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The Commonwealth Blog

Monday, February 20, 2017

Mid-Sized Cities Appeal to Recent College Grads

College graduates are often told to go where the jobs are, and for many, that means moving to a big city. However, the cost of living in a major metropolitan area can sometimes outpace the income that recent college grads are making at their entry-level jobs. When affordability is a concern, many young college-educated adults look to mid-sized cities as an alternative.

Tech startup GoodCall recently ranked 589 U.S. towns and cities based on their appeal to new college graduates. They looked at factors including affordability, amenities, entry-level job availability, and average salaries for adults with a bachelor’s degree. While their top 10 cities were scattered around the country, there was one trend that cut across geographic lines: the majority of the cities were mid-sized.

Seven of the top ten cities on the GoodCall list have populations of 115,000 or fewer. Many of these cities offer some of the same opportunities as big cities, in terms of amenities and job openings, but come with shorter commutes and lower monthly rent checks. That can be especially appealing to young adults who are paying down their student loans or trying to save up to buy their first home.

Of course, smaller cities aren’t the right fit for everyone. While there are nearby dining and entertainment options, there aren’t as many choices as there would be in a bigger city, and nightlife may be somewhat limited. Many residents of smaller cities are more car-dependent than they might be in a bigger city since there are fewer public transportation options. And in some cases, college graduates may need to look to larger cities for jobs and continuing education in their field. However, when mid-sized cities do provide the job opportunities and lifestyle that recent college grads are looking for, they can be an excellent choice.

While there were no Massachusetts towns or cities in GoodCall’s top 10 list, there are several cities in the Bay State that fit into the mid-sized category (with populations between 65,000 and 115,000), including:

  • Cambridge (3 miles from Boston)
  • Somerville (4 miles from Boston)
  • Quincy (10 miles from Boston)
  • Lynn (11 miles from Boston)
  • Newton (13 miles from Boston)
  • Framingham (23 miles from Boston)

Because these mid-sized cities are all relatively close to Boston, they offer the best of both worlds: a lower cost of living and the job opportunities and amenities of a big city.

Monday, February 20, 2017

What to Know about the T Before You Move to Boston

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (better known as the T) is one of the most affordable and easiest ways to get around the greater Boston area. Whether you’re planning to move to a suburb like Somerville or the center of Boston, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the subway trains, buses, and commuter rails that make up the T.

Where Can You Go?

The T can get you pretty much anywhere in Boston, as well as some parts of Somerville, Cambridge, Newton, Milton, Revere, Malden, Brookline, and Quincy. And if you’re moving farther from Boston and planning to commute into the city, you may still be able to benefit from the T: the commuter rail (which operates out of South Station and North Station) goes all the way to Fitchburg, Newburyport, and North Kingstown (in Rhode Island). If the commuter rail or subway doesn’t get you exactly where you need to go, you can also take a bus. MBTA bus routes run throughout the city, and buses operate on a high frequency along the most popular routes.

You can view a map of the entire T system on the official MBTA site.

When Does the T Operate?

Exact start times vary by line, but the first trip of the day is around 5 am. Depending on the line and the station, the last trip of the day will be between 12 am and 1 am. That means that if you’re planning on enjoying Boston’s nightlife, you’ll either need to leave before bar close to catch the T or arrange another mode of transportation.

You can view the schedule and frequency for the T’s rapid transit line here.

How Do You Pay?

You can pay your fare using a CharlieTicket (a printed paper ticket) or a CharlieCard (a durable, wallet-sized card). If you’re planning on using the T regularly, it’s worth getting a CharlieCard. You can load up to $100 on the card or purchase a LinkPass and load that onto the card. The LinkPass lets you pay for unlimited one-day, seven-day, or monthly trips.

You can buy a CharlieCard from the CharlieCard store at the Downtown Crossing station or one of the fare vending machines at any of the other underground stations. Once you get a card, you can use it to take the subway, light rail, local bus, or express bus. You can’t use it on the commuter rail, water taxi, or private carrier services unless this is specified on the card.

What Else Is Worth Knowing?

There are four main color-coded rapid transit lines on the T: red, orange, blue, and green. There’s also a silver line. Buses operate on the Silver Line and are underground for part of the route, so the MBTA classifies them as part of the subway system (confusing, we know). The Green Line and Red Line both have multiple branches, so before hopping on a Green or Red Line train, make sure you’re on the correct platform and check the destination listed on the front of the first car.

You can take a bike on most of the lines during non-peak hours (you’ll need to check the MBTA site to determine peak hours). However, bikes are never allowed on the Mattapan Trolley or the Green Line, unless they’re foldable. Foldable bikes are allowed on all lines at all times, as long as they’re folded before boarding.

