FOREVER HOME REAL ESTATE
FOREVER HOME REAL ESTATE

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ANNE BARANSKI

BROKER ASSOCIATE

BUNBURY AND ASSOCIATES 

 

serving the Madison and Sun Prairie communities

 

Phone: 608.445.2370

Fax:608.441.7077

E-mail: abaranski@bunburyrealtors.com

 

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Blog: Home, Sweet Home

 

What a Real Estate Agent Can Do — And What You Can't

 

Congratulations, you’ve decided to sell your home. But do you connect with a professional real estate agent? Or do you try your luck selling it on your own?

 

Consider these two key statistics from the National Association of Realtors

 

1. Homes for sale by owner, often referred to by the acronym FSBO (pronounced FIZZ-bo), accounted for just 8 percent of all home sales in 2016.

 

2. The typical FSBO home sold for $190,000 in 2016, compared to $249,000 for an agent-assisted home. 

That data alone makes a strong case against going the FSBO route. In the long run, owners who sell their own homes aren’t likely to save as much money as they initially thought.

 

On the other hand, securing an agent and paying him or her a commission brings with it several built-in advantages that many FSBO sellers don’t take into consideration. 

 

Here are five ways a real estate agent can provide the extra sales oomph that homeowners simply can’t bring on their own:

 

1. Widespread exposure

Agents have access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), a massive database accessible by other real estate professionals that allows them to see one another's listings of properties for sale — and share details about those properties with their own buyers. MLS access is limited to licensed agents and brokers who pay for the privilege, so FSBO sellers do not have access. Your agent also will be able to promote your home to other agents via networking and other personal interactions. 

 

2. A market-ready asking price

Agents know the local housing markets better than anyone. Not only are they aware of buyer trends and turnoffs, they also know how to price homes fairly and accurately based on neighborhoods and a comprehensive market analysis. Additionally, they can suggest upgrades to a home that would make it more desirable to buyers and may even significantly boost the selling price. Some of those changes could be to elements of the home that you might not even realize need attention, because you live there and see them on a daily basis.  

 

3. Scheduling savvy

One of the most challenging — and nerve-wracking — aspects of selling your home on your own is scheduling showings, sometimes to people who have no interest in buying but are curious to see what the place looks like inside. An agent, on the other hand, typically will only bring through buyers with a serious interest, and that agent also will take care of scheduling and staffing the showing. Additionally, some buyers get nervous working directly with the seller for everything from the showing to the closing, so hovering while potential buyers tour your home can be detrimental to a sale. 

 

4. Legal knowledge

Speaking of nerves, how confident are you in your knowledge of contract law? Even if you do know your stuff, buyers might not be comfortable closing the deal, which usually entails 10 to 20 pages of paperwork (and sometimes more). An agent will take care of all documentation and disclosures, and even all the other pesky minutiae that must be handled — all without paying a lawyer big bucks to do so. 

 

5. An added degree of professionalism

Last but certainly not least, an agent lends credibility to a listing and often puts potential buyers at ease simply because of his or her involvement.

 

I know what you’re thinking: As a Realtor, it’s easy for me to emphasize the advantages of listing your home with me (or one of my peers). But I also understand the temptation to sell your home on your own. If you go that route and later change your mind, I’ll be here. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 

How to Avoid Seller's Remorse 

 

We live in a seller’s market right now. And with so many homes for sale in south-central Wisconsin receiving multiple offers to buy, sellers can experience a range of emotions sifting through them all. Those emotions can include (but certainly are not limited to) excitement, frustration and anxiety about accepting the right offer.

 

Should you always go with the highest offer? What other factors might you consider? And do you ultimately trust your head or your gut?  

 

Below are 19 questions to consider when mulling each offer. Carefully addressing them with your real estate agent will help you make an informed sales decision now — and avoid seller’s remorse later. 

 

1. What is the offer price?

 

2. How much earnest money is the buyer offering?

 

3. Who is the buyer’s agent? What is that person’s reputation? And has the listing agent been involved in a previous transaction (good or bad) with that person? 

 

4. What is the requested closing date? How does it align with your needs, as a seller? 

 

5. Is the buyer prequalified or preapproved? (Pre-approved buyers are much more attractive to sellers, because they already have a conditional commitment — in writing — for a specific loan amount.) 

 

6. Who is the lender? What is the lender’s reputation? And is the lender local or internet-based? Many out-of-state and online lenders often are not familiar with Wisconsin requirements, and that makes them a riskier prospect. 

 

7. How much is the buyer’s down payment? (The bigger the down payment, the better the offer.) 

 

8. How flexible is the buyer’s financing rate?

 

9. What are the terms of the loan? Is it conventional financing or a government loan (FHA, USDA, VA, WHEDA)?

 

10. Is the transaction contingent on an appraisal? Or is the buyer willing to absorb some of the risk of the purchase price?

 

11. Does the buyer have any other contingencies, such as the sale of the buyer’s home? 

 

12. Does the buyer have any special requests? (This could include adding the play system in the backyard to the transaction, or filling the inground swimming pool with dirt.) 

 

13. Does the buyer plan to have an inspection of the home? If so, when? And is the buyer giving right to cure if the inspector finds something amiss? (If a defect is found, right to cure allows the homeowner to have the issue professionally remediated. If you, as the seller, don’t give right to cure, and a defect is found, the buyer can walk away.)

 

14. Does the buyer plan to test for radon? If so, is the buyer giving right to cure if radon levels are high?

 

15. Are there well, water and/or septic tests indicated? What about percolation testing, which determines the water absorption rate of soil? If so, who will pay for them, and is right to cure given?

 

16. Is the buyer requesting a home warranty?

 

17. Is the buyer asking for any unconventional testing, such as asbestos, mold or lead?

 

18. Is the buyer requesting anything else with associated costs, such as a land survey or marking of boundary corners?

 

19. Is there something else associated with the offer that might influence your decision? For example, has the buyer included a personal letter to you? Or has the listing agent indicated the buyer can be flexible regarding a closing date? Such intangibles can make a huge difference in the seller’s decision to accept or reject an offer. 

 

Remember not to underestimate the role your real estate professional should play in this process. You’re working with that person for his or her expertise, and good agents will do what they’re contracted by clients to do.

 

After all, they have a financial stake in the sale, too. Make them work for it. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 

Downtown Sun Prairie Needs Our Support 

 

Real estate is about more than simply houses on streets. It’s about communities, neighborhoods and the people who live in them. 

 

On July 10, Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department Captain Cory Barr was killed in a downtown gas explosion that also destroyed The Barr House — the bar at 100 W. Main St., that Cory owned with his wife, Abby. Other businesses that were total losses included Glass Nickel Pizza Co., Razor Sharp Screen Printing, the vacant Herreman’s supper club building and offices for American Realtors and American Family Insurance.

 

Many other businesses, some with boards still covering blown-out windows, were closed for as long as three weeks. Most are now reopened, although a stretch of Main Street likely will remain closed for several more weeks and possibly months.            

 

Returning to downtown Sun Prairie hasn’t been easy, as a sense of sadness permeates the area — sorrow for the loss of Captain Barr, who was widely hailed as a hero for saving lives the night of the blast, as well as an uneasy sense that this city will never be quite the same. 

 

Which is why, now more than ever, those surviving businesses need our support.

 

It’s time to find a reason to do something in downtown Sun Prairie again.

 

Go buy a Sun Prairie Cardinals hoodie at Elite Embroidery & Screen Printing. Order a bouquet from Prairie Flowers and Gifts. Treat yourself to a juicy burger and a cold beer at Eddie’s Alehouse, or a pizza made with locally sourced ingredients at Salvatore’s Tomato Pies. Get a haircut at Mr. Rudd’s Barbershop. Or just stop in at Sun City Cyclery & Skates or J.J. Stitches and say, “Hey, how are things going?” 

 

Business throughout Sun Prairie and beyond, including other Glass Nickel Pizza locations, stepped up with fundraisers in the days following the tragedy. Culver’s in Sun Prairie raised more than $20,000 for the families of Barr and Sun Prairie firefighter Ryan Welch, who also was injured in the blast — donating 50 percent of all profits on July 17. Similarly, Monk’s Bar & Grill in Sun Prairie donated 100 percent all sales on July 30 to the Barr family. American Family Insurance and QBE Insurance each donated $10,000 to the cause. The list goes on. 

 

Additionally, a GoFundMe page for the Barr family has raised more than $205,000 in the month since Barr’s death. 

 

At the same time, let’s not forgot the local businesses that stepped up in the early hours after the explosion — as community members whose residences were destroyed or evacuated gathered at Sun Prairie High School and emergency management crews worked around the clock to battle the blaze and remove debris. Whether donating supplies, preparing meals or serving as collection sites, these companies and organizations answered the call to contribute. 

 

They include: 

• Boys & Girls Club of Dane County 

• Buck & Honey’s Restaurant

• Burrachos Fresh Mexican Grill 

• Chick-fil-A

• City of Sun Prairie

• Costco

• Culver’s

• Dean Medical Group 

• Dunkin’ Donuts 

• Erbert & Gerbert’s Sandwich Shop

• Firehouse Subs

• Geoff Wilkins State Farm Insurance

• Hunt Brothers Pizza (Nashville, Tenn.) 

• Little Caesars Pizza 

• McDonald’s

• Patrick Marsh Middle School 

• Prairie Diner 

• Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church 

• Selfless Ambition 

• Service Specialists 

• SPHS Quarterback Club 

• Starbucks

• Sun Prairie Area School District 

• Sun Prairie High School 

• Sun Prairie Lions Club 

• UW Health Sun Prairie Clinic

• Walgreen’s

• Woodman’s Market 

• Willie Ty’s

 

“Every single company played a unique role, and as a community, we really powered through,” says Joanna Cervantes, executive director of the Sunshine Place, an invaluable community social-services resource that played a major role in coordinating local relief efforts (and provided the above list). “I’ve seen our community in action, and that speaks volumes about Sun Prairie. I feel lucky to be in a community that is not only giving but also is willing to work and make this a better place than it was before.” 

 

#SunPrairieStrong

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 

Risky Business: Should You Waive Contingencies in Your Offer to Buy? 

 

Many homebuyers rely on the Internet for advice these days – for everything from finding a neighborhood to writing an offer — and they sometimes wait as long as possible to contact a real estate professional.

 

One of the more common pieces of online advice I’m seeing these days is to sweeten your offer by waiving home inspection, radon testing or appraisal contingencies. 

 

Previously, these were considered standard safeguards when making an offer. But now, at least in some cases, they are almost mandatory steps toward having your offer to buy accepted. 

 

Dane County is no exception. Local buyers considering such a strategy must balance potential out-of-pocket costs with the possibility of not getting a home at all. By waiving contingencies, you often take a calculated risk, but sometimes that risk can be worth it.  

 

An offer without contingencies likely will be more appealing to a seller than a higher offer with such contingencies in place. On the other hand, the buyer could end up spending considerably more money in the form of necessary repairs not identified until after the purchase is finalized or paying out-of-pocket expenses at closing. 

 

It’s critical for buyers wanting to boost their offer in these ways to consider their options and the consequences. Make sure you connect with an experienced real estate professional to explain the pros and cons. For example, maybe the house in question doesn’t have a significant amount of buyer activity at the given time. In that case, it may not be necessary to waive contingencies within your offer.

 

Waiving the Radon/Inspection Contingency

A professional inspection of a 2,500-square-foot house can cost about $500; radon testing typically runs about $150. Often, the radon component can be combined into the inspection fee. Otherwise, you can buy your own radon-testing kit for less than $15 at a home improvement store, and an entire radon mitigation system can be installed for about $750. So waiving the radon testing contingency isn’t taking a huge risk — as long as you budget for that $750.

 

Waiving an inspection can be a bit trickier. For a home that is more than 20 years old, you’re definitely taking a bigger risk than for a two-year-old home. But if a home has been completely renovated or remodeled, that fact mitigates some of the risk — especially if all permits were pulled, which means city crews came into the home and inspected the work completed.

 

Should you decide to waive the inspection contingency, you also are letting the seller off the hook if there are cracks in the foundation, leaks in the roof, termites or other serious structural issues. Of course, in those cases, the seller is going to accept your offer. But what are the ramifications for you if — after moving in — you need to shell out $20,000 to replace windows you didn’t know were rotting when you bought the house? 

 

Waiving the Appraisal Contingency

Appraisal costs depend on the lender you choose, but they generally cost a few hundred dollars. Your real estate professional can access recent selling prices of comparable homes in your would-be new neighborhood to provide a realistic idea of whether the home you’re considering will appraise out — that is, whether the bank or mortgage company will determine the value of the house to be at least equal to the current sale price, thus making it safe for the bank to make a loan. 

 

For example, if your accepted offer has you paying $125 per square foot for a ranch home, and two other ranch homes in your neighborhood (with similar finishes and amenities) sold for $126 and $122 per square foot, you’re on solid ground should you opt to waive the appraisal contingency. 

 

Understand, however, that if you do not include an appraisal contingency in your offer, you also waive your right to back out of that offer should the home appraisal come in lower than the selling price. That means you could be forced to make up the difference out of your own pocket; lenders approve loans based on the appraised value, not the selling price. 

 

To extend this already bleak scenario, buyers unable to make the additional out-of-pocket payment at closing could be sued by the seller for specific performance of a contract

 

Again, you must weigh the risks (and associated costs) of taking shortcuts to an accepted offer against the potential consequences — financial, legal and emotional. Buying a home is stressful enough without unforeseen developments that could jeopardize your future in the home of your dreams. 

 

As always, I’m here to help. 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 

A Top 10 of Madison, Wis., Top 10s

 

For years, Madison, Wis., has received national accolades, landing on many best-places-to-live lists. Known for its myriad cultural, recreational and social opportunities, Wisconsin’s capital city remains a desirable destination for homebuyers, which explains the low supply of single-family residential homes in and around the city.

