Tag Archives: Orange County

How To Get Top Dollar For Your Home

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How does a seller get top dollar for their home? Every seller wants the assurance that his/her house will sell at the highest price possible. But, real estate, as with most industries, is a highly inexact science. There are many factors at play within rapidly changing market terrain. While there are no concise answers as to how one ensures a house sells for top dollar, there are some important considerations to deliberate as the seller that can help you maximize profits, maintain control and reduce the stress that comes with home-selling.

  • Know why you’re selling and keep it to yourself.

The reasons behind your decision to sell impact the process greatly. Do you already have another house in escrow? Do you need to sell quickly? Or is profit your highest priority? All of these questions will factor into your pricing strategy. However, do not reveal your motivation to anyone else other than your agent or they may use the information against you during negotiations.

  • Set your price appropriately.

Setting the right price is the single most important decision you will make when you decide to sell. Price too high and you will turn off potential buyers. Price too low and you may leave money on the table. Make sure you do your homework by looking at comparable sales in your neighborhood in the last 3-6 months. Visit all the competitive offerings and see how they’ve been priced relative to the condition of the home. It’s always good practice to know your competition. While pricing, stay as objective as possible, and really look at your house from a potential buyer’s perspective. Emotional attachment to the house tends to drive pricing higher than necessary.

  • Maximize your home’s sales potential.

You may not be able to change your home’s floor plan or location, but you can make cosmetic updates that will enhance buyer impression. Assess your home, again, through the eyes of perspective buyers, and determine what can use updating. Fresh carpeting and/or a paint job can transform a space dramatically. If possible, avoid showing the house empty. You want to help potential buyers envision the home as their own, so provide neutral staging or de-personalize your existing décor. Furthermore, make repairs to visible damage. And don’t ignore the exterior. Buyer impression starts upon arrival at the house, so make your home appealing from the curb.

  • Consider a pre-appraisal and a pre-inspection.

A pre-appraisal will provide you with an objective basis for pricing your home. Additionally, a pre-inspection can identify any issues with the house that you can address ahead of time rather than during escrow as re-negotiating during escrow can be more costly since you’ll have less leverage and the transaction can be at stake.

  • Know your buyer.

While you shouldn’t disclose much about your reasons for selling, you should try and find out who your buyers are. Why are they moving? Do they need to move quickly? Are they in good financial standing? Having some information on the buyer’s motivation and personal situation will give you the upper hand in the negotiations process.

  • Time your sale.

If possible, watch market conditions carefully and time your sale. Typically, spring and summer are good times to sell. But specific to your market, be mindful of supply and demand. Are there more buyers than sellers? Are interest rates reasonably low? When there are more buyers in the market, sellers can get better pricing and terms, especially if there are multiple parties interested in your property.

  • Hire the right listing agent to represent you.

Truthfully, nothing is more instrumental to your successful home sale than the right real estate agent for your needs. Not all listing agents are created equal. If you hire an experienced agent, they will perform all the research necessary to advise you on all the points listed above: pricing, home improvements, negotiations, timing of the sale, etc. Get a few quality referrals from friends and interview several agents. As part of the interview, make sure you understand how each agent’s marketing plan for your property differs.

To sell your home for top dollar requires proper positioning of your property to the maximum number of prospective buyers. Educating yourself on market conditions and having an experienced agent as your representation will increase the likelihood of a successful transaction for top dollar.

 

Listing Agreement: What Does It Cover?

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You’ve decided to sell your home and you’ve engaged a real estate agent to get the job done. The agent will subsequently present you with a listing agreement, the contract between the seller and the agent that sets forth the conditions of the listing. It’s important to understand the terms of the agreement because once executed, you will be bound by them for the duration of the agreement. And while the listing agreement protects the agent because it obligates you to work with the agent for a minimum amount of time, it also protects you by detailing the agent’s responsibilities and what recourse you have should he/she not fulfill them.

Here are the key terms of listing agreements:

1)   Length of the listing period.

