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Don't Make These Mistakes When Buying a Home in Austin

by Rebecca Shahan

Your home buying experience in Austin and Lake Travis should be one that creates great memories and excitement. The trick is to not let all that excitement get out of hand and lead to you making mistakes during the home buying process.

Here are some common home buying mistakes and how you can avoid them.

"I Saw the House Online. It's Perfect — Let's Make an Offer Before It's Gone!"

Photos are never enough to show you everything you need to know about a home. They are meant to be a preview.

Consider this:

  • Agents take photos that they want you to see. They can't show every nook and cranny.
  • You need more than just sight to truly evaluate a home. How does the home flow? What can you smell or hear?
  • Wide angle lenses are used in photos sometimes to make homes look larger.

Before you make an offer, look at the home, the yard, and the neighborhood in person.

"I Want to Buy This House. And Look, There's an Agent Right Here!"

When you go to an open house, the seller's agent is usually there to host it. You might think that's convenient. But remember that the agent represents the seller, not you.

If you start trying to negotiate with the seller agent on your own, you could compromise your negotiation. So make sure you hire a buyer's agent who will work on your behalf and help you get the best home for your needs.

"If a House Doesn't Have Everything On My List, I'm Not Looking At It."

You should make a "needs" and "wants" list of what you want in a home. But don't turn it into strightjacket. It should be a guide to help you find the home with the right balance of features.

You need to prioritize your list to make sure it guides you to the right home and not keep you from it.

Not sure what should go on your list? This worksheet can help you get your priorities straight: The Ultimate “I Wanna Buy a House" Checklist.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

The 5 Most Important Home Closing Terms

by Rebecca Shahan
Buying a home can be a confusing process. This is especially true for first time buyers. All those words! But don't worry, that why you hire a professional to help you figure it all out. Still, there's some basic terms that you should familiarize yourself with, especially when closing a home sale.
 
Here's the 5 most important closing terms you should know.
  1. Down Payment Simply put, this is the amount of money you pay up front for a mortgage, just like buying a car. Most mortgage lenders require between 3% - 20% down payment. In the case of VA or government assisted loans, this amount can be less.
  2. Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) – You may be required to pay for private mortgage insurance when you take out a loan if you put down less than 20%. PMI protects the lender in case you end up foreclosing on your home.
  3. Annual Percentage Rate (APR) – APR refers to the total cost of taking out a loan. It can include broker fees, interest rate, points, and others.
  4. Loan Estimate (LE) – A loan estimate deals with the estimated closing costs, along with the terms of the loan that you agreed to.
  5. Closing Costs – Closing costs are paid by both the buyer and seller. These costs can cover application fees, property fees, title examination, title insurance, attorney charges and settlement documents.

Of course, this only scratches the surface of what you should know about buying a home. 

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

Understanding Real Estate Representation

by Rebecca Shahan

You have choices when selecting representation in a real estate transaction. Here are five tips for understanding which type of legal relationship with a real estate professional, called an agency relationship, will best protect you when you buy or sell a home.

Buyer’s Agency

When you’re buying a home, you can hire an agent who represents only you, called an exclusive buyer’s representative or agent. A buyer's agent works in your best interest and owes you a fiduciary duty. You can pay your buyer’s agent yourself, or ask the seller, or the seller’s agent, to pay your agent a share of their sales commission.

If you’re selling your home and hiring an agent to list it exclusively, you’ve hired a selling representative - an agent who owes fiduciary duties to you. Typically, you pay a selling agent a commission at closing. Selling agents usually offer or agree to pay a portion of their sales commission to the buyer’s agent. If your seller’s agent brings in a buyer, your agent keeps the entire commission.

Disclosed Dual Agency

Agents and companies can represent both parties in a home sale as long as that relationship is fully disclosed. It’s called disclosed dual agency. Because dual agents represent both parties, they can’t be protective of and loyal to only you. Dual agents don’t owe all the traditional fiduciary duties to clients. Instead, they owe limited fiduciary duties to each party.

Why would you agree to dual agency? Suppose you want to buy a house that’s listed for sale by the same real estate brokerage where your buyer’s agent works. In that case, the real estate brokerage would be representing both you and the seller and you’d both have to agree to that.

Because there’s a potential for conflicts of interest with dual agency, all parties must give their informed consent. In many states, that consent must be in writing.

