Proven Ways to Increase the Value of Your Home

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Note: This article was originally posted on Trulia Blog (www.trulia.com/corp) on March 4, 2015 by Vanessa Nix Anthony http://www.trulia.com/blog/proven-ways-increase-value-home/ 

Heed these 8 suggestions from real estate pros to ensure your property fetches the highest possible price

I’m no real estate investor, but I’ve bought and sold two houses in my time (one on my own and one with an agent), and what I can tell you from those experiences is that little things mean a lot when it comes to selling your home and getting a great price for it.

But if everything counts and you have only so much time and money to invest, how do you know where to start to get your home for-sale ready and to fetch the best price?

The good folks at Consumer Reports National Research Center set out to answer just that, with an online survey of 303 real estate professionals from around the country.

As we head into the hottest selling months and with 5.3 million homes expected to change hands this year, we thought it might be nice to get our own answers to help you leverage all you can against the competition.

1. Stage and declutter your home

One of the panel members Consumer Reports consulted was the former executive producer for This Old House, Massachusetts real estate agent and renovation consultant Bruce Irving.

(He knows his stuff: the guy has been interviewed by Oprah protégé Nate Berkus, and The New York Times called him “the house whisperer.”)

“Do all the work necessary to make your property look good, not through expensive changes but through excellent staging,” says Irving. “Your agent should be able to provide proper advice and even bring in a professional.”

That means clearing out clutter.

“I have a gal who I send into listings to declutter and depersonalize for sellers and just tidy things up using the sellers’ own possessions for the most part,” says Karen Wallace, an agent with Lyon Real Estate, located in Auburn, CA.

Tara Miller of Tarabell’s Designs in Portland, OR, is just such a gal. She helps homeowners and agents stage their houses for maximum sales appeal.

Miller points out that people who don’t keep up on needed repairs end up spending the most when it comes time to readying a home for sale.

“It’s remarkable what regular home maintenance, cleanliness, and minimizing clutter in your everyday life can do for you when it comes time to sell.”

She also notes that staging a home is very different from designing or decorating. “It’s a tough thought, but not everyone likes your pets, hobbies, sports teams, or religion.”

2. Clean it up!

“If it’s dirty, it will not sell — even if it’s a great place,” says Kathy Partak, a real estate agent with Select Estate Properties in Auburn, CA.

In fact, surprisingly, most of the agents we spoke with focused on overall cleanliness and space in the home as the biggest factor in selling your home.

And cleanliness pays off, according to Consumer Reports: cleaning and decluttering can deliver a 3% to 5% return on investment, and this is something you can do yourself.

When showing your home, Irving adds, “Raise window blinds, lower toilet seats — make sure the place looks at least as good as it would if you were having your boss over for dinner.”

3. Enhance your curb appeal

First impressions sell your home. As soon as a potential buyer drives up to your house, she’s making judgments — and a yard in disarray or untrimmed bushes could cost you.

“Exterior space is ‘free’ extra square footage and is so appealing to buyers,” says Wallace. “It pays to enhance it.”

But if your staging budget doesn’t include the outdoors, Partak suggests making the most of the walk from the car to the entry.

“Make it look nice from the curb with some easy potted or planted flowers to trim the walkway.”

4. Pay attention to details

The details that you may believe are minor can turn out to pack a wallop for your home’s sale. For Irving that includes everything from paint touch-ups throughout the house to a full redo of public rooms.

“Wash your windows, replace compact fluorescent bulbs with incandescent or halogen, and remove or minimize personal photographs,” he says.

If you have a little money to invest, Partak suggests upgrading to energy-efficient windows, appliances in the kitchen, and adding solar. “These are always the things that bring in more money.”

5. Refresh your kitchen and bath

Don’t forget the most important rooms in your home: the kitchen and bathroom. Consumer Reports estimates that you can increase your home’s value by as much as 7% by renovating these rooms.

If you don’t have renovations in your budget, Kristen Kohnstamm, principal broker and co-owner of Dunthorpe Properties, a luxury real estate firm in Portland, OR, recommends fresh paint, a low-hanging opportunity to freshen up your space and potentially lift your asking price.

Choose a neutral palette to increase the appeal to as many tastes as possible; buyers need to be able to easily visualize themselves living in the home. But don’t invest too much time or personality in things like paint and new carpeting.

“The worst thing you can do is put lots of money into things like carpet, paint, and other aesthetics that a new homeowner will likely want to change,” says Kohnstamm.

6. Invest in good photos

When it comes to the listing, make sure your real estate agent offers great photos that show your home in its best light. First impressions can make all the difference to someone sitting at home on the computer.

And when it comes to open houses and showings, Irving suggests you “absent yourself” because sellers can sometimes get in the way of a sale by taking things too personally.

7. Don’t DIY everything

Irving’s top tip includes a good finger wagging at people like me, who think they can DIY a home sale and still come out ahead.

“First and foremost, for correct pricing, widest and best marketing, and the highest price, hire a real estate agent,” says Irving.

