A Reddit User Found a Ghost in One of Realtor.com’s Listings—What’s That All About?

Written by Erik Gunther on realtor.com.

We don’t generally frequent Reddit’s /r/creepy/ subreddit (we’re more into /r/showerbeer), but this particular ghost story was too good to pass up.

A Reddit user with the handle of moosemusick posted a link to a photo of a home in Georgia with the innocuous title of “Found on Realtor.com in Evans, Ga.” The photo appears rather mundane at first glance. It’s a living room with a quaint brick fireplace.

We looked closer. The walls and crown molding look crisply painted, the hardwood floors shine, and it looks like a cute place to call home. But … OMG, wait … what’s that over by the stairwell?

It’s a ghost!

A ghost who appears to be looking up from his/her/its smartphone…

Right?

“It’s me,” said listing agent Nancy Whitford. “And it’s not a ghost.”

Whitford was a bit taken aback when we reached out to her for comment, but she soon laughed it off and explained the curious circumstance.

When she uploads the photos to her listings, they’re thumbnail-size, so she’s hard-pressed to spot any evidence of celestial beings crossing over.

“The room was dark, and we had the shutter speed slow,” Whitford said. “Maybe I walked into the frame. I was probably running around.”

Her son takes photos of the homes she lists, and they both take pride in snapping quality photos.

“We really work on it,” she said. “We’re very detailed about photography. I think nice-looking photos are a huge factor for any home. The first thing anyone sees of your listing are the photos.”

She laughed and added, “Personally, I’m not a believer in ghosts. But people do have active imaginations. I wonder how it happened.”

To answer that question, we turned to real estate photographer Matt Edington,who spends his days snapping photos of the Seattle area’s most prestigious properties.

After dispensing with a few ectoplasm jokes, Edington explained how the supernatural snap came to be.

“Photographers take multiple exposures of the same shot at different shutter speeds in order to capture both the highlights (i.e., what’s out the windows) and the shadows in a scene,” he said. “If a person or object is in one of those exposures but is then removed in the others, it will create a blend of the image where the person or object is only partially shown. We call this ‘ghosting,’ because it gives the person or object a transparentlike look.”

For laymen like us, he said it’s like taking two identical photos—one with a person and one without. If you layer the photos on top of each other, but make the top photo just a little transparent, the person will appear as an apparition.

Edington told us he takes care to make sure things (or beings) don’t move while he’s shooting. But sometimes it’s unavoidable—in his case, it’s usually a homeowner’s pet that appears otherworldly in a few of his shots.

He also dispensed a few pro tips for anyone who wants to create standout images of their home. He recommends a tripod and a strobe light to even out the shadows and highlights of a photo. His No. 1 tip for nonprofessionals (other than hiring a pro!): Take your photos at the right time of day. You want to avoid dark, dreary days, but you also need to watch out for direct sunlight streaming through the windows.

One thing Edington and Whitford agree on is the importance of great photos for a listing.

“Photos are the first impression and the last impression. I think they’re the most important aspect of marketing a home, period. People are less likely to visit a listing if they’re not inspired by the photos,” Edington said.

We’re sorry to report that even if her photos inspired you to visit Whitford’s “haunted” listing, it’s too late. The home has a buyer lined up and is currently in pending status.

We asked Whitford if any sort of special disclosure was now required.

“I promise I have not haunted that house,” Whitford said.

5 Tax Mistakes New Homeowners Make

iStock

iStock

Few people look forward to tax season, and when you’re a new homeowner, filing can be even more daunting. Suddenly, you have new forms to fill out and more potential for making a mistake.

But taxes aren’t all bad; homeowners get more tax benefits than renters. And if you can avoid these five common mistakes, you’ll survive tax season.

1. Not tracking your home improvement expenses

If you bought a fixer-upper and you’ve put money into improving your home, you should be keeping a detailed record of your expenses.

Some home improvements—like installing energy-efficient features or building an entrance ramp—may qualify for tax deductions. Other home improvements won’t qualify for an immediate tax deduction, but they can help you when you sell your home.

