Central Texas Real Estate and Community News

Feb. 12, 2021

6 Modest Front-Yard Updates Home Sellers Should Never Forget

Home sellers know that a tidy, tasteful home will catch any buyer's eye. That's why many people put effort into fixing up—and even staging—the interior of their home before putting it on the market and hosting open houses.

But did you know that an unkempt exterior could deter potential buyers from even setting foot in the door? That's right. A shoddy-looking front yard could undermine all that hard work you put into beautifying the inside of your home, and that could jeopardize your chances of selling.

"You only get one chance to make a first impression, and it happens when a potential buyer sees the exterior of your home," says Kate Rumson, interior designer. "We all tend to form opinions in the first few seconds of seeing a home for the first time—make those seconds count!"

Don't let your home's exterior fall to the wayside. Whether your front yard is in need of a few tweaks or a full face-lift, the following tips will help boost your home's curb appeal and make sure everything matches.

1. Replace your garage door

Garage doors tend to be large, so they're a major architectural element of your home. Replacing one can be costly, but this one upgrade could help sell your house faster.

According to Remodeling magazine's annual Cost vs. Value report, garage door replacement has consistently topped the list of remodeling projects that give you the biggest return on investment. In fact, this year's report found that by replacing your garage door, you could recoup 94.5% of the cost when you sell your home.

“Old or damaged garage doors will make a house feel dated and not cared for. If your garage doors are in poor condition, replace them,” says Rumson. “Don’t let potential buyers think that the damaged garage doors represent the rest of your home’s condition.”

As for the cost, garage door replacement can range from $600 to $2,750, according to HomeAdvisor.

2. Do a front door audit

The first thing potential buyers see as they walk up to your home is your front door. The door can give house hunters a hint of your design sense and what decor delights await them on the other side.

Ted Roberts, chief style and design expert at Schlage, says to consider the color and materials of both the inside and outside of your door. He says the hardware on a door is also important to the overall aesthetic and that door hardware should be updated to create a unified statement throughout your property.

“Updating your front door can do wonders for your security and style. If your door hardware is showing signs of age, this fall could be the perfect time to upgrade to a new handle set and an electronic lock that adds smart, keyless convenience,” says Roberts.

3. Complement your colors

Choosing the right colors for the inside of your home takes careful thought and consideration. But no matter what paint you choose, make sure the palette transitions smoothly from exterior to interior.

“Interior and exterior colors don’t have to match, but they need to complement one another," says Rumson. For example, a traditional forest-green exterior trim looks great when paired with navy blue, tan, or blush interiors.

"Make sure that the colors of your exterior accurately represent what buyers should expect to see on the inside,” Rumson adds.

4. Consider new window frames

Photo by Spivey Architects, Inc.

Installing new window frames will create the appearance of brand-new windows, and is a quick and inexpensive way to make your home look newer and more attractive to buyers, says Rumson.

Consider updating your outdated window frames with new, stylish black window frames.

“Black window frames will boost your home’s curb appeal, make your home more unique, and create a great contrast with the rest of your interiors,” says Roberts. “Because black windows make such a statement, they don’t always need shades, blinds, or curtains, offering an opportunity for you to sidestep what can be an occasionally costly investment.”

5. Refresh your landscape

The American Society of Landscape Architects recommends that homeowners invest 10% of a home’s value in landscaping. A well-manicured front yard can be eye candy to potential buyers.

Professional landscaping can be pricey, but we're not suggesting a full foliage overhaul. Simply take a few hours on a weekend to freshen up your existing landscaping with plants and fresh mulch.

Over 75% of top real estate agents nationwide say that well-landscaped homes are worth anywhere from 1% to 10% more than homes without landscaping, according to research at HomeLight.

6. Install outdoor lighting

Photo by Solid Renovations

“Outdoor lighting is important for safety, but it can also significantly improve the curb appeal of a home,” says Rumson.

There are a variety of outdoor lighting options, from decorative lighting (like sconces by your front door) to landscape lighting (to illuminate the pathway to your porch).

“It’s an easy update," says Rumson. "You will find many beautiful options and styles at your local home improvement store.”

Light up your home’s exterior walkway with a set of 10 solar-powered, black LED outdoor lights ($79.97, Home Depot) or a lantern sconce ($59.97, Home Depot).


Source:  https://www.realtor.com/advice/sell/easy-front-yard-updates-sellers/
Feb. 12, 2021

The Best Real Estate Advice of 2020: How the Pandemic Transformed Housing This Year

In some ways, buying a home got a lot easier in 2020, and in a lot of ways, it didn't. Welcome to the mixed-up, unpredictable, unprecedentedpandemic world we've all been living through. It's truly been a year like no other. But no matter which way the pendulum was swinging, realtor.comwas here to help you make the best of it.

Whether you were a first-time home buyer house hunting during the pandemic or a seller wondering how to get the best price for your property, we brought expert-approved insights to you all year long.

We're (finally) just a couple of weeks away from 2021, but to help you head into the new year as a well-informed home buyer, seller, or owner, we thought we'd reflect on the top lessons we learned about real estate this year.

Take a look back at our best real estate advice of 2020, and click each headline to dive deeper into the topics that were top of mind for all of us.

Should I Buy a House During the Coronavirus Crisis? An Essential Guide

Is it safe—and smart—to buy a house during the coronavirus crisis?
Is it safe—and smart—to buy a house during the coronavirus crisis?

erhui1979/Getty Images

As if deciding whether or not it's time to purchase a home isn't a tough enough decision, the coronavirus pandemic made everything even more shaky.

Many potential home buyers have been wondering if it's even safe to shop for a home during a pandemic, and that's a very fair question. And even if you do succeed in finding a home you like, is this the right time to pull the trigger?

Here's what our top finance experts had to say about whether now is the time to buy.

Can't miss tip: Mortgage rates reached historic lows in 2020, but experts believe they'll rise quickly in 2021. Now may be a good time to buy if you want to lock in those low interest rates.

