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Leaving Your Home Alone—But Protected

by Jeff Scislow

Although our Minnesota weather may indicate otherwise, the calendar says it is summer—time to go on vacation (hopefully to somewhere warm and sunny!).  You most likely know the basic steps you should take to protect your home from intruders, i.e., arranging for mail and papers to be locked househeld until you return, removing the spare key from under the door mat, locking all doors and windows, leaving a radio or television on, and having neighbors park in your driveway, but there are other, lesser known tips you may want to heed before going off and leaving your home alone.

  • Don’t invite break-ins:
    • Move valuables out of the line of sight. Keep expensive items out of view from windows.

Leave blinds and curtains in normal daytime positions.

  • Resist the urge to broadcast your upcoming absence on social media
  • Don’t give burglars the tools to break into your house. Put ladders and crow bars (and anything else an intruder could use to break into your “alone” home) inside a locked shed.
  • Trim shrubs in front of the house to no higher than 3 feet from the ground, and trim trees so that the lowest branches are at least 6 feet up (less hiding room for burglars).
  • Take advantage of electronics:
    • Put a timer on the TV as well as the lights. Nothing says you’re home like the flickering lights of a TV. If you can find timers which are controlled by an app on your cell phone, that would be the best option
  • Connect some outside and inside lights to motion sensors.
  • Install a fake security camera on the outside of your home. Amazon.com sells a dummy camera for about $10. Put it up high so it’s harder to tell it’s fake.
  • Disconnect your electric garage door opener.
  • Turn down the phone's ringer.  Unanswered ringing phones alert savvy intruders to your home’s “aloneness.”
  • Employ other thwarting tactics:
    • If your garage door can be opened manually, put a lock on it and/or click here for other garage security tricks.
  • Seal any pet doors to prevent very thin burglars from sliding through.

Feeling more secure and ready to roll away from your ”home alone”?  If not, you might consider finding a reliable house sitter to put your mind at ease. 

In any event, rest, relax, and enjoy!!!!

Setting the Stage to Sell Your South Metro Home This Summer

by Jeff Scislow

If you’ve ever been involved in a theatrical production, you are well aware of the many hours of planning, practice, preparation, and carefully setting the stage that precede the actual performance.  You hope to gain rave reviews from your audience and will thus be sure to put forth much energy and effort in order to do so.

 

theater

In much the same way, you, as the seller of your home, have aspirations of wowing potential buyers with your stellar presentation and being rewarded by appreciative applause in the form of a quick sale.  Just practice the following script and stage directions for dramatic results…

The curtain opens on a tastefully furnished room with adequate, but not overcrowded or oversized, furniture.  There is ample room to walk between the moderately-sized pieces, and doors and windows are not blocked.  Flowers and bowls of fresh fruit add color and a pleasant scent.  Personal photos and memorabilia are not present, and the few paintings that adorn the walls contribute to the overall light and airy atmosphere.

 

ACT I:

Clean, clean, clean and de-clutter even more!  Create an impressive stage set by buffing floors and washing walls. This is the time to donate, throw away, and organize the many items that take up too much room, distract from positive features, make your home appear smaller, and create a feeling of chaos.  Let your granite countertops, roomy closets, and ample cabinet space take center stage for potential buyers. Your Realtor can advise you about other popular features you may want to include as you’re setting the stage for your open house.


Intermission:

Audience members will now be milling about the area outside your theatre, so be sure that you have taken steps to make it attractive and appealing.

 

ACT II:

 

Concentrate on stage lighting.  Wash windows, open curtains and drapes, illuminate darker spaces. Put away winter bedding, accessories, and area rugs. Bring in the spirit of summer stage setting with soft colors. Consider investing in inexpensive items like towels, throw pillows, candles and table settings in lavender, yellow, sage green and pale blue.   

 

Final curtain:

Time to take a bow, accept the flowers, bask in the applause, and enjoy the accolades. Your presentation and setting of the stage have been a complete success, and you will soon be entertaining offers for your South Metro home.

