Ask the Expert: How Can Staging Pave the Way for a Better Sell?

Today’s Ask the Expert column features Patty McNease, director of Marketing for Homes.com.

Q: How can staging pave the way for a better sell?

A: Staging allows your clients to show off the unique features of their home that buyers can come to love. During the holiday season, staging can make a home stand out even more. The following staging tips will help buyers fall in love with their future home just in time for the holidays.

Is staging really necessary?
Many homeowners are concerned about the overall cost to sell their homes. One place they may look to cut expenses is staging. While some think it’s unnecessary, proper staging is crucial to selling a home since it allows buyers to imagine what living there could look like. In fact, according to a recent National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) survey, 77 percent of buyers’ agents said staging a home made it easier for a buyer to visualize the property as their future home, which decreased the amount of time it was on the market.

Which rooms are the most important to stage?
According to the same NAR survey, the living room, master bedroom and kitchen are most critical. This is likely because these are the spaces where future owners will be spending most of their time. When planning these rooms, space and functionality are important. Rooms that are cluttered or difficult to navigate will not appeal to potential buyers.

How should I stage a home around the holidays?
Keep in mind that buying a home is an emotional experience for both the buyer and the seller. Often, the buyer’s emotional connection to the home is what really solidifies the sale. The holidays are a sentimental time for many, as they bring back warm memories and allow younger buyers to imagine future celebrations. Enhance these emotional connections to draw buyers to make an emotional investment in the home.

That being said, it’s important not to go overboard. Since different types of potential buyers will be coming to visit, avoid including overly religious décor. Instead, opt for simple and classic. Also, consider burning a pine- or cranberry-scented candle for those buyers who come over for a tour.

My client is hesitant. How can I convince them to stage their home?
If your client is against staging, remind them that 86 percent of buyers believe viewing a property online is the most useful part of their home search. With so many different options, it’s important to capture their attention in this initial stage of viewing so that they want to see the home in person. If you’re still struggling, show your client a before and after photo from another property you’ve staged, and ask them which home they would rather see.

For more information, please visit www.homes.com.

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Homes in major markets have realized over $10,000 in the last year in value, according to the October Zillow® Real Estate Market Report. In fact, the median nationally has risen over $12,500. Appreciation is highest in the San Jose, Calif., metropolitan area, where prices have soared $118,200, or 12.3 percent, to a median $1,076,400. Nationally, there are now 11.7 percent fewer homes for sale compared to one year ago.

“We are in the midst of an inventory crisis that shows no signs of waning, impacting potential buyers all across the country,” says Dr. Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Zillow. “Home values are growing at a historically fast pace, and those potential buyers want to get in the market while they still can. But with homes gaining so much value in just one year, buyers—especially first-time buyers—have to set aside more and more money for a down payment just to keep up with them. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough homes for sale, and demand will continue to drive prices higher until we reach a better balance between supply and demand.”

For more information, please visit www.zillow.com.

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While your credit score affects everything from your ability to buy a car or a home to how much interest you will pay on the loan, many people don’t know how these scores are calculated or what impacts them positively or negatively.

Moreover, says the Credit Federation of America (CFA), more than 25 percent of respondents in a recent survey did not know that a low credit score could increase the cost of a car loan by $5,000. More than half didn’t realize that utility companies, cellphone companies, and even insurers sometimes check credit scores before issuing services—or that multiple inquiries in a short time, as when you are shopping for a loan, are treated as one inquiry in order to minimize the impact on your score.

The CFA provides more about credit scores that every consumer should know:

All your credit scores are not the same. Most people assume their credit score is a single three-digit number, but each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) scores you differently, since they don’t necessarily have the exact same data in their files.

Closing old accounts will not necessarily boost your scores. Closing old or inactive accounts may inadvertently lower your credit score because now your credit history appears shorter. If you want to simplify, close newer credit accounts first, or put the cards away so you don’t use them, but your credit history stays intact.

Paying off a bad debt will not erase it from your score. Once a debt goes to collection, or you’ve established a history of late payments, you will deal with the consequences even if you pay off what you owe. It will show as paid, but it is not erased. Also, while your score will get a boost if you pay off an old debt, it may not be by as much as you think. The best way to increase your scores and keep them high is to make payments on time every month over the long haul.

Co-signing for a loan impacts your scores. When you co-sign for someone else’s loan, you are responsible for the debt—and if the person your co-signed for does not pay, your credit score will be impacted.

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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(TNS)—If you can afford it, it might be simple to pay off your mortgage earlier. But should you? That’s a complicated question.

