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What to Expect During a Home Inspection

In Buying a Home, Home Values, Houston Energy Corridor, Houston Real Estate Agent, Real Estate Investment, Selling your home on May 11, 2018 at 6:39 pm

The first thing you need to know about home inspection: You’ll feel all the feels.

There’s the excitement — the inspection could be the longest time you’re in the house, after the showing.

Right behind that comes … anxiety. What if the inspector finds something wrong? So wrong you can’t buy the house?

Then there’s impatience. Seriously, is this whole home-buying process over yet?

Not yet. But you’re close. So take a deep breath. Because the most important thing to know about home inspection: It’s just too good for you, as a buyer, to skip. Here’s why.

A Home Inspector Is Your Protector

An inspector helps you make sure a house isn’t hiding anything before you commit for the long haul. (Think about it this way: You wouldn’t even get coffee with a stranger without checking out their history.)

A home inspector identifies any reasonably discoverable problems with the house (a leaky roof, faulty plumbing, etc.). Hiring an inspector is you doing your due diligence. To find a good one (more on how to do that soon), it helps to have an understanding of what the typical home inspection entails.

An inspection is all about lists.  

Before an inspection, the home inspector will review the seller’s property disclosure statement. (Each state has its own requirements for what sellers must disclose on these forms; some have stronger requirements than others.) The statement lists any flaws the seller is aware of that could negatively affect the home’s value.

The disclosure comes in the form of an outline, covering such things as:

  • Mold
  • Pest infestation
  • Roof leaks
  • Foundation damage
  • Other problems, depending on what your state mandates.

During the inspection, an inspector has three tasks: To:

  1. Identify problems with the house
  2. Suggest fixes
  3. Estimate how much repairs might cost

He or she produces a written report, usually including photos, that details any issues with the property. This report is critical to you and your agent — it’s what you’ll use to request repairs from the seller. (We’ll get into how you’ll do that in a minute, too.)

The Inspector Won’t Check Everything

Generally, inspectors only examine houses for problems that can be seen with the naked eye. They won’t be tearing down walls or using magical X-ray vision, to find hidden faults.

Inspectors also won’t put themselves in danger. If a roof is too high or steep, for example, they won’t climb up to check for missing or damaged shingles. They’ll use binoculars to examine it instead.

They can’t predict the future, either. While an inspector can give you a rough idea of how many more years that roof will hold up, he or she can’t tell you exactly when it will need to be replaced.

Finally, home inspectors are often generalists. A basic inspection doesn’t routinely include a thorough evaluation of:

  • Swimming pools
  • Wells
  • Septic systems
  • Structural engineering work
  • The ground beneath a home
  • Fireplaces and chimneys

When it comes to wood-burning fireplaces, for instance, most inspectors will open and close dampers to make sure they’re working, check chimneys for obstructions like birds’ nests, and note if they believe there’s reason to pursue a more thorough safety inspection.

If you’re concerned about the safety of a fireplace, you can hire a certified chimney inspector for about $125 to $325 per chimney; find one through the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

 

It’s Your Job to Check the Inspector

Now you’re ready to connect with someone who’s a pro at doing all of the above. Here’s where — once again — your real estate agent has your back. He or she can recommend reputable home inspectors to you.

In addition to getting recommendations (friends and relatives are handy for those, too), you can rely on online resources such as the American Society of Home Inspectors’ (ASHI) Find a Home Inspector tool, which lets you search by address, metro area, or neighborhood.

You’ll want to interview at least three inspectors before deciding whom to hire. During each chat, ask questions such as:

  • Are you licensed or certified? Inspector certifications vary, based on where you live. Not every state requires home inspectors to be licensed, and licenses can indicate different degrees of expertise. ASHI lists each state’s requirements here.
  • How long have you been in the business? Look for someone with at least five years of experience — it indicates more homes inspected.
  • How much do you charge? The average home inspection costs about $315. For condos and homes under 1,000 square feet, the average cost is $200. Homes over 2,000 square feet can run $400 or more. (Figures are according to HomeAdvisor.com.)
  • What do you check, exactly? Know what you’re getting for your money.
  • What don’t you check, specifically? Some home inspectors are more thorough than others.
  • How soon after the inspection will I receive my report? Home inspection contingencies require you to complete the inspection within a certain period of time after the offer is accepted — normally five to seven days — so you’re on a set timetable. A good home inspector will provide you with the report within 24 hours after the inspection.
  • May I see a sample report? This will help you gauge how detailed the inspector is and how he or she explains problems.

Sometimes you can find online reviews of inspectors on sites like Angie’s List and Yelp, too, if past clients’ feedback is helpful in making your decision.

Show Up for Inspection (and Bring Your Agent)

It’s inspection day, and the honor of your — and your agent’s — presence is not required, but highly recommended. Even though you’ll receive a report summarizing the findings later on, being there gives you a chance to ask questions, and to learn the inner workings of the home.

Block out two to three hours for the inspection. The inspector will survey the property from top to bottom. This includes checking water pressure; leaks in the attic, plumbing, etc.; if door and window frames are straight (if not, it could be a sign of a structural issue); if electrical wiring is up to code; if smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working; if appliances work properly. Outside, he or she will look at things like siding, fencing, and drainage.

The inspector might also be able to check for termites, asbestos, lead paint, or radon. Because these tests involve more legwork and can require special certification, they come at an additional charge.

Get Ready to Negotiate

Once you receive the inspector’s report, review it with your agent.

