Around the halls of Windermere, we’ve decided that 2018 is the year to hit #refresh; it started with the launch of the refreshed Windermere brand earlier this year and today it continues with the unveiling of our refreshed website! The new Windermere.comis a result of a lot of research and input from our agents, franchise owners – and most importantly – consumers. As you can probably tell, we couldn’t be more excited! Let’s dig in.
Where we innovated:
Through the research process we discovered that over 85 percent of all traffic on our website occurs on our home page, search results, and property detail pages. This made it fairly easy for us to figure out what we wanted to focus on with the refresh. Plus, we heard from our regular site visitors that they felt those were the areas that needed the most improvement. Done, done, and done.
A much happier homepage:
We started with a total redesign of the Windermere.com homepage, which now better reflects the updated Windermere brand that we invested so much energy into earlier this year. The homepage is also now “location-aware” which means it will display listings that are geographically located closest to you. Because if you’re in Fort Collins, Colorado, you probably don’t want to be looking at listings in the suburbs of Boise. Catch our drift?
Mobile site, fast as lightning:
Next on the list to fix was our mobile site. We threw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater and started from scratch. The result is an ultra-fast, highly-optimized mobile site that we think might even offer a better user experience than our desktop site (although it’s next to impossible to pick which is better; please don’t make us do it).
Sexy search results:
OK, you probably wouldn’t normally describe search results as sexy, but it’s arguably one of the most important pages on our website, so we spent a lot of time here. What you see in your search results, and how those results are presented, has a major impact on your home search experience. We completely revamped how search results show up, as well as what you see when you click through to see a specific home. Is it the greatest search makeover of all time? Possibly.
Major eye candy:
As we all know, photos and videos are the beginning and end of everything these days, so we’ve placed even greater emphasis on those stunning images on our new property detail pages. We’ve also made it super easy for you to share listings that you love with your friends via social media, email, etc. because #sharingiscaring.
That’s it, go check it out:
Without further ado, we cordially invite you to check out our brand new website for yourselves by going to Windermere.com. If you’re someone who regularly uses our site, we hope you love it. If you’re someone who doesn’t typically use our site to search for homes, we hope you’ll give us a shot. If you feel like it’s completely on point, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you don’t, we’d still love to hear from you! After all, any feedback is good feedback – but please, play nice.
Happy home searching!
Moving is stressful, whether it’s across town or cross-country. Once you’ve closed on your house, the reality of packing, moving, and setting up a new home can become overwhelming. While no list can make a move “stress-free”, planning ahead and staying organized can help make your move a little smoother. Here is our list of tips:
- Once you know your prospective move date set up a quick timeline to make sure you can get all the important tasks done and ready in time for your move.
- Consider how much stuff you have by doing a home inventory. This can help you decide whether you need to hire movers to help you or if you will be managing your move on your own. Many moving companies supply inventory lists to help you assess the size of truck you will need. You can use your list as double duty for insurance purposes later.
- As soon as you decide how you will be moving, make your reservations. In general, moving companies and truck rental services are over-booked at the beginning and very end of the month. If you are planning on hiring a moving company, contact a few in your area for a price quote. To find companies ask your real estate agent, family, or friends, and consult online reviews. It is also a good idea to request a quote and compare companies.
Preparing for your move:
- Moving is a great opportunity to get rid of clutter, junk, or outdated items. Set aside some time to sort through your closets, storage spaces, files, drawers, and more. Go through cluttered areas and organize items by “keepers”, “give-aways” and “garbage”. You will have less to pack and an opportunity to update after you move. Contact a local nonprofit organization for your donations; some will arrange to pick up larger donations like furniture. If you have items of value, eBay or Craigslist are good options.
- Changing your address is one of the more tedious tasks in the moving process. You will need to change your address with the United States Post Office. You can find the online form here.
