Monday, September 11, 2017

The 1-2-3-4's of Home Buying

What a simpler world it would be if Greenwich home buying could be reduced to a simple 4-Step process. Even better if those were four easy steps. Actually, without coming out and saying so, that’s the tantalizing prospect hinted at on radio financial guru Dave Ramsey’s website’s “Home Buying Process Made Easy.”   Ramsey is the likable media expert in household budgeting and financial planning. A good deal of his guidance could be summed up in just 2 steps:

1) Get out of debt (except for mortgage debt) as soon as humanly possible; then, 
2) Stay out.

203 Clapboard Ridge Farmhouse with Modern Addition
Since that’s not bad advice, the promise of home buying in 4 steps seems almost reasonable. After all, his millions of listeners have undoubtedly benefitted greatly through the years (once they’ve figured out a way to act on the advice).  And in fact, his 4 home buying steps are actually not far off-target—although I think they’re out of order:

1. Put your finances in order before home buying-- which should lead you to know what you can afford.
2. Do the cash flow math. Ramsey thinks your Greenwich home’s monthly mortgage payments should be no more than a quarter of your net income.
3. Get a home loan. Make this a 15-year fixed rate mortgage to minimize total interest paid.
4. Use a good real estate agent-  To make sure you are paying at or below fair market value and deal with any “unexpected home buying hurdles.”

Realistically, Greenwich home buying has a bit more involvement than these 4 steps and Step 4 should actually come after Step 2, and Step 3 (getting a mortgage) should come after you have zeroed in on your target Greenwich  home.

On a practical note: the 15-year mortgage structure automatically results in a higher monthly payment that, when combined with a 25% of net income budget cap, could yield an unrealistically limited budget target. Being financially conservative also means being realistic. A growing family, for instance, might find that they have wasted money if they have to move to a larger home after only a few years. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Five Ways The Real Estate Marketplace Changes In September

New To The Market: 203 Clapboard Ridge, Renovated and Expanded Farmhouse $3.195 Million

A while back, Forbes noted what they called “The Four Ways the Real Estate Market Changes” after Labor Day. Between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, Fall's change of season alters the house hunting landscape.

In Greenwich, Forbe's  broad brush proposition that a great number of house hunters throw in the towel after Labor Day is simply not true, in fact, it is our second strongest selling season-- right behind the Spring market. I suggest that there are five market changes  supporting a healthy Fall selling season-- and reason to list your property now. 

1. More of a buyer’s market. Buyers who have held off through the prime Spring selling season are more apt to find sellers who are more open to negotiation. 
2. Action increases for second homes. This is prime time for out-of-towners to consider a home that puts them near New York City and the beach.  Greenwich has 28 miles of coastline and a spectacular beach, Tod's Point.  What's more, it's just 48 minutes by train or car to Manhattan.  Those who have battled the drive to the Hamptons all summer are discovering that Greenwich is a viable option for beach, luxury amenities, and quick access to the Big Apple.   
3. Price dips. House hunters find that asking prices, like the autumn leaves, fall.  Sellers who have been thinking of a price reduction and have held off during Summer, come back at Fall market time with a price reduction, hoping to make a sale before the holidays.  
4. Open-ended house hunting. Time pressures (like having to be moved in by the first day of school) will have vanished by Labor Day, so many Greenwich house hunters tend to adopt a more leisurely house hunting attitude. There may also be something about crisp autumn days (and they’ll be here soon enough) that helps contribute to a more relaxed atmosphere—at least until the holidays loom! 
5.     New Inventory.  Many savvy realtors hold back new inventory after Memorial Day, knowing the summer is the quietest season, and introduce properties right after Labor Day.  My team has 6 terrific new properties coming to the market in the next few weeks.  This means more choices and fresh selection for buyers.

Every Greenwich buyer has specific and individual goals and expectations—and of course, the same is true for sellers. But it does seem to be true that post-Labor Day, Greenwich listings tend to include an uptick in price reductions—as well as some withdrawals that, as Forbes might have it, “will sprout anew” come springtime.

If your busy summer included activities and travel that kept you fully occupied, now may be an opportune time to inaugurate or resume your Greenwich focus. And contact me if you would like to a pre-market glimpse of what our team has coming.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Property Insurance-- Three Tips That May Reduce Your Cost

For most area homeowners, the 110-decibel wail of nearby fire engines may not be a sought-after feature when selecting the ideal neighborhood. Nonetheless, according to The Wall Street Journal, living close to a firehouse has its advantages. Safety is one. A reduction in your homeowner’s insurance bill, another.