Designated Agency

A form of disclosed dual agency, “designated agency” allows two different agents within a single firm to represent the buyer and seller in the same transaction. To avoid conflicts that can arise with dual agency, some managing brokers designate or appoint agents in their company to represent only sellers, or only buyers. But that isn't required for designated agency. A designated, or appointed, agent will give you full representation and represent your best interests.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

Hiring the right real estate agent makes all the difference in a successful real estate transaction in Lake Travis and Austin.

You also need to understand who's side an agent is on when you buy or sell a home and move towards closing.

There are a number of ways agents may represent clients.

By knowing where your agent’s loyalties lie, you’ll know what you can tell her and what you can’t. If, for example, you’re dealing with an agent who doesn’t represent you but is representing the sellers of a home you want to buy, you won’t want to tell her how high you’re willing to go on the price.

No matter what form of representation you agree to, or where you live, watch out for your own interests and understand the six ways brokers and agents represent clients below.

Buyer’s Agency

Do you want the agent to represent you and only you when you buy a home so that all the information you share with her is confidential? Opt for an exclusive buyer’s agent.

Who pays the buyer’s agent? Surprisingly, even if you hire a buyer’s agent, you can still ask the sellers to pay his fee. You can pay your buyer’s agent yourself, or ask the seller (or the seller’s agent) to pay your agent a share of their sales commission.

Seller’s or Listing Agency

An exclusive seller’s agent represents only the sellers, not the buyers. If your exclusive seller’s agent finds a buyer for your home, he may have another agent - maybe even a co-worker from the same brokerage - represent the buyer in your transaction. In some cases the buyer may have no agent at all. Your exclusive seller’s agent is loyal only to you, so it’s OK to discuss strategy with him.

Who pays the seller’s agent? The seller pays a commission to the seller’s agent from the proceeds of the sale. The seller’s agent may, and often does, share the commission with the homebuyer’s agent.

Dual Agency

In many states, agents can represent both the buyer and seller. These dual agents seek to bring both sides together. They can’t do something that’s only good for you and not for the other side.

A dual agent situation often arises when one agent represents the buyers and the sellers of the same home. The agent must disclose the relationship and, in many states, you must agree in writing to such dual representation because of the potential for conflicts of interest. While dual agents have an obligation not to share any confidential information of a client without their permission, be sure to inform the agent that the information is confidential and know that any non-confidential information may be shared with the people on the other side of the transaction.

Who pays the dual agent? Usually the seller pays the commission.

Designated or Appointed Agency

What happens when the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent both work for the same broker?

To make sure both sides of the home sale are treated fairly in this situation, some brokers designate an agent in their company to represent only the buyers and another to represent only the sellers. A designated agent or appointed agent will be loyal to you and only you. The strategy helps avoid a dual agency situation.

Who pays the designated agents? The sellers pay the commission and the designated agents share it.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

Questions You Should Ask Before You Move Into Your Home in Austin

by Rebecca Shahan

If you bought a house with no maintenance issues big or small, that would be one for the record books. In reality, most homeowners find a problem, quirk, shortcoming, whatever, within the first couple of months.

And if you’ve already settled in, getting answers to these key questions will help you get to work putting the shine on your castle. Ask the previous owner, your agent, and your new neighbors for helpful answers.

Has There Ever Been a Busted Pipe?

A broken pipe isn’t rare; in fact, water damage caused by a frozen or burst pipe is a leading cause of homeowners insurance claims, at around 22% of all home insurance losses, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

What bursts? Typically exposed water pipes in unheated basements and crawl spaces, along with exterior faucets.

Another prime suspect of water damage: old washing machine hoses.

A good inspector usually can tell if water damage has occurred, and any damage should be disclosed by the previous owner at the time of sale.

The big fallout from water damage is moisture problems you won’t see — behind drywall and trim — which can lead to mold. If you know there’s been a major leak, a mold remediation pro ($200 to $600) will tell you if mold is present and the steps required to remove it.

Any Infestations of Termites, Carpenter Ants, or Other Pests?

This should be disclosed by the previous owner at time of sale. But even if the owner dealt with a past infestation, that doesn’t mean the little buggers have been totally eliminated.

Whatever conditions made your house ripe for infestation in the first place — a slow leak under the house, soft rotting wood that attracts insects — may still be present. Plus, many infestations aren’t confined to one house. It may be a neighborhood-wide problem.

