3 Ways to Protect Your Escrow Deposit

In this article:

When buying a home, you’ll probably hear your lender or real estate agent use the word escrow. The term escrow can describe a few different functions, from the time your offer is accepted to the day you close on your home — and even after you become a homeowner with a mortgage.

There are essentially two types of escrow accounts. One is used throughout the homebuying process until you close on the home. The other, commonly referred to as an impound account, is used by your mortgage servicer to manage property tax and insurance premium payments on your behalf.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as financial or legal advice, guarantees or warranties of any kind. Reference to escrow accounts here refers to an escrow account established to facilitate the purchase transaction of a new home.

What is an escrow account?

An escrow account is a contractual arrangement in which a neutral third party, known as an escrow agent, receives and disburses funds for transacting parties (i.e., you and the seller). Typically, a selling agent opens an escrow account through a title company once you and the seller agree on a home price and sign a purchase agreement. When you’re buying a home, this escrow account serves two main purposes:

  1. To hold earnest money while you’re in escrow
  2. To handle and disburse the funds until all escrow conditions are met and escrow is closed

How does escrow work?

When you make an offer on a home, the seller may require you to pay earnest money that will be held in an escrow account until you and the seller negotiate a contract and close the deal. This earnest money gives the seller added assurance that you do not intend to back out of the deal, and it protects them in the event that you do. It also motivates the seller to pick your offer over others.

During the escrow process, the escrow agent will handle the transfer of the property, the exchange of money, and any related documents to ensure all parties receive what they are owed. This removes uncertainty over whether either party will be able to fulfill its obligations, and it helps ensure that neither party is favored over the other.

What does in escrow mean?

When you hear the phrase “in escrow”, it means that all items placed in the escrow account (e.g., earnest money, property deed, loan funds) are held with an escrow agent until all conditions of the escrow arrangement have been met. The conditions usually involve receiving an appraisal, title search and approved financing.

While the earnest money is in escrow, neither you nor the seller can touch it. Once conditions are met, the earnest money will likely be applied toward the purchase price or your down payment on the home.

What does it mean to close escrow?

To close escrow means that all of the escrow conditions have been met. You’ve received a home loan, and the title has legally passed from the seller to you. During the closing of escrow process, a closing or escrow agent (who may be an attorney, depending on the state in which the property is located) will disburse transaction funds to the appropriate parties, ensure all documents are signed and prepare a new deed naming you the homeowner.

Afterward, the escrow officer will send the deed to the county recorder for recording before escrow is officially closed. Once closed, you and the seller will receive a final closing statement and other documents in the mail. Check the statement carefully and call the closing agent immediately if you spot an error. Save the statement with your most important papers, as you will need it when you file your next income tax return.

What is an escrow payment?

After you purchase a home, you’ll be responsible for maintaining insurance on the property and paying state and local property taxes. The property tax and insurance premiums you owe are the escrow payments made to your escrow or impound account.

The impound account ensures that the funds for taxes and insurance are available and that premiums are paid on time. Your lender doesn’t want you to miss a tax payment and risk a foreclosure on the home. They also don’t want you to miss a homeowners insurance payment, or they may be forced to take out additional insurance on your behalf to cover the home in the event of property loss or severe damage.

How monthly escrow payments work

The amount of escrow due each month into the impound account is based on your estimated annual property tax and insurance obligations, which may vary throughout the life of your loan. Because of this, your mortgage servicer may collect a monthly escrow payment, along with your principal and interest, and use those collected funds to pay taxes and insurance on your behalf. 

Your lender will notify you 30 days before your next payment if the amount changes. You can also ask your mortgage servicer to walk you through the local impound account funding schedule that applies to your loan. If there are insufficient funds in your impound account to cover the taxes and insurance, your monthly mortgage payment may increase (even though your principal and interest will stay the same on fixed-rate loans).

Initial escrow payment at closing

Lenders usually require at least two months’ worth of insurance and property tax funds in the impound account at closing. The amount you have to prepay into an impound account for these costs is based on your location. Keep in mind that these funds aren’t additional closing costs. Instead, you’re prepaying extra months of home insurance and property tax bills that you would be required to pay when due. Your mortgage servicer will list the initial escrow payment amount due at closing on your loan estimate.

Your escrow analysis statement

Each month, your mortgage statement will show you how much you’ve accrued in your impound account. And each year, your mortgage servicer is required by law to send you an annual escrow account analysis showing you some of the following:

  • The amount of funds received from you
  • The amount of funds paid out for insurance and property tax
  • An estimation of how much the escrow portion of your monthly payment may increase or decrease based on the premiums owed
  • Notice if you don’t have enough funds in your account to pay the estimated tax and insurance due in the next bill (i.e., escrow shortage)
  • Notice if you have a negative balance in your account that is owed to bring your account to current (i.e., escrow deficiency)

Is an escrow account required?