If you have more questions about the T and the best ways to get around once you buy a new home, talk to your CENTURY 21 Commonwealth Realtor. We know the Boston area well and are happy to offer our advice.

Monday, February 13, 2017

How to Address Your Clients' Home Buying Fears

As a Realtor, you know that not every client you work with is going to have a “let’s jump right into this” attitude. A house is the largest purchase most people will ever make, so it’s understandable that certain anxieties rise to the surface during the home search. However, homebuyers should not let their fears paralyze them.

It’s part of your job as a Realtor to talk to your clients about the home buying process and address the concerns they may have. By calmly talking to your client and pointing them towards useful resources, you can help mitigate their fears and make sure they feel ready to buy a home.

The Fear: Going Broke

Your clients may be worried that they’re going to have to give up their life savings to make a down payment and won’t have the money they need in the event of an emergency (e.g. a serious injury, the sudden loss of a job). If a client raises this concern, the first thing you should do is make sure that he or she has met (or will be meeting with) a loan officer. A loan officer can help a home buyer determine what they can reasonably afford and can advise them on the best loans for their situation.

You may also want to recommend to your client to write out a monthly budget if they haven’t already. He or she should record their monthly take-home income and list all their recurring monthly expenses, plus the expenses they can expect as a homeowner (mortgage, utilities, maintenance, etc.). This will help them determine how much house they can afford without constantly worrying about going broke.

The Fear: Hidden Repair Costs

Nobody wants to move into what they thought was their dream home only to find out it has foundation issues or bad plumbing. If your client is worried that a house they’re looking at is not all it seems, remind them that they’ll be able to bring in a home inspector before closing. Let your client know that if the home inspector uncovers any major issues, you’ll negotiate with the seller’s agent. You may be able to have the seller cover the repair costs or lower the asking price.

The Fear: Loss of Property Value

The housing market is unpredictable, and homebuyers sometimes worry that a home will decrease in value after they purchase it, leaving them with an underwater mortgage. There’s no way to guarantee that a house will continue to increase in value, but you can talk to your client about the signs that a home is a pretty safe bet. Your client should look for a home in neighborhoods that have:

  • Low crime rates
  • Good public schools
  • Well-maintained homes and yards
  • Properties that are mostly owner-occupied

The Fear: Buying the Wrong House

Buyer’s remorse can strike even the most decisive of people, especially when it comes to something as big as a home purchase. To help make sure your client finds a home that fits all their needs, have them make a list of all the features they must have, as well as features they’d like to have but can live without. This will help you narrow down their home search and avoid showing them houses that don’t fit their criteria.

The Fear: Transitioning from Renter to Homeowner

Going from renting to owning a home is a big step: after all, a homeowner should plan to stay put for at least five years, will have to pay property taxes, and will be responsible for home maintenance. If your client doesn’t know where they’ll be in the next five years or doesn’t think their job is stable, it may be a sign that they’re not ready to buy. However, if they have their financial ducks in a row and are ready to settle in one place, buying a home can be a great decision, even if it’s still accompanied by some nerves.

Remind your client that by buying a home, they’re making an investment. If they continue to rent, the money they spend on housing is going straight to their landlord. If the buy, the money they spend on housing will help them build equity.

Don’t let your clients’ fears get the better of them—during your first meeting, ask them if they have any questions or concerns, and make sure they feel good about the major step they plan to take.

Monday, February 13, 2017

How to Get Around Boston without a Car

If you ask a Bostonian to give you advice for driving around the city, you’re most likely to hear “Don’t do it.” With its dense layout, limited free parking, and illogical traffic patterns, Boston can be a challenge for even the most seasoned city drivers. As a result, many people who live in Boston and the close-in suburbs ditch their car for more convenient and less stressful modes of transportation.

If you’re planning to move to the Boston area and want to get around without a car, you’ve got plenty of options. Here are a few of the ways locals and visitors alike prefer to travel:

The T

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (often shortened to the MBTA, and then shortened again to the T) is one of the most popular ways to get around in Boston. The transportation system incorporates a commuter rail, subway, buses, and even a few harbor ferries with routes all over the Greater Boston area. The subway portion includes four lines—Red, Orange, Blue, and Green—that meet in downtown Boston and then branch out in a hub-and-spoke model.

If you start taking the T regularly once you move to Boston, you can add money to a wallet-sized CharlieCard and even create a MyCharlie account so that you can set up recurring monthly pass purchases.