 

Don’t let supply and demand get you down, though. The search is worth it. 

 

As the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau notes, Madison is ranked nationally in everything from “being the best in business to creating phenomenal food — and countless criteria in between.”

 

Here is a top 10 of some Madison’s Top 10s:

 

10. Safest Big City in America (No. 10) — MSNMoney.com (August 2017)

 

9. Best State Capital (No. 9) — USA Today (January 2015)

Excerpt: As home of the University of Wisconsin, it isn’t surprising that Madison is filled with museums, galleries, funky shops, beautiful gardens and performing arts. The Wisconsin capital also offers a wide range of sporting activities (it’s one of America’s most bike-friendly cities) and nightlife so there’s never a lack of things to do.

 

8. Tennis Courts per 100,000 Residents (No. 8) — The Trust for Public Lands (April 2016)

 

7. Top 100 Places to Live (No. 7) — Livability.com (January 2018)

Excerpt: Employers are drawn to Madison’s high percentage of college-educated workers, as well as its business-friendly environment, and this community ranks high in various rankings of the “greenest” cities in the United States. … Madison also deserves credit for its burst of new housing development downtown, including affordable units.

 

6. Best Cities to Celebrate July 4th (No. 6) — WalletHub.com (July 2017)

 

5. 50 Top Swim Cities (No. 5) — USA Swimming (September 2016)

Excerpt: [Madison] has more pools per population than any other city [and] ranks second in highest percentage of USA Swimmers per population size.

 

4. Sportiest City in America (No. 4) — MensHealth.com (September 2017)

Excerpt: In 2009, Forbes ranked Madison as the third best college sports city in the country, and since then the school has only added to its legacy, including back-to-back Final Four runs in the men’s NCAA basketball tournament in 2014 and 2015. Maybe you can attribute that success to Madison’s 10.2 basketball hoops per 10,000 residents, which is tied for the most basketball hoops in the country. Also, the city’s 7.4 playgrounds per 10,000 residents is far and away the highest mark in the country.

 

3. 10 Healthiest Cities (No. 3) — Livability.com (April 2015)

Excerpt: The city’s low percentage of uninsured residents, high ratio of doctors, vast recreational options and highly active citizens make it one of the Top 10 Healthiest Cities. People living in Madison lead rather healthy lives, with only 14 percent of the population smoking and most residents experiencing just three “poor health days,” according to County Health Rankings. [A]rea farmers’ markets provide access to healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, while many residents in Madison grow their own produce during summer months. Most restaurants in Madison, especially those around downtown, cater to requests for vegetarian meals and provide healthy options when eating out.

 

2. Best City for Post-Graduation Living (No. 2) — NerdWallet.com (March 2016)

Excerpt: Wisconsin's capital is a place where new grads will be surrounded by peers. With about a quarter of the population made up of millennials and Gen Zers, you'd be in good company.

 

1. Most Overlooked City (No. 1) — DK Eyewitness Travel (March 2017)

Excerpt: Say goodbye to Midwest stereotypes and hello to one of the richest farm-to-table movements in the U.S. This vibrant city boasts first-rate museums, a youthful vibe thanks to the University of Wisconsin, numerous bike trails and coffee shops, and the country’s largest farmers’ market.

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 

Home Loans 101: What You Need to Know 

 

If you’re in the market to buy a home, you need to know your spending limit. That’s why I recommend clients receive preapproval for a loan prior to making any major decisions. Not only will that help you and the real estate professional you’re working with find homes within your budget, but any offer you make will be considered more seriously if it includes a preapproval letter from a lending institution.

 

I asked loan officer Patrick Averill, vice president of Thompson Kane, a leading mortgage loan provider in Madison, Wis., for his advice on this topic.

 

“The best first step is to talk with a lender,” he says. “Yes, there is a lot of information on the Internet, which first-time homebuyers use to educate themselves. But you don’t always know if that information is accurate or applies to your specific situation.”

 

Meeting with a loan officer in person or over the phone will allow homebuyers to better understand their options and find the best loan to fit their needs. Even if you won’t be ready to buy for another year, Averill suggests beginning the preapproval process early. That will give you time to make adjustments to your spending habits or improve your credit score in an effort to increase your eligible loan amount.

 

“I always stress to clients that their preapproval amount is based on current numbers,” Averill says, adding that he asks clients to share with him any changes in financial status, so he can update their preapproval amount as they get closer to making an offer.

 

Some lending companies, such as Thompson Kane, offer a no-cost/no-obligation preapproval process; others do not. That’s why it’s worth shopping around.

 

Below is a primer on the types mortgage loans available and their eligibility requirements, courtesy of Averill.

 

Fixed-Rate Loans vs. Adjustable-Rate Loans 

As a borrower, you’ll want to choose between a fixed-rate and an adjustable-rate mortgage loan. The majority of home loans fit into one of those two categories. Here are the primary differences between the two types:

 

Fixed-rate mortgage loans have the same interest rate for the entire repayment term. As a result, your payment amount will stay the same, month after month and year after year. This is true even for long-term financing options, such as the 30-year fixed-rate loan. The primary benefit of a fixed loan is that the interest rate and monthly payments never change, but you will pay for that stability via higher interest charges.

 

• Adjustable-rate mortgage loans (or ARMs) have an interest rate that will change, or “adjust.” Typically, this happens every year after an initial period of remaining fixed. It is therefore referred to as a “hybrid” product. A hybrid ARM loan is one that starts off with a fixed or unchanging interest rate before switching over to an adjustable rate — leading to future uncertainty for buyers.

 

Government-Insured Loans vs. Conventional Loans

You will need to choose between a fixed-rate and an adjustable-rate mortgage, but there also exist other choices you must make. Do you want to use a government-insured home loan or a conventional loan?

 

A conventional home loan is one that is not insured or guaranteed by the federal government.

 

It is different from the three government-backed mortgage types:

 

FHA Loans. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance program is managed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). FHA loans are available to all types of borrowers (not just first-time buyers), and the government insures the lender against losses that might result from borrower default. This program allows you to make a down payment as low as 3.5% of the purchase price, but you’ll also have to pay for mortgage insurance, which will increase the size of your monthly payments.

 

• VA Loans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a loan program to military service members and their families. Similar to the FHA program, these types of mortgages are guaranteed by the federal government. This means the VA will reimburse the lender for any losses that may result from borrower default. The primary advantage of this program — and it’s a big one — is that borrowers can receive 100% financing for the purchase of a home. That means no down payment whatsoever.

 

• USDA Loans. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers a loan program for rural borrowers who meet certain income requirements. The program is managed by the Rural Housing Service (RHS), which is part of the Department of Agriculture. This type of mortgage loan is offered to “rural residents who have a steady, low or modest income, and yet are unable to obtain adequate housing through conventional financing.”

 

It’s important to note that borrowers can combine types of mortgage loans. For example, you might choose an FHA loan with a fixed interest rate or a conventional home loan with an adjustable rate.

 

Jumbo Loan vs. Conforming Loan

There is another distinction to make, and that is based on the size of a loan. Depending on the amount you are trying to borrow, you might fall into either the “jumbo” or the “conforming” category. 

 

Here are the differences between these two categories:

 

• A conforming loan is one that meets the underwriting guidelines of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, particularly where size is concerned. Fannie and Freddie are the two government-controlled corporations that purchase and sell mortgage-backed securities. Simply put, they buy loans from the lenders who generate them, and then sell them to investors via Wall Street. A conforming loan falls within their maximum size limits and “conforms” to pre-established criteria.

 

• A jumbo loan exceeds the conforming loan limits established by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This type of mortgage represents a higher risk for the lender, mainly due to its size. As a result, jumbo borrowers typically must have excellent credit and make a larger down payment compared to borrowers with conforming loans. Interest rates are generally higher with the jumbo products, too.

 

The diversity of available home loans and the options available to specific borrowers can make navigating the preapproval process seem overwhelming — especially to first-time buyers.

 

“Sometimes you feel like you’re drinking from a firehose,” Averill says. “It can be hard to take it all in.”

 

As you take it all in, I hope this information helps you feel like a better-prepared borrower.

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 

Dont' Get Left Outside in a Seller's Market 

 

Traditionally, the winter months have meant slower home sales in Wisconsin. But not this year. Extremely strong demand propelled Wisconsin home sales to record levels between December 2017 and February 2018. The Wisconsin REALTORS® Association reports the sale of 13,471 homes during that period, which is the most of any winter season since at least 2005 — and almost 16 percent higher than winter sales five years ago.

 

That record-setting pace is carrying over into spring in south-central Wisconsin. At one recent open house on Madison’s far-east side, as many as 35 people were packed into one half of a duplex unit at the same time. And in Sun Prairie, a two-hour open house at a home located on a quiet cul-de-sac resulted in at least six offers — all of them over the asking price, with the accepted offer significantly higher. 

 

And things are only going to get crazier. In a study released by Zillow, researchers discovered that homes listed between May 1 and May 15 sold, on average, 18.5 days faster than homes listed during a different timeframe. Not much has changed since this time last year, as we definitely are still in a strong seller’s market. 

 

What can buyers do to ensure a fighting chance at purchasing the home they want in such a competitive environment? Here are three recommendations: 

 

1. Be ready to buy — right now. 

In many cases, buyers no longer have at least 24 hours to discuss a purchase and “sleep on it.” They often must be willing to declare their commitment to purchase a given home within only a few minutes of touring it; if you’re unable to make that kind of commitment, that home isn’t the one for you. Note: Offers without preapproval letters are usually not even considered. Sellers don't want to take the chance on whether you can actually afford the home, especially when they have proof from lenders that all the other people with offers on the table can afford it.

 

2. Realize your first offer might be your only shot. 

In the housing market of yesteryear, the asking price was considered the beginning of the negotiation process. In today’s market, buyers must understand that the asking price is the opening bid. So make your highest and best offer. With so many offers on the table, many sellers don’t even bother to make a counteroffer, so you probably won’t receive a second chance. 

 

3. Write the seller a “love letter.”

I’m not joking. While I’m writing an offer for a client, I encourage the buyer to write the homeowner a letter, which we then attach to the offer. Be prepared to introduce yourself to the sellers and tell them why their home is perfect for you. Compliment them on how well they maintained the property, and cite improvements they’ve made (“We love the landscaping.” “We appreciate all of the effort you put into resurfacing the wood floors.” “The partially finished basement will make a terrific home office.”) If you have young children, mention that you look forward to raising your kids in such a beautiful home. And if both buyer and seller are dog owners, the letter also should include reasons why the buyer’s pet would love the new home, too. (“The spacious backyard will give Rover plenty of room to roam.”). A family photo, with the dog, also can go a long way.

 

We are entering the busiest months of the year in the residential real estate business, and that can make buyers anxious. But following these three recommendations might allow you to navigate this exciting time a little easier. 

 

And remember, I’m here to help — because I want you to move into the home of your dreams just as much as you do.

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 

What You Need to Know About Condominium Associations

 

When you buy a condominium, I like to say you’re purchasing everything from the wall studs in — meaning that you’re responsible for any inside maintenance and remodeling. A condominium association, meanwhile, usually oversees exterior upkeep, security and other property management services and expenses. 

 

Anybody who purchases a property under a condo association’s jurisdiction automatically becomes a member of that association and is required to pay dues that can be several hundred dollars per month. And, generally, speaking, the majority of associations run smoothly and effectively, serving as an asset to the neighborhood.

 

When they don’t, other members often take action. A condo association’s bad reputation can negatively impact home resale values, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that after members of one south-central Wisconsin condo association became fed up with the officers constantly mismanaging finances and failing to perform common-area repairs, they elected new officers, who brought in a new management team with a new commitment to excellence.

 

For every imperfect condo association, there are three nearly perfect ones. But each one operates differently. That’s why it’s still critical for potential condo buyers to perform due diligence and understand how the association in question works and how it might impact their lives. 

 

Having a real estate professional at your side during this process is a good idea; so is following these three suggestions: 

 

1. Know the association’s history.  

This information might be online; if not, ask your real estate agent for help. Pay particular attention to rules regarding fines for violations of the community’s covenants, conditions and restrictions. Also try to get your hands on the association’s bylaws and regulations, meeting minutes from the past year, insurance coverage information and a financial statement. “These documents will tell you about special assessments being planned to address deferred maintenance, planned capital improvements, amount of cash reserves, whether the association is being or has been sued, and history and likelihood of dues increases,” according to the financial empowerment website thebalance.com. A good Realtor will request these items in writing in an offer to purchase property. After acceptance, the seller has a set amount of time to provide them, and the buyer will then have a specified timeframe in which to review. If the buyer decides the association is not a good fit, he or she can rescind the offer.

 

2. Understand the fees.

How much are they? What, specifically, do they cover? What are the fines for late payment (or nonpayment)? Is there a reserve fund, and how much is in it? Are special assessments imposed for, say, a burst pipe in a common building? Is the owner of the property you’re considering for purchase in arrears on past fees? Knowing the answers to these and similar questions can help you make an informed financially based decision.

 

3. Find out the rules.

Are pets allowed? Can you plant a flower or vegetable garden in the backyard? What are the regulations regarding on-street parking? With your real estate professional, make a list of all the questions you have regarding what is and is not allowed, and then seek the answers. 

 

Condo associations can greatly impact the communities they serve — and usually for the better — by hosting picnics, special nights out and other events that reinforce the importance and value of neighbors. The key to benefitting from all that these associations offer is to make sure you’re familiar with how they operate before you close on the property. 

 

Although this process sometimes can be time-consuming and confusing, it’s worth the effort. And I’m here to help guide you through it.

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 

In Search of Home-Buying Tips for Older Adults? 

