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5 Budget-Friendly Tips for Decorating a New Home

by Mick Marsden

While there are plenty of reasons to feel stressed about a move, there are at least twice as many to get excited about — especially if this move means living with a partner for the first time. Moving in and of itself is a big life change, so it almost goes without saying that moving in together is an even bigger step. On the one hand, focusing on decorating your new space is a great way to keep that excitement alive and bond over common likes, goals, and comforts. On the other hand, it can cause some friction at times, from clashing styles to lack of cash.

 

 

You can help keep the enthusiasm of cohabitation alive by checking out these four budget-friendly home decorating tips.

 

Painting

 

Painting is a relatively inexpensive way to dress up a new home or apartment. Plus, it’s fun for many couples from start to finish, from picking out a color palette (blending different temperatures, for example) that charms you both. Picking a theme is one of the most entertaining parts of the painting process. However, keep in mind that you don’t have to just toss up one color and one color only. Professional designers recommend balancing your home with a dominant color that fills 60 percent of the space, a secondary color that covers about 30, and an accent that helps the remainder really pop. You can save money on paints by checking out the “oops” tables at Home Depot — these are paint colors that didn’t come out quite how the customer expected and they decided not to buy. You can also save money to taking advantage of in-store specials.

 

Organizing

 

You are going to have a lot of stuff to comb through and combine, which is why getting creative with your storage is a critical first step when moving in together. Kitchen and bathroom storage is especially important when it comes to keeping these frequently used spaces neat and tidy. Storage can actually reflect style, from keeping hand towels in woven baskets to a hanging pot rack in the kitchen. Remember to use online coupons and promo codes for stores like Bed, Bath, and Beyond to help keep these purchases within your budget.

 

Upcycling

 

Two people coming from two separate homes means you’re likely to have double of a lot of things — at least in the beginning. Instead of throwing out or donating, see what you can upcycle, which involves taking unused items and giving them new life as something else. For example, you can take the headboard of an extra bed and make a stylish dog bed, cozy bench, or raised flower bed. Speaking of flowers, old pots can make great planters, muffin tins can help you organize small items like sewing supplies, and a little spray paint can transform a scratched up cookie sheet into a portable magnetic memo board. Best of all, if you’re using items you already have, you don’t have to spend any money!

 

Emphasizing Shared Activities

 

Moving in together means much more than sharing your space; it means sharing your life. Whether you live in an apartment or house, you create a home by doing things in that home together — cooking meals, gardening, listening to music, reading, building or crafting, cleaning, and watching movies. Living with someone can be stressful, which is why it’s important that you make time for positive activities that kindle feelings of appreciation, hope, compassion, and love. You’ll find you can fund your fun simply by using coupons from sites like Coupons.com.

 

We know that in the midst of all this change, decorating as a couple can be a path to either great joy or great strain (and sometimes both). These four cost-saving tips will help you keep it light, loving, and lively.

 

Couples put strain on their relationships for a variety of reasons, but the most common sources of strife tend to center on money. Buying a home together is a big, exciting step for many couples, but it does put a lot of money on the line, both for now and for the future. It’s understandable that home buying has the potential to put anyone’s relationship—no matter how strong—in potential jeopardy. Here are some home-buying tips for couples.

 

Get on the same page about your wants and needs

 

The above could be good advice for any part of a relationship, but it’s especially important when it comes to home buying. Suzy, for instance, may want an older house in an older neighborhood. Sam may have always dreamed of living in a brand-new house in the country. Suzy may prioritize safely in her neighborhood, while Sam may prioritize proximity to work. As a couple, you must talk honestly about what you want in a house—from how many floors, how large, the backyard situation, etc. Until you come to some sort of compromise, you shouldn’t even begin to look for homes. 

