How to Choose the Right Neighborhood – Part 1

How to Choose the Right Neighborhood – Part 1

How to Choose a Neighborhood – Finding the real estate lifestyle that fits you

5 steps to finding a place where you belong

If houses are like spouses, a neighborhood is like the extended family. But while you can have a good marriage and still dread holidays with the in-laws, you’ll never love a house if you don’t like your neighborhood. How can you choose the right community? Become a neighborhood detective. Figure out what you’re looking for, do research and find a neighborhood that fits your description.

 

STEP 1 — Profile Your Perfect Neighborhood

Before you start scrutinizing neighborhoods, turn the magnifying glass back on yourself.

Think about what you’re really looking for in a new neighborhood. Remember, you’ll probably have to make compromises, so put the “must-haves” at the top and the “would- like-to-haves” at the bottom.

Here are some things to consider:

· Do you have children or are you planning to have children anytime soon? Parents know that the first thing to do when looking at a neighborhood is to research the school system. Even if you’re single, living in an area with a much sought-after school system raises your property value. If you have kids, you’ll also want to live close to parks and community centers.

· What type of home do you want? Are you interested in a single-family home or an apartment, townhouse or condo?

· How far are you willing to commute? Do you plan to drive, walk or take mass transit to work? Factor in time, do you need to be home at a certain time after work?

· Do you want to be in a historic neighborhood or a new development? Historic neighborhoods have tons of character, but often require lots of repair work and are governed by community associations with strict standards. Newer developments have more modern features, but are typically far from the city center.

· What is your current community lacking? If you’re currently landlocked, but have always wanted to live on the water, put that at the top of your list. If you’re a coffee junkie, having a Starbucks down the street may be a dream come true.

· Do you want to be able to go places on foot? Would you like to be within walking distance of shops, restaurants and bars? Or would you be willing to drive to nearby businesses?

· Think about what you don’t want in a neighborhood, too. If you can’t stand late-night noise, you’ll probably want to steer clear of the college area or an area with a lively bar scene.

STEP 2 — Zero In on the Area

If you’re moving within the same city, you may already know the various neighborhoods. Choose the ones that best match your list of wants. If you’re moving to a new city, you’ll have to do more research. Start by picking a part of town to search in. For instance, if your job is on the west side of town, start there. In a really large city, narrow it down to a few-block radius. This will make your search more focused.

 

STEP 3 — Get the Suspects

With your area of the city in mind, start digging up information. Find interesting neighborhoods online, ask local real estate agents for recommendations, and compile all the background information you can, including:

· School information: Look into the local public and private elementary, junior and high schools, as well as daycare programs.

· Crime statistics: Most real estate sites have statistics that tell you how the zip code’s crime rates measure up to the national average. If you want specifics, call the local police station.

· Parks and recreation: How far is it to the closest park or recreation center?

· Neighborhood associations: Does the community you’re looking at have one, and, if so, are there lawn or construction restrictions? Is there a yearly fee?

· Tourist attractions: Get a guidebook or check out the convention and tourism bureau’s Web site to see all the city has to offer.

STEP 4 — Find the Clues

Once you’ve done the background research, visit neighborhoods that made the preliminary grade in person. There’s no better way to paint a real picture of life in the neighborhood. Use your senses to get a complete picture of the prospective community.

 

Sights:

· Remember your first impression. What do you notice first about the neighborhood? Do the streets have curb appeal? Are the houses well-maintained? Do the shops and restaurants look hip and inviting? You’ll want to feel good about where you call home, and impress buyers when you’re ready to move on.

· Visualize yourself in the neighborhood. Think of your daily routine. If you can’t live without a morning latte, is there a coffee shop nearby? Where will you walk your dog or go jogging? You’ll enjoy the neighborhood more if it’s easy to do what you like.

· Observe the neighborhood at different times of the day. Driving through will help you get a snapshot of life in the community — good and bad. Do the roads turn into a parking lot after school or during rush hour? Are people using grills or decks in the evening? Are neighbors and kids socializing or do people keep to themselves? Are the streets well-lit at night? These visual clues can help you decide if you’ll fit in.

· Make sure the local schools make the grade. Even if you don’t have kids, pay a visit to the nearby schools. High ratings are great, but seeing the buildings is much more telling. It will be easier to sell your house later if the schools are nice.

