Blog: Home, Sweet Home (with dogs)

The Joys and Risks of Purchasing an Older Home 

The allure of older homes never goes away. In fact, they only seem to become more desirable as they age. Their histories, their unconventional layouts and their solidness make houses that are nearly 100 years or older appealing to a core group of buyers. 


Some homes built a century ago feature denser and heavier wood that make their frames twice as strong as more contemporary houses. Few if any corners were cut during construction back then.


Yet buyers interested in purchasing an older home need to realize the challenges they could face. Here are five such challenges:


1. Outdated wiring and plumbing

This can be an obstacle in “newer” homes, too. But it’s especially worthy of consideration in homes built prior to the implementation of modern building codes, as an old electrical system can spark a fire and old plumbing can cause leaks or other water issues. Homes built before the 1970s also often lack ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection to guard against overloads and short circuits, and some electrical outlets may be two-pronged — indicating they are ungrounded and will require updating. A home inspector can help identify potential risks and help you determine the cost of repairs, which could be significant. 


2. Non-standard window and door sizes 

Once upon a time, sizes were not as standardized as they are now — a typical modern residential window measures two feet wide by three feet tall — which means that window coverings you purchase for the new house, or ones you bring to it from your existing residence, might not fit properly. This also could present challenges when replacing windows and doors. Custom blinds and shades cost more, as do custom doors. So plan accordingly. 


3. Potentially high radon levels

Radon issues, like wiring and plumbing issues, are not limited to older homes. Many homes built within the past 20 years can register disturbingly high radon levels. But the chances of radon and other odorless gasses — including toxic ones like carbon monoxide — silently inhabiting an older home are far greater. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in the United States among non-smokers. Radon tests kits are available from Wisconsin Radon Information Centers, and if elevated radon levels are found, more than 100 radon mitigation contractors in Wisconsin are nationally certified to install radon mitigation systems. And be sure to install new carbon monoxide detectors on every level of an older home.  


4. Fieldstone and limestone basements

Fieldstone and limestone foundations are the most common in homes 100 years or older. They’re ultradurable and can last for centuries, according to, but the stacked rocks and mortar can crumble. Such foundations also could make finishing a fieldstone or limestone basement challenging and costly, requiring the resolution of any stability and safety issues, water seepage and potential building code violations. In some cases, finishing a basement might not be worth the time and investment, and buyers of old homes need to be okay with that. 


5. Wi-Fi woes

Although not as common as some of the other obstacles when buying an older home, internet compatibility and Wi-Fi signals might be an issue. That’s because of the materials used to build the walls, according to “While every material can block a Wi-Fi signal to some extent, homes built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are built from much sturdier (and less economical) materials than today’s homes,” the website notes. “Modern homes are also designed with wiring in mind, which makes it easier to install home internet connections like cable internet or even fiberoptic internet.”


Purchasing an older home can be a dream come true, especially if you’re prepared for the obstacles you might encounter along the way. As always, I’m here to help. 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Why Madison Is a 'Dog City' 

When unveiled the “10 Best Cities for Dog Lovers Around the World” earlier this year, I was disappointed Madison didn’t make the list. After all, Wisconsin’s capital city is extremely dog friendly, with several dog parks — including eight operated by Dane County and countless others overseen by municipalities. In the Town of Oregon, for example, a 36-acre off-leash dog park recently opened at Anderson Farm County Park. It includes a special section for small dogs, plus limestone trails for roaming and exercising.  


Madison Magazine devoted most of its June 2022 issue to pets, with special sections on area rescues and shelters, off-leash dog parks and local pet stores, while the University of Wisconsin Press in April published A Dog Lover’s Guide to Hiking Wisconsin’s State Parks by Danielle St. Louis ­— more than 300 pages that prove how naturally dog-friendly Dane County and the rest of Wisconsin are. 


Madison also is home to a significant number of resources for pet owners, including WisCARES, which is a community clinic for low-income and homeless families that provides free pet food while also helping keep animals with their humans during difficult times. The Dane County Humane Society also supplies free pet food to individuals (and their pets) in need.


There are plenty of pet-friendly businesses around, too. Local pet stores usually welcome furry companions, hotel chains like La Quinta by Wyndham have designated pet-friendly rooms, and establishments like The Boneyard Dog Park and Biergarten in Madison offer “a gathering place for dogs and humans” to enjoy two of their favorite things. 


On top of all that, we have a plethora of veterinarians all over Dane County, plus several specialty veterinarians and the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. 


These are just some of the reasons why Madison deserves to be on any list of dog-friendly cities. If you’d like to explore more ways to take advantage of the opportunities Madison and Dane County offer you and your dogs, here are some additional links:


• Dogs in City of Madison Parks

• Dogs in Dane County Parks

• Dog-Friendly Hotels and Airbnb Rentals

• Wisconsin Rescue Shelters and Organizations

• Pet Licensing and Ownership in Madison and Dane County


Three more quick pieces of advice for dog owners everywhere: Pick up your dog’s poop, use a leash, and play well with the others at the park. That goes for both people and their pets. 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

(Photo: Poppy)

Over 50 and  Buying a Home? Read  This First

As an older adult, there can be any number of reasons why you might be re-entering the home market — or even navigating it for the first time. Maybe you’re an empty nester and looking to downsize your current home, or perhaps you previously enjoyed apartment or condo living but are now looking for a change. 


Regardless of the reason, buying a home later in life makes a lot of sense.


If you’ve owned a house before, you’re used to having privacy; it’s tough to go from living in a home to sharing walls with a neighbor. On the other hand, if you’ve been renting, you’ve paid someone else’s mortgage and helped build someone else’s equity for long enough. 


Here are three considerations to keep in mind if you’re over 50 years old and in the housing market: 


1. Size and style considerations

Be thoughtful about what you need in a home by realizing that as you age, things like steps, steep yards and high-maintenance properties will become increasingly problematic. A lovely but large house means a lot more to clean and maintain, and you could wind up with  potentially unused (and thus wasted) space. Think about your changing lifestyle, too. Do you still need a home office? Could an extra bedroom double as a small yoga studio or reading room? Maybe a full basement or a separate dining room isn’t as important as they once were. And while you might have dismissed a ranch-style home earlier in life, the thought of not having to climb a flight of stairs every night to go to bed may now appeal to you. 


2. Location considerations

After years of living in the city or in the country, you could be ready for something different. But how different — and what might you sacrifice in the process? Don’t overlook the importance of proximity to stores, restaurants and parks. Walking is one of the best ways to stay active as you age, so consider looking for a neighborhood with sidewalks, pleasant scenery and nearby destinations. Take into account, too, the environment surrounding your prospective home: Will traffic noises keep you awake at night? Is the neighborhood well lit? And does the yard include space for gardening or other outdoor hobbies? 


3. Mortgage considerations 

Obtaining a 30-year fixed mortgage in your 50s is no riskier than obtaining one in your 30s. The reality is (and I don’t want to sound morbid) if you pass away and still owe on your mortgage, your family members or other heirs will either sell the home and keep the proceeds or pay off the mortgage and keep the home. That said, recommends having “a clear picture of what you can comfortably afford now — and down the line when your earning power may decrease. You’ll want to be able to maintain your new mortgage payments and home maintenance in case you face unexpected hardship. And factor your retirement goals into your decision.” 


A good real estate agent will help you consider other factors you might not have even thought about yet, as well as explain the harsh realities of today’s market. When you bought your current home, you may have had days or even weeks to mull it over and make sure you were making the right decision. Now, you might only have hours. 


If you’re ready to make the move, I’m here to help it go as smoothly as possible. 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

(Photo by Diana Parkhouse on Unsplash)

Three Big Challenges for Homebuyers in 2022

Buying a home is rife with challenges — from securing a loan to making an offer. Today’s market conditions have amplified those challenges and created a seller’s market unlike any I’ve seen in my career as a real estate professional.


In fact, 2022 is shaping up to be one of the most trying years for homebuyers in decades for three primary reasons: more buyers are making higher offers, interest rates are likely to increase and fewer homes are available in certain price ranges and preferred locales. 


Here’s a breakdown of each challenge, plus some tips to help buyers overcome those challenges: 


1. More (and higher) offers

Last year, I listed a home for $349,900 in Sun Prairie; a few hours later, I’d scheduled 84 showings over the next three days. The home received 20 offers — something inconceivable three years ago — and sold for $53,000 over the asking price. More recently, I sold a home in Watertown with an asking price of $140,000 for $165,000, or 118% of the list price. For context, the sellers of that home bought it in 2015 for $102,000, which means they got 162% of their purchase price. 


My advice: When making an offer, be prepared for some stiff competition. Offering the asking price almost certainly will not be good enough; how much more will your budget allow? If your budget is $200,000, you won't be able to keep up with people who are offering $230,000 or higher. Perhaps you can extend your budget. I’ve seen many buyers tell the lenders, "We want preapproval for $350,000,” when they could easily qualify for $400,000. Also, consider using potential gift money from family members to make a larger down payment, dropping such contingencies as radon testing (you can take care of that on your own if your offer is accepted) or offering payment in cash and then taking out a mortgage for tax purposes after closing on the home. 


Bottom line: The more you can do to make your offer more appealing to the seller, the better. 


2. Uncertainty regarding interest rates  

The Federal Reserve was expected to begin raising interest rates in mid-March, in an effort to tame the highest inflation levels in 40 years. Interest rates crept up slightly in 2021, and by mid-March 2022, the average 30-year fixed-rate home mortgage hit 4.14% — up a whole percentage point from November 2021, according to


My advice: Based on what I’m seeing right now, my guess is that interest rates will roll around in 2022, hovering below 5% and settling in at between 4.5% and 4.75% by year’s end. That said, those are still historically low numbers. In the early 1980s, interest rates were north of 18%. 


Bottom line: If you’re in the market to buy (or refinance), now is a good time to lock in a rate — just in case market volatility spurred by continued inflation and the war in Ukraine force interest rates to climb faster than anticipated. 


3. Low home inventory 

The reality is that homes in some price ranges sell faster than others. That means inventory often can be low for homes of a certain size with specific amenities and in desired locales. If you don’t move fast, they could be off the market within days of being listed. 


My advice: If you are having trouble finding homes in your preferred price range or community, re-evaluate your expectations. If you’ve been waiting since 2019 for the bubble to burst and prices to come down, you’re going to keep waiting. But maybe you’d be willing to consider locations that weren’t originally on your list. For example, I can help you find a whole lot more home in Columbus for $300,000 than I can in Sun Prairie. The opportunities are even greater in Beaver Dam, Watertown or Orfordville.


Bottom line: If you’re willing to look outside of Dane County, the sticker shock will be a little less shocking. 


As always, I’m here to help you navigate these challenges and find a home in 2022. 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Three Steps To Avoid Turning Off Potential Buyers 

I recently sold a home that was trashed: walls full of holes, flooring ripped up, ceilings bashed in, dried food on the kitchen countertops, a disassembled toilet, and filthy doors, sinks and appliances. It was probably one of the worst places I’ve seen since I entered the real estate  business. 


The good news: My team and I eventually whipped the 1,925-square-foot house into shape, made it presentable and sold it for more than the asking price. 


The bad news: It sure as heck wasn’t easy. And it’s not something I ever plan on doing again.


If you plan to put your home on the market, make sure that it’s presentable first. “Presentable” doesn’t mean “perfect,” but it also doesn’t mean using blankets for drapes and jerry-rigging a window. 


Here are my three suggestions to help you prepare your home for public consumption: 


1. Visit and search for homes for sale in your neighborhood and in your asking price range. Pay attention to how they are presented in photos and videos. Are there details in those images that would make you want to move into that home right now? On the other hand, do you see things that make you cringe? Use those photos as your barometer of what looks appealing and assess your home’s appearance accordingly.


When professionals come into your home to take photos and shoot video, it should be immaculately clean and in good repair. But if a closet door doesn’t quite close correctly, or a goldenrod tub shares a bathroom with a white sink and toilet, don’t sweat it. Potential buyers are more apt to overlook such shortcomings if they feel like the owner has cared for the home. 


2. Once you develop a list of potential shortcomings, don’t spend hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars replacing golden oak baseboards with white ones or updating the carpeting. Instead, give me a call. We can talk. In today’s hyper-competitive seller’s market, with many homes selling for tens of thousands of dollars over asking price, it may not make financial sense to undertake such sweeping and expensive upgrades. 


That said, the more you can do, the greater the likelihood your home will garner a higher selling price. Painting is an easy one. Buyers want homes to look fresh, and you can easily satisfy that desire by giving some (or all) walls a new coat. Choose neutral colors such as ivory, white or tan over Kelly green, mustard yellow or electric blue, and be sure to apply painters’ tape to protect woodwork and fixtures. Use drop cloths to keep the floors free of drips, too. 


3. When you feel the home is ready for public viewing, invite me over for a walk-through. I can look for little things you might inadvertently have missed. That includes removing any trace that pets might be living with you. Stow dog and kitty beds, cat towers, bird or hamster cages, food bowls and leashes. Depersonalize the walls but, if possible, display one family photo. It doesn’t matter if it’s hanging on the hallway wall or displayed in a frame on the fireplace mantel. What does matter is that it will remind prospective buyers that your house actually is a home. 


Prepping a home to sell can seem like a monumental task, with countless projects (both big and small) nagging at you. And while the process described above is an oversimplification, I hope it nevertheless helps ease your anxiety and provide a solid outline for how to make your home look as perfect as possible for its next owner. 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

(Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash)

How You Can Make Your Home Safer During National Radon Action Month

Radon — a colorless, odorless and radioactive gas that enters homes through their foundations — is the leading cause of lung cancer in the United States among non-smokers. That’s why Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has declared January “National Radon Action Month” throughout the State of Wisconsin.


“About one out of every ten homes in Wisconsin has high radon levels,” Evers said when making his announcement. “Any home, whether old, new, with or without a basement can have radon. Since you cannot smell, taste, or see radon, the only way to know if you have high radon levels is to test for it.” 


Although homebuyers often waive a traditional radon inspection as an offer contingency in an effort to make their offer more appealing to the seller, I always emphasize the importance of testing for radon immediately after closing. Test kits are available via Radon Information Centers throughout Wisconsin. Hardware and home improvement stores sell them for about $25 each, and three South Central Radon Information Center offices in Madison sell them for $10 each. Results usually are available within two to three weeks. You also can hire a service to test radon levels in your home for less than $200. 


If elevated radon levels are found, more than 100 radon mitigation contractors in Wisconsin are nationally certified to install radon mitigation systems; thousands of systems are installed in existing homes in Wisconsin each year, state officials report. 


Radon levels are measured in picocuries per liter, or pCi/L, and levels of 4 pCi/L or higher are considered hazardous, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 


When my family moved into our current home a few years ago, the radon level was higher than 26 pCi/L. Remediation brought it down to 2 pCi/L. One friend recently told me his home’s radon level dropped from 9.51 pCi/L to .27 pCi/L within two weeks of bringing in a radon mitigation contractor. 


Radon also can creep into a home over time, which means if you haven’t had a radon test done since you moved in years ago, now would be a good time to do one. When we bought our previous home, the radon level was about 3 pCi/L; eight years later, when we moved out, the level was more than 16 pCi/L.


“The only way to know if you’ve got high radon levels in your home is to test for it,” says John Hausbeck, environmental health supervisor for Public Health Madison & Dane County, which is the administrator of the South Central Radon Information Center. “Don’t make the mistake of counting on a neighbor’s low radon level. Levels can fluctuate from place to place and over time.”


He also recommends repeating a radon test after any air sealing work, heating/air conditioning system changes, or foundation modifications are made. 


While the cost of radon mitigation can be a barrier for some families, state officials encourage residents to call 1-888-LOW-RADON to discuss available options. For more about radon and how it can infiltrate your home, view the “Radon 101” video on YouTube.


