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The Commonwealth Blog

Monday, April 24, 2017

Realtors: Help Educate Buyers About the Pre-Approval Process

First-time home buyers sometimes come into the process knowing everything about the process—or nothing, but usually, it’s somewhere in between. It’s your job as a Realtor to educate your first-time home buyers about the pre-approval process, so they don’t get denied after they’ve found their dream home.

Every Realtor has heard horror stories about buyers in the mortgage approval process, getting denied or setting themselves up for failure. By walking your clients through the pre-approval process and making sure their expectations are in line with reality, you can help them achieve success. A good Realtor will help save clients from heartbreak and the collateral damage that could come from a lack of pre-approval.

The Benefits of Pre-Approval

While some buyers may think that pre-approval only helps Realtors and sellers, you can point out that it also helps buyers in many ways. By knowing how much they can borrow in advance, buyers can be confident in making an offer. Pre-approval also offers peace of mind, letting buyers know they have a loan they can rely on once their offer is accepted. A buyer without pre-approval will have a weaker offer and may miss out on their dream home if they can’t secure a loan to match their offer.

Provide a Checklist and Gather Documents

Getting pre-approval isn’t that complicated, but it can seem so to the buyer with the many documents they need. Give them a basic checklist of what they’ll need for their lender: income tax returns, W2s, bank statements, past rental information, titles, deeds, and additional documents related to their income. You can make this checklist once and hand it out to all your prospective first-time homebuyers.

Also, remind homebuyers who begin the process to save older documents as they might need to submit those documents to keep the pre-approval process from stalling.

Help Them Find the Right Lender

While you won’t go to the bank with your clients, make sure to let them know to discuss several different options for their mortgage. They need to look for the best combination of rates and features for a loan that meets their needs. By shopping around, they can find the best loan that offers flexibility and an excellent rate.

Show Them Houses Within Their Budget

Once you know what they’ve been pre-approved for, talk to your first-time home buyers about their down payment as well. You want to ensure that they only see homes that fit within their price range and budget—a pre-approval is usually all a bank will lend and attempting to make a more expensive offer can result in failure.

Make Sure the Pre-Approval Still Qualifies

Pre-approvals are only valid for so many months and then need to be renewed. While some first-time home buyers want to buy something immediately, you may need to ensure that your clients renew their pre-approval before making any offer. Keeping the pre-approval up-to-date will help you and your first-time home buyers. By following these tips, you can lead home buyers in the right direction with pre-approvals. When they’re armed with knowledge, you can help them find the perfect home.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Tips for Moving to the Suburbs

Moving to the suburbs after a life in the city can be difficult for many people. While this decision may make sense for increased square footage, better schools, and more shopping, the transition can be jarring. You may have had amenities in the city that you no longer have the same access to in the suburbs. Driving becomes more of a necessity, and public transportation options are limited—but it’s not all doom and gloom.

When moving out of the big city, many families search for a suburb that will provide them with more space and a better value for their money. Space is expensive in any city, including Boston, and a good suburb can provide your family with quality hospitals and doctor’s offices, shopping districts, recreation, and high-quality schools.

Here are some tips for locating the right suburb for your family and budget:

Find the Right School for Your Kids

Learning about the schools in a new area can be challenging. While it’s easy to find the hottest restaurants and cool shopping in a new locale, it can be much harder to ascertain whether a school is a good fit for your children. Utilize online forums and apps like School Zones from Domain to find the perfect school for your family. You’ll see property listings in neighborhoods and school zones you want to live in—to find the perfect fit.

Choose the Best Suburb for Your Family

Whether your family is growing or you just want a change of pace, moving to the suburbs can be a great decision. Leaving the city can help you invest in a property that will grow in value and give you more space—for children, pets, or just additional storage. When you’re scoping out your new neighborhood, look for the amenities you loved in your city home. Restaurants, shopping, quality doctors, fun activities for your family—whatever’s important to you. While you may not have as much within walking distance as you did in the city, there are still plenty of amenities to enjoy in the suburbs.