The listing agreement defines the start date and the end date. During this time period, your agent has the exclusive right to sell your property. Generally, the agreement is written for 3 to 6 months. While sellers typically prefer to have shorter time frames in case a sale doesn’t happen as quickly as imagined, it’s important to recognize that it takes a fair amount of time, effort and expense for the agent to prepare the house for sale, take it to market, and generate interest around the property.

2)   Sales price.

The listing agreement also defines the mutually agreed upon initial list price for the property. The sales price can be further amended during the listing agreement period with the execution of an addendum document.

3)   Amount of commission.

The commission rate is the percentage of your sale that is paid out to the brokerage companies that sponsor the real estate agents involved in the transaction. Typically this is set forth at 5-6%, to be split between the listing broker and the selling broker. The listing agreement should also specify exceptions to the commission as well. For instance, if your agent “double-ends” the sale, meaning that he/she also represents the buyer on the transaction, the commission rate for that scenario should be spelled out.

4)   Duties.

The agreement should lay out all the necessary activities the agent is authorized to conduct on your behalf to sell the property. In addition, the agreement will also specify how you will handle disputes should there be a disagreement between you and the agent. Generally, the contract calls for mediation or binding arbitration.

The listing agreement is the first of several forms a seller will be asked to review and sign during a sale transaction. Read it carefully and have your real estate agent walk you through any portions you don’t understand. Make sure you are comfortable with the terms and clear on how things will proceed.

Appraisals – Part II

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After a few rounds of counter offers and negotiations, buyer and seller agree on a price and the home goes into escrow. Time to celebrate? No, not just yet unfortunately. Within the escrow process, there are several hurdles to overcome, one of which is the appraisal. As we mentioned in last week’s post, appraisals are a critical component of the lending process. A low appraisal can derail the agreement reached by the buyer and seller.

Low appraisals can arise in a declining housing market due to the lack of recent comparable homes sales, making it difficult for appraisers to determine the current market value of a property. When home sales slow, good comps “age” fast. Comps of homes that sold over six months earlier generally become obsolete data and aren’t factored in the valuation. Add foreclosures and short sales to the equation and appraisal values can vary greatly depending on the appraiser’s methodology. But, low appraisals can also occur when the market is rising rapidly as appraisers may have a hard time adjusting their valuations to account for escalating market value.

The reality is that appraisals are conducted by independent 3rd parties hired by the buyer’s lender. Legislation requires lenders to use an intermediary entity who then in turn selects the appraiser, ensuring that the lender and the appraiser have no conflict of interests. The regulatory intent is to have the appraisal be as impartial as possible. So it’s not at all possible for the buyer or the seller to choose who performs the appraisal. However, if you have a knowledgeable and seasoned real estate agent representing you, he or she can be instrumental to the process. Here’s how:

  • Your real estate agent would never want his/her client to overpay for a house so chances are, during the negotiations process, he/she will be facilitating the negotiations towards fair market value, already mitigating the chances of a low appraisal report.
  • Your real estate agent presumably is an area specialist so he/she should be well-studied in the specific neighborhood of the home so that he/she might drawn upon nuanced knowledge of schools, community and other neighborhood desirability details that can be shared with the appraiser.
  • All reputable real estate agents will attend the appraisal at the home and provide a package of most relevant comps to the appraiser.
  • In addition, the agent could have knowledge of off-market home sales in the area that can impact the appraisal or conversely have knowledge of recent foreclosures and short sales that should be exempt from the valuation.

Good agents are keen to the fact that appraisers tend to draw their comps straight from the MLS but that data collected may not represent the clearest picture of market activity and value.

And should the appraisal return a lower value than the negotiated sales price despite the diligent efforts of your agent, here are the buyer’s options:

  • Negotiate a new price – sellers may entertain a lower sales price as a low appraisal is a blemish on their home should they have to put the house back on the market, or there could be other circumstances at play like the purchase of the next home contingent of the close of the current home that might increase seller flexibility.
  • Put more money down – if feasible, buyers can always bridge the difference between the loanable amount with cash.
  • Hire a new lender – a new lending entity will restart the process potentially with a new appraiser.
  • Cancel contract – contracts are typically written with an appraisal contingency to protect the buyers from having to follow through on the heels of a low appraisal.

