The Daniels and O’Keefe Team's Blog
(Photo: 42 Oak Hill Road, Sudbury, MA--Click for MLS information) How to be a solid buyer in a very busy spring market
My 3-year-old daughter loves to play “This little piggy,” so every time the piggies need to do something a little different, I get to exercise my creativity. Last night’s version was this: “This little buyer went to the market, this little buyer stayed home, this little buyer had crazy contingencies, this little buyer wasn’t preapproved, and this little buyer started packing and moving into his/her new home.” It wasn’t as fun for her as the one where the little piggies go to the playground, but it worked (and I laughed). The Sudbury spring real estate market is fantastic. It is great for the sellers and buyers. I am often asked whether it is a sellers market or a buyers market, and from what I am experiencing, it is both. It comes down to this – if a house is well prepared for sale and priced right, it will sell within a short period of time and close to the asking price. There are more buyers out there than during any other time of the year, and sellers have waited out the extended winter for their lawns to show and their houses to look the best. I have written the past few articles focusing on sellers. The following recommendations are for the buyers hoping to purchase a home – regardless of the time of year. GO TO THE MARKET: Be prepared. Hire a real estate agent familiar with the area in which you are searching. Good real estate agents will tell you if they do not feel as though it is in your best interest to sell you a house in an area in which they are unfamiliar. A lot of what we do involves networking within the communities in which we are involved and knowledge about the towns – the plans for the town, personalities of neighborhoods, schools, businesses, and people within the town. Buying a house is not just about the structure of the house, it is about the neighborhood and community, as well. This is not the time do someone a favor or look for discounts – you are buying a house, not a TV. For more about hiring the right people, click here. DON’T STAY HOME: Although you should absolutely be treated like you are your agent’s only client, you are not the only buyer out there. For every house that you see, there are many other buyers looking at the same home. Just because a house has been on the market for 200 days, that does not mean that you are the only one with the ingenious idea of making a lowball offer because you feel that the seller must be “desperate” to move. This is not the case. I have seen more houses that have been on the market for a long time suddenly become the subject of a bidding war. If you are interested in a house and want to buy it, make an offer. If you don’t like to make quick decisions, then don’t. But do not get upset if the house you love sells before you were ready to make the offer. Keep in mind that every buyer is in a different stage of his/her search. There are plenty of buyers who have been anxiously awaiting the next great house to come on the market. Sellers also appreciate buyers who step forward because they want to – not because someone else did and now they don’t want to lose out. Not every agent is going to call everyone who has ever looked at the house to tell them that there is an offer – especially if the offer is good. There is a lot to be said for the buyers who step forward without being induced. CRAZY CONTINGENCIES: Be realistic and prepared. Make sure your financing plans are in order. If you need to sell your house to buy, is it on the market? Is it priced right? Do you have a backup plan? If you would like to talk with the board of conservation, do so before you make your offer. If you would like estimates from a builder, bring the builder to the house before you make the offer. Sellers appreciate strong, knowledgeable and committed buyers. They certainly are not going to be advised to take their homes off the market during the spring so that you can have the conversations you need to have. Know that the house you are offering to purchase is the house you want. BE PREAPPROVED: (If you are not paying cash) Without a strong preapproval letter from a recognized lender, your offer means nothing to the seller. They (and you) need to know that you can buy the house. This is a fabulous time of year to buy a new home. Be proactive in your search, hire someone involved in the community and be prepared to fall in love with a house on your first day of looking. Just because it is your first day doesn’t mean that it isn't the right house. You don’t need to spend every weekend searching for what you saw during your first hour.
Photos, Houses and Neighbors: You Asked, So We Answered - Advice on What to do With Photos When Selling, Choosing When Buying, and Talking with Potential Neighbors.
