get. Typically, an agent that does a significant part of his or her business from referrals produces a higher level of client satisfaction than agents that don’t get a lot of referrals. You’ll want an agent that takes the time to listen to your needs and who asks you a lot of questions to get to know you better. It’s also ok to ask the MetroTex Realtor if they’ve had any special training for working with buyers or sellers in your particular situation. There are certifications Realtors can earn to help them better understand the needs of a variety of consumers, such as Veterans, senior buyers, or first time buyers for instance.

Finally, it’s a good idea to ask an agent for referrals for related businesses. MetroTex Realtors have a good sense of lenders, inspectors and title companies that really go above and beyond for their clients.

 

For-Sale-By-Owner Home Sales Drop to Lowest Level on Record

In our busy marketplace, there’s a temptation for homeowners who want to sell their house to sell it on their own, but one recent study says homeowners are selling through Realtors at record rates. In fact, according to the National Association of REALTORS® 2015 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, only 8 percent of home sales last year were done without an agent. That’s a low that hasn’t been seen since the annual report started in 1981.

Sellers in North Texas seem to be following the national trend. While the market is certainly busy and sellers can often expect multiple offers on a property, homeowners are turning to MetroTex Realtors to help them decide which offer is best for their situation. The rate of properties sold by the owner, known as for-sale-by-owner sales or FSBOs - have dropped 5 percent in the last 10 years, down from 13 percent in 2005. The reasons vary for going FSBO; the most common reasons are that sellers didn’t want to pay a commission or fee or they were contacted directly by a buyer (18 percent).

It would seem that more seasoned homeowners tend to be more likely to consider selling on their own. The median age for FSBO sellers is 54 years. But selling without a Realtor does come with an often unseen cost: FSBO homes sold at a median price of $210,000 while agent-assisted sales sold at a median price of $245,000. For most sellers, they probably could have significantly netted more if they had sold through a Realtor even when you consider typical fees. However, as 21 percent of FSBO homes are sold to a friend, relative or neighbor, getting the most money for the sale may not have been the primary goal of the seller.

MetroTex Realtors report that their clients cite valuing the agent’s expertise as the number one reason for choosing to use a Realtor to sell their home. Sellers also mention wanting to save time, and not wanting to handle scheduling appointments, marketing, or negotiating the details themselves as the primary reasons they choose to use a Realtor. 

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, speak with a MetroTex REALTOR or visit www.dfwrealestate.com

 

How to make your offer more attractive

In North Texas today, we’re seeing all kinds of creative tactics buyers and their agents are using to get their offer to the top of the pile. You may have heard of buyers writing heartfelt letters to the sellers, or even having warm cookies or bouquets of flowers sent to the sellers in hopes of gaining favor. These are interesting strategies and sometimes they work. But there are a few things you absolutely must do to have your offer considered above all else: get your financing and credit in order long before you make an offer.

When you’re ready to buy a home, one of the first steps you should take is to seek preapproval—or better yet, prequalification—for a mortgage loan. These documents state how much a lender is willing to let you borrow, and when you’re ready to put an offer on a property, they tell the seller you’re serious and that you’ve already taken the first steps toward seeking funding.

Preapproval and prequalification can put you in a stronger buying position, but they are different processes. Here are the steps to take before pursuing either.

Watch your credit report

Don’t go into the preapproval and prequalification process without getting a copy of your credit report, which lists your financial history, including total debt and whether you pay bills on time. Checking your credit report regularly is the best way to spot identity theft, credit-report errors or other financial missteps that could affect your ability to buy a home.

You’re entitled to one free credit report from each of the three credit-reporting bureaus every year. Find out how to obtain your free reports at annualcreditreport.com.

Prepare for questions

When you’re seeking prequalification or preapproval, your loan officer will request information from you, like pay stubs, bank records, your credit history, debts and tax returns. It could take some time to gather these details, so you may want to meet with a loan officer early in your home search. You should also start thinking about your answers to the loan officer’s potential questions:

  • When are you planning to buy?
  • If you’re in a lease, when does it end?
  • Who will be listed on the loan?

This information will help determine your timeline for borrowing.

What is prequalification?

To prequalify you for a mortgage loan, your loan officer uses the information he or she collects to calculate how much money you may be eligible to borrow. However, all information you submit during prequalification is subject to verification when your loan application is actually submitted. The home loan isn’t guaranteed with prequalification because your financial situation hasn’t been verified. You may receive a Conditional Qualification Letter, which states that you’re eligible and qualified to meet the financial requirements of a loan.