· Look for warning signs. Be on the lookout for signs that the neighborhood is in trouble. Do you see abandoned buildings or vandalism? Are there a lot of “For Sale” signs or rentals? If the community goes downhill, so does your house’s value.

Sounds:

· Stop and listen. Bird and nature sounds are generally pleasant, but what about noise from the highway, airport, hospital, train tracks or nearby clubs and bars? It’s not very relaxing to listen to trains screech by during your morning coffee — especially not every morning.

· Talk to your future neighbors. Ask how they like the area, and get the dirt on anything they don’t like about the place. What do they want to change? What’s their favorite place to hang out? If they’re rude to you, they probably wouldn’t be good neighbors anyway.

· Talk to more people. You’ll get the best information from regular people who live and/or work in the are. Hit up your waiter for information when you’re checking out the local food, or ask a gas station attendant to spill what they know about your chosen neighborhood.

Smells:

· Specifically, are there any? You can’t experience unpleasant smells on the Internet and they’re not advertised in tourism brochures, but they can certainly affect your decision to live in an area. Take a big whiff of the air, and ask around if you smell any fishy (or just bad) odors.
Taste:

· No, I’m not asking you to lick your prospective home’s mailbox. But ask yourself if the neighborhood matches your taste in a living environment — and if it meets your criteria. Just because it’s a nice neighborhood doesn’t mean it’s the one for you. If the neighborhood meets your list but still feels wrong, search out another area. Trust your gut feeling — after all, you’re the one who has to live there.

STEP 5 — Close the Case

You’ve chosen your neighborhood. Now for the hard part: finding a house you love. Luckily, you’ve narrowed it down to a few streets. Now, make sure to:

· Find out how much house you can afford. The amount of money a lender offers you is often more than you can truly afford to pay. Talk to a mortgage specialist to see how much you can afford. You don’t want to be stuck eating ramen noodles for the next 15 to 30 years.

· Compare your loan options. Visit with a mortgage loan professional to find out what mortgage is right for you. Decide between fixed and adjustable rate mortgages, then length of the loan, the terms and rates that are available. Use a handy RENT vs OWN comparison tool to explore various rate options and find out the cost difference in owning your own home.

· Draw up your vision of home. It worked for your neighborhood — now think about what you want in a home. Write out your vision of your home, your wants and your needs, and stick to it while you’re house hunting. Educate yourself on difference architectural styles and the most current trends and amenities on the market.

· Find the perfect house! Go online and begin your search for homes in the Dallas/Fort Worth Market or visit www.NormaLangston.com and search for the perfect property!

Don’t Budge: 7 Compromises You Should Never Make When Buying a Home

Don’t Budge: 7 Compromises You Should Never Make When Buying a Home

Every successful home search begins with a wish list. Armed with your inventory of must-haves, you’ll know how to focus your search and recognize a potential home that isn’t worth your time.

Still, there’s a strange thing that seems to happen when you’re deep in the trenches of house hunting: The more you look, the longer that wish list seems to grow. But sooner or later, you have to own up to the fact that you can’t have everything—it’s inevitable that you’ll make some compromises somewhere.

And, in these days of tight inventory and cutthroat competition from other buyers, you might feel forced to waver far afield from your hallowed wish list in order to land a home.

That’s OK—it’s important to be flexible. But there are a few times when you absolutely should draw the line. Here are seven areas where you’ll want to dig in your heels.

1. Buying a fixer-upper when you really want turnkey

You have never swung a hammer, have a phobia of power tools, and always pictured yourself in something new and shiny. But that doesn’t mean you won’t fall in love with a charming, century-old farmhouse that needs a ton of work. Now’s when you have to decide: Are you up to the financial and emotional challenges of taking on major renovations?

It’s an option you should seriously consider (with the help of an experienced general contractor) if you’re in a highly competitive market. But if you don’t think your bank account or your marriage could survive many months of upheaval, stick to your guns and insist on a turnkey home.

2. A good school district

Even if you don’t have children, you should make sure the house you’re eyeing has desirable schools nearby.

Does it matter if you’re not looking to have a few kids? Well, things can always change. But even if they don’t, good schools typically translate to a higher resale value—potential buyers with families will want to be in the right district.

Just make sure to do your research and determine where the home sits in relation to the school district boundaries.

Sometimes a property may be advertised as being near such-and-such school area, but not necessarily specify the district, which can be very confusing. Go to the school district’s website to get a map of the district boundaries.

