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!

Applying for a Home Loan? See JVM Lending’s “Don’t” List!

Once you’re pre-approved, the last thing you want to do is knock yourself out of qualifying range. My friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending is a great source on this issue, as he’s seen hundreds of borrowers in this situation. Now, he sends them a list of “actions to avoid” with every pre-approval letter. Heeding his advice will help you at least prevent delays and extra paperwork. Take a look!

1. Do not make large deposits that can’t be explained. When you are trying to qualify, any large deposit – think $500 for a new mattress, or all-cash payments – must be explained. Otherwise, an entire account can become invalid and unusable for qualifying. Always keep a paper trail to make large deposit explanations easier!

2. Do not take on new debt. If you increase your credit card balances, finance a vehicle, or take on debt in another way, your ratios will be impacted and it will reduce your maximum purchase price.

3. Do not take vacation days if you’re paid hourly. A single day off work can push you out of qualifying range if your debt ratios are high and approaching your limit.

4. Do not spend liquid assets. Pre-approval software relies on specific liquid asset levels. So, pre-approval amounts can change if liquid assets are significantly reduced.

5. Do not miss payments on any debts reporting on a credit report. This one is pretty obvious, and you should avoid missing payments anyway, but missing monthly payments that reduce your credit score may also reduce your qualification amount!

6. Do not co-sign for someone else’s debts. That’s a dangerous maneuver anyway, but even if you’re just a co-signer, the debt will show up on your credit report. That makes you responsible for the debt and the payments.

7. Do not file taxes with a tax liability owing, or with less income than in previous years. This mostly applies to self-employed borrowers (especially during tax season). The most recently filed tax returns will be what the qualifying income is based on, and all tax liabilities must be proven paid. JVM recommends that borrowers file an extension when possible if they are making offers during tax season.

Things NOT to do when your house goes on the market

You’ve probably seen endless lists about how to sell your home. Everything from choosing the realtor, to the staging, to the deliberation is under the microscope. But how often do you get told how NOT to do things? RIS Media has put together a good four-step process for how to not get in your own way when selling a home.

First, don’t over-improve the house, the article says. This is good advice. While it’s important to clean up any holes and cracks in the wall, and make sure the lighting is fresh, etc., doing too much can be damaging to your case. But if you go out and make your dream changes to the house right before you sell it, you better hope your potential buyers see it as an awesome improvement, too, and not a large project to fix.

Next, don’t over-decorate. Simple, neutral colors and decorations will be just fine. Similarly to the first point, if you decorate your home with a bunch of lace, lavender and lemon scent because they are things you like, you’ve done too much. What if a buyer walks in and is immediately overwhelmed by it all? Keep it simple. Remember, the buyers are the ones who get to decorate when they move in. This is why I pay for a staging consult; because it tells you what to remove, and then I highly recommend doing some staging as it makes a huge difference in how your home is photographed. The online view of those photos will be the first impression a prospective buyer gets, and will help them decide if they want to see your home in person.

Third, and probably most important: do not BE THERE when the buyers arrive. If your realtor is going to show the house, try to get everyone (pets included) out for a couple hours. Go to a movie. Have lunch at the park. Find a way to get out of the potential buyers’ ways, so they aren’t attacked by a bunch of people upon walking in. Remember, they want to see themselves in the house. Not you!

Lastly, don’t take things too personally. You’ve put a lot of blood, sweat, tears, money and memories into your home. When a buyer lowballs you or requests repairs, don’t be upset. They are trying to afford their newest home, too. And they might tell you the reason they have to offer low is because of something they think needs updating that you disagree with. Bite your tongue, and keep negotiating. Remember, it’s all a business!

What to know about the new tax bill limits in 2018

The GOP finally pushed through its tax package, and the reaction has been interesting to say the least. While some seem to love it (The Wall Street Journal said the bill is the best thing to ever happen to our economy), many others hate it. Regardless of how you feel about the bill, it is signed in now and it’s time to see how it affects you, as a homeowner, seller or buyer.
My friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending put together a blog detailing some main points about the GOP tax bill and how it may affect real estate. Here are the main thoughts:
1. Current homeowners will be grandfathered in and still allowed to deduct interest against $1 million of mortgage debt. In 2018, buyers will be limited to $750,000 and interest against home equity lines will not be deductible.
2. State and local tax deductions will be capped at $10,000. This will be difficult for people in California.
3. Standard deductions are doubling to $12,000 for single filers and to $24,000 for married filers, so many homeowners won’t have to deduct their interest and property taxes anymore.
4. We have no idea what exactly the bill will do for the market when all is said and done, but for now, we can expect the low-inventory, high-demand market to suffer in high-end areas down the road, while remaining neutral in the short term.
5. To fully understand the bill’s impact on you, see a CPA. Defer your commissions. And if you’re planning an out-of-state move, consider relocating to a low-tax state like Florida, Texas or Nevada.
I’d like to expand on #5 quickly – as Jay mentioned, there will be a new $10,000 cap on tax deductions starting in 2018. If you paid off your property taxes before January, you should be able to save thousands of dollars on that by avoiding the new rule for a year. And if you are planning a move out of the Bay Area to another part of California or another state, you should be consulting a realtor or a CPA to see what kind of savings you can get!