What is preapproval?

Preapproval typically means that your financial situation has actually been verified by the lender. If you want to get preapproved, you’ll complete a mortgage loan application and you may have to pay an application fee. After an extensive examination of your financial situation, a lender will commit in writing to fund your loan, pending a successful appraisal of the property and a few other conditions.

Being preapproved for a mortgage loan doesn’t mean you’re obligated to borrow the money, but the lender must stand behind its written loan commitment unless something changes with your situation. Think about how attractive your offer will be to a seller when it comes with a letter preapproving you for the funds needed to make the purchase.

Put major purchases on hold

There are some reasons that could cause a lender to withdraw from providing a loan after a preapproval letter is issued. If your credit situation changes between your preapproval and the loan’s funding, the lender could change your interest rate or even deny the loan application. So, while you’re buying a house, abstain from applying for credit cards or other loans.

Your MetroTex Realtor can give you more information about getting prequalified or preapproved for a mortgage loan. You can also visit dfwrealestate.com to learn more about buying, selling and leasing real estate in North Texas.

8 questions to ask prospective listing agents

Selling your home is a major life decision, and the person you hire can play a significant role in helping you reach your goal. You’ll want to work with someone you trust and who meets your expectations, so you may want to interview a few listing agents before you agree to work with someone. Here are a few questions you can ask.

Are you a MetroTex Realtor?

This may be the most important question. MetroTex Realtors agree to abide by a strict code of ethics and to treat all parties fairly. Plus, MetroTex Realtors have access to resources that can help sell your home quickly and for the best price.

What is your real estate experience?

There’s no ideal number of years’ experience a listing agent should have—even a new agent can do a great job for you—but you may prefer to work with someone who has experience with certain types of transactions. A MetroTex Realtor may also hold designations or certifications, such as the Seller Representative Specialist (SRS) or Graduate Realtor Institute (GRI), indicating that he or she has an interest and extra training in a specialty.

What forms do you use?
Ask prospective listing agents if you can review the documents you’ll be asked to sign when selling your home, which may include a seller’s disclosure, a listing agreement, and contracts and addenda for the sale. Texas Realtors have access to more than 100 forms that may apply to your situation and offer consumer protections that the Texas Real Estate Commission’s promulgated forms don’t provide.

How do you market your listings?

The agent may provide examples of how he or she has marketed previous properties. The agent may also suggest ways you can prepare your home to show well, or offer services such as hiring a home stager and using a professional photographer for listing photos.

How long on average do your listings stay on the market?

You may also want to ask how this compares to your market. This can give you an idea of how quickly the agent’s listings sell.

How close have your sale prices been to your list prices?

This can give you a general idea of an agent’s pricing strategy, but other factors can contribute, like an especially hot market.

What is your experience selling homes in my area?

Housing-market characteristics can vary from city to city and even among neighborhoods. You may want to work with an agent who has sold properties in your area and understands what attracts buyers to the community.

May I have a list of references?

Ask if you can contact a few of the agent’s former clients and hear what their experience working with the agent was like. References can comment on their overall satisfaction and the agent’s negotiating skills and responsiveness.

Visit dfwrealestate.com to find a Texas Realtor in your area and to learn more about buying, selling, and leasing real estate in Texas.  

Don’t overlook these important matters when buying your first home

Planning to buy your first home? What an exciting time! While you may have already considered some of the benefits and responsibilities of the journey you’re about to take, make sure you consider these items as well.

You may qualify for assistance

There are assistance programs that provide lower loan rates or down payment assistance for qualified applicants. Before you assume that you don’t qualify for an assistance program, find out. The criteria often include income limits, but not always. In addition to many first-time homebuyer programs, other options apply to military personnel, teachers, and first responders. Some programs also are available based on the type of property, such as a home that requires repairs. You can search txhomeprograms.org and talk to your MetroTex Realtor to see if you qualify for any assistance.

The loan isn’t your only expense

You may know that in addition to your loan payments, you will also be paying property taxes. Your lender will also require you to buy homeowners insurance. You may even be responsible for flood insurance, depending on the risk in your area.

In addition to the items your lender requires, don’t forget other expenses that come along with homeownership. If this will be your first home with a yard, you’ll need lawn and garden equipment—or funds to pay someone else to mow and garden. And when you have to replace a leaking faucet or a worn-out roof, you are now the one footing those bills.

