Things to Consider when Buying a Home
How much can you afford?
Examine your budget. Check out our Budget for Home Worksheet. Consider your monthly net pay (what you bring home) and what you spend on a monthly basis. This exercise will determine what you can afford for your maximum monthly housing payment.
Hire a pro
Work with a friendly and knowledgeable Realtor® to find homes in your price range, in areas you like. List and prioritize the features you want in your home and what kind of neighborhood you want to live in (i.e. country setting or small-lot subdivision, condo/ townhome community etc.).
Define your goals
Determine if you want an existing home or if you want to buy or build a new home (new construction). Narrow your search: Focus on homes in areas you already know and like. Don't let excitement about “seeing that dream home” become a temptation to buy beyond your budget.
Buy with your head and not your heart
Think clearly and rationally: Distinguish between what you need and what you want. Bring a parent or experienced buyer along: It’s always a good idea to get a second opinion from a trusted advisor.
Research before you buy
Research the crime activity in the neighborhood you’re considering: There are law enforcement websites that list information on crime rates, or even sexual predators that could be your next neighbor!
Consider the costs
Ask about all the costs associated with a particular home. For example, ask for a copy of the most recent real estate tax bill, insurance bill, or home utility bills. Ask if there are association fees or special assessments. Are improvements required? Be sure to budget for repairs before you buy.
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Things to Consider when Selling a Home
Detach from the home
Take a step back. Approach the sale as a real estate transaction, not the sale of your home. Sellers often place a higher value on their home than others would. A Realtor® will provide actual closed sale data on homes in your area, and a candid assessment of value.
Consult with a Realtor®
Even if you’re a real estate expert, buyers are uncomfortable dealing directly with the seller. While you may be capable of selling your home, a professional Realtor® is your best bet. Find an experienced agent who is known to be a leader in your community. Choose an agent who listens to you, is friendly and responsive.
Get your paperwork in order
Make sure you have all documents in order to sell. Buyers and settlement agents will ask for a copy of your deed, property survey (must be current/correct), copies of all utility and insurance bills (buyers may ask about current expenses), copies of warranty documents, security system agreements, and copies of recorded restrictions on your property.
De-clutter and remove personal items
Remove personal items and photos, remove excess furniture and clutter. The home should be spacious and clean. Begin at your front door and go through the entire house, even de-clutter your basement, attic and garage. Organize your closets and kitchen cabinets. Everything should be clean and orderly.
Remove items not intended to remain after sale
It’s important to remove custom fixtures, draperies, expensive ceiling fans or other items that you intend to take with you. Once a prospective buyer sees these items in your home, they expect those items to remain at closing. Misunderstandings can cause tension, or lead to a withdrawn offer.
Repair, replace and paint
Paint rooms to freshen up or brighten up your home. Paint your front door, garage door, exterior and trim. Replace house numbers with new and attractive lettering. Replace burned out light bulbs or outdated fixtures. Replace broken or outdated appliances. Re-caulk bathrooms and kitchen area. Fix broken locks, doors, sliders, screens, etc.
The home must shine - inside and out
Vacuum, clean or replace carpets or rugs. Dust the furniture, mop floors, wash windows and clean blinds. Display new or like-new kitchen and bath towels, blankets and bedspreads. Use air fresheners if necessary. Exterior areas must be cleaned too, no cobwebs. Replace welcome mats.
Consider the curb appeal of the home
Mow the lawn, rake the leaves, remove snow, etc. Trim all hedges or trees and replace dead or unattractive plants. Plant flowers, add stone accents and mulch planters. Make the home more appealing from the street. Replace the mailbox if old, rusted, or dented.
Arrange furniture to showcase each room. Rooms should feel spacious. Adjust window shades and blinds to allow natural light into the rooms. Kitchen and Bathrooms must be spotless. Clean out medicine cabinets and vanities. Display fresh flower arrangements in dining or kitchen area. Make it a model home.
Allow your Realtor® to show your home during weekdays & weekends. Serious buyers look every day of the week, not just on the weekends. Maintain the cleanliness and appearance of your home on a daily basis. Keep promotional flyers on the kitchen counter. Allow your Realtor® and buyer’s agent to field all questions from potential buyers.
Home Ideas Gallery
Opportunity: Optimizing the Sale
How to Boost Real Estate Sales
When real estate inventory is low and prices are at a premium, many homeowners think their homes will sell quickly and at full listing price. Possibly, but it’s not ordinarily that easy. Even in a robust real-estate market, homes with over-crammed spaces or empty rooms may linger on the market or sell below list price.
