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7 Important Repairs to Make Before Selling A House

by The Schnoor Team

The most critical things to do to increase your home’s value before putting it on the market.

As a smart seller, you’ll want your home in tip-top shape — but you don’t want to eat into your profits by overspending on home improvements. You won’t be around to enjoy them anyway. The key is to focus on the most important repairs to make before selling a house to ensure every dollar you spend supports a higher asking price.

“Smaller and less expensive updates in combination with good staging will have a great return,” says Colorado Springs agent Susanna Haynie. But how do you know what things to do before putting your house on the market? Prioritize these updates — and consider letting the rest go.

#1 The Most Important Repair to Make Before Selling: Fix Damaged Flooring

Scratched-up wood flooring; ratty, outdated carpeting; and tired linoleum make your home feel sad. Buyers might take one step inside and scratch the property from their list. Want to know how to increase the value of your home? Install new flooring.

“Replace what’s worn out,” says Haynie. “Buyers don’t want to deal with replacing carpet, and giving an allowance is generally not attractive enough. Spring for new, neutral carpeting or flooring.”

If your home already has hardwood floors, refinishing does the job. Expect to spend about $3,000 on the project — and recoup 100% of the cost, according to the “National Association of REALTORS® Remodeling Impact Report.”

Consider swapping any old flooring for new hardwood. This project costs more at around $5,500, but you could recoup more than 90% of that at resale. If that’s not in the budget, any flooring update makes an enormous difference.

#2 Fix Water Stains

You’ve learned to live with the results of a long-fixed plumbing snafu, but for buyers, a water stain suggests there could be a dozen pesky problems hidden beneath the surface. That’s why this is one of the things to do before putting your house on the market.

“No buyer wants to buy a money pit,” says Haynie.

First, make sure the problem is fixed: Bring in a plumber to look for leaky piping or poor yard drainage if your basement is damp. Diverting rainwater from your foundation may cost as little as $800, and repairing a leaking pipe costs approximately $300.

As for the repair work, replacing a water-stained ceiling runs about $670, and drywall costs around $1.50 per square foot.

All are cheaper than a lost sale.

#3 Repair Torn Window Screens

So super inexpensive — and even DIY-able. You can purchase a window screen frame repair kit from a home improvement store for $10 to $15.

Considering the simplicity of this repair, making the fix is always worth it — and so are other small but highly visible issues. When you’re debating how to increase the value of your home, nix any small problems, snags, or ugly spots that might make buyers scrunch up their brows.

#4 Update Grout

Is your grout yellowing or cracked? Buyers will notice. New grout, on the other hand, can make old floors look like they came straight from the showroom.

“The best return-on-investment projects before selling a home involve making a home look like new,” says Malibu, Calif.-based agent Shelton Wilder. She recently sold a home above asking price after a complete re-grout.

This is another small fix with a big impact: Simple bathroom re-grouting may cost just $1 to $2 per square foot, increasing to $10 per square foot for more complicated jobs. And if you’re handy, you can save even more DIY-ing it.

#5 Resuscitate a Dying Lawn

Nothing says, “This one’s gonna take some work” like a brown, patchy, weedy lawn.

Fixing the problem doesn’t cost a ton of money — and you’ll get it all back (and then some!) once you sell. Hiring a lawn care service to apply fertilizer and weed control will cost about $375. Once you sell the home, that comparatively cheap fix could recoup $1,000. That’s an unbeatable 267% return on investment.

#6 Erase Pet Damage

Did your (sort of) darling kitten scratch your bedroom door? Fix the damage before listing your home. Otherwise, buyers may consider the scuffs a canary in the coal mine.

“If you have pet damage, buyers will [then] look for pet stains on the floor,” says Haynie.

Refinishing a door costs between $100 and $215 (or less, if you’re willing to DIY). Replacing pet-damaged carpeting or hardwood may be a bigger job than buffing out some scuffs — but it’s worth the cash.

#7 Revive an Outdated Kitchen

A full kitchen renovation is rarely worth it when it comes time to sell — even though buyers love a fresh look. “Kitchens are still one of the most important features for buyers,” says Haynie.

The problem is, this $65,000 upgrade isn’t something that buyers will pay you back for. Sellers recoup about 62% of a full-on kitchen renovation. If you’re updating the space just for your sale, focus on low-cost, high-impact projects instead.

“Updating the kitchen doesn’t need to be expensive,” says Wilder. “Painting wood cabinets, updating hardware, or installing new countertops or appliances could be enough.”

Setting up your home for selling success doesn’t have to be expensive. Focus on the most important repairs to make before selling a house by picking projects that do more than look pretty. Choose updates that get your home in selling shape and justify a higher asking price.

Source: "7 Important Repairs to Make Before Selling A House"

The Best Time of Year to Buy Things for Your Home

by The Schnoor Team

When to look for sales on mattresses, appliances, tools, furnishings, and materials.

Buying stuff can be stressful. Cheap out, and you could regret it. Overspend, and you’ll cut into your budget. Knowing the best time of year to buy appliances and other household items can lessen the anxiety.

Here’s a list of the best time of year for sales.

Furniture: January and July

You could save 30% to 60% buying furniture in January and July, as stores try to clear out inventory and make way for new pieces, which manufacturers introduce in February and August.

Floor samples especially often sell for a song, so don’t hesitate to ask.

