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You’ll encounter special joys and hurdles when you’re alone in the deal. These 8 strategies will smooth your path to buying.

If you’re single and thinking of buying a home, you’re in great company. Solo buyers made a quarter of all U.S. real-estate purchases last year, according to the National Association of Realtors’ Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers 2012. Twice as many single women bought homes as did single men. 

Buying a home as a single person is much like buying with a partner. You shop, select and finance a piece of property, as all buyers do.

But there are distinct differences when you’re alone in the deal. All the joys and burdens are yours alone. The research, the shopping, the financing and, eventually, the bills and upkeep – yep, all yours. While that probably sounds obvious, there are implications you may not have considered.

Master of his domain
Carl Toll, a single, 36-year-old network technician, bought his 1,600-square-foot Denver home in 2007, after a bad roommate experience soured him on the rental life.

“This isn’t working out,” he decided after the housemate moved out without telling him. “I want to be the master of my own domain.”

Shopping and purchasing were pretty easy, he says. He thought through each aspect of his purchase carefully. He wanted a low-maintenance home: “I didn’t want to have to replace water heaters and furnaces right off the bat.” So he looked for something built recently.

He’s not a parent, but he shopped only in highly rated school districts to help ensure the resale value of his purchase. He has enjoyed the house, the neighborhood and the sense of independence that owning his own home gives him, he says.

Getting a mortgage alone
Toll’s experience was smooth, but many solo buyers face challenges. The recession has been one of the biggest. In the early recession years, single homebuyers enjoyed a boost from federal first-time-homebuyer tax credits in 2009 and 2010.

Stacy Erickson, a 29-year-old professional organizer, bought her 700-square-foot co-op apartment on Seattle’s Capitol Hill in 2009. “That was a really good year for people like me,” she says. “I was able to borrow some money for a down payment and then pay it all back with the tax credit.”

But by 2011, the recession hit solo buyers hard. “Single-income households are more reluctant to make big-ticket purchases in times of economic uncertainty,” according to the NAR’s Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. Home purchases by singles fell an “unprecedented” 7% between 2010 and 2012.

The biggest hurdle for singles is qualifying for a mortgage. “In most cases that I see, it is more difficult for a single buyer to purchase than a two-person household,” says Craig Tashjian, vice president at Fairway Independent Mortgage in Needham, Mass.

One bonus: Singles aren’t dragged down by a partner’s credit score, loans or credit card debt. Tashjian says couples often get stuck with a higher interest rate because of one member’s low credit score.

Couples, though, usually have an advantage, says Marcus McCue, executive vice president at Guardian Mortgage Co., which operates in Texas and Michigan. Not only do they have two incomes but also, when sharing overhead, “one plus one usually equals more than two, as many expenses are joint and not duplicated.”

Difficulties in qualifying sometimes lead buyers, especially younger ones, to ask parents or other relatives for financial help.

“I have seen people choose to continue renting as a result of not wanting to involve any other parties in a purchase and pay more rent than they would if they purchased,” New York real-estate agent Brad Malow says.

Shopping solo — the triumphs
Single shoppers are alone with all the decisions required to buy a home. That can be harrowing. But there’s also a special sense of accomplishment to buying a home alone.

“I was the one who had to come up with all of the financing without support from a spouse or partner,” Erickson says. “However, I was also the one who got the choices and all of the decisions. I didn’t have to worry about someone else and what they liked or didn’t like.”

Homebuying is a means of self-expression, particularly for singles, says Jennifer De Vivo, an Orlando, Fla., real-estate agent. “It’s a way for singles to express their lifestyles and values. They are able to focus on the exact communities, home styles and features that cater to their individuality with much less compromise.”

Despite the exhilaration, buying solo can be nerve-wracking without a confidant and sounding board. To compensate, singles often work more closely with their agents. In the best cases, they form a tight bond.

