Maintaining your home’s value is critical, but home maintenance is sort of boring and can be expensive. However, your home should be maintained as if you’re always ready to put it on the market, and not just for potential buyers, but for your own enjoyment and peace of mind. Just like your car, parts of your house wear out after a period of time and have to be repaired or replaced. Keeping your house in good repair will pay dividends in the long run and will eliminate the need to do all of the work at once if you should have to put your house on the market.
The Land Down Under
Probably the most neglected area of your house, the crawl space needs to be inspected, either by you or a contractor, regularly to make sure that everything is as it should be. You should inspect your crawl space regularly for wood rot, mold, insects and other pests, fallen insulation, foundation cracks, and moisture. All too often, sellers find out that something is wrong under their house when they undergo a buyer’s home inspection. By then, the problem may have gotten to the point where it will be expensive to repair, when it could have been taken care of less expensively with a little due diligence. For example, a crawl space dehumidifier or vent fan is an inexpensive fix for moisture in your crawl space. The optimal moisture level is 55% or less, so if your moisture level exceeds this, mold and mildew can begin to grow and cause wood rot. High moisture content also attracts termites and other insects that thrive on the water in the wood. So, periodic inspections of your crawl space may save you thousands of dollars in repairs in the long run.
Windows on the World
Replacement windows can be costly, but windows and window frames wear out over time. If your house was built more than 30 years ago, your windows need to be inspected for rot, broken seals and damaged screens. Vinyl windows with low-e glass (glass that has been coated to reflect heat) have become standard for new home construction, but homes built before 1990 likely have wood windows that will deteriorate and need to be repaired and/or painted, especially on the exterior. The only way to determine what kind of TLC your windows need is to have a reputable window company inspect them and provide an estimate for repairs or replacement. Depending on what type of windows and glass you choose, and how many windows you need to repair/replace, the bill can run into the thousands of dollars. However, damaged and rotting windows will definitely have an adverse effect your home’s value and marketability.
Up on the Roof
Your roof is another area that wears out over time. Most roofs are good for about 30 years, depending on the quality and type of roof. For instance, a tin roof will last much longer than a composite shingle roof, but it needs to be painted periodicallya to maintain the integrity of the roof. A tile roof lasts a long time, but is expensive and requires additional framing because of its weight, and the underlayment will have to be replaced every 20-30 years. A cedar shake roof, if installed properly, should last up to 40 years, but the shakes should be cleaned and coated every few years and it’s expensive to replace. A composite roof lasts about 30 years and is probably the least expensive to replace, but a roof that is in disrepair will definitely have buyers seeing dollar signs, and not in a good way. Replacing your roofing is one of the least sexy and most expensive home maintenance items, but it is critical to your home’s overall well being.
Color Your World
Paint is one of the least expensive ways to maintain your home. Over time, walls show wear and tear like anything else in your house. It’s a good idea to go around your home occasionally and clean finger marks and scuffs off your walls. However, eventually painting the interior and/or exterior of your home will be necessary. Painting is one chore that you can do yourself, unless you are seriously averse to painting. A good painting contractor is worth their weight in gold. Choosing paint colors is a highly personal task, but if you’re planning to sell your house any time soon, pick neutral or soft colors. If you go with wild or vibrant colors, remember that you will probably have to paint over them if you plan to sell. Even though many buyers personalize homes with their own paint choices, crazy colors or textures can repulse buyers.
Flooring is another surface in your home that needs to be repaired or replaced after several years. Carpeting is especially prone to serious wear. It should be cleaned on a regular basis, but eventually, it will have to be replaced. Due to allergy and asthma problems, carpet has fallen out of favor with many people in recent years, and they prefer hard surfaces – hardwood, tile, marble or laminate – to reduce the allergens that get trapped in carpeting. However, even hard surface floors need to be maintained properly. Tile is extremely durable, but it can crack and the grout has to be sealed and cleaned every few years. Hardwoods are easy to clean and maintain, but they will need to be refinished after several years, especially in a home with pets that have claws that can scratch or gouge them. Marble is also durable, easy to maintain, and beautiful, but it can be slippery and will get scratched and marked with time. Laminate is a synthetic that can look like various surfaces, but is less expensive and much more durable than many hard surface floors. However, some buyers see laminate as less than desirable because it is synthetic.
