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Don’t Let the Interest Rates Stop You

Don’t Let the Interest Rates Stop You

Interest rates jumped up again. Is it time for us to just wait until spring and hope they start to come back down? 

If you are a buyer, the real estate market offers you a great opportunity right now! Don’t be fooled by the higher interest rates – this is an awesome market for you to buy in! Why? Because all of the people who you would have been competing with are afraid of the interest rates and sitting by the sidelines.  This allows you to have a competition – free opportunity to buy a home!  Just six months ago, buyers would have been overjoyed to have an opportunity to buy a home without competition, to have had an opportunity to have had an offer accepted on the first home they offered on instead of their seventh, to have been able to purchase a home at asking price rather than asking price plus 10 percent!  Do not miss this golden opportunity – there are some very nice homes available right now. You can refinance later with a convenient no cost refinance loan – get the house now! Once rates start to come back down, the buyers (who have all been sitting by the sidelines with you) will come racing back into the market, and bidding wars will be back. Make the smart move – buy now.

And as a side note, I do not feel we will see a “crash” in prices.  Inventory remains at record lows and those homes that are selling continue to increase in their sales prices to new record highs, despite the increasing rates.  This is not 2008 – I am not anticipating any “deals” to be had this spring – if anything the natural increase in the buyer pool we see every spring will boost prices because of the extreme lack of inventory.  Feel free to reach out to me and we can strategize on how you can take the most advantage of the current real estate market while you still can!

A home’s value is set by the market.  Value is always determined by what a buyer is willing to pay for your home.  Many factors come into play in setting that value.  Market value reflects quantitative factors such as:  # bedrooms, # bathrooms, # garages, placement of garages (attached or integral), lot configuration (large and functional back yard?  Cliff lot?), location of the home generally, age of roof, age of mechanicals.  Market value also reflects more qualitative items:  how updated is your home, and is it all new, or just refreshed?  What is the floorplan (open concept?) What are your wall colors?  There is always a range that value will land in, which we call the range of reasonable.  There is no ONE price at which a home will sell.  If there are many buyers seeking a home like yours, it will sell at the top of the range of reasonable.  If there are not, it will take longer to sell and may sell a bit lower in the range.  What the market does not consider in setting a value of a home is what you need from the home.  In 2008, many homeowners had used their homes as ATMs and withdrawn large sums of money for educations, vacations and cars.  When the market softened, there was not enough equity for them to be able to sell their homes and not be in a short sale situation. This fact, that a homeowner over-extended themselves on mortgages, is not the least bit relevant to market value.  The market is also not going to consider what you plan to do next.  If you plan to move to Los Angeles to be closer to family and are finding that the Pittsburgh market is not going to yield you enough to be able to buy in L.A., you will need to turn to other investments to make up any difference.

We are in a very robust market – your home is far more likely to garner more now – whatever that may be – than it could have in the past.   Forecasters are also suggesting that values will soften by year end.  My crystal ball is out for service, but what I can tell you is that every hot market eventually softens.  Waiting out the market so that you can get a price that the market is unprepared to deliver at this time may have you waiting many, many years, and during that time you may need to invest even more in your home in order to deliver to the market what it needs in order to deliver an acceptable sale to you. 

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Understanding the High-End Market

It seems that high end home sales continue to lag as compared to the rest of the market.  Thoughts? 

Our high-end market in the Quaker Valley School District is moving more slowly than the rest of the market, and this is particularly apparent when homes under $1 million are selling fast and at premium prices.  Speculation abounds as to why that is the case.  Many attribute that to the fact that our tax system was restructured several years ago to allow for a larger standard deduction and lower marginal rates but at the cost of limiting the deduction for property and income taxes to a combined total of $10,000.  Our property taxes are high in Western PA as compared to many parts of the country and that will impact expensive homes, with the possibility of the highest taxes, the most.

Buyers may need a general mindset adjustment. As a whole, our income taxes in PA are lower than the majority of states.  Our earned income tax here in Sewickley is only 1%, compared to 3% in the city of Pittsburgh. We do not have sales tax on clothes or food as many states do.  So while our property taxes may be on the high side, we are in a far better position overall than many residents of metropolitan areas with similar advantages to Pittsburgh.  Property taxes are just a cost of living, and if your bucket list includes the amenities of a higher-end home, the taxes are what they are.  The sooner our marketplace accepts this reality, the sooner our higher end homes will start selling again!

However, other high-end Pittsburgh markets are selling more readily than ours and while this article is not a political commentary, the reason most often cited by high-end buyers choosing against Quaker Valley is the school situation.  No one likes controversy – why move into it if you don’t have to?  If we can make unified forward progress, that may buoy our high-end market.

In the meantime, our middle and lower end market segments are moving fast and often with many offers.  Homes in these segments that are priced appropriately for condition and amenities are often selling with multiple offers, and in a very short amount of time.  These market segments are accelerating quickly in their pricing.  Waiting for the home to show up on your Zillow search is likely going to be too late.  If a move is something you’ve been considering, give me a call and we can strategize on how you can best meet your needs in this complex market we find ourselves in! 412.779.6060

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[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Security Camera Do’s & Don’ts

We have security cameras in our home – is it ok to leave them on when we show our home?

Video recording is permitted, except in areas where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a bathroom. In those areas, you may not record.  Audio recording is much trickier, and most security cameras these days record video and audio.  In the state of Pennsylvania, audio recording requires the consent of all parties being recorded.  Therefore, the best practice, to protect yourself from any legal consequences, is to disable audio recordings of your showings.  This does not mean that you cannot listen in – you can!  It means you cannot make an audio recording of the showing.

Some sellers are just curious and want to know what people are saying about their homes.  Some won’t be able to figure out how to disable the audio recording component of their system.  In those cases, it is important that you prominently disclose that the property has video and audio surveillance. This needs to be done in a conspicuous way – you should post a notice at your entry door as well as someplace immediately visible on entry – I create a fun little sign with a smiley face that says “smile – you’re being recorded. Property is protected by audio/video surveillance.”  When people enter your property having viewed the signage, it is deemed implied consent to the recording. It is also important that you make sure that your Realtor clearly indicate that there is audio and video surveillance in the MLS Realtor comments as well as in the lockbox instructions, if applicable.  Do not forget to fully disclose your cameras to your agent (this should be done the first time your Realtor comes over, as recording anyone without their consent is illegal – not just the prospective buyers!) Over-disclosure is a good thing when it comes to recordings!

If you are a buyer, you should of course assume that every property you view is protected by audio and video recording and be sure to keep your comments to yourself until you are back in your car (many homes have extensive exterior surveillance as well as interior surveillance, so talking near the home is generally not a good idea!)  Keep interior conversations positive, but don’t say more than you would want to say directly to the seller in advance of submitting an offer!

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Investment Properties

We are interested in diversifying our portfolio and purchasing rental properties – any thoughts?

 The first thing to keep in mind when considering a rental property is how you intend to pay for it. Rental properties are investment properties and subject to different lending rules than the home that you live in. Therefore, a lender will expect that you put more down as a down payment on a rental property and you will pay a higher rate of interest. Typically, lenders are looking for no less than 20% down on your purchase.  And of course until you establish yourself as a successful landlord, your income is going to need to be sufficient to support the mortgage on your primary residence as well as any debt on your rental investments.

The second thing you need to think about is what kind of tenant you are interested in renting to. If you are hoping to rent to a family who might be in town for a couple of years with a temporary job assignment, then purchasing an apartment building with one and two bedroom apartments is unlikely to attract the type of tenant you hope to find. In that scenario, you would be looking for a single-family home in all likelihood (or possibly a townhome) in a good school district such as Quaker Valley. If you are hoping to find young professionals, you might look for something closer to downtown that has a trendier vibe to it.

You also need to take a look at the return on investment that you are seeking from the property. You will need to consider how much you are putting down on the property, how much you were paying in interest on any mortgage that you take out, your property taxes, maintenance of the building, any homeowners association fees, and any utilities that might be the responsibility of the landlord (these are typically utilities that are not separately divided in the particular structure, such as water).  Putting together a spreadsheet with all of the expenses and your expected income will help you to determine whether or not the anticipated net income is worth the risk of investment to you.  Be sure to build in some vacancy months – most properties are not leased 100% of the time.

Finally, you need to give some thought to how you will manage the property. Are you going to hire a property management company to handle that for you, or will you be more hands-on? Who is going to handle maintenance requests when something goes wrong? The beauty of being a tenant is that if something breaks, it’s not your responsibility to get it fixed. But as the landlord, are you going to be taking care of the repairs and if not, do you have a reliable handyman on-call that is willing to handle those items for you. If you are planning for others to manage the property on your behalf, you will need to build those costs into your financial projections as well.  If investment properties are something you would like to consider, feel free to reach out to me and we can discuss these opportunities further.

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

What Is Today’s Desired Style?

Is there a preferred style that is more desirable to buyers?

Six months ago, I would have told you that buyers overwhelming preferred the gray and white aesthetic. You know the look. White as the base color for “hardscapes” like tile, countertops and cabinetry with gray as the primary color (and perhaps a few pops of color reflected in easy to change items such as throw pillows).

How times have changed!  Today, the answer is – buyers just want a home, and if the home is well-conditioned, they seem to be looking past style and focusing on whether their baseline needs, such as the number of bathrooms, bedrooms and garages are met. Design aesthetic and color schemes have become much less important in this sellers’ market.

The next obvious question then would be does that mean that any home will sell in this market? And the answer is yes, as long as it is properly priced for condition. What we are seeing in this market is some homes are coming on priced as if they were completely remodeled and in perfect condition when they may in fact not be.  Buyers are paying seemingly ridiculous prices for many homes on the market. However, the common thread amongst homes that are being snapped up quickly and achieving market high prices are that they are perfectly conditioned and well remodeled or are priced in line with the condition and updates that they do have.

In the end, this is an extremely strong sellers’ market in which sellers are receiving more money for their homes and they would have even six months ago. However, while the prices that are realized may not be a function of the design aesthetic of the home as it perhaps was last year, it is still a function of how recently and fully updated the home is and how pristine the condition is, both mechanically and from a cleanliness perspective.

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Prepping To Sell

We are hoping to put our home on the market soon.  Any ideas for quick fixes that will help sell it fast? 

The easiest and least expensive thing to do when getting your home ready to put on the market is to start packing and decluttering your space. You’re going to have to do this anyhow in order to move and so you might as well get ahead of the game and start before your home goes on the market. Take a few minutes to consider whether you actually want to pay to move the items you are boxing up. If there our items you haven’t used in years (or maybe haven’t even taken out of the box since your last move), this might be a great time to donate them to a local charity. Otherwise, create more space by packing items that do not otherwise add to the “magazine appeal” of your home. If you have room in the basement or garage to make a small neatly piled stack of these boxes, that is OK. If not, or if the stack gets too large, I recommend getting an offsite storage facility. Be sure to put away any particular personal items. These would include religious items, political items and most family pictures.

Once you have the cluttered (and be sure to leave a few items for decorative interest – it should not look like a stripped down shell of a home), take the time to do a deep clean of your home.  Even if you have a weekly cleaning, the chances are there are many areas they just don’t have time to clean every week, such as HVAC return air vent covers, bathroom vent fan covers, baseboards, lighting fixtures… Online there are many resources for what not to miss in a deep-clean and this is a great place to start!

This time of year, another inexpensive yet wonderful way to increase the appeal of your home is to add annuals to your landscaping. Pots of well-watered, beautiful and colorful flowers go a long way in making a home feel inviting.  Be sure to keep your lawn well mowed, weeds out of your landscaping beds, beds mulched and shrubs nicely trimmed. The outside of your home is visible 24/7 and so it’s important to always keep it looking great. A fresh coat of paint on the front door and surrounding trim is also some thing you will not want to overlook. This is a very simple item to address and yet it is the first thing a buyer sees when they approach your home. It’s very easy for front doors to get tired looking, so take a look at yours and make sure the paint is fresh.

These simple and inexpensive steps will go a long way to adding value to your home!

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Seller’s Market


We keep reading that now is a seller’s market.  Do you agree?

YES!  We currently have the perfect storm for a seller!  We have been experiencing historically low inventory for several months.  It has been suggested that as a great portion of our population is fully vaccinated, we may see an influx of inventory.  Some sellers, who may have been on the fence about having prospective buyers in their home because of COVID may start to feel more comfortable once we achieve higher vaccination levels and may be more willing to put their homes on the market.  Some homeowners have seen COVID as an opportunity to retreat to homes they own elsewhere and, returning to Pittsburgh, are deciding they would prefer to remain in their alternate location on a permanent basis. Some have simply taken a longer vacation to a new location and decided to make that home – with the rise of telecommuting it is now possible to work in remote locations.  Whatever the reason, we are expecting a return to more normal inventory levels as we move through 2021, and with that will likely come a cooling in demand – so if you are a seller, NOW is your chance to get your best price from our market.

Also in a seller’s favor are the low interest rates.  Rates have creeped up a bit and have seemed to stabilize again – still at historically low rates.  Low rates allow a buyer to afford more home, while still paying the same each month.  This supports the increasing prices we have seen.  If rates continue to climb, that will likely soften the prices a buyer is willing to pay.

It is worth noting, however, that the perfect storm is really happening in our middle market and below.  High end homes have not been experiencing the same demand this spring, and are not as affected by interest rate fluctuations. Our high end market is its own entity – yes, it is fair to assume that if you were ever going to achieve your desired price, it would be in this very robust market.  But we simply don’t have the same influx of buyers in this price range, and those that we do have tend to be very exacting about what they want in their new home. If yours is a high end home, then its important to be patient – the market does surge in the high end as well – its just less predictable! 

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

What’s My Home Worth?

How exactly do we know what our home is worth?

A home’s value is set by the market.  Value is always determined by what a buyer is willing to pay for your home.  Many factors come into play in setting that value.  Market value reflects quantitative factors such as:  # bedrooms, # bathrooms, # garages, placement of garages (attached or integral), lot configuration (large and functional back yard?  Cliff lot?), location of the home generally, age of roof, age of mechanicals.  Market value also reflects more qualitative items:  how updated is your home, and is it all new, or just refreshed?  What is the floorplan (open concept?) What are your wall colors?  There is always a range that value will land in, which we call the range of reasonable.  There is no ONE price at which a home will sell.  If there are many buyers seeking a home like yours, it will sell at the top of the range of reasonable.  If there are not, it will take longer to sell and may sell a bit lower in the range.  What the market does not consider in setting a value of a home is what you need from the home.  In 2008, many homeowners had used their homes as ATMs and withdrawn large sums of money for educations, vacations and cars.  When the market softened, there was not enough equity for them to be able to sell their homes and not be in a short sale situation. This fact, that a homeowner over-extended themselves on mortgages, is not the least bit relevant to market value.  The market is also not going to consider what you plan to do next.  If you plan to move to Los Angeles to be closer to family and are finding that the Pittsburgh market is not going to yield you enough to be able to buy in L.A., you will need to turn to other investments to make up any difference.

We are in a very robust market – your home is far more likely to garner more now – whatever that may be – than it could have in the past.   Forecasters are also suggesting that values will soften by year end.  My crystal ball is out for service, but what I can tell you is that every hot market eventually softens.  Waiting out the market so that you can get a price that the market is unprepared to deliver at this time may have you waiting many, many years, and during that time you may need to invest even more in your home in order to deliver to the market what it needs in order to deliver an acceptable sale to you. 

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

2020 Year In Review

Now that 2020 is coming to a close, do you have any reflections on the year in real estate?

