New Construction at Hampton Rhodes Sterling MA

Searching for the Perfect New Home

The real estate market is very tight and many people are afraid to put their homes on the market.  Because they don’t know if they will be able to find the next new home they want, they just keep looking.  Since many of the existing homes do not meet their specific needs, they continue to wait for the right home.  If you have been looking for your next new home for a while, perhaps you might consider new construction.  Building a new home means you will be able to choose everything you want.

Outstanding Quality New Construction in Sterling MA

If you are searching for new construction, this beautiful neighborhood at Hampton Rhodes in Sterling MA has much to offer.  The homes at Hampton Rhodes are all very unique, with no two homes alike.  The builder made a decision early in the development process that there would be no cookie cutter homes.

The designer and builders pay special attention to make sure you can think about every possible detail.  They provide professional assistance with choices of lighting, flooring, custom tile work, and paint colors inside and out.  They will make this an exciting journey to the perfect new home.

Custom designed new construction

Take a Video Tour

Take a tour of the neighborhood at Hampton Rhodes and see what this outstanding neighborhood has to offer.  And then contact us to explore what it would take to build your perfect new home.

How to Choose Hardwood Flooring That Will Get Your House Noticed

As a house flipper, ensuring my renovated properties look great is very important to me. I love walking into homes with hardwood floors. From bamboo to cork to parquet, oak, pine, and mahogany, wood floors give an immediate feeling of quality and luxury. There are seemingly endless varieties, styles and textures of hardwood flooring to complement your home and the region where you live.

If you’re thinking of selling your home in the next few years or simply want to love where your feet fall, hardwood flooring can add value and give your home the design boost it needs.

Solid Wood vs. Engineered Hardwoods

With so many options available nowadays, making the right decision can be difficult. Consider these key differences when evaluating flooring for your home.

Solid Wood Flooring is milled from trees, and each plank is composed of natural wood. Within the realm of solid wood, there are varying degrees of hardness. The Janka Hardness Scale rates the hardness of wood and can help you choose the right flooring for your home.

Engineered Wood is made up of pieces of wood and composite materials that are layered to create each plank.

There are pros and cons to each option. Solid wood flooring can swell and retract based on humidity and climate, requiring proper installation to limit the chances of these occurrences. In most instances, hardwood flooring means paying a premium in the cost. On the other hand, engineered wood flooring doesn’t react like solid wood to humidity, but it can’t be refinished multiple times if it gets deep scratches.

Installation and Other Considerations

Engineered floors come prefinished, which saves a step or two in the process of completing your flooring project. They can be installed quickly, in as little as one day, and are ready for immediate move-in. Hardwood requires several additional steps in the process: installation and cleaning, and staining (often several times) prior to adding a final coat of varnish.

Weather conditions matter as well. High humidity requires a longer drying time between coats, and stepping on floors that have not cured properly is out of the question. Those with sensitivity to strong odors will want to wait until the smell disappears before returning home.

Color and Pattern Choices

Style can be imparted not only through your choice of a particular wood but also through the color of stain you apply. Light floors appear breezy and beachy, while dark floors feel sophisticated and urban. The direction you lay the flooring – vertical, horizontal or in a pattern – also influences how formal or informal the space appears.

Durable, Practical and Stylish

Installing hardwood flooring is one of those rare instances in life where the practical choice doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve made a series of compromises to arrive at a responsible decision. Hardwood is beauty and brains wrapped in one tough package. The main choice to be made, really, is whether to install natural or engineered hardwoods.

Because each type has different properties, where you plan to put the flooring could supply you with the quickest answer to the type of hardwood you should select. Due to the expansion and retraction qualities of solid hardwood, it’s best to keep it out of spaces that have a lot of moisture, like the bathroom or kitchen, or in spaces where the flooring would be laid directly on top of a concrete slab. For this reason, basements and bathrooms are great places to use engineered wood flooring instead.

Rental Property Considerations

If your home is an investment property for rent, you may want to opt for solid hardwood over engineered. Solid hardwood floors can be refinished up to 10 times before they need to be replaced. This will allow you to refinish the floors between tenants. Conversely, engineered hardwood, while very durable, has a useful life that does not extend beyond one or two sandings.

Pet-Friendly Flooring

Hardwood flooring is a practical choice for pet owners as it’s relatively easy to clean and doesn’t trap dust and other allergens the way carpeted floors do. Although engineered wood can be more scratch resistant, its thin layer of wood can’t be refinished multiple times like hardwood can. So if you have active dogs, you may want to opt for solid hardwood floors that can be refinished multiple times.

Noise Reduction

If you prefer that the pitter patter of little feet – or big feet, for that matter – be muffled, cork flooring has sound-absorbing properties to keep your home quiet. Its leathery look and comfort underfoot make it an attractive option. Cork is also an eco-friendly product because it’s derived from the bark of the cork tree and doesn’t require constant replanting.