The Heart of the Home
The kitchen is often called the “heart of the home,” and as such, it gets a lot of use. As a result, countertops gets stained and marred, cabinets get dirty and worn, floors taking a beating with spills and heavy use, and appliances break down. Cabinets are especially prone to show wear and tear, but the good news is that they can be resurfaced more inexpensively than they can be replaced. However, if you’re changing the style of your kitchen or upgrading, you will need to replace cabinets, which can be expensive. Countertops, depending on the type you choose, can be replaced economically, but some surfaces – granite, marble, concrete – are fairly expensive and can run up to $100 per square foot. Solid surface countertops, such as Corian, are less expensive, but also may not be considered high end by buyers. Less expensive still are laminate and wood countertops, which can still be attractive, but may not be desirable if you’re trying to sell. Flooring can run from hardwood to tile to vinyl, but all of it gets a lot of hard use in the kitchen, and will eventually have to be replaced. So, too, appliances are meant to last about 10 to15 years, so if your appliances are older than 15 years, you may want to replace them if you plan to sell. The same rules apply to bathroom cabinets, counters and flooring because they get as much use as the kitchen. There is an old adage that kitchens and bathrooms sell houses, and there is still some truth to that.
Keep on the Grass
Rather than keep off the grass, you need to stay on top of lawn and garden maintenance just as diligently as you do with house maintenance. The exterior of your home creates a first impression, at which you get only one chance, that carries into the interior. A beautifully kept lawn, well trimmed shrubbery and lovely flower beds all work to create an impression of someone who cares lovingly for their home. When you do decide to sell, the exterior of your home is what buyers will use to judge the rest of what they see, so good curb appeal will create the expectation of a positive experience when they tour the inside of your home. If you enjoy working outside, it will be evident from the condition of the grounds around your home. If you don’t enjoy it, consider hiring a yard maintenance company. It will be well worth the dollars spent in the long run. Regular care of your lawn and gardens will enable you to avoid doing a big, expensive cleanup down the road. As with other aspects of your home, a messy yard and gardens signal red flags to buyers who will assume the rest of your house is in disrepair. However, a beautiful exterior invites the buyer into the house.
Whether you are selling or not, keeping your home in good condition makes it not only lovely, but more livable while you are there. Don’t just fix up your house for someone else; keep it in good condition for your own personal enjoyment as well. If, for some reason, you must sell suddenly, you will not have to work overtime to make your house attractive to buyers; it will already be ready for prime time.
We are here to assist you in finding ways to keep your home in good condition, to sell, we’re ready to assist with that as well. It’s our privilege to be of service to you. Contact us today!
A True Story
A buyer went out on their own after seeing several properties with a Realtor. The buyer decided to buy a For Sale By Owner without the Realtor’s help or advice. Because the seller was not willing to pay a Realtor’s fee, the buyer thought they were somehow getting a better deal on the house and would save money. The Realtor got a panicked call from the buyer a few days later asking for help in getting out of the contract because the buyer quickly realized that they had overpaid for the property. However, the Realtor could do nothing for the buyer because a Real Estate Purchase Agreement is a binding legal document between buyer and seller, and without a Buyer Brokerage Agreement, the Realtor had no standing to intervene or offer any services. The buyer was stuck with the house because they had agreed to waive the home inspection and the property appraised for the purchase price. Had the buyer realized the value of having the Realtor to advise on the purchase price and negotiate with the seller, they either would have been able to get a better deal or realized that they were not going to get a good deal, enabling them to keep looking for a home with the Realtor to help them.
