Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Top reasons you still need a real estate agent

You might think buying or selling on your own will save money, but it could be more costly in the long run.

The abundance of services that help home buyers and sellers complete their own real-estate transactions is relatively recent, and may have you wondering whether using a real-estate agent is becoming a relic of a bygone era. While doing the work yourself can save you the significant commissions that many real-estate agents command, for many, flying solo may not be the way to go — and could end up being more costly than a commission in the long run. Buying or selling a home is a major financial and emotional undertaking. Find out why you shouldn't discard the notion of hiring an agent just yet.

1. Better access/more convenience
A real-estate agent's full-time job is to act as a liaison between buyers and sellers. This means that he or she will have easy access to all other properties listed by other agents and will know what needs to be done to get a deal together. For example, if you are looking to buy a home, a real-estate agent will track down homes that meet your criteria, get in touch with sellers' agents and make appointments for you to view the homes. If you are buying on your own, you will have to play this telephone tag yourself. This may be especially difficult if you're shopping for homes that are for sale by owner

Similarly, if you are looking to sell your home yourself, you will have to solicit calls from interested parties, answer questions and make appointments. Keep in mind that potential buyers are likely to move on if you tend to be busy or don't respond quickly enough. Alternatively, you may find yourself making an appointment and rushing home, only to find that no one shows up.

2. Negotiating is tricky business
Many people don't like the idea of doing a real-estate deal through an agent and think that direct negotiation between buyers and sellers is more transparent and allows the parties to look after their own interests better. This is probably true — assuming that both the buyer and seller are reasonable people who are able to get along. Unfortunately, this isn't always an easy relationship.

What if you, as a buyer, like a home but despise its wood-paneled walls, shag carpet and lurid orange kitchen? If you are working with an agent, you can express your contempt for the current owner's decorating skills and rant about how much it'll cost you to upgrade the home without insulting the owner. For all you know, the owner's late mother may have lovingly chosen the d├ęcor. Your real-estate agent can convey your concerns to the seller’s agent. Acting as a messenger, the agent may be in a better position to negotiate a discount without ruffling the homeowner's feathers.

A real-estate agent can also play the “bad guy” in a transaction, preventing the bad blood between a buyer and seller that can kill a deal. Keep in mind that sellers can reject a potential buyer's offer for any reason — including just because they hate his or her guts. An agent can help by speaking for you in tough transactions and smoothing things over to keep them from getting too personal. This can put you in a better position to get the house you want. The same is true for the seller, who can benefit from a hard-nosed real-estate agent who will represent his or her interests without turning off potential buyers who want to niggle about the price.

3. Contracts can be hard to handle
If you decide to buy or sell a home, the offer-to-purchase contract is there to protect you and ensure that you are able to back out of the deal if certain conditions aren't met. For example, if you plan to buy a home with a mortgage but you fail to make financing one of the conditions of the sale — and you aren't approved for the mortgage — you can lose your deposit on the home and could even be sued by the seller for failing to fulfill your end of the contract. (Keep in mind that the details of any contract may vary based on state law.)

An experienced real-estate agent deals with the same contracts and conditions on a regular basis and is familiar with which conditions should be used, when they can be removed safely and how to use the contract to protect you, whether you're buying or selling your home.

4. Real-estate agents can't lie
Well, OK, actually they can. But because they are licensed professionals, there are more repercussions if they do than for a private buyer or seller. If you are working with a licensed real-estate agent under an agency agreement, such as a conventional, full-service commission agreement in which the agent agrees to represent you, your agent will be bound by law to a fiduciary relationship. In other words, the agent is bound by law to act in his clients' best interest, not his own.

In addition, most real-estate agents rely on referrals and repeat business to build the kind of client base they'll need to survive in the business. This means that doing what's best for their clients should be as important to them as any individual sale.

Finally, if you do find that your agent has gotten away with lying to you, you will have more avenues for recourse, such as through your agent's broker or professional association or possibly even in court if you can prove that your agent has failed to uphold his fiduciary duties.

When a buyer and seller work together directly, they can — and should — seek legal counsel, but because each is expected to act in his or her best interest, there isn't much you can do if you find out later that you've been duped about multiple offers or the home's condition. And having a lawyer on retainer any time you want to talk about potentially buying or selling a house could cost far more than an agent's commissions by the time the transaction is complete.

5. Not everyone can save money
Many people eschew using a real-estate agent in order to save money, but keep in mind that it is unlikely that both the buyer and seller will reap the benefits of not having to pay commissions. For example, if you are selling your home on your own, you will price it based on the sale prices of other comparable properties in your area. Many of these properties will be sold with the help of an agent. This means that the seller gets to keep the percentage of the home's sale price that might otherwise be paid to the real-estate agent.