“I find that I become more involved, like a friend,” says Jerry Grodesky, managing broker at Farm and Lake Houses Real Estate Inc. in Loda, Ill.

Watching the satisfaction that single buyers get from tackling one of life’s major milestones on their own is rewarding for an agent, Malow says. “I have to say that the closings with these buyers just thrill me.”

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original article by: Marilyn Lewis of MSN Real Estate

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When we were building our new construction home, the driveway almost seemed like an afterthought. With everything else so close to being finished, we walked around with a can of orange spray paint imagining the ideal path from the street to our garage doors.

So, if not in our experience, then generally speaking, the driveway occupies an important place in overall home and property design. When planning your driveway, there are several things to consider:

Budget
Sometimes money plays a big role in decision-making on materials. As you are thinking about budget, be sure to factor in the varying long-term costs associated with different types of driveways. While a paver driveway carries relatively high upfront costs, maintaining one isn’t expensive. Gravel, on the other hand, is perhaps the least expensive to install but requires the sort of regular maintenance that doesn’t come cheap. Before deciding on a material, make sure you understand what the driveway’s total cost will be over its anticipated lifetime.

Curb appeal
As viewed from the street, your driveway can make a big impression on the look of your house. And certain materials complement certain architectural styles more than others. A gravel driveway would make a nice visual accompaniment to a farmhouse cottage, whereas a herringbone-pattern brick driveway would better suit a colonial-style residence. In short, think about what your choice of driveway will add to, or take away from, curb appeal.

Climate
Some driveway materials may not be appropriate for the climate where you live. For instance, asphalt endures freeze-thaw cycles better than concrete. And heavy rainfalls can negatively affect driveway surfaces that are more prone to erosion, such as gravel and pea stone. Snow, humidity, rainfall and temperature changes are all factors that ought to influence your final decision. Do your homework.

Maintenance
Each material has its own maintenance requirements. For instance, asphalt requires resealing every three to five years. If you live in a place where plowing snow is necessary, a gravel drive will require replacement of moved material each spring. Is the maintenance required of a given material such that you can do it yourself, or will you need to contract someone to handle the work? A smart driveway design will take these questions into account.

Durability
What kind of traffic will your driveway be getting? Will there be lots of heavy trucks on it, or just passenger cars? Some materials are durable, others more finicky. And what’s the grade like? Gravel and pea-stone drives with a pitch are prone to erosion. Also, how long will the driveway be expected to last — 20 years? 40 years? And what kind of maintenance is required to maximize lifespan?

Whatever material you decide to use for your driveway, make sure you take time to lay it out right. If you’ll need space for guests to park, make sure to allow for that.

Once the rough grading is done, take a test drive into the garage from the street (and back the other way) to make sure it tracks comfortably for your biggest vehicle. You don’t want to swipe off your side-view mirror!

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.468.5753

Original Article By: Jennifer Noonan of BobVila.com

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Here’s just how seriously you should take the radiation emanating from your granite counters, among other potential home hazards.

Every now and then a news report gets people worked up about hidden dangers lurking in their homes. Should you be afraid that the radiation coming from your granite countertop or the flame retardants in your furniture are trying to kill you?

Granite countertops
A beautiful granite countertop can make any kitchen pop. Yet every once in a while people go into panic mode, freaking out about the fact that granite is a rock that can have some radioactive elements and could potentially give off radon, which can be harmful in high concentrations. But while the very mention of the word radiation is enough to stoke fears, you don’t really need to worry about this one. The EPA says that radon is more likely to come into your house from the soil than from your kitchen counters (and granite isn’t a very porous stone to begin with, meaning it doesn’t give out as much radiation as others).

Furthermore, any buildup of radon in the kitchen or bathroom is unlikely, as those rooms tend to have good ventilation systems. “It is extremely unlikely that granite countertops in homes could increase the radiation dose above the normal, natural background dose that comes from soil and rocks,” the EPA says.
Fear rating: Extremely low
Precautions: Be more worried about legitimate dangers in the kitchen, such as food safety and keeping sharp objects and cleaning solutions away from kids.

