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How Motherhood Completely Overhauled What I Want in a Home

May 8, 2020

SDI Productions/Getty Images

Motherhood can bring so many changes—not only to your relationship, career, and life in general, but also to what you look for when shopping for a home.

I should know: Six months ago, I moved from Los Angeles to New York City for my husband’s new job. While I was excited to dive into life in the Big Apple—and find a quaint apartment in a hip neighborhood—those plans changed dramatically when I discovered I was pregnant.

Almost overnight, my short list of pre-pregnancy home must-haves (a building with character that’s near fun wine bars) had to be tossed out. I suddenly went from being the easiest home shopper, just looking for a cute place to drop my coat, to having more requirements than I ever would have imagined, from a bathtub to a good school district.

And although we’d settled in our rental apartment before the novel coronavirus hit in the middle of my pregnancy, I saw my requirements for a home become even more stringent in its wake. While I wasn’t about to pick up and move again given that we’d just settled in, this will no doubt affect what I look for if we ever decide to buy a place, or move to a larger rental elsewhere (more on that below).

And I doubt I’m alone. When looking to rent or buy a home, many people might be surprised by how much their priorities in real estate morph overnight once they’re expecting. To help them prepare for this seismic shift, here’s an up-close and personal peek at how pregnancy changed how I shopped for a home, and where I wanted to live.

I learned to look closely at listing photos

I can’t count how many apartments I walked into, turned around, and walked right out. If you’ve ever shopped for a home, you know that listing photos can be deceiving. In a big way.

Not only were these tours often time-wasters, but in that early stage of my pregnancy, I was exhausted and sick all the time. It was hard to get out of bed most days. So a bad tour was a big blow.

In order to save time and energy, I started getting better at analyzing listing photos online. I learned to be wary of photos taken from a weird angle, because I learned that probably meant the room was small and the photographer was trying to compensate.

apartment
Photos like this make a room look deceptively larger.

realtor.com

I started looking for how much of the floor I could see in the bathroom photos, realizing that the more floor was shown, the bigger the room probably was. Was there a photo of only the sink? That tended to mean the bathroom was tiny.

I also realized that as my belly grew, I’d probably want a bathtub to soak in. So those shower-only bathrooms I saw in so many apartments probably weren’t going to work for us.

bathroom
My husband loved the style of this bathroom, but I didn’t like its lack of a tub.

Jillian Pretzel

I also started depending more on floor plans and square footage numbers than actual photos. I’d flip through a profile online and, if it didn’t have a floor plan, I’d wonder if they were hiding something. Usually they were, and usually it was a distinct lack of closets.

With a baby on the way, I needed a closet. Or three.

Location is still everything, but in a different way

Location can be a big factor in home shopping, especially in a place like New York City. There are so many different neighborhoods with different personalities. Originally, I wanted an apartment in a busy, but charming, part of town that would give me that big-city feel.

But after learning of my pregnancy, my ideas of the perfect location changed swiftly. I no longer wanted to be in a bustling area, because I knew that would mean extra noise. I no longer cared about being near fun wine bars or coffee shops, since I couldn’t drink wine or (much) coffee.

There were school districts to consider, wide sidewalks for pushing a stroller, plus proximity to doctors’ offices.

Plus, in a post-coronavirus age, there’s also delivery services to consider. I already knew that walking to the grocery store while pregnant would be tricky. But trying to go to the store while pregnant, during a pandemic, would be downright unsafe. It’s a good reminder of just how important it is to be not only close to grocery stores and pharmacies, but also within delivery range.

Old buildings can have unexpected dangers

Back in California, there aren’t many old apartment buildings. I can think of some “historic” apartments in Los Angeles, which were built in the 1950s. Meanwhile, New York City has plenty of apartment buildings that were built at the turn of the century. The past century, that is.

Most of them are old buildings that I loved the look of, but worried about living in. The reason: Some old apartments were built with lead pipes or covered in lead paint.

Of course, plenty of those buildings have been refurbished and had the lead removed,  but not all of them. And even though their old walls may have been painted over plenty of times in the past few decades, a lead layer could still be buried underneath. A scrape on the wall might expose this toxin that could then find its way into a toddler’s mouth.

While I knew that plenty of families were living happily and healthily in old buildings, I decided not to risk it—and to start looking exclusively for newer buildings.

bathroom
Here’s a bathroom from one of the apartments we saw after learning I was pregnant. I knew that tile would never look clean.

Jillian Pretzel

Stairs are a big turnoff

I’ve always been an active person. I love working out and am almost always up for a walk, a hike, or a kickboxing class. During my first week of home tours, I didn’t bat an eyelash at the idea of a five-story walk-up.

But now, walk-ups weren’t for me. An elevator became a must—not only to help me avoid too many stairs in the last months of pregnancy, but to avoid lugging a stroller up and down later.