Under any of the circumstances above, the thing to avoid while navigating the pitfalls of a low appraisal is letting the appraisal contingency period expire or else the buyer is locked into the transaction.  Again, your real estate agent should be well aware of the contingency period and would never allow the period to expire.  A seller benefits from a mutual resolution so typically they will grant an extension while the buyer vets all options.

Whether you are the buyer or the seller in a low appraisal situation, your seasoned real estate agent should be guiding you through the entire process and see you through its resolution.

Appraisals Explained

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Appraisals are a critical component of the lending process.  In any home sale/purchase transaction that requires financing, the lender will mandate an appraisal on the property.  So what exactly is an appraisal?

Often confused, a home appraisal is a separate analytical report from the home inspection.  An inspection identifies potential physical issues with the house to prevent costly repairs down the road.  An appraisal is a third party expert opinion on the current value of a piece of property.  Lenders rely on the appraisal report to ensure that they are not over-loaning on a property.  In the event a borrower defaults on the mortgage and the property goes into foreclosure, the lender recoups the money it lent by selling the home.  If the bank loaned above the value of the property, then the lender is unlikely to recoup their investment.

An appraiser is an independent and objective third party who does not have any financial stake in the transaction apart from his fee for performing the appraisal. Appraisers are state-licensed and work in regions and neighborhoods they are familiar with so they have an expert knowledge of any environmental or other concerns that may affect the value of a property.  Typically, the homebuyer pays for the property appraisal when applying for a home loan and the cost varies greatly depending on the size of the home and the experience of the appraiser.

There are two basic methods of appraisal used for residential properties. First, there is the sales comparison approach whereby the market value of the subject property is determined via “comparable” analysis.  The appraiser typically visits the home in question and obtains specific home information and statistics and then compares the data with “comps,” properties of similar kind in the same geographical area that have recently sold.  The second method is the cost approach, which evaluates value by determining how much money it would require to replace the property if it were to be destroyed.  This approach is more commonly used in evaluating new construction.

The appraiser gathers information for the appraisal report from a number of sources, but the process always begins with a physical inspection of the property inside and out.  Additionally, the appraiser may look at county courthouse records and recent sales reports from the multiple listing service. The appraisal report typically includes:

  • An explanation of how the appraiser determined the value of the property.
  • The size and condition of the house and other permanent fixtures, along with description of any improvements that have been made and the materials used.
  • Statements regarding serious structural problems, such as water damage and cracked foundations.
  • Notes about the surrounding area, i.e. proximity to schools, new or established development, lot size, relevant aspects affecting desirability and resale, and so on.
  • An evaluation of recent market trends of the area that may affect the value.
  • A comparative market analysis that supports the appraisal including maps, photographs and sketches.

Next week we will discuss how to prepare for an appraisal and what happens if the appraiser returns a value lower than your contract price.

DIY Staging Tips

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In last week’s blog post, we covered a few tips on how to prep your house prior to listing it for sale.  We discussed improving curb appeal and light remodeling to make the home more universally appealing.  To that effort, we also mentioned the importance of de-cluttering, de-personalizing and cleanliness.  So now that the house is neutral and clean, how does one dress each space to additionally enhance a buyer’s impression of the house?  This is where the art of staging comes into play.  Should you want to take a crack at staging your house, here are some few helpful tips to consider.

Furniture Grouping

Roll up your sleeves and start moving furniture. There’s a common belief that rooms feel larger if the furniture is pushed up against the walls, but it actually isn’t true.  Reconfigure your sitting areas by floating furniture away from the walls.  Reposition sofas and chairs into groupings that look conducive to conversations. Not only will this make the room feel more inviting, but it will open up the space and the area will appear larger.  Give yourself permission to remove furniture items entirely if the room requires more breathing room for better traffic flow.

Accessorize

Style your dining room table as if you’re expecting a dinner party.  Bring some greenery indoors as flowers and plants instantly add vibrancy and life into any room.  Place pleasant, non-controversial artwork or photography that befit the style of your home on walls that seem too bare.  Dress each bed with complementary linens and pillows for a comfortable, lived-in look.  For the master bedroom, remember to tow a gender neutral line when selecting bedding and accessories.