3. The floor plan

Does the home fit your minimum criteria in terms of number of rooms and the flow of the main living areas? If not, cross it off your list.

Stick to your guns when it comes to layout – if you NEED four bedrooms, then don’t waiver on that. You can change a layout to make it an open floor plan, but it’s a lot more difficult to change the bedroom and bathroom count. In the long run, you could end up having a lot of problems and taking on a really big financial undertaking.

4. The neighbors

During your search, don’t just focus on the house you’re interested in—check out the neighboring homes as well. Are the properties well-kept, or candidates for an episode of “Hoarders”?

The condition of the properties around you can affect your future resale value. And they can just plain drive you crazy. Make sure you look—and listen—any time you visit your prospective home.

You can’t change the house in front of you or to the side of you, and if there’s a barking dog every time you’re viewing the property, that’s another thing that you absolutely cannot change.

5. Your budget

You’ve probably already determined how much you’re willing to pay for a home—and you shouldn’t budge on that number. But you should also dig in your heels on the additional costs beyond the sticker price. That means setting a budget for your monthly payments, HOA dues, utility costs, and real estate taxes—and sticking to it. (Hint: You want to do this before you start looking at homes, and definitely before you start making offers.)

Yes, a lender will give you a pre-approval and tell you how much house you can afford. But this is just one piece of the puzzle, and the costs of homeownership can still land you in a mountain of debt if you’re not careful.

Preplan carefully with your agent, you never want to be house poor.

6. Commute time

If you’ve already determined that you’re willing to take on a 30-minute commute, don’t be swayed to take something that’s even a few minutes longer.

Sometimes buyers fall in love with all the shiny bells and whistles of a house that’s an hour away from work, and want to compromise on what they have decided ahead of time. It doesn’t matter right now because you really love this house, but that’s two hours every day that you’ll be sitting in the car and not enjoying your house. Is that worth it to you?

Until you’ve actually driven the route to and from your potential home and your office, at the times you’ll be commuting, you should never consider compromising.

In some large cities, being just a few miles from the highway can tack on an additional hour of commuting. Could you handle that after a long day in the office? Think carefully before making the sacrifice.

7. Parking

Speaking of your car, if you own one (or two), you absolutely want a guaranteed spot to park, whether that means an enclosed garage, a driveway, or assigned parking.

There are many communities that now restrict outside parking, guest spaces, and overnight parking, which could be a real homeowner nightmare if you have to fend for yourself.

To avoid frustration after you’ve closed a deal, stick to your guns about the things that are most important to you while making your choice, and ignore the rest of the noise.

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ATTENTION FIRST-TIME BUYERS: HERE’S THE KEY STUFF YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT MORTGAGES

ATTENTION FIRST-TIME BUYERS: HERE’S THE KEY STUFF YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT MORTGAGES

Attention First-Time Buyers: Here’s the Key Stuff You Don’t Know About Mortgages

When it comes to mortgages, there’s a big gap between what people think they need in order to get one and the reality of what buyers are successfully doing—especially young people.

But you know what? When it comes to what might be the biggest purchase of your life—one that can be incredibly intimidating for first-time buyers—it’s nice to know real facts. And in the mortgage market, reality is very often different from perception. Or, for that matter, myth.

Last week, the National Association of Realtors® issued its 2017 Aspiring Home Buyers Profile report. The report cites data from surveys taken in the third quarter of 2016 about down payments.

The report summarized that 39% of nonowners believe they need more than 20% for a down payment on a home, 26% believe they need to put down 15% to 20%, and 22% believe a down payment of 10% to 14% would work.

So on average, those nonowners thought a down payment would need to be about 16%. The reality? The average down payment on purchase mortgages in 2016 was 11%.

In fact, when we drill into the purchase mortgages taken out by people under 35, who represent the majority of first-time buyers, we see the average down payment was even lower, at just under 8%. In other words, aspiring first-time buyers think it takes twice as much to buy a home than it really does.

Perception, meet reality

But averages can be misleading, right? Especially when there is a wide distribution, like we observe with down payments. When we dig into what actually happened in 2016 we find that most young people buy homes with … less than 5% down. That’s less than one-third of what the average nonowner had assumed!

As with many things in life, the most correct answer to the question of how much you need to put down is “it depends.” There are a slew of important factors like who you are, your financial circumstances, the home’s location, and the price of the home.