Some frequently asked questions and answers: Q: My house is going on the market this spring, I have a lot of personal photos on the walls, on tables, the fridge, etc. I have heard that all photos should come down. What is your opinion? — Seller from Sudbury A: As real estate agents, it is our job to sell the house – not the décor. But, it is the décor and the personal belongings, furniture, photos, that all help to sell the house. There is a happy medium with photos. We don’t want the photos to be the focal point of the house. If the walls on your house could be mistaken as an art exhibit featuring your entire family or a montage of your wedding, from start to finish, then yes, take them down. You have to pack them anyway. If you have a few photos on the walls and some displayed neatly on side tables, then no, you don’t need to take them down. Buyers generally like to know that a happy family (whether you are or not) lived in the house. When you look at houses, you like to take a glance at the photos – it’s human nature. Homes without any photos feel a little cold and buyers wonder why all of the photos are gone. And then their minds wander (What are the sellers hiding? Why are they moving? Are they still together? What else do we need to know?) When all it may have been was you doing what you thought was the right thing to do. Photos should be accents – not clutter. If you have six photos on a table, take three down. Q: We are just starting our search. How many houses should we see before we make a decision? — Buyer from Boston A: Finding a home isn’t about shopping for weeks and months. It’s about finding the RIGHT house. You could, very easily, walk into the perfect house on the first day of looking. It could take you three months, or it could take you a year. This is more about you and your decision-making process, rather than a numbers game. If you loved the house you saw on the first day, but didn’t want to do anything about it only because it was your first day, what exactly are you waiting for? Do you need to see 20 more to reassure yourself that the first one was right? If you saw that same house after looking for two weeks, would you feel any different? Understanding price and value is important and educating you is the role of your agent. With regard to the house, when you know, you know. Think about how long it has taken you to make other major decisions – when you met your current spouse/partner, did you have to date 20 others just to make sure that he/she was the right one for you? If you are married, how long did it take you to get engaged after you met? Buying a house is a major decision and should not be taken lightly, but it doesn’t have to take you months when you found what you love on Day 1. Q: We are seriously considering a house and we are new to the area. Is it OK to approach the neighbors if they are outside when we are looking at the house? — Buyer from Connecticut A: ABSOLUTELY! Why not? Talking to neighbors gives you a great sense of the neighborhood, the people – anything you want to ask. While I think talking to neighbors is a great idea, I do believe that your decision to buy a house should not be based on that conversation alone. Everyone is different and has different perceptions, relationships, attitude, tolerance, etc. What your potential neighbor may say about the “loud kids” next door could possibly be exactly what you are seeking in your new neighborhood. Talk to the neighbors, go to the park, talk to people in a coffee shop – it’s not a secret that you are searching for a new home and people will either talk to you or be cordial and say very little. It is your interpretation of their responses to you that will make the difference. If you have any questions, email me and I will answer all of them personally. Some will be published.
Buying in the Suburbs: Does Size Really Matter? Where Cost Per Square Foot and Off-street Parking Isn’t What’s Important.
The spring real estate market is upon us and it is a lot hotter than the temperatures outside. While many people are moving within Sudbury, a great majority of the buyers are those currently living in or around Boston and searching for their first home in the 'burbs. To those city dwellers in the process of converting to suburbism, we welcome you with open arms. When you have decided to take the leap and move your world a whole 20 miles west, the real estate mentality is a little different out here. Although you are not that far away from Boston, and can be back in the city for dinner on Saturday night in less than 30 minutes with a speed pass and without a speeding ticket, I can appreciate that the pure thought of getting into your car can cause you to choke back the tears. However, I am happy to tell you that there are more advantages of moving to the suburbs (specifically, Sudbury) than disadvantages - and none of them have to do with a certain Boston Celtic we call our neighbor. The features that are important when you are searching for a rental or a condo in Back Bay, Charlestown, and everywhere in between are not the same as what you will seek when you house hunt in Sudbury. SIZE of real estate: In the city, you are used to the “price per square foot.” Here, the price is based on not only the size of the house, but the amenities within, as well as the location and the neighborhood. Other factors determining price include:
- location within town
- perceived value.
