8 Outdoor Patio Decorating Ideas

Make your time outside a little more enjoyable with these decor tips.

Whether it’s a small courtyard or an expansive backyard, you probably don’t spend as much time on your outdoor patio as you’d like. But with a bit more effort put into the design, you may find you’re reaping the benefits of spending more time outdoors. “People more than ever are really coming to awareness that you need to be connected to nature, and you need to be connected socially for your health and well-being,” says Joe Raboine, an outdoor living and design expert with landscape design company and hardscape manufacturer Belgard. Read on for simple decorating ideas that will help draw you and your family and friends out to your patio.

Make it Comfortable – It’s all too easy to forgo an evening in your backyard when the living room couch is just too comfortable. Rather than make excuses, why not design your patio to be just as comfortable? “It’s an additional living space,” says Debbie Howes, a Realtor with Re/Max Performance in the Colorado Springs, CO area. Make sure any seating has weather-resistant cushions, and consider adding side tables to keep drinks or a plate of snacks within reach as you lounge.

Don’t Forget Color. Just like in your indoor living room, furniture can feel a bit bare if you don’t add accents like pillows or tabletop décor. For these welcoming additions, don’t be afraid to go bold with pops of color. In real estate information company Zillow’s 2019 Outdoor Living Trends Report, popular colors for patio and porch space this year include bright oranges, reds, yellows and pinks. (more)

By Devon Thorsby, Editor, Real Estate

11 Things to Know About Selling Your Home in Spring and Summer

If you’re thinking spring or summer is the ideal time to put your house on the market, you’re certainly not the only one. Real estate information site Zillow reports home sellers make the most money and sell the fastest in the first two weeks of May, with June and July respectively as the best months to list your home. While the market may be as hot as the weather this time of year, there are still some steps you shouldn’t skip – and details your should know about – before selling your home property in spring and summer.

– BY Devon Thornsby, Editor, Real Estate

There are more buyers.

6 Simple Tricks to Make Your Open House Memorable

Hosting an open house is a great way to showcase a property to potential buyers, and your real estate agent will likely recommend holding one early on in the marketing process. This promotional event is unique in its professional yet low-pressure atmosphere, and with careful planning and preparation it’s easy to maximize a home’s appeal. Since your guests will be a mixture of agents and interested buyers, an open house has the potential to attract plenty of new and valuable contacts.

As the seller, you won’t be present during the open house, but there are a few things you can do to prepare your property. Here are six simple tricks that will help make your open house stand out from the rest:

  • Improve your curb appeal.
  • Stage the home.
  • Rent a storage unit.
  • Offer a brochure.
  • Cater to all the senses.
  • Market the event.

Improve Your Curb Appeal

The outside of a house makes the first impression on your guests. If the property’s exterior looks worn down and neglected, expectations of its interior won’t be that high. Though it’s wishful thinking to not judge a book by its cover, dirty siding and rampant weeds do tell a story about a home, and it isn’t a positive one. By touching up the landscaping and other necessary exterior maintenance, your open house will begin by making a good impression before anyone goes inside.

Stage the Home

A simple consultation with a home stager will tell you what you need to do to get your home fit for photos and the open house. Sometimes, stagers can simply declutter your home and rearrange furniture to make a home’s interior appear more pristine. In other instances, you may need to rent furniture to replace the items you currently have. By following a home stager’s guidelines, you’ll get a great interior design that will give your home a good flow and appeal to buyers.

Rent a Storage Unit

Renting a storage unit to free up unwanted clutter you can’t part with is the best practice during the open house and showing process, as clutter makes any home look smaller. Hosting an open house is easier if a few extra pieces of furniture are stored away so you can make rooms appear more spacious and clean. Having more room to roam and explore makes a positive impression on potential buyers, who see an open, inviting space.

Offer a Brochure for Memory’s Sake

A professional, full-color brochure that highlights the home’s best features is a must-have for any complete open house. This extra marketing step gives buyers something to remember the property by after the event is over. A good brochure will include key information like the price, address and contact information in easy-to-find places. Offering tangible media like a brochure is important, since buyers can confuse properties if they have seen many homes within a short period of time.