2020 is a year we will all be happy to see in the rear view mirror, and that day is coming soon! In March, we were all worried that the pandemic would result in a major down turn in real estate, and for a couple of months, the market barely had a pulse.  But when we moved out of the “red” zone, the market came crashing back like nothing we have ever seen before.  While there was a huge influx in inventory that resulted from the near zero level of new listings in the “at home” months, there was an even larger crush of buyers looking for a new home, and the summer months were plagued with bidding wars at many price points.  The lower price ranges saw significant appreciation as buyers vied for an opportunity at an affordable home in our school district, but even the two million dollar market saw more sales than it had in several years.  In most years, our market slows down in August, but not this year. As we head toward the holidays, we don’t have the extreme over-supply of buyers that we saw this past summer, but many homes are still selling fast and for top dollar. 

As we move into the new year, buyers are getting anxious.  We are seeing minimal new inventory (not unusual this time of year) and they are justifiably anxious about whether there will be a nice selection in the spring.  Being “stuck” at home, many homeowners have taken the opportunity to fix up the home they live in, and there is a real possibility that more people may be staying put for 2021 and enjoying the fruits of their labors. In the coming months, buyers will need to be prepared to compromise on their must haves and act fast if they see something that meets most of their wish list.  And of course sellers, please reach out to me right away if you are thinking of selling this spring.  Interest rates are low, prices are up and demand is high – there has never been a better time to sell.

As 2020 comes to a close, I wish you all a fabulous holiday season. It has been my great pleasure to work with so many in our community during this unusual pandemic year and I am looking forward to continuing to do so in 2021, a year we all have high hopes for! The Herald will not be published over the holidays, but you can check out my website, www.AskKathe.com, for continued real estate advice every week!

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Fall Selling Tips

Now that fall is here, do you have any tips for presenting our home well in the fall market?

Fall can be such a wonderful season here in Pittsburgh, but sometimes sellers forget that they need to take a fresh look at their home to make sure it is still presenting at its best as summer ends.  Start with your yard.  It’s the first thing a buyer sees! Make sure you have trimmed away all of Summer’s dead blooms and that your garden beds are looking ready for their long winter’s nap.  Put down fall fertilizer so your yard looks great again this coming spring! Be sure to give your lawn its final mow, and as we move into fall, keep your leaves raked! 

Don’t forget to keep your gutters clean – if your home is actively on the market, you may need to do it more than once – you don’t want a buyer to see clogged gutters and mini-trees emerging! Give porches and patios a final thorough cleaning.  If your windows aren’t really clean, get that done too – as we go into our grayer time of the year, its really important to get as much sunshine inside as possible!

Inside, check all of your lightbulbs and make sure they are all at the maximum possible wattage and in good working order. As days grow shorter, it will be important for your home to be bright and cheerful inside. Clean out your garage.  You will need it once snow flies, and you won’t want to be out there in 30 degree weather! Be sure that if you choose seasonal decorations like mums or wreaths, that you remember to rotate them as we move through the season so that you reflect the current season!

And of course, if you know now that you want to list in the coming Spring season, which kicks off in January, give me a call now so we can get photography done while there are still leaves on the trees!

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Making a Seller’s Market Your Buying Opportunity

We have been waiting for a while for some new homes to come on the market –are you anticipating more listings soon?

It has in fact been a very active summer season and it sure does feel like inventory is very low.  In fact, we currently have ONLY 82 listings available for sale in the Quaker Valley School District – in most years that number would be approximately 200!  So when we say that we need listings, we mean it!

Yes, we do expect that there will be more homes coming on the market in the new year. While March & April tend to be our largest listing months every year, we have had a few introductions recently and as a general rule they have flown off the market.  We have a tremendous amount of pent up demand.  There are dozens of buyers in every price range sitting on the fence waiting for their “perfect” listing.  If you are one of those buyers, you should expect that you will have some stiff competition as we are seeing bidding wars with multiple offers in many price ranges. So make sure you have your financing in order and be prepared to move quickly if you see something that looks like it could work.

If you are one of the many Village dreamers we have out there, start thinking now about what compromises you might be willing to make to get a home.  As Pittsburgh grows, our inventory is not keeping up with housing demands and we will continue to see a tighter and tighter housing market and increasing prices.  Compromise will be necessary to even get into a home here.

Finally, if you are thinking of selling your home, I have said it many times before, but PLEASE reach out to me! I offer completely confidential consultations and strategic plans to maximize your returns, with a nearly 22-year proven track record.  There is no better time to be selling your home!

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Getting it SOLD!

We hear there is low inventory and many buyers looking for homes. Shouldn’t that work to our advantage as potential home sellers?

It’s true — we are in a very strong seller’s market. If you are thinking of selling, there is no better time than now. But even in a hot market, it is important to remember that a home seller is not much different than a seller of any other product – it is the seller’s job to sell. We agents are here to partner in that sale by marketing what you have to sell and negotiating the terms of that sale, but in the end, it is up to the seller to actually sell.

This may surprise some of you — many people think it is the Realtor’s job to sell. But just like any other product, the owner of the product must actually be in sell mode. What does that mean to you? First, it involves a mindset switch. Buyers are rarely sitting on sidelines begging you to own your home. Instead, it is your job to convince them that they want to buy your home. It is not much different than Nike selling you their sneakers — they need to convince you that you want to choose their sneakers over all other available choices, and sometimes they need to convince you that you need a new pair of sneakers to begin with. The same is true for houses–  by how you present your home and respond to offers, you must convince buyers that they should choose you, and maybe even that they want to move at all.

How is this done? It is not done by protracted and difficult negotiations. When a buyer likes your home enough to write an offer, it is very important to respond as quickly as possible to keep the momentum going and to seem as much like a team player as possible in the negotiations. This can be hard to do — in an effort to help you understand their view of the market, a buyer may present some information that you disagree with or that irritates you. It is critical not to take this personally, but to stay calm and keep negotiating. Remember, it is your job to sell to convince them that their viewpoint is flawed. This is not done by digging your heels in. Rather, you should work with your agent to create a detailed value analysis to help the buyer understand the value that you are selling.

It is also not done by digging your heels in about condition. Just like you wouldn’t find it appealing to buy a pair of sneakers with holes in the soles, if your home has some condition issues, it will be harder to sell. Do your very best to address condition issues before you list. Again, sneakers that look to be in good shape are going to be the first pair off the shelf. If things come up on the inspection that are a concern to your buyer, its better to be responsive to that buyer rather than putting your sneakers back on the shelf and waiting for another buyer. If you keep in mind that you are the one who is doing the selling, it will go a long way toward getting the job done!

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Avoiding Mortgage Pitfalls

I have a friend who just had a terrible time closing on his mortgage loan because he moved some money into his checking account right before closing.  Any tips om making sure the mortgage process is a smooth one?

Mortgage rates remain low, but the process of obtaining a mortgage is more complex than most buyers appreciate.  Underwriters are extremely detailed in their review of mortgage applications – one small “mistake” could derail your entire application.  Take the time before you buy to understand the possible pitfalls, and then steer clear for a smooth mortgage process.

First, don’t make large undocumented deposits into your bank accounts. Mortgage guidelines require that underwriters review all deposits reflected on bank account statements. If there are deposits present on a bank statement and the underwriter cannot tell where the funds came from, then the underwriter may ask for you to provide a “paper trail” to document the source of the funds used for the deposit.  When making a deposit, keep the associated paperwork (i.e. the “paper trail”) you may have received that would show where the funds came from for the deposit (i.e. check stub, copy of check, receipt for liquidation of another account, etc…). Try not to make cash deposits if at all possible as it is difficult to show where “cash” came from. Try not to move your money around between accounts. There will be plenty of time to consolidate funds if you desire after you’ve closed on your new home.   Be sure to save ALL pages of your bank statements. Do not throw them away or shred them.

Second, strive to have ‘boring’ bank statements – no NSF charges, no unusual deposits, not a lot of moving around of money between accounts. Achieving this will definitely make your mortgage process go smoother.

Finally, don’t open new credit and don’t take on new debts. Unless advised to do so by your mortgage professional, you should try to avoid having your credit checked by anyone or taking on any new debt (i.e. credit cards, car loans, lines of credit, etc…). Numerous credit inquiries may impact your credit score which in turn could affect your mortgage loan and interest rate quote. In addition, underwriters may require that you write a letter explaining the inquiries on your credit report stating if you did or did not acquire any new debts as a result of the inquiry. While it’s tempting to take advantage of an extra 10% off at a department store if you open a new credit card with them, it may be best in the long run to pass on those offers and use one of your existing credit cards.

Check back next week for more tips on making your mortgage application process a smooth one!

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I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

The Pre-Inspection Power

I’ve heard that agreements on many homes have fallen through lately from home inspections – why is that?

Our market has traditionally been one where buyers know they are buying old homes and allow the seller some leeway in not presenting a “perfect” home from an inspection standpoint. However, in many parts of the country, this is not the case. Sellers are expected to remedy all issues noted by home inspectors prior to closing. As more and more people migrate here from other parts of the country, our prices are going up, but so are the buyers’ expectations as to a seller’s responsibility for concerns discovered on a home inspection. At the same time, inspectors are getting significantly more particular. And so yes, it is absolutely possible to have purchased a home only two years ago and have new concerns arise that clearly existed and were overlooked when you bought your home. And yes, it is equally possible that you will be expected to fix them and if you refuse, your sale might fall through.

This can often leave a seller feeling like they are the unlucky one who got stuck holding the “hot potato.” As the years pass, the list of “hot button” issues mounts and if you are the owner when the issue is discovered, you will be the one paying the bill even though the home was bought and sold many times in advance of your ownership. These hot button issues include items such as old sewer lines, radon, mold, damp basements, lead water lines, asbestos (fireplace inserts, duct tape, pipe wrap or flooring) knob and tube wiring and pushmatic electric panels. If your home has any of these issues, you should figure you will be the one footing the bill and address them before they become an issue on a home inspection.

The best way to prevent an inspection fall through or an unexpected bill for defects is to have your home inspected before you put it on the market. A pre-inspection will allow you the opportunity to fix those items that can be fixed and disclose the rest to save yourself from a laundry list of requests. Be sure not to ignore the small stuff that comes up or that you know is wrong. For example, when I list a home, I specifically ask sellers if all of their windows open, stay open, shut and lock, and if any are cracked or have broken seals. Sellers more often than not disclose no issues with their windows and yet it is one of the most frequent inspection deficiencies. Take the time to do your homework – get your home inspected – repair or disclose any possible concerns – and save yourself from a long last-minute repair list and potentially even from losing your sale.

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[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

The High End Market

What is going on with the high-end market in Sewickley? Why don’t there seem to be many high-end sales?

Our high-end market has been slower than normal for over a year now.  Speculation abounds as to why that is the case, but it doesn’t seem that we are alone – sales of higher end homes in many pockets of this country have slowed.  Many attribute that to the fact that our tax system was restructured to  allow for a larger standard deduction and lower marginal rates but at the cost of limiting the deduction for property and income taxes to a combined total of $10,000.  For high property tax jurisdictions such as our own, many commentators believe this has caused a slow-down in high-tax (i.e., high priced) home sales.   I have held out hope that when people filed their taxes this past Monday, maybe they would discover that they are better off under the new system despite the deduction limitation and we would see the property tax fear fade into the background.  I must admit that even as a former tax lawyer I have found the new forms a bit confusing, so I am really hoping we will see some favorable spin coming from tax preparers this week.

We may however need a general mindset adjustment. As a whole, our income taxes in PA are lower than the majority of states.  Our earned income tax here in Sewickley is only 1%, compared to 3% in the city of Pittsburgh. We do not have sales tax on clothes or food as many states do.  So while our property taxes may be on the high side, we are in a far better position overall than many residents of metropolitan areas with similar advantages to Pittsburgh.  Property taxes are just a cost of living, and if your bucket list includes the amenities of a higher-end home, the taxes are what they are.  The sooner our marketplace accepts this reality, the sooner our higher end homes will start selling again!

In the meantime, our middle and lower end market segments are moving fast and often with many offers.  Homes in these segments that are priced appropriately for condition and amenities are often selling with multiple offers, and in a very short amount of time.  These market segments are accelerating quickly in their pricing.  Waiting for the home to show up on your Zillow search is likely going to be too late.  If a move is something you’ve been considering, give me a call and we can strategize on how you can best meet your needs in this complex market we find ourselves in! 412.779.6060

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[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Selling With Pets!

What advice do you have for pet owners hoping to sell their homes?

I am a dog lover. In fact, there are two canine members of my family.  60% of Americans own a pet, and 40% are dog owners.  As a dog lover and owner I am  aware that not everyone loves pets. If I am a home seller, this is particularly important to keep in mind. 

 It is critical when selling your home to remove any and all evidence of Fido!

What exactly does this entail? Smell should be your first concern.  If you live with a pet you are probably used to the smell and don’t notice it, but your buyer will. Carpets should be professionally cleaned and deodorized to remove any possible smell.  If any smell lingers after that, you probably need to change the furnace filter and quite possibly have the ducts cleaned. If you are still living in the home it is critical to keep all your pet things clean – launder blankets regularly, keep crates wiped down, empty litter boxes every day and give your dog a weekly bath. I can’t stress this enough. Any smell at all could kill your chances at an offer.

Cleanliness should be your next concern. If your home is vacant, after you move out make sure there is no evidence of a pet having lived there. Make sure there are no hair balls hiding in corners or behind doors. Clean or replace air return grills as they have likely become laden with pet hair and dander, resulting in a dirty look. Clean the vent cover on the bottom of refrigerators as well – they are often clogged with pet hair. If you are still living in the home, you must address all of the above as well as making sure that physical evidence of a pet disappears during a showing. Pack up toys and beds and tuck them in a discrete location. 

Finally, if at all possible, remove the pets themselves for all showings for the best chance of selling the home. While Fido is likely cute as can be, many people are either fearful or allergic – why take any chances?

 

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

The High End Market Can Be Fickle

What is going on with the more expensive homes in Sewickley?  It doesn’t seem like many are selling.

Sewickley’s high end market, defined for these purposes as homes listed above $1 Million, can be a very fickle thing indeed. I recently took a look at 6 years of data in this market segment and the results were fascinating. The fact that you sense the high end market may be less robust than in years past might be because we only sold 6 high end homes from May 1st to December 31st, 2018 (an eight month period). This was quite a surprise as we had sold 9 high end homes in the first four months of 2018. So far in 2019 we have seen three high end homes go under agreement – exactly the same number as sold in the same period last year.  We are all hoping that we can return to a cycle in line with our 2017 numbers – in that year we sold an additional 17 homes after February 28th!  If you look at long-term patterns its evident that these ebbs and flows are quite common in our high end.  In 2014 we recorded an impressive number of high end sales. In 2015 that number was a bit more anemic.

What stands out in looking at the data, however, is that in the past six years the number of high end buyers coming to us through relocations to Pittsburgh is dropping. This may be because there are other high-end neighborhoods that have been built across the region and Sewickley is no longer one of the only communities you can move to if you want to buy a high end home. Buyers can choose a home in the north hills, for example, with the latest and greatest everything for less than they would have to spend in Sewickley. This may also be because some employers who anticipate faster turn around do not want their employees buying – our rental market is doing quite well as a result.

What to do if you are living in a high-end Sewickley home?  First and foremost, we must keep our schools and community strong.  What we have is unique – there are very few walking communities in the area and fewer that are in a top school district.  Support our local stores, attend community events, give of your time and finances to our schools and non-profits.  This helps to keep Sewickley wonderful and will help protect your investment.  Don’t rely on everyone else – we are all busy but we all need to do our part to keep Sewickley appealing to new families.  Second, be sure when you are ready to put your home on that market that you have taken the time to really prep it for market and that it shows fabulously.  Remember, you aren’t just competing with the other homes in town – you are also competing with new construction in adjacent communities and those usually present as move-in ready!

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I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Ready Or Not- Here it Comes!

I am wondering if you could give an update on how the spring market is looking so far?