Be proactive, because the average cost of a termite extermination treatment around the perimeter of a 2,500-square-foot house is $1,700 to $3,200. Repairs to wooden framing, sheathing, and siding can run from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

What are Monthly Utility Costs?

You can’t get away from paying utilities, so know what your monthly budget is up against. Be sure to get an average cost — not the lowest monthly bill — and ask when peak months are.

While you’re at it, ask what kind of energy sources your house appliances use — gas, electric, propane, or a combination. That’ll help you understand where you might upgrade to energy-efficient appliances to save energy costs.

Remember that energy savings starts with the simplest of tasks, like sealing air leaks.

Has the Sewer Ever Backed Up?

As properties age and trees and other plants get bigger, roots find their way into sewer lines between a house and the street, causing clogs. It’s a mess for sure, and most homeowner insurance policies don’t cover damage from backed-up sewers.

Plan to have the sewer line cleared (about $150) every other year.

For $40 to $50 per year, you can add an endorsement to your insurance policy to cover damage from a backed-up sewer.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

Common Myths That Are Costing You Time and Money

by Rebecca Shahan

You can’t swing a tool belt without hitting a website or TV network offering tips on taking care of your digs. Save money by watering your lawn at night! No, water it in the morning! No, dig it up and replace it with a drought-hardy meadow!

Throw in the info you pick up from well-meaning friends and there’s a sea of home care truisms out there, some of which can sink your budget.

Stone Countertops Are Indestructible

Marble, quartz, travertine, soapstone, and limestone can all be stained. Regular household cleaners can dull their surfaces over time. And marble is maddeningly fragile — it’s the prima donna of stone.

It’s easy to scratch. It’s easy to stain. Here’s the worst part: Mildly acidic substances like soda, coffee, lemon juice, even hard water will eat into marble, creating a cloudy, dull spot in a process known as etching.

Spill a glass of wine on a marble counter and go to bed without cleaning it, the next morning you’ll have a problem. And while stone counters won’t crack under a hot pot, such direct heat can discolor quartz or marble. So be nice to your counters, no matter what they’re made of. And note that the best rock for your buck is granite. It doesn’t stain or scratch. It’s tough because it’s volcanic rock. Which means it can stand up to all the merlot and barbecue sauce you can spill on it.

Your Smoke Detector's Test Button Is Foolproof

The test button doesn’t tell you what you really need to know. Yes, check your smoke detector twice a year. But all that test button will tell you is whether the alarm sound is working, not if the sensor that detects smoke is working. Pretty key difference there.

The best way to check your device is with real smoke. Light a long, wooden kitchen match, blow it out, and hold it near the unit. If the smoke sets off the alarm, it’s working. If not, replace the batteries. If it still doesn’t work, you need a new smoke detector. And replace those batteries once a year anyway, because dead batteries are the No. 1 reason smoke detectors fail.

A Lemon Is a Great Way to Clean a Disposal

 While wanting to use natural cleaners is admirable, all of them will damage your disposal and pipes over time.

The lemon’s acidic juice will corrode the metal parts of your disposal. The mixture of salt and ice contains metal-eating acid, too. The coffee grounds are abrasive enough to clean the gunk off the blades and make it smell like a cup of americano, but they’ll accumulate in pipes and clog them.

The best natural cleaner for your disposal is good old baking soda. It’s mildly abrasive so it will clean the blades, but it’s a base, not an acid, and won’t damage the metal. Best of all, a box with enough baking soda big enough to clean your disposal twice costs less than a buck.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

Tips to Determine How Much Mortgage You Can Afford

by Rebecca Shahan

Owning a home should give you safety and security, and that includes being financially secure. Before you buy a home, you should calculate how much you can afford for a mortgage and make sure it fits safely withing your budget.

Prepare a Detailed Budget

The standard rule of thumb says that you can afford a home that costs 2 to 3 times your gross income for one year. In other words, if you earn $100,000 in a year, you should be able to afford a home between $200k to $300k.

There is one problem with this rule. It doesn't factor in your monthly expenses and debts. If we use our previous example of $100k per year income, and you have $1000 monthly debt payments, this leaves you with less money to pay the mortgage.

You should prepare a family budget that takes into account your ongoing monthly bills for everything — credit cards, car and student loans, lunch at work, day care, date night, vacations, and savings.

Now you can see what's left to cover the costs of owning a home, such as your mortgage, property taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, and community association fees, if applicable.

