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The Commonwealth Blog

Monday, October 16, 2017

Timeless Fall Decor Ideas for Your Home

When people mention fall decorating, your mind may immediately turns to pumpkins, Halloween, wreaths, and other stereotypical interior design ideas. However, there’s so much more to the harvest season than these archetypes. You can freshen up your home with timeless takes on fall decorating that will impress your guests and keep your spaces looking great from Labor Day to Thanksgiving. Check out these ideas for fall decorating you’ll want to use every year:

Fall Foliage Arrangements Throughout the Home

Take advantage of the gorgeous changing leaves by creating an arrangement using fallen branches with berries, pine needles, and a variety of leaves. Bouquets like these capture the autumn feeling and will last longer than traditional flowers. It’s a beautiful twist on florals that ties into this season and brings nature indoors.

Firewood as Decor

If you have a fireplace, firewood can be more than function; it can be a key decorative piece. Even if it’s not yet chilly enough to light a fire, bringing hardwood in sets the tone for the autumn season. Add some rustic charm and get ready to curl up in front of the fire as the days get cooler.

Family Photo Displays

The fall season brings with it many holidays, and with it, family visits. Go into the attic or basement and dig out your old family photos, and create a display or gallery wall of your favorite memories. Get some new frames or find vintage ones to craft a loving collection of pictures.

Layers Everywhere

It can get cold in the fall, especially in the Boston area, so stock up on throws and blankets. Find comfy wool, cotton, chenille, or even cashmere throws to place throughout the living areas of your home so your family and guests can stay warm and comfortable throughout the season. Layers are a great opportunity to incorporate new colors and textures into the space as well.

Candles Galore

While many people use candles throughout the year, fall is the time to break out candles en masse. Whether you’re into pumpkin spice scented candles, or you just like lanterns or hurricane lamps with pillar candles to create a cozy environment, you can’t go wrong. Just be sure to keep an eye on your candles for safety, no matter where you set them.

Autumn Colors

While certain colors are pegged as fall hues (think orange and red), you can experiment with various fun shades throughout your home. You don’t need to buy new furniture; you can add in new colors via accents and accessories, like blankets and pillows. Try mustard yellow, burnt orange, mellow green, and even sky blue to bring the fall season into your home.

Monday, October 16, 2017

How to Make Buyers Feel Welcome When Showing a Home

As a buyer’s agent, it’s your job to help your home buying clients feel at ease when viewing properties. Whether you’re taking them to various open houses or going to private showings, it’s important to ensure they feel welcome at every stage. Understanding your buyer’s needs and guiding them through a home will help them make informed decisions.

Following these tips will make your home-showing process smoother and more efficient, helping your buyers think about making an offer on the home they truly want:

Make Sure They’re Prepared

Especially when working with first-time homebuyers, it’s important to educate them about how the home buying process works. Talk to them about financing, preapproval, and how to make a competitive offer. If your buyers haven’t performed the necessary steps to start looking at homes, like getting prequalified and determining a budget, it might be wise to wait before going to look at properties.

Organize Your Information

You can’t have too much information for your buyers about the homes you’re touring. Floor plans, inspection reports, and historical surveys, including census data, can all be useful. Make sure you’re ready to answer questions about the neighborhood and specific homes when you get there for the tour. Have a copy of important documents ready for your clients and yourself, and provide them with a clipboard for notes.

Be an Objective Consultant and Don’t Oversell

When starting off with a client, you’re learning their tastes and needs in a home. Even if they’ve given you a list of must-haves, private showings are the only way to truly gauge their interest. Work to help your client find the perfect home for them, instead of trying to sell them on each home you visit. Overselling a property or employing too many closing techniques can lead to deals that fall through and stop you from building trust with your buyers.

Help Them Imagine Living There

As a Realtor, you have experience visualizing how a home can look in various configurations. Even a staged home still benefits from some creativity and imagination. Start off by ensuring the home is ready for showing when you get there: the lights are on, blinds are open, the air conditioning/heat is working, etc. When you walk through, offer advice to help your buyers envision living there. Tailor this to their specific lifestyle (i.e., an extra bedroom could be a nursery, game room, or man cave, depending on the client).