Legally, sellers are required to make certain repairs. These can vary depending on location. Most sales contracts require the seller to fix:

  • Structural defects
  • Building code violations
  • Safety issues

Most home repairs, however, are negotiable. Be prepared to pick your battles: Minor issues, like a cracked switchplate or loose kitchen faucet, are easy and cheap to fix on your own. You don’t want to start nickel-and-diming the seller.

If there are major issues with the house, your agent can submit a formal request for repairs that includes a copy of the inspection report. Repair requests should be as specific as possible. For instance: Instead of saying “repair broken windows,” a request should say “replace broken window glass in master bathroom.”

  • If the seller agrees to make all of your repair requests: He or she must provide you with invoices from a licensed contractor stating that the repairs were made. Then it’s full steam ahead toward the sale.
  • If the seller responds to your repair requests with a counteroffer: He or she will state which repairs (or credits at closing) he or she is willing to make. The ball is in your court to either agree, counter the seller’s counteroffer, or void the transaction.

At the end of the day, remember to check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling about all of this. You need to be realistic about how much repair work you’d be taking on. At this point in the sale, there’s a lot of pressure from all parties to move into the close. But if you don’t feel comfortable, speak up.

The most important things to remember during the home inspection? Trust your inspector, trust your gut, and lean on your agent — they likely have a lot of experience to support your decision-making.

That’s something to feel good about.

By: HouseLogic

If you are interested in buying or selling real estate in the Energy Corridor, please contact Connie Vallone with First Market Realty at 713 249 4177  or visit www.houstonenergycorridorhomes.com  or www.vallonehomes.com .

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Don’t Be One of Those Homeowners Who Goes Over Budget on a Renovation

In Buying a Home, Home Upgrades, Home Values, Houston Energy Corridor, Houston Real Estate Agent, Real Estate Investment, Selling your home on March 15, 2018 at 7:12 pm

When Kelly Whalen demolished her built-in bookshelves as part of a living room DIY, she found it gave the room some much-needed space. Unfortunately, she also found a hidden subfloor made from asbestos(!) tiles. She hadn’t budgeted for a new subfloor — or for the removal of a toxic substance. Yikes.

And there were more surprises. “When we pulled up the tiling, we found we also had to pull out two layers of wall paneling just to get to the edges of the room,” says the Exton, Penn., native. The paneling fix led to a need for new insulation and drywall. What started as a small project quickly ballooned — and so did Whalen’s expenses.

Almost half of homeowners go over budget when doing a remodel, according to a report from home improvement site Houzz. A more alarming stat: Only one in five comes in underbudget. Here’s how to be of them.

#1 Reconsider DIY

DIY is cheaper, right? Not necessarily, says Philadelphia-based interior architecture and design expert Glenna Stone. Depending on the project, amateurs beware.

“If you don’t have the expertise, you could end up paying between 10% and 40% more,” Stone says.

Why? While your DIY labor is technically free, your lack of know-how can be costly.

And then there’s hiring and scheduling. A task like moving a wall could mean hiring an engineer and an architect, not to mention coordinating permits. A general contractor knows who’ll do the best work for the best price, and they’ll know when to schedule them to avoid wasting dollars on inefficient use of time.

“If the plumber comes out before you’re ready for him, they’ll charge you for that visit, and then to come out again,” says Stone.

Finally, a contractor is more likely to get it right the first time. There’s nothing like having to buy stuff twice because you messed up. Stone recommends hiring a general contractor for most medium- to large-scale jobs.

Takeaway: Don’t DIY unless you really know what you’re doing. Mistakes cost more than hiring a pro the first time.

#2 Hire the Right Experts

If you decide to forgo the general-contractor route and hire individual workers yourself, it’s best to get at least three quotes for each service performed. Talking to professionals isn’t just about finding the most competitive price. It’s also an opportunity to figure out what services each individual contractor includes within his fee.

In fact, the least expensive contractor may be a warning sign for inferior construction quality or subpar building materials. A bid worth reviewing should include a line item for every charge.

“‘Everything’ means every detail, from [the] exact kind of sink fixture to brand of roof shingles,” says Dean Bennett, president of Dean Bennett Design and Construction in Castle Rock, Colo. Even the color of the outlets in each room should be included in the bid, he adds.

Takeaway: The more detail that’s in the bid, the more likely you’ll come in on budget.

#3 Map Out the Project Step by Step (So You Don’t Miss Anything)

So, you’re planning to put up a backsplash. What do you need to put into your budget? The tile and adhesive, right? And that’s about it?

Try again. Big project or small, the more detailed your plan, the better prepared you’ll be for both the expected and unexpected costs that can (more like will) arise.

When estimating the cost of your project, consider the large expenses, like that tile and adhesive, but also remember the little items like sales tax, delivery charges, shipping charges, the float, caulking, cleaning materials, and more. For bigger projects, you’ll need to estimate engineering costs, interest costs, permit fees, and sewer and water tap fees, says Bennett. The more you can plan to expect, the better.

Takeaway: Don’t forget the “small” costs. Like pennies, they might not seem like much at first, but they sure do add up.

#4 Know Where You’re Willing to Cut Corners — and Where You’re Going to Invest

Before setting a project budget, consider what features are most important to you. When it comes to allocating funds, ancillary desires should take second place to your overall project goals.

If, for example, your primary goal is to expand your cabinet space, how vital are custom cabinets or high-end finishes to that goal? “If you’re … OK with using stock sizes, you can save about 20% to 30% on your budget,” says Stone. So if your bottom line is to increase kitchen storage space, stay on budget by sticking with stock cabinets instead of paying more for custom.