Particleboard and formaldehyde

Particleboard-based furniture may be great for furnishing your place on a budget. But pressed wood products such as particleboard tend to contain formaldehyde resins in the adhesives that hold the wood particles together. Formaldehyde is a surprisingly common volatile chemical, but it’s definitely not good for you. Luckily, good ventilation and keeping heat and humidity to a minimum can reduce the amount of formaldehyde released from furniture.

Fear Rating: Low
Precautions: Check what kind of adhesives furniture manufacturers used to make your products. Since the 1980s, when the EPA restricted the maximum allowable formaldehyde emissions from this kind of furniture, many companies have made efforts to substantially reduce the amount of the chemical in their production.

Flame retardants

A recent study found that 85% of couches tested in California contained flame retardants that have not been evaluated for human safety.

Couches in California are required to have flame-retardant properties, but some scientists worry that the chemicals used to prevent flaming sofas might be linked to hormone disruption, cancer and neurological issues — not to mention that these flame retardants aren’t necessarily present at levels in which they are effective at fire prevention.

No decisive link to health problems has been proved. The problem is that the replacements for pentabromodiphenyl ether, which the EPA banned from new products after 2005, haven’t been fully tested, according to study author Heather Stapleton of Duke University. Stapleton says that she and her colleagues are pursuing long-term health studies. The presence of these chemicals in the air outside the couch is worrying — especially as the same kinds of foam are currently used in baby mattresses and supplies.

Look for a label that mentions Technical Bulletin 117 — if it’s there then your couch probably has flame retardants. If it’s not, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t flame retardants, it just means that you don’t know for certain.
Fear rating: Medium
Precautions: Stapleton says that people worried about the dust should wash their hands frequently, especially before eating, to reduce chances of ingesting any toxic chemicals. Removing dust by cleaning regularly can help, too, but Stapleton cautions that vacuuming and dusting can cause some particles to become airborne.

 

Microwaves

Microwaves have been in our homes long enough to inspire lots of fear mongering, worries and urban legends. Rumors that microwaving plastic will poison your food, or that the radiation will disrupt pacemakers, have been around for years. According to the FDA, most of this is nonsense. No, you shouldn’t use some plastics in the microwave — because they could melt —but you can solve that problem by checking the bottom of the package to see what’s allowed; if the item is microwave-safe, there is sometimes a symbol (a box with wavy lines inside it) that indicates it is safe for microwave use. Pacemakers used to be affected by microwaves, but are now shielded. And you’re not going to get radiation injuries from a microwave; it just isn’t powerful enough to do any damage.

Interestingly, the FDA does warn about erupting hot water. Apparently, heating water in a clean cup for a long time can cause the water to get superheated. It reaches temperatures above the boiling point without the distinctive bubbling of a rolling boil. When anything is added to the water, or it is shaken, then it can erupt, causing burns.
Fear Rating: Medium
Precautions: Check labels, and don’t heat that cup of water for tea for too long.

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Mary Beth Griggs of Popular Mechanics

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You can save 75% — or even more — when you buy these gently used items.

If you’re an avid thrift shopper like me, you know that every secondhand store has its own unique personality. Some stores are great for furniture, others for clothing; some seem to have the market cornered on books, and a few just seem to have older and more unique items than all the rest.Regardless of the personality of your favorite store, there are five standard items that you should always be on the lookout for in every thrift store. Here’s my not-so-scientific list of the top five items that offer the highest savings when compared with retail.

 

1. Shoes

If you can get over the mental roadblock of buying used shoes, it’ll do wonders for your budget. With decent-quality leather shoes ranging anywhere from $65 to $85 retail, scoring a gently used pair for $6 means you’re saving at least 90%. Focus on condition and pay special attention to soles and heels; avoid wear patterns that might affect your stride. Give leather some TLC with mink oil or shoe polish.