Easing the Transition

While you may not be moving far away from Boston to the suburb of your choice, moving can be rough on you and your family. Children and pets can be quite shaken by moving. Make sure to include children in your moving plans and help ease them into the transition by explaining why the move is positive. Make sure to bring favorite toys and belongings in the car with you (for kids and pets). By helping your children and pets ease into their new suburban home, you’ll all enjoy this new life more.

Use these tips when making a move from the city to the suburbs to help find the right property and location for your family. If you haven’t found the right home yet, don’t forget to enlist the help of a CENTURY 21 Commonwealth Realtor.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

CENTURY 21 Commonwealth Ranked Among Top Residential Real Estate Firms in 2017 REAL Trends 500

[PRESS RELEASE] CENTURY 21 Commonwealth, a leading resource for home buyers and sellers throughout Eastern Massachusetts, announced that it has placed 158th of all national firms by volume in the 2017 REAL Trends 500. CENTURY 21 Commonwealth also ranked 2nd by both volume and sides in Massachusetts.

This listing encompasses residential real estate brokerage firms from across the United States, ranked by volume sold, as well as other criteria. While CENTURY 21 Commonwealth consistently scores among the top performers in the CENTURY 21 family nationally, this listing ranks volume of the top 500 performers in the country, among all of the major real estate firms.

The REAL Trends 500, now in its 30th year, is recognized as the leader in ranking the performance of residential real estate services firms. The REAL Trends 500 realty firms outperformed the market compared against results reported by the National Association of Realtors® and the National Association of Home Builders. Results published by REAL Trends 500 are independently verified, making it a leader and a trusted source on the rankings of firms. REAL Trends 500 continues to rank firms first by closed transaction sides than by sales volume.

In 2016, CENTURY 21 Commonwealth had its best year yet, with sales of $1.4 billion, and over 3000 transactions. It is the #1 CENTURY 21 franchise in New England and within the top 10 in the United States. The company added 142 new agents in 2016.

George Patsio, Founding Partner of CENTURY 21 Commonwealth, said, “We are proud to be recognized on this highly respected industry list, it is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our employees and agents.” He added, “We had a great year in 2016 and continue to build on this momentum in 2017.”

About CENTURY 21 Commonwealth

Established in 2006, CENTURY 21 Commonwealth is a powerful resource for people seeking to buy or sell a home in eastern Massachusetts. The agency is at the forefront of the residential real estate brokerage through its uncommon commitment to its sales team with innovative marketing programs, cutting edge technology, and top-notch support systems. CENTURY 21 Commonwealth is dedicated to fostering passion, providing expertise and demonstrating integrity to all of their clients, agents and staff. In 2016, CENTURY 21 Commonwealth’s sales grossed over $1.4 billion in volume sold and ranks #1 in New England among CENTURY 21 franchises. CENTURY 21 Commonwealth employs over 450 agents, and 21 locations in addition to a Regional Support Center in Natick, MA. For more information, please visit http://commonmoves.com or call (508) 810-0700.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Want to Renovate? Check Deed Restrictions First

You’ve found a home you like at the right price in a great neighborhood, but it’s missing something. Maybe you want to extend the patio for entertaining or add a garage to protect your car from the elements. You tell yourself that it’s not a big deal that the home is missing one or two of the features you’re looking for because you can just renovate after you close.

Unfortunately, you may not be able to leap into those major renovation projects. That’s because some properties come with deed restrictions that limit the changes you can make to a home and the land it sits on.

What Are Deed Restrictions?

Deed restrictions, also referred to as restrictive covenants, are rules that tell a homeowner what they can and can’t do to their property. These rules are written into the real property records of the county. Deed restrictions go with the land, which means they don’t expire just because the property changes hands.

The goal of deed restrictions is to preserve the character of the neighborhood. These restrictions usually cover things that aren’t covered by local zoning regulations. For example, a deed restriction for a lot in Cape Cod might prevent the owner from building a three-story house if the home would block the neighbors’ view of the ocean. A deed restriction in a neighborhood full of traditional Colonial homes might prevent a homeowner from painting their house a bright color that clashes with the surrounding properties. Other common deed restrictions include limitations on:

  • The number of bedrooms (if the septic system on the property can’t support extra bedrooms)
  • The construction of a pool, shed, detached workshop, or second garage
  • The color, style, and construction materials used in exterior renovations
  • Extending a deck, patio, or balcony
  • Cutting down or planting trees on the property

How Do You Find Out About Deed Restrictions?