An escrow account for paying property tax and homeowners insurance is generally required by lenders who originate VA, FHA and conventional loans. In some instances, lenders may allow the homeowner to pay the property tax and home insurance as a lump sum instead of setting up an escrow account. If you waive escrow, be aware that some lenders may charge you a fee or an increased interest rate.

While you may not be required to set up an escrow account, you can choose to open one voluntarily to break up insurance and property tax payments into smaller amounts, keep track of payment due dates and avoid surprise bills at the end of the tax year.

Need a home loan? Contact a pre-approval lender today to get pre-approved for a mortgage.

Source: zillow.com

3 Ways to Protect Your Escrow Deposit

In this article:

When buying a home, you’ll probably hear your lender or real estate agent use the word escrow. The term escrow can describe a few different functions, from the time your offer is accepted to the day you close on your home — and even after you become a homeowner with a mortgage.

There are essentially two types of escrow accounts. One is used throughout the homebuying process until you close on the home. The other, commonly referred to as an impound account, is used by your mortgage servicer to manage property tax and insurance premium payments on your behalf.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as financial or legal advice, guarantees or warranties of any kind. Reference to escrow accounts here refers to an escrow account established to facilitate the purchase transaction of a new home.

What is an escrow account?

An escrow account is a contractual arrangement in which a neutral third party, known as an escrow agent, receives and disburses funds for transacting parties (i.e., you and the seller). Typically, a selling agent opens an escrow account through a title company once you and the seller agree on a home price and sign a purchase agreement. When you’re buying a home, this escrow account serves two main purposes:

  1. To hold earnest money while you’re in escrow
  2. To handle and disburse the funds until all escrow conditions are met and escrow is closed

How does escrow work?

When you make an offer on a home, the seller may require you to pay earnest money that will be held in an escrow account until you and the seller negotiate a contract and close the deal. This earnest money gives the seller added assurance that you do not intend to back out of the deal, and it protects them in the event that you do. It also motivates the seller to pick your offer over others.

During the escrow process, the escrow agent will handle the transfer of the property, the exchange of money, and any related documents to ensure all parties receive what they are owed. This removes uncertainty over whether either party will be able to fulfill its obligations, and it helps ensure that neither party is favored over the other.

What does in escrow mean?

When you hear the phrase “in escrow”, it means that all items placed in the escrow account (e.g., earnest money, property deed, loan funds) are held with an escrow agent until all conditions of the escrow arrangement have been met. The conditions usually involve receiving an appraisal, title search and approved financing.

While the earnest money is in escrow, neither you nor the seller can touch it. Once conditions are met, the earnest money will likely be applied toward the purchase price or your down payment on the home.

What does it mean to close escrow?

To close escrow means that all of the escrow conditions have been met. You’ve received a home loan, and the title has legally passed from the seller to you. During the closing of escrow process, a closing or escrow agent (who may be an attorney, depending on the state in which the property is located) will disburse transaction funds to the appropriate parties, ensure all documents are signed and prepare a new deed naming you the homeowner.

Afterward, the escrow officer will send the deed to the county recorder for recording before escrow is officially closed. Once closed, you and the seller will receive a final closing statement and other documents in the mail. Check the statement carefully and call the closing agent immediately if you spot an error. Save the statement with your most important papers, as you will need it when you file your next income tax return.

What is an escrow payment?

After you purchase a home, you’ll be responsible for maintaining insurance on the property and paying state and local property taxes. The property tax and insurance premiums you owe are the escrow payments made to your escrow or impound account.

The impound account ensures that the funds for taxes and insurance are available and that premiums are paid on time. Your lender doesn’t want you to miss a tax payment and risk a foreclosure on the home. They also don’t want you to miss a homeowners insurance payment, or they may be forced to take out additional insurance on your behalf to cover the home in the event of property loss or severe damage.

How monthly escrow payments work

The amount of escrow due each month into the impound account is based on your estimated annual property tax and insurance obligations, which may vary throughout the life of your loan. Because of this, your mortgage servicer may collect a monthly escrow payment, along with your principal and interest, and use those collected funds to pay taxes and insurance on your behalf. 

Your lender will notify you 30 days before your next payment if the amount changes. You can also ask your mortgage servicer to walk you through the local impound account funding schedule that applies to your loan. If there are insufficient funds in your impound account to cover the taxes and insurance, your monthly mortgage payment may increase (even though your principal and interest will stay the same on fixed-rate loans).

Initial escrow payment at closing

Lenders usually require at least two months’ worth of insurance and property tax funds in the impound account at closing. The amount you have to prepay into an impound account for these costs is based on your location. Keep in mind that these funds aren’t additional closing costs. Instead, you’re prepaying extra months of home insurance and property tax bills that you would be required to pay when due. Your mortgage servicer will list the initial escrow payment amount due at closing on your loan estimate.