The spring market is off to an incredibly strong start, from a seller’s perspective, IF a home is listed under $1million.  New introductions are selling, often with multiple bids, and sometimes in less than 24 hours.  Homes that have been on the market for many months are also selling, and even they sometimes have more than one offer! It is exactly what we all expected – a vibrant market, and its only early March!

Buyers are understandably frustrated!  While houses are coming on the market, the lines of buyers in the more affordable price ranges would look like the black Friday lines at Best Buy when they are selling TVs for $100!  New introductions are selling fast and for more than a simple analysis of the comps would suggest is a market price.  But if you have been waiting for 6-12 months, this may be your best chance at a home that could work for you, so you may have to pay more to beat out other buyers and get in the door!

How do you win in a market like this?  Buyers, you MUST be pre-approved for your financing.  You need to know exactly what you can afford and be able to prove that, in writing, to the sellers you are trying to convince to pick you.  Yes, there is some up-front work involved, but this is what it takes to win in today’s market! You should also have chosen and signed on with a buyer’s agent – waiting for homes to hit Zillow or to have an open house is not an effective way to win in a hot market.  You need a full-time agent dedicated to getting you home options as soon as they are available.  If you really want to win, you also need to spend some time assessing the compromises you are willing to make – 20 years in this business and I can state with confidence that the perfect home is just not out there!

Sellers, we have a huge inventory shortage that has been going on for two market cycles but this is not reflective of the norm in Western PA.  The tables will turn at some point back to a buyer’s market.  If a move is on your radar screen, now would be the absolute best time to call me to develop a strategy to get your home on the market and give you the best return on its sale!

 

QUICK SEARCH

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I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Better Not Wait ‘Til Spring

We’ve been thinking about starting our search for a new home but were wondering if we should wait until more homes come on the market this spring?

The spring market is here (although with the forecasted low temps for this week it may slow things down a bit)! Buyers are definitely buying right now, so if you think a move is in your future, despite the cold temperatures, the time to get started is now! We have seen homes that have been sitting for months go under agreement in the past couple of weeks, some with multiple offers, and our inventory is dwindling.  We still have many nice options available for you to consider, and this is a far better time to buy than March, April or May.

Why, you may wonder?  We have such a severe inventory shortage with lines and lines of buyers waiting for homes to come on the market. Many homes are selling in just a couple of days, before many buyers have a chance to get out and take a look.  As we head into spring this will only get worse. While none of us have crystal balls, there does not appear to be an avalanche of inventory coming on the market in the coming weeks. I expect by March 1st the bidding wars will begin in earnest for well-conditioned, well-priced homes. (As a side note, even with the inventory shortage that we have now had for well over a year, this is Pittsburgh and not California – buyers still exercise a healthy dose of common sense in making their buying choices and don’t tend to overpay – it is still important to price based on historic sales and not exceed recommended pricing by sizeable amounts). If you don’t want to end up in a bidding war, where there can only be one winner and it may not be you, shop now and avoid the crowd!  You may very well get a better deal than you could on the same house in another month!

In doing so, be sure to follow the advice passed on in prior columns (you can refresh your memory on my blog where these columns are posted each week –see www.AskKathe.com).  Be SURE that you are pre-approved so that when you are ready to buy, you don’t have to waste precious time with this necessary step. When you do this, be sure your credit is good or clean up any issues and reestablish good credit. Give me a call so we can get you set up to be notified of all new listings immediately! And if you might consider selling your home, call me today!  We have lines and lines of buyer prospects for your home!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

The Ups and Downs of Mortgage Rates

I know you don’t have a crystal ball, but what do you think about mortgage rates right now?

The short answer: I think they will only go up!  We just had a slight drop in the rates this past week, but that is not expected to hold. If you are considering buying, now is definitely the very best time to take out a loan – by next month rates could have bounced back up again! There is really only one problem I see with this otherwise sage advice – inventory is very limited right now!  You may not find anything that you want to buy!

The good news is we do have a new mortgage product that will allow you to lock the rate for 60 days, even if you haven’t found a home!  The process is quite simple.  The loan application is processed just like if you had found a home – you make full application and turn in your paperwork.  You then have 30 days to get a home under agreement and the remaining 30 days to close.  For those of you who are committed to buying in the short term, this is a very good option to guarantee you the lower rate while still giving you time to shop. If you don’t find a home within 30 days, you do lose the rate lock but you would have still completed the paperwork for your future loan application!

Prospective sellers, lower rates are good news for you too!  Buyers can afford more when rates are lower and home prices therefore tend to be a little higher. We are officially in the long-awaited spring market, rates have dropped a bit AND we have a scarcity of inventory – the perfect trifecta if you are contemplating a sale! Give me a call and we can develop a strategy to maximize your return in this favorable climate!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Is Pre-Approval Necessary?

We are interested in viewing homes but have been told that before doing so, we need to provide a pre-approval letter or proof of funds letter.  Is this really necessary?

Getting yourself pre-approved to buy before you start viewing homes is an excellent idea.  You will have to have a pre-approval letter to submit an offer (sellers are going to want assurances from an independent third party that you can afford the home before they take their home off the active market to sell to you).  And you certainly don’t want to start looking at homes that you think you can afford, or that you were told you could afford last year, before interest rates increased, only to be disappointed to find out that the home you love is outside your price range.  Getting a pre-approval upfront is the most sensible approach – in this hot market, you could easily lose out on a home while you wait for a lender to pull your information together and get you the letter.  It is best to get it done up front.

Necessary?  That depends on the agent you are working with and the sellers of the homes you are viewing.  Some agents simply will not put a buyer in their car until they have completed the pre-approval process.  On reflection, this makes sense.  Realtors are one of the only professions that don’t charge for their time as it is expended – they are paid for their time only when (and if) you actually close on a property.  Getting pre-approved upfront shows that you are serious about buying a home and not just out for a house tour!  Some sellers also require pre-approvals be provided before they will allow their homes to be shown. As you might imagine, there are some homes that many people would like to see, just for fun, such as very expensive homes or homes of celebrities/ sports stars.  However, selling a home is not about providing entertainment to the general public. One would hope that buyers would understand that sellers do not want to take the time to prepare for a showing to a buyer who is just out for fun – and hence, for those homes that might be a curiosity to many, it is important for sellers to require a pre-approval in advance.

If you are serious about a move, then financing, whether through a loan or with cash you have saved, is a necessary part of the buying process.  My best advice is to go ahead and line up your financial ducks before you start the home search process.  If you need help finding an excellent lender, give me a call!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Happy New Home!

It’s  a new year and we’re ready for a new home!  What should we do first?

Well, you are asking a Realtor that question, so the answer is probably expected!  The first thing you should do is call me! Once you have done that, here is a look at what comes next!  First, we will meet and determine the likely value of your home in the current market.  The market is quite fluid and values move up and down depending on supply.  Currently we have had very low inventory for an extended period of time and buyers are getting very frustrated, so it is possible that we may see an uptick in values again this spring.  When we meet we will also review all of the many ways I will be marketing your home and the timetable for rolling out the marketing to optimize your result.

Once we set a timetable that works for you, you will want to spend some time “staging” your home. At the most fundamental level, this would involve you “de-cluttering” your home.  It’s amazing how quickly we will our closets, basements and attics!  Movers are not cheap – you do not want to move more than you know you will want to keep.  So now is the ideal time to start the clean-out. In fact, we sometimes have closings as quickly as 3 weeks after an offer is presented, so it is best to assume that you will not have much time to pack later and do the clean-out up-front.  This will also help your home show off its spaciousness and storage capabilities! If you are saving things for others (such as the pile of furniture I have stored in my basement for my adult children who I am sure are going to want my 30 year old furnishings someday!), then it would be advisable to find an off-site storage facility and move those items from your home (or more realistically, I would be happy to connect you to charities to come pick them up and give you a tax deduction in exchange – the reality is that those we save for probably really don’t want our stuff anyhow!)  If this all seems incredibly overwhelming to you (and you’re thinking you would rather stay put than face the inevitable clean out), I would be happy to connect you to a home organizer that can take on as little or as much as you don’t want to do! 

Once you feel you are “de-cluttered,” the next step toward selling your home would be to determine whether any repairs or improvements are needed or recommended.  I am happy to walk through your home with you in advance of your listing date and discuss what you might consider addressing and its likely impact on your bottom line.  Not ever seller wants to make repairs and improvements and ultimately that choice is yours, but the market data I will provide to you will help you decide whether its worth it to you to make the additional investment in your home.  If repairs are not possible, we will work on using the disclosure to make sure you are sharing the items upfront with the buyer and pricing accordingly.  This will protect you later from costly repairs if the inspector is the one to raise the issues. 

It’s a lot to do, but together we can make your 2019 real estate goals a reality!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Getting a Jump on the Market

Now that Christmas is behind us, we are thinking about making a housing change in 2019.  What is the optimal timing?

The strength of our early spring market is always weather dependent here in sunny Pittsburgh! In a “normal” winter our spring market starts in earnest in mid-January. Certainly by February you would want your home on the market if you are seeking a spring sale. Our early spring buyers (January, February and March) tend to be our best, especially following a period of such unheard of inventory lows. There is currently a long line of buyers eagerly waiting for new market introductions – the competition will likely be great in the early months of our new year, maybe even driving in more of the bidding wars we saw this past fall.

Of course, the interest rates have climbed steadily throughout 2018 and that may put a bit of a damper on rising prices in 2019 – but if inventory remains as low as it has been in 2018, the impact should be minimal.  And if we have a rough winter, as some predict, it may slow the start of our spring market.  But of course, we won’t know that until we are in the thick of it.

All things considered, my best advice to you is to give me a call today so that we can design a strategy that is best for your family and your personal goals. Being ready to go in the spring market as soon as it starts to show signs of life, be it January, February or March, will inure to your benefit!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Selling During the Holidays

The holidays are here and our home is on the market – any tips for selling during the holidays?

The holidays can be a challenging time to sell your home – the number of people looking for a home is much lower than almost any other time of year. But those who do look around the holidays are usually very serious buyers and so it is worth making sure that your home presents as well as possible.

Start with a good fall cleanup! It’s definitely time to put your yard to bed! Make sure your yard is well raked and all dead plants removed. Curb appeal is even more important in colder months when the landscaping is less lush and appealing to a buyer. Make sure gutters are cleaned and everything outside is looking crisp.

Make sure you keep your thermostat up for showings – walking into a cold house for a showing can be a real turn-off. Warmer homes will cause buyers to linger when its cold outside – which will allow them time to admire your home’s wonderful amenities.   And of course, with as gray as Pittsburgh can be in the winter, be sure all of your lights are on for showings (and that you have working lightbulbs in all of the lights). Its also a good idea to put a few lights on timers if you are away so the home always looks cheerful from the street.

Holiday decorations always add cheer to a home, but be careful not to overdo it! Keep your decorations this year on the more minimal side, and try to avoid religious themed decorations. Be sure that you de-clutter BEFORE you decorate and also be sure that your decorations coordinate well with your décor scheme. And of course, avoid large inflatables in your yard!

Finally, don’t forget that if it snows, you must keep your driveway and walk clear of snow so that the buyers can easily get inside!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

New Year! New Home!

We’re hoping to move in the New Year and are beginning our search online – is there anything we should keep in mind?

The majority of buyers will shop online during their search for a new home, and many will actually begin their search there, like yourselves! The real estate industry has come such a long way in the 20 years since I started in this business. Back in what feels like a different century (perhaps because it was), we used bulky multilist books that were delivered every other week to find homes for our clients. Now you can access the entire nation’s real estate inventory on national websites such as realtor.com in the comfort of your own home!

The internet has made it incredibly easy for buyers to do some preliminary research for a new home. It does have its limitations, however, which is where your expert real estate agent can fill in the gaps.

Online listings, if managed well by the listing agent, will always look amazing. Wide-angle lenses and professional photographers are employed, as well as photo-editing software and virtual staging, to make a home look as attractive as possible online. It’s worth keeping in mind that pictures may lie – be careful not to screen out potential homes just because the photos aren’t fabulous – rely instead on the wisdom of your agent. If she has listened to your feedback and is familiar with the inventory, she will be your best screen for which homes are better than they appear, and which may be worse.

Online listings also don’t give you much of a sense of location. While google earth may help with some of this, until you actually drive by a property, you may not be able to tell physical lot characteristics that may be a positive or a negative to you. Online listings also can do little to convey a sense of neighborhood or community. Again, that is where your real estate professional should be able to fill in the picture for you.

Finally, online listings are only as good as the agent who enters the data – there may be information about the property that is not entered into the MLS, either by agent oversight or by simple lack of space, that might make a home more desirable to you. Information such as camera security systems, water softener and purification systems and high-efficiency mechanicals may have real value to you and is rarely listed online.

Online shopping is a great way to familiarize yourself with the market, but connecting with a Realtor who is an expert in the area of interest to you is your best course of action once your curiosity grows more serious.

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

It’s More Complicated Than It Looks

We were approached by someone who is interested in buying our home. The buyer has provided us with an unsigned sales agreement as their offer. They are offering 1.5% of the purchase price as their hand money and have not included proof of funds (it is a cash offer).  Are we wasting our time with these buyers?

The very short answer is yes! For starters, to be a valid offer, it must be in writing and signed. Without a signed writing, you have absolutely nothing to bind the buyer should you decide to proceed. What you received is not an offer at all and you should not give it serious consideration until the paperwork is signed by the buyer.  If there are no agents involved, the buyer needs to hire an attorney to prepare an offer and you will need to hire your own attorney to review it.

Hand money equal to 1.5% of the offer may or may not be sufficient depending on the individual circumstances. Sometimes that is all a buyer can afford. However, this buyer is supposedly paying cash so there should be no problem with them providing a more substantial deposit. Look for a minimum of 5% in this type of scenario. The hand money is your consolation prize should the buyer decide not to close after all contingencies have been satisfied – if you have moved out, you will need at least that much to compensate you for all of your moving costs.

As far as proof of funds, I would recommend that you not engage in any substantive negotiations until the buyer has proven that they do have the cash available to close. Talk is cheap, but if they really do have the cash, they will have no problem producing copies of statements showing the cash or a letter from their banker that they have the needed funds.

Your questions address just a few of the hundreds of complexities involved in getting a home sold and highlight why its really important to engage a full-time real estate expert when buying or selling a home.  Selling your home yourself may sound like a great idea in the abstract but the “for sale by owner” sellers that I have spoken to have regretted not engaging a Realtor to represent them as selling a home is far more complicated than it looks and most ended up feeling like they got the short end of the stick at the end of the day!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Giving Thanks

This time of year we all take the time to give thanks for all of the wonderful things in our lives.  I have much to be thankful for.  The obvious chart toppers are good health, wonderful family and friends, and a warm home to come home to each day (which I particularly appreciate on these chilly November days!)  My gratitude extends much further, however, to all of the people I work with every day that make real estate transactions so seamless for my clients – from the best mortgage brokers and closers to incredible home inspectors and handymen, contractors, electricians, roofers… that I can count on to give their best to my clients.  With them by my side (or on speed dial) I have been able to provide the highest level of service to those with whom I work, and for that I am grateful.

My gratitude, however, extends even further – to forces I can’t control.  We have been very fortunate to have historically low interest rates for a very long period of time (and even though they have been inching up, they are still comparatively quite low), and a taxing structure that has favored home ownership as an investment.  I am always reminded that Uncle Sam, through the mortgage interest deduction, effectively pays a portion of my mortgage every month. Through the system as structured, we are not only able to own homes for less than we could pay to rent them, but at the same time we are building equity which will be there for us when we retire and are seeking that nest egg to purchase our retirement home with.

