New Year’s Resolutions to Get You A New Home in 2017

new-1572668_960_720As the new year begins, we make resolutions we hope to fulfill by the year’s end. Often, they are centered around eating better, exercising more, and all around healthier living, but we tend to neglect other goals we may have in mind. Owning a home is a major goal on most people’s list. So why can’t 2017 be the year you buy a house? With the proper steps, owning a home is possible. Here are a few new year’s resolutions you should be making to get you in a new home this coming year.

Decide what you want

Knowing what you want before you start looking is important. First, you need to decide where you would like to live. Next, decide what kind of house you’d like. If you find it necessary, make a list of must haves vs. deal breakers. If you begin looking without knowing exactly what you want, it’ll take you twice as long. Take some time to figure out what is best for you since buying a home is a long and serious commitment.

Get your financials in order

Now that you have decided on an ideal home, it’s time to get serious. It’s time to look at what you can actually afford and continue with the first step. Map out how much you’ll put down for a down payment. Budget for monthly mortgage costs and don’t forget closing costs. Nine out of ten people finance the purchase of their home. This means a loan is required and you should start that process before bidding.

Get pre-approved before you begin house-hunting

Getting pre-approved gets you that much closer to owning a home. Pre-approved means you have met with a loan officer, they have reviewed your financials and deemed you credible for a loan. If approved, you will receive a pre-approval letter, which will show your borrowing power. This letter shows the listing brokers your seriousness and your ability to go through with a purchase. You can obtain as many pre-approval letters as you like, but remember each letter requires a credit check, which will show up on your credit report.

Protect yourself with insurance

You need to protect your biggest purchase with insurance. Purchasing title insurance is done as a one-time fee and helps safeguard the owner in case the property is found to be invalid. Homeowner’s insurance should also be purchased. It protects against fire, theft, and liability coverage. Other insurances, like earthquake and flood, are left up to the buyer’s decision.

If you begin focusing on your real goals now, they’ll become realities by the end of the year. These are just a few of the resolutions you should think about if you’re serious about buying a home. Since the housing recovery in 2012, 2016 has been the hottest year so far. Forecasters have been predicting 2017 to be even better.

Why the Best Time to Sell Your House Is During the Holidays


Ask yourself, when is the best time of the year to sell my home? Many people answer with Spring or Summer, but little do they know, they are actually wrong. Spring or Summer may be the most convenient time, but that does not necessarily mean it is the best time. In almost every city, listing your home in the winter will yield a higher amount of money on the sale of your home.

In a study done by Redfin, homes listed between December 21 and March 21 had a nine percent higher chance of selling faster than homes that were listed between March 22 and June 21 and a ten percent higher chance than those listed between June 22 and September 21.

How so?

Homes prices actually peak in late Winter and early Spring when there are fewer homes on the market and people already begin searching. Also, buyers are serious this time of year. The spring is filled with window shopping buyers who are unsure about what they really want. If you’re serious about selling your home now, don’t let the holidays deter you from your plans.

Preparations You Should Make Before Listing Your Home


Are you ready to sell your home, if so, is your home ready to sell? Seller’s can’t simply list their home and expect it to be bought at its maximum price without some preparation made in advance. Take a second and go through your home from buyer’s perspective. Take notes on what you notice as a buyer. Some changes you should make right away are hiding clutter, putting family photos away, cleaning out closets, and getting rid of unnecessary furniture. Amongst these apparent changes, there are a few other things sellers should do in preparation of listing their home if they want to maximize their offer and decrease the time spent on the market.

  1. Repaint the walls in neutral colors

You may love your colorful accent walls and feel that it’s what makes your home, home, but not everyone is going to feel the same. Repainting your walls to neutral colors like white, tan, or beige can help open up the pool of buyers. It allows them to focus more on the home and less on the work they’ll need to do if they decide to buy.

  1. Organize your closets

It happens to all of us, our closets can get out of hand. It’s such a daunting task to reorganize, but to buyers, storage is a key factor when finding a home. Organized and clean closets give the illusion of more space, therefore, more storage. You can start by going through and cleaning out any unneeded items that may have accumulated. You’ll be moving soon anyway, so why not get a jump start on the process now.

