Why not invest your tax refund in your home?

Sitting by the mailbox, waiting for your tax refund? Stop waiting and start thinking about the best ways to invest that money in your home.

Your home is likely one of your biggest assets, so it makes good financial sense to take care of it. Keeping your home up to date will contribute to its longevity, heighten your enjoyment and help you sell your home if you ever decide to. So, instead of a fleeting ski weekend, why not consider investing at least a portion of your refund in your home?

Even modest investments can improve your home’s value and make it more livable. Drawing inspiration from Zillow Digs, here are five home improvement projects you may want to consider, all under $3,000:

Fresh coat of paint

Isola Homes used bold blue and green paint to give this Wallingford craftsman some Pacific Northwest flair.

Isola Homes used bold blue and green paint to give this Wallingford craftsman some Pacific Northwest flair.

This may be the perfect time to kiss your dated mint bathroom or mauve rec room goodbye. A gallon of paint typically costs less than $40 and will provide one-coat coverage for about 350 square feet. If you think you might be putting your house on the market sometime soon, opt for neutral colors that have more universal appeal. Even if you’re staying put, a fresh coat of paint can update and personalize your space for a fraction of the cost of a total remodel.

New front door

TrueHome Design Build brought an urban feel to this farm house with a contemporary front door.

TrueHome Design Build brought an urban feel to this farm house with a contemporary front door.

First impressions mean a lot. A new front door can enhance curb appeal, improve security and lower utility costs. According to Remodeling magazine’s Remodeling 2014 Cost vs. Value Report, a $1,162 steel entry door replacement project returns 96.6 percent of your investment. Fiberglass doors are generally more expensive, but they’re still a smart investment. According to the same report, a $2,822 fiberglass entry door project will yield a return of 70.8 percent.

Garage door replacement

Tuckahoe Creek Construction, Inc. gave this colonial home character with a new garage door.

Tuckahoe Creek Construction, Inc. gave this colonial home character with a new garage door.

The appearance and condition of your garage door also plays a big role in your home’s overall appearance. According to the Cost vs. Value Report, an uninsulated, 16-by-7-foot garage door costing $1,534 will increase your home’s resale value by $1,283, a return of 83.7 percent.

Weatherized windows

Lindus Construction uses a variety of custom-fit, maintenance-free, energy-efficient windows proven to reduce heating and cooling costs.

Lindus Construction uses a variety of custom-fit, maintenance-free, energy-efficient windows proven to reduce heating and cooling costs.

For just a couple hundred dollars, a do-it-yourselfer with the most basic of skills can install insulation, caulk and door seals, reducing household energy consumption by almost 35 percent in the typical weatherized home. Willing to invest more? Windows can allow major losses of heat in the winter and cool air in the summer, requiring more energy — and money — to keep your home comfortable. Replacing old windows with Energy Star-qualified windows can reduce household energy bills by 7 to 15 percent and will shrink your home’s carbon footprint.

Lighting

Titled “Serenity in the Woods,” this TN home by Eddie Miles has a warm, yet contemporary feel with under-cabinet lighting.

Titled “Serenity in the Woods,” this TN home by Eddie Miles has a warm, yet contemporary feel with under-cabinet lighting.

Updated home lighting can enhance your decor, save on energy costs and increase your safety. Even if a new chandelier isn’t in your budget, dimmer switches will allow you to control the intensity of light throughout your home while saving electricity. A basic dimmer costs less than $15 while fancier, remote-control and programmable dimmers can be purchased for $40 and up.

Metal can or recessed lights will brighten dark corners while under-cabinet light strips can add much-needed light to kitchens, craft rooms and laundry rooms. Unless you have knowledge of electrical wiring, you’ll need to hire a pro to handle the installation.

This article was originally Mary Boone on  Zillow Blog. See the original article here

Read more from Mary Boone here.

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Pay Off Credit-Card Debt Before Buying a Home? Maybe Not

While getting your financial house in order before you try to purchase a home is an excellent plan, paying off all your credit card debt may not be the best move.

Pay Off Credit-Card Debt Before Buying a Home? Maybe NotIronically, some of the steps you take that are great financially (such as reducing debt and canceling your credit cards) are not always helpful when you are applying for a home loan. Reducing your debt will impact your credit score, your debt-to-income ratio and the cash you have in the bank, so consider all three aspects carefully before you make a final decision about your credit card balance.

Cash Reserves and Credit Card Debt

If you are thinking of buying a home, you have likely implemented a robust savings plan to build a fund for your down payment and closing costs. Think hard before you dip into that fund to pay off your debt.

