The first-time buyer’s guide to real estate

Jim McKinley wrote a blog that I’ve made slight edits to below. Let me know what you think!

Buying your first home is exciting, but it can also be full of confusion, fear, and apprehension. After all, buying a home is a huge commitment, and if you’ve never done it before, there can be a lot of questions. However, by getting informed and preparing yourself appropriately, you can avoid many of the common pitfalls of buying your first home and step into this new stage of your life with confidence. To help everything go as smoothly as possible, follow these tips and tricks.

Get your Finances in Order

Many people might assume that it is time to become a homeowner based on their life situation, such as recently landing a well-paying job. However, no matter where you are at in your life, it takes quite a bit of financial preparation to correctly prepare for buying a house. First and foremost, you need to ensure that you have a solid budget. Some people might encourage you to put this off until after you buy your house, but your budget is an indispensable tool to figure out how much home you can afford. Secondly, save up a reasonable down payment. According to the Motley Fool, squeezing out enough money for a down payment might require a lot of expense cutting. We recommend using a savings calculator to help you figure out how much you’ll need to save each month.

Get Pre-Approved

Before you even begin to look at houses, go to some lenders to get pre-approved for a mortgage. This is not as scary as it might sound and can take a lot off your plate later. To be approved for a mortgage, the lender considers your credit score, how much you make, the amount you put down and your debt-to-income ratio, among other things. There are many different financing options available and a good lender will advise you accordingly.

Find a Great Agent

A good real estate agent can provide you with huge benefits when it comes to looking for your home. The housing market and lingo can be confusing. When you work with a real estate agent, they can advise you on how to write the best offer and discuss the current market so you can focus your energy on searching for a home. According to The Balance, an agent is a great asset; they can ask questions for you and obtain disclosures. Real estate agents are particularly helpful for first-time homebuyers who might not be aware of the home-buying process and a good referral source for reputable lenders.

View Houses in Your Area

Now that you have all the preliminary work squared away, it’s time to start looking at houses. Preferably, you’ll want your real estate agent to set up showings based on your criteria. Your agent can point things out that you might have missed and help gauge whether the home is listed for a good price.

Image result for house for saleNegotiate your Closing Costs

Once you find your perfect house, you need to close the deal. There are fees tacked on to buying a home called closing costs. Everything from lender fees, title insurance to title search fees. To the average person, these can begin to sound like a second language. You can shop a rate, but many lenders will quote you the lowest rate of the month, because until you lock in a rate, it is a moving target. Look to reviews and potentially how smooth your closing will go. Review your Loan Estimate closely and ask about all fees you do not understand. Once you understand everything, negotiate with your lender for lower fees.

Move

Give yourself more than enough time to pack and move to prevent yourself from rushing. If you hate packing, you might even want to consider hiring a moving agency. If you have children, you might drop them off at a family member’s house to give yourself a couple hours of uninterrupted packing.

Home buying is an exciting, nerve-wracking process. By following these steps (and hiring the right lender and agent), your can home-buying process will be a lot smoother.

Congrats to my clients who bought in Pleasant Hill!

I want to congratulate my recent client Vimi and her partner Liz for closing on their new home! They celebrated in a unique, cultural way that I found really interesting and was thankful to be included in such a personal experience. As you can see in some of the pictures below this was a house blessing which they called a puja. It’s always exciting to help a client find their home, get their offer accepted, and then close. This was definitely a first; they were not allowed to move in until the blessing occurred and they spent the night in the vacant home after the blessing!

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Vimi is of Indian (Hindu) descent and this is how it was explained to me:  A “puja” ritual, which is performed many times to mark lifetime events (birth, wedding, new home, etc.), is not required in their religion but many do it. Some Hindus do a daily puja ritual in the home, some do it at regular temple ceremonies or festivals, and some don’t do it at all! It was a very cool spectacle to witness. We started with an incense stick, flower petals, bananas, spilled rice, boiling milk, fire, and red and yellow powders (that, when mixed with water, allowed them to mark the Om symbol on the frame of the door). There were songs and hymns, and personal prayers.  A Ganesha statue was also part of the ceremony, who is the remover of obstacles. As the god of beginnings, he is honored at the start of rites and ceremonies. What a beautiful way to honor and celebrate a new home.

Everyone has their own way to celebrate buying a new home. I was honored to be a part of this ceremony, and am really happy that I was able to help Vimi and Liz find their home.