If you have additional radon questions, I can point you in the right direction. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

10 Fireplace Safety Tips for This Winter

In February 2021, firefighters rushed to a home in Monona, Wis., where a garbage can containing hot fireplace ashes had started a fire. Damage was minimal, and the flames were quickly extinguished. The owners of a home in Grafton, Wis., however, weren’t so fortunate. More than half of it was destroyed in a 2019 fire that reportedly began in a bedroom fireplace when flames ignited items near the fireplace. 


Both stories serve as stark reminders about the importance of fireplace safety this holiday season and throughout the winter.

The following 10 tips — compiled from fire departments around Wisconsin, as well as insurance companies, Wisconsin Emergency Management and (powered by the American Academy of Pediatrics) — are offered to help protect your home against fireplace-related fires.


1. Keep Christmas trees at least three feet away from a fireplace. Heat dries out a real tree, making it ignite easily. Between 2015 and 2019, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 160 home fires per year that started with Christmas trees, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Those fires resulted in an average of two deaths, 12 injuries, and $10 million in property damage per year. 


2. Clear vents and flues of debris, snow, nests and other obstructions before starting a fire in the fireplace. Make sure the flue remains open, as it will draw smoke out of the house, and do not close it until the embers die. A closed flue could help the fire heat up again and force carbon monoxide into the home.


3. Keep a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace opening to prevent embers or sparks from escaping the fireplace — and from inadvertently allowing unwanted materials into the fire. 


4. Clear the area around the fireplace of anything that is potentially flammable. This includes Christmas trees, drapes, books and doggie beds. A single spark can easily ignite something it’s not supposed to. 


5. Do not use excessive amounts of unwanted gift-wrapping paper (or any other paper) to build blazing fires in the fireplace. Doing so could ignite creosote — a highly flammable by-product of wood burning — in the chimney and start a fire. 


6. Consider burning a chimney-cleaning log that will reduce certain types of creosote buildup. And don’t forget to still have the chimney cleaned every year. 


7. Clean out ashes from previous fires, making sure the layer of ash at the bottom of the fireplace is no thicker than 1 inch. A thicker layer restricts air supply to the wood and results in increased smoke. 


8. Never leave a fireplace unattended. This means ensuring that the fire is completely out before going to bed or leaving the house. 


9. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors (and remember to check them monthly), plus keep a fire extinguisher nearby. 


10. Deposit fireplace ashes in in a metal or non-combustible container outside, and add water to cool them. Make sure the ashes are completely cold before transferring them to the garbage. 


A fireplace can be one of the most charming features in a home. But it also requires vigilance and common sense on the part of the homeowner. Stay warm this winter, but be smart about it.  


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Six Christmas Tree Alternatives for 2021

Decorating your home with a Christmas tree this holiday season could be challenging: Global supply chain issues are impacting delivery of artificial trees to retailers, and tree farms in Wisconsin could have less inventory than usual


Which is why this might be a good year to try decorating for the holidays without an actual tree. The idea is not as far-fetched as it seems. Here are six examples of Christmas tree alternatives that can help make your home more festive this season. 


1. Build your own

Utilize open wall space to create a tree using a combination of materials such as wire, string or wood. You may even want to make the design blend in with your home’s year-round décor. (Photo by pascal claivaz from Pexels)



2. Repurpose a tree branch.

You can still bring a touch of the outdoors inside by spray-painting a pretty yet sturdy branch, hanging it from the ceiling, draping it with lights and adding stars or snowflakes as ornaments. (Photo by Lina Kivak from Pexels)



3. Go all-in on colors.

Who says the holidays have to be all about green and red? Use colored paper, gift wrapping or saved holiday cards from years past to create your own wall tree. Then trim it with paper lights. (Photo by Katie Rainbow on Unsplash)



4 Hang a wreath. 

Wreaths aren’t just for home entrances or exteriors. Designate a proper, prominent place inside — such as above a fireplace or on a grand wall — and you may not even miss the tree. (Photo by Matthew Ball on Unsplash)



5. Embrace other natural greenery. 

Plants brighten any room and can lend a festive air when complemented with traditional holiday decorations such as lights and stars. (Photo by Evelin Horvath on Unsplash)



6. Go small.

If you absolutely can’t live without an actual tree, consider downsizing with a potted one that you can decorate with lights, a few ornaments or even nothing at all. Whatever puts you in the spirit. (Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash)



Happy holidays from Forever Home Real Estate.


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

(Main photo by Any Lane via Pexels)

How You Can Help Keep Madison the 'Most Neighborly' City in America

I can come up with several reasons why Madison, Wis., recently was named the “most neighborly” city in the United States by But the website hit on one of the capital city’s finest attributes when it singled out Madison for its generosity. 


“In Madison, many people spend free time volunteering, and many report doing kind acts for their neighbors — two things we think make a community more neighborly,” the website noted, adding that Madtown leads the nation in the number of nonprofit organizations per 100,000 residents. 


One of those non-profit organizations is F.O.S.T.E.R. of Dane County, a Madison-based group with the goal of helping marginalized families in the community, and it hosted “Ju-Ju’s 1st Annual Block Party” in August at Madison’s Penn Park. The highlight of the six-hour event was a streetball tournament modeled after a popular streetball and block party held annually in the neighborhood years ago. 


In addition to streetball competition and food vendors, the event featured a resource tent filled with representatives from several local organizations focused on pathways to homeownership — including Habitat for Humanity of Dane County, the Urban League of Greater Madison and Home Buyers Round Table


This matters to me in so many ways, including the fact that the event’s organizer, 26-year-old Julian Walters, is a Realtor on the Forever Home Real Estate team. Julian, a native of Madison’s south side, grew up participating in that old streetball tournament and block party. Now he’s on a mission to rekindle a sense of community and empower as many people as he can. 


“This event was important to me because it was something I attended as a kid,” Julian says. “South Madison is a community that is rich in culture but has lost key events that were core to its foundation. At this year’s block party, different generations of South Madison people gathered at the park and enjoyed an event that felt like the ‘old days.’ Creating a block party where marginalized families could be paired with resources — all while enjoying food, music and activities geared toward their culture — was the goal. And it was accomplished.” 


Plans already are underway for next year’s block party, which Julian says will feature even more housing resources for Black and Brown families. 


Julian is living out his passion and setting a prime example of how to be a good neighbor through community stewardship. As we head into another winter likely to be marked with uncertainty and anxiety for some, I challenge you to take your own passion and channel it into something that serves others. Julian and I are here to help point you in the direction you'd like to go.


“My advice to those who want to become involved in the community and don't know how would be to just go for it,” Julian says. “I thought about this block party in college, and when it was time to execute, I did not know where to begin. I slowly made goals and it all began to come together. The end result far exceeded my expectations.” 


We all need to work together to keep Madison at the top of America’s most neighborly cities list.


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

(Photo by Gautsch Vision)

22 Things I've Learned Helpong People Sell Their Home inDane County


1. YOU HAVE TO KNOW YOUR NUMBERS! If you don’t know how much you owe on your home loan, how much taxes you might owe, what liens you might have or the cost of potential repairs... you’re in for a big surprise when it comes time to closing.
2. Both Realtors & Buyers know if you’re not serious about selling your home. So if you aren’t ready yet, maybe we should find out more info for you before you put your home on the market.
3. Unlike a garage sale... you can’t just randomly make up a price for your home because that’s what you want/need... there is a method to pricing your home and even after that it’s still ultimately up to the market to decide how much your home is worth and how much someone is willing to pay.
4. Not everything sells the first day on the market... yes some areas of the county might have homes that are in hot demand...but yours might take a lil longer and that’s ok. Before putting your home on the market we’ll let you know what to expect when you’re offer on your home.
5. Don’t take it personal if someone gives you negative feedback. Even the most “PERFECT” home can get negative feedback... some people are just negative. But... also don't ignore it, if we get continued feedback that your home smells like ?... we'll need to figure something out.
6. ZIP IT!!! Don’t tell anyone why you’re selling (except me of course) You never know who could divulge that info and then get back to a potential buyer... if they know you “NEED TO SELL FAST” it could cost you $$$.
7. Crappy photos and lack of video can cost you TIME & MONEY!!! It’s 2021, homebuyers start their search online and if your listing photos look like they were taken with a flip phone (actually seen this) then potential buyers could just keep swiping left and on to the next. Not having video so that a buyer can see the flow of the home is also going to get you a pass. Selling your home online is like online dating... you gotta put your best possible shots out there and don’t be afraid to use angles and filters.
8. Keep it clean! You wouldn’t buy dirty clothes would you? Or a filthy car? Then why would think a buyer would think anything positive about a dirty house... all that says is you might be the type of owner who doesn’t care to maintain a home and there could be underlying issues. Your home doesn't have to be professionally staged to sell... the easiest advice is just KEEP IT CLEAN!
9. It’s possible to be UPSIDE DOWN on a home! Yes, sometimes the numbers just don’t work... either because you’re trying to sell too soon and don’t have enough equity, you’ve done a loan modification or home equity loan, refinanced etc. Before putting on the market we’ll go over all of this, so we know what to expect at closing.... and if selling is good idea for you right now.
10. MONEY MAKES PEOPLE FUNNY... it’s very possible that after you sell your first home you could be seeing a check bigger than you’ve ever seen before. Because of this, stress & anxiety levels could be high. Be sure to have a plan in place so the money is not going to waste.
11. If you’re married, you and your partner GOTTA BE ON THE SAME PAGE!!! There’s nothing worse than when one person doesn’t want to sell and another one does. It makes everything difficult and uncomfortable.
12. The Realtor you list your home with MATTERS! Unfortunately it’s pretty dang easy to get a Real Estate license, so because of that there’s some agents out there who will do anything to get a listing and at any price... which isn’t always in your best interest. Make sure before deciding on a Realtor you find out their track record and how experienced they are selling a home like yours.
13. On that same note... if you’re able to negotiate a Realtor down on their commission... and we’re supposed to be the professional negotiators... what makes you think they’ll be able negotiate with other Realtors when it comes time to make a deal on your home?
14. Make your home available... we don’t need a million people to buy your home...we just need ONE... so every showing counts... and if we’re constantly having to tell buyers the home can’t be seen today... they’re gonna move on to the next.
15. If you think about the sale of your home like a Basketball game... there’s 4 quarters to a transaction... the first being when it’s active and looking for a buyer... the second being when you’re in the inspection period... the third being when you’re waiting for the appraisal...and the 4th being when you’re waiting to close! But unlike basketball there’s no way to know how long each quarter will last and what kind of surprises will come up. The key is to keep pushing forward and have an experienced Realtor there with you to be your MVP and get you the "W."
16. If you find out during the Inspection Period that your home needs major repairs...DON'T FREAK OUT! We’ll talk you through your options and let you know what the best and most affordable route to take is.
17. Almost EVERYTHING is negotiable, so don’t be surprised if a buyer ask for your fridge, curtains, furniture or play-set... we’ve even seen buyers ask for a seller's dog!!! (not negotiable or course) But despite our furry friends know that everything else could be the bargaining chip we need to make a deal.
18. It’s OK if you decide to change your mind once it goes on the market and things “get real”! Once you start having people look and walk through your home things start to get very real and can make you start having second thoughts... if this happens no hard feelings. All we want is to make sure you’re happy... and if that means holding off on things until another time... it’s all good.
19. WE WILL NOT MAKE YOU HOMELESS... if you’re looking to sell and buy a new home we will come up with a plan that works for everyone. Have comfort knowing we help people do this EVERY DAY and we're not going to get you in a situation where someone is pushing you out of your home before you know where you're going! That is why we ask you from the very beginning what your plan is if someone makes an offer you can't refuse... we want you to have somewhere to go!
20. There will be a point you’ll have to start packing and buyers will start to move in! I know... CRAZY RIGHT?! Most of the time, once the documents have been signed at closing and the money has been wired, the transaction is complete, the new buyer legally owns the home, and you’ll need to be out of there! We will make sure you don’t get caught in an awkward situation.
21. Every home and every transaction is different, so don’t be scared by some of the horror stories that are out there... someone else’s bad experience selling their home doesn’t mean that’s what you’re gonna go through.
22. TAKE YOUR TIME before deciding to sell your home. It’s very rare that someone wakes up one day and says... “I want to sell my home today”! It’s a big decision and you should take your time and find out as much as possible before putting your home on the market.
Forever Home Real Estate has helped hundreds of homeowners just like you sell their homes right here in Dane County.
Wanna know more? Have a question I didn’t cover above?
Call or text me, email me, or shoot me message on Facebook. I am always available to help!

New U.S. Census Data For Dane County Reinforces
What We Already Know 

To anyone who has purchased a home in Dane County during the past several years, the news that Dane County is the fastest-growing county in Wisconsin should not have come as a surprise. Such demand has kept houses in short supply and accelerated the market to the point where homes are selling for tens of thousands of dollars over their asking price


In August, the U.S. Census Bureau released data highlighting a massive population surge, in which Dane County gained 75,361 residents between 2010 and 2020. That brought the county’s total population to 561,504, as of April 1, 2020. 


“[This] growth represents more than a third of Wisconsin’s net population growth of 206,732 over the decade,” according to the Wisconsin State Journal. The paper also noted that Madison is one of the fastest-growing cities in the state, adding 36,631 residents (a 16% jump) to bring the city’s new population to 269,840.


“It’s a reflection of the high quality of life that we’re able to offer here,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi told The Cap Times of Madison. “We don’t see this growth slowing down.” 


Brown County (Green Bay) and Outagamie County (Appleton) also registered significant population increases, while Milwaukee County and 20 rural counties lost residents. 


“[The rate of growth] is really kind of amazing,” John Johnson, a research fellow at Marquette University’s Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education, told Wisconsin Public Radio


Tell me about it. 


The migration into Dane County is certainly the primary reason the local market has been so tight for so long. And the population growth shows little signs of slowing down — especially with the decreasing rate of new homes being built in the area. Lumber prices, combined with material shortages in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, have in some cases made building a new home more cost-prohibitive than buying an existing one. 


Given the U.S. Census data and the challenges facing the residential construction industry, I don’t foresee the existing home market tanking any time soon. We still have more buyers than we do homes, which means that if you’re looking to relocate to (or within) Dane County, it’s critical for you to act fast. Pay attention to new listings and make an appointment as soon as possible to see any home that interests you. 


Also, be savvy when making an offer on a home. As I’ve advised buyers for the past year, consider waiving such contingencies as selling your own home, radon testing and even a home inspection. Offers without contingencies are receiving top priority from sellers, because in a seller’s market they can afford to be choosy. 


All that said, don’t despair: Homes go up for sale every day. Together, we can find the one that’s best for you. 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

(Photo by Hannah Lim on Unsplash)

Festivals Fill Dane County's Late-Summer/Early-Fall Calendar  

One of the things I missed most in 2020 was attending the outdoor festivals that take place in and around Dane County. But the fact that the late-summer/early-fall 2021 calendar is filled with everything from Taste of Madison and Art Fair on the Square to the Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw proves that the Madison area can still have nice things.


It’s also a positive indicator that, while life may never quite return to the way it was before the pandemic, a new sense of normalcy is setting in. 


Here is a list of 21 upcoming festivals to consider adding to your calendar:


• Seltzer & Cider Fest: July 31, Breese Stevens Field, Madison

This ticketed event will celebrate the increasing popularity of hard seltzers. Hard cider, music and food also are on tap. 


• New Glarus Firefest: July 31, New Glarus Fire Department, 218 4th Ave., New Glarus

The village located about half-hour drive southwest of Madison is celebrating 175 years in 2021, highlighted by this day of food, live music, fire truck rides and other activities. 


• National Mustard Day: Aug. 7, National Mustard Museum, 7477 Hubbard Ave., Middleton

Honor what some people hail as the “King of the Condiments” on its own special day. There will be music, games and plenty of mustard to sample. 