6 Home Upgrades Buyers Want in the COVID-19 Era

Photo by mercer INTERIOR

It's no secret to sellers that refreshing the inside and outside of your home is a great way to bring in potential buyers—and multiple offers. But in 2020, the world became a different place, and stay-at-home orders, plus the closures of schools, restaurants, and gyms, made us look at homes much differently.

Knowing they'd be spending much more time at home (working, schooling, exercising, and just about everything else that used to be done elsewhere), buyers started prioritizing features they might have overlooked in the past.


Watch: Talking About the Top Real Estate Markets for 2021

Volume 90%


Find out what new upgrades buyers are seeking in the COVID-19 era—and what formerly hot upgrades are now so 2019.

Can't miss tip: Home buyers in 2020 and beyond are looking for a place where a lot can happen—and maybe all at once. This means the once-desired open floor plan is now a turnoff, and separation of space is where it's at.

Is It Safe To House Hunt During the Coronavirus Crisis? This Is What You Must Know

Is it safe to house hunt during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Sisoje/Getty Images

Safety is still top of mind for most active home buyers and sellers.

While the majority of real estate agents are doing everything they can to lessen the risk for their clients, there are still some home buyers who just don't feel comfortable taking on the process in-person.

Read along as we explain every part of the process that can now be done remotely, and how to make sure it works for you.

Can't miss tip: A good home-buying experience always starts with choosing the right real estate agent, and it was never more true than in 2020. If you're looking for a virtual home-buying experience, it's important to connect with a real estate agent who knows exactly how to make it work to your advantage.

It Just Makes Cents! 7 DIY Home Improvement Projects That Promise Serious ROI

Help improve your chances of making a real estate profit by taking on one of these DIY projects.

photoman/Getty Images

If you found yourself with a little extra time on your hands this year, you may have decided to take on a few DIY home improvement projects. Because you were at home already!

It makes sense, then, that you'd wonder which ones would give you the biggest return on investment—the home projects that will earn you more money when you decide to sell. No one wants to waste their time on fruitless labor, so check out which DIY projects tend to promise the biggest payoff.

Can't miss tip: It's not always those giant projects that yield the biggest profit. One expert says bells and whistles don't always pay off, and instead recommends homeowners take on several, smaller projects for a better ROI.

5 Bad Omens That Could Curse Your Home—and Jeopardize Your Sale

Are you feeling superstitious? These bad omens could hurt the sale of your home.


If you're trying to sell your home, it's important you take everything into consideration—and we mean everything.

It doesn't matter if you believe in omens or not. There are a lot of potential home buyers who do, which means seeing a bad token could be a complete deal breaker, no matter how much they love your home.

Click through to find out what some of the more common bad omens are, so you can get to work clearing them out of your space.

Can't miss tip: Those adorable rocking chairs on your front porch might seem like a warm welcome to you, but if the wind blows and they rock, it may send some home shoppers running. Thankfully, there's something you can do to keep it from happening, without moving your chairs to the garage.

First-Time Home Buyer Confessions: 'How We Beat 32 Offers and Got the House'

Here's how one couple beat out 32 other buyers—without offering the most money.

Julie Migliacci

Every home buyer's worst nightmare is finding a dream house and having to battle other buyers for it. But what if there were 32 other buyers?

That's exactly what happened to these buyers, and they came out victorious—even without placing the highest bid. Keep reading to find out exactly how they made it happen.

Can't miss tip: Today's real estate market is very fast-moving in many areas, which means there's very little time (if any) between viewing a house you love and placing an offer. Study up on the neighborhoods you're shopping in, so you're ready to make an informed decision on the spot.

5 Coronavirus Real Estate Myths Everyone Thinks Are True—Debunked

coronavirus real estate myths
Don't believe everything you hear—including these coronavirus real estate myths.

Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

It's true that COVID-19 has turned the real estate market on its head, but that doesn't mean you should believe everything you hear. In fact, falling for some of the real estate myths may cause a potential home buyer or seller to miss out on a golden opportunity. Read on to find out what's being said, and what's actually factual.

Can't miss tip: You may have heard that home prices are plummeting because of COVID-19, meaning it's not a good time to list your house. In actuality, the opposite is true thanks to low interest rates.

5 Weird Reality Checks You'll Get If You Buy a Country Home

buying a home in the country
Buying a home in the country is not always as peaceful as you might think.

Akabei / Getty Images

Due to the pandemic, this year found many city dwellers moving out of the city into quieter, less populated areas. That means sprawling yards, quiet neighbors, dark nights, and lots of peace, right? Truth be told, country life isn't always idyllic. In fact, it has some strange quirks that you may not expect.

Find out what happened when one city dweller bought a rural home and discovered that even in the country, things can get weird.

Can't miss tip: Country living is all about co-existing with woodland critters, so if you move out of the city, be prepared to share your space—both inside and out—with deer, mice, and other wildlife.


Source:  https://www.realtor.com/advice/buy/2020-best-real-estate-advice/
Feb. 12, 2021

Germs, Be Gone! 7 Simple Renovations To Coronavirus-Proof Your Home

As much as we all wish we could go back to a time when social distancing was a foreign concept and masks were just something you wore with a Halloween costume, it’s clear by now that COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere. At least, not anytime soon.

One consequence of the pandemic is that our collective concern over cleanliness remains at an all-time high.

recent survey found that 47% of Americans are pining to upgrade their bathrooms during the pandemic, and 44% want to redesign the kitchen.

The study was conducted by the New York City–based Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery, and according to Adrianne Russell, its showroom manager, the kitchen and bathroom are “two rooms where a lot can be done for hygiene.”

Fortunately, there are lots of simple swaps and upgrades that can make your home into a sanctuary and provide peace of mind.

Here are a few ideas on how to enhance your home and reduce the transfer of germs during the era of COVID-19.