Getting an accepted offer is just the beginning

It’s a great feeling when you find a home you want, draw up an offer, and the seller says yes. Keep in mind, though, there are still many steps before you can call that home your own. And depending on what happens during inspections, a title search, an appraisal, and other key actions, you could be looking at even more steps, such as amendments and repairs.

Your MetroTex Realtor can give you guidance for the many considerations you will face as you become a first-time homeowner. Working closely with a professional is the best way to ensure you don’t overlook anything important. To learn more about buying, selling, and leasing property in North Texas, visit dfwrealestate.com

Top Tips to Go Green in Your Yard

Nobody wants doggie doo in their drinking water. And yet, run-off from most lawns can include fertilizers, pesticides and yes, gifts from our pets- all of which end up in our water supply. Smarter landscaping choices can help protect our water supply from contaminants and can save homeowners from escalating water and electricity bills. From the MetroTex Association of Realtors, here are our top tips to keep you and your yard healthy.

 

·         Water Conservation. While the recent drought is Texas ended with some of the wettest days we’ve ever seen, it’s still a good idea to upgrade your landscape to include more water tolerant features and to discourage run-off. Try to group plants with similar watering needs in the same zones. Take advantage of the drainage patterns provided by the natural contours in the land by planting thirstier plants where the water accumulates, and by planning terraces which can prevent erosion.

·         Take care of your dirt. Unless your landscape contains a lot of succulents, your plot could probably use more organic material. Adding compost and aerating your yard will allow rainwater to drain quickly yet still be retained deep in the soil where the roots are. Bonemeal and rock phosphates are often recommended in North Texas to address our naturally alkaline soils.

·         Grow less grass.  Turf is thirsty and expensive to maintain, so it’s best to limit its usage. Where you do want turf for open spaces, use native species where possible. Buffalograss is a recommended cariety because it needs little to no watering once established. Even better, varieties of buffalograss like 609 and Stampede rarely need to be mowed.

·         Embrace native plants. Plants that are native to North Texas use less water and can provide food for birds and butterflies. Sun-loving plants like lantana, purple coneflower, and Texas sage are popular choices. Beautiful options for shade dwellers are turk’s cap, columbine and liriope.

·         Must-have Mulches. Coarse compost, bark, gravel and wood chips help retain soil moisture and block out weeds. Several inches of mulch should be applied. Remember to leave about 6 inches of exposed foundation to discourage termites and ants from entering your home. It may be necessary to dig out soil before applying a fresh layer of mulch. Don’t leave areas of bare soil. Cover it with mulch or a ground cover plant to reduce erosion and evaporation.

·         Water when needed. Slow drip irrigation systems and soaker hoses deliver water to the base of the plant with less evaporation. Maintaining a deep, infrequent watering schedule encourages deeper and more root growth which takes advantage of water in the soil and prevents erosion.

·         Maintain Your Space. Dense, healthy native plants not only use less water, but also require less pruning and discourage weed growth. Another advantage with native plants is the lower requirement for fertilization and pesticides. Try to use as few chemicals in the yard as possible to prevent run-off and do pick up after pets frequently.

For more landscaping tips, ask your MetroTex Realtor for a referral to your local xeriscaping company. Looking for that perfect house to go with your dream garden? Visit DFWRealEstate.com today.

Housing Crunch Hits Low Income Families Hardest

In May, Dallas plans on razing Tent City, a four block encampment of the homeless under a bridge along I-45. Dallas leaders are hoping to be able to find housing or emergency shelter for the estimated 233 people living there. The difficulty for those fighting homelessness is compounded by the tight housing market in North Texas.

A recent survey conducted by the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance found that homelessness has risen by 24% over last year in the area. It’s estimated that nearly 4,000 people are homeless in Dallas and Collin Counties right now. Rising rents and sale prices of homes are putting extraordinary pressure on lower income families in North Texas, making it harder to find and keep suitable housing. Once a family finds itself in crisis, it becomes even harder to find housing because competition for available housing is fierce.

Having plentiful affordable housing is critical to maintaining a healthy city. Researchers have found that homeownership leads to higher academic achievement for children, in part because the stability of owning a home provides for a more coherent experience for kids in school. Also, homeowners are more likely to be invested and active in their children’s schooling. Further, homeowners spend more money on home improvements and are more engaged in their communities, leading to stronger communities and more civic involvement. This more active involvement in the community and with families has been shown to result in higher levels of self-esteem and lower rates of substance abuse and teenage pregnancy. More homeowners also mean a stronger local economy. That’s because home ownership creates jobs both service industries and in retail. In fact, it’s estimated that each home purchase generates as much as $60,000 of economic activity in the local and surrounding area.