Give Them Enough Space

After the initial tour, allow your buyers to explore alone. They can discuss the listing together and then bring up any concerns with you later. This time can lead to dialogue and help you better facilitate their home purchase. Continuing this discussion throughout the homebuying process helps your clients feel supported and helps them remember which properties they like and dislike.

Keep Lines of Communication Open

Whether your clients are first-time homebuyers or veteran purchasers, be ready to discuss listings with them and offer them opportunities to schedule return visits. Offering meetings, phone calls, and email discussions can establish trust with your buyers, helping lead to a sale.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Doing a Final Walk-Through: What to Expect

You’ve found your new home, the seller has accepted your offer, you’ve conducted a home inspection, and the closing date is approaching fast. Before you close, there’s just one major milestone left: the final walk-through.

The final walk-through may seem like just another item you have to check off your home-buying to-do list, but it’s far more than just a formality. Some buyers might think that it’s unnecessary since their home inspection should have uncovered any issues, but it’s important to make sure nothing has gone wrong between the inspection and closing. This is especially valuable if the seller has already moved out and the house has been sitting vacant.

The goal of the walk-through is to ensure that the home’s condition hasn’t changed since you last visited and that the seller has completed any repairs they agreed upon in the contract. If you breeze through the final walk-through or skip it altogether, you may find yourself tackling some unexpected repairs in your first days as a new homeowner.

Now that you know why a final walk-through is essential, let’s look at what you can expect from yours:

You Should Have Your Contract Handy

You may need to refer to your contract while you’re doing your walk-through. For example, if you and the seller agreed on a set of repair contingencies, you’ll want to check the contract to make sure all those contingencies have been met. If the seller stated in the contract that they would leave certain items (such as a washer/dryer set) with the house, you should confirm those items are still in place. Conversely, if the seller has left behind items that weren’t covered in the contract (such as old paint cans or bookshelves), you’ll need to let them know that it’s their responsibility to remove them.

Be Thorough

You may want to write a checklist so that you don’t forget anything. Things you’ll want to do during the walk-through include:

  • Inspecting the roof and siding for storm damage
  • Looking for visible damage to the ceilings, walls, or floors
  • Testing all appliances
  • Testing the flush function on the toilets
  • Turning on the heating and cooling systems for a few minutes each
  • Running faucets and checking for leaks
  • Opening and closing windows and doors to make sure they don’t stick
  • Testing the outlets by plugging in your phone charger
  • Making sure all storage areas have been cleared out
  • Checking on repairs to make sure they’ve been completed to the specifications in the contract

Keep in mind that the above isn’t a full list of final walk-through items. Your Realtor may have additional recommendations.

If You Uncover Issues, Decide What You’re Willing to Tackle

If you discover an issue over the course of the final walk-through, ask yourself if it’s worth moving back the closing date to have the seller handle it or if you’d rather just resolve it yourself. For example, if you notice a couple of burnt-out light bulbs, you may opt to replace them yourself for the sake of settling on time.

However, if you uncover something big that didn’t come up during the home inspection, you may save yourself a lot of time, money, and frustration by getting the seller to address it. You and your Realtor will need to negotiate a fair solution with the buyer and their Realtor. If the seller is in a hurry to close, you may even be able to negotiate a lower sale price to compensate for the repairs you’ll have to make.

Monday, October 9, 2017

6 Secrets of Bathroom Staging

Your kitchen and master bedroom might be your top priorities when staging your home, but don’t overlook your bathroom(s). A bathroom that reminds buyers of a relaxing spa can go a long way towards shaping their feelings towards your house. And fortunately, transforming your bathroom into an oasis of calm doesn’t require a huge budget.

