Household Budget & Money Saving Tips

Running a household is an expensive affair, but there are lots of things that you can do to minimize the costs. Lowering your expenses helps you stay within your budget and save for goals like buying a house or adding to your retirement income. Here are eight ways to reduce household expenses.

Bundle Your Services
Have internet, phone, and cable service? Move all of your accounts to one provider, and you could save $20 or more per month. Ask your current providers about bundling offers or visit ​allconnect.com to determine which company is offering the best service bundle in your area, then make the switch and save.
Cut Back on Extras
Do you really need unlimited data on your phone? How about the premium cable or satellite package that you subscribe to? Are you subscribed to multiple streaming services? You could alternate between them instead so you’re only subscribed to one or two at a time. Examine your list of monthly expenses, and determine what you can live without.
Clip Coupons and Shop Sales
Groceries can take a big bite out of a budget, but they don’t have to take a big bite out of yours. To reign in your grocery spending, start clipping coupons and shopping sales. If you’re a first-time couponer, you could save 15% or more. With time, that could increase to as much as 50%. Keep in mind that couponing only makes sense for items you would buy anyway. If you’re buying items you don’t usually shop for, it defeats the purpose.
Most retailers have sales periodically, but some sales are predictable. For example, summer clothes tend to go on sale by August to make room for fall items. Black Friday through Cyber Monday tends to be a good time to buy electronics.
Slash Your Insurance Premiums
Insurance is essential but costly. Shop around for a better auto insurance rate and you may shave hundreds of dollars off of your current premium. Can’t find a better rate? Talk to your current provider to see if there are discounts that you are missing out on. For example, they may offer a discount for having multiple policies, a ​good student discount, and/or a good driver discount. For even more savings, consider increasing your deductible or canceling comprehensive and collision coverage on older vehicles. If you have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, be sure to review those policies as well.
Get Energy Smart
Do you dread opening your utility bills each month? If so, there’s a lot that you can do to reduce your bill.
  • Install a smart thermostat and set it to run less when no one is home
  • Turn off lights when they aren’t in use
  • Wash your laundry in cold water
  • Turn down the temperature on your hot water heater
  • Only buy ​Energy Star appliances

Start looking around, and you’ll find many ways to reduce your energy consumption and energy bills.

Seek Cheap Thrills
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have fun, so examine your entertainment spending and see if there are places where you can make cuts. Could you stream movies instead of seeing them in the theater? Enjoy free concerts instead of paid concerts? Check out books at the library instead of buying them? Go on a picnic instead of eating out? Challenge yourself to have more fun for less money—every little bit adds up.
Pay Your Bills on Time
In the habit of paying your bills late? If so, you’re probably paying more than you need to. Start paying your bills on time and say goodbye to late fees and rate hikes.
One option for ensuring your bills are paid on time is using autopay. If your budget is too tight for autopay, consider using calendar reminders to prompt you to pay your bills. If you have access to bill pay through your bank, consider setting it up to make paying bills faster and easier.
Learn How to Do More Yourself
Develop your DIY skills so you can keep your home well maintained without all those pricey service calls. Consider learning tasks like handling clogs, lawn care, painting interior and exterior walls and more.
If home cooking isn’t your thing, consider learning. Try one or two simple recipes per week to build up your skills and confidence.

Functional Spaces at Home

10 Ways to Make a Room More Functional

  1. Maximize vertical space
    Take advantage of wall height by adding tall bookcases, cabinets or shelves, or by hanging hooks for jackets in the hallway, separate office or study, add a desk in a corner of a bedroom or living room, preferably under a window to take advantage of the natural light and to keep your back turned from distractions like the TV and bed.
  2. Keep traffic paths clear
    Avoid bumping into furniture by creating an efficient layout. Make direct paths to commonly used zones and leave enough space to manoeuvre around each piece of furniture. 
  3. Control clutter
    Get rid of items you no longer need or use, deal with paperwork as it comes in, file important items in labelled folders or boxes, and return everything to its original place when you’re done with it.
  4. Add storage
    Store like items – such as cleaning products or bathroom supplies – in labelled boxes or plastic bins. For particularly unkempt areas, purchase storage options like an over-the-door rack to get shoes off the floor, or a closet-size second shelving unit to stash seasonal clothing.
  5. Create a nook
    If you don’t have the luxury of a separate office or study, add a desk in a corner of a bedroom or living room, preferably under a window to take advantage of the natural light and to keep your back turned from distractions like the TV and bed. 
  6. Use a room for what it’s intended
    Keep the children’s toys in their bedrooms or playroom and out of the living room, do paperwork or homework in a home office or den – not the dining room – and move all of your craft or woodworking projects out of the kitchen and down into the basement or crafts room.
  7. Store items in the rooms in which they’re used
    Keep table linens in the dining room, books and magazines in the den, dish towels in the kitchen, and detergent in the laundry room.
  8. Purchase double-duty furnishings
    Select pieces that are versatile, such as a coffee table with a shelf for magazines and books, a lighting for reading, eating or writing, and for setting the mood.
  9. Have multiple table surfaces
    Rather than having to get out of your chair every time you want a sip of coffee, make sure that there are enough surfaces within arm’s reach of living room seating to hold items such as drinks, books, table lamps and reading glasses.
  10. Purchase efficient lighting
    Ensure that your space has table lamps, floor lamps and other lighting for reading, eating or writing, and for setting the mood.

