Archive for June, 2016
Selling Real Estate in SW Florida Gets a New Sales Alphabet. Today, selling real estate in SW Florida (or Kalamazoo, for that matter) has been transformed in important ways. In others, it’s remained pretty much as it was 50 years ago. Let’s start with the changes:
- The buyers’ ability to identify properties has undergone a revolution. Fifty years ago, the process of hunting for and comparing available homes was constrained by the availability of information. Selling real estate in SW Florida involved getting the word out, largely through printed media. Newspaper and magazine advertisements drove buyers’ awareness—or else the agent’s Xeroxed listing sheets. That was about it (in addition to driving around, looking for ‘For Sale’ signs).
- Buyer’s ability to readily compare homes has likewise been vastly improved. ‘Vastly improved’ is an understatement: anyone selling SW Florida real estate today knows that their listing will be instantly available online, including a wealth of detail formerly only availableto interested buyers who obtained a copy of the listing sheet. Now it’s all there on their laptop or smart phone screen, side-by-side with every other comparable property’s. When the drill-down data (items like ‘cost per square foot’ ‘projected mortgage payment’) is instantly available for side-by-side comparisons, selling real estate without being able to demonstrate genuine value is an impossibility.
- Today financial visibility—in terms of the viability of a proposed purchase—is no longer anything like the mystery it was in times past. The process of filling out a mortgage application and having to wait interminably for the bankers’ next questions has yielded to the realities of a considerably more competitive arena. Online rate ‘locks’ can actually happen (although the actual verification of same remains a process subject to the more traditional pace).
These fundamental shifts in the buying and selling of SW Florida real estate make the whole process much more efficient for buyers and sellers. By improving the ease and likelihood of making the best match for each, it also builds buyer confidence through transparency.
Of course, there still are elements that remain largely unchanged. One is the need for sellers to document and put forward their property’s selling points above and beyond their listing’s spare mechanical data points…that is, to bring creative marketing experience to the table. Selling real estate, like every other kind of selling, is at its best when it connects with buyers by firing their imaginations in positive and uplifting ways. Another is the continuing need to make sure all the documentation is letter-perfect: i’s dotted and t’s crossed.
Selling Real Estate in SW Florida Gets a New Sales Alphabet. There once was an adage about the ABC’s of selling: “Always Be Closing!” Today, making SW Florida real estate transactions happen isn’t about bringing pressure to bear on anyone! It’s supplying the service of aiding and abetting our newly transparent marketplace. My own “ABC” works out to be more like, “Always Be Contributing!”—a corny way of saying my job is to help SW Florida’s buyers and sellers make the best match reliably and effortlessly. The first step is to give me a call!
Home automation is going mainstream.
SW Florida Home Automation—Ideally, Smart (but not Too Smart!) There: I said it. We all knew it would happen, but some of us hoped it would happen later. The prospect of our house being smarter than we are has been out there since as far back as when the first Terminator movie hit VHS (or was it Beta? Or Betamax?)…
Anyway, the “Smart House” idea has always had such a science-fictiony patina, it allowed many SW Florida homeowners the valiant hope that the whole thing might be delayed—at least until there was a flying car parked in every garage. Now it looks like our hopes are soon to be dashed. At least, that seemed to be the news coming out of Spain last week.
According to reports from last week’s Mobile World Congress assembled in Barcelona, “the Iot was pervasive.” If you haven’t heard what “the IoT” is, maybe you’d better sit down—
The IoT is short for “the Internet of Things.” It’s a logical development. For home automation to go mainstream, every smart part of it has to communicate, one way or another, with everything else. Home Wi-Fi plus the web opens many possibilities. “M2M” devices are ones that use a wireless network…well, you get the idea. When your Smart Refrigerator needs to tell you it is about to run out of 1% milk, it has to let your Smartphone know, right? Or else message your car’s digital console. Or else tell the Smart Grocery Store to send a drone over…Since all those are Things, and the best way to transfer information is through the Internet…voila! The Internet of Things.
More news from Barcelona will follow, but first I hasten to mention that there are lots of current useful innovations for SW Florida homeowners; innovations that are smart—but not so smart that anyone needs to feel threatened. For instance, heating and cooling are perfect for IOT. The ability to control your energy-eating heating and cooling devices via your smart phone can already save a lot on utility bills. Older automated systems relied on painstaking day-by-day (and even hour-by-hour) programming, yet still didn’t account for changes in schedule. With a phone-triggered remote command system, you can work late at the office yet easily delay home heating or cooling until just before you get home.