On the flip side, if your goal is to gain more glam than storage space, custom cabinets may be where you want to splurge.

Takeaway: Let your goals drive your budget decisions.

#5 Pad Your Budget

“For any large renovation, you have to plan for the unexpected,” says Stone. You could open a wall and find electrical work needs to be done. You could find that your chosen tile is on back order and your second choice comes at a higher cost. Stone suggests building a 10% buffer into the budget. Some experts suggest more — up to 25% for those with older homes. According to Stone, that cash cushion is used more often than not.

When the unexpected does arise, it can pay to keep a level head. “Even if you feel pressed for time, give yourself at least 24 hours to make an unexpected decision,” says Stone. When people are reaching their threshold for how long and to what degree they’ve had their house torn apart, “they rush into a decision,” she says. “They regret it almost 100% of the time.”

Takeaway: Pad your budget for the unexpected — and don’t rush decisions.

By: Alaina Tweddale

If you are interested in buying or selling real estate, please contact Connie Vallone with First Market Realty at 713 249 4177  or visit www.houstonenergycorridorhomes.com  or www.vallonehomes.com .

What Home Improvements Are Tax Deductible?

In Buying a Home, Home Upgrades, Home Values, Houston Energy Corridor, Houston Real Estate Agent, Real Estate Investment, Selling your home on February 15, 2018 at 3:55 pm

The federal tax law signed by President Donald Trump Dec. 22, 2017, may affect home ownership tax benefits described in this article. The new law goes into effect for the 2018 tax year and generally doesn’t affect tax filings for the 2017 tax year. Here’s a detailed summary of the changes.

It’s no secret that finishing your basement will increase your home’s value. What you may not know is the money you spend on this type of so-called capital improvement could also help lower your tax bill when you sell your house.

Tax rules let you add capital improvement expenses to the cost basis of your home. Why is that a big deal? Because a higher cost basis lowers the total profit — capital gain, in IRS-speak — you’re required to pay taxes on. In other words, you might have a tax break coming. Here’s how to know what home improvements are tax deductible.

The tax break doesn’t come into play for everyone. Most homeowners are exempted from paying taxes on the first $250,000 of profit for single filers ($500,000 for joint filers). If you move frequently, maybe it’s not worth the effort to track capital improvement expenses. But if you plan to live in your house a long time or make lots of upgrades, saving receipts is a smart move.

What Home Improvements Are Tax Deductible?

Some examples of home improvements you can deduct may include:

  • New bathroom
  • New addition
  • Basement finishing
  • New furnace
  • Master suite addition

Although you may consider all the work you do to your home an improvement, the IRS looks at things differently. A rule of thumb: A capital improvement increases your home’s value, while a non-eligible repair just returns something to its original condition. According to the IRS, capital improvements have to last for more than one year and add value to your home, prolong its life, or adapt it to new uses.

Capital improvements can include everything from a new bathroom or deck to a new water heater or furnace. Page 9 of IRS Publication 523 has a list of eligible improvements.

There are limitations. The improvements must still be evident when you sell. So if you put in wall-to-wall carpeting 10 years ago and then replaced it with hardwood floors five years ago, you can’t count the carpeting as a capital improvement. Repairs, like painting your house or fixing sagging gutters, don’t count. The IRS describes repairs as things that are done to maintain a home’s good condition without adding value or prolonging its life.

There can be a fine line between a capital improvement and a repair, says Erik Lammert, former tax research specialist at the National Association of Tax Professionals. For instance, if you replace a few shingles on your roof, it’s a repair. If you replace the entire roof, it’s a capital improvement. Same goes for windows. If you replace a broken window pane, repair. Put in a new window, capital improvement.

One exception: If your home is damaged in a fire or natural disaster, everything you do to restore your home to its pre-loss condition counts as a capital improvement.

How Capital Improvements Affect Your Gain

To figure out how improvements affect your tax bill, you first have to know your cost basis. The cost basis is the amount of money you spent to buy or build your home including all the costs you paid at the closing: fees to lawyers, survey charges, transfer taxes, and home inspection, to name a few. You should be able to find all those costs on the settlement statement you received at your closing.

Next, you’ll need to account for any subsequent capital improvements you made to your home. Let’s say you bought your home for $200,000 including all closing costs. That’s the initial cost basis. You then spent $25,000 to remodel your kitchen. Add those together and you get an adjusted cost basis of $225,000.

Now, suppose you’ve lived in your home as your main residence for at least two out of the last five years. Any profit you make on the sale will be taxed as a long-term capital gain. You sell your home for $475,000. That means you have a capital gain of $250,000 (the $475,000 sale price minus the $225,000 cost basis). You’re single, so you get an automatic exemption for the $250,000 profit. End of story.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Had you not factored in the money you spent on the kitchen remodel, you’d be facing a tax bill for that $25,000 gain that exceeded the automatic exemption. By keeping receipts and adjusting your basis, you’ve saved about $5,000 in taxes based on the  15% tax rate on capital gains. Well worth taking an hour a month to organize your home improvement receipts, don’t you think?

Related: Tax and Home Records Checklist: What to Keep and For How Long

The top rate for most homesellers remains 15%. For sellers in the 39.6% income tax bracket, the cap gains rate is 20%.

Watch Out for These Basis-Busters

Some situations (below) can lower your basis, thus increasing your risk of facing a tax bill when you sell. Consult a tax adviser.