Thanks for reading!

Questions To Ask When Buying Homeowners Insurance

For many homebuyers, property insurance is a detail, a box to be checked off on the way to closing. But details are important and missteps can be expensive. Purchasing insurance may not be as fun as choosing new furniture and paint colors, but it’s a critical part of the homebuying process. Your homeowners insurance policy is a financial safety net in case of a disaster, so you’ll want to ask a few important questions to make sure you have the coverage you need at a price you can afford.

What’s the dwelling coverage per square foot?

Imagine that a fire burned your house to the ground and your policy didn’t pay out enough to rebuild it. That could happen if your dwelling coverage – the part of your policy that covers the structure of your home – is too low.

To prevent this, don’t simply accept the initial dwelling coverage amount an insurance company recommends. “Insurance companies use replacement cost calculators, but they’re not 100% accurate by any means,” says Ryan Andrew, president of The Andrew Agency, an independent insurance agency serving Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

For a more accurate estimate, ask your insurer to send someone to your house for a replacement evaluation, suggests Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, a nonprofit that advocates for insurance consumers. You can also ask a local builder who specializes in new construction to estimate your home’s rebuilding cost per square foot.

Once you’ve chosen an appropriate dwelling limit, consider adding extended replacement cost coverage to your policy. With this coverage, your insurer will pay 10% to 50% more than your dwelling coverage amount to help you rebuild. This could save you thousands of dollars if building prices spike for unforeseen reasons such as a lumber shortage or high demand after a disaster.

A typically pricier option, guaranteed replacement cost coverage, will pay to rebuild your home regardless of expense.

Do I have multiple deductibles?

Homeowners may not realize that on some policies, higher deductibles may apply for claims due to wind, hail, named storms or other disasters.

For example, say a hurricane causes wind damage to your roof. Your insurance policy might have a wind deductible worth 5% of your dwelling coverage rather than the $1,000 deductible that applies to most other claims, Andrew says. So if your house were covered for $250,000, you’d have to pay for the first $12,500 of damage before your insurer paid anything.

Getting quotes from multiple insurers may help you reduce or eliminate these high deductibles.

What isn’t covered?

You might be unpleasantly surprised by your policy’s exclusions. “Flood insurance, which is excluded on almost all homeowners policies, is definitely a big one,” Andrew says, adding that this is especially important for homeowners with finished basements.

Even houses that aren’t near a body of water could experience flooding during heavy downpours, Andrew says, and a standard homeowners policy is unlikely to cover any damage.

You can buy flood insurance through companies that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. The program’s average flood claim payout was $52,000 in 2019.

Andrew also suggests adding water backup coverage to your policy. This pays for damage due to water backing up into your house from sewer lines, sump pumps or other water lines.

Another common coverage gap involves keeping up with current building laws. “If you have to make improvements when you’re repairing or replacing (your home) because the codes have changed since your house was built, a typical policy will exclude that,” Bach says. Though this can be particularly expensive for older homes, “even a house that was built five years ago is out of code,” Andrew says.

Both Bach and Andrew recommend adding ordinance or law coverage to your policy to handle these expenses.

How can I save?

While having the right coverage is generally more important than paying the bare minimum, there are discounts to make your policy more affordable. Andrew suggests buying your car, homeowners and other insurance through the same company to take advantage of bundling discounts, which can save you 20% or more.

“The best way to bring down the price without sacrificing coverage is to raise your deductible,” Bach says. Being willing to pay for smaller repairs yourself rather than filing claims will help keep your premiums low.