A safe and convenient kitchen area

Of course, we’d all like a large, open-concept kitchen with a big island and top-notch appliances, but that’s not always possible. With a baby on the way, I had to focus my priorities on safety, storage, and convenience.

kitchen
I saw plenty of kitchens like this in Manhattan: small with no oven, a hot plate instead of a stove, and no counter space. Hardly ideal for a family of three.

Jillian Pretzel

Some kitchens were way too small for a family, and I realized that closed-off galley kitchens might get too tight for my growing belly. I found that the look of the kitchen was often the deciding factor for whether or not we’d tour a home.

kitchen
I loved this updated galley kitchen but was worried about having enough room between the two of us (plus my growing belly).

Jillian Pretzel

We became more budget-conscious than ever

Looking for a home while pregnant made my list of must-haves much longer. But it certainly didn’t extend my budget. In fact, my husband and I felt we should try to be saving more, because life was about to get pretty expensive. Because of this, it took us extra time to find a home.

After a month of living in an Airbnb rental followed by a few weeks staying at a cousin’s place, we finally found it: an apartment that was truly baby-friendly. It was hard to go that long living out of suitcases, but the lengthy search was worth it.

living room
My studio may be small, but it’s functional and comfortable.

Jillian Pretzel

bathroom
My bathroom is clean and modern, and has a tub!

Jillian Pretzel

Addendum: How the coronavirus changed my priorities, again

Although we’d already settled in to an apartment by the time the coronavirus tore through New York, I noticed that enduring this pandemic while pregnant changed my priorities in what I wanted in a home yet again. Life in quarantine taught me that there are a ton of things to consider when it comes to staying home with your young family for long stretches of time.

One obvious thing to consider would be outside space. While I never liked the idea of yard maintenance, kids need some time outside. If a pandemic ever pops up again, or even if there’s a bad flu season one year, a big yard or a sizable balcony could be a home’s best asset.

And if outside play isn’t possible due to bad weather or otherwise, I realized I’d want a decent-size play space inside. Being inside all day, a little one would need space to stay active. Granted, such a space would fetch a premium in New York City, but would be doable if you looked for open floor plans where there’d be room to set up a mini slide, ball pit, or safe climbing structure like a Foamnasium (yes, that’s a thing).

Who knows? Maybe I’ll get to put these latest lessons into practice if we decide to move a year or two down the road. For now, I’m happy where I am.

living room
Here I am relaxing on my new couch after hanging some photos on the wall.

Jillian Pretzel

The post How Motherhood Completely Overhauled What I Want in a Home appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

‘I Closed On My Home Sale During the Coronavirus Crisis’

April 21, 2020

roberthyrons/Getty Images

When Doreen Smith listed her house in Castle Rock, CO, in February, the coronavirus was on her radar, but didn’t seem like a serious problem at the time.

“COVID-19 was on my mind because I teach high school social studies, and we’d discuss it when talking about current events,” says Smith. “But I certainly didn’t think that this would be something to have to consider when selling my home.”

When Smith was about to list her home, she asked her real estate agent if she should be worried about selling because it was an election year. Her agent assured her that January 2020 had been a terrific month for home sales. So Smith decided to move ahead and put her house on the market on Feb. 27.

“It was supposed to be a gorgeous, sunny weekend, so we put the ‘For Sale’ sign in my yard on Wednesday to be ready for my home to hit the MLS on Thursday,” Smith recalls. “My agent immediately started getting calls, including one on Wednesday night. I had five showings on Thursday, and I got three offers Friday morning.”

Smith decided to sell to a couple who lived in California.

“When I took their offer, it came with the contingency that they must be able to sell their home in order to buy mine,” Smith says. “I accepted the contingency because their house was already under contract, through inspection, and had a closing date of March 23.”

So Smith planned to move out on that same day, and move in temporarily with her sister in nearby Littleton, CO, while shopping for a condo. (Both of her boys were out of the house, so she was downsizing.)

All went according to schedule at first. However, in the ensuing weeks as news (and cases) of COVID-19 swept the nation, Smith saw much of what she knew about her home closing change.

Here’s how she survived closing a home sale during this pandemic—and what she learned in the process.

Why the coronavirus can delay closings

On March 23—the day of her scheduled closing and move—Smith got a call from her agent telling her there was a potential snag.

“Around 9:10 a.m. I got a text from my real estate agent: ‘Hi! Are you home?’ I texted ‘Yes! Movers are here, hope this is still a go?’ with a nervous emoji. Two seconds later I got a call,” says Smith. “My buyer’s buyer in California had a tax issue with their property and needed some form from the IRS. The IRS said due to the coronavirus, they were delayed in response times, and were not able to get the letter in time for their scheduled Monday closing.”