 

Find your optimal budget and then shoot lower

 

Purchasing a home without doing a thorough audit of both of your incomes, debt, and other financial obligations is crazy (for more on debt-to-income ratios and affordability calculations, check here). Figure out what you can afford, and then look for homes that price a little lower than that. Give yourself some wiggle room.  If you go into the home-shopping process with a strict budget in mind, it can help you avoid arguments and force you to make logical, non-emotional decisions.

 

Also make sure you discuss the payment load. Who is going to pay for what? Are you going to split things 50-50? 70-30? As Realtor.com says, you can’t plan for things with a hug and a kiss. Spell it out. Put it in writing if you must.

 

Don’t make everything about house hunting

 

Looking for a home can quickly monopolize your entire life. It can consume every moment of free time you have—searching online, talking finances, going to open houses, etc. It’s fun most of the time, but it can wear on you. You must not let it get out of hand. You will find the perfect house. It doesn’t have to happen in a couple of weeks. 

 

Make sure you take a break from looking for a home to focus on your relationship. Have fun outside the realm of house hunting. Focus on being healthy together. Eat right and exercise together. Take a short vacation. Anything you can do to make your relationship a priority will help you come out the other side of this stressful experience stronger and happier. 

 

If unmarried, decide on how you take title

 

Once you’ve found a home, you’re going to have to figure out how to take title. This is easy if you’re married, but if you’re an unmarried couple, this can be confusing. There’s sole ownership, joint tenancy, or tenancy in common, all of which have their benefits and challenges. Yes, this means having a healthy talk about the future. As a loving, committed couple, you surely aren’t thinking about breaking up anytime soon, but having the talk will actually help you to de-stress.

 

In the end, remember to have fun. Yes, it’s a big commitment. Yes, you’re throwing around a lot of money. And yes, you will be forced to make decisions about your future as a couple. But this is one of those life events that you don’t get to experience that often. Take a step back, realize you’re in this together, and go from there. 

 

Photo by Kristina Litvjak on Unsplash

Marc Nadeau is one of the most reputable and competent appraisers I know. He's done great work for me in the past and in properties that were daunting to appraise. When I read his recent article: Demographic shifts and the impact on real estate values - by Marc Nadeau I felt the need to share his perspective. They sound, articulated in anyone grasp. 

So if you're seller or buyer you need to read this. 

Two Largest MLSs in Connecticut Approve Merger

by Mick Marsden
Two Largest MLSs in Connecticut Approve Merger  
 
Will merge to form one MLS that will be called SmartMLS.
 
WALLINGFORD, CT March 14, 2017 - The Connecticut Multiple Listing Service, Inc. (CTMLS), and the Greater Fairfield County CMLS (GFC CMLS) together representing over 17,000 real estate professionals in Connecticut, will merge to form one MLS that will be called SmartMLS.

The merger announcement follows the successful, unanimous votes of Directors and Brokers in both multiple listing services (MLSs) as well as the Board of Directors of Connecticut REALTORS®.  “I could not be more proud of the Realtor® spirit of this merger whereby the combined leadership of the CTMLS and GFC CMLS Board of Directors made a conscious decision to stay focused on the best outcome for our Realtor® members and the clients they serve,” said newly named SmartMLS President Michael Barbaro, he continued “as a result we were able to make it to today’s announcement in record time of four months.” 

The combining of the backend MLS databases is already in progress and full live operations will begin summer of 2017. Agents that previously belonged to both MLSs will instantly realize $522,000 in savings once SmartMLS begins operations. 

The driving force behind the merger is the recognition that overlapping MLS systems require agents to belong to multiple MLSs and perform duplicate listing entry.  Consumer expectation is that their agent and broker be able to access a complete inventory of properties for sale to produce the best possible pricing strategies for sellers, and the most comprehensive, timely, and accurate properties for homebuyers. 
 
About CTMLS and GFC CMLS
 

With a combined membership of over 17,000 real estate professionals, the newly merged MLS facilitates over 30,000 real estate transactions annually worth more than $13 billion.  Both CTMLS and GFC CMLS have a shared commitment to continue to provide services to subscribers in the state of Connecticut and out of area on an MLS platform that will include the offer of cooperation and compensation.  The newly formed MLS will be among the nation’s 20 largest in terms of membership.

