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Great Tips for Sellers

Selling real estate in the Westchester area:

This section includes information and real estate services for selling a home in the Westchester area. Knowing the value of your home in relation to your local real estate market and recent sales is very important. I would be happy to send you an online market analysis of your home.

The decision to sell a home can be frightening and heartbreaking for some but exciting and rewarding for others. How do you know if it’s the right move for you? And if it is the right move, how do you make sure you get the most from your decision? To help answer these questions, I have gathered several resources below. Please click on the links to access this information. For additional resources, please visit the Free reports section. The Resource Center page has important real estate related information from sites that I have researched for you. There are sections devoted to relocation needs, schools, real estate tax information, home and garden, maps and weather, whether you are staying in the Westchester area or relocating.

If you are buying your next home in the Westchester area, please be sure to visit the section For Buyers and do a Home Search.

I hope you enjoy your visit and come back soon. I am always available for personal service by phone or email, so please contact me with questions at any time!

Does Moving Up Make Sense?

The answers to these questions will help you decide:

  • How much equity do you have in your home? Look at your annual mortgage statement or call your lender to find out. Usually, you don’t build up much equity in the first few years of paying a mortgage, but if you’ve owned your home for a number of years, you may have significant unrealized gains.
  • Has your income increased enough to cover the extra mortgage costs and the costs of moving?
  • Is the neighborhood still a good one for your needs? For example, if you’ve had children, the quality of the schools may be more of a concern now than when you first purchased.
  • Can you add on or remodel? If you have a large yard, there might be room to expand your home. If not, your options may be limited? Also, do you want to undertake the headaches of remodeling yourself?
  • How is the home market? If it’s good, you may get top dollar for your home.
  • How are interest rates? A low rate not only helps you buy more home, but also makes it easier to find a buyer.

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12 Tips for Hiring a Remodeling Contractor

  1. Get at least three written estimates.
  2. Get references and call to check on the work. If possible, go by and visit earlier jobs.
  3. Check with the local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau for complaints.
  4. Be sure that the contract states exactly what is to be done and how change orders will be handled.
  5. Make as small a downpayment as possible so you won’t lose a lot if the contractor fails to complete the job.
  6. Be sure that the contractor has the necessary permits, licenses, and insurance.
  7. Be sure that the contract states when the work will be completed and what recourse you have if it isn’t. Also remember that in many instances you can cancel a contract within three business days of signing it.
  8. Ask if the contractor’s workers will do the entire job or whether subcontractors will do parts.
  9. Get the contractor to indemnify you if work does not meet any local building codes or regulations.
  10. Be sure that the contract specifies the contractor will clean up after the job and be responsible for any damage.
  11. Guarantee that materials used meet your specifications.
  12. Don’t make the final payment until you’re satisfied with the work.

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20 Low-Cost Ways to Spruce Up Your Home

Make your home more appealing for yourself and for potential buyers with these quick and easy tips:

  1. Trim bushes so they don’t block windows and cut down on light.
  2. Buy a new doormat.
  3. Put a pot of bright flowers (or a small evergreen in winter) on your porch.
  4. Put new doorknobs on your front door.
  5. Put a fresh coating on your driveway.
  6. Edge the grass around walks and trees.
  7. Keep your garden tools out of site.
  8. Be sure kids put away their toys.
  9. Buy a new mailbox.
  10. Upgrade your outside lighting.
  11. Use warm, incandescent light bulbs for a homey feel.
  12. Polish or replace your house numbers.
  13. Clean your gutters.
  14. Put out potpourri or burn scented candles.
  15. Buy new pillows for the sofa.
  16. Buy a flowering plant and put in a window you pass by frequently.
  17. Make a centerpiece for your table with fruit or artificial flowers.
  18. Replace heavy curtains with sheer ones that let in more light.
  19. Buy new towels.
  20. Put a seasonal wreath on your door.

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Understanding Capital Gains in Real Estate

When you sell a stock, you owe taxes on your gain-the difference between what you paid for the stock and what you sold it for. The same is true with selling a home (or a second home), but there are some special considerations.

How to Calculate Gain

In real estate, capital gains are based not on what you paid for the home, but on its adjusted cost basis. To calculate this:

  1. Take the purchase price of the home: This is the sale price, not the amount of money you actually contributed at closing.
  2. Add Adjustments:
    • Cost of the purchase-including transfer fees, attorney fees, inspections, but not points you paid on your mortgage.
    • Cost of sale-including inspections, attorney’s fee, real estate commission, and money you spent to fix up your home just prior to sale.
    • Cost of improvements-including room additions, deck, etc. Note here that improvements do not include repairing or replacing something already there, such as putting on a new roof or buying a new furnace.
  3. The total of this is the adjusted cost basis of your home.
  4. Subtract this adjusted cost basis from the amount you sell your home for. This is your capital gain.