This snafu led to Smith and her buyer amending their contract to extend the closing by two weeks, and making it official with an electronic signature. So now she was set to close on April 7, but still moving on March 23.

Although Smith’s move went smoothly, more paperwork delays caused her closing to hit another snag, bumping her closing date to April 10. But the paperwork was procured faster than planned, and the closing date moved again, to April 8.

“Apparently my buyers were really frustrated, as they were homeless and all of their stuff was on a moving truck with no house,” says Smith. “At this point I was just trying not to freak out.”

Inside a ‘drive-through’ closing

When closing day finally arrived on April 8, Smith braced for more changes—and they arrived right on schedule. For instance, while most home closings involve all parties gathering to sign paperwork, the coronavirus had upended this tradition, too.

“Because of the crisis, real estate agents were not supposed to attend closings in order to minimize exposure to all parties,” says Smith. Furthermore, “the governor of Colorado had also passed a law saying that virtual closings were acceptable at this time. But my lender, like many, said no way. Lenders were trying to be careful about who they loaned money to.”

So, rather than conduct a virtual closing, Smith ended up doing the next best thing: a “drive-through closing.” She was told to drive to the title company’s parking lot, then call the title agent inside, who popped out of her office building wearing a mask and walked toward Smith’s car.

Smith (who was wearing a bandana mask) cracked her car window to hand her ID to the title agent. After verifying Smith’s ID, the title agent handed Smith a clipboard with the paperwork and a blue pen in a plastic bag.

The title agent told Smith to take her time and sign the highlighted sections of the paperwork. If Smith had any questions, she was urged to call her real estate agent, who was also keeping an eye on her phone in case there were any issues.

“It took me about 10 minutes to sign everything,” Smith says. “Then the title agent came back and reviewed everything while I remained in my car, and while we chatted about how strange this all was. The agent admitted they’d only been doing ‘drive-through’ closings for a week. The reason the title company required someone to show up in person was they wanted the seller’s account information of where they’d wire the money delivered in person—I assume that’s to avoid mistakes for the transfer of such a large amount.”

Despite this strange setting, the money was immediately wired to Smith and her sale was finally finished.

Now settled in at her sister’s home, Smith is going to hold off on looking for a condo for now.

“I asked my real estate agent when we could start hunting; she said maybe June,” says Smith. “But I am getting my mortgage pre-approval paperwork completed this week, so I am ready to buy when we are up and running again.”

The post ‘I Closed On My Home Sale During the Coronavirus Crisis’ appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

8 Secrets to Buying a Home Out of State, Without the Risk of Remorse

December 11, 2019

iStock

Buying real estate is stressful (mortgages, down payments, and lenders!). Buying a home out of state? That’s downright scary.

We probably don’t have to tell you why: Typically, you won’t have the luxury of being able to spend hours touring open houses. You can’t pop by to see the neighborhood at midnight. And you very likely have no idea how hellish the daily commute for your new job really is.

Understandably, you might feel that you’re rolling the dice on a new home or even your first home—and setting yourself up for buyer’s remorse.

But with the right people on your team, and a good real estate agent (plus a little bit of luck), you can make a purchase with no regrets. I know this because I bought a new home in another state sight unseen—and it worked out great!

So take a deep breath, buyer, and keep reading for the step-by-step essential secrets to buying a new house out of state.

1. Do your research—and then do some more

You should always do loads of real estate research before purchasing a home, regardless of whether it’s 30 miles away in a different state or 3,000. But digging through the internet becomes extremely important when you’re buying from afar.

Of course, you’re going to have a real estate agent to help you find the right home (more on that later). But don’t just count on that. Be your own advocate, fire up Google, see what you can learn—and give yourself as much lead time as possible.

“The earlier people can start the real estate process, the less stressful it is,” says William Mulholland, director of ARC Relocation.

2. Be picky when choosing a real estate agent

When you’re relocating, you need to rely on your agent to be your eyes and ears. So it’s imperative to find someone you trust to have your best interests at heart.

“The relationship between the buyer and the Realtor® is the most important thing,” says Dillar Schwartz, a Realtor in Austin, TX.

“You need to know that your agent is listening, that they understand your specific real estate needs,” adds Schwartz, who helped me with my relocation.

To find the right agent: Start with personal referrals, and then vet anybody you’re considering, Mulholland says. Look for the CRS (Certified Residential Specialist) or CRP (Certified Relocation Professional) designations.

“These designations indicate that someone has gone through an extra level of training,” Mulholland explains.

You can use a real estate site (such as this one) to uncover more info about how long the agents have been at the job, their sales volume, the areas they specialize in, and client reviews.

3. Consider a relocation specialist

If you can’t find an agent with a CRP designation (or even if you can), consider reaching out to a relocation specialist. Relocation specialists don’t just work for big companies; Mulholland says many of his firm’s clients are individuals making long-distance moves on their own.

