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Jeff Scislow

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Signs of the Times

by Jeff Scislow

Around this time of year, most of us anxiously look for signs of spring—yellow daffodils, budding trees, and warmer temperatures—and we are delighted with the optimistic feeling each one brings to us.

daffodilsSo, too, do we keep our eyes and ears open for signs which indicate that this spring season will be a good time to buy or sell a home—and, like the flowers, they are out there.  Read on for positive indicators.

Existing home sales shook off winter-related declines in February, and, as reported by the National Association of Realtors, sales increased 1.2% in February (up 4.7% from a year earlier).  In addition, the share of sales for first-time buyers registered its first gain since last November. Supplies of existing homes for sale are also diminished, with the current inventory representing only a 4.6-month supply.

* According to Freddie Mac’s March 2015 Economic & Housing Market Outlook, 40% of all home sales for this year will happen over the next four months.  The majority of homes sold in 2015 will be sold between now and June as the housing market begins the start of the spring home buying season. The agency expects that this year will be the best year for home sales since 2007.

* It appears that the word is finally getting out to consumers that home loan rates are close to 40-year lows. Money for home purchases right now is cheap, and housing prices are lower this year than they were last -- sometimes by 10 and 15 percent or more, depending on local market conditions.                                                                                                                                                        

* Mortgage credit availability increased in March according to the Mortgage Credit Availability Index (MCAI), increasing 2.3 percent in March. .A number of factors contributed to a loosening of credit last month, one being: Freddie Mac's introduction of their 97 LTV program (Fannie Mae's was implemented in December),

* Home buyers are more confident now then they have been in the past several years, according to TD Bank's third annual Mortgage Service Index. The survey of over 1,450 consumers showed 30 percent of Americans consider now to be a very good time to buy a home. That’s 10 percent higher than measured in 2014.

Just as nature’s signs of spring hold promise and optimism, so will the increasing number of real estate For Sale and Sold signs—by the Scislow Group, of course—you will soon be seeing in your neighborhood!

Tips for Winning a Bidding War

by Jeff Scislow

With a low real estate inventory in many communities, properties in some markets are receiving multiple offers and sparking bidding wars among eager buyers.  Good news for the sellers, but not so much for the hopeful purchasers.  There are, however, strategies that can work to your advantage if you find yourself drawn into such a situation.  Most will require a bit of extra effort on your part, but may well result in securing your desired property.

  • bidding warObtain loan pre-approval from your lenderHaving financing ready to go can help reassure sellers and make your offer more appealing.  Understand, however, that your lender may not want to finance significantly more than the appraised value of the property.   If you offer more than the home's appraised value, you may need to make up the difference in cash.
  • Keep in mind that your Realtor –hopefully us--will play an important role in negotiations, so choose carefully!  He/she will be responsible for orchestrating the competition, getting the best possible deal for you, and acting as your advocate throughout the multiple-offer process.
  • Make a larger earnest money deposit to show the seller that you are a serious buyer.  Pre-ordering an appraisal and setting up an inspection directly after closing will also indicate your legitimacy as a purchaser.
  • Discuss with your Realtor the possibility of adding an escalation clause to your offer.  An escalation clause stipulates that you will increase a bid by a set increment — say, $5,000 — if the seller receives a legitimate higher offer. The clause sets a cap on how much more you will pay. Do not set the cap higher than you can comfortably afford if you are relying on a mortgage lender.
  • Make a competitive first offer; do not risk insulting the owner with a lowball figure.  In addition to submitting a thoughtful offer, making sure your paperwork is complete and organized can help make a good impression on sellers and their agents.
  • Sell yourself.  Sometimes it’s about more than just the numbers. Many agents urge their clients to write a personal note to the seller. Be specific in conveying what you love about the home and your plans for it.

Above all, keep a clear head and don’t let emotions carry you away.  Know in advance your top offer and stick with that number!  You’ll be much happier in the long run.

For Home Sellers: Playing “The Price is Right” Game

by Jeff Scislow

The spring real estate season is upon us, and if you are selling your home, your first consideration is price. A sound and realistic strategy in setting your price can assure you of two things: you’ll be more likely to get your asking price, or close to it, and you’ll get it sooner.

price is rightWe all know that here are dozens of Internet sites, such as Zillow and Cyberhomes, which estimate how much your home is worth. They are called “automated valuation model” (AVM) sites and they use statistical modeling techniques that calculate the property value by comparing it with similar-sized homes that have recently sold in your area. These tools crunch their data with publicly available numbers from several listing services and combine them with regional trends to set a sale price for your property. Problem solved, right?