 The Great Taste of the Midwest: Aug. 14, Olin Park, Madison

Considered one of the premier beer festivals in the United States, with more than 190 craft brewers from across the Midwest, this event is sold out. So you’ll need to find someone with an extra ticket. 


• Sweet Corn Festival: Aug. 19-22, Angell Park, Sun Prairie

After pivoting to a drive-through event last year, the festival is back with live music, beer, a carnival, a parade and plenty of hot corn on the cob. 


• Africa Fest: Aug. 21, McPike Park, Madison

This event will celebrate and share African traditions and cultural heritages with the Madison community. 


• Coffee Break Festival: Aug. 21, Mandt Park, Stoughton

A Coffee Brew-Off and the Cup O’ Joe All Wheels Show will combine with more traditional festival fare like a pork roast, a beer garden and an arts and craft show. 


• Cows on the Concourse: Aug. 21, Hinchley’s Dairy Farm, 2844 State Highway 73, Cambridge

This year’s event will be held in partnership with Breakfast on the Farm for a very dairy event.


• Fitchburg Agora Art Fair: Aug. 21, 5500 E. Cheryl Parkway, Fitchburg 

View and purchase art from more than 100 local and regional artists in every medium — plus eat, drink and be merry with live music and hands-on art experiences.


• Magic Pride Festival: Aug. 22, Live and Virtual at locations throughout Madison

More details about this third annual event hosted by Madison’s OutReach LGBTQ+ Community Center are expected to be posted on its website as the date gets closer. 


• Orton-Front Festival: Aug. 26-27, Orton Park, Madison & Aug. 28-29, Yahara Place Park, Madison

Two iconic Madison neighborhood festivals — the Marquette Waterfront Festival and the Orton Park Festival — are teaming up for one collective event.


• Middleton Good Neighbor Festival: Aug. 27-29, Firemen’s Park, Middleton

Food, bingo, an arts and crafts fair, a calendar, a 5K run/walk, a parade and more will benefit nonprofit organizations in Middleton. 


• Verona Hometown Days: Sept. 3-5, 111 Lincoln St., Verona 

Dubbed “a celebration of community,” this festival will include live music, food, a carnival, a car show, a parade and more. 


• Taste of Madison: Sept. 4-5, Breese Stevens Field, Madison

This year’s event — featuring more than 40 food vendors, a variety of beverage options and live entertainment — will be held at special times and not at the Capitol Square. Tickets will be required for entry. 


• Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw: Sept. 4, Marion Park, Prairie du Sac

This special day will feature live entertainment, an arts and crafts fair, a food court, kids activities and — yes — lofting cattle dung in the air for amusement. 


• Thirsty Troll Brew Fest: Sept. 11, Grundahl Park, Mount Horeb 

As the event’s website says: “Enjoy the best of Midwest craft brews in the Troll Capital of the World.” 


• IRONMAN Wisconsin: Sept. 12, Lake Monona and throughout the Madison area

You don’t have to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles to enjoy one of the most popular events on the IRONMAN circuit. In fact, it’s a lot easier to be a spectator! 


• Wauktoberfest: Sept. 16-19, Endres Manufacturing, 802 S. Century Ave., Waunakee 

Called one of the best festivals in Wisconsin by TravelMag, this event will include food, beer, music, pumpkin decorating and “hammer sluggin’.”


• Willy Street Fair: Sept. 18, Williamson Street, Madison 

This east-side festival benefiting the Wil-Mar Neighborhood and the nonprofit Common Wealth Development will offer food, drink, and arts, crafts and more. 


• Art Fair on the Square: Sept. 25-26, Capitol Square, Madison 

Almost 500 artists will converge on Downtown Madison to peddle their wares amidst music, entertainment and outdoor dining. This year’s event was rescheduled from July to September. 


• Deerfield Apple Festival: Sept. 26, Bittersweet Blessings Farm, 4509 State Highway 73, Deerfield

This family event revolves around everything apples: apple butter, apple cider, apple pie, apple jams and jellies — even apple picking. 

Now get out there and enjoy life in south-central Wisconsin. 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

(Photo by Chee Zu from Pexels)

 Public Pools, Splash Pads Open for Business in Dane County  

South-central Wisconsin could be in for a hot summer. And with public outdoor pools closed last summer because of the coronavirus, residents are eager to get back into the water. 


Pools (and several new splash pads) throughout Dane County are now open for business. Their hours might be different than in years past — as some are scheduling intermittent cleaning throughout the day — so check websites for times and other COVID-related safety measures in place. 


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in February that it is “not aware of any scientific reports of the virus that causes COVID-19 spreading to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, water playgrounds or other tread aquatic venues.” 


However, as an added precaution, health experts suggest avoiding the pool house or locker rooms by wearing your suit to the pool and showering at home before and after using the pool. CDC officials also encourage pool users to wash their hands frequently with soap and water or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. 


Finally, please note that face masks aren’t meant to be worn in the water.


Here’s a rundown of 20 swimming pool and splash pad options in Dane County that are open to the public: 


• Bakken Park Splash Pad: 220 Grove St., Cottage Grove

• Cross Plains Pool: 2106 Lewis St., Cross Plains 

• Cypress Spray Park: 902 Magnolia Lane, Madison 

• DeForest Splash Pad: 6822 Yellowwood Lane, DeForest 

• Edgerton Pool: 310 North Main St., Edgerton 

• Elver Park Splash Park: 1250 McKenna Blvd., Madison 

• Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Swimming Pool: 325 W. Olin Ave., Madison 

• Lions Park Swimming Pool: 211 Park St., Mazomanie 

• McKee Farms Park Splash Pad: 2930 Chapel Valley Road, Fitchburg

• Monona Community Pool: 1013 Nichols Road, Monona

• Mount Horeb Family Aquatic Center: 204 Park St., Mount Horeb 

• Nordic Ridge Park Splash Pad: 1300 Hoel Ave., Stoughton 

• Reindahl Park Splash Park: 1818 Portage Road, Madison 

• Savannah Park Splash Pad: 12 Oak Ridge Trail, Deerfield

• Splash Pad at Lakeview Park: 6300 Mendota Ave., Middleton 

• Sun Prairie Family Aquatic Center: 920 Linnerud Drive, Sun Prairie 

• Troll Beach: 401 Mandt Parkway, Stoughton 

• Valley View Park Splash Pad: 300 Park St., Poynette 

• Windsor Splash Pads: 4361 Cradle Hill Drive, Windsor AND 6750 Pederson Crossing Blvd., Windsor

• Walter R. Bauman Aquatic Center: 2400 Park Lawn Place, Middleton


Hanging out at the pool is a long-cherished summer tradition that I’m thrilled has returned in 2021. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 5 Tips for Buying in a Seller's Market 

The residential real estate market is booming in south-central Wisconsin. That’s great news for sellers, as homes are going for well over asking price. Case in point: One of my clients recently sold their home, listed at $349,900, for more than $400,000! 


However, if you’re trying to buy a home right now, the current market can feel intimidating and even prohibitive. If you’re serious about this, though, don’t let that deter you from making your move when the right home comes along. 


I can’t guarantee that your offer will be accepted, but here are five tips to help improve your chances: 


1. Get loan pre-approval — today. 

This is good advice for entering the home-buying market at any time, and it’s especially critical at times like these. 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 via 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 to determine what you can reasonably afford. Some lenders even are willing to fully underwrite a buyer (pending appraisal) instead of simply giving pre-approval status. Ask your lender about options. 


2. Act now

Once you enter the market and find a home that interests you, don’t decide to “sleep on it” and then make an offer in the morning. Many homeowners now set a timeframe for reviewing and accepting offers. Ideally, you’re working with a knowledgeable and confident real estate professional who can walk you through the process of writing a savvy and timely offer. 


3. Offer more than the asking price. 

The list price is the opening bid, and you only get one bid, so make it as high as you’re willing and able to go. In the past, the list price served as the starting point for negotiations. List a home at $400,000? A buyer might offer $375,000, and then buyer and seller would swap counteroffers and likely end up somewhere in the middle. In a seller’s market, homes listed at $400,000 probably will end up selling for $425,000, $450,000 or more. Counteroffers no longer exist. 


4. Drop as many contingencies as you can.

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. For example, waive the radon testing option and, if feasible, sell your own home before you buy. Offers without contingencies receive top priority from sellers, because sellers can afford to be choosy. The Home Buying Institute calls contingencies “a double-edged sword for home buyers” because “they give you a legal way to back out of a transaction, if some unforeseen event occurs. … But they could also make your offer less appealing to the seller, especially in a hot market where multiple offers are common.” Another option is to offer payment in cash, if you’re in a position to do so, and then take out a mortgage for tax purposes after closing on the home. These days, it’s all about thinking outside of the box and eliminating as many hurdles as possible. 


5. Don’t give up. 

Only one would-be buyer will wind up with an accepted offer on any given house, but that’s no reason to stop looking. Each new home that comes on the market represents a new opportunity for you. Keep your focus and keep the faith.  


As always, I’m here to help you navigate the challenges of this aggressive market. 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 How to Navigate a Seller's Market 

Within hours of listing a home in Sun Prairie for $349,900, I had already scheduled 84 showings over the following three days. Eighty-four


That home received 20 offers and ultimately sold for $403,000 — a whopping $53,000 over the asking price.


The story was much the same a week later, when I listed another Sun Prairie home, but in a lower price range. Nearly 70 showings led to 11 offers — the lowest of which was well above the asking price of $289,900.


Talk about a seller’s market. 


I’ve never seen the market like this, and lenders and fellow real estate professionals are telling me they haven’t, either. 


A combination of factors — including a small housing inventory, high new-construction costs, and historic-low interest rates — are driving sales. As of late April, interest rates were hovering below 3%. 


According to the Realtors Association of South Central Wisconsin (RASCW), home prices across the region rose between January and March 2021, averaging a 13% price increase year to date over 2020 sales. In Dane County, 77.8% of listings sold at or above the listing price in March. Counties outside of Dane also have experienced heightened demand, with 60.3% of listings selling at or above list price. 


All of this comes after a surprisingly active market throughout the state in pandemic-riddled 2020, as “home sales finished 7% higher than in 2019, with the median price spiking by nearly 10%,” according to The Cap Times of Madison. 


The surge isn’t just happening in south-central Wisconsin, though; it’s all over the country. No wonder search interest in the phrase “when is the housing market going to crash” jumped 2,450% in early April compared to the previous month, according to Google


“I think it’s what’s on everybody’s mind,” Jonathan J. Miller, a New York appraiser who analyzes housing markets nationwide, told The New York Times. “How long is it going to last?” 


My answer for this market: Quite a while. 


Advice for Buyers 

Of the 31 buyers who collectively made offers on the two Sun Prairie homes mentioned above, 29 of them went back to their current homes or apartments disappointed. And for many, if not all, their search continues. 


With so much competition, it’s imperative that buyers act fast. In the past, the majority of homes on the market were lucky to generate a dozen showings and a handful of offers, and buyers could afford to mull things over even before scheduling a showing. That’s not the case anymore. Pay attention to new listings and make an appointment as soon as possible to see any home that interests you. 


Buyers also must write savvy offers that, in some cases, waive contingencies that might have been perfectly acceptable just a few years ago. These include the selling of the buyer’s home, radon testing, and even a home inspection. (That last one is a risky move that’s worth discussing with your real estate agent.) Offers without contingencies are receiving top priority from sellers, because sellers can afford to be choosy. 


The south-central Wisconsin housing market has been favoring sellers since the recession ended in the early 2010s, and don’t expect it to start inching back toward some semblance of balance anytime soon. With analysts anticipating interest rates to remain low, as well as high demand that places additional pressure on housing prices, RASCW officials foresee “great benefit for those who choose to list.” 


That said, I’m also helping buyers successfully navigate this challenging market, assisting them with making successful offers. Whether you’re buying or selling, I’m here for you. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

(Photo by  Natalia Shiel on Unsplash)

 Five Ways To Get Out This Spring — And

Keep Your Social Distance 

You’ve been cooped up in the house — not just for the winter but maybe for an entire year — and you’re itching to get out and enjoy the spring weather while maintaining your social distance. Does that sound about right? 


There are plenty of opportunities to do just that in and around Madison. Whether it’s a family outing, a solo adventure or an afternoon with your dog, here are five places to help you celebrate spring’s arrival: 


Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Few things define springtime more than beautiful plants and blooming flowers. And Olbrich Botanical Gardens — located on Madison’s east side and owned and operated by the city’s Parks Division — overflows with nature’s goodness. Although some spring events have been canceled because of the pandemic, Olbrich’s 16 acres of outdoor gardens are free and open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The tropical Bolz Conservatory, featuring exotic plants, flying birds, and a waterfall, is open to the general public for $6 per person, with free admission on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. 


University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum

For something a little wilder, the UW-Madison Arboretum offers daily self-guided access to gardens and trails from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Consisting of 1,200 acres, the Arboretum is home to tallgrass prairies, savannas, wetlands, forests, flowering trees, a world-famous lilac collection, and more. Recognized as a site for historic research in ecological restoration, the Arboretum is one of the city’s natural gems. (Due to the coronavirus, the Visitor Center remains closed, and classes are paused.)


Dog Parks

Pets need to get out, too — and Madison offers no shortage of dog parks with wide-open spaces for them and scenic views for you. The City of Madison Parks Division offers nine fenced, off-leash dog parks; three of them (Odana School, Warner, and Sycamore) also provide designated areas for small dogs. All visiting dogs must have a dog license, and all visiting owners must have a daily or annual dog park permit that is available online. Check other area municipalities’ websites for information about their dog parks, too. 


Henry Vilas Zoo

Speaking of animals, you’ll see plenty of them at the Henry Vilas Zoo, one of North America’s few remaining free, community-sponsored zoos. The zoo is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., although indoor animal areas and the children’s zoo are closed right now. Zoo officials say you’ll still be able to see about 80 percent of the animals — including tigers, porcupines, camels, flamingos, bison, badgers, seals, polar bears, otters, and penguins. To avoid crowds, they recommend visiting after 2 p.m. 


Devil’s Lake State Park

Located less than an hour’s drive from Madison, Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo spans more than 9,200 acres and is one of the most popular parks in the Wisconsin State Park System. Highlights include 29 miles of trails that take hikers in and through woods, meadows, glacial moraines, and ridgetop backwoods. There also are 1.5 miles of trails accessible for people with disabilities, three campgrounds with more than 420 sites, four miles of off-road biking trails, and some good fishing. A vehicle admission sticker is required to enter the park, and a state trail pass is needed for certain trails; both can be purchased on site. As with other places on this list, visitor centers, observation towers, and other enclosed areas are closed.


Be sure to check each individual destination’s website for specific COVID-19 protocols before heading out — and stay safe. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

(Photo by Joe Caione on Unsplash)

 Need More Reasons to Move to Madison, Wis.?
Here Are 5 Good Ones

Even though a lot went wrong in 2020, Madison, Wisconsin, managed to land on some pretty impressive “best cities” lists. 


Three years ago, I posted “A Top 10 of Madison Top 10s,” which described why the capital city is among the country’s “sportiest,” “healthiest” and “most overlooked” places to live in the country. 


Now, however, Madison appears to be overlooked no more. In 2020, the city made the top five rankings on no fewer than five more lists — even during a pandemic year! (Granted, many of these lists were no doubt compiled in the pre-COVID era, but still…) 


Here’s a breakdown: 


• No. 1 on‘s “Cities with the Best Work-Life Balance” list (January 2020 and January 2021)

Based on the following metrics for the largest 100 cities in the United States: entertainment establishment density, dining establishment density, bar density, housing costs as a percentage of income, average number of weeks worked per year, average number of hours worked per week, average commute time, percentage of workers with commutes over an hour, unemployment rate and labor force participation rate. 