  • If you use the actual cost method and take depreciation on a home office, you have to subtract those deductions from your basis.
  • Any depreciation available to you because you rented your house works the same way.
  • You also have to subtract subsidies from utility companies for making energy-related home improvements or energy-efficiency tax credits you’ve received.
  • If you bought your home using the federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers, you’ll have to deduct that from your basis too, says Mark Steber, chief tax officer at Jackson Hewitt Tax Services.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice.

By: Donna Fuscaldo

If you are interested in buying or selling real estate in the Energy Corridor, please contact Connie Vallone with First Market Realty at 713 249 4177  or visit www.houstonenergycorridorhomes.com  or www.vallonehomes.com .

5 Tips to Prepare Your Home for Sale

In Buying a Home, Home Upgrades, Home Values, Houston Energy Corridor, Houston Real Estate Agent, Real Estate Investment, Selling your home on November 1, 2017 at 6:41 pm

Many buyers today want move-in-ready homes and will quickly eliminate an otherwise great home by focusing on a few visible flaws. Unless your home shines, you may endure showing after showing and open house after open house — and end up with a lower sales price. Before the first prospect walks through your door, consider some smart options for casting your home in its best light.

1.  Have a Home Inspection

Be proactive by arranging for a pre-sale home inspection. For $250 to $400, an inspector will warn you about troubles that could make potential buyers balk. Make repairs before putting your home on the market. In some states, you may have to disclose what the inspection turns up.

2.  Get Replacement Estimates

If your home inspection uncovers necessary repairs you can’t fund, get estimates for the work. The figures will help buyers determine if they can afford the home and the repairs. Also hunt down warranties, guarantees, and user manuals for your furnace, washer and dryer, dishwasher, and any other items you expect to remain with the house.

3.  Make Minor Repairs

Not every repair costs a bundle. Fix as many small problems — sticky doors, torn screens, cracked caulking, dripping faucets — as you can. These may seem trivial, but they’ll give buyers the impression your house isn’t well maintained.

4.  Clear the Clutter

Clear your kitchen counters of just about everything. Clean your closets by packing up little-used items like out-of-season clothes and old toys. Install closet organizers to maximize space. Put at least one-third of your furniture in storage, especially large pieces, such as entertainment centers and big televisions. Pack up family photos, knickknacks, and wall hangings to depersonalize your home. Store the items you’ve packed offsite or in boxes neatly arranged in your garage or basement.

5.  Do a Thorough Cleaning

A clean house makes a strong first impression that your home has been well cared for. If you can afford it, consider hiring a cleaning service.

If not, wash windows and leave them open to air out your rooms. Clean carpeting and drapes to eliminate cooking odors, smoke, and pet smells. Wash light fixtures and baseboards, mop and wax floors, and give your stove and refrigerator a thorough once-over.

Pay attention to details, too. Wash fingerprints from light switch plates, clean inside the cabinets, and polish doorknobs. Don’t forget to clean your garage, too.

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has found happiness in a Chicago brownstone with the best curb appeal on the block. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

If you are interested in buying or selling real estate, please contact Connie Vallone with First Market Realty at 713 249 4177  or visit www.houstonenergycorridorhomes.com  or www.vallonehomes.com .

Understanding Energy Ratings for Windows and Doors

In Buying a Home, Home Upgrades, Home Values, Houston Energy Corridor, Houston Real Estate Agent, Real Estate Investment, Selling your home on October 27, 2017 at 6:53 pm

Just because windows or doors are Energy Star-labeled doesn’t mean they’re eligible for a federal tax credit. And with costs running about $500 to $1,000 per window including labor, it’s wise to know something about the scientific lingo and numbers on the product labels you’re likely to encounter.

Here’s your pro-level label-decoding guide so you can be sure you’re buying qualified products.

Which Labels Matter?

The two labels you should look for: The U.S. Department of Energy’s blue-and-yellow Energy Star label, which specifies the climate zones the product is certified for, and the white National Fenestration Rating Council label. Nonprofit NFRC is the industry-recognized certifying body for windows and doors. It reports raw numbers only; Energy Star tells you whether those numbers constitute superior performance, putting its seal of approval on those products that meet its standards.

To confuse matters, DOE has issued a blue label that manufacturers can use to signify that a product qualifies for the tax credit. But DOE doesn’t require that manufacturers include it.

What You Need to Get the Tax Credit

For windows or doors to qualify for the credit, two NFRC-supplied measurements must each be equal to or less than 0.3, regardless of climate: U-factor and solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC). You must also have the manufacturer’s signed statement that the product complies with IRS requirements. This either comes with purchase or can be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website.

Don’t be swayed by ratings the manufacturer may post on its own label. A window or door’s frame and other components (weather stripping, sidelights, transoms) can significantly affect its energy efficiency, so NFRC measures based on the entire unit, not just the window glass or door slab alone. Manufacturers, on the other hand, sometimes report values that don’t take the entire unit into account, according to Energy Star.

A Guide to Measurements

The NFRC label typically lists five measurements, including the tax credit-critical U-factor and SHGC. The other three are somewhat less important to energy performance, according to Energy Star, but can help you judge how well a window or door will perform in a particular application—for example, whether it’ll let in enough light.

Where you live affects which measurements are most important, but the tax credit requirements are uniform across the country. There are four Energy Star climate zones, differentiated by whether heating, cooling, or a mix of the two is most critical to energy performance.

1. U-Factor

Range: 0.20 to 1.20

The lower the number, the better an insulator the window or door is.

