First Time Buyers

Should I Bother Going to Open Houses?

It’s Sunday afternoon, and you are thinking about buying a home. Is it worth it to go driving around the neighborhood or area that you are interested in to see if there are any open houses in the area?

What are the Benefits of Attending an Open House?

  1. Open Houses are a pain free way of viewing several homes in one particular neighborhood or area. Yes, you do have to sign in with the realtor who is listing the open house. Yes, they may follow up with you in the future. If you are looking for a realtor, this could be the easiest way to find one. Make sure to be honest with the realtor about where you are in your home buying journey. If you are just looking, indicate that on your information form and let the realtor know that you are not seriously in the market yet.

  2. Open Houses are a great way to compare the finishes of the homes in a particular neighborhood. Getting a feel for if most of the homes have tile or wood floors, granite countertops, custom cabinetry, etc in a neighborhood will help you recognize both what the norm is and what homes exceed the standard with special upgrades and finishing touches.

  3. Open Houses help you to understand different floor plans and what you like/don’t like in the layout of a home. Make sure to take notice of things that delight you about each home. This will help focus you on the essentials when it is time to seriously look into buying.

  4. Open Houses can help you understand more about the neighborhood and history of the home and its buyer. Make sure to ask the representing realtor any question you have about the street, school, history or area.

  5. Open Houses also help you acclimate to the pricing of homes in an area. Comparing several different open houses, what each home offers, and the price will work together to give you a better grid for your affordability, amenities, and ideal neighborhood.

What Should You Be Making Sure to Take Note of as You Are Looking at an Open House Home?

  1. Look for evidence of DIY in the home. Are there some finishes/repairs that appear to be a non-professional, DIY fix? Take note of these, as they probably reflect the overall quality of the repairs/upkeep in the home.

  2. Make sure to look up at ceilings and under sinks, etc. Water damage is a serious issue and you want to keep your eyes out for any visible signs of leaks or mold.

  3. Look at cracks and crevices. Straight line settling cracks are normal in a home, but if you start to see abnormal lines that jut out from the seams of a home, then you might have an indicator of foundation problems.

  4. Take note of any areas of neglect in the home. Do you see any places (pool, yard, air filters, etc) that obviously have gone overlooked for a long period of time? These areas will most likely take a lot of effort to restore or replace after long periods of neglect.

  5. Take note of the scent of the home when you first walk in. Often times scents are hard if not impossible to get rid of. Even after long periods of time, if a house is closed up for a while, it can go back to smelling like it did when you originally purchased the home. See if you can discover what is causing the scent (pets? mold? smoke?) and determine if you think that could be changed over time.

  6. Make sure to take note of the amount of storage in the home. Storage is extremely important as you go through different stages of life and can be the reason why you outgrow a home. So, make sure that any home you move into has ample storage space from the onset of purchasing the home.

  7. Take a look at the neighborhood around the home. Does the neighbor have an RV parked in the front yard? Is there someone across the street whose garage is always stuffed to the brim and wide open? Do others leave their trash cans out on the street for multiple days at a time? Watching the way that others in the neighborhood move and operate can give you a feel for the maintenance and overall feel of the neighborhood.

  8. When you are in the home, take note of all of the views out the windows. For example, when you are cooking, what will you be looking at everyday? If you have a view out the master bedroom, is it a peaceful one or will you have a neighbor so close that they can see in and comment on what you are doing? Make sure your views and positioning of the home afford you the privacy and aesthetic that you need to truly feel at rest in your space.

  9. Make sure to consider traffic on the street that you are considering purchasing a home on. Go outside to both the front and the back yard, and listen for road noise and any other city sounds.

  10. Finally, take notice of the property taxes and HOA fees assessed on the property. Compare the figure to other similar properties or neighborhoods in the area. Sometimes two relatively similar homes in different neighborhoods can have a drastically different monthly price tag when taxes and HOA fees are considered.

So, how about checking out your local open houses this weekend? Click on the button below to get started!

How Do Austin Schools Stack Up To Those In Surrounding Suburban Areas?