Under the home sale exemption, home improvements increase your basis in your home, which lowers the taxable amount of your sale price. The exemption can save you money, but you’ll need receipts and records to prove you made upgrades in your home.

2. Using the home office deduction incorrectly

The home office deduction is complicated and can get the attention of the Internal Revenue Service, potentially resulting in an audit.

To avoid mistakes, get a tax professional’s help or opt for the new simplified home office deduction. This deduction allows you to skip the complicated aspect of the home office deduction like calculating office space.

3. Filing the wrong year

Many new homeowners mix up the dates. Several taxing authorities are a year behind on taxes. This means, for example, when you file in 2015, you’re actually filing for the 2014 tax year. If you choose the wrong year, you could end up filing the wrong amounts and that may lead to a lower-than-expected refund or even an audit.

4. Deducting your full escrow balance

If you’ve been putting money into escrow throughout the year, be careful with how much you deduct on your taxes. Many homeowners simply list their full escrow balance, but not all of your funds in escrow are used to pay taxes.

Before you file, contact the escrow account manager and find out the exact amount of taxes paid from your escrow, then list that amount.

5. Not itemizing

If you’ve been working one job and renting for years, you’ve likely been able to file your taxes using the simplest form, the 1040EZ. But opting for the simple form once you’re a homeowner could cost you.

Homeowners receive a host of tax deductions and benefits that might lower your tax obligation and increase your refund, but you’ll have to file a long form to get most of those benefits. If you aren’t sure which is the better deal, ask a tax adviser for help.

This article was published by Angela Colley on realtor.com.

Classic Big Sur Home Offers ‘Best Hot Tub Location in the World’

Slide into Big Sur, CA, and after a scenic drive hugging the Pacific Coast and heading south from San Francisco, you enter an entirely different, windswept world. A world that allows you to soak in the majestic views while soaking in your tub.

This spectacular home along the rugged coast, which just hit the market for $5.5 million, provides you with your own front-row seat to the oh-so-scenic setting.

Legendary photographer Ansel Adams was apparently a frequent visitor to this well-placed property. “He talked about the views from the north being the best coastal views that he’d ever seen,” listing agent Ben Heinrich recalled. “He took a lot of photography from that location.”

The sellers, who called the place home for decades, are heading East to be closer to their family. They clearly leave behind quite a history—like the annual visits from the nearby Carmel Bach Festival musicians.

“It has such large scale in the home, you could fit the whole orchestra in there,” Heinrich said. “Drinking wine and playing the violin and listening to all that music. It would just be fun.”

The 9,849-square-foot, four-bedroom, 5.5-bathroom house could be quite the party pad. But there’s plenty to entertain the kids, as well—from the indoor whale-shaped pool to the loft above the family room to the pool table with an ocean view.

“The scale of the home is just breathtaking,” Heinrich said. “The ceilings are 25, 30 feet. And the views are every direction.”

Those same views would allow a buyer to take in the whale migration that parades by the house twice a year.

The dwelling, located in an area south of the more famous hotels such as Post Ranch Inn, was built in 1969 on the more remote area known as Notleys Landing.

And although the property is tucked away from other homes and affords plenty of privacy, it’s only about 10.5 miles from nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea. (That’s where locals go grocery shopping on the weekends.)

Outside, the natural wonders await and it’s even sweeter to take them in from the deck or the hot tub. “You could get in the hot tub and experience the best hot tub location in the world,” Heinrich said.

“Hot Tub Time Machine: Carmel,” here we come.

This article was published by Claudine Zap on realtor.com.

Safety Concerns Changing How Consumers, Realtors® Interact

Safety Concerns

JackF/iStock/Thinkstock

In the wake of the kidnapping and murder of Arkansas real estate agent Beverly Carter last year, agents have been beefing up their safety measures when it comes to showing houses to new clients.