Homeowners with low mortgage rates may be better off putting extra money in a Roth IRA or 401(k), both of which might offer a higher return than paying off the mortgage.

Then there’s the college aid factor. If you’re applying for need-based aid for your kids, that home equity could count against you with some colleges because some institutions view equity as money in the bank.

If, after those caveats, you want to pay off your mortgage early, here are four ways to make it happen.

  1. Refinance with a shorter-term mortgage.
    You can pay off the mortgage in another 15 years by refinancing into a 15-year mortgage.

Let’s say you got a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage for $200,000 at 4.5 percent. Then, five years later, you can refinance into a 15-year loan at 4 percent. Doing so pays off the mortgage 10 years earlier and saves more than $60,000 (if you exclude closing costs on the refi).

Those shorter-term mortgages often carry interest rates a quarter of a percentage point to three-quarters of a percentage point lower than their 30-year counterparts.

Refinancing isn’t quick or free. It requires filling out the application, providing documentation and having an appraiser visit. There are closing costs.

And even with a lower interest rate, that quicker payoff means higher monthly payments. And this method is a lot less flexible. If you decide that you don’t have the extra money one month to put toward the mortgage, you’re locked in anyway.

Unless the new interest rate is lower than the old rate, there’s no point in refinancing. Without a lower rate, you’ll get all the same benefits (and none of the extra costs) by just increasing your payment a sufficient amount.

  1. Pay a little more each month.
    Divide your monthly principal and interest by 12 and add that amount to your monthly payment for a year. Result: You make the equivalent of 13 payments in 12 months.

Let’s say you got a $200,000 mortgage at 4.5 percent. After five years of making the minimum payments, you add an extra 1/12 of a month’s principal and interest to each monthly payment. Doing so pays off the mortgage three years and three months earlier and saves more than $18,000 interest.

Before you make anything beyond the regular payment, call your mortgage servicer and find out exactly what you need to do so that your extra payments will be correctly applied to your loan.

Let them know you want to pay “more aggressively” and ask the best ways to do that.

Some servicers may require a note with the extra money or directions on the notation line of the check.

In any event, if you’re putting extra money toward your loan, always check the next statement to make sure it’s been properly applied.

  1. Make an extra mortgage payment every year.
    Instead of paying a little more each month, make one extra monthly payment each year. One way to do this is to save 1/12 of a payment every month, and then make an extra payment after every 12 months. This gives you the flexibility to use the extra savings for something else if a more pressing expense arises.

Let’s say you do this starting the first month after getting a 30-year mortgage for $200,000 at 4.5 percent. That would save more than $27,000 interest, and you would pay off the mortgage four years and three months earlier.

  1. Throw ‘found’ money at the mortgage.
    Get a bonus? A tax refund? An unexpected windfall? However it ends up in your hands, you can funnel some or all of your newfound money toward your mortgage.

Let’s say you got a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage for $200,000 at 4.5 percent. Then, five years later, you can make an extra $10,000 lump-sum payment. Doing so pays off the mortgage two years and four months earlier, and saves more than $19,000 in interest.

The upside: You’re paying extra only when you’re flush. And those additional payments toward the principal will cut the total interest on your loan.

The downside: It’s irregular, so it’s hard to predict the mortgage payoff date. If you throw too much at the mortgage, you won’t have money for other needs.

©2017 Bankrate.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional advice. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of RISMedia.

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Members of the millennial generation, especially first-time buyers, are already struggling to purchase a home due to student loan debt, trouble saving for a down payment and tight inventory—factors cited in the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) 2017 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. According to GOBankingRates, slow wage growth and low unemployment rates across the country are also impacting the homeownership rate.

There are, however, specific locations that may be easier to purchase in because of low median list prices and low monthly mortgage payments. GOBankingRates rated the most and least expensive states across the U.S. to help millennial buyers find affordable housing. The report uses a median income of $60,932 to represent ages 25-34, and the following rankings are based on a 20 percent down payment and a 30-year, fixed rate mortgage.

