The Smart Home

It is now easier than ever to control virtually everything in a home with the simple click of a button or smart phone app. What was once only science fiction has become reality.

Not only can smart gadgets make homes more convenient and efficient, they also have the potential to increase home values and make them more attractive to buyers. Here are three popular smart home upgrades that could potentially increase home value and desirability, especially among millennial buyers who crave convenience and technology:


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Programmable thermostats have been around for decades and are standard in most homes. Smart thermostats, like nest, offer the ability to change the temperature and control it from your phone when you are away.

It even has the ability to track your temperature preferences and program itself within a week of installation.

Why Buyers Like This Feature
One huge advantage the nest has over other programmable thermostats is its ability to alert homeowners when a set temperature threshold has been reached.

Imagine having the ability to receive a notification that the temperature in your home is rapidly rising or falling alerting to a potential A/C or heat unit malfunction. This feature is especially comforting for people with pets. During the extreme summer and winter months, this could be potentially life-saving.

Another attractive benefit to a smart thermometer is the energy savings it promises. New home buyers are often concerned with potential future savings over the cost of their mortgage. The prospect of lowered energy bills is attractive.


Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 8.48.22 AMSmoke & Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Smart smoke detectors not only sound an alarm when smoke is detected, they also monitor for carbon monoxide. These products are also available from nest.
These potentially life-saving gadgets can send alerts to your cell phone when danger is suspected.

Depending on the brand, some smart smoke detectors speak before they sound to allow the homeowner a       chance to dismiss the alarm before it sounds.

Why Buyers Like This Feature

Some homeowner insurance companies offer discounted premiums for homes with smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 8.50.40 AMKeyless Entry

Another smart gadget gaining popularity is keyless door locks. These devices have the ability to remotely lock and unlock doors from a smart phone. No more turning around to make sure you locked the front door or leaving keys under the mat.

At $250 per door as sold by august store, these locks are significantly more expensive than traditional locks.

Why Buyers Like This Feature

Among the advantages of keyless entry is the ability to program locks to allow certain access codes for specific time periods. For example, if you have a cleaning service or dog walker, you can provide them with a code to use on certain days and times only. This offers security and flexibility for many home owners.


Why Home Staging Sells

It is critically important to show a home that is presented in its finest form. Statistics show that staged homes sell faster and for more money. Interestingly, it is estimated that only 10 percent of prospective buyers can visualize a home looking any different than the way it looks when they walk in the door. They need help!

Staged homes give the perception that a home is well-maintained and stylish. Working with the flow of a home, eliminating personal effects and clutter, and arranging furniture can make all the difference a home needs be best presented.

The Two Types of Staging

Occupied Home

In an occupied home, furniture can rearranged to showcase each room’s functionality and flow. Removing an abundance of personal effects allows the buyer to envision themselves in the home, rather than feel like an outside guest visiting. If the budget permits, upgrading floors, replacing countertops and adding a fresh coat of paint go a long way to spruce up a home.

Vacant Home

As is often the case with a vacant home, the buyer is focused on the things that need fixing, the cracks in the walls, the worn carpets, the dated countertops, etc. Buyers can also have difficulty envisioning what to do with the space. Staging offers suggestions they can build on.

Here Are a Few Pro Staging Tips to Help Your Sellers

1. Scent 
Candles, freshly baked cookies or room fragrances may seem to evoke pleasant associations, however, they can also bring about negative associations. While one person may love the smell of a particular scent, another may hate it.

Over masking with scent is also a red flags for buyers that there is an odor issue in the home. If there is an odor issue in a home, it is best to address the cause, rather than mask it.

2. Accents
Area rugs, pillows, bedding and lighting are a great ways to introduce color and newness to rooms. A family of color throughout the home weaves warmth and cohesiveness together. Well-lit rooms evoke space and openness.

3. Declutter and Depersonalize
The first thing a stager will likely do is remove many of your personal effects and decorations – do not take it personally. It is important to take a step back and realize that buyers want to envision your home, as their own. Creating a neutral environment will help buyers connect with a house and see themselves living in it.

4. Show Off Your Storage
Remove excess furniture, clothes and items in storage areas of the home such as closets. Buyers want to see the size of closets and storage area. 31 Ways to Make Over Your Closets

5. Don’t Forget the Outside! 
Curb appeal is your homes first impression. Spruce up its curb appeal by:
Mowing the lawn and trimming any necessary trees/shrubs
Power washing your driveway, deck, walkway and any other outside area
Add a fresh potted plant and a new doormat to welcome buyers to your home. Landscaping Ideas for Curb Appeal

The benefits of a well-staged home are plentiful. A staged home suggests that the home has been well maintained and may even shift attention away from imperfections and otherwise negative selling points.