For the second year in a row, Madison, Wisconsin, is the best city in America for work-life balance. Madison doesn’t lead in any categories, but it does finish in the top 10% of the study for six out of 10 metrics. This includes coming in second-lowest for average hours worked per week (36.4), third-lowest for October 2020 unemployment rate (3.9%) and sixth-highest for labor force participation rate (73.2%).


• No. 1 on Men’s Health‘s list of “Most Youthful” cities list (September 2020)

Determined by assessments of 100 large cities based on age, as well as how active people are in maintaining their physical and mental health. 



Many cities beat Madison on average age, but none topped MadTown’s physical-health score. That means that not only do residents live close to a park or a gym; they also use it. What’s more, Madison scored in the 91st percentile for dog parks, in the 97th for basketball hoops, and in the 100th for playgrounds among the 100 largest U.S. cities, according to an analysis by the Trust for Public Land.


• No. 1 on‘s “Best Places in the U.S. for Raising Children” list (January 2020) 

Determined by data that ranks neighborhoods by level of child opportunity (from very low to very high) in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, where two-thirds of children live.


• No. 3 on‘s “Best Places to Live” list (2020) 

Based on an analysis of more than 1,000 small to mid-sized cities regarding such factors as safety, affordability, economic stability, outdoor recreation, accessibility, community engagement and opportunities. 



Madison  is a town that defies definition. It’s a sports-crazy college town, but also the staid seat of state government. It’s a great place for millennials and recent grads, with a high employment rate, but also rated among the best places in the country to retire. It’s an active urban city with a spectacular food scene that runs the gamut from stellar cheap eats to award-winning fine dining, and it’s an outdoor paradise surrounded by lakes and public land. Full of contradictions, Madison is many things to many people and that’s what makes it a great place to live.


• No. 4 on the American College of Sports Medicine’s Fitness Index of “Fittest Cities” (July 2020)

Based on an evaluation of the 100 largest cities in the United States related to 33 health behaviors, chronic diseases and community infrastructure indicators.



Cities that experience weather extremes made it into the top 10 – Minneapolis, Minn. (#3); Madison, Wis. (#4); and Denver, Colo. (#8), showing that local leaders can make it easier for residents to stay physically active year-round.


Madison is off to a good start in 2021, too, landing at No. 2 on‘s “Best State Capitals to Live In” list and at No. 10 on‘s “Best Metro Areas for STEM Professionals” — both of which were unveiled in January. 


All of this makes you want to live here, doesn’t it? I’m here to help make that happen. 


(Thanks to for the inspiration.) 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 How to Move on a Budget

Moving is not a cheap endeavor. From closing costs to inspection fees, the expenses can add up quickly. Then there’s the actual “moving” part — transporting everything you own from your old house to your new home. Hiring a company to pack it all up, load it onto a truck, deliver it to the new address and then carry everything inside can be a pricey proposition. 


Unlike many other moving-related expenses, it’s possible (and relatively easy) to save money when hauling all your stuff. Here are five ideas:


1. Declutter and sell, donate or toss what you don't need.  

Take a hard look at things you or your family members haven’t used in at least six months. That includes clothes and shoes, toys, small kitchen appliances, and even furniture. Consider lightening your load further by letting go of books you’ve already read (or likely never will read), as well as CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs you rarely (if ever) play. And all those storage boxes in the garage or the basement corner? Go through them and purge. You probably can live without every issue of Entertainment Weekly ever published. 


2. Seek out free moving boxes. 

Once you determine what needs packed and what won’t be making the move with you, you’ll require boxes to transport things (either to your new home or to the donation center). Rather than purchase moving boxes that arrive disassembled and will cost a ridiculous amount of money, visit a local grocery store or a big box store such as Walmart or Target and ask if they have some empty boxes they don’t need. More often than not, you’ll walk out with a variety of boxes in different shapes and sizes, which can be used to pack specific items. Success also can often be achieved by posting a request for moving boxes on social media platforms such as Facebook or Nextdoor. Someone who recently moved just might have a stack of boxes ready for someone else to use. 


3. Supply your own packing materials. 

Again, you could purchase a bunch of fancy “packing paper” and bubble wrap. But if you’re only moving across town, you don’t need to pack as if everything will be making a cross-country trek. If you still subscribe to newspapers or magazines (or know people who do), you can use their pages to wrap items and provide protection between items. Towels and casual clothes such as T-shirts also work well. After all, they need to go with you, too; why not put them to good use? Additionally, wrapping items in plastic shopping bags — plates and bowls are ideal candidates — can prevent them from clinking against one another and potentially breaking. 


4. Consider a DIY move. 

Moving yourself is a lot easier if you’re relocating within the same city or county. That way, it’s relatively easy to make multiple trips between the old and new places. You also can rent a truck from self-moving companies like U-Haul or home improvement centers such as Home Depot or Menards. Do your homework to determine which companies charge by the hour and which ones charge by the day, and be prepared to pay for mileage. For an additional fee, some truck-rental places will provide a moving dolly and other equipment you might need. If you’re worried about lifting furniture, large appliances and other heavy items, check in with friends and neighbors who live with high school football players; those guys might be willing to work for pizza and Gatorade. 


5. Hold off on making purchases for the new home. 

In fact, don’t buy anything until after your lender tells you it’s okay to do so. And even then, it’s wise to go easy when spending all that money you saved during the move on new items for the new home. Purchases deemed essential right now might not seem all that necessary once you’re settled. Sometimes, it’s better to wait until you’re actually living in your new space before determining what you need. 


There are many other ways to save money during a move, but these are some of the biggies. Consider one, some or all of them when preparing for the big day. If you have additional questions about getting ready for a move, give me a call. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

(Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash)

 2020: The Year People Didn't Stop Moving

Despite a pandemic that spurred an economic crisis, the residential real estate market in 2020 never slowed down. At least not in south-central Wisconsin. While it’s true that the number of homes Madison-based Bunbury & Associates sold this year held steady, the average sales price was up nearly 13% over 2019 – thanks, at least in part, to a massive housing shortage.


Some sellers opted not to enter the market in 2020 if they didn’t need to, citing concerns about strangers traipsing through their homes and potentially spreading the coronavirus. That meant houses that were for sale were greeted with high demand from buyers and usually sold quickly. 


Nearly every home I sold this year that wasn’t intended to be a starter home was a step up in size for its buyer. When once “cozy” served as a positive term for “homey” in for-sale listings, it now can carry negative connotations. After all, there’s only so much togetherness even the closest of families can handle in a stay-at-home culture, and the post-COVID world likely will involve more telecommuting. 


Homes with an office, an extra bedroom, or an unfinished basement space that can be converted to a home office will remain high on sellers’ priority lists in 2021.


More good news: Madison ranks on the National Association of REALTORS® top 10 list of “markets that have shown resilience during this pandemic period and that are expected to perform well in a post-COVID-19 environment.” To identify those metro markets — Des Moines-West Des Moines, Iowa; Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, Ind.; and Boise City, Idaho, also among them — NAR considered such indicators as the fraction of the local workforce working from home; the share of multi-generational households; the share of workers in the retail trade, leisure, and hospitality industries; the unemployment rate as of September 2020; small business openings relative to January 2020; and mobility to retail and recreation places relative to January 2020. 


“The Madison metro area has the second lowest unemployment rate of 4.3%, second to Provo-Orem [Utah],” according to the NAR’s report. “It has a lower share of retail trade and leisure and hospitality workers, at 18.4%, compared to the national rate of 20.3%.”


For an indication of the Madison market’s buoyancy and robustness, consider this: The sellers of a condominium home in Sun Prairie received six offers within eight hours of listing the property in early December. 


Regardless of what happens with COVID-19 in 2021 — and here’s hoping we get it under control — entering the housing market makes good fiscal sense. Fannie Mae predicts average interest rates for a 30-year fixed mortgage loan will remain at 2.8% throughout 2021 (and then rise only marginally for 2022). 


Here is my advice if you plan to buy or sell a home in 2021 during the COVID era: 


1. Stay away from open houses, which can lead to a high degree of potential exposure to the virus. I have not hosted an open house since early March. 


2. Consider a video listing, in which a videographer equipped with a facemask, gloves, shoe covers, and hand sanitizer films the inside of your home. That video is then shown to potential clients to determine their interest in visiting particular homes. The goal is to offer in-person showings only to serious buyers. 


3. List your home on a Thursday and then relocate to a hotel or nearby relative’s place for the weekend while potential buyers tour your home. Stop accepting offers on Sunday, and then decide which one to accept. That way, upon your return, you will only need to clean and sanitize your house once. 


There was plenty to complain about in 2020, but if you were either selling a home or among the lucky buyers who found their new home, it was a year to remember. From the young dental hygienist who knew she’d found the perfect first home the minute she laid eyes on it to the lovely young couple from Austin, Texas, who bought a home in Madison without ever even seeing it in person, there were so many times I was reminded why I love what I do.


If you enter the market in 2021, know that I’m here to help. In the meantime, thank you for your support and Merry Christmas. Here’s to a hopeful new year. 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 Why the Holidays Are the Right Time To Sell Your Home 

“Home for the holidays.” In 2020, no four words ring truer than those. With Christmas around the corner, now is an opportune time to put your home on the market. Why? Because the competition is less, and buyers are more serious. 


Granted, the majority of home sales traditionally happen during the summer. But home sales in Wisconsin increased 14.8 percent between December 2018 and December 2019, according to the Wisconsin Realtors® Association (WRA), and median sale prices rose more than 10 percent. This year, fueled by record-low mortgage rates, that trend is likely to continue — despite the coronavirus pandemic. 


“Clearly there remains uncertainty, but the prospect of an effective COVID-19 vaccine should lead to sustained growth over the foreseeable future,” says David Clark, a Marquette University economist and WRA consultant. 


If you’re not sure whether you should plant a for-sale sign in your front yard before the ground freezes, here are three factors that might change your mind: 


1. Home inventory is reduced during the winter.

Some homeowners still adhere to the tried-and-true practice of waiting until the days are warmer and the nights are longer before selling. That’s good news for you, as it means fewer sellers vying for the attention of buyers. Taking advantage of this opportunity might help buyers find your listing easier — and make your home sell faster.


2. Buyers are motivated.

Think about it: Why else would they be looking for a new home during the holidays? They might need to relocate quickly for a job or other reasons, or they could be seeking to leverage end-of-year tax breaks. Regardless of their motivation, these buyers are ready to make offers.


3. A home feels homier during the holidays.  

Your lawn and landscaping will be dormant — or snow-covered — so now is the time to tastefully show off your home’s appeal from the inside. This is easier during the holidays. Display a modest Christmas tree and other tasteful decorations, but don’t go overboard. Instead, shoot for a warm and inviting vibe that will help buyers realize how comfortable your home is during the winter and make them never want to leave. (A plate of fresh cookies on the kitchen table won’t hurt, either, plus they’ll make the place smell delicious.) 


The real estate market never stops. So who knows? This might just be the season you get what you really want for Christmas: An offer on your home. 


As always, I’m here to help.


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

 Reality Check: Wisconsin's Housing Market
Is Surviving the Pandemic

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, home sales in Dane County and throughout south-central Wisconsin are up in 2020 over last year. In September alone, 878 transactions took place in Dane County — almost double the number of sales in September 2019 — according to the Realtors® Association of South-Central Wisconsin


Home prices are surging, too. In Dane County, the median sales price has jumped more than 6% over last year, to $313,500. Interest rates are staying low and we’re still in a seller’s market, which means now is a good time to hang that “for sale” sign. 


The pandemic clearly is not slowing down the market. 


In fact, Irvine, Calif.-based ATTOM Data Solutions — which maintains a national database of property characteristics — notes that Wisconsin’s regional housing markets are among the least vulnerable to COVID-19.


According to the Milwaukee Business Journal


[The company] drew its conclusions based on an analysis of the home affordability index, equity and foreclosure reports for 487 counties around the U.S. Counties were ranked based on the percentage of properties with a foreclosure filing during the second quarter of 2020; the percentage of properties with outstanding mortgage balances that exceeded estimated market values in that quarter; and the percentage of average local wages needed to afford the major expenses of owning a median-priced home in the third quarter of 2020, such as mortgage, property taxes and insurance.


According to the report, 25 of the 50 least-vulnerable counties were in Colorado, Indiana, Missouri, Texas and Wisconsin. In Wisconsin’s Winnebago County, 20% of the average local wage was consumed by major ownership costs, which tied for the lowest of all counties surveyed. Meanwhile, only 4% of homeowners in Washington County owed more than their properties were worth in the second quarter, the second-lowest county in that category. … Sheboygan County has one of the lowest rates for foreclosures at one in 50,939 homes.

Such data stands in stark contrast to market clusters in the Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., areas, ATTOM Data Solutions officials say — calling those markets among the country’s most vulnerable to COVID-19


Simply stated, the sky is not falling in south-central Wisconsin, where the livability factor remains high. With a strong concentration of medical facilities and technology firms that continue to hire — as well as a low crime rate (compared to counties of similar size) and plenty of socially distant outdoor opportunities — Dane County is well positioned to resist the market fallouts that other regions are experiencing. 


Some of the factors mentioned above also are among the reasons why Madison landed at No. 3 on’s “Top 100 Places to Live” list in both 2019 and 2020. If you’re looking to relocate to (or within) Dane County, I’m here to help you leverage the positive direction in which our housing market continues to head. 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

First-Time Homebuyer? Don't Make These Three Mistakes 

One of the greatest thrills of my job is helping first-time buyers find their ideal starter home. Yes, buying your first home can be fraught with anxiety; it is, after all, the biggest investment most people make, and you don’t want to experience buyer’s remorse. But there are ways to keep stress levels (relatively) low. 


Long before COVID-19 hit, I was advising all of my buyers — not just first-timers — to seek lending pre-approval before they even begin the search process. This allow buyers to, if necessary, write an offer on the spot. In many cases, there is no longer time to wait 24 hours to discuss a purchase or “sleep on it.” 


Pre-approval is even more critical these days, as we are in a seller’s market, and offers that contain a pre-approval letter often receive top priority. 


Failing to secure a pre-approved loan (preferably from a local lender and not a company with clever TV commercials) might be the biggest mistake first-time homebuyers make. But the following three aren’t far behind.


1. Failing to know what you want.

Before you enter the market, make a list that includes your price range as well as preferred locations, size, design style, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, yard type and amenities (a fireplace, office, deck or finished basement, for example). This process will help both you and your real estate professional narrow down your search to the homes that best meet your priorities. As a result, you’ll be able to more quickly schedule tours of homes you want to see — and potentially make an offer on — rather than waste valuable time walking through homes that make you realize what you don’t want. 


2. Failing to act fast enough.

In a seller’s market, there are more buyers looking for homes than there are homes available. That means you likely will not be the only person placing an offer on a given home. As I’ve said before, the asking price is the opening bid — you bid once, making your highest and best offer. Many sellers don’t even bother to counteroffer, so there’s only one chance. If you find a home that doesn’t quite check every box on your list and choose not to make an offer, it could be a long time before you find something as good as the one you passed up. Being willing to accept some give and take, if it comes to that, is an essential part of the buying process.


3. Failing to pay for a home inspection.

You never know what a homeowner might be hiding, whether intentionally or more likely inadvertently. Chances are the house you intend to purchase has not undergone a full-scale professional inspection since the seller moved in — and that could have been decades ago. If the issues are cosmetic, maintenance-related or a minor annoyance, a buyer should expect to take care of that at some point himself. But major issues — such as electrical or plumbing defects, a leaky roof or a chimney that needs relining — should be on the list of problems the seller should fix before finalizing a transaction. A professional inspection of a 2,500-square-foot house can cost about $500. Should you decide to waive that inspection, you’re letting the seller off the hook if there are serious issues you don’t discover until after you move in. And that means you’ll be out more than the $500 you thought you were saving. 


Buying your first home should be one of the highlights of your life; don’t jeopardize the experience by making major mistakes that can easily be avoided.  

