What Are Comps? Understanding a Key Real Estate Tool

Whether you’re buying or selling a home, comparing similar homes can yield a wealth of helpful information.

“Comps,” or comparable sales, is a term anyone on either side of a real estate transaction should know well. It refers to homes located in the same area and very similar in size, condition and features as the home you are trying to buy or sell.

Buyers look at comps when deciding what price to offer on a home, and sellers use comps to figure out how to best price their home for the market. Real estate agents look at comps all day long as a way to keep on top of their local market. If you are a buyer or seller, it’s helpful to have a strategy to analyze comps, because all comps aren’t created equal.

Location is the highest priority

If you are trying to price a home or figure out its value, you need to look nearby. The market is based on location, so keeping as close to the subject property as possible — meaning, within the same neighborhood — is the most effective approach.

If you can’t get enough comps nearby, it’s fine to keep expanding out. But there will always be a boundary, like a school district, that you need to stay within.

Timeframe matters

The best comps are homes that are currently “pending.” Why? Because a pending home is a piece of live market data. A pending home means that a buyer and seller made a deal, and that deal will reflect the most up-to-the-minute stats on the market.

A good local real estate agent, leveraging her network, can get a fairly accurate idea what the ultimate sale price or range is for a pending deal. Try to stick with sales in the past three months, and never go more than six months, because older data is not reflective of the current market.

Factor in home features

Once you have location and timeframe, it is key to look for homes with similar features that have sold, as opposed to comparing price per square feet. While the latter is helpful, it won’t consider factors like views, a new designer kitchen or a finished basement vs. unfinished.

If you have all three bedrooms on the top floor, look for something similar. Try to compare your subject property to like properties when it comes to traits like total size, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and the size of the lot. You can make adjustments once you have found similar homes.

Don’t overanalyze the comps

Putting your trust in a good local agent will keep you from agonizing over the petty details of each comparable home. Your agent is likely familiar with some of the recent sales, and can help shed light on why one comp fares better than another. You may not know that one home was next to a fire station or across from a parking lot, or that another didn’t have a real backyard, but your agent will. These small nuances will affect the home’s value.

Find your home on Zillow to see your Zestimate® home value with your comps.

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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Source: zillow.com

What Are Comps? Understanding a Key Real Estate Tool

Whether you’re buying or selling a home, comparing similar homes can yield a wealth of helpful information.

“Comps,” or comparable sales, is a term anyone on either side of a real estate transaction should know well. It refers to homes located in the same area and very similar in size, condition and features as the home you are trying to buy or sell.

Buyers look at comps when deciding what price to offer on a home, and sellers use comps to figure out how to best price their home for the market. Real estate agents look at comps all day long as a way to keep on top of their local market. If you are a buyer or seller, it’s helpful to have a strategy to analyze comps, because all comps aren’t created equal.

Location is the highest priority

If you are trying to price a home or figure out its value, you need to look nearby. The market is based on location, so keeping as close to the subject property as possible — meaning, within the same neighborhood — is the most effective approach.

If you can’t get enough comps nearby, it’s fine to keep expanding out. But there will always be a boundary, like a school district, that you need to stay within.

Timeframe matters

The best comps are homes that are currently “pending.” Why? Because a pending home is a piece of live market data. A pending home means that a buyer and seller made a deal, and that deal will reflect the most up-to-the-minute stats on the market.

A good local real estate agent, leveraging her network, can get a fairly accurate idea what the ultimate sale price or range is for a pending deal. Try to stick with sales in the past three months, and never go more than six months, because older data is not reflective of the current market.

Factor in home features

Once you have location and timeframe, it is key to look for homes with similar features that have sold, as opposed to comparing price per square feet. While the latter is helpful, it won’t consider factors like views, a new designer kitchen or a finished basement vs. unfinished.

If you have all three bedrooms on the top floor, look for something similar. Try to compare your subject property to like properties when it comes to traits like total size, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and the size of the lot. You can make adjustments once you have found similar homes.