Reason #1: Experience
Using a Realtor to assist in the buying of your home is a wise decision because we are trained in the process of buying and selling property, and we know how to help you locate suitable properties, negotiate the best deal for you, and get you through the process as smoothly as possible. Real estate transactions have many moving parts, which can be confusing and frustrating without competent guidance to navigate the entire process from qualifying for a loan to closing on the contract. Even when buying new construction, you should be represented by a Realtor. Many a client has walked into a new construction situation dealing with a site agent who may be a nice person, but is representing the seller. In that situation, without your own Realtor, you are an unrepresented party, with virtually no bargaining power and nobody to look out for your best interests. So, when we ask you to sign a Buyer Brokerage Agreement, we are providing you with a legally empowered representative who is duty bound to work for you. We are licensed by the state, which includes extensive course work and testing, and required to stay current with continuing education classes that enable us to know all of the current rules and regulations and keep abreast of changes in the laws concerning real estate transactions.
Reason #2: Negotiations
Realtors act as your advisor and go-between during negotiations with a seller. There are many issues to consider in fashioning an offer for a property, and we are trained to know what needs to be considered in making an offer, how to put you in the best position to be competitive (especially in a multiple offer situation), and to be aware of the pitfalls associated with certain types of property or demands made by sellers. The Virginia Real Estate Purchase Agreement is a long, complicated document that contains a lot of legal jargon and provides for numerous provisions of the sale of property. There are additional documents that cover certain types of properties that must be included, and we are educated and trained to know the proper paperwork for each type of transaction.
Reason #3: Pricing
One of the most common complaints from buyers is that they feel that they overpaid for the property. Buyers should always feel that they got the best price for the area and the market at the time. We have the expertise and the tools to know when a property is overpriced or priced to generate multiple bids. We can also navigate the mazes of short sales and foreclosures, and provide advice on investment properties. Knowing how the property is priced relative to other similar properties in the area and the general market in the area can be a huge advantage in getting the best deal for you as a buyer. Sellers naturally want to get the most money for their property, and buyers want to get the best bang for their real estate buck. We have a legal responsibility to get the best deal for you and to be attentive to your particular needs in a real estate transaction. We act in a fiduciary capacity, which entails being your advocate in a real estate transaction. It is our primary responsibility in representing you.
Reason #4: Contracts
A Purchase Agreement is a legally binding document between you and the seller. While we are not an actual party to the contract, when there is a Buyer Brokerage Agreement in place, we are legally bound to represent you in fashioning an offer, presenting it to the seller, and bringing it to fruition, also called ratification. We can explain all of the provisions of the contract to you and how each one affects you as a buyer. We are trained to help you complete each part of the contract so that it protects you as much as possible and provides for the most effective arrangements for your benefit.
Reason #5: Understanding of Current Market Conditions
There’s an old saying that the three most important things in real estate are location, location, location! To some extent, it’s true because the market for homes varies from location to location, depending on a variety of factors. Some of those factors, such as schools, demographics, and crime rates, we are not legally allowed to address, but there are many online resources available for buyers to get that type of information. However, we are able to discuss interest rates, older versus newer buildings, areas subject to revitalization, proximity to major transportation arteries, values relative to other properties in each area, and pricing factors that enable you to get the property that is right for you. An area as expansive and diverse and Richmond has a lot of factors that contribute to market conditions in areas of the city, such as availability of shopping, types of housing (condos, townhomes, single family, etc) available, ability to get downtown or to the airport easily, and diverse geographic factors (rural, suburban, urban). In addition, we attend meetings that keep us abreast of changes in metro Richmond and the surrounding counties, as well as bills in the state legislature and nationally that potentially affect the real estate market. A big part of our job is to know the market so that we can provide sound advice to you as the buyer. We also have connections to reliable contractors who can perform needed work on your home when the time comes for you to have your house painted, replace the roof, resurface your driveway, replace windows, and myriad other maintenance issues that keep your home beautiful and preserve its value.
We are available to you seven days a week, and we work hard to ensure that you are well represented from the time you sign the Buyer Brokerage Agreement to the time you sign the closing papers on your home and beyond. We keep in contact and are ready to be of service to you long after you have settled in your new home. Contact us when you are ready to buy your first home, your next home or your retirement home. Whether it’s an existing home, new construction, a single family home or a townhome, we will work hard to ensure that you get the home you want for the best deal you can make. We are ready to be of assistance, and it’s our privilege to be of service to you.