If you’re confused about coverage and discounts, reach out to an insurance agent to talk through your options. “Take a little extra time to understand what it is that you’re purchasing,” Andrew says. “For most people a house is the most expensive asset they have.”

March Newsletter

It is officially March and the start to a new month!

In the March issue of our newsletter you will find events this month, featured listings, market predictions for 2021, and how to follow us on social media.

Click the attachment to check it out!

Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any of your real estate needs.

March Newsletter

Duke Rountree
Rountree Realty Corp.
Broker / Owner
Call / Text 352-572-1739
Info@Search352Homes.com
Search352Homes.com

February Newsletter

It is officially February and the start to a new month!

In the February issue of our newsletter you will find events this month, featured listings, and market predictions for 2021.

Click the attachment to check it out!

Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any of your real estate needs.

February Newsletter

What’s Ahead for Real Estate?

In 2020, the housing market seemed continually flush with buyers as sellers became ever more scarce. Buyers, enticed by record-low mortgage rates, sought out new homes in droves, creating a rapid-pace market for real estate agents across the country.

More than 1,000 HomeLight agents recently surveyed by the referral platform expressed optimism about a hot market in the year ahead but noted that low inventory, and other factors, will continue to be a struggle.

Between Nov. 9-23, 2020, HomeLight conducted its Q4 survey via an online poll of its top affiliated agents across the U.S. who were selected based on performance data like transactions and reviews, which the company uses to select agents for buyers and sellers who use the platform. Here’s what those agents had to report.

Factors impacting the market in 2021

In November, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported that inventory was down 22 percent year over year. Twenty percent of HomeLight agents surveyed said that low inventory would likely make the greatest impact on the market in 2021, as mortgage rates continue to dip even further.

However, 50 percent of agents surveyed stated that the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines could change the inventory problem for the better, noting it might give sellers the confidence they need to enter the market again, especially if more businesses ease restrictions.

As more companies continue to adopt or solidify remote work options for employees in the wake of the pandemic, top HomeLight agents said in the survey that such maneuvers will continue to impact migration trends into 2021.

Across all HomeLight agents surveyed, 14.5 percent said working-from-home trends would have the greatest impact on the market in the new year, while nearly 20 percent of HomeLight agents on the West Coast and about 16 percent of agents in the Northeast stated the same. In the South Central region, however, only about 8 percent of HomeLight agents said remote work would impact real estate the most in 2021.

Top HomeLight agents also feel that the start of the Biden administration’s term in office may provide a boost to real estate with its housing proposals. A 55 percent majority of HomeLight agents expressed their support for Biden’s $15,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers, and 11 percent of surveyed agents noted that finding an affordable home will be the biggest hurdle for buyers in 2021.

Home renovation trends

As clients continue to stay at home well into 2021, HomeLight agents noted that they’re thinking about upgrading their home environment, including their kitchen, bath and outdoor spaces.

In the kitchen, most agents say their clients want a kitchen island upgrade most (64 percent of agents), followed by a walk-in pantry (62 percent) and ample cabinet or drawer storage (57 percent). Meanwhile, in the bathroom, most agents say their clients want to upgrade to a double vanity sink (65 percent), followed by a rainshower head (39 percent) or dual shower head (37 percent).

Outside, clients are craving fire pits (54 percent of agents said said this is a client’s priority outdoor amenity), privacy from hedges or a fence (48 percent of agents say this is a client priority), and a full outdoor kitchen (46 percent of agents say is a priority).

HomeLight agents also found that potential buyers are expressing clear distaste for specific outdated home features like carpet in the bathroom (72.6 percent), popcorn ceilings (65.9 percent) and shag carpeting (62 percent). 

However, homeowners who have sought to make upgrades in recent months have faced significant supply shortages and rising prices as a result of the pandemic. Lumber prices have skyrocketed by 150 percent since mid-April 2020, according to the National Association of Homebuilders. Fifty-three percent of HomeLight agents surveyed also reported labor shortages in their market, 51 percent noted appliance shortages, and 30 percent said there have been shortages of windows and doors.

In light of increased client urges to work on their homes during quarantine, 51 percent of HomeLight agents said homeowners should refrain from personalizing home materials too much, 38 percent of agents warned against using up savings during national uncertainty, and 36 percent said homeowners should be wary of paying a premium during this time for materials or labor.

Impact of business closures

The commerce options in a neighborhood often have a significant impact on the area’s attractiveness and home values. But the pandemic has thrown many businesses into a state of uncertainty with 163,735 total U.S. businesses having closed temporarily or permanently as of August 2020, according to Yelp’s Local Economic Impact Report. About 19,590 restaurant closures that have happened since the start of the pandemic are likely permanent ones.

