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What Your Real Estate Agent Won’t Tell You About Buying a Home Near Water

February 13, 2020

Cape Cod house on the water


When I was young, my parents bought an old two-story beach house one block from the Atlantic Ocean. The first floor consisted of nothing more than a large, empty garage with a concrete floor that made a great place for us kids to skate and play on rainy days.

We lived there for three years when they decided to sell it and move back into town.  It was as easy to sell as it was to buy.

Zoom forward into a world of rising seas and stronger hurricanes, and buying a home in a coastal town or near a river is anything but simple. While there’s a lot to know to avoid making a regrettable mistake, these 5 things are the most important:

1. A home’s flood zone may not include the most recent major flooding events: Many people are under the false assumption that flood maps are updated each time there’s a major storm or flooding event.  But due to a lack of proper staffing and funding, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) flood maps are often woefully outdated or in some parts of the country, nonexistent.

Even if new maps have been recently released in your community, they may not account for recent flooding events because the research used to create the maps is likely dated well-before the release date. It’s also important to remember that today’s assigned flood zones are not locked-in forever, nor is the cost you’ll be paying for flood insurance.

2. Your realtor may not give you flood advice:  It’s been my experience that most realtors don’t give advice about this hot-potato issue.  If your realtor falls into this category, find a realtor who is a buyer’s (as opposed to a seller’s) agent and does give flood advice. But they are few and far between.

3. It’s difficult to determine if a home has flooded in the past: In many states, but not all,the seller is legally required to disclose in writing to potential buyers any major issues they experienced with the home during the time they owned it — including flooding. Here’s where it gets tricky. If flooding occurred sometime in the past, but not while the present owner lived there, it doesn’t have to be disclosed, even if the present owner knows about it.

As far as determining if nearby homes or entire neighborhoods have ever flooded, I’m unaware of any central repository that makes this information free and available to the public by easily searching a street address. Perhaps such a search engine will exist soon. In the meantime, good old-fashioned legwork will get you the most honest information. I learned about flood-prone neighborhoods in my coastal city from my dental hygienist and from talking to people walking their dogs in neighborhoods where I was considering buying.

4. There may be a big disconnect between a home’s assigned FEMA flood zone and the home’s probability of flooding: Whereas FEMA’s flood maps use historical data to assign flood zones to each home, a newer site,, uses predictions based on research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA).  This site incorporates the predicted effect of climate change by home address and gives the ability to see various tidal flood and hurricane scenarios today and into the future.

This is also an easy way to see the existing assigned FEMA flood zone for that home.  Like me, you may be struck by the disconnect between the backward-looking FEMA flood zone and what NOAA predicts for the future flood risk of a given home.

5. It’s nearly impossible to find out how high above sea level a home really sits: What a shock it was to read about the recent study in the journal Nature Communications, which predicted that by 2050, three times as many people worldwide will be experiencing flooding as had been previously predicted.

Why the big change?  The reason is that for this study, scientists at Climate Central, a Princeton University-based climate science organization, utilized much more advanced elevation technology than had been used in the past. This new technology revealed that prior estimates for ground elevation above sea level were overstated by an average of six feet in coastal regions, and up to 13 feet in some densely populated areas.

Given this shift, I can see the old real estate adage of “location, location, location,” being replaced with “elevation, elevation, elevation.”  I also predict that accurate, searchable elevation data will eventually become available and that it will be widely used as part of the home buying process. (Click here to see Climate Central’s predictions for the U.S. and enter your city in the search box. You’ll get a much clearer idea of what rising sea levels coupled with more accurate lower ground elevations hold in store for your home.

The post What Your Real Estate Agent Won’t Tell You About Buying a Home Near Water appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

More Than Just a Pretty Place: Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Prewar Apartments

February 11, 2020


Renters and buyers in New York City know that prewar apartments are unique. They were constructed between 1900 and 1939 (before World War II) and have distinctive and elegant architectural characteristics that are hard to find in more recently built properties.

“The buildings designed by the most notable architects of the prewar period—Emery Roth and Rosario Candela—remain among the most desirable in the city today,” says Jed Lewin, a broker at Triplemint in New York City.

But as appealing as these classic New York City apartments appear to be, there are also some key drawbacks to living in this kind of place.

Let’s explore some of the reasons people either love or hate prewar apartments.

Pro: Elegant design

Photo by Di Cicco Vinci Architecture + Interiors
There’s no denying it: Prewar apartments are full of elegant architectural details. Crown molding, ceiling medallions, real hardwood floors, spacious living quarters, and high ceilings are common in these types of properties.

“The advantage of living in prewar apartments is that they are full of architectural beauty. They are sturdy, sound, and provide form and function to the homeowner,” says Tami Kurtz, a real estate professional at Triplemint in New York City.

Con: Lack of modern conveniences

According to Daniele Kurzweil, a real estate salesperson with the Friedman Team at Compass in New York City, there’s one major con to living in a prewar apartment.

“During the winter, your heat is either on or off; no climate control, no thermostat, simply steam heat,” she says. If it gets too hot, you’ll need to open a window.

Kobi Lahav, managing director of Mdrn. Residential, a brokerage in New York City, agrees.