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Five Ways to Make Your Home Homier

With many school districts in south-central Wisconsin – including the Madison Metropolitan School District — opting for virtual learning in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, spending more time at home will continue into the fall and beyond. 


That means you might have to make some changes inside your home to make it more conducive to learning. 


“School’s going to be largely at home and on computers, so a few things to keep in consideration are the environment you set up to be used as your school environment,” Anna Howard, a pediatric physical therapist at Baton Rouge (La.) General Medical Center, told one CBS-TV affiliate. “We don’t want feet propped up on the coffee table with our bodies against the couch. That sends our brains the wrong message. That’s not a message for readiness for learning. … We want school to be school time, and so it needs to be in an area and a setup where learning can occur. We want to remove distractions, we want to have televisions off and maybe have it in a separate space or separate room.”


At the same time, why not give others spaces a quick makeover, too?


From adding color to investing in improvements, now might be the perfect time
to make your entire home a bit homier for everyone — not just the kids.
In the process, all of you might end up feeling a little better about being there all the time. 


Here are five ideas to get you started: 


1. Designate a learning space. 

Ideally, this should be a spare bedroom or other space with few distractions. That’s not always possible, though, so a kitchen table or breakfast bar for little ones or a bedroom desk for older kids could do the trick, too. Make sure the space is quiet, clean and comfortable (but not too comfortable). Natural lighting is a big bonus: Studies over the years indicate that exposure to natural light boosts productivity


2. Add artwork. 

Whether an original painting, a print or a sculpture, art can work wonders in a home — making individual rooms feel more spacious and enhancing the mood of their inhabitants. As online culture, arts and travel magazine We Heart notes, artwork also can improve mental health: “Finding artwork that you have an emotional connection with can also serve as a means to improve your mental health. Hang an emotive piece somewhere you will see it every day, and humankind’s spiritual connection to the arts will do the rest.” 


3. Declutter. 

Go through piles of mail, magazines and other things that may have accumulated during lockdown. Ask the kids to sort through their belongings and encourage them to donate what they no longer want or need. Even consider tackling hidden spaces by cleaning out closets, cabinets, cupboards and the garage. “When our surroundings feel full, it can also make us feel more anxious and stressed, with one study by psychologists Rena Repetti and Darby Saxby at University of California, Los Angeles, finding mothers living in messy houses had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol,” reported last year. “Clutter can also make it harder to fall asleep and can even make us more likely to reach for junk food, according to one study, which found participants using a ‘chaotic kitchen’ ate twice as many cookies as those in an organized kitchen.” 


4. Invest in improvements. 

Shake up the color scheme in your favorite room by giving it a fresh coat of paint. Install new carpeting or make the switch to hardwood, laminate planks or tile. Plant a fall garden outside with pansies, mums and other autumn-friendly flowers — which you then can use to brighten up things inside. suggests checking with a gardening expert in your area to determine the best annuals and perennials for September and October, and offers a list of “30 Gorgeous Flowers for the Perfect Fall Garden.”


5. Rent new furniture. 

You read that right. More companies are entering the residential furniture rental business, and they’re getting plenty of attention from homeowners. They include ZZ Driggs and Feather, which offer such deals as a butcher block table for $80 per month and a sofa for $37 per month. “With so many individuals working from home and discovering new furniture needs, many traditional home goods companies are experiencing delays of weeks, if not months, for shipping,” reports “Rentals, however, can be at your door in a fraction of that time.”


Any of these ideas, when implemented, have the power to make you and your family feel a little  more cheerful. These days, we all could use more of that. 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Mid-2020 Report: Despite Pandemic, Home Sales Strong, Prices Up

Given the state of the economy and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, you might think the housing market in Dane County and the rest of Wisconsin would be slow. 


It’s not. 


Granted, overall sales are down in 2020 over 2019, but homes are still selling fast — and for higher prices than they were one year ago. 

According to the Realtors® Association of South Central Wisconsin (RASCW), sales in Dane County were down 10.2% in June, yet 867 homes still sold. As the RASCW explains it: “Much of the reduction in sales can be attributed to the continued lack of supply, further amplified by a reduction in the number of new listings. Beginning in April, the number of new listings in the region … dropped by over 1,800 homes as compared with 2019. On a more positive note, the number of new listings has almost normalized for the month of June.” 


Dane County boasts the highest housing costs in the region, with a median sale price of $307,000 between January and June 2020 — up 4.1 percent, from $294,900, during the first half of 2019. 


Statewide, Wisconsin’s housing market is performing better than expected, according to the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association (WRA). Existing home sales were down 4.5 percent in June over the previous June, but the median sale price climbed 3.6 percent, to $222,000. For the first six months of 2020, sales across the state were down 4.9 percent compared to 2019, while the median sale price was up 7.6 percent, to $209,000. 


“Improvements to the economy and a consistent decline of mortgage rates into record-low territory [have] definitely softened the blow from the pandemic,” WRA President and CEO Michael Theo said


As Theo acknowledges, we’re in a seller’s market, which means buyers entering the market this summer need to be prepared. Here are three tips: 


1. Receive lending approval now.

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 via 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 to determine what you can reasonably afford. In the COVID-19 era, attaining pre-approval before placing an offer is more important than ever. 


2. Be open-minded.

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. That home with a three-car garage, a screened-in porch, four bedrooms and an office with wall-to-bookshelves in your price range? It might be elusive right now. So adjust your expectations. Keep your wish list flexible, and be willing to compromise on such things as amenities and color schemes. The more open-minded you are, the greater your chances of being pleasantly surprised during the search process. 


3. Act quickly to make an offer.

Spoiler alert: You’re probably going to pay more than the asking price. 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. 


Each of these tips will be easier to follow when accompanied by insight from a knowledgeable and confident real estate professional. Look to that person for insight and guidance about amenities, as well as when and how much to offer. As always, I’m here to help. 


While these tips won’t guarantee your offer will be accepted, they could help you land the home you want. Even during a pandemic. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Buying and Selling a Home in the COVID-19 Era

Four months ago, I never imagined I would be sending pandemic care packages like the one pictured above to clients before they showed their homes to potential buyers. But, thanks to the coronavirus, a lot of things have changed in the residential real estate market since March. 


Existing home sales plummeted almost 10 percent nationwide in May — the third straight monthly decline. In Wisconsin, May home sales fell by 25.8% compared to the same month in 2019.


“Home sales that closed in May were likely under contract in late March or early to mid-April, and this is the time when a lot of potential buyers and sellers decided to sit tight,” WRA Chairman Steve Beers told state media outlets. 


But here’s the thing: Home sales are ramping up now, and buyers are out in force — especially as the state’s economy continues to reopen in phases. What’s more, the Federal Reserve announced in June that its benchmark interest rate will remain near zero through 2022 to help the economy recover. 


If you’re willing to venture into the market, now is a good time do so. Be aware, however, that the process of buying and selling a home is dramatically different, most notably when it comes to showings and closings. Here’s what you need to know: 


Home Showings

Most agents, including me, offer virtual tours that allow potential buyers to see the inside of a home without actually being there. The most common approaches are video tours and 3D modeling — both of which prove more effective when captured by professionals. 


I use a videographer equipped with a facemask, gloves, shoe covers and hand sanitizer, whose work I then show to clients to determine their interest in visiting particular homes. I also urge them to drive past the home and tour the neighborhood (as well as attain lending pre-approval) before scheduling an in-home visit. The goal is to offer in-person showings only to serious buyers. 


For showings, one real estate agent is allowed in a home at any given time, and buyers must wear facemasks and use hand sanitizer upon entering. No children are allowed to tour homes, and the number of people in the buying party permitted inside is limited to two. Additionally, only the agent can touch objects and surfaces such as door knobs and light switches. Social distancing guidelines also are observed. 


I provide each of my sellers a basket like the one pictured above, which is loaded with hand sanitizer, gloves, facemasks, sanitizing wipes and shoe covers, along with a framed note outlining safety rules for visitors. 


So far, most sellers are permitting in-home showings. I recommend they leave the home for a weekend or at least for several hours to allow as many showings as possible in a given period of time. This approach reduces the amount of times the sellers need to thoroughly clean and disinfect their home after showings. 


Home Closings

As with showings, precautions are necessary at closings. For the past few months, car closings have been the norm. Taking place in the parking lot of the title company, these typically involve the title person, the seller and the buyer. The presence of the real estate agent is optional, although I always attend in case the buyer has questions or needs clarification. 


The title person hands a stack of paperwork and a clipboard to the buyer through the window, and the transaction is completed in the front seat. BYOP: Bring your own pen. 


Traditional closings are slowly returning, but the number of people who attend is limited, all participants must wear facemasks and use hand sanitizer, and the buyer can keep the pen as a souvenir. As of now, agents are not permitted at indoor closings, but I wait outside in case my services are needed. 


Unlike in other states, real estate was considered an “essential business” throughout Wisconsin’s “safer-at-home” order during March, April and May. The residential housing market is one of the underpinnings of our economy, and it will play a fundamental role in helping move the state forward in the wake of COVID-19. 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Spring Is Here: Adopt a Dog! 

Meet Herman. He’s a deaf Pekingese between 12 and 15 years old with severely atrophied back-leg muscles. He’s on antibiotics for a mouth disease, has eye issues, wears a diaper and needs some serious dental surgery. 


He also needed a home, which is why I call Herman my “COVID dog.” My family and I adopted him during the coronavirus pandemic from Fluffy Dog Rescue in Hartland, Wis. He — like all 15 dogs I’ve rescued since 2008 — likely never had an owner who gave him the opportunity to be happy. All of my dogs came from rescue operations and humane societies, and my decision to obtain another during Wisconsin’s safer-at-home order was one many other people also made. 


In April, the Dane County Humane Society actually ran out of dogs (and cats, birds, snakes, gerbils and rabbits, too).


"I can't remember a time when we've had that few animals available," Amy Good, director of development and marketing for the Dane County Humane Society, told WKOW-TV, Madison’s ABC affiliate. "It's pretty amazing how many people have stepped up to adopt over the last few weeks."


And it’s not just happening in Wisconsin. One New York City shelter recently reported a total inventory of just 35 pets; it usually counts more than 500. The Humane Society of the United States noted a 90 percent spike in fostering requests nationwide during the pandemic, according to TIME magazine. 


Two major factors have led to so many pets finding new and (hopefully) loving homes: 


1. New pet owners were home more. The quarantine made it easier to housetrain a dog and allow the animal to become accustomed to his or her new owner faster.


2. It’s easier to housetrain a dog in warmer weather. Many rescue dogs come from southern states and have never seen snow. Some actually despise it and refuse to walk in it. You won’t get much housetraining accomplished if your dog’s afraid to leave the house. 


Adopting a dog can cost you up to $450 at the Dane County Humane Society for a puppy younger than 1 year old (the prices go down from there based on age), and fees can be even higher at rescue operations. Two of the best starting points are Rescue Me! and Petfinder, which will direct you to reputable rescue operations in your area. 


Here are some rescue operations in south-central/southeastern Wisconsin that I highly recommend: 

• Ma, Paws, and Me Pet Rescue (Watertown)

• Underdog Pet Rescue of Wisconsin (Madison)

• Fluffy Dog Rescue (Hartland) 

• OBRA (a gem of a place in Puerto Rico that transports dogs to Wisconsin) 


When searching for a rescue dog, be sure to carefully read the description provided for each one, as some do not get along well with children or other animals, and others have special medical needs. Some might need to be re-housetrained, too. Also remember that these animals are coming from a shelter, which can be a scary place, and as a result they might be unsettled when they arrive in a new environment. 


Think of it in human terms: You are bringing home a new friend who has been abused, neglected and treated like trash. (Some dogs are literally rescued from the side of the road.) It’s going to take some time to adjust. For that reason, give yourself and the dog a couple months to get used to each other. 


A good rescue operation will send someone to visit your home to make sure you’re able to provide the dog a good life. Once that dog arrives, be sure to “dog-proof” your home the same way you would baby-proof it: Keep poisonous plants and choking hazards out of reach, use safety gates, and be prepared to clean up messes. 


If you have any questions about rescuing a dog — or about your current dog — I’m here to help. 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

How to Keep Your Vehicles Safe While You're 'Safer at Home' 

Throughout much of the United States — and certainly in Wisconsin — traffic citations and calls to police have dropped during “stay at home” orders or “safer at home” policies designed to help people social distance during the coronavirus pandemic. 


But that doesn’t mean you can drop your guard when it comes to keeping your vehicles safe. Car break-ins and thefts are on the rise in many parts of the quarantined country. 


“Fewer Americans are driving right now — and that means more cars are sitting idle in driveways and parking garages,” reports. “And while we're tucked away in our homes, more of them are being stolen. … The conditions of a pandemic benefit would-be car thieves: People are obeying stay-at-home orders and only driving when necessary. That strategy helps prevent the coronavirus from spreading, but it makes it more difficult for police, who can't search for or recover cars until they've been reported missing.” 


Dave Mahoney, the sheriff of Wisconsin’s Dane County, concurs that stolen vehicles are a problem right now, telling that the number of car thefts in Madison and throughout the county has increased in recent years — even during the pandemic. He says juveniles and young adults are the most common culprits, driving off in vehicles left running or with keys stolen from unlocked homes. 


As notes: “Mahoney said it doesn’t appear the coronavirus and related restrictions are putting a dent in that trend.”


So how do you protect vehicles (and what’s in them) even when they’re sitting in your driveway or parked along the curb in front of your home? Here are eight  tips, courtesy of American Family InsuranceAllstate and Geico.


1. Lock the doors. 

Duh. Would-be thieves need to work a lot harder — and risk getting caught more easily — if they have to smash a window in the hopes that you’ve left a spare key in the glove box (which you shouldn’t do). 


2. Roll up all the windows before exiting. 

Again, like locking the doors, this is a small but critical deterrent that could help keep your vehicle right where you left it. 


3. Never leave the keys in the ignition if you're not in the car.

You might as well just post a “take me” sign on the windshield. 


4. Don't leave valuables inside. 

Especially if they are in plain sight. It’s simple enough to peer into the windows, and if a thief on the prowl sees a purse or an iPhone on the passenger seat or underneath the dashboard, they’re going to want it. 


5. Install an anti-theft system. 

Well-trained would-be thieves know what to look for, and if they see you’re already expecting them, they’ll likely move on. 


6. Take care of your car. 

It might seem counterintuitive — why would thieves go after a junker? — but keeping a well maintained vehicle can deter theft because it suggests you care enough to have installed an alarm thieves can’t see. 


7. Keep an eye out for suspicious activity. 

Car thieves often work in pairs and first scope out a neighborhood before returning to fulfill their mission another day. Report anything that looks out-of-the-ordinary in your neighborhood to the police, and ask your neighbors to do the same. 


8. Leave your porch light on all night (or install motion-sensing lights). 

No criminal wants to be caught in the act. 


The pandemic has left all of us feeling a bit more vulnerable these days, and it’s easier than ever to let down your defenses — especially when you’re spending the majority of your time at home. Give some consideration to these eight tips and help keep your vehicles safe outside while you’re stuck inside. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

A Spring Cleaning Checklist 

Snow may still be on the ground in parts of south-central Wisconsin, but warmer temperatures and sunnier days are on the way. Before long, you’ll be able to open the windows, let in the fresh air to whisk away any lingering vestiges of winter, and get set to spring clean.


Spring cleaning remains a worthwhile annual endeavor not only because it will make living in your home a more pleasant experience, but it also will put you ahead of the game if you choose to sell your home in 2020 by making it more desirable to potential buyers. 


We scoured the internet for a list of 10 spring cleaning tips to help you make the most of your efforts.  


☑ Make a schedule.

Set room-by-room goals, placing a priority on spaces typically skipped or overlooked during routine cleaning. Online air-quality treatment solutions supplier Sylvane offers a printable room-by-room list here


☑ Deep clean the carpets.