It is possible to buy a home with a mortgage with no money down. VA and USDA loans are the most popular loans that offer the ability to put no money down. In 2016, 16% of buyers under 35 put no money down.

The largest share (36%) of loans for buyers under 35 in 2016 was for people putting down something less than 5%. The options there include loans offered through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but also 3% down payment programs backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (aka conforming loans). And, of course, this includes the traditional 3.5% FHA mortgage that is primarily targeted to first-time buyers.

More than half of young people who successfully bought a home with a mortgage in 2016 put at most 5% down. The average dollar amount for these buyers was $3,500. That’s right, if you have #FOMO from your friends buying homes, the majority of them are putting down just a few thousand dollars.

How are they doing it? The aforementioned mortgage products (conforming, FHA, VA, and USDA) represent almost 99% of the mortgages to people under 35 in 2016. There is nothing exotic about this.

And it doesn’t require perfect credit, just fair credit. The average FICO was 713, and the floor we observed in FICOs (below which very few mortgages were made) was 639.

Put that all together and you can see that for the millennial dreaming of buying a home this year, you need a FICO score of at least 639 and enough money that you could put down at most 5%. If you live in a typical American town, what you need could be as little as $3,500.

That sounds a lot more attainable than most people think. The truth is out there! Take advantage of it.

Article source: Jonathan Smoke for Realtor.com.

BUYING A HOME: REVISITING SOME OF THE LESSONS OUR PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS LEARNED LONG AGO

BUYING A HOME: REVISITING SOME OF THE LESSONS OUR PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS LEARNED LONG AGO

When preparing to buy a home, it is good to revisit some of the lessons our parents and grandparents learned long ago.

HOW MUCH CAN I AFFORD?

Your housing budget depends on your situation and priorities. Two-income households with strong earnings potential can probably spend a little bit more than one-income households — as your income rises over the years, your housing costs are likely to become a smaller piece of your expenses. (Of course, that is not necessarily the case if you later buy a bigger house.) The same goes for individuals who have saved extra money or people who may earn less, like teachers, but who are unlikely to lose their jobs. Just be sure you stick with a plain-vanilla 30-year fixed mortgage because payments will remain steady.

One exercise I remember from school involves simple math and planning. Write down all of your expenses. Break them down into expenses that are fixed (utilities, groceries, auto expenses, insurance, etc.) and variable (everything else). Now, look at the variable costs…what am I willing to give up that could be reallocated toward housing?

Another exercise is to start by establishing savings goals, and then working backward. Set aside 10 to 15 percent of your salary, preferably in tax-deferred accounts, and then work with what’s left over for living expenses and housing costs.

DO THE MATH

Before you start hitting open houses, sketch out a rough budget based on the 28 percent rule of thumb, using a simple mortgage calculator. For instance, a family that earns $10,000 a month — or about $7,000 after taxes — should keep their total monthly housing costs, including mortgage, taxes and insurance, to about $2,800 a month. In one example, the family may be able to spend $440,000 on a home, or about 3.6 times their annual income, as long as they can come up with a 20 percent down payment (and closing costs). If they finance the remaining $352,000 with a 30-year mortgage with a fixed rate of 5.5 percent (of course lower rates are available, but let’s be conservative here), that would translate into a monthly payment of about $2,000, leaving $800 to pay real estate taxes and insurance. That leaves $4,200 of their monthly after-tax income to pay for everything else, giving them some breathing room.

DOWN PAYMENT

A higher down payment is usually required, but if you have a good credit score, you can get by today with historically lower down payments (FHA loans are also an option). If you do not, or cannot afford a higher down payment, it can cost you dearly in the form of a higher interest rate or fees. The ability to put down at least 20 percent is often emblematic of your financial discipline and ability to afford the monthly payment.

TAXES

Consider the tax savings associated with buying a home, but do not use it as an excuse to buy more than you can afford. Property taxes and mortgage interest are generally tax-deductible, but only if you itemize your deductions. Itemizing makes sense when your individual deductions exceed the standard deduction. For many taxpayers in the 28 percent tax bracket who itemize, a $350,000 mortgage may reduce their tax bill by as much as $5,357 in the first year of the mortgage. Since you pay more in interest in the loan’s early years, your tax savings will decline over time.

RESERVES

Ideally, homeowners should have six months of net pay in the bank. But if you halve that figure and save three months of your take-home pay that generally translates into eight months of payments. That does not account for food and other necessities, but it does provide some cushion. Two-income households can get away with just a few months of savings put aside, but single-breadwinner households should have at least six months. You also need to account for unforeseen costs.

