Blog :: 02-2014

How To Look At Listing Photos Like a Pro

listing photosThe internet is an amazing tool for real estate - and the first place buyers search for homes. From the comfort of your own living room you can browse pictures and take virtual tours of countless houses to make a list of serious contenders before traveling all over town. Needless to say, photos are extremely important and are easily the deciding factor between "schedule a showing" and "add it to the 'no' pile."

While you're searching online, here are a few pointers to keep you focused:

1. Layout - Pay special attention to the flow of the home. Does it make sense for your family? Is it visually appealing to you? Will it be a home that will grow with your family as time goes on? Also make a list of any special needs you may require your home to have and look for those specifically.

2. TLC - Listing photos are meant to spotlight the best features of a home. If you are able to see that work needs to be done, are you up for the challenge? Decide ahead of time how much updating you are willing to tackle and stick to that. You'll have to decide whether the potential is worth the sweat equity along the way.

3. Landscaping/Maintenance - Decide how much yard work and regular maintenance you are ready to take on, and match that to your short list of properties. Think about the added costs, and of landscaping - will you be doing it yourself, or will you hire the work out? Do you already own the proper equipment, or will you have to purchase it? Does the home have a swimming pool or pond that will need to be kept up, or made safe for your family? These factors don't reflect on the home itself but will impact your overall enjoyment of the property and shouldn't be taken lightly.

4. Location - How do you feel about being on a busy road? Would having neighbors close to you be a good thing or an invasion of privacy? Are you looking for lots of land? Think about your hobbies and how much outdoor space those require and look for a home accordingly. Also factor in the proximity to shopping, schools and other necessities. No matter how much you love the home, if the location isn't suitable you'll never be satisfied.

5. Pay attention to what you don't see - Do the remarks mention rooms that aren't shown? That could be a red flag that they are in need of repairs or updating. Are the photos all taken during the winter? If you're curious about the home during warmer months ask the listing agent if more photos are available.

Remember, photos can only tell part of the story. If you're on the fence about a home based on the photos, consult your agent to get advice on the home and whether it would work for you. Once you and your agent have a solid list of possibilities you can narrow down your search in person and the real fun begins!

Tax Tips for Homeowners

Tax season has crept up on us once again...if you own a home there are tax credits and deductions available to provide you some financial relief. You'll be looking for Form 1040 Schedule A if you are able to make itemized deductions; a Read on to find a list of tax breaks to take advantage of this year.

1. Mortgage Interest. A large chunk of each monthly mortgage payment goes toward paying down interest on the loan. Luckily, that amount is fully deductible -- unless your mortgage is more more than $1 million. Even if you've re-financed or own a second home, the interest you pay is deductible. You are even allowed to rent the second home for a portion of the year and deduct the interest expense so long as you personally live on premises for at least 2 weeks of the year. Side note: Do not forget to claim the rental income if you do choose to lease out your second home.

2. Mortgage Points. If you paid points (pre-paid interest) to reduce your overall mortgage payments, you can recoup that money in the form of a tax break. You may deduct those points paid when you purchased or re-financed from the taxes filed the same year that the points were paid.

3. Property Taxes. A portion of your monthly mortgage payment is put in a holding account for property taxes. This amount will be included on the annual statement your lender will send to you at the end of the year. If this is your first year in your home, you'll need to find the pro-rated tax amount on your Settlement Statement given to you at closing. Side note: Property taxes must be deducted as an itemized expense on Schedule A.

Please note that these are general guidelines. We suggest you speak with a tax specialist about your specific case to ensure you file correctly and receive the largest possible refund.

The Top 10 Home Improvement Projects For Your Dollar

Every year, Remodeling Magazine and Realtor Magazine  come together to create a Cost vs. Value Report to detail the ROI of various home remodeling projects. According to this year's report, you should consider the following updates --- especially if you are planning to sell!


