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Packing Hacks That Make Moving Less Awful

by Rebecca Shahan

No matter how you slice it, moving is exhausting. Packing up, moving, and then unpacking an entire house is the worst.

Yet there are ways you can cut down on all that aggravation, effort, and anxiety. Here's a few pro tips that can help during your next move.

Do a Pre-Pack Photo Shoot

Here's an idea that can save your memory and sanity. Trying to remember where all those cords go and how you had your bookshelf looking so good can get mind-numbing when you mix it in with the rest of the process.

Save yourself some grief by taking pre-packing photos of all those things that were hard to arrange int he first place, so you won't have to figure it out again. With photos in hand, you’ll be able to recreate it all in record time.

Corral Cords With Toilet Paper Rolls

There's nothing more frustrating than not being able to find extension cords when you need them during a move. You know you've seen them laying around, but where?

When you pack, wind up each cord in a 6-inch coil, then insert it in a toilet paper roll. You’ll have lots more room in the box, and no tangled mess to unpack later. Just remember to clearly label the box!

Create a "Moving Toolbox"

Keep all your moving tools, such as your Sharpies, packing tape, box cutter and such together in a “moving toolbox” that you can take from room to room as you pack. This will keep you from misplacing small essential items when your house is full of boxes.

Tape Appliance Cords to Their Homes

You could be exploring your new neighborhood, but you're too busy trying to find the right power cord for your appliances.

You can save more time by taping the plug to the appliance it belongs to. Then go get a taco on the corner with your reclaimed time.

Use Your Towels, Blankets as Packing Materials

Another way moving day gets frustratingly extended? Your third trip to the store to buy more bubble wrap.

Kudos on treating your breakables with care, you don’t need the store-bought stuff. Pot holders, oven mitts, and even those old paper and plastic grocery bags you were planning to recycle make great packing materials. Also consider towels, pillows, blankets, the kids’ stuffed animals — whatever’s soft!

Color-Code Boxes

If you’re paying movers, really get your money’s worth by making it easy for them to deposit every box in the right room.

Assign a color to each room, then mark that color on the outside of each box. Before movers arrive, add the correct color label to each room’s door. They’ll love the simplicity, and you’ll love not having to haul everything that was supposed to go in the office out of the playroom.

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.

Can You Afford That House in Austin?

by Rebecca Shahan

If you plan on buying a home, you probably have already lined up how much you need for the down payment, your desired mortgage payment, along with how much you can afford based on your income.

But have you thought about how much money you need to actually enjoy your new home once you move in? Here are six life factors to consider when buying a home:

Green Thumb?

If you love to garden and landscape, then buying a home with a lawn will be a fun adventure. But if you don't love to garden, then buying a home with a lawn can cost you about $100 or more a month for professional landscape maintenance. Are you willing to skip the lawn in favor of hardscaping to reduce costs?

Factor hobbies and services into your monthly budget to see if the numbers still work out in the black.

Pool Time

Everyone wants a home with a pool, right? Maybe not, once you factor in all the costs and upkeep. You need to add up the costs of pool maintenance and servicing, energy, and insurance (along with liability if you have small children).  After you take all that into consideration, you may decide you would be better off heading to the neighborhood swimming hole.

If you plan to add a pool, don't plan on getting back more than 50% of the cost when you sell your home. Yes, polls are fun, but they take a lot of work to keep up. Factor time and money into your future plans when buying a home with this special feature and, once again, ask yourself if the numbers add up to support your other financial goals.

Children

If you’re buying a home and plan to start a family in the next few years, don’t just consider the amount of mortgage you can afford under your current expenses. Factor in daycare costs and then determine what your cash flow will look like. You may have to adjust the amount of home you’re looking to purchase.

Entertainment

Have you taken into account your entertainment costs? Most of us like to eat out, go see a concert or a movie, or go to a game. You should add up how much you normally spend on entertainment and see how you can balance those costs with owning a home. You may love your new home, but you may not want to feel trapped in it because you don't have the money left to have fun.

Retirement

If you’re in your 20s, you should try to save 10% of your income; in your 30s, you should be saving 15%. If you need to cut back on your retirement savings to make a home purchase work, think hard about when you’ll be able to get back to your ideal contribution levels and how much you may be losing out on during that time.

Although home ownership can help build long-term wealth, it’s important to also maintain retirement savings for future security.

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.