Are you taking advantage of all that is available to you?  It’s hard to imagine that there will ever be a better time to begin or increase the size of your nest egg in real estate.   If you’re ready to downsize and cash in your nest egg, it’s an absolutely ideal time – inventory is low, interest rates are still on the historically low side and we have buyers waiting in line for Sewickley homes.  The spring market starts in January – the time to sell is now!  Enjoy your holiday, and give thanks for all that is wonderful in your life!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

The Almost Perfect Home

We have been searching for our new Sewickley home for about 9 months with no luck – there doesn’t seem to be much of a selection and we cant find our perfect home – any advice for a family of weary home lookers?

Sewickley is a small town which makes it a unique and wonderful place to live, but with it’s small town appeal comes a definitely smaller number of homes to begin with and yes, in some price brackets, inventory has been far tighter than it has been in the past. It is beginning to feel like Sewickley is such a great place to live that no one wants to move!

When we moved here 25 years ago from D.C., we had a long list of “must haves” that we searched the greater Pittsburgh area for. Our real estate agent showed us only one home in Sewickley – that’s all that was available in our price range at that time! It met very few of our must haves – it did not have a master bedroom, it did not have a two car garage, it did not have central A/C and it did not have a family room. But it did have tree lined streets and sidewalks to everywhere and that was our #1 criteria, so we bought the home despite all of its perceived shortcomings.

In the intervening years (and in the two Sewickley home purchases we have made since then), I have learned that if one wants to live in Sewickley, he or she will ultimately need to bend on the must haves a bit. Price will not help – no matter what the price point, there are simply no perfect homes. It is important to evaluate each home through a slightly different lens. Consider how close a possible home comes to meeting your needs. If it meets about 80% of your “hope to haves” and if you could change another 10% over time to be much closer to what you hope to have, with the remaining 10% being things you wish you could change but realistically cant and will have to learn to live with, then the home is likely a home run and one you should seriously consider buying. I call this the 80/10/10 rule – and I have observed that once buyers come to terms with this concept, they can finally find their place to call home. Those that hold out for “perfect” – looking for the home that meets 90%+ of their hope to haves – will find themselves sitting on the sidelines as one home after another sells – that needle in the haystack simply does not exist.

And so, for example, if you have found a great home with the space you need that is in terrific condition in a nice neighborhood and with a great yard, but you don’t love the kitchen and you think it is a bit too far from Starbucks, give it another look. 80% is likely a yes. The kitchen (10%) can be changed over time. And you can learn to adjust to the extra ½ mile to Starbucks – its still walkable! My best advice to you is to start looking at homes through this 80/10/10 lens – you may be surprised to find that “perfect enough” has been waiting for you all along!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

The Inspection “Hot Potato”

As a home seller, are there inspection type items that we are simply going to be stuck addressing?

Who can forget the old childhood game – pass the hot potato?  The object, of course, was to not be holding the hot potato when the music stops.  We have our fair share of “hot potatoes” in real estate too, and just like in the childhood game, someone always gets stuck holding the hot potato.

You may wonder, what are these hot potatoes of which I write?  Years ago, it was radon.  If you were selling your home and it had radon levels in excess of the EPA limit of 4.0 pCi/L, you got stuck paying the remediation bill (usually less than $1000) because a buyer isn’t going to agree to buy a home with a radon problem.  That hasn’t changed, but if a home has sold in recent years and ever had radon, chances are it has been remediated.

Next, the media exploded with stories of illness caused by mold in homes and suddenly, sellers were faced with mold inspections.  There is the very bad black mold (Stachybotrs), but honestly, all molds have the potential to make you sick.  As you can imagine, buyers aren’t going to buy a home with a mold problem either, and once again, the seller bears the cost of remediation and often, the cost to solve the cause of the mold problem as well. The cost can be several hundred to several thousand dollars.

These days, the hot potatoes have expanded to include two tricky electrical issues.  Pushmatic electrical panel boxes are very expensive to maintain and the manufacturer is no longer in business.  Most buyers will require a seller to replace these panel boxes – the cost per panel is generally $1500+.  Knob and tube wiring is the other big hot potato for homes built before 1930.  Rewiring an entire home can range between $10,000 – $20,000 and so many homes retain this original wiring.  Most insurance companies will no longer issue new insurance policies on homes with this antiquated wiring.  Therefore, if knob and tube wiring is discovered on an inspection, the cost of the rewire also generally falls to the seller – very few buyers are willing to buy a home (at least not unless they are getting a substantial discount) if it has knob & tube wiring present.

If you own a home with one of these hot potatoes – radon, mold, pushmatic panel or knob & tube wiring – things that years ago wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow – you should expect that when you go to sell your home, you will be stuck with the cost of getting rid of the hot potato, if you haven’t already done so!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

The Final Walk Thru Can Cost Sellers Big Bucks!

How do home sellers protect themselves from big walk through bills from a buyer?

Buyers conduct a final walk through right before they close on a home.  This is probably the first time they have seen your home vacant.  If they find conditions they aren’t expecting, you can expect a bill at the closing or a last minute request to remedy the condition.

What kinds of things might come up?  There are many things that can cost you money at a walk through.  Here are a few.  If you have any damage to your floors (even if it was there when you bought the home) and you failed to list the damage on your disclosure, and it wasn’t obvious when you walked through your occupied home (under rugs or furniture), you can expect that the buyer will expect you to pay for the repair/replacement when he discovers the issue, which could be a significant expense.  What should you do? Disclose. Disclose. Disclose! When you list your home, take the time to make sure your disclosure lists every possible condition issue with your home.

If you leave anything behind that isn’t attached or specifically included, you should anticipate you may be required to call a last minute hauler to remove the items.  If the items were there when you bought the home, that’s no excuse.  The house must be empty when you leave unless you have the buyers’ specific consent to leave the items behind.

Forget to cut the grass in a few weeks?  You could be asked for a credit to have the lawn mowed.  Forget to clean the house?  If its not at least “broom swept clean” you could be paying a cleaning fee.  Forget to complete your inspection repairs or forget to check the work and make sure it’s done correctly?  You can’t rely on the contractors to get it right – you must check the work – if they didn’t finish or did the wrong thing, you will likely have to pay for the repair again.  Accidentally remove an inclusion such as the TV wall mount bracket?  You may have to pay for a new one.

Take the time to make sure the home is exactly as you would want it were you moving in and be pro-active with your buyers if you discover any issues on your move out to avoid any closing table surprises.

If BUYING or SELLING real estate is in your future, please get in touch with me and put my expertise to work for you!! As YOUR REAL ESTATE ADVOCATE, I will help you avoid pitfalls like those mentioned above.  412.779.6060

RECENT SALES

To see these and other recent sales, visit HERE

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Finding the RIGHT DOWNSIZER!

We are thinking of downsizing, but can’t find a place to go.  Any ideas on how to approach this transition?

If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines this spring waiting for your downsizer to come on the market, you may be feeling disappointed right now.  We continue to have an extreme lack of inventory.  Here are some options for those of you who want to downsize to consider:

If you are looking for patio homes, we have a limited inventory in Sewickley, with Elmhurst (nothing available) and Sewickley Ridge (in Aleppo – one available).  However, we do have nearby communities that have wonderful patio homes including options off Nicholson Road in Franklin Park and Ohio Twp, all still in “15143” including Diamond Run, The Fields of Nicholson and Traditions Sewickley Ridge.  We also have townhomes in Sewickley Village (none currently available), some with elevators, townhomes in Sewickley Heights manor, townhomes in Moon overlooking Sewickley and townhomes in Ohio township (still “15143”).  If you are looking for that illusive Village ranch, you may be waiting a while and looking at a large project to bring it up to modern standards.  We often have ranch opportunities outside the Village however.  We also have a nice selection of condos.  If you are hoping to spend a lot of your time traveling, while a condo may seem on the small side at first, it may be all you need if you won’t be in Sewickely all year.  316 Beaver Street has just undergone a smart remodel and offers stylish in-town condos.  The Linden, Brittany and Normandy provide additional options.

Perhaps you would consider a new adventure for your downsize?  We have had many local families move into the city, with some cool options to choose from.  If you are really looking to shake up your life, and don’t have a need for our school district, moving into the city might be a fun avenue to explore.

Early fall can be a very strong market.  We are encouraging homeowners who are considering a move to list this fall!  If your buyer is out there and we can’t find your ideal downsizer, there are the options of a delayed closing to give you more time, as well as an interim rental.  Give me a call if you would like to explore this further!  412.779.6060

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Choosing the RIGHT REALTOR!

A friend asked me how to pick a Realtor to work with.  Any advice you could share?

Selecting the best realtor for your needs is a very personal process.  Surprisingly, however, some real estate consumers don’t know where to begin.  The internet is such an easily accessible tool for doing your homework before you commit to an agent, and yet so many people fail to take advantage of all that is available to them, and then months or in some cases years later are still complaining at cocktail parties or book clubs about how they are not satisfied with their choice of agent.

In this age of technology, there is no reason not to do some homework upfront, before committing to an agent to handle what is likely your largest business transaction.   You can begin by looking at the qualifications and experience of the agent you are considering.  What certifications do they have? Certifications such as ABR (Accredited Buyer’s Representative) and CRS (Certified Residential Specialist) require extensive commitment to training by the agent, and training means the agent is best equipped to achieve the very best result for you.  Much of this training requires years of dedication to learning and excellence.  All agents are not brokers, for example.  An Associate Broker’s license takes a minimum of three years commitment to additional learning and hands on experience, which can only enhance your experience with the agent.

Check out their online marketing next.  The majority of Buyers start their search online these days.  How does the agent market her homes?  Check out sites like realtor.com, Trulia and Craig’s List.  Are there visual tours?  What do you think of the photography?  Would you buy the home, or even take a second look?  Be sure to check out online recommendations while on these sites.

Finally, when meeting with the agent, ask for statistics.  How many days does it take her to sell a home on average and how does that compare to the market generally.  How correct is her pricing?  How often does she have to reduce the price of a home before it sells?  Reflect on how she calculated this data.  Is it a guess or does she have the data to back up the numbers?  This will all help you determine the value of the advice you are receiving.

Each of these factors inures directly to your benefit and your bottom line.  So take the time – get to know our credentials, marketing, past performance and recommendations – and make an educated decision when choosing your next real estate agent.

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

OFFER IN HAND? Better Move Quick!

We received an offer on our home but would like time to figure out where we are going next before we respond.
Is that reasonable?

Momentum is important in life.   We learn this lesson early on.  As a child, you learn that the likelihood of a getting that candy bar in the grocery store is at its peak the moment after you ask.  You are willing to give more to get in those initial moments – you might have offered to clean your room if you could just have that candy bar. The parent also knows that she can get more initially in exchange for that candy bar – your interest will wane if she doesn’t take advantage of your interest at that moment.  That lesson continues throughout life.

And so it is with real estate.  Sellers who respond and negotiate quickly to offers are far more likely to catch a buyer in the heat of the moment and achieve a higher price.  If a buyer is given too much time between the time their offer (or later counter offer) is made and the time they hear from the seller, they are far more likely to rethink their willingness to pay more, or perhaps even their interest in buying at all.  By dragging their feat in responding, in over-analyzing whether they will achieve a higher offer later, or whether they can live with the buyers terms as proposed, many sellers leave thousands of dollars on the table that they could have captured if they had just negotiated with haste.

A failure to respond quickly also increases the risk that a buyer will be distracted by another listing.  One of my favorite true stories is the buyer who signed an offer on a Saturday – the seller was too busy to meet with their agent and review the offer until Monday evening.  As luck would have it, another property came on the market Monday morning and by the time the seller responded (on Monday evening) to their Saturday offer, the buyer had made an offer on and fully negotiated the purchase of a different property.  That seller waited 9 more months for the offer they finally accepted at $55,000 less than the offer they were too busy to hear.  Sellers, don’t make these mistakes!  When you are fortunate enough to get an offer, respond and negotiate quickly for your best chance at a good result.  If you are not sure where you will go next, there is always the possibility of a rental, which is likely a better option than losing a good buyer.

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

What Happens After the Inspection

We find the inspection process confusing – do we have to fix everything in the inspection report before we sell our home or just the repairs the buyer requested?

The home inspection report is the document from which your buyer works to make their repair requests of you. Some buyers will ask for everything and others will ask for only those items that they think are important. They may let some things go, for example, if they are planning on renovating an area and anticipate fixing those items as a part of the renovation.

Once you and your buyer agree on a list of repairs, these are memorialized on an addendum. It is that addendum, called a Change in Terms Addendum (“CTA”), from which you work when completing your repairs. You need not refer to the inspection again unless the CTA references it. You do, however, need to make sure that you do everything on the CTA exactly as specified, so be sure to read it carefully and provide a copy to your contractor(s). For example, if the CTA says that you will have GFCI outlets installed by a licensed electrician then you need to make sure you hire a licensed electrician, and not your favorite handyman, to make the repair! If the CTA says you must paint to match existing then you need to take a sample of the existing paint to the paint store and color match it – don’t rely on old paint in cans – paint fades with age and it won’t match. Be very careful to be sure you are complying with the terms of the CTA – if you do not, or if your contractor does not, your closing may be delayed or postponed until the work is done as specified. Along those lines, be sure to review your contactor’s work when complete and make sure that he actually did what you agreed to do on the CTA. If not, request that he return before it becomes a walk-through issue.

And of course, be sure to get paid receipts from all contractors, or if they have not been paid, notify the closing company so that they can be paid at closing. All repairs must be paid for before ownership changes hands so be sure to stay on top of your bills, and provide receipts to the buyers agent.

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

The Importance of the Contract

We closed on our new home recently and when we went on the walk through, the seller had not completed the inspection repairs that they had agreed to do and didn’t seem to think was an issue.  Your thoughts?

I have noticed a trend lately away from respecting contracts.  I’m not sure if its because consumers don’t understand what they are signing, are too busy to keep everything straight or just don’t care.  Whatever the reason, the real estate contract and its addendums are what makes a real estate transaction work.  If you want to sell your home, you need some kind of document that binds the buyer to your home so that they don’t just walk away, leaving you holding a home you just moved out of and unable to close on your new home.  It is equally important to the buyer – they need a document by which a seller is actually bound to sell their home so that the buyer is also not sitting on the curb waiting to unload the moving van and unable to get the seller out (and yes, real estate is specific performance – if you sign a contract to sell, you must sell).

There are some basic principles to keep in mind that apply to all contracts. Sellers, if you include something on your disclosure, it is important that you actually leave it behind for the buyer.  The stove and dishwasher are obvious, but what about garage door openers?  When you are listing your home, take the time to be sure that you correctly list what is included – misplace a garage door opener and you are contractually required to buy a new one for the buyer.

If you agree to fix something during an inspection negotiation, then yes, you must actually get it fixed. Its not ok to have the buyer show up for the walk through and find out you haven’t taken care of the agreed upon repairs.  What you signed is legally binding – do what you said you will do or be prepared to give a hefty last minute credit to the buyer.  If you do get the items fixed, be sure to pay your bill before closing!  These repair bills are not the buyers’ responsibility and its also not ok to agree to make a repair and then stick the buyer with the bill.

And remember, the contract requires that your home be in the same condition it was in when the buyer made you the offer.  If you break something, you will need to fix it prior to closing.  At 13 pages, it is a lengthy document but it is important that you understand what you have agreed to do.  We can’t all be attorneys, so be sure to hire a realtor that you have confidence will thoroughly explain what you have signed and help you to be a good seller and honor all of its terms!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

What is a Buyer Agency Agreement?

Can you explain how Buyer Agency Agreements work?

The State of Pennsylvania does not recognize oral buyer agency – if you want the representation of a Realtor in your real estate transaction, you must sign a written Buyer Agency Agreement with that Realtor. If you do not, the Realtor you are trusting to help you with the purchase of your new home must by law represent the interests of the Seller. This means that the Realtor cannot advise you on anything that could be against the Seller’s interests, including property condition, neighborhood factors, and valuation advice and cannot provide negotiation or inspection strategies. You are on your own! I can’t imagine why any buyer would choose not to enter into a Buyer Agency Agreement – the Seller is still paying the commission and you get a Professional’s advise at no added cost to you! Buyers are well advised to enter into such an Agreement so that they are getting advice on the homes they are seeing, from the perspective of their best interests.