Does staging really work? Read about how a Chicago area Keller Williams team has staged its way to multi-million dollar success.

What is an FHA Loan & Who Qualifies?

First, What is FHA?

FHA is the Federal Housing Administration.  The FHA program was created in the 1930s in response to the slew of foreclosures and defaults that happened during that era.  The program was designed to provide mortgage lenders with adequate insurance, and to help stimulate the housing market by making loans accessible and affordable.

What is an FHA Loan? 

An FHA loan is a mortgage loan that is insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). What this means, in a nutshell, is that the federal government insures loans for FHA-approved lenders in order to reduce the lenders’ risk of loss if a borrower defaults on his/her mortgage payments.

Why should you consider an FHA mortgage?

Typically an FHA loan is one of the easiest types of mortgage loans to qualify for because it requires a low down payment.  Unlike the traditional down payment of 20 percent, FHA typically only requires a down payment of 3.5 percent for those eligible for maximum financing. This is what makes an FHA loan very popular with first-time home buyers.

Why might an FHA mortgage not be for you?

Yes, there is a bit of a catch (or three) with the low down payment benefit of FHA. Here are 2 reasons why this loan may not be for you:

  1. FHA requires two kinds of mortgage insurance premiums: one is paid in full upfront (Up Front Mortgage Insurance Premium or UFMIP, which is currently at 1.75% of the base loan amount)-– or, it can be financed into the mortgage –- and the other is an annual insurance premium, collected in monthly installments.  Mortgage Insurance is a policy that protects lenders against losses that result from defaults on home mortgages. FHA requirements include mortgage insurance primarily for borrowers making a down payment of less than 20 percent.
  2. FHA loans require that the house meet certain conditions and must be appraised by an FHA-approved appraiser.  A “fixer-upper” may not qualify for an FHA mortgage. The FHA-approved appraiser will inspect the property to make sure the home meets HUD’s minimum standards for health and safety.  If the appraiser flags certain issues — such as peeling paint, loose handrails, or other safety issues, or such things as a deteriorating roof or older furnace — those issues must be corrected before the loan will be funded. In other words, the transaction will be put on “hold” until the discrepancies are resolved. That is not usually the case with a regular appraisal used for a conventional home loan.
  3. There are loan limits on an FHA mortgage.  The amount of your FHA home loan depends on a combination of factors including the local market in your county or zip code, the appraised value of the property, and the amount you may qualify to borrow based on your credit and payment history.

Who can qualify for an FHA loan?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before applying for an FHA loan (or any mortgage loan, for that matter):

  1. Do I have a steady source of income?
  2. Have I been employed on a regular basis for the last two years or more? Do I have a good record of paying bills?
  3. Do I have few outstanding long‐term debts?
  4. Do I have the ability to pay a mortgage every month, plus other expenses?

You’ll need a good credit rating to qualify for a FHA home loan. While the FHA has set minimum credit scores, most secondary market investors have placed minimum credit scores on FHA loans at 620.

Winter Selling Wonderland

With the cooler weather usually comes cooler home sales as well.  However, for the savvy seller, fall and winter could prove to be a very successful home selling season. In the winter, there is less competition on the market and winter buyers may be more motivated to buy as their need to move is more pressing.

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Motivated to sell this winter? Here are some tips for winter selling:

1. Take photos of the house on sunny days before the clouds take over and the leaves fall from the trees. Sellers want to be sure to show the full potential and beauty of the home. Reach out to clients now and suggest they get photos taken of their home in preparation for cold weather selling.

2. Create a virtual video tour of the home. In areas where the weather can get be especially stormy, offering potential buyers the opportunity to first see the home from the comfort of their own computer is helpful.

3. When hosting an open house, be sure to keep walkways and driveways clear. You don’t want any potential buyers to slip and fall on their way inside the home.

4. Keep the house warm. A warmer inside temperature will keep potential buyers inside longer. If someone will be in the home for a while, consider lighting a small fire in the fireplace to further warm the home and create an inviting space away from the cold.

5. Keep window curtains and blinds open to let in as much light as possible.

6. Create an atmosphere. In cooler months, you have the option to invite buyers to stay a little longer and enjoy a warm beverage and winter foods. Take this as an opportunity to really make them feel at home, and hopefully soon, they will be.

Another advantage of selling homes in the winter is the warmth and cheer of the holiday season. The holidays are a time for family, friends and gatherings. Create an environment that conveys the joy that has been shared in the home so buyers will be eager to move in and make their own memories. Avoid listing homes the week of Thanksgiving or the week of Christmas as buyers take that time off to enjoy the holidays. So, as the weather cools down, remember to use these tips and heat up your listing presentations.

