Tips and tricks for selling your home during the winter season:

I didn’t have any requests or questions this week, but with winter approaching, I thought this might be a good opportunity to share some tips for marketing your home this winter.
First and foremost, you are probably asking yourself, or asking your agent if you should even keep your home on the market through the winter at all. This has to be answered only by you, though in my opinion, if you are not planning on traveling to Arizona for the winter, why not? Sure, I understand a winter sale and moving in the winter can be a hassle, but do know that most buyers probably feel the same way. There’s always a good chance a leaseback could be negotiated easier than you might think. If you are planning on packing up to a warmer climate this winter, what are the expenses of keeping your home operational, such as keeping the driveway cleared of snow and heating expenses? This is where a very serious conversation with your realtor might be a good idea – if you are maintaining a quarter mile of road all winter for the purpose of helping to bring a sale, that could get expensive. On a final note, we all know the inventory reduces substantially during the winter months. It certainly won’t hurt to use that lack of inventory to your advantage, with less competing listings on the market. Believe it or not, homes do still sell in the winter months. In the summer of 2013 from June to October the county absorbed about 94 home sales. Last winter, from that November through the end of May there were about 131 sales according to the Teton Multiple List Service! Now that I have you convinced, check out a few tips and tricks for winter marketing below.

- As mentioned above, snow removal is key. Not very often, but I have been in the position where a buyer simply wouldn’t look at a house because of the amount of snow they would have to track through to get to the property. A little bit of ice melt or sand on the steps doesn’t hurt either.
- Heat, buyers don’t want to spend too much time in a house that isn’t very warm. Programmable thermostats can be a wonderful thing. You’re probably already used to turning your heating system down while you are away, simply program the thermostat to warm things up 30 minutes prior to your showing time. If you are an absentee owner, consider a smart thermostat you can turn up remotely. This is also a great way to monitor the temperature of your home without being there as well.
-Use holiday decorating to your advantage. Don’t overdo it, but tasteful decorations can create a comfortable atmosphere for most buyers.
-Utilize timers, it’s a great way to create a welcoming and cozy feel. Just like using your thermostat for your fireplace or furnace, it’s a great way to have a crock pot come on before a showing. Don’t overload those timers though, they can only handle so many things at once safely.
-Open those heavy shades. Many of us use heavy curtains or shades to act as an insulator in the winter time. If you have a showing though, it doesn’t hurt to leave them open for the day. Winter is already dark, let some light into your house.
-Clean up the yard. Winter brings a white blanket of snow that creates a very clean look throughout the valley floor. However, it shows, how do I say stains – very easily. We all know about that yellow snow that our pets make for us in our yards.

Here’s to a busy winter season!

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Radon – what is it, how serious, and what can I do?

Disclaimer: Please perform your own research in regards to the health risks of radon, and the benefits of radon mitigation systems.

Radon is a radioactive odorless gas. It is caused by the breakdown of uranium in the Earth’s soil underground, and permeates into homes, offices – anywhere it can be contained. The greatest risk for exposure is in the home, where most people spend the majority of their time. Because radon is gaseous, it is easily inhaled, therefore the biggest health risk associated with the gas is lung cancer. That risk has been known to be amplified with those who smoke. Radon can also be present in water. The greatest risk associated is the release of radon as water temperature increases, such as during your shower. Mosts tests show that the risk of lung cancer due to the gas being inhaled is far greater than health risks during consumption. According to the EPA, radon causes more deaths than drunk driving per year.

Now that I have panicked my readers – radon has been known to be found all over the United States, not just locally. Fortunately, it can be tested for, and mitigated with relative ease. Radon is measured in picocuries per liter, or pCi/L. Radon can be tested with both short-term and long-term testing. Radon levels fluctuate with the season, the EPA recommends testing both short and long term, and considers 4 pCi/L or lower “safe(er) levels”. Test kits can be purchased from your local building inspector, or online. Radon monitors are also available.

Now, the “what can I do part” You can start by being proactive, and ventilating your home as much as possible, within reason. Keep in mind that the air we breathe outside can even have a small amount of radon. If your home is on a crawl space, keep the vents open when you can to create a cross ventilation below the living area of your home. This alone can dramatically decrease radon levels. Obviously, not all homes are constructed with a crawl space. Basements can be notorious for higher radon levels, as well as homes with a slab on grade type construction. Second, look into a radon mitigation system. There are several types of mitigation systems. All of them can be very effective, and dramatically, (almost entirely) mitigate the gas. Usually, it’s a form of depressurization or suction – in other words a fan that creates a draw beneath the slab or floor system of your home that pumps the gas outside. Homes recently constructed will likely even have built-in radon resistant features, where a fan can be added to further reduce the levels the radon in your home. Either way, a radon mitigation system can be added to any home, whether or not pre-existing features exist.