A Special Real Estate Exemption for Capital Gains

Since 1997, up to $250,000 in capital gains ($500,000 for a married couple) on the sale of a home is exempt from taxation if you meet the following criteria.

  1. You have lived in the home as your principal residence for two out of the last five years.
  2. You have not sold or exchanged another home during the two years preceding the sale. Also note that as of 2003, you may also qualify for this exemption if you meet what the IRS calls “unforeseen circumstances” such as job loss, divorce, or family medical emergency.

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10 Things a Professional Realtor Can Do for You

  1. Obtain and qualify prospects, eliminating professional lookers and non-qualified prospects.
  2. Diplomatically handle objections and overcome them.
  3. Assist in helping both the Seller and the Buyer navigate through the complex world of financing.
  4. Follow up with prospects without weakening your position.
  5. Handle the sale of your buyer’s house if they need to sell prior to purchasing.
  6. Explain closing costs.
  7. Know how to justify your asking price to the Buyer.
  8. Relieve you of having to stay home to wait for Buyer’s phone calls or for showings.
  9. Provide strangers access to your property without jeopardizing you or your family.
  10. Guide you through the closing process, including inspections, disclosures, obtaining flood hazard and hazardous materials information, assist in obtaining permits, assist the appraiser in valuing the property at the price where it sold, as well as a variety of other issues that may occur in any given transaction.

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Get Your Home Ready To Sell

In preparing your house to sell, ask yourself over and over if your house looks like someone else’s dream house. Houses in tip-top condition tend to be inviting to buyers; houses that are like new typically sell the fastest and procure the best price.

With that in mind, here are a few things to consider when getting ready to sell:

Remember the 60-second rule: that’s all the time you have to create a good first impression! Mow the lawn, rake leaves, trim trees and shrubs that keep light out of the house and remove dead plants. Pick up tools, garbage cans, hoses, toys, and building materials and store them neatly in a storage area. Replace broken or missing roof shingles and straighten and clean the gutters and downspouts. Clean all windows and mend torn screens. Painting your house helps improve curb appeal more than any other fix-up! If you decide against painting the entire house, consider painting the front door, window frames and shutters. Seal or resurface the driveway and repair broken steps and walkways. Paint or replace your mailbox and post. Put up a new light fixture. Dress up the front yard with some simple landscaping.

Clean, Clean, Clean
Step back for a moment and look at your home as if you were seeing it for the first time. Every room should be spotlessly clean, dusted and uncluttered. Steam clean the carpets and wax the floors. Wash the walls, windows and light fixtures. Tighten loose stair railings and clean all woodwork. In the event that you feel a project of this magnitude is better left to a professional, ask your real estate agent to recommend a cleaning service.

Use bright light bulbs in the foyer and throughout the house. Fill the house with a pleasant aroma, such as fresh flowers in the summer or cinnamon or candles in the winter.

Living Room
Replace the carpet if it’s worn. Show off the hardwood floors if you have them – buyers prefer wood floors! It costs money, but you may find that you will more than recoup that cost when the home sells. Patch cracks and nail holes in the walls, and repaint walls in neutral colors, such as white or ivory. Nail down creaking boards and stair treads. Lubricate any sticking or squeaking doors. Open all curtains, and replace them if they are getting old. Add lamps and lighting if the house is dark. Set out fresh flowers.

Rearrange or remove furniture to make your rooms look more spacious. Too much furniture and too many knick-knacks make rooms look cluttered and small. One or two decorative items per surface are plenty, so pack the rest away. Great way to start packing away those things you do not need day-to-day.

Kitchen and Baths
These rooms should sparkle! Clear off counters, and clean all appliances and fixtures. Scrub the floors and walls. Re-caulk tubs and showers. Clean these rooms thoroughly, and be sure they smell fresh. Never leave dishes in the sink, and run the dishwasher often!

Take those things to Goodwill that you’ll have to discard anyway when you move. Organize shelves and straighten shoes. Be sure that sliding doors operate smoothly and knobs on drawers are secure.

Utility Room
Dust and wash the washer, dryer and water heater.

Light and Bright
Do everything you can to brighten the interior. Replace wallpaper with white or off-white paint, and repaint shabby or dark walls. Open the blinds, and replace broken windows and window seals. Always maintain a comfortable temperature inside the house, even if you are away for an extended period of time. Keep the heat on in the winter, and the air conditioning on in the summer!