Lesser-Known Fees That Factor Into the True Cost of Home Buying

by Rebecca Shahan

Buying a home can be a tricky process, and there are plenty of little costs that can add up. How can you prepare to cover these costs?

Since most people focus on the larger costs, such as the down payment and mortgage payments, they tend to overlook the smaller fees that come with buying a home.

Here are a few of these lesser known fees and what they could cost you.

Home Inspection

A home inspection is critical to protecting you from buying a home with hidden issues that could ruin your finances. The inspector looks for structural and general issues with the home. Inspections cost between $300 and $500, and whether or not you end up purchasing the property, you still need to pay this fee. You may also have to hire a specialist if specific issues are found, such as foundation issues or termites.

Appraisal Fee

This appraisal report goes to your lender to assure it that the property is worth what you’re paying for it. If you’re selling, review the appraisal thoroughly for any oddball numbers or descriptions that could affect the value of your home. An appraisal can take about 2 hours and costs between $200 and $425.

Application Fees

Before ever approving you for a loan, the lender is going to run your credit report and charge you an application fee, often lumping the credit report fee in with the application fee. This can run $75 to $300. Be sure to ask for a breakdown of the application fees to understand all costs.

Title Services

These fees cover a title search of the public records for the property you’re buying, notary fees for the person witnessing your signature on documents, government filing fees, and more. These can cost between $150 and $400, and it’s important to get a line item for each cost.

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

When you put down less than 20% on your new home, the lender requires that you purchase PMI once you reach 78% of your loan-to-value ratio or you have 22% equity. So PMI is a policy that you have to buy to protect the lender from you. PMI rates can vary from 0.3% to 1.5% of your original loan amount annually.

Tax Service Fee

This is the cost (about $50) to ensure that all property tax payments are up to date and that the payments you make are appropriately credited to the right home.

Always ask questions when it comes to understanding the fees you’re paying. If possible, print out documents and go through them with a highlighter to indicate any areas you have concerns about. Discuss them with your lender or real estate agent and determine if you can negotiate any of them down.

Don’t be afraid to price shop to ensure you’re getting the best value. Just because you’re spending hundreds of thousands on a home doesn’t mean you should be comfortable throwing thousands of dollars at fees.

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.

Easy Rules for Negotiating Your Lake Travis Home Offer

by Rebecca Shahan

Here’s the dream: Your offer is perfect, you don’t need to negotiate, and you can spend the next few weeks addressing more pressing home-ownership questions, like “Why is it called wainscoting?” and “Do I want a new couch in blush or emerald green?”

And it could happen. Many sellers accept the best offer they receive, and for a variety of reasons.

But sellers are also known to reject offers for a variety of reasons. Or make counteroffers. This is especially likely if you bid low, or when you’re up against multiple competing offers.

Here are a few rules every buyer should know before they — and their agent — start negotiating:

Act Fast — Like, Now

When you receive a counteroffer, you should respond quickly — ideally within 24 hours. The longer you wait, the more space you leave for another buyer to swoop in and nab the property. Also? If a seller senses hesitation, they may decide to withdraw their counteroffer before you even have a chance to respond.

Raise Your Price (Within Reason)

While you obviously don’t want to overpay for a house, you may have to up the ante — especially if you initially made a lowball offer. Lean on your agent’s expertise to determine how much money you should add to the Before you make an offer, talk with your agent about how high you’re willing to go if the seller doesn’t accept your bid.sales price to make it more enticing to the seller.

Then, through their powers of persuasion, your agent can make the counteroffer look even more attractive by pointing out similarly priced “comps” — recently sold homes in your area that are comparable in terms of square footage and features.

As your agent negotiates, it can feel like things are escalating quickly. It’s stressful. You may feel a sudden urge to do whatever it takes to win.

Before you go overboard, there are two things you must keep in mind:

  1. You can’t exceed the monetary confines of the pre-approved mortgage you received from your lender.
  2. You shouldn’t overextend your budget.

Because your counteroffer has to be an amount you’re comfortable spending on a home. You want that new house and to keep living your life. Plus: You’re not out of options yet.

Increase Your Earnest Money Deposit

Increasing your earnest money deposit (EMD) — the sum of money you put down to prove to the seller you’re serious (i.e., “earnest”) about buying the house — is another way to show the seller you have more skin in the game. A standard EMD is typically 1% to 3% of the sales price of the home. Making a counteroffer with a 3% to 4% deposit could be what you need to persuade the seller to side with you.

