Remodeling Improvements That Entice Buyers

Over the last few years, some homeowners have opted to stay put for the time being and that's caused them to consider remodeling instead of moving. But most homeowners know that one day they might need or want to sell their home so which remodels help to add value and entice buyers?
There are a few areas that are better than others to improve. It's pretty easy to understand why these home remodels are enticing buyers when you consider the way the housing market has been for the past several years.
Here are a few of the renovations that are adding value to homes and creating appeal from home buyers.
Aging in Place
With the tough economic times, more short sales and foreclosures, extended families are combining homes and reducing their cost of living by residing together in one larger house. The National Association of Home Builders found that 62 percent of builders in a survey were working on home projects that were helping families "age in place". Included in these types of remodels are placing a bedroom on the entry-level of a home, wider doorways that would accommodate a wheelchair, and overall modifications for the elderly including reducing steps outside and inside.
At one time, these designs might have been unattractive but with many Americans wanting to "age in place" and extended families living together, remodels like these are becoming common, necessary, and valued.
Savvy Kitchen
The great rooms that bring the kitchen and the eating areas together are still popular. More space is preferred so families can have room to sit and spend time together over a meal even if that means having less space to actually prepare the food. Cabinets and shelving are being customized to suit the homeowners' needs and many are favoring pantries or utility rooms. Kitchens are taking on the look of a chef's cooking space with open shelving and islands to help homeowners be able to quickly prepare meals and still mingle with guests and family.
Totally Wired
Fast-placed, busy buyers who often work from home will find smart homes that are wired and built to handle all the high-technology needs a huge plus when it comes time to market and sell their homes. Another plus is having space-saving workstations in the home. Remodeled homes that feature floor-to-ceiling bookcases and wiring for home offices are increasingly becoming the norm in many homes.
Outdoor Living
This continues to be a popular trend to bring the outside in. Making the most of living spaces, even those in the garage and outside, is a huge benefit. Homeowners are capitalizing on all possible livable space by creating outdoor living rooms complete with wiring for entertainment, cooking, and relaxing. Outdoor furniture is also being featured inside as well as outside the home, blending the line between the two.
According to the Census Bureau, 2011 home starts were bigger and featured more amenities than in the previous year. It seems houses are growing again. The average new-home's square footage is was 2,522 in 2011, up from 2,381 square feet.
Not all remodels add value to the home. The balance of achieving what you like in a home and which improvements can potentially increase the sale of your home, can allow you to make smart home improvement choices.