A specialist can help you with nearly all aspects of your move (aside from actually negotiating your home purchase). They can hook you up with the right agent to start your home search, or connect you with reputable movers, a trusted title company, a home inspection company, or an expert on the local school system.

Best of all? It’s free. These professionals make their money from vendor referrals, not by charging clients. (They can even negotiate better rates on things like moving services, and advocate for you if anything goes wrong.)

4. Be wary of scammers

Unfortunately, buying from out of state opens you up to the possibility of getting taken for a ride.

“You have to be sure the person is actually real, that the home is real,” Mulholland says. “It’s so easy to put something fake online.”

One common scam to watch out for: The swindler will create a listing for a house that’s not actually for sale, use stolen pictures, and advertise it at a price that is too good to be true. After an out-of-state buyer (you!) responds, a fake “bidding war” takes place. When you put down earnest money to secure your offer, the scammer takes off with your down payment.

Avoid situations like this by working with an agent you trust.

5. Ask the ‘stupid’ questions

If something is confusing, don’t hesitate to ask questions, even if they seem silly. Regardless of whether you’ve bought and sold property before, the process in another state will probably be very different.

For instance, earnest money (called a deposit in some places) can range from a few hundred dollars to 10% of the purchase price of the home. Some states do inspections before going into contract, some afterward. Some closings happen just weeks after going into contract, and some take months.

If something seems fishy, it could be standard process, or you could have uncovered a potential problem with your purchase.

6. Get a second opinion, if you can

Ideally, you’ll be able to take a quick trip to your new city to see the most promising listings in person. If not? Your agent can always use a video app (e.g., Skype or FaceTime) and take you along for a tour.

But there’s a lot you can’t tell from FaceTime: smells, sounds, and that hard-to-describe-but-all-important gut feeling that can best be described as “vibes.”

If you have any friends or relatives in the area, arrange for them to do a walk-through of the finalists on your list.

7. Try to make it to the inspection

If you can travel to only the inspection or the closing, you should choose the inspection.

“Pictures on the inspection report are great, but if you can be there in person, you can really understand the issues,” Mulholland says.

Plus, most inspectors are happy to teach new homeowners about regular maintenance they should be doing and show them small things that won’t affect that sale but should be fixed.

“They can teach you things you might not know about your home otherwise,” he adds.

8. Don’t sweat the closing

So you can’t be there in the flesh to sign a pile of paperwork. No biggie—these days, remote closings are becoming increasingly common.

One pro tip, though: Work with a title company that has a national network, so you can be sure it operates in both your current state and your new state, Mulholland suggests. Then you’ll either pop into a local office or pay a notary to come to you.

Once you’ve got the keys (or at least, the closing paperwork) in hand, the really fun part starts: your cross-country move. Bon voyage!

The post 8 Secrets to Buying a Home Out of State, Without the Risk of Remorse appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Come and Get It, Please! The Weirdest, Grossest Things Home Sellers Leave Behind

October 31, 2019

trekandshoot/iStock

Once the ink is dry on your purchase agreement, it’s time to close the deal and bring your belongings into your new home. But what happens when moving day unearths some seriously odd items left behind by the previous residents?

Sellers are supposed to remove everything from the house that wasn’t previously agreed to be part of the sale. Still, many homeowners dish on social media about finding stuff that they’d wished the sellers had packed up, tossed out, or hauled away—including a hyperbaric chamber for small animals, a stash of porn under the floorboards, and a strange self-portrait of the previous resident. (We can’t make this stuff up.)

So we asked irritated buyers and their savvy real estate agents: What do you do when you literally get more than you bargained for?

Disgusting discoveries

When Jane Langille and her family moved into their Toronto-area home, they were dismayed to discover that the sellers had left large stacks of old magazines behind, and they hadn’t mowed the lawn or cleaned a toilet in weeks.

And things quickly went from bad to worse.

“They left someone’s old tooth in the bathroom cabinet under the sink, and a bottle of liquid people use to teach dogs where to pee. It had leaked in the kitchen cabinet, and it reeked to high heaven,” Langille recalls.

Stacey Freed’s experience in suburban Rochester, NY, was even stranger.

“I found a weird flesh-toned rubber cone in the wall where the bathtub pipes were. My husband and I had no idea what it was,” says Freed. “My 80-year-old father Googled it and announced it was a sex toy.”

Can sellers do that?!

While some buyers worry about items being taken from the home that were included in the purchase price, it’s much more common that sellers leave stuff behind, says Danielle Stepp, a Realtor® at Foundation Realty in Tecumseh, MI.

“Two of the biggest things I’ve seen left in a house after a seller has moved out are pianos and ashes,” Stepp says. “You have this urn, and you can’t throw out Uncle Billy, but you can ‘accidentally’ forget him. Just as you can say that the piano fits the room so well, we thought we’d leave it for the buyers.”