Demonstrate Patience About Taking Possession

Depending on the seller’s timetable, changing your proposed possession date — the date you take over the property — could butter them up, too. If the seller wants to stay in the home for a few days after closing, try offering a later possession date. You could also draw up a “rent-back” agreement, meaning the seller pays you rent for staying in the home for a set period of time after the closing date.

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.

How to Seal the Deal When Closing Your Home

by Rebecca Shahan

This is the moment you've worked for. It's time to close the deal on your new home. The home you've been wanting is almost yours, and the keys are nearly in your hands.

As you cross the finish line, what are some things to consider?

What Does "Closing" Mean?

Closing simply means that you sign the final paperwork that gets you the keys to your new home.

The process really begins when you sign a purchase and sale agreement, which specifies the closing date. It usually takes about 4 - 6 weeks from the signing date to closing date. During this time, purchasing funds are held in escrow, where your money is safe until the deal is officially done.

What's a Closing Disclosure?

A Closing Disclosure, or CD, is provided by the lender at least three days before settlement. The CD discloses you final loan terms and closing costs.

The reason for this step is to make sure there's no surprises during the final closing. You should let your lender and title company know right away if there's a significant discrepancy between the Loan Estimate and CD. Depending on what the underlying issue is, the closing has to stop and a new closing disclosure must be sent out with a new three-day review period.

The main things that can't change between by the time you get the Closing Disclosure is the interest rate and lender fees. Some items can change by only 10% (fees paid to local government to record the mortgage might be one); and others can change without limit, like prepaid interest, because it can’t be predicted at the start of the loan process.

When Will the Final Walk-Through Happen?

Usually within 24 hours of the settlement, you and your agent will do a walk-through of the home, making sure any repair work that the seller agreed to make has been completed.

If any repair work is missed, your agent will contact the listing agent and, in most cases, negotiate to get the seller to compensate you at closing, This will usually be in the form of a personal check for the costs of fixing the problems yourself.

Worst-case scenario: You have to delay closing to resolve problems. In the unlikely event that happens, your agent will help you address the issue.

How Much Will I Pay for Closing Costs?

Closing costs can be frustrating for home buyers, as there can be unexpected surprises.

Costs are split between you and the seller, but as the buyer you’ll cover the lion’s share. You can generally expect your closing costs to be 3% to 4% of the home’s sales price. So, on a $300,000 home, you can pay anywhere from $9,000 to $12,000 in closing costs. (Meanwhile, the seller typically pays closing costs of 1% to 3% of the sales price.)

You can try to predict closing costs with calculators which lets you plug in your mortgage details to get a rough estimate of what your costs will be.

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.

5 Tips For Starting Your Home Search

by Rebecca Shahan

Buying a home can be both an exciting and frustrating time. There's a great many things to think about and line up for a successful home purchase.

What are some basic steps you can take to reduce the frustration and guide your way to success? 

1. Get Pre-Approved

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage is more and more becoming a crucial first step in the home buying process. It's a relatively simple thing to do, yet it gives you so much power in return.  It not only shows the seller that you mean business, but it also let's you know more exactly what you can afford.  In the end, it saves everyone more time and helps you more quickly find the right home for your budget.

2. Know the Difference Between Your ‘Must-Haves’ and ‘Would-Like-To-Haves’

What do you really want versus what you really need in a home? Is that farmhouse sink really your key to happiness? Is a two-car garage a must, or can you deal with a smaller garage? Can that man cave wait for a later renovation or do you need it right now?

Before you begin your home search, write down all the features of a home you want, then categorize them as ‘must-haves’, ‘should-haves’, or ‘absolute-wish list’ items. This way you can keep focused on what's really important in a home.

3. Research Neighborhoods

The neighborhood can be just as important as the home. You can find a home that fist all your needs, but if it's in a neighborhood you don't like, that can ruin it. Make a list of things you want in a neighborhood, factoring commute times and schools, shopping, etc. 

Then explore neighborhoods that fit your needs. You can also look up crime stats and other important information to make sure the neighborhood you chose is also safe.

4. Stick With a Particular House Style

Decide what home style works best for your family and stick to that when searching. This will keep you from touring homes that won't fit your needs.