Homeownership Possible Within Three Years After Foreclosure

Losing your home can be devastating to your credit, not to mention your psyche, but you can buy again within as few as three years after a foreclosure or short sale.
It's not surprising when you lose your home you also lose some self-esteem, especially if your were raised in a culture that sees homeownership as a status symbol, as a sign that you've finally arrived.
Some lost self-esteem also comes from the belief you've lost your shot at the American Dream. Others will tell you seven to ten years must pass before you can buy again. At that time, uninformed people say, you'll have to buy at high interest rates.
That's not always true.
If you file for bankruptcy, and make the right credit and financial moves, you can buy a home again as soon as two years after your bankruptcy is discharged.
What's more, if you rebuild your credit and maintain a healthy, on-time credit profile, you can take advantage of low down payment and low interest rate loans. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) allows you to buy a home with as little as 3.5 percent down and take advantage of some of the best interest rates on the market.
FHA loans literally replaced the subprime brand, but came with federal backing.
Also see: "U.S. to lower size of guaranteed mortgages"
You also may be eligible for first-time homebuyer programs that assist you with your down payment and closing costs. First-time homebuyer programs are not just for those who have never owned a home, but allow you to qualify if you have not owned a home in the past three years.
Some private lenders, home owners and investors also may allow you to buy a home even sooner than the two- to three-year period, but it will cost you a higher interest rate and require a large down payment.
With the housing market flat and many local markets still expected to see prices fall more, it is not a bad idea to spend the next several years cleaning up and re-establishing your credit. Good credit will allow you to buy a home with a minimal down payment and the lowest interest rates.
If you lost your home to foreclosure or a short sale, don't lose hope. Don't hesitate. Begin today putting yourself in a good position to buy.
Fix your credit
• Rebuild your credit by making your monthly debt payments on time. Don't ignore your remaining credit obligations during foreclosure or after losing your home. Your credit score gets a boost, in part, based on the number of positive accounts in your credit report. The more you have, within reason, the faster your credit score rises, even after losing a home.
• Pay down your credit cards but not to a zero balance. Your credit score gets a boost if you maintain a balance that is about 30 percent or lower than your credit limit. Keeping a balance reveals you can borrow money and pay it back on time. Don't close out your credit cards because the longer your positive credit history, the more your credit score and your ability to buy a home will improve.
Save money
• Most of today's homebuyer programs require a down payment. FHA loans require 3.5 percent down -- $3,500 for every $100,000 you borrow. You likely will have to pay closing costs, another 2 percent to 3 percent of the sales price. This is another $2,000 to $3,000 per $100,000. Do the math to determine how much you need to save each month, over the next two or three years, to have enough to cover your down payment and closing costs.
Don't be pressured
• Buy only when you are ready. You didn't lose your credit overnight. Likewise, it will take time to rebuild your credit and save for a down payment. Home buying deals will be available for years to come.
• Avoid adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) and consider a 15- or 30-year fixed rate mortgage (FRM) that is a fully amortized loan so your payment and interest rate are fixed for the duration of the loan. Full amortization means each payment helps pay down the principal. When your loan term ends, so does the loan balance.
• Buy based on what you can afford, rather than a higher amount approved by the lender. You already know the risk of biting off more than you can chew. Lenders will pre-approve you based on your gross monthly income, but that does not consider taxes subtracted from your paycheck, food, clothing, utilities and other monthly obligations.
Know your comfort zone. Don't over-extend yourself.

Clean up Your Credit

More than ever having a healthy credit score is important. It may mean the difference between securing a home loan or not. Don't let old habits or debts stand in your way of taking advantage of historically low interest rates and great deals on housing.
The first order of business is to arm yourself with the cold, hard facts. What is the state of your credit report and score? You can visit three times a year for free to view your credit report. You will have to pay a nominal fee in order to view your score.
Once you have accessed your report be sure to check it over carefully for errors. This is not a time to let identity thieves abscond with your good name. Besides identity theft there may also be errors and omissions that should be corrected. Contact each of the three major credit reporting bureaus to have your report updated.
There are also many programs available today to protect against identity theft. Many banks now offer convenient ways to monitor account and card activity. If unusual spending shows up on your account they will halt any purchases and contact you immediately to confirm you are in fact the person making them.
Now that your existing report is in good working order and safeguarded from theft, it's time to start making repairs. First reduce the amount of hard inquiries. The home buying process is not a time to start opening new accounts and lines of credits.
Resist the urge to buy the new car, call DirecTV, and buy new furniture on credit. Wait to make those purchases after you've closed on your home. Your future interest rates will reflect your patience.
Start paying down balances on credit cards. While some revolving accounts like car payment and home mortgages show you are a responsible borrower, having high balances on your cards dramatically reduces your score.
Don't pay off cards just to close them, however, if you're looking to raise your score. The way this works is simple. If you have a total of $10,000 in credit available and you carry a balance of $5,000, you are using 50% of your available credit. That is too high.
If you close a card and are using $5,000 of now $7,000 available credit, you are using 71 percent of your available credit and are worse off than you were!
The key is to start paying down balances and keep that percentage low. Once you're positive that your mortgage and loans are in place you can then consider closing card accounts.
Next, never pay late. If you need to set up payment reminders or automatic withdrawals for certain bills in order to pay on time then by all means do it.
If you fear that you will miss a payment or will be late be sure to contact lenders or creditors before this happens. Many lenders will work with you without reporting the missed month to the credit bureaus. Every reported late payment docks your score and stays on your report for years.
Finally, pay off debt instead of moving it from one card to another. It might be tempting to put this debt on that card and so on, but that doesn't remove the history from your credit report. In fact, if you have now opened a new card, you might have just dinged your score.
Responsible spending and payments are how you build a credit report. There is no overnight fix to a score (don't buy into those scams)! Do your work to pay down debt and over the next months and years your credit score will soar sky-high.

