Topics:Homeowner Tips Financial Advice Home Improvement Financing Downpayment Home Improvement Investment Properties First-Time Homebuying Working With An Agent Successful Selling House Hacking Best Mortgage Rates Companies real estate investing Closing Costs Home Loan Research Press Releases Mortgage Loans Mortgage Refinancing
A new year is fast approaching, which means it’s time to make your New Year’s resolutions. Among your goals to exercise more, binge-watch less, and take time for meditation, don’t forget about those home improvement projects you’ve had on the back burner for years now. It can be easy to let your home improvement plans fall by the wayside — they can be expensive and time consuming. But why live one more year disliking and complaining about features in your home? Instead of putting your home improvements off until it comes time to sell, make some plans and enjoy the improvements yourself! Home Improvement Guide & Workbook Tackle home improvement plans by choosing some small tasks and prioritizing them with a helpful chart and budget. Download We've teamed up with Utah realtor Laurie Stauffer (@MsLKS) to identify the top New Year’s resolutions your house wants you to make this year as well as a panel of productivity experts to share their best motivational tips for making changes happen. Make an extra mortgage payment Weight loss is a common New Year’s resolution for Americans, providing an interesting paradigm in which to view your mortgage. “To take some of the weight off of homeownership, make one extra mortgage payment this year — and every year,” Stauffer advises. Consider this: If you can pay half of your mortgage payment every two weeks, rather than paying monthly, that results in 26 half-payments — which equals 13 full monthly payments each year. That extra payment can knock eight years off a 30-year mortgage, depending on the loan's interest rate, saving you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the mortgage. Stauffer explains that it may not sound like a lot up front, but any direct principal payment is basically putting equity directly into your pocket. It’s a big return on a small investment. To switch to biweekly mortgage payments, first make sure your loan doesn’t have a penalty for prepaying your mortgage. If it doesn’t, switching your payment schedule may be as simple as asking your lender or loan servicer to alter your current payment plan accordingly. If there’s not a biweekly payment option, you can make an extra mortgage payment each year by dividing your monthly mortgage payment by 12 and adding that additional amount to each of your monthly payments to amount to an additional full payment by the end of the year. Or, you can make one lump sum mortgage payment, perhaps with a tax return or bonus. Check easy-to-do tasks off your list Stauffer recommends prioritizing simple, safety-enhancing maintenance tasks such as replacing smoke detector batteries and purchasing separate C02 detectors. “So many smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are conveniently combined into one device,” Stauffer explains, “but the problem is, smoke rises, and C02 falls.” For optimal safety, place your C02 detectors no higher than bed level. Here are a few other simple tasks you can complete in less than an hour: Change air filters Install weatherstripping on doors and windows Apply WD-40 to squeaky hinges Update cabinet and drawer hardware Paint or update outlet and switch plate covers Shampoo carpet in one or more rooms Wipe down cabinets and appliances Vacuum and wash baseboards While these tasks might not contribute to the new vanity and bathtub you’d like, they can help you feel like you’re making some improvements, perhaps keeping you motivated to tackle bigger projects. Service your HVAC system Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) is one of the most expensive home systems to replace, so it’s imperative to have it checked and serviced regularly. Stauffer advises ensuring it’s working at full efficiency to get the best performance and to get the most out of it for years to come. In addition to changing filters monthly, make sure your air conditioner compressor is sitting level to avoid wear and tear. Schedule a time to have a professional clean/service and test your system annually. This will run you anywhere from $59–$150, depending on your area, a small price to pay versus replacing components or even your whole system. Plus, your annual check-up may even be free with a certain provider, depending on the purchase agreement of the homeowner who bought the system. Make simple DIY upgrades to rooms In the kitchen, consider organizing your pantry, which may include installing a new shelving system. This will minimize clutter, making space for the foods you actually want to eat and cook with. You might also update light fixtures and install a backsplash. In the bathroom, you can frame your bathroom mirror and update the lighting. In a bedroom, consider accenting one wall with fresh paint or wallpaper. Do a