To the homebuyer or the homeowner, saleability matters!

To the homebuyer or the homeowner, saleability matters!

To the homebuyer or the homeowner, saleability matters!

What makes a house sell?

Whether you are a homeowner thinking about selling or a homebuyer in the market for anew home, saleability matters! You want to make sure you are taking care of and getting the most from your real estate investment. This month we are exploring the keys to making your home more appealing to the buyer, AND how to add value to your real estate investment. There are many ways to do both – from home improvements to “fixing up” before your home goes on the market, to pricing and location – they all factor in to your home having “saleability”.

What makes a house sell?

A successful sale requires that you concentrate on six considerations:

  1. the listing price
  2. the terms of sale
  3. the condition of your house
  4. location of the house
  5. accessibility, and
  6. Marketing exposure your house receives.

While some of these factors are beyond your control (such as the list price the market demands), you can compensate by taking advantage of other items, like a new paint job or landscaping the front yard, to make your property as attractive to prospective buyers as possible.

What about home improvements?

Renovating your home for sale may or may not be a wise move depending on how much you plan to spend. In some cases, a home is in bad shape and the money must be spent to make it salable. On the other hand, spending too much may represent a loss. It is important to discuss with your real estate agent how much home improvement upgrades needs to be done. A new toilet, sink, and shower stall in your bathroom, a new paint job for the first level floor, and new kitchen sink fixtures might create the best overall value for the least investment. Your agent can tell you after an evaluation what aspects of your home are a liability and which problems will actually kill the sale. An experienced agent will know what they need to fix to make the sale. Other issues can be negotiated.

Statistically, there is only one improvement that a homeowner can make which will actually produce a profit when the home sells. We call it “Paint & Petunias”. Yes, it’s curb appeal. Research available from the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University tells us that paint touch up and minor landscaping will actually return 109% of its cost. It is interesting to note that research shows yellow flowers are the most appealing to prospective homebuyers.

The same Real Estate Center report says that other fix-ups and updates return less than their actual cost. A kitchen refurbishment will return about 78% of cost on average, and a bathroom update recoups about 67% of the cost for a Seller. In addition, the lowest recapture of investment is the good ol’ swimming pool. It will return about 15 to 20% of the installation cost.

The obvious question is: “If I’m going to take a loss on the improvements, why do them anyway?” Think of it this way: your house might not be competitive and won’t sell at all without the updates. The partial “loss” on a component upgrade will actually make the overall product, your home, sell more quickly and for more money.

Home Staging

“Staging” is the latest buzzword in real estate, but it simply means to present your home in its best and most appealing light. If you are preparing your home to sell, it is to setup your home to appeal to prospective buyers and showcase the property in a way that makes buyers eager to purchase! In theory, “staging” isn’t hard or costly, but in reality, many homeowners find it difficult because it’s often hard to see something objectively when we love it.

Professionally staged homes sell in 80% less time than non-staged homes, according to a survey conducted by ASP* (Accredited Staging Professional). The money spent on staging will always be less than your first price reduction and statistics also show that 94.6% of staged homes sell on average in 35 days or less.

The following is HomeGain.com’s national survey, based on the ten areas of home improvement identified by real estate agents in HomeGain’s survey. They are listed from the highest to lowest returns on investment:

 

PROJECT: COST: PRICE INCREASE ROI
Clean and de-Clutter $100 – 200 $1,500 – 2,000 872%
Stage Home for Sale $300 – 400 $1,500 – 2,000 586%
Lighten and brighten $200 – 300 $1,000 – 1,500 572%
Landscape Front/back $300 – 400 $1,500 – 2,000 473%
Repair Plumbing $300 – 400 $1,000 – 1,500 327%
Update Electrical $300 – 400 $1,000 – 1,500 309%
Replace/Clean Carpets $400 – 500 $1,000 – 1,500 295%
Paint Interior Walls $500 – 750 $1,500 – 2,000 250%
Repair Damaged Floor $500 – 750 $1,500 – 2,000 250%
Update Kitchen $1000-1500 $2,000 – 3,000 237%
Paint Outside $750 – 1000 $1,500 – 2,000 201%
Update Bathroom $750 – 1000 $1,000 – 1,500 172%

 

If you are thinking about selling your home, contact Norma and her team today to get more information about the options available to you.