  1. Do faux renovations

You’ll be surprised what a few fixes here and there will do for your home. Is your kitchen a little out-dated? Try replacing the cabinets’ hardware, the light fixtures, or the faucets. You can do the same for bathrooms and laundry rooms.

  1. Highlight focal points

If there is something unique about your home, you should highlight it so potential buyers will see it. You can do this by adding pops of color or plants. Do you have have a window seat,? Throw a red pillow on it with a book to show this could be a great reading nook. Add a fern to your mantle to highlight your beautiful fire place.

  1. Boost curb appeal.

This probably one of the more important factors to preparing your home before listing because this is the first thing buyers are going to see. You want to make a great first impression and buyers don’t like what they see on the outside, they may not even give your home a chance. You don’t have to go all out and repave your driveway, unless it really needs it, but make sure to trim the hedges, plant some fresh flowers, mow the lawn, and fix any peeling paint. Basically, tackle your to-do list you’ve been meaning to do for months.

5 Common Myths of the Home Buying Process


Many of the myths that plague the home buying process have come from old standards of the industry. Real estate is much different from what it was 15 years ago. Requirements such as having stellar credit or putting down 20 percent are a thing of the past. Find out which real estate myths you still believe.

The seller pays the closing costs. This is a common myth that many people believe all the way up until the closing occurs. This can be true in some circumstances, but it’s not common or realistic for the seller to agree to pay all the closing costs. It’s best to understand all the additional costs that will incur such as credit reports, survey fees, titles services, an attorney fee, and property insurance. Experts say to expect closing costs to be anywhere from two to five percent of the entire price of the home.

The seller will make repairs based on the inspection report. Your agent will assist you in negotiating any repairs that need to be made upon inspection, but that does not guarantee they will pay for all of it. If they won’t hire someone themselves to do the repairs before you close, and then won’t offer you cash-back credits for you to hire your own professional to come in, you’re probably on your own. This “take it or leave it” approach means that the seller is in no hurry to move or may have more offers coming in.

The asking price is the selling price. Many sellers price their home over the value of their home so there will be room for negotiations. There are many different factors that go into what you offer and what you walk away with. If a home has been sitting on the market for some time, it may be because it was priced too high. In this case, many sellers are willing to reduce the asking price.

The down payment is the only upfront cost. Like stated above, the seller does not always pay the closing costs. After closing and moving into your new place you may find you need extra repairs or improvements. You’ll probably need to furnish the place, also, don’t forget to keep an emergency fund in case of raining days.

It’s cheaper to rent than buy. Today, in almost every city, rent prices are increasing faster than home prices. When it comes to paying for your living, isn’t it better to be paying your mortgage toward are home you own vs paying your landlord? Renting is more ideal for people who know want to be more flexible, but buying is ideal for people who want to invest.

How to Design a Minimalist Home That Still Feels Welcoming


Minimalist homes, with their soothing swathes of empty floor space and serene bare walls, are filling up our Pinterest boards and Instagram feeds these days. Saying goodbye to all of that clutter and investing in just a few beautifully made pieces is enticing, to say the least. But simplifying too much can leave a space feeling cold and inhospitable. Courtney Trump, the principal designer of Lüft Design based in San Francisco, describes her design philosophy as “warm minimalism,” so who better to offer advice on getting it right? Here, she tells us four secrets to designing a clean-lined space that’s still infused with meaning and character.



Less really is more

“Keep the foundation of your rooms simple and pure, curating every piece in your space with intent. Look for warmth, texture, and muted or dramatic rich tones. Let form and texture lead,” says Trump. “Subtlety is timeless.”


Photo: Brit Morin                                                                            

Shop the world

“Minimalism is flourishing the world over—explore the work of architects, designers, and brands from Italy to Australia. Our need to disconnect from technology is heavily influencing designers across the globe to edit and compose spaces with purpose. As a result, there is an amazing breadth of minimalist design within our grasp,” says Trump. “Your space will have greater depth and deeper roots if you explore what’s beyond your own doorstep.” Here, she draped a soft throw by Fells / Andes in San Francisco over a Round chair by Danish architect Hans Wegner, which sits next to a tea set by Spanish company Sargadelos Porcelain.
Photo: sfgirlbybay / victoria smith                                                                            

Get personal

“Our homes and offices are not static environments. They should be unique and fluid, suiting our most basic and demanding physical and emotional needs,” says Trump. “Take time to observe your daily rituals, taking note of how you interact with your space, the objects you use most and those you could potentially eliminate.” For this kitchen, Trump was tasked with crafting a space that was functional but had a sense of calm. She achieved that effect with airy white upper cabinets, minimal hardware, and a custom white-oak dining table where the clients could enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee together.


