Why You Should Work With a REALTOR®
Not all real estate practitioners are REALTORS®. The term REALTOR® is a registered trademark that identifies a real estate professional who is a member of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION of REALTORS® and subscribes to its strict Code of Ethics. Here are five reasons why it pays to work with a REALTOR®.

1. You’ll have an expert to guide you through the process. Buying or selling a home usually requires disclosure forms, inspection reports, mortgage documents, insurance policies, deeds, and multi-page settlement statements. A knowledgeable expert will help you prepare the best deal, and avoid delays or costly mistakes.

2. Get objective information and opinions. REALTORS® can provide local community information on utilities, zoning, schools, and more. They’ll also be able to provide objective information about each property. A professional will be able to help you answer these two important questions: Will the property provide the environment I want for a home or investment? Second, will the property have resale value when I am ready to sell?

3. Find the best property out there. Sometimes the property you are seeking is available but not actively advertised in the market, and it will take some investigation by your REALTOR® to find all available properties.

4. Benefit from their negotiating experience. There are many negotiating factors, including but not limited to price, financing, terms, date of possession, and inclusion or exclusion of repairs, furnishings, or equipment. In addition, the purchase agreement should provide a period of time for you to complete appropriate inspections and investigations of the property before you are bound to complete the purchase. Your agent can advise you as to which investigations and inspections are recommended or required.

5. Property marketing power. Real estate doesn’t sell due to advertising alone. In fact, a large share of real estate sales comes as the result of a practitioner’s contacts through previous clients, referrals, friends, and family. When a property is marketed with the help of a REALTOR®, you do not have to allow strangers into your home. Your REALTOR® will generally prescreen and accompany qualified prospects through your property.

6. Real estate has its own language. If you don’t know a CMA from a PUD, you can understand why it’s important to work with a professional who is immersed in the industry and knows the real estate language.

7. REALTORS® have done it before. Most people buy and sell only a few homes in a lifetime, usually with quite a few years in between each purchase. And even if you’ve done it before, laws and regulations change. REALTORS®, on the other hand, handle hundreds of real estate transactions over the course of their career. Having an expert on your side is critical.

8. Buying and selling is emotional. A home often symbolizes family, rest, and security — it’s not just four walls and a roof. Because of this, home buying and selling can be an emotional undertaking. And for most people, a home is the biggest purchase they’ll ever make. Having a concerned, but objective, third party helps you stay focused on both the emotional and financial issues most important to you.

9. Ethical treatment. Every member of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION of REALTORS® makes a commitment to adhere to a strict Code of Ethics, which is based on professionalism and protection of the public. As a customer of a REALTOR®, you can expect honest and ethical treatment in all transaction-related matters. It is mandatory for REALTORS® to take the Code of Ethics orientation and they are also required to complete a refresher course every four years.
7 Reasons to Own Your Home
1. Tax breaks. The U.S. Tax Code lets you deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage, your property taxes, as well as some of the costs involved in buying your home.

2. Appreciation. Real estate has long-term, stable growth in value. While year-to-year fluctuations are normal, median existing-home sale prices have increased on average 6.5 percent each year from 1972 through 2005, and increased 88.5 percent over the last 10 years, according to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. In addition, the number of U.S. households is expected to rise 15 percent over the next decade, creating continued high demand for housing.

3. Equity. Money paid for rent is money that you’ll never see again, but mortgage payments let you build equity ownership interest in your home.

4. Savings. Building equity in your home is a ready-made savings plan. And when you sell, you can generally take up to $250,000 ($500,000 for a married couple) as gain without owing any federal income tax.

5. Predictability. Unlike rent, your fixed-mortgage payments don’t rise over the years so your housing costs may actually decline as you own the home longer. However, keep in mind that property taxes and insurance costs will increase.

6. Freedom. The home is yours. You can decorate any way you want and benefit from your investment for as long as you own the home.