“There’s no central AC or HVAC, so you can have a nice, expensive apartment, but you are still using a window-unit AC,” he says. Furthermore, older heating systems are noisy and the windows are usually thin and not energy-efficient.

Another potential issue is that prewar apartments were constructed before the Americans With Disabilities Act became law in 1990. The law established standards for making buildings accessible to people with disabilities.

“So many apartments have narrower doorways and smaller bathrooms,” Kurzweil says. “This can be an issue for people with physical limitations.”

Pro: Sturdy construction

Photo by Raychel Wade Design

Prewar properties were built to last and included hand-finished plaster walls, durable hardwood floors, and solid-wood doors. Many experts say that postwar architecture can’t hold a candle to prewar units when it comes to construction.

“Postwar architecture is typically constructed of red or white bricks and referred to as ‘cookie-cutter,’” says Rachel Ostow Lustbader, a broker at Warburg Realty in New York City. “Postwar apartments have smaller and simpler windows, 8-foot ceilings, unadorned Sheetrock walls, and poorer quality parquet wood floors or, more recently, ‘engineered’ flooring.”

Con: It may need to be updated

Not every prewar apartment looks like a photo op for an interior design magazine. Because of the age of the property, there’s a chance it will need to be fixed up.

“If the prewar building is not as upscale, or has not been well-maintained, you can run into issues you will find in any older building, like leaks, electrical problems, etc.,” explains Jamie Safier, a luxury real estate agent at Douglas Elliman in New York City.

Carole Cusani, a licensed real estate agent at BOND New York Properties, lives in a prewar apartment, and says it was costly to renovate her kitchen.

“It’s common for them to have outmoded electrical outlets, wiring, or plumbing, that a new owner may have to update,” she explains. Also, the typical prewar kitchen is not very big—chef’s kitchens were not a thing back then.

However, buyers may be able to find well-maintained prewar units if they’re located in a co-op.

“The board will usually ensure there is enough in the reserves to make necessary updates and repairs,” says Safier.

Pro: Plenty of space

Photo by Anjali Pollack Design

There’s little reason for you to ever feel cramped in a prewar apartment.

“In prewar buildings, the ceilings are often higher and the layouts are more spacious,” says Chelsea Hale, a real estate professional at Triplemint in New York City.

Postwar apartments, on the other hand, tend to have lower ceiling heights, smaller rooms, and thinner ceilings and walls.

In addition to sprawling interiors, prewar apartments offer another space advantage.

“There are often only one or two apartments per elevator landing in prewar buildings,” says Lustbader. Contrast that with postwar buildings, which tend to have long hallways with 10 to 12 units on each floor.

The post More Than Just a Pretty Place: Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Prewar Apartments appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

‘Help, My Husband and I Can’t Agree on a House!’

February 5, 2020


My husband, Rob, and I have been together almost 20 years, and never once in those two decades have we agreed on a house.

I hate a cookie-cutter home. Those rows and rows of suburban abodes all look like they were cut from the same mold, slapped with a few coats of gray and white paint and given a granite countertop or two and some new appliances. Voila, instant house! It’s the kind of place I walk into and immediately want to leave.

The problem? This is the kind of house my husband loves.

This disagreement is a problem—especially since marrying in 2003, we have lived in five different houses in three different cities and two different countries. In other words, we house hunt more than your average couple. So this problem keeps cropping up. Here’s more on why, and how, we’ve struck a balance that I hope will help other couples do the same.

Why my husband and I have different tastes in homes

Perhaps the root to this problem comes from our childhoods: Rob grew up in a 1970s home that calls to mind “The Brady Bunch” home, a ranch with central air conditioning and a sprawling footprint.

The house my husband grew up in.


My childhood home, on the other hand, was a 1920s house in Dayton, OH, with a small backyard, red brick front, and a series of built-ins on the inside.

The house where I was born

Ashley Brown

We moved when I was 11, but I remember the home clearly: a  sunroom surrounded by windows, and a round table in the kitchen jutting out from a built-in hutch replete with thick shelves and heavy panels. It had a finished basement I was terrified to enter, a room over the garage with wall-to-wall bookshelves, and a sewing room beside the master bedroom that wasn’t big enough to be a bedroom and wasn’t small enough to be a closet.

In 1990, my family moved into a brand-new home. My father hired the contractor, and he and my mother built the home to their specifications. And yet, the house was still riddled with the same problems that most places have. It had leaks and peeling paint, and problems with the roof when the wind blew too hard. It was as much a money pit as an old house, if not more.

My second house, new construction

Sasha Brown-Worsham

Although we lived in that new house for just five years, the memory of it stayed. So why would I trade character and quirkiness for a cookie-cutter house that is guaranteed to be just as unpredictable?

How we compromised on our first rental

When Rob and I rented our first place together in Boston, he fell in love with a place that looked all new inside—white walls, a minimalist aesthetic. I wanted something Victorian and colorful, with history and maybe a ghost or two.

The place we settled on had a little of both. Some new construction to suit him and lots of old character to suit me.