10 items every home should have

Thanks to John Solaegui, who sourced this article from Architectural Digest, about 10 items every home should have. It basically is a list of must-have home items that you never knew you needed; the little things you forget about when moving into a new home. I think this is a spot-on look at what every home should have, with a little bit of added input from yours truly! Let me know if there’s anything we missed.

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1. Art that you love

Bare walls are boring. I’m not saying you need to go all JoAnna Gaines on your interior decorating, but finding some art that you love, that has meaning to you, is a huge plus in a new home. Personal photographs, postcards, custom-framed prints, etc. make for great decoration and tell the story of you!

2. Guest linens

This one might make you laugh, but it’s easy to overlook! If you’re planning on having guests over, you shouldn’t have to pull out a sleeping bag or ratty blankets. These people aren’t at summer camp! Stash a few extra sets of sheets and extra towels in a linen closet so you’re ready to host.

3. Entry table

It never hurts to have an aesthetically-pleasing piece of furniture right inside your front door. But it’s also multi-functional: mail, keys, sunglasses, and other necessities you are always misplacing would go neatly into a bowl, tray or box on an entry table.

4. Table linens

There’s nothing like freshly-pressed linens, but you don’t have to overdo it. A bare, white table set with white linen placemats can create a fresh, airy vibe. If you want an eco-friendly bonus, you can get linen sets that are better than paper, too.

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5. Plants

Bring a touch of nature indoors! Houseplants add color and texture to a home. If you are a chef (or pretending to be one), you can also plant some basil, thyme, or other spices inside to create a decorate herb garden. Another pro tip: apparently having a mint plant inside keeps insects on the right side of the walls (outside!).

6. Multiple lighting sources

We do a lot of things in our homes throughout the day. It’s only fitting that we have different lighting options available for sleeping, entertaining, and just relaxing. A single overhead system doesn’t really cut it anymore. Add at least one table, floor, or desk lamp to every room in your home to elevate the mood!

7. A coat rack

You don’t live in the dorms anymore, so tossing your coat on the nearest surface when you walk in is no longer acceptable. If you have a full mudroom, you’re set. If not, a back-of-door coat rack, or even just a section of the nearest closet, can function as a de-cluttering coat rack.

8. A bookshelf

If you can get a vintage cabinet, or utilize built-in shelves for this, you are a true professional. But every home should have some sort of chic shelving set-up to store your favorite books, framed photos, and other meaningful trinkets. You can organize the things on the shelves however you want, and change it often!

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9. A sumptuous throw

Toss a nice-looking throw over the end of a bed or across the back of a sofa. Not only will it make the room prettier, but it will imply that your room is cozy and welcoming. You can go as colorful as you want, or match the throw to the mood of the room.

10. Matching wine glasses

Don’t be that person. The one who scrambles through three different cabinets just to come up with a bunch of different wine glasses to serve the bottle your guests brought over. Invest in a quality, matching set of wine glasses, and upgrade your happy hour game. Brownie points for having a dedicated wine rack piece in your home.

7 home maintenance tasks sellers must do before listing

It is that time of year when the housing market starts to heat up. If you’re one of the homeowners who plan on selling this summer, there’s a lengthy list of must-dos to complete before you actually list. Take a look at the following ideas from Inman, with input from yours truly, on how to make your home more attractive.

1. Spruce up the exterior

This is the first thing your prospective buyers are going to see. They want something with literal curb appeal, and if you have overgrown bushes, peeling paint, dirty windows, or poor lighting, the first impression won’t be very good.

2. Service the heating/cooling system

Home inspectors have to check this anyway, so you might as well beat them to it. Waiting until a buyer makes an offer to service this system may cause issues, so get ahead on it!

3. Check your lightbulbs

Check every single one of them on both the interior and exterior. Make sure they are clean and bright. It is essential to have the home as bright as possible. In my experience, this is a tiny thing that is very noticeable if not addressed.

4. Check all smoke detectors

We’ve all pulled batteries out of our smoke detectors when cooking, but don’t forget to put them back in. Make sure all your detectors are working. A home inspector will ding you if you don’t.

5. Blue tape it

If there are nicks, chips, scratches, etc. in the walls of your house, blue tape it! No buyer wants wear and tear on the interior walls or molding, so make sure the rough areas are marked for repair before you list. My stager blue tapes what needs to be removed, painted or fixed at the staging consult I provide as part of my services.

6. Deep clean and declutter

And we mean deep. If you can, hire a cleaning crew to get a small army of people cleaning every corner and crevice (think baseboards, light switches, etc.) of the house before it goes on the market. And don’t forget to gather all your extra junk and either store elsewhere or donate.