Many brokerages have hired safety experts to teach Krav Maga self-defense techniques, and real estate coaches are promoting smartphone apps such as SafeTREC, EmergenSee, and Real Alert—all in an effort to keep agents safe. There is widespread discussion at the broker level about safety, and now those talks are shifting to the consumer.

New guidelines for client interaction

For many years, people have been treating the home-buying process like a recreational activity. They see a “for sale” sign, call the number, and expect an agent to show up and show them the house immediately. This is not just a bad business model, it’s also a safety hazard—but that’s going to change. The real estate industry is responding with new guidelines to shape the way agents interact with new clients in an effort to protect them both.

“We have to reeducate the public about their expectation of us,” said J. Philip Faranda, broker owner of J. Philip Real Estate in Briarcliff Manor, NY. “Even a $1,200 used-car dealer requires a driver’s license to verify that you can legally drive that car. We have to do the same.”

Many real estate companies are setting new expectations for how their agents do business with strangers:

  • All potential clients are asked to meet the agent in the office for an initial consultation.
  • All potential clients are asked to present identification upon meeting the agent.
  • All potential clients are asked to be pre-approved by a lender before seeing properties.

How does this protect consumers?

These new initiatives ensure that everything is aboveboard. It provides a paper trail for the brokerage, while also providing a sense of accountability to the seller. With these initiatives, homeowners no longer have to fear that random strangers are walking through their house. Each prospective buyer is qualified and verified.

“This is a smart business move. We’re not just concerned about safety; we don’t want to waste the agent’s time either,” said Faranda.

He says serious buyers want to be pre-approved and will follow proper guidelines without taking offense. Furthermore, there are millions of vacant homes on the market. Real estate agents and consumers alike should want a paper trail or electronic log of where they are going and whom they are with.

“Who knows what’s lurking behind the closed door of a vacant house,” said Gary Isom, executive director of the Arkansas Real Estate Commission.

Most consumers are honorable, he said. It’s that other percentage that we have to develop guidelines around, he added.

The National Association of REALTORS® spends $35 million annually on public awareness, said NAR President Chris Polychron. Safety is his No. 1 priority.

“Primarily we educate our REALTORS®, and we want to make sure they educate the consumer,” he said. NAR is unveiling new safety initiatives in May.

NAR advice for sellers

Physical harm is a major concern, but theft is also an issue. Touring properties is a trust-based action. Agents can do their best to make sure they know whom they’re dealing with, but they can’t weed out all the bad apples. To help, the NAR has developed the following guidelines for sellers:

  • Stow away valuables. During showings, sellers cannot always depend on the agent to watch every move a client makes. Be sure to safeguard all jewelry, prescription drugs, and small poachable items.
  • Remove family photos. Agents have often told sellers to do this as a way to allow potential buyers to envision themselves in the house. It’s now a safety concern. What if a pedophile is the buyer prospect and he’s checking out pictures of your children?
  • Do not allow unscheduled showings. With mobile listings, people know when your house is on the market. It’s not unusual for prospective buyers to ring your doorbell and ask to see your house. Don’t let them in. All showings should be coordinated with your listing agent.
  • Before leaving the house for a showing, turn on all the lights. This way, both the agent and the prospective buyer are safe while touring the home. It would also prevent burglars from taking advantage of dark corners.

This article was published by Chrystal Caruthers on realtor.com.

1800s Sheep Wagon for Sale

Life on the prairie doesn’t get more authentic than this.

For Karen Dehn’s granddaughter, it was the perfect spot for a sleepover. But this 70-square-foot abode wasn’t always parked at grandma’s house.

In the late 1800s — before the days of RVs and tent trailers — this wagon was home to a nomadic sheep herder in search of greener pastures. Led by horses through mountain meadows, the wagon is one of thousands that made its debut on the Western prairie.

But while most were eventually outfitted with rubber tires or replaced entirely, this one was found in Miles City, MT, transported to Wyoming and restored to its sheep wagon glory.