Actually, no.  Most AVMs admit that their evaluations may be off by around 5 percent, or even sometimes up to 20 percent, according to a study by Standard & Poor’s. This means that anyone strictly guided by these calculations can be much above or under market and consequently be losing either money or possible buyers.

And this is where a Realtor comes into play.  Real estate agents are trained to do a comparative market analysis, or a “CMA,” as we call it, for every property they list for sale. This includes going to the property and literally inspecting the home, the neighborhood, everything that will help pin down the ideal listing price range. This will also give the Realtor the knowledge/ability to convince potential buyers that the selling price is the right price.

Rather than simply crunching the numbers from a distance, Realtors make judgments based on their understanding of the local market and the dozens of peculiarities that affect price, such as lot size; lot orientation; tax-assessed value; and features of the lot, including its terrain, access and privacy, improvements and additions, condition, quality, and age. 

As you contemplate selling your home, you may certainly want to visit a few online AVM sites, do your own “market research” by attending local open houses, and investigate the market conditions in your area in order to become more informed about realistic home costs. However, never underestimate the value of working with a Realtor if you want to be a winner in “The Price is Right” game!

DIY Projects—Cost-effective or Costly?

by Jeff Scislow

Whether you have watched a home improvement on television or admired a friend’s handiwork, chances are you have considered one or two Do It Yourself (DIY) projects recently. If so, you are certainly not alone, as there are three key reasons why the current trend of DIY projects is so popular:  money, enjoyment, and a sense of accomplishment.

Before starting a DIY project, however, you should accept the fact that your project will probably take three times as long as you intend it to and cost twice as much.  This is not an underestimation of your skills; unfortunately, this is almost always a fact.

toolsThe reason for such a cautionary outlook is that DIYers often make mistakes, and in some cases quite a few costly ones on their projects, thus negating, to some degree, the amount of money saved, the fun, and your pride.  To help avoid those unpleasant results, you should be aware of common mistakes made by DIYers.  Read on...

  • Building codes: 
    • Not checking need for permits and inspections required for your project in your jurisdiction.   Start off by inquiring with your local building authority and discussing your project in detail.  Since codes change frequently in some areas, rechecking for compliance is a good idea.
    • Common violations include not testing for lead/asbestos, improper venting of fans, improper sized circuits (and many other electrical projects), wrong fence heights
  • Preparation:  
    • Failure to thoroughly research your project and gather materials in advance.  Know what skills and materials you will need before you go to the big box store.
    • Inadequate supply of necessary tools.  If you want to save money, borrow or rent any you know you will rarely use.
    • Skimping on materials.  Cheaper materials may be easier on your bank balance, but they are not the best option in the long run.
    • Inaccuracy is the biggest pitfall a DIY can encounter, and it’s very easily avoided.  Measure twice; cut once is a motto you should live by when taking on any project!
  • Safety: 
    • Not reading/following all instructions for power tool use-- a foolhardy decision which often leads to unwanted trips to the ER.
    • Failure to wear appropriate clothing and protective accessories.
    • Using power tools without first inspecting their condition.
    • Disregarding the need for a first aid kit always at the ready

 

With these handy and important tips in mind, you can begin planning for your successful DIY project with peace of mind.  Enjoy!

Make March the Month for Green!

by Jeff Scislow

st patgricks daySt. Patrick’s Day is an Irish holiday celebrated around the globe to honor St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. It is a time for shamrocks, leprechauns, parades, corned beef and cabbage, and green beer.  ‘Tis an occasion for the wearing of the green, sporting of Irish symbols, singing loudly at the neighborhood pub, and searching for a four leaf clover. In addition, it can also act as a reminder of the benefits of going green in your home. 

Despite Kermit the Frog’s laments about the difficulty of being green, it is not at all hard to go green.  In fact, there are innumerable small steps you can take before, on, or after March 17th, to benefit the earth-- and your budget.  An eco-friendly lifestyle doesn't need to be difficult or expensive, and you can begin with these tips to create a home that'll make you — and the earth — proud.

Energy savers:

• Turn off video games (both the TV and the console) after playing, and you'll win back about $100 per year.

• Turn off the water while brushing your teeth. Leaving the tap running during the recommended two minutes of brushing can waste up to five gallons of water a day.

• Switch to Energy Star--rated CFL bulbs; they use 75 percent less energy and last 10 times longer than standard bulbs.

• Unplug cell phone chargers when not in use. Even when your phone isn't being charged, your charger is using electricity.