Celebrating the 4th of July!

by Jeff Scislow

flag“America is best described in one word--freedom”   Dwight D. Eisenhower

As Americans, we celebrate Independence Day on July 4th to honor our nation’s birthday and the Declaration of Independence. It is a day replete with parades, cookouts, picnics, waving flags, fireworks, and a heavy dose of patriotism. 

 

JULY 4, 1776:  The Second Continental Congress completed its work on the Declaration of Independence.

JULY 4, 1941:  Independence Day was first celebrated as a federal legal holiday.

 

“There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right with America.” Bill Clinton

Did you know that there is a one-gun salute fired at noon on July 4th on every capable military base?  It is called the Salute to the Union.


IT’S A GRAND OLD FLAG
and there are specific rules about displaying it proudly and properly.

Be sure to brush up on the dos and don’ts for honoring Old Glory.

FABULOUS FOOD:  Having a cookout or picnic with friends and family?   Think about foods that come in patriotic colors--white snow cone cups filled with red and blue berries, e.g.  Be sure to offer hot dogs, hamburgers, cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans, and watermelon for an all-American meal.  Maybe even Mom’s apple pie to top it off!  Food Network stars share many delicious recipes for this holiday, and the web even offers a video of grilling safety tips.

Having a holiday gathering at your home or nearby park?  Better Homes and Gardens has many websites to help you with food, decorations, and crafts for the kids. A holiday trivia contest or a themed party game, such as Uncle Sam’s Hat, offer fun for all ages.

fireworksFIREWORKS FINALE:  Nearly every U.S. city or town offers an exciting fireworks display to end the day’s festivities, and we’re never to old or young to ooh and ah at the spectacle.  Some notable shows are held at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Charles River in Boston, Mt. Rushmore, the Rose Bowl, and the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  Perhaps the longest celebration is fittingly held in Philadelphia--a 9 day festival culminating in back-to-back fireworks!

George Washington once said, “Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.”  Do remember, however, that such a plant needs to cherished, nourished, and protected by each and every American.


Have a safe and happy 4th!

 

Finding An Affordable South Metro Home

by Jeff Scislow

While home ownership is still a large part of the American dream, many potential buyers, especially first-timers, experience feelings of frustration when undertaking such a large step.  One major contributing factor in their unease, in spite of relatively stable prices and still-low interest rates, is their inability to locate an affordable home.  They know what they want, where they want it, and how much they can pay but just can’t seem to find “the” house they desire.

south metro homeAs we Realtors well know, there are affordable South Metro homes out there, but would-be purchasers need to be able to think outside the box, explore numerous assistance programs, and make a sacrifice or two in their list of “must haves.”  Areas in which to consider scaling back include:

  • Price:  Be realistic and look only at homes in your budgeted range.  Actually, it’s often a good idea to spend  20% less than what the bank tells you that you can afford.
  • Liquidity:  While you may have to drain your savings to make the numbers affordable, hitting the 20% down mark immediately lowers your monthly payment with a smaller loan, better interest rate, and no private mortgage insurance (PMI).
  • Neighborhood:  You may not be able to purchase within walking distance to recreational areas, shopping, and dining or in the area of your dreams. Being a short drive or bus ride away from these amenities may be a small price to pay in order to find an affordable home.
  • Type of home:  If location and other factors are more important, you may have to make the shift from a single-family home search to a condo, townhouse, or duplex.  Perhaps, too, we can assist you in looking for foreclosures and/or short sales.
  • Size:  Remember, smaller square footage does not always equate with being cramped; look for homes with open floor plans and lots of access to outdoor living spaces.  Locate homes with rooms that can serve a dual purpose, such as guest room and office.  Can’t afford a large back yard?  Find one with room for a grill and some chairs—and visit nearby parks.

Search out sources of assistance.  FHA loans require only a low down payment and will soon offer the HAWK program to discount insurance costs for buyers.  In addition, Minnesota administers HUD funds for numerous assistance programs for state residents who qualify and provides a Home Stretch Program for first time buyers.

Your affordable home is out there!  Enjoy your South Metro home search!