Storage Essentials: January and August

In August, retailers slash prices and offer free shipping on shelving, organizing systems, baskets, and storage bins, baiting parents who are packing kids off to college or getting organized for a new school year. (No offspring? No problem. Proof of parenthood is not required to qualify for deals.)

It happens again in January, when stores roll out more sales — and selection — to help you find a home for all those holiday gifts and meet your organizing goals for the New Year.

Linens and Towels: January

Department store “white sales” — launched in 1878 — are still a favorite marketing tactic and make January the best time to binge on high-quality bedding and towels. If the exact color or style you’re seeking is out of stock, ask in-store for a rain check, so you can get exactly what you want at the price that can’t be beat.

Major Appliances: January, September, October, and the Holidays

The prices on this year’s appliances bottom out when they suddenly become last year’s models. With the exception of refrigerators (more on that below), you can pick up last year’s models for way less in September, October, and January, when stores are making room for new inventory.

For good deals on this year’s models, wait for Black Friday and the holidays. The season rivals inventory clear-out bargains as the best time of year for sales on appliances. And if you’ve got more than one appliance on the fritz, holidays are often the time to find incentives for buying multiple items.

Mattresses: February and May

Even the most obscure holiday seems to inspire mattress sale commercials. Annoying, yes, but also a reminder that you should never pay full price for a mattress. The best time of year for sales is February (courtesy of Presidents Day) and May (Memorial Day).

Many department stores offer coupons for additional savings on the sale price, while specialty chains — which have the biggest markups — can drop prices 50% or more. But don’t waste your time price shopping: Manufacturers have exclusive deals with retailers for each model, so the only way to find a lower price is to snuggle up to a different mattress.

Refrigerators: May

Unlike other big-ticket appliances, new fridges are released in May. Combine the need for retail turnover with Memorial Day sales, and you get epic savings nearly all month long, making it the best time of year to buy a new refrigerator.

Snow Blowers: March and April

The best time to pick up a low-cost snow blower is exactly when you DON’T need it: in March and April. That time of year, no store wants them taking precious floor space away from spring merch like patio furniture and grills.

Vacuums: April and May

New vacs debut in June, so last year’s models go on sale in April and May — just in time for spring cleaning.

Roofing: May

For the lowest price on materials, buy in May.

But if you’re paying a pro to install a new roof, contractor rates begin their climb April 1 and stay high through fall. So if weather allows for wintertime installation, you could save big.

Gas Grills: July and August

Come July 5, there’s still smoke in the air from Fourth of July fireworks, but stores are already moving on to Halloween, with Christmas not far behind. So, they’ll cook up juicy savings on grills and other summer staples in July and August. Sales peak by Labor Day, so you could pick up a new grill and still have time to host one final summer hurrah.

Lawn Mowers: August, September, and May

August and September are the perfect time to retire an ailing mower. You’ll find the lowest prices of the year (but also the slimmest selection) as stores replace mowers with snow blowers. Retailers also kick off the season with sales every April. You generally won’t save quite as much, but you’ll have more choices.

Perennials: September

Unlike non-perishable goods, there’s not much retailers can do with last season’s perennials, so September brings savings of 30% to 50% and two-for-one offers on plants like hostas, daylilies, and peonies. And note that independent gardening stores can typically offer deeper discounts than big chains.

Cooler weather also makes this a great time of year to plant. How’s that for a win-win? If you prefer planting in the spring, many nurseries offer 10% to 20% off when you pre-order in February or March.

Power Tools: June and December

Power tools are a favorite go-to gift for Father’s Day and the holidays, so June and December are the best time to buy tools like cordless drills.

Paint: January, May, July, November, and December

Prices for interior and exterior paint bottom out when the mercury (and demand) falls — in November, December, and January, but also when it rises back up, in May and July.

HVAC equipment: March, April, October, and November

Like snow blowers, the best time to buy furnaces and whole-house air conditioning systems is when you don’t need them. Prices are lowest during months with moderate temperatures — generally March and April, then October and November.

Many installers also run promotions during these slow seasons to help load their books. They also may be more willing to negotiate a lower price or throw in a free upgrade like a fancy thermostat.

Flooring: December and January

From mid-December and into January, homeowners tend to take a break from major remodeling projects because of the holidays. Flooring retailers and installers are looking for business, so that gorgeous wide-plank flooring or luscious carpet can be yours for an even more scrumptious price. Happy Holidays to you.

Source: "The Best Time of Year to Buy Things for Your Home"

Hey, Buyers: These Home Appraisal Tips Are for You

by The Schnoor Team

What to expect, when to negotiate, and how to deal when things don’t go your way.

Most people have deeply personal reasons for wanting to buy a home. Maybe it’s the bathroom that feels like a dreamy, modern spa. Or that two-tiered deck just made for parties.

Your lender doesn’t care about the freestanding tub. Or the built-in outdoor fire pit. Their only concern is that the house you buy is worth as much as the value of your mortgage.

To them, a house isn’t a home. It’s collateral. (Harsh, but true.) If someday, for some reason, you can’t make your mortgage payments, the lender can foreclose on the home and sell it to recoup all or some of its costs. (Even harsher, but also true.)

For that reason, a home must be valued at, or above, the agreed-upon purchase price, and this has to happen before you can close on a house. That’s where a home appraiser comes in.

A Home Appraiser Is Neutral (Like Switzerland)

After you sign a home purchase agreement (the contract between you and the seller about the terms of the pending sale), and before your lender approves your loan, the home you’re buying must pass an appraisal — an assessment of the property’s value by an unbiased third party: the appraiser.