Written by Jacqueline Falla

How The Equifax Hack Affects Homebuyers And How You Can Protect Yourself

Half of the country is freaking out. That’s about how many people are potentially affected by the unprecedented Equifax hack. If you’re the average person who’s afraid of having your data stolen – and by data, we mean your name, Social Security number, birth date, addresses, credit card numbers, and driver’s license number that were reportedly involved in this breach – you may have already taken some steps to limit the damage. But what if you’re in the process of buying a home or are getting ready to do so? How does this hack affect you, and what can you do to make sure you are protected?

Potential fallout for homebuyers

“Take this scenario: Say your Equifax file was looted but you’ve done little or nothing to detect fraudulent activity on one or more of your credit accounts. You sign a contract to buy a house, and you apply for a mortgage. The lender pulls your credit and confronts you with shocking news: Your FICO credit score is too low for you to qualify for the loan because you’ve been running up too much debt on one or more accounts. Your ‘utilization ratio‘ on your available credit is too high, and that has depressed your score,” said the Washington Post.

“Or there’s a newly established account in your files that has put you deep in debt, even though you had nothing to do with it. It turns out that financial thieves have been racking up thousands of dollars in debts at your expense, and now – smack in the middle of a major lifetime investment – you’re stuck with having to get the file corrected, which takes time and can be a pain. In the meantime, what happens to your purchase contract? Will the sellers bear with you, essentially putting off the transaction indefinitely and possibly blowing up their own plans to move into another house on a specific date? It could all get really messy.”

Those who are already in escrow could also be derailed when the lender runs your credit before the loan closes and discovers fraudulent new accounts or charges that raise the debt-to-income ratio beyond what is allowed. “At the very least, whatever rate locks you had could be blown as you scramble to get your files corrected,” they said. “Or your entire loan transaction could be jeopardized if the process takes too long.”

Steps to take now

Have you still not checked to see if you were potentially impacted by the hack that affected as many as 143 million people? Not having dealt directly with Equifax doesn’t guarantee your safety. “You may have never used Equifax yourself, or even heard of it,” said CNN. “Either way, the credit reporting agency could still have a lot of your personal information. To find out if your data was compromised by the hack, go here.”

Keep in mind that you’ll have to enter your last name and the last six numbers of your Social Security number to check. Regardless of whether or not they believe you were impacted, you’ll be prompted to enroll in their TrustID Premier credit monitoring service, which will be free for a year. Despite earlier concerns, “Equifax has confirmed that signing up for TrustID Premier will not prevent you from joining a class-action suit over this issue,” said PCWorld.

Armed with this information, you can go about taking further steps to protect your credit and prevent thieves from stealing your identity. Pull your credit reports for free once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com. Look them over carefully to make sure there are not any fraudulent accounts and/or charges. If you see anything, get on the phone with the creditor right away and start the dispute process. If you’re in the process of applying for a home loan or are under contract, you’ll also want to call your lender immediately to alert them to what you found.

To freeze or not to freeze

There has been quite a bit of discussion about credit freezes since news of the breach broke, with some consumers concerned that “turning off” their credit could potentially damage their score or negatively impact them in some other way, especially during the homebuying process. The fact is that a credit freeze is “the most extreme method, but it’s also the most effective” at preventing your information from being stolen and used to open new accounts, credit expert Barry Paperno, who blogs at Speaking of Credit, told NerdWallet. And, it can be turned on and off as needed for, say, a mortgage application or credit re-check before a closing.

“There are no downsides to this: You can still use your credit cards with the freezes on,” said Realtor.com. “But no one will be able to check credit scores and personal information without your permission—so no bad apples can open up fraudulent new cards or get loans under your name. And you can undo the freezes at any time – typically for a small fee.”

That fee varies depending on the state, and Equifax has said it will offer free freezes for 30 days, but the need for freezing will extend long after that is over. “Because a freeze can prevent fraud, it’s better than a credit monitoring service, which only alerts you that fraud might have happened,” said NerdWallet. “It’s the difference between using a deadbolt to keep thieves out rather than a security camera to catch them after the fact.”

You can easily request a freeze online for the three credit unions: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Fraud alerts

“If you don’t want to lock out all creditors – perhaps you’re in the middle of mortgage shopping or refinancing – you can place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit,” they added. “This tells potential creditors to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name.” A fraud alert is a good idea whether or not you freeze your credit. In this day and age, when hacks are more frequent and more damaging to more people, ongoing monitoring just makes sense.

“The biggest fears of identity theft “center around identity theft on an epic scale. It isn’t tough to conjure up worst-case scenarios,” said Realtor.com. “Think about it: Bad guys with all of someone’s information could, at least theoretically, try to buy a home under that person’s name. It’s more likely, though, they would use those stolen credit card numbers – or use SSNs to open up new credit cards – and rack up lots of debt in that unsuspecting victim’s name. And that damage could make it much harder for someone to qualify for a mortgage or refinance an existing mortgage.”