7. Don’t forget the garage

This is often an overlooked space, but prospective buyers will want to see a clean, organized garage. Consider painting the floor or putting an epoxy down. And don’t forget to repair cracks in the ceiling of the garage!  Side note, in this area most people store all of the noted blue taped items, just make sure if you do a pest inspection, you do it before you store all your items in the garage.

BONUS! 8. Stage the property

This is my personal addition to the list. There are people who stage homes for a living. They are experts at making a house as attractive as possible to buyers. I can’t recommend having your property staged before listing highly enough!  You only get one opportunity to make a first impression!

New year, new kitchen?

Every year, just like in the fashion industry, there are new styles and trends to consider in real estate design. As told by foodandwine.com, there are going to be some flashy changes to kitchens in 2018. While I personally wouldn’t do some of these things to my kitchen, I can’t deny most look good! Check out a summary of their story below:

Trend #1: “Unicorn” colors

Apparently, white, glossy kitchen units were paired with gentle tones of pale pink and blue, with gold accents and a little glitter in late 2017. I don’t get this one, and not sure why it is popular!

Trend #2: Two-tone cabinets

This one I can get behind. While cabinetry is typically a light or dark shade, it seems more and more people are opting for colorful options in their kitchens. And doing two different, complementary tones is a style gaining in popularity. I  like the look of a dark blue against a light blue or a bright red against a standard neutral.

Trend #3: Morocco themes?

Consumers are playing with colorful, mosaic backsplashes, pendant lanterns, and other Moroccan-style decors to warm up their kitchens. I think if done properly and in moderation, this trend can look fantastic, but it might only be for people who really like that style.

Trend #4: Statement patterns

Some people are starting to add cabinetry, doors or islands with intricate designs and patterns on them. I don’t personally like the look – it feels like a stretch – but you may be seeing more of this in 2018.  For example, you may see zig-zagged cabinet doors or a herringbone pattern on the wall of islands.

Trend #5: Matching living room furniture

This trend is gaining momentum because having an open concept is now so popular. If you have a kitchen that opens up into a family room or dining room, you may see homeowners trying to mesh the two looks in the connected rooms. For example, a TV stand might have colors and patterns that match the kitchen, while also being a storage area for extra dishes.

Trend #6: Eco is in

More people are starting to consider environmentally-friendly options when creating their kitchens. More organic materials are being used, including plywood cabinetry, cork flooring, concrete tiles, walnut worktops and bamboo lighting.

Trend #7: Gold & copper

Even with all the eco-friendliness and experimentation, kitchens can still look glamorous. That may be the case, considering foodandwine.com expects there to be more shimmery metallics this year, especially with gold and copper. From handles to tiles to lighting to small appliances, expect more flash this year!

Trend #8: Water & wine

Hot water taps are quickly overtaking the use of kettles as they become more affordable and more practical to install. Similarly, wine coolers are cheaper and cheaper, as well as smaller, so finding a good, usable model is becoming easier. You’ll see more wine coolers in kitchens and fewer kettles in 2018.  (Side note: still love my hot pot!)

Never let a buyer take possession before closing

Picture this: the odds and ends of a real estate transaction you’re involved with are taking longer than expected to tie up. Whether it be a miscommunication between the realtors, legal issues, or uncontrollable circumstances, you just want the home to close escrow.

So, you have already moved out and agree to let the buyer move in over the weekend since you will be closing on Monday or Tuesday. Even though the final forms have been signed, you won’t close for a few more days. You figure, “Heck, whats the harm?”

Oops. What if there is a financial or legal issue that crops up? Worst of all, what if the new buyer starts making changes to the home and they – or someone they hire – gets hurt on the property before it is officially theirs? What happens if there is a fire? I know of one situation where the seller allowed the buyers to put their belongings in the garage and there was something flammable and it started a house fire. Do you think those buyers still bought the house?  No, the sale did not close and the seller was left dealing with a mess and no house to sell.

Now that is a heap of trouble, tripped up by a tangle of confusing liability. What you thought was an act of goodwill has just turned the final few steps of the transaction into an absolute nightmare!

Even if this scenario seems unlikely, it is still possible. And that is reason enough to never let a buyer take possession of a property before the closing is completed. Crazier things have happened!

A realtor’s job is to protect the interests of their clients and a good agent will counsel you against having a buyer or their belongings in your property prior to the transfer of title.
If you think you might want to buy or sell in the near future, feel free to reach out to me for an organized, knowledgeable, friendly ally in the real estate process! You can always reach me at my website under the contact tab at www.kristinlanham.com.