Your escrow analysis statement

Each month, your mortgage statement will show you how much you’ve accrued in your impound account. And each year, your mortgage servicer is required by law to send you an annual escrow account analysis showing you some of the following:

  • The amount of funds received from you
  • The amount of funds paid out for insurance and property tax
  • An estimation of how much the escrow portion of your monthly payment may increase or decrease based on the premiums owed
  • Notice if you don’t have enough funds in your account to pay the estimated tax and insurance due in the next bill (i.e., escrow shortage)
  • Notice if you have a negative balance in your account that is owed to bring your account to current (i.e., escrow deficiency)

Is an escrow account required?

An escrow account for paying property tax and homeowners insurance is generally required by lenders who originate VA, FHA and conventional loans. In some instances, lenders may allow the homeowner to pay the property tax and home insurance as a lump sum instead of setting up an escrow account. If you waive escrow, be aware that some lenders may charge you a fee or an increased interest rate.

While you may not be required to set up an escrow account, you can choose to open one voluntarily to break up insurance and property tax payments into smaller amounts, keep track of payment due dates and avoid surprise bills at the end of the tax year.

Need a home loan? Contact a pre-approval lender today to get pre-approved for a mortgage.

Source: zillow.com

Thinking of Buying a Riverside Retreat? You’d Better Read This

Having a river or a creek running near your home completes a picture of rustic tranquility—think of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. That is, unless it floods. You don’t even have to be near a body of water to experience flooding, as some homeowners in Texas and Oklahoma learned this spring.

If you’re buying in a flood plain—the rather frightening term used to describe areas close enough to rivers, lakes, or an ocean to feel their devastating impact when the going gets tough—you need to know the rules. Here are four things you need to know before you buy.

Find out if you’re in the zone

The Federal Emergency Management Association provides tools for people to calculate whether they are in a high-risk flood area and examine a map of local flood zones.

“You live next to the creek, you expect it to flood,” says David Schein, a regional flood insurance specialist in FEMA Region 5 in Chicago. “If you’re two, three, four blocks away, you don’t expect it. But all creeks flood. All streams flood.”

The Wisconsin Realtors® Association notes that while flood plains are often found near rivers, lakes, and coastlines, many are low-lying areas where water naturally pools after heavy rains.

Investigate insurance

Banks usually require properties in a flood plain to have insurance in the amount of the loan, up to the maximum of $250,000, says Jeffrey Gleich, an Illinois Allstate agent who writes policies under FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. Most homeowner insurance policies do not protect against flood damage.

Get friendly with a surveyor who will know your property’s flood zone classification. Gleich has a client who fought FEMA for years because he has a couple of square yards located in a flood zone.

The bank is adamant that he needs coverage. “He’s gone back and forth with elevation certificates,” says Gleich.

Ask about flooding

In most states, sellers must disclose if there are any water leakage issues of any type. So you’d think you’d know if there was a problem.  Sometimes disclosures can be tricky to interpret. Talk to a property casualty agent if you’re buying near a body of water—even if you’re on the fringes of the flood plain.

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“Your agent may say you’re outside the flood plain [and] don’t need flood insurance,” says Schein, but that’s only because the bank might not require it. That alone doesn’t mean you don’t want to shell out for that protection. “People need to look at the available risk information out there and make the appropriate decision.”

“If a flood seeps into the basement or entry level of your home, in all likelihood you’re going to have a little bit of time to get out the more expensive items like your TV or computer equipment,” says Gleich, who sees plenty of people outside high-risk zones who purchase insurance simply for peace of mind.

Employ a home inspector for a second opinion. “They can take a look to see if things are installed correctly,” says John Flor, a Realtor with Six Lakes Realty in Chetek, WI. “If it’s necessary to have drain tile, if there are any potential water problems there.”

Check the rules

Know your flood plain status before you start any new construction. In some places, a setback of a certain distance is required for new construction.

“Different townships say you can’t build on a flood plain,” Flor says. Flor knows a developer who bought land on a lake. The city told him that as long as the new structure was above the flood plain, he could build, bring in landfill, and elevate the structure.

If everything checks out, full speed ahead! Prepare to enjoy the sound of a babbling brook, and not that of a sump pump going off every 30 seconds.

Source: realtor.com

4 Tips for Buying a Fixer-Upper

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While the process of buying and renovating fixer-upper homes has increased in popularity due to fix-and-flip home improvement TV shows, not everyone is cut out for  major renovation projects. 

In fact, only 19% of homeowners said their home needed serious updates, and only 3% said their home needed a complete overhaul, according to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2020. 