Office options:

Printer cartridges:  Every year hundreds of millions of cartridges are used in this country--and 70 percent  of those end up in landfills. However, cartridges are actually easily refilled/recycled, and you can also get paid to turn in used ones.

Recycle unneeded computer manuals and “how-to” guides by donating them to local workforce development groups and charity organizations.  This also applies to old laptops, printers, and other office equipment

Air Fresheners:

Improve the air quality of your home by adding specific-and easy-to-care-for house plants such as aloe, spider plants, or philodendron. Touted by NASA and horticulturists, these plants filter out common and harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

To celebrate your efforts to green both your home and our planet, observe St. Patrick’s Day with extra gusto this year and treat yourself to a second helping of corned beef and cabbage or Irish stew!

More Tax Tips For To Save You Money

by Jeff Scislow

We have finally seen signs that spring will indeed come this year, the fact is that it will arrive and will bring Tax Day with it.  After all, April 15th is less only a few weeks away!  It is in our best interests, then, to look further into the topic of tax deductions and ferret out ways to save money.

Some often-overlooked categories included the following:

Educational expenses

  • Student loans:  If parents pay back a child's student loans, the IRS treats the transactions as if the money were given to the child, who then paid the debt. So as long as the child is no longer claimed as a dependent, he or she can deduct up to $2,500 of student-loan interest paid by Mom and Dad each year--and he/she doesn't have to itemize to do so.
  • American Opportunity Credit:  The American Opportunity Credit is good for all four years of college.. This tax credit is based on 100% of the first $2,000 spent on qualifying college expenses and 25% of the next $2,000 ... for a maximum annual credit per student of $2,500. The full credit is available to individuals whose modified adjusted gross income is $80,000 or less ($160,000 or less for married couples).
  • Lifetime Learning Credit: This credit can be claimed for any number of years and can be used to offset the cost of higher education for yourself or your spouse . . . not just for your children.  The credit is worth up to $2,000 a year, based on 20% of up to $10,000 you spend for post-high-school courses that lead to new or improved job skills.
  • Tuition and fees deduction:  You can deduct tuition and other required fees (from $2000 to $4000) for the year that you are filing your return and for classes starting in the first three months of the year to follow.

Self-employed perks:

  • Baggage Fees: Self-employed travelers on business trips may deduct baggage fees charged by airlines.
  • Social Security taxes:  You can deduct half of your Social Security tax on IRS Form 1040. However, the deduction must be taken from your gross income in determining your adjusted gross income. It cannot be an itemized deduction and must not be listed on your Schedule C.

Home Office Use:  Click here for a simplified option for this deduction.

May these tips bring you inner warmth and many happy returns!

Scislow Is RE/MAX Award Winner

by Jeff Scislow

Jeff Scislow was among the award recipients at the 2014 RE/MAX Minnesota Awards Celebration held on February 11, 2015 in Minneapolis, MN.

jeff scislow

 

Jeff ranked #6 in Minnesota for sales by an Individual Agent. 

remax

Congratulations Jeff! Your hard work and dedication are truly admired and something to be proud of.

New Standards for Water Heaters and Air Conditioners in 2015

by Jeff Scislow

As a continuation of its on-going efforts to promote energy conservation, the Department of Energy has announced new standards for residential air conditioners (effective January 1st) and water heaters (to go into effect on April l6th of this year.)

home energy conservationThe new mandates included the following provisions:

Air Conditioners:

  • The new regulations divide the country into three regions — North, Southeast, and Southwest — each with unique minimum SEER and EER (energy efficiency ratio) performance requirements. That ratio is a measure of the cooling efficiency of your air conditioner or heat pump. The higher the SEER number, the better. 
  • In Minnesota, part of the North region, a SEER of 13 is still allowed, but a 14 SEER is required in the rest of the country.
  •  A “sell-through period” — an 18-month period during which distributors will be allowed to sell noncompliant equipment as long as it was manufactured before Jan. 1, 2015 — has caused confusion for many in the industry when it comes to enforcement.  Can that outdated equipment be sold in the Southeast and Southwest without meeting the different SEER and EER levels for those regions?  
  • DOE enforcement plans are not expected until the end of the first quarter of the year, thus adding to the current state of flux for distributors and purchasers.

 Water Heaters:

  • The new mandates will require higher Energy Factor (EF) ratings on virtually all residential gas, electric, oil, and tankless gas water heaters.
  • Gas water heaters above 55 gallons will have to convert to a PVC flue. They won’t be able to use a metal pipe anymore. That means homeowners face a decision on whether to purchase a new water heater or convert their old one.  
  • Another concern for homeowners is that the new water heaters will most likely be bigger because of increased insulation. That means there’s a chance they won’t fit in the space where the old water heater was.