closet renovation by installing new lighting, double rods, and new shelving. Turn your hallway into a mudroom or add storage to your entryway by utilizing hooks, installed shelves, or a furniture organization system. Give your home exterior and yard some attention There are several things you can do this year to improve the aesthetics, function, and longevity of your home exterior and yard. First, check the direction of your downspouts and water drainage. Rain gutters and downspouts do a fine job in their own respect, but often we don't consider the water once it's off the roof. “It is best to divert the water away from the house with gutter extensions, pushing it out to five feet away from the foundation,” Stauffer advises. “There is no greater enemy to a house than water.” While you’re taking inventory of your gutter situation, take a close look at your roof and make a habit of checking it periodically, especially after a big windstorm. In the spring or during mild weather, go up on your roof and do a walk around inspection. Look specifically for curling or missing shingles, soft spots, or any flashing that may have pulled away. These very minor things should be taken care of immediately, so they do not turn into the monster that roof replacement can be. Stauffer explains that she sees most roof replacement costs ranging from $8,000 to $20,000. Properly maintained, an asphalt shingle roof should last you around 30 years and a metal roof can last longer when installed correctly. Here are a few other outdoor projects you may want to tackle this year: Paint your front door a color that you love Power wash your walkway Build a raised garden or flower bed Add or update outdoor lighting Wash window exteriors Plant sod Service your automatic garage door Build a shed or shop (in accordance with property lines and local building codes) 1. Batch small projects Instead of making a list of home improvement tasks that you want to tackle when you can, choose a specific day to address these smaller projects. This allows you to save time and be more effective overall because you are less likely to be distracted by other daily tasks. Focusing on non-urgent tasks such as simple home improvement projects should not be part of your daily planning cycle. Instead, schedule a day to handle these all at once. As my executive coach Stever Robbins once told me, these projects, while often low priority in the grand scheme of things, create psychological drag. Being reminded of these unfinished projects and tasks, whether that's seeing the burned-out bulb when you head down to the basement or the unmended pair of pants in your laundry room, pulls you out of your flow and introduces little bits of stress in your day that build up over time. Scheduling a day to take care of all these often smaller projects helps remove the psychological drag and makes you more effective overall, even if the individual tasks and projects don't have a huge impact. — Trevor Lohrbeer, founder of time management app, Day Optimizer 2. Avoid procrastination The author Mark Twain once said, “If you eat a frog every morning, nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” While this quote could be taken literally (although we wouldn’t recommend it), it teaches us a good lesson of not putting off bigger tasks or projects that may seem daunting. The tip is to do the hardest thing right away. It makes the rest of the day go more smoothly and eliminates all of the wasted anxiety and stress we create when we procrastinate and worry about all that we have to do. . . even when we’re not doing it. — Sharon Danzger, productivity consultant and founder of Control Chaos 3. Reward yourself In conjunction with tackling the hard tasks first, Danzger recommends rewarding yourself when you complete a project on your list: When there is a project you have been avoiding, create an incentive for doing it using an ‘if/then’ statement. For example: If I vacuum the house, then I get to watch a show on Netflix. — Danzger 4. Start small Organizing your house or tackling improvement projects can be daunting — the project might be big and require certain expertise, or perhaps there are just lots of organization tasks to complete. Instead of looking at everything head on and trying to figure out how to accomplish it all at once, Danzger also recommends getting some small tasks out of the way first. Doing so can allow you to feel less overwhelmed and more motivated to tackle larger projects: We often put off things that seem difficult, big, or overwhelming. The hardest part is getting started. So, rather than tackling the entire project, start with something small and manageable. For example, instead of committing to organizing your entire house, decide to start by cleaning out one drawer. — Danzger 5. Set a timer Break large projects into smaller tasks and set a time limit for yourself to accomplish each task. When I have items to finish around the house that I don't really want to do, or the project is dragging on longer than I thought, I