Condominium homes are a great, low-maintenance choice for a primary residence, second home, or investment property. This alternative to the traditional single-family home has unique issues to consider before buying, as well as unique benefits.
Increasingly, condos are not just for first-time homebuyers looking for a less expensive entry into the housing market. Empty-nesters and retirees are happy to give up mowing the lawn and painting the house. Busy professionals can experience luxury living knowing their home is safe and well-maintained while they are away on business.
If you are considering buying a condominium for a home, here are a few things you should know:
With condominiums, you own everything in your unit on your side of the walls. Individual owners hold title to the condominium unit only, not the land beneath the unit. All owners share title to the common areas: the grounds, lobby, halls, parking areas and other amenities. A homeowners’ association (HOA) usually manages the complex and collects a monthly fee from all condominium owners to pay for the operation and maintenance of the property. These fees may include such items as insurance, landscape, and grounds up-keep, pool maintenance, security, and administrative costs.
The owners of the units in a condominium are all automatic members of the condo association. The association is run by a volunteer Board of Directors, who manage the operations and upkeep of the property. A professional management company may also be involved in assisting the board in their decisions. The condo association also administers rules and regulations designed to ensure safety and maintain the value of your investment. Examples include whether or not pets are allowed and the hours of use for condominium facilities, such as pools and work-out rooms. Should a major expense occur, all owners are responsible for paying their fair share of the expense.
The pros and cons of condominium living:
The condominium lifestyle has many benefits, but condominium ownership isn’t for everyone. Whether living in a condominium works for you depends on your current and planned future lifestyle. By necessity, condominium associations have a number of standardized rules. You need to decide whether these regulations work for you or not. Here are some points to keep in mind if you’re considering condominium living.
Convenience: People who love living in condominiums always cite the convenience factor. It’s nice to have someone else take care of landscaping, upkeep, and security. Condominium homes are often located in urban areas where restaurants, groceries, and entertainment are just a short walk away.
Luxury amenities: May condominiums offer an array of amenities that most homeowners couldn’t afford on their own, such as fitness centers, clubhouses, wine cellars, roof-top decks, and swimming pools. Lobbies of upscale condominiums can rival those of four-star hotels, making a great impression on residents.
Privacy: Since you share common walls and floors with other condominium owners, there is less privacy than what you’d expect in a single-family home. While condominiums are built with noise abatement features, you may still occasionally hear your neighbors.
Space: Except for very high-end units, condominiums are generally smaller than single-family homes. That means less storage space and often, smaller rooms. The patios and balconies of individual units are usually much smaller as well.
Autonomy: As a condominium owner, you are required to follow the laws of the associations. That means giving up a certain amount of control and getting involved in the group decision-making process. HOA bylaws vary greatly from property to property, and some people may find certain rules too restrictive.
Things to consider when you decide to buy:
Condominium homes vary from intimate studios to eclectic lofts and luxury penthouses. The right condominium is the one that best fits your lifestyle. Here are a few questions to ask to determine which condominium is right for you.
How will you use it?
Will your condominium be your primary residence? A second home? An investment property? While a studio may be too small for a primary residence, it might be a perfect getaway. Also, consider how your lifestyle may change over the next five to seven years. If you are close to retirement, you may want to have the option of turning a vacation condominium into your permanent home.
What amenities are most important to you?
Amenities vary location to location. Decide what you want, and you can be assured of finding it. Most urban and resort condominiums have an enticing array of extras, from spas to movie screening rooms to tennis courts.
What are your specific needs?
Do you have a pet? Some associations don’t allow them; others have limitations on their size. Most buildings will have a rental cap, so be sure to know what that cap is if you’re buying as an investment. Parking can also be a major issue, especially in dense, urban areas. How many spaces do you get per unit? Do you pay extra if you have more vehicles?
Cost: Condominium homes typically cost less than houses, so they’re a great choice for first-time buyers. However, because condominiums are concentrated in more expensive locations, and sizes are generally smaller than a comparable single-family home, the price per square foot for a condominium is usually higher.
Finally, once you’ve found a property you like, examine the association’s declaration, rules, and bylaws to make sure they fit your needs. The association will provide you with an outline of their monthly fees and exactly what they cover so you can accurately budget your expenses.