Buying a fixer-upper involves purchasing the least desirable home on the block and overseeing its transformation. Whether you’re considering a fixer as an investment — and you plan to sell after construction is complete — or you’re fixing up a home to make it your own, there’s a lot to consider when buying a fixer-upper, from home price to construction costs to financing. 

What is a fixer-upper home?

A fixer-upper is a home that needs repairs, but not so many that it’s uninhabitable or worthy of being torn down. 

Fixer-uppers are usually offered for a lower price than homes in better condition, which makes them appealing to buyers looking to maximize their purchasing power or investors looking to flip the property and turn a profit. 

Should I buy a fixer-upper home?

Most often, people buy fixer-upper homes because the cost of purchasing the home plus renovation costs may total less than what they’d pay for a comparable home in good condition. 

Here are some of the key reasons buyers decide on buying a fixer-upper:

Reduced price

If you have your eye on a popular neighborhood, either for resale value or your own lifestyle, you may be able to get a better deal buying a fixer upper in your desired location and renovating it than purchasing an already-updated home. 

Customizable improvements

When you purchase a fixer-upper, the sky’s the limit when it comes to fixtures and finishes (within your budget, of course). Renovating a fixer-upper can be ideal for buyers with very specific tastes or those who want more control over the aesthetics of their home. When buying a fixer-upper, you avoid paying for the renovations someone else completed, especially if you don’t like them. 

Older home charm

The character of older homes isn’t easy to replicate. Buying an older home in need of some TLC can allow you to restore and maintain time period details, while bringing the home up to today’s efficiency, safety and comfort standards. 

Make a profit

Whether you’re planning to flip or live in the home for a few years before selling, you may be able to turn a good profit based on the renovations you make. Your return on investment depends on the types of renovations you complete, the materials you use and the quality of the work. If profit is the goal, select popular home improvements in your market to increase property value and appeal to a wide variety of buyers. 

Tax incentives

In some metropolitan areas, such as Philadelphia and Cincinnati, buyers who purchase a fixer-upper and renovate to improve the property value may be eligible for a tax abatement or credit. 

How to find fixer-upper homes

Finding the right fixer-upper is all about where you look. Here are a few strategies for finding the right home. 

Search online: Use Zillow to search for homes below market value. You can search keywords such as “fixer upper,” “needs work” or “TLC” to narrow down potential properties. 

Work with an agent: A local buyer’s agent should be able to help you find fixer-upper homes in your desirable neighborhoods. Well-connected agents may even be able to show you homes that haven’t hit the market yet, via word of mouth. 

Search auctions, foreclosures and short sales: Distressed properties may be in fine structural condition but are sold below market value in order to offload them quickly. It’s important to note that these homes are usually sold as-is, and disclosures might not be available, so be sure you have enough extra money in your budget to cover surprise issues. 

What to look for when buying a fixer-upper home

When shopping for a fixer-upper, prioritize the things you can’t change about a home (like its location), or things that would be too costly to change (like significant structural renovations). Here are key factors to consider:

Location

Location is the most important thing to look for, because it can’t be changed. Look for a fixer-upper in a desirable or an up-and-coming neighborhood in order to maximize potential resale value. Finding the right location will also ensure that you’re happy in the home. Pay attention to things that might be important to you, like school ratings, nearby parks and restaurants and commute times. 

The home’s location will also play a part in determining your renovation budget and estimating the home’s post-renovation value. The quality of finishes and upgrades you select should be in line with comparable homes in the same neighborhood if your goal is to recoup costs on resale.

Layout and size

With a fixer-upper, you might be able to change the layout as you see fit, but pay attention to any design and layout ideas that would require removing load-bearing walls. This can be a costly exercise, and sometimes it’s just not possible. Home additions to increase square footage are also expensive and might not be allowed, depending on local zoning requirements and laws. 

Home condition

There’s a difference between a fixer-upper and a home with significant structural defects. Structural and mechanical problems are a lot more expensive to fix than cosmetic ones. Be sure to hire a home inspector to gain knowledge of the home’s positives and negatives — hiring a home inspector is an invaluable step, even if you’re buying a home as-is. Here’s what should be on your home inspection checklist for a fixer-upper:

  • Strong foundation
  • Up-to-code electrical
  • Proper plumbing
  • Solid roof condition (should come with roof certification)
  • HVAC and/or central AC
  • Functional windows

Straightforward cosmetic updates

Prioritize homes that have outdated or worn out finishes that don’t appeal to the general public but can be updated affordably and without too much effort. Ideally, the fixer-upper you buy will only need cosmetic upgrades. Look for homes with:

  • Peeling or dated paint (interior and exterior)
  • Older bathroom fixtures and tile
  • Dated kitchen cabinetry
  • Laminate or tile countertops
  • Stained carpeting
  • Hardwood floors in need of refinishing
  • Leftover belongings or trash that need to be removed
  • Neglected landscaping
  • Old or non-functioning appliances

How to buy a fixer-upper

Buying a home that needs work can be risky, because you won’t know the full condition of the home until you start tearing down walls. That’s why doing your due diligence on the property and neighborhood ahead of time is key.

