Marcie Gingle & Roberta Lerman
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Marcie & Roberta

RE/MAX 360
Marcie Gingle: 617.838.3102
Roberta Lerman: 781.983.2882
ginglelermanrealtygroup@gmail.com

12 Atlantic Ave
Marblehead, MA 01945

These Pandemic-Related Housing and Design Trends Aren't Going Away

Written by Ana Durrani for Realtor.com

Home trends come and go, but social distancing and staying at home have ushered in a new way of life—and some of those changes have spurred home trends that are likely to stick around well past the COVID-19 era.

“The idea of what is necessary is changing,” says Camille Thomas, a real estate matchmaker and lifestyle expert in Jackson Hole, WY. “The home has become more than a living space.”

This means a lot of people have started to evaluate how they live in their home and what matters most to them when buying.

Here are some of the real estate and design trends people have latched on to during the pandemic that will likely have staying power for years to come.

 

The Great Escape

Quarantine has caused more than a few people to pack up their lives and head out of crowded cities to the suburbs (or even the country) in search of more room to breathe. One in 5 U.S. adults says they either changed their residence due to the pandemic or know someone who did, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

In fact, as people buy homes in the suburbs, housing inventories in those areas are dwindling faster than in urban areas, according to realtor.com®'s September Urban vs. Suburban Growth Report.

“People are not wanting to be in a city where it feels too crowded right now,” says Suzi Dailey, a Realtor, who's with Realty One International in California's Orange County. “They are leaving cities in favor of homes with more space, a backyard, or some type of view.”

Thomas says in the mountain town of Jackson Hole she is seeing buyers come in from Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Houston, and Chicago.

"Some are purchasing sight-unseen,” she adds.

Also, with more companies allowing their workforce to work from home, many people are no longer tied to a specific city for employment. Most housing experts agree that this trend of increasing preferences for suburban homes will continue.

 

The Zoom Room

Regular videoconferencing from home—whether you're an employee or a student—is a new reality, and it’s become increasingly common to see agents and sellers including Zoom rooms in listings as part of a home’s features. But what is a Zoom room, anyway?

Essentially it's a dedicated room or corner of your home that features an aesthetically pleasing background for your videoconference calls. Zoom rooms are free of household clutter and typically removed from the high-traffic parts of the house. And experts predict the dedicated video room trend is likely to persist for buyers beyond COVID-19.

“Buyers are looking for extra space to create workspaces for students and working parents,” says Thomas. “Three bedrooms is no longer enough. Now it must be three bedrooms and an additional workspace, at least.”

 

Clean and Cozy Design

Photo by ME Design Group

Interior design trends are always changing. But throughout the pandemic we've seen homeowners doing everything they can to create a cozy, simple, clean, and comfortable vibe inside their homes.

“It’s a focus on an open floor plan, lighter wall colors, and no clutter," says Dailey. Elements that capture this aesthetic are comfortable sofas, throw blankets, candles, herb gardens in the kitchen, and houseplants that make a person feel at home.

"Especially with COVID-19, you do not want a home that feels dirty. That’s why clean, simplistic decor and decluttering have become very popular," says Dailey.

And that feeling of streamlined coziness is extending to the outdoor areas of the home, too.

"Sales of space heaters, such as the tall standing heaters for porches, patios, and outdoor spaces, are already going through the roof," says Dailey.

 

The Backyard Premium

It's little surprise that homebound owners—or would-be owners—are focusing more on backyard spaces. Some buyers are even willing to settle on a smaller house or a house in a less desirable area in order to have a large backyard where they can spend more time in the open air.

"For some, that means moving farther outside of town for the same-size house with more land. Others are moving into small townhouses so they can purchase a small farm outside of the city," says Mary Patton of Mary Patton Design.

 

 

The 'Best' Winter Sales Season in Years

Wow! How Home Sellers Can Make a Bundle in the 'Best' Winter Sales Season in Years!

Written by Erica Sweeney for Realtor.com

Selling a home in winter is often a slow process. Since many home buyers traditionally hunker down as the temperature drops, particularly during the holidays, home sellers with real estate on the market typically see fewer buyers and lower offers.

That's your typical winter, but this winter is shaping up to be a whole different reality, even a hot seller's market.

According to Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors®, “It will be one of the best winter sales years ever.”

The coronavirus has changed real estate in a multitude of ways, and perhaps one of the biggest is the sea of buyers who put off buying during the first wave of the pandemic and are now slated to flood the market this winter.

"Sellers will have the ball in their court so to speak, as there are more buyers than sellers," says Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com®. "This means seller-friendly trends like rising home prices and quick-selling homes."

According to a realtor.com report, September's home inventory was 39% lower compared with the same month last year. Meanwhile, buyers are keen to take advantage of the record-low interest rates, which have been hovering at or below 3%.

All of this means that sellers who are willing to put their homes on the market now could reap the benefits. Here's how sellers can make the most of this unprecedented time and enjoy a blizzard of buyers this winter.

Price your home on the high end

COVID-19 has created a shaky economy, so you may think pricing your home on the low end is the way to go. But that’s not the case.

According to a realtor.com report, the national median home listing price jumped 11.1% in September compared with last year, reaching $350,000, and price per square foot rose 13.9%.

The upshot? These days, you’re likely to get offers at list price, or even higher.

“Prices are very high,” says Simon Isaacs, owner/broker of Simon Isaacs Real Estate in Palm Beach, FL. “People are getting what they're asking.”

Another plus: The low interest rates could keep monthly mortgage payments low. So buyers may be able to afford a more expensive home.

Make your home move-in ready

Today, buyers are keen to find a home that won't need a lot of work after they move in. As such, it behooves sellers more than ever to make small repairs and upgrades that will increase a home’s value and justify a high offer.

“Sellers need to make sure their house is turnkey,” says Matt van Winkle, a real estate broker/owner of Re/Max Northwest Realtors in Seattle. “The buyer is not going to want to remodel or do repairs in the winter.”