Photo: Stylecaster                                                                            

Storage should be secret

“Minimalists may live with less, but that doesn’t mean forgoing the necessities. Carefully planned spaces can hold vast amounts of storage, freeing us from the weight of excess and allowing us room to contemplate.” This bedroom’s custom closet looks like a piece of furniture from the outside, but it’s actually 30 inches deep with a bumped-back interior wall.



Preparing For Your Real Estate Purchase Closing


Prepare For Your Real Estate Closing

Nationwide, nearly six million new and existing homes are expected to be sold this year, the largest tally in nearly 10 years.

Meanwhile, each transaction will culminate in a “closing”, the legal process by which ownership of a home changes. The closing is the last step before you get your keys.

Even experienced home buyers can get flummoxed in a closing, where unfamiliar documents and customs can lead to stress.

Therefore, it can help to learn a little about the real estate closing process to help you be prepared and ready to receive the keys to your new home.

What Is A Real Estate Closing?

Real estate closings go by different names, depending on where you live.

In some parts of the country, they’re known as “closings” and in others, they’re known as “settlements”.

In California, closings are known as “escrow” (which is not be to be confused with this other escrow).

Regardless of where you live, however, the purpose of a closing is the same — to legally transfer ownership from seller to buyer; and, for homes financed with a mortgage, to sign the appropriate home loan documents.

Other documents are signed at closing, too, including certain disclosures and guarantees. Buyers can expect to sign and/or initial 150 times or more.

Home Buying: Between Contract And Closing

The path to your closing begins the day your purchase agreement gets signed.

In the agreement, a closing date is assigned, which is agreed upon by all parties; and a location at which the closing will occur is assigned as well.

Purchase closings are typically scheduled for between 30 and 60 days into the future, although some closings may be scheduled for sooner than this; and some closings may be scheduled for later.

For contracts written on new construction, closings may not occur for one year or longer.

This period between contract and closing is sometimes called being “in escrow”; the home sale is pending, but not yet complete.

It’s during this time that the buyer performs additional due diligence, including ordering an inspection of the home; and, begins to get mortgage financing in place.

The first few days after signing can feel like a rush.

If you’ve been pre-approved previously, once you’re under contract you can choose to lock today’s mortgage rates. However, if you have not yet spoken to a lender, you’ll want to do that post-haste.

You’ll also want to have your mortgage approval paperwork handy.

Although mortgage approvals can be issued quickly, delays can derail your closing and cost you money — and time-to-close is getting lengthier, on average, nationwide.

According to Ellie Mae’s Origination Insight Report, the average number of days required to close on a purchase loan reached 45 days in June, which is the longest in more than a year.

During the approval process, your lender will request income and asset verification, signatures on disclosures, and other documents required to meet loan guidelines.

It will also commission an appraisal of the home-to-be-purchased.

All of these steps take time and, once completed, the lender will issue a final underwriting approval. This is known as being “clear-to-close”.

Home Buying: Closing Day

Closings are typically officiated by a company known as a Title Agency; or, by an attorney. This, too, depends on state custom.

As one of the final steps of the closing, once all required signatures have been recorded, money is transferred from buyer to seller.

The money is typically transferred in two parts.

The first part is the remaining portion of the homebuyer’s down payment, which is the downpayment amount minus whatever earnest money was paid on the date of contract.

Funds to the seller may not be paid in cash or with a personal check. Only wired funds or a cashier’s check will be accepted.

The second part is the funds from the lender, which makes up the difference between the buyer’s down payment and the home sale price.

Note that for zero-down loans such as the VA loan and the USDA loan, there is no downpayment for a buyer to make; and the earnest money deposit is typically returned in full.