Watch this space for further clarification—if any is forthcoming from DOE.

Setting The Stage For a Winter Sale

by Jeff Scislow

While mid-winter may not be an ideal time to sell your house, circumstances sometimes dictate that you do so in this season.  Yes, adverse weather conditions may temper the enthusiasm—and the traffic--of potential home buyers, but your competition will certainly be less, and you can be assured that those who do venture out will be serious buyers. 

home stagingYou may not be able to control the climatic conditions, but there are steps you can take to keep your home from being overshadowed by the weather and to make each showing a positive experience for your buyers. 

In addition to giving your house a thorough cleaning and de-cluttering, tidying up the yard, and touching up the exterior appearance to improve the curb appeal, you can also use these home staging tips to your advantage:

Keep paths clear and safe: 

  • Continually shovel a path through the snow.
  • Scrape the walk, driveway, and back deck and patio.
  • Sprinkle a layer of sand over the sidewalk and steps.
  • Open a path from the street to the sidewalk so for easy access.
  • If it's raining, put a rubber mat by the front door and/or a container to hold wet umbrellas/shoes.

Use home staging techniques to make your house look bigger, brighter, warmer, and more appealing.

  • Remove oversize furniture from smaller rooms.
  • Turn up the thermostat to keep the house warm.
  • Have a fire in the fireplace or hang artwork that resembles fire.
  • Place a colorful folded blanket over an armchair or a plump quilt at the end of the bed.
  • If you have hardwood floors, lay down a rug with warm hues to create a little coziness.
  • Add color via towels, linens, throw rugs, and accent pieces.
  • Place pots of seasonally appropriate greenery at your front and back doors.
  • Don’t overlook the positive impact of vases of fresh flowers or the appealing aroma of baked goods.

Let there be light.   

  • Have the curtains and blinds cleaned and open them as wide as possible in daylight hours.
  • Get the windows washed and keep them clean.
  • Replace lightbulbs with those of a higher wattage.
  • lean and turn on all lamps and light fixtures.
  • Brighten dark rooms with few windows by placing spotlights on the floor behind furniture.

Need advice or help in staging?  Call us!

A Valentine to Make Your Heart Soar—a New Home!

by Jeff Scislow

Looking for a unique gift for Valentine’s Day?  Forget flowers; ignore chocolates.  Flowers die, and candy gets eaten, but a new home will continue to bring pleasure for many years. What could be a more loving present for you and your loved ones than the joy of owning a home?

gift housePride of ownership is the number one reason people yearn to own their home. It means you can paint the walls any color you desire, turn up the volume on your CD player, attach permanent fixtures, and decorate according to your own taste. Home ownership gives you and your family a sense of stability, community, and security.

Other motivators for buying in 2015 include the following:

  • You’ll be making an investment in your future security as your house appreciates in value.
  • Economic forecasters and real estate gurus predict that 2015 will be the year of the Millennials, or Generation Y buyers (those in their late 20’s or early 30’s).  A strengthened economy, a recovering job market, and a greater sense of financial security have given this group of purchasers the confidence to buy a first home or move up to a larger one.
  • Government-sponsored incentives work in your favor.  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are now accepting down payments as little as 3%, and the FHA recently announced a decrease in the required mortgage insurance on such loans,
  • Home ownership provides tax breaks for you.  Your mortgage interest, the largest component of your mortgage payment, is fully deductible, as are your real estate taxes.   Prepaid interest, points, and mortgage insurance are often allowed as deductions, also.
  • You can borrow against your home's equity for a variety of reasons, such as home improvement, college costs, medical expenses, or starting a new business  venture, and the interest you pay on that loan is tax deductible.
  • If you have children, they will find stability in knowing that they aren't going to have to change schools again or make new friends after they move to their new home, and a sense of place becomes very real to them.
  • Home prices are expected to rise 4.5% this year, and mortgage rates will soon begin to climb.

Convinced that you should celebrate Valentine’s Day by looking for a home you and your family will love?  Contact us, and we will spend as much time with you as your heart desires!

Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 92

Contact Information

Photo of The Scislow Group Real Estate
The Scislow Group
RE/MAX Results
15451 Founders Lane
Apple Valley MN 55124
Office: (952) 953-5000
Mobile: (612) 276-2336
Fax: Fax : (952) 431-0420