8. Try not to take it personally

While this tip won’t necessarily increase your home’s value, it will certainly speed up the sale.

Kohnstamm cautions first-time sellers to temper their emotions when it comes to the sale of their home.

“Whatever comments are [made] about your home, they’re never intended as a personal affront. Remember, everyone has different tastes, but clean and well maintained never goes out of style.”

Thoughts? Suggestions? Or just pure reactions? Tell us what you think by completing the form below and let us know, we’ll be more than delighted to hear from you!

4 Simple Strategies to Shave Years Off Your Mortgage

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Note: This article was originally posted on Trulia Blog (www.zillow.com/blog) on Feb 17, 2015 by Zillow Team http://www.zillow.com/blog/shave-years-off-your-mortgage-169704/

Just because you’ve got a 30-year loan doesn’t mean you have to spend 30 years paying it off. These tips can help you reach the finish line up to 10 years early.

No one wants to spend longer making mortgage payments than they have to. The obvious way to pay off a mortgage faster is to get a shorter-term loan, like a 15-year instead of a 30-year. But on a $300,000 home purchase with 10 percent down, you’ll pay about $620 more per month on a 15-year loan than on a 30-year loan (including mortgage insurance), which might be too expensive for you.

So how do you fix your budget with a loan you can afford, yet still pay it off early if you have extra money? Here’s a look at four common approaches.

Refinance, then reinvest savings

It’s always prudent to evaluate refinancing when rates drop, but unless you refinance from a 30-year loan to a 15-year loan, refinancing doesn’t automatically shave years off your mortgage.

If you bought a home for $300,000 with 10 percent down five years ago, the rate on your 30-year fixed loan of $270,000 was about 4.875 percent, giving you a payment of $1,429 (plus mortgage insurance). With today’s refinance rates of about 3.625 percent on your remaining $247,494 balance, your new payment would be $1,129, saving you $300 per month.

It’s a huge savings, but you’re resetting your payoff clock from 25 years back to 30 years. However, if you take the extra step of applying the $300 savings toward your new loan each month, you’ll shave 9.5 years off your new mortgage, giving you a shorter term for the same budget.

You can run your own refinance calculations to find the best balance between monthly budget and the fastest loan payoff.

Make biweekly payments

A biweekly payment plan is the simplest way to shorten your mortgage without a material budget increase. This plan shaves about four years off your mortgage by paying half your payment every other week.

Doing so means you’re making 26 biweekly payments per year, which is the equivalent of 13 monthly mortgage payments per year instead of 12. Your budget can usually absorb this because you’re simply chopping your mortgage payment in half and paying each half every other week.

On a $300,000 home purchase with 10 percent down, a 30-year fixed rate of 3.625 percent gives you a payment of $1,231 (plus $88 in mortgage insurance). By paying half ($616) every two weeks, you’re paying your loan down by an extra $103 per month, ultimately saving $26,511 in interest and paying off your loan in about 26 years.

Your lender can brief you on how to set up a biweekly payment plan.

Increase your monthly payment amount

The biweekly example above shortens your 30-year loan term four years by paying about $100 extra per month, but what if you could afford more?

If you paid $200 extra per month on your 30-year fixed loan at 3.625 percent on a home purchase of $300,000 with 10 percent down, you’d save $42,969 in interest and pay off your loan six years and eight months years early.

If you paid $300 extra per month, you’d save $57,122 in interest and pay off your loan eight years and 11 months early.

And if you paid $400 extra per month, you’d save $68,426 in interest and pay off your loan 10 years and 10 months early.

Once you go higher than this, it’s worth looking at whether your budget can accommodate a 15-year loan, because rates on 15-year loans are about 0.5 percent lower than 30-year fixed loans, which means $113 less interest per month versus the 30-year loan.

That’s a clear interest cost savings, but your budget is higher: you pay $1,881 per month (plus $59 for mortgage insurance) for a 15-year loan versus $1,231 per month for a 30-year loan (plus $88 for mortgage insurance).

Make one-time loan payments when you get extra cash

If you can’t commit to the 15-year loan budget but know you may have cash infusions along the way — like bonuses from work, inheritances, or selling other properties or investments — you can shave years off your 30-year mortgage by doing a large loan pay-down.

Here are two scenarios using a $300,000 purchase price with 10 percent down:

  • If you got a bonus at work and paid down your loan by $10,000 in year three, you’d save $15,747 in interest and pay off your loan one year and eight months early.
  • If you got a signing bonus for a new job and paid down your loan by $25,000 in year five, you’d save $32,556 in interest and pay off your loan three years and 10 months early.

Normally, when you pay extra on your loan, it shaves years off your mortgage, but your payment stays the same. However, for large one-time pay-downs like this, some lenders may lower your payment, too. When you’re shopping for mortgage lenders, ask them in advance if they’re willing to do this.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Or just pure reactions? Tell us what you think by completing the form below and let us know, we’ll be more than delighted to hear from you!