Web-enabled home security systems make possible inexpensive remote monitoring by professionals—or even clever innovations like the one that rings your phone when someone approaches the front door, or lets you answer a doorbell ring from your phone. It can sound like you’re on the intercom inside the house. Would-be burglars hate that one (even more than the automated Rottweiler barking setups) …
But back to the news from Barcelona, with exhibitors’ demo devices embodying the latest ideas for what we will be needing when the IoT really gets going. Smart tape measures to beam measurements to your phone; wearable trackers that eavesdrop on your children (a “smart bracelet for children”); “Petfit” for overweight dogs (it keeps track of your pet’s steps, but, unfortunately, is not water-resistant yet); Samsung’s internet fridge (with a 21” screen that displays—well, a shopping list) …
SW Florida Home Automation—Ideally, Smart (but not Too Smart!) Actually, when you wade into the details, maybe the lot isn’t quite ready to overwhelm our SW Florida castles, at least not just yet. Home automation may still be limited to truly useful innovations for a while—those that are smart, but not too smart—the kind that add clear value to a home when it’s time to sell. When that future occasion arises, I hope you (or the refrigerator) will remember to call me!
Will a Low Down Payment Option Benefit SW Florida Borrowers? Last week brought an announcement that should get the attention of a large segment of would-be SW Florida home buyers—particularly those who have been stymied by the difficulty of trying to build their credit scores by paying all the monthly bills on time while simultaneously saving up a pile of cash for a down payment.
For too many SW Florida nine-to-fivers, the two ambitions are achievable—just not at the same time. Although inflation hasn’t been horrendous, even a modest degree of rising prices causes a crunch for those whose incomes are flat. For many Americans, coming up with the down payment has been an immovable stumbling block.
Into the breach came last week’s Bank of America announcement of a new mortgage product. Cutting to the chase, these home loans will be structured to allow qualified homeowners to make down payments of as little as 3%.
If you don’t believe there’s ever any free lunch, you may be wondering why, if this makes sense to a bank, it hasn’t been offered until now. The answer has to do with the way the FHA regulates home loans.
The Federal Housing Administration insures banks against defaults on FHA-backed mortgages (they allow down payments of as little as 3.5%) but sometimes holds the banks responsible when borrowers fail to repay. In fact, the FHA won billions in settlements in recent years when bank paperwork turned out to be inaccurate. The banks were not pleased: they said many of the errors were minor. They also decided to cut back on offering FHA loans. That had the effect of slowing the residential real estate market across the U.S.—and SW Florida was no exception.
This new home loan structure is Bank of America’s solution for “families of modest means”—a group everyone agrees has been left out in the cold. It avoids FHA rules by avoiding the FHA altogether, instead relying on the backing of Freddie Mac and a nonprofit fund. Among the guidelines for the new low down payment product are requirements that borrowers have credit scores of at least 660 (FHA allows 580) and incomes that are lower than the area’s median. Because there will be no requirement that borrowers pay for private mortgage insurance, the loans should be less expensive than corresponding FHA mortgages. Great deal!
It remains to be seen how widely available such loans are going to be for SW Florida borrowers. Bank of America will at first be capping the number of loans it issues while it tests the market. But it’s a sure thing that other national lenders will be watching what happens…and very likely rolling out their own low down payment products. It should be one answer for folks who have proved they are deserving and responsible—yet have found themselves closed out of the market.
Will a Low Down Payment Option Benefit SW Florida Borrowers? As the spring selling season heats up, many potential opportunities also open up for sharp-eyed prospective buyers. If you are one, I’m standing by to help! Please Call Me!
SW Florida Landlords & the Professional Property Management. Everyone who owns a rental property in SW Florida makes a continuing management decision concerning how much of the day-to-day operational responsibility to outsource. Some are inclined to tackle the nuts and bolts of tenant management, while others are content to leave it to one of SW Florida’s professional property managers.
If the main motive for acquiring the rental was for its value as a long-term real estate investment, there is an increased likelihood that one of SW Florida’s professional property management firms will get the nod. Beyond the dollars-and-cents dimension—which can boil down to a calculation on how you value your own time—there can be personal elements behind the decision. Do you enjoy keeping a close watch on all your business dealings? Or is minimizing the hassle factor a higher priority? Those are tradeoffs only you can calculate, or recalculate if your initial decision doesn’t work out.