An appraiser is a state-licensed or -certified professional. Their job is to assess an opinion of value —how much a house is worth. The appraiser is on no one’s side. They don’t represent you or the seller; instead, this person is a contractor chosen by your lender through an appraisal management company (AMC), a separate, neutral entity that maintains a roster of appraisers.

Appraisers survey a house in person, using five main criteria to determine the value of a home:

  • Location
  • Age
  • Condition
  • Additions or renovations
  • Recent sales of comparable homes

Be Prepared to Pay for the Appraisal — or to Negotiate

Generally speaking, the home buyer is responsible for paying for the appraisal — and the fee is typically wrapped into your closing costs. However, who pays for appraisal is negotiable. It never hurts to see if the seller is willing to cover it.

How much money are we talking about? The average professional home appraisal will run between $287 and $373, according to estimates by the home-professionals resource HomeAdvisor.com. Costs can vary depending on the square footage and quirks of the house, with higher appraisal prices for larger or more unique homes.

Appraisals Take a While, So Be Patient

Typically, a purchase agreement has a “home appraisal contingency” requiring that the appraisal be completed within 14 days of the sales contract being signed. Because it takes appraisers some time to visit your house and write a report — up to a week, or longer in a busy housing market — your lender will order the appraisal immediately after you sign the purchase agreement.

So, You Have a Valuation. Here’s What It Means — and What to Do Next

When the appraisal is finished, the appraiser issues a written report with his or her opinion of the value of the home. To produce the report, they use their analysis of the property and data from comparable homes, as well as review the purchase offer. The report will outline their methodology and also include photographs that they’ve taken of the property, inside and out.

You and your lender will both receive a copy of the report. Three things could happen next:

  • If the appraiser’s valuation matches the price you and the seller agreed to for the home: Your lender will proceed to underwrite your loan. Great news: This is the final step in your loan-getting process!
  • If the appraiser’s valuation is higher than what you’re paying for the home: Congratulations! You’ve gained immediate equity. How, you ask? Let’s say, for example, you’re paying $200,000 for the house. If the appraiser says it’s worth $250,000 — jackpot. That’s an instant $50,000 in equity. (Keep in mind, this is very rare.)
  • If the appraisal is lower than what you’ve agreed to pay for the home: Your lender won’t give you a loan for more than the appraised value. If you and the seller agreed on $200,000, for example, but the appraisal is $190,000, that creates a $10,000 shortfall. So what happens next?

Don’t despair — not yet. If you’re faced with a low appraisal, there are several ways the deal can still go through.

If an Appraisal Is Low, You Can Still Make It Work

Before we talk strategy, some reasons why appraisals come in lower than expected:

  • The seller overvalued the price of the home.
  • The appraiser isn’t familiar with the neighborhood.
  • The appraiser overlooked pending sales data.
  • The appraiser had trouble finding comparable homes, or missed comparable homes, so they compared your home with properties outside the neighborhood.
  • Home prices in the area are changing so fast that the listing agent’s price no longer reflects the market.
  • The appraiser rushed the job.

If the appraisal comes in low, your agent will offer recommendations about how to proceed. In general, your best strategy is to persuade the seller to lower the sales price, or to split the difference between the home’s appraised value and the price with you. This is when you can rely on your agent — and their negotiating skills — to go to bat for you.

You can also appeal the appraisal assessment. You’ll work with your agent to research comparable homes that support the sales price you agreed upon with the seller and present this information to your lender, who will forward it to the appraiser for a re-evaluation of the home’s value. Ultimately, though, it’s up to the appraiser to decide whether to revise their valuation of the property.

Alternately, you can ask your lender for a second appraisal, though there are caveats:

  • You’ll have to pay for it out of pocket (or persuade the seller to foot the bill).
  • You’re more likely able to challenge an appraisal for a conventional loan than a government loan. And you’d need solid facts to back it up in either case.
  • There’s no guarantee that it will be higher and meet the sales price.

The last option: You can come up with the cash yourself to cover the difference between the home’s price and the appraised value.

If you don’t want to take that route (and who could blame you?), a purchase agreement’s home appraisal contingency gives you the ability to walk away from the deal scot-free, and with your earnest money deposit in hand.

But today, let’s assume it all works out. With the appraisal behind you, you’ll be one step closer to closing on that house.

Source: "Hey, Buyers: These Home Appraisal Tips Are for You"

OUR FAVORITE HOLIDAY RECIPES

by The Schnoor Team

Including biscochitos, green chile tamales, green chile posole, and pre-contact pudding.

CELINA ALDAZ-GRIFE, founder and co-owner of Celina’s Biscochitos, in Albuquerque, says her biscochitos often bring customers to tears as they think back to their own grandmothers, aunts, or mothers baking the customary Christmas cookie. Traditionalists, though, have sometimes become heated upon discovering that she’s riffed on the recipe with versions like red chile, green chile–pecan, lemon, and walnut-cranberry. “One thing I’ve learned is that it’s extremely personal to people,” Aldaz-Grife says. “I went into this thinking I was just making cookies. I realized I’m making something that means so much more.” Even as she adapts her grandma Maggie’s biscochito recipe, she makes sure each one is recognizably a biscochito. “We don’t want to stray away so far from the tradition that you can’t taste the original,” she says.