For example, if you have kids and want your bedroom on the same level, stay away from Cape Cod styles, as they usually have the master bed on the main floor and the other rooms on the upper level.

5. Document Your Home Visits

When you visit homes, write down what you love and don't love about each one, as features will start to bur together. 

If you take these few steps, you can get much closer to finding the home that fits your needs.

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.  

5 Tips For First Time Home Buyers

by Rebecca Shahan

5 tips for first time home buyersIf you're ready to buy your first home, no doubt you've realized already there's a lot of things you need to think about. It can seem overwhelming. But it doesn't have to be.  Millions of people have bought homes before, and we know what makes the process go more smoothly. All it takes is planning and patience.

There are some simple steps you can take to make sure your home buying experience goes more smoothly. Here's a few things to think about before you decide to buy.

How Much Home Can You Afford?

Like any purchase, you need to know how much you can afford. It can be disappointing to find out you can't afford the home you fall in love with. The best thing to do is to determine the maximum amount you can afford.  An online mortgage calculator is a great way to start. You can find out your maximum price limit based on a 30 year mortgage.

You can also pin down a more exact amount of what you can afford is to talk to a loan officer at your bank. A loan officer will have a better idea of what the bank will loan you and what your down payment will need to be.

Knowing how much you can afford in advance, along with being pre-approved for a loan, will give you an advantage over buyers who haven't taken this step.  And it will save you time, since you know exactly what you can afford before you start your home search.

What Are The Must Haves In a Home?

Knowing what you want in a home, and what you don't want, is important. Sit down and think about all the things that you must have in a home, and the things that will make life miserable. Write it all down and use it in your home search. Show it to your agent as well so they know what to look for. You can adjust your list as you look at homes and see first hand what's available.

Use an Experienced Local Real Estate Agent

The right agent who knows the area inside and out makes a huge difference. Research the real estate agents in the are you're moving to.  If you have friends or family who've bought a home there recently, ask them for a referral. If not, read reviews online.

A good agent will know the area you're moving to inside and out, and will pay attention to your needs. In many cases, a great agent will have repeat clients over the years. They will also be able to connect you to loan officer and real estate attorneys, along with other needed professionals.

Compare Prices

You should look at homes in the area that are comparable to get an idea of what they're selling for.

You can easily compare homes in the area you plan to move to using tools such as our Home Search feature.

Ask Your Real Estate Agent About Closing Costs

Closing costs can vary, so make sure you determine the expected costs in advance to avoid any nasty financial issues during closing. Closing costs can include the costs of hiring an attorney to look over the  seller agreement, along with a home appraiser to inspect the home before the sale. A good real estate agent will be happy to help you determine closing costs.

Being a first time home buyer may seem daunting, but it's something you can accomplish successfully with the right planning and information.

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.  

Buying Is 23% Cheaper Than Renting in Austin

by Rebecca Shahan

According to the latest Rent vs. Buy Report from Trulia, owning a home continues to be cheaper than renting in the largest metro areas in the US, based on a 30 year mortgage. Austin stood out as one of the top cities in this report, with owning a home being 23.5% cheaper than buying.

Only two cities in the study turned out to be cheaper to rent than buy - San Jose and San Francisco CA. Median home prices in those cities rose to over $1 million this year. This is the first time in the six years that Trulia has being doing this study that this happened. Home values rose by 29% last year, while rent remained the same.  But not in Austin!

For the 98 metro areas where owning a home is cheaper than renting, 97 of them are in the double digits in advantage when buying. Austin was one of those metro areas that stood out at 23.5%.

Trulia arrived at these figures by taking into account all renting costs, including deposits, and compared them with the monthly costs of owning a home. Those costs included insurance, mortgage payments, taxes, and maintenance, along with one-time costs such as down payments, closing costs, and sale proceeds. The study also assumes that most homeowners stay in their home for seven years, put 20% down, and have a 30 year fixed mortgage.

In 2016, when buying was 41.3% less expensive than renting, the average mortgage rate was the driving force behind the difference. Rates this year are the highest they have been in six years which has narrowed the gap, all while home price appreciation has also been driven up by a lack of homes for sale.

Cheryl Young, Trulia’s Chief Economist, had this to say,

“One point deserves emphasizing: The ultra-costly San Francisco Bay Area is not a harbinger for the nation as a whole. While renting may outweigh buying in San Jose and San Francisco, it is unlikely that renting will tip the scales nationally anytime soon.”