Enter Staging. It's an option that's become more mainstream in recent years by homeowners in all price points – not only by those with luxurious, high-priced homes. Staging was first used by Realtor® Barb Schwartz who came up with the concept in the 1970s. It was then picked by creators of HGTV and DIY TV shows who saw staging as a way to help homeowners tweak their houses for better resale. And for many homeowners it became a lesson in how to better appeal to buyers, since many weren't objective about household items they should keep versus put away. Many also didn't have the time, interest, or knowledge to stage their homes and apartments to put them in the best viewing light before they went on the market. "You've got maybe 15 seconds to impress a buyer--and then they move on to the next listing," says stager Helen Bartlett, whose firm Refined Interiors Staging Solutions is based in Fairway, KS. Bartlett, a member of the Real Estate Staging Association, has thrived in the industry because of her background in both real estate and interior design. She's also co-author of an important book on the topic, Home Staging: The Power that Sells Real Estate: 15 Home Staging Experts Share Industry Secrets (OTB Publishing, 2016). Following are her 10 tips to stage and sell a home fast and for the highest possible price:
1. Staging starts online. Almost 90 percent of buyers start their house hunt online so if rooms aren't staged and photographed well, they won't catch the eye of potential buyers, who will click onto another listing pronto.
2. Staging really works: Homes that are staged sell 50 to 80 percent faster than non-staged homes and also sell at 7 to 10 percent higher than a nonstaged home – and may exceed the asking price, according to industry data. People make an emotional connection when a house is well staged; they're more apt to see themselves living in it.
3. Staging is NOT decorating. Staging is a way to make a home appeal to a broad demographic rather than featuring the tastes or interests of one homeowner apparent through so many personal possessions. There is a common denominator: clean, decluttered spaces without personalization, so the next buyers can imagine themselves living in the home.
4. Cater to the likely audience. The first key step is to learn what's happening in the neighborhood – perhaps Baby Boomers are moving out and Millennials are moving in. You want to know this since their decorating tastes differ. You should observe what’s going on in the neighborhood, the average age of owners, what new owners are seeking, ask about school enrollment (increasing or decreasing), talk to shopkeepers for lifestyle preferences of the cohort, etc.
5. What each cohort wants. Millennials are more averse to clutter but into technology and casual entertaining with their friends. Maybe staging should include a big comfortable sofa or sectional with an ottoman for socializing, or a small deck area for relaxing that includes new outdoor furniture trends. But most important is the focus on clean, modern designs without a lot of color – mostly neutrals.
On the other hand, Boomers are more into nostalgia, warmth, comfort and quality. There might be one piece of furniture in a staged room that reflects it's been with them forever. They also like architectural features, so play up the fireplace if the home includes one, or feature a quality piece of art. Neutral colors also work for them but a few pops of richer colors such as the trendy emerald greens and navies can also be introduced in accessories or art. And textures can be brought in and layered – maybe, a patterned carpet atop a sisal rug. And both groups favor updated kitchens and bathrooms but home sellers aren't going to redo such spaces before selling; the spaces instead can be freshened – new towels, fresh paint, maybe new hardware.
6. Avoid sterile and cold. While the goal is to avoid personalization – rows of family photos and collections, you don't want an empty cold group of rooms, either. Staging should include some textures from rugs, pillows, fabrics, and plants; some color, and some artwork. Just not too much. You don't want the rooms to feel like they were cloned from a furniture store or hotel room without any personality but are designed to show that people can happily live there.
7. Avoid contrived. You also don't want to follow some of the clichéd ways to show the house such as cookies baking in the oven, potpourri producing delightful smells in the bathroom, or a table set with place settings. Instead, introduce some accessories, simple window treatments, a few plants, and the latest palette of pale gray in a room or two with paint.
8. Avoid long-standing rules. Don't just follow old guidelines such as only leaving three things on a counter and emptying closets so they're only half full. A lot depends on the specific space and audience. Staging is more of an art than science and requires a skilled art and gut instinct as well.
9. Stage certain rooms more than others. An entire home doesn't have to be staged, but rooms that are seen upon entry in those first 15 seconds should be transformed – a hall, living, dining, and kitchen areas. Other key areas are the master bedroom, master bath and outdoor spaces, since outdoor living is hugely important these days. Also, if the home includes any awkward spaces – perhaps a large upstairs hallway or small room with lots of windows – those are good places to stage so they don't become negatives in the buyers' eyes. Maybe you can transform the area so they’ll imagine a small home office or fitness room.
10. Bear in mind the costs. How much staging costs depends on the area of the country, affluence of the neighborhood, and size of the home. Generally, a Midwestern home that Bartlett might transform might cost 1/2 to 1 percent of the list price, a small cost when competition may be very keen.
Development Trends: Community Redefined in the Southeast
Photos by Ali Harper Photography and Jessica Ashley Photography.