Home Lighting

Do not forget to consider lighting.  The first thing a real estate agent does when showing a home is to turn on all the lights, regardless of the time of day.  So at some point, mimic a showing and turn on all the lights in the house to give yourself the buyer’s perspective.  What you want is to make sure that your home looks warm, inviting and well-lit.  As it turns out, most homes are improperly lighted. To remedy the problem, increase the wattage in your lamps and fixtures. Aim for a total of 100 watts for each 50 square feet.  Make sure you have all three types of lighting in the house: ambient (general or overhead), task (pendant, under-cabinet or reading) and accent (table, floor or wall lamps).

Make Awkward Spaces Functional

One way to really add value to a house via staging is by creating a purpose for an otherwise awkward space.  The area under the staircase can sometimes fit a small desk for a quaint office nook.  Transforming a blank space into a practical area gives the house a feature that is memorable to the buyer.  It also gives the impression that the house is bigger and thoughtfully functional.  If you have an awkward space, check out interior design websites like Houzz for inspiration on how to give it a quick transformation.

Make Every Room Count

Most of us have a room in the house that is a “hobby room” which is a euphemism for “dumping ground.”  As part of the decluttering process, make sure the room is thoroughly cleansed and all unnecessary items are removed.  Then, give the room a purpose.  Would potential buyers want to see a guest bedroom?  Or an additional kid’s room?  Making a real room out of what was your junk room will have a big payoff on buyer impression.

The goal of staging is to breathe new life into the house, giving it universal appeal.  Chances are, while living in the house, you’ve made it work very specifically for yourself over the years.  Staging removes some of the specificity and quirkiness.  When well done, it gives buyers an idea of how to use every space well and maximizes the home’s potential for positive impressions.  Staging is immensely valuable tool in selling a house.

Prepping a House For Sale

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If you are getting ready to put your house on the market, consider a few of these tips to help maximize appeal and improve how well your house shows to prospective buyers.

1)   Enhance curb appeal.

When a house goes on the market, generally the owners have expended some thought and energy towards making the interior of the home look immaculate.  But, you only get one opportunity to make a positive first impression, so do not let the exterior of your home go untouched:

  • Power wash the house!  A quick power wash takes years of dirt off of the house, making a huge immediate difference.  Get the siding back to a vibrant state and have the windows sparkle.
  • Make sure your house number is clean and easy to read.  Visitors dislike not being able to identify the house quickly as it makes the house not feel welcoming.
  • Consider a handful of new landscaping to impress upon visitors.  Fresh greenery really enhances the appeal of the home and gives the impression that the home is well attended to.  And don’t forget to prune back overgrowth.
  • Create a welcoming front door and porch area.  This can be a simply a new door mat, a coat of vibrant paint on the front door, or a casual patio set that creates an inviting seating area.

Many of these exterior improvements can set the tone for the rest of the showing, impressing upon buyers the feeling of a cared-for home, one of steady maintenance and quality upkeep.

2)   Make obvious repairs.

Now is a good time to attend to the small repairs that have accumulated over the years of living comfortably.  Broken window pane, cracked deck tiles, non-functioning light fixtures – addressing the visually-obvious issues beforehand helps touring buyers stay focused on the big picture of whether the house is a good fit for their needs.  Removing these detracting items paves the way for a smooth and favorable showing.

3)   De-clutter and depersonalize.

Buyers want to envision their belongings in the home they are touring. Help them see that vision by removing personal effects such as framed photos, tchotchkes, extra items of furniture, and toys.  The idea is to have the house look generic and spacious.  The old adage “less is more” is sage advice to heed.  Hire a cleaning crew to deep clean the house and have every surface return to near-original glory.  Keep in mind that people during showings may check out the closets and cluttered closets imply lack of storage, so definitely make a pass at organizing and filtering through your closet spaces.

4)   Neutralize.

The teal accent wall highlighting the dining room might be too bold for some buyers.  If you are going to make some light redecorating changes, consider going neutral in the choices you make.  A neutral palette is generally received as welcoming and will appeal to the majority of the people walking through the house.  Complementing color can be added through linens and bedding and décor items.