One time use tests can be as little as $20.00, and mitigation systems can range from 500 to $3000.00 depending on the application. Feel free to email me for more information!

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4 Tips to Stage Your Home for a Quick Sale

Selling a home can be stressful. Selling your home quickly is the best way to relieve that stress. The following tips provide simple and easy ways to make your home desirable to prospective buyers for a quick and easy sale.

 

Clean, Clean, Clean!

This is perhaps the most important item on the list. Don’t assume that if your home is clean enough for you that it is clean enough for everyone. In fact, you should assume that your buyers’ standards are impossibly high – because they are. Nothing turns off potential buyers like someone else’s dirt. Scour every surface in your home until it shines.

 

Remove Personal Items

While you may absolutely adore that novelty “gone fishing” plaque that your uncle Morris bought you for Christmas last year, your buyers won’t. In order for them to see themselves living in your home, they must be able to picture their own things there, not yours. Remove personal items such as family pictures, knickknacks, and other décor that is expressive of your tastes and personality. Hang tasteful but generic art prints on the walls and place neutral decorations in place of your own.

 

De-clutter

Remove items from closets and cupboards that you won’t use in the next few months. Empty your closets of as many clothing items as possible. When prospective buyers look at your home, they will check these areas to see how much storage space is available. Crowded countertops and storages spaces packed with your stuff will make buyers think that there is limited space. Clearing out closets and cupboards will give the impression that there is more than enough storage space in your home.

 

Rework Your Furniture Layout

Examine objectively how your furniture is arranged. Does the living room invite cozy conversation? Is there enough room for people to move freely around the furniture in the dining room? Do the bedrooms feel relaxed and comfortable? Remove any furniture that makes your home feel crowded. Again, buyers want to be able to picture their own furniture in your home, so make it easy for them to do so.

 

For more tips on staging your home for a quick sale, contact Teton Valley Realty today. Our expert realtors can help take the worry out of selling your home.

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Can Social Media Really Help You Sell Your Home?

Having trouble selling your home? Have you considered using social media to help you do so? Here are three easy tips that will make selling your home using social media a breeze.

 

  1. Start early. You don’t have to wait until your home has been listed to start putting out feelers. Generating interest early by putting up notices and pictures on social media sites might just garner you a list of eager buyers when you finally put it up for sale. Use Facebook to promote your house and ask friends to share it. This is a great way to spread the word.

 

  1. Tweet about your area. One Seattle woman followed #movingtoseattle on Twitter and responded by tweeting a link to the site with her home’s listing. When a woman tweeted about wanting to visit the best local restaurants in Seattle before her move, this smart seller provided the link to a Seattle restaurant blog. Another man selling a home in Arizona used the winter season in his favor. He tweeted about the 70 degree weather in December and got an immediate increase in interest for his home. Be proactive and creative. You never know who is looking.

 

  1. Use high quality photos and video. Take pictures that showcase the best features of your home. Try to do it at a time of year when the landscaping is green and colorful. Take a room by room video with commentary about the great features of each area of the house. Talk about what you love about it and why. Post your pictures and videos on multiple sites such as Facebook and YouTube. Home buyers love to see lots of visuals. Clean up your yard and your house before taking pictures or video. Even a little bit of clutter will be an eyesore.

 

Just a small effort on social media sites can have a surprising effect on how quickly you sell your home. Getting the word out to family and friends through social media makes it easy for them to share with their friends, which will get your message out farther and faster.

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CC&R’s, what you need to know

CC&R’s, short for covenants, conditions, and restrictions are basically written and recorded rules of the neighborhood or subdivision. It’s important that these rules be recorded to make them binding and enforceable. They should also conform to all laws as well as local government regulations and requirements. When it comes down to a dispute with a lot or homeowner, it’s important for the subdivision to have CC&R’s that have been written and recorded correctly.

The purpose for these restrictions is to ensure conformity in a subdivision. Most of the rules are just long winded ways of saying that you have to keep your lawn mowed and weed free. Some developments have stricter rules than others. Some require certain design aspects when constructing a new home, where you can and can’t park a trailer, and so on. For the most part however, the rules are considered to be for the good of the neighborhood.