Since deed restrictions can curtail the best-laid plans of homeowners, it’s best to find out if a home you want to buy has any deed restrictions before you go through with the purchase. In Massachusetts, you can access a copy of a home’s deed by visiting your local Registry of Deeds Office. Fortunately, there’s an online directory that makes it easy to locate the registry office for your town.

You can also ask the current property owner and their real estate agent to provide you with information about deed restrictions. The home seller should already have access to the deed, as they will need it to transfer ownership of their property.

What If You Want to Change Deed Restrictions?

Maybe you’ve just discovered that the home you purchased comes with a deed restriction that gets in the way of your planned renovations. What now?

Your first step should be to check your deed carefully to see if the restriction has expired (most restrictive covenants only have a lifespan of 25 to 30 years if they’re not renewed). If it hasn’t, you should check whether there are provisions for changing it. For example, you may be able to violate the restrictive covenant if you get permission from all your neighbors. If the restriction hasn’t expired and there aren’t clear provisions for changing it, you may be able to get a judge to invalidate it. The judge may invalidate the deed restriction if:

  • The language is vague and unclear
  • Following the restriction is impractical
  • The restriction conflicts with local zoning laws
  • The restriction is outdated and has been widely disregarded by neighbors

The best way to avoid or change deed restrictions is to educate yourself on the subject. If you have more questions about deed restrictions during your home search, talk to a knowledgeable CENTURY 21 Commonwealth agent.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Home Sellers: Know What You Need to Disclose

If you’re selling a home in Massachusetts, the issues you’re legally obligated to disclose are limited. That’s because Massachusetts is a caveat emptor (“buyer beware”) state, and it’s the buyer’s responsibility to get a home inspection and ask the seller the right questions.

However, there are two things you’re legally required to disclose: lead paint and the presence of a septic system.

Lead Paint

Federal law requires that you tell buyers if there’s any lead paint in your home. Lead-based paints were banned in the US in 1978, so if your home was built after 1978, you’re in the clear. If you live in an older home, you’ll need to have a professional lead inspector check it out. You, your buyer, and your real estate agents will also need to sign a Property Transfer Notification Certification, which warns the buyer about the dangers of lead paint and tells them about any lead paint on the property. You need to give your buyer this notification before beginning the purchase and sale agreement.

Septic Systems

If you have a septic system on your property, it must have had an inspection in the past two years (before the sale). You must share the results of the inspection with the local board of health and your buyer. If your septic system needs repairs, you’re not legally required to make those repairs yourself. However, your buyer may try to make those repairs a contingency of the sale or negotiate a lower price to compensate them for the cost of fixing the septic system.

What the Buyer May Ask You to Disclose

Keep in mind that while the burden of discovery is on the buyer, you’re still required to answer honestly if your buyer or their agent asks you specific questions about the state of the property. Your buyer may ask you about issues like:

  • Water damage
  • Leaks
  • The presence of hazardous materials (such as radon)
  • Pest infestations
  • The presence of an underground storage tank

Your buyer also has the right to bring in their own home inspector, so there’s no point trying to hide defects that will come up in the course of the inspection. The best thing to do is to hire your own home inspector before selling your property. If the inspector uncovers any issues, make the necessary repairs as soon as possible—ideally before listing your house. That way, you and your buyer are less likely to encounter unpleasant surprises during the buyer’s home inspection.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Millennial Home Buyers: Avoid These 5 Mistakes

Buying a home is difficult at any stage of your life—but millennial home buyers are going through some of the biggest challenges of any generation yet. Home values in many markets have skyrocketed, wages have stagnated, and many millennials don’t have adequate education about personal finance. These young professionals are often purchasing their first homes and may be relatively recent college graduates.