create one-hour periods where I work fast and furious on it, then I come back a different day and do another hour. Quickly, that project gets done by breaking it into smaller pieces. — Camille Finan, licensed contractor and host of Remodel Your Life podcast 6. Display a picture If you’re lacking motivation or vision for what you want to accomplish, Finan also recommends displaying a picture of what you’d like to achieve, providing a reminder and inspiration for your project: If I'm remodeling something in my own house but not sure how to start or find motivation, I will rip out a magazine page and tape it to the wall or area that needs to be fixed. Seeing the finished version often will propel me to find the motivation and do the work. 7. Banish perfectionism Your improvement or renovation may not look as perfect as something you see on HGTV, and that’s okay! It’s important to manage your expectations and try to let go of wanting everything to be perfect. If you’ve been putting off renovating your kitchen or writing that book because you’re worried that you’re unprepared to do it exactly right, try to let go of that fear. Wanting to do a task perfectly can hold you back from accomplishing the task at all. — Mitch Chailland, president of Canal HR 8. Visualize the future To persevere through the enjoyable tasks, Chailland recommends visualizing how you’ll feel once that task is complete: Visualize how you will feel when the task is complete. Some tasks are simply not enjoyable. But imagine how you’ll feel once you’ve finished the task. Visualize the specific positive benefits that this finished task will provide in the long-term. This tactic can increase your positive feelings towards even the dullest or longest of tasks. — Chailland 9. Write it down When you have multiple tasks or projects on the go, it can be easy to forget one or two along the way. Thus, it can be helpful to write your tasks down. In our experience and research, most people procrastinate doing their home projects because they keep that list in their head. You walk by that bathroom that needs a remodel or the appliances that need fixing and you say to yourself “I really need to tackle that project.” But two minutes later your brain is off to more immediate issues around work, family, travel, etc. and those projects get quickly forgotten. The practice of writing those projects down in either a list or a digital organizing app helps many people stay motivated to do those projects, especially if once you document the project, you get reminders to yourself that you really need to tackle it. We have observed this behavior with our users who use HomeZada’s projects and tasks features to document everything they want to do in their home. — John Bodrozic, cofounder of HomeZada 10. Hire out If you find that you can’t harness the motivation to do a project yourself, it may be time to make a call and hire out the task to someone else. Licensed general contractor Shannon Battle of All American Construction & Restoration suggests DIYers first outline the project phases and create a schedule for completion — then don’t take on another project until finishing the one they’ve already started. But her top tip for homeowners lacking motivation? Stop watching YouTube and seek professional help, paying skilled people to do it the right way. The final word However you approach house projects, don’t neglect your home as you set your resolutions for the coming year. Your home will thank you and you will thank yourself for the renewed pride of ownership. Home Improvement Guide & Workbook Tackle home improvement plans by choosing some small tasks and prioritizing them with a helpful chart and budget. Download
There's no dancing around it: tech is disrupting the real estate industry. In general, it's a no-brainer to work with an agent on the buyer's side where you're not paying a commission. But if you're a seller, you have other options, and it can be a difficult choice. Using AI and online database, startups like Open Listings, Opendoor, and Homie present alternatives to the traditional options of selling your home by paying an agent a set commission or going through the For Sale by Owner (FSBO) process without support. According to low-commission real estate network Clever, millennials are 93 percent less likely to use a real estate agent than other groups. So are real estate agents on their way to becoming obsolete? Our panel of agents and other real estate professionals say “no way” — that just because you can sell your house without an agent — doesn’t mean you should. Here are 10 advantages to working with a real estate agent: 1. Micromarket expertise Neeta (aka Sujata Durai), Managing Partner and Property Consultant at Chennai Dream Homes® "Brokerage agencies or online startups that promise to help you buy or sell a home may be strong on a national level, but not in the micromarkets in which you may be interested. A realtor is well-versed with niche areas and can reduce the time it takes to nail down a selling price and