- You will also need to change your address with each account you have. Here is a list to get you started:
- Utilities (Electric, Water/Sewage, Oil/Gas)
- Cable/ Telephone
- Cell phone service
- Credit Cards
- Magazine subscriptions
- Insurance companies (auto, home/renters, health, dental, vision, etc.)
- Other personal services
Let the packing begin:
- Before you start packing, it may help to visualize where everything you have will go. Perhaps furniture will fit better in a different room? Consider the floor plan of your new home and figure out what will go where. This will aid in packing and labeling as you box everything up.
- Use a tool like floorplanner.com to plan where furniture and items will go.
- When it comes to packing you have some options. You can work with a service that provides reusable boxes for moving or you can reuse or purchase cardboard boxes. Make sure you have enough boxes, packing tape, dark markers, and packing paper.
- Pack rooms according to your floor plan. Label boxes with contents and room. This will make it easier to unpack your home, knowing where everything is going.
- Real Simple magazine has some great tips on packing for your move.
- If you have to disassemble any of your furniture, make sure you keep all the parts and directions together.
- Make sure you set aside your necessities for the day you move. Being tired and unable to take a shower or make your bed can be hard at the end of a long moving day. Here are some ideas of what you may like to pack in your “day-of-move” boxes
- Clean linens for the beds, pillows and blankets
- Clean towels
- Shower curtain, liner and hooks
- Toiletries, hand soap, toothbrush, etc.
- Disposable utensils, cups, napkins, etc
- Rolls of toilet paper
- Snacks and water
- Change of clothes
- Tools for reassembling furniture, installing hardware, and hanging photos
Making your move
- Come up with a game plan with your family, so everyone has a role and a part to play.
- Once the house is empty, do a once over on your old place to make sure it is clean for the next owners/occupants. Here is a useful checklist for cleaning.
Warming your new home
- Once you have settled into your new home, warm it up by inviting friends and family over to celebrate.
- Announce your move to far-away friends and family through moving announcements to make sure you stay on the holiday card mailing list.
You have many tough choices to make as you start looking for the home of your dreams and prepare to make one of the largest financial decisions of your life. Finding the right agent to represent you shouldn’t add to your worries. I’ve met a few real estate agents over the years and here are 5 tips to help you find a great one.
- Ask your friends and neighbors. Most consumers find their agents through referrals from those close to them. You’ll get real world references (good and bad) from the people you trust.
- Search your online networks. Search for real estate agents within your professional network on LinkedIn.com. LinkedIn can show you the agents who are 2nd and 3rd degree connections within your network. LinkedIn will even show you the agent’s resume and recommendations, mutual connections and offer to introduce you.
- Search local listings. Spend some time looking at homes similar to the one you wish to purchase or plan to sell on your favorite real estate website. Which agents are posting the best photos and doing the best to represent homes through their marketing efforts? Which agents are the most active in the area?
- Search Yelp. Yelp.com started as a place where people could write reviews and rate restaurants and bars. Today, Yelp has become the one-stop site for reviews of local businesses and professionals. Take a look at the highest rated agents in your area and read what your neighbors have to say about their service.
- When in doubt, Google it. When you’ve narrowed your search down to a list of possible agents start typing their names into Google. Google is a quick and easy way to see how active an agent is in the online world. If your agent has a common name include location or company search terms as well. You’ll be able to see any blogging or community activities they are involved in. You will also be able to see how active they are on real estate sites like Zillow and Trulia. Working with an agent who is active online, benefits you because they are more likely to have larger networks and a greater reach with marketing efforts.
To get a quality home inspection, ask the right questions before you put your inspector to work. Here are some of the basics.
What does your inspection cover?
Insist that you get it in writing. Then make sure that it’s in compliance with state requirements and includes the items you want inspected.
How long have you been in business?
Ask for referrals, especially with newer inspectors.
Are you experienced in residential inspections?
Residential inspection is a unique discipline with specific challenges.
Do you do repairs or make improvements based on the inspection?