Welcome to Serenbe
Small-town Feel, Community Farming, Great Place to Live, Work, Create, or Visit and Relax
Farm-to-table, an important concept for restaurateurs who know that fresh, local produce is a focus for many of today's diners, has taken on new meaning in Serenbe. The community/village now has 550 residents of all generations who live amid 1,000 acres just 35 miles from downtown Atlanta. Up to 3,000 residents eventually can be accommodated. This new way of living--inspired by other planned communities but with a healthy living twist--is grabbing attention nationwide.
Only 30 percent of the land can be built on due to the vision of the husband-and-wife developers who started Serenbe more than 10 years ago, which they named in part to play up the importance of serene living, which is how they felt once moving to the countryside in 1991. The remaining 70 percent of the land is set aside for farmland, lakes, animals, and trails, and all is designed to show how fresh country air, food, and overall well-being in healthy homes and activities brings residents closer to nature and connects them more to their community and one another.
Change the world by starting in your own backyard
The idea for Serenbe started when developers Steve and Marie Nygren decided to test living in Georgia’s Chattahoochee Hill area with the Chattahoochee River nearby as a weekend experiment to introduce their three young daughters to Atlanta’s outlying areas and to get away from their busy urban lives that involved running the highly successful Peasant Restaurants company. When the couple found the idea so appealing they didn't want to leave, they sold the company, bought up 1,000 acres at once to avoid having others encroach on their dream and moved full-time to the area. They then fine-tuned how others would join them in a sustainable setting that would foster the deep sense of community. Marie suggested the name Serenbe for the site's feeling of serenity, which is how she felt on the land when they bought the original 1905 farmhouse and once they relocated there.
From the start, the master plan included a mix of housing--rentals and for-sale and cottages, townhomes, bigger homes, and work-live units--arranged in four hamlets based on an English village concept and clustered along serpentine paths. Land would be minimally disrupted for passive and active use with denser-style dwellings grouped at the core or the equivalent of a downtown and other homes spread out further and further apart toward the site's perimeter. Wetlands would be preserved, and 15 miles of trails would wind through and past two natural waterfalls for walking and biking.
To provide a fully habitable setting, there would also be interesting, independently owned shops, recreational activities such as a gym, croquet field, two swimming pools, and bocce ball court, an inn for visitors to stay overnight or to test life at Serenbe, and a host of regularly scheduled activities, from an outdoor theater to culinary workshops, lectures, music, film, and art events. Housing and studio space would be set aside for an artist-in-residence program.
Farming, part of the original inspiration, would come to life with a 25-acre organic-certified farm planted, seasonal farmer’s market opened, CSA for a variety of fresh products, and edible landscaping of blueberry bushes dotting paths and sidewalks and meant to be picked and eaten. A farm "village" would also be organized with a mix of goats, lamas, pigs, rabbits, and chickens, the latter to provide fresh eggs for guests at the Inn. Three restaurants would highlight farm-to-table cuisine. As of now, there is no large grocery store on the premises, but The General Store offers wine, cheese, breads, and extensive takeaway offerings and other larger stores lie only six to ten miles away.
Sustainability would rank high in the construction of homes and buildings through geothermal, solar, Net Zero, and EarthCraft construction techniques and systems. Wastewater would be treated for ornamental irrigation.
All ages welcomed
But this community is most of all about its residents of multiple generations who may work on site, commute to jobs elsewhere, or be retired. A charter school was built in the early stages for students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade, with a high school a possibility if demand warranted. Last year an area was set aside for those age 55 and older who want to live in age-appropriate one-story apartments or single-family homes. The idea was to encourage them to age in place in a bucolic setting but also be near those in a range of ages rather than just live with their same-age peers in a retirement home.
In January, the community's Organic House will open in conjunction with Rodale's Organic Life Magazine to showcase the importance of health and wellness concepts and eco-friendly building and design in Serenbe's newest Mado neighborhood, named for the Creek Indian word for "life in balance." The EarthCraft-certified home, open for tours through early March, features natural materials and edible and medicinal gardens, several porches, a yoga and meditation studio, saltwater lap pool, and views of preserved woods.
Change artist for others
In addition to developing a great place to live, the Nygrens and their three daughters--Garnie, Kara and Quinn, who are now all involved in the business in different roles, founded Nygren Placemaking to help guide other individuals and businesses interested in pursuing their own similar-style developments elsewhere in the country. "They wanted to share their story about the placemaking of Serenbe in a formalized setting over a few days," says Monica Olsen, the company's marketing director.
Several organizations already have applauded the Nygrens' efforts, including the prestigious Urban Land Institute (ULI), which offered kudos for all the sustainability concepts, and EarthCraft, which named it the Development of the Year back in 2004. As the founders say on the site's website, "The best reason to live here is the life here."