Cleaning up the landscaping and painting are two upgrades that Isaacs always recommends to sellers.

“Landscaping is definitely something that helps to sell a home more than anything,” he says.

Sellers would also be smart to highlight (in their listing and in person) features in their home that appeal to buyers today. Since the coronavirus, people are spending more time at home, and are thus keen to purchase property with more space, privacy, rooms that can double as home offices or learning spaces, and top-notch outdoor spaces.

Make sure your listing provides a virtual tour

The pandemic has made many buyers leery of checking out homes in person unless they see one they truly love. The upshot for sellers? Your listing will really need to shine online—and one of the best ways to do this is by offering a virtual tour.

“Depending on where you live and how COVID-19 is trending in your area, sellers may want to consider having a 3D tour readily available for buyers who do not wish to do an in-person tour,” says Tracy Jones, a real estate agent with Re/Max Platinum Realty in Sarasota, FL.

This approach is also more convenient for sellers, since it can help minimize the number of strangers touring their home. Buyers can get a good sense if your home meets their needs without actually stepping inside.

Take safety seriously

Selling a home during a pandemic brings a new set of challenges. Virtual tours can minimize the foot traffic in your home, but eventually a buyer will want to see it in person. So it’s a good idea to ensure that you and your real estate agent are doing everything you can to make in-person tours as safe as possible.

Some ways to do this include limiting the number of showings per day, including gaps between showings, and limiting the size of groups seeing a home at once. Requiring masks and social distancing are also par for the course.

When people do have to see your home, leave doors, closets, and cabinets open throughout the house to minimize what they have to touch. Keep in mind, too, that once everyone leaves, it will be up to you to clean and sanitize your home.

Don’t accept an offer too quickly

The real estate market this winter is incredibly competitive. With so few homes on the market, sellers are poised to receive multiple offers, sometimes all at once. But Matt Curtis, owner of Matt Curtis Real Estate in Huntsville, AL, cautions sellers not to get in a hurry and accept an offer too quickly.

Typically, sellers have 24 to 48 hours to accept an offer. If you jump the gun and say yes too soon, you could be leaving money on the table.

“Select a real estate agent that has a strategy to handle multiple offers versus an agent that's not equipped to handle multiple-offer situations,” Curtis says. “Literally eight hours of sleep could net you an extra $30,000.”

So take time to mull over each offer you receive. If the offer is too low, you can always counter with something closer to the asking price.

Close remotely if you can

Along with virtual home tours, home sellers should strive to make as much of the home-buying process as virtual and digital as possible. Now, more buyers and sellers are able to complete the closing process remotely in most areas of the country, something that wasn’t possible a few months ago.

Pre-pandemic, remote closings weren’t possible everywhere, because some states didn’t allow documents to be notarized remotely. To keep real estate transactions and other business flowing during the COVID-19 crisis, most states issued emergency declarations now allowing for remote notarizations, according to the National Notary Association.

Along with limiting in-person contact, remote closings are much more convenient.

“You can sign all the documents now electronically,” Isaacs says. These days it’s all about “making sure that everybody is comfortable and as safe as possible.”

 

 

5 Tips for Homebuyers Who Want to Make a Competitive Offer

one gold star sitting on a pile of black stars

Today’s real estate market has high buyer interest and low housing inventory. With so many buyers competing for a limited number of homes, it’s more important than ever to know the ins and outs of making a confident and competitive offer. Here are five keys to success for this important stage in the homebuying process.

1. Listen to Your Real Estate Agent - The Gingle Lerman Team

A recent article from Freddie Mac offers guidance on making an offer on a home in today’s market. Right off the bat, it points out how emotional this can be for buyers and why trusted professionals can help you stay focused on the most important things:

“Remember to let your homebuying team guide you on your journey, not your emotions. Their support and expertise will keep you from compromising on your must-haves and future financial stability.”

Your real estate professional should be your primary source for answers to the questions you have when you’re ready to make an offer.

2. Understand Your Finances

Having a complete understanding of your budget and how much house you can afford is essential. The best way to know this is to reach out to your lender to get pre-approved for a loan early in the homebuying process. Only 44% of today’s prospective homebuyers are planning to apply for pre-approval, so be sure to take this step so you stand out from the crowd. It shows sellers you’re a serious, qualified buyer and can give you a competitive edge if you enter a bidding war.

3. Be Ready to Move Quickly

According to the Realtors Confidence Index, published monthly by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the average property being sold today is receiving more than three offers and is only on the market for a few weeks. These are both results of today’s competitive market, showing how important it is to stay agile and vigilant in your search. As soon as you find the right home for your needs, be prepared to work with The Gingle Lerman Team to submit an offer as quickly as possible.

4. Make a Fair Offer

It’s only natural to want the best deal you can get on a home. However, Freddie Mac also warns that submitting an offer that’s too low can lead sellers to doubt how serious you are as a buyer. Don’t submit an offer that will be tossed out as soon as it’s received. The expertise that The Gingle Lerman Team brings to this part of the process will help you stay competitive:

“The Gingle Lerman Team will work with you to make an informed offer based on the market value of the home, the condition of the home and recent home sale prices in the area.”

5. Be a Flexible Negotiator

After submitting an offer, the seller may accept it, reject it, or counter it with their own changes. In a competitive market, it’s important to stay nimble throughout the negotiation process. Your position can be strengthened with an offer that includes flexible move-in dates, a higher price, or minimal contingencies (conditions you set that the seller must meet for the purchase to be finalized). There are, however, certain contingencies you don’t want to forego. Freddie Mac explains:

Resist the temptation to waive the inspection contingency, especially in a hot market or if the home is being sold ‘as-is’, which means the seller won’t pay for repairs. Without an inspection contingency, you could be stuck with a contract on a house you can’t afford to fix.”

Bottom Line

Today’s competitive market makes it more important than ever to make a strong offer on a home, and a trusted expert can help you rise to the top along the way.  Contact us to discuss the best plan for you.