Consumers have largely been turning to ID theft protection company LifeLock, who the Los Angeles Times said could be “one of the big winners from the big data breach suffered by Equifax.” Not surprisingly, the firm has upped its advertising outreach in the wake of the breach. The result: “An executive of Symantec, LifeLock’s parent company, told Bloomberg that since the Equifax breach was reported, LifeLock’s Web traffic has increased sixfold and enrollments per hour are running 10 times ahead of the pre-Equifax era.”

But, there’s a rub: “Here’s what LifeLock isn’t advertising so widely: When you buy its protection, you’re signing up for credit reporting and monitoring services provided by, yes, Equifax. LifeLock signed a four-year contract with Equifax in December 2015,” and the relationship is still active.

If any (or all!) of that makes you queasy, there are alternatives to LifeLock you may want to consider.

Written by Jaymi Naciri

How To Buy A House Without Going House Poor

How much house can you really afford? Is it the amount the bank tells you when pre-approving your loan? That’s what most people go by, oftentimes spending up to their max approval amount to get as much house as possible – or to be able to afford something at all in tight markets.

The debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, along with your credit score, is what is used by lenders to determine your loan approval and amount. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) efforts to keep this number low notwithstanding, it has been rising to levels that are concerning to industry insiders who fear a widespread wave of home buyers overextending themselves and becoming unable to support their mortgage payment and other obligations.

The CFPB’s Qualified Mortgage (QM) Rule went into effect in 2014, intended to curb over leveraging by capping a borrower’s debt-to-income (DTI) ratio at 43 percent. “This means that a borrower’s total debt expense (including total mortgage payment) does not exceed 43% of their gross income (before taxes are withheld),” said the National Association of REALTORS (NAR). The rub: Many loans Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), are exempt from the 43 percent DTI limit.

The impact higher DTIs are having on the market is clear; a new WalletHub report “analyzed data from 2,533 U.S. cities and ranked all of them on the basis of a ‘WalletHub Home Overleverage Score,'” said 24/7 Wall St, finding that, in many cities, over leveraging is becoming the norm. “The score was derived from a city’s median mortgage debt, median house value, median income, mortgage debt-to-income ratio and mortgage debt-to-house value ratio.” The top 10 are all well over the 43 percent threshold, with the top three – San Luis Obispo, California at 59.62; Williamsburg, Virginia at 58.76; and Brooksville, Florida at 57.44) pushing 60 percent.

Getting in over your head with a house, either from the get-go when first purchasing, or later on with a home equity line that increases your monthly payments, is a dangerous scenario for homeowners (and for the market in general). So how do you keep yourself in check to make sure the house you’re buying is one you can actually afford and that you’re not in danger of becoming house poor?

Do your own calculations

The bank may be telling you that a $350,000 house is within your means, but are you OK with the monthly payment attached to that price? No one is more familiar with your spending habits than you. Are you really going to be able to cut $500 a month in discretionary spending (eating out, movies, clothes shopping, morning lattes) to comfortably make your new house payment?

Don’t forget about the extra expenses

If you’re buying your first home, you may not be estimating your new monthly expenses accurately. Did you include the HOA fee, if the community in which you’re looking to buy has one? What about any special assessments, if there are any? And private mortgage insurance (PMI) if you have an FHA loan and are putting less than 20 percent down on your home. That couple hundred dollars could put you over the top.

Have you also considered your utilities? You may not be accustomed to paying gas and electricity and water and trash if you’ve been living in an apartment. There could also be an increase in the cost of electricity if you have more square footage to heat and cool.

Watch out for HELOCS

A home equity line of credit (HELOC) can seem harmless. I mean, it’s your money, right? And you’re using it improve your home, which will only raise its value, right? But what seems like a great idea can also get you in trouble when you tap your home equity. You may be calculating the additional payment for now, but what happens later?

That’s the conundrum thousands are facing right now, as “HELOCs are resetting higher rates and over leveraging homeowners,” said Inman. “An analysis by Black Knight Financial shows that 1.5 million home equity lines of credit will see interest-only draw periods end this year with outstanding unpaid principal balances that average $62,500 per HELOC. The data reveals that average borrowers whose lines of credit reset will face an additional cost of $250 per month, more than double the current average payment.”

Keep an open mind

Finding a house you can afford may be challenging – especially for first-time buyers and those in competitive markets that push the affordability index. If you have tight parameters for your house hunt that are making it hard to find something within your budget, consider:

  • Extending your area search. You may not be aware of (but your Realtor probably is!) adjacent cities or communities that offer a similar lifestyle at a lower price or up-and-coming areas that provide a great value because they’re still slightly under the radar.
  • Buying a condo or townhome instead of a single-family home. Some buyers have an automatic aversion to condos and townhomes because they don’t like the idea of living attached. But your real estate agent may know of properties that are end units, that have private yards, and that are two-story units with no one above or below you. It may be that this is your best bet for homeownership you can really afford at this point, and you may find you like it far more than you expected – especially because so many of these communities come with great amenities like a pool and gym, plus front-yard landscaping that is taken care of, saving you time and money.
  • Looking at fixer-uppers. A little-known loan called an FHA 203(k) mortgage may be your “in” to a home you can afford and make your own. The bonus is that it’s also great for borrowers who may not have the credit and/or down payment to qualify for conventional loans. “The FHA requires a credit score of at least 580 if you want to make the minimum down payment; if you have 10% down, your score can be as low as 500,” said Interest.com. “You can borrow more than the home is worth, as long as the repairs will increase its appraised value. The most you can borrow is 110% of what an appraiser estimates it will be worth after renovations, or the cost of the home plus the estimated renovation cost, whichever is less, minus your down payment. The minimum down payment on an FHA loan is 3.5%.”