Here are six tips that will help you display your bathroom at its best:

It’s Better to Invest in Minor Updates Rather Than Major Renovations

Unless your bathroom is in seriously bad shape, you probably don’t need to sink thousands of dollars into a full remodel. Instead, take stock of the little things in your bathroom that look worn out or old-fashioned, and then replace them. Popular candidates for updates include sink taps, towel racks, towels, cabinet hardware, and shower curtains.

You’d be surprised just how big a difference it makes to do something as minor as switching out your towels. In fact, you may want to invest in a set of towels solely for display so that they remain in pristine condition. You can always enjoy those new towels once you sell your house and move into a new one.

Greenery Helps (In Small Doses) 

Adding a bit of greenery to your bathroom can help liven up the space, but there’s no need to transform your bathroom into a tropical rainforest. Take a minimalist approach and add one or two pieces, such as a small aloe vera plant or a single stem of your favorite flower in a clear vase. Not sure what plant to choose? Orchids are a popular option for bathrooms and are likely to appeal to most buyers.

Countertop Décor Also Helps (But Less Is More)

As with plants, it’s best to keep countertop accessories to a minimum so that your bathroom doesn’t look cluttered. Choose a few decorative items (such as candles of different heights, a small soap dish, and a clean set of hand towels) and arrange them in groupings. This will help make your décor look purposeful, rather than making buyers think you’ve just scattered a few items across your counter.

Personal Items Must Be Out of Sight

You should de-personalize every room before showing your home, but this tip is especially important for bathroom staging. Remove toiletries from the countertop and shower, and place them somewhere buyers won’t see them. Other items you should keep out of sight include cleaning products, your bathroom scale, and magazines you might have on top of the toilet.

Bathroom Cupboards Aren’t Safe from Scrutiny

Storage space is an important consideration when buying a home, and prospective buyers may open cupboards and cabinets in your bathroom to see how much space you have. That means your bathroom storage spaces can’t just be where you toss miscellaneous items when you don’t know what to do with them. Keep your shelves well-organized and only about two-thirds full. Remove any prescription medications from your medicine cabinet and store them somewhere safe.

Neutral Colors Are a Must

Thinking about replacing your bathroom tiles, painting the walls, or switching out your shower curtain? Stick to neutral colors. Neutral shades—such as white, cream, or aqua—create a sense of serenity, and as a bonus, they can make small spaces look larger. It’s a good rule of thumb to keep your overall bathroom color scheme neutral and save the bright colors for a few small accessories.

If you’re looking for additional tips for staging your bathroom, your Realtor is a great resource. He or she will know what bathroom looks are popular with buyers and can make recommendations to help you improve your space.

Monday, October 2, 2017

How to Talk to Sellers About Listing Their Home 'As Is'

As a Realtor, you know some buyers just don’t want to deal with the hassle and investment of fixing up their home to sell. They either don’t have the time or money to invest in sprucing up their listing before putting it on their market. If your buyer wants to list their home ‘as is,’ it’s your responsibility to make sure they’re aware of everything that comes along with that.

Who Will Buy an ‘As Is’ Home?

Selling a home ‘as is’ can be difficult and usually comes with a distinct set of buyers: often investors, bargain hunters, and companies that specialize in buying homes. While this type of home will probably weed out anyone who isn’t interested in a fixer-upper, this can result in a smaller subset of buyers to check out the listing. Make sure your seller is aware of this before putting their home on the market.

How Should the Seller Price Their Home?

It’s important to make your client aware that the listing should be clear that it’s ‘as is,’ and the pricing should reflect that. Any major repairs that are necessary, like the roof, driveway, or a necessary kitchen update, should be reflected in the asking price. A buyer will likely need to put a lot of effort into making the home their own and bringing it up to current standards, so a lower price is necessary to attract interest.

What Is the Seller Required to Disclose?

