A Quick Guide to Assessing Your Home’s Foundation for Cracks – And What to Do if You Find Them

A Quick Guide to Assessing Your Home's Foundation for Cracks - And What to Do if You Find Them When purchasing a home, there are a number of considerations that need to be taken into account. One of those considerations is the foundation of the home. No matter how perfect or suitable a property looks, taking the time to properly inspect the property for foundation problems can save homeowners thousands of dollars in repairs later on.

While foundation cracks are usually present in older homes, that does not mean that newer and even brand new homes aren’t prone to them. When choosing a property, the following tips can help homebuyers find signs of foundation problems and take the right action if any are found.

Concrete Weakness

One of the easiest ways to check for a damaged foundation is to check the concrete of the home. When the foundation is strong and safe, the concrete is not brittle and breakable. To test this, when trying to poke the foundation with a screwdriver, the foundation should be rock solid. If it isn’t, then there may be a foundation issue.

Posts Should Be Sturdy

If the house has a basement, then the posts that hold up the basement and crawl space should stand firmly in place. The bottom of the post should be unmovable and the post should stand straight and tall. If the posts do not do so, then there is a problem with the foundation.

Uneven Floors

The next component of the house that should be inspected is the floors. All of the floors within the house must be solid, straight, and not slanted. If the floor is slanted or separates from the wall in any place, then the foundation is unable to support the home properly and there is a serious issue.

Exterior Cracks

The walls are also a way to examine for foundation issues. Take a tour around the outside of the home and inspect for any cracks to the exterior. Each wall on the outside of the home should be smooth, solid, and free of any cracks. However, if there is a crack, this may mean that the foundation has shifted and the home is uneven.

Windows and Doors

Next, inspect every window and door on the property. Each should be attached to the surrounding wall and they must also open and close without any difficulty. If there is a difficulty in opening and closing windows and doors, there may be a foundation problem like shifting or uneven ground that is unable to support the property.

Moist Ground Around the Property

Lastly, another sign that there is a foundation problem is if the ground around the property is moist. A strong foundation will usually be set upon ground that is completely solid. When the ground is moist, the dirt particles are porous and unable to bind together, leading to shifting, cracks, and major damage to the home.

Choosing the right home is not a difficult process and making the right assessments of the property can save thousands of dollars in future repairs. To help with assessments, foundation repairs, and to get the right information about how to deal with a cracked foundation in a potential property, then contacting a trusted and professional real estate agent is the best solution when purchasing a property.

The ‘Must Have’ List: Why Deciding Your Must-Haves Before Viewing Homes is a Great Idea

The 'Must Have' List: Why Deciding Your Must-Haves Before Viewing Homes is a Great IdeaKnowing what you want before you start looking is a big help when house-hunting. Giving the list of ‘must-have’ items to your real estate professional a few days before you begin touring listings is a great idea because they can find homes that meet as many of your criteria as possible.

It also helps on a more personal level, since being organized and knowing what you want will help you quickly identify whether or not homes meet those standards.

Is it a ‘Must-Have’ or a ‘Nice-to-Have’?

The debate between “I need it” and “I want it” is as old as time. Thinking back to childhood, when the desire for a cookie was met with mom’s stern “not before dinner,” some children seem to develop a magical ability for reasoning that voiced a desperate need for cookies before dinner, but mom was never fooled. The same goes for the ‘must-have’ list for your home search.

There are items that you want and certain ‘deal breakers’ that you cannot live without. An absolute ‘must-have’ might be proximity to work or certain schools, whereas desirable features could include a shed or a built-in barbeque pit. Knowing the difference between something you want and something that is absolutely required can save you a lot of time and money.

How to Organize an Effective List

Write down everything your dream home would have, then ask yourself how necessary each item is. Rate them by priority, whether an absolute requirement, something you would definitely prefer, something for which you would consider a compromise, and something that you don’t really care that strongly about. That first group is your ‘must-have’ list. The second is your ‘nice-to-have’ list, which is a great guiding star for choosing between homes that meet all of your ‘must-have’ items.