Written by Jaymi Naciri

 

6 Ways To Create A More Serene Stress-Free Home

Your home is supposed to be your haven, the place where you can relax and wash away the stresses of the day. But, if your house is messy, cluttered, or designed in a way that opposes certain Feng Shui principles, it could actually be adding to your stress. Apply a few tips to make your home the serene spot it should be.

Plant a garden

It might seem seem like getting dirty in the yard could raise stress levels, but it turns out just the opposite is true for many people. It’s “so effective at combating depression, stress, and anxiety that it’s often used in ‘horticultural therapy‘ at psychiatric hospitals,” said Rodale’s Organic Life.

Perfect Backyard Vegetable Garden Design Plans Ideas |

For maximum benefit, choose crops that “can also have an impact on your mood,” they said, including “potent antidepressant foods and herbs” like Swiss chard, which is “packed with magnesium, a nutrient essential for the biochemical reactions in the brain that boost your energy levels. Cherry tomatoes are another great choice because, “Tomato skin is rich in lycopene, a tonutrient that actually stops the buildup of pro-inflammatory compounds linked to depression.”

Bring some plants indoors, too

A little greenery sprinkled throughout your home can be beneficial physically because it improves air quality. Researchers have also found a link between houseplants and a person’s emotional state.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, say that ‘bringing the outdoors inside’ can offer some of the benefits that are lost by retreating indoors,” said the Daily Mail. Plants reduce stress levels, improve mood and filter polluted air. A review of the scientific evidence suggests that workers are more productive when their office is filled with greenery, and hospital patients even tolerate pain better if there is a plant on the ward.

Perhaps most importantly, plants also trap and filter pollutants that are linked to thousands of deaths a year.”

Declutter

There’s a big difference between having a few too many knickknacks on the shelf and dishes in the sink and being a full-blown hoarder, but too much clutter can definitely have an effect on your emotional state. In fact, there is a proven link between clutter and depression, researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) discovered. Among their findings: “A link between high cortisol (stress hormone) levels in female home owners and a high density of household objects. The more stuff, the more stress women feel,” said Houselogic. “Men, on the other hand, don’t seem bothered by mess, which accounts for tensions between tidy wives and their clutter bug hubbies. Women associate a tidy home with a happy and successful family. The more dishes that pile up in the sink, the more anxious women feel.”

A few Houselogic’s easy decluttering tips include:

  • Adopt the Rule of Five. Every time you get up from your desk or walk through a room, put away five things. Or, each hour, devote five minutes to de-cluttering. At the end of the day, you’ve cleaned for an hour.”
  • Don’t let dishes pile up. “A clean sink will instantly raise your spirits and decrease your anxiety.”
  • Pare down photos. “Put snapshots in a family album, which will immediately de-clutter many flat surfaces.”
  • Aim to actually see your refrigerator again. “Researchers found a correlation between the number of items stuck to the fridge door and the amount of clutter throughout the house. Toss extra magnets, file restaurant menus, and place calendars in less conspicuous places.”

Add a water feature

Live on a busy street or have other noise you’d like to mask? Maybe you just need an easy way to add a relaxing feature to your environment. A fountain may be your answer.

“Studies show that being near water reduces stress levels. As little as five minutes with nature can help reduce stress hormones, but being near water may have a stronger impact,” said Masterplan Landscape Design. “Evaporating water produces negative ions, which are invisible, tasteless, odorless molecules that we inhale. Negative ions have been shown to boost moods and lower stress hormones.” 

If you’re building a pool, keep the fountain idea in mind. Not only will it add the de-stressing benefits to your yard and provide a great focal point, but pool fountains and waterfalls have an added benefit in helping keep water cool – great for areas where hot temps can make the pool feel like a bath by mid-summer.

Reconsider your color

Color theory shows that certain hues can bring energy and excitement while others can help us feel more relaxed and serene. For instance, if you find yourself unable to sleep in a red bedroom, blue might be a better choice.

Color can have a huge impact on our experience of a space – but that doesn’t mean it has to be colorless to be calming,” said Houzz. “Color is personal, so spend time getting to know how color (or a lack of it) affects you, and intentionally choose your home’s colors to create a tranquil feeling. For some, an all-white space would be the ultimate in calm and relaxation, while someone else may get that same calm, cool feeling in a rich mineral-green room.”

Apply the principles of Feng Shui

Color therapy, decluttering, and bringing nature indoors are all considered principles of Feng Shui, but a few more can impact how you feel at home.