Ask to review the association board’s meeting minutes from the past year to get an idea of any issues the association is working on. An analysis of sales demand and property appreciation compared to like units may help ensure that you make the best possible investment.
Investing in a home is a great way to build passive income but earning from your investment will take a little groundwork to become a well-oiled machine. This is your beginner’s guide to owning an investment property so you can set up that foundation properly to avoid future headaches.
Make sure it’s livable
It’s important to start with your home inspection before you start making plans. Use the inspection report to prioritize the maintenance issues.
Before a tenant moves in, make sure the home is livable. Handle the important items that affect the livability of the property, either now or in the near future. If the inspector noticed a leak in the roof or holes that could lead to infestation, take care of those first. Other maintenance issues to prioritize are the fuel and the hot water source.
If your city has inspection and registration requirements, be sure to cross check those inspection checklists with your current property. If the property wouldn’t pass now, make sure it will pass by the time the city sees it.
Upgrade the space
Once your property is in livable condition, it’s time to upgrade. If you have any left-over budget after the necessities are handled, consider adding a bedroom or a bathroom where you can find the space. These rooms heavily impact the rental price, and the more you have the higher the price. If there’s no space for another bed or bath, think about finishing the basement or upgrading some of the appliances to make the property more attractive to potential tenants.
Use similar properties in your neighborhood as your inspiration. These units are your competition, think about what you can add, or even take away, that would help you compete. Ask yourself what about your home is unique and in what ways does that affect your rentability? If every unit in your area has hardwoods, how can you make your carpeted home appealing? Maybe new carpet? Or is switching to hardwoods, or vinyl laminate that looks like wood, worth it?
Market it to future tenants
You need two things in your listing: 1) Great Photos 2) An Amazing Description
After you’ve perfected the property, it’s time to tell potential tenants that it’s available. Creating the listing is essential in drawing eyes on the unit so you can show it to as many people as possible.
Renters looking to move are quick to make their first impression of a property with thumbnail photos on a map. So, take lots of great, bright, photos of the entire place to showcase the amenities and show potential tenants what it looks like, then choose the best photo to be the first in the lineup. Remember to get the lighting is just right to show every corner of the listing. Dark photos scare tenants away, making them think the unit is dingy and dirty. Light and bright photos show a clean home that’s move-in ready. They can imagine themselves living there a lot easier than in dark and cramped looking units.
Next, they’ll read the description. This is again where other listings in your area can help you.
Read other listings to structure your description and to draw inspiration on what tenants might think is important. Find the selling points and emphasize those above the unique features, especially if those unique features are obvious in the photos.
Appraisals are used as a reliable, independent valuation of a tract of land and the structure on it, whether it’s a house or a skyscraper. Designed to protect buyers, sellers, and lending institutions, appraisals are an important part of the buying/selling process.
Below, you will find information about the appraisal process, what goes into them, their benefits and some tips on how to help make an appraisal go smoothly and efficiently.
Appraisal value vs. market value
The appraiser’s value is determined by using a combination of factors such as comparative market analyses and their inspection of the property to determine if the listing price is typical for the area.
Market value, on the other hand, is what a buyer is willing to pay for a home or what homes of comparable value are selling for.
If you are in the process of setting the price of your home, you can gain some peace-of-mind by consulting an independent appraiser. Show them comparative values for your neighborhood, relevant documents, and give them a tour of your home, just as you would show it to a prospective buyer.
What information goes into an appraisal?
Professional appraisers consult a range of information sources, including multiple listing services, county tax assessor records, county courthouse records, and appraisal data records, in addition to talking to local real estate professionals.
They also conduct an inspection. Typically, an appraiser’s inspection focuses on:
- The condition of the property and home, inside and out.
- The home’s layout and features.
- Home updates.
- Overall quality of construction.
- Estimate of the home’s square footage (the gross living area “GLA”; garages and unfinished basements are estimated separately).
- Permanent fixtures (for example, in-ground pools, as opposed to above-ground pools).
After the inspection, the appraiser of a typical single-family home will create their report including their professional opinion on what the price of the home should be.
You might hear the lender ask for two reports, the “Sales Comparison Approach” and the “Cost Approach.” These two approaches use different methodologies to find the appropriate value of the home, and help the lender confirm the home’s price.