“You’ve got a bed, a little wood stove to cook on, a table that pulls out and two benches,” Dehn said.

In 2003, she and her husband replaced the original canvas roof with a metal one, added a bay window above the bed and installed electrical outlets. They left the wheels and stove untouched, however, to preserve the wagon’s integrity.

“Sheep wagons have small stoves, but the key is to get an original one,” Dehn said. “That’s what everyone wants.”

Since hitting the market for $25,000, the home-on-wheels has attracted two serious buyers — both ranchers looking to add a bedroom to their property.

“It’s a great place to sleep,” Dehn explained. With no bathroom, it’s designed to be an extension of your home for guests or tenants.

“Some people may also just want a fun playhouse,” she added.

The listing is held by Dan Casey of ERA Real Estate.

This article was published by Catherine Sherman on Zillow Blog.

Rents Are Up, and Not Where You Might Expect

The Bay Area, New York City and other hot real estate markets have been coping with rapid rent appreciation for years. Now the rent is surging in smaller markets, raising affordability concerns.

Median monthly rents rose in January, and in a lot of places you might not expect. Along with the usual hot West Coast housing markets, Kansas City, Nashville, TN, Portland, OR, and Charlotte, NC were among the metros with the biggest year-over-year increases.

The new data shows the spread of rising rents, and decreasing rental affordability is likely to follow. Zillow reported last year that renting is now half as affordable as buying, on a monthly basis, in the U.S.

“Since 2000, rents have grown roughly twice as fast as wages, and you don’t have to be an economist to understand why that is hugely problematic,” said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries. “The rental market used to be, and should remain, a stepping stone to homeownership. But given how widespread rental affordability problems have become, the rental market could be acting more like a barrier to buying.”

This article was published by Emily Heffter on Zillow Blog.

 

Understanding Single-Family Home HOAs

Before you buy a home in an HOA-governed community, make sure you review the rules thoroughly.

Understanding Single-Family Home HOAs

Most people think of homeowners associations (HOAs), legally known as Common Interest Developments, as related to attached housing structures like condominiums or town homes. But this is not always the case.

Around the 1980s, developers started building communities of single-family homes that were actually Common Interest Developments. These communities came with their own sets of rules, regulations and HOA fees.

The reason builders starting developing communities in the HOAs structure was to maintain order and the aesthetics of a community. Their rules keep home paint colors and front yards in harmony, restrict building additions that don’t fit into the neighborhood, and stop owners from parking broken-down vehicles in their driveways or front yards. Such regulations assure new and existing owners that a neighbor’s behavior and choices will not diminish property values.

But they also mean that you must follow the rules yourself, and typically contribute monthly fees to manage and run the HOA for the benefit of all owners. When residents violate these rules — which can cause stress for other owners and hurt property values– the HOA will typically step in and enforce them with violation notices, fines and possibly litigation, if the issue gets that far.

The root of the issue

Often, the problem is not the rules, it’s that people don’t read the rules and regulations before they buy into a community, and then they violate the rules. But ignorance is no excuse — those rules are recorded on the property title, and likely given to every buyer to review before they purchase a home in a standard transaction. Owners are still bound by those rules whether they received and read them or not.

If you are buying into an HOA-governed community, be sure to read the rules and regulations before you buy. Once you’ve read them, if you don’t like them, then you should avoid buying a property in that community.

What if you already own in an HOA, and don’t like the rules or how the elected HOA board of directors interprets and enforces them? Luckily, an HOA is a democracy and the owners can vote out the board of directors and change the rules!

Any member-owner can try to get elected to the board and change the regulations. They just have to get enough other community members to support their opinion and vision for the community.

Unfortunately, most community members never go to a board meeting and never get involved. They just complain about the board — who are all volunteers, by the way — and complain about HOA fees, rules, and special assessments, etc.

If you are one of those owners who doesn’t like the rules, then get involved and take the time to campaign in your community, get on the board, and change the regulations.

This article was published by Leonard Baron of professorbaron.com on Zillow Blog.