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10 Biggest Selling Myths Uncovered

Selling a house can be a bit like having a baby — everyone gives you advice that may or may not be true for you. Here are ten myths uncovered:

  1. Myth: You should always price your home high and gradually lower it if it doesn’t sell.
    Truth: Pricing too high can be as bad as pricing too low.You may think by listing high you can always accept a lower offer, but if you do, you’ll miss the buyers looking in the price range where your home should be. Offers may not even come in, because interested buyers are scared off by the price and won’t bother to look. By the time the listing price is corrected, you will have lost a large group of potential buyers. Your real estate agent will offer you a comparable market analysis. This is a document that compares your home to other similar homes in your area, with the goal of helping you to accurately assess your home’s true market value.
  2. Myth: Minor repairs can wait until later. There are more important things to be done.
    Truth: Minor repairs make your house more marketable, allowing you to maximize your return (or minimize loss) on the sale.By and large, buyers are looking for an inviting home in move-in condition. Buyers who are willing to tackle the repairs after moving in automatically subtract the cost of needed fix-ups from the price they offer. You save nothing by putting off these items, and you may likely slow the sale of your home.
  3. Myth: Once potential buyers see the inside of your home, curb appeal won’t matter.
    Truth: Buyers probably won’t make it to the inside of the home if the outside of your home does not appeal to them. Most people judge a house by its “cover.”Many buyers drive by a home before deciding whether or not to look inside. Your home’s exterior will have less than a minute to make a good first impression. Spruce up the lawn, trim shrubs and trees, and weed the garden. Clear the walkways and driveways of leaves and other debris. Repair gutters and eaves, touch up the exterior paint and repair or resurface cracked driveways and sidewalks. Place potted flowers out front, hang a wreath on the door and put out a pleasing welcome mat for added curb appeal.
  4. Myth: Once potential buyers fall in love with the exterior look of your home, you put interior improvements on the back burner.
    Truth: Buyers have no qualms about walking right out the front door within 60 seconds if the house doesn’t look like it could be theirs.Remember that most buyers are looking for an inviting home in move-in condition. Spending a few thousand dollars for the right work on your home before you sell it, usually translates into a higher selling price and shorter marketing time. Your real estate agent will consult with you about the repairs and replacements that will benefit you most.
  5. Myth: Your home must be every homebuyer’s dream home.
    Truth: If you get carried away with repairs and replacements to your home, you may end up over-improving the house and not getting back all the money you put into it.At some point, improvements that you make to your home can exceed what is customary for comparable homes in your area. For instance, there may not be another swimming pool in your entire subdivision. After spending $20,000 to install an in-ground swimming pool that you hope will lure buyers, you may find that it only raises the market value of your home by $10,000 because there are no other comparable properties to support the market value of the pool. As a rule of thumb, if your improvements push your home’s value higher than 20% above average neighboring home values, don’t expect to recoup the entire amount of improvements. Your real estate agent can advise you as to the scope of projects you might consider in preparing your house for sale.
  6. Myth: Buyers are never swayed by sellers that offer creative financing options.
    Truth: By offering flexibility in financing options, you may lure more prospective buyers.You might consider offering seller financing, paying some of the buyer’s closing costs, including a one-year home warranty, or other buyer incentives. Your real estate agent, who has professional knowledge of local market activity, can help you decide what incentives, if any, to offer.
  7. Myth: You are better off selling your home on your own, thus saving the commission you would have paid to a real estate agent.
    Truth: Statistically, many sellers who attempt to sell their homes on their own cannot complete the sale without the service of a professional real estate agent. Over 80% end up using an agent, so stop stressing, a have a professional do the job for you!Sellers who sell their home without a real estate agent often net less from the sale than sellers who use one. You visit a doctor when you’re sick and take your car to a mechanic when it needs repairs. It makes sense to contact a real estate professional when you are preparing to sell your biggest asset!
  8. Myth: Good sellers should be available to guide prospective buyers through the home, giving the whole process a more personal touch.
    Truth: Prospective buyers will feel more like the house could be theirs if the current owners are not there.The presence of homeowners during a viewing can make buyers feel like they are intruding. They need to be able to visualize your house as their home, which can be difficult to do when they are acutely aware that it is still your home. Your real estate agent will be happy to look out for your home during open houses or showings.
  9. Myth: Successful sellers insist that the terms of the sale happen their way or no way.
    Truth: If you approach the sale of your home as the buyer’s adversary, you risk losing a perfectly solid buyer for no good reason.Both you and the buyer have the same goal: for you to sell your home and for the buyer to buy it. Work with your real estate agent to approach negotiations positively and with a win-win frame of mind.
  10. Myth: When you receive an offer, you should make the buyer wait. This gives you a better negotiating position.
    Truth: You should reply immediately to an offer! Your first offer more often than not may be your best offer!When a buyer makes an offer, that buyer is, at that moment in time, ready to buy your home. Moods can change, and you don’t want to lose the sale because you stalled in replying.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can’t I get a better deal by buying through the listing agent?
No! The listing agent has loyalty to the seller and not to you. Even if they get approval from both parties to be a dual agent they cannot give you advice on what to offer, nor can they give you a market analysis on the property. Of course they can advise you to make an offer and they will deal honestly and fairly with you, but they cannot advise you in the same way a buyers agent can.