 

Outgrowing a home is part of life. But for older adults whose kids have moved on, it’s more common for their home to outgrow them. They don’t need four bedrooms, a three-car garage and two-and-a-half bathrooms anymore. 

 

In many cases, they also don’t need assisted care. So what’s their best option? 

 

A 2016 Freddie Mac survey revealed that an estimated six million homeowners ages 55 and older plan to move again. Not all of them expect to buy, though; renting becomes a more appealing option as some adults age. 

 

Those who prefer to buy have the option of moving to a smaller home in a regular neighborhood or choosing an independent living community. Such a community is designed for seniors and sometimes referred to as a retirement community or senior housing. They also often take the form of condominiums. 

 

The choice between a home and a condo can be intensely personal and might come down to one critical question: What is most important to you — more privacy or less maintenance?

 

In a condo, you’ll likely be sharing walls and yard space, but you won’t be responsible for maintaining that yard or removing snow, and you’ll be surrounded by people at similar stages in life as yourself. In a home, you’ll retain the kind of privacy to which you’re accustomed, but you’ll also have to do all the work you did in your previous home (and maybe even more). 

 

Regardless of whether you purchase a home or condo, here are five tips to keep in mind when searching for a perfect place to live for the rest of your life.

 

1. Give priority to homes or condo units with just one level.

While they certainly are easier to clean, they also will allow you to live in them longer. I know too many older adults who have moved into multi-level dwellings and, as they aged, found going up and down stairs to be both inconvenient and impractical. They had to move again. 

 

2. Avoid fixer-uppers. 

Look for dwellings with new(er) appliances, recently upgraded windows and floor coverings, and few painting requirements or other needs. If you don’t want to spend the extra time and money, you shouldn’t have to. 

 

3. Understand the true cost of living in a given community.

If you’re considering a home in a general neighborhood, how much will improvements and regular indoor and outdoor maintenance cost? If you’re looking at an independent living unit, how much are maintenance and homeowner association fees? In most cases, membership in a homeowner association is not optional, so are you prepared for that? 

 

4. Learn about the neighborhood.

Are your would-be neighbors mostly younger families with school-age children — and are you OK with that? How far away are grocery stores, a barber and hairdresser, the library, parks and other amenities? Can you safely walk in the area? If you’re considering an independent living neighborhood, are recreational opportunities such as a fitness room and swimming pool available? Do neighbors get together on Saturdays for cookouts? How noisy is the neighborhood? A friend recently moved into a condo community that is not designated for independent living but is mostly comprised of older adults. He works from home and, before purchasing a unit, he sat in his car outside the condo in the middle of the day to gauge the loudness of traffic on an adjacent highway. 

 

5. Buy less than you can afford.

This might be the most important piece of advice I can offer. As USNews.com reports, “No one knows exactly what will happen in the future, but it’s unlikely the cost of living will fall. Older people are more likely to experience involuntary unemployment or medical problems. Spending less on housing makes it easier to cope with those issues if they arise.”

 

Regardless of the decision you make, moving out of a longtime residence into a new one can be physically and emotionally trying. Following the above tips can help ease the transition. 

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 

Smart Ideas for a Smart Home 

 

You’ve just moved into your new home, and a tech-savvy friend gave you an Amazon Echo for a house-warming-slash-holiday present. 

 

Now what? 

 

You can use that as motivation to begin making your home at least as smart as you are. After all, The Washington Post reported in late 2017 that “the prices of smart home devices are coming down. Their usefulness is growing. And companies are focused on making everything simpler to set up.” 

 

And Fortune magazine’s digital editor Andrew Nusca claims the smart home is the hottest consumer electronics category right now. 

 

Here’s a primer on what you need to know.

 

(Note: Forever Home Real Estate does not endorse specific smart-home products, which is why we’re not providing direct links to any products mentioned below. We simply want to make you aware of some of the available options.) 

 

What is a ‘smart home’? 

A smart home involves automating such components as lighting, heating, air conditioning and security — as well as ovens, refrigerators and washer/dryers — using Wi-Fi for remote monitoring and control. The increasing popularity of the voice-activated Amazon Alexa and Echo, Google Home and Apple Siri devices has put home automation in the hands of anybody who wants it. 

 

But those devices are only the beginning. Specific products are geared to toward specific aspects your home environment. Some provide real-time energy consumption data, or sense excess water in time to stop a potential flood. Thermostats adjust depending on when people are in the room, and wireless speakers allow you to play any song, anytime, anyplace in your home. 

 

You also can invest in remote-controlled shades, robot vacuums and Wi-Fi-controlled cookers and ovens — making your home only as smart as you want it to be. 

 

‘Smart’ security

Home security is one of the hottest segments of the smart home craze, and you’ve no doubt seen ads for products from companies like Ring and Nest that send instant alerts to your phone, tablet or computer whenever motion is detected outside your door. Add a camera for access to an archive of doorstep video footage, while discreet indoor security cameras monitor activity within your home. 

 

“Connected locks” allow you to control access to your home with a cellphone, and security-focused light bulbs turn on automatically when the doorbell rings, as well as replay typical lighting patterns even when nobody is home. 

 

How smart is too smart? 

With so many options and price points, it’s best to do your homework before surrendering too much control of your home to the so-called Internet of Things. 

 

Ask yourself what functions you want to automate and why? How much automation is too much? And at what point does smart home technology become more trouble than it’s worth for you, as a fiscally responsible homeowner?

These are all questions to consider, and ones that will keep you firmly in control — even if your home “thinks” otherwise. 

 

For more details about making your home smarter, check out this special section on HowStuffWorks.com.

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 

Five Tasteful Holiday Decorating Cues

 

Countless ways exist to decorate your home's interior for the holidays — many of them fantastic and tasteful, and others way out of control. (Spend a little time on Pinterest, and you’ll see what I mean.)

 

In this post, I offer five brief suggestions, with accompanying photos, that will help spark your imagination and creativity to light up — sometimes literally — almost every room in your home. 

1. Don't overdo it.

 

A warm, beautiful tree and colorful holiday accents that complement existing everyday décor often make a greater impression than excessive decorating.

Photo via http://www.dorisleslieblau.com/blog/best-christmas-winter-interior-decor-idea

2. Decorate smaller rooms. 

 

You and your guests will feel more festive if holiday decorations aren’t limited to main rooms. Consider adding touches to other spaces in your home, such as the master bedroom, guest room or office. Choose colors that complement existing décor for something offbeat but purposeful. 

Photo via http://www.housebeautiful.com/entertaining/holidays-celebrations/tips/g505/christmas-tree-decoration-ideas-pictures-1208/?slide=30

3. Use nontraditional colors 

 

Dazzling displays of blue accented by festive greens and traditional candles contribute to a holiday meal that’s as memorable as it is beautiful. 

Photo via http://www.traditionalhome.com/design0/51-simple-holiday-decorating-tips

4. Add a 'light' touch.

 

Ah, the staircase — always a challenging element for holiday decorating. Some people like to hang stockings on the railing, but I prefer this lit-up treatment, complemented by red-and-white ribbons to bring in more color. The candy cane throw pillows are a brilliant touch. 

Photo via http://www.itallstartedwithpaint.com/2014-holiday-home-tour/

5. Accessorize! 

 

While ideal for a farmhouse entryway bench, the rustic items displayed above work as subtle (and very Midwestern) accents that can be applied in different settings throughout your home. The tiny pine in a decorative pail would work well in an office or four-season porch, while the checkered blanket and “merry” pillow would complement other casual seating areas. Pine cones, a lantern and decorative logs also have their place in the right home.  

Photo via http://homeremediesrx.com/2015/12/holiday-home-tour-2015-farmhouse-christmas/
What does the inside of your home look like this season? Email me your photos to abaranski@bunburyrealtors.com; I may include them in a future blog post.
 
Merry Christmas — and enjoy your home.

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 

The Best Ways to Stage Your Home for a Fast Sale 

 

“How should my home look when we show it?” 

 

I hear that question a lot. Although prepping a home for viewing is often referred to as “staging,” I like to think of it more as simply common sense preparation that will showcase your home in all the best ways. In other words: Make spaces as inviting as possible to as many people as possible.

 

A staged property sells 88% faster and for 20% more than a non-staged one, according to Realtor.com, which means the process often is worth the extra time and money it requires. 

 

Some homeowners opt to hire professional home stagers, paying up to several thousands dollars for their services. And that’s fine. But you also can stage your home yourself — spending a lot less money and giving it a personal touch. 

 

Here are five tips to help you get started with your own staging process. If you feel the need, you can always bring in a professional stager later. 

 

1. Eliminate clutter. 

Before we go any further, let me be clear that you don’t need to stage an entire home. As Sheila Schostok of Your Home Matters Staging and Redesign, which serves Chicago and southeastern Wisconsin, told Realtor.com, focus on the main areas of the home. Typically, this means the living room, dining room, kitchen and master bedroom. Make sure those key spaces are free of clutter, and I don’t just mean knick-knacks, magazines and other things that pile up over time. Take a long look at each space with fresh eyes. Is there too much furniture? If so, consider renting a storage unit and keeping some pieces there until the house sells. You and your prospective buyers will marvel at how large rooms seem when they’re not overcrowded. Additionally, if most furniture pieces are against a wall, rearrange them to make spaces more user-friendly. Don’t be afraid to move furniture to different rooms, either. 

 

2. Shed some light. 

Many real estate and staging professionals say most homeowners use lighting ineffectively. “To remedy the problem, increase the wattage in your lamps and fixtures,” recommends HGTV.com. “Aim for a total of 100 watts for each 50 square feet. Don’t depend on just one or two fixtures per room, either. Make sure you have three types of lighting: ambient (general or overhead), task (pendant, under-cabinet or reading) and accent (table and wall).” Of course, improved lighting spotlights colors, for better or for worse. That means you might have to repaint some walls. In that case, consider using the same colors for adjacent rooms to create a seamless, larger environment. 

 

3. Rearrange things. 

If you’re painting, artwork and photographs already are off the walls — making it the perfect time to re-evaluate your décor. “If your home is like most, the art is hung in a high line encircling each room. Big mistake,” warns HGTV.com. “Placing your pictures, paintings and prints in such stereotypical spots can render them almost invisible. Art displayed creatively makes it stand out and shows off your space. So break up that line and vary the patterning and grouping.” Look around at other objects, too. How are vases or candles arranged? How many apples are in that fruit bowl on the dining room table? Debra Gould, president of Six Elements Inc. in Vancouver, British Columbia, and creator of The Staging Diva Program, recommends adhering to the “rule of three.” Simply put, that is the concept that objects appear more visually appealing in groups of three. Keep that in mind while staging. 

 

4. Freshen up. 

No need to buy new appliances or redo the entire kitchen (although if countertops are not granite, you might want to upgrade). Instead, replace the cabinet doors, or even just the door and drawer handles. Polish up tile. Remove blemishes in wood flooring. Fix creaking floorboards. Cover worn upholstery with ready-made slipcovers. Use paint to touch up wall markings such as fingerprints and scratches. Create “small vignettes like a folded newspaper with a coffee cup on a tray by a chaise lounge,” Sam Jernigan at California-based Renaissance Design Consultations suggested to Realtor.com. “These small touches spell home, especially our idealized version of home.”

 

5. Work in the yard.

Does your lawn look like you mow it every 10 days and that’s it? If the outside doesn’t look good, prospective buyers lower their expectations for the inside — if they even get that far. Trim shrubbery, trees and other things that look overgrown. If it’s fall, rake the leaves as often as you need to in order to keep grass visible. If it’s winter, keep the driveway, front walk, sidewalks and back porch/deck space thoroughly shoveled and free of ice. In the spring and summer, make your property a priority. Change the shutters and gutters, if necessary. If you want to keep grills and fire pits active during the home-selling process, clean up after every use. 

 

You don’t need to stage your home so much that you feel it’s nearly impossible to live there, but you also need
to realize that your style might be cramped for a little while. Isn’t the potential of a quicker sale at a higher price
worth it?

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 

Madison, Wis., Named A Top-10 Most Livable Capital City 

 

Madison, Wis., appears on many national top-10 lists every year, for everything from “Best City for an Active Lifestyle” (No. 1 by WalletHub) to most friendly toward parks (No. 9 by The Trust for Public Land). 

 

Now, for the second straight year, Madison, Wis., comes in at No. 6 on SmartAssets’ ranking of the 10 most livable state capital cities. According to the popular personal finance website, Madison’s unemployment rate dropped from 3.3 percent in 2016 to 2.6 percent this year — a significant factor in the city’s high showing.  

 

Another reason why Madison is so popular? The availability of fun things to do — including numerous sports and recreation opportunitiesone of the last remaining free zoos in the United States, the Dane County Farmers’ Market on the Capitol Square, countless citywide and neighborhood festivals, and the multi-generational appeal of the University of Wisconsin’s Memorial Union

 

To determine the country’s best state capitals, the team at SmartAssets analyzed the following livability factors: average disposable income, unemployment rate, the rate of dining and entertainment establishments; and property and violent crime rates.

 

These cities came in ahead of Madison, beginning with No. 1: Montpelier, Vt.; Honolulu, Hi, and Pierre, S.D. (tie); Bismarck, N.D.; and Concord, N.H.

 

In previous rankings, SmartAssets also ranked Madison high for low-stress living and entertainment and dining options. “This city also has around 21 entertainment establishments for every 1,000 businesses in the area,” the site reports

 

What’s more, Madison is a short drive from anywhere in Dane County, located smack-dab in the middle of the county and surrounded by some of the most picturesque lakes in the state. 

 

The number of homes sold in Dane County has increased every year since 2014, and Madison is a major reason why. Whether you’re looking to move to the city or one of the outstanding communities that surround Madison, I can help you find the home that’s right for you — and then you can begin to discover all that’s special about this high-ranking quality-of-life capital city, too. 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 

Pay Attention to Schools — Even If You Don't Have Kids 

 

The National Association of Realtors® reports that 25 percent of homebuyers list school quality as a major factor in their decision-making process, and 20 percent cite school proximity. I’m surprised those numbers aren’t higher. 