Hubway

Hubway is a bikeshare program that operates in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Sommerville. It follows the same basic model as most bikesharing systems: people can pick up a bike from any station, ride it to their destination, and drop it off at the nearest station (there are currently 180 stations available). There are 24-hour passes and month passes available, but the most cost-effective option for locals who use Hubway regularly is the annual pass.

Rideshares

Uber, Lyft, Fasten, and Zipcar all operate in Boston, so you can just fire up your favorite rideshare app whenever you want a ride around the city. If your loyalties lie with the traditional yellow cab, you can always use Arro, an app that lets you hail a taxi from your phone. Additionally, the rideshare company Safr, which focuses on providing rides for women and their families, is expected to begin operating in Boston soon.

Walking

Boston is ranked as the third most walkable city in the U.S., so if you’ve got some time and the weather is nice, you may want to put on your sneakers and get to your destination on foot. Walking paths and linear parks such as the Greenway, Southwest Corridor Park, and Esplanade provide plenty of scenic routes for pedestrians.

If you’re coming to Boston to start looking at apartments or houses, it’s the perfect time to start familiarizing yourself with local transportation. Many Boston residents use a combination of the transit options described above and find that they rarely have to get behind the wheel of a car.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What Should I Know Before Selling My Condo?

You may love the easy lifestyle and amenities of your condo, but you recognize that it’s time to move on. How do you go about selling your condo? It’s not the same as selling a detached family home—condos have their pitfalls and challenges, as well as unique strengths when it comes time to sell. Knowing the condo market before you list your property can help you sell for top dollar. We’ll walk you through tips and tricks to sell your condo in the best way.

How Much is My Condo Worth? 

No matter what kind of property you’re selling, pricing it right is vital. If you price it too high, you’ll dissuade buyers from even walking in the door. If you price it too low, you can lose out on money. With condos, you have the advantage of being surrounded by similar (and possibly identical) units. This can help you and your Realtor find comps or the recent sales prices in the area.

Work with your Realtor to determine the optimal price for your condo—take into consideration where in your building your condo is located, what improvements you’ve made, etc. If you need a shorter closing time, you may want to price your condo lower to get offers faster. Figure out what your bottom-line price for your property is and don’t accept less than that.

When Should I Sell My Property?

In general, spring is the best season to sell a home and winter holidays are the worst. This is somewhat market dependent, but it’s the conventional wisdom. With condos, if you’re in a vacation area, such as a beach town or ski resort, the high season could be the best time to sell. Similarly, due to the convenient nature of condos, they often sell much faster than traditional detached homes, even in a down market. Don’t assume your property will stay on the market for a long time—and be prepared to move to your next lodging.

How Should I Stage My Condo?

If you live in a condo with similar or identical units also on the market at the same time as yours, you need to make yours stand out. Make sure your condo is clean, fully repaired, and beautifully staged. Be minimalist with your furniture, allowing buyers to imagine their furniture and possessions in your space. You may need to rent out a storage unit to remove some of your belongings and create an uncluttered space. Make sure your condo is in perfect condition before an open house or home tour so potential buyers are more likely to place an offer—good staging can be the difference between selling quickly or not at all.

How Should I Market My Condo?

After you’ve cleaned and staged your condo, you can start marketing it to buyers. This often means emphasizing the benefits of your complex—what amenities do you have that make the condo unique? Why should your buyer buy this condo? What makes it better than a detached home? Think about what is included with your condo fees— do you have access to a pool, fitness center, doorman, parking garage? Do you have a concierge?

Make sure to list and explain all your amenities. Use your Realtor to your advantage, as they have experience marketing condos. With a good Realtor, you’ll be on your way to your new home in no time, with the cash from selling your condo.

Monday, February 6, 2017

How to Make Moving Easier on Your Kids

Moving can be both exciting and stressful for children. If you're a parent planning a move, there are a few things you can do to make this transition time easier on your kids. CENTURY 21 Commonwealth Realtor Marjorie Youngren has several great suggestions, from involving your children in the planning to hosting a moving party with friends and neighbors. She recently shared her advice in an Ask a Realtor article for The Boston Globe, which you can read here.