The thing is, sellers can’t just randomly leave things in the home, even if they weigh a ton and are a huge pain to move, adds Rona Fischman, principal broker at 4 Buyer’s Real Estate in Cambridge, MA.

“Sellers are obligated to leave the house free of all possessions and broom-clean, which means that anything that’s big enough to push with a broom is supposed to be gone,” Fischman explains. She often sees sleeper sofas left behind, because they’re impossibly heavy, along with 1950s-era dead refrigerators in the basement.

“Probably the most disgusting bit I’ve ever seen in my life was a house with a refrigerator that had rotten food in it. When we walked in, we thought somebody had died in there,” she recalls.

Sometimes, sellers honestly just forget things

Moving is exhausting, and sometimes sellers just run out of steam, Fischman says.

For example, she once did a walk-through in a big, old Victorian house that had lots of window seats with storage spaces, so she made sure to peek inside every nook and cranny.

“We found a bag with equipment for a whole hockey team—a couple of thousand dollars’ worth of sticks, pads, and helmets,” she recalls. “The seller came back and got it within a couple of days. Another time, we found four bags of stuffed animals in an eave. The seller didn’t want them, so we asked if we could give them away. She wanted to ask her kids—who were 35. They came back and took their favorites before we gave them away.”

Inspect the property before you get the keys

So how do you keep from having your own disgusting discovery? A final walk-through—before closing day—is the best way to ensure that the house is empty and move-in ready, Stepp says.

“Once the closing is finished, it’s much harder to take care of any issues that have arisen,” she notes.

During your preclosing once-over, take photos of anything that’s not supposed to be there, so your agent can present them at closing, Fischman adds, because all items should be collected at the seller’s cost, not yours.

“When we say, ‘We have an estimate from a mover who will charge us $300 to get rid of all this stuff,’ the seller’s attorney usually says, ‘Fine. Here’s a check for $300,’” she says.

If all else fails, take the sellers to court

If the previous owners won’t cough up some cash to have their things carted away, buyers may go the legal route, says Stepp.

“Many times, the only way to settle things is to go through the court system, but that can take months, with no guarantees,” Stepp says,

Good things get left behind, too

When Vanessa McGrady moved into her Los Angeles condo, it was as if Santa had stopped by first.

“There was a brand-new, boxed KitchenAid mixer, a coffee maker, and four crates of sweet collectible Christmas ornaments,” McGrady recalls. “I kept trying to get hold of the previous owners, and no dice. I donated the coffee maker to hurricane efforts, kept the KitchenAid, and gave away the ornaments at my annual Christmas party.”

Brette Sember’s sellers in Clarence, NY, left two ’50s-style coupe glasses and a split of Champagne for her.

“We also found a can of boiled peanuts and a pack of American cheese in the fridge,” she recalls.

Nothing like a snack after a long moving day!

The post Come and Get It, Please! The Weirdest, Grossest Things Home Sellers Leave Behind appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

4 Huge Mistakes You Might Make Moving From a City to the Suburbs

December 17, 2018

There comes a time in many people’s lives—usually when the words “baby” or “school district” become a regular part of the vocabulary—when people flee the glamorous city to the charming suburbs. Only where, exactly, should you go? How do you find that perfect place where your neighbors seem simpatico rather than psycho?

Alison Bernstein once struggled with these same questions when contemplating moving her own family outside New York City.

“We made the quintessential buyer’s mistake,” says Bernstein. “We picked the perfect town, or so it seemed, based on our checklist. But the problem is, you very seldom know what you should look for, and you don’t consider vital intangibles. So we, like so many people, made a bad decision.”

They picked a suburb that, looking back, “was great, but just not a good personality fit for us,” she says. In short, it was too big. “I grew up in a small town, and I wanted to recreate that,” she explains. “I wanted people to know my name at the local coffee shop. I wanted the pizza place to know my kids, and what they liked. Things that mattered to us—like having our kids get to know others the same age—weren’t so easy, since there were so many schools in the district.”

So Bernstein and her family picked up and moved to a smaller town that feels just right, 45 minutes north of the city. She founded Suburban Jungle, a business that matches city clients with the right suburbs and partners with various local agents in every town who have been vetted, selected, and trained to work with their team. She began the advisory firm in New York City, but has since expanded to include Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington DC, placing thousands of happy families in their new communities.

“I realized the things we had been focused on when we moved weren’t the key elements,” she explains. “So my company makes certain that people ask the right questions and make the best decisions for their family.”

Everyone starts out with the same wish list—a great school district, a short commute, low taxes—but there’s a better way to approach your next-home hunt.  Here, Bernstein shares some of the key mistakes parents make when moving to the ‘burbs.