Make It a Feast for the Senses

An open house should be an immersive experience that’s unique from browsing pictures online. Sensory-wise, you want your visitors to be thrilled in every way. Offer refreshments to help them feel welcome and at ease. If it’s a nice day out, open a window to let in the perfume of spring. In all you do, highlight the home’s strengths so they appeal to potential buyers. For example: Maybe the kitchen is impressive and fully renovated. Having a professional chef come and make hors d’oeuvres in your kitchen not only keeps your guests fed, but it also shows off your amazing appliances.

Market Your Open House Well

In this digital age, making events like an open house known online is a must. All the bells and whistles at the event mean nothing if the event doesn’t get enough exposure. Your agent should share with leads, past clients and other real estate agents. Don’t be afraid to share the information through your networks as well to help it spread by word of mouth for people in the market. Especially in the luxury market or for a home that’s priced above the median for the area, every impression counts.

How to Sell Your House in a Buyer’s Market

The tables have turned across the U.S. as the real estate market has shifted from a seller’s to a buyer’s market, which means that more homes are for sale than there are buyers to purchase them. Gone are the days of listing a home and it selling overnight simply because of its mere existence, as if it were the last home to be had. In many parts of the country, buyers had felt lucky and accomplished just for winning a bidding war for a property.

Those days are over and now sellers have to do everything perfectly, from initial pricing to marketing strategy, in order to sell their properties on a reasonable timeline. But not everything about this shift is unfavorable for sellers and their agents.

There are a few things sellers can do to ensure the buyer’s market doesn’t get the best of them. This new set of rules is critical to follow in any market as it forces both sellers and agents to think carefully about all aspects of the transaction process, and the importance of getting it right the first time around.

Here are five details to focus on while you prepare your house to sell in a buyer’s market:

  • Pricing
  • Staging
  • Marketing
  • Showings
  • Attitude Adjustment

Pricing

Understand the comparable recent sales and active listings in your area, and work with an agent to price your property accordingly. A buyer’s market is not the time for aspirational pricing. Only unique properties, which are really outliers, fly off the shelf these days. Buyers are looking for deals and they rarely bid at asking price.

When pricing, it’s best to factor in a cushion for negotiating. Price up slightly, but not out of the range to lure in buyers. It’s important to note that, as a general rule in this market, underpricing is not recommended as a strategy to drive up demand. Underpricing works best in a seller’s market, when multiple bids can drive a price up. But when buyers have the upper hand they’re rarely bidding properties up, and you may end up with offers lower than your bottom price.

Staging

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but not always in the eye of the buyer. This can be a hard pill to swallow because you may not only need to freshen up your decor and paint, but the work also costs you money at a time when you’re looking to make money, not spend it. Make that first impression count. Buyers want properties that look clean, fresh and uncluttered.

Marketing

Make sure the online listing photos and marketing materials are of the highest caliber and quality, and appeal to the widest pool of potential buyers. The photos are your calling card, and the deciding factor when agents and customers are choosing whether to view your property. You’d be amazed at how many bedroom photos show wrinkled comforters and how many kitchen counters are overcrowded with appliances and decorative bowls.

Most importantly, work with your agent to review and plan a comprehensive marketing strategy that best suits your specific property, which might encompass a combination of a custom video tour, social media advertising campaign and print or digital advertising.

Showings

Make your property accessible to buyers within reasonable days and times, which often means being able to make yourself scarce during evenings and weekends. Remember that you want to make it as easy as possible for interested buyers to come and see your property. After all, they are the customer and you want to make it the most pleasant experience, not a hardship. This is why most agents schedule open houses in the morning or early afternoon on Saturdays and Sundays.

Attitude Adjustment

Get real. Listen and educate yourself on current market conditions in your neighborhood. Ask your real estate agent for recent comparable closings and active listings, and size them up to market highs. It’s also very important to take into account the number of days on market. In New York City, for example, the median time from a listing hitting the market to contract signed increased to 117 days in February 2019, nearly a month longer than in February 2018, according to a report from New York real estate information company StreetEasy.

If you don’t like the hand the current marketplace is dealing, and if you’re not in a hurry to sell, you may want to consider positioning your property when market conditions are more favorable to sellers. It’s critical that the seller has realistic expectations and is on board with the new playing field if he or she wishes to have a quick and profitable transaction.