Top 5 Most Affordable States

  1. West Virginia
    Median Lis price: $154,900
    Estimated time to save for a down payment: 2.5 years
    Monthly mortgage payment: $693
  1. Ohio
    Median list price: $150,000
    Estimated time to save for a down payment: 2.5 years
    Monthly mortgage payment: $704
  1. Arkansas
    Median list price: $150,000
    Estimated time to save for a down payment: 2.5 years
    Monthly mortgage payment: $757
  1. Indiana
    Median list price: $167,000
    Estimated time to save for a down payment: 2.7 years
    Monthly mortgage payment: $757
  1. Iowa
    Median list price: $169,000
    Estimated time to save for a down payment: 2.8 years
    Monthly mortgage payment: $766

Top 5 Most Expensive States

  1. Hawaii
    Median list price: $599,000
    Estimated time to save for a down payment: 9.8 years
    Monthly mortgage payment: $2,584
  1. California
    Median list price: $499,950
    Estimated time to save for a down payment: 8.2 years
    Monthly mortgage payment: $2,168
  1. Massachusetts
    Median list price: $419,900
    Estimated time to save for a down payment: 6.9 years
    Monthly mortgage payment: $1,833
  1. Colorado
    Median list price: $408,068
    Estimated time to save for a down payment: 6.7 years
    Monthly mortgage payment: $1,780
  1. Oregon
    Median list price: $352,000
    Estimated time to save for a down payment: 5.8 years
    Monthly mortgage payment: $1,551

For more details, read the entire GOBankingRates report.

Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s associate content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at ldominguez@rismedia.com.

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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The holiday season is here, and with it the mass amounts of consumer shopping tied to gift-giving, or just personal spending at a discounted price. While terms like Black Friday and Cyber Monday are synonymous with post-Thanksgiving consumer spending sparked by widespread sales, real estate shoppers are no strangers to home-buying during the holiday season, regardless of their location.

With seasonal real estate transactions come serious buyers and sellers who are ultra-motivated to spend their money and close quickly.

“Many times, when you have clients who are looking during the holidays, they are really serious buyers. After all, most people are out shopping or preparing for the family feast,” says Nancy Lulejian Starczyk, president of the Southland Regional Association of REALTORS® in Van Nuys, Calif. “Additionally, the buyer may need to buy before the year is out, or they want to be in their new home to bring in the new year.”

Sarah Gustafson, president of the REALTOR® Association of Central Massachusetts, agrees with motivation being the underlying factor for those who stick around in a winter market.

“You have less inventory, but the inventory that you have is more motivated,” says Gustafson. “With snow and muddy boots coming through a home, sellers won’t put their home on the market unless they are motivated. And the same goes for buyers—if they are out at this time of year, they are very motivated.”

Often, the motivation stems from buyers who just want to get into a home before Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas or other holidays. And sellers want it done and closed by end of year, which is especially true for luxury or distressed properties, according to Bruce Elliot, president of the Orlando Regional REALTOR® Association.

In some instances, the added motivation of sellers and buyers leads to smoother and faster closings during the holiday season.

“Sellers who are willing to be in ‘show condition’ during the holidays are just as serious as the buyers who are looking. It’s a great time for both parties to be open to negotiating a mutually acceptable and timely sale,” says Lulejian Starczyk.

During this time of year, many markets are also dealing with tight inventory, which adds a competitive twist for buyers that have to deal with multiple offer situations. The impetus for selling can also be heightened in states that experience a noticeable drop in temperature during the winter months.

“The one thing that is really driving the market is the lack of inventory,” says Matt Akers, owner and managing broker of Rainbow Realty and president of the Lafayette Regional Association of REALTORS® in Indiana. “I think the people that are going ahead and putting their homes on the market [are] trying to get through the winter.”

Holiday homebuyers, just like the swarms of Black Friday midnight shoppers, tend to be part of the younger generations, although sources say all types of homebuyers are looking for similar things, regardless of time of year.

“Millennials now outnumber the baby boomers. And interestingly enough, they are both looking for the same features in the home. Both are looking for walkability to shopping, entertainment, restaurants, transit and medical facilities,” says Lulejian Starczyk.

Of course, this can differ by location. In Florida, for instance, the baby boomer generation is flocking toward warmer weather during the winter months in search of retirement properties.

“In some areas outside of Orlando, it’s a seasonal spike in the retirement areas. The snowbirds are coming down and their activity is picking up. Seasonal rent literally doubles,” says Elliot.

Holiday home-buying also puts consumers in a different state of mind. Akers believes reverse psychology comes into play, stating that winter buyers come up with opposing views of summer buyers to find reasons to buy and tough it out in a slow market.

Since the home-buying and -selling is happening during such a sale-centric time of year, both sides are looking for a good deal. And according to real estate professionals, that doesn’t always mean the best price.

“A great deal is when you walk away from closing and you’re thrilled,” says Akers, clarifying that today’s buyers and sellers have more than enough information to determine whether they are getting a fair deal because of the available technology and internet sources. “There are a lot of educated buyers and sellers out there. They know more than they’ve ever have,” he adds.