Whatever your association to the word "entourage" – whether your mind goes directly to Mark Wahlberg and his hit HBO series with the same name, or Mike Tyson, or any number of celebrities and musical artists, or even the version of Microsoft Outlook for Mac, with the exception of the software – it all boils down to a group of people (ideally, good, solid, honest and strong) who, at the end of the day, through thick and thin, have a person's back. And when I think about it, the software does the same thing. In real estate, you – as the buyer or the seller – are the one deserving the entourage. Your heart, soul, home and money need to be protected. In order to be protected, it is vital to hire an entourage whom you trust. This is not the time to cut corners and save money by hiring your cousin’s best friend who sold one house two years ago when he was unemployed and helping a friend. As in anything, you get what you pay for. You need not be fancy, talented or wealthy to have an entourage when embarking in a real estate transaction. You just need to be smart. Think about the big picture. In your entourage, I believe it is essential to have:
- Licensed real estate agent/Realtor: The term Realtor is sometimes used interchangeably, but it is important to note that not every real estate agent is a Realtor. As members of the National Association of Realtors, Realtors say they subscribe to a code of ethics. To summarize, this is Article 1 of the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the National Association of Realtors: “When representing a buyer, seller, landlord, tenant, or other client as an agent, Realtors pledge themselves to protect and promote the interests of their client. This obligation to the client is primary, but it does not relieve Realtors of their obligation to treat all parties honestly. When serving a buyer, seller, landlord, tenant or other party in a non-agency capacity, Realtors remain obligated to treat all parties honestly.” In essence, the role of your Realtor is to protect you and your interests throughout the entire transaction – from the moment you are thinking about buying or selling, to the day you move. Do other real estate agents who aren't Realtors also abide by strong ethical codes? Certainly. Stay tuned for next week’s column about the value and importance of buyer and seller representation. Your real estate agent is an excellent source for referrals. It is important that people know that professional real estate agents are asked to adhere to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) 12 USC Section 2607 Prohibition Against Kickbacks and Unearned Fees. Essentially, it says that if an agent gives you names of mortgage brokers, home inspectors, contractors, etc., it is because the agent believes they will provide good service and a professional experience. Most important, it is because agents don't want there to be issues at the closing. Keep in mind that most real estate professionals work on the basis of reputation and referrals.
- Mortgage broker/lender: Unless you are paying cash, without a mortgage broker/lender, you don’t have a transaction. This is not the time to do someone a favor or experiment online with mortgage calculators that ask for your Social Security number, promising a much lower rate. Unless you have spoken with an actual person with the lending institution, I never believe that it is a good idea to share your financial information on the World Wide Web. There are way too many good, honest local mortgage brokers who spend tireless hours ensuring that you have a loan commitment when you are supposed to and that the money is all set for the day of your closing, at the rate promised to you. No need to go elsewhere. Also, there are banks that do a great job, and then there are banks with a reputation for creating a nightmare out of a dreamy transaction. Again, ask for a referral from someone you trust – preferably someone who has been directly involved in a real estate transaction during the past six months.
- Home inspector: Borrowed from an earlier column of mine, home inspections are conducted for the purpose of professionally evaluating the structural elements of the home and educating buyers about the condition of the home. Some of what is discussed relates to maintenance of the house and how to continue to maintain the house so that everything works efficiently. It is always a good idea to ask your real estate agent for a recommendation, since agents usually have experienced more home inspections than a buyer has. Like every business, there are good, reputable home inspectors, who do their job; they will tell you if they find trouble. And then there are some whose goal is to “kill” the first inspection so that you will feel so appreciative that they “saved you” from a house with issues, that of course you will hire them to conduct the next. There are the “showoffs” (there to put on a show) and then those who really have no clue. Remember, almost every repair item has a remedy. It is often a question of cost and who is going to pay for the repair. Home inspectors do need to be licensed to practice in Massachusetts, and many are also members of the American Society of Home Inspectors.