Don’t overanalyze the comps

Putting your trust in a good local agent will keep you from agonizing over the petty details of each comparable home. Your agent is likely familiar with some of the recent sales, and can help shed light on why one comp fares better than another. You may not know that one home was next to a fire station or across from a parking lot, or that another didn’t have a real backyard, but your agent will. These small nuances will affect the home’s value.

Find your home on Zillow to see your Zestimate® home value with your comps.

Related:

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Source: zillow.com

3 Situations Where It Pays to Buy a Fixer-Upper

You finally found “the house,” but it needs some work. Will it be a money pit or a money maker?

It’s every home buyer’s worst nightmare: Finding a house within striking distance — of your price range and work— that quickly turns into a money pit.

On the flip side of the fixer-upper experience is someone like Jordan Brannon, a director of digital strategy in Spanaway, WA, near Tacoma. Although he’s sunk considerable money into his two-story, late-1990s home, he feels it was a good investment.

“It was about finding a home that we could add value to — and could purchase at a below-market rate,” he says of his 3,000-square-foot home. But there was one crucial caveat: “The fixer-upper work that we wanted to do, we had to be able to do.”

While that fixer-upper you’ve got your eye on may not be the steal you’re expecting — the average fixer-upper lists for just eight percent less than market value, according to a new analysis from Zillow — it’s still a tempting prospect for many buyers.

Should you make a fixer-upper your next home? Here are three scenarios where the answer may be “Yes!”

When the upgrades are simple

Knowing that hiring contractors was out of the question — in part because Brannon works from home — Brannon and his wife focused on finding a home they could revamp themselves.

This meant forgoing homes with any foundation, electrical, or plumbing issues, and eyeing properties where cosmetic upgrades were the name of the game.

This isn’t to say the couple didn’t put in a lot of hard work; the project took nearly three months.

“We basically gutted the first floor down to drywall — did a full repaint, with all new trim; replaced the kitchen cabinets and countertops, and added new light fixtures and door handles,” Brannon says. New toilets and sinks are recent installments.

“The home looks 10 years younger, and feels cleaner and brighter,” Brannon remarks. “We’re more comfortable living in it, and I’m confident we’ve made an improvement in the home’s resale value.”

Combined estimates from contractors put the value of the improvements around $55,000, minus one bathroom. Altogether, Brannon says the couple spent about $15,000 on the work, plus 240 hours in labor (yes, he’s been tracking). For Brannon, it was a worthwhile endeavor.

When the numbers add up

“Fixer uppers [only] make sense as long as the numbers pencil out,” says George Vanderploeg, a luxury real estate broker with Douglas Elliman in New York. In other words, “Is the money that I have to put into it going to make the property worth at least that much when I do it?”

In general, people will price a property based on what others sell for, Vanderploeg explains. “If I were just to pick a block in Manhattan, say on 63rd Street, between Lexington and Third Avenue, the renovated townhouses there might sell for $3,000 per square foot,” he continues. “An un-renovated townhouse might sell for maybe $2,000 per square foot. If you have the money to put in, it may all work out.”

Of course, for many home buyers, especially those without a big — or any— renovations budget, this is easier said than done.

When the timing is right

Every municipality has a building code, says Vanderploeg, and the work that you do on the home must fall within legal bounds. “An architect usually will supervise the work, and then at the end of the process, they’ll sign off on it,” he says. However, this can be time-consuming.

You can also run into hurdles if your contractor falls behind schedule, has trouble staying on budget, or is just unreliable. “Where people go wrong sometimes is having a bad contractor,” says Vanderploeg.

If you’re unable to live in the home or get stuck waiting for permits, you could also find yourself in a bind. “Sometimes we have to find people a place to live for six months to a year while they’re waiting for something to be finished,” Vanderploeg adds.

For these reasons alone, homeowners need to be clear-eyed about the renovation process.

Remember, committing to upgrade a fixer-upper is more than a labor of love — it requires a time and financial commitment. But if you’re willing to go all in, think about the bragging rights!

Hear about one family’s fixer-upper experience:

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Top image from Zillow listing.

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Source: zillow.com

Why Is My Lender Asking About My Race on My Loan Application?

