Monthly Archives: May 2013

Your Upgrades Could Be Downgrades

With today’s homeowners only expecting to stay put for about five to seven years, many must rethink major upgrades or renovations that may hurt them when it comes time to sell.

Zillow highlights five of the worst upgrades you can make if you’re hoping to resell soon. Most of them sound like great home improvement projects; many are. But they might not appeal to everyone, so exercise restraint if you’re not in it for the long haul.

  1. Overblown Gardens. Elaborate landscaping and gardening may sound like your backyard paradise, but it’s also some people’s worst nightmare. If you’re looking to sell, your buyers will most likely be interested in neat, but low-maintenance, lawns, not the hanging gardens of Babylon.
  2. Garage Turned Family Room. You may crave the extra space that your garage-to-family-room conversion yields, but many buyers are unwilling to make that trade. Garages offer not only car parking, but storage for your outdoor items and other things you can’t find room for. Getting rid of it could cost you.pool
  3. Removing a Bedroom. Jettisoning a smaller bedroom to enlarge a master suite or home office could cost you in the long run. Extra bedrooms add tremendous value to a home, and a two-bedroom home with a cavernous master suite and walk-in closet just won’t have the same selling power as a standard three-bedroom house.
  4. Taking a Dip. You may end up taking a bath by adding a backyard pool. While they may be fun, pools could actually hurt your home’s resale value. They boost homeowners’ insurance rates, carry loads of maintenance, and can be a major turn-off for families with small children.
  5. Making it Too Personal. Adding too many personal touches–whether it’s a custom pink tile you absolutely love or shag carpeting you think is stylish–could turn buyers away who see the house as a fixer-upper instead of the pinnacle of design. When it comes time to sell, nothing beats mass appeal–even if you don’t like it.

Mortgage Rates Hit 12-Month High

Mortgage rates are continuing to creep up as the real estate market improves, rising to their highest average levels in 12 months.

price increase

The average for 30-year fixed rates peaked around 3.71% this week, up from earlier lows between 3.4% and 3.5%. Cutting back to 15 years will shave off about 1%, with averages hovering about 2.87%.

Rising rates could cool the housing market, but rates are still at historically low levels, letting borrowers take advantage of increased purchasing power. Rates could continue their upward trend as the overall economy recovers and the housing market regains it momentum.

Get Creative With Chalkboard Paint!

Chalkboards aren’t just for elementary schools anymore!

With the expanding use of chalkboard paint, crafty people have started putting chalkboards in places you would never have dreamed of. But before getting into the fun part, the basics: chalkboard paint is applied like any other paint by rolling it onto a clean, smooth surface. Most manufacturers recommend using a wet towel to wipe off the chalk instead of a traditional eraser. Light-colored chalks will wipe away without leaving residue.

Now for the creative ideas:

playroom

Give the kids the ultimate playroom!

molding

Add decorative molding to frame out the chalkboard

kitchen wall

Paint a whole wall in your kitchen for grocery lists

calendar

Use boxes to create a permanent calendar

Confused By Kitchen Counters? Help Is Here!

Unsure if granite resists stains better than marble? Not sure if laminate is easier to clean than stainless steel? Don’t even know you had an option for paper countertops? Have no fear–Houzz has put together a simple primer for all your options!

Its Kitchen Countertops 101: Choosing a Surface Material cuts right to the chase, comparing 11 materials. Get the lowdown on:

marble

  • Granite (completely unique)
  • Solid Surface (maintenance free)
  • Quartz (great looks; low maintenance)
  • Marble (ultra elegant, but prone to stains)
  • Tile (inexpensive, but with grout stains)
  • Laminate (the least expensive)
  • Soapstone (ages with time)
  • Stainless Steel (clean and sleek)
  • Concrete (rugged but expensive)
  • Butcher Block (rustic but prone to expanding)
  • Paper Composite (ecofriendly but pricy)

The materials and installation can run you anywhere from $10 per square foot to $125 per square foot, so opting for an expensive material drives up the cost quickly. 

Cruise on over to check out the full scoop on each one–and take a look through the kitchen photos!

How Much Home Can You Afford?

It’s the one thing buyers must know before they start looking: how much house I can actually afford? Thankfully, some easy-to-use resources will let you figure that out.

Many personal finance or real estate sites include mortgage calculators. They let you plug in your income, debts, down payment, interest rate, property taxes, and homeowners insurance to give you an estimate of your buying power based on typical guidelines of a mortgage payment not exceeding 36% of your gross monthly income.

Take a typical example on Zillow’s calculator:

calc

Annual Income: $75,000
Down payment: $20,000
Other monthly debts: $500
Mortgage Terms: 30 year fixed at market rate of 3.579%
Property taxes: 1.125%
Homeowners Insurance: $800 annually
Private Mortgage Insurance: $174 monthly

According to Zillow, that’ll let you buy a $296,619 home at a monthly payment of about $1,750.

Happy hunting!

Houses Moving Quicker as Market Picks Up

It’s not just a mirage: the housing market is still picking up steam. So if it seems like houses are on and off the market quicker, it’s because they are.

According to Realtor.org’s Economist’s Outlook blog, half of houses listed are now sold within two months. Fully 37% of listings move within a month. On the other side of spectrum, only 8% of houses end up sitting for over a year. That’s a promising sign, especially compared to the same time last year, when only 27% of listings sold within a month.