identify a high-quality offer. As a market expert, a realtor can give advice on home rates, local economy, business establishments, infrastructure, and local government laws that the web portals just cannot get into." James McGrath, Co-founder of NYC real estate brokerage Yoreevo"iBuyers like Opendoor and Zillow are aggressively expanding and becoming more of an option for sellers. In markets with fairly uniform housing stock like Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Houston, selling to an iBuyer probably makes sense. Those are the types of markets where home prices are more predictable, so iBuyers are more aggressive on price (as there is less risk in their pricing algorithms) and there are more iBuyers so a seller can see which will make the highest offer. In other markets where pricing is more complicated and subjective, you probably want to work with a realtor who can add that expertise. It might just be their opinion but the eventual buyer will be offering a price based on their opinion too." 2. Time efficiency Laurie Rose, John R. Wood Properties YourNaplesParadise.com "Choosing a local agent over an internet driven agent gets you someone who will sit down with you face-to-face and discuss your needs and take you through the buying or selling process. You are a treasured client, not a number. People feel they can sell their home on their own and make more money. Unfortunately, they don't consider certain variables. A FSBO, on average, takes longer to sell. And the longer the home is on the market, the more carrying cost is created. They will need to hire a professional photographer, possibly a stager, and they may have to take time off to show their house. In the long run, time is money; you will actually save money by hiring a professional to sell your home." 3. Litigation protection David Roberson, Silicon Valley Property Management Group"As a practicing real estate attorney I saw dozens of cases where one or both sides attempted to represent themselves in the transaction only to be completely inept in protecting themselves, or completely misrepresenting the condition of the property. In each of these situations the transactions were embroiled in litigation. Lay people do not understand the importance of investigation and disclosure of all material facts that affect desirability. A seasoned agent or broker helps ferret out all of the issues that are critical to having a successful transaction where each side was fully informed and the escrow closes without hitches. Moreover, if there is a problem during escrow, a seasoned agent or broker can help navigate those problems, whereas a lay person with little or no experience could run into trouble not knowing where to turn." 4. Referrals Than Merrill, CEO of real estate education company FortuneBuilders"Sellers will find real estate agents particularly helpful, as they often have connections that can attract interested homebuyers. Many home sales are actually the result of referrals, making experienced agents an invaluable asset to the home selling process." 5. Professional networks Jennifer Winton, RE/MAX Moves REALTOR® of Greenville, SC"My vast network of contractors, photographers, home cleaners, and home services professionals means that my clients will have professionals taking care of them every step of the way. No need to worry about timelines, inspections, or what's next." 6. Buyer vetting Melissa Okabe, Real Estate Agent, Alta Properties"Do you know what to look for in an offer? Hint: It's not just about the price offered on your home. Your realtor can discern a qualified offer or buyer from an unqualified one by carefully reviewing all aspects of the Residential Purchase Agreement and Buyer's Financial Package (proof of funds, FICO, pre-approval letter) with you, highlighting any contingencies (ex: contingent on buyer's sale of current property), type of loan and what that means for you as the seller, talking to the buyer's lender for further explanation as needed, and assisting you with disclosures such as the TDS, SPQ, etc. which are expected to be provided to the buyer at time of escrow." Daniele Kurzweil, the Friedman Team at Compass"As a Licensed Real Estate Salesperson working in New York City, I am working in a unique area where much of our inventory is made up of Cooperatives, meaning there is approval required for every purchase. Each building is looking for a unique formula from their buyers. Someone who is not familiar with the nuances of each building might bring forward an unqualified purchaser who will simply be rejected from purchasing in the building and the seller and buyer will have wasted time and money." 