Like her, three other New Mexico chefs take similar liberties with some of the state’s favorite holiday treats. Among them: Chef Brent Moore of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s Pueblo Harvest Café, in Albuquerque. Native Americans, he notes, once ate  only heritage crops, like corn, beans, and squash; foraged for ingredients, like sage and wild spinach; and hunted wild game, like deer and rabbit. Some tribal members are returning to these pre-European-contact ingredients—a journey that Roxanne Swentzell chronicles in The Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook. Moore taps into the trend, too, albeit by adding modern culinary flair. “It’s a fine line between tradition and innovation,” he says. “We’re trying to highlight these old flavors without losing ourselves in it.”

When he was in elementary school, Jeff Posa’s side gig was lugging buckets of tamales made by his grandmother Aurora Lujan to sell at the Roundhouse. She founded the tamale-centric family business in 1955 and ran it until his parents took over in 1976. Jeff took the helm in 1990, overseeing Posa’s El Merendero Tamale Factory and Restaurant, renowned for making each tamale by hand—about 12,000 a day during the Christmas season. In addition to ordering the classics, customers requested vegetarian and vegan options, so Posa’s added green chile–cheese and calabacitas–black bean varieties, which have become a tradition over time, too.

Marie Coleman, Church Street Café’s owner, based the Albuquerque restaurant’s menu on her aunt Regina’s family recipes. Regina Jaramillo didn’t have a green chile posole in her recipe box, but when customers asked for it, the cooks ginned up a version with Hatch green chile. Coleman says diners like having the choice of red or green, even when it comes to their posole. Or they can opt for both and get it “Christmas.” And what’s more festive than that?

THE RECIPES

Celina’s Biscochitos’ Cranberry-Walnut Biscochitos

Celina Aldaz-Grife bakes this variety from November through Christmas; $17 for two dozen, in person or online (404 Osuna Road NW, Suite A, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, 505-269-4997, celinasbiscochitos.com).

Makes 4–6 dozen

  • 6 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound lard, at room temperature (or vegetable shortening)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 heaping teaspoons aniseed
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Cinnamon Sugar Mix (for coating)

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together.
  3. Separately, cream lard with sugar and aniseed. Add eggs one at a time until blended well. Add orange juice and brandy in a steady stream.
  4. Begin to add dry ingredients, including cranberries and walnuts, to the creamed mixture a little at a time. Hands are best for working the dough until it is somewhat flaky, like pie crust.
  5. On a lightly floured surface, begin to roll out the dough. It should be a quarter-inch thick. Cut out cookies, place on cookie sheet, and bake until lightly golden to golden, 7–12 minutes.
  6. Let cookies cool for at least a minute and then dunk them in the cinnamon-sugar mix. Place on a cookie rack until completely cooled.

Pueblo Harvest Café’s Pre-Contact Pueblo Pudding

This was a popular item last year, and Chef Brent Moore plans to bring this recipe back to his winter menu. He garnishes it with a glass-like ginger candy and candied pepitas (pumpkin seeds) to highlight contemporary culinary techniques (2401 12th St. NW, Albuquerque, 505-724-3510, puebloharvestcafe.com).

Makes 4–6 servings

Pumpkin Pudding

  • 2 pounds diced pumpkin or other hard squash
  • 3 cups walnut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped, plus extra for garnishing
  • 1 cup agave syrup
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Place all ingredients in large saucepan, bring to boil, then reduce to a simmer for 20–25 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. When finished, pumpkin should be easy to flatten with the back of a spoon. Allow to set and cool slightly.
  3. Sprinkle with candied pepitas (recipe below) and garnish with fresh or fried sage leaves. Enjoy warm.

Candied Pepitas

Makes 1/2 pound

  • 1/2 pound pepitas
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 cup water
  1. Place half the sugar and all of the water in a saucepan and stir while bringing to a boil.
  2. Add pepitas, stir, and simmer 10 minutes.
  3. Drain the pepitas. Arrange on a lightly greased sheet pan.
  4. While they’re warm, cover in the remaining sugar, tossing until all are coated well. Let cool at room temp in an even layer.

​​

Posa’s Green Chile–Cheese Tamales

Lucky Santa Feans can walk into El Merendero (Posa’s) for fresh tamales, but the company also ships nationwide; 10 tamales for $19.75 plus shipping (1514 Rodeo Road, Santa Fe, 505-820-7672).

Makes 2 dozen, 4-ounce tamales

To start: Soak 24 cornhusks in warm water for about 30 minutes until pliable while preparing the other ingredients.

Masa

  • 4 pounds masa harina
  • 2 cups vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons salt
  • 1 cup water
  1. Combine all of the above ingredients and mix well either by hand or with a mixer, until masa is smooth.
  2. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Green Chile–Cheese Filling

  • 4 pounds mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups diced green chile
  • 4 tablespoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons granulated garlic
  1. Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly by hand.
  2. If you enjoy a little more bite in the tamale, add another 6–8 ounces of diced green chile.

To Assemble:

  1. Spread about 4 tablespoons of prepared masa on a cornhusk, covering about  of it.
  2. Place 4 tablespoons of the filling on top of the masa in the center. Gently fold the left side of the husk over the center so that the masa covers the filling. Repeat on the right side. Fold edges of the husk over the masa and filling to close the tamale. Optional: Tie it with a strip of husk.
  3. Place in steamer with open ends of the tamales up. Steam until the cornhusks separate from the masa, approximately 1 hour.
  4. Carefully remove a test tamale from the steaming pot. Unfold the husk from one side. If it slides off the masa cleanly, the tamales are ready to enjoy.