“The benefits associated with the promotion of organization, relaxation and productivity that’s central to Feng Shui” could be realized by something as simple as leaving your shoes at the door – a “purposeful way of leaving all outside events and potentially negative stressors out of your home or ‘safe haven,'” said HealthCentral.

Another top tip: Create sacred sleep quarters. “Sleep deprivation is linked to maladies ranging from anxiety to heart disease to breast cancer,” they said. “Feng Shui suggests choosing a bedroom away from a noisy street and positioning the bed in the back corner of the room, diagonally opposite from the door. Additionally, while in the bedroom, avoid artificial light from electronic devices, as this stimulates the brain to stay awake.”

 

Written by Jaymi Naciri

Is This The Ultimate Example Of ‘What Not To Do’ When Listing Your House For Sale?

There’s a new home listing that’s been making the Internet rounds this week, and it’s a must-see for anyone who is selling their house, considering selling their house, or just wants to do a little point-and-stare. Oh, and for mannequin lovers. Let us explain.

The house in question is a large, gated estate on Jones Creek in the desirable Houston-area city of Richmond. I’ts listed for $1,275,000. At five bedrooms, five baths, and 7,406 square feet, with two acres of pastoral grounds backing to a scenic creek with a cattle ranch on the other side, and features including an art studio, game room, trophy room, swimming pool, outdoor kitchen, and a garage apartment, it’s seemingly a gem.

But that assumes you can actually see any of what the home has to offer. The owner of the home, whose identity is undisclosed, is an artist. And the home is her canvas. Oh, and her tools aren’t paint, they’re…well, see for yourself.

Did you notice the figure hanging on the stair railing? That’s a mannequin. And he’s not alone. In fact, one notable real estate insider has even teased a contest to guess the number of mannequins in the home. “Our team has been chatting about this house now for a few days,” said CandysDirt. “Home stagers are running for Xanax.”

It definitely begs the question, “What is art and what is clutter?” It also makes you wonder what the initial conversation was like between RE/MAX FINE Properties agent Diana Power, who’s listed the home, and her seller. We assume it, at least, included the words, “de-cluttering,” and “staging” and “storage.

It goes without saying that this array of art and accessories may be just a tad excessive and perhaps also a little bit distracting. And maybe also kind of weird, or at least eccentric. It makes for a great spectacle – and certainly brings a lot of attention. But will it sell the home? “She has lots of collections,” Power told Huffington Post. “It’s not hoarding or clutter; it’s art.”

But that’s hardly the end of the discussion, and it brings up a few more keys for selling your home.

Mind your curb appeal

A house that’s picture-perfect on the inside but questionable from the street isn’t doing a seller any favors. It takes just a few seconds to form a first impression. If the mannequin standing at the front gate (presumably, the community’s HOA either limited the number of mannequins to one or made sure it was inside the gate, or both) doesn’t raise an eyebrow, perhaps the knocked-down and haphazardly restacked mailbox will. I mean, we presume it was knocked down and haphazardly restacked. It could be “art,” after all.

 

Don’t creep people out

Yes, the clutter in this master bedroom is overwhelming. But beyond the sheer amount of stuff in the space, why is there a mannequin at the foot of the bed? Even more curious: all the dolls stuffed into the bookcases. One look and I’m heading right back out the door. You?

Bonus question: Where do you even get all those mannequins?

 

 

Wait. Foot-of-the-bed mannequin has a friend. Or two? Who’s that climbing under the table?

Show off the goods

Most sellers, and, certainly their agents, would insist on framing that view out to the pool and creek. But, between all the taxidermy (real or faux), pelts, knickknacks, dolls, blankets, and furniture, it’s hard to even focus the eye, even with that grand expanse of glass.

 

Maybe this serene view of Jones Creek makes it all better? Is that a mannequin riding the lawnmower?

 

This home has great features throughout. In the living room, there are beautiful built-ins, gleaming hardwoods, an elegant fireplace, and detailed dental molding all around. But you have to look hard to notice any of it.

“You can see the charm of the house underneath it all, from its $300,000 foundations to the way the windows are framed in cement and stone,” Powers told ABC13. “I think that the person who will end up buying this house can see the forest from the trees.'”

Let’s test that theory in the kitchen. This gourmet space has professional grade appliances and a huge island – and every inch of it has been covered with something to distract potential buyers from the great features.

At least the seller staged a mannequin at the island to showcase the eating bar. That is a mannequin, right?

 

 

 

Look at the features in this library. Behind all the books, papers, rugs, birdcages(?), and a mannequin that is WALKING ON THE CEILING, there are some stunning bookcases, and French doors that lead out to a patio and pool – if you can manage to get to them.

Does it make you more interested in seeing the home, and, if you do want to see it, is it only to count the mannequins?

And, P.S., don’t get any ideas about trying to buy the home with everything in it. The owner has stated she’s “taking everything” with her when she moves on.