Next, after all documents have been signed, and all funds distributed, the deed of ownership will be transferred from seller to buyer, and recorded by the officiant — either the title company representative or the attorney.

It’s at this point that the buyer becomes a homeowner.

To keep your closing going smoothly, though, there are some documents you’ll want to bring with you.

First, make sure to pack a valid government ID. This can be your driver’s license, your passport, or anything else you use to identify yourself officially.

You should also bring a copy of your new homeowner’s insurance policy, which shows that your new home is covered beginning with the date of your closing; plus, proof of payment of the same.

Lastly, have your “cash-to-close” ready in advance, whether via wire or cashiers check. This amount will have been communicated to your by your lender.

Everything else will be waiting for you at the closing.


4 Simple Ways You Can Cut Down On Your Energy Bill


In the summer we tend use a bit of extra energy without even knowing it. Whether it be for cooling the home, running the pool pump, or leaving the TV on longer, there are ways in which you can cut your costs. You don’t have to make huge changes in your life like living in sweltering heat or reading by candlelight. Cutting your energy is more about awareness and less about making sacrifices.

  1. Routine Maintenance

Part of owning your own home is performing maintenance checks and repairs. You can no longer call your landlord who will have a handyman come fix whatever needs repairing. Routine maintenance is not about keeping your appliances from breaking, but about keeping them running efficiently. Old or poorly maintained appliances can suck up energy, quickly increasing your next bill. Major energy-sucking contributors are air filters, which should be changed three to four times a year.

  1. Be responsible with your thermostat

Experts say that the best energy saving temperature that is still comfortable is 78 degrees. We can be tempted to push the thermostat all the way down to blizzard mode in the middle of the summer, but keep in mind your energy bill. For each degree above 78, you can save six to eight percent energy consumption.

  1. Seal the cracks

In the summer, cool air can seep through the cracks in your home, making your AC work twice as hard. If you come across any cracks you can seal them with clear or paintable caulk. By covering up these cracks you can cut your energy consumption by up to 30 percent. Some other areas that may not be obvious are:

  • Folding attic stairs: Add an insulated stair cover
  • Whole-house fan: Install a fan shutter seal
  • Fireplace: Use a fireplace plug to seal the damper
  • Clothes dryer: A dryer vent seal will reduce drafts
  1. Close the blinds

It may seem a bit odd to close the blinds midday, but you’ll be blocking out the sun’s rays that heat the home, causing your AC to work twice as hard to cool it. If you’re trying to go AC-free this summer, then closing the blinds will keep your home cool throughout the day. If closing your blinds really bothers you, just close them during the hottest part of the day or when the sun shines through them.

This will be the best summer for the housing market in a decade


Through May, year-to-date home sales (that’s non-adjusted existing- and new-home sales combined) are up 6 percent over last year, which was the best year since 2007, according to calculations using National Association of Realtors and Commerce Department data. Meanwhile, home prices are again up 5 percent to 6 percent, according to Case-Shiller and other sources.

While some would-be buyers are being hindered by low inventory and tight lending, this is the strongest performance we’ve seen since the housing boom.

During the boom, loose credit enabled unsustainable increases in home ownership as well as speculative over-building. We all know what happened next.

Today we still haven’t recovered completely. For instance, right now we’re building only about half the new homes we need to keep pace with the number of households being formed.

That’s happening in part because the construction industry is having a tough time accessing credit – which is also a problem for consumers. Credit for would-be homebuyers has tightened this year as mortgage rates have fallen to new three-year lows.

Tight credit is limiting new home supply as well as existing home supply. Many homeowners who bought 10 or more years ago wouldn’t qualify for a similar mortgage today.

We continue to see fewer homes for resale compared to a year ago. In fact, the supply of these homes has been well below normal for the last 45 months. It is no wonder then that the inventory available in recent months moved at the fastest pace so far in this recovery, staying on the market for a median of only 65 days, according to

Despite these challenges, things are still looking good.

For at least the next 15 years, the two largest generations in history, millennials and baby boomers, will be making critical decisions about where and how they want to live.

Millennials are entering their prime household formation and buying years. They already dominate the home buyer pool, and the ranks of millennial home buyers will only grow from here.