While selling a home doesn’t relieve your seller from all obligations, Massachusetts is a “caveat emptor,” or “buyer beware,” state, which means they don’t have to disclose too much. The buyer is required to ask the seller questions or to get an inspection to determine the condition of the home. According to Massachusetts law, home sellers need to disclose if the home has lead paint or if there’s a septic system. Other than those two items, it’s up to the seller to volunteer any information or for the buyer to ask specific questions to the seller (or to the Realtor) about the home. For any questions asked by the prospective buyer, the seller is required to disclose the truth, up to the facts that a reasonable person would need in a decision to purchase a home.

How Can You Make the Process Easy?

As the Realtor, it’s your job to help make the sale as seamless as possible. Make sure you’re aware of any potential issues to be able to field questions, help your seller price the home correctly, and be prepared for the home inspection. By prepping to put an ‘as is’ home on the market, you can meet your seller’s expectations and help guide them toward a quick and a successful sale.

Monday, October 2, 2017

How to Spruce Up Your Home Using Textures

What makes for a well-designed space? Expertly-crafted furniture, gorgeous accessories, complementary colors, and the right lighting are a great start. But there’s another step to add dimension to the spaces in your home—texture.

If all the items in a room are the same texture, it’s flat. Different textures, like wood, velvet, different textiles, create movement. Textures create variety within a space, drawing the eye in, but also creating comfort. The key to texture within any room is balance, using it in the right amount so as not to overwhelm the viewer. Find how much texture you like within the space, whether it’s a few fluffy pillows, or a combination of different textiles, plants, and wood.

So how do you add texture to a space? We’ve got a few ideas:

Rugs

You can find rugs in a variety of textures, from woven creations to cowhides, that complement the design of a room. Rugs can help draw different elements together, so pick a rug that either fits with the color scheme or aesthetic of other elements from the room or is neutral.

Textiles

Textiles are the most commonly-added decorative textures for home spaces. You can use pillows, bedding, tablecloths, and throw blankets to add depth. Mix textiles with different fabrics, thicknesses, and colors to achieve a comfortable look for your home. Since these items are relatively easy to move around and replace, you’ll have plenty of room to experiment.

Plants

While many people don’t think of plants when they’re thinking about adding texture, they’re a fantastic addition to your home. Plants purify the air and can improve your mood. Place your plants in the bathroom, bedroom, and your living room to freshen the air and create a natural feel.

Baskets and Woven Accessories

Use a variety of baskets bunched-up in your living room to create a textural explosion. You can find inexpensive baskets at discount stores, flea markets, and yard sales. Add painted-on color and patterns to your baskets for an intriguing twist.

Wooden and Rough Furniture

Rustic wooden pieces, such as a dining table with a live-edge table top, provide a wonderful way to use furniture to add texture. Materials such as velvet and mismatched chairs can also help to personalize a room. Consider an antique chest or set of drawers for another unique touch.

Texture as Art

If you find the idea of adding new textures scary, putting a small amount in a frame in the form of textile samples can help you get used to the idea. You’ll still be adding texture to your space, and your friends will love your creativity.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What Is Debt-to-Income Ratio and Why Does It Matter to You?

Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is the percentage of your monthly pre-tax income that goes toward recurring monthly debt payments. You can determine yours by adding up your monthly debt payments and dividing them by your gross monthly income.

Let’s say that you make $5,000 a month before taxes. You pay $200 towards student loans every month and $400 for your car loan. You want to buy a home that would require you to put $1,000 per month towards your mortgage. When you add up those recurring debt payments, you get $1,600. Dividing $1,600 by $5,000, you find that your DTI is 32%.

Your DTI can be further broken down into the front-end ratio and back-end ratio. The back-end ratio is your total DTI, while the front-end ratio only includes the percentage of your income that goes towards housing expenses, including your mortgage payment, property taxes, and homeowner’s insurance.

How Does Your DTI Affect You as a Home Buyer?

If you’re planning to buy a home, your debt-to-income ratio is a number you should know. That’s because it can affect your ability to qualify for a mortgage. Lenders don’t want to approve buyers who have a very high DTI. They want to loan to buyers who they are confident can make on-time mortgage payments, and they may worry that buyers who already have a lot of recurring monthly debt will have trouble making those payments.