Our first rental together

Google Maps

How we compromised on our first real estate purchase

When buying our first house, we butted heads yet again, and again ended up meeting in the middle. We bought an old triple-decker built in the late 1800s, but with the kind of gutting inside that made it palatable to Rob. Granite countertops for him and an ancient, peeling porch for me. Perfect!

The first house we bought


Eight years ago, when we moved to New Jersey, I walked into one house and fell in love. The oven from the 1940s, the ancient wallpaper, the original stained-glass windows from the 1920s—this was definitely up my alley.

All my husband saw, however, were weekends wasted examining ancient plumbing, leaks that would reveal much bigger problems, electric wiring that would cost a small fortune to replace.

Our house in New Jersey

Sasha Brown-Worsham

How we strike the right balance today

After my husband relocated for work, we decided to rent a house in the English countryside. We looked at 20 homes and settled on a manor built in 1867 because I couldn’t live without it. I dreamed of this house my entire childhood, steeped in Jane Austen and Frances Hodgson Burnett.

And luckily, Rob loves it, too. Now. But every few weeks, when something breaks—and something always does—he shares how happy he is that we don’t own it. When the pipes run cold, the heat stops pumping, or the water heater leaks into his closet in the space that used to be the dumbwaiter, he is always glad the problem isn’t ultimately ours. Still, we are lucky we get to live here, even if only for a few years.

Our home in England

Alan Worsham (@alan_hw_drone)

We are scheduled to move back to the States in two years. We are already in hot discussions about our house hunt. The photos my husband sends are of houses built in 2010. They have pools in the backyard and open floor plans with a lot of light and neutral paint schemes. I am still enamored with the old Victorians with wraparound porches and fireplaces in every room. I am from Massachusetts, I tell him. When you think of my house, think of Louisa May Alcott, of cold nights by warm fires. My husband’s dream is more palm trees and built-in outdoor grills.

How it all resolves itself is anybody’s guess. We have two years—and our whole life together—to keep making these compromises and to keep discovering the way two people with opposing visions can come together.

In any marriage there are compromises. My husband hates broccoli and I love it, but I eat broccoli only when he is out of town. I hate action movies and death metal, so he watches those movies and attends those concerts without me.

There is constant give-and-take between us, so why should our housing be any different?

The post ‘Help, My Husband and I Can’t Agree on a House!’ appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

Grave Mistake? The Truth About Buying a Home Near a Cemetery

February 5, 2020


Whether or not you believe in ghosts, there’s no denying that a cemetery is a spooky place—especially after dark. Some people also fear the potential of criminal activities taking place in the various hiding spots between tombstones. But despite those possible perils, it turns out buying a home near a graveyard may not be such a scary idea.

America is home to more than 144,000 graveyards and cemeteries, according to Redditor and data visualization expert Joshua Stevens, who mapped out all the graveyards and cemeteries in the contiguous United States in a map titled “The Geography of the Dead.” With so many cemeteries, it’s little surprise that many are located in bustling neighborhoods.

“I’ve had clients who both were not wanting to be near or next to a cemetery and others who didn’t mind it at all,” says Samantha DeBianchi, a Realtor and founder of DeBianchi Real Estate.

Considering buying a home and settling down near other people’s final resting place? Here are some things to think about.

Pros: Quiet neighbors, peaceful

The dead are quiet folks. When you enter a cemetery, you usually get the impression of a peaceful green expanse.

“If you’re living by a cemetery, you’ll have lots of ‘neighbors,’ but it most certainly will be quiet,” says DeBianchi, who’s also a host on Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing Miami.”

But she says buyers should keep in mind that funeral processions, earth movers, visitors, and overall maintenance could create noise at times.

“With that said, noise can happen in any area, whether you’re near a cemetery or not,” says DeBianchi.

Pros: Well-maintained green space with no developments nearby

Cemeteries are typically well-manicured, with flowers and trees in a parklike setting. They sometimes include a pond or lake. Homeowners likely won’t have to worry about developments being raised in their area.

“I feel that buying a home near a cemetery offers a quiet, well-maintained setting, and oftentimes cemeteries are beautifully landscaped and picturesque,” says Holly Finn with the Finn Team at Coldwell Banker West Shell in Cincinnati.

However, while DeBianchi says the cemeteries that are in her area are well-maintained and landscaped, that’s not always the case elsewhere.

“When I’ve traveled to different states and locations, I’ve definitely seen ones that aren’t as aesthetically desirable,” she says.

Pros: Affordable housing

According to research by®, the median home price in neighborhoods with a cemetery are about 12% lower than similar homes in other areas without graveyards.

That’s good news for buyers looking for more affordable homes, who don’t mind living next to rows of tombstones.

Finn says her team doesn’t have clients who specifically avoid buying near a cemetery.

“Most of the cemeteries in our area have a buffer between the cemetery and the house. So as long as you don’t look directly out on gravestones from the house, some of our buyers may appreciate a discounted price and enjoy the quiet neighbors,” Finn says.

Cons: Scary

Still, cemeteries just plain freak out some people (a few of whom have a full-on phobia, coimetrophobia). Fear of ghosts wandering over to haunt the home and the feeling that it’s taboo to live by a cemetery can keep home buyers from considering these properties. And some buyers might not care for a concrete reminder of their mortality just across the street.