  1. Replace Your Front Door. You may not pay much attention to your front entrance, but it's one of the first things visitors, and potential buyers, will notice. Replace it if you are able - you'll recoup 86% of your investment upon the sale of your home. If you can't afford a replacement, try a new color, or replacing the hardware. Bonus: Replace your garage door for a 75% return on investment.
  2. Add a Deck or Patio. No matter what climate you live in, buyers want more outdoor living space. Replacing, or adding a new wooden deck will allow you to recoup up to 77% of your investment. If you already have outdoor living space, consider jazzing it up with a fire pit, built in seating or landscaping.
  3. Make Your Attic Functional. If your budget allows, adding extra bedrooms and bathrooms will always be appealing to buyers. Put extra space to work by turning your attic into a bedroom or functional living space. Doing so will provide a return up to 73%!
  4. Kitchen Renovations. Buyers are always drawn to kitchen  so it's a good idea to pay extra attention to yours. You'll be able to earn back 75% of money spent on minor kitchen remodeling and 60-68% of more major remodels. If you only have the budget for one or two things, try updating flooring, counters or appliances. Painting cabinets and replacing hardware is another inexpensive way to update your space.
  5. Replace Windows. Buyers are interested both in how your windows look and how energy efficient they are (or are not). You should expect to earn back 75% of your investment when you update windows in your home. Make sure to use new windows as a selling point -- buyers will take notice!
  6. Update LightingBuyers are looking for bright, airy rooms. If you have areas lacking light, consider having recessed lighting installed or changing outdated fixtures. Both options are relatively inexpensive and will make a BIG impact.
  7. Update Window TreatmentsIf your drapes are dark, outdated or blocking too much natural light, it's time for a change. Uncover windows for daytime showings and invest in modern, attractive window treatments.
  8. Update your Baths. It's easy to go overboard with bathroom remodels. Stick with the basics changes such as new crown molding, fresh caulking, new fixtures, mirrors and light fixtures for the most cost-effective results. If your budget allows, having your bathtub resurfaced is less expensive than replacing it and will make a huge difference.
  9. Re-Side. If your house needs more than a good power washing, look into having new siding installed. You should expect to earn back 72% of your investment.
  10. Organize Your Closets (Maximize Storage Spaces). You  can be sure buyers will be looking in your closets, cabinets, basement and garage for adequate storage. Make sure that these spaces are well organized and tidy to give the illusion of even more space. Investing in organizers will help make the most of your storage spaces.

If you decide to tackle some of these projects be sure to create a cost-effective budget. A Realtor can offer you more specific advice for improvements that will be appropriate for your particular home and neighborhood.

Your Moving Checklist

Moving ChecklistMoving involves a lot of details and last minute steps. We've prepared a checklist for you to use to prepare and stay on track.

1. Hire A Moving Company. 6-8 Weeks before your move, start using review sites such as Yelp to find a reputable moving company that services your area. Make reservations as early as possible (while being realistic) to secure your space--this is especially important during the summertime (peak moving season).

2. Take Inventory. Make a detailed list of your belongings and their value so you'll know if something is missing. Consider packing sentimental, or monetarily valuable, items separately and in your own vehicle for safe keeping.

3. Purchase Extra Insurance (as needed). Check your homeowner's policy and ask your moving company what amount they will cover in damages. Cross check those amounts with the inventory list you made in Step 2 to determine whether you are adequately covered. Remember that moving time is the most risky for your belongings in terms of damage and loss. If needed, contact your insurance provider and purchase extra coverage.

4. Downsize. Packing is the perfect opportunity to weed out unnecessary and unused belongings--there is no sense in paying to ship it if it's not being used! The more items you can sell, donate or throw away...the more you'll save in shipping costs and supplies.

5. Buy Supplies. You'll need boxes, tape, bubble wrap and packing paper galore to securely pack your (downsized) belongings. These are all readily available at home improvement stores, but check local businesses first--they may be willing to part with extra boxes they would otherwise pay to recycle.

6. Stop (and Start) Services. Once your move date has been set, call your utility companies to notify them to stop your account. Likewise, call your new utility company to set up accounts for your new home.

7. Notify. Be sure to let the USPS know of your forwarding address. Also contact your bill companies, bank, schools, your employer and other businesses you exchange paper mail with...and don't forget to tell friends and family!

8. Unpack. If possible, take an extra day or two off from work to settle in and organize your new space. Having the extra time will alleviate stress and allow you to go back to work feeling more put together.