When working with Buyers, I often have requests to spefically look at lots without these restrictions. Sometimes it’s only because they want to build a house smaller than what they assume most developments would allow. However, based on that example, there are a number of developments that require a minimum of only 900 square feet, which is pretty minimal. Some developments are even along Ski Hill Road surprisingly. When searching for a home or a piece of land based on your special needs prohibited by most restrictions, it’s important to remember that all CC&R’s are not the same. Some are only a few pages long, with very few restrictions. All of the above considered, don’t rule out being in a subdivision if you can help it. Consult with your agent, most experienced agents have an understanding of the general rules in each development. Another way to explore subdivision opportunities is to take a drive around the development. Usually, if all of the homes have trailers on the side of the house or in the driveway, trailers are allowed. If all of the homes have metal roofs, you might find out if a comp shingle roof can be used. Use caution however, this is not a guaranteed way of understanding what is or isn’t allowed.

You might ask yourself how or who to contact with some of these questions. Our brokerage can usually get you an electronic copy of the CC&Rs for free, any time. If we have it on file, we can also send you contact information for the homeowner’s association (HOA) who would ultimately be responsible for enforcing the restrictions.

To conclude, be advised that CC&R’s are not the only way to restrict uses or enforce rules with a property. Even a piece of land or a home that is not located within a subdivision can still carry deed restrictions which works similarly, though I will cover those in another Ask The Expert” column!

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What can you tell me about water wells in the area?

We have good water. It’s full of minerals, which also causes some of the hard water deposits you see in your bathrooms and kitchens. I know we are not talking about soft water systems, but most people don’t realize that there’s a good possibility your home either has a system in place, or hookups ready for a system to be installed. Almost all of the newer constructed homes have hookups – remember the plastic pipe loop next to your washer and dryer? That’s what it’s for. I’ll save you from what I know about ion exchange in regards to how these systems work. Back to wells. I decided to do this write-up because of an increasing number of buyers interested in lots that are uncertain about the cost of drilling a well, and bringing in other utilities. As far as the cost, it’s pretty simple. I interviewed a few local well drilling companies, it’s about $40/foot including a well casing. The Idaho Department of Water Resources requires a steel casing, that is tagged with a well tag number. Almost every well drilled in recent history is then recorded with the department. The department’s website, idwr.idaho.gov provides a well driller’s research tool in which you can pull up information on each well drilled that has been reported, called a well driller’s report. The well driller’s report will tell the approximate site, the types of ground materials, and at what depth. As you would guess, it also reports the exact depth of the well. The reason I am telling you this of course; the next logical question after understanding the price per foot, would be the depth. Usually, you will find a neighbor who has a well in the same area in which you are thinking about drilling a well. Now, there are no guarantees your well will be the same depth of your neighbors, but you can bet that it will be pretty close. The well driller’s research tool can be daunting unless you understand how to search by township and range, but there is also a way of searching by last name etc. On a final note, you might be thinking to yourself, “Why don’t I just buy a lot in town and hook up to the city water and sewer system?” You can! Just remember, the city will charge a hook up fee for water and for sewer, and it’s not all that cheap. The cheapest way of doing it? Locate a lot in a development with a pre-existing community well system. They’re usually pretty reliable, and fairly inexpensive to hook up to.

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Seller or owner financing, what’s the deal?

Seller or owner financing, what’s the deal?

I have run into this question lately more than ever. I’m not sure why, if it is the sudden turn in the economy, or otherwise. As a Seller, you first might ask, “What’s the point, why bother?” There are a number of scenarios in which it makes sense, for example; the property will not appraise for the asking price. Now, you might be wondering why the buyer would be willing to pay more than the appraised value, what an expert in the marketplace believes the property is worth. I mentioned that sudden turn in the economy, and most of us are feeling the pinch. In some cases, property value is a rising faster than market data can suggest, or otherwise support. The same thing happened as the the housing market was collapsing, just on the flip side of things. There are several other scenarios, and it doesn’t always lead to a buyer that is not qualified, or cannot get financing.

The next question I usually receive is “Who takes the Buyers money?” That question can be a little tough to answer. Really, it just depends on the agreements, and the purchase contract. In my opinion, the easiest solution is to work with a local title company. Most title companies are set up with a long-term escrow department. A long term escrow is basically an arrangement where an unbiased, usually unrelated third party is responsible for the documentation, and funds. The company can accept, and distribute funds according to the agreement written by the Buyer and Seller. When the owner of a property acts as the lender, the owner usually doesn’t want to have anything to do with the property there after. They want the buyer to be responsible for everything related to the property, and that would include property taxes, maintenance, utilities, and so on. That being said, the company can also collect an estimated amount for the payment of property taxes and homeowner’s insurance, just like any other lender would require. The Seller is also probably going to want to receive is sizeable down payment, as well as an interest payment. There are several things to consider, and it’s not uncommon to get an attorney involved when creating the terms. Those terms are then sent to the long-term escrow or title company.