 

2. Belts

When did a buckled strip of leather with some holes at one end become worth $32? I’m pretty picky and my wardrobe reflects it, but I haven’t paid more than $4 for a belt in years. Sure, sometimes you walk away empty-handed. But if you’re willing to look and wait for just the right item, you can find great deals on all kinds of leather accessories like belts, wallets, and purses too.

 

3. Jeans

When I was a teenager, I saved for three months to buy a new pair of Guess jeans. I still remember the price back then ($40). Even in all their acid-washed glory, that seemed like an outrageous sum. Today, that’s a bargain price for an off-brand. Thrift stores are great places to take advantage of the growth spurts and fickle tastes of kids and pick up good-quality jeans for about $7. Deals on adult denim are easy to find too. It just takes a little patience, a few trips to the dressing room, and maybe a quick alteration.

4. Furniture

After you’ve been thrifting for a few years, strolling through most retail settings is like visiting a foreign land: You can appreciate the beauty, but you don’t understand what’s being said. Nowhere is this feeling more pronounced than in furniture stores. Spending $219 for a nightstand or $389 for an accent chair? What language are they speaking?

 

Last month I made a quick stop at a local charity’s thrift center and found a club chair and matching ottoman for $80. It was so new it still smelled like the furniture store that had donated it. All it needed was one small repair to the roping detail along the top edge of the ottoman. It took all of 10 minutes to make it look showroom perfect.

 

Check your local thrift store for lamps, nightstands, coffee tables, and bed frames. They can usually be found in perfect or near-perfect condition. Items in rougher shape can become weekend projects and get a second life with a bit of sanding and varnish or paint. Often the sheer quality of older items makes them worthy candidates for a salvage project. Look for quality markers like solid wood construction and dovetail joints.

 

5. Books

Even if you have an e-reader, sometimes it’s nice to hold a book in your hands. And thrift stores are treasure-troves of good used books. Retail prices for paperbacks range from $12.99 to $14; at most thrift shops, they’re 89 cents to $2.99. That’s a minimum savings of about 75%. Thrift stores in college towns and larger cities seem to have the quickest turnover in books and the best selection. Grab some coffee and stroll through their stacks.

 

Successful thrifting is all about being persistent, knowing what you need today and might need tomorrow, and seizing a good a deal when you find it. If you know the right categories to mine, thrift shopping can be a way to save some serious cash by avoiding retail prices on as much as you can whenever you can.

 

Do you focus on certain categories when you thrift shop? What’s the best deal you’ve ever scored secondhand?

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Karen Datko

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If you’re justifying home renovations thinking that you’ll recover the costs when you sell, you may want to recalculate.

Homeowners who want to remodel will find both joy and sorrow in the 2013 Cost vs. Value Report, recently published by Remodeling Magazine.

The joy comes from the report’s finding that remodeling projects overall could be expected to return a higher percentage of their cost at resale in 2013, reversing a six-year decline in the recovered value of such investments. Every project on the national list posted a higher return in 2012 than it did in the prior year. The sorrow is that while returns are higher than they were, they’re still far short of 100%.

The complete list included 22 midrange projects, ranging from a $1,137 steel entry door replacement to a $152,470 second-story addition, and 13 upscale projects, ranging from a $2,720 garage door replacement to a $220,086 master suite addition.

Best return

In the mid-range category, the least costly project — that steel entry door replacement — posted the highest return at 85.6%  of the cost.

Other midrange projects that returned 70% or better were an attic bedroom, basement remodel, wood deck addition, garage door replacement, minor kitchen remodel, vinyl siding replacement and vinyl window replacement. The lowest-returning mid-range project was a home office remodel, which recouped just 43.6%.

In the upscale category, the highest-returning project was a fiber-cement siding replacement, which recaptured 79.3%. Other upscale projects that returned 60% or better were a garage door replacement, foam-backed vinyl siding replacement and vinyl window replacement. The lowest-returning upscale project was the master suite addition, which recouped just 52.1%.