 

Regardless of whether you have school-age children — or no children — a community’s public school district and the neighborhood school can impact home values, quality-of-life issues and overall buyer satisfaction. A good school typically means a good neighborhood. 

 

How do you determine which schools are “good schools”? Consider the age of the schools, the condition of their facilities, the student-to teacher ratios and standardized test scores.

 

Here are five ways to do your homework and help ensure you make the grade when it comes to school-related factors: 

 

1. Know the school district boundaries before you narrow your home search. 

In some communities, district lines can be blurred. Other communities might be in the process of redrawing their boundaries, which could place neighborhood students in different schools or even a different district. School districts, even adjacent ones, can vary dramatically. Make sure you’re moving into the district — and neighborhood — you want. 

 

2. Ask the district for data. 

Obtaining information on test scores, graduation rates and teacher-to-student ratios is critical if you have school-age children. Data often is published on district websites or easily available upon request. If it’s not, consider that a red flag. SchoolDigger.com and GreatSchools.org also provide similar information. Collect data from multiple districts, and compare and contrast your findings. If the overall differences are minimal, dig deeper and explore the individual schools in the neighborhoods you’re considering. Request a tour of the building and, if you feel the need, a short meeting with the principal or assistant principal.

 

3. Go online.

Search for online news references to the school district and schools under consideration — which can lead to positive stories about academic achievement and student accomplishments, as well as negative articles about budget shortfalls or administrative conflicts. Also check out relevant Twitter feeds and Facebook pages. Social networks provide an excellent opportunity to learn what’s happening in a community and its schools, as well as casually ask for feedback from others. 

 

4. Determine how close you want to live to the nearest school. 

School bus stops and morning/afternoon traffic patterns can impact neighborhoods under consideration in different ways. Nearby bus stops provide an added layer of security for parents but could be considered a nuisance by neighbors annoyed at getting stuck behind a bus making frequent stops on their way to work every morning. If the home you’re interested in buying is located within blocks of a school, consider how much traffic your child will encounter while walking to and from school. And will traffic add to unwanted congestion in the neighborhood before and after classes? 

 

5. Raise your hand (figuratively, of course)

When attending an open house or a private showing, introduce yourself to potential neighbors if you see them outside and ask what they think of the neighborhood school and the community’s school district. This move is much bolder than inquiring on Facebook, and I don’t recommend going up and down the street knocking on doors. But if people are outside and you feel comfortable approaching them, why not? 

 

Don’t underestimate the value of schools — good or bad — in your home search. Failure to do your homework and study the options could result in a mistake you don’t want to make.

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 

Be Ready to Act Fast When Buying in a Competitive Market

 

Home prices have soared in Dane County over the past two years, and the National Association of Realtors reports that the Midwest is the only region of the country that saw an increase in existing-home sales in June. At the same time, homes in the Madison area priced at $250,000 or lower are gone in a matter of days. 

 

As a result, buyers need to act fast when they find the home they want, because sellers are likely entertaining multiple offers. You can’t sleep on it and make a bid in the morning, because the home you want might go off the market overnight. This kind of additional pressure can make purchasing a home even more stressful and anxiety-filled — especially if you’re an unprepared buyer. 

 

Below are five steps to take now to help ensure you’re ready to make an offer on short notice later. 

 

1. Make sure you are pre-approved for a home loan.

Pre-approval means a lending institution is confident that you’re able to make the required down payment and keep up with monthly mortgage payments. Check your credit reports and credit scores now via AnnualCreditReport.com to make sure there are no mistakes or trouble spots in your credit history. Then find a lender — preferably a local firm and not an impersonal website — that will evaluate details about your income and assets. As Credit.com acknowledges, “in a competitive housing market, sellers prefer a pre-approved buyer to those who, for all anyone knows, might be unable to close the deal.”

 

2. Sign up for alerts each time a property meeting your criteria hits the market. 

ZillowTruliaRealtor.com and similar sites offer email or text notification services that can be customized to let you know when homes near you hit the market, when new properties are listed that meet your search criteria or a when the status of specific homes change. Signing up for alerts could be the difference between finding and fruitlessly searching for the perfect home. 

 

3. Be prepared to drop contingencies from your offer.

If feasible, sell your own home before you buy. The fewer obstacles you have to overcome with the purchase, the fewer red flags you’ll raise for the seller — who most likely is looking for the highest offer with the greatest potential for a smooth transaction. I’m not suggesting you eliminate standard contingencies such as a professional home inspection and a reasonable time period to close the sale. But if you’re already pre-approved for a loan, that’s one major contingency that’s off the table. “Real estate contingencies are a double-edged sword for homeHomebuyers need to act fast when they find the home they want, because sellers are likely entertaining multiple offers.buyers,” according to the Home Buying Institute. “They give you a legal way to back out of a transaction, if some unforeseen event occurs. That’s a good thing. But they can also make your offer less appealing to the seller, especially in a hot market where multiple offers are common. That’s the downside. Market awareness should be your guide.” Which is why it's also critical to … 

 

4. Enlist the services of a trusted real estate professional early.

That person can provide critical help when crunch time comes. Working with a real estate professional from the beginning allows you to share your preferences and dislikes about current homes on the market and gives the professional a clearer and fuller idea of what you have in mind. 

 

5. Be willing to make an offer the buyer can’t refuse. 

Warning: You’re probably going to pay more than the asking price. Once again, this is where the expertise of a knowledgeable and confident real estate professional comes in handy. Look to that person for guidance about how much to offer. And remember, in a seller’s market, many homeowners don’t even both to make a counter-offer; they simply move on to the next one. 

 

While these tips won’t guarantee your offer will be accepted, they could give you a jump on the competition and help you land the home you want most.

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 

Six Tips for First-Time Homebuyers

 

Buying a home will be the biggest purchase you ever make. 

 

I’m sure you’ve been told that many times before — especially if you’re a first-time homebuyer. In fact, you’re probably sick of being told that. Yes, buying a first home is a big deal, and it comes with a fair amount of pressure and stress. 

 

But here are six tips to help ensure that you make the most of this process and take the steps necessary to achieve home-buying happiness. 

 

1. Start saving yesterday. 

According to NerdWallet.com, many lenders now accept down payments of less than 20 percent (which for years was considered the minimum). But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t begin saving as soon as possible. Tax refunds, work bonuses and an unexpected inheritance all can go into a special savings account that remains untouched until you’re ready to buy. Remember: The lower the down payment, the more you’ll owe on your new home — and the longer you’ll be paying for it. NerdWallet’s free down payment calculator will help open your eyes to the reality of the situation. The good news? As of July 1, 2017, mortgage rates have hovered below 4 percent for the past several weeks, according to CNNMoney. 

 

2. Check your credit.

Every website offering advice to first-time homebuyers will tell you that your credit score plays a monumental role in whether you qualify for a home loan. If you don’t know your credit score, visit the website of the U.S. government’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to find out how to obtain it. “Just because you pay everything on time every month doesn't mean your credit is stellar,” Bankrate.com reports. “The amount of credit you're using relative to your available credit limit, or your credit utilization ratio, can sink a credit score. The lower the utilization rate, the higher your score will be. Ideally, first-time homebuyers would have a lot of credit available, with less than a third of it used.”

 

3. Find a lender. 

Determining your budget for buying a home — which should include closing costs, home-inspection fees and post-move-in expenses while not exceeding 30 percent of your monthly income — is completely dependent on your lender, so find a credible lender that you trust early in the process. Doing so will help you understand your financial limitations while also enabling you to determine the type of homes available in your market that you can afford. One word of warning: Some lenders offer great rates but fail to back up those rates with the skills and local experience required to close drama-free on a home. If you’re confused about where to find a lender that will best meet your needs … 

 

4. Connect with a real estate professional. 

And be comfortable putting your confidence in that person. When a real estate professional works with you (and for you) from the get-go, he or she will steer you toward credible lenders, as well as give you the heads-up when new homes hit the market. In the Madison area, stories of houses generating 23 showings within the first 24 hours of being listed — that’s almost one per hour! — are becoming more common. If you’re not watching the listings constantly, you’re bound to miss out. 

 

5. Know what you want. 

This will simplify the search process for both you and the real estate professional. Research and identify options for location, as well as preferred size and style. Also, have an idea of how much give and take you’re willing to accept. Some buyers find exactly what they’re looking for in a new home, while others struggle to fill every box on their checklist. At some point, you might need to make adjustments — especially when you need to … 

 

6. Move quickly.

When you find what you want, discuss with your real estate professional and be prepared to make an offer fast. Many homes in the Madison metropolitan market currently sell for significantly more than their asking price, which means that it’s a seller’s market, and buyers cannot afford to wait. As I’ve said before, the asking price is the opening bid — and you bid once, making your highest and best offer. Many sellers don’t even bother to make a counteroffer.

Adhering to these tips will help make your first-time home-buying experience positive, rewarding and — most importantly — triumphant. Good luck, and know that I’m here to help.

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Swing Into Spring: How Buyers Can Navigate a Seller's Market

 

Wisconsin is experiencing record-breaking home sales — even amid tight inventories. And the supply of existing homes, particularly in Dane County, is expected to continue dwindling as we head into what could be a warmer-than-normal spring.

 

According to the Wisconsin State Journal:

 

The latest statewide data from the Wisconsin Realtors Association showed 31,030 homes available for sale in February, down 18.2 percent from a year ago. …  The inventory of entry-level homes, which in metro Madison had a median sale price of $103,433, dipped 14.2 percent in the first three months of 2017 from a year ago, [real estate data provider] Trulia reported. Trade-up inventory in the middle third of the market — those homes had a median sale price of $229,300 — declined 26.2 percent to a monthly average of just 401 homes available. Premium inventory, with a median price of $396,567, was down 13.8 percent.

 

That’s why the south-central Wisconsin market sees well-kept, fairly priced homes selling with multiple offers in a matter of hours. Homes are selling for $20,000 or more over the asking price, with multiple offers. Hot price points as of late April are anything below $400,000. But in Madison, even the market for $1 million lakefront properties is blowing up. 

 

Nationally, homes are moving the fastest in Denver, Seattle and Oakland, Calif., but Madison is among the cities where buyers are struggling to find enough inventory, according to an Associated Press report in March.

 

In a study released last year, Zillow researchers discovered that homes listed between May 1 through May 15 sold, on average, 18.5 days faster than homes listed during a different timeframe. It’s definitely a seller’s market right now.

 

What can buyers do to ensure a fighting chance at purchasing the home they want? Here are four suggestions:

 

1. Seek lending pre-approval.

This will allow you, if necessary, to write an offer on the spot. In many cases, sellers don’t have 24 hours to discuss a purchase, or “sleep on it” and make a decision in the morning. Offers that contain a pre-approval letter — preferably from a local lender — often receive top priority.

 

2. Give the seller something unexpected.

This could include removing inspection and appraisal contingencies to make the offer more appealing and save time. In the long run, though, it’s a risky move that could backfire if an inspector finds a serious issue after you’ve purchased the home. A safer surprise for the buyer would be including in the offer an extra day or two for the seller to move out.

 

3. Acknowledge the realities of the market.

Buyers must understand that, while in years past or even in the dead of winter, the asking price is the beginning of the negotiation process. In today’s market, the asking price is the opening bid — and you bid once, making your highest and best offer. Many sellers don’t even bother to make a counteroffer.

 

4. Know that I'm here for you.

I wish my real estate agent colleagues and I had control over the market, the price buyers are willing to pay and the number of homes for sale. We want you to move into the home of your dreams just as much as you do, and we appreciate it when buyers understand we are working with multiple clients and returning phone calls and emails as quickly as we we can. Cooperation is key, and it usually leads to positive results. 

 

We are entering the busiest months of the year in the residential real estate business. It’s an exciting time to be part of the market, but it’s also an anxious time. I hope these tips will help ease the process.

 

Happy house-hunting. 

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Think Twice Before Posting That 'For Sale By Owner' Sign 

 

There is a reason why you’re not seeing as many “For Sale by Owner” signs in front yards as you did a few years ago. Almost 90 percent of all homes sold in 2015 were with the assistance of an experienced real estate professional, according to the 2015 Home Buyers and Sellers Profile.

 

Many sellers have figured out that the 6 percent they will save by not paying a real-estate agent’s commission on any sale — $15,000 on a $250,000 home, for example — isn’t worth the effort of going it all on their own.

“For sale by owner,” or FSBO (pronounced “FIZ-bo,” like Cam’s clown character on Modern Family), has morphed into a misleading term that can end up doing more harm than good for both the seller and the buyer. Here are four reasons why:

 

1. FSBO sellers don’t save as much as they think they will.

Very few FSBO homes sell to private parties today. They are almost always sold to someone who is represented by an agent, and that agent ends up receiving 3 percent. In the long run, FSBO sellers aren’t saving that much. Additionally, the National Association of Realtors reports that FSBO homes sell for about $40,000 less than agent-assisted homes, and the gap is even wider when the buyer knows the seller. Plus, don’t forget about all the extra costs you’ll incur — including signage, marketing, photography, an MLS listing, a home inspection and an attorney.

 

2. Real estate agents are hesitant to work with FSBO sellers.

Most FSBO sellers don’t understand the market and how to correctly price their home. Their lack of experience in the business can lead to missing a step in the selling process or, worse, taking a critical misstep that can result in a delayed closing and perhaps even kill the sale entirely. “There are only two reasons why I show a FSBO: There is no other inventory available or the price is ridiculously low,” Atlanta real estate agent Bruce Ailion told Investopedia. “FSBO sellers are viewed as unrealistic, unreasonable and difficult sellers whom professional Realtors have rejected.”