In most cases, 43% is the highest DTI you can have to qualify for a mortgage. However, the rules change if you’re trying to qualify for a Federal Housing Association (FHA) loan.

The official DTI caps for an FHA home loan are 31% for the front-end ratio and 43% for the back-end ratio. While these are the official maximum debt-to-income ratios, the Department of Housing and Urban Development gives lenders some wiggle room if they can prove the buyer has “significant compensating factors.” These factors could include a good credit score, substantial cash reserves in the bank, or the ability to put forward more than the 3.5% minimum down payment. With certain compensating factors, a borrower could have a back-end DTI as high as 57%.

What Should You Do If Your DTI Is High?

If you’ve been dreaming of buying a home with an FHA loan but your debt-to-income ratio is too high, the best thing you can do is work on lowering it. The two most obvious ways to do this are to increase your monthly income or pay off any loans you can to lower your monthly debt payments. That may be easier said than done, and it will likely be a gradual process, but it will help you get in a more financially secure position so that you can feel good about purchasing a home.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Benefits of Buying a Home in the Fall

Fall isn’t normally considered a popular time to buy a home. With falling leaves, impending holidays, and dropping temperatures, many buyers have other things on their mind. Spring and summer are more popular seasons for real estate due to better weather, time off from school, and wider availability of houses.

But fall isn’t all about Halloween and Thanksgiving, turkeys and trick-or-treating—it can be a great time to buy a house. Reduced competition and motivated sellers make autumn a great time to look for a new house. Read on to learn more about why you should look for a home this fall.

Reduced Competition

After the summer is over, the number of people actively searching for a home typically decreases. The glut of summer buyers have bought their homes, and many of those who didn’t will wait until the new year. Granted, when you’re buying in a hot housing market like Boston, you’re never guaranteed to have a competition-free home buying experience. However, you may find there’s less pressure to close quickly or get into a bidding war in the fall.

Lower Prices for Your New Home

This reduced competition leads to lower home prices. Motivated home sellers mean fall is a great time to make offers. On average, October home buyers pay 2.6% below market value for their homes, resulting in significant discounts. If you’re looking for a deal on your next home, fall may be the best season to look.

Time to Get Ready for the Holidays

House hunting during the fall season may mean your seller wants to settle down in their new home to host Thanksgiving and get unpacked before Christmas. Offering a quick closing can get you a better deal and give you the advantage of securing the home you want. Having some flexibility around the holidays and being able to move quickly can help you save on your home purchase.

Save Money with Tax Credits and Home Improvement Bargains

Getting into a home before the end of the year can help you with some tax deductions, like your closing costs, property taxes, and any mortgage interest you’ll be paying. If you get all your paperwork signed before New Year’s, you can claim it in on your tax returns for this fiscal year and hopefully get a nice refund to pay for some home improvements.

Additionally, if you purchase during the fall, you’ll likely move in just in time for some major sales on home appliances you may want to upgrade. Look out for deals on refrigerators, washers and dryers, ovens, even TVs in December and January. You can save just as you’re furnishing your new home.

Get Extra Attention from Your Realtor

By shopping during the slow season, you’ll get more time with your Realtor, mortgage broker, and other professionals you’re working with. You’ll have more time to sort out your finances, take time looking at homes, and ask any questions you need about the home buying process.

Monday, September 18, 2017

What to Look for in a Real Estate Photographer

Hiring a professional real estate photographer could mean the difference between a home selling in days or sitting on the market for months. Cell phone photographs, especially if they’re low-quality or crooked, can be a red flag that dissuades potential buyers from visiting the home in person. In today’s real estate market, buyers often look first at the MLS and other real estate websites to find potential listings. The quality and variety of your real estate photos can boost showings and lead to sales.

By working with a professional real estate photographer, you can help your clients and yourself when selling their home. Follow these steps to choose the right photographer for the job.