The real estate market has pressed the reset button. Now more than ever, sellers cannot leave anything to chance if they want to get top dollar for their properties in this new arena. In the end, consider these guidelines as best practices for any market, up or down. Putting your best foot forward, pricing correctly and marketing your property with excellence should always be the gold standard.

Will 2019 Be The Year of the Millennial Homebuyer?

Only 32 percent of millennial owned a home in 2015, according to a 2018 Millennial Home-ownership Report from the Urban Institute. However, that might change in 2019.

While interest rates are rising, housing prices are expected to stabilize, offering additional affordable options to first-time homebuyers. Plus, mortgage lenders are experimenting with new ways to check creditworthiness and streamline the application process.

When it comes to whether the climate is favorable to millennials entering the housing market, Leo Loomie, senior vice president of client development for mortgage solutions provider Digital Risk, suggests “there are more tailwinds than headwinds going into 2019.”

However, millennials still like the flexibility of renting, so the reality of a wave of millennial homebuyers in the coming year is no sure thing. While millennials may be able to get mortgages in the coming year, the appeal of being able to move at will may win out over the prospect of homeownership.

Why millennials wait to buy homes. The entrance of millennials into the housing market has been delayed by a number of factors, including student loans, limited savings and mobile lifestyles.

“They often are paying off other loans, making it tougher to save the cash required for a down payment,” says Steven Gottlieb of Warburg Realty in New York City. However, he adds that money isn’t what seems to hold back many of the young adults he encounters in New York. Instead, they are hesitant to commit to a long-term living arrangement. “Millennials change jobs more often than previous generations, and thus are less likely to want to be tied down to a neighborhood or even a particular city.”

What’s more, delayed homeownership may be a natural consequence of millennials holding off on other rites of passage.Homebuying is often linked to life events like getting married or having a baby, both of which are happening later in life, and many people are choosing not to take these steps at all,” says TendayiKapfidze, chief economist at online loan marketplace LendingTree.

In fact, the percentage of married millennials tracks closely to the number of young adults buying homes. The Urban Institute found 37 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds were homeowners in 2015, and the Pew Research Center found an identical percentage of millennials were married in 2017.

Making millennial homeownership possible. Kathy Cummings, senior vice president of homeownership solutions and affordable housing programs at Bank of America, says millennials have misconceptions about homebuying that can keep them out of the market. For instance, nearly half of 2,000 adults surveyed by Bank of America in 2018 believed a 20 percent down payment is necessary to buy a house. Instead, many properties can be purchased with only 3 percent down, Cummings says.

Credit scores are another factor that can discourage millennials from buying a home. Of the 685 millennials responding to the 2018 TD Bank Buy or Rent Survey, 17 percent said they didn’t think they would be approved because of their credit.

The average credit score for millennial homebuyers in the nation’s 50 largest metro areas is 656, according to a 2018 analysis by LendingTree. Cummings says most institutions use 680 as the cutoff for what they consider good credit, although applicants with credit scores as low as 580 may be eligible for mortgages.

However, the launch of the UltraFICO Score later this year could be a game-changer for millennials with low scores because of a limited credit history, Loomie says. The credit scoring model will allow mortgage applicants who don’t initially qualify for a loan to opt into having bank account data used to further gauge their creditworthiness. UltraFICO offers a revised score based on factors such as average account balance and automatic deposits from payroll or other sources. According to FICO, 70 percent of those with at least $400 in the bank and no negative balances in the past three months should see their score improve.

“It’s a very interesting way to assess someone’s financial responsibility,” Loomie says. Since the program is only in the pilot phase, it remains to be seen how much of an impact it will have on millennial homebuyers. However, Loomie says UltraFICO could potentially bump up credit scores by 20 points.

6 Tax Breaks for Homeowners

Whether you’re gearing up to file your taxes this year, researching what’s ahead for next year or simply contemplating the benefits to buying a house in the future, there’s a lot to consider.

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which takes effect for tax filings for the 2018 calendar year, standard deduction increases will likely mean far fewer Americans will need to itemize their returns to receive the maximum amount of money back. As many as 27 million fewer taxpayers may need to itemize their taxes, according to an estimate from the Tax Policy Center.

Of course, that still leaves 19 million taxpayers who will benefit from itemized deductions. If you currently own a home, are considering purchasing one or have made changes to your mortgage, it’s important to know how your tax return may be affected.