Is a Vacant Home for You?

by Jeff Scislow

As you begin your search for a house, you may be tempted by the lower price of a vacant home—an idea that certainly bears investigation.  An unoccupied home may be the best bargain on the block, yet, potential buyers should beware: vacant homes often present problems due to neglect, lack of maintenance, aging, natural and human damage, and other factors.

vacant homeIt is in your best interest, therefore, to be aware of possible pitfalls and to exercise due diligence before making such a purchase. Of course, you and your Realtor will observe and assess obvious maintenance problems such as broken water pipes, unhealthy molds, soot damage, water damage, discolored flooring, and stolen copper wires or other fixtures. In addition, possible problems of vacant homes may also include poor air quality, peeling paint, strong odors, and swelling of walls and ceilings.  It is also a wise idea to check city permits because it will provide you with reliable information regarding the house's history of remodeling.

Even armed with that important information, however, you still need to be aware of less obvious areas of concern associated with a vacant home. For example, you should know that…

  • Lack of utilities is can be a major problem:  It prevents you from obtaining a thorough home inspection. With no way to check the water, electric, gas, heating and cooling system, and appliances, even a professional home inspector is unable to properly evaluate the house. There could be wiring problems, water or gas leaks, or other defects, any of which would be very costly to repair. It might be possible to have the utilities turned on temporarily. But that can be a hassle and requires paying a deposit and putting the utilities in the prospective buyer's name. Forgoing these major system inspections is a big risk.

  • Obtaining insurance may be challenging:  Most insurance agencies will not insure a vacant home without their agent inspecting it. This is significant because the insurance agent might require costly repairs before issuing a policy (for which the premiums are higher)—or even refuse your request entirely.
  • Additional research is necessary:  Check for outstanding violations, code issues, liens, and unpaid HOA fees or utility bills.

Although buying a vacant home can be risky, if you exercise caution and diligence and heed the advice of your trusted agent, it is often a very doable endeavor!

Twin Cities Has Largest Pool of Homes for Sale in Almost a Year

Minneapolis, Minnesota (June 11, 2014) –House hunters in the 13-county Twin Cities metropolitan area are finally getting more to choose from. Inventory levels were up 6.1 percent to 16,368 homes for sale in May 2014. This comes as new listings were up 3.0 percent to 8,572 and pending sales were down 9.0 percent to 5,260. Even though overall buyer demand remains below 2013 levels, it's still well above 2011 and 2012 levels. Moreover, buyer demand increased for traditional homes.

Absorption rates actually slowed to 3.9 months of supply, thanks to recent inventory increases. Even with more supply and less demand, the mix of sales continues to skew away from distressed properties and toward traditional homes that sell at higher price points. Consequently, the median sales price rose 8.2 percent to $210,000 – the highest May median sales price since 2007 and tied for the highest median price for any month since December 2007.

Though new listings rose 3.0 percent compared to last May, traditional new listings rose 14.1 percent while foreclosure and short sale new listings fell 44.0 percent and 47.7 percent, respectively. Similarly, though pending sales were down 9.0 percent, traditional pending sales rose 0.7 percent while foreclosure and short sale pendings fell 39.3 percent and 47.3 percent. And again, overall inventory was up 6.1 percent but traditional inventory was up 25.9 percent as foreclosure inventory fell 36.6 percent and short sale inventory plummeted by 53.6 percent.

With inventory up, consumers now have the largest pool of homes for sale in almost a year. Inventory hasn't shown this many consecutive year-over-year increases in about 3½ years. Perhaps more importantly, a larger share of that inventory falls under the more desirable traditional segment.

"Yes there's more inventory, but not in all areas or price points," said Emily Green, President of the Minneapolis Area Association of REALTORS® (MAAR). "The lack of supply is really starting to weigh on consumers and on sales numbers. This market has been supply-constrained for long enough, but the trend is moving in a positive direction."

As a result of this ongoing shift toward higher-priced and higher-quality product, the median sales price for the metro rose 8.2 percent to $210,000. That now makes 27 straight months of year-over-year price gains. Also helping along price recovery is the fact that foreclosures and short sales made up only about 10.0 percent of all new listings and about 15.0 percent of all closed sales. Those are the lowest figures since October 2007 and May 2007, respectively.

Homes continued to sell quickly, as days on market was down 7.0 percent to 80 days, on average. Sellers are receiving an average of 96.8 percent of their original list price. The Twin Cities now has 3.9 months' supply of inventory, just a tad higher than last May and consistent with this phase of market recovery.

