As the local economy continues to rebound and Old Man Winter relaxes his cruel grip, we find that the American Dream of home ownership is alive and well in Genesee County. If visions of picket fences are dancing in your head, but the thought of entering the real estate market makes you feel like Odysseus navigating between Scylla and Charybdis, fear not! My City has consulted veteran real estate experts John Wentworth and Jennifer Tremaine to arm you with knowledge and help you get started, whether you’re buying or selling.
Okay, buyers… we know that if you’ve got home-ownership fever, you’ve probably already taken a peek at the real estate listings. Jennifer’s advice: Stop. “Please, please, please,” she begs, “don’t be like every other buyer and just start looking at listings.” Jennifer knows the heartache that comes with falling in love with a house you can’t afford. Instead she suggests that you complete the following three steps in order:
- Research & apply for financing
- Research & choose a realtor
- Research homes (the fun part!)
Okay, first things first. Find out everything you can about what you’ll need to make sure financing goes smoothly when you find your dream home: income statements, credit scores, interest rates, the amount you’re approved for, etc. Then, choose the lender that’s right for you. Second, find the right realtor. Despite the fact that every house on the market seems to be listed through a different realtor, you as the buyer have the luxury of choosing one realtor who will help you look at any house for sale, regardless of the company under which it is listed. Also, know that as a buyer, you do not have to pay your realtor for their services. “When a house is sold, it is the seller who must pay the real estate agents,” said Jennifer, “not the buyer. Realtor services are free for buyers.”
Jennifer says that finding the right realtor is essential to finding the right house because they act as counselors during the process. “While you’re looking for a house, we become part of the fabric of your life,” she said, “and that means getting to know you personally, you might even say intimately.” If you’re squirming with discomfort at the thought of disclosing your personal affairs to your realtor, consider this: how could they be useful in helping you make what may be the biggest decision of your life if they don’t know you? “If you don’t trust your realtor enough to open up to them about your life – including your finances – then they’re not the right realtor for you,” Jennifer stated emphatically.
Finally comes the fun part: the search. Technology has made searching more convenient than ever, as realtor portals can comb and select listings that match your dream house “profile” and send them to you instantly. Your realtor will liaise with other parties to arrange walk-throughs at your convenience, and the hunt is on! Jennifer’s only caution for enthusiastic – or should we say manic? – homeowner aspirants, is to try to think long-term. “In general, the biggest mistake I see is when a buyer only looks at how a potential home meets their current lifestyle. They don’t consider that their needs will probably change in time. If and when that happens, will this house still be their dream home?”
A House Divided
It’s perfectly charming: floor-to-ceiling windows, a walkout basement and a granite-laden master bath. Then, you find out that the roof is leaking… should you walk away?
Jenny says do not ignore:
- Roof & Exterior
It’s got cathedral ceilings and enough bathroom space for your entire family, but the carpet is horrendous! Should you leave that 70s shag for someone braver?
But you should ignore:
- Paint colors
- Carpet & the current owner’s dreadful furniture
- Your own furniture: “You wouldn’t believe how many people,” Jennifer says, “won’t buy the perfect house for them because their couch won’t fit in the living room.”
The Savvy Seller
On the other end of the universe (or closing table), are the sellers. There’s no denying it; selling your home is both bittersweet and stressful. Maybe you’re upgrading or downsizing, but whatever your motivation, you may be worried about the market. John Wentworth says that trusting your realtor’s expertise will make the process less painful and help you get the best price for your home. “Many local homeowners suffer under the misunderstanding that now is not a good time to sell, but the market is actually looking very good,” he said with confidence.
In order to get the highest value for your home, we suggest checking off the following To-Do list:
- Clear out your clutter: sell it, donate it, throw it away, or pack it up for the move, but get it out! You may look around at your furnishings and see homey comfort, but potential buyers see a cluttered mess.
- Deep clean: it’s amazing what you don’t see when you live in the same place for a while: a ceiling fan covered in four inches of dust, pine needles in the corner from last year’s Christmas tree … let’s just say it’s time to break out the cleaning supplies.
- Make small repairs: patch the sidewalk, paint a neutral color over the bright red wall in the living room, etc.
As for bigger changes, John says that the decision to remodel is based on several factors, including the market and where you plan to put your renovation dollars. “It’s no secret,” he said, “that clean, open floor plans with modern kitchens and bathrooms – granite countertops and hardwood floors – are highly sellable home features.” If your kitchen looks like the set of The Brady Bunch, this next piece of advice is directed toward you. “The primary value of the words ‘newly remodeled’ is that if you put your money into the right areas, which is to say the main rooms, you will get that money back in the sale,” John said. The takeaway point is this: a $20,000 deck will not translate to a $20,000 higher listing price, whereas that same amount poured into the kitchen certainly will. A word of warning to those already looking at knocking out a kitchen wall: consider the market. “In a seller’s market, where there is a scarcity of listings and a lot of buyers,” said John, “it may be best to leave the remodeling to the new owner, whereas in the opposite situation – where buyers are few and you are one of many homes flooding a market – a remodel may help your home stand out and sell quicker.”
Jennifer says that the average person will own three homes in their lifetime: a starter home, a family home, and a retirement home.
After you’ve looked at your home through a buyer’s eyes and removed any eyesores, it’s time to talk turkey: how much is she worth? “An experienced realtor helps a seller determine a price point by walking through the home and looking at its features and then finding comparable properties that have been sold recently to use as a guide,” said John. Researching on your own is a good idea, he added, but the key to a quick and successful sale is all in the presentation. With all the gorgeous home photography floating around on websites like Pinterest, a buyer’s eyes are quickly turned off by dim, blurry photography. “Our job is to stage your home and take professional photos to maximize the sellable features of the house,” John said.
Let’s say everything is squared away. Whether you’re buying or selling, you’ve come to an agreement, and you’re at the closing table. “There are up to seven parties at the close of a real estate purchase,” said Jennifer, “the buyer, the seller, up to two title companies, the lender and two realtors. Everyone needs to do their jobs to make sure the deal goes through. After that, you can celebrate!” The procedure is long and involved, but anyone who has gone through the process of buying or selling real estate can tell you, there really is no place like home.
Buy Buy Approval!
Tip: Don’t finance anything or even make a purchase on your credit card after you’ve been approved for a mortgage. Any little change will mess with your income-to-debt ratio and put your financing on hold.
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY JOHN WENTWORTH GROUP