Nearly half of HomeLight agents surveyed said that business closures have redirected interest from once-bustling neighborhoods elsewhere, like suburbs, exurbs or smaller cities. In particular, 49 percent of agents surveyed said that restaurant closures have had the most negative effect on neighborhood demand.

The rise of second homes

As homeowners have sought to find ways to keep life at home interesting, many are turning to second homes, and likewise, transitioning vacation homes into work-from-home properties.

A whopping 81 percent of HomeLight agents surveyed said they’ve seen an increased interest in second homes in their market. Furthermore, 41 percent have seen a rise in clients selling their primary residence and living in their secondary residence full time.

With remote work becoming the new norm, 49.6 percent of survey respondents said the primary factor driving demand for second homes is the ability to work in a warmer climate. But not far behind that factor are the ability to own a second home while traveling is a less safe option (49.4 percent) and the ability to latch on to low mortgage rates (47.5 percent).

Buyers shopping for second homes now are mostly looking for warm weather, affordability and the potential to earn rental income.

The future is endless for real estate. Rountree Realty is always happy to go over any part of the process and answer any questions you may have. Don’t hesitate to reach out. We thank you for your continuous support.

Make an Offer

You’ve found the home that you can see yourself doing life in. Now it’s time to make an offer! Let’s go over how this process works.

#1 Know Your Limits

Your agent will help you craft a winning offer. You can trust your agent’s advice on price, contingencies, and other terms of the deal: It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. The more collaborative you are with your agent, the more quickly you’ll be able to move.

But ultimately, it’s you who decides what the offer will be — and you who knows what your financial and lifestyle limits are. Buying a home means mixing strong emotions with business savvy, so now is also a good time to reflect on your “musts.”

  • Have a top limit to your offer price because you’re also saving for retirement and love beach vacations? Stick to it. 
  • Want a vegetable garden or to paint your home’s exterior purple? Make sure your homeowners association rules permit it. 
  • Besides reading HOA rules, find out how much the HOA has in reserves to cover common area repairs. You don’t want to be slapped unexpectedly with a special assessment. 
  • Want a dog-friendly community? Make sure there are no pet weight limits preventing you from cohabitating with your (extra-large) canine bestie.

#2 Learn to Speak “Contract”

Essentially, an offer is a contract. The documents and wording vary across the country.

In the spirit of due diligence, take time to review sample offer forms before you’ve found a house (LawDepot.com has purchase agreements for each state). If you’re high-maintenance, a real estate attorney can explain the documents to you so you’re familiar with their vocabulary when you’re ready to pull the trigger on an offer with your agent. Your agent will have offer forms for your state. 

#3 Set Your Price

Homes always have a listing price. Think of it as the seller’s opening bid in your negotiation to buy a home.

As the buyer, your offer will include an offer price. This is the first thing home sellers look at when they receive a bid.

Your agent will help you determine whether the seller’s listing price is fair by running comps (or comparables), a process that involves comparing the house you’re bidding on to similar properties that recently sold in the neighborhood.

Several factors can also affect your bargaining position and offer price. For example, if the home has been sitting on the market for a while, or you’re in a buyer’s market where supply exceeds demand, the seller may be willing to accept an offer that’s below the list price. Or if the seller has already received another offer on the home, that may impact the price you’re willing to offer. Your agent will help you understand the context here.

#4 Figure Out Your Down Payment

To get a mortgage, you have to make a down payment on your loan. For conventional loans (as opposed to government loans), making a 20% down payment enables borrowers to avoid having to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), a monthly premium that protects the lender in case the borrower defaults on the loan.

But 20% isn’t always feasible — or even necessary. In fact, the median down payment in 2019 for buyers overall was 16 percent, and 6 percent for first-time buyers, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. Your lender will help you determine what the best down payment amount is for your finances. Depending on the type of loan you get, you may even be able to put down as little as 0% on your mortgage.

You might qualify for one of the more than 2,400 down payment assistance programs nationwide. Many of them make funds available to households earning as much as 175% of area median income. In other words, middle-income households. And the savings can be substantial: Home buyers who use down payment assistance programs save an average of $17,766 over the life of their loan, according to real estate resource RealtyTrac. Find out more about down payment assistance programs in your state.

You can use an online mortgage calculator to see how different down payments would affect your mortgage premiums and how much you’ll pay in interest.