This should be near the top of your “must-happen” list, especially if you have children, pets  and/or family members who suffer from allergies. It might be tempting to hire out for this one, but homeowners today also can opt to purchase their own steam cleaner and use a water-and-vinegar mix. (Don’t worry; we’re told the vinegary smell dissipates as the carpet dries!) 

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☑ Give the windows a good cleaning (inside and out).

Avoid streaks by waiting for an overcast day, then use a microfiber cloth — not a squeegee — to wipe down the glass. Don’t forget to dust the blinds or shades, too. Then use a brush and a mixture of warm water and mild dishwashing liquid to scrub the screens. 

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☑ Wash the walls, clean the drains and freshen up the upholstery.

Wash walls that look stained and touch up chipped or discolored paint. Clean all bathroom and kitchen drains by pouring boiling water, baking soda and vinegar down them, followed by a rinse with more boiling water. Use a dry-cleaning sponge and lint roller to freshen up all upholstery. 

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☑ Clear the cobwebs.

 “Spiders are in every home, and dealing with their cobwebs is a necessary evil,” according to Out of Sight Cleaning, a commercial and residential cleaning company in Grass Valley, Calif. Sweep them away or use vacuum extensions to suck them up, and then spray peppermint oil in the corners and other areas where cobwebs tend to congregate. Apparently, insects can’t stand the smell and taste of peppermint. 


☑ Bust the dust bunnies. 

Dust bunnies — those pesky balls of dust and fluff — form when toxins from the air mix with decomposing insects, material tracked in from shoes, food debris, fiber from clothing and bedding, pet hair and other particles, according to We Clean 4 You, a maid service in The Woodlands, Texas. Wet mopping, vacuuming and microfiber cloths should do the trick. And while you’re at it, don’t forget the clean the baseboards, which are major dust-bunny magnets. 


☑ Organize the clutter.

Tackle that pile of mail that’s been getting higher since Christmas, clean out the closets and find homes for things that have been sitting out in the open for far too long. If it helps, stash the clutter in a plastic bin and promise yourself to go through it regularly throughout the year. Don’t hesitate to donate items, either. 

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☑ Get your mind in the gutter.

You’d be amazed at what might have landed in your gutter since last summer: leaves, sticks and twigs, the neighbor kid’s baseball, dead birds and other debris all can create clogs and prevent rainwater from funneling away from your home. Wait for a rainy day to determine if water is draining from the downspouts. If not, it’s time to get to work. Use a ladder to remove debris by hand or with a leaf blower, or flush the gutters with a garden hose. 

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☑ Perform various maintenance and safety checks.

Check the batteries in your smoke detectors, as well as the batteries in (and expiration dates of) carbon monoxide detectors. Fire extinguishers also expire, so make sure yours is in working order. Replace air filters, clean air conditioning/heating ducts and remove lint from the dryer exhaust duct. And while you’re at it, consider cleaning out your cleaning supplies — disposing of leaking containers and out-of-date products. 

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☑ Don’t forget the fireplace.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends annual inspections, and it’s easier (and safer) if you hire an expert to come out once a year to clean the chimney and flue, as well as repair leaking or broken chimney caps. 

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You know your house better than anyone else, and no general list of recommended spring cleaning tasks will substitute for your own to-do list. But hopefully the 10 items on this checklist will start you off on the right foot for a cleaner and fresher year ahead. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

What You Need  To Know about the Housing Market in 2020

If you plan to buy a home in 2020, I have good news.


“Buying a home in 2020 will offer opportunities … as the supply of new homes relieves some of the inventory pressures, and prices moderate,” according to’s 2020 national housing forecast


Sellers, on the other hand, “will contend with flattening price growth and slowing activity, requiring more patience and a thoughtful approach to pricing,” the forecast continues. “Sellers of homes priced for entry-level buyers can expect the market to remain competitive and prices to stay firm. At the upper end of the price range, however, properties will take longer to sell, and incentives will be needed to close deals.”


That’s a far cry from what’s been happening in south-central Wisconsin in recent years, where well-kept, fairly priced homes commonly sell for $20,000 or more over asking price — usually with multiple offers — in a matter of hours. 


The Madison market may very well prove to be bulletproof against any market fluctuations and housing slumps that hit other parts of the country in 2020 and beyond. The presence of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, healthcare software giant Epic Systems and a burgeoning new tech sector all contribute to a steady influx of residents. 


All of which still makes this market a prime seller’s market. Traditionally, a balanced housing market provides about five months’ worth of inventory; the Dane County market hovers around just six or seven weeks’ worth of inventory. 


While housing forecasts are much like weather forecasts, in that they can either be incredibly accurate or way off, potential buyers and sellers can take steps to help ensure that the process of navigating the housing market goes smoothly whenever they choose to enter it. 


Here are five suggestions to keep in mind for 2020: 


1. Pay attention to your local market. 

What types of homes are selling, and at what prices? Attend open houses, too. Having a better understanding of the market now will put you at a significant advantage later. 


2. Monitor interest rates. 

Last year, the Federal Reserve lowered its benchmark interest rate twice over a two-month period. When rates are low, it’s a good time to consider buying a new home. Keep an eye on the stock market, too; political uncertaintymedical epidemics and war can have an impact.


3. Put your finances in order. 

Getting preapproved for a mortgage before you start looking for a home in earnest gives you a clear idea of how much you can afford to spend and helps determine the type of homes available in your market that you can afford. Plus, in the Madison market, many times offers to purchase aren’t even considered without a preapproval letter. If you need assistance finding a credible lender, I can help.


4. Stay on top of basic maintenance tasks. 

Doing so will save you time later and make your home more desirable once it’s on the market. If your home hasn’t been updated in several years, consider a remodeling project that will increase its market value and attract more potential buyers. 


5. Find a trustworthy and knowledgeable real estate professional. 

Make sure that person understands your needs and is willing to assist every step of the way.  As always, I’m here for you. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

10 Tips to Keep You Safe Shoveling Snow This Winter

If the weather predictions for this winter hold true, south-central Wisconsin is in for above-average snowfall amounts in early 2020. Which means it’s time to make sure the snowblower is gassed up and ready to work. If that’s not possible, be sure to study up on how to safely shovel snow. 


The National Safety Council estimates that as many as 100 people die every year shoveling snow. Additionally, more than 11,000 people are injured, many requiring emergency medical treatment, according to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Some of the most common injuries that occur are to the lower back, head, arms and hands, and often are caused by slips and falls. 


The American Heart Association also contends that the risk of a heart attack may be higher for some individuals because the combination of colder temperatures and physical exertion increases the heart’s workload. Sedentary people or those with existing heart conditions, high blood pressure or high cholesterol are at greater risk for experiencing a heart attack while shoveling snow, the association warns. 


The National Safety Council goes even further: “Don't pick up that shovel without a doctor's permission if you have a history of heart disease. A clear driveway is not worth your life.” 


When (or if) you do find yourself needing to shovel this winter, here are 10 safety tips offered by renowned medical organizations: 


1. If in doubt about whether you are heathy enough to shovel, consult your doctor prior to an anticipated snowfall. 


2. When shoveling, lift with your legs (not your back). 


3. Take frequent breaks to cut down on the stress to your heart, and stop before you reach the point of exhaustion. Also, consider stretching before you begin.


4. Try not to eat a big meal before shoveling, as that can put an extra load on the heart. 


5. Don’t opt for the biggest shovel you can find. Smaller shovels force you to lift smaller amounts of snow, resulting in less physical strain.


6. If possible, push (rather than lift) the snow. 


7. Consider purchasing an ergonomic snow shovel


8. Try using salts, de-icing sprays or heated sidewalk mats instead of shoveling.


9. Dress in layers of warm clothing, which will trap air between the layers to form a protective insulation, and wear a hat to keep in heat. Remember that hypothermia — which occurs when the body loses heat faster than it produces heat — can lead to total heart failure. 


10. If your kids are helping, teach them the correct way to shovel, provide appropriate supervision and remind them that snow shovels are not toys.


Winters in Wisconsin can be brutal; use common sense when battling them. 

— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

O, Christmas Tree: Decorating Ideas for an Iconic Holiday Season Symbol 

The first modern-day Christmas tree reportedly was displayed in a private home in what is now part of France in the 1500s. Trees initially were used as a pagan symbol to celebrate the winter solstice dating back thousands of years. The Romans used fir trees to decorate their temples during the festival of Saturnalia, and Christians came to view the tree as a sign of everlasting life with God, according to the Christmas information website whychristmas?com


Over the centuries, the tree has morphed into a universal symbol of the holidays. 


With such a lengthy and rich tradition, Christmas trees now take on many forms in homes around the world. Thanks to the Internet, new decorating options appear annually. What follows are five of my favorite ideas.


1. If you don’t want to buy a real or artificial tree:

Swap out of that Massive Christmas Tree



2. If you want to coordinate colors: 

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3. If you want to please the kids: 

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4. If you want to show your pride:

18 Creative Christmas Tree Decorating Ideas



5. If you’re looking for a conversation starter: 

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When that conversation begins, you can tell your guests that the tradition of the upside-down Christmas tree has been around for centuries. Read all about it here


However you choose to decorate your tree this year (or even if you opt not to display one), Forever Home Real Estate wishes you a safe, healthy and prosperous holiday season.


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate


On the Surface:

Which Flooring Is Best

For Your Home?


The flooring surfaces in a home — carpet, tile, hardwood or a wood alternative — play a vital role not only in a home’s resale value but also in the long-term enjoyment of the people who currently live there. 


Surfaces also are among the trickiest purchasing decisions, because they are so personal. For example, if you own a dog, carpeting or hardwood is bound to suffer. Paws can easily scratch real wood, and urine, vomit and other bodily fluids can stain carpeting, wood and tile while also seeping into grout. 


Another consideration is the space in which the floor is located. Ceramic tiles can crack if something is dropped on them, which might eliminate that surface option in a busy family kitchen, and allergens can linger in carpeting, even after repeat vacuuming — making any other surface more desirable in a home occupied by people with moderate to severe allergies. On the other hand, older homeowners may prefer carpeting, because it is not as easy to slip on and fall.


What follows are the four most common surface types and a few notes about each one.



For years, the vast majority of real estate professionals have said homes with hardwood floors are easier to sell, and sell for more money. Plus, wood’s natural beauty allows it to fit in with nearly any type of décor. 


Oak, maple and cherry are among the hardest and most durable woods, and you’ll likely pay a premium for exotic species such as teak or mesquite. 


Solid hardwood flooring is all wood, comes in thicknesses of 5/8 to 3/4 inches and can be sanded and refinished multiple times, according to Engineered hardwood flooring, meanwhile, “is a veneer of real wood glued to several layers of wood underneath, like plywood,” the website says. “This gives engineered wood excellent stability over time.” 


As mentioned earlier, though, wood is expensive, and it scratches. It also is susceptible to changes in humidity, which can cause cupping or even buckling. 


Wood Alternatives 

Once you note the price of wood flooring (Google “hardwood floor suppliers”), alternatives such as luxury planks and laminate might appeal more to budget-conscious homeowners — especially if you’re planning to cover large surface areas.  


Luxury vinyl planks look and feel like real wood but are water-, stain- and scratch-resistant. Similarly, laminate flooring looks like wood but does not scratch or stain; some less-expensive laminates, however, also are not waterproof.


Luxury vinyl planks (or vinyl tiles) do not come in sheets like the vinyl flooring of yesteryear; they come in actual planks (and tiles). And, thanks to technology, they “can be made to authentically mimic both the look and the texture of real wood or stone products,” according to The surface also wears like iron and is suitable for any room. 


Laminate is durable, too, but it is a composite product consisting of multiple layers fused together, and many laminates closely resemble real wood. As with luxury vinyl planks, installation and maintenance are easy, and the surface works well in nearly every room. On the other hand, laminate flooring can be slippery, noisy and is not able to be refinished (like wood). 



Not all homeowners can afford — or even want — hardwood floors. Today’s carpeting is more versatile than ever, with frieze carpet among the top choices. Frieze is a tightly twisted carpet that makes it more durable and ideal for casual rooms with high foot traffic: family rooms, bedrooms, hallways. 


The great thing about carpeting is that if the frieze style is not for you, there are plenty of other types from which to choose, including plush, textured and pattern. 


The fact that carpeting might need to be replaced more often than other surfaces also affords you the option of installing any color you want for as long as you live in the home, and then replacing it with a more neutral color before putting the house on the market. 



Both ceramic and porcelain tile provide a clean and contemporary look. Porcelain is harder, denser, tougher and less porous than ceramic tile — making it ideal for bathrooms, laundry rooms and other moisture-prone areas, according to home improvement icon Bob Vila. Ceramic tile is less dense, softer and more porous than its porcelain counterpart. As a result, the best places for porcelain tiles are the worst places for ceramic tile. Instead, opt for ceramic in areas with low to moderate foot traffic. 


Other surface options include bamboo flooring, which is less expensive but also less durable than hardwood, and it scratches even easier. Then there’s cork flooring, an environmentally friendly alternative to wood that also is a bit softer, quieter and more shock-absorbent than just about anything other than carpet. 


Again, the decision of which type of flooring to install can be just as personal as color schemes and decorating styles. Try not to be too trendy, though. (Gray wood floors might look cool now, but will they be viewed the same as gray walls five years from now?)


Choose a surface that appeals to your own personal preferences, but keep in mind that flooring must be in good condition — and desirable to the masses — when it’s time to sell the home. Potential buyers will walk away if they’re turned off by the surfaces. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate


Guest Blog: Three Steps for Choosing a
Moving Company 


By Gabriel Merchan,


Considering moving to Madison, Wisconsin? You're not alone. 


Because the moving process can be very stressful, there's always the option of hiring a moving company. Here are three quick pointers to keep in mind to help you choose the right one. 


1. The first step is to know your budget. Moving companies come in all shapes and sizes, and will likewise have varying price levels. For example, one company might only offer transportation services, while another will offer to help pack your things for you and possibly even store them until the moving process is finished. Additionally, many moving companies have different types of charges, such as by the hour, moving materials, labor, etc. 


2. Making sure that your items are properly protected during the move is another thing to look out for, as you may want to insure some of your more valuable or special items in case something unfortunate were to happen to them. Knowing what specific services you need and your mover of choice's pricing guidelines will help you narrow down your choices more effectively.

3. Another thing to be aware of when choosing a moving company is its reputation. This particular detail can be a little tough to get complete information on, depending on the specifics of your move. The simplest way to gauge a company's reputation is by word of mouth and customer reviews, although the accuracy of the information is not guaranteed. You can also check if the company in question holds any licenses or certifications that can provide more legitimacy to their services, but many states don't require moving companies to be licensed. If this is a concern, you may want to consider an interstate moving company, since they require federal licensing to operate. You could also check with the American Moving & Storage Association, which hosts a list of state and international movers' associations. 

While these are just a few details to keep in mind when choosing a moving company, there is definitely more nuance to the process. If you want to dive deeper into the matter, visit


Lower Interest Rates Mean New Opportunities for

Homeowners, Buyers 


In mid-September, the Federal Reserve lowered its benchmark interest rate by a quarter percentage point — the second drop in two months, with another one likely by year’s end, economists predict. The move bumped the rate to just shy of 2 percent and is expected to reduce borrowing costs on credit cards, auto loans and — yes — adjustable-rate mortgages and home-equity lines. 


As noted, “[f]ederal funds and mortgage rates are not directly linked. Rather, the economy, the Fed and inflation all have some influence over long-term fixed mortgage rates, which generally are pegged to yields on U.S. Treasury notes. … The average 30-year fixed rate is now close to four percent, according to Bankrate, although that remains relatively low compared to recent years.” 


This means that it could be a good idea to consider buying a new home or refinancing an existing home loan sometime between now and the end of the year. 