Are Homeowners Glad They Own?

It might come as a surprise but a whopping 72 percent of surveyed homeowners nationwide are satisfied with owning a home. The other 28 percent, not so. They say they're dissatisfied and that's likely due to the devaluation of their homes.
But surprisingly, of those who were satisfied with owning a home, only 24 percent said it was because of home appreciation. The majority, 76 percent, had many other reasons they were happy to own their own home including the one that proves the American Dream is alive and well: pride of homeownership. Following closely behind were the freedom to control their home improvements and upgrades. All this according to HomeGain's 2012 National Home Ownership Satisfaction Survey.
Of those who were unsatisfied with owning their home, 63 percent blamed depreciation as the root of their dissatisfaction. However, the cost of owning a home, such as paying for property taxes, homeowner's association fees, upkeep, and routine repairs, also sucked the joy out of homeownership and led this group of 37 percent to be unhappy about homeownership.
On the bright side, most - three out of four - are very happy with homeownership even in spite of such rocky real estate times where declines in home values have crippled some homeowners severely.
The survey polled homeowners all across the country. So you might be wondering is there a connection between where you live and how satisfied you are with owning a home?
The highest percentage of satisfied homeowners comes from the Northeast where there is 77-percent satisfaction, according to HomeGain. Pulling in at a close second is the Southeast at 73 percent satisfaction. The West and Midwest were at 71 percent and 68 percent, respectively.
Those who purchased their homes within a timeframe of the past three to eight years were the least satisfied. If they bought more than eight years ago, they tended to be more satisfied.
The higher-end market was the least satisfied with owning a home, especially if they paid more than $800,000 for it. This group's dissatisfaction rate was 69 percent. But those who purchased homes for under $75,000 are cheering. This group's satisfaction rate was 77 percent.
Of course, a lot of homes are sold through foreclosure and short sale, which, depending on the side of the sale you're on, can leave you satisfied or very dissatisfied. Those purchasing a foreclosed or short sale had the highest satisfaction ratings; 79 percent and 83 percent, respectively.
New and existing homes didn't fare so well with homeowners. They were fairly dissatisfied and showed it in a 73 percent and 71 percent rating, respectively. Most seemed to have expected an increase in the value of their home and when depreciation hit, this highly disappointed them, making this the primary reason for their dissatisfaction.
An interesting statistic may reflect the need for freedom from being tied down to a home and its maintenance as well as other costs. Homeowners ranging from 18 to 25 were the least satisfied (45 percent) with owning.
On the other end of the spectrum, those homeowners between 55 to 65, were the most satisfied with their homeownership. This group's satisfaction rating was 76 percent.
HomeGain collected some comments from some of the surveyed homeowners. Here's how one satisfied homeowner summarizes homeownership, "Just knowing I own it. I rented a house two times after owning a home for 16 years, and I do NOT like relying on, and dealing with, a landlord! I also feel pride in owning my home. I just bought a house 8 months ago and am very happy!"