Money-losers

And in those figures also lies the sorrow. That steel entry door replacement was the only project in the midrange or upscale category that achieved at least an 80% cost recovery, nationally. The home-improvement projects returned only a 60.6% national average. That’s not much of an incentive, financially speaking, for home improvements.

Replacement projects generally were a better investment than remodeling or room additions. Cost-and-value-recapture percentages varied widely on a regional basis.

Contractors agree with the positive outlook

Remodeling contractors have high expectations for 2013, according to a fourth-quarter 2012 survey by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry in Des Plaines, Ill.

The survey found remodelers reported better business conditions, more inquires, more requests for bids, more conversions of bids into jobs and a higher value of total jobs compared with the prior quarter.

Tom O’Grady, chairman of the NARI strategic planning committee and president of O’Grady Builders, a remodeling company, in Drexel Hill, Pa., said in a statement that remodelers were anticipating major growth in their businesses.

“Many (remodelers are) saying that their clients are feeling more stable in their financial future and their employment situations; therefore, they are spending more freely on remodeling needs,” O’Grady said.

The 2013 Cost vs. Value Report is a snapshot of generic projects and shouldn’t be applied to individual homes. Instead, homeowners should get estimates from local remodelers and discuss home values with a local real estate professional.

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Marcie Geffner, HSH.com

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Solo women are the second-largest group of home purchasers. Their wants and needs are helping to shape the real-estate market.

Kishia S. Ward wasn’t looking for the home of her dreams when she bought her two-bedroom, 2½-bath townhouse. The 25-year-old student and former business analyst wanted a place “not so much to live in forever but as an investment property, something temporary that, later on when I get married and have a family, I can rent out.”

Single female homebuyers such as Ward are a powerhouse group in the real-estate market. In 2011, when Ward bought her home, three of her female friends, also singles in their 20s, also purchased homes. Single women — a group that includes the divorced, never married and widowed — make roughly one in five home purchases annually, according to the National Association of Realtors, second only to married couples, who are about two-thirds of the market.

It wasn’t always this way. In the 1970s, “it was very difficult for a single woman to get a credit card, much less a mortgage,” says Walter Molony, spokesman for the NAR.

In 1981, when the NAR started watching, single women and single men each made about 10% of home purchases. Purchases by single men have stayed steady. Single women, however, pulled ahead in the late ’80s, when women grew as a presence in the workforce and social change put pressure on lenders.

Single women’s market share reached 20% in 1985 and hovered there until recession and tight credit pulled it down to 16% in 2012. Unmarried couples make 8% of purchases.

Finally, recognition
Although single women are getting more recognition in the real-estate market, some experts say that many bankers, mortgage brokers, builders and real-estate agents fail to understand their distinct needs and shopping habits.

Jeanie Douthitt, a real-estate agent in Plano, Texas, specializes in helping single women buy and sell homes. Her experiences and her friends’ stories showed her that solo women often weren’t served well in the market. “We all, at the end of the day, had the same experience, and it was not good,” says Douthitt, owner of Smart Women Buy Homes. Her team includes a title agent and mortgage broker, and they all focus on educating clients.

Douthitt tells how one friend, a mother and capable 20-year IBM executive, struggled when she tried buying a home in 2004 after inheriting money. The woman visited a property for sale and encountered the homeowner, who asked, “Honey, do you think you can afford this?”

“He assumed that because I was a single woman I couldn’t afford it,” the friend told Douthitt. “If it was the last house on earth I wouldn’t have bought it.”

Douthitt says many women, accomplished in other realms, feel slightly intimidated by real estate and mortgages. She felt much the same in 1988, when, as a single mother, she bought her first home. She didn’t know how to find out what she could afford to spend. “Do I find the house first?” she wondered. “Or do I have to get a mortgage first?” Now she helps clients get qualified for a mortgage first, so they know what price home they’re qualified to buy.