#5 Show the Seller You’re Serious: Make a Deposit

An EMD — short for earnest money deposit — is the sum of money you put down as evidence to the seller that you’re serious (read: earnest) about buying the house. If the seller accepts your offer, the earnest money will go toward your down payment at closing. However, if you try to back out of the deal, you might have to forfeit the cash to the seller.

A standard EMD is 1% to 3% of the sales price of the home (so, that would be $2,000 to $6,000 on a $200,000 loan). But depending on how hot the market is where you live, you may want to put down more earnest money to compete with other offers. 

In most cases, the title company is responsible for holding the earnest money in an escrow account. In the event the deal falls through, the title company will disperse the funds appropriately based on the terms of the sales contract. Title companies also check for defects or liens on a seller’s title to make sure it can be transferred cleanly to you.

#6 Review the Contingency Plans

Most real estate offers include contingencies — provisions that must be met before the transaction can go through, or the buyer is entitled to walk away from the deal with their EMD.

For example, if an offer says, “This contract is contingent upon a home inspection,” the buyer has a set number of days after the offer is accepted to do an inspection of the property with a licensed or certified home inspector.

If something is wrong with the house, the buyer can request the seller to make repairs. But most repairs are negotiable; the seller may agree to some, but say no to others. Or the seller can offer a price reduction, or a credit at closing, based on the cost of the repairs. This is where your real estate agent can offer real value and counsel on what you should ask the seller to fix.

Just remember to keep your eye on the big picture. If you and the seller are bickering over a $500 repair to the hardwood floors, keep in mind that’s a drop in the bucket in relation to the size of the bid.

In addition to the aforementioned home inspection contingency, other common contingencies include:

  • A financing contingency, which gives home buyers a specified amount of time to get a loan that will cover the mortgage.
  • An appraisal contingency, where a third-party appraiser hired by the lender evaluates the fair-market value of the home to ensure the home is worth enough money to serve as collateral for the value of the mortgage.
  • A clear title contingency, where the buyer’s title company verifies that the seller is the sole owner of the property and can legally convey ownership to the buyer.
  • A home sale contingency, where the transaction is dependent on the sale of the buyer’s current home.

Although contingencies can offer protection to buyers, they can also make offers less appealing to the seller because they give buyers legal ways to back out of the sale without any financial repercussions. So, if you’re going up against multiple offers, making an offer with fewer contingencies can potentially give you an edge over the competition.

In other words: A chill offer is an attractive offer. But keep in mind you have to be comfortable with the risks that come with this strategy. If you don’t have a financing contingency, for example, and you can’t get a mortgage, you’d likely lose your earnest money deposit since you’re on the hook. (An outcome that’s decidedly un-chill for you.)

#7 Read the Fine Print About the Property

The sales contract states key information about the property, such as the address, tax ID, and the types of utilities: public water or private well, gas or electric heating, and so on. It also includes a section that specifies what personal property and fixtures the seller agrees to leave behind, like appliances, lighting fixtures, and window shades. The seller provides prospective buyers with a list of these items before they submit an offer. This can be another area of negotiation.

Carefully reviewing the property description also helps you know, for example, if the seller plans to take that unattached kitchen island with them when they move. (Stranger things have happened.)

#8 Make a Date to Settle

The sales contract you submit to the seller must include a proposed settlement date, which confirms when the transaction will be finalized. The clock starts as soon as the purchase agreement is signed. If you don’t close on time, the party that’s responsible for the delay may have to pay the other party compensation in the form of “penalty interest” at a predetermined rate.

A 30- to 60-day settlement period is common because it gives the typical home buyer time to complete a title search and obtain mortgage approval, but settlement periods can vary. Some sellers, for example, prefer a longer period so they have more time to move or look for their next house. Being flexible, with respect to the closing date, could give you more negotiating power in another area of the deal.

One thing that’s the same no matter where you live is that you’ll have a three-day period prior to settlement to review the Closing Disclosure, or CD — a five-page form that states your final loan terms and closing costs.

Once the sales contract is signed, the parties can change the settlement date if they both sign an addendum specifying the new day.

#9 Write a Fan Letter to the Seller

Want to make a truly compelling offer? Pull on the seller’s heartstrings by attaching a personal letter to the bid documents. Tell a compelling story about your family and your connection to the area. Get deep about your roots.

Also, sincere flattery can go a long way. Compliment the seller on how their kitchen renovation looks Apartment Therapy–worthy, for instance, or how the succulents in their landscaping remind you of a resort in Palm Springs.