Who pays and how long does it take?
The buyer usually pays for the appraisal unless they have negotiated otherwise. Depending on the lender, the appraisal may be paid in advance or incorporated into the application fee; some are due on delivery and some are billed at closing. Typical costs range from $275-$600, but this can vary from region to region.
An inspection usually takes anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours, depending on the size and complexity of your property. In addition, the appraiser spends time pulling up county records for the values of the houses around you. A full report is sent to your loan officer, real estate agent, and/or lender in about a week.
If you are the seller, you won’t get a copy of an appraisal ordered by a buyer. Under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, however, the buyer has the right to get a copy of the appraisal if they request it. Typically, the requested appraisal is provided at closing.
What if the appraisal is too low?
A low appraisal can present a problem when there’s a large difference between what you’ve agreed to pay and the appraisal price.
Usually, the seller’s agents and the buyer’s agent will respond by looking for recent sold and pending listings of comparable homes. Sometimes this can influence the appraisal. If the final appraisal is well below what you have agreed to pay, you can re-negotiate the contract or cancel it.
Where do you find a qualified appraiser?
Your bank or lending institution will find and hire an appraiser; Federal regulatory guidelines do not allow borrowers to order and provide an appraisal to a bank for lending purposes. If you want an appraisal for your own personal reasons and not to secure a mortgage or buy a homeowner’s insurance policy, you can do the hiring yourself. You can contact your lending institution and they can recommend qualified appraisers and you can choose one yourself or you can call me and I can make a recommendation for you. Once you have the name of some appraisers you can verify their status on the Federal Appraisal Subcommittee website.
Tips for hassle-free appraisals:
To ensure the appraisal process is smooth and efficient, provide your appraiser with the information and documents he or she needs to get the job done. The documents you will need include:
- A brief explanation of why you’re getting an appraisal
- The date you’d like your appraisal to be completed
- A copy of your deed, survey, purchase agreement, or other papers that pertain to the property
- A sketch of the property with the property’s dimensions. These are usually available online from the county assessors.
- If you have a mortgage, provide the information about your lender, the year you got your mortgage, the amount, the type of mortgage (FHA, VA, etc.), your interest rate, and any additional financing you have.
- A copy of your current real estate tax bill, statement of special assessments, balance owing and on what (for example, sewer, water)
- Tell your appraiser if your property is listed for sale and if so, your asking price and listing agency.
- If it’s a multiple offer situation, provide the appraiser with the other offers to prove the demand for the home.
- Any personal property that is included in the sale, like appliances and other fixtures.
- If you’re selling an income-producing property, a breakdown of income and expenses for the last year or two and a copy of leases.
- A copy of the original house plans and specifications.
- A list of recent improvements and their costs.
- Any other information you feel may be relevant.
By doing your homework, compiling the information your appraiser needs, and providing it at the beginning of the process, you can minimize unnecessary delays.
If you’ve suddenly been hit with a home improvement project that’s pinching your budget, like a roofing issue or heater malfunction, a personal loan might be an option to help cover the cost.
What is a personal loan?
A personal loan is an installment loan that’s typically issued by a bank, credit union or online lender. According to the Federal Reserve, the average interest rate on a two-year personal loan is 10.22% but varies depending on your credit score and other criteria. Some lenders offer repayment terms anywhere from 12 months to five years.
A benefit of using a personal loan for emergency home improvement projects is that the approval process is generally quick so you can address urgent home repairs sooner. Some online lenders can run a credit check, approve your application and send funds your way with a couple of days. The approval process for banks and credit unions, on the other hand, can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, if the lender needs additional information.
How to find a personal loan
If you’ve decided that a personal loan makes sense to fund your next home project, make sure you’re aware of these next steps.
1. Assess your budget
The last thing you need is taking out a personal loan only to realize after the fact that you can’t afford to repay it. Calculate how much you realistically need for your home improvement project, giving yourself a reasonable buffer for unforeseen repair expenses (e.g. permit fees, price changes for a specific material, etc.)
Then, tally your monthly income and financial obligations to ensure you still have enough cash on hand to keep the lights on and make monthly installments toward your loan. Using a spreadsheet or budgeting app can help you track these numbers easily.