"More inventory really is a good sign," said Mike Hoffman, MAAR President-Elect. "But housing relies heavily on the economy. That said, job growth, unemployment, consumer confidence and family financial situations must continue to show improvement."

All information is according to the Minneapolis Area Association of REALTORS® (MAAR) based on data from NorthstarMLS. MAAR is the leading regional advocate and provider of information services and research on the real estate industry for brokers, real estate professionals and the public. MAAR serves the Twin Cities 13-county metro area and western Wisconsin. 10K Research and Marketing, LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of MAAR.

All About Appraisals—Or At Least Part I

by Jeff Scislow

You’re almost there!  After months of getting your finances in order, setting priorities, and viewing prospective houses, you’ve finally found the South Metro home of your dreams.  So now it’s time for the appraisal, a trained and licensed professional’s evaluation of the current fair market value of the home to make sure that the value supports the purchase price.

home appraisalA home appraisal protects the lender from getting stuck with property that's worth less than its investment, and it protects you from paying too much.  It is a no-nonsense factor in what can be an emotional process for you, the buyer, and it reassures the lender that the loan will be guaranteed by the value of the property.  Although the lender hires the appraiser, his/her services are paid for by you, the loan applicant.

There are two basic methods of appraisal used for residential properties. These are the sales comparison approach and the cost approach.

  • In the sales comparison approach, the market value of the property is determined by the appraiser by comparing it to other properties of the same kind in the same geographical area that have been sold recently. (These other properties are called "comparables" or "comps.")
  • The cost approach is an evaluation of how much money it would cost to replace the home if it were to be destroyed. This approach is often used to evaluate the market value of new properties.

What does an appraiser actually appraise?  Included in the standardized criteria are items such as

  • the size of the residence and the number of rooms
  • the exterior structure of the house, the materials used in and the condition of the foundation, siding, and roof,  and any damage, such as leaks or cracks, and defects
  • walls, flooring, windows, and doors will be carefully inspected to determine quality and identify any damage or defects. The lighting fixtures, kitchen appliances, and plumbing are also evaluated.

Not to be confused with a home inspection, the on-site appraisal results in a report in which

  • the subject property is compared with three similar properties in the area
  • the local real estate market is assessed
  • negative aspects affecting the appraisal are identified
  • the selling time period is estimated
  • the property location is described.

Clear on all that?  Watch this space for Appraisals, Part II--how to deal with a low appraisal.

Time for After-Winter—Hooray, Hooray!---Home Maintenance

by Jeff Scislow

FINALLY!  You have managed to survive an extraordinarily long and harsh winter and are no doubt delighted that you can at last bid adieu to frigid temperatures, ice, and snow. To celebrate your perseverance and the presence of more comfortable weather, take time to rest and relax outside.  home maintenanceWhile you’re doing that, however, you may want to begin a mental checklist of after-winter home maintenance projects that will certainly pay off in the coming months.

Years ago, the term “spring cleaning” referred primarily to refurbishing the interior of the house and involved the airing of drapes and the beating of rungs hung outside on clotheslines.  The modern version of that activity concentrates more on exterior home maintenance and includes inspection, repair, and replacement of possible weather-damaged items.

Your checklist should encompass all areas of your property—from roof to foundation.  The following categories should take precedence: 

  • The roof:  Check for ice, hail, or water damage from winter. Repairing minor damage can be a quick do-it-yourself fix, and staying on top of your roof’s condition can save you money by avoiding water damage later on.  Look for loose, warped, or missing shingles and make sure the chimney flashing and skylight seals are intact.
  • Gutters:  Clear winter storm debris from gutters and downspouts and check that they are still securely attached to the house. Blocked or loose gutters can allow water into your home and damage trim.
  • Exterior walls:  Inspect siding for pieces that have come loose during winter storms.  If you have wood siding, check for openings, damaged areas or knots that have popped out, making way for carpenter ants, woodpeckers, and other critters.  Check stucco and brick for trouble spots.
  • Windows:  be sure to check that any caulking and weather stripping you have in place has remained intact.. If you experienced condensation inside the window, the glass will need to be replaced.
  • Foundation and grading: Examine the foundation from top to bottom for masonry cracks and be on the lookout for pooling water and poor drainage conditions.
  • Other concrete concerns:  Patch cracks in concrete driveways, sidewalks, and steps to keep water out and prevent further expansion.