“Cutting your monthly mortgage payment by $150 a month might be the pay raise you didn’t otherwise get,” Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate, told 


Interest, regardless of its rate, often is overlooked by home buyers, in large part because it typically is calculated into monthly payments at the time of financing. The reality, though, is that with an interest rate of 4 percent, a homeowner will pay almost $180,000 in interest on a $250,000 home over the course of 30 years. 


That’s an eye-opener. 


Earlier in 2019, the interest rate was 4.25 percent, which put the amount of interest paid on the above example at $192,746. In 2018, interest rates hit 4.5 percent ($206,000 in interest costs). 


Click here to calculate other interest rates. 


Still, today’s interest rates are a far cry from those paid by homeowners in the early 1980s, when interest rates on a 30-year mortgage approached 19 percent. 


Fed leaders characterized the recent rate cuts as “insurance to protect the economy against the global slowdown and worsening trade war,” according to The Washington Post, which added that the Fed traditionally cuts interest rates to guard against an economic downturn and encourage more borrowing and spending in the economy.


Understanding and interpreting the finicky nature of the interest rate can be challenging for home buyers and homeowners, and I recommend speaking with a local lender about what it all means for you, as well as where the interest rate might be headed — both in the short term and the long term. If you don’t know any lenders, I’ll be happy to recommend some. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Madison, Wisconsin, Tops Another List:
Greatest College Football Town

On the heels of naming Madison, Wis., the third-best place to live in the United States, Sports Illustrated has named the city “College Football’s Greatest College Town.” Here's their take:


Nestled around Lakes Mendota and Monona, Madison is about as picturesque as it gets, and the Terrace at Memorial Union on campus at the University of Wisconsin might be the most delightful spot in the Midwest — at least four months out of the year. And when it’s too cold to take advantage of the lakes, Madison offers a great food and bar scene — drink Spotted Cow while you’re within the Wisconsin state lines — plus, it’s worthwhile to freeze for a late-season football game here.


Emphasizing the “football” angle of the ranking, independent sports blog added that “Camp Randall Stadium is a historically inhospitable place for visiting teams. Wisconsin has sprung a number of upsets over the years at home, and it is incredibly tough to come in and win there as an opponent.”


For the record, Madison beat out Athens, Ga. (No. 2); Austin, Texas (No. 3) and fellow Big Ten cities Ann Arbor, Mich. (No. 4) and Columbia, Mo. (No. 5) to claim the top spot. 


But this isn’t the first time Madison has topped a list of the best college football cities. In 2016, made Madtown its No. 1 choice— proclaiming that “[t]here's no shortage of activities and excitement in Madison, from the great outdoors to the still-great indoors. The town is a melting pot of all walks of life, and everyone comes together to create one of the sport's most famous atmospheres when the Badgers are playing in Camp Randall.” and also have ranked Madison at the top of their lists in recent years.


Several elements of the Badger game-day experience have garnered national attention, too: 


Last fall, the Chicago Tribune, based in a state with two Big Ten universities, named the Madison scene the conference’s second-best game-day experience, behind only Penn State. “Wisconsin has it all,” according to the ranking. “When ‘Jump Around’ blasts at Camp Randall before the fourth quarter and the stadium literally starts rocking, you know you’re at one of the Big Ten’s best parties. … Even when the weather turns cold, Badgers fans remain loyal and jovial. They even stick around for the postgame celebration with the marching band, known as ‘The Fifth Quarter.’”


“Jump Around” may be a beloved tradition among the Badger faithful, but the rest of the country seems pretty intrigued by what we do between the third and fourth quarters, too. Television broadcasters love to talk about the entire stadium shaking as fans “jump around” while the 1992 hit by the hip-hop group House of Pain blares, and it’s been considered the best college football tradition by several sources over the years. Badger fans celebrated 20 years of “Jump Around” fun last season. 


Camp Randall doesn’t have an official parking lot, but ranked Madison’s tailgating scene third-best in the country in 2017, citing plenty of “booze and brats.” included Doty Dumpling’s Dowry on North Frances Street on its 2019 list of “Greatest College Town Eats”(No. 3), giving a special shout-out to the fried cheese curds. 


The Wisconsin Badgers home opener is Sept. 7 against Central Michigan, followed by six more games at Camp Randall between Sept. 21 and Nov. 23. 


(Photo via 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Destination Madison: Why This City Ranks as One of the
'Best Places to Live' in the USA 

Madison, Wisconsin, regularly lands on various “best cities” lists. So it’s no surprise that ranked the state’s capital city No. 3 on its 2019 “Top 100 Best Places to Live” list — behind only Raleigh, N.C., and Boise, Idaho. 


“Madison has a reputation as one of the best college towns in the country (and one of the best places for recent college grads), but [it] has so much more to offer,” reads the writeup about our favorite city. “The university means there’s a vibrant, funky and youthful vibe to most everything that happens here, but you’ll find young families strolling Capitol Square alongside local politicians.


“The food scene is stellar, from cheap eats to fine dining, with a wide range of styles and flavors,” continues. “There is plenty of green space within the city … but it’s also within 50 miles of 21 state parks, forests and recreation areas.”


The site gives shout-outs to such prime destinations as the Dane County Farmers’ Market, the Babcock Hall Dairy Store, the Union Terrace, and Olbrich Botanical Gardens


But why stop there? 


Here are five more reasons why Madison belongs on every “best places to live” list: 


1. Breese Stevens Field

Although it opened as a baseball stadium in the mid-1920s and eventually was abandoned (and almost bulldozed), this scenic venue now provides a major home-field advantage for the Madison Radicals professional ultimate team, the USL League One’s Forward Madison FC and multiple high school teams. It also hosts festivals and concerts every summer and has become a focal point of the city’s revitalized East Washington Avenue corridor. 


2. Henry Vilas Zoo

Madison offers one of North America's only free-admission, community-supported zoos. The history of this 28-acre facility dates back to 1911, and the zoo is open year-round (even on many holidays). 


3. The Lakes

Madison is built on an isthmus, but the city is surrounded by five lakes — Mendota, Monona, Kegonsa, Waubesa and Wingra — each boasting a colorful history. And it goes without saying that there’s no shortage of boating, fishing, sailing, standup paddleboarding and swimming opportunities. Madison also offers more than a dozen parks and beaches. 


4. A Broad Range of Citywide and Neighborhood Festivals

From major annual downtown events on the Capitol Square such as Art Fair on the Square and Taste of Madison to the World’s Largest Brat Fest, and from neighborhood festivals like Atwood Fest, the Orton Park Festival and Fete de Marquette to more specialized events such as Madison Vegan FestAfrica Fest, the Disability Pride Festival, the Wisconsin Book Festival and the Madison Winter Festival, this city offers year-round fun for nearly every interest and age group. Plus, Madison is the host city for such national competitions as the IRONMAN Wisconsin, the Reebok CrossFit Games and the American Family Insurance Championship (part of the men’s senior PGA Tour Champions).


5. Dane County Regional Airport

That’s right, the airport deserves a nod because of the conveniences it provides to both leisure and business travelers, with more than 100 daily arrivals and departures — including non-stop service to 19 cities. Representatives from many Dane County companies say they chose their locations based on proximity to the airport, and low-stress transportation and parking options make the Dane County Regional Airport considerably more appealing than larger airports in major metropolitan cities.  


If you’re planning to relocate, all of this might just help you decide to move here. And if you’re already a resident, consider this a gentle reminder of all that Madison offers. 


(Photo by Sofiia Gryshyna on Unsplash.) 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Does a Swimming Pool Help or Hinder Home Sales in Wisconsin? 

When Wisconsin buyers happen to find a home that includes an outdoor swimming pool, they typically react one of two ways: 


1. Holy cow! I can’t wait to see it! How cool would it be to have a pool in the backyard?


2. Next.


A pool can add $10,000 or more to a home’s asking price. That’s a lot, especially when you consider that the outdoor swimming season in Wisconsin runs only from about mid-May to mid-September.


According to data from the South-Central Wisconsin Multiple Listing Service— a network of up-to-date home listings available to an estimated 3,500 real estate professionals — among the more than 14,140 homes sold between June 1, 2018, and May 31, 2019, 146 included an outdoor in-ground pool; a total of 317 homes with an in-ground pool were placed on the market during that timeframe.


Given those low numbers, it would be a mistake to look at purchasing a home with a swimming pool as an investment you’ll recoup when it’s time for you to sell the home. Rather, consider it a personal investment in a lifestyle that has the potential to enhance your family’s health and wellbeing.


“A swimming pool can actually make your home harder to sell,” writes Dave Ramsey, author of several bestselling books about living debt-free. “Many buyers consider it a liability rather than a luxury.”


That’s especially true in a cold-weather state like Wisconsin. If I sold homes in Florida, Arizona, California or Hawaii, we wouldn’t need to have this discussion.


What follows is advice for buying and selling a home with a pool.


How Can You Leverage a Pool  When Selling Your Home? 


This may sound strange, but one of the best things you can do is close the pool and fill in the hole, a task that typically costs between $1,000 and $2,000 but could be the difference between selling your home and pulling it off the market due to lack of interest. The same approach goes for an above-ground pool, which often can be replaced with a new patio deck or fresh sod.


A buyer may make an offer contingent upon removal of the pool, but some sellers want to go ahead and remove any stigma they believe a swimming pool carries in their particular market. 


Should you opt to put your home up for sale with the pool, time the listing for late spring, when buyers are thinking about warmer weather, and when images of spending long, sunny summer weekends in the backyard with friends and family can be overwhelmingly appealing. 


Also keep the pool in tip-top condition — fix cracks in the deck and repair any chips or leaks — and make sure you have beautiful photographs of the backyard in all its glory to show would-be buyers the pool’s full potential.


What Do You Need to Know When Buying a Home With a Pool? 


As referenced earlier, if you like the home enough to put in an offer — and the only thing holding you back is the pool — think about adding a contingency that the seller remove the pool and fill it in. 


Obviously, an in-ground pool will require more maintenance, repair and operational costs than an above-ground one. But both types of pools need chemicals, and you’ll need to add a fence around the yard if one is not already in place. Pools also will significantly increase the cost of your home insurance premium. Pool owners, just like trampoline owners, face potential liability charges when someone — especially a child — is injured or drowns in their pool. 


Other questions to ask yourself: 


• Will your enthusiasm for the pool wane after you move in? In other words, does the idea of owning a pool appeal to you more than actually owning a pool? 


• How often will you use the pool? And will that amount of time decrease or increase over the years? 


• Most in-ground pools take up a good chunk of the backyard; will you miss having grass and dry areas to play and exercise the family dog? 


That said, it’s worth noting that you might be able to snag a good deal on a home with a pool that’s been on the market for several months. You just need to make sure you’re comfortable with all of the financial and liability baggage a pool brings to your life. 


In the end, there are pros and cons to houses with swimming pools, and it all comes down to personal preference. Whether you’re buying or selling, listen to your head more than your heart, and do what you believe is best. 


As always, I’m here to help you make that decision. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

5 Common Mistakes Home Sellers Make—And How to Avoid  Them

Selling your home can be just as exciting as buying one. After all, you’re taking another major life step. But the odds of someone purchasing your home quickly — or even at all — can diminish significantly if you fall into the same trap as less successful sellers.


From setting an unrealistic asking price to only considering the highest offer, here are five common mistakes to avoid.


1. Setting an unrealistic price

Don’t rely on what you think your home is worth; rather, base your asking price on what comparable homes in your neighborhood are listed at, or how much they have sold for in the recent past. Doing your homework before going public will help protect against overpricing. Similarly, if you’re not familiar with the market, you could end up undervaluing your home and setting a price that is too low — thus resulting in an overall reduced return on investment. 


2.  Not making major repairs before listing your home

Major repairs are not to be confused with upgrades and updates. Although not all improvements will be worth your time and money, recent reports suggest that the addition of a wood deck, a minor kitchen remodel and the replacement of a garage door are some of the upgrades and updates most likely to bring a decent return on investment. But keep in mind that most potential buyers will walk right past the home that needs a new roof and give much greater consideration to ones that will require easier and less-expensive fixes. My point? Repair that roof now.


3. Failing to depersonalize your home and remove clutter

This can be a tough one, especially when it comes to putting away personal photos, removing coffee table books featuring photos of your favorite U.S. president or rock musician, and hiding that stack of unopened mail and unread magazines. You don’t want your home to look lived in as much as move-in ready. Remove clutter, too — both inside and out. If that requires the short-term rental of a storage unit to house furniture that makes your home look crowded, boxes currently stored in your basement or garage, and clothes crammed into your closets, so be it. Also get rid of any unattractive foliage in the yard, trim existing bushes and tree branches, and keep the lawn green and mowed in the summer and the driveway and sidewalks clear of ice and snow in the winter — all in the name of enhancing curb appeal.


4. Only considering the highest offer

While some buyers will make appealing offers, those bids might be laced with financing or inspection contingencies that don’t favor the seller. One of the most common is that the buyer will purchase your home contingent on their current home selling within a specified time frame. Another contingency might require you to make a series of (sometimes unreasonable) repairs before the deal can be sealed. Those kinds of uncertainties or demands might make a slightly lower offer with no contingencies — or at least more flexible ones — seem more appealing. 


5. Choosing the wrong real estate agent (or, worse, going it alone)

The right real estate professional can help you set a market-ready asking price, attain widespread sales exposure, provide invaluable legal knowledge, and offer suggestions to help your home sell faster and for more money — all while bringing an added level of professionalism to the entire process. The wrong agent can do none of those things. Here are five questions to ask when searching for the best person to work with: 


• Is real estate the agent’s full-time job?

• Is the agent experienced in selling homes comparable to yours? 

• Does the agent know the community? 

• How will the agent communicate with you? 

• Is the agent licensed? 


Given all the legwork involved, why should you bother connecting with an agent instead of going it alone? Consider this: The number of “for sale by owner” transactions fell to a record low 7 percent of all home sales in 2018, down from 8 percent the previous year, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. 


When you’re serious about selling your home, make every effort to sidestep these pitfalls and then watch the offers roll in. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

5 Common Mistakes Homebuyers Make—And How to Avoid  Them

Try hiding your excitement from others about buying a new home. It’s tough, isn’t it? But in the midst of that excitement, it’s easy to overlook key steps along the way that will significantly ease the purchasing process. 


From unrealistic expectations about how much house you can afford to failing to hire the right home inspector, here are five common no-nos to avoid. 


1. Don’t forgo obtaining your own buyer’s agent. 

This is a biggie, and not just because I’m an agent. Too often, buyers searching for houses without a real estate professional they’ve established as their agent must work with the agent who showed them the listing. Even if they never met the agent before or don’t care for his or her approach, they are locked into purchasing with that individual. Take the time to find a buyer’s agent you like and trust before touring too many homes. This person will work on your behalf to find potential homes that fit your needs, lifestyle and bank account, as well as steer you toward credible lenders, give you the heads-up when new homes hit the market and hand you the keys when the deal is sealed. In other words, your buyer’s agent will be with you every step of the way. 


2. Don't neglect the preapproval process.

Getting preapproved for a mortgage before you start looking for a home in earnest gives you a clear idea of how much you can afford to spend and helps determine the type of homes available in your market that you can afford. Plus, in the Madison, Wis., market, many times offers to purchase aren’t even considered without a preapproval letter. When seeking preapproval, don’t necessarily chose a lender based on where you already bank. Lender fees, rates, services and loan products vary, so give yourself time to shop around. 


3. Don't be unrealistic and inflexible.

Once you know how much home you can buy (based on the preapproval process), set realistic goals. If your budget is $300,000 and you’re looking for a home in south-central Wisconsin, don’t expect to find homes within your price range like the ones you fell in love with while binge-watching HGTV last weekend. Additionally, keep your wish list flexible and be willing to compromise on such things as amenities and color schemes. The more open-minded you are, the greater your chances of being pleasantly surprised during the search process. 