If I attend an open house, and am interested in the house, who is that agent representing?
You don’t know unless you ask or they tell you. By law, the agent has to discuss agency disclosure at the “first substantive contact” with the buyer, which usually occurs if you show an interest in the house. They may be representing the seller, or may be a dual agent with both parties permission. Perhaps they are standing in for the listing agent, and they are then considering a “designated dual agent.” You really should have this discussion before it is too late and you say something you may regret later.

How much do I put down with the contract? Where does that money go?
The standard amount is 10% of the selling price i.e. $50,000 on a $500,000 house. You can write a personal check and the money is held in a non-interest bearing account by the seller’s attorney. This amount is sometimes negotiable to 5%, or less on a lower down payment deal.

Once I put down the down payment, in what situations would I get my money back?
You usually have 30 days to obtain financing, and if you are turned down by your lender and you show proof, you can work with your attorney to get your money back, but this is highly unusual as we will have you pre-approved for a loan before you go to contract.

What does the seller usually pay for if there are issues after an inspection?
The seller pays for termites and leaking underground oil tanks. Anything else would be negotiable, but if there is a leaking roof or leaky pipes, or a structural problem, they are often responsible for that as well.

Does the inspection get done before or after the contract is signed?
The inspection is done within 48-72 hours of the accepted offer, before the contact is signed.

Do I have to hire an attorney?
In this area, yes, both the seller and buyer hire attorneys to represent their best interests. The seller’s attorney will draft the contracts and overnight them or fax/email them to the buyer’s attorney, usually in 1-2 days. The attorney will negotiate the contract and represent you at the closing.

How long does it take to get a mortgage?
Anywhere from a few days up to 30 days depending on the bank and how quickly you give the bank all the documentation they require. The bank appraisal should happen right after you apply and that usually takes about a week.

Why should I use the vendors and contacts you recommend?
Not everyone is responsive and does a good job. The people I recommend do a great job and I have influence with them so the job will get done efficiently and quickly. If you hire someone I do not know and they are slow or unresponsive they probably will not respond to me either!

How often will you follow up with us?
Sometimes it will be several times a week, and sometimes just once a week. We have systems in place to make sure nothing falls through the cracks, and good followup is a primary focus of ours. Our team uses Blackberries for email and even when someone is out of the office there is always good coverage.

How many homes will I need to look at before I find the right house?
Usually no more than 8-10 houses. We will not waste your time and show you houses that don’t fit your wants and needs. That would not be a good use of your time or ours. We have considerable expertise so will zero in on the right homes and it will be easy to make a decision!

Is the closing usually on the date shown in the contract?
The closing is rarely on the exact date in the contract unfortunately. It is meant to be approximate but don’t take it literally. There is actually up to a 30 day period which is considered reasonable for both the buyer and seller to adjourn the closing. So it is Important to pay attention to when your bank commitment expires so you don’t need an extension which is costly and somewhat complicated.

What can hold up a closing?
Lots of things: the property survey, missing CO’s on the home, lawyers, banks. There are many things that can hold up a closing but our job is to keep these to a minimum so you don’t become anxious.

What are the three most important things I should do to prepare my home for sale?
Remove clutter, paint and remove wallpaper, and remove old carpet. Also, of course the home should be sparkling clean. We will introduce you to a home staging service which will more than pay for itself. If you want to get “top dollar” for your home, this is a must!

I need a first floor master bedroom, or a first floor bedroom. How would I search for this in a home?
I can do that for you! We now have the ability to search our MLS for a first floor bedroom. So just let us know and we will set up a search for you!

I have a dog. How can I find a pet friendly building?
We have a list of pet friendly buildings on Cloud9Condos but they do change regularly, so just email me if you need an accurate list, or what to know what is available. We will need to know your dog’s weight, and the breed, as some buildings are restrictive by weight and particular breeds.

I am interested in buying a bank owned foreclosure property. Aren’t they usually the best deals?
Not necessarily. Foreclosures are best suitable for sophisticated buyers who are handy and have a lot of cash. The banks as sellers can be difficult to deal with and are generally not willing to make repairs or any disclosures as to a property’s condition. The contracts are “as is” and are usually non-negotiable. You need to hire an agent and an attorney who is familiar with the process and you must be prepared to act quickly! For most buyers, I recommend they hire a buyer’s agent and go with a less risky purchase. Most foreclosure properties need a lot of fixing up and might have hidden defects, so buyer beware! We do have expertise in this area and are always willing to help buyers make the right decision.


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All reports reprinted from REALTOR Magazine Online by permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS. Copyright 2003. All rights reserved.