1. Install touchless faucets

This isn’t just a feature for public bathrooms anymore. Installing a touchless faucet is a quick and easy project that you can take on in your own home.

“No handles or knobs means less surfaces touched and less of a chance of cross-contamination occurring after hand-washing or handling messy foods,” Russell says.

Touchless faucets aren’t just for the bathroom: You can install one in the kitchen—or even a utility sink.


2. Switch to automatic soap dispensers

After you've upgraded to a new contact-free faucet, why not take the cleanliness to the next level?

“Since the best way to fight germs is hand-washing, homeowners may also want to consider installing sensor-operated soap dispensers,” Russell says.

“Like touchless faucets, touchless dispensers also help eliminate most surface contact during the hand-washing process,” she says.

You can opt for a sleek, commercial-grade dispenser that requires some installation, or choose a battery-operated stand-alone model if you’re on a budget.

3. Upgrade to a bidet or touchless toilet

Worried about another toilet paper shortage? Install a bidet in your bathroom. No toilet paper, no problem!

“During the pandemic, toilets with integrated bidet functionality soared in popularity,” Russell says. “They are a hygienic alternative to toilet paper, using water-jet cleaning.”

You can purchase a stand-alone bidet or a bidet toilet-seat attachment that works with your current toilet. You can also purchase a smart toilet with or without a built-in bidet.

Many smart toilets come fully equipped with digital controls, touchless flushing, and Bluetooth connectivity, plus self-cleaning features to relieve you of your toilet-scrubbing duties.

“Some options may also include special cleaning solutions, hydrophobic or hydrophilic glazes, advanced flushing technology, and specially designed rims,” Russell says.

4. Use smart lighting for touchless illumination

Think of how often you touch the light switches around your house—then think of how many germs could be lurking there.

“One of the dirtiest surfaces in a home are light switches, with homeowners having to touch them multiple times a day, every day,” Russell says.

Switching to a smart lighting system can help reduce the transmission of germs. You control the lights from your phone, and with a smart system, you can control the lighting even when you’re away. This not only helps with home security, but also cuts down on your energy costs.

5. Eliminate contact with smart door locks

Just like light switches, door locks can be a breeding ground for germs as people go in and out of the house.

Digital keypad and smart door locks (e.g., the Google Nest Smart Lock with Nest Connect) can help reduce human surface contact, Russell says. Their features often include keyless options, voice activation, and biometric identifiers.

6. Take it outside year-round with space heaters

In some parts of the country, outdoor hangouts have traditionally been limited to the summer months. But keeping your activities outside doesn’t have to be out of reach, even on cooler days—and it can help minimize the risk of transmitting the virus. The solution? Pick up an outdoor patio heater, for as little as $100.

“Heaters are great if you want to have guests on your patio,” says Suzi Dailey, a Realtor® with One Luxe by Realty One Group International. “I think heater sales are going to go through the roof.”

7. Try a sanitizing closet on for size

These days, it’s not just the Roomba that’s helping us keep our homes clean. From hands-free trash cans to refrigerators with sensors for touchless opening, tech tools and gadgets are making it easier than ever to keep our homes clean.

One product that has exploded in popularity in recent months, according to John Romito, founder and licensed real estate agent at Heart & Home Real Estate, is sanitizing closets, which use ultraviolet light to sanitize garments.

“The technology has been very popular among retail clothing stores, to minimize the spread of pathogens after people try on or return apparel,” he says. “It’s now being purchased for home use.”

You can even recruit help from robots to turn your mudroom into a disinfection station where you and your guests can thoroughly sanitize each time you enter.


Source:  https://www.realtor.com/advice/home-improvement/simple-renovations-to-coronavirus-proof-your-home-and-keep-germs-away/

Feb. 12, 2021

The Biggest Myths About Moving to the Suburbs—Busted

Young male character self isolated at home, quarantine and social distancing

Feb. 12, 2021

Home Buyers Have It Tough as Nation Faces Unprecedented Housing Shortage

It's no news to house hunters that the pickings are slim in today's real estate market. While that has been true for several years, the pandemic has made the situation worse as virus-wary home sellers have pulled their properties off the market, resulting in sky-high prices and out-of-control bidding wars for the remaining stock.

Overall housing inventory plummeted 43% in January compared with the same month last year, according to a recent realtor.com® report. New listings were down 23% year over year.

Median home prices soared 15.4% annually, to $346,000 in January, as a result of the shortage. That means buyers should gear up for battle—it's going to be a very competitive spring home-buying season.

"It's tough for buyers, particularly first-time buyers dealing with limited options and fast-rising prices," says realtor.com® Chief Economist Danielle Hale. "We're looking at an all-time low number of homes for sale and record numbers of buyers trying to get into the market."

There were 443,000 fewer homes up for grabs this year than last year, before COVID-19 hit the nation. And while builders have ramped up their pace of putting up new homes, that doesn't seem to have made much of a dent yet. The hope is that once more people get vaccinated against the coronavirus, sellers will feel more comfortable listing their homes.

The threat of catching the virus from a potential buyer walking through and having to move in a pandemic has led many sellers to hold off.

Home prices rose the most in the Northeast, by 16.8%, followed by the West, at 12.3%, the Midwest, at 10.4%, and the South, at 8%.

In the nation's 50 largest metropolitan areas, prices shot up the most in Austin, TX, by 30.2%. It was followed by Rochester, NY, by 25.9%, and Los Angeles, by 22.4%, in January.

"We've seen a lot of companies announce relocations to Austin," says Hale. "It's also benefiting from additional flexibility and remote work. It has a unique culture and this really vibrant tech scene making it an attractive place to live, and it's got a really strong local economy."

The only places to see big surges of inventory were in the two priciest metropolitan areas in the nation: Silicon Valley's San Jose, CA, and San Francisco. The San Francisco Bay Area markets saw 24.8% and 14.4% annual increases in the number of homes for sale in January, respectively. That's likely because many white-collar workers who can now telecommute from anywhere with a good internet connection have sought out cheaper parts of the country.