Some Suggestions for a Great List

Location, location, location – The top of any good ‘must-have’ list should be location. No matter what else is changed in a home, the location will always remain a constant. Decide what you want to be close to or far away from and make sure the grounds and neighborhood are all acceptable.

Bedrooms and bathrooms – Does everyone need their own room? Do you need a guest room? Could everyone share one bathroom? Ask yourself what you need at a minimum to facilitate everyone in your home.

Energy-efficient windows and good insulation – It may seem technical, but an energy efficient home can save you a lot of money in the long run. Don’t let money seep through a poorly insulated home.

Space for pets – Not everyone has pets, but for those who do it is a good idea to think of them in your ‘must-have’ list. After all, your new home is going to be Fido’s new home too! A fenced yard or a dog run might be a good idea, but also consider whether the space would allow you to add your own later.

Call your real estate professional today to start house-hunting, and don’t forget your new list!

The 7 Most Unaffordable Cities for Real Estate in the USA (And 3 Affordable Gems!)

The 7 Most Unaffordable Cities for Real Estate in the USA (And 3 Affordable Gems!)As prices continue to rise across the board with everything from food to gas, it’s no wonder that real estate prices are high in many cities across the USA. While this is the case for a large number of cities, there are also certain areas in which prices are decidedly low. Here’s a small look at the most affordable and unaffordable cities within America.

The Seven Most Unaffordable Cities

Oakland, CA – Though Los Angeles and San Francisco are 2 California cities that may first come to mind, Oakland is also highly expensive when it comes to real estate, with a median home value of nearly $450,000, which is over 100 percent more than the national average.

Los Angeles, CA – Los Angeles is another city in California that is particularly unaffordable. With a median household income of just under $50,000, the exceedingly high median home value of nearly $470,000 is largely galling in its expensiveness.

Boston, MA – The Boston real estate market becomes more unaffordable with each passing year. The median home value within the city is set at well over $350,000. This, combined with the relatively high cost of living, can make for a bleak outlook.

New York City, NY – As one of, if not the most, unaffordable cities in America, NYC is also the most populous city in the United States. While the borough of Manhattan is the most expensive for real estate prices, Brooklyn and Queens aren’t much better, while the median home value of the entire city is just over $500,000.

Washington, D.C. – Though the median household income within the city of Washington D.C. is higher than the national average, the median home value sits at a substantial $443,000, with a cost of living over 40 percent above the national average.

San Francisco, CA – Living in San Francisco is extremely unaffordable, though mitigated a bit by higher household incomes. The median home value is likely the highest in the nation, at just over $750,000.

Honolulu, HI – As the capital city of Hawaii, Honolulu is much higher than the national average in everything from utilities to transportation, with the median home value sitting at $547,000.

Three Affordable Alternatives

Cleveland, OH – Though there are a surprising amount of affordable cities in Ohio, Cleveland has a median home value of just over $75,000, well below the state average of $129,000.

Knoxville, TN – Knoxville is a city in Tennessee that combines a generally low median home value of $140,000 with a median household income of just over $60,000, which is much higher than the national average.

Syracuse, NY – If you want to live in New York, but can’t afford the high real estate prices of NYC, the city of Syracuse has a low median home value of just under $80,000.

If you’re searching for the perfect city to buy your next home in, call your real estate agent today for all of the latest information.

Getting Ready to Retire? Six Tips for Downsizing from Huge House to Efficient Condo

Getting Ready to Retire? Six Tips for Downsizing from Huge House to Efficient CondoIf you’re getting ready to retire, you may be thinking about downsizing. Having a large house makes sense when you’re raising kids, but once you reach your golden years, it usually makes sense to move into a smaller, more efficient condo. While downsizing may seem impossible, these six tips will help you reach your goal.