Find an Expert in Real Estate Photography

Even if you know photographers in other fields, try to find someone who understands the real estate business. You’ll be making your life a lot easier if you find a professional who understands the specifics of the real estate industry, including how to shoot homes, the time constraints, and what kind of photos you need. A photographer who can provide high-quality images of the rooms in the home, a virtual tour, and a video walkthrough, can greatly increase showings.

Make Sure They Can Commit to a Quick Turnaround

In real estate, time is everything. Work out an agreement with your photographer to receive the images as quickly as possible, possibly within 24 or 48 hours through a platform like Dropbox or Google Drive. Uploading your edited images to the MLS and other websites so potential buyers can see them is integral. If your photographer can’t deliver quickly, he/she probably isn’t right for you.

Discuss Image Rights with Them

When hiring a professional photographer, work out an agreement for image use for any pictures taken. Listing photos on MLS are often syndicated to other real estate sites, which can violate photographers’ copyright terms. Work out a specific image licensing agreement with your photographer for how you need to use the photos, including for promotional purposes.

Be Specific Regarding Your Needs

Especially when first working with a photographer, give them specific direction on what areas of the home you want to be shot, what kinds of angles you want, and other photography preferences you have. It can be useful to provide a sample listing and join them on a shoot for one or two listings until you’re comfortable with their style and editing. Remember, you’re paying for the photographer’s services, and the final product is a home you’re selling.

Monday, September 18, 2017

6 Curb Appeal Tips for Selling Your Home During the Fall

If you’re part of the majority of Americans who rank fall as their favorite season, you may be happy to put your home on the market at this time of year. Fall brings some pleasant weather and warm natural colors, but it also has its own set of curb appeal challenges. Follow our tips to keep your home exterior looking great as we move into the season of orange leaves and pumpkin décor.

Keep Your Front Yard Looking Tidy

It may feel like the leaves are falling faster than you can gather them up, but it’s important to stay on top of your raking so that your front yard looks tidy all season. In addition to raking regularly, you should cut back any dead plant growth and pick up tree branches that have fallen in your yard. Don’t forget to clear leaves and other debris from your gutter and downspout. These may seem like minor things, but they can make a huge difference in the way your home looks from the street.

Add Plants That Thrive in Fall Weather

The weather may be cooling down, but you don’t have to pack up your gardening gloves yet. There are plenty of flowers and other plants that grow and bloom during the autumn season, including mums, asters, heleniums, and the aptly named fall crocuses. For more ideas, head to your local garden center and ask for recommendations for fall-blooming flowers. If you don’t feel like maintaining a full garden of fall flora, you can always pick a few potted plants to keep on your front porch.

Clean Your Windows and Siding

If the trees in front of your house are starting to lose their leaves, your home will look more exposed, and it’ll be easier to tell if it’s dirty. Don’t leave potential home buyers thinking your house looks dingy. Give your windows a good wash; this will improve your curb appeal and help more natural light filter into your home. If your siding is starting to look grimy, clean it with a pressure washer. They’re available to rent if you don’t want to buy one. Just make sure you read all the instructions that come with the pressure washer so you don’t accidentally damage your siding.

Give Your Door a New Coat of Seasonal Paint

If your front door could use a fresh coat of paint, why not choose a hue that fits with the season? Go for dark red, slate gray, moss green or another color that calls to mind the fall months (while still looking good the rest of the year).

Illuminate Your Walkway and Porch

As the days get shorter, it’s more important than ever to have good outdoor lighting. Even if home buyers aren’t stopping by in the evening for showings, they could still drive by to take a look at your house later in the day. Keep your walkway well-lit with ground-insert solar lights, and brighten up your front door with decorative light fixtures on both sides.

Choose Seasonal Décor with Wide Appeal

It’s fine to spruce up your outdoor space with some seasonal decorations, but don’t go overboard. Some pumpkins and gourds on the front porch or a leafy wreath on your door could be a nice touch, but fake cobwebs over your windows or a giant inflatable witch in your front yard are probably too much. Keep in mind that not everyone has the same taste in seasonal decorations as you, and stick to simple décor that will have broad appeal.

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