Tax credit qualification requirement: 0.3 or less

Efficient Windows Collaborative climate recommendations:

  • Northern: 0.35 or less
  • North Central or South Central: 0.4 or less
  • Southern: 0.60 or less

2. Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC)

Range: 0 to 1

The lower the number, the less solar radiation—and heat—the window or door allows inside.

Tax credit qualification requirement: 0.3 or less

EWC climate recommendations:

  • Northern: The highest you can find (paired with a low U-factor) if cooling isn’t a significant concern; up to 0.55 if cooling is a significant concern.
  • North Central: 0.4 or less for climates with significant air conditioning; up to 0.55 for climates with moderate air conditioning.
  • South Central or Southern: 0.4 or less.

SHGC refers to the solar radiation a window or door allows inside. Seek the lowest possible SHGC rating in warm climates to minimize the use of air conditioning. Look for a slightly higher number in cooler climates so that the sun can help heat your home in winter, but be sure to balance SHGC with an efficient U-factor for your area.

3. Visible Transmittance

Range: 0 to 1

Lower number means the room will be dimmer; a higher number means the room will be brighter.

Tax credit qualification requirement: none

This number applies to windows or doors with windows only. Visible transmittance is the amount of light a window allows to pass through. With older window glazing techniques, VT and solar heat gain were basically the same; the brighter a room, the hotter it got. But new technologies allow windows to let in lots of light while the room stays cool.

Consult VT numbers if you’re looking to reduce glare in a room or fill it with natural light, but be warned that a very low VT may mean you have to use artificial lighting even during the day.

4. Air Leakage

Range: N/A, but .0.3 is standard building code

The lower the number, the more airtight the window or door.

Tax credit qualification requirement: none

This number, expressed in cubic feet per minute per square foot of window/door area, represents the amount of air that the window or door’s frame allows to pass through. Energy Star standards don’t consider air leakage because it’s difficult to measure accurately and can change over time as frame materials expand, contract, or warp in place, according to the EWC. Still, this measurement can help you compare similar products, especially if they’ll be buffeted by the elements.

5. Condensation Resistance

Range: 1 to 100

The lower the number, the more condensation the window or door allows to build up.

Tax credit qualification requirement: none

Condensation resistance is a measure of how much moisture a window or door allows to build up on the surface (which can drip onto wood and cause mold or discoloration) or between glazing layers (which can’t be clean and blocks your view). Energy Star-rated windows tend to resist condensation well, so this number won’t likely affect your purchase decision.

By: Karin Beuerlein

If you are interested in buying or selling real estate in the Energy Corridor, please contact Connie Vallone with First Market Realty at 713 249 4177  or visit www.houstonenergycorridorhomes.com  or www.vallonehomes.com .

6 Reasons to Reduce Your Home Price

In Buying a Home, Home Upgrades, Home Values, Houston Energy Corridor, Houston Real Estate Agent, Real Estate Investment, Selling your home on October 13, 2017 at 6:29 pm

Home not selling? That could happen for a number of reasons you can’t control, like a unique home layout or having one of the few homes in the neighborhood without a garage. There is one factor you can control: your home price.

These six signs may be telling you it’s time to lower your price.

1. You’re drawing few lookers.

You get the most interest in your home right after you put it on the market because buyers want to catch a great new home before anybody else takes it. If your real estate agent reports there have been fewer buyers calling about and asking to tour your home than there have been for other homes in your area, that may be a sign buyers think it’s overpriced and are waiting for the price to fall before viewing it.

2. You’re drawing lots of lookers but have no offers.

If you’ve had 30 sets of potential buyers come through your home and not a single one has made an offer, something is off. What are other agents telling your agent about your home? An overly high price may be discouraging buyers from making an offer.

3. Your home’s been on the market longer than similar homes.

Ask your real estate agent about the average number of days it takes to sell a home in your market. If the answer is 30 and you’re pushing 45, your price may be affecting buyer interest. When a home sits on the market, buyers can begin to wonder if there’s something wrong with it, which can delay a sale even further. At least consider lowering your asking price.

4. You have a deadline.

If you’ve got to sell soon because of a job transfer or you’ve already purchased another home, it may be necessary to generate buyer interest by dropping your price so your home is a little lower priced than comparable homes in your area. Remember: It’s not how much money you need that determines the sale price of your home, it’s how much money a buyer is willing to spend.

5. You can’t make upgrades.

Maybe you’re plum out of cash and don’t have the funds to put fresh paint on the walls, clean the carpets, and add curb appeal. But the feedback your agent is reporting from buyers is that your home isn’t as well-appointed as similarly priced homes. When your home has been on the market longer than comparable homes in better condition, it’s time to accept that buyers expect to pay less for a home that doesn’t show as well as others.

6. The competition has changed.

If weeks go by with no offers, continue to check out the competition. What have comparable homes sold for and what’s still on the market? What new listings have been added since you listed your home for sale? If comparable home sales or new listings show your price is too steep, consider a price reduction.

If you are interested in buying or selling real estate in the Energy Corridor, please contact Connie Vallone with First Market Realty at 713 249 4177  or visit www.houstonenergycorridorhomes.com  or www.vallonehomes.com .

Reduce Energy Reliance with Home Upgrades

In Buying a Home, Home Upgrades, Home Values, Houston Energy Corridor, Houston Real Estate Agent, Real Estate Investment, Selling your home on September 21, 2017 at 7:05 pm

Enhancing your home’s energy-efficient features is a savvy way to make the space more livable while also making a smaller impact on the environment and your bank account.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the average American homeowner spends about $2,000 a year on energy for heating, cooling and other power needs throughout the house. However, inefficiencies caused by poorly operating systems, drafts and other energy drains may account for as much as 10-20 percent of wasted money each year.