 

 

The Biggest Myths About Moving to the Suburbs—Busted

Written by Ana Durrani for Realtor.com

For generations, people have been drawn to big-city life by the irresistible lure of career opportunities, cultural riches, and the sheer excitement of rubbing shoulders with hundreds of thousands—even millions—of people doing varied and interesting things.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, and suddenly, those tiny apartments, public transportation, and crowded public spaces lost their appeal. Many city dwellers fled their densely populated confines.

According to a study by MyMove.com that analyzed U.S. Postal Service data, during the first six months of the pandemic, big cities lost the most people.

New York City, with the country's largest population at more than 8.5 million, experienced the highest losses. More than 110,000 residents left the city from February to July of this year.

That's 487% more than the number of people who left New York during the same period in 2019. And where did many of these people relocating set their sights? Smaller towns and suburbs.

In fact, as people snap up homes in the suburbs, housing inventories in those areas are dwindling faster than in urban areas, according to realtor.com®'s September Urban vs. Suburban Growth Report.

Currently, inventory is down 34.3% year over year in urban areas, while suburban inventory has declined 41.2%.

But despite all this, city dwellers are often hesitant to leave the hustle and bustle behind. Lifelong urbanites may feel that moving to the suburbs is accepting defeat, and they may have lingering assumptions about what they'll gain—and lose—by moving from a big city to a smaller town.

“People believe moving from the city is an isolating experience where neighbors are distant, nightlife is dull, and cultural experience is lacking,” says Lisa Collins, a licensed real estate salesperson for Julia B. Fee Sotheby's International Realty in New York.

But that's not always the case. Below, we bust some of the biggest myths about buying and owning a home in the suburbs.

Myth No. 1: Real estate is less expensive in the suburbs

Historically, the average listing price of an urban home has been higher than a suburban home. But these days, don't expect to hit the suburbs for a bargain.

During the pandemic, listing prices in the suburbs have actually grown at a faster rate than in cities, according to realtor.com.

Currently, the median listing price of suburban properties within the 10 largest metros is growing by 5.2% year over year. In urban areas, the growth rate is only 2.4%.

That's true in Fairfield County, CT, where prices have risen an average of 33% since September 2019, according to Debbie Rehr, a licensed real estate salesperson for Compass Westport in Westport, CT.

Rehr, who lives in Weston, CT, says this area is only an hour's drive from New York City and is attracting attorneys, financiers, entrepreneurs, and other affluent professionals looking for places to live, relax, and raise children.

Myth No. 2: The suburbs are boring

Moving to the suburbs means giving up all kinds of fun activities and resigning yourself to a boring, lonely existence in the middle of nowhere, right? Wrong!

In March 2020, Wendy Silverstein left New York City with her husband for Columbia County—about 120 miles to the north, closer to Albany—to stay in their cottage on a lake. She was wary that small-town life would be too slow, too quiet, and there would be a dearth of things to do.

Instead, she was pleasantly surprised by the activities available, and she's adjusted to the different pace of life. In her time there, she says she’s discovered delicious farm stand offerings and terrific markets.

“There are lots of interesting neighbors and opportunities to meet people,” says Silverstein. “I love the quiet, and you can drive into small towns and small cities for interaction.”

Collins, who lives about 20 miles north of New York City in Larchmont, says the pandemic has brought together many neighbors who are now working from home, for a new network of socializing and support.

“Our neighbors are gifted artists, musicians, writers, and teachers,” she says. “During the pandemic, our neighborhood created an outdoor movie night so that kids can socially distance and have fun.”

Also, being in the suburbs often means you're closer to the great outdoors.

“Just outside of town, you can go apple picking in orchards and wine tasting at vineyards,” says Collins. “Skiing at a small mountain can be as close as an hour away.”

Myth No. 3: There’s no culture

Leaving the big city means you're no longer down the street (or a short subway ride from) world-famous museums, Michelin-starred restaurants, and other great cultural resources. But it turns out, the suburbs give cities a run for their money.

“I think many transplants are surprised with how much good food, wine, public schools, health and wellness, shopping—even high-end fashion—is right in town,” says Rehr.

Collins says the reality is that the suburbs north of New York City are vibrant. The towns of Larchmont, Mamaroneck, and Rye, for example, have many restaurants, shopping, kids' activities, and cultural experiences within walking distance or within a short bike ride or drive away.

“There are hiking trails nearby, outdoor music on weekends, and our local colleges and high schools have educational and cultural programs to experience,” says Collins.

Even during a pandemic, Silverstein says there is an incredible amount of culture where she lives.

“Towns nearby are becoming more and more interesting, with bookstores, food stores, and art exhibits,” she says.

Myth No. 4: The commute will be a nightmare

Those thinking of moving to the suburbs but keeping their jobs based in the city might be apprehensive about a hellish commute. It might not be as much of a slog as you'd think, though.

“Work in midtown Manhattan? In Larchmont, you can take a quick drive or walk to the train station. The Metro-North train gets you to Grand Central Station in 35 minutes,” says Collins.

There’s also faster job growth in the suburbs, so you might end up finding work closer to home. Some32% of U.S. jobs are in the suburbs of large metropolitan areas, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

In addition, remote work is likely to be here to stay even after COVID-19.

A study by the research and advisory company Gartner found that 82% of business leaders say their organizations plan to let employees continue to work from home at least some of the time, while 47% plan to allow employees to do so permanently.

6 Modest Front-Yard Updates Home Sellers Should Never Forget

Written by Ana Durrani for Realtor.com

Home sellers know that a tidy, tasteful home will catch any buyer's eye. That's why many people put effort into fixing up—and even staging—the interior of their home before putting it on the market and hosting open houses.

But did you know that an unkempt exterior could deter potential buyers from even setting foot in the door? That's right. A shoddy-looking front yard could undermine all that hard work you put into beautifying the inside of your home, and that could jeopardize your chances of selling.