The third question I usually receive is “How the heck would I do all of that on my own?” That’s also good question, but the easiest to answer. Business professionals such as real estate agents are usually ready for anything that comes their way, including a situation where Seller financing is needed. Real estate agents are not attorneys, so sometimes they will work closely with an attorney to draft those terms, but you certainly wouldn’t be on your own when working with a good agent or brokerage!

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Is the Spec Home Market Back?

Spec Home FrontIs the spec home market back? I think so. At least, it’s coming. The problem some spec home investors are going to find is the increase in the price of lots for this type of home. Usually, spec homes are not state-of-the-art custom homes with shake shingle roofs. They are, however, usually quality starter homes built to Idaho Code, and specifically snow load capacity etc.

For an investor, every expense has to be considered. Everything has to pencil. Utility connection fees, City impact fees, building permit costs, excavation, contractors, subcontractors, landscaping, everything for a finished, salable product. Holding costs and real estate commissions must also be considered. My point is, a big part of making sure the investment is sound, is making sure that every expense is necessary, and hopefully as cheap as possible without sacrificing quality and desirability. With the increasing price of buildable lots, it might be worth considering making that purchase sooner rather than later, in anticipation of the spec market we’re talking about.

I went ahead and picked a great little subdivision (I’ll call it ABC Subdivision) in Driggs for my analysis on lot prices and home prices. First, lot prices to show the importance of investing in land – sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, the real estate commission and the local Board office has gotten pretty sticky about agents disclosing sale prices without a cause, I could argue that, but I think I’ll play it safe – hence the non-disclosure of actual prices, and the real name of the subdivision.

So, for lot sales: From 2011 to 2012, the average sold price of lots in ABC rose exactly 25%. The average sale price from 2012 to 2013 rose a little over 47%. The last sale in 2013 is about 14% less than the cheapest listing currently available in ABC. Don’t think that you’ve missed the bandwagon, they are still dirt cheap (literally) and they are still priced about 70 percent cheaper than they sold for in the height of the market.

So, moving on to home sales to justify my comments about the up-and-coming spec home market: From 2011 to 2012, home prices stayed about the same, only rising just over 5%. However, from 2012 to 2013, home prices rose about 13 percent. On top of that, the most recent of those sales are within what I believe to be spec home margins. Current home price listings, that seem to be getting a fair amount of activity are priced 47% higher than the average sold price in 2013. I did my best to make these calculations as accurate as possible, and base them on the median price per square foot, per year. Source: Teton Multiple List Service.

That all being said, I would of course love to let you in on my opinions of the best lots yet available in Teton Valley!

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Mortgages – Where to get started in 2014

I have had several transactions since the (new) lending changes took effect in 2014. Unfortunately the sentiment from almost all of my buyers is frustration with lenders.

I’ve spoken with one of our local lenders, Cathy Starrett at Stearns Lending asking what I can do to better serve my buyers and prepare them for the roller coaster process that financing real estate seems to be. Cathy had some good tips and I wanted to elaborate here.

- Buyer Confidence and Trust It seems that buyers and lenders have both lost the human element of trust with downturn in our real estate market. Buyers seem to have lost trust in Realtors, appraisers and financial institutions. It is understandable with home values that have literally been on a landslide for the past few years. However, it appears that the tide has shifted. “REALTORS® generally expect prices to increase over the next 12 months at a modest pace with the median expected price increase at 3.9 percent, according to the latest REALTORS® Confidence Index. Demand has slowed somewhat because of the increase in home values and the cost of borrowing from higher mortgage rates and mortgage insurance premiums for FHA loans. The modest pace of economic growth has also kept the lid on price growth.” -National Association of Realtors

State Median Price Expectation

State Median Price Expectation

Of course, the other side of the coin is lender trust. Lenders have also lost trust in home owners. With the high rate of foreclosure during the downturn, lenders went from very lenient guidelines to very strict ones. We are now starting to see the balancing of the scales, and qualified buyers are able to get financing at very favorable rates.