New Rules for Home Mortgages

by Mick Marsden

We work a lot with the capable staff at Fenwick Mortgage. This month Christine Bulgini wrote about how the rules have changed for buyers, sellers, and self-employed folks as well. If you're buying or selling a home today you need to know the new rules and how they may impact your goals: 

Mortgage Matters: Housing Market...The New Rules of the Game

 

After taking a beating during the Great Recession, the housing market seems to be staggering back to its feet. But as we make our way back to some sense of normalcy, many new rules have been established - with still more to come.

 

For those buying your first home:

  • OLD RULE: Little or no down payment required
  • NEW RULE: It is now the norm for lenders to require a down payment of 20%. For those with less of a down payment, mortgage insurance will be required, but a good credit score along with other stricter guidelines must be met. And the higher the credit score, the cheaper the mortgage insurance premium. The biggest barrier we have seen to first-time home ownership has become saving enough for a down-payment.

 

For those selling a home:

  • OLD RULE: Once the market bottoms, hold out as long as you can to net the biggest price gain.
  • NEW RULE: As sales prices tend to drop as the year draws to a close, listing your home in the spring has become more valuable than ever.

 

For self-employed borrowers:

  • OLD RULE: With exceptional credit scores, income documentation not required
  • NEW RULE: Regardless of the amount of assets or the borrower's credit scores, self-employed borrowers must show sufficient income based on previous two years tax returns.
    • This is similar to those who earn a substantial amount of income through bonuses or commissions - must have two year history of it with the same employer.

 

For those refinancing:

  • OLD RULE: Refinancing or adding lines of credit within a just a short time after home-purchase was possible due to appreciation of property values.
  • NEW RULE: With property values challenged by current conditions, only those who have a larger equity can refinance to get a lower rate, and getting a 'cash-out' loan, even more challenging.

 

These are just some basic rules which have become the result of added regulations and stricter lender guidelines.

 

By the way, everyone should become familiar with CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). They are the new financial Federal Government watchdog for consumers, and will be responsible for issuing new or changing existing regulations. Check out www.consumerfinance.gov

Learn Here, Live Here Program begins in 2014!!!

by Mick Marsden

 

Live Here, Learn Here is a new program that allows certain graduates of a Connecticut public institution of higher education or from a vocational-technical school, graduating on or after January 1, 2014, to elect up to $2,500 per year of his or her Connecticut income tax liability to be set aside into a first-time homebuyer account. The graduate must have qualified as an in-state student and paid the in-state tuition rate. 

 

At any time within a ten-year period after graduation, the participant may withdraw the amount set aside and must use it as a down payment on the purchase of a first home in Connecticut. Any remaining balance not withdrawn by the participant will become part of the General Fund. 

 

After receiving the payment, the participant is required to live in Connecticut a minimum of five years. If, after receiving payment, the participant ceases to live in Connecticut at any time up to a specified number of years, the participant must repay a percentage of the amount received as follows: one year: 100%; two years: 80%; three years: 60%; four years: 40%; five years: 20%. After five years there is no repayment obligation. The repayment amounts will become part of the General Fund. 

 

This program may be established by the Commissioner of Economic and Community Development in consultation with the Commissioner of Revenue Services. 

 

2011 Conn. Pub. Acts 140, §§30, 31, and 32

Part 2: The process of opening a self-directed real estate IRA

by Mick Marsden

Don’t buy an investment property BEFORE you decide to invest in a self-directed individual retirement account. That is absolutely the wrong order of operations. For all you do-it-yourselfers: Don't Do This Yourself!!!