Some states and/ or professional associations allow the inspector to perform repair work on problems uncovered in an inspection. If you’re considering engaging your inspector to do repairs, be sure to get referrals.
How long will the inspection take?
A typical single-family dwelling takes two to three hours.
How much will it cost?
Costs can vary depending upon a variety of things, such as the square footage, age and foundation of the house.
What type of report will you provide and when will I get it?
Ask to see samples to make sure you understand his reporting style. Also make sure the timeline works for you.
Can I be there for the inspection?
This could be a valuable learning opportunity. If your inspector refuses, this should raise a red flag.
Are you a member of a professional home inspector association? What other credentials do you hold?
Ask to see their membership ID; it’s some assurance.
Do you keep your skills up-to-date through continuing education?
An inspector’s interest in continuing education shows a genuine commitment to performing at the highest level. It’s especially important with older homes or homes with unique elements.
Any other good questions to ask? Post yours now!
Appraised value vs. market value
Appraisals are designed to protect buyers, sellers, and lending institutions. They provide a reliable, independent valuation of a tract of land and the structure on it, whether it’s a house or a skyscraper. Below, you will find information about the appraisal process, what goes into them, their benefits and some tips on how to help make an appraisal go smoothly and efficiently.
The appraised value of a property is what the bank thinks it’s worth, and that amount is determined by a professional, third-party appraiser. The appraiser’s valuation is based on a combination of comparative market sales and inspection of the property.
Market value, on the other hand, is what a buyer is willing to pay for a home or what homes of comparable value are selling for. A home’s appraised value and its market value are typically not the same. In fact, sometimes the appraised value is very different. An appraisal provides you with an invaluable reality check.
If you are in the process of setting the price of your home, you can gain some peace-of-mind by consulting an independent appraiser. Show him comparative values for your neighborhood, relevant documents, and give him a tour of your home, just as you would show it to a prospective buyer.
What information goes into an appraisal?
Professional appraisers consult a range of information sources, including multiple listing services, county tax assessor records, county courthouse records, and appraisal data records, in addition to talking to local real estate professionals.
They also conduct an inspection. Typically an appraiser’s inspection focuses on:
- The condition of the property and home, inside and out
- The home’s layout and features
- Home updates
- Overall quality of construction
- Estimate of the home’s square footage (the gross living area “GLA”; garages and unfinished basements are estimated separately)
- Permanent fixtures (for example, in-ground pools, as opposed to above-ground pools)
After considering all such information, the appraiser arrives at three different dollar amounts – one for the value of the land, one for the value of the structure, and one for their combined value. In many cases, the land will be worth more than the structure.
One thing to bear in mind is that an appraisal is not a substitute for a home inspection. An appraiser does a cursory assessment of a house and property. For a more detailed inspection, consult with a home inspector and/or a specialist in the area of concern.
Who pays and how long does it take?
The buyer usually pays for the appraisal unless they have negotiated otherwise. Depending on the lender, the appraisal may be paid in advance or incorporated into the application fee; some are due on delivery and some are billed at closing. Typical costs range from $275-$600, but this can vary from region to region.
An inspection usually takes anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours, depending on the size and complexity of your property. In addition, the appraiser spends time pulling up county records for values of the houses around you. A full report comes to your loan officer, a real estate agent or lender within about a week.
If you are the seller, you won’t get a copy of an appraisal ordered by a buyer. Under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, however, the buyer has the right to get a copy of the appraisal, but they must request it. Typically the requested appraisal is provided at closing.
What if the appraisal is too low?
If you appraisal comes in too low it can be a problem. Usually the seller’s and the buyer’s real estate agents respond by looking for recent and pending sales of comparable homes. Sometimes this can influence the appraisal. If the final appraisal is well below what you have agreed to pay, you can renegotiate the contract or cancel it.
Where do you find a qualified appraiser?