Whether your motivation is reducing home energy expenses, creating a more earth-conscious lifestyle or both, there are numerous ways you can make a significant impact on your home’s energy efficiency.

Windows
Faulty seals and cracks are responsible for as much as 20 percent of air infiltration into or out of the home, according to U.S. Department of Energy data. Windows are a major culprit for these types of leaks.
If a complete window replacement is out of your budget, there are still numerous ways you can improve the energy efficiency of existing windows. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that adding storm windows can reduce the amount of heat lost through windows by as much as 25-50 percent. Caulking and adding weather stripping around windows can also make a noticeable difference, as can window coverings such as blinds or drapes that minimize the transfer of heat and cold through window panes.

Doors
Like windows, doors, and especially their perimeters, are a common source of lost energy. Poor insulation due to faulty installation or simply wear over time can contribute to energy loss.
Aside from ensuring a properly installed, insulated and sealed doorway, the door itself can also make a difference when it comes to energy efficiency. For example, foam insulated entry doors offer greater energy conservation than wooden alternatives. Also remember that proper sealing and installation applies to all access points, including garage doors.

Fifth Wall (a.k.a., the Ceiling)
An often overlooked home element, but one homeowners and interior designers are increasingly turning attention to, is the ceiling, affectionately dubbed the “fifth wall.” Not only does this surface offer a blank slate for introducing new style to a room, it’s also an ideal space to integrate energy-efficient features such as skylights.
Skylights engage all of the senses while providing balanced, natural light that reduces reliance on powered light and ventilation fixtures. In addition, skylights can work in concert with vertical windows to create the “chimney effect” where cool, fresh air enters through vertical windows and warm, stale air escapes from the skylights, cooling your home without using electricity.

Some models like the Velux No Leak Solar Powered Fresh Air skylights, which along with installation costs are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit, are powered by solar energy, making them even more efficient. Additional features can further enhance the energy-saving benefits of installing skylights. For example, for added flare and light control, homeowners can add blinds to skylights, choosing from more than 100 colors and styles.  Learn more about making the fifth wall part of your energy-saving plan at whyskylights.com.

HVAC System
Climate control accounts for as much as half of the average home’s annual energy costs, so while it’s a behind-the-scenes home feature, it’s an important one. An outdated heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, or a system that isn’t big enough or strong enough for your home’s footprint, will draw more energy than necessary to maintain a desirable temperature. Regular service can help keep systems operating smoothly, but eventually all HVAC systems need replacing.

Source: Velux

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2017. All rights reserved.

If you are interested in buying or selling real estate in the Energy Corridor, please contact Connie Vallone with First Market Realty at 713 249 4177  or visit www.houstonenergycorridorhomes.com  or www.vallonehomes.com .

5 Ways to Create an Energy-Efficient Home for Under $500

In Buying a Home, Home Upgrades, Home Values, Houston Energy Corridor, Houston Real Estate Agent, Real Estate Investment, Selling your home on August 23, 2017 at 4:47 pm

Summer is a time filled with good times and warm weather. Unfortunately, it’s also a time for many homeowners when energy costs skyrocket as they attempt to keep their homes cool and comfortable. Thankfully, there are many things that can be done to help keep homes cool while saving energy and money. These five tips will help make the most of energy-efficient home situations this summer, and all cost less than $500.

Find and Fix Air Leaks
According to Energy.gov, air leaks are responsible for as much as 20 percent of the energy used to heat and cool the home. Stopping air leaks around doors and windows through weatherstripping is a fast and inexpensive way to help lower energy bills year-round, while stopping drafts and making the home more comfortable.

How Much Does It Save?
It’s common to see a drop in energy bills of about 20 percent after sealing up air leaks. The average cost of this project is around $168, and it will pay for itself over time with lower energy bills.

Upgrade the Thermostat
Another way to lower energy bills is to invest in a programmable thermostat. Thermostats are responsible for controlling when the air conditioner goes on and off. However, many people forget to turn them off when they leave for the day, resulting in higher than necessary bills. A programmable version that can learn the habits of the residents in house will let the system use energy more efficiently, keeping bills down.

How Much Does It Save?
Programmable thermostats cost around $200-$250 to install, and can often save roughly $180 a year on heating and cooling costs. Over time, this will help pay for the upgrade.

Update Light Fixtures
If the house still has incandescent light bulbs in its fixtures, then it’s likely using much more energy than it needs to. Energy-efficient LED and CFL bulbs use just one-third to 1/30 of the energy that a traditional bulb does. These bulbs also work in any traditional light fixture, although it is possible to install new lights made just for these types of bulbs to save even more if desired.

How Much Does It Save?
CFL bulbs cost about $10-$12 while LED bulbs cost around $15-$25. While this may sound pricey, consider this: incandescent bulbs use about $15 worth of electricity a year per bulb, while LED and CFL use less than $5. Added up, this can be a tremendous savings over time.

Change the Air Filters
HVAC systems need to be clean and free of dust and dirt in order to work properly. For that reason, it has a filter installed at its intake to keep out contaminates. Over time, the filter will become clogged with dust, dirt and hair, causing the system to work harder to pull air through. Most filters should be changed once a season, but many people overlook this simple task, which in turn results in higher energy bills, and expensive HVAC and AC maintenance.

How Much Does It Save?
Replacement air filters typically cost around $15-$60. Choose from reusable filters that only need regular cleaning. Changing the filter every three months will save roughly 15 percent on energy bills.