Why it may be a really good time to be a borrower

You may have heard of the wild events at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently. My friend Jay Vorhees of JVM Lending had a few words to say about it on his blog, the main points of which are summarized below:

The departing director of the CFPB, Richard Condray, named his deputy, Leandra English, to be his successor. President Trump named his own acting director, Mick Mulvaney. Both claimed to be head of the CFPB, and English sued to nullify Trump’s appointment, but lost.

So, from a real estate perspective, this is what it means for the industry. The CFPB is extremely powerful and was created by the Dodd-Frank Legislation in 2010. It is funded by the Fed and mostly outside the control of Congress. So, the CFPB is well known for being aggressive in auditing and fining, even when offenses had no effect on borrowers.

On that note, Mulvaney – Trump’s appointment – has been openly anti-CFPB, and will likely try to roll back some of the agency’s enforcement efforts. If this holds true, there are two takeaways, or perspectives:

  1. A strong CFPB is necessary to keep the mortgage industry in check and avoid another meltdown like in 2008. It can be countered by pointing out that there are already other factors in place to prevent those abuses, including scrutiny from agencies such as HUD and state agencies.
  2. Lenders and loan officers spend an inordinate amount of time and money to make sure they never endure a CFPB investigation. These efforts often do little to help consumers, and only increase the overall costs of obtaining financing.

A weaker CFPB could result in more free time for lenders and loan officers, and lower borrowing costs for consumers.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also announced their 2018 loan limits, which went up significantly. The “Low Balance” limit for a one-unit property jumped from $424,100 to $453,100 and the “High Balance” limit increased from $636,150 to $679,650.

These jumps allow more borrowers to take advantage of conforming loan guidelines when buying properties in areas with increasing home prices. Combine this with the CFPB appointment, and we may be looking at an incredibly good time to be a borrower!

Also, note the Fed is most likely going to raise interest rates on the 13th and then again in the first quarter of 2018. The market has already taken it into account, and we might see rates drop slightly after the 13th.

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Why buyers don’t always take the highest offer

You might be surprised to hear that sellers don’t always take the highest offer on their properties. It would be logical to get the most bang for your back, but as this article outlines, there are more factors at play in today’s market.

In that specific example, the seller and their agent took a middle offer because it was all-cash, and that was the only way to ensure the deal would go through without having to worry if the appraisal would come in. They sacrificed a bit on the price (possibly) to make sure the house got sold.

From a seller’s perspective, taking a lower offer could be for any number of reasons. It could be because they want to counter up a lower offer because they have better financing or somebody waives the appraisal contingency. It could be because the letter they received from the prospective buyer was so engaging that they wanted those people to own the home, regardless of the price difference. It could even be because they’ve met the buyer and their family and just felt a connection to them.

From a buyer’s perspective, this means there’s an opening in the modern real estate market. If you don’t have the highest offer, you’re not always on the outside looking in. If you put more of a sincere, human touch on your pitch to buy the house, sellers might be more likely to sell to you!

It goes both ways. Real estate transactions involve a lot of paperwork, money and bartering. But when it comes down to it, having the human touch that a buyer seeks might be all you really need to leapfrog other offers and land the house of your dreams!

A great listing agent will go over all the pros and cons of each offer and provide reasons why one offer may be better, and give recommendations on counter strategies. At the end of the day, it is always the seller’s choice on who they choose to buy their home if they have more than one offer.

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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.

Tax returns and your loan approval!

Our friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending came up with another relatable blog recently: Tax Transcripts and 4506-T forms. It generally explains how those forms work, and reminded me of an experience of my own. First, a summary of Jay’s blog:

Every time a lender gets a loan from a borrower, they also have to get the last two years of tax returns. This is why borrowers sign IRS Form 4506-T as part of their disclosures. It formally authorizes lenders to request tax transcripts, which then show the filer’s status and income information.