New review from a happy customer!

One of the greatest joys of working in real estate is sharing in the excitement (and relief!) of buying or selling a home with a client.

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Oftentimes, I become close with my clients just by virtue of developing a personal connection while I vet houses for them. Throughout the process, we usually text, call, email and meet in person dozens of times. So, when we succeed together and find the perfect buyer or the perfect property, it’s extra special for me to get a great review!

For example, I recently helped my client and friend Mckenzie with a transaction, and here’s what she wrote for me:

Kristin is amazing-she went above and beyond as my real estate agent; as a first-time homebuyer, I am SO lucky that I found her!! I found Kristin on Zillow, I was interested in a specific property and sent an email. She followed up and was immediately so helpful over the phone. As I said, I am a first time home buyer, and she gave me lots of advice. She met with me in person to go through the home buying process (like a crash course) which was VERY helpful, and something she didn’t have to do, as I wasn’t even looking at properties yet. She went out of her way, she knows her stuff, she is quick, gives good advice that isn’t biased, and made sure through the whole process I was finding what I wanted. She has a great reputation with other agents in the area and has lots of people she works with that she recommends in terms of home repairs etc. Even after escrow closed, she is still talking with me making sure I have what I need, helping me find handymen and other things I hadn’t even thought of. On top of how capable she is-she is also so fun and has personality plus! It was actually an enjoyable process for me (who would have thought!?!?) I have already been recommending Kristin to friends looking to buy in the area, and if I ever buy/sell again, will definitely be contacting Kristin to be my agent!

What a sweet note from Mckenzie! I loved working with her. If you want to be like Mckenzie, and be my next satisfied client, please give me a call or shoot me an email!

4040 Siino Ave, listed with views of Mt. Diablo.

Tired of renting? Looking for a place to store all your toys? Welcome home to 4040 Siino Avenue in Concord!

This 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom, 1,102-square foot home on a nearly quarter-acre (.23 acres) lot, has refinished hardwood floors, an updated bathroom and gorgeous, cozy bedrooms.

Relax on the covered patio, take in a beautiful view of Mt. Diablo and enjoy a perfect getaway that you get to call home. It’s situated on a quiet street, has a large detached garage with three bays and an extra spot for a boat or RV, and even a separate area for a kennel and dog run.

Everything you could ever want, all in the heart of the East Bay. And it’s offered at just $470,000 right now! We’ll have this awesome home available for viewing at our Open House on Sunday, June 25th from 1-4 p.m. Come stop by!

California getting snotty about their potties

Did you know California has put a new law in place that went into effect on Jan. 1 of this year? It’s causing quite a commode-tion.
It basically says that any home built after 1994 must flush away some money meeting the requirement of having water-conserving plumbing (WCP) fixtures in their bathrooms, whether it’s going on the market or not. What a stinker!
Additionally, the law calls for installation of WCP fixtures – and wiping away the old one – when the existing plumbing fixtures use more than the following:
  • Any toilet manufactured to use more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush.
  • Any urinal manufactured to use more than one gallon of water per flush.
  • Any shower head manufactured to have a flow capacity of more than 2.5 gallons of water per minute.
  • Any interior faucet that emits more than 2.2 gallons of water per minute.

Now that the drought is over, I wonder if the regulations might go down the drain and on the sale side nobody is enforcing it. But either way, a very important question remains: who the heck has a urinal in their house?

Looking for your dream home?

1154 Glen Rd. in Lafayette has it all. As realtors, we occasionally get preview invites to see a home before it goes on the market. Last Thursday, there was a private viewing of this spectacular home with wine, cheese and homemade chocolate chip cookies baking that created a cozy feeling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This coveted Happy Valley street is one of my favorites. The home was originally built by Nobel Prize winner Glenn Seaborg in 1951. The current owner completely remodeled it in 2009, adding on this high-beamed family room to the original L-shaped layout.

I love how this stone fireplace is the centerpiece of the living room. The current owner is a real estate agent and has a knack for remodeling homes, living there for a while, and then moving on to the next project. In this case, the same street just a few doors down will get the next updates to this mid-century neighborhood.

Two of my favorite features were the Jack-n-Jill bathroom where there is a laundry shoot cabinet to the laundry room on the other side, and the mud room next to the garage, as well as another outdoor entrance to store the backpacks and shoes upon returning home.

 

 

 

 

 

The master bedroom was added on with high, vaulted ceilings, doors to the pool area and an amazing bathroom. All this can be yours for $3,650,000. For more information and better photos, check out this home here.