4. Don’t make mistakes with inspections.

This applies both to choosing the right inspector and making sure you don’t ask too much (or too little) of the homeowner, based on the inspection’s findings. Chances are the house you intend to purchase has not undergone a full-scale professional inspection since the seller moved in — and that could have been decades ago. An inspector is likely to find multiple minor deficiencies (a negative grade at the foundation of the house, say, or 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. But major issues — such as electrical or plumbing defects, a leaky roof or a chimney that needs relining — should be on the list of problems the seller should fix before finalizing a transaction. Trust your real estate agent to help you find an inspector who knows what he or she is doing, and then let your agent walk you through each item found during an inspection to determine how to handle it.


5. Don’t forget about the future. 

Owning a home is a long-term investment. Obviously, you will be paying a monthly mortgage, but you also must anticipate long-term maintenance and upkeep expenses. That’s why it’s critical not to buy more home than you can afford. In addition to financial considerations, think about your personal situation. Will the home in question accommodate a growing family? Might you eventually need a home office or a mother-in-law suite? Is the backyard big enough for a playset or weekend games of catch? Finally, conduct a little research about the neighborhood and its demographics. What are the school district boundaries? Is the home located along a school bus or city bus route? Is the neighborhood established or targeted for additional development? Do you see yourself being happy there five years from now? 


When you’re serious about buying a new home, keep these five “do not do” suggestions in mind to help increase the effectiveness of the process. 


Next time, common mistakes home sellers make — and how to avoid them. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

What You Need to Know about Closing Day

You’ve walked through other people’s houses more times than you can remember, but you finally found your dream home. You placed an offer, the seller accepted it and now you’re one step away from taking ownership. Welcome to closing day. 


The closing, which usually takes place at the title company, is the formal transfer of ownership from the seller to you. 

While someone affiliated with the title company will be present at the closing to guide you through the process — the real estate professional who helped you select the home will be at your side, too — it’s helpful for you to know what to expect. 


Below are four common questions I receive about closing day, along with answers to help you plan accordingly. 


1. What should I do before the closing?

These are the two biggies: 


• Review the closing disclosure document and the ALTA Settlement Statement. The closing document will be provided by your lender outlining the mortgage loan you selected. It includes the loan terms, projected monthly payments, and fees and other costs associated with your mortgage. Compare those parameters with the ones provided in your loan estimate, which you should have received after completing your loan application. The ALTA Settlement Statement, provided by the American Land Title Association, itemizes all the fees and charges that both the buyer and seller face during the settlement process of the transaction.


• Request a formal walk-through of the home you’re purchasing 24 hours prior to the closing and make sure that established contingencies have been met regarding repairs and other issues. At this time, you’ll be able to determine if it is in the condition described in the purchasing contract. If you don’t feel completely comfortable with the deal, consult with your real estate professional regarding your options. 


2. What should I bring to the closing? 

Most of the documents you need will be provided to you at the closing. However, you will be required to show identification (a driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID should work). You also should bring your checkbook and your best signature. At the closing, you will pay closing costs — including fees associated with the mortgage and transfer of property ownership. You also will sign lots of paperwork. 


3. What can I expect at the closing? 

Lots of paperwork. Freddie Mac, a government-sponsored entity that makes affordable mortgages available to low- and middle-income buyers, provides details about the key documents you will be signing on its website. They include the closing disclosure, a promissory note indicating you agree to repay the loan according to the terms previously discussed, a deed of trust that gives the lender permission to foreclose on the property if you fail to make loan payments, and affidavits and declarations that verify all the information you provide is true and that all agreed-upon repairs to the property were made prior to closing. You also might be asked to sign other documents, including a certificate of occupancy if you are buying a newly built home. 


4. Who will be present at the closing and how long will it last? 

The answer to this one varies, but typically the setting involves a closing agent, the lender, your real estate agent, the seller and the seller’s real estate agent. Most closings take no longer than an hour, and — unless previously agreed to between you and the seller — you will take immediate possession of the home. 


Keep in mind that your real estate professional will prepare you for the finer points of your closing, as well as apprise you of any special circumstances related to your specific transaction. Closing day can be a time of major anxiety but also one of great excitement. And when it’s over, you will leave with a new set of keys in your pocket. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Should  You Buy an Older House? 

“Older” is one of those subjective terms that can complicate the home-buying process. Just a couple years ago, financial advice website defined an older home as one built prior to 1990. For other people, an older home might be 50, 70 or 100 years old. 


For the purposes of this post (and to make things easy), let’s define an “older” home as one constructed before 1970.


The older the home, the more charm it often possesses — especially if its previous owners maintained it well over the decades. Grand fireplaces, warm wood floors, quirky windows, built-in bookshelves, elegant trim, uncommon floor plans, ornate exteriors, expansive porches and other unconventional characteristics can make old homes more desirable than contemporary ones to some buyers. 


Here are three key reasons to consider purchasing an older home: 


1. Affordability 

Older homes can cost less upfront than newer homes, because they sometimes offer more wiggle room in the negotiating process. Additionally, older homes remain in high demand because of their numerous charms. Yet because they also are in “relatively short supply, you have a good chance to sell your place for more than you paid for it (as long as it’s well-maintained, of course),” according to online insurance provider “This is especially true if your place features rare architecture or vintage design that’s hard to come by in modern homes.” 

2. Location

Decades ago, many homes were built near the center of town. Thus, they’re usually within walking distance of a downtown district and situated in established (and often eclectic) neighborhoods. Conversely, other older homes can be located off the beaten path. The desirable distance from the hustle and bustle of modern living can be tempting to many homebuyers. 


3. Sturdiness

“Established houses are built to last, and many aspects of the construction cannot be reproduced today,” according to “Older homes might be built with wood made from old-growth trees (trees that attained great age by not being significantly disturbed) and therefore more resistant to rot and warping. Even the walls are likely different. In an older home they’re probably built with plaster and lathe, making them structurally stronger than the drywall construction of modern homes. These older materials also provide a better sound barrier and insulation.”


Similarly, here are three questions to ask before you take out that mortgage:


1. How old is old?

Many homes built decades ago might contain outdated heating and plumbing systems, potentially problematic wiring and other components that don’t comply with current building codes and will need replaced. The home you’re considering also might lack energy-efficient upgrades. Such required maintenance and upkeep can significantly drive up the cost of ownership. 


2. How much storage space do you need?

In an older house, the basement might be cramped and maybe still have a dirt floor, closets could be configured in odd shapes, narrow rooms might limit space options, and the garage — if there even is a garage — likely will only hold one vehicle. People possess different (and more) belongings today than homeowners of previous generations, and finding a place to store them in an older home could prove challenging and possibly problematic. 


3. How many big trees are in the area?

The bigger the tree, the older it is, and the older it is, the more its expansive roots might be wandering around underground. “As they go hunting for water and nutrients, roots expand and grow, causing problems throughout the surrounding property,” notes “Roots can extend three times farther than the tree’s foliage” and negatively impact nearby home foundations, pavement, and pipes or utility lines — leading to more unforeseen costs. 


While older homes offer many advantages, they also can pose complications you may not realize until it’s too late. Be sure to consider all angles before purchasing a long-established piece of property, and consult a real estate professional to discuss the pros and cons. As always, I’m here to help. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Resist the Urge to Be Trendy in 2019 

If this is the year you plan to remodel the kitchen, give rooms a fresh coat of paint or try out a new interior decorating scheme, here’s a word to the wise: Resist trying to be trendy. 


Just because certain colors or styles are "in" right now doesn’t mean they will be popular in a few years or — more importantly — desirable to future buyers should you put your home on the market.


For example, cool gray tones (which have been trendy for the past several years) are becoming a thing of the past, according to interior designers. Stark white and warmer neutrals are back in vogue. Also on the way out is so-called “industrial chic.” Exposed pipes, beams and caged lighting lack the warmth of more traditional interior styles, experts say.  


In both of those cases, trendiness appears to have given way once again to timelessness. 


Here are three reasons to give strong consideration to going classic this year: 


1. You’ll save money in the long run.

Jumping on a design bandwagon can be expensive and exhausting. It’s easy to go overboard, over-enhancing a room with pricy furniture and accessories, too many colors or photo gallery walls. Less can be more: It can reduce the pressure on your budget, make a bigger impact on guests and help boost your home’s resale value simply because of the timeless factor. If you want to be trendy, go with less expensive accents — such as lamps, fixtures and artwork, which are easier to swap out than large pieces of furniture or entire décor schemes.


2. You won’t have to redo everything in three years. 

Once you give in to the pressure to follow trends, you’ll feel the need to keep up. That likely means redoing rooms — or even your entire home — every three to five years. “Think twice before choosing that expensive splashy pink velvet tufted sofa as the centerpiece in your living room (unless you have the money to replace it in a year or two)” warns Kathleen Field, owner of Utah-based Lindsay Hill Interiors. “Instead, opt for a classic neutral linen tufted sofa, and spice it up with pink velvet pillows and trendy throws.” 


3. You’ll be happier.

Remember that old cliché about failing to keep up with the Joneses? Your home should reflect who you are, not what some television show, magazine article or website dictates. If you’re a person who loves eclecticism — and you don’t plan on moving for several more years or resale value is of no concern — create your own type of trendiness. If, on the other hand, resale value is just as critical of a factor as personal lifestyle in your design strategy, go with something you don’t think will be tired and overdone by this time next year. In short, don’t focus so heavily on what’s “in” that it takes away from the enjoyment of living in your own home. You won’t fail to keep up with the Joneses, because you’re not even trying. And that’s a good thing. 


Doing away with the old and bringing in the new can be one of the most exciting aspects of home ownership. But be sure to give serious thought to the changes you’re considering. After all, you don’t want that excitement now to lead to regret later. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Movie Homes for the Holidays 

It’s the holidays, and if you’re binge-watching Christmas movies, you might wonder what happened to the homes featured in some of the most legendary films of the season. 


Remember the 250 strands of lights in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? Or the staircase that 8-year-old Kevin McCallister whooshed down on his sled in Home Alone? Or when Ralphie Parker’s dad opened that crate containing the infamous leg lamp in A Christmas Story


Were those homes even real? And do they still exist? We wanted to find out. 


National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

The Griswold family’s traditional clapboard house was not located in suburban Chicago, where the 1989 movie was set. Rather, last we heard, it was still on the backlot of the Warner Bros. Ranch facility in Burbank, Calif. 


“Due to the fact that the residence is used for filming on a regular basis (it has appeared in American Beauty, ER, Moonlight, Pleasantville, Small Soldiers, and a series of 2012 Christmas Vacation-themed Old Navy commercials, to name a few), its facade has been changed repeatedly throughout the years and is now almost unrecognizable from the time that Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase) hung lights there in 1989,” according to Los Angeles Magazine“Though the general shape of the dwelling remains, the Griswold’s green shutters, peaked portico, arched dormers and bay windows are gone.”

The spirit of the Griswold home lives on in Wadsworth, Ohio, where every year Greg Osterland decorates his own home with 250,000 tiny twinkle lights — just like Clark Griswold did in Christmas Vacation. He begins the process in October with family and friends. Osterland, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at age 6, also accepts optional donations for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation from visitors who come from near and far to witness his handiwork. 

Incidentally, the home’s holiday interior decorations include handmade props that mimic scenes from the movie, including Aunt Bethany's Jell-O mold, an oversized tree and a faux squirrel. 


Home Alone

Another famous Christmas movie set in Illinois, 1990’s Home Alone, was filmed at an actual mini-mansion in Winnetka, Ill. In 2012, the four-bedroom, four-bathroom home sold for $1,595 million and has been significantly remodeled over the years, according to a 2014 report in USA Today


For example, the thick wallpaper and maroon carpet on those slippery stairs have been replaced with much more contemporary decor, and many other parts of the house are unrecognizable from the film


Despite all the changes to the original home, the movie remains at or near the top of many people’s “Best Christmas Movie Ever” lists. “Science has proven that the John Hughes-penned, Chris Columbus-directed classic … is the ultimate filmic Yule affair in a number of surveys and experiments conducted by illustrious institutions the world over,” James Clayton recently proclaimed on “The brightest mathematicians specializing in motion picture data analysis, statistics and logic have all concurrently come to the same conclusion — that it's impossible to top the story which has latchkey kid Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) taking on two thieves on Holy Night.”


He’s not exaggerating. 

A Christmas Story

Although set in the fictional city of Hohman, Ind., 1983’s A Christmas Story featured a yellow Victorian home in Cleveland that was used for exterior shots and several interior scenes, including the one with that leg lamp.


Today, that house has been restored to its “movie splendor” and is open year round for public tours and overnight stays. Across the street, A Christmas Story Museum showcases original props, memorabilia from the film and hundreds of rare, behind-the-scenes photos. 


Brian Jones, a San Diego entrepreneur and longtime fan of the film, bought the home in 2004 on eBay for $150,000. “Jones used revenue from his business, the Red Rider Leg Lamp Company, which manufactures replicas of the ‘major award’ Ralphie's father won in the film, for the down payment,” according to the house’s Wikipedia page. “The previous owners had reconfigured the house, installing modern windows and covering the original wood siding with blue vinyl. Watching the movie frame by frame, Jones drew detailed plans of the interiors, which had originally been filmed on a Toronto soundstage, and spent $240,000 to gut the structure, reconfigure it to a single-family dwelling, transform it into a near-replica of the movie set, and restore the exterior to its appearance in the film.”  


In another indication of the film’s rabid fandom, Jason Middaugh of Syracuse, N.Y., used existing LEGO pieces to build the Parker home and submitted it to LEGO, which has not yet agreed to accept it as a product idea. That said, he continues to generate online support for the design here.  


If you just can’t get enough of holiday movies, here’s a link to this season’s “Ultimate Holiday Viewing Guide.” After all, there’s no place like home for the holidays. 


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

Do You Need  Flood Insurance?

Unprecedented flooding in Dane County, Wis., in August and September resulted in an unusually high number of requests for information about homeowners’ flood insurance. That’s a topic we don’t typically need to address in this state, but Katy Lea, who runs The Lea Agency LLC, an American Family Insurance office in DeForest, says she fielded calls from several area residents whose homes were damaged by the floods. 


“Flood insurance is usually only on people’s radar if they live in a flood zone,” she says. “And some people who weren’t in a flood zone but whose home still flooded last summer unfortunately didn’t know flooding wasn’t a covered peril. Flood insurance requires a policy separate from a homeowner’s policy.” (If it’s not obvious whether your home — or the home you’re considering purchasing — is in a flood zone, click here.)


Every homeowner’s insurance policy covers you against certain perils that could result in loss or destruction. A flood (unless caused by a backed-up sewer or drain) usually is not a covered peril in Wisconsin. 


Adding flood insurance likely will cost you $1,000 (or more) per year on top of your existing premium, Lea says. Unlike with general homeowner’s insurance, though, policyholders are allowed to choose coverage amounts and designate what specifically is covered — such as a finished basement. 


Flood insurance is most commonly provided by the federally supported National Flood Insurance Program. Although she provided more price quotes than usual for flood insurance, Lea says she did not sell many new policies. Rather, the increased interest served as an opportunity for Lea to not only boost awareness to clients about how flood insurance works but also to remind them to review their current homeowner’s policy. 


“If you don’t want to insure for risk of flood, be aware you may need to incur out-of-pocket expenses in case of a flood,” Lea says. “It’s also a good idea to review your policy with your insurance agent at least once every three years. That way, you’ll know what is covered and what isn’t covered, plus you’ll be able to assess risk and explore other options.”


— By Michael Popke exclusively for Forever Home Real Estate

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.” 



— 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) — (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) — (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) — (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) — (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) — (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) — (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 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 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


— 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

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

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

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

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
What does the inside of your home look like this season? Email me your photos to; 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, 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, 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 “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 “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 “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. and 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 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 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. 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, 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,” 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 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 “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 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, 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 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:



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.



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, 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 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







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