 

3. FSBO deals cost the sellers valuable time.

The paperwork associated with selling your own home — the sales contract, inspection reports and more — can be overwhelming. Add in the time spent marketing, hosting open houses and accommodating private showings for everyone from serious buyers to nosy neighbors, and you’re looking at major interruptions in your daily routine. Plus, you’ll need to be onsite when potential buyers tour your home, and that can add unnecessary distraction and pressure to the process.

 

4. FSBO sellers lack the objectivity and knowledge of an agent.

Let’s say you’re a FSBO seller and your listing states that the first level of the home is all hardwood floors, when it’s really wood laminate. Even though it might be an honest mistake, you better have a good lawyer. A real estate professional would have known the difference and never let that mistake work its way into the listing. An agent also will be able to suggest changes to elements of the home that you might not even recognize as needing attention, because you live there and see them every day. “If the property sits on the market, the homeowner doesn’t know the reason the home is not selling,” Jesse Gonzalez, a real estate agent in California told Investopedia. “The emotions will always be there for the seller, but constructive criticism can become easier to digest for the seller when it comes from a broker who is on their side, trying to get the best for them.”

 

As a real estate agent, it’s easy for me to recommend against the FSBO option. If you’d like to test the market on your own, I understand. But I’ll also be here waiting in case you change your mind.

 

t the market on your own, I understand. But I’ll also be here waiting in case you change your mind.

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Five Home Improvement Projects to Boost Resale Value 

 

Do you plan to sell your home this year? If so, there are several home improvement and home renovation projects to consider that will increase its value and encourage buyers to make higher offers.

 

Here are five of them— some of which can be completed in a day:

 

1. Give rooms a new coat of paint.

A fresh look can enhance any room. Just be sure to pick the right colors. "Fresh neutrals" — including light blues, greens, taupes and ivories — are a safe bet for any room. They photograph well, too. Your home will look at least 10 years newer when you’re done. Plus, if you’ve been wise with color, would-be buyers will be relieved they won’t need to repaint.

 

2. Replace the entry door.

Along with painting, this is one of the easiest upgrades you can make. A steel door or a fiberglass door boast the highest ROI, in large part because it’s one of the first things homebuyers see. It announces to visitors that this is a home worth entering. And, more importantly, its appearance can provide a glimpse into how well the home is maintained beyond that door.

 

3. Install a fireplace.

Adding a classic-style fireplace, even one powered by gas, can increase the value of your home by as much as $12,000. Why? Because in a state like Wisconsin, a fireplace helps keep heating bills lower during the winter and provides a substitute source of warmth if the power goes out during a storm. Fireplaces in bedrooms and other less traditional spaces are becoming increasingly common. 

 

4. Buy new appliances.

Updated kitchen appliances suggest to potential buyers that you care about how your home looks and operates. Stainless steel is a popular option that blends with most pre-existing décor, especially if the rest of your home has a contemporary appearance. But go easy on modernizing the kitchen if the rest of your home lacks similar updates. If you're freshening up the kitchen, you might want to add a few modern touches to other rooms, too. Once again, paint works wonders, and so might a new piece of furniture. 

 

5. Upgrade the kitchen countertops.  

While you’re considering kitchen improvements, take a good look at that countertop. In some neighborhoods in Dane County, Wis., a home with a laminate countertop won’t sell. Granite is the most popular option, although quartz and marble are gaining in appeal. If you’re replacing a countertop, consider adding a backsplash to protect the wall; it will make your kitchen warmer, more inviting and more conducive to meal creation.

 

If you’ve got the money to spend, it might be worth investing in more elaborate projects. “When the market is hot, Realtors® are more likely to give value to more expensive renovation projects, because they expect that the market will stay hot and people will pay the price,” Craig Webb, editor of Remodeling magazine told Realtor.com earlier this year.

 

And the housing market in south-central Wisconsin is hot right now.

 

All this said, even if you’re not ready to move yet, it won’t hurt to make upgrades now. A friend of mine invested in a series of upgrades in several rooms to bump up the asking price of his home. That strategy worked. But when it came time to turn the key over to the new owners at closing, he felt a twinge of regret for not making those improvements earlier — when he and his family could have enjoyed them for a longer time. 

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

What Trump's Action on Mortgages Means for Homebuyers 

 

On his first day in office, President Donald Trump signed his first executive order — one that will resonate with many new homebuyers this year.

 

Trump ordered the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to send a letter to lenders, real estate brokers and closing agents suspending implementation of a 0.25 percentage point premium rate cut for Federal Housing Administration-backed loans.

 

The cut, a result of one of the final actions of President Obama, was set to take effect Jan. 27 and would have reduced the annual premium for someone borrowing $200,000 by $500 in the first year. In other words, it would have saved homebuyers about $29 a month on a $200,000 mortgage — or an estimated $500 per year.

 

What does this mean, exactly?

 

Nothing, according to Tyler Durden, writing for the financial blog ZeroHedge:

 

The decision has zero impact on any homebuyers, as the fee cut had not even been implemented before its was overturned, although we would be very concerned about the state of the U.S. housing market if $500/year is all it takes to swing one's decision in favor of buying a house, and as such would be even more concerned about the pain awaiting the FHA, which was already bailed out once after the last financial crisis.

 

Durden also notes that HUD said more analysis and research are necessary before the indefinite suspension is lifted.

 

The National Association of Realtors took a much different position, releasing a statement from NAR President William E. Brown within hours of Trump’s action:

 

According to our estimates, roughly 750,000 to 850,000 homebuyers will face higher costs, and 30,000 to 40,000 new homebuyers will be left on the sidelines in 2017 without the cut. We’re disappointed in the decision but will continue making the case to reinstate the cut in the months ahead.

 

Additionally, Brown said the cut would allow more people to qualify for a mortgage, because more borrowers could meet the required debt-to-income ratio.

 

Let’s look at the facts.

 

If you reread HUD’s statement, you’ll notice the cut has been “suspended,” not cancelled. Basically, Trump — who actually once owned a mortgage company — wants to make sure the cut makes fiscal sense. After all, it’s a fact that Obama (as well as his predecessors in the White House) quickly pushed through several measures during the final days.

 

FHA loans are designed to result in low down payments, low closing costs and easy credit qualifying. The $29 a month that would have allowed more people to obtain home loans (even if they shouldn’t qualify for one) could become a slippery slope for the FHA. If more people qualify for home loans, could the lending industry find itself in the same dire straits it did in 2007, 2008 and 2009? The FHA eventually needed a government bailout.

 

Some observers say the cut would have put taxpayers at greater risk of footing the bill for another potential bailout. Others say the cut was too small to make a big impact on homebuyers.

 

Here’s my suggestion: Let’s talk.

 

Wisconsin is coming off a record-setting year, with annual home sales at an all-time high. Sales increased 6.1 percent in 2016 compared with 2015 — to more than 81,000 units — making it the strongest year for sales since the Wisconsin Realtors Association recalibrated its tracking system in 2005.

 

Mortgage rates in Wisconsin remain favorable but are expected to rise this year. If you have questions about how those rates and the suspension of the premium rate cut for FHA loans could affect your ability to purchase a home in 2017, we can have a (politics-free) conversation about your options and put your mind at ease. 

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Planning to Sell Your Home in 2017? Read This First 

 

New Year’s resolutions are easy to break. But if you’re serious about selling your home in 2017 — whether in January when inventory is low, during the popular spring-buying season or later this year after you’ve done more prep — now is the time to commit.

 

Real estate professionals say the biggest regret home sellers experience is not planning the selling process earlier. Don’t let that happen to you this year. 

 

Planning early can pay off in unexpected ways and save you time, money and stress. Here are five ways to begin moving forward now: 

 

1. Find a real estate agent. Don’t wait until you’re ready to put your home on the market. A professional — contacted well in advance of planting that “for sale” sign in the front yard — will guide you through the process by suggesting an asking price, offering selling and negotiating tips, and helping you prepare for one of the most important and exciting times of your life. Plus, an agent can provide honest feedback about work that should be completed by professional contractors to make your home presentable for sale. 

 

2. Make improvements. “Real estate agents, who work intimately with their clients sometimes over decades-long periods, often have a better idea than builders what buyers are looking for in a new home," reports BUILDER magazine, which asked several agents about the top design trends they’re seeing. Dark kitchens and vinyl floors are out. Neutral color schemes and extra-large garages are in. And if you’re going to paint, remember that taupe is the new gray.

 

3. Declutter. And then declutter some more. Nothing can turn buyers off more than a crowded house, which is why many sellers rent a storage unit for excess furniture and boxes once their house is on the market. Decluttering also means cleaning out closets, cabinets, cupboards and the garage. Interested buyers will open doors to take stock of storage, and if they see a mess, they’ll presume space is tight. Remove knick-knacks and other personal items that may not seem intrusive to you but could give strangers walking through your home a sense of claustrophobia. 

 

4. Schedule a home inspection. Chances are your house has not undergone a proper professional inspection since you moved in. An inspector will provide you with a checklist of tasks to complete to ensure your home is structurally sound, which will help put potential buyers’ minds at ease. Granted, the buyer may still bring in his or her own inspector. But, thanks to you thinking ahead, your home likely will receive a clean bill of health and help the sales process move forward quickly.

 

5. Pay attention to the competition. Are other homes for sale in your neighborhood? What is the asking price? What does your home offer that others don’t? Keeping an eye on the market will help you better understand what you’re undertaking when you put your own home up for sale. 

 

Need some guidance? Give me a call — I’m here to help. 

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Three Tips to Help Millennials Find the Home of Their Dreams 

 

Millennials — typically defined as people born between 1980 and 2000 — drive the housing market. In fact, half of today’s U.S. home buyers are under age 36 and reflect an increasingly racially diverse middle class, according to recently released data from the first annual Zillow Group Report on Consumer Housing Trends.

 

The report, considered the largest and most comprehensive survey of real estate consumers ever conducted, includes responses from more than 13,000 U.S. residents between the ages of 18 and 75 and reveals the habits and aspirations of a new generation of home buyers and sellers.

 

While millennials might rent for longer than previous generations, when they do buy, half of them opt for the suburbs. Almost all include the internet and social networks in their extensive research process, many often weigh the option of buying vs. renting more than previous generations, and they heavily rely on the guidance of real estate professionals.

 

“These young adults came of age during a recession, but they are buying their first homes in a high-priced and fast-paced market,” says Svenja Gudell, Zillow’s chief economist. “They're using every available resource.”

 

That’s a positive sign, because too many millennials often think they already know all they need to know about making important financial decisions. Too often, they don’t know enough.
 

It’s an exciting time to be young and in the housing market. Here are three tips for millennials in search of their first home:

 

1. Plan ahead.

The amount of space you need now might be less than you’ll need in five years. Are a spouse and kids in your future? Do you plan to launch a business from home and need a large office space or a three-car garage to store inventory? Are you approaching the buying process as an investment opportunity? What kind of changes will you want to make to the existing property? “Remember that you’ll need extra cash for maintenance and improvements,” cautions the financial advice website NerdWallet.com. “These funds will eventually turn into equity, but you won’t see that profit until you sell the home some years down the road.”

 

2. Understand your own buying power.

When you enter the buying market, you will undergo a pre-approval process from a lender, which gives you insight into how much home you’re able to afford. Armed with that knowledge, you can confidently look at properties in your price range and begin the decision-making process. It’s also critical to understand the essentials of a monthly mortgage payment and plan accordingly. As real estate brokerage Redfin.com notes, a mortgage includes more than your principal and interest; it also factors in real estate taxes and insurance. So should you.

 

3. Know that you’re not alone.

The process of buying a home is complicated and stressful. But the independence of young adulthood doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help. As Zillow Porchlight points out: “A good local agent has years of intellectual capital inside his or her head. Agents know the market like no one else because they’ve been inside hundreds of homes, have relationships with many of the agents and have done many deals. They know exactly what to do when a red flag arises. Additionally, the home purchase is both personal and emotional. Through the years, buyers have acknowledged how they’ve let their emotions get the best of them to kill an opportunity. But having a solid resource beside them at all times — the agent — has helped keep them in check.”

I’m here to help.

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

How to Sell Your Home In Autumn

 

When the number of daylight hours decreases and the amount of leaves in your yard increases, presenting your home for sale during the fall doesn’t seem as easy as doing so in summertime.
 

But Money magazine recently suggested that autumn might be the “new ideal time to buy a home” — with plenty of solid insight to back up the claim. That means now also can be an ideal time to put your home on the market.

 

Here are five ways to prep your home to sell before the snow flies:

 

1. Clean up the yard.

A front lawn covered in leaves not only looks ignored, it also suggests that this yard will require lots of work — something for which a new owner may not have the time or desire. So get out and rake. As long as you’re outside, remove dead vegetation in the garden, trim back shrubs, remove unsightly tree limbs and make your yard look nicer now than you ever thought possible. And don’t forget to empty the gutters of leaves, sticks and other debris. A clogged downspout during a rainy open house can result in overflowing gutters that will be an automatic turnoff for buyers. Be sure to sweep or hose down the driveway and decks, too.

 

2. Create enhanced curb appeal.

With shorter, often drearier days in store, the first impression of your home for would-be buyers could be one of drabness and dinginess. To combat that, plant seasonal flowers (such as chrysanthemums or marigolds), display pumpkins or a basket of gourds on the porch, and freshen up the paint where possible. If you’re big on holiday decorations, remove the blow-up ghost, mechanical vampire and flashing orange and purple lights leftover from Halloween — and don’t decorate for Christmas yet. Finally, if you’re considering planting flowers, keep in mind that many fall flowers are yellow, a color that “says ‘happy’ right off the bat,” according to one interior designer who claims the “cheerful hue” appeals to buyers.