 

STEP ONE: FIND A COMPANY THAT IS EXPERT IN THIS TYPE OF INVESTMENT 

 

It’s for people who want to invest in nontraditional assets such as real estate, want complete control of their IRA and want to reduce overhead costs such as fees. The average person, whose retirement account is in a mutual fund, is paying 3 to 5 percent overhead. They just don’t see the undisclosed fees. 

 

​STEP TWO: HAVE THE SELF-DIRECTED IRA COMPANY SET UP YOUR DOCUMENTATION

 

You will need to set up your real estate IRA as a limited liability corporation or LLC. This is because you will be collecting rent on the property and paying for things like repairs and upkeep. Once again, don’t do this yourself. It’s a lot more complicated than you think and will need to withstand an audit, should that ever come to pass.

 

Once money has been transferred to the LLC, it is intact as an IRA. Your real estate IRA now holds title to the property. Now, you manage all the funds. Once you pay the set-up fee there’s no broker, no market maker, no dealer, and no Wall Street fund manager to pay. 

It will take a company from 12 to 18 hours to set up this investment at about $200 an hour.

 

This is a one-time fee paid upfront. No nickeling and diming, like mutual funds. You’ve got to establish the investment correctly. Stuff happens, like death, divorce, and an IRS audit. 

The right company will understand how to avoid the problems. 

 

​STEP THREE: BUY THE PROPERTY 

 

This is an investment property, meaning you can’t take benefit of the asset, which means you cannot live there yourself. Nor can your spouse, kids, or parents. Your cousin, uncle, or aunt, can stay there. Technically, a non-adopted step-child or in-law can stay there, too.

You are going to rent the property, and when rent comes in, it becomes a dividend, included into the value of the property.  Repairs are paid for by the IRA. Be sure to put about $5,000 in cash into the IRA to pay for the repairs.

 

You’re going to hold this property the same way you would hold your retirement portfolio. At this point you cannot personally contribute to the needs of the asset (the property). If you want to make further contributions, you need to contact the custodian of the IRA.

At age 59 ½, you can either sell the property or pay the tax on the property and own it outright. By age 70, you must begin taking distributions, like any other IRA.

 

An example of this kind of investment

 

Many people who invest in a self-directed IRA are between the ages of 40 and 60. Let’s take a look at what would happen if a 40-year-old invested in a real estate IRA.

 

You need to pick a property you believe will have a return on investment in 8 to 10 years. 

Our 40-year-old will buy a house for $140,000. Assuming the property can command $1,200 to $1,500 per month in rent, it would take 100 months to make back the initial investment, or 8.33 years.

 

Then, our investor can buy another property for $140,000 at age 48. The second property is cash flowing at a similar $1,200 to $1,500 a month and she makes back that investment 4.3 years because there are two properties paying income. Then, she buys a third property at age 56, also at $140,000.

 

This person’s IRA can grow to $1 million in 20 years. Tell me what mutual fund can do that?

 

Next month: The nitty gritty of my particular real estate IRA.

 

 

Part one

Like most people, I used to save for retirement the traditional way using the stock market, with mutual funds and broker’s fees. And, like a hamster on the wheel, I was running, but going nowhere. I was tired of the rise and loss of the market and couldn’t really see retirement in my future. If you're sick of the roller coaster ride too and feel it's the big cats that take away the real money...read on. You too can take advantage of the lowest prices in real estate we've seen in 10-15 years with an self-directed IRA.

A friend told me about self-directed individual retirement accounts and that I should Google it and see if it's a fit. If not for me...for my present and future clients. As a self-employed person, I learned I can take a chunk of my retirement money and put it into an asset, like gold, notes, tax liens or, you guessed it, a piece of real estate.

If there really is a heaven...it must be here!

For me, this is the perfect storm or good stuff! There is a beautiful piece of lakefront property in New Hampshire that’s been in my wife’s family for years. It’s the prettiest, most desirable location on the lake. I proposed to my bride up there. Add to that it's the best place for me to do creative work, relax, and decompress from the pressures of life in CT and in real estate. I was emotionally attached!