Without proper education and sufficient income to purchase a house, it’s easy to make simple mistakes in the home buying process. Below are some of the most common mistakes millennial home buyers make. Regardless of what generation you consider yourself from, you can avoid these pitfalls and follow this advice in your home search.

Mistake #1: Not Getting Pre-Approved Before Shopping

In today’s instant gratification culture, we often decide what we want before knowing what we can afford. When planning for what will almost certainly be the largest purchase of your life, making sure you can afford it first is paramount. Meeting with a lender beforehand, either online or in person, will help you determine what loan amount and type you can get and what your monthly payments will be. A discussion of your financial situation with your creditor (and partner, if applicable) will help solidify what makes sense for you in a home and will get you a pre-approval letter, which tells sellers how much money you’re potentially qualified to borrow.

How to Fix It: Get pre-approved before you begin shopping so you know what you can afford and have a mortgage pre-approval to show the seller when making an offer.

Mistake #2: Putting Every Cent You Have into Your Down Payment

You’ve probably been saving up for a while for your home, making sacrifices for the eventual goal of buying this first home. But that doesn’t mean you should put all the money you’ve saved into your down payment. While it’s ideal to put 20% down on your home, having money for emergencies can be more important. Whether your car breaks down, you get divorced, or you lose a job, having money in an emergency fund rather than all tied up in your house is essential.

How to Fix It: Save some of your money in an emergency fund. 6-12 months of living expenses should be enough to take care of most situations. Make sure your mortgage payment is affordable even if you lose some of your income—don’t stretch yourself to your financial limit.

Mistake #3: Not Working with a Licensed Realtor (DIY Property Hunting)

Many millennials think they can do their home searches by themselves—hopping on the MLS or sites like Zillow and then contacting the agent listed. This person is the listing agent, who works for the seller, not for you. You won’t have a Realtor working on your side for negotiations, helping you save money and purchase the best home. While you don’t have to give up doing home searches, hiring a licensed Realtor can streamline the home buying process.

How to Fix It: No matter how independent you are, hire a licensed Realtor to help in your search. They’ll be working to support your best interests, and they have experience in the home buying process.

Mistake #4: Missing Your Home Inspection

One of the biggest mistakes anyone makes when purchasing a home is skipping their home inspection. A home inspection is especially important in Massachusetts, a “beware buyer” state where buyers assume the risk that properties may have defects. It’s up to you to determine if the house you plan to buy has problems such as a leaky roof or cracks in the foundation. A home inspection will help you find out what, if anything, is wrong with the home before the sale. You can then go back to the seller and negotiate any repairs. Whether it’s issues with appliances, the foundation, or the roof, the items that come up during the home inspection are integral to your decision to purchase a home.

How to Fix It: If possible, vet and choose the home inspector and be there personally during the inspection. Go over the home inspection report with your Realtor and determine how to proceed.

Mistake #5: Overspending on Your Home

It’s tempting to think that whatever loan amount the bank qualified you for is what you should spend on your home. This maximum amount that you can spend is likely not what your budget should be. In addition to the common expenses associated with a home, like insurance, utilities, etc., you are also now responsible for all repairs to the home. When drawing up the budget for your home, consider all expenses and emergencies that may come up.

How to Fix It: Carefully go over your budget with your partner and Realtor to determine a realistic price range for your new home—regardless of how much the bank pre-approves you to borrow.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Trending Colors for Your Home in 2017

If you’ve recently moved into a new home or want to breathe new life into an old space, consider repainting. These on-trend colors are designers’ picks for this year—speaking to clients’ personalities and evoking a mood. Rather than the simple neutral tones that have defined spaces for so long, choose one of these new trendy color palettes for your home to show off your style and character.

Windsor Pink

This beautiful shade of pink, a peach-salmon hybrid, has been showing up everywhere. It’s a little more subdued than bright or neon pinks and can act as a neutral. Sometimes known as millennial pink, this shade of pink can be a staple of your home.