Monday, February 6, 2017

How to Market to Downsizing Baby Boomers

As America’s generation of baby boomers ages, their home buying needs are changing. This generation, generally defined as born between 1946 and 1964, numbering more than 76 million, are already retired or beginning to enter retirement. While this generation is more active than past retirees, they still have certain considerations when purchasing a new property after their children have left home. They’re often downsizing to something smaller and need to consider their lifestyles as they age. Here are some housing trends and amenities to consider when marketing to baby boomers entering retirement:

Better Lighting and Bigger Windows

As people age, their eyesight gets worse, and they need more light to be able to see. A 60-year-old needs as much as six times more light to see than a 20-year-old. When shopping for a new home, baby boomers need a home with more windows and additional light fixtures, especially in areas where it’s difficult to see, like under cabinets or in stairwells. Make sure to show baby boomers homes that let in lots of natural light but also incorporate artificial light where necessary so they can continue to see well for years to come.

Accessibility Features

When marketing homes to baby boomers, you may want to subtly highlight accessibility features—making people feel comfortable about a time when they might be less mobile. Level surfaces, grab bars in the bathroom, and a lower level master bedroom are all useful features in a baby boomer home. Be sensitive when marketing these features, as no one likes to remember they’re aging.

Low Maintenance Yards and Other Features

Detailing a low-maintenance lawn, stain-resistant countertops, and new appliances or roof can be important for baby boomers moving into a new home. The less maintenance, the better, as retirees may not want to spend a lot of time working in the yard. While some people like to spend some time gardening, mowing a large yard isn’t fun or necessary for older adults without kids. Think about homes that don’t require a lot of maintenance—would a condo work for this family?

Flex Space

When there are no longer children in the house, there are more spaces that can be used for multiple purposes. When marketing a home to your baby boomer buyers, learn their interests and think about what purposes certain spaces can serve. One room can perhaps be a guest room, or a workout/craft room, depending on the interests of your buyers. Learn the customer and use the flexible spaces of the home to your benefit.

As baby boomers continue to retire, they’ll downsize to smaller homes with unique needs and challenges. A skilled Realtor can help them find a home that works for their needs right now and for many years to come.

Monday, January 30, 2017

5 Signs It's Time to Sell Your Home

Maybe you started checking local home listings out of curiosity, but now you’re beginning to think more seriously about selling your current home and moving. But how do you know if it’s time? Selling your home is a huge decision and not one that you can make lightly. However, there may be one or more telltale signs that it’s time to sell—and that you’re financially prepared to do so.

Your Home Equity Is Looking Good

Most real estate professionals recommend having at least 20% equity in your current home before selling. If you can put that 20% equity towards your next down payment, you should be able to keep your monthly mortgage manageable. And if you’re able to put down a 20% down payment on your new home, you can avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI) fees, which are usually between 0.3% or 1.5% of the original loan amount per year. That may not sound like much, but it can come out to hundreds of dollars a year (depending on the size of the loan).

To figure out your equity, subtract what you currently owe on your home from the current market value of your home. An experienced Realtor can help you determine your home’s market value and your equity.

Your Current Home Can’t Keep Up with Your Lifestyle

Whether your family is growing or your kids have all left home, you may find that your home no longer fits your needs. In the case of a growing family, you may find you no longer have enough bedrooms (or personal space) and are unable to build onto your current home. In the case of your children leaving home, you might find that you have more space than you need—and more home maintenance and landscaping projects than you want to tackle. Whatever your situation, you’re ready to move to a home that’s the right size for you.

Your Neighborhood No Longer Fits Your Lifestyle

Maybe you’ve started a new job and the length of your commute has suddenly doubled. Or maybe your son or daughter will be starting school next year and you want to send them to a highly-rated public school in another district. Or maybe the sounds of the nearby nightlife that you used to love are cutting into your sleep. If your neighborhood is no longer working for you and you’ve built up enough equity, it may be time to move.

You’ve Fallen in Love (with a Style of Home or Neighborhood)

Perhaps you’ve been in your home for about five years, have built up your equity, have some cash in the bank, and are beginning to eye those modern condos downtown or a recently renovated Colonial in the suburbs. If you’re looking for an upgrade that you can’t achieve just by renovating your current property, it may be time to sell and move to your dream home.

You Can Afford to Market Your Home and Move

Not only should you be able to afford the down payment on your new home, but you should also be able to cover the costs it will take to sell your current home and move. These costs may include making some minor repairs before your buyer brings in a home inspector, improving your landscaping to boost curb appeal, covering some of the buyer’s closing costs (if this is something you negotiate with the buyer), and hiring professional movers. If you feel confident that you’ve saved up enough money to cover all the costs associated with selling your home and moving, you may be ready to take the leap.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Newton Makes List of Top Spots for First-Time Home Buyers

If you’re thinking about buying a home in a suburb near Boston, you may want to turn your attention to Newton. We’ve already highlighted some of the great things about this town in our Spotlight on Newton, but now financial resource website NerdWallet has ranked it as one of the top 10 U.S. cities for first-time home buyers.