1. The Six-Month Rule

If you’re finding it hard to figure out what to keep and what to get rid of, stick to the six-month rule – if you haven’t used an item within half of a year, you probably don’t need it. Seasonal items aren’t used as much, but if you haven’t used them within a year or two, it’s safe to get rid of them.

2. Measure Twice

Measure your furniture, your current room sizes and your future room sizes. After you’ve done that, do it again. Nothing’s worse than wrestling with your heavy sofa for hours on end to find out that it won’t fit in your new living room after all.

3. Pre-Arrange Big Items

Once you know where your new home is going to be, get the floor plan or draw one up yourself. Use measurements from your furniture and other big items to figure out where you’re going to put things. If it looks crowded on paper, it will probably look even more crowded in person, so make sure your plans look okay before you decide to hire a mover or move everything yourself.

4. Get With The Times

With all the new technology coming out, it’s easy to transfer almost all of your physical media to electronic form. While you might want to keep your all-time favorite books and movies in physical form, you can put most of your reading material on an e-book reader and most of your movies on a computer or external hard drive.

5. Multiples Multiply Headaches

Yes, you need to have a soup ladle, but you don’t need five of them. If you have more than one of the same item, consider getting rid of the multiples. You’ll probably find that your kitchen is the biggest culprit as far as multiples go, but you may also find that you have three tops that are very similar in color and style or four laundry baskets even though you only do one load at a time.

6. Use Your Resources

If you’re moving to a neighborhood with a great library, plan to use it instead of bringing all of your books and movies with you. If you’re going to have a gym virtually next-door and can afford a membership, it may be time to give away your home gym equipment.

Don’t forget that your real estate agent can be an invaluable resource when downsizing, so be sure to get in touch with them before you make the jump. In summary: moving is hard enough, but downsizing is even harder. By following these tips, though, you should be able to pare down your belongings so that you will be able to live comfortably in your new home during the best years of your life.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – July 14, 2014

What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week July 14 2014Last week brought news from the Fed as two Federal Reserve Bank Presidents made speeches and the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) of the Fed released the minutes of its last meeting. The minutes reveal the Fed’s intention to wrap up its bond-buying program in October with a final purchase of $15 billion in mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and Treasury bonds. No economic news was issued Monday following of the 4th of July holiday.

Further indications of a strengthening labor market were seen. May job openings reached their highest level since June 2007, and quits and layoffs fell from April’s reading of 4.55 million to 4.50 million. Weekly jobless claims fell to 304,000 against expectations of 320,000 new jobless claims and the prior week’s reading of 315,000 new jobless claims.

Fed Speeches Address Inflation, Banks Too Big to Fail

Tuesday’s speech by Minneapolis Fed Bank president Narayana Kocherlakota calmed concerns over inflation; Mr. Kocherlakota said that the Fed expects inflation to remain below its target rate of two percent for several more years. He tied low inflation to the unemployment rate and said that the nation’s workforce is not fully utilized in times of low inflation, and cautioned that June’s national unemployment rate of 6.10 percent “could well overstate the degree of improvement of the U.S. labor market.”

Stanley Fischer, the Fed’s new vice-chairman, spoke before the National Bureau of Economic Research last Thursday. Mr. Fischer addressed the issue of breaking up the nation’s largest banks to eliminate the government’s exposure to banks too big to fail. He said that it wasn’t clear that breaking up the largest banks would end federal bailouts of banks considered too big to fail. Mr. Fisher also said that breaking up the biggest banks would be “a complex task with an uncertain payoff.”

Mr. Fischer also said that any efforts to prevent a housing bubble should focus on the supply side and cautioned that “measures aimed at reducing the demand for housing are likely to be politically sensitive.”

FOMC Minutes Reveal End Date for Bond Purchases

The minutes of the Fed’s last FOMC meeting indicate that the Fed plans to continue bond purchases at the rate of $10 billion per month with a final purchase of $15 billion in October. FOMC members re-asserted their oft-stated position that the Fed’s target interest rate of 0.00 to 0.25 percent will not change for a considerable time after the bond purchase program ends.