Get a professional home inspection

When you put an offer on a house, be sure to include an inspection contingency. An inspection contingency allows you to back out of a deal and get your earnest money deposit back if the inspection reveals that the home has serious hidden defects.

Even homes marketed as being in “as-is condition” can be inspected — the only difference is with an as-is home, the seller is telling you that they do not want  to make any repairs based on your findings. 

The buyer is responsible for the cost of  an inspection, which ranges between $250 and $700, depending on the size of the home and your location. In addition to a general inspection, you might also opt for specialized inspections for trouble areas. Common specialty inspections include pests, sewer lines, radon, lead-based paint and structural inspections. Costs for specialty inspections are similar to general inspections. 

A structural inspection reviews the home’s structural integrity, but also lets you know of any natural hazards nearby that could impact the resale value or your own health and safety. You may also consider hiring a structural engineer to assess the property before you make an offer. It will cost between $500-$700 but could save you thousands of dollars in future foundation repairs.

Hire an architect and general contractor

An architect can create a new layout for a home, create plans and blueprints and tell you what is and isn’t possible. Some cities require you to submit architectural plans to acquire home permits, making an architect a necessity. The average cost for an architect is around $5,000, depending on the scope of your project. 

Your home inspector should be able to give you a rough estimate of what it would cost to adequately repair problem areas that come up in an inspection, but since they’re not the one who will be doing the work, it’s best to get a more accurate quote from a contractor. Whatever they quote you, add a 10% contingency for any problems that come up along the way. Be sure to get quotes from a few contractors and do your due diligence in checking their licensing and customer reviews. 

Budget for improvements

Working with your contractor, be sure that your budget takes into consideration all applicable costs. Don’t forget to include:

  • Permit fees, if applicable
  • Cost of materials, like flooring, paint, light fixtures, cabinetry, countertops and hardware
  • Cost of labor, including general contractors, plumbers, electricians and inspectors
  • Cost of living during renovations, if the home will be uninhabitable during the project

Know your limits

Above and beyond the financial concerns, you also need to gauge your tolerance for a major renovation project, especially if you plan to save money by doing some of the work yourself. Home renovations are not as easy as they look on TV and if it’s your first time, a lot can go wrong. Even if everything goes right, there’s a lot of hassle involved in a large-scale construction project. You’ll have to live in a construction zone or move elsewhere temporarily, while still paying all the carrying costs for the home. 

If the thought of a months-long renovation is more than you’re willing to take on, but you’re looking for a move-in-ready home, consider a Zillow-owned home. Every home has been recently repaired for buyers to avoid costly surprises. 

Financing options with fixer-upper loans

You can purchase a fixer-upper with a traditional conventional loan then pay for all the improvements out of pocket. Or, you can get a fixer-upper mortgage that’s designed to help you finance both the house itself and the renovations. Common types of home loans for fixer-uppers are: 

FHA 203(k) standard

An FHA 203(k) Standard loan finances the purchase and renovation of a primary residence. Here are the key requirements:

  • Minimum credit score of 500 with a down payment of 10%, or a credit score of at least 580 with down payment of 3.5%
  • The total cost of the loan must fall under FHA mortgage limits in your area
  • No luxury improvements (like pools) are allowed, but structural work is allowed
  • Requires a HUD consultant to approve the architectural plans, oversee payments to contractors and review inspections to ensure the home meets structural integrity and energy efficiency standards
  • There are limits on how soon you can resell (not within 90 days)
  • The contractor is paid out of an escrow account managed by the lender

FHA 203(k) streamlined

This financing option has similar requirements as the FHA 203(k) Standard, but it’s meant for simpler, cosmetic renovation projects, as it has a spending limit. 

  • Minimum credit score of 500 with a down payment of 10%, or a credit score of at least 580 with down payment of 3.5%
  • For cosmetic upgrades under $35,000
  • There are limits on how soon you can resell (not within 90 days)
  • The contractor is paid out of an escrow account managed by the lender

HomeStyle loan

A HomeStyle loan is a combination home loan and home improvement loan, guaranteed by Fannie Mae. 

  • Minimum credit score of 620; minimum down payment of 3 or 5%, depending on a few factors like owner occupancy, first-time home buyer status and income
  • Allows for other improvements that aren’t covered under an FHA 203(k), like pools and landscaping—but note that all improvements need to be “permanently affixed to real property (either dwelling or land)”
  • The contractor is paid out of an escrow account managed by the lender
  • You must use a certified contractor

CHOICERenovation

A CHOICERenovation loan is a combination home loan and home improvement loan, guaranteed by Freddie Mac. 