"You only get one chance to make a first impression, and it happens when a potential buyer sees the exterior of your home," says Kate Rumson, interior designer. "We all te

nd to form opinions in the first few seconds of seeing a home for the first time—make those seconds count!"

Don't let your home's exterior fall to the wayside. Whether your front yard is in need of a few tweaks or a full face-lift, the following tips will help boost your home's curb appeal and make sure everything matches.

 

1. Replace your garage door

Garage doors tend to be large, so they're a major architectural element of your home. Replacing one can be costly, but this one upgrade could help sell your house faster.

 According to Remodeling magazine's annual Cost vs. Value report, garage door replacement has consistently topped the list of remodeling projects that give you the biggest return on investment. In fact, this year's report found that by replacing your garage door, you could recoup 94.5% of the cost when you sell your home.

“Old or damaged garage doors will make a house feel dated and not cared for. If your garage doors are in poor condition, replace them,” says Rumson. “Don’t let potential buyers think that the damaged garage doors represent the rest of your home’s condition.”

As for the cost, garage door replacement can range from $600 to $2,750, according to HomeAdvisor.

 

2. Do a front door audit

The first thing potential buyers see as they walk up to your home is your front door. The door can give house hunters a hint of your design sense and what decor delights await them on the other side.

Ted Roberts, chief style and design expert at Schlage, says to consider the color and materials of both the inside and outside of your door. He says the hardware on a door is also important to the overall aesthetic and that door hardware should be updated to create a unified statement throughout your property.

“Updating your front door can do wonders for your security and style. If your door hardware is showing signs of age, this fall could be the perfect time to upgrade to a new handle set and an electronic lock that adds smart, keyless convenience,” says Roberts.

 

3. Complement your colors

Choosing the right colors for the inside of your home takes careful thought and consideration. But no matter what paint you choose, make sure the palette transitions smoothly from exterior to interior.

“Interior and exterior colors don’t have to match, but they need to complement one another," says Rumson. For example, a traditional forest-green exterior trim looks great when paired with navy blue, tan, or blush interiors.

"Make sure that the colors of your exterior accurately represent what buyers should expect to see on the inside,” Rumson adds.

4. Consider new window frames

Photo by Spivey Architects, Inc.

Installing new window frames will create the appearance of brand-new windows, and is a quick and inexpensive way to make your home look newer and more attractive to buyers, says Rumson.

Consider updating your outdated window frames with new, stylish black window frames.

“Black window frames will boost your home’s curb appeal, make your home more unique, and create a great contrast with the rest of your interiors,” says Roberts. “Because black windows make such a statement, they don’t always need shades, blinds, or curtains, offering an opportunity for you to sidestep what can be an occasionally costly investment.”

5. Refresh your landscape

The American Society of Landscape Architects recommends that homeowners invest 10% of a home’s value in landscaping. A well-manicured front yard can be eye candy to potential buyers.

Professional landscaping can be pricey, but we're not suggesting a full foliage overhaul. Simply take a few hours on a weekend to freshen up your existing landscaping with plants and fresh mulch.

Over 75% of top real estate agents nationwide say that well-landscaped homes are worth anywhere from 1% to 10% more than homes without landscaping, according to research at HomeLight.


6. Install outdoor lighting

“Outdoor lighting is important for safety, but it can also significantly improve the curb appeal of a home,” says Rumson.

There are a variety of outdoor lighting options, from decorative lighting (like sconces by your front door) to landscape lighting (to illuminate the pathway to your porch).

“It’s an easy update," says Rumson. "You will find many beautiful options and styles at your local home improvement store.”

Light up your home’s exterior walkway with a set of 10 solar-powered, black LED outdoor lights ($79.97, Home Depot) or a lantern sconce ($59.97, Home Depot).

 

What to Look For in New-Construction Homes: These 5 Crucial Aspects Should Be on Your Radar

Written by Terri Williams for Realtor.com

 

Few things are as exciting as purchasing a newly constructed home. Everything is pristine and, presumably, will last for a very long time.

However, just because a house is new doesn’t mean it’s free of flaws. There are a lot of factors that could make a brand-new home a less than ideal purchase.

So, before closing on a new-construction home, here are some things you need to consider.

 

1. Quality of the build

“They don’t make 'em like they used to” is a common phrase that refers to the solid construction of many older homes. It can be true for a number of reasons—from the building materials used to the skills employed in the building process. Therefore, one of the most important things you can do with a new-construction home is to check the foundation to ensure there are no issues, since this can be costly to fix.

“You should be able to get a set of plans from the builder, designer, or city to make sure nothing was left out,” says Nathan Outlaw, president of Onvico, a design-build and general contracting firm in Thomasville, GA.

Also, he says, you need to step back and compare the home with its setting.

“Is the home oversized or undersized for the neighborhood? Do the materials and style of construction match the neighborhood?” Outlaw warns that purchasing a cheap build in a nice neighborhood will have ramifications—like costly repairs—further down the line.

 

2. The builder’s reputation

One way to minimize the chances of purchasing a low-quality home is to find out as much as you can about the builder. Outlaw recommends doing your research to find out what others think about the company. Is the builder known for taking shortcuts during the construction process?  Does the builder have a reputation for paying its subcontractors and suppliers on time?

Robin Kencel, a broker at Compass in Greenwich, CT, agrees.

"Some of the first questions I ask the listing agent are about the team behind the house: who are the architect, builder, subcontractors, and engineers involved in the project," Kencel says. "Those answers will help me gauge the strength of construction.”

It’s also a good idea to ask either the builder or the listing agent for references from people who have purchased a home from the builder.

“If the community is partially built and there are folks already living there, knock on some doors and ask what their experience was like and if they are satisfied with the final product,” says Bill Golden, an independent real estate agent with Re/Max Around Atlanta.