Mortgage Rates Rise

Average mortgage rates rose across the board last week. The average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage increased by three basis points to 4.15 percent; discount points were also higher at 0.70 percent. The average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage rose by two basis points to 3.24 percent with discount points higher at 0.60 percent. The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage rose by one basis point to 2.99 percent with discount points unchanged at 0.40 percent.

What’s Ahead

This week’s scheduled economic news includes retail sales and retail sales without the auto sector, Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s testimony, the Fed’s Beige Book report and the NAHB Homebuilder’s Market Index. Housing Starts, Consumer Sentiment and Leading Economic Indicators round out the week’s economic reports.

How Much is Your Home Worth in Today’s Market? Three Key Tips for Assessing Value

How Much is Your Home Worth in Today's Market? Three Key Tips for Assessing ValueIf you’re thinking about putting the house on the market, or are simply curious about its value in the current economic atmosphere, it’s essential to get an honest assessment of its value. An overly inflated figure won’t hold up and will only turn potential buyers away.

It’s best to get a fair assessment in order to ask a reasonable price or avoid over-extending oneself when it comes to taking out a home equity loan. Consider these three key tips to get a true assessment of a home’s value.

Identify Positive Features About The Home And Property

When seeking an appraisal for a home, it’s important to look at the big picture. While the neighborhood and specific location are important, as well as the size and condition of the home, it’s also essential to tally up any improvements or upgrades. Any recent renovations are a plus that are sure to give a boost to a home’s value. Outbuildings and swimming pools add more positives that will increase the initial value of a home. The most important thing any homeowner can do is to stay on top of repairs and give the property a facelift periodically to keep things fresh. This will be taken into consideration during an appraisal.

Pay Attention To The Competition

Whether homeowners try to estimate their home’s value on their own or bring in the professionals, it’s important to pay attention to the surrounding real estate. Take a close look at other properties in the area and their price tags when they come up for sale. It’s especially helpful to look at properties that compare in size and condition. From that point, the most expensive and least expensive homes should be tallied as well, providing a price range for the concerned individual’s home.

Think About Present Circumstances

Be sure to consider if the area is in a recession or showing a period of strong economic growth. If a home is located in an area that is booming, this will inflate the value of the home. It is all part of the law of supply and demand. When buyers are coming in droves, home sales will be ripe for the picking and homeowners can ask a higher price. However, if the population is dwindling and people are migrating elsewhere because job opportunities have fallen, there is a much greater chance that the home’s value will decrease. For those who want to sell, the best bet is to strike when the iron is hot and put the house on the market during a period of economic strength. If the economy is failing, it may be necessary to wait or cut ones’ losses.

Act Now To Learn More

There is no better time than the present to contact a name you can trust in real estate. Discover all the ins and outs of assessing your home’s value, discuss your options, and find out ways to boost your property’s potential as you seek a reliable assessment.

Buying or Selling, Here Are Three Traits You’ll Want in Your Real Estate Agent

Buying or Selling, Here Are Three Traits You'll Want in Your Real Estate AgentFor both buyers and sellers, choosing the right real estate agent is an important and difficult decision, but making the right selection is critical. Consider the following essential characteristics for a real estate agent before signing a contract:

Experience

An agent must understand the real estate market as well as the practices and processes of buying and selling. While a new agent may have energy and desire, experienced agents will be able to offer insights and experiences which are likely to give their clients the edge in their deal. Experience also indicates negotiating skill.

Of course an agent must be licensed, but they must also be knowledgeable about the specific neighborhoods and types of property their clients are interested in buying or selling. Commercial properties are much different than residential properties, for example, so find an agent with the experience you need.

Creativity

Since a variety of problems can happen at any point in a real estate deal, a real estate agent should be able to solve problems creatively. An agent who helps their clients think through problems, offers reasonable alternatives or finds a way to overcome obstacles is invaluable to both buyers and sellers.