Your agent can help you gather background on the sellers (e.g., are they crazy about their labradoodle, like you are about yours? Did they run a small business from the home, like you dream of doing?). And you should — of course — refer to information you gleaned during the open house or private showing. Use this intel to write a message that really speaks to the seller, and it may very well seal the deal.

#10 Brace Yourself for a Counteroffer

If you’re making a lowball bid or going up against multiple offers, the seller may decide to make you a counteroffer — a purchase agreement with new terms, such as a higher sales price or fewer contingencies.

At that point, it’s up to you to accept the new contract, make your own counteroffer to the sellers, or walk away.

Don’t panic.. Next week we’ll walk you through the counteroffer process and offer strategies to give you more negotiating power!

Hey, Buyers: These Home Appraisal Tips Are for You

Most people have deeply personal reasons for wanting to buy a home. Maybe it’s the bathroom that feels like a dreamy, modern spa. Or that two-tiered deck just made for parties.

Your lender doesn’t care about the freestanding tub. Or the built-in outdoor fire pit. Their only concern is that the house you buy is worth as much as the value of your mortgage.

To them, a house isn’t a home. It’s collateral. (Harsh, but true.) If someday, for some reason, you can’t make your mortgage payments, the lender can foreclose on the home and sell it to recoup all or some of its costs. (Even harsher, but also true.)

For that reason, a home must be valued at, or above, the agreed-upon purchase price, and this has to happen before you can close on a house. That’s where a home appraiser comes in. 

A Home Appraiser Is Neutral (Like Switzerland)

After you sign a home purchase agreement (the contract between you and the seller about the terms of the pending sale), and before your lender approves your loan, the home you’re buying must pass an appraisal — an assessment of the property’s value by an unbiased third party: the appraiser.

An appraiser is a state-licensed or -certified professional. Their job is to assess an opinion of value — how much a house is worth. The appraiser is on no one’s side. They don’t represent you or the seller; instead, this person is a contractor chosen by your lender through an appraisal management company (AMC), a separate, neutral entity that maintains a roster of appraisers.

Appraisers survey a house in person, using five main criteria to determine the value of a home:

  • Location
  • Age
  • Condition
  • Additions or renovations
  • Recent sales of comparable homes

Be Prepared to Pay for the Appraisal — or to Negotiate

Generally speaking, the home buyer is responsible for paying for the appraisal — and the fee is typically wrapped into your closing costs. However, who pays for appraisal is negotiable. It never hurts to see if the seller is willing to cover it.

How much money are we talking about? The average professional home appraisal will run between $287 and $373, according to estimates by the home-professionals resource HomeAdvisor.com. Costs can vary depending on the square footage and quirks of the house, with higher appraisal prices for larger or more unique homes.

Appraisals Take a While, So Be Patient

Typically, a purchase agreement has a “home appraisal contingency” requiring that the appraisal be completed within 14 days of the sales contract being signed. Because it takes appraisers some time to visit your house and write a report — up to a week, or longer in a busy housing market — your lender will order the appraisal immediately after you sign the purchase agreement.

So, You Have a Valuation. Here’s What It Means — and What to Do Next

When the appraisal is finished, the appraiser issues a written report with his or her opinion of the value of the home. To produce the report, they use their analysis of the property and data from comparable homes, as well as review the purchase offer. The report will outline their methodology and also include photographs that they’ve taken of the property, inside and out.

You and your lender will both receive a copy of the report. Three things could happen next: 

  1. If the appraiser’s valuation matches the price you and the seller agreed to for the home: Your lender will proceed to underwrite your loan. Great news: This is the final step in your loan-getting process!
  2. If the appraiser’s valuation is higher than what you’re paying for the home:Congratulations! You’ve gained immediate equity. How, you ask? Let’s say, for example, you’re paying $200,000 for the house. If the appraiser says it’s worth $250,000 — jackpot. That’s an instant $50,000 in equity. (Keep in mind, this is very rare.)
  3. If the appraisal is lower than what you’ve agreed to pay for the home: Your lender won’t give you a loan for more than the appraised value. If you and the seller agreed on $200,000, for example, but the appraisal is $190,000, that creates a $10,000 shortfall. So what happens next?

Don’t despair — not yet. If you’re faced with a low appraisal, there are several ways the deal can still go through.