- Real estate attorney: The original negotiations between buyer and seller were smooth, friendly, even a bit lovey. You want to sell to them and they can’t wait to sell to you. But before you exchange email addresses and invite them to dinner, the purchase and sale agreement is to be signed. That agreement is often written by and negotiated between lawyers: your attorney and the attorney for the other party. If either of the lawyers do not act in a manner consistent with you and the tone of the transaction, it will put the proverbial sour taste in everyone’s mouth. Your attorney does not have to be a stubborn stand-on-top-of-the-soapbox-winner-of-all-pissing-contests type of attorney to ensure that you are signing a document that protects your interest. If, for example, the buyer realized after the fact that he or she really would like the swingset that they had originally agreed to exclude and the seller found a house in which a swingset was included, what is the big deal in telling the buyer they can keep it? Nothing. But, if you have an attorney whose motive is more about “let’s see how much we can get from them” rather than “the buyer and seller are going to be living in the same town, with the same age kids and I don’t need the swingset,” you will have a problem. It is important that you absolutely trust your attorney, and to not assume, just because their website includes the words “real estate,” that he or she is any good at the job. Too much time and energy is spent clarifying issues created more by attorneys than the original parties involved. There are plenty of good, reputable real estate attorneys from which to choose – it is always worth asking your real estate agent for a referral. And before you start commenting and emailing me, know that I am proud to be the daughter of a real estate attorney. It is because of the honesty and integrity of my late father that I hold such a high level of respect for, and likely, have higher expectations of, real estate attorneys.
I love Facebook. I do. I have no problem admitting that. After living all over the world and having the opportunity to meet and engage with the most interesting and fabulous people through my life, I find it to be very fulfilling to reconnect. Its so nice to know within the same five minutes online how my good friend in Tokyo is doing, or how my friend in Atlanta’s business is going and to see photos of my friend’s children in NY or LA without taking a significant amount of time out of my day to send social emails or have chit chatty conversations. I also utilize Facebook for real estate purposes and it has been extremely beneficial and vital tool to my success. However, as the headlines grab us with “How Facebook Ruined My Career” or “Facebook Wrecked My Marriage” - I find the fact that the so called “victims” of Facebook are blaming the exact destination in which they are announcing the information a little appalling. The information about you and your life is on Facebook because you put it there. If you complain about your boss and nasty habits of your co-worker to all 487 of your “Facebook Friends,” do not seem so shocked when your boss calls you into his or her office and warns you to stay off the social networking. The beauty (and the beast) of Facebook to so many is to continually experience connections which reiterate that the world is indeed small, and its not just via Kevin Bacon that we are all six degrees away from one another. Your house (as of today) is not on Facebook and does not have suggested Facebook friends, likes or dislikes. But, this does not mean that your house is not impacted by Facebook. In the same way a career can be jeopardized by an employee complaining about the company, co-workers, compensation and community via what is intended as an innocent Facebook status update, a house and the sale thereof can also suffer – or benefit. If, for example you live on the corner of Busy Road. and Busy Avenue and the headlights of cars are always shining into your house in the evening, waking your newly sleep-trained infant, and you are constantly complaining on Facebook and then decide to sell, you would be foolish to think that when your house goes on the market, word has not gotten out about how distracting the evening traffic is and how it affects you. Or, if you had an unexpected indoor pool during the flood of 2010 that was not supposed to happen in your supposedly dry basement and you posted photos all over the place of your belongings in the water – this will come back to you. Don’t post ice dam photos. Don't complain about your neighbors. I do believe in full disclosure from a factual perspective and I certainly don’t advocate hiding any information, but there is a difference between announcing to the world all of the idiosyncrasies and a factual sellers disclosure. Perception becomes reality. If you have ever considered selling, be positive about your house on Facebook. This doesn’t mean that you need to post “I love my yard” as a status update. It just means that if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything. Same goes for your motivation to sell or buy. If you buy your new house before you sell and you post the house pictures on Facebook and talk about your afternoon at your home inspection, don’t be surprised when your eventual buyers use that information to their advantage. It will affect you financially. A former colleague once told me not to write anything in an e-mail that I wouldn’t want printed on the cover of the New York Times. This was one of the best pieces of advice I have received. Keep this in mind when you are venting with your online Sharpie about what you dislike about your house. Facebook is bigger than you realize. Keep it positive, a friend of a friend may be your buyer.