However, buyers who are looking to purchase a home sold by owners may also believe they can save some money on the home by not having an agent involved. They might even expect it and make an offer accordingly. However, unless buyer and seller agree to split the savings, they can't both save the commission.

The bottom line
While there are certainly people who are qualified to sell their own homes, taking a quick look at the long list of frequently asked questions on most “for sale by owner” websites suggests the process isn't as simple as many people assume. And when you get into a difficult situation, it can really pay to have a professional on your side.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Improve Your Credit Score


Good credit scores have never been more important. As banks tighten their lending standards, it's important to have your score as high as possible.

A FICO score is a number, in general from 300 to 850, that is formulated from your payment history, including such things as amounts of money owed, length of your credit history, new credit accounts open, and how you have used your credit. Age, salary, race, education, and religion do not affect your score. You can't buy a good score; you can only build one over time by demonstrating that you are a responsible borrower.

To improve your credit score, start with these steps.

1. Pay your bills on time. This seems like a simple enough feat, but in hard economic times, more and more borrowers are finding themselves hard-pressed with the decision of what bill to pay. If you find yourself having a hard time paying bills, be sure to talk with the lender or company you owe. They may have programs or suggestions that will help you avoid having your bill sent to collections.

2. Don't let items go to collections. Once an item is sent to collections, your credit report will suffer. This ding will stay on your report for seven years.

3. Don't open other new credit lines when applying for a home loan. You may want the new car or living room set, but the home buying process is not the time to open multiple new accounts. This is a sure-fire way to temporarily reduce your credit score. If you do this before finalizing your mortgage, you many find yourself stuck with a higher interest rate.

4. Monitor your report on a regular basis for errors and cases of identity theft. Errors do happen. To get them corrected quickly, be sure to contact both the organization that provided the erroneous information, as well as the credit bureau. Identity theft happens. And it is your responsibility to identify it and address it!

5. Pay down credit cards. Carrying high balances on credit cards can severely affect your credit score. Think of it this way. If you have a grand total of $10,000 worth of credit limits available, but you owe $5,000 on all of your cards put together, you are using half of your available credit!

The best loans and mortgages are available to borrowers with FICO scores 700 and above. Experian, one of the major credit reporting agencies, reports that the average credit score is 693.

For a look at your credit report, visit the government sponsored site, annualcreditreport.com. You may access your report three times a year free of charge.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Avoid Foreclosure! Get the help you need with a new website.




If you are struggling with your mortgage payments or facing foreclosure, you may feel overwhelmed and frustrated.

Many homeowners simply don’t know what to do or where to go for assistance, and they feel too helpless to take action. Fannie Mae has launched a borrower-friendly outreach site designed to educate distressed homeowners on potential retention strategies and foreclosure alternatives.
They understand at Fannie Mae. They have created KnowYourOptions.com to help homeowners just like you. They have made it easy to find the information you need, so you can get help before it’s too late.

The online education resource — available in both English and Spanish — offers calculators to demonstrate to borrowers the mechanics of refinance, repayment, forbearance and modification options. It also offers information on Fannie's Deed-For-Lease program, which allows borrowers to become renters in the same property after pursing deed-in-lieu of foreclosure.

The site, also provides next steps and forms including a financial checklist and a contact log to aid borrowers in contacting their servicers.

You can watch a video here

Thankfully, there are options in this sluggish economy.

Feel free to contact us if you have any further questions and we will help direct you.

10 Low-Cost Tips to Improve Your Home's Resale Appeal

When selling your home, the goal is to sell it quickly for the highest price while investing as little as possible in renovations. With a limited budget and a little effort, you can greatly increase your home's appeal by focusing on what prospective buyers can see on their first visit. The experts at BuyOwner.com offer the following recommendations for preparing a house for sale and staging it for showings.



Tip #1: Refresh the exterior
First impressions count when it comes to selling a home. Most buyers won’t even leave their car if they don’t find the exterior appealing. The best ways to improve your home’s exterior include:
-Repairing and/or replacing trims, shutters, gutters, shingles, mailboxes, window screens, walkways and the driveway.
-Painting siding, trim and shutters and lamp and mailbox posts.
-Pressure washing vinyl siding, roofs, walkways and the driveway.
-Washing windows.

Tip #2: Spruce up the lawn and landscape
Home buyers associate the condition of your lawn and landscaping with the condition of your home’s interior. By improving the outside, you affect buyers’ impression of the entire property. The best ways to enhance the yard include:
-Mowing and edging the lawn.
-Seeding, fertilizing and weeding the lawn.
-Keeping up with regular lawn maintenance by frequent watering.
-Trimming and/or removing overgrown trees, shrubs and hedges.
-Weeding and mulching plant beds.
-Planting colorful seasonal flowers in existing plant beds.
-Removing trash, especially along fences and underneath hedges.
-Sweeping and weeding the street curb along your property.