1. Focusing on the house rather than the whole neighborhood

When picking a new home, most people (understandably!) focus on the property itself—how many bedrooms, bathrooms, how big is the lot? After all, who can resist poring over floor plans and listing photos of sun-flooded kitchens? But no house is an island: It’s part of a community, as you will be, too. To make sure you fit in, get a feel for the community and whether it offers the lifestyle and kinds of neighbors you are looking for.

Bernstein’s advice: “Don’t just visit the well-known towns—what we call the brand-name towns that most people aspire to. Just because a lot of people have heard of a town doesn’t mean it’s right for you.” She recommends taking as much time as you can to hang out in different ’hoods.

Try on a couple of towns—check out their cafés, their parks. Are the playgrounds full or empty on a Saturday afternoon? Are the kids there with parents or au pairs?

“Have dinner in the town. See what the people are like, what the mood is like,” Bernstein suggests. Think about whether this feels comfortable and a good fit. It’s only when you settle on a place that does that you are ready to start comparing whether you like a bungalow better than a Colonial.

2. Finding a ‘good school district’ that’s not a good fit for your kids

Let’s be real: Education is one of the top motivators for a move to the ’burbs, Bernstein says, “Everyone talks about wanting a ‘good school district,’ but the key thing here is, what does that mean for your family? A school that ranks well on standardized tests may be a pressure-cooker that your child won’t thrive in, or it may not have much of an arts program.”

Getting hung up on class size is another rookie move. While no one wants their child in a class of 50, also look at the total school enrollment. Would your child do well in a school that typically has a total of 1,000 kids per grade, even if the class size is acceptable? Do you want a district with one elementary school (small-town living) or are you looking for something with several elementary schools and possibly some specialized schools attuned to your child’s interests and talents?

Here’s another tip from Bernstein: As you narrow your choices, “go to a local school at the a.m. drop-off time and take a look. Who is dropping off the kids—nannies? Moms and dads en route to the train station? Yoga-pants-wearing at-home parents? This will also help you see if this community reflects the lifestyle you are seeking.”

3. Thinking about commute time rather than quality

Before decamping for the ’burbs, most people lock in on a commute time—say, “I won’t be on the train for more than 40 minutes each way.” But that can cause you to overlook a lot of the intangibles, says Bernstein. “Ask yourself, Would you rather be on a packed, standing-room-only local train for 40 minutes a day … or, what if you could be seated on an express train for 45 minutes a day?”

You won’t be able to really evaluate the commute unless you, well, commute. Bernstein suggest you do just that, at rush hour, and see what you are getting yourself into. Sure, it takes time, but can help you avoid locking into a “dream house” that comes with a surprise commute from hell twice daily. (Note: A little research will also yield info on a train line’s “on-time” record—another good bit of data to know.)

While you are doing a dry-run commute, scope out the parking situation, too. Many “hot” towns have packed parking lots with waiting lists and with prized parking permits costing thousands a year. Call the town office and inquire about the details, so you’re prepared.
Bernstein has another great tip for sussing out towns based on commutes.

“Pull out an area map and scan it carefully,” she suggests. “There are wonderful small towns—hidden jewels, even—that don’t have their own train station.” These villages tend to be overlooked by people moving to the suburbs, but are worth your attention. (Ask your real estate agent for help with this, too.) You might be able to move to one of these places and walk or drive three minutes to a neighboring town’s train station.

4. Assuming you’ll easily find child care nearby

Most people moving out of the city do so for the sake of children (current or future), but you can’t assume the child care options are the same in the suburbs as in an urban setting. If you are a two-career couple, see what options exist nearby.

“Few suburbs are truly walkable. If you need day care, how far a drive would that be, and how long would it take during the a.m. rush hour?” asks Bernstein. What time at the end of day do they close, and what happens if you are running late? Is the town one that has a strong au pair network, or are most moms home with their kids? This info doesn’t just let you envision your daily schedule—it will tell you a lot about the community and whether it will be a good fit for your family.

The post 4 Huge Mistakes You Might Make Moving From a City to the Suburbs appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

6 Reasons Why Winter Is Actually the Most Chill Time to Buy a Home

December 15, 2018

When the weather outside is frightful, trudging door to door to look at houses might seem like a fool’s errand. Everybody knows spring and summer are the home-buying seasons, and winter is the time when you—and sellers—cool it for a bit and take a break, right?

While it’s true that things do slow down in the winter, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, it’s cold. Yes, fewer homes are for sale. Yes, moving in a snowstorm is a pain no one should experience. But there are quite a few darned smart reasons to buy a home in the winter. In fact, we’d argue that this might even be the best time to buy a home—if you can. Here’s why.

1. There’s less competition

Not everyone’s willing to look at homes in single-digit temperatures. The months of May, June, July, and August make up 40% of existing-home sales, while January and February account for less than 6%.