"Homes still sell very quickly, and it still is a very desirable market," says Hale. "It's an expensive area, and people have the flexibility to work remotely now and may be choosing to move away."


Source:  https://www.realtor.com/news/trends/nation-faces-unprecedented-housing-shortage/
Feb. 12, 2021

7 Home-focused Instagram Accounts You'll Swoon Over

Looking to do a little DIY home renovation? Love learning about architecture? Or maybe you’re longing for a bungalow by the beach? Whether you have a particular project in mind or would just like to do a little daydreaming, these seven real estate-related Instagram accounts offer up eye candy, inspiration and more than a few practical tips.

DIY Home Renovation @younghouselove(link is external)

Sherry and John Petersik are the cool couple next door that everyone wishes they could be a little more like. Self-dubbed “the Youngsters,” the Petersiks have renovated seven homes and written two New York Times best-selling design books. They treat their 347,000 followers on Instagram to gorgeous pics of their DIY home renovations. Their projects cover the house from attic to basement and go inside and out—they also have tips and tricks for landscaping and yard do-overs. Captioned with the couple’s signature self-deprecating humor, the posts often lead to supplemental materials on their blog(link is external), such as before-and-after photos of projects, step-by-step guides, and detailed how-to videos. And the Petersiks’ DIY solutions won’t break the bank: In a Nov. 25, 2020, blog post(link is external), John wrote that their philosophy is “live with less and be outside more.”


Tiny Homes @tinyhousemovement(link is external)

Brian Hawkins became interested in tiny homes in 2014 when his brother-in-law began building one. A filmmaker and photographer, Hawkins began his own Instagram account devoted to tiny houses—which tend to be under 400 square feet. He now has 623,000 followers. Hawkins travels the country and—when possible—the world to search out unique tiny homes. He does extensive research on the homes he features, learning about the builders, the owners, and whether the homes can be rented—some of the homes he’s featured are part of resorts where people can vacation. After seven years of sharing tiny homes with his audience, Hawkins has become selective about what he chooses to showcase. “I’ve seen a lot of tiny homes,” he says, “so if something sticks out, that’s pretty rare.”


Architecture—Historical @what_style_is_that(link is external)

Architectural historian, preservationist, and middle school social studies teacher Karyn Norwood offers her Instagram followers a wealth of photos and information on American architectural styles. Norwood shows examples from the 1600s through the 2010s but focuses mostly on houses built before the 1950s. Government buildings, skyscrapers, and even an Egyptian Revival mineshaft headframe get shoutouts, too. Norwood includes captions pointing out details and characteristics of the architectural styles she features, and she also engages with her 32,600 followers through surveys, quizzes, and question-and-answer sessions. “I’m so glad people love learning about old architecture as much as I do,” she says in a Sept. 7, 2020, post(link is external).


Architecture—Conceptual @bside_visuals(link is external)

Based in Barcelona, Spain, the architecture and planning firm bside visuals uses state-of-the-art virtual rendering techniques to create dramatic and imaginative contemporary designs that they share with their 14,500 followers on Instagram. The account features interiors and exteriors of homes, hotels, and public spaces so crisply and stunningly realized that you’ll swear they’re real. The team at bside visuals focuses on design rather than execution—so most of the images on their Instagram account are plans and ideas rather than actual edifices. However, bside visuals has clients all over the world who have used their futuristic designs to create real-world buildings. If you’re looking for some eye-catching contemporary architectural images to inspire you, bside visuals’ Insta has plenty of examples to help you dream. The company’s Facebook page(link is external) says, “We create photographs for tomorrow’s reality.”


Midcentury Modern @theatomicranch(link is external)

Don Draper would feel right at home at @theatomicranch, where every post transports you back to the middle of the 20th century. A companion account to Atomic Ranch magazine, this Insta highlights the clean, simple lines of midcentury modern architecture and the function and form of the period’s interior design and décor—not to mention a plethora of enviable accessories like dinnerware, Christmas ornaments, and even the occasional book or toy. The account also treats its 139,000 followers to images of home renovations, showcasing houses that homeowners have taken from drab to fab. As the editors say on their Facebook page(link is external), at the Atomic Ranch you can “get everything you need to bring back the style and appeal of the atomic age.”


Beach Homes @howieguja(link is external)

While some only get to enjoy the sand and surf of the beach on vacation, photographer and real estate investor Howie Guja of Bellport, N.Y., gives his 45,200 Instagram followers a view of charming beachfront and beach-adjacent homes that he encounters in his travels, mostly along the East Coast of the U.S. Guja’s idyllic scenes offer his audience a mini-vacation and a little wish fulfillment. “I would love to live here,” gushed a commentor on an Oct. 23, 2020, photo(link is external) Guja posted of a coastal home in Watch Hill, R.I., featuring blue clapboard siding and a curving archway. “What a dream!” Another visitor summed up Guja’s Oct. 26, 2020, post(link is external) showing a tiny waterfront home along Carmans River (on New York’s Long Island) with one word: “Breathtaking.”


Wallpaper @degournay(link is external)

Sumptous, luxurious, fantastical…the handpainted and hand-embroidered wallpaper and wall coverings of de Gournay have been called “vertical haute couture,”(link is external) and images from the company’s Instagram account have surely been included in many mood boards. Rendered in rich detail and lush color, plants, animals, and landscapes spring to life on walls in the family company’s posts, garnering thousands of likes and inspiring an audience of 390,000 followers. The de Gournay website, however, shows no prices, which tends to suggest de Gournay wall coverings might be a little too pricey for the average non-zillionaire. But the company’s Instagram account offers visitors plenty of beauty, color, and inspiration. London-based de Gournay, which has showrooms all over the world, prides itself on the unique work of its artisans. As its website says, “Each artist leaves a part of their soul in their creations.”(link is external)

Source:  https://www.nar.realtor/blogs/culture-scan/7-home-focused-instagram-accounts-youll-swoon-over
Feb. 12, 2021

What Is Title Insurance, and How Much Does Title Insurance Cost?