Not all homes in Greenwich can have the advantage of being next door to a firehouse, but just about everybody knows that having the proper insurance is important to protect not only the structure itself but also the valuables within. Here are three possible actions you could take this month, any or all of which might reduce the cost of your homeowner’s insurance premium:

Shop Around – We are much more likely to spend our time “liking" photos on social media than in contemplating advanced insurance plan strategies. A visit to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners website can help identify important nuances when selecting a vendor. Example: review complaints. 
Reduce Coverages - Most people insure their homes for the full amount they paid at the time of purchase. If you bought your home in Greenwich for $1.6 million, you automatically insured it for that amount. But in the event of a loss event like a fire, you don’t necessarily need the full purchase price to rebuild the property—remember, that purchase price included the cost of the land. This idea should be weighed realistically against today’s costs. Take care not to go light on the replacement cost of your belongings (many folks do). A new inventory can help in that department. 
Just Ask! - While discounts vary with each insurer, the following details might qualify your home in Greenwich for a discount if you just go ahead and inquire: 
Multi-policies with the same company.
Length of time with the same company.
A smoke detector or sprinkler system.
An alarm system, deadbolt locks, or other security measures.
You have not made a claim in recent history.
Your household doesn’t include smokers. 
You qualify for a senior discount.
Your credit score has improved.
While not all of us are willing to move next door to a firehouse to save on our home insurance, there are multiple ways to whittle down policy premiums. Ask what can be done to bring down your premiums.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Does Owning A Pet Impact the Sale of Your Greenwich Home?

 Pets and Greenwich real estate have a love/hate/love relationship—a strong one. For prospective Greenwich buyers and renters who own pets, a home’s suitability can be a make-or-break element in their decision. But how the home sellers handle their own pet wrangling is another matter entirely.
The statistics give us a glimpse into just how consequential the issue has become. The majority (61%) of American households either have or plan to have a pet in the future—and of those who answered a real estate survey this year, 81% said it would influence their choice of residence. If you know many dog or cat owners (or are one yourself), that comes as no surprise. Ninety-nine percent consider their animals to be part of the family.
For Greenwich homeowners who are contemplating selling, there is a seemingly contradictory takeaway when it comes to all of this. There’s little doubt that if they have successfully created a safe and comfortable home for their own pet, it should be a plus for the 61% cited above. After all, it’s living proof that their own dog or cat will be right at home with minimal fuss, right?
Yes and no.  I never hesitate to point out the pet-friendly features of a property—especially when the prospective buyers have indicated that it’s on their own wish list. It’s a hallmark of 21st century Americans that whenever the subject of dogs or cats comes up, the ensuing conversation will quickly turn to the personality quirks of the current menagerie (if it doesn’t, those folks are petless).
Sooooo, you might assume that if a homeowner’s Greenwich real estate encompasses comfortable quarters for their own cat or dog, it would be a plus to have said creatures on display as part of a showing. But just about every Realtor® on the face of the planet will agree: not so! The near universal recommendation is to not only to send the family animals off for a temporary field trip anywhere else, but to put some effort into erasing the evidence of their recent presence—most particularly, odors! Lose the dog beds! Pack the kitty beds off somewhere in the garage! Pick up the dog toys! Stash the water dishes!
The fact is, the idea that dogs and cats can be comfortably housed on a property is a plus—but the actual dogs and cats themselves are a minus. Too distracting. Too personal. A major goal in showing a home is to enable the potential buyers to project their own personalities onto the property: to see themselves living there. A strange dog or kitty roaming around inhibits that. And there is another reason: people can be counted on to respond to the pet (especially dogs) one way or another—it’s quite likely to become the most powerful memory of the whole outing!

Monday, May 22, 2017

How To Maximize Property Value In Appraisals

You’ve probably heard the wry old saying: “Nothing clears the mind like the prospect of being hanged at dawn.” For some homeowners, you could add an equally wry modern Greenwich real estate version: “Nothing clears the mind like having a real estate appraiser drop by for a look-see.”

I’d like to counter that notion—there’s really not much to worry over when the Greenwich real estate appraiser is scheduled to make an appearance. The stress level can be lowered by keeping a few simple ideas in mind:

1. Appraisals aren’t showings. Sure, you want to have the house as spruced up and orderly as you would for any visitor. But your property doesn’t have to present the kind of perfection it will for an open house or prospective buyer showing. Experienced Greenwich appraisers aren’t looking for a 100% clutter-free, immaculate show-stopper of a home: they will be concentrating on physical details like square footage and structural and mechanical features. They are more like backstage workers than audience members—but neatness can’t hurt!
2. Paperwork is a plus. If they are available, dig out any floor plans or location plats you may have filed away. Also, the age of your home is one thing, but updated features can boost the end appraisal value. If you prepare a list of improvements and the years in which they were completed, it will make the appraiser’s job that much easier—and your Greenwich home’s appraisal that much better.
3. Curb appeal is the exception. Appraisals aren’t showings, but no one—even the professional who prepares your Greenwich appraisal—is immune to the “first impression” effect. Condition is a factor in any appraisal, so it will be worthwhile to be sure the front lawn is mowed and plantings trimmed. If the front doorway is in need of a paint refresher, it will be effort worth making.
4. Consideration helps. The appraiser’s job is part physical, so being considerate of that part of the appraisal process will be appreciated. Be sure that obstructions are cleared, that rooms are appropriately heated and cooled—and that Lassie and Garfield aren’t allowed to pester.
5. New good news is good news. If there have been positive changes in the neighborhood, it can’t hurt to let the appraiser know about them. Greenwich may be part of a rising market, but appraisers don’t speculate on future values. Supplying some positive neighborhood developments can be persuasive. 