MetroTex Association of REALTORS encourages North Texans to reach out to our neighbors who are struggling to cope with higher housing costs by supporting local charitable groups who work to end homelessness every day. Fortunately, there are quite a few reputable organizations helping the homeless in North Texas every day. Many of whom will gladly accept volunteers and donations to the cause.

Among the many groups in the area are the aforementioned Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA) and CitySquare. North Texans who want to get involved may contribute to the MDHA Flex Fund, which provides much needed assistance for relatively small items that are critical for securing and maintaining a residence, like application fees, bus passes, help with medical bills, or job-related expenses like uniforms or safety equipment. Often these small items can be the difference in keeping a working family in housing. CitySquare is another local group actively working against poverty in the Dallas area through its vast number of programs to address hunger, housing, employment and medical care. Local residents can help CitySquare through volunteering or donations either their thrift store or through planned giving.

A simple way to help most local charities is to link your shopper cards or purchases to specific organizations. Check with your local store to see if you can direct a portion of your shopping to these charities. For instance, Kroger, Tom Thumb and Amazon Smile are well-known participants.

Those who do find themselves needing assistance should call 211 for recommendations to organizations that can help you.

If you’re looking to buy or sell a home in North Texas, ask a MetroTex Realtor or go to DFWRealEstate.com

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.

  •  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.

 

Spring Cleaning Season is Upon Us!

One of the best ways to protect your home’s value is to maintain it well. A thorough spring cleaning and maintenance routine is a great way to keep your home in top condition.

We’ve compiled this handy guide to help you break down your spring maintenance routine into manageable bits. Break tasks down room by room and you’ll be well on your way to a clean and well maintained home. And keep in mind that you don’t have to accomplish all of these tasks in a day.

In every room, start your cleaning routine by wiping down the walls and ceilings. Use a vacuum or dry mop to remove dust, then surface dirt and grime. Test your cleaner on an inconspicuous area on painted walls to make sure that your finish can withstand contact with water or gentle cleaners. Rub away finger prints and other grime. If your walls still don’t look clean after scrubbing, it may be time to repaint.

Next, thoroughly dust books, knick knacks, shelves, framed pictures, ceiling fans, window casings, molding and blinds. Take everything off the shelves, and wipe with a feather duster. Use your vacuum’s crevice tool to reach into tight spots. Wipe down all of the shelves contents before replacing them. Machine wash or dry clean window treatments. Clean furniture with a thorough vacuuming and take cushion and pillows outside to gently beat the dust out of them. Polish or wax wooden furniture. Work from top down, so you can vacuum the dust that settles on the floor. One that’s done, you can vacuum and shampoo carpets. Have them professionally cleaned or rent a machine. Throw rugs without backing will need to be professionally cleaned.

In wet areas, like kitchen and baths, now is a good time to reseal your grout. First check to make sure the grout isn’t cracked or missing, and replace it if necessary. Then clean any dirt or stains away with a kitchen and bath cleaner. Finally, you can reseal the grout with sealant and a small foam brush. And speaking of grout, if you’ve got stone tile in your house, it may be time to wax or seal them again. Do an internet search for the best way to care for your particular stone to avoid damaging tiles.

Maintain your appliances. In the kitchen, pull the refrigerator away from the wall and vacuum behind and beneath. Clean out any dust from vents and coils, and clean the drain pan. Clean filters in the stove’s hood and clean the oven, too. In the laundry room, vacuum the dryer vent and around the lint trap. You may want to hire a chimney sweep to clean your vent lines to the exterior. Have your HVAC systems tuned up at this time and check expiration dates on any fire extinguishers. Don’t forget to change the batteries in your smoke detectors.

Finally, a really satisfying way to wind up your spring cleaning is to thoroughly wash your windows, tracks and window screens. You’ll be amazed at how much lighter and brighter the house feels with clean windows!

For more information about maintaining a home or for recommendations on service providers, ask your MetroTex REALTOR. Interested in buying or selling a home? Visit www.DFWRealEstate.com for the most accurate, local and trusted real estate information available.