When all is said and done, setting up the way a rental property is to be managed is identical to creating the operations blueprint for any ongoing business enterprise. Both involve a customer relations element. As landlord, you are the proprietor, and the tenants are the customers. Every business that hopes to maximize its return on operations soon experiences why taking customer satisfaction into account pays dividends (at least, the more successful ones do)!
By that yardstick, the decision on whether to choose professional property management is not only about a landlord’s willingness to expand the time and effort their personal involvement will require. That choice should also take the tenant’s satisfaction into account…and on that score, the years of experience that come with a veteran SW Florida professional property management firm can tilt the scales in its favor.
Having a proven system for handling trouble calls in a timely manner is one obvious advantage—as is being able to tap the talent of professionals whose full-time job it is to take those inevitable situations in stride.
SW Florida Landlords & the Professional Property Management. Locating and helping you acquire choice SW Florida investment properties is one way I help my clients. Another is to provide a solid resource for new owners as they go about organizing their ongoing tenant-handling arrangements. Call me anytime to discuss today’s great current array of available investment properties—and the best ways you can make the most of them!
First Step for Choosing the Right SW Florida Real Estate Agent. When interviewed following the successful close of their home’s sale, a convincing majority of homeowners say that one of the most decisive factors came early on: choosing the right real estate agent. The reasons given go further than simply chaperoning the business transaction. The right agent does more than pare down the stress level that can creep into the process at any moment; does more than handle the numerous contractual issues that need to be addressed before a sale can reach a tidy conclusion.
The right agent lets you rest easy, knowing that your listing is getting the full energy and professional attention it deserves. When the choice is the right one, you know that your property is on display 24-7—being presented to the potential buyers most likely to buy.
Unless you inherited the property, you probably have clear memories of the SW Florida agent who was there when you originally bought. If it’s a positive image of a friendly, knowledgeable professional who tackled the details with skill and energy—and who seemed to make everything somehow easier than you expected—then that someone is sure to have the inside track.
If that’s not the case (or if enough time has passed that he or she is no longer available), you’ve got to choose your agent.But rather than letting the impending task loom as an arduous undertaking, take heart! Consider that you are in the proverbial catbird seat (whatever that is). Just look at it from my perspective, as a real estate agent in SW Florida.
Every SW Florida real estate agent is engaged in a sort of retail business. The homes for sale are our “products” on the shelf. Now, although it’s true that every real estate agent in the area is able to expose their buyer clients to the entire “inventory”—including the other SW Florida agents’ homes for sale—it’s much more desirable when our own “shelves” are stocked with great properties.
That means that your home is in strong demand among SW Florida real estate agents, and most of them will do their best to make hiring them as painless as possible. If you have some direct questions you’d like to ask (but would normally be too polite to do so), you needn’t hesitate. “What homes weren’t you able to sell last year…and why not?” is a good one. So is, “Can you give me the contact information for three recent clients?”
The right real estate agent—the one you want—won’t make you feel as if you’ve posed an awkward question. A great agent will be able put you at ease in any situation. If he or she fails to do so, that’s not the right agent! (and finding that out means your interview succeeded).
First Step for Choosing the Right SW Florida Real Estate Agent. Selecting the right SW Florida real estate agent to sell your property is the logical first step because it makes all the following steps so much easier. I hope you’ll include me on your list of the most likely candidates…and give me a call to prove why you should!
SW Florida’s spring selling season is underway!
The SW Florida Spring Selling Season Couldn’t Wait. Okay—it’s understandable if that seems like a somewhat premature announcement, but it is verifiable from any number of sources. Never mind that this year, spring doesn’t officially arrive in SW Florida until March 20…but that’s only what astronomers say (and they can’t even decide whether Pluto is a planet). Meteorologists take issue with them, anyway. It’s always March 1 as far as meteorologists are concerned. But this year’s Godzilla El Niño has made everything they say subject to revision. And anyway, we’re talking about real estate—and when it comes to real estate, spring is here already!
Now, it may be true that if you look on one of those bank calendars you got in the mail last December, it’s likely to tell you that we’re weeks away from the change in seasons. And depending on what the latest weather seems to be doing, winter may seem to be hanging on for a while longer.
But nimble SW Florida real estate watchers know they can’t believe everything they read (or see happening outside in the garden). Cherry blossoms can’t call the shots when it comes to announcing SW Florida’s spring selling season, any more than tulips can. And that groundhog can stay in his den, for all the difference it makes to home sales.
This is fact: according to the real estate industry’s calendar, the spring selling season—in SW Florida and everywhere else across the nation—has definitely sprung!