It may seem odd, but the government requests this personal information for two important reasons.

At some point in the mortgage application process, you’ll get asked questions about your race, ethnicity, gender, and age. Being asked to provide this information can often raise a question of your own: Why?

Let’s answer that question now.

Clearing up anti-discrimination laws

A law called the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) enacted in 1974 makes it illegal for lenders to discriminate based on race, national origin, gender, age, marital status, or because one receives public assistance.

Another law called the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) enacted in 1975 requires lenders to collect, report, and disclose a long list of data about mortgages they originate, including each borrower’s race, ethnicity, gender, and age. This HMDA data helps regulators determine if lenders are serving the housing needs of their communities, identify possible discriminatory lending patterns, and assist public officials in making community housing investment decisions.

So ECOA says lenders can’t use race, ethnicity, gender, and age to make loan decisions. And HMDA says lenders must ask for race, ethnicity, gender, and age to monitor for discriminatory patterns.

How are these questions asked in the loan process?

A form called the Universal Residential Mortgage Application contains all of the borrower questions required by federal law.

Your age is obtained by requesting your date of birth.

Race, ethnicity, and gender are requested in a specific categorical format required by federal law.

The fine print of this section in a loan application contains three concepts that are especially important:

  • You are not required to provide this information, but are encouraged by the government to do so.
  • The law provides that a lender may not discriminate either on the basis of this information, or on whether you choose to furnish it.
  • If you’ve made the application in person and do not furnish ethnicity, race, or gender, federal law requires your lender to note the information on the basis of visual observation and last name.

You should also note that as technology streamlines your application process, these questions may not be asked or visually presented in this format — but they will be asked.

Changes to these questions coming soon

HMDA rules are enforced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the CFPB has already made new laws to improve HMDA data collection. The new laws go into effect on January 1, 2018.

It’s worth knowing about these changes now because lenders will be working toward these changes between now and January 2018.

Revised HMDA laws fine-tune requirements for lenders when collecting race, ethnicity or gender from borrowers who choose to furnish this information versus those who choose not to furnish it.

If a borrower chooses to provide race and ethnicity under the revised laws, they will get an expanded set of categories to select from.

However, if a borrower chooses not to provide race and ethnicity when applying in person, the lender must use the same categories while following the same visual observation and last name requirements they follow today.

The CFPB ruled  that allowing borrowers to self-identify using newly expanded categories and requiring lenders to identify (when borrowers choose not to) using today’s limited categories is the best balance of consumer protection and lender regulatory burden.

What to do if you feel discrimination has occurred

As you can see, our federal regulators think deeply about consumer protection, but no law is perfect at interpreting your individual loan experience.

If you are concerned about mortgage discrimination or believe you have been discriminated against, follow the CFPB’s complaint process, or call the CFPB at 855-411-2372.

Related:

Source: zillow.com

How to Find Your Dream Home

Ready to start searching listings and hitting open houses? Save yourself some time by first identifying exactly what you need and want in a home.

You’ve been pre-approved and know what you can afford, so it’s time to start home shopping. But the hunt for your dream home will stall rapidly if you don’t know what that “dream” looks like.

It’s easy to talk in generalities about wanting a “big” house or an “older” home. But in order to better target your real estate search, you must think specifically about your dream dwelling. Will your “big” house be 2,400 square feet or 5,000? When you say “older” home, do you mean one built pre-1900, or pre-1980?

Before you visit another open house, sit down and make a list of your needs and wants — and yes, those are two different things. You may want a pool, but you probably could live without it. (Plus, it’s worth considering that having a pool could raise your home insurance costs.)

Understand that your requirements list will likely change as you learn more about your housing options. Proximity to the beach may start as a priority, for example, but once you see the size of ocean-front homes you can get in your price range, you may decide a short drive to the water is quite bearable. Unless you have an unlimited budget, it’s likely you’ll need to make compromises along the way.

Use these questions to help make your very own list of housing requirements.

Find-Your-Dream-Home-Blog-r2

You should also take time to rank specific home features as “Must Have,” “Like to Have” or “Don’t Care” using this printable checklist. Identifying your priorities will help you find the perfect property.