  • You can finance renovations that cost up to 75% of a home’s value
  • Money can be used for upgrades that prevent natural disasters
  • You can DIY the work and get a down payment credit
  • Requires multiple appraisals to ensure you’re upholding the terms of the contract and that the agreed-upon renovations make the home meet its estimated value

Source: zillow.com

5 Killer Real Estate Lessons We Learned From ‘Friday the 13th’

Friday the 13th is an unlucky day if you’re superstitious. And in case you haven’t noticed, it’s here! But we like to think we are people who see the glass as half-full. We prefer to look at the doomed day as an opportunity to reflect upon some unexpected nuggets of—you guessed it—real estate wisdom.

To prove that valuable real estate knowledge truly can be found anywhere, we’ve turned to Jason Voorhees from “Friday the 13th” and (spoiler alert!) his nutty, murderous mother for inspiration. The hockey mask–wearing horror icon is an unlikely choice, but no one personifies the dreaded date better than the fictional fright master. And, as it turns out, there are some helpful housing lessons buried deep within the horror franchise.

After binge-watching the “Friday the 13th” series all the way through “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives” (just a tiny glimpse of the sacrifices we make for you, dear reader), we realized Jason and a whole lot of dim-witted camp counselors can teach us plenty about buying a home.

So join us as we head back to Crystal Lake, NJ, for a few (creepy) lessons learned … the hard way.

Lesson No. 1: Always talk to the neighbors

If just a single camp counselor in 30 years had listened to one of the eager-to-blab neighbors, the “Friday the 13th” franchise wouldn’t exist. Everyone seems to know something is wrong with the property at the lake. (Dozens of dead teenagers each summer could be the tipoff.) People at the diner, truck drivers, the town loon—everyone! And they’re more than happy to warn off newcomers.

It’s a pretty strong endorsement to listen to the locals when trying to nail down your housing needs.

No, you’re probably not looking at properties in towns with as sullied a reputation as Crystal Lake. But we still offer this as an example of how you can learn a ton from talking to the neighbors—and discover what the place is really like.

Picturesque and serene in sunlight, spooky and isolated at night.Picturesque and serene in sunlight, spooky and isolated at night.
Picturesque and serene in sunlight, spooky and isolated at night

(Sjo/iStock)

Whether it’s the fact that a crazed killer occasionally rises from the depths of the nearby lake, or a noxious odor wafts from a nearby sewage plant when the wind changes, checking in with potential neighbors can help you make a sound decision.

Lesson No. 2: Read the seller’s disclosure

OK, back to that spoiler alert from 1980: The whole “Friday the 13th” franchise hinges on the narrative that a young Jason drowned in a lake due to the negligence of some sex-crazed camp counselors—prompting mom to go on a gruesome rampage for revenge. Could happen, right?

Death, murder, mayhem. These are all items that must appear on the seller’s disclosure in many states. It doesn’t take a cinematic genius to see our plot twist coming: Simply read the seller’s disclosure to avoid an awful fate. Maybe you’ll learn that your potential home has a grisly, murderous history. Or maybe you’ll discover that the property is covered in mold. Either way, it’s scary, scary stuff you need to know about before you buy.

Lesson No. 3: Decide how much isolation you can handle

In its heyday, the town of Crystal Lake seemed to have been a quaint getaway—bustling during the summer with throngs of children, and morphing into a quiet and rustic retreat during the off-season. It had the potential to be a perfect spot for a vacation home.

But one look at the town we see on-screen should set off some warning bells. The boarded-up shop windows. The deserted streets. The four weird locals in the diner. The long, long drives required to get anywhere. No bus service! No phone service! This place just screams “isolated,” and we haven’t even thrown a crazed killer into the mix yet.

When you’re buying a property—seasonal or otherwise—look at the bigger picture. How far away are the nearest neighbors? Does the town have its own police and fire services? Will you have cell service in case of an emergency?

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Keep in mind many properties in vacation destinations are only seasonally occupied. You might not have neighbors around when you need them. Weather conditions could also conspire against your being able to get to and from your home in the event of an emergency.

Take stock of the home’s surroundings and consider just how off the grid you want to be. If isolation is what you truly crave, Godspeed. But don’t say we never warned you! (Just like those weirdos in the diner.)

Lesson No. 4: Home inspections save lives

Call us conspiracy theorists, but we blame many of the murders in the original “Friday the 13th” on the lack of a proper home inspection.

The spotty electricity went out every time it rained (of course!), leaving camp counselors to rely on a generator several yards away in a barn. Every time Big Jason wanted to gouge or skewer a victim, all he had to do was cut off the generator.

If only a trusted home inspector had flagged the electrical problems and made sure the house had no issues in times of inclement weather!