“The cemetery could give some people a creepy or uneasy feeling,” says Finn.

Cons: Contamination or pollution from cemetery

One concern that may not be as obvious is the risk from toxic chemicals used to embalm bodies. The decomposition of bodies can pass through the soil and into groundwater, and studies have shown that these chemicals may cause environmental contamination and groundwater pollution over time.

In the U.S., about 5.3 million gallons of embalming fluid are used every year. This fluid contains formaldehyde, a respiratory irritant and known carcinogen, according to Funeral Consumers Alliance.

However, a growing number of “green” cemeteries provide natural burials that have as little impact on the earth as possible.

Cons: Houses stay longer on the market

A home next to a cemetery doesn’t exactly offer cachet, and as a result, properties near cemeteries tend to spend more time on the market.

“Owning a home next to a cemetery could rule out some buyers when going to sell, which would limit your pool of potential buyers,” says Finn.

However, DeBianchi says it all depends on the location.

“There’s a beautiful cemetery in a neighborhood that I sell in that has million-dollar homes lined next to it, and the feedback from the owners is that they like the tranquility of their surroundings,” says DeBianchi.

The post Grave Mistake? The Truth About Buying a Home Near a Cemetery appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

The Sneaky Way We Won a Bidding War (and Beat 3 All-Cash Offers)

February 4, 2020


Here’s one of my favorite stories to tell as a real estate agent, about a young family who achieved what many assume is impossible. Saddled with a mortgage and other baggage, they were nonetheless able to win a bidding war—against three all-cash offers no less—and get the house they wanted.

All-cash offers are typically preferred by home sellers since they’re pretty close to a sure thing. Without the need for a lender to approve a mortgage, the deal is all but guaranteed to go through.

As an agent in a competitive real estate market like San Francisco, I notice that everyone thinks people are buying homes with all cash. This isn’t always true, but nonetheless, this myth tends to scare off buyers who need financing from even trying to compete.

However, I can tell you from personal experience: It is entirely possible to beat an all-cash offer, even if you have a mortgage and other strikes against you. How? Allow me to explain.

Why all-cash offers in real estate rule

My clients—a married couple employed by two prominent tech companies in Silicon Valley—were looking to buy a condo. Upon meeting them, it was immediately clear that they had done a ton of research on the home-buying process and therefore were confident in their ability to purchase.

But in my mind, they were overconfident. They’d never purchased a home before, much less in a competitive market such as theirs. Nonetheless, it was obvious that they wanted to call the shots, so I positioned myself as an adviser rather than a team leader.

Our first offer was for a $1,299,000 condo in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood. We submitted an offer of $1,150,000 along with a pre-qualification letter from their bank.

It was swiftly rejected.

After this initial attempt, we regrouped. I suggested that we go through the mortgage pre-approval process, and then take it a step further: to have their financial position analyzed and fully underwritten. That way, we could more easily compete with the all-cash offers that were likely rolling in.

Unfortunately, impatience persisted on their end, as another condo in the same building had a rapidly approaching offer date. The listing agent met with my clients during a tour, and pressed them to get their offer ready as soon as possible. We replicated our previous offer, and were promptly rejected, again.

My clients were beginning to think I couldn’t get the job done for them, and I had that sinking feeling in my stomach that I was about to be fired. The signs were all over their faces. Still, they reluctantly agreed to get pre-approved. We finally stood a fighting chance.

Our third offer was a Hail Mary for a beautiful loft that caught my clients’ eyes and hearts. Although it was slightly out of their price range, my once intensely calculated and controlled clients turned into emotional buyers. They loved the place. When we couldn’t come up with the asking price the sellers were looking for, they were devastated.

At that point, my role changed from adviser to counselor. I knew a level of raw emotion would break barriers and allow for trust to be built. I consoled the couple and ultimately showed them my true position: I was on their side in every way. That level of respect ultimately led them to heed my advice and take the extra time to get their financing underwritten.

The underwriting process took two weeks. Once it was done, we submitted our fourth offer, this time on a two-bed, two-bath condo. We learned there were three cash offers already on the table, and that we weren’t the highest bid—another buyer was offering $20,000 more.
To strengthen our position, we used an (occasionally) effective tactic of writing a “love letter” to the homeowners. I felt we had an emotional story to tell, especially considering they had a baby on the way.

It turns out that the sellers had raised their first child in the same condominium. They connected with us, and wanted another family to have the same experience they had in the home. Empathy, rather than logic, kicked in. Against all odds, we won the place.

How to beat an all-cash offer

So how, exactly, did we beat three all-cash offers—including one for more money?

It’s important for buyers to understand the difference between a pre-qualification, pre-approval, and a fully underwritten pre-approval. In order to beat an all-cash offer, you have to put the time in upfront and be as watertight as possible with your financier’s backing from the moment negotiations begin.

What is pre-qualification?

Pre-qualification is the most surface-level document your lender can give you. It acknowledges that the bank has received all of your self-provided information either verbally or through an online loan application. The problem with a pre-qualification is that the bank hasn’t been provided with any official documents to verify income or assets.

A listing agent (representing the homeowners selling their property) is well aware of the looseness associated with a pre-qualification letter and would likely advise his or her clients that the guarantee of cash makes more sense.