Buying a home often entails also buying various types of insurance to protect your property, and one type you might need to get is called title insurance.

When you buy a home, you “take title” to it and establish legal ownership. A title insurance policy protects you against the possibility that someone else might have a claim on your home. In essence, it ensures that a homeowner and their lender will be okay in the event that the seller or previous owners didn't have absolute ownership of the house. (It sounds crazy, but sometimes it turns out that the homeowner is not the only one with rights to a home!)

If you need a mortgage to buy real estate, your lender will likely require you to buy a title policy from a title insurance company. Although it's a cost home buyers incur, getting a title policy from a title insurance company is critical to establishing peace of mind.

Let's examine the ins and outs of title insurance, why home buyers need it, how much you can expect to pay, and how you can save on a title insurance policy.

What is title insurance?

Holding a title insurance policy means you and your mortgage lender are protected against any financial loss or title issues due to liens, disputes between prior owners over wills, clerical problems in courthouse documents, or fraudulent claims against the property or forged signatures.

A title search will be performed by your title or settlement company to uncover any issues with your title that could give you legal troubles down the line.

The title company then insures your claim to the property's title. If anything is missed during the search or there are lawsuits questioning your legal ownership of the property after closing, your title insurance policy will cover the costs of resolving the problem.

Why a title search is required with a mortgage

When getting a mortgage to buy real estate, you'll find that most lenders will typically require that you get a title search before you close the deal with your escrow company. Basically this would mean you'll have to hire a title company to search local records on your property. Some of the issues they’re looking for include the following:

  • Disputes between prior owners over wills: If your property was inherited and then sold by the heirs, there could be other heirs contesting the will and claiming ownership of your property.
  • Liens for unpaid property taxes.
  • Liens for contractors who worked on the home but were never paid.
  • Clerical problems in courthouse documents: Believe it or not, a simple typo can lead to title claim problems.
  • Fraudulent claims against the property or forged signatures: For example, if a group of heirs can't get a holdout to agree to sell the home, it’s possible that someone will forge a signature on a quit claim deed.

While most homeowners will never need to use their title insurance, its existence offers protection against a potentially aggravating—and very expensive—financial loss.

Lender's title insurance vs. owner's title insurance

There are two types of title insurance: lender's and owner's. Almost every lender will require you to pay for a lender's title insurance policy. This protects the lender—not you—from incurring any costs if a title dispute pops up after closing.

Owner's title insurance is usually optional, but it's highly recommended. Without it, you'll be left footing the bill for all the costs of resolving a title claim, which could be thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even though it can feel like you're hemorrhaging cash when you're closing on a house, a title insurance policy is one of those things that can save you money in the long run.

"When you consider the benefits of title insurance and some of the unique aspects of title insurance relative to other kinds of insurance, it is clear why it’s risky and ill-advised to purchase real estate without a title insurance policy," says Brian Tormey of TitleVest in New York City.

You can purchase basic or enhanced owner's title insurance, with the enhanced insurance policy offering more coverage for things like mechanic’s liens or boundary disputes.

While your title insurance covers you for things such as mistakes in the legal description of your property or human error, be aware that it will have some exclusions—particularly in cases where violations of building codes occur after you bought your home.

How much does title insurance cost?

The average cost of title insurance is around $1,000 per policy, but that amount varies widely from state to state and depends on the price of your home.

Title insurance premiums can vary from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousand dollars. Some factors that can affect the cost of your premium include the title search, examination, and expected cost of any title defects.

"In general, each policy price is based on the purchase amount of the home or the total amount of the loan," explains Tormey. "Title insurance is a highly regulated industry, so title insurance policy types and costs will vary from state to state. Each state’s Department of Insurance can provide information on the pricing regulations in their state."

In some states such as Texas and Florida, title insurance premiums are fixed by the government, so you will pay exactly the same amount no matter what. Other states such as California and New Mexico have unfixed premiums, which means that buyers can shop around. Iowa actually underwrites the insurance itself, resulting in the lowest premiums in the country: $110 for properties costing up to $500,000.

Unlike other types of insurance, a title insurance policy is paid with a single premium during escrow while closing for your mortgage. If you’re buying a real estate resale or refinancing, you may be eligible for a "reissue" rate, which could offer a substantial discount off the regular premium—because the title policy is already in effect, and the title research has already been completed.

Here's a calculator that can help you figure out the cost for your area and purchase price.

How to save on title insurance

In some states, title insurance premiums are the same no matter who you work with, but in the majority of states, you can save money by shopping around. Even in states with highly regulated title insurance industries, there are ways to save. Here are some ways to lower your title insurance costs.

  • Shop around. If premiums are unregulated in your state, find the company that offers the best deals. Just make sure you're not sacrificing customer service to save a few dollars: Resolving a title issue can be stressful, and you want a company that will help you through the process. Read reviews and talk to your real estate agent for recommendations.
  • Bundle. Some companies will offer a discount if you bundle your lender's and owner's policies.
  • Negotiate add-ons. Even if the premium itself is fixed, there are almost always other fees built into your total premium price. See if there is any wiggle room with those items. They may be optional, or the insurance company might be open to discounting them.
  • Negotiate with the seller. Closing costs are always open to negotiation, and picking up the tab for the title insurance might be worth it to a seller who's highly motivated to close the deal. But be wary of using this tactic in a competitive market.
Source:  https://www.realtor.com/advice/buy/how-much-does-title-insurance-cost/
Feb. 12, 2021

'Our Dream Home Failed Inspection': A Warning to Buyers

The house looked so picturesque: a 100-year-old farmhouse, freshly white-washed, overlooking a pond in an area of upstate New York we'd loved visiting for years. As a bonus, the 2-acre property included a barn, already finished as a workshop, that made my husband and sons swoon.