The median price of a home in the United States in 2014 is around $200,000, so you will need at least $7,000 for a down payment for an FHA loan that requires 3.5% down; or $10,000 for a 5% down payment, the minimum required for most conventional loans. In addition, you will need 3% to 5% for closing costs, which comes to another $6,000 to $10,000. So far, you will need between $13,000 and $20,000 in cash to buy a home.

You will also need money for moving expenses and for cash reserves in case of an emergency. Not all lenders require cash reserves, but to be safe you should plan on having at least two months of mortgage payments on hand.

Once you have estimated all these costs and determined that you can cover them and still have cash available, paying off your credit card debt would be smart financially.

Debt-to-Income Ratio

In order to qualify for a conventional mortgage, your monthly minimum payments on all debt must be a maximum of 43% of your monthly gross income. Some lenders require lower debt-to-income ratios, particularly for borrowers with a low credit score or few cash reserves. If your credit card debt is too high, you may not be able to qualify for a mortgage. FHA loans have looser guidelines, so some lenders may allow a higher debt-to-income ratio under special circumstances, but for your own comfort level with your budget it’s best to have a lower debt-to-income ratio.

Credit Score Issues

Lenders rely heavily on consumer credit scores, not only for a loan approval but also to determine the interest rate you will pay for a conventional loan. If your credit score is under 700 or 680, you may want to pay off some or all of your debt to improve your score. If your score is 640 or lower, you may qualify for an FHA loan depending on the rest of your credit profile.

If you decide to reduce your debt, be careful not to consolidate all your debt on one credit card. Doing that can hurt your credit score more than having a low balance on several cards. Even more important, don’t close any credit card accounts. This will reduce your overall credit availability and shorten your credit history, both of which will lower your score.

One of the best ways to make the decision about your individual financial situation is to consult with a mortgage lender who can advise you about the best way to qualify for a loan that’s affordable and fits your money management plans.

This article was originally published by Michele Lerner on Realtor.com. To see the original article, click here

House of Brokers Achieves Best-In-Class Relocation Ranking

House of Brokers has just received the “2013 Partner in Quality” award from WHR, a major relocation company that helps transferring employees and their families by making moves simple, smooth and enjoyable.

This is a BIG honor, and is given to the top 1% of brokerages who provide service to WHR clients. This award is based on service, cost metrics to WHR, and surveyed transferees who gave feedback on the experiences with their service partners. Again, we have ranked in the top 1 percentile of all service partners in our category!

HOB All Agents NewThank you and congrats to all the House of Brokers agents who contribute to making our relocation department outstanding!

Radiant Floor System Adds Heat Under Your Feet

It’s bad enough that you have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, but that tile – it’s so cold!

Hydronic heating system being installed

Hydronic heating system being installed

The notion of warming floors for comfort is hardly new. Archaeological digs reveal that, as early as 5,000 B.C., cave dwellers were drafting smoke through stone trenches in an effort to warm their subterranean floors.

These days, the two most common types of radiant floor heating systems are electric and hydronic, both of which are installed under your flooring. Hydronic systems heat floors by using loops of plastic tubing to run hot water from a boiler or water heater under flooring.

Hydronic systems have lower operating costs than electric systems but, because they generally require a boiler, pump and gas lines, they’re also far more complex. Hydronic heat might be a good option if you’re looking to add heat to your entire home or, at least, a large portion of it. Even if you have plumbing and electrical expertise, you’ll likely want to consult with a heating pro to ensure your system is well designed.

Electric systems transfer heat via electricity. The most popular of these systems rely on a continuous, pre-spaced heating element that’s woven into a plastic mat and installed beneath your flooring. Electric radiant floor heating systems are easier and more affordable to install than hydronic systems, but they’re more expensive to operate, making them best suited for use in small spaces, such as kitchens or bathrooms. A do-it-yourselfer with basic skills can install electric radiant heat, even if you need to hire an electrician to do the final hard-wire connection.