There is one caveat. You an only enter into one Buyer Agency Agreement at a time, or you could end up owing more than one Realtor a commission. Therefore, you need to be sure that you disclose to other Realtors (such as those you meet at open houses) that you have a Buyer’s Agent (so you don’t end up signing more than one Buyer Agency Agreement by accident). As long as you buy a home that is in the MLS, you will not owe a commission at the time you buy your home – that is included in the listing price of the home. Real estate can be a tricky business – in small towns like Sewickley, there is always an undercurrent of “quiet listings.” In these situations, it is important to disclose any “off-the-market” opportunities to your Realtor – most “for sale by owner” (FSBO) sellers are only trying to save the listing side of the commission, acknowledge that qualified buyers are usually working with a Buyer’s Agent and will gladly pay the Buyer’s Agent fee as long as they are approached by your Realtor and this is discussed up-front.

Some Realtor’s require you to sign a Buyer Agency Agreement at an initial meeting, therefore it is important to have done your research up-front and be sure the Realtor you are choosing is a good match for your needs. Check online testimonials, review credentials and even ask to interview past clients if you would find that to be helpful. Other Realtors may give you a “courtesy” day where they will show you homes, you can get to know them and they you before deciding to work together. Once you choose your Realtor, you will sign the Agreement and at that point will be entitled to full Buyer representation.

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

BEWARE THE SCAM!

We have been reading about fraud in real estate transactions – is this a real issue we should be concerned about here in Pittsburgh?

Fraud has become a rampant issue in the real estate industry.  In the past 6 months I had several transactions where the parties received what appeared to be legitimate emails from their lenders attempting to reroute funds needed for a closing.  Fortunately, I had educated my clients on the risks and all of them were quick to recognize the possible fraud and no money was lost.  Not all real estate consumers are this lucky, however.  Unfortunately, money lost in these scams is almost never retrievable so its important to educate yourself to the risks and exercise extreme caution around all money transfers in real estate transactions.

The typical scam is one in which the buyer receives what appears to be a legitimate email about their closing requesting information, with the ultimate goal to lure the buyer into wiring the money due at closing to a fraudulent account.  There have been instances where scammers have actually hacked into a lender’s server and are sending emails from a legitimate account. Many consumers nationwide have fallen prey to these scams.

How can you avoid being victimized?  First, be aware that there  is a risk of fraud any time a wire transfer is involved.  If you are planning to use a wire either to send funds or receive proceeds, extreme caution is warranted. Second, send and receive emails to your lender and closing company through a secure email only (and this is not the case with your standard gmail account – lenders and closers have specially protected servers for these purposes).  If you don’t have access to one, ask your lender or closer to send you an email from theirs that you can you to respond to.  Third, always independently verify phone numbers you are calling , either by looking at a business card or prior written document that you received or searching online for a number—do not just call the number you see in an email.  It is preferable to provide and confirm wire instructions over the phone with a trusted human rather than sending them off into cyber space.  Finally, if it seems fishy, it probably is.  Anything requesting partial payments  or making last minute changes is a definite red herring – stop and verify – involve your agent and make sure that what you are responding to is legitimate before making a hasty mistake you might soon regret!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Seeking Other Options?

We’ve been patiently waiting for a home in the Village – prices seem to be going up and we still haven’t found anything.  Any advice?  Should we consider Wexford?

We are in the middle of a very long inventory shortage.  April is almost here and we may see more homes come on the market (I sure hope so), but it would take 100+ homes to hit he market in the next few weeks to even begin to address our inventory shortage.  That shortage is region wide – there is no magic to looking in other areas – inventory is low across our entire area right now. That said, why not give some serious consideration to homes in Sewickley that are not in the Village?

Sewickley homes located “up the hill” offer many of the same advantages as Village homes!  Their owners feel a part of our community and can take advantage of our exceptional school district.  But “up the hill homes offer many benefits that are harder to find in Village homes.

  • “Up the hill” homes are typically on significantly larger lots than those in the Village – more space for Fido and the kids to play!
  • As a result of the larger lots, “up the hill” homes typically offer much more privacy – you won’t know your neighbor’s every move!
  • “Up the hill” homes tend to be much newer, which means they have more updated floor plans, larger closets, more and larger garages.
  • Because they are newer, “up the hill” homes tend to require far less maintenance as their plumbing, wiring and HVAC are modern, which means more money for fun things like vacations!
  • In an “up the hill” home your kids can’t wander off into the Village without you being aware!
  • “Up the hill” homes usually offer a much better value – you will get a bigger home on a bigger lot in more updated condition for less money than you could buy in the Village!

Don’t give up on Sewickley – we have many wonderful homes—just broaden your horizons and take a look “up the hill.”  Check out the two below, or call me if you would like to know more! 412.779.6060

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

SPRING HOME SELLING TIPS

With the weather starting to warm up outside, any tips for selling our home?

Spring is in fact on it’s way!  The bright sunshine and warming temperatures will unlock our yards from their winter nap soon and it’s a great time to be focused on making sure the outside of your home looking great for prospective buyers. Curb appeal is critical to attract buyers – if your home doesn’t look great from the street, buyers (who often drive by before making an appointment to see a home) may decide they aren’t interested before stepping inside.  Start with the front of your home and work your way back to your non-public spaces.  On our sunny days, head outside and make sure you have cleaned out your beds from the fall.  Rake out any leaves, trim back shrubs.  Order fresh mulch to be delivered the first week in April.  Keep an eye out for pansies when you are at the store and add them to planters out front.  In early April review your lawn and make sure it is in good shape.  If there are bare spots, have them reseeded.   If you have large trees on your property, make sure they are all healthy and any dead limbs are removed.

This is also a great time to make sure your gutters are clean – gutters full of leaves suggest a homeowner isn’t up on their maintenance.  Also be sure to have your windows cleaned inside and out.  With the sun streaming in through the windows, squeaky clean windows are very appealing to a buyer.   Take the time to put out your outdoor furniture and any warm weather yard items (such as planters).  Be sure patios and porches are well swept.   Step back from your home and see whether your paint is in good shape- – if there are areas that are peeling, have the scraped and repainted.  Be sure the front door is clean and nicely painted.  Remove all seasonal décor (Christmas wreaths and lights).   Ask a friend to stop by and do a quick walk-around for any areas that need attention – a fresh eye is always likely to catch those things you have gotten used to and overlook.

The spring market is in full swing!  Take advantage of the next few weeks and make sure your home is well-prepared for the strongest market of the year! If I can be of any service answering any of your real estate needs, please feel free to get in touch with me.  Real estate is what I do!! Kathe Barge, Call or Text 412.779.6060

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

BUYERS ARE AT THE READY!

What is going on in our market?  It seems things are selling fast!

A very brief update on the status of our housing market: as predicted, our low inventory for the past several months has created a log jam in our housing market.   As of today we have only 66 homes in our active inventory, while the norm this time of year is closer to 200!  Dozens of buyers are lined up in every price range waiting for their perfect home to come on the market.  As a result, new introductions in the Village are selling close to or at asking price, and more often than not, without a mortgage contingency.  Many are receiving multiple offers.  Buyers participating in this market feel like it is the California market here in Sewickley!

 

Why is this happening?  It’s hard to say.  The inventory shortage extends across most of the communities in our area that sit in a top rated school district.  People are just not moving out.  This could be caused by the fact that there are extremely limited options for “downsizing” if you are in your empty nester years.  It could be that Pittsburgh has been steadily growing for years and it is just catching up to us.  It could be that we cut new housing starts too sharply after the recession and we aren’t keeping up with demand.

What should a buyer do in today’s market? First, get yourself fully pre-approved (not just prequalified) if you need a mortgage.  You need to get comfortable with the fact that you might have to waive your mortgage and appraisal contingencies.  Second, be ready to make a very fast decision if a home comes on the market – do not expect that you will have more than a day to decide. It is very much a seller’s market and not a good market at all if you are buying, but if you need a house, it’s the market you are in.  Consider looking “up the hill” – we have some amazing homes available offering great living space at significantly better values.

And once again, if you are thinking of selling, give me a call right away and lets design a strategy to maximize your return in this amazing seller’s market!  Put my  19 years of full-time experience and dedication selling Sewickley’s wonderful homes to work for your personal benefit!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE SPRING MARKET

We have been waiting for a while for some new homes to come on the market –are you anticipating more listings soon?

It has in fact been a long, dry winter when it comes to new listings.  In fact, we currently have ONLY 71 listings available for sale in the Quaker Valley School District – in most years that number would be approximately 200!  So when we say that we need listings, we mean it!

Yes, we do expect that there will be more homes coming on the market in the next couple of months. March & April tend to be our largest listing months every year, and we hope this year will be no different.  However, if the past couple of weeks have been an indicator, you should expect it to be a fast moving spring market.  We have had a few introductions recently and as a general rule they have flown off the market.  We have a tremendous amount of pent up demand.  There are dozens of buyers in every price range sitting on the fence waiting for their “perfect” listing.  If you are one of those buyers, you should expect that you will have some stiff competition. So make sure you have your financing in order and be prepared to move quickly if you see something that looks like it could work.

If you are one of the many Village dreamers we have out there, I encourage you to take a look “up the hill” where we currently have many wonderful options with more on the way.  Sure, the theoretic walkability of the Village is nice, but we live a couple of blocks to Starbucks and can count on our hands how many times per year that we actually walk!  “Up the hill” you will get larger yards & homes at better prices, and they are all 5-10 minutes to Starbucks!   If you are adamant on the Village, start thinking now about what compromises you might be willing to make to get a home.  As Pittsburgh grows, our inventory is not keeping up with housing demands and we will continue to see a tighter and tighter housing market.  Compromise will be necessary to even get into a home here.

Finally, if you are thinking of selling your home, I have said it many times before, but PLEASE reach out to me! I offer completely confidential consultations and strategic plans to maximize your returns, with a 19-year proven track record.  There is no better time to be selling your home!   CALL or TEXT 412.779.6060

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

2018 and TAXES- Oh My!!

Any updated thoughts on the new tax legislation?

 

The new tax legislation seems to be on everyone’s mind these days, and seems to be crowding out Christmas cheer a bit.  While I do need to advise you to consult your personal tax accountant, I will tell you I have been busy prepaying my 2018 property taxes.  Under the new legislation, taxpayers will only be able to deduct a grand total of $10,000 of property and income taxes combined.  In our area, property taxes are higher than in many parts of the country, so many people will easily exceed that limit.  Paying 2018 property taxes in 2017 helps to insure the full value of their deductibility.  Of course, 2018 tax bills have not been issued yet, but if you find your 2017 bills and make a couple of calls, they will be able to tell you how to proceed if this interests you.  The taxing bodies are likely thrilled right now with the new legislation – rather than chasing late payers they are receiving their money well ahead of schedule!  Of course, if your bank escrows your taxes for you, this may not be an option you can take advantage of.

I’ve also taken the time to pay my 2017 4th quarter Pennsylvania and local income taxes now, for the same reason.  While not due until January 15th,  the $10,000 limit on the deductibility of property taxes and state/local income taxes combined will result in lost deductions for many.  This tax planning is only useful right now, when the old limits (or lack thereof) still apply through 2017.

As far as the legislation itself, I am pleased that congress raised the mortgage deductibility limit to interest on mortgage debt up to $750,000.  Interest on debt on second homes is no longer deductible (unless you use it as an investment property, in which case it can offset your rental income), and interest on home equity lines of credit will no longer be deductible.  This will definitely affect the way consumers choose to structure their home buying financing.  We will be thoroughly digesting the bill so that we can help consumers make the best financing decisions to take advantage of the tax breaks we do have left.

The $10,000 limit on the deductibility of property and state/local income taxes is not ideal, particularly because of the higher property taxes we have in the region.  There is a possibility that the limitation will make higher end homes harder to sell, but I doubt that. In the end, consumers will have to have a mindshift and think less of their personal residences as tax breaks and see them for what they really are – a home for their family to come home to every day – their personal sanctuary from what can sometimes feel like a crazy world.  And when we see our homes that way, the small piece of our property taxes that Uncle Sam no longer “pays” will seem far less important than it does in the abstract.

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

UN-DECKING THE HALLS

If our home is on the market, how long is it OK to keep holiday decorations up?

 

 In this incredibly dark time of the year, festive holiday décor certainly helps to brighten everyone’s day, so if your home is on the market, it is certainly a good idea to tastefully decorate for the holidays.  Even if your home is vacant, a seasonal wreath on the front door is a nice touch to welcome guests.  We have been unusually busy this December, so presentation remains important, even when its cold and snowy outside.

Once we start 2018, if your home is on the market, it is important to have your holiday decorations down and stored as quickly as possible, ideally by January 2nd! Our spring market should jump into high gear as soon as we hit mid-January.  Buyers themselves will have put the holidays behind them and will enter the new year with a new sense of urgency to find their new home.  Once the holiday celebrating has past, decorations quickly look tired, so take them down and store them for another year.  If you enjoy door wreaths, that could remain as long as it is more “wintery” and less holiday.

And don’t forget my other wintertime showings tips – lights on for showings, and use the highest acceptable wattage.  Keep walks and driveways free of snow and ice. If you’re not going to be out or too long, a fire in the fireplace is also a nice idea. Thermostat at a warm, cozy temperature (Buyers will not embrace a home if it feels chilly). Boot mats by the front door to save your floors.

Enjoy the holidays – stay warm and safe!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

WHEN CAN WE MOVE IN?

When we buy a new home, when can we expect to be able to move in?

The answer to your question varies from state to state.  In Pennsylvania, possession transfers immediately at closing!  How does this impact the buyers and sellers?

Sellers, you must be completely moved out before closing day.  The latest day your movers should come is the day before closing.  You need to be sure to leave enough time to clean the home after they leave.  If you don’t already own your new home and plan to close on it immediately after closing on your old home, you need to plan for your movers to store your things on the moving van overnight.  However, it is generally smart to move out a couple of days before closing, to make sure that you have time to clean and dispose of any items the movers didn’t take.  Its not acceptable to leave things you don’t want behind for the new buyers – if you don’t dispose of them yourself, there is a good chance you will have to provide funds to the buyer at closing to get any remaining items removed.

Buyers, you can start your move in as soon as you pay for the home and finish signing your closing documents!  It is not, however, ok to start moving in before closing or to start making repairs and improvements before closing.  Both of these scenarios create insurance (and other) issues for the seller.  Please plan accordingly – if you need time to renovate before moving in, plan for storing your items with your mover until your work is complete.  Properly advise your movers of the closing time so that they are not counting on starting the move-in early.

Your one hour closing is the time that everything transfers – keys, responsibilities for upkeep, taxes… Sellers must be completely out as of that moment and Buyers may enter once that moment has passed!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

THE HOME INSPECTION DILEMMA

We are buying a new home.  Can we skip the home inspection and save a few bucks?

I do not recommend that you skip a home inspection, even with a new home.  Please keep in mind if buying a new home that no matter how nice and reassuring the builder or his realtor representative are, they do not represent you!  I have on many occasions witnessed a builder trying to gloss over obvious deficiencies with new homes.  You need a home inspector to carefully assess your new home so that you aren’t burdened with repair bills later for improper conditions that existed at the time of your closing. While the inspector is there, it’s a good idea to get a pest and radon inspection in addition to a general home inspection.  Both pests and radon are commonplace and can be significant – its wise to know what you are dealing with before you move in.