Your bank or lending institution will find and hire an appraiser; Federal regulatory guidelines do not allow borrowers to order and provide an appraisal to a bank for lending purposes. If you want an appraisal for your own personal reasons, and not to secure a mortgage or buy a homeowner’s insurance policy, you can do the hiring yourself. You can contact your lending institution and they can recommend qualified appraisers and you can choose one yourself or you can call your local Windermere Real Estate agent and they can make a recommendation for you. Once you have the name of some appraisers you can verify their status on the Federal Appraisal Subcommittee website: https://www.asc.gov/National-Registry/NationalRegistry.aspx
Tips for hassle-free appraisals:
What can you do to make the appraisal process as smooth and efficient as possible? Make sure you provide your appraiser with the information he or she needs to get the job done. Get out your important documents and start checking off a list that includes the following:
- A brief explanation of why you’re getting an appraisal
- The date you’d like your appraisal to be completed
- A copy of your deed, survey, purchase agreement, or other papers that pertain to the property
- If you have a mortgage, your lender, the year you got your mortgage, the amount, the type of mortgage (FHA, VA, etc.), your interest rate, and any additional financing you have
- A copy of your current real estate tax bill, statement of special assessments, balance owing and on what (for example, sewer, water)
- Tell your appraiser if your property is listed for sale and if so, your asking price and listing agency
- Any personal property that is included
- If you’re selling an income-producing property, a breakdown of income and expenses for the last year or two and a copy of leases
- A copy of the original house plans and specifications
- A list of recent improvements and their costs
- Any other information you feel may be relevant
By doing your homework, compiling the information your appraiser needs, and providing it at the beginning of the process, you can minimize unnecessary phone calls and delays. Of course, always as your agent if you have any questions.
The “estimated” home prices you see posted online can be off by tens of thousands of dollars—not because they are dishonest, but because the computer programs generating these guesstimates don’t take into account the current condition of a house, the amenities that are included, the qualities of the surrounding neighborhood, and so much more.
A real estate agent’s appraisal will not only consider the selling prices of surrounding properties, as the online services do, but also take into consideration a host of other criteria. For instance, when it comes to assessing the surrounding neighborhood, the following factors can often significantly affect the market price of a home:
The quality of neighborhood schools has a dramatic impact on home price, whether buyers have school-age children or not. In the most recent study on the subject, researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that above-average public schools (those with math scores 4.6 percent better than the average) increased the value of nearby homes by 11 percent (or an average of $16,000) in the St. Louis area.
A park within walking distance
Parks are so important to families today that simply having one within a quarter mile can increase the value of a house by 10 percent, according to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
The impact that retail areas have on home values depends on the type of community. According to a study recently released by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, homes in urban areas sell for six percent to eight percent more than average if they’re within a quarter mile of a retail cluster (shops and restaurants). However, in suburban communities, it’s the homes that are a mile from any retail centers that sell for the most (homes located closer than that actually sell for eight percent less than average).
Because we’re a car-oriented society, most people are willing to pay more to live within a couple miles of an on-ramp to a major highway or freeway, which saves gas and speeds commute times. However, if the home is located too close (within a half mile of the freeway), the associated noise and air pollution can push the price in the opposite direction.
Vacant lots in the vicinity
Being surrounded by vacant land can be a good thing in rural areas, but it’s usually a negative for urban homeowners. A recent Wharton School study found that higher concentrations of unmanaged vacant lots in an urban neighborhood drag down the values for surrounding homes by an average of 18 percent.
Proximity to nuisances and environmental hazards
Two recent studies (one from an Arizona assessor’s office, the other by the University of California Berkeley) show that homes located near a landfill or power plant usually sell for four to 10 percent less than more distant homes. The same can usually be said for homes located too close to manufacturing facilities—especially those that make lots of noise or produces noxious odors.
According to a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the value of a home decreases by one percent for every foreclosed home within 250 feet of it. Why? The lower sales prices of foreclosed homes can quickly drag down the neighborhood’s comparable prices. Plus, the owners of these properties usually don’t have the money or interest in maintaining them after they go into foreclosure, which can create an eyesore for all the other homes in the vicinity.