The Texas Report Card has come out for the 2017-2018 school year and the encouraging news is that Austin ISD has great schools in the urban core that stack up equally to those in the surrounding suburban areas. In fact, one of Austin’s top high schools racked up the honor of best public high school in Texas: Liberal Arts & Science Academy (LASA), a public magnet school located on the LBJ campus, earned the distinction from the neighborhood and school review site Niche.

Three other Austin-area high schools also cracked the state’s top 25 list: Westlake High School in the Eanes district ranked no. 5, Westwood High School in Round Rock’s district placed no. 8, and Vandegrift High School in Leander’s district landed at no. 14.

So how are the school’s measured, exactly? The Texas report card takes the following categories in mind when scoring its schools:

Overall Ranking: is a combined score after looking at the accountability rating of each school, data from the Texas Academic Performance Reports, and financial information.

Student Achievement: Students are assessed through the STAAR test in the Student Achievement Domain. Additionally, high schools are assessed on College, Career, and Military Readiness (CCMR) and Graduation Rates.

School Progress: Evaluates proficiency and growth as well as school progress through comparison of school districts with similar socioeconomic status. This domain is extremely important to campuses that are labeled Improvement Required (IR) as they make measured progress in meeting state standards.

 Closing the Gap: Takes into consideration successes of various student groups such as students enrolled in special education, economically disadvantaged, or English learners.

Taking these scoring system into account, let’s take a closer look at how Austin measured up compared to Rock Rock ISD and Leander ISD:

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So, the good news is this: whether you desire to live in the urban core of Austin or prefer the suburbs, great public schools are accessible in all areas of greater Austin.

Also, a piece of real estate advice: even if you don’t have kids, pay attention to what school the home you are buying is zoned to. Depending on its scores and reputation, the school you are zoned to can have a big impact on the value of and appreciation of your home.

What to Consider When Buying a Home

The key turns, the door opens, the excitement mounts. Will this be the home of your dreams or a potential nightmare? What items should you beware of when checking out a home to buy? Follow this simple list below to help make sure that you are not just looking at the outward appearance of the home but also at the inward “bones” or structure of the home as well.

What to Look for When Buying a Home:

1.     Turn on faucets and even the shower—Does the home have the kind of water pressure that you like or need? If not, could this be easily fixed?

2.     A/C Unit-Air conditioning units are a major expense, and some houses can have multiple units that need upkeep or replacing. Make sure to take a look at the physical unit for signs of rust or decay and note how the home feels. Is the A/C working well to regulate the temperature? Ask the seller for the age of the unit or to see the service record & upkeep of the unit over the years.

3.     Roof-A new roof is a major expense. A quick visual examination of the roof will give you an initial idea of its age and condition, but you really will need an inspector to get up and walk on the roof to truly know how many more years you will be able to get out of it. Make sure to ask the sellers for the age of the roof and for a list of any roof repairs that have been done along the way!

4.     Appliances-Open all appliances that convey with the home and look inside of them. Don’t be afraid to turn them on and make sure they work properly (and then turn them back OFF again!). If you are planning on replacing appliances, take measurements to make sure that your new appliance will fit within the alcove/space of the current appliance!

5.     Ceilings-Many buyers forget to look up and take note of the condition of the ceiling. Make sure to notice if there are any visible water leaks or if there are ceiling patches and fresh paint. If so, ask questions about roof leaks and past water damage. Take note of cracking and settling lines as well. If the cracks run along the seams of the house, then they could just be regular settling. However, if the cracks run down a wall or in an unusual pattern, then they could be evidence of a larger foundation problem.

6.    Foundation-In addition to looking up, make sure to look down and all around the house at the foundation. Does it look like it is in good visible condition? Do you see any cracks on the outside of the house running in an unusual pattern through the exterior of the home? A foundation repair is one of the most major repairs you can do on a house—and a good reason to run the other way when considering a home purchase.

7.     Loose wires— Any loose wires that you see are obviously a safety issue. Make sure to ask questions about any light fixtures or electrical outlets where you see loose wires that don’t make sense.