However, do not make the mistake of assuming that all home inspectors are equally skilled at their profession. Some inspectors gloss over many areas of concern and take a VERY big picture approach, which, while generally not alarming, can also be very unhelpful as you plan for your future improvements to the home.  Others can be incredibly harsh and point out flaws that are inaccurate or irrelevant, leading you to over-react. Before booking a home inspector, do your due diligence – make sure they are ASHI certified  and read their online reviews (as you I am sure you did when you chose your Realtor).

Finally, once you move in, keep in mind that it is recommended that homeowners have their homes professionally inspected once every ten years.  The mere passage of time can take a toll on a home, and better that you find problems and correct them before they become big problems. Repeating pest and radon inspections at that time is also a good idea – they are also best addressed sooner rather than later.  If you have any questions about whether you should be getting your home inspected, please give me a call!  412.779.6060

RECENTLY SOLD — represented buyers.
Click the photo to see more of my past sales history!

 

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

PROPOSED TAX LEGISLATION vs. HOMEOWNERSHIP

What impact do you think the proposed federal tax legislation will have on homeowners?

For those of you who are unaware, the proposed tax legislation makes several changes to itemized deductions that will impact many homeowners.  First, the property tax deduction will be limited to $10,000.  In Sewickley borough, if your tax assessment is above approximately $350,000, you will see an increase in your federal income tax as a result of this itemized deduction limitation.  Additionally, while existing mortgages are grandfathered, interest will only be deductible on new mortgages of less than $500,000.

The National Association of Realtors believes these new changes could put home ownership out of the reach of many and nullify the home ownership incentive for all but the top 5% of our nation.  Home ownership is already at a 50 year low nationwide.  For many Americans, a home is the largest investment they will ever own.  Studies have also shown that at the end of the day, the net worth of a homeowner is, on average, a shocking 45 times greater than that of a renter, demonstrating how important it is to incentivize home ownership so that Americans have the needed nest egg when they retire.

My predicted impact on our local housing market is that it will soften prices over $350,000.  Without the benefit of the tax deductibility of property taxes over $10,000, mid-market buyers will qualify to buy less than they can today, and it will have a downward pressure on prices overall.  With the severe inventory shortage we have right now, this is not likely to be immediately evident, but it will likely impede the long-term growth rate.  The cap on the deductibility of interest on new mortgages over $500,000 will have a much larger impact on the market overall.  Homeowners with large mortgages will be disinclined to make the “choice” moves we are so accustomed to here in Sewickley, because a move will mean they lose the deductibility of a significant amount of interest on their grandfathered mortgage.  This will only exacerbate our inventory shortage as homeowners will be likely to just “stay put” and take advantage of the deductibility of interest on grandfathered mortgages.  Additionally , for homes priced over $550,000, buyer affordability will drop further as carrying mortgages over $500,000 will be noticeably more expensive, with the potential of exerting further downward pressure on market appreciation.  Its hard to know how any of this will help us, but then, I am not an economist – I must be missing something!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

MORTGAGES: What NOT to do!

Do you have any tips on how to get through the seemingly daunting mortgage process with as few headaches as possible?

 I certainly do!  Below are a few pointers on what you should not do if you want your mortgage to move smoothly through the process!

  • Don’t quit your job
  • Don’t change your job
  • Don’t get a promotion
  • Don’t buy any large ticket items (like five dollars or more!)
  • Don’t make David Copperfield deposits (all funds need to be traceable)
  • Don’t forget to tell anyone making a funds gift to you that you will probably need a gift letter and some proof (usually a bank statement) that they had the money to give
  • Don’t forget to tell the lender about child support, alimony, wage garnishments or any other payroll reduction
  • Don’t co-sign for even a candy bar!
  • Don’t schedule a vacation before we close (especially a cruise)
  • Don’t order Direct TV, Cable, Telephone or any utility that will pull a credit report unless you want to write a letter of explanation about the credit report to the mortgage company
  • Don’t change your name during the mortgage process
  • Don’t go window shopping and let people pull your credit

Assuming that seems pretty straight forward to you, below are a few more choices some buyers make that make the process more difficult than it needs to be:

  • Not being up front with your loan officer (hiding information)
  • Finding a lender on the internet that offers a 0.001 interest rate
  • Finding a lender on the internet that offers a 000000.1 interest rate and is from outside of the area
  • Using a 100% Online Lender
  • Not using the name on drivers license for mortgage docs (use Jr. and Sr. if required)
  • Not telling your lender if you lose your job before you close
  • Not shopping the Good Faith Estimate
  • Delaying paperwork because you are irritated by the frequency and number of requests from the mortgage company

Take these pointers to heart and you will greatly simplify your mortgage process!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

THE BENEFITS OF BUYER’S AGENT

Why should we use a buyers agent when buying a new home?  We thought it was better to just call the listing agent.

It’s always a better idea to use a buyer’s agent who is focused on your home search rather than calling each listing agent of every property that you might be interested in.  First and foremost, a buyers agent is essentially no additional fee to you.  Buyers do pay a very small “broker fee” (at Howard Hanna, that fee is comparatively quite low, at $325), but the commissions are paid by the seller.  So there is no financial reason for you not to have Buyer representation!

Having a buyer’s agent offers a long list of advantages to you.  The agent will get to know your personal needs and wishes and be able to screen houses more effectively as well as target houses that might be a great match.  The agent will be able to compare the various homes that you see, helping you to objectively address the positives and negatives of each home as they relate to each to other.  You should expect a buyer’s agent to be able to do a detailed analysis of the comparable sales for you so that you can feel good about any offers you are making.  Your buyers agent will also be able to guide you through the inspection process, which can be very tricky these days with home inspectors being unusually critical of the homes they are inspecting.

Does this mean that you should sign a buyer agency agreement with the first agent you meet?  Absolutely not!  The internet offers a wealth of information about Realtors these days.  Before choosing a buyer’s agent, check their online presence.  Look at their qualifications – do they have certifications or other professional credentials?  Check out their online reviews on websites such as Zillow, Trulia, realtor.com, yelp and Facebook.  Do they have a personal website where you can learn further information about their business and services to you?  Feel free to request personal interviews of past clients if that is helpful to you.  Once you feel you have chosen the best match for your needs, engage that Realtor as your buyer’s agent and move forward, knowing that you are in good hands!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

KEEPING YOUR HOME SHOW-READY!!

Fall is upon us!  Any tips for presenting our home well in the fall market?

Fall can be such a wonderful season here in Pittsburgh, but sometimes sellers forget that they need to take a fresh look at their home to make sure it is still presenting at its best as summer ends.  Start with your yard.  It’s the first thing a buyer sees! Make sure you have trimmed away all of Summer’s dead blooms and that your garden beds are looking ready for their long winter’s nap.  Put down fall fertilizer so your yard looks great again this coming spring! Be sure to give your lawn its final mow, and as we move into fall, keep your leaves raked! 

Don’t forget to keep your gutters clean – if your home is actively on the market, you may need to do it more than once – you don’t want a buyer to see clogged gutters and mini-trees emerging! Give porches and patios a final thorough cleaning.  If your windows aren’t really clean, get that done too – as we go into our grayer time of the year, its really important to get as much sunshine inside as possible!

Inside, check all of your lightbulbs and make sure they are all at the maximum possible wattage and in good working order. As days grow shorter, it will be important for your home to be bright and cheerful inside. Clean out your garage.  You will need it once snow flies, and you won’t want to be out there in 30 degree weather! Be sure that if you choose seasonal decorations like mums or wreaths, that you remember to rotate them as we move through the season so that you reflect the current season!

And of course, if you know now that you want to list in the coming Spring season, which kicks off in January, give me a call now so we can get photography done while there are still leaves on the trees!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Protect Yourself from Cyber Crime in Real Estate!

With cybercrimes constantly on the rise, how can we protect ourselves in a real estate transaction?

You are correct.  We are unfortunately seeing a continued increase in the frequency of cyber crimes and the real estate industry is not exempt! It is unlikely that many of can get by in millennium America without your devices, so it is important that you be smart with your personal information.  Below are a few suggestions to help protect yourself from cyber crime.

Do not share your social security number with your Realtor.  We don’t need it! When you apply for a mortgage, give it directly to the mortgage company – ideally in person or over the phone.  If you email documents, only do so over a secure and encrypted server that your lender has specifically set up for these purposes.  When it’s time to close there will be forms to fill out. Again, your Realtor should not be the middleman.  Give the completed documents containing your personal information directly to the closing agent.

If you wire funds or provide wire instructions, it is imperative that you verify all instructions verbally before the wire is initiated.  We have had instances right here in Pittsburgh where cyber-criminals have monitored emails and emailed false wire instructions immediately before the wire is initiated, causing the funds to be wired to their own account.  These funds are never recovered – hundreds of thousands of dollars have been lost.  Therefore, if you are going to use a wire to either send or receive funds, be very careful and confirm everything verbally in advance.  Also be sure if you are verifying over the phone that you independently verify the phone number you are calling so that you are certain that the individual you are speaking with really is who they claim to be.

And of course never do business (of any kind) unless you are using a secured WiFi. Most people have password protected their WiFi by now, but if you have not, move that to the top of your to do list!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

KEEPING PROPERTY TAXES IN PERSPECTIVE

We are distressed about the property taxes in the Sewickley area.  We are qualified to buy well above a price point that comes with a level of property taxes we are comfortable affording.  Any thoughts to share?

You are not alone in your concern about our local property taxes.  They are high when compared to same value homes in many states.  But they are commensurate with property taxes on same priced homes in the other top Pittsburgh area school districts.  If you want great schools, its just a cost of being in a top district.  And if you don’t use our schools, being in a top school district will still provide steady appreciation of what is likely one of your largest assets – your  home.

If you are not from Pennsylvania, it might help to frame property taxes as part of your larger tax picture.  Our PA state income tax rate on individuals is only 3.08% — much lower than most states.  We also do not have sales tax on food or clothes here, which adds up to even more savings.  Our yearly vehicle fee is also only $41 – also far lower than most states.  Yes, property taxes in highly rated school districts can be high, but overall this is a lower cost area to live in.

Additionally, if you itemize deductions on your federal tax return, there may be a tax savings for you associated with the deductions of your property taxes – they might not actually cost you as much as you think – your tax advisor can help with this.

In the end, most people spend a lot of time in their homes.  Your home should be something you love coming home to, love spending time with family and friends in.  I suggest you do not isolate out property taxes as the bad guy keeping you from the home you love, but rather look at your entire cost of ownership – mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance  — and if the overall package looks manageable for a home you love, go for it!

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

WHAT TO EXPECT ON INSPECTIONS

We just completed a home inspection and submitted our requests to the seller.  They did not respond well and felt we were too comprehensive in our list of requests, although they were all items the home inspector pointed out as issues in his report?  What are we to expect?

The home inspection process is as individualized as the people buying the homes.    Some sellers are so eager to sell their homes that they will gladly cede to your every demand.  Some homes are so well priced and so well received by the market that the sellers are willing to do virtually nothing with respect to inspection requests.  How your sellers respond will likely depend on how badly they want to sell to you, balanced with what they think their chances are of a sale to another buyer in the near future.  But there are a few guidelines to keep in mind when evaluating what to ask for on the home inspection and how to weigh the seller’s response.

Anything the seller has called out on the disclosure should not be part of your inspection requests – you should have taken these conditions into account when you were making your offer.  For example, if the seller has disclosed that the furnace is at the end of its useful life, it is not appropriate to ask for the seller to pay for a new furnace.

If the condition was easily observed when you visited the home, you should also have taken it into account when making your offer and not be raising the issue now.  For example, if you noted that the front sidewalk was badly cracked when you saw the home, that should have been addressed in your offer and you should not try to renegotiate price based on that condition after the inspection.

Finally, you should use some materiality standard for your requests.  Some buyers use a health and safety standard and focus on items that could put their health or safety in danger, such as electrical or radon problems.  Some use a major defects threshold and focus on items that are expensive to repair.  But as a general rule, it’s a good idea to let small items and maintenance items go, such as caulking bathtubs, tightening loose toilets and installing handrails on basement stairs (which no one except the home inspector cares about anyhow!)  If you focus on what really matters, you are more likely to establish a positive dialog with your seller and end up with a positive result.

I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com
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WHAT MUST STAY WHEN A HOME SELLS

Our home is under agreement.  When we moved in we installed expensive hardware that we really love (door knobs, switch plate covers, towel rods, etc.). We would like to take it with us.  Can we substitute other items before we close?

Absolutely not!  Any item that is affixed to your home with a screw, nail, etc. must convey with your home unless you have specifically excluded it from your agreement of sale.  Unless you raise this question during negotiations and your buyer agreed prior to signing the agreement, the items must remain with your home.

About 15 years ago I represented a buyer of a home that was remodeled with high-end Restoration Hardware items – cabinet knobs, towel bars… After we agreed on a price but before closing, we returned to the home to discover that the sellers had removed the expensive Restoration Hardware items and installed baseline builder items from Lowes.  This was not what my client had seen when they toured the home and not what they had agreed to purchase.  The seller ended up providing a $7000 reduction in the purchase price to make up for the items that had been switched.  I’m not sure if the buyer ever replaced the items – what is relevant was that the removal of the high end items made the home less valuable.

If you find yourself heading toward a closing and you are just realizing that there is something affixed to your home that has sentimental value that you forgot to exclude, you can certainly ask your buyer if they would agree to a substitution – most buyers will allow removal of a sentimental item if you replace it with a like value item.  Absent buyer consent or upfront exclusion, all affixed items must stay.  Items that are occasionally inappropriately removed include:  appliances, doorknobs, switch covers, towel bars, curtain rods, mailboxes, attached shelving and TV wall mount brackets.  Mirrors that are attached must stay. Those hanging on hooks can be removed if you have to have them (although most buyers do expect them to remain).

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]

As an Associate Broker at HOWARD HANNA REAL ESTATE SERVICESKathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, is ready to answer any questions you may have regarding your real estate needs.  Feel free to contact her at the office (412) 741-2200 x238or on her mobile phone (412) 779-6060.

WHAT WILL THE FALL MARKET BRING

We have been sitting on the sidelines for a while now waiting for a home that meets our wish list to come on the market – what’s coming this fall?

You might be surprised to find out, you are one of dozens of prospective buyers sitting on the sidelines waiting for their ideal home to come on the market.  USA Today recently reported (as shared on my Facebook business page, Kathe Barge Howard Hanna Sewickley) that we are nationally at a 20 year low in available housing inventory.  What is going on you might ask?

USA Today reports that the Baby Boomers are to blame! Seventy-eight percent of Boomers own their own homes, and 85% of them have no intentions to move within the next year.  This is tying up a significant portion of potentially available housing inventory.  Why aren’t Boomers moving?  Stated reasons range from being happy where they live and not wanting to uproot their lives, to having inadequate choices in empty nester inventory to escalating prices that make scale down homes more and more expensive.  Boomers are reportedly less interested in destinations like Florida and Arizona these days and are choosing to stay in the homes and communities where their family and friends are.

In Sewickley, we have very few opportunities for scale down housing, and so Boomers are remaining in their homes.  As a result, our inventory continues to dwindle and there are very few new introductions.  There will likely be a few relocations as we move into the spring market, but with the low inventory and huge backlog of buyers, I expect pricing will be high and bidding wars probable.  To be successful in this housing market, if you define success as actually getting a home and moving, you are going to have to accept a few key premises.  First, you need to reevaluate your wish list and see what compromises you are willing to make.  We still have many nice homes on the market – they may not be a perfect match for you, but could you make one work?  You are more likely to receive a discount on a home that has been on the market.  Second, if you decide to wait and a home comes on the market that is a good fit for you, be prepared to act fast and bid high. Complete the preapproval process now so that your offer is as strong as possible.

Our market is a steady one and I do expect we will see some new introductions as we move into fall, but your best recipe for success is one that includes reevaluation of the current inventory, compromise, fast action and generous, well crafted offers.