What is pre-approval?

This is the next tier of assuredness. The difference between a pre-approval and a pre-qualification is that, with a pre-approval, income and asset documents have been provided and reviewed by a lender. Most buyers using financing submit an offer with a pre-approval in hand, as most listing agents require one to even consider an offer.

The pre-approval still has holes, however. A review of financial documents is only as good as the person reviewing them. Sadly, many lenders either don’t know how to review these documents in detail, or they do a cursory review.

The reason listing agents prefer cash is because lenders are the biggest variable in the transaction. So it’s crucial you choose the right one.

Most buyers’ hesitation in getting pre-approved, or even pre-qualified, is that they don’t want to have an inquiry on their credit report that could affect their credit score. However, a mortgage inquiry doesn’t have the same impact on your credit score as a credit card or auto loan.

In fact, in most cases the scores aren’t affected at all. You can have multiple mortgage inquiries within a 30-day period and not take a score hit. The system is built this way.

I always advise people to interview at least two lenders from different banks, since a loan is so much more than the interest rate and points. The lender you work with digs through some very personal information. Having a high level of trust and respect for the individual doing that is paramount.

The holy grail of financing guarantees

A fully underwritten mortgage pre-approval is the third and highest tier of security in a financed offer. If a bank has gone through the process of underwriting the loan, it basically means the loan amount is guaranteed, based on income, assets, and credit.

Consequently, these buyers have the green light to purchase the home they desire.

A fully underwritten pre-approval also allows you to close much faster, since 90% of the work has already been completed by the bank. A savvy buyer’s agent will position this type of financing exactly the same as a cash offer; since the money is guaranteed, the playing field is leveled.

The underwriting process takes time upfront—anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the complexity of a buyer’s financial position. But it gives a buyer an incredibly strong negotiating position, especially in a hypercompetitive market.

The post The Sneaky Way We Won a Bidding War (and Beat 3 All-Cash Offers) appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

Buying a House on a Busy Street Might Not Be a Deal Breaker—Here’s Why

January 29, 2020


Unless you live in a big city, living on a busy street is often considered highly undesirable. And even if you do find yourself in New York or Los Angeles, owning on a major thoroughfare can have its drawbacks.

And while many of those drawback are valid (does anyone really want blaring horns at 3 a.m.?), they don’t have to be deal breakers. Believe it or not, there are some silver linings to living on a busy street.

Yes, you should take some extra consideration before buying on a road that sees a lot of traffic. But have you also considered the advantages? We asked our experts to highlight the pros, as well as the cons, of buying a home on a busy street.

Pro: Easy access to transportation and attractions

Living on a busy street can have its perks, especially for commuters. Busy streets often provide easy access to mass transit and local attractions that would take longer to get to when living farther away from a busy or main street.

“An advantage of a busy road is it might be closer to freeway access or even buses and trains,” says Ryan Lundquist, certified residential appraiser, who runs Sacramento Appraisal Blog.

Con: Noise

A well-trafficked street will bring a lot of beeps and vrooms that can get really old really quickly.

“The glaring disadvantage of a busy road is the noise, because that’s not going to go away,” says Lundquist. “Of course people do get used to it—for some it can end up being like white noise. But if the sound of cars and people is going to gnaw at your soul or sense of peace, then don’t buy a house on a main road.”

If you do fall in love with a property that’s on or near a busy road, experts recommend visiting at different times of the day to get a realistic feel for the noise situation.

Pro: Closer to businesses and shopping centers

Don’t want to have to travel far for a gallon of milk? Busy streets tend to house grocery stores, restaurants, and shopping options. You may also be closer to fire and police stations, which could be critical in an emergency.

“Living on a busy road usually means you’re closer in proximity to stores and conveniences—maybe even within walking distance,” says Lundquist.

Con: Unsafe for children

Safety is a big priority for home buyers, particularly those with kids. Busy roads can bring all kinds of hazards, especially speeding cars. Parents will feel less safe letting their children play outside with cars whizzing by.  

Pro: Price discount

Buying a home on a busy street is likely not the first choice for most buyers. And that can be a good thing.

“A home on a busy street might be priced lower, which makes it easier to buy in that market,” says Lundquist. Therefore, if you have your heart set on living in a particular neighborhood but are priced out of the more quaint parts of town, check out homes closer to main thoroughfares.

“It can be as much as a 20% difference compared to a similar house on a quiet street,” says Mark Ferguson, a licensed real estate agent, investor, and founder of InvestFourMore.

Con: Resale value

Finding a buyer may be more difficult if you do decide to sell in the future.

Ferguson says he has plenty of experience with that: “We have bought numerous investment properties on busy roads and have had bad experiences with almost all of them,” he says. “We account for the lower price but still are often surprised by how little demand there is.”

Adds Lundquist, “It’s important for sellers on a busy road to not underestimate the reality that an adverse location can stand out like a sore thumb—even when inventory is low.”

The post Buying a House on a Busy Street Might Not Be a Deal Breaker—Here’s Why appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

What to Consider When Buying a Home Near a School—Do Your Homework!