7. Stability. Remaining in one neighborhood for several years gives you a chance to participate in community activities, lets you and your family establish lasting friendships, and offers your children the benefit of educational continuity.

Online resources: To calculate whether buying is the best financial option for you, use the “Buy vs. Rent” calculator at www.GinnieMae.gov.
Lender Checklist: What You Need for a Mortgage
  • W-2 forms — or business tax return forms if you're self-employed — for the last two or three years for every person signing the loan.
  • Copies of at least one pay stub for each person signing the loan.
  • Account numbers of all your credit cards and the amounts for any outstanding balances.
  • Copies of two to four months of bank or credit union statements for both checking and savings accounts.
  • Lender, loan number, and amount owed on other installment loans, such as student loans and car loans.
  • Addresses where you’ve lived for the last five to seven years, with names of landlords if appropriate.
  • Copies of brokerage account statements for two to four months, as well as a list of any other major assets of value, such as a boat, RV, or stocks or bonds not held in a brokerage account.
  • Copies of your most recent 401(k) or other retirement account statement.
  • Documentation to verify additional income, such as child support or a pension.
  • Copies of personal tax forms for the last two to three years.
Loan Types to Consider
Brush up on these mortgage basics to help you determine the loan that will best suit your needs.

Mortgage terms. Mortgages are generally available at 15-, 20-, or 30-year terms. In general, the longer the term, the lower the monthly payment. However, you pay more interest overall if you borrow for a longer term.

Fixed or adjustable interest rates. A fixed rate allows you to lock in a low rate as long as you hold the mortgage and, in general, is usually a good choice if interest rates are low. An adjustable-rate mortgage is designed so that your loan’s interest rate will rise as market interest rates increase. ARMs usually offer a lower rate in the first years of the mortgage. ARMs also usually have a limit as to how much the interest rate can be increased and how frequently they can be raised. These types of mortgages are a good choice when fixed interest rates are high or when you expect your income to grow significantly in the coming years.

Balloon mortgages. These mortgages offer very low interest rates for a short period of time — often three to seven years. Payments usually cover only the interest so the principal owed is not reduced. However, this type of loan may be a good choice if you think you will sell your home in a few years.

Government-backed loans. These loans are sponsored by agencies such as the Federal Housing Administration ( www.fha.gov) or the Department of Veterans Affairs (www.va.gov) and offer special terms, including lower down payments or reduced interest rates to qualified buyers.

Slight variations in interest rates, loan amounts, and terms can significantly affect your monthly payment. For help in determining how much your monthly payment will be for various loan amounts, use Fannie Mae’s online mortgage calculators (www.fanniemae.com/homebuyers/calculators).
Tips for Buying in a Tight Market
Increase your chances of getting your dream house in a competitive housing market, and lower your chances of losing out to another buyer.

1. Get prequalified for a mortgage. You’ll be able to make a firm commitment to buy and your offer will be more desirable to the seller.

2. Stay in close contact with your real estate agent to find out about the newest listings. Be ready to see a house as soon as it goes on the market — if it’s a great home, it will go fast.

3. Scout out new listings yourself. Look at Web sites such as REALTOR.com, browse your local newspaper’s real estate section, and drive through the neighborhood to spot For Sale signs. If you see a home you like, write down the address and the name of the listing agent. Your real estate agent will schedule a showing.

4. Be ready to make a decision. Spend a lot of time in advance deciding what you must have in a home so you won’t be unsure when you have the chance to make an offer.

5. Bid competitively. You may not want to start out offering the absolute highest price you can afford, but don’t go too low to get a deal. In a tight market, you’ll lose out.

6. Keep contingencies to a minimum. Restrictions such as needing to sell your home before you move or wanting to delay the closing until a certain date can make your offer unappealing. In a tight market, you’ll probably be able to sell your house rapidly. Or talk to your lender about getting a bridge loan to cover both mortgages for a short period.