Know this: Home inspectors suss out potential issues before they become flat-out problems. Talk to a home inspector about any issues that might turn into a home purchase deal breaker. It’s smart to get any potential frights out of the way early.

Lesson No. 5: Beef up your security before you settle in

Throughout just about all of the flicks (we’re happily ignoring “Jason X,” in which our antihero rampages in outer space), Mr. Hockey Mask outsmarts camp counselors through a series of calculated maneuvers, a little luck, and some seriously crappy or nonexistent security features.

Please, Mr. Postman

Send me news, tips, and promos from realtor.com® and Move.

Really—where were the locks in this place? Typically in the final scenes, a lone survivor is seen running from room to room,  slamming doors behind her, trying to get away. But locks don’t seem to exist and doors seem to be made of corrugated cardboard, because the killer just keeps coming.

While odds are you won’t be stalked by a psychotic, immortal killing machine in your home, never overlook your security features. Change your locks as soon as you move in, and check all interior doors and windows for properly working latches and locks. If you do have a security system (and you should), don’t forget to try it out and ask your security technician everything about it. You’ll sleep more soundly.

You might want to avoid the lake, too.

Source: realtor.com

15 Words That Could Add Value to Your Listing

When it comes to writing an effective listing description, don’t hold back. If you’ve got it, flaunt it!

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Why do some homes sell for a premium? Timing, for starters. An analysis of 24,000 home sales in “Zillow Talk: Rewriting the Rules of Real Estate” also reveals listings with certain keywords tend to sell for more than expected.

“Bottom-tier homes described as luxurious tend to beat their expected sale price by a whopping 8.2 percent,” write co-authors Spencer Rascoff and Stan Humphries. “Top-tier homes described as captivating tend to beat theirs by 6.5 percent. That means, if your home’s estimated home value is $110,000, but your listing includes the key word ‘luxurious,’ you could pocket an extra $8,965.”

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If one of the following words accurately describes your home, you might want to consider adding it to your listing.

1. Luxurious

As mentioned above, lower-priced listings with the word “luxurious” sold for 8.2 percent more on average than expected. “Luxurious” signals that a home’s finishes and amenities are high-end. This is a huge selling point, particularly in this price range.

2. Captivating

Top-tier listings described as “captivating” sold for 6.5 percent more on average than expected. Unlike the word “nice,” “captivating” provides a richer, more enticing description for buyers. Plus, it’s less open to interpretation. Anything can be seen as “nice,” but “captivating” sets a high bar.

3. Impeccable

On average, listings in the bottom tier with the word “impeccable” sold for 5.9 percent more than expected. Like “captivating,” “impeccable” is a rich adjective. It also implies something about the quality of a home: The features are desirable and the home is move-in ready.

4. Stainless

“Stainless” is typically used to describe kitchens with “stainless steel appliances.” It’s in your favor to talk up these features in your listing — especially if your home is in the bottom price tier. In our analysis, lower-priced homes with the word “stainless” sold for 5 percent more on average than expected.

5. Basketball

On average, lower-priced homes with the word “basketball” sold for 4.5 percent more than expected. This may seem like an odd word to include in this list, but when you consider the context it makes sense. Among lower-priced homes, a basketball court — or even better, an indoor basketball court — is a huge selling point. While it may not stand out as much among higher-priced homes, it’s definitely worth mentioning in this price range.

6. Landscaped

It’s just as valuable to describe your yard as your house. In all price tiers, listings with the word “landscaped” sold for more than expected on average. The biggest premium was seen among lower-priced listings, which on average sold for 4.2 percent more than expected.

7. Granite

In the same vein as “stainless,” “granite” is typically used to describe countertops or another high-end home feature. Listings with the word “granite” sold, on average, for 1 to 4 percent more than expected across all price tiers.

8. Pergola

Not only should you include high-end home features in your listing description, you should also mention features not found in every home. They’ll help your listing stand out, especially if buyers are searching for homes online by keyword. The data shows mid-priced listings with the word “pergola” sold for 4 percent more on average than expected.

9. Remodel

Was your home recently remodeled? It may be worth mentioning. On average, bottom-tier listings with the word “remodel” sold for 2.9 percent more, middle-tier homes for 1.8 percent more and top-tier homes for 1.7 percent more than expected.

10. Beautiful

While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, a beautiful feature like a view may be worth noting. Lower-priced listings with the word “beautiful” sold for 2.3 percent more on average than expected.

11. Gentle

“Gentle” may seem like a weird adjective to have in a listing description. It’s typically used to describe “gentle rolling hills” or something about a home’s location. Top-tier listings with the word “gentle” sold for 2.3 percent more, on average, than expected.

12. Spotless

You may think all homes are spotless when a buyer moves in, so it’s not worth mentioning in a listing. But when it comes to lower-priced homes, cleanliness isn’t always a given. In this price range, listings described as “spotless” sold for 2 percent more on average than expected.