8.     Under the sink—Make sure to take the time to look under all sinks at the pipes. Do any pipes look cracked or rusted? Do you see any water stains on the cabinetry or flooring below?

9.     Windows—Make sure to go over by the windows and stand for a while. Can you feel the outside air? Note the quality of the windows (single paned? double paned?) and how well they are doing at keeping the weather out of the home. This will have direct impact on your energy bills!

10.  Outside—Make sure to note the environment outside of the home. Is it located on a busy traffic street? Take a listen and make sure you like what you hear. Is it located in a potential flood zone?  Do you see any fire hazards?  Is there anything you need to be made aware of about living on or near a gas line? Make sure you are aware of any outside environmental hazards that could impact your peace of mind in your new home.

11.  Smell-Take note of how the home smells as you enter and remember that smells are hard to get out of a home.  Whether it’s cigarette smoke, a sewage line, mildew, etc, these odors can be difficult to expunge and should be considered when purchasing an existing home.

12.  Turn on all lights & open all cabinets –Make sure everything works well in the home.  For example: Is there a kitchen cabinet that collides directly with the dishwasher door when it is open? These are the sorts of functional, spatial issues that many buyers overlook when considering the purchase of a home.

13.  Flooring/countertop surfaces- Take note of the materials and condition of the flooring and countertops in the home. Although these may not be a deal breaker, they can be expensive to replace and need to be taken into consideration when considering the price tag of a home.

14. Think through the design & layout of the home—Does it fit with your lifestyle? Will there be a functional place to use most of your existing furniture? Is there wall space for your favorite wall hangings? Does the layout line up with what you value? For example, if you value hosting large parties, is there a great room space where people could mingle that would help facilitate this value?

15. Part of town/school districts—Location is a huge part of a home and can be one of the largest determiners of resale value. Make sure to do your homework about neighborhoods and schools before you begin looking!


What to Overlook:

1.     Paint- Many buyers let paint colors persuade them too much in the sale or refusal of a home. Remember that paint is a relatively cheap fix and can easily be changed in a matter of days in a home. If you love the home and the above list checks out, then overlook the paint color!

2.     Normal settling lines-As houses age, they develop normal cracks and settling along the seams of the house. However, these cracks can be “unsettling,” especially to first-time home buyers. If the foundation checks out, you do not need to worry about these normal crack lines (they can be caulked!), and the home is still safe to purchase.

3.     Small repairs- I’ve seen home buyers walk away from a home because they didn’t like the stone surrounding the fireplace, or the tile on the backsplash of the kitchen. Keep in mind that, on the grand scale of things, these are small jobs that can be replaced for anywhere from $800-$1000. So, if the rest of the house is wonderful, don’t let a small job like a fireplace surround or kitchen backsplash throw you off of your game.

4. If it isn’t PERFECT—Here’s a little secret for you: no house is totally perfect and there is a bit of compromise involved in every home transaction. So, if the home meets the most important criteria on your list then don’t eliminate it just yet. Continue to develop its potential in your head and see if the advantages of the home significantly outweigh the disadvantages. If so, then this still may be the home for you! For example, one client loved all the natural light in the house but was frustrated that there was not a window directly above the kitchen sink to look out of. After many weeks of debate, the clients decided to go ahead and get the house as the lack of window was the only hiccup for them. The clients then ended up using a mirror in that space instead that reflected all the natural light from the house, kept the kitchen light and bright, and helped the homeowners keep an eye on their kids while they were doing the dishes! The moral of this story is to keep an open mind about the home and know that you are looking for the home that speaks to you and your family’s needs the most!

Property Taxes...Should I Escrow or Not?