Here’s a breakdown of tax breaks available to homeowners who itemize.

Mortgage Interest

A major benefit of homeownership is that you can deduct your mortgage interest on your taxes.

There are monetary limits to the total amount of debt, of course: Interest paid throughout the year is deductible on your taxes for mortgages up to $1 million for a loan issued prior to Dec. 14, 2017, and up to $750,000 for any loans issued after that date. The limits count as your total housing-related debt, including the mortgage on your home, a mortgage for a second home or home equity loan or line of credit (which come with additional limitations outlined below).

By the end of January, you should receive a 1098 form from your mortgage servicer. With the total interest you paid throughout the year printed on the form, you can use the 1098 as your guide for the mortgage interest deduction process.

In the same way it contributes to your total mortgage debt, the interest on a refinanced mortgage can also be deductible, following the debt limitations depending on when it was issued.

However, if homeowners are looking to refinance an existing mortgage soon, they may want to consider the choice carefully. The Federal Reserve has steadily increased interest rates throughout 2018 and is expected to do so at least a couple more times in 2019, according to John Pataky, executive vice president and chief consumer and commercial banking executive at TIAA Bank based in Jacksonville, Florida.

As a result, the share of refinances that banks close on may shrink going forward. Pataky says he typically sees 75 percent of mortgage lending at TIAA Bank taken up by new purchases, and the remaining 25 percent is refinances. Rising interest rates, combined with the loss of the grandfathered deduction amount, make refinancing now or in the near future less attractive for many. Pataky predicts 2019 is “going to be about the purchase.”

Home Equity Line of Credit Interest

In line with your mortgage interest, the interest on a home equity loan or home equity line of credit can also be deducted when you file your taxes.

Following the reform for 2018 taxes, if you borrow against the equity in your home, the interest deduction is subject to the same $750,000 limit for total mortgage debt and only applies when the money borrowed goes toward the home itself. You won’t be able to deduct the interest for a HELOC that bought you a boat, for example, but the interest on a HELOC that went toward finishing your basement or renovating the bathrooms is deductible.

State and Local Property Taxes

Deducting state and local property taxes on your federal tax return has long been another primary financial benefit to owning a home. But the new rules may lessen the appeal of that perk for some homeowners, says John Karaffa, a certified public accountant based in Richmond, Virginia, founder and president of ProSport CPA and author of “Touchdown Finance: Personal Finance Tips From the Pros.”

From 2018 onward, the total deduction for your combined state and local income, sales and property taxes are capped at $10,000. While the majority of homeowners won’t be affected because their property taxes are below the limit, Karaffa notes a much larger impact will be felt in states with high property taxes, such as California, New York and New Jersey.

“My gut tells me there’s going to be migration,” Karaffa says. “It (already) got harder to sell a home in New Jersey all of a sudden.”

Rental Income

It’s becoming increasingly common for homeowners to harness the earning potential of their property by renting out space to tenants or tourists. Rentership in the U.S. is near a 50-year high, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with 35.6 percent of the population renting rather than owning a home as of the third quarter of 2018. A large share of potential renters can make becoming a landlord attractive. Whether you have an English basement you rent to a tenant or a guest house to market on Airbnb, you’re required to report the additional income you receive on your taxes, explains Thomas Bayles, senior vice president of Mortgage Capital Partners in Los Angeles.

The benefit, however, comes from being able to deduct the cost of repairs and improvements made to that rental space.

“Let’s say you only made $5,000 on rental income but you spent $30,000 repairing (the rental space) that year,” Bayles says. “You can take that $30,000 deduction on your tax return, so that will reduce your taxable income dollar for dollar, which is huge. For someone making $100,000 on paper, it’ll look like you made $70,000, so your taxes are reduced.”

If you own commercial or residential property as an investment rather than living there yourself, repairs to these properties are also deductible, but tax laws are separate from those for homeowners.

Home Office Expenses

Working from home is another increasingly popular way homeowners are maximizing their space. If you work exclusively from home, you may be able to deduct costs for the space on your itemized tax return.

However, the requirements for the home office deduction change for 2018 filings. For 2018 taxes, deductions are limited to self-employed workers. Regardless of the year you’re filing, your home office can’t be in a guest bedroom or other space used for a dual purpose, and it must be used regularly.