There is another “nothing clears the mind” quote, too: Nothing clears the mind like buying property. That saying isn’t wry at all: it’s absolutely true! If you are setting out on your own Greenwich house hunt, I hope you’ll give me a call to help focus your search. And if you’re readying to sell your own Greenwich property (which puts you in the soon-to-be-visited-by-the-appraiser category) the same applies. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Power of Staging Your Home

The living room at 70 Sumner Road Greenwich CT, newly painted and staged.

The family room at 70 Sumner Road.  Edited accessories and staged.
Showings—whether here in Greenwich or anywhere else—can sometimes succeed or fail as a result of quite minor details. Appreciating that fact isn’t hard to do when you relate showings to their first cousins: live theatre. In important ways, they are quite similar.

Think of what happens when you attend a play. The audience finds their seats, settle in, and wait for the action to begin. The house lights dim, the stage lights brighten, and the action begins. If all goes without a hitch, the play captures your attention—and it has every chance of successfully casting the spell the author and director intended.

But if one element is jarringly out of place, the whole effort will go up in smoke! If a stagehand accidentally wanders onstage, the illusion is wrecked. Likewise, if a drama’s agonizing death scene is perfectly portrayed—up until the moment when the dying actress' wig begins to slip—the audience will be hard pressed to stay in the moment.

In a different way, the success of Greenwich showings is subject to similar kinds of missteps. The illusion we are after isn’t that of a home that has desirable features and is in great condition—that’s no illusion: it’s real! The illusion part comes when we create the impression that the current owners are not much in residence; that the home—although it may be furnished—presents itself in a neutral kind of way that seems to be awaiting the new owners’ belongings and personal touches.

Showings tend to be most successful if prospective buyers have no trouble envisioning themselves as the comfortable new owners. They may or may not find that the spaces and features will accommodate their family’s needs—that’s not subject to illusion. But showings have the best chance for success if the “stage” is clear of distracting elements. That’s why evidence of pets should be avoided. Strong odors of any kind, likewise (one of my current country listings pops an apple pie in the oven for every showing and I swear it lifts everyone's spirits). Family photos should be removed if at all possible; personal mementos of all kinds stored out of sight, and so forth.

When you appreciate the reasoning behind a showing’s attempted illusion, you can see why savvy realtors advise against decor schemes featuring strong colors. It is also why it’s a good idea for owners to safely vacate the premises with a few minutes to spare. It’s not because the owner is objectionable—it’s that the presence of the owner counteracts the illusion.

The funny thing is that the “illusion” is actually an authentic projection: it’s a mock-up of the reality that will come to pass if the prospect does decide to become the home’s owner.
Part art, part theatre, a little magic.  Putting your best foot forward in every way possible is all part of the selling process.  

Friday, March 24, 2017

Top Ten Signs That Your House May Be Haunted

A writer with The Greenwich Times recently interviewed me on living in old homes.  Having lived in 8 old homes during our married life, my husband and I have some experience in this regard.  The article, This House Has A Soul, speaks to the kind of person that does well living in a pre-war home.  

What it doesn't talk about is a whole different dimension on the topic:  The possible presence of a ghost or ghosts.  A Google search of "ghosts in my house" turns up 6 million results.  

A review of the literature shows some common themes.  Based on that search, here is my list of the Top 10 Signs That Your House Is Haunted:

1.  Lights turning on and off, or up and down, on their own.
2.  Light bulbs blowing frequently.
3.  Unexplained noises – but when you go to investigate, there is nothing there.
4.  Doors and cabinets opening and closing on their own.
5.  Seeing unexplained shadows from the corner of your eye.
6.  Items disappear then reappear or change direction/orientation.
7.  Strange behaviour from your pets, e.g. dogs barking or growling at something you cannot see, cats staring in a particular area as if they can see someone.
8.  Hearing voices of people, whispers, or someone calling your name.
9.  Seeing twinkling lights, mists or unexplained moving shapes.
10.  Sudden temperature drops, especially in one area of the property.

What should you do if you think you have a ghost?  There's 79 million opinions on the Internet, to help you arrive at a plan of action.