Meanwhile more than 3.5 million baby boomers turn 65 this year. Those numbers grow as well, reaching 4.5 million a year in a decade. We are seeing that “65 is the new 55,” when it comes to boomers taking action on their retirement housing plans.


What Is ‘Luxury’ in Today’s Real Estate Market?


In the world of luxury real estate, great curb appeal is just one of many buyer requirements. Builders of today’s luxury homes are tasked with making works of art that also cater to future homeowners’ lifestyles.

“We want you to take comfort in knowing the extraordinary level of care we give to every detail — no matter how small or tedious — to make sure your home is flawless upon completion,” said Al Ross, founder and president of Al Ross Luxury Homes. “We are not just selling a luxury home; we are creating an unprecedented level of service and homeowner experience.”

Born and raised in Iran, Ross came to America at age 13 in search of a better life. He now builds custom spec homes in Houston’s high-end River Oaks neighborhood with one-year concierge services and other signature appointments.

His latest listing is a $4.899 million Spanish Revival home at 2240 Inwood Dr. In addition to its curb appeal, the home exhibits a few key qualities of high-end real estate.

Luxury is lifestyle
There’s more to a luxury home than good looks and fancy finishes; these homes are also built with future homeowners’ comfort in mind.

“The breathtaking master closet and dressing area is custom designed for couples,” a brochure for Al Ross’ Houston listing states. “Abundant shelving, magnificent oval packing island with Silestone surface, storage, electrical and USB outlets and subtle LED under-lighting mark the spacious luxury of a perfect wardrobe.”

Strategies taken by luxury real estate professionals, like creating customized spaces with a bit of fantasy in mind, reveal how homeowners are looking for a story to share with every visitor who walks in the door.

Nick Segal, president and founding partner of Los Angeles brokerage Partners Trust, is developing a Best View score to help tell the story of his high-end listings. Each home will be given a “grade” based on six criteria: explosiveness, texture, exclusivity, proximity, iconography and privacy. The goal is be able to put weight behind the phrase: “Best view in Los Angeles.”

“Luxury is lifestyle,” Segal said. “What do my friends feel like when they come into my home? Do I have art walls? A comfortable environment?”

Segal calls the spaces “micro-environments” — picture-perfect settings throughout today’s luxury homes.

“An oversized couch with an accompanying chair and adorned side tables — it’s a perfect little picture. Unless you’re having a party, no one is actually sitting there, but it’s visual eye candy,” he said. “It’s a pause at each turn. Fresh-cut flowers, bringing light in — every vantage point seduces.”

Luxury is ‘smaller’
Stemming from building codes and smaller lot sizes, Segal says we’re seeing a move toward “de-mansionization” in the luxury market.

While homes may cover less ground, however, they aren’t necessarily smaller.

“Vertical is the answer when you don’t have suitable lots to sprawl,” Segal said. “People are building out more to the edge of the envelope.”

Instead of less house, today’s high-end homes have more floors and less yard.

One way builders like Ross are saving space is by creating an open-concept living, dining and family room. A large center island in the Spanish Revival home above anchors the space and allows for more casual, year-round entertaining than separate, formal rooms.

Luxury is local
But what sells in one market isn’t necessarily considered luxury in another.

“In Los Angeles, it’s all about the indoor-outdoor flow,” Segal said. “In the Northeast, I imagine they want covered, enclosed spaces that bring the outdoors in but shield you from the humidity or bugs that will eat you alive. There are different mindsets related to climate.”

The spec house in Houston has a media room and elevator, two features that are still a big deal in Houston. But in L.A., they don’t have as much appeal.

“The practical application of those elevators is so slow,” Segal said. “I’d rather take the stairs.”

Power generators serve an important purpose in hurricane and earthquake country, but in other markets, they can be seen as superfluous. Moreover, garages for multiple cars are still in high demand in vehicle-dependent cities like Houston, but this isn’t the case everywhere.

Luxury is smarter
Across markets, there’s an increasing demand for smarter amenities.

Temperature-controlled wine cellars, motion detectors, variable-speed air conditioning, car lifts and a Crestron home automation system (pictured above) are just a few of the high-tech features in the Spanish Revival home.