Written by Jaymi Naciri

The Do’s And Don’ts Of Tapping Your Rising Home Equity

If you bought a home recently, it may already have increased in value. Equity growth goes hand-in-hand with pride of ownership (and fun stuff like tax breaks) when it comes to homebuyer goals, so say a big, “Yay!”

“Nearly 91,000 homeowners regained equity in the first quarter of 2017, according to real estate data firm CoreLogic’s latest housing report, said Realtor.com. “Since the end of the most recent housing crisis, 9 million owners in total have regained equity, the report notes. About 63 percent of all homeowners have seen their equity increase since the first quarter of 2016, with the average owner gaining about $13,400 between then and the first quarter of 2017.” According to Frank Martell, president and CEO of CoreLogic, that’s the “largest increase since mid-2014.”

But, before you go making plans for all that equity, either by doing a cash-out refinance (if possible and prudent) or getting a home equity loan, take a pause. That money may be best left right where it is. If you still want to tap that equity, here are some of best – and worst – ways to use it.

Home renovations

When your home has equity, it can be tempting to use it for home renovations, which, presumably, will further raise your home value – or at least make your home prettier or more functional. Knowing which renovations pay you back is key to making smart choices. Review Remodeling magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report, which “compares average cost for 29 popular remodeling projects with the value those projects retain at resale in 99 U.S. markets.” You can then take your research further, viewing data for your regional area. This will help you decide if that $50,000 kitchen is a good investment, or if that attic renovation you were considering will be a bust from an ROI standpoint.

A new car

That fancy new car is calling your name, right? Does it make sense to use some of your home equity to finance or buy it outright? Ask yourself this: Is this a car you can’t afford without using your home equity? Can you afford to pay the difference in your current monthly payment and what will be your new payment – plus the monthly cost of the car?

“During the housing bubble, consumers used home equity borrowing to pay for everything from boats and gambling junkets (clearly bad) to cars and kitchen renovations (not so bad), said Interest.com. “The problems these homeowners experienced during the financial crisis and recession taught us that even some ‘not so bad’ spending should be scratched from our list of acceptable uses. So, while we used to say that financing a car with a HELOC was OK, we no longer believe that. Besides, auto loans are now one of the few types of consumer loans that are cheaper than home equity loans or lines of credit.”


Additions

Adding on to a home can be a great way to make it more livable, especially if the space is inadequate for your family. The Cost vs. Value Report can be useful here, too. You might be surprised to learn that a midrange bathroom addition typically only pays back an average of 53.9%. But, if you bought an older home that only has one bathroom, adding another could have a much higher ROI that makes the addition worth it.

When it comes to larger undertakings, “Studies show that nearly all of the cost of a mid-range two-story addition may be recovered at the time of sale,” said The Spruce. “The key here is ‘may be recovered,’ as there is no predicting the real estate market years in advance. While this might seem like a ‘no-brainer,’ it needs to be mentioned. More space means higher heating and cooling costs, more windows to wash and gutters to clean, increased property taxes, and more house to clean. Even though additions offer the potential for higher cost-value ratios than other renovation projects, you still may not recover the full cost of the addition when you actually sell.”

Vacation

That European cruise or trip to Machu Picchu sounds like a great idea, especially because you’ve got some cash to pay for it with the rising equity in your home. But consider this: You may be paying back the money you spend on that vacation long after you return home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Jaymi Naciri

What You Need To Know Before You Buy In A Planned Community

A particularly active spring storm season left pockmarked roofs and tumbled fences throughout North Texas this year, including many in my master-planned community, thanks to an EF0 tornado that blew its way through the neighborhood (thankfully missing my house – this time). The process of repairs and replacements was as fickle as the tornado itself. Some homeowners received immediate or at least prompt approval from the community Homeowners’ Association (HOA) and its Architectural Review Committee (ARC), while others were forced to wait and wait and wait – which would be frustrating, even if this weren’t the wettest June in 13 years. In one case, a homeowner’s approval was inexplicably delayed so long, even though she was only looking to replace her damaged roof with the exact same roof, that she suffered leaks and damage to the interior of her home.

That’s one of the rubs of living in a community that is governed by an HOA: You need approval to do stuff to your house, even if that stuff is going to be an improvement over what it currently looks like. It’s not the only potential downside, but there are also plenty of advantages associated with an HOA. And with more than 40 million U.S. households “or 53% of the owner-occupied households in the America” living with an HOA, according to HOA-USA – a number that’s on the rise with new construction, of which more than 60% have an HOA – it’s something you might have to deal with. Get to know the pros and cons so there won’t be any surprises.

Pro: An HOA protects your investment. “HOA rules and regulations help ensure homeowners keep their homes well maintained and in compliance with overall appearance standards,” said Signature Homes. “Combined with proper care of amenities and common areas, the value of your home is more protected than one that does not have HOA oversight.”

Con: Limits your creativity and individuality. HOAs may offer limited options when it comes to updates. Older neighborhoods may have a small color palette available to owners and may be reluctant to expand it to current trends.