January 22, 2020

What to Consider When Buying a Home Near a School


After days of searching, you’ve finally found your dream home. But it sits across the street from a school—which could be good or bad. With school in session 180 days a year, buyers should weigh the advantages and disadvantages of living near a school before making a final decision.

“Every buyer is unique. Most with young, school-age kids usually shop for specific school districts and want to be close to their elementary school. Buyers with middle- and high-school-age children are more district-driven, with location being secondary,” says Mark Schreier, a Realtor® with Century 21 American Homes in Syosset, NY.

Here are some pros and cons to think about when considering buying near a school.

Pro: Your children can walk to school

Most parents dread the drive-through crunch when dropping off and picking up kids from school every day. Living near a school means you can skip the drive and just walk—getting a little outdoor exercise as a bonus.

Con: Streets are clogged with traffic

Living near a school can mean dealing with heavy traffic, including idling cars and buses shuttling kids to and from school. And it may not be just twice a day.

Schreier says neighbors can expect traffic issues during special events such as parent-teacher conferences, plays, and sporting events.

“If you live near a high school, expect there to be more frequent car crashes since students new to driving are more likely to have accidents,” says Beatrice de Jong, broker associate and consumer trends expert at Opendoor, in Los Angeles.

Pro: Access to playground after school

Public parks can sometimes be located a distance away. Living near a public school gives kids, even if they don’t attend the school, access to the playground when school is out for the day. This could include swings, monkey bars, and handball and basketball courts.

“School parks usually have a track and or playground for them to use,” says Schreier.

Con: Neighborhood parking rules may not be enforced

One of the biggest gripes neighbors have about living near a school is the lack of parking enforcement and inconsiderate parents parking in, or blocking, neighborhood driveways.

“Some streets near schools have no-parking rules during school hours, parking issues from staff if school doesn’t have a private lot,” says Schreier.

Pro: Schools are typically located in safe neighborhoods

Safety is a priority for schools, and many schools have daily police patrols and tight security measures to keep their campuses secure. This can be an added benefit for home buyers looking for a safe community.

“Schools are typically in very safe neighborhoods with parks and local law enforcement nearby,” says de Jong.

Schools also promote a sense of community. She says schools can liven up a community, providing social activities for adults and kids, such as crafts fairs and sporting events.

Con: Heightened noise level

Often when buyers think of schools, they think of the noise. Living near a school can bring all kinds of noises, like the ping of metal bats, kids shooting hoops on the basketball court, cheering at games, band practice, and more.

“The PA system usually broadcasts outside the school, which could be a noise issue for some,” says Schreier.

Pro: A good school district means higher resale value

Buyers with kids will make a beeline toward neighborhoods with good school districts. That in turn has additional benefits for sellers.

“Homes in highly rated school zones are in higher demand for buyers, and fetch higher resale prices,” says de Jong.

She says since good school districts drive up price tags on homes, buyers can usually find cheaper or bigger homes just outside of the school zone.

Con: More kids are walking in the neighborhood, trespassing

Living near a school means an abundance of kids all over the neighborhood. This can rob a homeowner of peace and privacy.

“There will be a higher volume of kids walking around in the afternoon, which could lead to a noisy environment or loitering or even trespassing on your property,” says de Jong.

Schreier says if you want to buy near a school but noise, parking, and traffic [are] a concern to you, consider buying a few blocks away.

“You will get all the same conveniences but less of the issues,” says Schreier.

The post What to Consider When Buying a Home Near a School—Do Your Homework! appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

HOA Ruining Your Life? 8 Things It Can’t Do—and How You Can Fight Back

January 15, 2020

Living with a homeowners association (HOA) can come with a legion of perks—like gorgeously manicured common lawns, swanky amenities, and some rad Fourth of July barbecues.

But there’s a reason that a stigma exists against homeowners associations: Board members on a power trip can institute and enforce some ridiculous restrictions.

Ridiculous, like “restricting the color of trampoline covers” ridiculous.

Like “You must keep your garage door open during the day” ridiculous.

Like “You must carry your cocker spaniel through the lobby” ridiculous. (Come on!)

Even when you feel as though your HOA rules have turned into an implacable steel trap determined to ruin your life at every turn, find comfort in this: Homeowners associations are bound by the rule of law, no matter what the president of the board says.

State and federal law restrict the homeowners association’s abilities to restrict you.

Below, find eight things HOAs can’t enforce on homeowners.

1. Discriminate undiscriminatingly

Your homeowners association board might like to play at being tyrants, but here’s a line it can’t cross: the Fair Housing Act.

“An association must be careful enacting and enforcing rules that would single out or disadvantage any group identified in the Fair Housing Act,” says Craig T. Smith, a lawyer in Hilton Head Island, SC.

That means that your homeowners association can’t fine you or keep you from purchasing a home in the neighborhood because of your ethnicity or race.

It also can’t kick you out because members of the board hate your religion, or don’t like Germans, because you have children, or because you wear a Make America Great Again hat on a regular basis.

States often have additional protections safeguarding the homeowner. For example, California law protects sexual orientation and gender identity.

2. String you out on the (clothes)line

Nineteen states have laws on the books to prohibit a funny HOA restriction: your right to “solar drying.” (That’s a fancy term for using a clothesline.)