For sellers, that’s not-so-hot news. But buyers should rejoice.

“Buying in the winter knocks out a large chunk of the buyer competition, allowing you to be a bit more selective with your home purchase,” says Cincinnati real estate agent Eric Sztanyo.

Sure, more summer inventory means there’s a better chance of finding your dream home. But your chances of successfully buying any home are higher when it’s chilly. Fewer buyers mean fewer all-cash, over-asking offers—making your traditionally financed offer more appealing.

2. Sellers are motivated—and willing to make a deal

Most likely, sellers listing their home in the depths of winter seriously want to sell. That gives buyers the upper hand.

“Many people place their homes on the market at this time of the year because they need to,” says Lauren McKinney, a Realtor® in Asheville, NC. “Many sellers are looking to get out fast and will be more willing to work with you.”

You’ll also want to keep an eye on each home’s “cumulative days on market,” which you’ll find on the home’s listing details page. It’s possible that the house has been lingering on the market—giving you more leverage to land a fantastic home for a fraction of the price you would have paid six months earlier.

“If you are buying in the winter, you may want to target houses that have been on the market for a few months, because you might just find a seller who is more motivated to accept a lower offer,” Sztanyo says.

But remember: Just because a seller’s eager doesn’t necessarily mean you should dramatically lowball or make unreasonable demands—you can sabotage yourself if you get cocky. Instead, work with your agent to determine an appropriate negotiation strategy.

3. You can put the house through its paces

In most climates, winter puts stress on the home. That gives you the perfect opportunity to evaluate the property under the worst conditions possible. A home that might seem perfect during the temperate spring could look wholly different in the winter.

“You’ll never know how drafty the windows may be or how weak the insulation is when previewing a house in the spring and the summer,” Sztanyo says. “Buying a house in the winter allows you to put the furnace’s ability to keep you warm to the test.”

Plus, you’ll get a better idea of what you’re in for on the home’s worst days: Is that driveway going to be a pain in the you-know-what to shovel? Do you spot ice dams on the roof? How does the home look with barren trees and shrubs? Just as you’d judge a first date who shows up wearing a track suit, this is your chance to be extra critical of a house you’re thinking of committing to.

4. Hiring movers is usually easier

No one can claim that it’s easier to move in the winter. If you’ve ever done it, you know it’s sheer misery to move all of your possessions in inclement weather. But the logistics are simplified when you aren’t competing with a hundred other moving households.

“Movers aren’t booked solid like in the spring and summer months,” McKinney says. “It’s not a bad time to move.”

You might even be able to negotiate a lower price because of the chilled demand. Just make sure to be flexible and allocate a few days’ window for moving—if your moving day falls during the next bomb cyclone, you might have to reschedule.

5. You can enjoy last-minute tax savings

If you’re purchasing your first home, buying in the winter gives you a few extra months of potential tax deductions.

‘The holidays are your last chance to buy that home and use it as a write-off for your 2018 taxes,” says mortgage banker Ralph DiBugnara.

Depending on your local laws, you can deduct mortgage interest, taxes, and points—although you should consider talking to a professional before getting too excited. The new tax law might affect your mortgage interest deduction.

6. Homes close faster

In the busy spring and summer months, your mortgage broker might be backed up days or even weeks—which is beyond frustrating when your closing is planned around your lender’s schedule. But during the holidays, DiBugnara says, things slow down by 25% to 30%.

“You will be able to close your loan much faster, as wait times are much shorter during the holiday season,” he says.

That means you’ll be cuddling up in front of that fireplace sooner than expected. Nothing wrong with that, right?

The post 6 Reasons Why Winter Is Actually the Most Chill Time to Buy a Home appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

6 Times It’s Actually Smarter to Buy a New Home Before Selling the Old

December 11, 2018

You should never buy a new house before selling your old home … at least, that’s the conventional wisdom. Because if you buy before you sell, you run the risk of owning two homes at once—and carrying two mortgages! What if your first home doesn’t sell anytime soon? The financial ramifications are too scary to even consider, right?

Not necessarily. For some home buyers, it actually does make more sense to buy your new home before you sell your old one. Here are six times to seriously consider this option, along with tips for handling the challenges you might face along the way.

1. You’re buying in a seller’s market

A seller’s market refers to times when there are more buyers looking for houses than there are houses available for sale. And this puts buyers at a disadvantage.

“In a strong seller’s market, buyers face stiff competition with multiple offers and little available inventory. In that environment, it can take several tries before getting an offer accepted,” says Christine McCarron, a real estate agent and investor in Brookline, MA.

Since your efforts to buy a home may be a long and arduous slog, it may make sense to secure a deal on your new digs before you put your current house on the market. This is especially true if your old home is also located in a seller’s market, which is likely if you’re buying a new house in the same area. This means you’ll probably have plenty of interest in your home, and no problem selling it once you’re ready.