The price was fair, even given the fireball of a market. So I called our real estate agent and arranged to see the property in person.

It was a lot of house, bigger than any place I’d ever called home before. In addition to the living and dining rooms, the sunny main floor had about four more areas that we could invent names and purposes for. Study? Sunroom? Parlor? Sure, the laminate flooring and '70s kitchen and bathrooms had to go. But my husband and I felt ready for a project, and the place looked sturdy, able to withstand a flurry of cosmetic fixes.

This place had potential and then some.

Next we toured the barn, meandering through a meadow bursting with yellow and purple wildflowers. Check, check, and check went the boxes for our pastoral fantasyland.

Our real estate agent shared the home's history: It had been in one family for ages, and after the matriarch died a few years ago, various children and cousins stayed there from time to time, and occasionally rented the place to friends. Now they were ready to cash out.

We negotiated an offer that was accepted. It was more than we wanted to pay, but this was it—our new rural homestead. My husband began sketching where we could plant lilac bushes and apple trees. I began Googling porch furniture and outdoor pizza ovens.

But there was one more step: the home inspection.

Ready, set, inspect

Our real estate agent set us up with a peach of a home inspector (let’s call him Charlie) who met us one morning at the house. His process, which would cost, gulp, almost $1,000, would involve walking around the exterior alone, making notes, and then sharing his thoughts with us. This would be repeated for the interior and the barn. A detailed written report would be sent our way in a couple of days.

I noticed a slight concern as he stood in front of the house and looked at the roof, but I was distracted by the arrival of the septic inspectors. (That’s another step in the home-buying process in New York state.) They were there to ensure that everything was in good repair and began poking around the yard looking for the septic system.

It could not be found. After a flurry of calls to the sellers, a square of cement was heaved up with a crowbar to reveal a cesspool.


Watch: 3 Things That Can Sink Your Home Inspection

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I’m a city person, so the mere utterance of “cesspool” (an old version of a septic system) made me shudder. Living in apartments most of my life, I just flush the toilet and don't think twice. The stuff goes somewhere—out of sight, out of mind.

Yes, the septic inspector said, some older homes have cesspools and they can function, but this one was seriously jacked up. The water level was impossibly low, the cesspool itself too small. There was some incomprehensible (to me, at least) conversation about the leaching field being in a possibly illegal position. The septic inspector and the real estate agent huddled together, calling the sellers and trying to get clarification as my husband and I started to panic.

'There was something very wrong'

Meanwhile, Charlie called us over, ready to review the exterior of the house. That hint of concern I’d seen in his eyes seemed quite noticeable now. With a calm, professional demeanor, he pointed out how this home was a horror show of problems.

For starters, he explained, there was something very wrong with the roof slope. In fact, he warned that the next good snowfall could cause it to cave. In the attic, he'd noticed that someone had done some jury-rigged roofing that was definitely not up to code.

Second, apparently the home's foundation had all manner of issues as well, and the joists weren't sitting right. Also the siding had rotted areas that were painted over rather than fixed. And there was a major drainage issue in the back that someone had tried to remedy with some PVC piping that would never hold.

And. And. And.

I began to zone out, feeling overwhelmed and out of my depth. Lowering his voice, Charlie said, “Whoever owns this house did as little as they could to get it to look market-ready. There are major issues here that will cost you a lot to repair.”

Before I could hear the cha-ching sound in my head and kiss my kitchen renovation budget good-bye, the septic inspector was vying for our attention.

Cutting to the chase, he proclaimed, “Complete failure!”

Replacing the cesspool, he indicated, would entail engineering work to determine where and even if a leaching field could be properly created. His guesstimate of the cost, if it could be done: $40,000.

Next, Charlie beckoned us inside the house, let out a long sigh, and began showing us what he’d found. Fogged double-hung windows. Poor water pressure. Nonfunctional heat upstairs. Electrical circuits not working. The list of maladies went on and on.

“These are not minor repairs you’re looking at,” he warned.

When Charlie was ready to share his findings on the barn, I sent my husband to listen. I was too deflated to bother. My dreams of a charming farmhouse and that outdoor pizza oven were going up in smoke.

How a home inspection can save you from real estate ruin

Once the inspection was complete, I was shocked and scarred. My husband felt more than a little irate—how could the house have hidden such issues under its freshly painted façade? We waited a day or two til we had the written reports in hand and then, after a brief grief fest, withdrew our offer.

Expensive and excruciating as it was, though, we couldn’t have been more grateful for the home inspection. What cost us almost four figures saved us from an ill-conceived six-figure purchase and quite possibly a nervous breakdown.

Actually, the real estate agent offered to split the cost of the home inspection with us, given how the sellers had not known or revealed the full extent of the house’s issues. Our situation makes a compelling case for the advantages of buying an occupied house, versus one that has been sitting empty, as all manner of invisible “deferred maintenance” issues take root.

My advice to first-time home buyers or anyone house shopping is to recognize that even when you have an accepted offer, you’re not home-free. Your home inspection will reveal the true state of a property’s condition and tell you whether to move forward or run screaming, as was our situation. (Though we did prevail: We found another home nearby, Charlie gave it a thumbs up, and we just closed on it.)

Given what a huge investment a home is and the central role it plays in your life, you need to stay “on pause” until that report delivers its verdict. Don’t start planning that outdoor pizza oven without it.

Source:  https://www.realtor.com/advice/buy/our-dream-home-failed-inspection/
Feb. 12, 2021

7 Tax Benefits of Owning a Home: A Complete Guide for Filing This Year

What are the tax benefits of owning a home? Plenty of homeowners are asking themselves this right around now as they prepare to file their taxes.

You may recall the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—the most substantial overhaul to the U.S. tax code in more than 30 years—went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. The result was likely a big change to your taxes, especially the tax perks of homeownership.