This time-honored tradition saves money and protects your clothes, but to your eagle-eyed HOA board, all those fabrics blowing in the breeze may not look “uniform.”

Too bad, buckaroos: Since almost half of states protect your right to dry, any anti-clothesline additions to the covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) are downright unenforceable. Feel free to let your denim wave in the wind.

(There’s one caveat: If your backyard is shared with another homeowner, the HOA might have the right to restrict your strung-up lines.)

3. Fine you for fun

Fines are the lifeblood of a malicious HOA—and we cannot, unfortunately, tell you that they’re blatantly illegal. But they “must be set forth in the association’s rules and bylaws,” says Barbara Jordan, a real estate lawyer in Columbus, OH.

Are threatening letters making an appearance in your mailbox, telling you to trim that rosebush or face a fine? Check the community’s CC&Rs before complying. If that fine isn’t listed, you might not need to pay.

Of course, that doesn’t mean your HOA board will roll over, either; you might need to appeal the fine.

If so, first scrutinize those CC&Rs to make sure you have standing. Then, gather all the evidence you have and present it at the next board meeting. (Your HOA may have specific instructions for this process—make sure you follow them!)

If your argument is sound, it could pull back the charges.

4. Make decisions on the fly

Your community’s HOA treasurer can’t suddenly decide she hates pink mailboxes. Next time Shirley Homeowner comes over complaining, practice these magic words: “Is that mentioned in the CC&Rs?”

And slipping HOA rules in under the cover of darkness is a big no-no. The regulations for how new rules can be enacted should be outlined in your CC&Rs—and if the HOA isn’t following its own stipulations, you have a valid complaint for any secret swashbuckling.

If you do suspect something shady is afoot concerning what is included (and what isn’t included) in your HOA rules, start requesting documents and attending public meetings.

5. Demand you take down your dish

Your cable TV decisions are protected, thanks to the FCC’s Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule. No matter how ugly your HOA thinks your space-gray satellite dish is, the board members can’t force you to take it down. Hello, cheap cable!

You might find that some HOAs still have antenna restrictions written into their covenants. These may be retro artifacts from pre-1997, when the FCC rule came into play.

If you spot these curious addenda in your CC&Rs, take your concerns straight to board members. After all, you have the federal government on your side!

6. Nix native plants

Not all states protect your right to grow an environmentally friendly garden abundant with native plants. But if you’re in Texas or California, you can push back if the board’s not savvy with agave.

Florida, too, has its own homeowner-friendly rules: HOAs can’t restrict plants simply because they’re not in the community’s overall design plan.

If you’re a homeowner in one of those states, persuading your HOA to embrace eco-friendly policies isn’t impossible. With the right attitude and enough evidence of go-green benefits, you might just convert the entire neighborhood.

7. Keep you out of court

Snippy HOAs might make you think they’re above the law—but if you’re truly in a bind, you can challenge that assertion.

Chances are good (although not certain) that you’ll have the upper hand in a proper court of law, Smith says, especially if the board of directors acted in an underhanded manner.

If the association’s governing documents allow it, start by demanding a hearing before the board. If that demand is met with silence, take it one step further: to the actual courts.

“This is typically a move of last resort,” Smith says.

But if you’re past the point of mild frustration, a lawsuit might do the trick. Homeowners have sued their board for the right to display a sign critical of the HOA.

One Olathe, KS, homeowner successfully filed a lawsuit to keep his elaborate landscaping—which another resident said was the “nicest-looking [landscaping] in the entire neighborhood.”

8. Beat you down

No matter how many letters and fines the board throws at you, you still have rights.

“Show up,” Jordan says. “Go to the meetings. Be on record as objecting to the issues. Write letters.”

Just make sure to follow the process for objections.

“Do not miss deadlines or forgo opportunities to be heard,” Jordan says. “That will only hurt your case.”

And do what you can to get your neighbors on board. Together, you can call for new elections or push to scrap excessive or unnecessary rules.

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Is a Basement Included in the Square Footage of a Home?

January 14, 2020

Does a Basement Count in the Square Footage of a Home?

FOTOGRAFIA INC./iStock; BanksPhotos/iStock

This is the tale of two basements in otherwise comparable houses. One is a finished basement with a den, bedroom, and full bathroom. The other basement has some Sheetrock, an exposed toilet, and a painted floor.

The listing for the first house reflects the basement and number of bedrooms, including the one in the basement space, in its total square footage and price.

The second house only includes the square footage of the main floors and does not count a 200-square-foot bedroom in the basement. So, which listing correctly shows the square footage for a basement? The short answer is: both.

Does a basement count toward overall square footage?

As a general rule of thumb, listing agents and appraisers don’t count a finished basement toward the overall square footage, especially if the basement is completely below grade—a term that means below ground level.

Whether an appraiser includes basement living space ultimately depends on which state you live in. Your local county assessor’s office determines whether appraisers can count the square footage, finished or unfinished, as part of what’s known as the “gross living area.”

Walk-out basements and square footage

For the states that do allow listings to include a basement in the square footage of the overall living space, there must be an egress and ingress.