Maryann Whitaker, PhD, MRP, Realtor
If you plan to buy a house, you will need to get a mortgage and qualify while carrying your existing debt, and yes, that includes your student loans. Over 44 million Americans carry student loans, averaging approximately $37,000 each. If you pay $300/month, it will take you about 17 years to pay off your student debt. So, living with student loans can be a financial burden for those just starting out in the job market.
Those of you in the 22-39 age range carry the largest percentage of student loan debt, and the average age of first time home buyers is 32 years old. So, student debt becomes part of the credit picture for a large percentage of first time buyers. However, student loans don’t have to keep you from realizing your financial goals, especially the goal of home ownership. Student loans are only one element of your overall credit picture, and paying on them promptly will have a positive effect on your credit score.
First Time Homebuyers
Since millenials make up the greater percentage of first time home buyers, let’s start with a breakdown of what kinds of mortgages are available for first time buyers. Mortgage loans are broken down into 4 basic types: FHA, VA, USDA, and Conventional. The vast majority of first time homebuyers opt to get into some variation of the FHA, VA, or USDA loan. These loans are appealing because they require the least money out of pocket for a down payment. For example, FHA requires only 3.5%, so on a purchase price of $200,000, the buyer needs only a $7000 down payment. Conventional loans (which aren’t backed by the U.S. government) vary in the amount of down payment required based on a buyer’s eligibility. VA and USDA loans do not require a down payment, and there are loan products specifically geared towards teachers and first responders. So, even with student loan debt, there are a lot of avenues for first time buyers.
Mortgage Money Guidelines
After the mortgage meltdown of 2008, the heavyweights of mortgage lending, Fannie Mae and Freddie MAC, introduced new guidelines regarding debt calculations on student loans. For instance, if you apply for a FHA, VA, or USDA mortgage to buy your first home and you have $80,000 in student debt, your lender is going to have to count 1% of your loan balance or $800 a month as your current monthly obligation. Adding $800 to your monthly debt obligations can significantly affect your ability to qualify for a mortgage. However, Fannie Mae and Freddie MAC have amended their original guidelines for conventional loans. Below are guidelines you can follow.
Both Fannie Mae and Freddie MAC offer conventional loans for as little as 3% down if your credit is above a 680.
So if you have student debt, and want to buy a house, what should you do?
There are two important things to focus on, credit and IBR (income based repayment).
The higher your credit score, the better loans and better rates you can qualify for. There are several free credit reporting sources, such as freecreditreport.com or creditsesame.com, that doesn’t affect your credit score every time you check and offer advice on how to improve your credit. Your goal is an aggregate score of 680 or higher.
It is very helpful to contact your student loan servicer and apply for an IBR. In the original example we saw that a lender would have to count $800/month towards your existing student loan debt. If your servicer calculates your income and issues an IBR of $50, that is the figure a lender can use to qualify you for a mortgage.
Having a pre-qualification letter lets you know how much you can qualify for and will probably be required by a seller who will want to know that you have talked to a lender and are a serious buyer.
Keep track of your credit score and make spending decisions wisely. For example, once you have decided that you’re ready to become a home owner, use credit cards wisely and delay any large credit purchases, such as cars or major appliances, so that your credit score remains intact. Check with your debt holders to see if you are eligible to have an adjusted monthly payment for your existing debt, and make sure that you make all of your payments on time. Of course, your income is also a big factor in determining your eligibility for a home loan.
This might all sound overwhelming, but that is why I am here. I can pre-qualify you and walk you through the mortgage process and help you get a better idea of where you are and where you need to be. Work closely with me and your Realtor for a successful home buying experience.
Senior Loan Officer
Village Bank Mortgage
When Home Inspections Began
Home inspections were once an unregulated business, had few standards and no licensing, but has evolved tremendously over the years into a common and necessary component of the real estate process. Today, a home inspection is almost universally recommended by real estate professionals.