Once you know what you’re looking for in a home, you’ll be ready to find the right agent to partner with for your search.

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Source: zillow.com

Managing Your Money, Together

To learn more about how our Minters are achieving their financial goals, we reached out to everyday Mint users, just like you, to hear their stories. Whether it’s paying off student loans, or working toward buying a home, we’re so inspired by the dedication this community has shown in working toward your goals and dreams.

One of the Minters we connected with is Jordan. He shared with us how he’s used Mint to reach a number of his financial goals. Check out his #EmpowerMint story:

My wife and I have been interested in getting out of debt ever since the day we took on student loans. With the desire to pay those loans off, we strived to learn more about budgeting and personal finance.

As we grew in our journey, there were many financial things we questioned that felt ‘normal.’ We heard so many messages that emphasized the need to have the newest toys to be happy, that having debt is normal, and that most people live paycheck to paycheck. We realized that we didn’t feel comfortable with any of that, and that we found satisfaction in being content with what we have. 

Knowing that money issues were often a problem area for couples, my wife and I started using Mint shortly after we got married in 2010 to ensure transparency and partnership from the beginning. We found Mint to be a terrific tool for us to have a complete picture of our financial situation. During this time, I was working full-time and my wife was finishing up her last year in nursing school. Mint was an immediate help in keeping track of where our money was going and in starting budget discussions that have proved to be invaluable in our marriage. It also helped initiate discussions on both near-term and long-term goals, which have been so key in helping us plan both strategically and aspirationally. 

As time went on, Mint was instrumental in helping us achieve so many of our goals including:

  • Paying off student loans
  • Paying for grad school with cash
  • Preparing for kids
  • Starting a 529
  • Saving for a down payment
  • Buying a home

Our current goal is to complete our 15-year mortgage in under 5 years. A combination of Mint, aggressive savings, overtime shifts, and side hustles have helped put us in a position to achieve this goal within the next 12 months. Once that goal is complete, we’re excited to have a little fun and celebrate this accomplishment, and then prepare for the next chapter in our financial journey. 

In addition to this goal, we also have various net worth milestones we would like to achieve in the next 1-, 5-, and 10-year periods. We are very excited about the concept of financial independence, and would like to be in a position where we have the opportunity to focus our attention on things outside of work, such as further investing in our family and causes that are important to us. With Mint, we can see how the choices we’re making are helping move us closer to achieving these goals. 

Today, we check Mint on a daily basis in order to stay on top of our expenses and monitor for any fraudulent activity. Years ago, Mint helped me identify a fraudulent charge almost immediately, enabling me to notify our bank and get the issue resolved. Reviewing our expenses enables us to stay within our budget, catch fraudulent activity, and follow the ‘every dollar’ budgeting rules that have been so helpful for us. In addition, linking our accounts has automated what would otherwise be a very manual and time-intensive process. 

I have also loved using the trends feature to have full visibility into exactly how our money is being spent and to help ensure we’re always partnering as we work towards our financial goals, rather than feeling like one person is pulling the other along. We can budget with transparency and not feel any need to hide transactions for personal expenses and rewards or small splurges. 

The trends feature has also allowed us to get a sense of what our typical spending has been in different categories. We periodically review our budget, and being able to easily see our historical spending in different categories has helped us set realistic targets, as well as track our progress when we are attempting to change habits. Lastly, being able to see changes in our net worth over the years has been inspiring, as we have been able to see in real-time how decisions to save or forego immediate gratification can have long-term benefits.

Beyond that, we have found a great deal of joy in doing things ourselves, whether it is cooking meals for the week, doing our own car maintenance, or trying to fix something ourselves before calling someone. Additionally, the satisfaction has compounded as we’ve seen that making these choices has helped us not only learn new things, but also in achieving our goals. 

Knowing what we know now, we’re really excited to pass these values on to our kids, and we’re happy to discuss them with anyone who asks. Additionally, I can see a ‘life’ after work that involves volunteering in some form in the personal finance field, whether that is teaching folks about budgeting or just encouraging them in their financial journey.

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