 Church Street Café’s Green Chile Posole

Church Street Café serves Christmas Eve dinner, but you’ll need to make a reservation in October. “If you see balloons, then it’s time to make a reservation,” owner Marie Coleman says, referencing the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Thankfully, the green chile posole is on the menu year-round (2111 Church St. NW, Albuquerque, 505-247-8522).

Makes 8–12 cups

  • 1 pound pork loin, cut to bite size
  • 10 cups water
  • 1 pound of dried posole corn
  • 1 medium to large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 cups green chile
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  1. Rinse posole corn until water runs clear; drain.
  2. Place posole, pork, and 10 cups water in large stewing pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 3 hours.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and additional water, if needed, and continue to simmer for another 2 hours or until posole kernels burst and are soft but not falling apart.
  4. Serve warm with tortillas and butter.

MARIE'S TIP: Posole and pork may be cooked in a pressure cooker for 45 minutes on medium heat. Posole stew freezes well.

Source: "OUR FAVORITE HOLIDAY RECIPES"

8 Lesser-Known Fees That Factor Into the True Cost of Home Buying

by The Schnoor Team

Application fees, appraisal, inspection … a lot of little costs start to add up. Here’s how to be prepared.

This article was contributed by financial expert and blogger Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP, author, speaker, and founder of Workable Wealth. She provides financial coaching for individuals and couples in their 20s to 40s across the country, helping them make smart, educated choices with their money.

With your focus on building your down payment fund and figuring out what your mortgage payment will be, it’s easy to overlook some of the smaller fees that come along with a home purchase. Here are eight and what they could cost you.

#1 Home Inspection

A home inspection helps protect you from purchasing a home that could be a lemon. So you don’t want to forgo it. Inspectors will look for signs of structural issues, mold, and leaks; assess the condition of the roof, gutters, water heater, heating and cooling system; and more. Inspections cost between $300 and $500, and whether or not you end up purchasing the property, you still need to pay this fee.

#2 Appraisal Fee

This appraisal report goes to your lender to assure it that the property is worth what you’re paying for it. This report worked in our favor a couple of years ago when our home came back appraised for $10,000 less than our bid; the sellers had to reduce their asking price in order to move forward. An apprasial can take about 2 hours and costs between $200 and $425

#3 Application Fees

Before ever approving you for a loan, the lender is going to run your credit report and charge you an application fee, often lumping the credit report fee in with the application fee. This can run $75 to $300. Be sure to ask for a breakdown of the application fees to understand all costs.

#4 Title Services

These fees cover a title search of the public records for the property you’re buying, notary fees for the person witnessing your signature on documents, government filing fees, and more. These can cost between $150 and $400, and it’s important to get a line item for each cost.

#5 Lender’s Origination Fees

Your lender will charge you this upfront free for making the mortgage loan. This includes processing the loan application, underwriting the loan (researching whether to approve you), and funding the loan. These fees are quoted as a percentage of the total loan you’re taking out and generally range between 0.5 to 1.5%.

#6 Survey Costs

This report ($150 to $400) confirms the property’s boundaries, outlining its major features and dimensions.

#7 Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

When you put down less than 20% on your new home, the lender requires that you purchase PMI, which is a policy that protects the lender from losing money if you end up in foreclosure. So PMI is a policy that you have to buy to protect the lender from you. PMI rates can vary from 0.3% to 1.5% of your original loan amount annually.

#8 Tax Service Fee

This is the cost (about $50) to ensure that all property tax payments are up to date and that the payments you make are appropriately credited to the right home.

Always ask questions when it comes to understanding the fees you’re paying. If possible, print out documents and go through them with a highlighter to indicate any areas you have concerns about. Discuss them with your lender or real estate agent and determine if you can negotiate any of them down.

Don’t be afraid to price shop to ensure you’re getting the best value. Just because you’re spending hundreds of thousands on a home doesn’t mean you should be comfortable throwing thousands of dollars at fees.

Source: "8 Lesser-Known Fees That Factor Into the True Cost of Home Buying"

Keeping Your House Clean with Dogs While It’s on the Market

by The Schnoor Team

Grout can be a real problem because it soaks up pet odors.

Oof. Houses that smell or look like pets have lived in them are just harder to sell.

Here’s how to de-dog your house before putting it on the market — and how to keep it that way while you sell.

#1 Steam Clean Everything Fabric

“Job number one is to take care of [the soft surfaces in your house],” says Melissa Maker, star of an eponymous YouTube channel and owner of a Toronto cleaning service. “They hold odors and hair like nothing else.”

This includes carpets, rugs, upholstered furniture, and even the drapes, she says. Pets rub against drapes, getting oils, odors, and fur on the fabric. Send curtains out for a professional cleaning.

#2 Groom Your Pet

Get your pet groomed by a pro before you list your house. You can do it yourself, but a pro can get more hair and dander off than you can — plus, all that gunk is better off in the groomer’s drain than yours.

Brush your furry friend regularly (outside, preferably) while your house is on the market. Any hair you get off on a brush is hair that won’t end up on your sofa or in your rugs.

#3 Clean Tile-Floor Grout

Tile resists dog stains, but grout is porous and sucks them up like a sponge. “I had a cat who had an accident on a tile floor, and the pee seeped into the grout,” Maker says. Steam clean grout to lift old smells and stains. If your grout is really cruddy, hire a pro to chip out the old grout and put in new — or DIY it if you have the skills.