What women want
While researching her book, “Own It! The Ups and Downs of Homebuying for Women Who Go It Alone,” Jennifer Musselman met many single female homebuyers and owners who confessed that they felt overwhelmed by shopping alone for a home and mortgage. “Women, generally speaking, always thought that home purchasing would be something we would do with someone else, as part of a relationship,” Musselman says.

This emphasis on relationships shapes many women’s approach to homebuying, Douthitt says. Often, for example, they need to develop a relationship with an agent before they feel comfortable asking questions.

“Women want a relationship,” Douthitt says. “They want that trust and respect on both sides. Men are more transactional. They just want to go get it.”

Her female buyers often need more time than men do to make a decision. They do lots of research. Agents who don’t understand this get frustrated and mistake women’s penchant for collaboration for indecisiveness, she says.

Before Ward engaged a real-estate agent, she did lots of research online to learn which neighborhoods fit her requirements, but her agent wouldn’t listen. She didn’t seem to take her seriously. “I don’t know if it was because I was a woman or because I was young,” she says. She moved on to another agent who was more attentive.

Single buyers — women in particular — like to recruit friends and family to help them decide. “Single women don’t have a spouse to bounce the decision around with,” Douthitt points out. One buyer wanted Douthitt to meet her mom, her dad, her pastor and her brother from California before she could commit to a purchase.

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Marilyn Lewis of MSN Real Estate

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A study of 300,000 real estate listings finds some phrases can work wonders when it comes to attracting potential buyers.

Want to sell your home? A survey suggests that certain phrases and buzzwords in real-estate ads help move some properties faster — and that those terms can vary depending on where you live and the neighborhood price range.
A study by Point2Homes.com of 300,000 real estate listings made last year found certain words or phrases highlighting a property’s attributes and upgrades “seem to carry a special weight with people looking for a home.”

 

Certain terms were universally popular. As you might expect, “beautiful” was the most frequently used word in overall real estate listings, followed by “hardwood floors” and “stainless-steel appliances.”

 

But the study found a localized popularity of some terms or phrases, depending on the region.

 

People looking for homes on the West Coast reportedly had a preference for “beautiful” homes with “mountain views” or “ocean views” — as well as “gated communities.”

 

But East Coast home seekers were attracted by places listed as ready to “move right in,” “renovated” and with “gleaming hardwood floors.”

 

In the Midwest, terms like “spacious living room,” “attached garage” and “plenty of storage” were big sellers for listings — while Southern real estate listings that featured a “tennis court,” “high ceilings” and “community pool” also did well.

 

Point2Homes also looked at descriptions of homes in New York City that sold faster than the 180-day average for that market. And given the Big Apple’s cramped living spaces, it’s not too surprising that some top words and phrases for NYC real-estate listings included  “closet space,” “city views,” “soaking tub,” “sunny,” “open kitchen,” “oversized windows” and “elegant.”

 

As any professional writer will tell you, a good description can be worth its weight in gold. Elaine Clayman, managing director with the venerable luxury real-estate firm Brown Harris Stevens, says creative use of language can certainly attract consumers and help sell homes faster. “Soaking tub is more inviting than bath tub, for example,” she notes. “Private storage is also more compelling than public storage.”

 

And there are certain terms that can help boost potential sales for homes listed at $500,000 and above. “Private” is a very popular adjective in those listings, along with “well-maintained” and a “covered front porch.”

 

There are some interesting variations as well when you get into the so-called luxury ($1 million to $5 million) and mega-luxury ($5 million and over) ranges. Luxury homes reportedly do well when they’re advertised as having “ocean views,” a “guest house” and a “media room.”  But people considering mega-luxury properties were attracted to homes featuring “a pool house,” “a wine room” and “a home theater.”

 

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Bruce Kennedy

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