Property Taxes

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!


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!