Marketing is essential in the real estate world, so an agent who knows how to creatively use technology to entice buyers or to locate homes is a benefit. Buyers usually start their search online, so an appealing, user-friendly and updated website is essential. For sellers, videos are often the best way to display the best features of a home. These are today’s real estate tools, so an agent who knows how to use them has a better chance of making an effective deal for their clients.

Honesty

Home sellers need someone who will be realistic with them about the value of their home, no matter what other homes in the neighborhood are selling for or what the sellers think their home is worth. Home buyers need an agent who will tell them, for example, that consistently under-bidding in order to get more home for their money is not a viable strategy. These conversations are difficult, but an honest agent will have them in order to achieve a successful result.

Another aspect of honesty is maintaining consistent communication in whatever form suits their clients. Even if there is nothing new to discuss, a quick update to say that nothing is happening is essential to maintaining trust. Silence is a sign of denial or worse, so an agent who communicates regularly is being honest with their clients.

Finally, an agent should be honest enough to put their client’s interest ahead of their own, showing the client every house that fits the criteria and not just those that will get the agent the biggest commission. An effective seller’s agent will give their clients the feedback they receive from potential buyers, even if the news is discouraging. Keeping problem areas from a seller may keep the relationship friendly, but it does not put the seller’s interest above the agent’s.

Call a local and professional real estate agent specializing in your real estate needs. This is the first step to owning the home of your dreams.

RealtyTrac Foreclosure Report Shows 28% Decrease From May 2012

RealtyTrac Foreclosure Report Shows 28 Percent Decline From May 2012

Foreclosure actions increased by 2.0 percent in May from April’s 75 month low point for foreclosure activity according to RealtyTrac’s U.S. Foreclosure Market Report released June 11. However, the good news is that May 2013 foreclosure filings were still 28 percent below May 2012 filings.

RealtyTrac reports that approximately one in 885 homes were in some stage of foreclosure in May. This does not mean that 1 in 885 homes was lost to foreclosure, but it does indicate that documents related to some phase of foreclosure (Notice of Default, Notice of Trustee Sale, and Bank Reposession) were filed.

Actual lender repossessions (REO) increased by 11 percent in May, but were down by 29 percent as compared to May 2012. 33 states reported increases in REOs with North Carolina, Oregon and Wisconsin having the highest numbers of REO properties added.

Judicial Foreclosure States Lagging In Clearing Foreclosure Inventory

Foreclosure starts were up by 4 percent in May, but were 33 percent lower than for May of 2012. States using judicial foreclosure proceedings were 5 of the top 6 states for foreclosure filings. The state of Nevada, which uses non-judicial foreclosure proceedings, was second after Florida and ahead of Ohio, South Carolina and Illinois.

In general, judicial foreclosure proceedings take longer to complete than non-judicial foreclosures. This results in homes being unavailable for sale for longer periods of time. Lenders are required to complete the foreclosure process and in some cases, they must await expiration of a redemption period before a foreclosed home can be repaired and sold.

In states using non-judicial foreclosure proceedings, the time between the initial foreclosure filing and the foreclosure sale can be as little as three to four months. Quickly turning over foreclosed homes is helpful for improving regional housing markets and making more homes available for purchase. Economists have recently cited low inventories of homes as holding back housing markets in some areas.

Bank Owned Properties Provide Buying Opportunities

Lender-owned properties provide potential opportunities for first-time buyers and others seeking affordable homes. Mortgage lenders tend to offer attractive sale terms on REO properties, as their objective is to move these homes out of their inventories as quickly as possible.

Some foreclosure properties are also lacking current maintenance and are often sold as-is. DIY enthusiasts can buy and renovate foreclosed homes for owner occupancy or investment. 