2. Know your credit score
Generally, you need a good credit score to get approved for a personal loan. Your credit score is one of the key factors that lenders use to determine whether your application is approved, and a higher credit score results in a lower interest rate offer.
Check your credit score with the three credit bureaus to ensure there isn’t an error or suspicious activity that might inadvertently lower your credit score. For a free credit report, go to AnnualCreditReport.com to see where your credit stands before moving forward in the process.
3. Compare rates and terms
When you’ve confirmed that you have a good credit score that can get you competitive interest rates, it’s tempting to accept a loan from the first lender that approves you. But like other major purchases, it’s important to shop around.
Compare interest rates, annual percentage rates (APR), and term durations available, and read the fine print for any conditions or fees that might offset any benefits.
To start, try reaching out to your existing financial institution first to see what they can offer; sometimes credit unions, in particular, offer rate incentives for loyal members. Also, consider using a personal loan aggregator website to compare offers from multiple online lenders at once (just do your due diligence to ensure the site is legitimate).
4. Submit an application
If you’re ready to submit an application, you can either complete a form online or apply in-person, depending on your lender. Although all lenders require different information to process a loan application, some common information to prepare ahead of time include:
- Personal information
- Employment information
- Reason for the loan
- Amount you want to borrow
To minimize any delays on your end, it’s helpful to prepare copies of verification documents, such as a driver’s license, proof of address like a utility statement, information about your home and pay stubs. Your prospective lender will likely reach out to you if they need any other information to make a decision.
Although it’s always best to have emergency savings set aside for a sudden home improvement project, turning to a personal loan is a useful option when you’re pressed for funds and time. As urgent as your project might feel, however, always take the time to do your research to ensure you’re making the right move for your situation.
Have you ever rented the unit in someone’s basement? Maybe your spouse’s mother moved into your “Mother-In-Law Unit” above your garage? Or have you ever traveled and stayed in a pool house for your stay? Commonly referred to as “Mother-In-Law” units, homeowners use these as a way to fill the space in their home and gain residual income, either from vacationers or long-term tenants.
The official terms for these units are Additional Dwelling Units (ADU) or Detached Additional Dwelling Units (DADU’s), and are defined as extra spaces in homes and on properties where someone can live completely independent of the main house.
These units can be almost anywhere on the property, but they are usually located in the basement, in the backyard, or above the garage. They have their own bathroom and kitchen facilities, and sometimes they share laundry with the main house.
Thinking of adding a unit to your home? Here are some benefits and risks, as well as important aspects to consider before you build:
Homeowners can maximize their investment by renting out the extra space to long-term tenants for short-term vacationers. These tenants can help pay off debt or create an extra stream of income to pay for other needs or wants.
Depending on several factors, including the size of the unit, the market in the area, and other factors, each homeowner should decide which option they are more comfortable with. These decisions should be made before they list the unit for rent to best market to the right audience.
An obvious risk is that when you open your space to a stranger, there’s a possibility that things might end poorly. Either the tenants could turn out to be untrustworthy, or unreliable, leading to a financial burden.
To minimize the risks, it’s a good idea to use an application process to check backgrounds and employment history as a tool to get to know the potential tenant. Make sure to adhere to the National Fair Housing Laws and your local regulations.
Things to Consider:
- What are the shared spaces?
- Would you be comfortable sharing those spaces, and potentially appliances, with a new person each weekend, or would you rather get to know the long-term tenant who would use those on a consistent basis?
- Rooms like the kitchen can be great for those who want to get more interaction from their vacation renters. However, sharing one bathroom between the homeowners and the visitors can be uncomfortable and risky.
- Would you be okay with a long-term renter using your laundry facilities? What kind of access would they need to the house in order to use those machines?
- What is the size of the ADU/DADU?
- Is it truly a space where someone could live, or would it be too tight to fit all the necessary appliances?
- Does the unit adhere to your local housing codes as a livable space?
- How close are the units and what noise level are you comfortable with?
- As a long-term landlord, tenants have the right to quiet enjoyment without the landlord barging into their space or controlling their activities. If the unit is in the basement and the tenant has friends or family over, that noise could permeate into your unit in the late hours of the night. A way to prevent this is to be sure to layout quiet hours and expectations before they sign the lease or make an agreement so that you and the tenant are on the same page.