And after you have patted yourself on the back for completing these tasks, you might want to consider a few more aspects of home maintenance such as your HVAC system, the dryer vent, and washing machine hoses.

Now is a Great Time to Buy a House! Are You Ready?

by Jeff Scislow

Good news!  Americans’ outlook toward the housing market continued to improve in April, perhaps foreshadowing an increase in housing activity in the coming months, according to results from Fannie Mae’s April 2014 National Housing Survey.  Respondents who say it is a good time to buy a house held steady at 69 percent, and those who say it is a good time to sell a house increased 4 percentage points from last month to 42 percent, an all-time survey high.

Given that vote of confidence, still-low interest rates, and the most affordable prices in over a decade, it only makes sense that you seriously view this year as a favorable time to buy a house.  Before you embark on this adventure, however, make sure you are prepared so that the journey will be enjoyable.

  • Step 1:  Be aware of your credit score and what that number actually means in terms of a house purchase i.e., the higher your FICO score, which ranges from 300 to 850, the better interest rate you'll qualify for.
  • Step 2:  Bet your finances in order.  Figure out your current monthly expenses.  Calculate how much of a down payment you can realistically afford.  Before you actually buy a home, know the cost of property taxes, utilities, HOA fees, moving expenses, home owners’ insurance, closing costs, and repair/maintenance expenses.  Use a mortgage calculator to learn how much house you can actually afford.
  • Step 4:  Decide what you want in terms of size, features, location, etc.  Consider both current and future needs and be prepared to prioritize your wish list.  What tradeoffs are you willing to make?  Understand from the beginning that you’ll most likely have to make compromises—or even a sacrifice or two.  HUD has a straightforward survey to help you identify what you really want, as does PropertyToolbox.com.
  • Step 5:  Call us!! Don’t feel that you have to wait until you’ve completed steps 1-4, however, as we’d be happy to guide you through any/all of those areas at any time.  We want buying a house to be a pleasant—and exciting—experience for you, and we look forward to making it so!

What You Need to Know To Become a Real Estate Investor

by Jeff Scislow

Perhaps you're thinking about investing in a rental property.  If so, experts say low home prices combined with low interest rates make this the best time in years to become a real-estate investor, someone who is involved with the purchase, ownership, management, and rental/sale of real estate for profit.

real estate investorIf you’re concerned about the monetary risks associated with becoming a real estate investor, there are certainly steps you can take to not only ease your mind but also allow you to enjoy confident participation in a new endeavor.   “And what are those?” you may ask.  Continue reading for helpful tips…

  • Think about the risks of not investingAre you aware that if you save cash without investing it properly, the value of your cash shrinks by about 5% every single year because of inflation?
  • Be sure you will have positive cash flow.  It's important to consider all of the new expenses, including your mortgage payment, property taxes, association fees, insurance, and repairs. You should also consider that there could be times when the property is not rented, and you may not collect anything for a month or two.  If you can collect rent that is generally higher than your expenses, the property is something to consider.
  • Be patient in waiting for the right property.  Although the sources of your search may include

banks, government agencies, public auctions, and private sales, we certainly recommend contacting us to guide you in your quest to become a real estate investor!   Most investors employ real estate agents and real estate attorneys to assist with the acquisition process, as it can be quite complex, and improperly executed transactions can be very costly.

  • Save time and headaches: Line up an attorney, a property management firm, a variety of maintenance individuals, and an accountant to handle problems.
  • Remind yourself of the positives, such as the possible increases in value due to appreciation and your ability to improve the property and increase its value at sale.  Remember that although your fixed mortgage will remain constant over time, inflation that drives up home construction costs will also drive up rents. Population growth creates housing demand, again driving up rent prices if supply cannot keep pace.  Know, too, that as you pay down your mortgage, the increase in equity can be used for other purposes and real estate investments.

Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 57

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