Supporting evidence has flooded in from everywhere. For example:
- Home Depot just announced it is hiring 80,000 workers for spring. These are the folks who work the cash registers [nowadays, shouldn’t they be called “plastic card registers?”] and help us wander up and down the aisles, looking for things we can’t describe exactly. Without them, spring wouldn’t be the same. With them, spring is clearly underway.
- Internet real estate behemoth Zillow came out advising that everybody who is thinking about taking advantage of the spring selling season should start preparing their property “NOW”—and that was two weeks ago!
- CNBC put it in real-time: “Spring housing season kicks off with record short supply” was their headline. If CNBC says so, who could argue?
- Baseball teams have hightailed it into camp. That should end the discussion…
The SW Florida Spring Selling Season Couldn’t Wait. These harbingers of the spring selling season should certainly mean more than robins hopping across lawns or yellow and pink Peeps appearing on grocery store shelves. And even for any overly cautious souls who decide to wait for the bank calendars’ say-so, taking full advantage of the spring selling season in SW Florida necessarily calls for advance preparation. A strong way to start is by giving me a call!
SW Florida Home Prices Affected by Renovation Decisions. Here’s an instant spot quiz— (see what comes to mind within a second or two):
If you decide to sell your SW Florida home, if you had a crystal ball, what’s the most important detail about the sale result? Quick! Answer!
If you’re like seven out of ten people, you were curious about the bottom line: “what price did it sell for?” Some people come up with “how long did it take?”—but usually, that’s the second or third choice (“what were the buyers like?” is another contender).
It’s hardly surprising that the closer they get to putting their own house up for sale, home prices are foremost in people’s minds. Yet most homeowners assume that the ultimate sale price will be determined by market forces outside their control. That’s sort of true, but not entirely so. Home prices aren’t set in stone. Homeowners do have a degree of control over what their property will bring—if they choose to exercise it. One key to seizing that control is the smart application of remodeling dollars to areas that pay off.
For SW Florida homeowners who plan to continue living in their homes for the foreseeable future, it’s less of an issue. They can be comfortable putting their remodeling project dollars in the directions that make the home more comfortable and agreeable to their own family lifestyles. They can safely follow their own priorities without worrying too much about where current tastes and trends are heading, unless you are someone who just enjoys being counted in the fashion vanguard.
But if you’re fairly certain that you will list your SW Florida home sometime soon, you should remember that a property’s salability can be greatly affected by the remodeling direction that’s taken. Rather than making those decisions guided solely by your personal preferences, it makes good sense to take into account what buyers consider valuable, if for no other reason than the likelihood that those dollars will come back! There are three areas that deserve consideration:
Kitchens always seem to get the most attention when it comes to boosting home prices. A homeowner may prefer a warm, comfortingly cozy space for the center of family activity that the kitchen usually becomes—but many prospective buyers go the other way. Light and bright is vastly preferred over cramped and dark for buyers who are comparing kitchens—and the resulting home prices offered usually reflect it. If your property will be among the SW Florida listings anytime soon, think about directing some remodeling energy there.
The master bedroom is growing in importance, too. Many buyers who in earlier eras may have valued a formal dining room, now forego it altogether—preferring an attractive master as a sanctuary from the stresses of the outside world.
Living rooms can also add to the bottom line a home winds up fetching. An open, bright multi-purpose area that’s easily envisioned as a center for family entertainment and social gatherings can give a strong boost to perceived value. Simple renovation ideas like removing dated window coverings or replacing worn carpet can be dollars well spent.
SW Florida Home Prices Affected by Renovation Decisions. If selling is anywhere on your horizon, it won’t be long before keeping tabs on trends in SW Florida home prices becomes a new personal priority. Whether early on or last-minute, calling me for a no-obligation consultation can make a big difference for maximizing your sale’s result!
For SW Florida Homeowners, Tax Deductions Add Major. Sure, even the idea of home ownership is appealing for all of the traditional emotional and lifestyle reasons. Having proprietary control over your family’s center of operations is a goal for most SW Florida residents—just as most of us would consider it a necessary evil if professional obligations make frequent moves unavoidable. Travel may be broadening, but most rolling stones (no matter how moss-less) eventually hanker to settle down.
But aside from the lifestyle aspects, another major advantage to settling down and owning your home gets its turn in the limelight at least once a year. This advantage is anything other than abstract. The time of year is April 15, when the concrete financial benefits are tallied up in the very welcome form of SW Florida homeowner tax deductions.