If an Appraisal Is Low, You Can Still Make It Work

Before we talk strategy, some reasons why appraisals come in lower than expected:

  • The seller overvalued the price of the home. 
  • The appraiser isn’t familiar with the neighborhood.
  • The appraiser overlooked pending sales data.
  • The appraiser had trouble finding comparable homes, or missed comparable homes, so they compared your home with properties outside the neighborhood.
  • Home prices in the area are changing so fast that the listing agent’s price no longer reflects the market.
  • The appraiser rushed the job.

If the appraisal comes in low, your agent will offer recommendations about how to proceed. In general, your best strategy is to persuade the seller to lower the sales price, or to split the difference between the home’s appraised value and the price with you. This is when you can rely on your agent — and their negotiating skills — to go to bat for you.

You can also appeal the appraisal assessment. You’ll work with your agent to research comparable homes that support the sales price you agreed upon with the seller and present this information to your lender, who will forward it to the appraiser for a re-evaluation of the home’s value. Ultimately, though, it’s up to the appraiser to decide whether to revise their valuation of the property.

Alternately, you can ask your lender for a second appraisal, though there are caveats:

  • You’ll have to pay for it out of pocket (or persuade the seller to foot the bill).
  • You’re more likely able to challenge an appraisal for a conventional loan than a government loan. And you’d need solid facts to back it up in either case.
  • There’s no guarantee that it will be higher and meet the sales price.

The last option: You can come up with the cash yourself to cover the difference between the home’s price and the appraised value. 

If you don’t want to take that route (and who could blame you?), a purchase agreement’s home appraisal contingency gives you the ability to walk away from the deal scot-free, and with your earnest money deposit in hand.

Let’s assume it all works out. With the appraisal behind you, you’ll be one step closer to closing on that house.

What to Expect During a Home Inspection

You’ll go through many emotions while having a home inspection conducted. Excitement for hopefully buying/selling your home, nervous that something will be wrong, or feeling your patience thinning out as you wonder how long this process will take. However, a home inspection is an important part of the home buying/selling process, so we’re going to go through it with you.

A Home Inspector Is Your Protector

An inspector helps you make sure a house isn’t hiding anything before you commit for the long haul. (Think about it this way: You wouldn’t even get coffee with a stranger without checking out their history.)

A home inspector identifies any reasonably discoverable problems with the house (a leaky roof, faulty plumbing, etc.). Hiring an inspector is you doing your due diligence. To find a good one (more on how to do that soon), it helps to have an understanding of what the typical home inspection entails. 

An inspection is all about lists. 

Before an inspection, the home inspector will review the seller’s property disclosure statement. (Each state has its own requirements for what sellers must disclose on these forms; some have stronger requirements than others.) The statement lists any flaws the seller is aware of that could negatively affect the home’s value. 

The disclosure comes in the form of an outline, covering such things as:

  • Mold 
  • Pest infestation
  • Roof leaks
  • Foundation damage
  • Other problems, depending on what your state mandates.

During the inspection, an inspector has three tasks — to:

  1. Identify problems with the house that he or she can see
  2. Suggest fixes
  3. Prepare a written report, usually with photos, noting observed defects

This report is critical to you and your agent — it’s what you’ll use to request repairs from the seller. (We’ll get into how you’ll do that in a minute, too.)

The Inspector Won’t Check Everything

Generally, inspectors only examine houses for problems that can be seen with the naked eye. They won’t be tearing down walls or using magical X-ray vision, to find hidden faults.

Inspectors also won’t put themselves in danger. If a roof is too high or steep, for example, they won’t climb up to check for missing or damaged shingles. They’ll use binoculars to examine it instead.

They can’t predict the future, either. While an inspector can give you a rough idea of how many more years that roof will hold up, he or she can’t tell you exactly when it will need to be replaced.

Finally, home inspectors are often generalists. A basic inspection doesn’t routinely include a thorough evaluation of:

  • Swimming pools
  • Wells
  • Septic systems
  • Structural engineering work
  • The ground beneath a home
  • Fireplaces and chimneys

It’s Your Job to Check the Inspector

Now you’re ready to connect with someone who’s a pro at doing all of the above. Here’s where — once again — your real estate agent has your back. He or she can recommend reputable home inspectors to you.

In addition to getting recommendations (friends and relatives are handy for those, too), you can look for professional inspectors at their trade association websites. The American Society of Home Inspectors’ (ASHI) Find a Home Inspector tool lets you search by address, metro area, or neighborhood. You can also search for inspectors by state at InterNACHI.