7. Don’t get caught in a buying frenzy. Just because there’s competition doesn’t mean you should just buy it. And even though you want to make your offer attractive, don’t neglect inspections that help ensure that your house is sound.
Understand Agency Relationships
It’s important to understand what legal responsibilities your real estate salesperson has to you and to other parties in the transaction. Ask what type of agency relationship your agent has with you:

Seller's representative (also known as a listing agent or seller's agent)
A seller's agent is hired by and represents the seller. All fiduciary duties are owed to the seller. The agency relationship usually is created by a listing contract.

Buyer's representative (also known as a buyer’s agent)
A buyer’s agent is hired by prospective buyers to represent them in a real estate transaction. The buyer's rep works in the buyer's best interest throughout the transaction and owes fiduciary duties to the buyer. The buyer can pay the licensee directly through a negotiated fee, or the buyer's rep may be paid by the seller or through a commission split with the seller’s agent.

Subagent
A subagent owes the same fiduciary duties to the agent's customer as the agent does. Subagency usually arises when a cooperating sales associate from another brokerage, who is not the buyer’s agent, shows property to a buyer. In such a case, the subagent works with the buyer as a customer but owes fiduciary duties to the listing broker and the seller. Although a subagent cannot assist the buyer in any way that would be detrimental to the seller, a buyer-customer can expect to be treated honestly by the subagent. It is important that subagents fully explain their duties to buyers.

Disclosed dual agent
Dual agency is a relationship in which the brokerage firm represents both the buyer and the seller in the same real estate transaction. Dual agency relationships do not carry with them all of the traditional fiduciary duties to clients. Instead, dual agents owe limited fiduciary duties. Because of the potential for conflicts of interest in a dual-agency relationship, it's vital that all parties give their informed consent. In many states, this consent must be in writing. Disclosed dual agency, in which both the buyer and the seller are told that the agent is representing both of them, is legal in most states.

Designated agent (also called appointed agent)
This is a brokerage practice that allows the managing broker to designate which licensees in the brokerage will act as an agent of the seller and which will act as an agent of the buyer. Designated agency avoids the problem of creating a dual-agency relationship for licensees at the brokerage. The designated agents give their clients full representation, with all of the attendant fiduciary duties. The broker still has the responsibility of supervising both groups of licensees.

Nonagency relationship (called, among other things, a transaction broker or facilitator)
Some states permit a real estate licensee to have a type of nonagency relationship with a consumer. These relationships vary considerably from state to state, both as to the duties owed to the consumer and the name used to describe them. Very generally, the duties owed to the consumer in a nonagency relationship are less than the complete, traditional fiduciary duties of an agency relationship.
How to Improve the Odds of an Offer
1. Price it right. Set a price at the lower end of your property’s realistic price range.

2. Prepare for visitors. Get your house market ready at least two weeks before you begin showing it.

3. Be flexible about showings. It’s often disruptive to have a house ready to show at the spur of the moment. But the more amenable you can be about letting people see your home, the sooner you’ll find a buyer.

4. Anticipate the offers. Decide in advance what price and terms you’ll find acceptable.

5. Don’t refuse to drop the price. If your home has been on the market for more than 30 days without an offer, you should be prepared to at least consider lowering your asking price.
8 Quick Fixes to Increase Value
To attract buyers, sellers must up the ante to convince them that their property offers what many want most — top value for dollar expended. Here are eight fast fixes:

1. Buff up curb appeal. You’ve heard it before, but it’s critical to get buyers to want to look on the inside. Be objective. View listings from the street. Check the condition of the landscaping, paint, roof, shutters, front door, knocker, windows, house number, and even how window treatments look from the outside. Add something special — such as big flower pots or an antique bench — to help viewers remember house A from B.

2. Enrich with color. Paint’s cheap, but forget the adage that it must be white or neutral. Just don’t let sellers get too avant-garde with jarring pinks, oranges, and purples. Recommend soft colors that say “welcome,” lead the eye from room to room, and flatter skin tones. Think soft yellows and pale greens. Tint ceilings a lighter shade.