Not sure what kind of market you’re in? Here’s more on seller’s markets and how to tell if you’re in one yourself.

2. You want to remodel your new home (or your old one)

If you’re living in a fixer-upper or you have your eye on one, buying before you sell may actually make a whole lot of sense. The reason: This strategy gives you a place to live while renovating the other residence. That way, you and your family don’t have to live in a construction zone!

And here’s another perk: If you’re fixing up the house you currently own, it could boost your home’s value, which positions you to receive top dollar for it, according to Ralph DiBugnara, vice president of retail sales of Residential Home Funding in New York City.

3. You have kids

Let’s just say it’s not easy to sell a house that’s overrun with children, and all the toys and messes that crop up in their wake. It can even hurt the odds that your home will sell at all.

“With an active family, the pristine condition that home buyers expect—due to TV shows that display staged, model-like homes—just doesn’t happen unless everyone is out, everything is cleaned, everything is repaired, and the home is staged with furniture with no worries of it getting covered in grape juice,” says Cari McGee, a real estate agent in Kennewick, WA.

Getting your home sales-ready, and keeping it that way, may be simpler if you’re already living in your new home (plus, you don’t have to uproot your little ones more than once).

4. You’re downsizing

Downsizing is an especially challenging task. You’re faced with sorting through the contents of your current home, which tends to be a time-consuming and emotional ordeal. Buying a new home before selling gives you time to sort through your belongings and simplify the process.

Lukasz Kukwa, a real estate agent in Westfield, NJ, has seen this approach work well for his older clients, particularly since with downsizing, the second mortgage is probably a smaller one.

With downsizing, “it is a good idea to take this approach—buying before selling—since the financial burden of carrying two mortgages will be of smaller significance since you’re buying a cheaper, smaller home,” Kukwa says.

5. You’ve found a great deal, or your dream home

Some houses are just too good to pass up. If you’ve found an amazing bargain or the home of your dreams, you may want to snap it up! If not, you might regret how playing it safe meant you missed out on this once-in-a-lifetime deal.

6. You can deal with moving only once

Here’s one huge downside to selling home No. 1 before buying home No. 2: You’ll probably have to endure the wholly unpleasant process of moving twice.

“If the homeowner sells their existing home first, it requires them to move out and find temporary housing and storage. Once the new home is purchased, it would require moving again,” says Jeffrey Hensel, broker associate at North Coast Financial in Oceanside, CA. “Moving twice is inconvenient and costly.”

According to the American Moving & Storage Association, the average cost of moving in state totals $1,170. An out-of-state move will cost much more: $5,630. If moving and coughing up that amount twice is a major turnoff or an all-out deal breaker, then you’re certainly a candidate for buying before you sell.

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How to buy a new home before selling your old one

Even if you have good reason to buy before you sell, that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. For one, would you even qualify in lenders’ eyes to carry two mortgages at once? And would you want to? Here’s how to navigate these challenges.

Can’t carry two mortgages? Consider a bridge loan

First off, let’s face the fact that even if you’re fine having two mortgages, lenders may not feel the same way about your prospects.

“Because of debt-to-income ratios, it may be impossible to qualify for the second mortgage before paying off your first,” says Eric Sztanyo, a real estate agent in Cincinnati.

Your debt-to-income ratio refers to the amount of your debt payments compared with the amount of your gross monthly income. Lenders are typically looking for a low debt-to-income ratio, with less than 28% of your monthly income going to mortgage payments. If a second mortgage will take your debt-to-income ratio over this percentage, you may not be able to qualify for a second mortgage.

In this situation, Sztanyo recommends considering a bridge loan.

With a bridge loan, “you are able to buy the second home using the equity of the first home,” he says.

A bridge loan is a short-term loan based on the equity and value of your current residence. You typically need at least 20% equity in your home as well as good credit to qualify. These loans often have high interest rates, though, and if your home doesn’t sell quickly, you may be stuck making loan payments on top of your new mortgage payment.

Add a home-selling contingency to your contract

Even if you do qualify for two mortgages, that doesn’t mean you’ll be comfortable doing so. If the very idea of stressing your finances like this makes you break out in a cold sweat, consider adding a home sale contingency to your home purchase contract. This contingency gives you a set amount of weeks or months to sell your current home before your new home purchase goes through—thus buying you some much-needed time.

The downside? This contingency is not particularly appealing for sellers who want to move soon. That said, some may be willing to opt for this option if they don’t have many offers or are on a flexible schedule to move out.

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Not sure if buying before selling is for you? Tune in tomorrow for the other side: why it may be smarter to sell your old home before buying new. 

The post 6 Times It’s Actually Smarter to Buy a New Home Before Selling the Old appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.