There's many benefits of owning a home beyond just the money. If you're renting a home and would like to explore the possibility of owning a home, we would be happy to help you analyze the costs and benefits.

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.  

What to Expect With a Home Inspection

by Rebecca Shahan

A home inspection is a must when selling or buying a home. It brings peace of mind to both buyers and sellers knowing that the home is structurally sound. Here is the whole process outlined, along with how to get the best out of your home inspection.

Why Have Your Home Inspected?

Having your home inspected as a seller is beneficial because it allows you to list the home for a higher value after you make all the needed repairs. A with fewer problems is easier and faster to sell because the buyer won’t have to make those repairs.

Make sure your home inspector has a good track record. You can do this by researching home inspectors in your area and looking up what people say about them or by hiring a home inspector trusted by someone you know.

During the Home Inspection

Make sure to be there during the home inspection so that the inspector can point out possible problems in person and explain the options you have to fix those issues. You can have the opportunity to ask questions, take notes, and take photos. This will also help you learn about what things to check for when buying a home. Make sure to check each possible home issue to protect yourself from bigger problems down the road.

Recheck and Take Notes

After the home inspection, go over the identified problems and take a closer look at what is found. This will help you with negotiation whether or buying or selling. You can add or deduct from the sale or buying price depending on what needs to be repaired.

Discuss and Negotiate Repairs

If you’re selling the home, either you can do the repairs needed and then list the home for a higher price or not make the repairs, then offer the home for a slightly lowered price.

If you’re the buyer, you can ask for an asking price deduction that is equal to the estimated cost of repairs if you’re buying the home as-is. Another option is to suggest that the current owner get repairs done and then you buy it after a re-inspection following the repairs. This would be best for very expensive repairs such as for changing the entire roof or re-plumbing the entire home.

A good home inspection can make the difference between a smooth transaction and a disaster.  Make sure you find the right inspector and be involved in the process.

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.  

First Time Buyers - Avoid These Common Mistakes

by Rebecca Shahan

Avoid these first time buyer mistakesAre you ready to buy your first home?  If so, this is an important time for you.  This is a big decision, so don’t get caught up in the emotions and make the same mistakes that so many first time buyers make. Let’s take a look at just a few of those mistakes and what can be done to avoid them.

Picking Out a House Before the Mortgage

Having enough money to buy your home is a step you would think most people would realize. But it turns out that many first time buyers get so excited that they start looking at houses before they secure financing. You can’t blame people for doing this, as looking at homes is definitely more fun shopping for a mortgage. But if you don’t know what you can afford beforehand, it can lead to disappointment if you can’t finance enough money to buy the home you want.

Make sure you talk with a lending professional to get pre-qualified or pre-approved for a loan before you start looking at any houses.  You’ll have a better idea of what you can afford. And it also gives you leverage, as the seller will be more confident that you’re serious.

Not Looking at First Time Buyer Programs

As a first time buyer, you may not have a lot of money saved up to put down on a home and cover closing costs. This may lead you to think that you have to wait until you save enough for a huge down payment.

However, there are programs such as Veterans Administration or U.S. Department of Agriculture loans that don’t require a down payment. You may also qualify for a Federal Housing Administration loan that only need a down payment of 3.5%. Even some conventional loans have down payments as low as 3%. You never know until you ask.

Applying For Credit Before Closing

The closing period is the worst time to apply for new credit, as some make the mistake of applying for credit cards so they can buy furniture and other items for their new home.  To be blunt, that is a huge error on their part. The lender will be looking at your credit during this period and will base their decision on your debt-to-income ratio.  Applying for credit can lower your score. About a week before closing they will also check your score.  So if they see any change in credit activity, it could change the interest rate or fees.

Pick out what you want to buy ahead of time, and then get any needed credit after the closing.

Not Having the Home Inspected

Not having a home inspected before you buy it is only asking for trouble. Homes, especially older ones, can have many issues that are hidden from immediate view. You need to be able to see the hidden issues. Some buyers feel that if they waive the inspection that it will give them an edge on other buyers.  But if you end up buying a home that needs major repairs, it ends up being a bad deal anyways. 

The simple solution is to hire a home inspector of your own choosing.  This way they won’t have any bias toward the home seller or your agent, and can give you an honest assessment.

Buying your first home can be a positive experience if you take the time and make wise decisions with the future in mind. 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.  

Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 19