3. Upgrade the kitchen and bathroom. These make-or-break rooms can spur a sale. But besides making each squeaky clean and clutter-free, update the pulls, sinks, and faucets. In a kitchen, add one cool appliance, such as an espresso maker. In the bathroom, hang a flat-screen TV to mimic a hotel. Room service, anyone?

4. Add old-world patina. Make Andrea Palladio proud. Install crown molding at least six to nine inches in depth, proportional to the room’s size, and architecturally compatible. For ceilings nine feet high or higher, add dentil detailing, small tooth-shaped blocks used as a repeating ornament. It’s all in the details, after all.

5. Screen hardwood floors. Buyers favor wood over carpet, but refinishing is costly and time-consuming. Screening cuts dust, time, and expense. What it entails: a light sanding, not a full stripping of color or polyurethane, then a coat of finish.

6. Clean out, organize closets. Get sorting — organize your piles into “don’t need,” “haven’t worn,” and “keep.” Closets must be only half-full so buyers can visualize fitting their stuff in.

7. Update window treatments. Buyers want light and views, not dated, fancy-schmancy drapes that darken. To diffuse light and add privacy, consider energy-efficient shades and blinds.

8. Hire a home inspector. Do a preemptive strike, since busy home owners seek maintenance-free living. Fix problems before you list the home and then display receipts and wait for buyers to offer kudos to sellers for being so responsible.
Sources: Ernie Roth, Roth Interiors, Los Angeles; Angel Petragallo, abr, Group One, Boise, Idaho; Melissa Galt, Galt Interiors, Atlanta; Steve Kleiman, CEO, Oakington Realty, Houston; Sid Davis, Sid Davis & Associates, Farmington, Utah, and author of First-Time Homeowners’ Survival Guide (Amacom, 2007); Steve Hochman, Friendly Note Buyers, Roxbury, N.Y.; Margi Kyle, designer and spokesperson for Hunter Douglas.
Forms You’ll Need to Sell Your Home
1. Property disclosure form. This form requires you to reveal all known defects to your property. Check with your state government to see if there is a special form required in your state.

2. Purchasers access to premises agreement. This agreement sets conditions for permitting the buyer to enter your home for activities such as measuring for draperies before you move.

3. Sales contract. The agreement between you and the seller on terms and conditions of sale. Again, check with your state real estate department to see if there is a required form.

4. Sales contract contingency clauses. In addition to the contract, you may need to add one or more attachments to the contract to address special contingencies — such as the buyer’s need to sell a home before purchasing yours.

5. Pre- and post-occupancy agreements. Unless you’re planning on moving out and the buyer moving in on the day of closing, you’ll need an agreement on the terms and costs of occupancy once the sale closes.

6. Lead-based paint disclosure pamphlet. If your home was built before 1978, you must provide the pamphlet to all sellers. You must also have buyers sign a statement indicating they received the pamphlet.
Tips for Pricing Your Home
  • Consider comparables. What have other homes in your neighborhood sold for recently? How do they compare to yours in terms of size, upkeep, and amenities?
  • Consider competition. How many other houses are for sale in your area? Are you competing against new homes?
  • Consider your contingencies. Do you have special concerns that would affect the price you’ll receive? For example, do you want to be able to move in four months?
  • Get an appraisal. For a few hundred dollars, a qualified appraiser can give you an estimate of your home’s value. Be sure to ask for a market-value appraisal. To locate appraisers in your area, contact The Appraisal Institute or ask your REALTOR® for some recommendations.
  • Ask a lender. Since most buyers will need a mortgage, it’s important that a home’s sale price be in line with a lender’s estimate of its value.
  • Be accurate. Studies show that homes priced more than 3 percent over the correct price take longer to sell.
  • Know what you’ll take. It’s critical to know what price you’ll accept before beginning a negotiation with a buyer.
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