Once the house has been prepped, then the discussion can progress to furniture staging.  Stay tuned next week and we will provide some staging advice.

Getting Ready to Buy? A Few Do’s.

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You’ve been flirting with the market for months, touring open houses on the weekend and logging in late night hours on Redfin or Zillow.  You’ve pinpointed the ideal neighborhood that suits you best and have toured the schools in the district.  You are ready to take the plunge and buy.  What next?  A few do’s:

1)   Get a Realtor

A seasoned real estate agent can provide you with valuable insights on homes and neighborhoods during the search portion of your house hunt.  And even with the proliferation of online real estate search engines, when the time comes to write an offer, you will need an experienced real estate professional on your side to navigate the negotiations, escrow and closing process with you.  Over the years, the laws for home buying have become increasingly complex and the process is filled with many moving parts.  Ask your trusted friends for quality agent referrals and find yourself a good teammate.

2)   Get Preapproved for a Loan

Consulting a mortgage lender will help you get a clear picture of your purchasing power so make this step at the top of your list of to do’s.   Understanding what you can afford from a lending perspective helps define your house search so you don’t waste time looking at homes you cannot afford.  Plus, often the market moves fast on well-priced homes, so having a pre-approval letter in hand lines you up at the front of starting block.

3)   Make A Checklist of “Must Haves” in a House

No two houses are the same and no house is ever 100% perfect, but having a checklist for your ideal home is useful so you are efficient in your house hunt.  A house can always be redecorated to perfection but it’s a bigger headache if your new house is missing that home office you had hoped to have.

4)   Check Your Credit

Your credit score helps lending institutions determine the rate and terms they can offer you on the loan.  If your credit is high, meaning that your credit history indicates that you are fiscally responsible, lenders will see you as a low-risk investment and offer you a lower rate on your loan with good conditions.  If your score is low, lenders will think you are a riskier investment and charge you with higher interest rates to take on the perceived risk.  Get your credit scores from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, the three major credit agencies, so you can see how you stack up in terms of investment risk and see if you have time to improve your credit health.

Stay tuned next week for a list of pre-buying don’ts.

Orange County’s Demographic Challenge

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Orange County, by most standards, is a great place to live and raise a family.  We have beautiful neighborhoods, great public spaces, award-winning schools and the weather is consistently the envy of the country.  But as we learned last week, household formation is unfortunately on the decline in the United States.  And here in Orange County, we have another problem that isn’t helping the overall economic landscape: young professionals aren’t choosing to settle in Orange County.

Orange County has been gradually losing the number of its young professional workforce for several decades now.  The number of 18-44 year olds residing in Orange County has been dipping steadily which presents a problem for housing growth.  Typically, young professionals are the ones that purchase larger homes while the Baby Boomers are looking to downsize.  With less young professionals in the housing market, Baby Boomers are staying put in their homes, and the market experiences a less productive exchange of homes.  The overall problem is that Orange County isn’t widely perceived to have a bustling job market or an affordable housing market for the younger professional demographic.

In 2007, California state demographers estimated that California would hit 50 million residents by 2032.  Factoring in recent data and trends, it’s unlikely the state will hit that landmark until 2049.  With the state experiencing a slowed influx of new residents, Orange County is further impacted by our aging population.  In fact, Orange County is aging faster than California and the US.

Two additional factors having significant influence on our region: 1) Californians are having fewer children per household and 2) Immigrants are also on the decline in search of higher-paying jobs and more affordable housing.

This isn’t bad news.  It just means that Orange County’s demographic challenges will produce a much slower growth year over year than what we experienced in the past.  So the next time you see a sweeping headline declaring an upturn for the economy and housing, just be mindful that these statements are generally created from aggregated data that doesn’t necessarily represent regional specificity.  On the whole, rapid rate of growth and recovery is unrealistic, and here in our beloved Orange County, one can only expect modest growth on the foreseeable horizon.  But at least, our foreseeable horizon of endless sand and ocean is breathtakingly beautiful and unique to our residents!