Factor in Your Downpayment

Having enough for a down payment is also an important factor to consider. It's simple: the higher the down payment, the lower your monthly mortgage costs will be. If you put down at least 20% of the home’s cost, you may not have to get private mortgage insurance, which protects the lender if you default and costs hundreds each month. That leaves more money for your mortgage payment.

The lower your down payment, the higher the loan amount you’ll need to qualify for and the higher your monthly mortgage payment.

But, if interest rates and/or home prices are rising and you wait to buy until you accumulate a bigger downpayment, you may end up paying more for your home.

Consider Your Overall Debt

Lenders generally follow the 43% rule. Your monthly mortgage payments covering your home loan principal, interest, taxes and insurance, plus all your other bills, like car loans, utilities, and credit cards, shouldn’t exceed 43% of your gross annual income.

Here’s an example of how the 43% calculation works for a home buyer making $100,000 a year before taxes:

  1. Your gross annual income is $100,000.
  2. Multiply $100,000 by 43% to get $43,000 in annual income.
  3. Divide $43,000 by 12 months to convert the annual 43% limit into a monthly upper limit of $3,583.
  4. All your monthly bills including your potential mortgage can’t go above $3,583 per month.

You might find a lender willing to give you a mortgage with a payment that goes above the 43% line, but consider carefully before you take it.

Use Your Rent as a Mortgage Guide

If you currently are renting, then you can use an online calculator to compare the costs of renting vs owning a home to see which makes the most sense for your financial situation.

If you’re struggling to keep up with your rent, buy a home that will give you the same payment rather than going up to a higher monthly payment. You’ll have additional costs for home ownership that your landlord now covers, like property taxes and repairs. If there’s no room in your budget for those extras, you could become financially stressed.

Also consider whether or not you’ll itemize your deductions. If you take the standard deduction, you can’t also deduct mortgage interest payments. Talking to a tax adviser, or using a tax software program to do a “what if” tax return, can help you see your tax situation more clearly.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

Negotiate Your Best House Buy in Austin and Lake Travis

by Rebecca Shahan

There can be a lot of emotional moments when buying a home in Lake Travis and Austin. But negotiating a price doesn't have to me emotional. You just need to stick to the plan. Your agent will guide you through this potentially turbulent time. Your agent may offer advice, but in the end, you're the one who makes the final decision.

Here are six tips for negotiating the best price on a home.

Get Prequalified for a Mortgage

When you prequalify for a mortgage, it shows seller that you mean business and can afford to buy their home. This also puts you ahead of those buyers who may not be prequalified.

Ask Questions

Questions are your best friend. You need to know many things about the home and seller your interested in. What's the seller's motivation for selling? What is their financial position? Are they facing foreclosure or a short sale? Have they already purchased a home or relocated, which may make them eager to accept a lower price to avoid paying two mortgages? Has the home been on the market for a long time, or was it just listed? Have there been other offers? If so, why did they fall through? The more signs that sellers are eager to sell, the lower your offer can reasonably go.

Work Back From a Final Price to Determine Your Initial Offer

You should know in advance what you're willing to pay. Then you can work back from that number to make an initial offer. If you bid too low, you may offend the seller. If you bid too high, you may end up spending more than you need to.

You agent can work with you to compare homes in area that have sold recently to come to a fair initial offer.

Avoid Contingencies

Sellers don't like taking chances. Nobody does for that matter. So keep the bid free of complicated contingencies, such as making the purchase conditional on the sale of your current home. Try to keep contingencies for mortgage approval, home inspection, and environmental checks typical in your area, like radon.

Remain Unemotional

Remember that buying a home is a business deal. Treat it that way. Consider any movement by the sellers, however slight, a sign of interest, and keep negotiating.

Each time you make a concession, ask for one in return. If the sellers ask you to boost your price, ask them to contribute to closing costs or pay for a home warranty. If sellers won’t budge, make it clear you’re willing to walk away; they may get nervous and accept your offer.

Don't Let Competition Change Your Plan

Great homes and those competitively priced can draw multiple offers in any market. Don’t let competition propel you to go beyond your predetermined price or agree to concessions — such as waiving an inspection — that aren’t in your best interest.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

Tips for Buying a Foreclosure Home

by Rebecca Shahan

When a home is foreclosed, the bank or lender wants to get it sold as quick as they can. Lenders are not in the real estate business, so they will use a real estate agent to market the property. You can also buy a foreclosed home through the multiple listing service, but that can be filled with problems. Here's 4 tips to help you buy a foreclosed home.