You’ll want to interview at least three inspectors before deciding whom to hire. During each chat, ask questions such as:

  • Are you licensed or certified? Inspector certifications vary, based on where you live. Not every state requires home inspectors to be licensed, and licenses can indicate different degrees of expertise. ASHI lists each state’s requirements here. 
  • How long have you been in the business? Look for someone with at least five years of experience — it indicates more homes inspected.
  • How much do you charge? Home inspection costs range from $260 to $399. The costs vary according to your location and the size of your house.
  • What do you check, exactly? Know what you’re getting for your money.
  • What don’t you check, specifically? Some home inspectors are more thorough than others.
  • How soon after the inspection will I receive my report? Home inspection contingencies require you to complete the inspection within a certain period of time after the offer is accepted — normally five to seven days — so you’re on a set timetable. A good home inspector will provide you with the report within 24 hours after the inspection.
  • May I see a sample report? This will help you gauge how detailed the inspector is and how he or she explains problems.

Sometimes you can find online reviews of inspectors on sites like Angie’s List and Yelp, too, if past clients’ feedback is helpful in making your decision.

Show Up for Inspection (and Bring Your Agent)

It’s inspection day, and the honor of your — and your agent’s — presence is not required, but highly recommended. Even though you’ll receive a report summarizing the findings later on, being there gives you a chance to ask questions, and to learn the inner workings of the home.

Block out two to three hours for the inspection. The inspector will survey the property from top to bottom. This includes checking water pressure; leaks in the attic, plumbing, etc.; if door and window frames are straight (if not, it could be a sign of a structural issue); if electrical wiring is up to code; if smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working; if appliances work properly. Outside, he or she will look at things like siding, fencing, and drainage.

The inspector might also be able to check for termites, asbestos, lead paint, or radon. Because these tests involve more legwork and can require special certification, they come at an additional charge.

Get Ready to Negotiate

Once you receive the inspector’s report, review it with your agent.

Legally, sellers are required to make certain repairs. These can vary depending on location. Most sales contracts require the seller to fix: 

  • Structural defects
  • Building code violations
  • Safety issues

Most home repairs, however, are negotiable. Be prepared to pick your battles: Minor issues, like a cracked switchplate or loose kitchen faucet, are easy and cheap to fix on your own. You don’t want to start nickel-and-diming the seller. 

If there are major issues with the house, your agent can submit a formal request for repairs that includes a copy of the inspection report. Repair requests should be as specific as possible. For instance: Instead of saying “repair broken windows,” a request should say “replace broken window glass in master bathroom.”

  • If the seller agrees to make all of your repair requests: He or she must provide you with invoices from a licensed contractor stating that the repairs were made. Then it’s full steam ahead toward the sale.
  • If the seller responds to your repair requests with a counteroffer: He or she will state which repairs (or credits at closing) he or she is willing to make. The ball is in your court to either agree, counter the seller’s counteroffer, or void the transaction.

At the end of the day, remember to check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling about all of this. You need to be realistic about how much repair work you’d be taking on. At this point in the sale, there’s a lot of pressure from all parties to move into the close. But if you don’t feel comfortable, speak up.

The most important things to remember during the home inspection? Trust your inspector, trust your gut, and lean on your agent — they likely have a lot of experience to support your decision-making.

That’s something to feel good about.

How Coronavirus Has Impacted Home Buying

Impacts of Coronavirus

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone in many different ways. From having to quarantine, working from home, schooling from home, workouts from home, it’s easy to say that people are spending more time in their homes. This has led many people to wanting a home with more space or designated areas for certain activities. We have gathered some statistics on this topic.

Changes in Planning to Buy a Home

Three-quarters of homebuyers who plan to buy a home within the next 12 months say the coronavirus pandemic has impacted their home buying plans: 25% said it caused them to move or speed up their timeline, 20% said it caused them to delay moving plans and 17% are now looking for a less expensive home. Specifically:

  • 16% said the pandemic has caused them to want to move
  • 15% said it caused them to move sooner than originally planned
  • 6% chose both options

Home Preference Changes

  • 21% want a designated area to work from home
  • 21% want more outdoor space
  • 10% of respondents now want a bigger home
  • 7% want a designated space for children to learn from home

Why Changed Plans?

  • Of people planning to move, 55% said low mortgage rates are a factor in their changed plans
  • 52% said spending more time at home is a factor
  • 40% said working from home contributed to their desire to move

If the Coronavirus pandemic has caused your family to be spending more time at home and you’re now thinking about looking for a home with more space, Rountree Realty is always here to answer any questions you may have and help achieve your real estate goals during these crazy times.