​My unspoiled view on Long Pond...

When the family wanted to sell the lake house, I had an opportunity to buy the property AND I could have an IRA-tax-sheltered investment that was outside stocks, bonds and mutual funds.  I have complete, check-book control of the asset. Not somebody else. Don’t have to invest in mutual funds; I make the decision.

It follows all the traditional rules of an IRA. I must start taking distribution when I turn 70.

Most people with self-directed IRAs buy the properties for investment. Not me. This is my dream home and we plan to live there when we retire. While prices of homes are favorable and interest rates at such historical lows, it only makes sense for me to ride the appreciation of the real estate market that I know is coming.

Next week: The process of setting up a self-directed real estate IRA.

I love the business of Real Estate even as difficult as it is. For one, I like to triumph over the odds which my team and I do year in and year out, but that's not the primary reason why. I pride myself on doing the very best I can for each and every client as does everyone within the River to Shore Group team and it shows by increased sales each year the market is in decline. While it's certainly nice to receive the paycheck at the end of what sometimes is a long and protracted deal, it's even better when you receive a note of thanks, a gift, or other gestures that one might send our way to that shows their appreciation. It is truly rewarding and gratifying. 

This week we received certainly one of the most creative expressions of thanks from Mark and Nancy Tepping formerly of Rebecca Lane in Guilford. We met through an on-line connection and we hit it off from the start. We made our plans, executed the preparation punch list, got their home on the market and had it gone in 7 weeks. We negotiated an nice deal on a model home condo in Chester for them and got both places closed as they desired overcoming the normal bumps in the road you sometimes get in today's market. 

After they settled in they had a party celebrating all that those that assisted them in their big move. They had the Pizza truck onsite that provided marvelous fare, from appetizers to dessert, and all had a very nice time.  We met family, new neighbors, and even their sales person from the Old Saybrook Barn. No one was forgotten. It was certainly a first for us to experience a loving and genuine act of gratitude of this level. During the event, Nancy read aloud many limericks. She wrote one for each professional she hired to assist her in their move. It was flattering for sure and we all felt honored.

 I felt compelled to blog about this because of the level of vitriol we see between the daily discourse on the air and in print.  There's been a serious decline of civility in the world and a decline in simple politeness. There was a recent news article on NBC news that interview a waitress who's tip was "try losing a few pounds." instead of the 15% gratuity she had hoped she would get for her good service. People on the road are in a rush, will cut you off, or won't let you in when the traffic is stiff. It's sad. 

It's really simple: If you want love, give love. 

OK...so the real reason I love this business is because of all the great people I have met and made friends with along the way. I can say the only downside is that I certainly have more wonderful relationships today than I have free time to nurture so Facebook and blogging and the occasional personal note to many will have to suffice between those rare personal visits.

Mark and Nancy, thank you so much for being a great example of what true gratitude can be. We are honored, flattered, and appreciate your gestures beyond words. May you have the best of luck in your new home and have many happy healthy years there.

I respectfully submit to you, the reader, for your consideration that the next time you're at a restaurant to leave a larger tip than you normally would and write a note, if deserved, to let the server know how much you appreciated the good service. Thank the service rep at your auto dealer, the cashier, your massage therapist by sending them a card. I recently sent a card to the manager of the Old Saybrook spa telling her what a great experience I had with staff member Eleni. I had also sent a gourmet package of cookies that I asked the manager to give to Eleni as a token of my appreciation. The next time in I was even more appreciated. Hence...if you want love....give love. That is all.

The Room Doctor - A Re-design for the home you want to sell.

by Mick Marsden

I've lost count of how many times I've told a prospective or current listing client that it's a beauty contest and a price war and you need to win both to sell your home in the current market. Are there exceptions? Sure…there's the unique location or architectural marvel with a historical aspect everyone wants to own, but for most, you simply need to look better and cost less to grab one of the few buyers in the current market looking to buy a home. 