- The same goes for the rules in the vacation rental listing. Managing expectations is the first way to create a relationship with the tenants, even those there for the weekend.
- What improvements are required to make the unit livable?
- Do you need to add a kitchen or a bathroom? What are the costs associated with those improvements and would the market-rate rental prices make up for those improvements? You might not get your money back within the year, but if you’re dedicated to making the space worth it to rent it out over the next few years, these improvements, and financial obligations are necessary.
- If these initial investments aren’t viable for your situation, it might be a good idea to look at other options to earn rent from your home, including adding roommates with whom you’re willing to share all the common spaces.
Whatever you decide, it’s important to be familiar with the rental market and regulations in both your local region and your neighborhood.
Do you have an ADU or DADU on your property? How do you use it? Let me know in the comments.
For more than 20 years, the benefits of staging a home have been well documented. Numerous studies show that staging helps sell a home faster and for a higher price. According to the National Association of REALTORS®, 88 percent of home buyers start their search online, forming impressions within three seconds of viewing a listing. When a home is well staged, it photographs well and makes the kind of the first impression that encourages buyers to take the next step.
Studies also indicate that buyers decide if they’re interested within the first 30 seconds of entering a home. Not only does home staging help to remove potential red flags that can turn buyers off, but it also helps them begin to imagine living there. Homes that are professionally staged look more “move-in ready” and that makes them far more appealing to potential buyers.
According to the Village Voice, staged homes sell in one-third less time than non-staged homes. Staged homes can also command higher prices than non-staged homes. Data compiled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development indicate that staged homes sell for approximately 17 percent more than non-staged homes.
A measurable difference in time and money
In a study conducted by the Real Estate Staging Association in 2007, a group of vacant homes that had remained unsold for an average of 131 days were taken off the market, staged, and relisted. The newly staged properties sold, on average, in just 42 days, – which is approximately 68 percent less time on the market.
The study was repeated in 2011, in a more challenging market, and the numbers were even more dramatic. Vacant homes that were previously on the market for an average of 156 days as unstaged properties, when listed again as staged properties, sold after an average of 42 days—an average of 73 percent less time on the market.
Small investments, big potential returns
Staging is a powerful advantage when selling your home, but that’s not the only reason to do it. Staging uncovers problems that need to be addressed, repairs that need to be made, and upgrades that should be undertaken. For a relatively small investment of time and money, you can reap big returns. Staged properties are more inviting, and that inspires the kind of peace-of-mind that gets buyers to sign on the dotted line. In the age of social media, a well-staged home is a home that stands out, gets shared, and sticks in people’s minds.
What’s more, the investment in staging can bring a higher price. According to the National Association of REALTORS, the average staging investment is between one percent and three percent of the home’s asking price, and typically generates a return of eight to ten percent.
In short, less time on the market and higher selling prices make the small cost of staging your home a wise investment.
Interested in learning more? Contact me for information about the value of staging and referrals for professional home stagers.
Purchasing a home can be a complex endeavor for even the most well-prepared home buyer. You’ve diligently saved for your down payment, followed the market, researched agents and now you are ready to make an offer on your dream home. Don’t let these 5 “Deal Breakers” come between you and your new home.
- Big Purchases on Credit. It is tempting to buy the furniture for your new home or a new car for the garage before the sale closes. Take care if you are making these purchases on credit. Large purchases on credit can have a major impact on your credit profile which effects your mortgage application. It’s a better plan to wait until after closing or pay cash for these transactions or you may be putting that furniture in a different living room than you originally picked them out for.
- Overpaying. Before your bank will approve your mortgage they will appraise the home you are purchasing. If they feel you are overpaying they are likely to decline your mortgage application. If you find yourself in this situation consult with your agent on renegotiating your offer to be more in line with the bank’s appraised value.
- Purchasing too close to Foreclosure. If you are making an offer on a house which is facing foreclosure be sure to have a closing date set before the foreclosure date. Have your agent work with the lender to structure closing before the house goes back to the bank and into foreclosure.
- IRS liens. You’ve heard the old saying “Death and Taxes”. Back taxes and liens can derail your attempts to get financing for a mortgage so be sure to have your books in order before filing your loan application.
- Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE). CLUE is a database of insurance claims for both people and property. Your home insurance rates are determined by the information about you and the property you plan to purchase which is contained in this report. Past claims for water damage, falling trees and even dog bites from present and past owners can multiply your insurance rates. Consult your agent about the CLUE report for your future home as soon as possible once your home purchase offer is accepted.
When purchasing a home there will be challenges which you can plan for and the unexpected hurdles. By educating yourself as a consumer and choosing a well trained real estate agent you can avoid many of the pitfalls of 21st century home ownership.
What about you? Tell me if you have had any “deal breaker” experiences.
The process of purchasing a home directly from a lender can be long and arduous, but could very well be worth it in the end. If you have your sights on a particular home or are looking to find a deal on your first, working directly with the lender may be your only option. Purchasing a bank-owned home is not for the faint of heart, here are some tips for negotiating the REO process:
1. Be prepared: The condition of bank-owned properties are often poor and hard to show. Past owners may have departed on bad terms, leaving the home in poor condition with foul smells, missing appliances, wires are taken from breakers, gas fireplaces gone, even bathrooms without toilets and sinks.
2. Understand the costs: Maintenance or repairs may be necessary since these homes have been vacant for an unknown period of time–sometimes months or years. Keep in mind, when they were occupied the owners could have been under financial hardship, preventing them from doing regular seasonal care or repairs when needed. Remember as well that the bank is trying to sell the house immediately, so you will receive a financial break in the price rather than a willingness to negotiate on the maintenance and repair issues.
3. Accept the unknown: In traditional real estate transactions, homeowners fill out Form 17 regarding important information about the history of the house. A bank-owned home is either exempt or marked with “I don’t know” throughout the document. Not having the accuracy of this 5-page disclosure form could leave you with a lot of unanswered questions on the history of the home.
4. Know what is non-negotiable: The pricing on the house may not get much lower. Some of these properties can be “a dream come true” if you get them at an amazing price, or they could be your worst nightmare. Do your due diligence researching any property, and conduct all necessary inspections to safeguard yourself. Some major repairs may be negotiable, but will likely not reduce the home price.
5. Make a clean offer: The higher the price you can offer, the better. Include your earnest money, keep contingencies to a minimum, and suggest a reasonable closing date. The simpler your offer is, the higher chance you have of the bank accepting your offer or countering in a reasonable time period.
6. Be patient: Consult with a professional who handles bank owned home purchases to help you negotiate the pathway to homeownership. The process of purchasing a bank-owned, foreclosed or short-sale home is typically longer than a typical real estate sale.
Downsizing is on the minds of many homeowners today. Some are ready to retire, others want to live more simply, and many want to save money and say goodbye to home maintenance. If you can relate to any of those sentiments, ask yourself these five questions:
Have you done the math?
The financial savings that can be generated by downsizing can be significant – especially as they add up over time. When doing the math, make sure the move will save money, rather than spend unnecessarily.
Have you researched elder-care options?
Many homeowners hold on to their current home longer than they should because their parents / parents-in-law may need to come live with them in the future. While a noble gesture, there are many excellent elder care living options available today. Often, all it takes is a tour of those facilities to realize that your loved one may actually be happier, and far better served, in a place devoted to their care and happiness.
Have you considered off-site storage?
You don’t need to immediately discard a big chunk of your belongings in order to downsize. In fact, trying to do so in one fell swoop only creates needless stress. Most people find it works much better to move some of their belongings into off-site storage for six months. During that time, you can gradually incorporate some of those items into your new living arrangement, and slowly figure out what to do with the others.
How do you feel about sharing costs and decision-making?
Townhomes and condominiums are popular downsizing options. But both require that you share the decision-making and expenses associated with any maintenance and improvement projects with your neighbors and potentially an HOA. If you’re a people-person and agree that two heads are better than one, and you like the idea of sharing the cost/responsibility for expensive repairs, you’ll enjoy condo living. If not, this may not be the best option for you.
Have you consulted with a real estate agent?
Many homeowners don’t think to consult with a real estate agent until they’ve made the decision to downsize. This leads to guesstimating about some of the most important factors. The truth is, your real estate agent is someone you want to talk with very early in the decision-making process.