Tax breaks for homeowners

It’s tax time again. Fortunately for homeowners, there are a number of deductions you can take that might help relieve your tax bill this year. We’ve compiled a list of your best bets for reducing your tax burden. Property tax are almost always tax-deductible

Mortgage interest. Probably the best known tax deduction for homeowners is to deduct interest paid of your mortgage. There are restrictions and sometimes it may be better to take the standard deduction rather than itemizing, but the mortgage interest deduction is one many homeowners routinely claim.

Origination Points and Discount Points on financing or refinancing. The IRS considers paid points as pre-paid interest on a mortgage. You’ll need to figure out whether you can deduct all of the points at once (generally for first time homebuyers) or must spread the deduction out over the life of the loan (generally for a second home or a refinance.)

Primary Mortgage Insurance (PMI). If you bought a home in 2007 or later with less than 20% down, you may be able to deduct the cost of your primary mortgage insurance. This deduction was renewed for another year, but it may not last for much longer.

Interest on home-improvement loans, Home Equity Loans, and Home Equity Lines of Credit. Similar to mortgage interest and origination points, loans on your property may be deductible. The loan may not be for an amount greater than the value of the property, and the IRS imposes a $1 million loan size cap.

Home Improvements Speaking of home improvements, some of those improvements may be tax-deductible. Home improvements made for medical reasons, for example, can be tax-deductible. If you are making home renovations to accommodate a chronically ill or disabled person, and the renovations do not add to the overall value of the home, the project costs are typically 100% tax deductible. Repairs and improvements made for aesthetic purposes are not tax-deductible, but improvement to increase energy efficiency do come with some credits.

Energy-efficiency tax credit/Renewable-energy tax credit. A lot of folks are improving their homes by adding energy efficient storm doors, windows, insulation, air-conditioning and heating systems. If you made any of those improvements last year, you could be eligible for a tax credit of up to $500. Similarly, if you’ve installed equipment that uses renewable sources of energy, such solar panels, geothermal systems or wind turbines, you may be eligible for the Renewable Energy Efficiency Property Credit. The credit can apply to up to 30% of the cost of the equipment. There is also a credit for purchasing an electric vehicle.

Ground rent. If you own your home, but rent the ground underneath it, there are options to deduct the “ground rent” you’ve paid to the owner. Land leases must be for a term longer than 15 years, and they can’t be used if you’re making payments on the land to buy it over time.

Property Taxes. Your annual property tax bill from the county may be deducted from your federal taxes. If you’re escrowing your tax payments with your mortgage, check your statements for the amount you’ve paid.

Home Office. If you work from home, you can typically deduct the expenses of maintaining a qualified home office. Tax deductions for a home office include renovations, telephone lines, internet service and the cost of heat and electric.

Of course, the best place to start is to search online for the IRS Tax Information for Homeowners Guide. There you’ll find more information about whether you’re qualified for these deductions and how to apply them. And remember to ask your MetroTex REALTOR for recommendations for a reliable tax professional.

Take care of your credit when applying for a home loan

Even after you’ve done the work to find the home you want to purchase and negotiated the contract, you’ll still have one important job to do related to your finances: nothing. That’s because the financial decisions you make when applying for a home loan won’t be a secret to your lender, and any actions that negatively affect your financial situation could put your home purchase in jeopardy.

Lenders have strict rules borrowers must follow, and your lender is no exception. Missteps could give your lender a reason to delay your closing or even reject your loan outright and send you back to square one. Be aware of the following financial missteps that could throw a wrench into your deal.

Don’t hide your financial history

Good decisions start with the application itself, so be up front about your finances, and don’t leave any surprises for your lender to discover. Even if there’s something on your credit report you aren’t proud of, be honest from the start. These issues will show up eventually, and your mortgage broker or banker is likely to have advice for resolving them.

Don’t make any large purchases

You might want to furnish your new place now, but you should wait until after closing to buy expensive furniture or appliances—and definitely put that new car on hold. Even if you pay for them with cash, your lender may request updated copies of your bank statements and see you have decreased funds available.

Don’t open a new line of credit

Even applying for a credit card can throw up a red flag when your finances are under a microscope. Stores may try to tempt you by offering a discount on your purchase just for completing an application, but that savings probably isn’t more valuable than closing on your home purchase.

Don’t be late paying your bills

Your lender will be looking at your finances closely on a regular basis, and any negative changes could affect your status.

Your MetroTex Realtor can give you more tips for making the right financial moves to ensure you have a smooth transaction. Visit dfwrealestate.com to learn more about buying, selling and leasing property in Texas.