Check out all the numbers:

chart

Fake Grass: Seriously

Many homeowners have no doubt muttered under their breath that replacing their lawn with astroturf would make their lives infinitely easier. Turns out they’re probably right: synthetic grass is taking off as an alternative to high-maintenance grassy lawns.

As opposed to traditional grass and sod, synthetic grass is a woven product that lays over a drainage layer–typically gravel–and secured around the edges. Water can still drain through it, and it comes in several varieties to mimic the natural surroundings.

Houselogic provides a good overview of the pros and cons. Let’s tackle them and see if it’s too good to be true!

Pros

fake grass

  • Time saving. With no need to mow, fertilize, and water, synthetic will save you tons of time each summer.
  • Money saving. This one’s tricky. Over the long run, synthetic grass will save you money because of the super-low maintenance. So if you plan to stick around for five or ten years, it’ll be worth the investment.
  • Water saving. Reducing water usage–especially in drought-prone areas–can be a huge win for homeowners.

Cons

  • Upfront cost. While it can save money in the long run, the upfront cost is steep: anywhere from $5 to $20 per square foot. In that range, a 20′ by 50′ yard will set you back anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000.
  • Low maintenance, not no maintenance. Even the fake stuff will take some effort. Leaves and other debris will accumulate, so you’ll still have some work. Plus, it doesn’t absorb and break down pet waste like grass, so it needs fairly regularly washdowns if pets will be using it.
  • Heat. Synthetic materials give off much more heat than normal grass, putting a premium on shade.

Swapping out the real stuff isn’t as tacky as it used to be–keep that in mind while you’re sweating over your weedwacker this summer!

Tracking Housing Growth by Infographic

The ever-interesting Trulia Trends blog offers another neat tool: an infographic showing when houses were built in major metro areas. It lets you track the amount of available listings by decade, highlighting the shift from old homes in the Northeast to practically brand new cities in the Sunbelt and South.

construction

The Virginia Beach-Norfolk metro area racks up an impressive 39% of listing that were built during the 2000s and 2010s.  That means well over one-third of listings are less than 13 years old–not bad! Home listings drop off quickly from before the 1980s.

It also lets you track the booms and busts by decade. For example, Las Vegas, which was severely punished by the housing downturn, boasts a whopping 46% of available homes built during the 2000s. That means almost one out of every two homes for sale in Las Vegas was built between 2000 and 2009.

Cape Coral, Florida, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana also rack up more than 40% of available homes from the 2000s. In Las Vegas, only 8% of homes were built during the 2010s; Cape Coral was able to build only 6% of listed homes during the 2010s.

Compare that with Cincinnati, Ohio, and Houston and Austin, Texas, which can brag about incredible recent growth: more than 40% of current listing have been built since 2010.

Check it out!

Seven Tips for Going Solo

About 25% of home purchases are made by single people (and about twice as many single women buy compared to single men). If you’re one of them, your buying experience will differ slightly from a couples’ transaction, so MSN Real Estate has offered up seven handy tips to keep in mind when shopping: 

  • Get your finances in order. Single buyers have one income, but the seller probably
    won’t cut you a corresponding break on the sales price. So make sure you have your finances in tip-top shape before you start house hunting.for sale
  • Leave some margin. Again, with only one income, any hiccup can be a major setback. It’s best to come in under your budget and leave yourself some breathing space if tragedy strikes.
  • A good agent will pay off. Like always, a great realtor is invaluable; make sure they’re a part of your team!
  • Bring a friend. Mom, Dad, neighbor, best friend, whoever you can trust to tell you the truth.
  • Flexibility is key. Single buyers may be underwhelmed with how much house they can afford, especially young singles. You may have to forgo some of your dream-home amenities to get the keys to your own place.
  • Don’t be afraid to walk. If you’re feeling unnecessary pressure to buy a house, but just don’t feel comfortable with it, step away for a bit. Take some time to save, look, and think, then go for it again.
  • Bunk up. You might be buying your first place to avoid having a roommate, but rent payments can be mighty helpful to offset your new mortgage and maintenance expenses.

Getting into your own home is a great investment for everyone, so don’t be afraid to go at it alone! But first gather some trusted friends, a good realtor, and set realistic goals.

Learn From Someone Else’s Mistakes

Mistakes can be great learning experiences. But if you can learn the same lesson from someone else’s mistake, listen carefully and avoid the pain yourself. To help, the Trulia Trends blog has compiled an extensive survey of homeowner (and renter) regrets.

regret

More than half of renters registered some regrets about their decision. Chief among them: renting instead of buying. Almost half of renters with regrets identified this as their biggest one. So if you’re on the fence about renting vs. buying, keep that in mind!

Homeowners, however, listed different sore spots. Half of homeowners expressed some regrets, and the biggest one probably isn’t surprising: not buying enough house. More than one-third of homeowners with regrets said they bought a house that was too small. Rounding out the top five were regrets about not doing enough remodeling when they first moved in, failing to get enough information about the house before buying, not putting enough money down, and not being financially secure enough before buying.

Regrets about buying vs. renting didn’t pop up until number 15, with only 3% of overall homeowners expressing regret about their decision to buy instead of rent.

Check out the entire list to make a fully informed decision!