Clean Air Vents
AC and HVAC units will also work harder if their air vents are dirty. The more debris and dirt inside the system, the harder it needs to work to pull air through, raising energy costs by as much as 5-15 percent over time, and causing the system to age faster, requiring more maintenance and repairs.

How Much Does It Save?
Having dirty vents cleaned costs between $300-$500; however, this can save up to 15 percent on your energy bills, and save on expensive HVAC repairs, as well.

Remember, most of the things done to lower energy bills this summer will be effective year-round, keeping energy bills down in the winter months as well and increasing the amount that is ultimately saved. The home will also be more comfortable, and current and future homeowners will be able to avoid unexpected maintenance and repair costs, in many cases.

To find out how much more can be saved, visit the Fixr Cost Guides.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2017. All rights reserved.

If you are interested in buying or selling real estate, please contact Connie Vallone with First Market Realty at 713 249 4177  or visit www.houstonenergycorridorhomes.com  or www.vallonehomes.com .

The Basics of Buying Investment Properties

In Buying a Home, Home Values, Houston Energy Corridor, Houston Real Estate Agent, Real Estate Investment, Selling your home on August 18, 2017 at 2:29 pm

Everyone wants a magic and immediate path to wealth. The bad news? The path doesn’t exist. Wealth is attainable through more conventional means. If you come to understand the real estate industry and if you deepen your own firsthand experience as you buy and sell investment properties, you’ll be on the road to success.

Along the road, there are six core principles that will make or break each real estate investment deal. They are the most important concepts you will learn. I call them the Big Six. With each successive deal I negotiated, I grew to recognize the common elements. The Big Six are part of a sequenced step-by-step formula that enables you to identify and purchase the right income property at the right price.

The elements of the Big Six Formula that will guide you into the basics of buying income properties are the following:

Location
Location is the single most important component of any real estate deal. It is crucial in determining your investment success. Look for properties that are situated in an “A” location. Such locations include the socioeconomic levels of the people who live or work in a particular neighborhood, its proximity to shopping centers, public transportation, crime levels, the nearness of prestigious universities and medical facilities, traffic congestion, zoning restrictions, the quality of schools, fire and police protection, and even the reputation of the local government and its officials.

Building Quality and Design Efficiency
Design efficiency interfaces with building quality. When you find an investment property you’d like to buy, you will need to scrutinize both elements. Look for properties that far exceed minimum construction requirements and that have useful and innovative design elements. This will not only make the property attractive to tenants but will add value to the property in the future. Design features on apartment complexes that stand the test of time include walk-in closets, large kitchens with windows, and his-and-her bathrooms. In an office building, a common area factor of 15 percent is desirable as well as a ratio of four parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of rentable space.

Tenant Profile
Tenants can represent either an asset or a liability in an investment. When you invest, your mission is to make sure your tenant profile is the former and not the latter. Just as you want a well-constructed and well-designed property, you’ll want stable tenants who are a good match for your property and have appropriate lease agreements. Find out how much rent is generated and whether it is at market rate or under market. You want to focus on finding an income property that offers the opportunity to increase rental income and, by doing so, multiply the value of the property so that you can resell it at a substantial profit.

Upside
This fourth element refers to the cash flow growth possibilities offered by a particular property along with the likelihood that the property will increase in value. A property may cost $1,500,000 to construct, but if it brings in only the income of a $900,000 property, then it is worth only $900,000.  The key to increasing value lies in buying a solid Class B property in an “A” location where the rents are under the market, the leases are short term, and there are no options to renew the leases.

Financing
In the musical Cabaret, there is a song with the lyrics “Money makes the world go around.” It could just as easily be used to describe real estate’s role in the economic landscape. The free flow of money and access to credit is what adds vibrancy to property investment. Before you get started, you’ll need to get a number of finance-related items in order. The first thing you should do before applying for a mortgage loan is to review your credit reports and your credit scores. Also, learn the terms, understand the components of a mortgage and how they interact, and be open to the full range of financing options available. Banks and other financial institutions make money from mortgages. They are willing to negotiate. Be creative—you may be surprised at the terms you’re able to obtain from a bank or insurance companies, especially in today’s low interest rate environment.

Price
The successful evaluation of a property’s price has to do with how much information you can gather about a seller and the property than it does about the price tag on the real estate deal. You must look at the value of the property, which is not the same thing as its price. The crucial concern is not just how much the property costs, but what kind of income it can generate for you. A property may be architecturally perfect and engineeringly sound, but if you’re locked into long-term, under-market lease rates, the value will be eroded.

If you master these principles, wealth will be within reach. However, it’s not enough to just understand and utilize the Big Six. You must execute them in order. That’s because they all fit together snugly to form your customized real estate formula.

Author Kenneth D. Rosen, CCIM, is a real estate investor.

Investing in Income Properties, The Big Six Formula for Achieving Wealth in Real Estate, Second Edition is currently available at InvestingInIncomeProperties.com in both hard back and digital versions. It is also available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.

This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional advice. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of RISMedia.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2017. All rights reserved.

If you are interested in buying or selling real estate in the Energy Corridor, please contact Connie Vallone with First Market Realty at 713 249 4177  or visit www.houstonenergycorridorhomes.com  or www.vallonehomes.com .

8 Tips for Adding Curb Appeal and Value to Your Home

In Buying a Home, Home Upgrades, Home Values, Houston Energy Corridor, Houston Real Estate Agent, Real Estate Investment, Selling your home on August 9, 2017 at 6:43 pm

Here are eight ways to help your home put its best face forward.