1. Choose a foreclosure sale expert. 

Lenders will usually sell a foreclosed home through a real estate agent. We can help you find foreclosed homes for sale.

As real estate experts, we have experience selling foreclosed properties and can guide you through the process.

2. Work with your agent to set a price. 

Ask your real estate agent to show you closed sales of comparable homes, which you can use to set your price. Start with an amount well under market value because the lender may be in a hurry to get rid of the home.

3. Get your financing in order. 

Many mortgage market players, such as Fannie Mae, require buyers to submit financing preapproval letters with a purchase offer. They’ll also reject all contingencies. Since most foreclosed homes are vacant, closings can be quick. Make sure you have the cash you’ll need to close your purchase.

4. Expect an as-is sale.

Most homeowners stopped maintaining their home long before they could no longer make mortgage payments. Be sure to have enough money left after the sale to make at least minor, and sometimes substantive, repairs.

Although lenders may do minor cosmetic repairs to make foreclosed homes more marketable, they won’t give you credits for repair costs (or make additional repairs) because they’ve already factored the property’s condition into their asking price.

Lenders will also require that you purchase the home “as is,” which means in its current condition. Protect yourself by ordering a home inspection to uncover the true condition of the property, getting a pest inspection, and purchasing a home warranty.

Be sure you also do all the environmental testing that’s common to your region to find hazards such as radon, mold, lead-based paint, or underground storage tanks.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

Should You Buy That Fixer Upper in Austin?

by Rebecca Shahan

Buying a fixer-upper in Austin, if you buy the right one, can really be a great investment. If the right things are wrong with a house, it can become both your dream home, as well as earn a great deal of equity.

You don't need to be a DIY guru wither. Patience and time are all that's needed.

Here's how you can tell if that home you're looking at fixing up is worth it.

Evaluate the Price

A fixer-upper should be priced as such. Try not to fall in love too quickly with a home that “just needs a little TLC.” make sure you do your research and make sure the price is right for the work needed.

Also look at other homes in the neighborhood to see how much they sold for and how much work they've had and how fancy they are. you don't want to over-improve for the neighborhood, as this could affect the selling price in the future if you decide to sell.

Start Evaluating What Improvements Are Needed

An ideal fixer-upper is a home that offers a lot of opportunities for “instant equity." This means that if your turned around and sold the home right away, you would get your money back.

Some improvement tasks can be as simple as painting or landscaping, which you can accomplish with sweat equity.

Other tasks may require the work of professionals and cash to pay them. It’s those projects you want to carefully evaluate against the home’s price.

Which Hire-a-Pro Projects Add Instant Equity?

Some home improvement projects that require a pro stay at the top of the list of things that will be worth the cost instantly.

Based on data gleaned from the “Remodeling Impact Report” (RIR) from the National Association of REALTORS®’, if these three projects are on your fixer-upper’s list of must-haves, then you may have found your dream equity-builder:

  • New roof
  • Hardwood floors
  • Insulation

While those three are pretty safe bets. Almost any project can be worth it with a fixer-upper if the price is right. For example, a complete kitchen renovation can cost $65,000 and recover only about $40,000 when you sell. But if the fixer-upper is discounted enough, think how amazing it would be to cook in a kitchen you designed yourself.

Evaluate Your Ability to Deal with Disruption

Whether you’re a DIY Jedi or content to let the pros handle the remodel, if your patience is shorter than your potential home’s to-do list, a fixer-upper may not be a good choice.

Renovating a bathroom alone can take two to three weeks. Add hardwood flooring, a new kitchen, and siding, and you’re looking at a whole summer’s worth of rehab.

When considering a fixer-upper, evaluate the limits of your emotional energy as well. Inevitable project pitfalls and delays can be wearing. Only if you have the time, patience, and emotional endurance for a fixer-upper will it be a good fit for you. And only you can determine that.

But if you can budget your time and money, and employ the right fixer-upper strategies, you might find yourself with a double reward: A home that’s worth far more than you paid, and the joy of knowing you helped get it there.

Check back on our blog twice a week for more real estate news, ideas, and local events in Austin and Lake Travis. You can search for the perfect home on our website using our powerful home search tools. You can also get free listing alerts of homes as they hit the market at WelcomeToLakeTravis.com. And you can always feel free to call us at 512-657-4467​ to talk to an experienced agent today.

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