Winter Home Maintenance

It may be cold outside, but it's no time hibernate when it comes to home maintenance. Have you ever wondered how some friends or neighbors live in older homes that are still in good working order? This isn't just a lucky coincidence.
Houses require careful attention, especially in the Winter, in order to keep in good working order. If you take the extra time each season to check your home over and perform the necessary maintenance, then you'll be sure to have a sturdy home for years to come.
First, it's important to keep your family safe and warm when it's chilly outside. Do a twice yearly check on your windows and doors for air leaks. Under most circumstances you can easily fix these with caulking.
Are your windows in need of a more energy efficient upgrade? Have you thought about installing storm windows and doors? These are important questions to ask yourself. If you have older, non-insulated windows it may be time to replace them. You can even deduct some of these upgrades from your incomes taxes!
If you find leaks, then take the necessary action to fix them pronto. You may find that some doors continue to leak air even after you've made them "air-tight." This means it is time for Plan B. Storm doors work wonders for keeping out the elements. Many stores also sell draft blockers that sit at the bottom of you doors.
Next, schedule a time to service your heating system. Central heat and air units need to be checked over. When a unit is well-serviced it will save you fuel and thus money.
If your home is older, then you might consider a trip to the attic to check ductwork. You never know what critter has chewed through ducts or what parts have become disconnected.
While you're in the attic take a hard look at the state of your insulation. Is it adequate for your region? Is ductwork well-insulated? Older homes can sometimes be completely devoid of attic insulation. If so then it's time to bring in some reinforcements. Insulation is relatively inexpensive and can save you big in the long run.
Do you heat using a wood burning fireplace? Is it imperative for your safety to have your chimney cleaned and checked multiple times during the Winter season if you use your fireplace regularly. Chimney fires happen all the time.
There are smaller issues to attend to as well. Did you know that your ceiling fans have two settings for the blades? You want to be sure to reverse your fan in the Winter so that it pushes the hot air (which naturally rises) back down into your living spaces.
Gutters become full of leaves and other debris. If you fail to clean your gutters they can begin to hold water which can eventually rot away the siding and roof of your home.
When the weather drops below freezing you need to keep your pipes from freezing. Let faucets drip and unhook all outdoor hoses.
Finally, every responsible homeowner is stocked with the proper tools. Keep sand or salt on hand to de-ice slipper steps and sidewalks. Invest in a heavy duty snow shovel or snow blower.
Your home is your biggest asset and literally keeps a roof over your head. Be kind and take care even during the chilly Winter months.

Relying On An Agent

The latest NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers showed a growing trend among recent buyers.
The latest figures show that 89 percent of buyers purchased their home with the help of a real estate or broker. This is a sharp increase from a decade ago in 2001, when only 69 percent of buyers enlisted the help of an agent or broker.
Why do today's buyers buyers choose to work with an agent? Let's look at just a few of the many reasons an agent can be your biggest ally.
First, agents are licensed professionals, which means they had to complete coursework and pass an exam in order to become and agent. They have the education and experience to help you navigate what will be one of the biggest purchases of your life.
They also have access to a wide range of properties and can guide you to those that are the best fit for you, which can save you time and energy. If you are unsure what type of property you're interest in, an agent can help explain the pros and cons of things such as condo life versus single-family detached living.
Where are the up and coming neighborhoods? Which areas are more walkable or have access to better schools? These are all issues an agent deals with daily.
They can also ease the burden of buying by simplifying the process. They set up showings, drive you to appointments if needed, and help you handle the intricacies of negotiations.
Today's market also presents challenges that simply weren't present or didn't dominate the market a decade ago. Buyers are faced with some great deals, but through some complicated channels, such as short sale or foreclosure. How does one handle these sort of contracts? Your agent or broker will know.
According to the NAR, "More than ever home buyers are relying on real estate agents and brokers to help them with their home purchase regardless of whether the home they are buying is a foreclosure, short sale, or even a FSBO sale because they need a real estate agent to help them through the process."
Finally, buyers are unsure if now is really a good time to buy. They need to rely on someone with local market knowledge. Is this a good neighbor to invest in? Are prices still dropping in this community? How long do homes take to sell? What is the median selling price? Buyers want the best deal out there.
The 2011 Profile found that more buyers are opting against dual agency, where the agent represents both the buyer and seller. This could signal that today's buyers are very cautious about getting into the market. While a dual agent isn't supposed to harbor any bias, buyers now want to be extra sure they are getting the best deal possible. In fact, "60 percent of recent buyers had an oral or written arrangement with the real estate agent or broker so that the buyer's agent only represented the buyer and not the seller."
If you are considering entering buying a home this year, be sure to strongly consider using a real estate agent. They could be your biggest ally.