“Crestron systems that control black-out shades and window glass that can go from clear to opaque with the switch of a button are very popular,” said Segal. “It’s about privacy and comfort.”


Selling a Vacation Home? Plan Ahead Now or Pay the Taxman Later


There’s simply nothing like a vacation home—the escape from everyday life, the solitude, the relaxation. Also: the extra upkeep, extra mortgage, extra hassle. It’s little wonder that when the seasons start changing, many people start thinking more and more about shedding a no-longer-needed vacation home. All good things must come to an end (or so we’re told).

But do it right. When it comes time to sell your getaway, there are some things you should know about taxes.

“We do have a lot of clients that end up selling a property and have a huge tax bill,” says tax expert Ryan Parker. “If you’re thinking about selling it, the first thing you should do is do some tax planning.”

And a lot of people could use that advice: 920,000 vacation homes were sold in 2015, the second-highest number since 2006, the National Association of Realtors® reported in its 2016 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey.

But selling a vacation home is not quite like selling your primary residence as far as Uncle Sam and the IRS are concerned. Here’s a guide to what you need to know, according to the tax laws for 2015 (and be sure to stay attuned throughout the year for any changes for 2016).

Selling a vacation home is just like selling stock

The proceeds from the sale of any home that you own are considered capital gains. Although the IRS will cut you a break when you sell your primary residence (the first $500,000 in profit for a married couple is exempt from taxes, $250,000 for a single person), that’s not the case for a vacation home. You’ll pay a capital gains tax just as if you had sold some stock shares.

The two key variables are your income tax bracket and what you paid for the home. For 2015, the capital gains tax was no higher than 15% for most taxpayers, according to the IRS. Those in the very top bracket had to pay 20%.

You pay capital gains taxes on the net proceeds from the sale of your home, or the money you received for your house when you sold it minus the combination of closing costs and what you paid for it. You may hear references to your basis—that’s taxspeak for what a house originally cost.

If you bought a house for $200,000 (that’s your basis) and sold it for $300,000, with closing costs of $10,000, you would pay tax on $90,000. That could be 15% or higher, depending on your tax bracket.

(Selling a primary residence is subject to capital gains taxes, too, but the first $500,000 in profit for a married couple is exempt from taxes; it’s $250,000 for a single person.)

Keep track of what you spent on improvements

The money you spent on home improvements increases your cost basis—and that reduces the net proceeds. You must keep records of all improvement costs. If you spent $25,000  adding a rec room in the above example, that would make your basis $235,000, cutting your taxable gain to $65,000.

And sorry: Improvements, for tax purposes, don’t include routine maintenance. After all, fixing a leaky faucet or patching some plaster doesn’t add to your home’s value—it just keeps the place working and in good shape. We know, bummer.

Understand what depreciation means

Owners of vacation properties who’ve been renting them out can deduct depreciation—the wear and tear on a property that lowers its value over time—when filing their annual taxes. Taking depreciation annually can lower your income tax payments on the rental income you receive, but it also lowers the basis you claim when selling. And that, in turn, increases your capital gain.

An annual depreciation of $5,000 for 10 years on that $200,000 vacation home you rented out, would be $50,000 in total depreciation. If you sell the house for $300,000, you’ll pay capital gains on $150,000: your $100,000 gain plus the $50,000 in depreciation that gets subtracted from the basis.

Know the residency requirements

Another way to cut capital gains taxes is to make your vacation home your permanent residence. If you live in a home two of the five years before you sell it, it is considered your permanent residence by the IRS. States have varying residence requirements, so it’s best to check with the one in which you live. Proof of primary residence includes the address on your driver’s license, utility bills, and where you register to vote.

Don’t sell it, swap it

A1031 exchange is a special tax provision that allows you to put off paying tax on the sale of your vacation house. How? It involves swapping your house for another of similar value. This can be used only for investment properties, so you must be renting out your vacation home to swap it, and you must swap it for another vacation rental. Got that? You then need to wait five years before you can make the new rental your primary residence. Finding swap partners usually requires using a firm that specializes in setting up such deals. Note: You’ll postpone, not eliminate, paying taxes on your place.