If installing an electric floor heating system is on your to-do list, you’ll want to keep these things in mind:

  • Be aware that, in addition to mesh mat, electric heat can be applied using a loose cable which you must position in a serpentine pattern, fasten with hot glue or staples and then “embed” with thin set or a self-leveling compound. Solid mats are the third and most expensive type of electric heat system. The cable is completely enclosed in synthetic fabric, plastic sheeting or foil. The real advantage to solid mats is that you don’t need to embed them. Do your research before deciding which type of electric in-floor heat is right for you.
  • When installing heat over a wood-framed floor, fiberglass insulation between the joists can make the system more efficient by driving heat upward. If you’re installing an electric system over a concrete floor, double-check the manufacturer’s recommendations; you may need to place a layer of foam insulation over the concrete before the heat cable is installed.
  • When calculating the square footage of a room, figure in only the areas where you can walk. There’s no need to spend money on heat that runs under the refrigerator or behind the toilet.
  • Because most electric heating must be installed under your tile, hardwood, stone, laminate or concrete floor, this is a project you’ll want to hold off on until you’re building or are ready to change the floors in an existing room. If you’re intent on adding heat without replacing your floor, you may be able to use solid mats that are sized to fit between joists, allowing you to heat the floor from below.
  • Many electric heating systems can be used under carpet but they’re often not as effective. If the carpet pad is thick, it will act as an insulator and won’t allow much heat through.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Energy, radiant heat is more efficient than baseboard or forced air systems. Rather than just blowing hot air around the room, radiant systems slowly and steadily charge the floor with heat, keeping it where you want it, longer. Additionally, the California Energy Commission reports the lack of moving air can be advantageous to those with severe allergies.
  • When you purchase your electric radiant system, pay special attention to the thermostat. Most models are programmable, allowing you to run the heat only during the hours when you’re home and awake. Others come with “smart” features that learn your routine and automatically adjust the temperature.

This article was originally published by Mary Boone on Zillow Blog. See the original article here

Mary Boone is a freelance writer for Zillow Blog. Read more from her here.

 

How to Sell a House With Tenants

After 2008, many would-be home sellers couldn’t get the price they needed to sell. Or worse, their homes were underwater. And so, some homeowners were forced to become “accidental landlords.”

How to Sell a House with TenantsThis year, as the real estate market continues to rebound in many parts of the country, millions of homeowners will consider getting back in the market. But this time, they’re trying to sell a tenant-occupied home.

A tenant can make or break your sale. You have to plan well in advance and communicate openly with your tenant to have a successful sale. In some cases, you may even have to postpone it. If you’re the owner of a tenant-occupied property that you want to sell, you’ve essentially got two options. Here’s what you need to know about each.

 

Option 1: Wait for the lease to expire

Most real estate agents would argue that a seller should wait for the rental agreement to expire. Tenants can sometimes be a bit of a wild card in the high-stakes real estate game, so some agents feel it’s best to proceed after the tenant leaves. After that, make some cosmetic fixes to clean up the home and sell it vacant.

This may be especially important if you have a difficult tenant or one who is unhappy that their home is “being sold out from under them.” The last thing you want, is to make showing the home more difficult — and a disgruntled tenant could easily do that by mucking up paint or leaving his place a mess. The result is that your property looks less appealing to potential buyers, which can have a dramatic effect on your bottom line.

On the other hand, selling a vacant rental unit isn’t always ideal for the seller’s finances. It can take months from the time the home goes on the market until it’s sold; that’s time during which the landlord receives no rent. This can be especially trying for sellers whose homes have been a long-term financial burden.

Option 2: Sell while the tenant is still there

It can be beneficial to keep your tenants in your home during the marketing and sales process, provided you have a good relationship with them. Homes show better with furniture, giving buyers a better feeling for what it would be like to live there.

Ready to sell but have a tenant in place? Do your best to work with them. Most tenants, upon hearing that the landlord would like to sell, immediately start looking for a new place to live. They’d rather just move on and not have to deal with keeping their home clean all the time, showings and phone calls from agents.

If your home is in a desirable neighborhood, you plan to price it right, and you believe it could sell quickly, use your tenant to your advantage. Lower their rent for a month or two leading up to the showing and/or selling. If you can get them to stay and cooperate through open houses and showings, tell them that you’ll guarantee them enough time to find another place and move. Also, if they’re helping you to get the home sold quickly, offer to help pay their moving costs.

Give thought to the message, delivery

Most tenants really don’t want to hold up your sale. Others will protest, and those are the ones who make the headlines or get talked about in real estate war stories.

If you have difficult tenants and suspect they won’t be cooperative, simply let the lease run out. Or find a way to legally take the home back and sell it vacant. But if you have a good relationship with your tenant, try to work with them. No tenant wants to be surprised with little (or no) notice that they must vacate.

Ultimately, the success of dealing with a tenant during a sale is less about the message itself, but in how the message is delivered.