 

3. Tingle the senses during an open house.

Throw a frozen apple pie or pumpkin pie in the oven before a showing so sweet and warm smells linger. One of my favorite home fragrances this time of year is that of cinnamon-scented pine cones. Turn the heat up a notch or two, or make a fire in the fireplace, to enhance the coziness factor. (Make sure it’s not the first time all season you’ve turned on the heat; otherwise, you run the risk of a dirty furnace filter stinking up the house. Oh, and change that furnace filter, too.) Open window blinds and curtains, and switch on all lights to create a welcoming environment. Also consider a seasonal centerpiece on the dining or living room table.

 

4. Declutter.

Stow those flip-flops you won’t wear again until May deep into a closet and get rid of the piles (of mail, books, clothes, whatever) that accumulated over the summer. When you sell a home at any time of the year, the neater and cleaner it is, the better. But it’s particularly important this time of year, as sometimes such tasks can be easy to put off during the busy summer months.

 

5. Be realistic with your price. 

Just because the Jones family down the street sold their very similar home in July for $15,000 over the asking price doesn’t mean you can use that as a measuring stick now. In the fall, the market isn’t quite as crazy and competitive as it is during the summer, and buyers likely won’t be making exorbitant offers like that, nor should you expect them to. Your odds of selling still remain high, though, especially if — as referenced above in the Money article — you can offer prospective buyers the opportunity to, say, close before Thanksgiving or a local school district’s holiday break.

 

Just remember: Sometimes, autumn can be a season of new beginnings. 

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Photo by Anil Mohabir via Flickr

Why Local Lenders Are Always Better Than Online Lenders

 

Two years ago, I rarely if ever encountered clients who wanted to use the services of an online lending firm rather than those of a local mortgage company.

 

But thanks to the proliferation of clever commercials from the likes of Lending Tree and Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans, which promote the effortless securing of home loans, a quarter of all homebuyers I work with now want to consider going with an online lender.

 

My response: That’s like opting for surgery from the lowest-priced surgeon you can find. Way too risky.

 

Online lenders such as the ones mentioned above, as well as companies like Amerisave and Guaranteed Rate, have no connection to you or the area in which you’re looking to buy a home — which, most likely, will be the biggest investment you ever make. They lack the intangible assets inherent in local firms. As a result, deals with national lenders often fall apart.

 

As a real estate agent, for example, I would never try to help somebody in Milwaukee find a house in that city. I don’t know enough about the neighborhoods and the market there. And when you go to buy a home in Dane County with an online lender, that lender will be just as clueless as I would be selling a home in Milwaukee.

 

Not long ago, one of my clients was working with an online firm that denied his mortgage, citing a highly-questionable rationale, eight days prior to closing. I took the deal to a local lender, whose staff worked later-than-usual hours to prepare for a closing that went perfectly. As a quick plug, my top three recommendations for lenders in the Dane County area are Pat Averill at Thompson Kane, Kelli Ezzell at Settlers bank and Mary Byrd at Summit Credit Union.

 

Please note that some local banks use an online application, which is fine. A local bank is still a local bank.

 

One final thought: I’m aware of situations in which sellers turn down buyers who are working with online lenders in favor of another buyer who made a lower offer but is working with a local mortgage firm. In other words, if the offers and contingencies are similar, the decision of which offer to accept often comes down to the lending institution involved.

 

If your offer is in that situation — and you’ve done your homework and gone local — I like your odds. 

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Surveys: Buying A Home Is Best Long-Term Investment You Can Make 

 

Two recent surveys suggest that Americans now consider buying a home the best long-term investment they can make.

 

In a recent Gallup poll of about 1,000 adults, 35 percent named real estate as their top investment choice, followed far behind by stocks and mutual funds (22 percent), gold (17 percent), cash investments (15 percent) and bonds (7 percent). Five years ago, only 19 percent of those surveyed ranked real estate first, while 34 percent chose gold.

 

“As the average sale price of new homes in the U.S. increased from $259,300 in August 2011 to $348,900 in February of this year, the percentage of Americans picking real estate as the best long-term investment almost doubled,” according to Gallup. “During approximately the same time span — from August 2011 to April of this year — gold prices plunged from $1,910 to $1,254 per ounce, and the percentage thinking gold would be the best investment was cut in half.”

 

Another survey, this one conducted by Bankrate.com, a leading aggregator of financial rate information, asked respondents to answer this multiple-choice question: “Which would be the best way to invest money you wouldn’t need for more than 10 years?” A full 25 percent chose real estate, followed by cash investments (23 percent), and gold and the stock market (16 percent each).

 

“Houses are tangible,” says Sterling White, co-founder of Holdfolio, a real estate investment firm. “You can physically see and feel the product. So you know where your money is going: It’s going into that house. With stocks, you have no clue where your money is going.”

 

I recently purchased a new home, and I can relate to the financial emotions triggered by the buying process. Together, we’ll help make one of the biggest investments of your life also one of the best. 

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Why It's Never Too Early To Start Thinking
About Your New Home's Resale Value

 

When you’re in the home-buying process, so many questions run through your head: Where will the 80-inch TV go? What room will be the home office? Will the deck be large enough for my patio furniture?

 

Here’s another question you should start thinking about: How much can I get back when I sell this place?

 

A home is among the largest — if not the largest — investment most people will make. Just as you wouldn’t purchase shares of a consistently low-performing stock, you should seriously consider passing on a home with a value you or your real estate agent don’t think will appreciate over the years.

 

Sure, you can make lots of improvements once you move in, but here are three factors to assess during an open house or first-time walk-through that will give you solid indications of whether it will be easy to resell that home — and make a tidy profit, too.  

 

1. Location

As with just about everything, the location of a home matters most when it comes to resale value. A beautiful home on a busy street doesn’t generate the same excitement (and dollars) as a slightly less-perfect home located on a cul-de-sac. A country home might offer the peace and serenity you and future buyers seek, but is the nearest gas station 20 miles away? Conversely, is an otherwise appealing urban home located in a crowded mixed-use neighborhood, surrounded by multifamily dwellings, retail stores and other commercially zoned buildings? If anything about your potential new home’s location gives you pause, it’s likely to do the same with that home’s next would-be buyer, too.

 

2. Exterior Appearance

On your way up the front walk, slow down and take in your surroundings. Look at the landscaping around the home: Are the lawn, shrubs, trees and other yard elements well maintained? Does the home you’re considering fit in well with neighboring homes and other residences on the street? Does the siding or roof look like either one might need replaced within the next five to seven years? (If so, you better budget for that and add those factors into the decision-making process.) If you weren’t in the market for a home, would this one still catch your eye while driving by?

 

3. Interior Appearance

Today’s homebuyers want more storage instead of less and a contemporary vibe rather than a hopelessly outdated look. Homes in some neighborhoods won’t sell (at least at a profit) with only one bathroom or kitchen countertops that aren’t made of granite. Unless you plan to make major upgrades to a home in need of some, don’t expect its resale value to help you buy a better home next time.

 

All that said, as with most personal decisions, value rests in the eye of the beholder. Hardwood floors vs. carpet, for example, is a very personal preference. That makes it nearly impossible to ascertain exactly which factors will ultimately determine a home’s resale value. A colleague recently sold a home with an outdoor backyard swimming pool — an unusual amenity in south-central Wisconsin — without the buyer even touring the home. The swimming pool, often a turnoff for most buyers because of the amount of time and money involved in maintaining one, was the key component in that particular buyer’s decision-making process.

 

Generally speaking, though, paying attention to the above factors before you move into a new home also will pay dividends when it’s time for you to move out. 

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Photo of Memorial Union Terrace by Joshua Mayer

Four Reasons to Move to
Dane County This Summer 

 

Summer officially begins June 20, which means there’s no better time to relocate to Dane County than now. Sure, Wisconsin is renowned for its four seasons, but summer best represents what living in this area is all about. Here are four reasons why:

 

1. You have lots of choices for places to live.  

Home to more than 500,000 people and Wisconsin’s State Capitol, Dane County boasts more than 60 cities (including Madison, Sun Prairie and Middleton), villages (Oregon, DeForest and Waunakee) and towns (Black Earth, Verona and Cottage Grove), plus several dozen unincorporated communities and some of the most productive farms in the country. City or country, rural or urban, you’ll find what you’re looking for here.

 

2. You’ll never get bored.

From fish-filled lakes, rivers and streams to consistently maintained parks, numerous sports and recreation opportunities, and one of the last remaining free zoos in the United States, Dane County offers plenty of things to do, especially during the summer. The Dane County Farmers’ Market on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison on Saturdays and Wednesdays is a longtime tradition and the nation’s largest producer-only event of its kind, with more than 300 vendors. The University of Wisconsin’s Memorial Union is open year-round and offers recreational, cultural, educational and social opportunities for everyone (not just students) on the shores of beautiful Lake Mendota.

 

On the other side of Madison’s downtown isthmus is Lake Monona and the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, the hub for the annual IRONMAN Wisconsin race and several other major events. The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Arboretum is widely recognized as a significant site for historic research in ecological restoration and also is open to the public.

 

Community festivals abound all summer long, too, in nearly every Dane County locale. In Madison alone, a plethora of events — from Brat Fest on Memorial Day weekend to Taste of Madison on Labor Day weekend — keeps residents entertained (and their stomachs full).

 

3. You’re not too far from anything.
One of the Dane County attributes that most surprises newcomers is the robust regional airport located six miles northeast of Madison. The Dane County Regional Airport provides three runways for four airlines and several daily flights to major hub cities. For quick summer getaways, Milwaukee is less than a 90-minute drive from Madison; Green Bay and Door County are each about two-and-a-half hours away; and Chicago is three hours from here. You can make it to the Twin Cities in less than half a day.

 

4. You’re surrounded by history.
Not only is Dane County home to nearly 100 places listed on the National Register of Historic Sites — such as the Mount Horeb Opera Block and the Wollersheim Winery east of Prairie du Sac — but it’s also the capital of Wisconsin, where history seems to happen every day. 

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

What To Do When Someone Else Buys the Home Of Your Dreams

 

The home market in Wisconsin — and especially south-central Wisconsin — is going bonkers.

 

More homes sold in this state during the first quarter of 2016 than any first quarter since 2007, according to a recent analysis of the residential housing market by the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association (WRA). And many of those homes sold for well over the asking price.

 

In mid-April, I wrote an offer for one of my buyers at $30,000 over the asking price. The sellers didn’t even make a counteroffer; they turned it down flat because they received an even higher offer.

 

“We need to think about it for a couple days,” many buyers tell me before committing to an offer. What they don’t understand is that in a couple days, the home of their dreams will probably be sold to another buyer — especially if the home is in a popular neighborhood and features many desirable amenities.

 

As a result, buyers often pay way more than asking price.

 

In order to prevent that, buyers need to be aware of current market dynamics and adjust their mindset and decision-making process accordingly.

 

Here are five suggestions to ease that transition and help buyers make the necessary adjustments:

 

1. Broaden your search. Consider expanding your desired boundaries into nearby neighborhoods, which often are overlooked and underpriced but just as nice.

 

2. Take a second look. Did you rule out one or two homes earlier that, right about now, seem worth thinking about again? For example, in light of the challenges you’ve encountered since you first looked at a particular home, can you picture yourself living there even without that three-season porch that’s been on your wish list from the beginning?

 

3. Consider alternatives. Buying a home is not something that should be rushed, regardless of what the market suggests. So if you’re not finding anything that works for you, and you’re not in a situation that requires you to relocate ASAP, think about staying put for awhile and keep your eyes open for the home you truly want.

 

4. Do whatever it takes. Sometimes that means writing what the industry calls a “sharp” offer, one in which you commit to matching the top offer and then raising it by a specified percentage. A similar option is the “escalator clause,” in which the offer states that it will be a specific dollar amount above the highest offer, up to a maximum amount. Neither approach is conventional, but they can be effective if the only home you want is the one everybody else does, too.

 

5. Look at the bright side. Here’s what Zillow.com says to do after a seller turns down your offer: “There’s nothing you can do except resume shopping … The good news is: Your new home must actually still be out there.”

 

I’m here to help you find it.

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Photo of Dave Haack/Haack Homestead Inspections

How to Prepare for a
Home Inspection 

 

Whether you’re selling or buying a home, the home inspection — a professional examination of a home’s condition that can determine the outcome of a pending purchase — is one of the most stressful components of the entire process. Recent market reports suggest that as many as 95 percent of all purchased homes undergo an inspection prior to new occupancy.

 

Buyers must understand that, unless the home is new construction, they will not be moving into a perfect home. Sellers need to cooperate with the inspector (who usually is recommended by the buyer’s real estate agent) and should not, quite literally, try to hide anything.

 

Here are three home inspection tips each for buyers and sellers:

 

Buyers:

1. Realize that an inspector is likely to find multiple minor deficiencies — anything from a negative grade at the foundation of the house to weak caulking around the area where the central air conditioner’s line feeds into the house. If an inspector makes note of such shortcomings, that doesn’t necessarily mean the seller has an obligation to remediate them. If the issue is cosmetic, maintenance-related or a minor annoyance, a buyer should expect to take care of that at some point himself.

 

2. Major issues, such as electrical or plumbing defects, a leaky roof, a chimney that needs relining, or broken or faulty windows should be on the list of problems the seller should fix before finalizing a transaction. Same thing goes for safety issues, including an automatic garage door that doesn’t stop when it encounters an object or a high radon level in the home.

 

3. Remember that home inspectors are generalists. As outlined by the National Association of Home Inspectors, their job is “to know the home’s many systems and components and how they work, both independently and together.” They also “need to understand why and how the system(s) fail.” After the inspection, inspectors should provide a written report that describes the home’s condition and a list of major repairs needed. For a complete rundown of items a home inspector should inspect, visit the NAHI website.