The industry started in the 1960s by contractors & remodelers looking to make some additional money. While it did provide limited protection to buyers, the industry was largely unregulated, unstandardized and unlicensed. The first standards of practice were created in the 70’s, and we saw further upgrades to the SOP as well as courses, regulations and testing.
In the 90’s the boom began and we saw home inspections performed on over 75% of transactions. Several franchise organizations began to emerge at this time and there was shift towards full-service, professional companies. Many independent home inspectors at that time adapted or left the industry. Professional organizations began to create standards of practice and some states began requiring inspectors to be licensed. The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) is the professional trade organization that sets the standard for home inspectors. Virginia began licensing home inspectors in 2017.
Today, home inspections are recommended by real estate professionals to help buyers make educated purchase decisions. In fact, home sellers are now getting their homes inspected prior to listing the property (referred to as a Pre-Listing Inspection) as a way of improving their chances of a higher priced transaction with fewer problems.
What is a Home Inspection?
A home inspection is a snapshot in time of the home. It is important to be aware of what types of items are included in the inspection and what is outside of the scope of this inspection.
The purpose of a home inspection is to visually examine the readily accessible systems and components of the home and to report on items thought to be unsafe or have visible major defects. Items that are defective or unsafe will be described in a written report, usually accompanied by pictures.
It is not meant to be a warranty or insurance on the home, but rather provide you with an unbiased opinion of the home from a professional home inspector. Inspectors are generalists, with a wide range of knowledge in a variety of areas. If any areas are deemed to need further exploration, we will recommend that a specialist in that area be brought in.
Cosmetic items, minor repairs and routine maintenance are not considered major defects. While they may be mentioned as a courtesy, they are often not included in the report.
Home inspectors cannot inspect for code compliance because we are not code inspectors employed by the state or city. This makes it illegal for us to conduct a code inspection, possibly losing our home inspector license as a result.
Lastly, a home inspection is non-invasive. This means that we do not do things such as pull off light covers, or remove drywall to look behind a wall, or move furniture.
The Major Components of the Inspection:
- Structural Systems including the foundation, floor structure, wall structure and roof structure
- Exterior– such as the siding & cladding, exterior doors, decks & porches, eaves & soffits, walkways & patios
- Roof System – such as the roofing materials, drainage systems, flashing, venting system and chimneys
- Plumbing System – such as interior supply & distribution, waste systems, water heaters, plumbing venting, faucets, toilets, and sump pumps
- Electrical System – such as outside service components, disconnects, service panels, overcurrent protection and a representative number of fixtures, switches and receptacles
- Heating and Air Conditioning System – such as furnaces and their components as well as other heating equipment, central cooling and air filters
- Interior– such as walls, ceilings, floors, windows, steps, railings, countertops, cabinets, garage doors & openers
- Fireplaces and Solid Fuel Burning Appliances including all chimney & vents
We recommend that you be present at the inspection, especially at completion. Be sure to ask the inspector any questions you have at the end of their inspection, after they’ve had a chance to view the property. That is your best chance to put your mind at ease by fully understanding their findings.
After the Inspection
After the home inspection, the inspector provides a verbal introduction to improve the buyer’s knowledge of the home they have chosen to purchase. The written report provides documentation about the home with a summary of items and photos that can be referenced after the inspection and provides the information necessary to make an informed decision.
It is important to have reasonable expectations between the buyer and seller. The inspector includes a reasonable expectations “Summary” page in every home inspection report, but agents and clients should read the report in its entirety.
Knowledge is power, and a home inspection gives buyers peace of mind about their purchase and helps to make informed decisions with confidence, no matter what the age or condition of the home.
Having a better understanding of the home inspection process creates common goals for everyone involved in the transaction. Hiring a professional home inspection company ensures the client will proceed with confidence and knowledge about their purchase and is receiving the best possible service!
Chris Baber, Owner
Your finances are in order. You’ve consulted with a lender and know how much home you can afford. You’re ready to embark on your home search. Finding a new home is exciting and fun, but it requires you to do some planning (and a little homework) to provide us some basic information in order to assist you efficiently in finding the right property. There are numerous resources available to find the information you need to be an informed and savvy home buyer. We can find appropriate homes for you to see, but having an idea of what you want and where you want it can provide a successful and satisfying home buying experience.