Courtyard Green

This shade of green is a deep emerald that has historical context. You can find it around the world, everywhere from 17th-century country homes to modern Californian houses. This bluegrass green shade is perfect on floors or as an accent wall, as it is rich and beautiful.

Stone White

If your new home has a room without much natural light or you need to reflect light in your home, stone white might be the shade for you. It creates the appearance of natural light, magnifying any light that is present while being earthier than a dull white.

Dusk

Blue is simply in—and shades of it abound in 2017. Dusk is a gorgeous pale blue that doesn’t inspire the same fear that bright blues seem to put in many homeowners. Paint your kitchen dusk or use it in the bedroom for a relaxing feeling as you go to sleep.

Shadow

Paint brand Benjamin Moore’s color of 2017, Shadow, is a rich, deep amethyst. It creates an intimacy in any space that immediately draws you in. Use it for a dressing room, to layer a space as an accent wall, or to make space feel more premium and luxurious. This adaptable plum shade can work in many different situations, as long as you pair it with softer or brighter colors, alternately.

Cloudberry

Purple can mask other colors, especially when it’s too dark, but light purples and violets are in season in 2017. A light shade of purple like cloudberry blurs the line between masculine and feminine and transcends age groups. Choose violet to highlight a living room or brighten your kitchen; it’s extremely versatile.

Inner Glow

Yellows, which can evoke the sunniness that people want in their homes, are back in 2017. Everything from pale butter tones to dark yellows are becoming popular this year. Use these tones throughout spaces like the kitchen, carrying it from your walls to the furniture to finish off space.

If you’re looking to change up your home or add some new color to your space, these beautiful shades will help you transform any room. These beautiful colors are on trend for 2017 but will be beautiful in your house for many years. When it comes time to sell, buyers will love the colors as well.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

5 Things Not To Do in Your Listing Descriptions

You’ve taken magazine-worthy photos of your client’s property and written a couple of lines about their home’s features. That should be enough for the MLS, right?

The high-quality listing photos are a good start, but your work isn’t done. Your clients will expect you, as their Realtor, to write a concise but compelling listing description that makes home buyers want to see the property in person. And the first step towards writing a good listing description is recognizing what not to do.

Here are five things that you should keep out of your listing descriptions.

Use Vague or Subjective Phrases

What kind of images come to mind when you hear that a home has “a beautiful outdoor space?” And what do you think when you hear that a property is “a real gem?” Your idea of a beautiful outdoor space might involve a colorful garden, while another person’s idea might involve lots of flat, open space to set up a child’s play structure. And phrases like “a real gem” are so vague that home buyers could interpret them in countless ways.

To avoid falling back on clichés that are open to interpretation, focus on specific features. For example, that “beautiful outdoor space” might be a fenced-in yard lined with shade trees—and potential buyers will want to know that.

Choose Boring Descriptors

Just as you shouldn’t be vague, you also shouldn’t be boring. Avoid descriptors that don’t add value, like “move-in condition,” “clean,” and “massive.” Buyers expect that the home will be clean and move-in ready (unless otherwise specified), and “massive” does nothing to convey the actual size of the rooms or property.

Instead of using bland and unnecessary words, look for opportunities to incorporate words that have been proven to help homes sell, such as “granite,” “stainless,” and “landscaped.”

Write in All Caps

RESIST THE URGE TO KEEP CAPS LOCK ON. All-caps text can be hard to read, and buyers will feel like you’re yelling at them. Relying too heavily on all-caps text can be a crutch—instead of using a gimmick, you should write descriptions that draw buyers in by describing the features that matter most to them.

Fall Back on Real Estate Jargon

We know you’re trying to convey a lot of information in a small amount of space, but you still need to steer clear of abbreviations that home buyers might not understand. While your Realtor friends might recognize that MIL means mother-in-law plan and FDR stands for formal dining room, the average home buyer might wonder why you’re talking about millimeters or Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Make sure your descriptions are easy to read for people without a background in real estate.

Repeat Basic Data

The MLS will already include basic data about a property, such as the square footage and number of beds and baths. There’s no sense wasting space in the property description by repeating information that will already be right in front of the buyer. Instead, use your space to talk about the appealing features that might not be obvious from the data or photos, such as a property’s smart home technology or the distance to the nearest T stop.