Lenders are required to request transcripts from the IRS before a borrower can (borrowers can only request them directly if the IRS reject’s a lender’s request). If there is a minor error between the 4506-T and the tax return, this rejection may occur, so it happens pretty often.

That covers the basics of how the 4506-T form works and the role it plays in a real estate transaction. It’s a more subtle part of the process, but can cause huge headaches when done incorrectly. Take, for example, my experience with a property at Madeira in Pleasant Hill last year.

I represented the seller, and the buyer had their lender in Oakland, with a Bank out of L.A. Unbeknownst to us, the bank was being bought out and the new bank was called Bank of Hope – yes, really. But it turned out to be the Bank of Hopelessness.

Abode, Advertising, Banking, Building, Buy, Buyer

Processes changed, the lender in Oakland was let go and nobody knew what they were doing. Communication was terrible. One of the balls that got dropped was getting the tax returns. We closed almost two weeks late and the only way this ended up closing at all is by the processor who I had been speaking with regarding other issues. They actually went down to the IRS office and got the tax returns. She went beyond what is required (and probably got tired of our phone calls), but my seller is an attorney and also made multiple phone calls as they had already purchased a new home that was about to close.

This is one of the best reasons to get fully underwritten before you start to write offers. If all the documentation is in upfront, there won’t be any surprises or delays once you get into contract. Selecting the right lender can be the difference between smooth sailing and dark nightmares.

The smallest decisions can make your house more valuable

When selling a home, oftentimes the goal is to maximize financial return on the deal. Everybody wants to make as much as they can off their home sale, and even the slightest changes can increase what a home sells for.

Take this article on Inman.com for example. It’s about how homes with blue bathrooms sell for $5,400 more on average than others, according to a Zillow study. Crazy, right? Literally just changing the color you’ve painted a wal or two can add thousands of dollars to your wallet!

The article goes on to list a couple other color choices that can add or subtract from the sale price; for example, grey (and other neutral) exteriors sel die about $3,500 more than homes with other colors.

It really goes to show that small aesthetic decisions can play a huge role in netting you some extra zeroes on your home sale. It’s always wise to cater to the current trends when painting, decorating and remodeling your home to go on market – even if it means just a couple grand more in your pocket.

I try to stay tuned in to what’s popular so I can help you make those decisions. I am committed to maximizing your value as a seller, and on the flip side, getting you the best deal possible as a buyer. Give me a call if you’re interested in a real estate transaction!

Tips for preparing to buy a home

It takes a lot of preparation to buy a home. I know, I know, thank you Captain Obvious, right? But if you’re going to be searching for a home in 2017, I want you to be ready for what is headed your way!

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From our friends at Bank of the West, here is a list of great tips for preparing yourself to buy a home. See my summary below:

1. Fix Your Credit

Your credit is one of the first things a lender will look at when approving you for a mortgage loan. You can get a free credit report once every 12 months from each of the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion at annualcreditreport.com. Make sure to check for mistakes and file a dispute with the business in question, as well as the credit agency, if you find any inaccuracies. They must investigate within 30-45 days.

2. Maintain Your Credit Score

Your FICO score is the most common number used by mortgage lenders to rate your creditworthiness. You can get your credit report with a FICO score for free, or for a small fee. Anything above a 740 FICO score will help you secure better interest rates. If your score is lower, you may still qualify for a mortgage, just with a higher interest rate attached. Your first instinct may be to find ways to boost that credit score. Here are two things NOT to do:

– Don’t close lines of credit – it may indicate credit risk and actually hurt your score

– Don’t open new lines of credit – the uncertainty of your spending habits with a new card might indicate risk and cause your score to tick up

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3. Get a Big Down Payment

You’ll get a better interest rate on a mortgage if you have a larger down payment because lenders will think you’re less likely to default on your loan. Aim for a down payment of at least 20 percent of the selling price. This will also protect you from paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), which protects lenders if you default on a loan.

4. Get Pre-Approved

Meet with a mortgage specialist before you start shopping. They can help you determine an accurate budget and decide what kind of home you can realistically afford. Get a pre-approval letter and add it to a good credit report, income verification and a maximum allowable loan, and home sellers will take you most seriously among the suitors.

5. Keep Track of Your Money

You’ll have lots of documents, bank statements, etc. during the pre-approval and underwriting processes. These will be examined closely to verify income and expenses. If your records show unusual activity, you’ll be asked to explain it and you’ll have to jump that hurdle before continuing the approval process.

If you need a recommendation for outstanding mortgage brokers.  I have a few that I highly regard.