Lulejian Starczyk, on the other hand, says being aware of comps and working with an agent is essential to getting a good deal.

“Knowing the market and paying a ‘fair market value’ is always advisable,” she says, emphasizing that hiring a REALTOR® is the only way to ensure that consumers have the data necessary for making an informed purchasing or selling decision.

Meanwhile, Elliot believes a good deal is tied to a positive emotional response. “The emotion and the excitement is long forgotten when buying the wrong home. [Real estate] is an emotional process, and as long as it’s the right home for the client, and meets the family’s needs, there is no perfect everything.”

While homes don’t necessarily have reduced price tags on them during the holidays like electronics do on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, there is a heightened sense of urgency and an impact on a transaction’s dynamics when buying or selling during this time of year. Many agents look forward to the holiday season because of the opportunities afforded by less inventory and the added drive.

“It’s my favorite time of the year to do business because everyone is so motivated,” says Gustafson.

Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s associate content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at ldominguez@rismedia.com.

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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(TNS)—Opening a savings account is easy, but committing to savings? Now that can be hard.

From struggling to find places where you can reduce spending to falling into the temptation of instant retail gratification, saving money can be really challenging.

“You really have to know yourself and discipline yourself if you’re going to be an effective saver,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst.

Learning to live on less may feel difficult initially, but it will pay off in the future.

Here are four steps to start exercising savings self-control today.

Pay your account out of your paycheck.
Automate your savings by having money moved to your savings account regularly, either through elections with your direct deposit if you receive a regular paycheck or by setting up a recurring transfer to your savings account.

Moving money directly to your savings account is a crucial first step in building a nest egg, McBride says.

“Paying yourself first clears the biggest hurdle for saving, which is simply not being in the habit of saving,” McBride says. “It takes care of saving money before you have a chance to spend it.”

Similar to putting money in your 401(k), the idea is that if it never touches your hand, you won’t miss it.

Avoid the temptation of transfers.
Moving money into your savings does you little good if you constantly raid the account.

To effectively grow a savings account, you have to restrict yourself from the temptation to transfer those funds to your checking account.

“If you’re going to build your savings, your deposits have to outnumber your withdrawals, not just in number but also in magnitude,” McBride says.

Do what it takes to control yourself. Perhaps the solution is as easy as naming that account based on a goal—”house down payment” or “Christmas money”—to make the connection of immediate gratification robbing your ultimate goal.

If that isn’t enough to stop you, put some distance between your checking and your savings. While there are often advantages of having your money at one institution, opening up a savings account a different bank might be what you need to stop you from spending money that is supposed to be away.

Once you’ve hit your emergency fund savings goal, you ought to consider a CD or even a CD ladder to pick up some yield and keep you from spending your money.

Put banking technology to work.
Banks and financial technology companies are obsessed right now with helping you save money, and each product seems to have its own bent.

There are ones that let you set rules, like adding $10 to your savings every time you buy a latte. Finn, the new mobile-only account Chase Bank is piloting in St. Louis for iOS users, is offering such features. The bank says it expects to launch it in additional cities and for Android users next year.

Others, like Simple and Moven, help you save for a specific goal or multiple goals at a time.

There are also some, like Digit, Chime and Acorns, that focus on moving small amounts of money into an account for you. This is similar to Bank of America’s popular Keep The Change Savings program, which puts the difference between your purchases and the nearest dollar in a savings account—$10.75 for lunch, 25 cents for savings, for example.

MoneyLion, another FinTech app, launched a virtual reality feature on the augmented reality platform of Apple’s iOS 11 release. MoneyLion customers with iPhones 6S and newer can now visualize their money as stacks on the phone. The rationale is that if you can see your money pile increasing, you’re less likely to spend it.

Suffice to say, there are a lot of savings options out there right now and you ought to do your research before committing to one. Ultimately, their effectiveness is dependent on your ability to not frivolously spend the money you’ve worked hard to save.

Save for the long term.
While you may want to enjoy the here and now, short-term spending can cost big time down the road.

“If you’re going to be a saver, it’s going to require some tough decisions,” McBride says. “It means passing up consumption today so that you can instead save for consumption in the future.”

McBride highlights that saving is not simply geared toward building up money to use in the event of emergencies.

“Americans are woefully under-saved for retirement,” McBride says.

McBride points to the increasing number of seniors who are unable to retire and the overwhelming amount of outstanding student debt as a reminder that consumers must save for long-term goals.

“You can build an emergency savings fund while building a retirement fund or a college fund at the same time,” McBride says. “You have to attack both at the same time in the same way by automating your contributions.”

©2017 Bankrate.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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