 

3. Possible upgrades and design options

Sometime buyers will get to choose the design elements in new-construction homes that have yet to be built. The builder will offer options for features like the countertop, flooring, tile, and more. Plus, there's often the possibility of adding upgrades (for a price) like a kitchen backsplash or a water softener.

But it's wise to avoid the temptation to go overboard. Sometimes it may be better to just stick with the standard features and upgrade them later when your budget permits.

“Ask to see what the standard fixtures/design elements look like, and what it costs to upgrade them,” says Golden. "However, things like tile and flooring make more sense to have the builder do, as changing those out later can be too much trouble to do."

 

4. A warranty

You shouldn’t expect to have any problems in a new home for a long time. But if you do, it’s important to be covered. Before you buy a new-construction home, make sure it comes with a warranty.

“Most builders have, at minimum, a customer care program and a first-year warranty, plus a longer-term structural warranty,” explains Alan Beulah, vice president of sales and marketing for M/I Homes in Charlotte, NC.

For example, Beulah's company offers a 15-year structural warranty that protects mechanical systems and other major structural elements.

But there may be an even bigger issue than honoring the warranty.

“You have to make sure that the builder is one that will be around and able to carry out warranty work,” says Jeff Benach, principal at Lexington Homes, a Chicago-based homebuilder.

 

5. An experienced real estate agent

When looking for a new-construction home, don’t forget to hire a real estate agent who has experience representing new-construction buyers.

“An experienced agent will negotiate with the builder to ensure pertinent items are covered during the first year of homeownership," says Patrick Garrett, a broker and owner at H&H Realty in Trussville, AL.

Some of these items include coordinating a punch list (a document showing work that still needs to be done on your new home), a structural and mechanical warranty, and any agreements to fix cosmetic issues that are not noticedduring initial inspections or the final walk-through.

 

Your Essential Fall Maintenance Checklist: 8 Things You Really Should Do Before the First Frost

Written by Lauren Sieben for Realtor.com

 

Ah, fall: The nip of the first chill in the air. The colorful foliage. The pumpkin spice lattes. The pumpkin spice everything.

Oh yeah, and the long list of home maintenance tasks awaiting you at the start of the season.

We hate to intrude on your fall bliss, but the postsummer months are a critical time for knocking out routine home maintenance to keep your household running smoothly into winter. Luckily, many of these tasks are easy DIY projects, with options to call in the pros if you prefer.

We asked home experts which items should be at the top of your to-do list this fall. Here are the musts to tackle before the falling leaves turn to ice and snow.

 

1. Check windows and doors for air leaks

Lower temperatures mean higher thermostat settings, and anyone in a cold climate knows the pain of opening a gas bill in the dead of winter.

To keep cold air out and utility bills in check, Mike Bidwell, president and CEO of Neighborly, suggests checking all of your windows and doors for air leaks.

DIY: If your issues are minor, a few low-budget options to fix leaky doors and windows include caulking around gaps, adding or updating the weatherstripping, and using foam sealant.

Call in the pros: If you have major gaps or just want peace of mind that leaks are sealed properly, call an expert.

“Depending on the size of the leak and the number of leaks identified, the cost will vary from a minimum-charge service call to something more if more extensive work is called for,” Bidwell says.

Window seal repairs can run between $70 and $120—still a bargain compared with the cost of replacing an entire window or door.

 

2. Clean the chimney

If you have a fireplace, fall is a great time to give it a thorough cleaning and inspection, says Craig Gjelsten, vice president of Rainbow International Restoration.

Maintaining a clean fireplace is the simplest and best way to remove creosote, a byproduct of wood combustion that contains tar and toxins.

“Eliminating this from the chimney liner and the smoke box reduces the risk of a fire,” he says.

DIY: If you’ve been keeping up with cleaning your chimney on a yearly basis, you can handle this task on your own, “as long as [you] feel capable of using an extension ladder to get to the roof and scrub the chimney,” Gjelsten says.

Call in the pros: “If you haven’t cleaned the chimney in a long time, it is recommended that you call an expert to do a thorough clean,” Gjelsten says.

You can expect to spend anywhere from the low $100s to upward of $300, depending on where you live (and how fouled the chimney has become).

 

3. Schedule a furnace tuneup

Don’t wait until the first bitterly cold day to finally turn on your furnace. If you have any issues, you’ll want to know before the mercury drops and you find yourself shivering indoors.

“Homeowners should listen for strange noises, such as booming, clicking, and squealing, when they turn on their furnace for the fall season,” Bidwell adds. “They should also pay attention to odd odors coming from the furnace.”

If you notice anything unusual, call an HVAC professional right away.

DIY: Change your filter regularly and often.

“Every season, homeowners should replace the furnace filter,” Bidwell says. “They can also vacuum dust and debris from and around the furnace to help it operate like new.”

Call in the pros: Even if you change your filter regularly, it’s a good idea to schedule a furnace tuneup, Bidwell says.

HVAC pros can inspect and clean the air ducts, check and adjust the pilot light, lubricate the furnace bearings, and inspect and tighten fan belts and pulleys.

“The typical price for fall heating tuneups ranges from $89 to $159, but prices can vary by services needed and by region,” Bidwell says.

 

4. Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

It’s easy to forget about smoke and carbon monoxide detectors (unless a cooking disaster sets off the alarm—we’ve all been there).

“That’s why as we approach this time of year, it’s important to test these alarms and detectors, as well as replace those that are 10 or more years old,” Gjelsten says.

DIY: This is a quick and easy project most homeowners can handle on their own. Simply press and hold down the “test” button for a few seconds on each of your detectors.

“If working properly, these detectors will emit a loud ping or siren,” Gjelsten says. “Should the sound be weak or not there at all, you should replace the batteries and test the detector once more to ensure it’s working properly.”

 

5. Run ceiling fans in reverse

The hot, humid days of summer are officially in the rear-view mirror (in most parts of the country, at least).

“That’s why now is the perfect time to start thinking about reversing the direction [of] fans in the home to make the space warmer,” Gjelsten says.