Many first time homeowners have questions about taxes + insurance and how they will impact a monthly mortgage payment. When you set up your mortgage, you may have some choices in regards to how often you pay toward your property taxes and insurance, but first it’s important to see what category you fit in to better understand your options:

Category One: If you are putting less than 20% down on your home OR if you have an FHA loan, you will likely be required to set up an escrow account with your lender. An escrow account is part of your loan paperwork and agreed upon at closing. Each month, your lender collects the required insurance and tax payments from you along with your mortgage amount. The money then gets held in an escrow account and used to pay off the insurance and property taxes either annually or semi-annually, whenever they are due. The lender takes care of these payments for you out of your escrow account and pays directly into the insurance company and county tax office for you. While these payments are collected at the same time as your monthly mortgage payment, they are technically separate. The convenience of an escrow account is that it forces you to save for these big annual or semi-annual bills every month along the way. However, many times the lender does not grant any interest on the money sitting in an escrow account whereas if it were sitting in your own private account, the same money could have some interest earning potential.

Category Two: If you are putting more than 20% down on your home or have your home paid off, you have some different options when it comes to property taxes and insurance. Instead of setting up a required escrow account, you can accumulate the money you need for insurances and taxes on your own, earning interest on that money all the way up until the time it is due. When the bill comes, you are in charge of paying the taxes directly to your county tax collector and the insurance payment directly to your insurance company. In Austin, the tax bill always arrives around Christmas and is due at the end of January. The disadvantage to this method is that it requires discipline to make monthly payments to yourself in your savings account and earmark that money for insurance and taxes. You do not want to be surprised by a hefty annual bill (right at Christmastime) and have no accumulated savings to pay it. However, avoiding escrow does ensure that your mortgage payments are consistent from month to month throughout the year. If you have an escrow account and your property tax bill or your insurance premiums suddenly jump, you might not be made aware of the change until the end of the year when you see the breakdown from the lending company.

Whatever your decision when it comes to paying insurance and property taxes, it is important to discuss your options with your realtor and financial lender to make the most financially sound decision for you!

Seasonality in Real Estate

While you might not think the seasons of the year have an influence on the price you are paying or asking for your home, it can make a big difference – in some cases, as much as 10%.

Seasonality of Real Estate—What are the Key Factors?

1. Weather-Weather impacts the seasonality of real estate differently, depending on the climate your home is in. For example, in some popular ski resort towns, homes prices can skyrocket during the winter months, while winter impacts the market in other areas negatively. Understanding how the weather and its seasons impacts real estate value is an important consideration both for buying and selling.

 2. School Year- Studies have shown the busiest moving times of the year occur during the summer, with June being one of the busiest months and July 31 the single busiest moving day.  This data means that people are most likely to shop the housing market from the beginning of May through the summer months.

 3. Holidays- Many people do not want to move or uproot their family during the holidays, which essentially eliminates the period between November and January.  Many people do not want to add a move on top of all the extra obligations of the holiday season.  However, as a buyer, the holidays would be a good time to leverage a lower priced market combined with some holiday vacation days! 

What Does Seasonality Mean for Home Buyers? 

For a home buyer, it’s better to buy in an “off season.”   As a buyer in off season, you will have more negotiating room, less competition, and overall lower prices for the houses on the market during the off season. In addition, sellers may be more willing to give more concessions such as money for repairs or a longer closing period in order to firm up a contract on a house during the leaner selling months.

What Does Seasonality Mean for Home Sellers? 

If you are a seller, you want to obviously sell during those summer months, when the competition is fierce and the market is hot.   Multiple offers and bidding wars are your friend as a seller.  However, the downside is that when you are a seller, it usually means that you are also a buyer.   In an ideal world, sell in the spring/summer months to make the most profit on the home that you are selling. Then find a 4-6 month temporary living arrangement that would allow you to wait to buy until the winter or holiday months when seasonality and lower prices are typically on your side as a buyer.


I’m Thinking of Buying/Selling. What Are My Next Steps?

If you are working with a real estate agent, they should be able to provide you with the market metrics for different seasons in your area. By comparing different months and years, you’ll be able to identify where there are significant peaks and lows in your current market and determine when your areas ideal periods for both selling and buying. Interested in the Austin area? Contact me today 512-817-0855. I would be happy to provide you with market trends of any area in Austin and a seasonal analysis of the best time to buy or sell!