7. Stress elimination Neeta (aka Sujata Durai), Managing Partner and Property Consultant at Chennai Dream Homes® "A real estate agent's main job is to represent his or her client's best interests in a property transaction. If you are especially a busy executive who would rather delegate the tasks of shortlisting homes based on your criteria, managing visits, making and receiving offers from the other party, fielding numerous phone calls, emails, and meetings for coordination, you would be better off working with a Realtor, who does these exact tasks day in day out for a fee. Many highly rated agents adhere to a professional code of conduct, and manage the process seamlessly from start to finish, so that you only need to be there for important milestones like selecting the house to buy, making the final offer after negotiations, and signing the paperwork." Melissa Okabe, Real Estate Agent, Alta Properties"How do you like spending your free time and weekends? Most likely your hobbies don't include driving around putting up open house signs, coordinating catering services, comparing staging prices, hosting 4–5 hour open houses on Saturday and Sunday and Broker's Opens during the week, or meeting potential buyers at any given time during the day to accommodate a showing. It's a lot of work and may cause you, the seller, unneeded stress." 8. Access to MLS listings Daniela Andreevska, Marketing Director at Mashvisor"Only agents and brokers have access to the MLS, which is the largest and only comprehensive source of all publicly listed properties for sale. Whether you are buying or selling, having access to the MLS will provide you with the highest exposure and the most numerous options." Andrew Weinberger, Founder and CEO of PropertyClub "When selling, there are two main benefits of using a realtor: better marketing and the insight and experience to properly price your home. Basically, you'll need a realtor to get your listing out there, as without one you probably can't get on the MLS or reach as many buyers through various listing sites. A realtor can also help you properly price the home, which is a big problem with FSBOs. That being said, almost all the FSBO/assisted FSBO startups use realtors, even if they're a flat fee service. You just can't get the same marketing if you're not associated with an MLS. Another reason many sellers use an agent is due to the fact that selling a home is stressful and an agent can essentially make everything go seamlessly. This level of service is something assisted FSBO startups don't provide as their agents usually list your home (giving you access to the same marketing as a full-service agent), but do little else as you're generally expected to show the home to potential buyers yourself. My recommendation for getting the best price with the lowest fees is to list an assisted FSBO and pay an agent to run comps (comparable sales) and a CMA (Comparative Market Analysis) report for you to help you price the home. This way you pay a flat fee, saving thousands, and you have an impartial agent helping you price the home properly." 9. Full representation Corey Fager, Owner of Buying Houses Nashville "A good realtor should offer full service representation, which will include pulling accurate neighborhood comparable properties, giving input on pre-listing upgrades or repairs (like paint colors, decluttering, staging, etc), taking care of photography/videography, and taking the lead on negotiations once an offer is received. A realtor owes you, their client, fiduciary responsibility and full disclosure. An experienced realtor can and should more than cover their commission by assisting in the details like price per square foot, title insurance, seller-paid closing costs, and negotiating repairs; not to mention the more complicated details like inspection and contingency periods. From my experience buying as an investor and also as a realtor, these alone are worth their commission." Mark Block, Director of Sports/Entertainment and Luxury Sales at The Agency "The listing agent should know the local market so that you don’t list too low or high which has major drawbacks. The agent can qualify buyers before letting them into your home. The agent can market your property and make sure that it is presented in the best light to the most buyers and agents possible through print ads, mailer eblasts, and internet ads, to name a few. Also when it comes to negotiation, both sides can benefit from having an agent. As one CEO of a Fortune 500 company told me, it is easy to negotiate multi-million dollar deals in business, but when it gets personal it is very different." 10. Agent fees can be negotiated Ben Mizes, CEO of Clever Real Estate "The average home seller pays between 5% - 6% of their home's sale price to the two agents who sell their house (both the seller's agent AND the buyer's agent). That's a lot of equity you've built up over time, gone in the blink of an eye! Most people don't realize that commissions are negotiable. You can usually talk the agent down to 1% or 2% and save thousands. Agents can be expensive, but they also rely on you for business, so don't be afraid to negotiate. In hot areas where homes fly off the market, there's simply no reason to pay the full 6% commission."
We're on a mission to empower consumers to make the best decisions and connect confidently with companies that deserve their business.