This article was originally published by Brendon DeSimone on Zillow Blog. See it here

Brendon DeSimone is a Realtor, a nationally recognized real estate expert and author of the book “Next Generation Real Estate.” His practical advice is regularly sought out by print, online and television media outlets including FOX News, CNBC, USA Today, Bloomberg, FOX Business and Forbes. An active investor himself, Brendon owns real estate around the U.S. and abroad and is licensed to sell in California and New York. Consumers often call on Brendon for advice and to help them find a real estate agent. You can follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

Have Your Own Indoor Rink in a Hockey Dream Home

Picture a hockey dream home. Let your mind wander while you envision passing the puck around on your own premises. Do you see a cozy and quaint home with a frozen pond out back? An old school split level with a basement big enough to set up a couple of nets? Or something like the full-on rink former NHL player Bill Guerin recently had built in his backyard?

If you dreamt big, perhaps you pictured something like the two amazing houses below. Each is currently for sale and they both come with their own indoor hockey rinks. You could practice your slap shot in your pajamas. Now that’s a dream come true.

First over the boards is a palatial estate we located in Orono, MN. Minnesota is a hockey hotbed in the U.S., and this house is enough to keep any puck-happy fan satisfied.

from realtor.com

from realtor.com

The 10,000 square foot home has a downstairs rink that’s 30 feet by 45 feet and boards primed for checking your buddies into. The composite surface won’t support your ice skates, but who’s going to quibble when you have your own personal indoor rink?

from realtor.com

from realtor.com

Listed at $4,495,000, the lakefront estate also comes with an indoor golf simulator, an outdoor chipping green for golfers, and swimming pool.

from realtor.com

from realtor.com

Headed east on our hockey home search, we spotted another candidate in North Andover, MA. With almost 10,000 square feet of living space spread over four levels, this enormous home was built with a huge hockey family in mind.

The Massachusetts mansion has a list price of $2,650,000 and its indoor mini rink measures 24 feet by 32 feet and is also made from composite. Once you’re done putting the biscuit in the basket downstairs, you’re sure to enjoy retiring to the game room, which takes up the entire third floor of the home.

from realtor.com

from realtor.com

This article was originally published by Erik Gunter on realtor.com. To see the original article, click here.

Selling Your House? Get Ready for Inspection

You’ve prepared your house for salehired a listing agent and the marketing plan has succeeded so well that you have an offer on your home. All good news so far, but you still have a couple of challenges to face, including a home inspection.

How to Get Ready for a House Inspection

No matter how much you know about the place you’ve occupied for the past few years or decades, a home inspector may find issues that your buyers will want you to address. While there’s no guarantee that you’ll ace your inspection, you can take steps to make it less likely that a home inspection will put an end to your sales plan.

Consider a Pre-Inspection

Depending on the age and condition of your home, you may want to schedule an inspection before you put your home on the market. If your home is relatively new and you’re not aware of any problems, you can probably skip this step; but if you have any concerns about your property, it could be worthwhile to spend $400 or so to hire your own inspector. Once the inspection is done, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing about potential problems and having the opportunity to address them on your own time, rather than under pressure from a buyer who wants work completed before the settlement date.

You can and should disclose to buyers any problems your home inspector finds and what you’ve done about them — whether you’ve made a repair, replaced an appliance or planned to offer a credit for the buyers so they can fix it their way.

Prepare for the Inspection

Regardless of whether you’ve had an inspection, your buyers are likely to hire their own home inspector. You can be helpful to that inspector in several ways, which is likely to make the inspector feel a little more favorable towards you and your home. That’s not to say that the inspector would overlook a serious problem, but perhaps he would lighten up a bit on some minor issues. Try these methods of buttering up an inspector:

  • Remove clutter: You’ve probably started packing a bit, but it will help the inspector more if you empty the spaces beneath your bathroom and kitchen sinks and move any belongings that block access to your water heater or other appliances.
  • Get your paperwork together: You should create a file with documentation of all maintenance and repairs you’ve done on your home, including annual or semi-annual furnace inspections, receipts for roof or chimney repairs and other inspections. If you’ve had an insurance claim on your house, keep those papers together, too, so you can prove that you took care of the problem.
  • Provide complete access to your home: Make sure you unlock gates and doors to a shed or garage that don’t have lockbox access. Move anything that’s blocking entrances to the attic, basement or storage spaces.
  • Leave home: Inspectors find it easier to do their work without the presence of the homeowners and, even more important, without your pets and children around.
  • Clean your house: It won’t make a bit of difference if you have a leak, but a clean home gives the impression that you take care of your property and so the inspector shouldn’t expect to find as many problems.
  • Leave the lights on: Make sure your light bulbs work, especially in storage spaces or areas you don’t often use.

The easier you make things for a home inspector, the more favorably disposed he’ll be toward your home.

This article was originally published by Michele Lerner on realtor.com. See the original article here.