Tips to help you prepare for winter and avoid property damage

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Key Takeaways

•Prepare well for winter weather, and the earlier, the better.

•It’s crucial to inspect the property and regularly check building temperatures.

•Temperature monitoring is especially imperative in vacant properties or those that are closed for the holidays.

The perfect time to prepare your real estate for winter weather is before the extreme cold or heavy snow and rain make repairs impossible. The fallout of not completing a thorough inspection could be financially devastating, and many times disaster can be avoided with a little forethought and thorough inspection.


For example, residents in a Montreal apartment building woke to an inch of water on the floor from clogged roof drains. After a sudden heavy rain, the water level rose over the roof parapet and infiltrated the building’s interior walls. This incident could have been avoided had the building owner checked the roof and gutter spouts.

To mitigate property damage from extreme cold, inspect the building envelop and regularly check and monitor building temperatures either with the assistance of an alarm or by making regular rounds.

Temperature monitoring is particularly important for vacant or unoccupied property if the place is closed for holidays.

Although cold temperatures in the north are common, the risk of freezing is present across all geographies. In warmer regions, simply activating portable heaters might be all that’s necessary to avoid freezing pipes and other cold damage when temperatures drop.

Guidelines for inspection

Waiting until the last minute to inspect your property and make repairs could be costly and might cause dangerous situations for your tenants and employees. By following a few simple steps, you can mitigate the hazards associated with property damage and resident injury due to cold weather.

Use this checklist to get things in order, and save yourself from having to make costly emergency repairs in the future.


•Conduct a full inspection at least once each year. Replace and repair damages that show signs of weakness, sagging or decay.

•Pay attention to any interior or exterior conditions that might indicate the roof is leaking.

•Keep roof, valleys, gutters and downspouts free from buildup of leaves, twigs and other litter, which could prevent proper drainage and lead to water infiltration.

•Inspect all flashing and caulking. Leaks are more susceptible around items that have been cut into the roof, including attic vents, sewer vents, chimneys and skylights.

•Keep flashing or coping around the edge of the roof in good condition.

•Inspect the roof structure for any sign of structural damage that can lead to collapse.

•Consider installing soffit vents to increase ventilation and prevent mold caused by heat and moisture buildup in the attic.

Snow removal

•Review your roof snow removal practice to prevent damage and injuries.

•Review your snow removal and maintenance contracts to ensure you are adequately protected from liability.

Cold weather preparation

•Inspect the heating equipment.

•Inspect the building envelope.

•Monitor the temperature of areas subject to freezing.

•Implement a weather watch with procedures for alerting management.

•Have an arrangement for the maintenance personnel to be available during expected cold periods.

•Maintain an inventory of all portable heating equipment owned or from all other sources.

Thorough preparation before winter should help real estate owners prevent damage to the property as well as reduce potential liability issues.

Home Staging Can Help Sell Home for More

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Most homeowners know it is important to keep a home clean, bright and free from clutter while it is on the market for sale. But sometimes, Realtors® say, taking the extra step to stage a home can make a difference in how a buyer values it and the price a seller might get for it, according to the National Association of Realtors® 2015 Profile of Home Staging.

“Realtors® know how important it is to have a home in the best shape possible when showing it to prospective buyers,” said NAR President Chris Polychron, executive broker with 1st Choice Realty in Hot Springs, Arkansas. “At a minimum, homeowners should conduct a thorough cleaning, haul out clutter, make sure the home is well-lit and fix any major aesthetic issues. Another option is staging a home, which Realtors® often suggest to sellers to help prospective buyers better visualize themselves in the home and could modestly increase the home’s value for both the buyer and seller.”

The report, the first of its kind from NAR, found that 49 percent of surveyed Realtors® who work with buyers believe staging usually has an effect on the buyer’s view of the home. Another 47 percent believe that staging only sometimes has an impact on a buyer’s view of the home only. Only 4 percent of Realtors® said staging has no impact on buyer perceptions.

Realtors® on the buyer side believe that staging makes an impact in several ways; 81 percent said staging helps buyers visualize the property as a future home, while 46 percent said it makes prospective buyers more willing to walk through a home they saw online. Forty-five percent said a home decorated to a buyer’s tastes positively impacts its value; however, 10 percent of Realtors® said a home decorated against a buyer’s tastes could negatively impact the home’s value.

From the seller side, a majority of Realtors® utilize staging as a tool in at least some instances. Just over a third of Realtors® (34 percent) utilize staging on all homes, while 13 percent tend to stage only those homes difficult to sell, and another 4 percent will do so only for higher priced homes. The median cost spent on staging a home is $675. Sixty-two percent of Realtors® representing sellers say they offer home staging service to sellers, while 39 percent say the seller pays before listing the home.