Still worried that mistakes are slipping into your listing descriptions? Don’t forget to have a colleague or assistant review your sales copy. Getting a second set of eyes on your writing can help you catch things you might not have noticed at first, and that ultimately means your clients will get more powerful listing descriptions for their properties.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Inexpensive Ways to Prepare Your Home for Sale

If you're preparing to sell your home, you might not be too eager to invest in pricey renovations. However, there are a number of inexpensive things you can do to make sure your home looks its best. CENTURY 21 Commonwealth broker Marjorie Youngren has several suggestions, including updating your light fixtures and getting rid of outdated furniture. You can read Youngren's advice in full in her new Ask the Realtor column for The Boston Globe.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Best Boston Neighborhoods for Empty Nesters

The kids are out of the house, retirement is in reach (or in progress), and suddenly your suburban home is feeling a little too big. So what’s the solution? For many empty nesters who own homes outside of Boston, the next logical step is to downsize to a townhouse, condo, or apartment in the city.

Back in 2015, Realtor.com ranked Boston as the top city retirees would flock to in 2016, and it’s easy to see why. Many of the luxury condos and apartments in Boston seem tailor-made for Baby Boomers who have recently sold their suburban homes and are looking for a change of pace. Many empty nesters are ready to reduce their commuting time and home maintenance while still staying active. Downsizing to an apartment or condo in Boston gives those empty nesters easy access to entertainment, dining, shopping, and outdoor activities.

If you’ve been thinking of making the move to Boston once your kids leave home, be sure to check out the four great neighborhoods below.

The Seaport District

The Seaport district may be primarily known for its hotels and office buildings, but in the past several years, new residential development has begun drawing in affluent empty nesters. Luxury condos like 100 Pier 4 and the stunning Twenty Two Liberty building appeal to the buyer who’s looking for modern home design and waterfront views. In the historic Fort Point neighborhood (a part of the Seaport district), many older industrial buildings have been transformed into loft-style apartments and restaurants. For home buyers who truly want to live in the center of Boston, Seaport is a great option.

Back Bay

Back Bay is one of the most sought-after neighborhoods for Boston residents of all ages. Although this centrally-located neighborhood is famed for its historic brownstones, there are also newer luxury condos available to buyers and renters. Back Bay is a particularly appealing neighborhood for empty nesters who love getting outside and staying active. The Esplanade, which runs along the Charles River, provides a quiet place to walk, jog, or bike, and Back Bay Fens and Boston Public Garden offer plenty of green space.

Charlestown

Charlestown has the distinction of being the oldest neighborhood in Boston. However, that doesn’t mean it’s outdated or on the decline. The One Charlestown development project is adding more housing, increasing green space, and improving the neighborhood’s walkability. Residents often describe Charlestown as having a strong sense of community, and there are lots of local events for empty nesters who want to get to know their neighbors. Charlestown also provides easy access to downtown, Cambridge, and the North End—no driving necessary.

Brookline

For those empty nesters who want to be within arm’s reach of Boston but would like a little more space (and maybe even a parking spot), Brookline is a great choice. Brookline is technically considered its own small city, but with downtown Boston just a few stops away on the Green Line, it’s hardly a challenge to access big city amenities. Brookline boasts a mix of condos, townhouses, and detached single-family homes, and nearby entertainment runs the gamut from the beloved Coolidge Corner Theatre to the Thursday afternoon farmers’ market. Brookline is also known for its excellent and diverse mix of restaurants, and residents are never at a loss to find somewhere good to eat. The four neighborhoods described above are popular choices for empty nesters who want to move to Boston, but they’re far from the only good options. Talk with a CENTURY 21 Commonwealth Realtor to find the neighborhood and home that best matches your lifestyle.

The four neighborhoods described above are popular choices for empty nesters who want to move to Boston, but they’re far from the only good options. Talk with a CENTURY 21 Commonwealth Realtor to find the neighborhood and home that best matches your lifestyle.

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