While this revised tax code is still in effect today, the coronavirus has thrown a few curveballs. For one, the Internal Revenue Service has delayed filing season by about two weeks, which means it won't start accepting or processing any 2020 tax year returns until Feb. 12, 2021. (So far at least, the filing deadline stands firm at the usual date, April 15.)

In addition to this delay, many might be wondering whether the new realities of COVID-19 life (like their work-from-home setup) might qualify for a tax deduction, or how other variables from unemployment to stimulus checks might affect their tax return this year.

Whatever questions you have, look no further than this complete guide to all the tax benefits of owning a home, where we run down all the tax breaks homeowners should be aware of when they file their 2020 taxes in 2021. Read on to make sure you aren't missing anything that could save you money!

Tax break 1: Mortgage interest

Homeowners with a mortgage that went into effect before Dec. 15, 2017, can deduct interest on loans up to $1 million.

"However, for acquisition debt incurred after Dec. 15, 2017, homeowners can only deduct the interest on the first $750,000," says Lee Reams Sr., the chief content officer of TaxBuzz.

Why it's important: The ability to deduct the interest on a mortgage continues to be a big benefit of owning a home. And the more recent your mortgage, the greater your tax savings.

"The way mortgage payments are amortized, the first payments are almost all interest," says Wendy Connick, owner of Connick Financial Solutions. (See how your loan amortizes and how much you're paying in interest with this online mortgage calculator.)

Note that the mortgage interest deduction is an itemized deduction. This means that for it to work in your favor, all of your itemized deductions (there are more below) need to be greater than the new standard deduction, which the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled.

And note that those amounts just increased for the 2020 tax year. For individuals, the deduction is now $12,400 ($12,200 in 2019), and it's $24,800 for married couples filing jointly ($24,400 in 2019), plus $1,300 for each spouse aged 65 or older. The deduction also went up to $18,650 for the head of household ($18,350 in 2019), plus an additional $1,650 for those 65 or older.

As a result, only about 5% of taxpayers will itemize deductions this filing season, says Connick.

For some homeowners, itemizing simply may not be worth it. So when would itemizing work in your favor? As one example, if you're a married couple under 65 who paid $20,000 in mortgage interest and $6,000 in state and local taxes, you would exceed the standard deduction and be able to reduce your taxable income by an additional $1,200 by itemizing.


Watch: Ready To Refinance? Ask These 5 Questions First

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Tax break 2: Property taxes

This deduction is capped at $10,000 for those married filing jointly no matter how high the taxes are. (Here's more info on how to calculate property taxes.)

Why it's important: Taxpayers can take one $10,000 deduction, says Brian Ashcraft, director of compliance at Liberty Tax Service.

Just note that property taxes are on that itemized list of all of your deductions that must add up to more than your particular standard deduction to be worth your while.

And remember that if you have a mortgage, your property taxes are built into your monthly payment.

Tax break 3: Private mortgage insurance

If you put less than 20% down on your home, odds are you're paying private mortgage insurance, or PMI, which costs from 0.3% to 1.15% of your home loan.

But here's some good news for PMI users: You can deduct the interest on this insurance thanks to the Mortgage Insurance Tax Deduction Act of 2019—aka the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act—which reinstated certain deductions and credits for homeowners.

"These include the deduction for PMI," says Laura Fogel, a certified public accountant at Gonzalez and Associates in Massachusetts. (This credit is retroactive, so talk to your accountant to see if it makes sense to amend your 2018 or 2019 tax return in case you missed it in past years.)

Also, note that this tax deduction is set to expire again after 2020 unless Congress decides to extend it in 2021.

Why it's important: The PMI interest deduction is also an itemized deduction. But if you can take it, it might help push you over the $24,800 standard deduction for married couples under 65. And here's how much you'll save: If you make $100,000 and put down 5% on a $200,000 house, you'll pay about $1,500 in annual PMI premiums and thus cut your taxable income by $1,500. Nice!

Tax break 4: Energy efficiency upgrades

The Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit was a tax incentive for installing alternative energy upgrades in a home. Most of these tax credits expired after December 2016; however, two credits are still around (but not for long). The credits for solar electric and solar water-heating equipment are available through Dec. 31, 2021, says Josh Zimmelman, owner of Westwood Tax & Consulting, a New York–based accounting firm.

The SECURE Act also retroactively reinstated a $500 deduction for certain qualified energy-efficient upgrades "such as exterior windows, doors, and insulation," says Fogel.

Why it's important: You can still save a tidy sum on your solar energy. And—bonus!—this is a credit, so no worrying about itemizing here. However, the percentage of the credit varies based on the date of installation. For equipment installed between Jan. 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020, 26% of the expenditure is eligible for the credit (down from 30% in 2019). That figure drops to 22% for installation between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2021. As of now, the credit ends entirely after 2021.

Tax break 5: A home office

Good news for all self-employed people whose home office is the main place where they work: You can deduct $5 per square foot, up to 300 square feet, of office space, which amounts to a maximum deduction of $1,500.

For those who can take the deduction, understand that there are very strict rules on what constitutes a dedicated, fully deductible home office space. Here's more on the much-misunderstood home office tax deduction.

The fine print: The bad news for everyone forced to work at home due to COVID-19? Unfortunately, if you are a W-2 employee, you're not eligible for the home office deduction under the CARES Act even if you spent most of 2020 in your home office.

Tax break 6: Home improvements to age in place

To get this break, these home improvements will need to exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. So if you make $60,000, this deduction kicks in only on money spent over $4,500.

The cost of these improvements can result in a nice tax break for many older homeowners who plan to age in place and add renovations such as wheelchair ramps or grab bars in bathrooms. Deductible improvements might also include widening doorways, lowering cabinets or electrical fixtures, and adding stairlifts.

The fine print: You’ll need a letter from your doctor to prove these changes were medically necessary.