Reversing the direction of your ceiling fans helps circulate warm air near the ceiling back into your living space. (Heat rises, remember!) This can cut your heating costs by as much as 10%, Gjelsten says.

DIY: All you need is a ladder or stool for this task—and make sure the fan is off. Then simply flip the switch that is commonly found on the side of the motor to change the fan’s direction.

 

6. Winterize your sprinkler system

It’s a good idea to winterize your outdoor irrigation system to prevent damage from freezing water. This process clears leftover water from the pipes in your irrigation system.

DIY: “Due to the need for high pressure to clear water out of the lines, winterizing sprinkler systems is not a typical DIY project,” Bidwell says.

But if you’re handy and you have the right equipment—including an air compressor—it’s possible to tackle this project on your own.

Call in the pros: In warmer climates, sprinkler winterization service averages between $50 and $70, Bidwell says. In areas where temperatures dip below freezing, the process is more intensive, so you can expect to pay more—generally between $70 and $140.

 

7. Disconnect and empty your garden hoses

Speaking of freezing water, “a frozen hose can cause the water inside the wall to freeze and burst,” Bidwell says.

Don't let this happen to you, homeowner!

DIY: Disconnect your hose and let it drain on an angle. Once the hose is empty, coil it up and pack it away for the season.

 

8. Clean the gutters

Throughout the year, your gutters fill up with leaves, sticks, and other debris. Failing to clear this gunk from your gutters can mean rain and melting snow won't be able to drain easily—potentially causing seepage and leaks into your home.

DIY: If you’re comfortable climbing on a ladder to clean your gutters, this is a DIY-friendly task,

“Using a bucket, gutter scoop, and heavy-duty gloves, you can remove any debris found in your gutters,” Gjelsten says.

Use a hose to wash away any remaining debris and to make sure the downspouts are working properly.

Call in the pros: If you’re not keen on climbing, you can call in a professional. The national average cost for gutter cleaning is around $157.

 

 

16 Questions To Ask a Home Inspector Before, During, and After a Home Inspection

Written by Audrey Ference for Realtor.com

If you're buying a house, you know that your home inspector will check it out and make sure it's in decent shape. But if you want to get to know your home beyond its pretty facade, you should pepper your inspector with questions—a whole lot of them, in fact!

But when you ask those home inspector questions is as important as what you ask. To ensure you get the most out of your home inspection, here's a timeline of queries to hit before the inspection even starts, during the actual home inspection, and well after it's over.

Questions to ask a home inspector BEFORE the inspection begins

So, how do you separate a great home contractor from a merely good one? It boils down to interviewing home inspectors to gauge how thorough a job they'll do. To help, here are some of the best questions to ask.

Bonus: This'll also help you know what to expect! Knowledge is power, my friends.

1. 'What do you check?'

"A lot of people don't know exactly what a home inspector is going to do," says Frank Lesh, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

Wondering what does a home inspector look for? A whole lot—1,600 features on a home, to be exact.

"We inspect everything from the roof to the foundation and everything in between," Lesh says.

Going into the inspection with a clear understanding of what the inspector can and can't do will ensure that you walk away from the inspection happy.

2. 'What don't you check?'

There are limits. For instance, "we're restricted to a visual inspection," says Lesh. "We can't cut a hole in somebody's wall."

As a result, an inspector will often flag potential problems in the report and you will have to get another expert—a roofer, HVAC person, builder, electrician, or plumber—to come back and do a more detailed examination.

"Understand that we're looking at what exists in the house today," says home inspector Randy Sipe, of Spring Hill, KS. "I can't see into the future any more than anybody else."

3. 'What do you charge for a home inspection?'

A home inspection costs around $300 and $600, though it will depend on the market, the size of house, and the actual inspector. Generally you'll pay the inspector the day of the inspection, so you'll want to know in advance how much and what forms of payment are accepted.

Lesh cautions against going with an inspector who quotes you a very low price.

"That's often a sign they're having trouble getting customers," he says.

Spending on a good inspector will more than pay for itself in the long run.

4. 'How long have you been doing this?'

Or perhaps more important: How many inspections have you done? A newer inspector doesn't necessarily mean lower quality, but experience can mean a lot—especially if you're considering an older home or something with unusual features.

5. 'Can I come along during the inspection?'

The answer to this should be a resounding yes! Any good inspector will want prospective owners to be present at the inspection. Seeing somebody explain your house's systems and how they work will always be more valuable than reading a report, and it gives you the opportunity to ask questions and get clarifications in the moment. If an inspector requests that you not join him, definitely walk away. Run!

6. 'How long will the inspection take?'

Inspections often take place during the workweek, when the seller is less likely to be around. Knowing how much time you'll need to block out will keep you from having to rush through the inspection to get back to the office. You'll get only a ballpark figure, because much will depend on the condition of the house. But if you are quoted something that seems way off—such as a half-day for a two-bedroom apartment, or just an hour for a large, historic house—that could be a red flag that the inspector doesn't know what he's doing, says Lesh.

7. 'Can I see a sample report?'

If you're buying your first home, it can be helpful to see someone else's report before you see your own. Every house has problems, usually lots of them, though most generally aren't that big of a deal. A sample report will keep you from panicking when you see your own report, and it will give you a sense of how your inspector communicates. It's another opportunity to ensure that you and your inspector are on the same page.

 

Questions to ask a home inspector DURING a home inspection

Ideally, you should attend your home inspection—in person or by video—and ask your home inspector anything that comes up right then and there. The reason: Rather than trying to decipher your home inspector's (very technical) report, it's much easier for this pro to actually show you what's going on with the house.

To help you get this essential show-and-tell session rolling, here are a few important questions to ask a home inspector that will help you size up a house yourself, and keep it in good condition for as long as you hang your hat there.

1. 'What does that mean?'

During the inspection, your home inspector will go slowly through the entire house, checking everything to ensure there are no signs of a problem. He'll point out things to you that aren't as they should be, or may need repairs.