Pro: You won’t have to deal with neighbors painting their house pink or letting their grass grow to armpit height. “Homes within an HOA must meet the standards set by the association or face a fine, so you’re less likely to see unkempt lawns, peeling paint or a garishly painted house,” said Realtor.com. “Some HOAs have a design review board with the power to approve any changes to your home’s exterior.”

Con: Those restrictions can be Confining. An HOA demands that you ask permission before making any changes to your home – even if you’re just talking about staining your fence the very same color. Depending on how finicky your HOA is, you might also get fined because your landscaper took the week off or because the basketball net in your driveway is torn (true story).

Pro: File this under the umbrella of “protecting your investment.” Many HOAs have stipulations about how many cars, or what type, can be parked on your property, or even where they can be parked. That can help ensure that the neighbor down the street doesn’t turn his lawn into an auto body shop with multiple non-functioning cars up on blocks.

Con: Looking to park your RV or boat in your driveway? An HOA may nix that idea. Be sure you check ahead of time to make sure this is allowed.

Pro: An HOA decision may not be final. Get a rejection from the HOA on your submitted request to make changes to your landscaping? You can always appeal and state your case.

Con: Deciding to “ask for forgiveness instead of permission” rarely goes well, so, if you decide to go ahead with changes despite not receiving an approval from the HOA, beware: You might be fined.

Pro: Some HOAs take care of things like your front-yard landscaping and trash removal, which means you don’t have to pay for it or worry about it.

Con: That also may mean strict restrictions about what you can and can’t plant in your front yard. You may have to reconsider those rose bushes.

Pro: You might not have to put in a pool because there’s one in the community that you’re helping to pay for through your HOA dues, but don’t have to maintain.

Con: When the pool needs to be redone, it’ll be you and all your neighbors that are on the hook to pay for it – even if you never use it.

Pro: A pool is just the beginning. Planned communities with an HOA can have golf courses, tennis courts, clubhouses, playgrounds, and even private lakes for fishing and recreation.

Con: The more amenities you have, the more you’re likely to pay in HOA dues. In a large masterplan with a couple of pools, a playground, and a tennis court, you can pay as little as $50 per month. The more homes that are added, the more the overall cost is spread out. A more “typical range” is $200–400 per month, said Investopedia, adding that, “The more upscale the building and the more amenities it has, the higher the homeowners’ association fees are likely to be.” In some condos, the fees may be higher if parking and security are considerations, and, especially, in a luxury building with amenities including a fitness center and concierge. “Hollywood’s fancy Sierra Towers condo building, which is filled to the brim with amenities like 24-hour concierge service and valet parking. They charge residents of a 3,400-square-foot condo about $4,000 per month in HOA fees,” said Realtor.com.

Pro: You’ve got a built-in mediator. “Involved in a tiff with your neighbor over that big oak tree that’s losing limbs? You can settle some confrontations with your neighbors by taking your grievances to the HOA’s board or management company,” said RISMedia.

Con: Maybe you’re the type that wants to “handle” grievances in your own way?

Pro: Some HOAs allow you to pay monthly, quarterly, or annually.

Con: Falling behind on HOA dues can lead to foreclosure. “This is another reason you’ll want to make sure those HOA fees are in your budget,” said Credit.com. “An HOA can move to foreclose on your property if you fail to pay its dues and/or associated late fees. Laws can vary by state. A few, for instance, place limits on when an HOA can move to foreclose. So if you’ve fallen behind on payments, you may want to consult a local attorney about your best recourse.”

Pro: Part of what you’ll pay to the HOA every month goes to a reserve fund, which can be used for neighborhood repairs and emergency needs.

Con: The reserves may not be enough to cover large expenses. “In addition to monthly fees, if a major expense such as a new roof or a new elevator comes up and there aren’t enough funds in the HOA’s reserves to pay for it, the association may charge an extra assessment that can run into thousands of dollars,” said Investopedia.

Written by Jaymi Naciri

Aging in Place – What Exactly Is It and Can You Do It?

I was recently on the Charlotte Today Show where i spoke about aging in place. Here is a taste for what we covered.