NerdWallet based their list on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, NeighborhoodScout, and Down Payment Resource. They also looked at the availability of homeownership assistance programs, which can help with down payments and lower the barrier to entry for first-time home buyers.

Newton came in at number five on the list. Suburbs and small cities near large urban areas dominated the list, thanks to their affordable living and proximity to big city amenities and jobs. Half of the cities on the list had a population between 83,000 and 89,000, and Newton fits nicely into this range, with a population of just over 87,000.

Why Do Home Buyers Love Newton?

First-time home buyers are no doubt drawn to Newton for different reasons, but one thing that’s likely to appeal to many people is the proximity to Boston. Newton is just seven miles outside the big city, meaning that it’s a relatively quiet place to live but also incredibly convenient for those who work or enjoy spending time in Boston. It’s located on the MBTA Green Line and also has several express buses and the Worcester commuter rail.

Of course, residents don’t have to go to Boston or Worcester to find entertainment. Newton has plenty of great cultural amenities, including two symphony orchestras, an annual jazz festival, two farmers’ markets, and a diverse array of local restaurants. There’s also plenty for lovers of the great outdoors to do, thanks to Newton’s proximity to Crystal Lake, Chestnut Hill Reservoir, Hammond Pond Reservation, and Hemlock Gorge Reservation.

With a median home value of $933,000 and a median list price per square foot of $480, Newton can be a somewhat expensive place to buy a home. However, those people who do buy a home in Newton are likely to see their investment pay off—home values have gone up 5.4% in the past year and are predicted to rise another 3.3% in the next year.

If you think you may be interested in buying a home in Newton, contact a CENTURY 21 Commonwealth agent who knows the area well. Our Newton branch Realtors are always happy to assist first-time home buyers.

Monday, January 23, 2017

How to Master Time Management as a Realtor

As a Realtor, you are always on your toes trying to keep up with the fast-paced real estate industry. Between running to office meetings, showing homes to buyers, or searching for homes for new clients, it’s easy for things to pile up. However, with good time management and strategic planning, it is possible for both you and your clients to remain happy and reduce stress. Here are a few ways that you can master time management and stay ready for whatever may come your way.

Communication is Key

One easy way to get overwhelmed and overworked is by giving the impression to clients or colleagues that you are capable of doing a superhuman amount of work. We know that you’re driven and want to do your best, but it’s important to be realistic. All too often, we take on tasks or create expectations in people without actually considering if it is truly possible for us to keep up.

One way to prevent this from happening is through communication. When meeting with a new client, be sure to explain to them that there may be times when you will miss their calls or emails, while also giving them a time frame in which you will get back to them. This will help prevent clients from going into a frenzy if they don’t receive an immediate response and will also help set boundaries and expectations between you and your client.

If you are swamped with work, having open communication with your colleagues can also help alleviate some of the stress. Talking with your colleagues about what you have on your plate creates an opportunity for them to help out if possible. It also allows them to understand why you may not be able to take on another task or if you need to extend a deadline.

Staying in constant communication with both clients and colleagues helps keep them aware of what is going on and lets them know the progress you’re making, whether it is for a project or potential sale.

Organize, Organize, Organize

The easiest way to navigate through stress and large amounts of work is by staying organized. Organizing both your tasks and time helps give you a clear understanding of the things that need to be done as well as an exact idea of how you will complete them.

Do you have an appointment with a client that involves showing five different homes? Research the locations of the homes before the appointment and create an efficient route. For instance, if you were to strategically visit the homes following a path where both the first and last home is closest to your meeting spot you would be able to save some time as well as gas.

Are you constantly attending or holding meetings? Sit down with your colleagues and block times off that will always be reserved for reoccurring meetings.

Although you may not have a meeting scheduled for the week, you should still try to set a specific time every day where you will make it into the office. This will help you know that during that time block you can handle deskwork and also give your colleagues an idea of when they can come to you about certain things.

These are just a few situations in which a little preparation can help you be that much more organized. However, not everything is easy to plan out in advance. To give yourself the flexibility you need, block off times in your schedule to give yourself room to attend to things as they come.

Block off a specific time which you can use to research new homes or follow up with old clients. Setting this time aside will help ensure that these things get done even when work becomes hectic.

Find your Groove

Last but not least, it’s important for you to find a rhythm. As you are trying to organize your tasks and plan your schedule in a way that works for both you and your clients, you will learn the things that will and won’t work for you. Don’t be afraid to try certain things and re-arrange time blocks. Eventually, you will find a groove in which you can thrive and be stress-free.

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