Tax break 7: Interest on a home equity line of credit

If you have a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, the interest you pay on that loan is deductible only if that loan is used specifically to "buy, build, or improve a property," according to the IRS. So you'll save cash if your home's crying out for a kitchen overhaul or half-bath. But you can't use your home as a piggy bank to pay for college or throw a wedding.

The fine print: You can deduct only up to the $750,000 cap, and this is for the amount you pay in interest on your HELOC and mortgage combined. (And if you took out a HELOC before the new 2018 tax plan for anything besides improvements to your home, you cannot legally deduct the interest.)


Source:  https://www.realtor.com/advice/finance/tax-benefits-of-owning-a-home-guide-to-filing/

Feb. 12, 2021

'Flipping Across America' Reveals 2 Things That Can Sabotage a Home Sale

On "Flipping Across America," host Alison Victoria highlights just how hard it can be to flip a house—even for veteran flippers who host their own HGTV shows. In the latest episode, the run-down homes the two teams pick have a long ways to go!

In the "Ratty Flips" episode, Mina Starsiak Hawk and Karen Laine of "Good Bones" have bought a run-down house in Indianapolis. But these flippers seem no worse off than Ashley and Andy Williams of "Flip or Flop: Fort Worth," who have bought a similarly decrepit home in Fort Worth, TX.

Both teams were able to buy their homes for less than $60,000. Still, they'll have to pay hefty sums to make these homes presentable again. Here's how they pull it off, including some smart ideas for anyone hoping to add value to their house.

Overgrown greenery can undermine a sale

This house was covered with overgrown greenery.
This house was covered with overgrown greenery.


When Starsiak Hawk and Laine buy their Indianapolis home, they know that the exterior needs a lot of work. They add board and batten siding and give the house a lovely coat of blue paint. The biggest change they make, however, is to the landscaping. They rip out the tenacious plants growing up the side of the house, mow the grass, and remove an overgrown bush hiding the house.

When the greenery is cleaned up, Starsiak Hawk is thrilled with the transformation.

"I feel like the house had, like, a Pinocchio moment," she says. "Like, when Pinocchio became a real boy. As the trees came down, it was kind of like ‘Oh, you’re a real house!’”

With better landscaping, this home looks much more inviting.
With better landscaping, this home looks much more inviting.


To finish the look, this mother-daughter team plants some sophisticated new shrubs that add a natural look to the house without overwhelming the property. Starsiak Hawk and Laine prove that sometimes a little landscaping can go a very long way!

Place tile in a unique pattern

This bathroom tile adds a unique look.
This bathroom tile adds a unique look.


With the outside of the house looking great, Starsiak Hawk and Laine set out to make the interiors look just as good.

Luckily, Laine gets a fun idea for the bathroom. She loves the hexagonal tile Starsiak Hawk chooses for the space, and decides it could look even better if they fade the tiles out at the ceiling.

"We’re installing tile behind the vanity in a funky pattern at the top that I think will make the bathroom really unique,” Starsiak Hawk says when construction is underway.

When the project is finished, the tile looks great. It's a creative way to make this bathroom stand out, and best of all, it didn't cost this team any extra money.

Built-ins can add extra seating in a kitchen

These seats give the kitchen a classic look.
These seats give the kitchen a classic look.


In the kitchen, Starsiak Hawk and Laine want to create a vintage vibe with classic cabinets and bright colors. To add to this old-fashioned look, they get creative with lower cabinets.

"Keeping with our vintage modern theme, we’re taking some of our lower cabinets and turning them into window seating," Starsiak Hawk says.

It's a creative way to install storage while also adding some character to this kitchen.

A creepy front porch can actually drive buyers away

Andy and Ashley Williams thought this home looked abandoned.
Andy and Ashley Williams thought this home looked abandoned.


Meanwhile, Ashley and Andy also start by struggling with their home's exterior. After all, curb appeal is what immediately draws home buyers in—or drives them away. But their home's problems go beyond poor landscaping and involve the run-down front porch.

A new porch makes this exterior feel more welcoming.
A new porch makes this exterior feel more welcoming.


Ashley is adamant that the front porch gets the makeover it deserves.

"It’s worth $1,000 to walk up to a porch and not just walk up to a place you may think is abandoned, 'cause first impressions are where you make or break yourself,” she explains.

So they create a charming little sitting area that takes this home's exterior from spooky to sweet, amping up its curb appeal.

Use light colors to open up a space

Ashley and Andy were unimpressed with this kitchen.
Ashley and Andy were unimpressed with this kitchen.


Ashley and Andy's house is pretty small, but they know that they can make it seem larger with the right finishes.

In the kitchen, they use two different cabinet colors: white to keep the kitchen feeling light and open, and gray to ground the space and bring some dimension. They do the same thing with the backsplash, using white balanced with gray tiles.

"Since this house is small, our goal is to make it light and airy with lots of grays, whites, things that bring light and movement into the house,” Ashley explains.

Goal achieved! It's clear that this simple color palette was the right choice for this home.

Gray and whites finishes make this kitchen look both large and chic.
Gray and whites finishes make this kitchen look both large and chic.


Which 'Flipping Across America' team nets a higher profit?

When both teams are finished, they have two beautiful houses that will make great homes for any buyer. But which flip makes more money?

Starsiak Hawk and Laine had bought their home for $40,000 and spend a hefty $170,000 on the renovation. They list the house for $268,000 and get a full-price offer—which means this mother-daughter team takes home a substantial $58,000 in profit.

Meanwhile, Andy and Ashley had bought their house for $58,000 and spend only $54,000 fixing it up. They list the house for $169,000 and are surprised to get an offer for $171,000. After closing costs and commission, these two net a respectable $51,000.

So while both teams do an amazing job on their flip, Starsiak Hawk and Laine prove that sometimes, spending more on renovations pays off down the road.


Source:  https://www.realtor.com/advice/sell/flipping-across-america-tackles-curb-appeal/