But strict requirements shouldn’t deter you from filing for a home office deduction if you do, in fact, use your home office within the guidelines.

Capital Gains from a Home Sale

There are certainly tax benefits to owning a home, but selling your house, in most cases, gives the kind of tax break few people expect or realize. The capital gains exclusion rule allows home sellers to keep the profit from a home sale without paying taxes on it.

Bayles notes the requirements for the rule: “If you’ve lived in the property as your primary residence two years in the last five years … you can make $250,000 profit as a single person, tax-free, or $500,000 as a married couple.”

The majority of home sales fall under these stipulations, which means most home sellers are able to profit from the sale of their home without having to report those earnings to the IRS.

Of course, most people who sell their house take the profits to purchase their next home. Bayles says roughly three-quarters of his clients buy their next house with profits from the last one. The rest often use the extra funds to pay off debt or add to their retirement savings.

Avoid These Top Three Sales Mistakes in Real Estate

“I don’t know why, but my house just won’t sell!” When our team receives messages like this, we almost always find that the seller (and, often, an inexperienced real estate agent from another office) have made some big mistakes. Your house is lovely—it’s just not putting its best face forward. Read on to find out the top three sales mistakes that we see when people are selling their homes in NJ, as well as the ways that Sheldon Neal works to eliminate those mistakes.
Your Home is Priced Wrong.
This is the most common mistake we see in sales in NJ. Your home can be priced too high or too low, but either will result in poor sales. When a home is priced too high, it is easy to see why it doesn’t sell—why not just buy the lower-priced home across the street? On the other hand, low pricing can actually scare potential buyers away—do you really want the “discount” home? By working with an experienced real estate team, you can trust that market research gets done to sell your home at a competitive, but realistic price. This shortens time on market while giving you the best rates!
Your Marketing is Terrible.
The internet is full of “real estate fails,” including everything from photos of dirty houses to stories of real estate agents not following up on sales. Selling a home is not as simple as collecting money—just like your favorite clothing store markets its products, you must market your most important product: your property. Fortunately, working with a skilled team ensures that your property is staged properly for good photos, inquiries are addressed immediately, and your property is listed where people can find it.
Your Real Estate Agent is Inexperienced.
This is one of the first and worst mistakes you can make in real estate. Hiring an inexperienced, unqualified, or poorly rated real estate agent can drop your sales price like a rock. Worst of all, you may not even be expecting it! To ensure you get the best assistance and representation throughout the process of selling your home in NJ, work with a certified, licensed Realtor.
Category: Selling

Five Questions to Start Your Home-Buying Process

If you’re thinking of buying a home in New Jersey, congratulations! The tri-state area is a beautiful, historic place that is perfect for all sorts of lifestyles. As a Realtor in Bergen County, I have helped many individuals and families find their perfect home. How do my real estate clients find the best properties? We start out by discussing a few questions. Check out the questions below to see how the process starts!
1. Are you planning on having kids? This question is so important, because you want the best for your children—even if they won’t come along for a few more years! Planning your future around your home ensures that your child will go to a great school, have exciting parks to play in, and probably meet some friends in the neighborhood.
2. How long do you plan to live here? Many people like a “starter home” when they first marry or move out on their own, and your needs will be different as a new homeowner than they will be in a few decades. Share this information with your Realtor and plan for the future today!
3. Do you want to do some fixing, or move in right away? There are amazing deals on “fixer-uppers” in many neighborhoods—if you want to put in the work. On the other hand, if the only tool you want to pick up is the pen to sign the agreement, let your Realtor know! The best home purchases are informed by a variety of pieces of information.
4. How long do you have to look for a home? Families can spend (often waste!) thousands of dollars and experience plenty of stress if one home sells before the other is ready to buy. On the other hand, sometimes great deals show up if you can wait a few months. Let your Realtor know your time concerns so your buying process is hassle-free.
5. Are there any “deal-breakers”? Late in the game, many home buyers realize that they can’t deal with a bedroom on the bottom floor, would give anything to have a swimming pool in the back yard, need a garage more than a spare bedroom, or any other individual concern. Even if it seems like something small, mention these “deal-breakers” to your Realtor to match with the perfect home.
These are just a few of the most common questions that we ask of those who are buying a home in New Jersey. As we work together, we learn more about your needs and the real estate process so your home is the perfect one!
Category: Buying