13. Tile

Much like “stainless” and “granite,” “tile” is a great word when it comes to describing the features of your home. A newly tiled backsplash or updated bathroom tile not only indicates a home’s aesthetic value but also sends a message to buyers that the home’s been well cared for by the current owners. Bottom-tier homes with the word “tile” in the listing sold for 2 percent more on average than expected.

14. Upgraded

On average, lower-priced listings with the word “upgraded” sold for 1.8 percent more than expected. Most buyers will agree that upgrades are a selling point. They indicate a home not only looks nice but also functions well. Spelling out which features have been updated is a good approach, so buyers have the right expectations when they see your home.

15. Updated

“Updated” sends a similar message to “upgraded.” But in addition to speaking to the quality of a home, it signals that something old has been replaced with something new. This is a great fact to communicate to potential buyers, as evidenced by the data. Mid-priced homes with “updated” in the listing sold for 0.8 percent more on average than expected.

Related:

Source: zillow.com

How to Get Rid of Your Roommate (Legally!)

As tempting as it may be, you can’t just kick him to the curb.

He’s messy, his rent is always late, and now he “lost” his pet scorpions somewhere on the premises. In other words, it’s high time for your roommate to hit the road.

But how to get him out? Legally speaking, can one tenant kick the other to the curb based on a few common lease violations? And, if so, what is the least-stressful way to accomplish this feat? Below, we discuss several tips and techniques for lawful roommate eviction, as well as conduct to avoid at all costs — or you may find yourself on the curb.

Communication is key

As in any relationship, lack of clear communication between roommates could be the downfall of an otherwise promising cohabitation situation. When a problem first arises, talk it out. Perhaps your roommate is under unusual stress, isn’t aware of the rules or just needs a little coaxing to meet obligations. Hopefully, this tactic will calm the waters.

But if not, it may be time to bring your landlord in on the conversation. If your roommate is engaging in clear violations of the lease agreement, your landlord should be notified immediately, and the violations should be clearly documented through pictures and descriptions. Assuming your roommate is a tenant of record (more on that below), he or she maintains a distinct legal relationship with the property owner or landlord and must abide by the terms of the lease. While general messiness is not usually cause for eviction, late rent payments and unapproved pets likely are, so alert your landlord. He or she can start the eviction process under your state’s landlord-tenant laws.

Off-the-record roommates

This issue can become much more acrimonious if your roommate is not a tenant of record (i.e., an inhabitant who has not signed a lease agreement). In essence, this person has no legal duty or obligation to the property, its owner, or its lessee (you), so state landlord-tenant laws do not apply. Accordingly, it may be time to seek an alternative legal remedy. However — and this is key — you cannot physically force a roommate out the door by pushing them or throwing belongings on the sidewalk.

Most states have enacted a more civilized approach that provides the unwanted guest the right to notice and due process. In many states, a roommate must first be put on notice that he or she is no longer welcome. To accomplish this, a simple one-page statement declaring that the roommate arrangement has ended should suffice. Further, provide the roommate with a deadline for leaving, which usually must be at least 15-30 days from the date of the notice. Lastly, as much as you might like to avoid actual interaction, be sure the roommate actually receives the document.

See you in court!

Hopefully, the roommate will take a hint and exit gracefully. If this does not happen, however, it will be necessary to file a petition for eviction in your local court, which is likely the same court that handles formal landlord-tenant matters. By allowing the roommate to remain on the property sans lease, you actually created a month-to-month oral tenancy agreement, which must be undone using proper legal channels.

The court staff will give you a date and time for an eviction hearing. At the hearing, be prepared to present the eviction notice mentioned above, as well as evidence to show that the roommate was never included on the lease and — at most — had a month-to-month tenancy as an off-the-record roommate.

The court will likely grant the petition, and your roommate will have no choice but to vacate the premises immediately.

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.

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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.

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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

HARP Now Extended Through 2016

The program, which helps underwater borrowers refinance, won’t be ending any time soon.

Since it first launched in 2009, the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) has helped 3.2 million borrowers across the country lower their monthly payments by refinancing at historically low interest rates. Friday, FHFA Director Melvin Watt announced this relief won’t be ending any time soon.

HARP will continue through the end of 2016, allowing homeowners who owe more than their homes are worth and regularly make mortgage payments to refinance. To help eligible borrowers take advantage of this program, Zillow remains the only marketplace supporting HARP and FHA Streamline refinances.

The FHFA has started a 10-day Twitter campaign using the hashtag #HARPfacts to help spread the word. They’re targeting Chicago first, where nearly 40,000 Chicago-area homeowners could save an average $189 per month or $2,300 a year with HARP.

Get answers to your HARP questions here.

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Source: zillow.com