For more information, go to Serenbe.com.
Real Estate Services
Tips for Interviewing Realtors
Hiring a real estate agent to help you buy a home or to sell a home requires careful consideration. You’re about to handle one of the biggest financial transactions of your lifetime; one that impacts your lifestyle as much as it does your bank account. In order to choose the right agent to represent your interests, it’s best to get recommendations for agents to interview, follow up on references and take the time to interview two or three until you find someone who gives you confidence and is compatible with your communication style.
Experience counts, but so does enthusiasm
While you may like a real estate agent recommended by a friend because that agent is a fun happy hour companion, it’s best to pick someone who has experience with the kind of transaction you are undertaking. That doesn’t mean that a new agent isn’t a good choice. In fact, a relatively new agent could work harder for you than any other agent just because he or she has the time to focus on you. In addition, new agents recognize the importance of building a good reputation for customer service that contributes to a growing stream of referrals. If you’re interviewing a newer agent, just be sure to ask whether the agent has a mentor or a broker who can give advice if something gets complicated.
Questions for your potential real estate agent
As you start interviewing agents, there are some questions that you should ask whether you are a buyer or a seller, such as:
- Are you a Realtor? In order to use the term “Realtor”, the agent must be a member of the National Association of Realtors and therefore has to uphold the code of ethics of the association.
- What neighborhoods do you specialize in? Some agents work in a wide geographical area, but if you want to focus your home search in a particular area, you may want to pick someone who knows every house in that community. If you’re selling, you’ll want an agent who is very familiar with your neighborhood’s attributes and will be able to market your property appropriately.
- Do you specialize in a particular price range? Many agents work in all price ranges, but some specialize in affordable starter homes and others focus on the luxury market. Even if an agent comes highly recommended, if you’re selling an affordable house, you’re less likely to get a lot of attention from an agent who normally sells high end properties.
- How often should I expect to hear from you? What’s the best way to reach you? It’s good for agents and their clients to decide how they want to communicate and how often. Setting expectations is important, because you may assume your agent will be updating you daily on any interest in your home if you’re a seller, or on new listings to review if you’re a buyer. Your agent may have other clients and think a weekly check-in is good enough, so do work this out ahead of time and choose an agent who is responsive to your interests.
- Can you provide me with some references? Most agents have testimonials on their website from happy clients, but you can also ask to contact one or two people to ask specific questions about their experience with the agent.
If you’re a buyer, you may want to discuss these questions with potential agents:
- Are you an Accredited Buyers’ Representative (ABR)? An ABR has received additional training and has a certain level of experience specifically with buyers.
- Have you worked with first-time buyers or move-up buyers or both? Agents typically work with a variety of clients, but it would be helpful to hear about how much experience they have with people in similar circumstances to yours. First-time buyers should ask about whether an agent can help them find out about homebuyer programs and give them some extra guidance on how to recognize value in a property. Move-up buyers may want some additional advice on how to make the transition from one home to the next, such as whether to buy the next home first or sell their current home first.
- Can you recommend a lender? Real estate agents should refer you to a lender or several lenders and make sure you are preapproved for a loan before you start shopping.
- Can you give me advice about future home improvements or renovations to consider before moving in? Some agents are particularly experienced with fixer-upper homes and can recommend contractors and help you visualize your options for a home.
If you’re a seller, your real estate interview questions should include:
- How many homes have you sold in the past year? This should be an indicator of the agent’s level of experience but also will give you an indication of market conditions.
- How fast are homes like mine selling right now? Do most sellers get full asking price? This will inform you about market conditions, but this also gives the agent the chance to talk about their negotiating abilities to get you the best price.
- Can you tell me what I should do to get my home ready to sell? Experienced agents can talk to you about small things that can make your home more appealing to buyers as well as address how to handle any bigger issues that could hurt your sales chances.
- How do you plan to market my home? Will you have professional photos taken? Each listing agent has a marketing plan, so listen to several before you decide which one you think will work best for your home.
The purpose of asking these questions is not only to find someone with good experience and proper credentials, but to educate yourself about the market, to make certain you can build a rapport with your agent, and to gain confidence that you’ve found a real estate professional that will guide you through your home buying or selling transaction successfully.
Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance journalist and author based in Washington, D.C. who has been writing about real estate and personal finance for more than two decades. She writes for consumers, Realtors and investors. Her work appears regularly in The Washington Post, New Home Source, Bankrate, Fox Business, MSN, Yahoo, The Motley Fool, REIT magazine, Realtor.com, HSH.com and numerous Realtor association publications. She is the author of "New Home 101: Your Guide to Buying and Building a New Home" and "HOMEBUYING: Tough Times, First Time, Any Time."