Homes with high curb appeal command higher prices and take less time to sell. We’re not talking about replacing vinyl siding with redwood siding; we’re talking about maintenance and beautifying tasks you’d like to live with anyway.

The way your house looks from the street — attractively landscaped and well-maintained — can add thousands to its value and cut the time it takes to sell. But which projects pump up curb appeal most? Some spit and polish goes a long way, and so does a dose of color.

Related: Gorgeous Landscaping for Your House Means More Than Just Looks

Tip #1: Wash Your House’s Face

Before you scrape any paint or plant more azaleas, wash the dirt, mildew, and general grunge off the outside of your house. REALTORS® say washing a house can add $10,000 to $15,000 to the sale prices of some houses.

A bucket of soapy water and a long-handled, soft-bristled brush can remove the dust and dirt that have splashed onto your wood, vinyl, metal, stucco, brick, and fiber cement siding. Power washers (rental: $75 per day) can reveal the true color of your flagstone walkways.

Wash your windows inside and out, swipe cobwebs from eaves, and hose down downspouts. Don’t forget your garage door, which was once bright white. If you can’t spray off the dirt, scrub it off with a solution of 1/2 cup trisodium phosphate — TSP, available at grocery stores, hardware stores, and home improvement centers — dissolved in 1 gallon of water.

You and a friend can make your house sparkle in a few weekends. A professional cleaning crew will cost hundreds — depending on the size of the house and number of windows — but will finish in a couple of days.

Tip #2: Freshen the Paint Job

The most commonly offered curb appeal advice from real estate pros and appraisers is to give the exterior of your home a good paint job. Buyers will instantly notice it, and appraisers will value it. Of course, painting is an expensive and time-consuming facelift. To paint a 3,000-square-foot home, figure on spending $375 to $600 on paint; $1,500 to $3,000 on labor.

Your best bet is to match the paint you already have: Scrape off a little and ask your local paint store to match it. Resist the urge to make a statement with color. An appraiser will mark down the value of a house that’s painted a wildly different color from its competition.

Tip #3: Regard the Roof

The condition of your roof is one of the first things buyers notice and appraisers assess. Missing, curled, or faded shingles add nothing to the look or value of your house. If your neighbors have maintained or replaced their roofs, yours will look especially shabby.

You can pay for roof repairs now, or pay for them later in a lower appraisal; appraisers will mark down the value by the cost of the repair. According to the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, the national median cost of a new asphalt shingle roof is about $7,600.

Some tired roofs look a lot better after you remove 25 years of dirt, moss, lichens, and algae. Don’t try cleaning your roof yourself: call a professional with the right tools and technique to clean it without damaging it. A 2,000-square-foot roof will take a day and $400 to $600 to clean professionally.

Tip #4: Neaten the Yard

A well-manicured lawn, fresh mulch, and pruned shrubs boost the curb appeal of any home.

Replace overgrown bushes with leafy plants and colorful annuals. Surround bushes and trees with dark or reddish-brown bark mulch, which gives a rich feel to the yard. Put a crisp edge on garden beds, pull weeds and invasive vines, and plant a few geraniums in pots.

Green up your grass with lawn food and water. Cover bare spots with seeds and sod, get rid of crab grass, and mow regularly.

Tip #5: Add a Color Splash

Even a little color attracts and pleases the eye of would-be buyers.

Plant a tulip border in the fall that will bloom in the spring. Dig a flowerbed by the mailbox and plant some pansies. Place a brightly colored bench or Adirondack chair on the front porch. Get a little daring, and paint the front door red or blue.

These colorful touches won’t add to the value of our house: Appraisers don’t give you extra points for a blue bench. But beautiful colors enhance curb appeal and help your house to sell faster.

Related: Colorful Plants with Curb Appeal

Tip #6: Glam Your Mailbox

An upscale mailbox, architectural house numbers, or address plaques can make your house stand out.

High-style die cast aluminum mailboxes range from $100 to $350. You can pick up a handsome, hand-painted mailbox for about $50. If you don’t buy new, at least give your old mailbox a facelift with paint and new house numbers.

These days, your local home improvement center or hardware stores has an impressive selection of decorative numbers. Architectural address plaques, which you tack to the house or plant in the yard, typically range from $80 to $200. Brass house numbers range from $3 to $11 each, depending on size and style.

Related: 11 Ways to Create a Welcoming Front Entrance for Under $100

Tip #7: Fence Yourself In

A picket fence with a garden gate to frame the yard is an asset. Not only does it add visual punch to your property, appraisers will give extra value to a fence in good condition, although it has more impact in a family-oriented neighborhood than an upscale retirement community.

Expect to pay $2,000 to $3,500 for a professionally installed gated picket fence 3 feet high and 100 feet long.

If you already have a fence, make sure it’s clean and in good condition. Replace broken gates and tighten loose latches.

Tip #8: Maintenance Is a Must

Nothing looks worse from the curb — and sets off subconscious alarms — like hanging gutters, missing bricks from the front steps, or peeling paint. Not only can these deferred maintenance items damage your home, but they can decrease the value of your house by 10%.

Here are some maintenance chores that will dramatically help the look of your house:

  • Refasten sagging gutters.
  • Repoint bricks that have lost their mortar.
  • Reseal cracked asphalt.
  • Straighten shutters.
  • Replace cracked windows

© Copyright 2017 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

If you are interested in buying or selling real estate, please contact Connie Vallone with First Market Realty at 713 249 4177  or visit www.houstonenergycorridorhomes.com  or www.vallonehomes.com .