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As an Associate Broker at HOWARD HANNA REAL ESTATE SERVICESKathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, is ready to answer any questions you may have regarding your real estate needs.  Feel free to contact her at the office (412) 741-2200 x238or on her mobile phone (412) 779-6060.

Pricing for “The Unique Factor”

In your May 11th article your Tip #12 was “when it is priced right, it will sell.”  Our home is on the market, has not sold and we feel it is priced right.  Is this maxim always true? 

The short answer is that it is not always true.  Some homes just take longer to sell than others.  If your home is “quirky” in its market, then it may take longer to sell, even if it is priced correctly. By quirky I do not mean dated décor or with deferred maintenance you have not yet completed. What I mean by quirky is, for example, if you are trying to sell a 2 bedroom home in a market that is nearly uniformly 3+ bedroom homes, that could slow down its resale.  In Sewickley, if you have a home “up the hill” it will always take longer to sell than the same home in the Village or the same home in the North Allegheny School District.  When buyers think Sewickley the overwhelming majority think “Village” and it takes longer for them to discover and understand the value of living “up the hill.”

However, if your home is located in the Village, has been on the market for several months and is under $1.5M and has not sold, it is likely it is overpriced.  We have a tremendous backlog of buyers looking for homes in the Village. It does take time for buyers to view and assess the possibilities of a home, but certainly not months.  As a general rule of thumb we like to say that if a home has had 13 showings with no offer or if it has been well-marketed for 13 weeks without an offer, an adjustment must be made to draw an offer.  The three time-tested factors that determine sale-ability of a home are price, condition, and location.  Location cannot be changed but does have a big impact on price.   In Sewickley, even a block can dramatically impact whether a home sells quickly or not.  Condition can be adjusted and I suggest you read some of my prior articles on my Ask Kathe blog at www.kathebarge.com for important information on what buyers expect in today’s market.

The final factor is of course price.  Depending on the price range your home is in, even a small adjustment can result in renewed interest in the home.  Additionally, it is important to consider where your competition is priced and selling, and this is a continually moving factor.  Other home owners may underprice to be “the chosen one” and you may be faced with the choice of either reducing to match their price or understanding that theirs will likely sell first.   Additionally, if you have received constructive feedback regarding either deferred maintenance of dated décor, you will either need too adjust your condition or your price.

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As an Associate Broker at HOWARD HANNA REAL ESTATE SERVICESKathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, is ready to answer any questions you may have regarding your real estate needs.  Feel free to contact her at the office (412) 741-2200 x238or on her mobile phone (412) 779-6060.

Favorite Real Estate Stories

What is your all-time favorite real estate story? 

There are so very many favorite stories I could share!  My favorites are the ones that are incredibly stressful in the moment and too funny to be believed after the fact!  Most arise in the moments before closing when tensions are already high.  I’ll never forget my first year in real estate, now eighteen years ago, when I hadn’t yet figured out how important it is to specifically tell a seller what is expected for closing.  One seller was quite shocked to discover that they were actually required to remove the 20 pairs of snow tires they had stored in their garage, and none too happy to incur the significant haul away charge.  Given the large fee associated with their removal, I could certainly understand why they hadn’t previously parted with the tires, but I never figured out what they thought the new buyers were going to do with them.  Now I tell all sellers:  you must remove all items that are not affixed to the home and not specifically included in the sale from the home prior to closing.  And yes, that includes all of the old paint that has been in your basement for the past 50 years!

I have at times encountered sellers who are confused about what condition they must leave a home in for closing.  So confused it seems that homes have been presented with trash strewn around, cookie crumbles all over the floor and filthy appliance interiors.  I will never forget the closet smoker seller who scattered an entire coffee can of cigarette butts on the walk on her way to closing, unhappy with the price she had agreed to, only to have to leave the closing to go home and clean up.  Another rule for sellers:  the home and property need to be clean – broom swept at a bare minimum.

The most confusion centers around inclusions and here I really have seen it all.  The seller who removed all lightbulbs from all lighting fixtures was certainly going too far!  My absolute favorite was the seller who removed the toilet from the master bathroom, leaving nothing but a hole in the floor, stating that a toilet was a “personal hygiene device” and that they didn’t understand why the buyer would want it!  As you can imagine, the seller had to pay to replace the toilet. Which brings me to one final rule for seller: if it’s attached to the property, be it by nail, screw, glue… it stays!

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As an Associate Broker at HOWARD HANNA REAL ESTATE SERVICESKathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, is ready to answer any questions you may have regarding your real estate needs.  Feel free to contact her at the office (412) 741-2200 x238or on her mobile phone (412) 779-6060.

Updates do make a difference

In your May 11th column, you also mentioned that updates may not affect a home’s value but may affect the chances of getting it sold.  Can you clarify what you mean by that? 

Upon reflection, that statement, which I quoted for a real estate website, may be a little broad.  I meet with many sellers who are simply in shock with what this market requires to generate a sale.  In many cases, its not a case of the updates being required to increase the chances of a home selling quickly – they are required for a home to draw an offer at all.  Do the updates increase the value of the home?  Technically yes, because without them the home is almost unsalable, except at perhaps the deepest of discounts.

This era of home buyers simply do not want to do any work at all. Perhaps my generation of parents did it all wrong when we handed our children life on a silver platter! They watch too much HGTV and expect to see that when they walk into a home.  I have been on my soapbox many times before about many of these topics, stressing the importance of addressing them, but not from the perspective that updates are important to even generate an offer. Buyers really don’t want your wallpaper no matter how stylish.  Nor do they want your colored carpets or shiny brass, to name a few other deal killers.  They aren’t going to do the “few projects” you left behind for them – they are just going to move on to another home.

A recent case in point is a listing I sold after just over a month on the market.  It had been on the market previously for two years with no offers.  It is a fantastic home in a great location on a great piece of property, but it just didn’t sell.  The sellers removed wallpaper and draperies, painted the interior in my favorite ‘greige‘, updated plumbing and lighting to a silver palate and were rewarded for their efforts with a quick offer.  As frustrating and costly as this sounds, unless you remodeled your home within the past ten years, this is the price you may have to pay to get a home sold in today’s competitive market, unless you are willing to price it at, or accept, a deeply discounted price.

[contact-form-7 id="115501" title="Contact Kathe Form"]

As an Associate Broker at HOWARD HANNA REAL ESTATE SERVICESKathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, is ready to answer any questions you may have regarding your real estate needs.  Feel free to contact her at the office (412) 741-2200 x238or on her mobile phone (412) 779-6060.

Sound Advice for Sellers

Why have so many deals fallen apart this spring?  We watch the market and see homes that sell and then come back on the market – what is happening?

You have unknowingly picked up on one of the flaws in the Pennsylvania Standard Agreement for the Sale of Real Estate.  In the inspection contingency contained in this agreement, the buyer has the unilateral right to terminate the agreement of sale if they find any condition in a home inspection unsatisfactory to them.  It does not have to be a major defect as it did in prior years.  It does not have to be a safety related concern.  It does not have to rise to a particular threshold of cost to repair.  ANY condition whatsoever that they find unsatisfactory – a scratch on a floor, a dented garage door, a stain on a carpet  — and they can terminate. They do not need to give a seller an opportunity to repair the item – they can just say “sorry, we don’t want your house.” They get their hand money back and the home is back on the market.

Unfortunately, this year buyers have begun to abuse this right to terminate, treating it like an option to buy a home.  And when they do this, it stigmatizes the home for future buyers. I have seen deals terminated for items as simple as non-operational dimmer switches and puddles in the driveway, without giving the sellers the opportunity to repair.  In other words, these are not serious buyers, and something they liked more probably came on the market.  They terminate, wasting everyone’s time and energy.

This is a terrible trend, but sellers, you don’t need to sit back and let this happen.  When negotiating an offer on your home, you can negotiate any term, and you would be well advised to indicate that buyer’s right to terminate before even asking the seller to repair should be stricken from the agreement.  The buyer is still protected because they retain the right to terminate if the seller refuses to make the desired repairs, but this solution provides a more appropriate playing field for all parties.

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Understanding Realtor-ese!

Why don’t realtors use plain language to advertise their listings?  How are we to be able to translate what they write so that we know what a home really has to offer?

The first step in selling a home is marketing that home, and sometimes the brutal truth is just not going to attract a buyer.  We figure that if we can at least get you to explore the possibilities, that there is a chance of a sale.  “Cozy” sounds much more appealing than “small”, “motivated seller” is less alarming than “the seller needs a sale now” and “awaits your vision” is far more intriguing than “this place needs a complete overhaul.”  I’ve included a translation guide to some of our more popular phrases to aid you in understanding “realtor-speak” as you peruse our listings!

  • Complete Renovation: the home has had a top to bottom overhaul and nearly everything is new within the past few years
  • Mature Landscaping: large trees, but it could border on overgrown
  • Secluded: there is no one anywhere to be found
  • Historic: old, with windows that don’t open, don’t stay open, don’t shut or don’t lock
  • Original: everything is at least 50 years old
  • Investment Opportunity: you’re going to need to gut this one to the studs
  • Needs TLC – another complete rehab needed
  • Custom Window Treatments: early 90s, expensive, teal or rose colored draperies
  • Must see Inside: zero curb appeal
  • Bonus Room – no one knows what to do with this space
  • One Car Garage – you might get your Suburban in, but forget about opening the doors once inside
  • Up & Coming Neighborhood – this home is next to the train tracks
  • Desirable Neighborhood – you’ll be paying more for this house because people love the neighborhood
  • As Is – inspect before making your offer – the seller won’t be fixing anything
  • Unique – you might have a hard time reselling this one
  • Close to the Village – a 10 minute drive by car
  • Walk to Village Shops – might be possible, but who has time?

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

What’s Up the Hill?

We have been looking for our dream home for a long time in the Village and we cant seem to find the right combination of features in a home – either the yard is too small or the home needs too much work or its too close to the neighbors or there is no garage – any advice? 

Yes!  Look “up the hill”!  I have yet to understand why more buyers don’t look outside the Village. Yes, the walkability to the Village center is nice, but realistically how often do you do that?  I live in the Village, and am usually in a big hurry and drive where I am going! And I see many residents who live up the hill who drive down, park and enjoy the Village by foot more than I do! There are many many advantages to buying “up the hill” that make it worth considering this option.

First, yard sizes are almost always larger.  There is generally far more room for the kids or pets to play, more room for gardens, more room for a pool, sport court or auxiliary garage for overflow cars.  Larger lots mean there is more space between the homes, so while you still have neighbors, you cant hear them sneeze inside their home, which is the case for some Village residents!

Homes “up the hill” universally give you more value for the dollar.  They are generally larger homes in better shape for notably less money.  You can spend less, have a smaller monthly mortgage payment, and get more space! Homes “up the hill” are also generally newer homes, so if they require updating, the scale of the project is usually smaller and more of a cosmetic nature.  And because you are dealing with newer homes, the cost of any projects is usually less because you are not having to deal with old wiring and plumbing or structural problems.  And the overwhelming majority of “up the hill” homes have garages.

You might also be interested in knowing that the tax millage charged in the “up the hill” boroughs is notably lower than the millage in Sewickley borough – there is a real premium paid on a daily basis in property taxes for the privilege of being within ½ mile of Village center.

It’s hard to imagine what’s not to love about our wonderful “up the hill homes.” Larger, newer homes on larger lots with peace and tranqulity. So you have to drive 5 minutes to the Giant Eagle as compared to the 3 minutes Village dwellers drive.  It seems like a more than sensible trade-off  for all of the advantages offered by our “up the hill” communities.

Step outside the box and venture “up the hill” this Sunday when we will have many of our listings open!  You may be surprised at how enticing the “up the hill” homes are!

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Twelve Real Estate Tips You Should Know

You give a lot of advice each week – any way to sum it up quickly for those of us who need the Reader’s Digest version?

I recently came across a posting on one of my favorite Facebook pages that I shared on my Facebook business page (Kathe Barge Howard Hanna Sewickley)  that I think does an outstanding job doing just that for sellers!  Quoted from The Lighter Side of Real Estate, the following are words to live by if you are selling a home, presented in a brief, easily remembered format:

 

“Twelve Things You Should Know About Real Estate:

  1. A Home is Worth What a Buyer is Willing to Pay
  2. Updates May Not Increase the Value, But They Increase the Chances of Getting it Sold
  3. Cleanliness is Godliness
  4. Curb Appeal is the First (and Strongest) Impression
  5. Pet Odor and Clutter Leave the Longest Lasting Impressions
  6. Neutral Paint and Décor Will Always Appeal to the Masses
  7. Cheap Fixes or Updates Will Result in a Cheap (Low) Offer
  8. Everything is Negotiable
  9. Time is of the Essence
  10. Location Location Location
  11. Buyers Notice Things They Want to Change Before They Notice Any Updates
  12. When Priced Right It Will Sell”

Keep these principles in mind and apply them when selling your home and its sure to be a success!

 

 

As an Associate Broker at
HOWARD HANNA REAL ESTATE SERVICES,
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, is ready to answer any
questions you may have regarding your real estate needs.
Feel free to contact her at the office (412) 741-2200 x238,
or on her mobile phone (412) 779-6060.

You give a lot of advice each week – any way to sum it up quickly for those of us who need the Reader’s Digest version?

I recently came across a posting on one of my favorite Facebook pages that I shared on my Facebook business page (Kathe Barge Howard Hanna Sewickley)  that I think does an outstanding job doing just that for sellers!  Quoted from The Lighter Side of Real Estate, the following are words to live by if you are selling a home, presented in a brief, easily remembered format:

“Twelve Things You Should Know About Real Estate:

  1. A Home is Worth What a Buyer is Willing to Pay
  2. Updates May Not Increase the Value, But They Increase the Chances of Getting it Sold
  3. Cleanliness is Godliness
  4. Curb Appeal is the First (and Strongest) Impression
  5. Pet Odor and Clutter Leave the Longest Lasting Impressions
  6. Neutral Paint and Décor Will Always Appeal to the Masses
  7. Cheap Fixes or Updates Will Result in a Cheap (Low) Offer
  8. Everything is Negotiable
  9. Time is of the Essence
  10. Location Location Location
  11. Buyers Notice Things They Want to Change Before They Notice Any Updates
  12. When Priced Right It Will Sell”

Keep these principles in mind and apply them when selling your home and its sure to be a success!

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Waiting for “Mr. Right”

Will there be more homes coming on the market soon? We’ve been looking for a while and it doesn’t seem like there are many homes available.

Our inventory of available homes has never been lower! And yes, there will be more homes coming on the market soon. I have many wonderful homes almost ready to enter the spring market – sellers working hard to make their home appealing to you. But don’t expect an avalanche – I fully anticipate that there will be fewer than usual homes coming on the market this spring. And with the coming of the spring market there will be many more buyers, much more competition, and a rise in the prices realized by sellers. The window is almost closed for buyers to be able to get a good deal this spring from a seller anxious to sell. Buyers will soon find themselves in bidding wars, in many cases for homes they could have purchased a month earlier at a discount.

Will your perfect home be one of the ones coming on the market in the coming weeks? There is always that chance, but if you are looking for that historically charming Village home that has 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, a two car garage with modern kitchen and baths, a gray/greige color palette, and a yard big enough for fun… get in line! There is a large crowd of people waiting for that product and you are well advised to be pre-approved by a lender and ready to put in a strong offer very quickly, with no guarantee you will be the winner. Another reasonable alternative is to reconsider what we have on the market – there are many terrific homes that with a little effort, could be your dream home.