#4 Get an Air Purifier Tower

To you, it smells like home. But your HVAC has been circulating the same hair and dander again and again (especially in hot and cold weather when the windows are closed).

Add an air purifier tower with a HEPA filter; it pulls hair and dander out of the air before they even reach your HVAC.

Most air ducts don’t need to be cleaned, especially if you change filters regularly. But if dander and fur seem to be taking over, hire a duct-cleaning company before putting your home on the market.

#5 Use Enzymatic Cleaners

They’re the special forces of odor busters. Enzymatic cleaners are made of beneficial bacteria that eat stains and odors. They’re formulated to stamp out a specific type of stain, so a cleanser that targets urine won’t be the same as one for vomit.

“They’re cultivated for a specific mess,” Maker says. Apply them liberally to stains regardless of how old they are, before listing your house.

#6 Get Rid of Scratch Marks

Pet toenails leave telltale marks on doors and walls. For walls and doors made of synthetic materials, you’ll just need to paint over the marks. For a wooden door, use wood-filler pen can fill in the scratches. For hardwood floors, rub out small scratches with steel wool or fine sandpaper followed by mineral spirits, wood filler, and polyurethane. For major damage, refinishing the hardwood is a good investment with a stellar 100% ROI.

#7 Absorb Odors With Charcoal

Charcoal pulls moisture and odors out of the air. You can get inconspicuous little bags of it to hang in places your pets love most. Or, just strategically stash some charcoal briquettes around the house.

Just be sure to get the ones that aren’t presoaked with lighter fluid.

#8 Spot Clean Furniture Daily

If you’re like many pet owners, trying to keep your dog off the couch completely isn’t worth the effort. Instead, cover your freshly-cleaned furniture with throws or pet covers, and wash them at least once a week. Vacuum rugs and carpets every day. Pet smells sink in fast.

For quick hair removal before a showing, wipe down the couch with rubber gloves. The hair comes right off.

#9 Get a Sniff Test

You’ve scrubbed everything, and you think your house smells like a dog has never set foot in the door. Get a second opinion as to whether the odors are gone, Maker says. “You may be noseblind. Ask your agent to walk through and give you an honest opinion.”

Source: "Keeping Your House Clean with Dogs While It’s on the Market"


6 Near-Genius Ways to Fool Burglars Into Thinking You’re Home

by The Schnoor Team

Like telling your lights to turn on and off when you’re miles away.

Your Home: You love it, but sometimes you have to leave it.

Whether it’s the eight hours a day or eight days on a dreamy beach, allowing your biggest investment to fend for itself can be stressful. And it’s a legit concern; when your home looks empty, break-ins happen. A lot. Ugh.

You could deter burglars by never leaving your house again. Or you could do the next best (OK, way better) thing, and just make it look like someone is there all the time. Here’s how.

#1 Light Up a Room (From the Road)

Your parents may still rely on their lighting timer — on at 8 p.m., off at 7 a.m. That old-fashioned option still works, but apps are more fun. They not only turn your lights on and off, but can do so randomly for a more realistic effect. And you can decide to flip on your porch light while sipping a mojito in Fiji.

You can Google your options, but one affordable example is the Lutron Caséta Wireless system (about $80 for the device and $55 per switch). You replace your current wall switches with these wireless ones and “talk” to your lights from afar.

#2 Fake a Netflix Binge

Nothing says “we are definitely home” like the colorful glare of a television dancing in the window.

Put the little FakeTV gizmo where it can project light onto a curtain, and that’s exactly what your home will say to passersby.

The device (which runs between about $20 and $40 depending on size) plugs into an adapter and can either work on a timer or with a light sensor, so it can switch on when it gets dark.

#3 Change Up Your Shades Remotely

Leave your window shades down while you’re gone and you might as well put out a “Gone Fishin’” sign.

Check out wireless options to throw some shade on the go. Several companies have systems — including Hunter Douglas PowerView, Pella Insynctive, and Lutron Serena — that allow shades to go up and down at your command for about $300 to $500 a window.

#4 Make Some Noise

Burglars can change plans in a hurry at the first sound of life inside a home — they’re a bit tetchy that way. So one option when you’re just gone for the day is a noise app, like Sleep And Noise Sounds that can play on a homebound phone, tablet, or computer. With noises like vacuuming and a boiling kettle, it can deter a thief who cracks open a window.

#5 Make Them Ring And Run

“Burglars will often ring your doorbell, and if no one answers, they’ll go around back and kick in the door,” says Deputy Michael Favata with the Monroe County Sheriff’s office in New York. Now you can answer the door with the Ring Video Doorbell ($180 for the basic model).

If someone pushes the doorbell, you can talk to them through an app on your phone. Whether it’s your nosey neighbor or a sketchy stranger, you can say, “I’m in the basement” while you’re really on the slopes. They’ll never know. And even if they don’t believe you, they know they’re being watched (insert devilish laugh here).