Realtors® representing both the buyer and seller agreed on two major points in the report—which rooms should be staged and the change in dollar value a buyer is willing to offer for a staged home compared to a similar not-staged home. Realtors® ranked the living room as the number one room to stage, followed by a kitchen. Rounding out the top five rooms were the master bedroom, dining room and the bathroom.

Realtors® believe that buyers most often offer a 1 to 5 percent increase on the value of a staged home (37 percent from Realtors® representing sellers and 32 percent from Realtors® representing buyers). Additionally, 22 percent of Realtors® representing sellers and 16 percent of Realtors® representing buyers said the increase is closer to 6 to 10 percent.

“Working with a Realtor® gives buyers, sellers and investors the advantage they need to succeed in today’s market, as they know what buyers want and how to best market and stage a home for sale,” Polychron said. “While many factors play into what a home is worth and what buyers are willing to pay for it, staging is an excellent tool that can be used to give a home a little extra push for sellers. Staging isn’t used by every Realtor® in every situation, but the impact it may have and the value it can bring is clear to both home buyers and sellers.”

The National Association of Realtors®, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America’s largest trade association, representing 1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

5 Tips for Getting Your Home Ready for the Spring Real Estate Market

Even though it’s the middle of the Winter season, before you know it, Spring will be here. Historically in most real estate markets, the Spring is when it really begins to heat up. The Spring real estate market generally yields the highest prices for those selling their home. This is only possible though if the proper preparations are taken before spring is upon us!

If you’re thinking of selling your home in the Spring, you must know that even though you may receive top dollar for your home, the competition will also be the strongest. This means it’s absolutely critical that you’re prepared for the spring real estate market so you can knock out your competition. Check out these tips so that you’re prepared.

Begin Interviewing Prospective REALTORS®

It doesn’t matter what time of year you decide to sell your home, it’s critical that when selling a home, you know how to interview REALTORS® when selling a home. As spring continues to approach, the top producing REALTORS® will only continue to get busier. Make sure you start reaching out to the agents you think would be a great representative to sell your home sooner rather than later.

Know What Your Plan Is

One huge mistake sellers make is not knowing what their plan is once they sell their home. Are you planning on buying another home once your home sells? Do you have the option to move in with family? Can you rent, if need be? Can you buy non-contingent? These are things you should think about and know the answers to before the spring real estate market hits. It’s a great idea to discuss your financing options with a local lender before you list your home for sale. If you can get pre-approved to purchase a home non-contingent, if need be, it can give you a huge advantage over any seller who is selling their home subject to finding a suitable property to purchase.

Consider Having a Pre-List Inspection

One of the biggest reasons a home sale gets derailed is due to the home inspection. Most buyers will opt to have their offer contingent on an acceptable home inspection. Some buyers can even get alarmed and scared by the smallest home inspection finding. It can be easy to avoid this possibility and have your home inspected by a professional before listing it. Having a pre-list inspection is one of the top things to do before listing a home for sale.

Know Your Local Spring Real Estate Market

Every real estate community and market is different. Some spring real estate markets begin in late February/early March and others begin in the middle of April. It’s important that you truly understand your local real estate market. The best way to know your local real estate market is by hiring a top REALTOR®. Your REALTOR® should be able to advise you on current, past, and projected market conditions and also give you advice as to when you should list your home.

The time you choose to list your home for sale is critical in the spring market. If you wait too long, it’s possible you can miss that prime selling time frame. There are some REALTORS® who will even suggest beating the spring market competition and that it can be beneficial to list a home now and not wait until spring.

Clean & Organize

I know it’s cliché but it’s imperative to give your home a thorough “spring cleaning.” This doesn’t mean wait until spring though. Be proactive and start cleaning now; you’ll be glad you didn’t wait. A huge turnoff for prospective buyers are foul odors. Things such as smoke odors and pet odors can kill home sales.

Here are just a few things to make sure you clean before listing your home:

Wash your windows
Dust your blinds
Dust baseboard trims
Clean appliances
Clean shower(s) & toilet(s)
Clean inside cabinets
When selling a home, it’s important that you de-clutter and organize your home, too. A great way to achieve this is by packing. It may sound silly seeing as you haven’t listed your home for sale yet, but you will need to pack at some point anyways, so why not do it now! Clean out closets and pack away anything that you don’t have a necessity for. It is incredible how much better a home will show and how much quicker it will sell if it’s organized and de-cluttered.

Final Thoughts

The spring real estate market is a great time to be selling a home. Just because your spring market doesn’t begin until mid-April doesn’t mean you should wait to prepare for the sale of your home. Be proactive and follow the above tips for getting ready for the spring real estate market. You will be glad you did when your home sells quickly and for a high price!