Tip #3: Create an inviting entrance
The front door to your home should invite buyers to enter. The best ways to improve your entry include:
-Painting the front door in a glossy, cheerful color that complements the exterior.
-Cleaning, polishing and/or replacing the door knocker, locks and handles.
-Repairing and/or replacing the screen door, the doorbell, porch lights and house numbers.
-Placing a new welcome mat and a group of seasonal potted plants and flowers by the entry.

Tip #4: Reduce clutter and furniture
A buyer cannot envision living in your home without seeing it. A home filled with clutter or even too much furniture distracts buyers from seeing how they can utilize the space your home offers. If you have limited storage space, you may want to consider renting a temporary storage unit to place items you wish to keep. The best ways to declutter your home include:
-Holding a garage sale to prepare for your move, getting rid of unnecessary items.
-Removing clutter such as books, magazines, toys, tools, supplies and unused items from counter tops, open shelves, storage closets, the garage and basements.
-Storing out-of-season clothing and shoes out of sight to make bedroom closets seem roomier.
-Removing any visibly damaged furniture.
-Organizing bookshelves, closets, cabinets and pantries. Buyers will inspect everything.
-Putting away your personal photographs, unless they showcase the home. Let buyers see themselves in your home.
-De-personalize rooms as much as you can.

Tip #5: Clean, clean, clean
The cleanliness of your home also influences a buyer's perception of its condition. The appearance of the kitchen and bathrooms will play a considerable role in a buyer's decision process, so pay particular attention to these areas. The best ways to improve these areas include:
-Cleaning windows, fixtures, hardware, ceiling fans, vent covers and appliances.
-Cleaning carpets, area rugs and draperies.
-Cleaning inside the refrigerator, the stove and all cabinets.
-Removing stains from carpets, floors, counters, sinks, baths, tile, walls and grout.
-Eliminating house odors, especially if you have pets.
-Considering air fresheners or potpourri.

Tip #6: Make minor repairs
The small stuff does count, especially with first-time home buyers. Without dismissing the importance of repairing major items such as a leaky roof or plumbing, you do not need to spend money on replacing these items. Instead, focus on the minor repairs that will make your home visually appealing. The best ways to improve your home include:
-Repairing ceilings and wall cracks.
-Repairing faucets, banisters, handrails, cabinets, drawers, doors, floors and tile.
-Caulking and grouting tubs, showers, sinks and tile.
-Adding fresh paint to ceilings, walls, trim, doors and cabinets.
-Tightening door handles, drawer pulls, light switches and electrical plates.
-Lubricating door hinges and locks.

Tip #7: Showcase the kitchen
The heart of any home is the kitchen. If you are going to spend any money on renovations, this is the one area where you will see the greatest return. Even with a modest budget, focusing on a few key areas can make a great difference in getting the asking price for your property. The best ways to showcase the kitchen include:
-Replacing cabinet doors and hardware.
-Installing under-cabinet lighting.
-Replacing light fixtures.
-Replacing outdated shelving with pantry and cabinet organizers to maximize space.
-Baking cookies or cupcakes for a showing, to create a homey smell.

Tip #8: Stage furniture
Furniture placement can enhance the space of your home while giving buyers an idea of how to best utilize the space with their own belongings. Take some time to rethink how different areas in your house could be used. Some ideas to think about include:
-Moving couches and chairs away from walls in your sitting and family rooms to create cozy conversational groups.
-Creating a reading corner in the master bedroom.
-Clearing an empty room to set up a reading space.
-Turning an awkward space into a home office.
-Setting the dining room table with your best china.
-Set wine glasses in front of the fireplace or next to a Jacuzzi tub.

Tip #9: Light up the house
Create a sense of openness and cheerfulness in your home through its lighting. To improve the lighting try:
-Opening shades and drapes to let the sunshine warm and brighten rooms.
-Installing brighter light bulbs in rooms that tend to be dark.
-Adding additional lamps for ambient lighting.
-Turning on all the lights for a showing.

Tip #10: Add fresh touches
You can easily add color and style to your home by adding fresh touches throughout. Some ideas to consider include:
-Placing fresh floral arrangements in the entry and master bedroom.
-Placing bowls of bright-colored fruit in the family room and the kitchen.
-Filling an empty corner with a potted leafy plant.
-Setting new hand soap in the bathrooms.
-Displaying fresh towels near sinks.