Percentage of homeowners
Are there more owners than renters living in the neighborhood? If so, property values are usually better than average. Homeowners tend to take better care of their property than renters or landlords, which improves the curb-appeal for the whole community.
Some communities have a wealth of quality public services available to them—including regular street cleanings, scheduled street repair, graffiti removal services, landscape maintenance, neighborhood beautification efforts, and more. Needless to say, homes lucky enough to be located in those areas typically command higher property valuations.
Home sellers can use these factors to justify a higher asking price. Buyers can use them to try and negotiate something lower. However, when it comes to attaching specific dollar amounts, that is something best left to your real estate agent, an objective professional with a deep understanding of the local market.
Thanks to all-time-low interest rates, the number of homeowners refinancing their mortgages is at an all-time high. Of course, no one should refinance just because everyone else is doing it. But, for many homeowners, the benefits are simply too hard to ignore any longer.
Save money each month. According to Freddie Mac (The country’s largest purchaser of home mortgages), the average homeowner who refinances is able to cut their monthly payment by $108 (almost $1,300 per year) for a $200,000 loan.
Save even more in the long run. If you currently have a 30-year mortgage, refinancing with a 15-year version can save you thousands of dollars in interests over the life of the loan, plus allow you to build equity in your home faster than ever.
Switch to a fixed-rate mortgage. Refinancing with a fixed-rate mortgage gives you the security of knowing that your monthly payment will remain steady, regardless of whether lending rates rise or fall in the years ahead.
Access emergency funds. Something the mortgage industry calls “cash-out refinancing” allows you to take out a new mortgage for more than your current principal balance and use the additional money for other expenses (remodeling, college, a major medical procedure, etc.). Of course, this option should only be considered if you have a real need for the money and a solid plan for paying it back.
Consolidate debt. While consolidating credit card debt under a home loan may not be wise (unless you have a plan for controlling any additional spending), refinancing to consolidate two mortgages at these record-low rates can provide significant savings in both cases.
Things to consider beforehand:
Before moving ahead with a refinance of your own, a number of factors need to be considered (and numbers crunched) before you can determine how much you’ll actually benefit and if you can qualify for the best rates:
Closing costs. The fees associated with refinancing your mortgage are called “closing costs” and generally add up to somewhere between three and six percent of your loan amount (between $7,500 and $15,000 for a $250,000 mortgage refinancing). While there are ways to lower some of those costs, you’ll still want to weigh those expenses against how much you stand to gain.
For example, let’s say you figure you’ll be able to save $100 per month by refinancing, and you’ve calculated the closing costs at about $10,000. That means you’ll need to continue living in the house for at least eight more years before the savings surpass the closing costs. In the mortgage industry, this is referred to as the break-even point; and the longer you continue living in the house beyond the break-even point, the more money you’ll save.
Your credit score. It depends on the circumstances, but most borrowers will need a credit score of 700 or higher to get access to the best rates and closing costs. To determine your score, get a copy of your credit report from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. (Why all three? Because, if there’s any difference, most banks will use the lowest score.)
Your current level of home equity. To qualify for refinancing, your current level of “equity” (the difference between the market value of your home and the balance of your current mortgage) typically must be 20 percent or more. That means, if the market value of your home is $250,000, the remaining balance on your loan would have to be $200,000 or less.
Pre-payment penalty. Check to see if your current mortgage includes a pre-payment penalty for refinancing. That would likely make refinancing too expensive even at these record-low rates.
The importance of timing
Mortgage rates have sustained record lows over the last few years, and they will likely stay relatively low for the next few years. However, even a small increase can make a drastic change in the amount of money you will pay over the duration of your loan. Getting the lowest rate you can, will benefit your finances over the long-term.
Getting the process started is easy. Begin by checking your equity and credit score, then crunch the numbers using one of the many online mortgage calculators.