Don't be afraid to ask any questions about what the home inspector is telling you, and make sure you understand the issue and why it matters. For example, if the inspector says something like, "Looks like you've got some rotten boards here," it's smart to ask him to explain what that means for the overall house—how difficult it is to repair, and how much it will cost.

Just keep in mind that your inspector can't tell you whether or not to become the buyer of the house, or how much you should ask the seller to fix (though your real estate agent should be able to help with that).

2. 'Is this a big deal or a minor issue?'

For most people, buying real estate is the biggest purchase they'll ever make. It's normal to start feeling panicky when your inspector is telling you the house has a foundation problem, a roof or water heater in need of repair, or electrical, heating systems or an HVAC system that isn't up to code.

Don't freak out—just ask the inspector whether he thinks the issue is a big deal. You'll be surprised to hear that most houses have similar issues and that they're not deal breakers, even if the fixes or repairs sound major. And if it is major? Well, that's why you're having the home inspection done. You can address it with the seller or just walk away.

3. 'What's that water spot on the ceiling, and does it need a repair?'

Don't be shy about asking questions and pointing out things that look off to you during the home inspection and checking if they're OK, real estate–wise. Odds are, if there's something weird, your inspector has noted it and is going to check it out thoroughly. For example, if there's a water spot on the ceiling, maybe he needs to check it from the floor above to know if it's an issue.

Ideally, your inspector will ask you if there's anything you're specifically concerned about before he starts the inspection. Make sure to tell him if this is your first real estate purchase, or if you're worried about the house's age, or anything at all that strikes you, the buyer, as a possible negative.

4. 'I've never owned a house with an HVAC/boiler/basement. How do I maintain this thing?'

Flaws aside, a home inspection is your golden opportunity to have an expert show you how to take care of your house.

"Inspectors are used to explaining basic things to people. If you have an inspection question, ask it," Lesh says. "Don't expect your inspector to teach you how to build a clock, but we are happy to answer and explain how things work."

5. 'What are your biggest concerns about the property?'

At the end of the inspection, the inspector should give you, in broad strokes, a summary of what he found. You'll get a written report later, but this is a great moment to get clarity on what the inspector thinks are the house's biggest issues, and whether or not they require further investigation.

Often, it's a good idea to call in another home inspection expert—a plumber, electrician, roofer, or HVAC professional—to take a look at anything the inspector flagged.

You should walk away from inspection day with a mental punch list of things that need to be addressed by either the seller or another expert. In some states, there's a limited amount of time for these negotiations to happen, so you and your agent may want to hit the ground running.

Your official home inspection report will have more detail, but you should know what's on it by the time you leave the home that day.

Questions to ask a home inspector AFTER the inspection is done

What are some questions to ask a home inspector after he's finished the inspection? Because, let's face it, just staring at that hefty report highlighting every flaw in your future dream home can send many buyers into a full-blown panic!

Know the right questions to ask a home inspector afterward, though, and this can help put that report into perspective. Here are the big ones to hit.

1. 'I don't understand [such and such], can you clarify?'

Just so you know what to expect, here's how it will go down: A day or two after the inspection, you should receive the inspector's report. It will be a detailed list of every flaw in the house, often along with pictures of some of the problem areas and more elaboration.

Hopefully you also attended the actual inspection and could ask questions then; if so, the report should contain no surprises. It should contain what you talked about at the inspection, with pictures and perhaps a bit more detail. If there's anything major you don't remember from the inspection in the report, don't be afraid to ask about it.

2. 'Is there any problem in this house that concerns you, and about how much would it cost to fix?'

Keep in mind, most problems in the house will likely be minor and not outright deal breakers. Still, you'll want your home inspector to help you separate the wheat from the chaff and point out any doozies. So ask him if there are any problems serious enough to keep you from moving forward with the house.

Keep in mind that ultimately it's up to you and your real estate agent to determine how to address any issues.

"The inspector can't tell you, 'Make sure the seller pays for this,' so be sure you understand what needs to be done," says Lesh.

3. 'Should I call in another expert for a follow-up inspection?'

Expect to have to call in other experts at this point to look over major issues and assign a dollar figure to fixing them. If your inspector flags your electrical box as looking iffy, for example, you may need to have an electrician come take a look and tell you what exactly is wrong and what the cost would be to fix it. The same goes for any apparent problems with the heating or air conditioning, roof, or foundation. An HVAC repair person, roofer, or engineer will need to examine your house and provide a bid to repair the problem.

Why is this so important? This bid is what your real estate agent will take to the seller if you decide to ask for a concession instead of having the seller do the fix for you. Your inspector can't give you these figures, but he can probably give you a sense of whether it's necessary to call somebody in.

4. 'Is there anything I'll need to do once I move in?'

Wait, you're still not done! It's easy to forget the inspector's report in the whirlwind of closing and moving, but there are almost always suggestions for things that need doing in the first two to three months of occupancy.

Lesh says he sometimes gets panicked calls from homeowners whose houses he inspected three months after they've moved in. Although he'd noted certain issues in his report, the buyers neglected the report entirely—and paid for it later.

"I had a couple call and tell me they had seepage in the basement," Lesh says. "I pulled up their report and asked if they'd reconnected the downspout extension like I recommended. Nope. Well, there's your problem!"

Everything you didn't ask the seller to fix? That's your to-do list. Isn't owning a home fun?

 

Germs, Be Gone! 7 Simple Renovations To Coronavirus-Proof Your Home

Written by Lauren Sieben for Realtor.com

As much as we all wish we could go back to a time when social distancing was a foreign concept and masks were just something you wore with a Halloween costume, it’s clear by now that COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere. At least, not anytime soon.

One consequence of the pandemic is that our collective concern over cleanliness remains at an all-time high.

A recent survey found that 47% of Americans are pining to upgrade their bathrooms during the pandemic, and 44% want to redesign the kitchen.