Tax advice is not my specialty—for that, you should always defer to your qualified financial advisor, whose full-time job it is to do all that’s humanly possible to keep track of the ever-changing Federal Tax Code. But even non-specialists know that some of the most beneficial provisions in the Code’s 75,000 pages do relate to the range of significant homeowner tax deductions.
In the National Association of Realtors’ periodical houselogic, writer Dona DeZube recently surveyed some of the major ones—tax tips that deserve to be investigated by any SW Florida homeowner who will soon be charting out their own mid-April strategies.
The list was headed by the most obvious one, the mortgage interest deduction, which applies to interest paid on a loan secured by the place you live in. That doesn’t have to be a house—it could also be a trailer or a boat. As long as you sleep and cook in it, if it also has toilet facilities, interest paid for its purchase falls into the category.
Likewise, there is the prepaid interest deduction. Prepaid interest (aka “points”) you pay in when you take out a mortgage or refi can usually be deducted in the year it is originated. An exception is when you refinance and use the proceeds for other than home improvements, in which case the deduction is spread out over the life of the loan. If you refinance again, it gets a little more complicated (may be time to ring up that qualified advisor again).
Another hefty deduction is the one for SW Florida property taxes you have paid. If your mortgage lender required you to insure repayment through private mortgage insurance (PMI), if your income is less than a set amount, the premiums may be fully deductible (otherwise, a reduced deduction will apply). Even more complicated rules apply to government insurance premiums (qualified advisor time).
More homeowner tax deductions can be applicable, too, with varying degrees of complication—particularly those which relate to SW Florida vacation homes. And there are also tax credits for things like energy-efficient home systems.
For SW Florida Homeowners, Tax Deductions Add Major. The bottom line deductibility of many aspects of home ownership can be a major reason why April 15 gets many SW Florida renters to do some serious examination of their residential futures. I’m here to help with any of your own real estate plans!
Ways that SW Florida Location, Location, Location! Affects Value. “Location, location, location!” is one of the few proclamations which needs no verb, no adjective, no preposition to fully communicate its message. Everyone in SW Florida understands—and usually agrees with—its meaning: The location [of something] is all-important.
In the commercial context, it used to mean “your store better be situated somewhere that gets a lot of the right kind of traffic.” Today, in the same context, that “traffic” can be clicks on the web rather than auto or foot traffic. Either way, location, location, location! stands for a truism that’s inarguably valid.
What’s interesting about the SW Florida location, location, location! axiom when it’s invoked in a residential real estate context is how true it remains—though for different reasons. When it comes to buying or selling an SW Florida home, location isn’t vitally important because of its being visible or easy for prospective buyers to find. This meaning of “location” points to a property being more or less desirable for a variety of reasons:
- Accessibility—offers easy access to SW Florida places of business, recreation points, etc.
- Inaccessibility—provides an oasis of privacy
- Position—offers superior orientation: for instance, receives more (or less) sunshine.
- Geography—takes advantage of superior land features: for instance, is on a hilltop, by a stream, etc.
- Exclusivity—it’s in a respected, physically safe neighborhood, home to successful families
- Community—offers desirable schools, lower tax rates, well-kept parklands and the like. The Brookings Institution finds that living near a high-scoring school can increase a home’s value by $100,000—or more!
Needless to say, another facet of location, location, location! in SW Florida is how important it can be in dollars and cents. It isn’t just that houses are listed for different prices depending greatly on their neighborhoods and even locations within the same neighborhoods, but the ease of buying and selling can also be location-dependent. The “comps”—estimated values assigned by reports of sales of similar properties—are assembled taking into account how near or far they are, as well as the characteristics of their neighborhoods.
For the most part, people tend to agree on the value of those location, location, location! characteristics—but in case you aren’t one of the crowd, the financial repercussions can be noteworthy. If, for instance, your ideal degree of privacy makes you value a home that’s considered to be too far out-of-town for most people, the asking price could be at a considerable discount from the same house closer in. If you prefer cool, shady backyards over more open and sunny ones, your offer might be accepted by an eager owner who’s not had many other takers.
Ways that SW Florida Location, Location, Location! Affects Value. Location, location, location! may be a cliché, but it’s been around forever for a reason. When you are house hunting—especially if you are new to SW Florida —it’s important to give special attention to local neighborhood characteristics that may not be obvious at first glance. In SW Florida, it’s another good reason to count on a knowledgeable local real estate specialist…like yours truly!