#6 Try a No-Tech Technique

Not everything requires a gadget. Here are ways to up your home security without downloading a single app:

  • Hire a house sitter. Then someone will be home.
  • If there’s snow, have a neighbor walk up and down the path to your door, shovel a passage up to the garage door and drive in and out of the driveway. If it’s hot out, ask them to keep your plants looking fresh with regular waterings. And don’t forget to bring them a nice gift from your getaway.
  • Ask friends, family, or neighbors to just be present on your property — use your patio, play in your yard, or bring in the mail.
  • Invite a neighbor to keep a car parked in your driveway. During the holidays, they may be happy if they need overflow for visitors.
  • Install a fake security camera for as low as $8. Burglars may not notice these fakes don’t have all the wiring necessary to be real. And their blinking red lights offer reasonable doubt.
  • Get a dog. A real dog. While you’re at work or running errands, nothing deters bad guys and gals like a barking, slobbery security guard. And when you go away, having a pet sitter stay can be as economical as some boarding facilities (especially if you have multiple dogs), and you’ll get the benefit of a human and canine sentinel.

Source: "6 Near-Genius Ways to Fool Burglars Into Thinking You’re Home"


What’s Causing Those Spooky Sounds and Smells?

by The Schnoor Team

Are you haunted by strange noises and weird odors? With the proper maintenance, you’ve got more than a ghost of a chance to rest easy.

Creaking and Popping in the Night

The many materials that make up your house — wood framing, plywood, glass, metal ducts, nails, plumbing pipes — all expand and contract at different rates.

When a house cools at night, these materials may move slightly, rubbing against each other and making noises. Occasionally, they’ll contract with an audible pop.

These sounds tend to be more noticeable in fall, when warm days give way to rapidly cooling nights. The bad news? Not much you can do about it. The good news? Those sounds are harmless and normal.

Zombie Odor

It’s either time to throw out the garbage, or you’d better call your gas utility to check on your gas lines and connections.

Natural gas is odorless, but natural gas suppliers add a foul-smelling odorant — butyl mercaptan — to alert occupants to any leaks. The smell is like rotten eggs.

Leaks can occur at your gas-fired water heater, fireplace, clothes dryer, and any gas line. Leaking natural gas is potentially dangerous — leave the house and call your natural gas provider to assess the situation. Most utility companies perform safety checks for free.

Footsteps in the Attic

Amplified by an unfinished attic space, a raccoon or even a good-size squirrel on your roof might sound like an ax murderer is doing the polka overhead.

These rooftop transits are normal for critters — roofs offer a nice long unobstructed highway.

Make sure your soffit, rafter, and gable roof vents are covered with screens and in good shape, or your rooftop buddies might find their way into your attic for real. Trim back branches that provide critters easy access to your roof.

Something’s Burning

You can smell the odor of burnt wood, but the smoke detectors aren’t going off and there’s no smoke in the house. The culprit could be your fireplace — even if you haven’t had a fire for days.

The probable cause is a drafty chimney and negative air pressure in your home, meaning that outside air is infiltrating down your chimney, bringing stale burnt smells with it.

Stop drafts by making sure your damper has a good seal. Regulate air pressure by adding more cold air return ducts to your HVAC system. You’ll get rid of the odor and save on your energy bill, too.

Moaning and Clattering

These classic spooky sounds often show up when the wind blows and there’s a storm brewing.

Vents for clothes dryers, bathrooms, and water heaters exit out the roof or the side of the house. To prevent backdrafts, these vents have dampers — flaps designed to let vented air out and prevent outside air from coming in. Thesx`e flaps sometimes move and rattle in high winds.

Because dampers often are located in attics or in between floor joists, the sound can be difficult to pinpoint. You may need a new damper ($85).

Source: "What’s Causing Those Spooky Sounds and Smells?"

How to Use Comparable Sales to Price Your Home

by The Schnoor Team

Before you put your home up for sale, understand how the right comparable sales help you and your agent find the perfect price.

How much can you sell your home for? Probably about as much as the neighbors got, as long as the neighbors sold their house in recent memory and their home was just like your home.

Knowing how much homes similar to yours, called comparable sales (or in real estate lingo, comps), sold for gives you the best idea of the current estimated value of your home. The trick is finding sales that closely match yours.

What makes a good comparable sale?

Your best comparable sale is the same model as your house in the same subdivision—and it closed escrow last week. If you can’t find that, here are other factors that count:

Location: The closer to your house the better, but don’t just use any comparable sale within a mile radius. A good comparable sale is a house in your neighborhood, your subdivision, on the same type of street as your house, and in your school district.

Home type: Try to find comparable sales that are like your home in style, construction material, square footage, number of bedrooms and baths, basement (having one and whether it’s finished), finishes, and yard size.

Amenities and upgrades: Is the kitchen new? Does the comparable sale house have full A/C? Is there crown molding, a deck, or a pool? Does your community have the same amenities (pool, workout room, walking trails, etc.) and homeowners association fees?

Date of sale: You may want to use a comparable sale from two years ago when the market was high, but that won’t fly. Most buyers use government-guaranteed mortgages, and those lending programs say comparable sales can be no older than 90 days.

Sales sweeteners: Did the comparable-sale sellers give the buyers downpayment assistance, closing costs, or a free television? You have to reduce the value of any comparable sale to account for any deal sweeteners.


Agents can help adjust price based on insider insights

Even if you live in a subdivision, your home will always be different from your neighbors’. Evaluating those differences—like the fact that your home has one more bedroom than the comparables or a basement office—is one of the ways real estate agents add value.

An active agent has been inside a lot of homes in your neighborhood and knows all sorts of details about comparable sales. She has read the comments the selling agent put into the MLS, seen the ugly wallpaper, and heard what other REALTORS®, lenders, closing agents, and appraisers said about the comparable sale.

More ways to pick a home listing price

If you’re still having trouble picking out a listing price for your home, look at the current competition. Ask your real estate agent to be honest about your home and the other homes on the market (and then listen to her without taking the criticism personally).