The study was conducted by the New York City–based Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery, and according to Adrianne Russell, its showroom manager, the kitchen and bathroom are “two rooms where a lot can be done for hygiene.”

view of hand washing under touchless faucet

 

Fortunately, there are lots of simple swaps and upgrades that can make your home into a sanctuary and provide peace of mind.

Here are a few ideas on how to enhance your home and reduce the transfer of germs during the era of COVID-19.

1. Install touchless faucets

This isn’t just a feature for public bathrooms anymore. Installing a touchless faucet is a quick and easy project that you can take on in your own home.

“No handles or knobs means less surfaces touched and less of a chance of cross-contamination occurring after hand-washing or handling messy foods,” Russell says.

Touchless faucets aren’t just for the bathroom: You can install one in the kitchen—or even a utility sink.

2. Switch to automatic soap dispensers

After you've upgraded to a new contact-free faucet, why not take the cleanliness to the next level?

“Since the best way to fight germs is hand-washing, homeowners may also want to consider installing sensor-operated soap dispensers,” Russell says.

“Like touchless faucets, touchless dispensers also help eliminate most surface contact during the hand-washing process,” she says.

You can opt for a sleek, commercial-grade dispenser that requires some installation, or choose a battery-operated stand-alone model if you’re on a budget.

3. Upgrade to a bidet or touchless toilet

Worried about another toilet paper shortage? Install a bidet in your bathroom. No toilet paper, no problem!

“During the pandemic, toilets with integrated bidet functionality soared in popularity,” Russell says. “They are a hygienic alternative to toilet paper, using water-jet cleaning.”

You can purchase a stand-alone bidet or a bidet toilet-seat attachment that works with your current toilet. You can also purchase a smart toilet with or without a built-in bidet.

Many smart toilets come fully equipped with digital controls, touchless flushing, and Bluetooth connectivity, plus self-cleaning features to relieve you of your toilet-scrubbing duties.

“Some options may also include special cleaning solutions, hydrophobic or hydrophilic glazes, advanced flushing technology, and specially designed rims,” Russell says.

4. Use smart lighting for touchless illumination

Think of how often you touch the light switches around your house—then think of how many germs could be lurking there.

“One of the dirtiest surfaces in a home are light switches, with homeowners having to touch them multiple times a day, every day,” Russell says.

Switching to a smart lighting system can help reduce the transmission of germs. You control the lights from your phone, and with a smart system, you can control the lighting even when you’re away. This not only helps with home security, but also cuts down on your energy costs.

5. Eliminate contact with smart door locks

Just like light switches, door locks can be a breeding ground for germs as people go in and out of the house.

Digital keypad and smart door locks (e.g., the Google Nest Smart Lock with Nest Connect) can help reduce human surface contact, Russell says. Their features often include keyless options, voice activation, and biometric identifiers.

6. Take it outside year-round with space heaters

In some parts of the country, outdoor hangouts have traditionally been limited to the summer months. But keeping your activities outside doesn’t have to be out of reach, even on cooler days—and it can help minimize the risk of transmitting the virus. The solution? Pick up an outdoor patio heater, for as little as $100.

“Heaters are great if you want to have guests on your patio,” says Suzi Dailey, a Realtor® with One Luxe by Realty One Group International. “I think heater sales are going to go through the roof.”

7. Try a sanitizing closet on for size

These days, it’s not just the Roomba that’s helping us keep our homes clean. From hands-free trash cans to refrigerators with sensors for touchless opening, tech tools and gadgets are making it easier than ever to keep our homes clean.

One product that has exploded in popularity in recent months, according to John Romito, founder and licensed real estate agent at Heart & Home Real Estate, is sanitizing closets, which use ultraviolet light to sanitize garments.

“The technology has been very popular among retail clothing stores, to minimize the spread of pathogens after people try on or return apparel,” he says. “It’s now being purchased for home use.”

You can even recruit help from robots to turn your mudroom into a disinfection station where you and your guests can thoroughly sanitize each time you enter.

 

Do You Have Enough Money Saved for a Down Payment?

 

One of the biggest misconceptions for first-time homebuyers is how much you’ll need to save for a down payment. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t always have to put 20% down to buy a house. Here’s how it breaks down.

A recent survey by Point2Homes mentions that 74% of millennials (ages 25-40) say they’re interested in purchasing a home over the next 12 months. The study notes, “88% say they have significantly less savings than the average national down payment amount, which is $62,600.”

Thankfully, $62,600 is not the amount every buyer needs for a down payment in the United States. There are many different options available, especially for first-time homebuyers (millennial or not). That amount can also be significantly less, depending on the purchase price of the house.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), “The median existing-home price for all housing types in August was $310,600.(These are the latest numbers available). NAR also indicates that:

“In 2019, the median down payment was 12 percent for all buyers, six percent for first-time buyers,

and 16 percent for repeat buyers.” (See graph below):

 

 

That means if a qualified first-time buyer purchases a home at today’s median price, $310,600, with a 6% down payment, in reality, the down payment only amounts to $18,636. That’s nowhere near $62,600.

Knowing there are also programs like FHA where the down payment can be as low as 3.5% of the purchase price for a first-time buyer, that up-front cost could be significantly less – as little as $10,871 for the same home noted above. There are also other programs like USDA and loans for Veterans that waive down payment requirements.

The Point2Homes study also shares how much millennials have indicated they’ve saved for a down payment. As we can see in the graph below, 39% have already saved enough for a down payment on a median-priced home. Another 47% are close to reaching that goal, depending on the purchase price of the home.

 

Unfortunately, the lack of knowledge about the homebuying process is keeping many motivated first-time buyers on the sidelines. That’s why it’s important to contact a local real estate professional to understand the requirements in your local area if you want to buy a home. A trusted agent and your lender can guide you through the process.

 

Bottom Line

Be careful not to let big myths about homebuying keep you and your family out of the housing market. Let’s connect to discuss your options today.  https://ginglelermanrealtygroup.com/