 

Lisa gave each of her guests this special cookie with her logo on it. Each was beautifully presented in a cellophane bag tied off with a ribbon. 

  

It was 5 years ago I decided to give home staging a try to help my clients sell for more and in less time. Home staging's roots and traction came from the west coast of course and I was aware of it from the trade news I read and some blog articles. 5 years ago when I met Lisa Leonardi, creator of The Room Doctor, 70% of the listings in CA were already being staged at some level. Empty homes were furnished and occupied homes got sometimes complete make-overs. 

 

 Lisa Leonardi, right, with her right hand assistant Julie Cousins.

 

Lisa made a presentation to the brokerage I was working for at that time and her timing was perfect. I had a listing in need, TV shows were popping up dedicating themselves to the topic, and articles online and in real estate periodicals were covering the subject as well. Lisa was clearly the leading edge of home staging in our area and I for one was glad that this service was now available here. I was ready to give it a try..

 

Lisa held an open house at her beautiful home in Madison. She invited many of the great tradespeople she relies upon to get the job done. Karen Bernetti, a colleague in real estate and home staging, presented her new book "Ready2Sellin30Days" designed to help people prepare their home themselves in a well thought out and manageable way. You can eat an elephant...one bite at a time! Find out more at www.Ready2Sellin30Days.com.


I had just signed a listing in Waterford that the previous agency had failed to sell during their six month listing period. The Coast Guard officer and his family had already moved to their next assignment in Alaska and the modest split-level house was empty, needing updates, on a corner lot but had good bones. The price was ok but not saying "buy me, I'm a good deal in my current condition." 

 

One of the many beautifully decorated rooms at Lisa's home for her annual open house.

 

I hired Lisa on my dime as the client had no funds to contribute so I covered this one in total. I had a 6% commission agreement so I could afford to cover it with my proceeds at closing. Lisa came in and treated the hardwood floors with a treatment to soften of the areas of that clearly needed refinishing. She brought in furnishings, hung nice things on the walls, made wonderful color choices in shower curtains and other accessories to soften the sting of the colors of a bygone era, and more. Candles were used in strategic places for ambiance. The place looked wonderful and it suggested a living flow that some buyers would have seen as challenging in a completely empty state. I now had a subject home that allowed me to create professional photos for marketing that were inviting and now looked like a good deal for the asking price now. 

 

Lisa speaking with Ed McCaffrey from our Page Taft Real Living Essex office. 

 

Long story short: I sold the home in less than 6 weeks, had more traffic in buyers at the house in the first week than the previous agency had during the entire listing period, and I found my own buyer making it very easy to cover the staging expense. I got very close to asking price, and the home sold in a short period of time. I've used The Room Doctor ever since and my track record proves the worth of the great service, advice, and talent of Lisa and her staff. 

 

Here's what The Room Doctor offers:

 

Staging Consultations: A service whereby Lisa spends an hour or two (as needed for the size of the home and scope) and advises on what the homeowner should do to best prepare the home for sale. She provides a summary of that consult in writing for the client to execute on their own. I ask that my seller's do as much as they can afford and agree with. Most do a lot and it is a huge improvement. 

 

Staging Assistance: A service whereby she and her staff will assist the homeowner in the physical execution of staging the home. From moving furniture, hanging art, and the like. 

 

Full Service Staging: Get out of the way and let the pros do it all. 

 

Furniture and accessory rental: Sometime's there's too much furniture, other times not, and still there are times replacing what isn't working with something that will till the house sells is the ticket.

 

There's much more The Room Doctor offers in the way of services so check out their website at the theroomdoctor.com.

 

The way things look really matter....especially to buyers in today's market.

 

If you're a seller and your agent hasn't recommended home staging, mention it to him or her! If you're an agent looking for a great home staging company, look no further. If you're a for sale by owner individual, what are you waiting for…call us or another agent you like and The Room Doctor today and get serious about selling your home today!

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