Next, put your comparable sales into two piles: more expensive and less expensive. What makes your home more valuable than the cheaper comparable sales and less valuable than the pricier comparable sales?

Are foreclosures and short sales comparables?

If one or more of your comparable sales was a foreclosed home or a short sale (a home that sold for less money than the owners owed on the mortgage), ask your real estate agent how to treat those comps.

A foreclosed home is usually in poor condition because owners who can’t pay their mortgage can’t afford to pay for upkeep. Your home is in great shape, so the foreclosure should be priced lower than your home.

Short sales are typically in good condition, although they are still distressed sales. The owners usually have to sell because they’re divorcing, or their employer is moving them to Kansas.

How much short sales are discounted from their market value varies among local markets. The average short-sale home in Omaha in recent years was discounted by 8.5%, according to a University of Nebraska at Omaha study. In suburban Washington, D.C., sellers typically discount short-sale homes by 3% to 5% to get them quickly sold, real estate agents report. In other markets, sellers price short sales the same as other homes in the neighborhood.

So you have to rely on your real estate agent’s knowledge of the local market to use a short sale as a comparable sale.

Source: "How to Use Comparable Sales to Price Your Home"


How I Bought My First House From Out of State

by The Schnoor Team

And how I survived when my loan fell through before closing.

Name: Andrea Lawson, 36

City: Madison, Wis.

Year of Home Purchase: 2014

Sale Price: $222,500

Home style: 2006 condo

Profession: Social worker

When Andrea Lawson got a dream job in a new city, she knew exactly where she wanted to live: an urban, walkable neighborhood near her new job in downtown Madison. Though she was hesitant to commit to buying a home before knowing for sure the job and city were the right fit for her, rental prices made buying the smarter financial move.

In just a two-day trip to Madison, she found a place she liked, made an offer, and had it accepted by the seller. All was great until her loan fell through prior to closing.

Before we talk about the horror story of your deal collapsing at the eleventh hour, let’s start with your house hunt. What made you take the plunge and buy a home in a new city, even before you’d started your new job?

Andrea: Actually, I wasn’t ready to buy. I wanted to rent a place. But prices of rentals were steeper than I expected, because of pressure from the University of Wisconsin and the tech industry. Students snapped up the best rentals, and lots of people wanted to be in the city center.

You switched gears in 24 hours, going from looking-to-rent to looking-to-buy. How did you manage that fast of a change?

Andrea: I only had a weekend to look because I was still working in Michigan at my previous job. I had to make a decision fast. I got my agent Kari Manson Hvam [a referral from a friend], to help me find listings of houses for sale. Her access to the MLS helped me see what was available. I had a price limit and geographic requirement. The agent said, “These are the four properties that fit what you are looking for.” I looked at all of them in one day.

How did you know when you found The One?

Andrea: The condo had all the things I wanted. It was open and had south-facing windows that let in a lot of light. It has one bedroom, but it also has a Murphy bed so I would have room for guests. It was in the city center where it’s happening, not out in the boring ‘burbs.

There were waiting lists for rentals. Was it tough to get the condo?

Andrea: Not really. I was the only interested buyer. The developer still had it and was renting it out. It was listed at $234,000. My agent was helpful in determining where to start negotiations, telling me not to lowball too hard. I started at $215,000, and I ended up paying $222,500.

Was it hard to get a mortgage?

Andrea: No. I had been saving for six years, so I had the down payment. I have great credit. My agent gave me a couple of names of lenders. I called each one and went with the one that had an appointment that afternoon. I made an offer in June and did the paperwork in July. I met with the lender midway through the process, and the lender assured me everything was fine.

But you got to the closing, and everything was not fine.

Andrea: No, it was not. We got ready to sign the paperwork, and the lender said they could not underwrite the loan because they were missing some information on their end. We were unable to close. So I was there with my cashier’s check, and I couldn’t get my condo. I couldn’t move in.

Good grief. Were you crushed?

Andrea: I was disappointed — mostly in the lender. I feel like they dropped the ball. Worst of all, I was staying in an Airbnb until I closed on the condo, and my time was up there. I had no place to go.

So you had no mortgage and no home. What did you do?

Andrea: Thankfully, my agent was able to talk to the seller, and they let me move into the condo immediately and rent it until I could buy it. My agent also helped me find a local lender, a local bank. The condo association recommended them, too, and said there were several other people in the building who had gotten mortgages from them.

Things went better with the local bank?

Andrea: Yes, they did a great job. I was able to close a week after the first deal fell through. The woman I worked with at the local bank was nice. She said, “I don’t know what the problem was [with the other lender] because everything you need is here.”

Did you ever find out the problem with the other lender?

Andrea: No. The lender seemed to be interpreting some requirements for offering a loan on a condo very strictly. But I’m not sure because the first lender didn’t respond to any communication after the deal fell through. My agent and the condo people both said they had never seen anything like that happen.

Your advice for a first-time home buyer?

Andrea: Confirm if things are on track [with the loan], then confirm again. And if you’re debating between renting or buying, like I was, buy. For me, the total cost of my mortgage was a little more than a rental would have been, but it’s worth the investment.

Is living in a city condo all you had hoped it would be?

Andrea: Yes, I’m three miles from my job, and I bike to work at least once a week.

Even in the winter?

Andrea: In Wisconsin? Ha! No, I take the bus.

Source: "How I Bought My First House From Out of State"

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