Why is inventory so low? Here in Sewickley, our community’s popularity is growing every year. The school district continues to garner accolades and rank highly and the secret is out – this is a super cool and fun place to live that is really close to both Pittsburgh and the airport. Why not Sewickley? So as more people try to find a spot here and fewer people depart, fewer and fewer homes are available for sale. The scarcity of homes will continue to put upward pressure on prices. And of course, if your priority is a home in Sewickley, you may just need to consider where you can compromise to make your dream a reality!

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Financing Your Buy Before You Sell

What financing options exist for transitioning between homes if we don’t have to sell our current home to buy our new one and our objective is to remain debt free when the transition is complete?

The process of selling one home and buying another often feels like there are many moving pieces. If you are fortunate enough to be able to buy a new home before you sell your old home, you have put yourself in a wonderfully strong position as a buyer to be able to make an offer on a new home that is not contingent on your old home selling. As we enter what will be a very strong spring market, that will be a big advantage for you!

You have a variety of options on how to pay for your new home. Perhaps you have cash – but with the recent run up in the stock market, this may not be the best time to liquidate your investments.

A particularly affordable alternative might be to put a home equity line of credit (“HELOC”) on your current home, IF you have enough equity in your current home to provide the cash you need to buy your new home. HELOCs tend to involve very low costs to the borrower up-front. They can also remain untapped until you need the money, so you are not paying any interest charges while you are searching for your new home. You can pay the HELOC off as soon as your old home sells, leaving you with less debt (or possibly none) on your new home. Finally, it is something you can arrange for now and be well positioned to jump on a great home when one comes on the market.

Of course, being able to buy without selling may mean you can qualify for a traditional mortgage on your new home. Whether this is the right choice for you will depend on whether and how much debt you want to end up with in the end. If you need a large amount of cash upfront but ultimately would prefer to carry a smaller mortgage (or no mortgage) once your old home sells, consider financing through a combination of loans and pay the second loan off when your old home sells, leaving your with only the first mortgage in the smaller amount. If you intend to carry no debt, there are products with low upfront costs that you can pay off as soon as your home sells.

There are many options to consider when creating a plan that to achieve your long term financial goals – give me a call and I can connect you to trusted financing providers who can help you develop a solid strategy before you find your dream home!

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Who Represents You?

Can we choose a buyer’s agent even if we have seen homes with the listing agents?

The answer is an unequivocal yes! As a buyer, you are absolutely entitled to choose your own representation in a transaction. It might be that the listing agent is in fact the individual that you feel will best represent you – approximately 1/3 of my transactions involve dual agency, and they proceed smoothly for all parties. But if you have been looking at homes or going to open houses and find the perfect agent for you in that process, it is fine to engage that agent as your representative even if you have seen homes with other agents.

It is of course in your best interests to ultimately select and work exclusively with a buyer’s agent. Your buyer’s agent should provide a personalized high level of service to you. When viewing homes, you should expect your buyer’s agent to provide you with information about the home, neighborhood and community to help you in your decision making process. You should expect your buyer’s agent to provide you with an analysis of comparable sales, develop a negotiating strategy and help you analyze and negotiate the home inspection. These are important benefits that you will receive when you engage a buyer’s agent that cannot be provided in the absence of that relationship.

Many buyers use open houses and viewings with listing agents as their opportunity to interview agents and determine who will best represent them as a buyer’s agent. This makes complete sense if you do not have a prior agency relationship that you were pleased with. Transitioning between homes is a very personal process that can, for some, also be very stressful. For many of us, it also involves the purchase and/or sale of our largest asset. The importance of due diligence, reference checking and interviews cannot be overstated when choosing your real estate representative, and once you have made that decision, it is important to communicate that to other real estate agents when interacting with them. I will be hosting an open house this Sunday, 1-3pm, at 30 Wilson Drive in Ben Avon Heights and next Sunday, February 5, 1-3 pm at 1008 Beaver Street in Sewickley – stop by, check out these amazing homes, and if you don’t already know me, I would love the opportunity to meet you!

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

New Years Resolution #1

If there was one thing you would advise us to do to our home this year, what would that be?

Whether you are planning to sell your home this year or not, the best thing you can do to your home this year is a home inspection! We all live in our homes but rarely take the time to stop and give them a careful look. Weather beats up the outside of our homes year round. Caulking fails, flashing fails, paint peels and exposes wood to rot. We forget to clean our gutters on a regular basis – gutters and downspouts fill with decaying debris, causing water to back up into our homes and cause mold problems. We forget to have our furnaces serviced and fittings loosen and cause condensate to leak and rust our furnaces. The list goes on and on. Simply living in and not doing a regular check up on your home, you are leaving it open to the possibility of major repair bills later and major depreciation in your investment’s value. A home inspection will give you a to do list of projects to tackle throughout the year to keep your home in great shape and maintain its value!

You may not think about this until you go to sell your home. Some of the wear and tear may be obvious to a buyer, who will typically have checked out every available home, be able to see signs of your “benign neglect,” and pass on yours because of its comparatively negative condition. Even if a buyer doesn’t’ notice at first, there is no doubt that a home inspector will notice! After working hard to get your home sold, you may find yourself in the all too common situation of being presented with a long list of inspection requests that you need to complete in order to hold your deal together, or worse yet, a buyer who backs out of your deal because the house needs “too much work,” leaving you in the position of having to fix everything and start all over again. A homeowner should expect simply keeping a home in acceptable condition will cost them $3,000 – $10,000 a year, depending on the size of the home – some years wil be more if its time for a major project, and some less. If you’re not investing this, chances are someday you will when you are faced with a long list of inspection issues.

The first thing on my household resolution list this new year is a home inspection and I suggest you add it to the top of your list as well. Give me a call if you need the names of reputable local inspectors.

QUICK SEARCH

[contact-form-7 id="115311" title="Get More Information Form"]
I’m ready to answer any questions you have regarding your real estate needs.
 
 
Kathe Barge, CRS, ABR, CNE, SRES
Associate Broker
HOWARD HANNA
REAL ESTATE SERVICES
401 Broad Street
Sewickley, PA 15143
Cell: 412-779-6060
Office: 412-741-2200 x238
kbarge@howardhanna.com

Show Me the Money!

We would like to buy a new home in the new year. How much money do we need to have on hand?

The new year will soon be upon us, and with a new year comes a new opportunity for putting your housing dreams into motion.  How much cash do you need to be able to close on a home

First, you must have your down payment.  You will receive the best lending rates if you have at least 25% down.  20% down was the normal minimum years ago, and that is still not a bad idea if you want to avoid paying PMI (private mortgage insurance).  A 10% down payment is also a possibility – you will likely pay an upfront PMI fee, however, for the privilege of putting less down.  You can have this PMI waived if you will pay a higher monthly rate- generally .25% more than the rate would have otherwise been.  Five percent down is also possible if your loan amount is under $417,000.  And of course, with an FHA loan, you only need to put 3.5% down, although the PMI fees are fairly significant.

In addition to your down payment, and PMI if applicable, you should also budget for the following out-of-pocket expenses when you buy a home:

  • Inspection fees – you will pay approximately $400 for a general home inspection, $55 for a pest inspection and $135 for a radon inspection.  If you add a mold inspection, plan for approximately $225 more.
  • Appraisal – approximately $350 charged by your lender to have the how appraised to be sure what you have agreed to pay for the home is in line with the market
  • Application fees – this will vary by lender and can be negotiated upfront – plan on approximately $750.
  • Transfer Taxes – in Pennsylvania, each party pays a 1% transfer tax (on the sales price of the home)
  • Title Insurance – a fee regulated by the state, it is a percentage of the purchase price that varies depending on the price of a home.  For a 100,000 home, the title insurance is almost 1% of the purchase price.  At $1,000,000, the title insurance is slightly more than one half of one percent.
  • Finally, allow approximately $1000 for other miscellaneous fees (title endorsements, recording, settlement, survey)

The best first step toward buying your new home in the new year is to talk to a lender today and begin the pre-approval process.  Once you know how much you can afford to buy, you will be better able to calculate how much you need to close, and to align your new year’s savings goals accordingly!

 

Selling During the Holidays

The holidays are here and our home is on the market – any tips for selling during the holidays?

The holidays can be a challenging time to sell your home – the number of people looking for a home is much lower than almost any other time of year. But those who do look around the holidays are usually very serious buyers and so it is worth making sure that your home presents as well as possible.

Start with a good fall cleanup! It’s definitely time to put your yard to bed! Make sure your yard is well raked and all dead plants removed. Curb appeal is even more important in colder months when the landscaping is less lush and appealing to a buyer. Make sure gutters are cleaned and everything outside is looking crisp.

Make sure you keep your thermostat up for showings – walking into a cold house for a showing can be a real turn-off. Warmer homes will cause buyers to linger when its cold outside – which will allow them time to admire your home’s wonderful amenities.   And of course, with as gray as Pittsburgh can be in the winter, be sure all of your lights are on for showings (and that you have working lightbulbs in all of the lights). Its also a good idea to put a few lights on timers if you are away so the home always looks cheerful from the street.

Holiday decorations always add cheer to a home, but be careful not to overdo it! Keep your decorations this year on the more minimal side, and try to avoid religious themed decorations. Be sure that you de-clutter BEFORE you decorate and also be sure that your decorations coordinate well with your décor scheme. And of course, avoid large inflatables in your yard!

Finally, don’t forget that if it snows, you must keep your driveway and walk clear of snow so that the buyers can easily get inside

The Million Dollar Question!

Do you have any thoughts as to how the election will affect our housing market?

That is the million dollar question these days!

The quick answer: in the long run, I don’t expect it will have any effect. Real estate is very local. What happens in one part of the country often has nothing to do with what happens elsewhere. Pittsburgh tends to be a more cautious market. Our prices don’t escalate quickly and they also didn’t plummet after the recession. We have seen a very slow and steady upswing in our prices and I expect that to continue – because it is slow and steady, as Pittsburgh has always been.

Our sales have, however, came to a near standstill in recent weeks. But the elections are over and we have a new President elect – so where does that leave us?

When it comes to the real estate market, it really doesn’t matter who you voted for or what you think of the election results – it is common when there is an anticipated change in leadership for our real estate market to slow down. And so I expect, as has happened in prior leadership change years, that our real estate sales will be very slow from now until after Inauguration Day. Cautious Pittsburghers will be interested to see who is chosen to fill cabinet positions and what plans are laid out for the coming years. Home purchases are a big event in most people’s lives and they will want a greater sense of certainty before they make a big change like a new home. And then I fully expect, as has been the case with other elections, that normalcy will return to our market.

Because I expect the next three months to be slow in real estate sales, I do expect that will lead to a pent up demand and a strong spring market. If you are thinking of selling, now is the perfect time to put together a plan for selling your house this spring. The election is over and you can be certain one thing will not change – I will still be here selling houses for you!

Why Buy Now?

Dear Kathe,

Why should we consider buying now? Isn’t it better to wait until spring?

This fall, the market has been a bit sluggish, perhaps led by election anxiety, and now the holidays are quickly approaching. We are, however, expecting a very strong spring market. The millennials are expected to make a huge impact on our housing market this spring. Over 50% of home purchases are projected to come from first time home buyers. Many millennials are moving into their first homes, many are moving out of apartments and/or out of cities to a more “family friendly” environment. Sewickley , a walking community that has become so very popular in millennium America, is well positioned to see the impact of that surge.

This expected demand is going to put incredible pressure on our spring market. It is anticipated that prices will be increasing and bidding wars will become commonplace. All of this suggests that now is the absolute best time to buy if you are thinking of moving! There are very few people who buy this time of year, as most are too preoccupied with getting ready for the holidays. While inventory is lower than it will likely be come spring, the absence of many buyers gives you a much better chance to strike a good deal. Why pay over asking price in a bidding war come March when you could negotiate a discount now? Rather than putting yourself at a competitive and financial disadvantage, start the home search process now.

And of course, if you are thinking of selling, carve out some time this fall to prepare yourself for a spring introduction in January/February. Market trends show that the sale surge happens in March, not April, so you should be getting ready now! If you will be selling a starter home (which here can be up to $500,000) and are well prepped and well priced, you should expect a positive market response and maybe even a bidding war!

Selling Your Vacant Home

Dear Kathe:

We may move out and leave our home vacant and for sale – is there anything special we should know?

First and most importantly, you must consider your insurance coverage. If you have a loss and you have not notified your insurance company that you have vacated the home, they may deny coverage for your loss. Some companies may not provide coverage for your vacant home and you will need to switch insurers. Some will provide coverage for a limited amount of time, and some will provide coverage as long as you leave your furniture in place. However, most will deny coverage for any loss related to water, so whenever you leave a home vacant for any amount of time, its important to turn the water off at the main. If its winter time, you should consider having a plumber professionally winterize your home.

Second its rarely a good idea to leave a home totally empty. Some homes do show better without the owner’s furniture, but even in those cases its important to leave bathrooms, the kitchen, fireplace mantles… staged so that the home feels loved and inviting to prospective buyers. Be sure to have a few lights on timers – buyers often drive by homes at night and you don’t want yours looking haunted! Of course, there are professional home stagers that can help you with any level of staging, whether its working with your existing furnishings, accessorizing bathrooms and the kitchen, or bringing in new furniture to fill the empty space.

You should have a house keeper who comes monthly to keep the home fresh and bug free and a yard service to keep the yard freshly mown and free of weeds, as well as leaves rank and snow shoveled. Finally, you should be sure to keep the temperature set at a comfortable temperature – in the winter no lower than 60 degrees and preferable 65 degrees.

Leaving a home vacant certainly makes showings easier, but it does require some extra attention to make sure the home does not feel abandoned and remains appealing to prospective buyers!

Will Our Deal Close?

Dear Kathe:

What assurances are there to a seller that if they enter into a contract to sell their home, it will actually close?

Reaching an agreement on the sale of your home is an important first step to getting your home closed. However, before a seller has any assurance that a home will actually close, several hurdles must be overcome. First, the inspections have to be completed. In most instances, the buyer has the right to terminate a transaction if they learn anything on the inspection that they are uncomfortable with, and in almost every instance, the buyer has the right to terminate if the seller does not agree to make the buyer’s requested repairs. So a seller has no assurances at all that their home will close until the inspection period is complete, which generally takes 21 days.

The same thinking would apply if the Agreement includes an appraisal contingency – until the appraisal is complete (which also takes 21-30 days), there is a risk that the home will fail to appraise and the transaction will not close.

If the buyer has a mortgage contingency, then there is a risk until a “clean” commitment letter is received from the lender that the buyer will not get their loan approved, in which case the transaction will not close. Usually it takes about 45 days from the date of agreement to know with any certainty that the buyer has received a loan commitment.

There is also the rare instance where a buyer never provides the contractually specified deposit money or second deposit money. This is a breach of agreement and if this happens, it’s reasonably unlikely that the buyer will cure that breach and close.

Finally, very rarely there are buyers who complete all of the steps in the process and just refuse to close. In those instances, the seller is often entitled to the deposit money, but that may seem like a small consolation prize when their home is empty and back on the market.

Working with a skilled real estate professional will help you to manage the risks and move toward a successful closing. So while the short answer is that there is never a guarantee until the home actually closes, with proper management of the details the risk to a seller of moving out and leaving behind an empty home can be minimized.

 

Finding the Right Agent to Represent You!

Dear Kathe,

We have our home listed with another agent and are unhappy with the service we are receiving. We can’t help but wonder what process we should have gone through to find the right agent. Any ideas?

When choosing a Realtor, it’s important to do more research than asking a colleague, friend or service provider who they would recommend. I often help my clients find an agent in the new city they are moving to, and I start online.

First, I look for agents who do a lot of business in the area my client is moving to. How many listings does the agent have? I look at her sold listings on Zillow and see how many she has sold, both in the area and in the price range my clients will be buying into to make sure she has the experience they will need.

I then look at her individual website for her certifications and qualifications. These credentials require extensive commitment to training by the agent, and training means the agent is best equipped to achieve the ve