 

Sellers:

1. Sellers should attempt to make the home inspection process as easy as possible for an inspector by moving items stored near and around furnaces and other mechanicals. Same thing goes for the attic hatch. If the hatch is in a closet or the garage, sellers should clear out the space around that area (empty the closet or move a vehicle) to provide easy access for the inspector.

 

2. Make sure that the house is clean and in "showing condition.” Just as you’re not home for an open house or private showing, don't hang around for the home inspection, either. If possible, take your pets with you.

 

3. If you are aware of a problem — say, water damage in the basement — don’t try to hide it by storing stacks of boxes in front of it. A good inspector most likely is going to find out, anyway. There’s no point in covering up a problem; doing so will cast suspicion on you and could leave potential buyers leery enough that they’re willing to walk away from the purchase.

 

Regardless of whether you’re buying or selling, it’s worth realizing there’s no need to panic when an inspector notes specific needs. Trust your real estate agent and allow him or her to walk you through each item and make a determination about how to handle it.

 

For more details about the home inspection process, including legal resources from the Wisconsin Realtors Association, visit the WRA or NAHI websites.

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

What Every Homebuyer
Needs to Know About Credit

 

If you’re going to buy a home — and you’re not uncommonly wealthy — you’re going to need credit. That fact alone often keeps people from entering the market.

 

“You can’t be afraid of credit,” says Patrick Averill, sales manager and senior mortgage loan originator at Thompson Kane & Company LLC, a mortgage lending firm in Madison, Wis. “Unfortunately, things have to happen for a consumer to have a poor credit score. But things also have to happen for a consumer to earn a good credit score. So without using credit responsibly, the credit bureaus will never know if you’re a responsible consumer or not.”

 

Having poor credit, or no credit, affects an individual’s ability to buy a car, purchase insurance, rent an apartment or become a homeowner.

 

Here are three ways to better understand your own credit situation, keep your credit in check and, should the need arise, repair your credit before it causes irreparable damage.

 

1. Pay attention to your credit score.

“I let clients know right away that their credit score is important,” Averill says. “That number matters when it comes to home financing.”

 

Credit scores typically range from 350 to 850; the higher, the better. A score of 740 or higher most likely will qualify a prospective homebuyer for the best interest rate available on any given day. A score below 600 likely will not result in receiving a home loan.

 

“People are a little more aware of what their credit score is today than they were 10 years ago,” Averill says, citing the economic downturn of 2008 to 2010, when foreclosures and other issues decimated the real estate market. “Prior to that, people didn’t have a lot of knowledge about credit scores. They didn’t really need to, because they could get a home loan with almost any credit score back then.”

 

How do you avoid a low credit score? Paying your bills on time helps, but that’s not all. Credit scores also are dependent on a consumer’s credit utilization ratio, which is the percentage of a consumer’s available credit that he or she has used. According to Investopedia.com, a high credit utilization ratio can lower your score, while a low credit utilization ratio can raise your score. Credit issuers like to see a credit utilization ratio of no more than 30 percent, Averill says.


Another factor that impacts credit scores is the number of newer credit cards a person uses, because new credit is weighed more heavily than old credit. If you need to place a large purchase on credit, Averill suggests, it’s better to do so on an older credit card. 

 

2. Learn how credit works.

Among the demographics most at risk of running into credit problems are high school graduates. They often enter the real world without knowing what a credit score is, how it works and the ways in which it can affect their adult life.

 

Averill would like to see credit education become common in high schools. Until that happens, though, he suggests parents guide their kids though credit’s nooks and crannies, explaining to them the importance of not charging more than they can afford to pay back. That way, when they eventually enter the home-buying market, they’ll have a solid credit score and be fiscally prepared to take on additional credit.

 

The best way to use a credit card? Once a month. It doesn’t matter if the purchase is for $10 or $200, as long as you can pay the bill in full when it arrives. “That’s the most you should be using your credit card,” Averill says. “Do that for the next six to eight months, and you’ll see a significant increase in your credit score.”

 

3. Repair Your Credit

If your credit score isn’t as high as it should be, don’t despair. Consult your real estate professional or a local lender, who can recommend a trustworthy credit repair specialist to help you develop a long-term strategy for boosting your credit score.

 

“People try to repair their credit on their own and not charge anything,” Averill says. “They wait for their credit score to get better. Well, the problem is, their credit score isn’t going to get better. It’s just going to stay where it is. I talk to a lot of adults who have been burned by credit and don’t want to use it anymore, so they close their credit cards.”

 

That’s a mistake for two reasons. One, it affects a consumer’s overall credit limit and increases his or her credit utilization ratio. And two, closing a card that you’ve had for a long time will shorten your credit history and could affect future borrowing after your credit is repaired. Averill suggests leaving credit cards open but using them sparingly.

 

The cost of a credible credit repair specialist should be no more than a few hundred dollars, Averill says. “To spend $300 to $400 with the right person to help someone get their credit position where it needs to be? To me, that’s worth every dime.” 

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Five Reasons To Buy or
Sell Your Home Now

 

More homes were sold in Wisconsin in 2015 than any year since 2005, according to a report released in January by the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association. A total of 76,693 homes changed hands in the state last year, up 11.4 percent over 2014’s 68,857 — and just shy of the 78,125 sold in 2005 before the recession hit. Median home prices also were 5.1 percent higher in 2015 than in 2014.  

 

Why is this happening now, and what does it all mean to the average homebuyer and home seller in Dane County? Here are five things to consider:

 

1. Interest rates are low.

One lender has been offering 3.75 percent on a 30-year fixed mortgage. Think about that for a second. Older buyers and sellers probably remember when interest rates were in the 15 to 18 percent range. So having them fall below 4 percent has caused a frenzy. Those rates may not last much longer, so people are taking advantage of them while they can.

 

2. There is a housing shortage.

People are nervous to list homes until they have an accepted offer on another home, because if their existing home sells, they run the risk of having nowhere to go. That wasn’t the case a few years ago. With a limited pool of homes on the market from which to choose, houses are getting snapped up quickly. Last summer, I wrote three offers for the same couple within 48 hours of homes being listed, and they each were at least $5,000 over the asking price (one was $10,000 over), and none of those offers were accepted. I know I wasn’t alone; real estate agents and their customers all over Dane County faced the same situation. So now, all those people who didn’t get homes last year are still out there looking.

 

3. The economy is improving. 

Despite the recent stock market downturn, people feel like for the first time in years, they have the means to buy a bigger, nicer and/or newer home, and they are capitalizing on it.

 

4. People are moving for their jobs.

A strong economy means more and better jobs, and people are relocating in order to take those jobs. Thanks to the housing shortage, homes no longer sit vacant for months, long after the sellers move out. Instead, today’s out-of-town homebuyers often connect with real estate agents in their new community well in advance of selling their current home. The idea is to have someone local looking for and lining up potential homes. That kind of connectivity between buyer and agent keeps the market hopping.

 

5. Advertising.

People simply are excited about buying a home again, not least of all because the marketplace is developing the type of entertaining and often emotional advertising campaigns that consumers haven’t seen in quite awhile. My personal favorite, despite coming from a local competitor, showed the bottom of the bed with a man’s bare feet on one side, a woman’s bare feet on the other side, and a dog’s paws between the couple. There also are creative TV spots for realtor.com and Zillow that will make you laugh or tug at your heart and create excitement about not only the idea but the actual act of buying a house and moving into it. Zillow advertising uses the phrase “You’re not just looking for a house; you’re looking for a place for your life to happen.” Those are powerful words. Combine them with the four factors listed above, and you might even feel like entering the home market today. 

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

7 Ways to Prepare Your Home For an Open House

 

Selling a home can be stressful enough, without having to worry about keeping the interior looking perfect all the time — especially for open houses. That challenge is compounded even more during the winter months, when snow, rain, ice or mud could be tracked inside by real estate agents and potential buyers.

 

Here are seven suggestions to consider when prepping your home for an open house — in January or any other time of year:

 

1. Protect your floors.

As long as I brought up weather conditions, let’s begin there. Consider the way shoes and boots accumulate all sorts of gunk, especially during the winter. One way around this is to place a boot mat in the foyer or even outside the front door and request that all visitors remove their footwear before walking through the home. Another option is to provide shoe covers upon entering the home; many real estate agents prefer this and carry multiple shoe covers with them. And, to prevent slips and falls on the way to your door, don’t forget to treat or remove any icy spots in the driveway, along the walkway and on the porch.

 

2. Create neutrality.

That can be tough to do when holiday decorations are still up. Take those down, store them in an out-of-the-way place and present your home as it would look after it’s been freshly cleaned. Also, if you have deer antlers from last year’s successful hunt hanging on the wall, or political memorabilia on display, you might want to take them down. Remember: The goal of an open house is not just to have people walk through the home but to have them picture themselves living in that home. If you have a framed autographed poster in your home office from the days when you campaigned for President Barack Obama, and a potential buyer is wearing a Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, you’re just asking for trouble.

 

3. Rid your home of smells.

And, yes, that includes plug-ins that are intended to make the place smell like potpourri or a forest. Other foul odors to expel: strong food smells (garlic, onion, fish, curry), cigar or cigarette smoke, pet smells and perfumes. One way to offset those is with the welcoming smells that come from baking brownies or cookies. Then display the goodies on a kitchen island or dining room table for people to nibble on while they discuss writing an offer with the real estate agent. Complimentary bottled water might help, too.

 

4. Declutter.

This is a good idea even if you’re not preparing for an open house — or even moving. But when you are, indeed, having an open house, clutter can be a killer. Again, you want prospective buyers to envision themselves in your home, and that can be challenging when they’re surrounded by knick-knacks that mean nothing to them. If you’re going to start packing before your house sells, pack the clutter first (or donate it, sell it or trash it).

 

5. Establish a welcoming environment.

Open blinds or curtains and turn on lamps. Display a vase of fresh flowers to add dashes of color. And adjust the temperature to make visitors feel comfortable, despite the front door opening and closing on a frequent basis.

 

6. Let the dogs out.

If you have pets, take them with you when you leave before the open house. Not only do pets make some potential buyers nervous, but strangers may make the pets uncomfortable, too. It would terrifying for an animal to watch people come in and out of the home and not know them. Scared animals, no matter how normally docile, might bite out of fear, and not all potential buyers know to leave a cute dog alone. Also, be sure to store bowls, beds, leashes and cages.

 

7. Beef up security.

Implicit but often overlooked during open house preparation is the simple fact that you are actually letting strangers enter your home when you’re not there. Sure, you can trust your real estate agent, but he or she can’t be in every room at the same time. So it’s best to remove or lock up valuables, as well as prescription medication that might be easily accessed from a medicine cabinet or kitchen counter. And it doesn’t hurt to have your agent ask each visitor to sign a logbook if they’re comfortable doing so. That said, good agents are hyper-vigilant and will look out for the safety of your personal items.

 

When conducted properly and for the right reasons, an open house can help sell your home. But preparations must be made and precautions must be taken in order for that “open house” sign to be replaced by a “sold” sign.

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Photo via: http://www.greygranite.com/archives/1576/outside-christmas-decorations-2015/

Ideas to Make Your Home Shine This Christmas Season 

 

Outdoor holiday decorations: Love ’em or hate ’em?

 

I’ll admit that I’m a fan  — especially when done right. I put on some Trans-Siberian Orchestra, sat back and searched for a variety of homes clad in classy Christmas cheer.

 

I found some mighty impressive images that conveyed holiday taste, charm and style.

 

Here are 10 of my favorites (including the one to the right): 

Photo via http://uniquedecorz.com/cool-design-ideas-best-outside-christmas-lights/
The spheres are made of chicken wire. Photo via http://blog.christmaslightsetc.com/diy/how-to-make-unique-outdoor-christmas-decorations/
Photo via http://www.greygranite.com/archives/1576/outside-christmas-decorations-2015/
Photo via http://www.msucculent.com/13-diy-outdoor-christmas-decorating-ideas/artistic-decorations-diy-outdoor-christmas-decorating-ideas/
Photo via http://www.smallgardenlove.com/outdoor-christmas-decorations/
Photo via http://www.alliantathome.com/front-porch-christmas-decorating-ideas.html
Photo via http://dulus.co/yard-decorations-for-christmas/nice-yard-decorations-for-christmas-with-ideas-for-christmas-yard-decorations/
Photo via http://www.digsdigs.com/31-cool-outside-christmas-decorations/
Photo via https://www.pinterest.com/explore/christmas-front-porches/

This one looks cheesy (it's available at Walmart!) but it cracked me up. 

Photo via http://www.walmart.com/ip/6-Tall-Animated-Airblown-Christmas-Inflatable-Santa-Coming-Out-of-Outhouse-Scene/17164640

There is such a thing as overkill, though. 

Photo via http://the-iphone.org/outdoor-christmas-decorations/
Photo via http://hominic.com/creative-outdoor-lighting-decoration-for-your-special-christmas/
Photo via http://cristmas-edition.blogspot.com/2015/11/christmas-decoration-lights-outside.html#

What does your home look like this season? Email me your photos at abaranski@bunburyrealtors.com; I may include them in a future blog post.

Merry Christmas — and enjoy your home.

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

TRID: What Home Buyers and Sellers Need to Know

If you’re involved in buying or selling a home right now, you may have heard about a new closing policy that went into effect Oct. 1 called TRID, which is an easy acronym for the hard-to-understand TILA RESPA Integrated Disclosure Rule.

In other words, TRID is an "acronym of mortgage acronyms," as the real estate investing social network, information hub and marketplace Bigger Pockets so brilliantly puts it. These new closing disclosures were developed and enacted in the wake of the 2007-08 mortgage crisis, and you should know about them. 