One reason for this rule is that you cannot have a legal bedroom in a basement area without fire evacuation access separate from the rest of the house.

If the above-ground floor is on fire, the room in the basement must provide at least window access to the outside.

This means a door you can walk out of to yard level on one side of the basement, says Sharon Chambers-Gordon, a real estate agent with Windermere Professional Partners in Gig Harbor, WA.

This is also known as a walk-out basement, and the square footage is calculated based on how much of the basement is above grade.

How square footage affects your mortgage

The overall square footage of real estate factors into an appraisal and, therefore, the financing of a house. Your appraiser must generally appraise the house for the sales price, or higher, in order for the lender to provide the funds.

Here’s what mortgage giant Fannie Mae has to say on the basement matter: “Only finished above-grade areas can be used in calculating and reporting of above-grade room count and square footage for the living space. Fannie Mae considers a level to be below grade if any portion of it is below grade, regardless of the quality of its finish or the window area of any room.”

How finished basement square footage affects your home value

Unlike commercial real estate, homes are generally not priced strictly on square footage. So whether a basement is included in square footage or not, a nicely finished basement generally adds to the value of a home, says Carrie Abfall, a real estate agent with Re/Max Real Estate Professionals in Columbus, IN.

While the price per square foot for a swanky basement isn’t typically as high as main-level upgrades, an appraiser or potential buyer will certainly appraise the home’s value as higher with the additional living space of a basement. This is true whether the basement is a walk-out or below ground.

If the home with the finished basement wows a buyer, it may fetch a higher price, says real estate agent Randy Elgin with Keller Williams Realty in San Antonio, TX.

This is true even if the square footage is not included in the listing. Elgin advises that you offer what you think is reasonable, based on the home’s gross living area plus some fair amount for the unfinished or finished basement.

Focus on the usable space and how much value you will gain from it. And include an appraisal contingency in the offer. That way, you can back out if the appraiser places a lower value on the home than you expected.

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How Long Does It Take to Build a House?

January 9, 2020


How long does it take to build a house? It’s a question often posed by people looking to buy an idyllic piece of land so they can construct their dream home from the ground up. If this describes your current housing sitch, you’ve come to the right place!

So before you invest in that spacious lot with stunning views and mature trees, it’s wise to consider the time it’ll actually take to build the place you’ll be living in.

How long does it take to build a house?

Depending on the site and zoning classification, it typically takes from three to six months to build a house.

A ballpark average time for building a new home is four months if you have the pedal to the metal, says John Melsheimer, a home building contractor in Central Oregon.

The key to any successful new home building project is having approved house building permits, a process that can take a long time in some areas. So plan ahead. The biggest obstacles to obtaining a new home permit are poor due diligence, neighbors who oppose construction, and a backlog at the building department.

Main factors that affect a construction timeline

“Location and what I call environmental conditions can slow down or speed up a build greatly,” says Bill Green, president of W.R. Green Construction, a custom builder in Connecticut and Colorado.

What kind of environmental conditions? Factors such as soil type and site topography. For example, to construct a house with a slab on a level site with stable draining soil conditions is likely to take half the time it would take to construct the same house on a hilly lot. Building in a coastal earthquake or mudslide zone, or in a fire hazard zone, will also prolong the construction process.

Another major factor to consider in estimating the length of the process is how skilled the contractor is. An experienced new home builder will typically take less time to complete your new home.

Choose a contractor with a good reputation among the local municipality and real estate community. When issues arise, they’ll get taken care of quickly, says John Kuroda, manager at Sleight Farm, a subdivision of new-construction houses in LaGrange, NY.

What can increase the build time?

The overall time of a build usually depends on the weather conditions. Construction can easily be delayed by shifts in temperature or too much precipitation. Concrete must cure and framing needs to be completed when it’s dry outside. So the time of the year a project starts can greatly influence how long the home building takes.

Other factors that can cause a delay? “The owners,” says Todd Whalen, owner and CEO of Eclipse Building Corp. Yes, that’s you!

If you delay in selecting finishes or decide to add change orders to your new home during construction, you can significantly prolong your construction time. As much as possible, stick with your home design—don’t tell your builder after the drywall is installed that you want the kitchen on the other side of the house, or a different floor plan altogether.

Real estate markets experiencing a building boom may also face a shortage of laborers and subcontractors—another thing that can lengthen the overall building time.

How to shorten the building time

Planning is far and away the most important way to shorten the building time frame, according to Green.

All the components of building a new house are interrelated, so if you plan the build, you can reduce the chance of delays and mistakes.

For instance, the thickness of the tile you select for a bathroom will determine the exact location of pipes that your builder must have in place before building your foundation.

Make sure you understand the lead time on products such as windows and doors in order to have them on the building site when they are needed.

During construction, an extra few weeks waiting for something can delay your timeline. Having all the different work crews—electricians, plumbers, HVAC specialists, etc.—working as promptly as possible in the building process helps speed everything up, too.

You should hold the builder accountable, by including a penalty in your contract if the builder misses the agreed-upon completion date, says Jesse Fowler, president of Tellus Build.

Being active and staying on top of things throughout the building process—such as scheduling weekly site walks to check on progress—can help keep everything on track.

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