- Confusion and Miscommunication  There are so many sales pitches for buyers. Many are unsure where to even start. Should the search begin with looking at homes? Talking to a Realtor? Talking to a mortgage lender? Stalk sites like Zillow, Trulia? My answer is contact both a Realtor and a mortgage lender early on. Most of the time a buyer will have to have a pre-qualification or pre-approval letter from their lender to even submit an offer. It also doesn’t serve anyone for a buyer to be looking at homes they can’t qualify for. Cathy says “When looking for a mortgage, you don’t have to apply to ask questions.  And no question is silly…after all, how many times will you be purchasing a house?  Get the facts!!  Find out if the lender is focused on you…or the loan.  Does the lender have your best interest at heart?  A good lender will listen to you and can give you advice to move you closer to your goals and secure a loan that is suited to your needs.” Also, be wary of some advertised rates. While the rate may be very appealing, there could also be hidden fees or discount points (cost of the rate) that aren’t apparent at first glance. Find out what the true cost of a loan is before applying. Ask your lender for a Good Faith Estimate (GFE).

- Finding the RIGHT lender Start by asking someone that may have recently purchased a home. Ask your Realtor, call your financial adviser, get referrals. Then CALL these people. The person you’ll be working with is human, and different personalities work better with certain people. You’ll want to take a few minutes to have a lender answer your questions. If you feel comfortable talking to this person and you like the rates you’re being quoted, then chances are you’ve found a good “fit” and can look forward to a pretty good experience. Take control of your loan by talking with a live loan officer who can give you answers.

- Don’t get frustrated It may seem that the lender needs to know everything about you for the application. Actually all the lender needs to know about is:

  • Can you afford the loan
  • Do you qualify for a particular program?
  • Do you have the ability to repay?

The ability to repay the loan will include your credit report (score and proof of paying your liabilities on time) and your stability of income.  You will, however, need to provide quite a lot of details (read: paperwork) about these topics.  The goal with fitting a loan program to your needs is to avoid financial hardships. This is the lender’s way of ensuring they are not risking losing money on a home that a buyer can not pay for, as well as keeping a borrower from stretching too thin while they repay the loan. I know you’ve heard it time and time again: Check your credit score! Know what your numbers are, or if you have some clouds on your report that need cleaned up before a lender can help you purchase a home. One of the best websites for obtaining a free, annual, credit score is to go to www.annualcreditreport.com. This website will give you all three credit bureau scores.  Most other sites will only give you one score.  Lenders usually get all three scores and will use the middle score.

- Your Realtor and Lender It is also important for the two to communicate. Both your Realtor and Lender need to keep each other updated and when you find that symbiotic relationship, it makes the transaction so much easier for a buyer. Ask your lender about communicating with your Realtor.

Ultimately, the lender is trying to help you as much as your Realtor. There are times when it seems like a lender is obsessing over every minute detail of your financial life. This is not a personal vendetta. The lender is trying to make sure that you are able to repay the loan you’re asking for. With the changes in the underwriting requirements that occurred in the beginning of 2014, lenders are cautiously moving forward. Buyers can help themselves by having income and expense documentation easily accessible. Get your copies of your tax returns in order so when you’re ready to hit the gas, you aren’t stalled by missing paperwork. Most lenders will give a buyer a checklist early on to make sure that the majority of the documentation is received in one package; don’t procrastinate. It may be the difference in getting the home you love or missing out because you aren’t ready with your lenders approval letter.  Every indication is telling us the market is heating up, buyers have excellent opportunities as well as incentive. Make the most of this market by finding a lender, Realtor and a home that will work for you!

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New economic development projects in Victor!

City of Victor

April 9, 2014“Lighter-Quicker-Cheaper” Economic Development comes to Victor! Your ideas and thoughts on how to enhance Victor’s public spaces (along Main Street and Center Street, parks & pathways) are needed!

Would benches, picnic areas, more trees, and water fountains encourage you and your family to spend more time on Main Street or in Victor’s parks? Do you appreciate the hanging flower baskets on Main Street during the summer and the holiday decorations during the winter? Would you like to see public art like interactive sculptures or murals in Victor? Would you post news and flyers for events on a community bulletin board in a public space?

These examples above are just a few of a limitless amount of small scale economic development projects that could enhance life in Victor and you are invited to contribute your ideas! (See more ideas for inspiration here and here.)

The kickoff for this project will take place next Wednesday, April 17th. See the schedule for the day in the flyer above. If you are interested in participating in one, several or all of the sessions please e-mail a RSVP to Brittany Skelton, City Planner, at brittanys@victorcityidaho.com If you are unable to participate next Wednesday look for updates in your e-mail, on the City of Victor website, and on the City of Victor Facebook page.

- City of Victor

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