Technically speaking, TRID stands for:
• TILA (Truth In Lending Act)
• RESPA (Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act)
• Integrated
• Disclosure

While you don’t need to know all of the details about how TRID originated, you should understand that TRID is meant to protect consumers. But it certainly complicates matters and will require homebuyers to vet their lending institutions a little more closely than in the past.

Previously, the HUD-1 settlement statement — a standard form used to itemize services and fees charged to a home buyer by a bank or other mortgage lender when applying for a loan — often arrived in the buyer's hands a few hours before the closing meeting. Now, all parties involved must recieve that statement at least three days prior to the closing date. TRID effectively puts an end to those last-minute HUD-1 statements, which pressured buyers into closing even if they weren't given enough time to adequately review the financials. 

For example, if I’m your real estate agent — thank you for your business! — and we schedule a closing meeting for your new home on Dec. 1, but the bank involved doesn’t submit the HUD-1 statement for buyer approval until Nov. 30, that closing date gets bumped back to Dec. 3. Some closings might take longer than expected, as lending institutions strive to ensure no errors or omissions in the paperwork; any that are found can result in daily fines for that firm.

Local and regional banks are much more likely to comply with TRID standards than national banks.

Why? Let me give you another scenario: I might be working with a national lender in Madison, but the underwriting could take place in Salt Lake City, the appraisal might be ordered by someone in Philadelphia, and the closing department could be headquartered in Chicago. The lending agent cannot walk down the hall and tell Susie Closer that he needs the HUD-1 statement immediately, because Susie isn't down the hall; she’s in Chicago. Plus, she is the closer for a thousand transactions (literally) from Maine to California over the next 45 days. She has 999 other deals to close if mine falls through, so you and I are not a top priority.

Additionally, national banks had to create entirely new departments simply to meet TRID standards.

On the other hand, smaller local mortgage banks, such as Thompson Kane & Co. and Summit Credit Union, are more likely to have employees with the freedom to walk down the hall and tell Susie Closer that they need the final HUD-1 statement within the hour. There is a lot more pressure on Susie to perform and get things accomplished when she is in the same office as the lender. 

It’s also worth noting that at least one smaller local lender has been operating under new TRID guidelines prior to Oct. 1 — meaning it has implemented new policies and procedures months in advance of its lending competitors. So for that firm, TRID isn’t new anymore.

Bottom line: Buyers, choose your lenders wisely. Ask them about TRID compliance policies. You have a right to review the closing disclosure statement at least three days prior to the closing date.

Sellers: You also need to be aware that lenders’ failure to adhere to TRID policies could result in last-minute closing delays, slowing down the entire process — which then could impact the closing of your new home purchase, especially if it’s contingent on the closing of your current home.

Communication between buyer, seller, lender, real estate agent, attorney and title company is essential to keep things moving smoothly and ensure an on-time, drama-free closing.

For guidance in choosing a TRID-conscious lending institution or more information about TRID and closing procedures, please contact me anytime: abaranski@bunburyrealtors.com.

And for the nitty-gritty details about TRID, visit any (or all) of the following websites:

 Bigger Pockets

• Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

 National Association of Realtors

(Photo by zack Mccarthy, via Flcker)

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Photo via The New York Times

Where Do Famous People Live? 

 

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently bought a gorgeous 16th-century London mansion once owned by writer George Eliot for $25 million — $1.6 million above the asking price. The 6,300-square-foot home (at right), built in 1715, features seven bedrooms and is only a 20-minute walk from Bloomberg’s other London residence. 

 

All of this got me thinking about where other famous people live. So I went house-hunting on the Internet. Here is what I found:

 

Khloe Kardashian reportedly purchased this $7.2 million mansion in California from Justin Bieber. She required at least two moving vans to mark her arrival in the neighborhood.

 

Photo via PacificCoastNews.com

• This is a closet inside the $20 million, 14,000-square-foot eco-home of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his supermodel wife Giselle. To their credit, 90 percent of the materials used in the house are recycled or antique, according to Architectural Digest. Oh, and there’s a moat. 

Photo via Architectural Digest

• Soccer stud Cristiano Ronaldo recently shelled out $18.5 million for 2,500-square-foot loft in Trump Tower on New York’s Fifth Avenue. According to London’s Daily Mail, the place reportedly inspired the setting for the novel 50 Shades of Grey.

Photo via Warburg Realty via London Daily Mail

John Travolta’s $4 million home in Ocala, Fla., boasts a runway for his private jet, while race car driver Danica Patrick’s $4 million home in Scottsdale, Ariz., is on a five-acre “private compound” and features cascading waters and an “exercise annex."

Photo via FinancesOnline.com
Photo via The Arizona Republic

• Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg lives in this $7 million home in Silicon Valley, which seems modest when compared with the other properties listed above.  

Photo via FinancesOnline.com

Meanwhile, Pope Francis — arguably the most famous person in the world right now — lives in Casa Santa Marta, rather than a papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. It measures about 540 square feet, including a study and a bedroom. 

Photo via L'Osservatore Romano/AP

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Find a Decent Real Estate Agent, Fast 

 

More people in Wisconsin are buying homes now than at any other time since before the recession, according to the Wisconsin Realtors® Association.  In July alone, home sales in the state’s south-central region were up by almost 22 percent, compared with July 2014.

 

“Buyers need to be prepared to move quickly when the opportunity presents itself,” according to WRA president and CEO Michael Theo. “Working with an experienced Realtor® who knows the local neighborhood remains the best way to identify the best values in a tight housing market.”

 

If you’re not already working with a real estate agent when the right house goes on the market, what can you do? You could, of course, simply work with the listing agent, who likely won’t have your best interests in mind. (See “How Does Buyer Agency Work?”).

 

But here’s a better idea: Find an agent with whom you’d like to work by asking the following seven questions: 

 

1. Is real estate the agent’s full-time job? If this is only a part-time gig, how can that person find time to give you the attention you deserve? You want an agent who’s ready when you are you.

 

2. Is the agent experienced in helping buy and sell homes within your price range? Some real estate agents specialize in working only with first-time buyers or exclusively in the luxury multimillion-dollar home market. Has the agent worked with buyers who have needs similar to yours? Check out not only the agent’s current listings but also past listings on Zillow, Trulia or Realtor.com to get a better idea of that person’s body of work in the local real estate market.

 

3. Does the agent know the neighborhood? Before you agree to work with an agent, ask questions about area schools, parks, shopping and recreation opportunities, other homes for sale in the area and the general vibe of the neighborhood. If that person doesn’t know the answers, keep looking.

 

4. How will the agent communicate with you? Real estate agents need to move fast for their buyers, especially in a seller’s market. Make sure the agent you choose is willing to communicate they way you want — whether by phone, email or text message — and when you want.

 

5. Will your potential real estate agent provide references upon request? Talking to former customers is one of the best ways to determine if an agent is the right one for you. And if the majority of the agent’s business comes from referrals or repeat business, that’s a strong indicator of the agent’s level of professionalism and likeability.

 

6. Is the agent licensed? This seems like a no-brainer, but believe it or not, not all real estate agents are licensed. All official Realtors will indicate that designation with an uppercase “R,” which means they pledge to support the National Association of Realtors’ Code of Ethics. Unfortunately, some real estate agents have undergone disciplinary action or had complaints filed against them. Do a background check at the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services’ Real Estate Examining Board.

 

7. Has the agent won awards? Recognition from peers is high praise and a ringing endorsement for the services that individuals provide to both buyers and sellers. Savvy agents often include a list of their honors in their email signature line.

 

Buying a home is among the single largest investments an individual can make. You must be sure the person who helps you with that purchasing decision is worthy of the honor. 

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate 

 

Photo courtesy of Amanda Felmlee at Recycla-Bull Terrier Rescue 

How Does Buyer Agency Work? 

 

If you’re in the process of buying a home in Wisconsin, you must know this: All real estate agents in the state are agents of the seller, unless the buyer specifically contracts with a buyer’s agent. Stop for a second and think about what that statement means: The real estate agent showing you the home of your dreams, the person you’re relying on to help you make the single largest investment of your life, is working for someone else. And that someone else’s interests are not the same as yours. Scary stuff.

 

But not if you know this going into the process.

 

I have met clients via Zillow who are specifically looking for a buyer’s agent, because they know that having one protects them. Other clients know nothing about how buyer and seller agencies work.

 

“Buyer agency” emerged in the early 1990s in direct response to “seller agency.” It’s a contract between the real estate agent and buyer for a predetermined amount of time ­— usually several months. This Exclusive Buyer Agency Agreement outlines the agent’s services, how the agent will be compensated and how the agent and buyer will work together. The arrangement works as a two-way street: It protects the buyer for the term of the agreement, and it protects the agent investing his or her time and money in finding the buyer a perfect home.

 

Here are three other benefits of contracting with a buyer’s agent:

  1. That agent represents YOU and is looking out for YOUR best interests. The agent can now share things with you that he or she previously would not or could not. For example, any real estate agent must be upfront with a potential homebuyer regardless of agency when it comes to known defects in a home. But a buyer’s agent also will point out shortcomings in the home that could cost the buyers a bundle: bits of siding that are rotting, older windows that might not be energy efficient, an air conditioner or furnace that works but was installed 25 years ago, and a roof that doesn’t leak yet but is showing considerable signs of age.

 

  1. A buyer’s agent can help you negotiate — something that he or she would not be able to do otherwise. The agent can discuss the length of time a property has been on the market, the presence or lack of offers in the past, whether there have been accepted offers (and why they fell through) and any other information that will allow the buyer to make an informed decision, place a savvy offer and purchase a home at the best possible price.

 

  1. Having a buyer agent is almost like possessing a secret weapon — someone who can honestly (and legally) tell you: “Well, I know the seller has moved out of town and can’t carry two mortgages for very long, so you should lowball your offer on this one.”

 

Of course, entering into a contract with a buyer’s agent means you’re locked in with that specific agent for the duration. Choose wisely.

 

(For what it’s worth: I tell people who have a buyer agency with me that if they end up feeling we are not a good fit, I will tear up the contract. No hard feelings.)

 

As Realtor.com states: “The home-buying process is stressful enough without worrying about who you can and cannot trust. Your buyer’s agent is your trusted advocate.”

 

If you have questions about buyer agency or are looking for a buyer’s agent, please reach out to me at abaranski@bunburyrealtors.com. I’m here to help.

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate 

A Realtor's Declaration
Of Independence

 

Independence Day is July 4. But Independents Week runs for 10 days — June 26 through July 6 — and is a national campaign that celebrates the independent entrepreneurial spirit and its positive impact on local communities.

 

What does this have to do with buying a home? Well, many “local” real estate companies — including Century 21, Re/Max and Keller Williams — actually are local offices of national firms.

 

But not Forever Home Real Estate, which is part of the Bunbury & Associates Realtors family. 

 

In fact, Bunbury is a family-owned business, with four of CEO Thomas Bunbury’s five daughters (plus three sons-in-law) working within the company’s ranks. What’s more, Bunbury has sold homes exclusively in Wisconsin for 30 years. And we specialize in south-central Wisconsin — which means few real estate companies have a better understanding of this region than we do.

 

Bunbury’s agents, such as yours truly, live, work and raise families in the area. We know this market’s qualities and quirks, its issues and trends, its politics and economics. Most importantly, we know the people who make the Wisconsin communities in which we sell so special. I wouldn’t sell homes here if I didn’t love living here myself.

 

When you buy a home from a locally based real estate company, you’re doing a lot more than simply “buying a home.” The “buy local” movement extends beyond shopping at independent retailers and cuts to the very heart of living in a community.

 

Buying local, according to the American Independent Business Alliance, means you’re playing an active role in strengthening the economy of your new community. Each dollar you spend on your home purchase stays here and does not wind up at some corporate office in another city or state.

 

In the end, that makes this an even better place to live.  

 

For more about why buying local matters in Dane County, visit the Dane Buy Local website.

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate 

How to Find a Pet-Friendly Home 

 

Finding the perfect home often means searching for one that your pet will fall in love with, too. After all, dogs and cats are part of the family and deserve a space that's comfortable for them. 

 

More than 60 percent of all households in the United States include at least one pet, but what makes a house a home for your dog or cat? Here are four key considerations pet owners (and would-be pet owners) should keep in mind when buying a home.

 

1. Floors: Paws with sharp nails can easily scratch wood and laminate floors, and pet stains are tough to remove from carpeting (especially high-pile carpet). That’s why vinyl flooring — often designed to look like wood or tile — is becoming an increasingly popular option for homeowners with four-legged companions. Affordable and durable, it resists scratching, makes cleaning up a cinch and even softens the sound of your pet’s nails as it wanders around its new surroundings. Ceramic tile, painted concrete, brick and terrazzo also are durable, pet-friendly surfaces.

 

2. Windows: How many times have you driven around a neighborhood and noticed a small cat perched on the chair in front a living room bay window? Or a big dog with its head stretched so it can see out the front door? Pets like to know what’s going on outside just as much as we do, which is why windows are so important. Make sure your would-be new home has plenty of them, some of which are accessible to Fido or Fluffy.

 

3. Design: Dogs, especially older ones, can develop an aversion to stairs. That means a tri-level or bi-level home might leave a pet with limited mobility. A welcome feature in homes with mudrooms is the addition of a small shower unit designed for dogs, which allows for a quick cleanse after playing outside. A spacious laundry room, where a dog shower could easily be installed, would do the trick, too.  

 

4. Outside: How big is the yard? Is it fenced in? Is the house situated on a busy street? What is the setback distance? Is the yard free of poisonous plants, dangerous obstacles and other hazards? These might seem like questions to ask when moving with small children to a new home, but pets require a similar kind of thinking.

 

While you shouldn’t allow the requirements of your dog or cat to overtake your own needs and desires in the search for a perfect home, it is helpful to consider whether your pets are likely to feel as happy and secure in their new environment as you. 

 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate 


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