  1. What exactly is aging in place? The goal of aging in place is to help seniors live in the residence of their choice, for as long as they are able and get any help they need for as long as they can. That sounds kind of simple but there is more to it. It is about maintaining and/or improving quality of life. In order to do that, you need a good plan that focuses on your quality of life. This plan should be maintained over time as your situation changes just like you review your will from time to time. Aging in place is a choice and it not relegated to “old” people. We can all plan for aging in place sooner in life. A couple with a growing family who moves from the started house to a bigger one can imagine a day when the kids are grown and wonder if they could grow old in that house.
  2. So I imagine that it starts with your physical environment, your home. Yes. And there are two things to consider. Can you remodel your home so it is safe and efficient for aging in place or do you need to consider a new home? There are numerous areas to consider – Kitchen, Bathroom, Laundry Room, Bedroom, Home Exterior, Garage, Carport & Parking, Common Areas. So let’s pick one, the bathroom, because that is an area where falls can easily happen. Plus at 59 and 62 respectively, my wife and I just had our bath remodeled with aging in place in mind. The ideal situation is to have plenty of clear space to accommodate someone in a wheelchair around the toilet, bathtub or shower stalls. Having the toilet at the proper height can make an incredible difference in the comfort and safety of your bathroom. Replace the toilet with one that is the proper height or buy a seat extender. Installing grab bars can dramatically and economically increase safety in the bathroom. You can find stylish ones that don’t scream nursing home! Shower seats and an anti-slip coating to the tub floor are reasonably priced options. There are also a wide variety of walk-in tubs on the market. The most accessible option is a roll-in shower. An adjustable shower head is a great way to add accessibility to a bathroom. For help, there are a growing number of contractors that have earned the Certified Aging in Place Specialist designation from the National Association of Home Builders. If all of this is too much then you should consider an independent senior living community that incorporates these features.
  3. Health care is probably a major priority for older people. How can they plan so that they have access to health care when they need it? First the obvious. Keep yourself in the best shape you can. Really. I have seen too many people in elder care facilities where age did not catch up. They did not keep up. You can’t live in your own house if you have major health problems. Many senior communities are built with access to doctors and hospital locations nearby so that is an advantage of buying a home. If not, consider. Are there adequate health care facilities nearby? Do physician’s offices offer in-home visits or remote health care? Do you have proper transportation to and from appointments should you not be able to drive? Have you made your health care wishes known and do you have someone appointed to speak for you should you become incapacitated?
  4. What other services should be close by to age in place properly? Even with the best house for aging in place, if community supports are not nearby, it makes it harder to stay in your home. Faith-based institutions are important to many people. How close are they? Do they have transport. Can you find centers that provide for social activities, friendships or volunteer opportunities? What transport options are available? Is retail and restaurant establishments close by? Can you access home maintenance people delivery services for groceries, shopping services?
  5. What else should we consider? We talked about spelling out your health care wishes. You also have to plan for how you will pay for your long-term care needs so securing the services of a good and ethical financial advisor is key. Plan early.

Simple DIY Projects That Will Increase the Value of Your Home

Looking to boost the value of your home without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars? You can! Making changes in certain rooms, like the kitchen and bathroom, is more beneficial than in others. These simple DIY projects will help increase your home’s value the most.

Modernize FixturesChildren in the Kitchen

 Replacing outlet covers can cost less than a dollar each, but if they have paint or other things on it, it’s a good change. While you’re at it, consider updating the outlets themselves. For about $25-$30 you can buy an outlet that also includes two USB charging ports. With all the smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices lying around, just a few of those, well-placed, can make a big difference. Think about the rooms in your home that don’t have enough outlets and the rooms that are most used for charging.

A less expensive upgrade? Doorknobs. Mismatched, broken, and dingy doorknobs can be a major deterrent. For a small amount of money per knob, you can update the look and make the whole house more visually appealing.

Lighten It Up

The more light you can add to your home, the better. Freshening up or removing curtains can brighten your home and make it more inviting.

curtains for living room picture window

Replacing windows is also a great way to add value to your home, particularly true if you live in an older home that has a lot of windows that stick or that let in the heat or cold. Installing energy efficient windows can also get you a nice tax break. However, poorly-installed windows can let in water, which can lead to mold and cracked foundations, so this isn’t for everyone.

Old light fixtures, or light fixtures that are dim or unappealing should be replaced to brighten the house.

Makeover the Bathroom

Bathrooms consistently get a high return on the investment. If you have a small budget and you’re DIYing, start small. A new vanity. New sink. A nice ceiling light. A spa-like shower head. A nice towel bar. None of these things have to cost over $100, but they all add value to your home by freshening it up, providing simple conveniences, and making it nicer. Who doesn’t want one of those fancy shower heads?

If your bathroom floor is falling apart, suffering from water damage or is just outdated, you can restore it yourself pretty inexpensively. Many home improvement stores offer a class so you can learn what you don’t know, which might enable you to choose a more expensive flooring. Stick with a neutral shade to add the most value.

Freshen Up the Kitchen

The kitchen is one of the biggest things that will turn potential buyers on or off to a house. It’s also one of the places where you can get the most money back for your investment. What’s the single best DIY change to make in the kitchen? A fresh coat of white paint on the cabinets. Go ahead and change out the knobs, too.

Storage is another change to consider. Add more shelves, possibly with space underneath to hang coffee mugs. Kitchen islands are in demand now and building one with storage will add value.

Keeping Up on Maintenance

A home in good repair is always going to be more valuable than one with a leaky roof. If the siding is old or falling apart, replace it. Consider getting a home warranty, to ensure the value of your appliances. Also make sure to maintain the appearance outside, sweep up the leaves, trim the bushes, and keep fences in good repair.

Adding value to your home doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult. Sometimes, the simplest DIY can be the best place to start. Start by considering your budget and your home’s most pressing needs, and update from there.

 Written by Damien Justus