Do Your Research
Research the areas where you might like to live so that we can maximize your home search. The Richmond Metro is a very large, diverse area that has many different types of housing, including townhomes, condos, duplexes and single-family homes. You can live in the city, the country or somewhere in between. So, of course, narrowing down the locations will speed the search and bring us to a successful conclusion of finding your best home. Determine what’s important to you, whether it’s being close to work, accessibility to the interstate (including ease in getting to the airport), nearness to family and friends, or wanting a lot or a little bit of land. Remember the three most important words in real estate: location, location, location.
Your Realtor cannot legally point you towards certain schools or neighborhoods, unless you specifically request them. We are not allowed to comment on “safe” neighborhoods or “good” schools. What we consider to be safe or good may not match your thinking or expectations, and even if our opinions are the same, “steering” buyers towards certain areas is illegal. We can only point you towards resources that will provide you with information about schools, crime statistics, and other data that you need to make an informed decision. We’re fortunate in the 21st century to have the internet, overflowing with websites, especially city, county and state sites that provide all of the information you need to be a smart, successful home buyer.
What’s In A Home
Determine the style of home you want and the features you need. Single family home, townhome, condo? Two story, split ranch, tri-level? How many bedrooms and bathrooms? Gas or electric? Newer home or older neighborhood? Do you need a basement, garage, walk-up attic? Are there any special features you need/want like wheelchair accessibility, a large yard, abundant closet/storage space? It’s especially important to be clear about what you want in your home so that your search doesn’t crash and burn in frustration and aggravation.
Most buyers have features that are important to their satisfaction with their home and also things that would bug them to the point where their dream home turns into their constant nightmare. What are the things you want in your home that you know are “must haves” and what are the things that will drive you crazy? Regardless of how much you like a house, that thing that bugs you the most – a busy road, a small master closet, a poorly laid out kitchen – will eventually make you regret your decision to buy it. Conversely, if your house lacks that thing that was most important to you, you will similarly begin to regret buying it. Remember, the ultimate decision on which home you purchase is yours. So, when you decide which house you want, make sure you can live with whatever is in the house you buy.
Make A Note Of That
The average buyer looks at about 10 homes before deciding to make an offer. After the first three or four, it’s easy to start forgetting the individual features of each one. By the tenth home, the first one may be nothing more than a blurry memory. One way to make the process more productive is by keeping good notes on each property. No matter how good your memory is, the specific features of any one particular home will fade with each successive home tour. If you end up looking at fifteen or twenty homes before you make a decision, your notes will come in handy. We can provide you with printouts for the homes you tour, but your own notes should supplement whatever we provide.
The style of notes you take is up to you. Some people devise a ratings system for each feature they want and they rate the features of each house they see. Others take pictures of each property or make videos. In the metro area, it is perfectly legal to take pictures of properties that are on the market, unless the sellers have specifically prohibited it. Sometimes, it’s enough to simply jot down the significant things you want to remember about each property. Whichever style of note taking you choose, it should be easy for you and enough to jog your memory.
In addition, you should pace yourself. Unless your timetable is so tight that you only have a couple of days to look, seeing more than six houses in one day can be exhausting and make your home buying experience more stressful.
Put Your Best Offer Forward
Be prepared to move quickly to make an offer on the home you want. If you’re interested, others may be, too, especially if the property is new to the market. We are trained to help you write and negotiate an offer that appeals to a buyer. Often, you will find yourself in a multiple bid situation and we can offer advice on how to present the best offer possible for your situation. Depending on the buyer’s response, always be prepared to walk away. Never get emotionally attached to any particular property until you’re sure everything will work out. Once you’re under contract, there is still the home inspection and title search to get through before you’re in the clear. It’s a business deal until you’re sitting at the closing table with your settlement agent.
Work closely with us to ensure that the process goes smoothly. We will be with you every step of the way.
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