It’s a good idea to discuss your interest in the opportunities available for buying a lender-owned home with a trusted real estate professional.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – June 17, 2013

What's Ahead This Week - June 17, 2013Last week’s news was relatively quiet with no data significant to the mortgage lending released until Wednesday, when the federal government announced a $138 billion budget deficit for May.

According to the U.S. Treasury this figure is 11 percent higher than for May of 2012, but the federal budget is expected to come in with less than a -$1 trillion deficit for the 2013 fiscal year, which runs from October to September.

The Treasury estimates that the 2013 budget deficit will come in at approximately -$642 billion, well below fiscal 2012’s deficit of -$1.1 trillion. The federal budget has been running deficits over -$1 trillion since 2008.

Employment Market Continues To Strengthen

On Thursday, the Weekly Jobless Claims report brought good news; jobless claims fell from the prior week’s 346,000 jobless claims to 334,000 jobless claims. This was also less than expectations of 350,000 jobless claims. As more workers gain steady employment, this will enable more would-be home buyers to become active buyers.

May Retail sales also showed slight improvement as they moved from 0.60 percent from April’s 0.10 percent.

According to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey (PMMS), the average mortgage rate for a 30year fixed rate mortgage rose from last week’s 3.91 percent to 3.98 percent with discount points unchanged at 0.70 percent. The average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage rose from last week’s 3.03 percent to 3.10 percent with discount points holding at 0.70 percent.

Whats Coming Up This Week

Next week’s economic news schedule has a number of reports due including Wednesday’s FOMC statement and Fed Chair Ben Bernanke’s press conference. This meeting and press conference are significant as any move by the Fed to reduce or cease its current quantitative easing (QE) program could cause mortgage rates to rise further.

Monday’s news includes the Home Builders Index for June. Tuesday brings the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for May and the Core CPI, also for May. The indices measure prices paid by consumers for goods and services; the Core CPI eliminates the volatile food and energy sectors included in the CPI. Rising or falling consumer costs influence how much discretionary income consumers have for saving toward buying a home.

No news is scheduled for Wednesday other than the FOMC statement and press conference.

Thursday brings the Existing Home Sales Report, Weekly Jobs Report, Freddie Mac PMMS and Leading Indicators. These reports are expected to provide news about U.S. housing markets, mortgage rates and economic influences impacting consumers.

There is no economic news scheduled for Friday.

Make Your Home A Movie Star! How To Rent Out Your Property As A Film Location

Make Your Home a Movie Star! Whenever a scene in a film or television show takes place in a private home, have you ever thought about who owns that property? Well, it could be you!

The fact is that film and television production companies are always on the lookout for new locations where they can shoot their footage. If you advertise your property in the right way, your home could have its 15 minutes of fame as the set for a film or a television show episode.

Many production companies have been gradually switching over the last few years into filming at ‘authentic’ private properties rather than in film sets and studios.

You don’t have to own a stunning mansion or a historic property to rent out your home as a film location. Film and TV location scouts are looking for a wide range of different homes, from small condos to townhouses to log cabins and any other style of dwelling.

Turning Your Home Into Hollywood

Of course, the obvious advantage of renting out your property as a film location is that you can get paid hundreds and sometimes even thousands of dollars per day just for letting a film crew take over your kitchen or dining room. Also, you will have the prestige and excitement of being able to meet celebrities and see your home featured on the big screen.

However, the process may disrupt your routine for a day or two or possibly longer. The film crew might want to move furniture around and you might even find yourself having to move out for a while. If you need to stay in a hotel during filming, make sure that the amount you are getting paid is enough to compensate for the costs of accommodation.

If you think that renting out your home as a film set sounds like a good idea for you, there are a number of different websites where you can list the property and post photos.  Sometimes your real estate professional can help refer you to a specialist in the local area who consistently works with location scouts and producers.

When you are making the arrangements, make sure that you draft up a contract that states your fee, how long the filming will take, the type of production and an agreement to return your house to the original state that it was found in.

If you are interested in purchasing a home that could be film-worthy, please give us a call!