Category Archives: Advice

Now or Later: When Is the Right Time to Buy a Phoenix Home?

4-1-15-buyahouseA few weeks ago, an eye-catching article surfaced on the Investopedia web site—one with the arresting title of “When is the Right Time to Buy a Home?” I have always assumed that for prospective Phoenix home buyer, the answer to that question varies by the individual circumstances. But if there is a more cut-and-dried universal answer, it would certainly be good to know it. Definitely worth reading.

Despite its name, Investopedia is not an encyclopedic history of investing. Its own history is interesting, though—it started in Canada, was acquired by Forbes, then sold a short while later to ValueClick for $42,000,000 (talk about good investments)!

The article that was to supply the answer to “When is the Right Time to Buy a Home?” did turn out to have the right answer, though it’s a little less definitive that you would hope—prospective Phoenix home buyers don’t get the simple “NOW” or “LATER,” which would be most useful. However, before the final answer is presented, scattered between the many ads and other clickbait that apparently pay for Investopedia are some interesting current facts and observations, and several cop-outs.

When it comes to the big question, “When is the Right Time to Buy a Home?” by halfway through the article, it’s looking a bit more like “now” than “later.” It cites The National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Opportunity Index, which now finds that nationally, the majority of homes are affordable for families earning a median income of $63,900. True, most Phoenix families don’t earn exactly $63,900, but still, it’s good to know. Reading on, we learn that this level of affordability has been better in the past, and might be better later “unless mortgage rates move higher in the future.” Since elsewhere on the site we find that “the consensus is that interest rates will rise,” it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to deduce where “When is the Right Time to Buy a Home?” is leading.

Or so you might assume, before the article quotes a saying on Wall Street: Don’t try to time the market, which Investopedia advises also applies to real estate. Oddly enough, it also says, “If you’re looking for an edge, interest rates are near historic lows so now appears to be a better time than most for purchasing a home.”

That’s a pretty strong hint, but the answer isn’t spelled out. Yet. There follow some bits of good advice (hire an inspector prior to purchasing a home; don’t buy a car while your credit is being checked; inquire about taxes) before we get to the ultimate heading, “THE BOTTOM LINE.” It took a while, but here is the advice Phoenix readers would have been looking for all along, bottom-linewise.

Investopedia’s answer for “When is the Right Time to Buy a Home?” is a lot more sensible than most: “When you can afford it.”

I couldn’t agree more. Even if all the other factors weren’t as positive as they are today, being able to make a good fit financially is at the top of the list.

If now is that time for you—or if it’s time for you to put your own Phoenix home on the market—it’s also a good time to give me a call!

Expanding Perceived Value for a House for Sale in Scottsdale

4-1-15-homevalue_2Trying to ferret out which features home buyers value most is no simple matter, even though that’s of particular importance when you have a Scottsdale house for sale. Updated kitchens and bathrooms are always near the top of the ‘most desired’ features compilations; and I’d put ample storage right there with them. It may not come to mind when you ask prospects what they value the most, because it’s a “feature” that’s so much an integral part of a home’s design—but a house for sale with small closets and few drawers is still likely to register with buyers as somehow “smaller” than others with the same square footage.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, updated cabinets and counters may catch a buyer’s eye, but other less expensive improvements are may serve the same purpose. The top three features home buyers from all walks of life want in a kitchen are double sinks, room for a table, and a walk-in pantry. That doesn’t mean tearing out walls or reconfiguring the whole kitchen—but it can call for seeing if a similar effect can be achieved within a sensible budget. If you don’t have room to create a walk-in pantry, see if there is room for a stand-alone pantry cabinet. If you will be updating the kitchen sink and fixtures anyway, consider a deeper-welled model. Any improvements that add extra ‘roominess’ to the kitchen will register with many prospective buyers.

The NAHB has more findings that should interest anyone with a Scottsdale house for sale. Buyers increasingly favor environmentally friendly homes, for instance—but…they don’t want to pay extra for those ‘green’ features. On the other hand, they are willing to pay more for a home that’s energy efficient. If you have already determined that new appliances will be needed anyway, installing those with high Energy Star ratings is a definite recommendation. Likewise, if window replacements are also in the cards, new energy-efficient windows are worth considering. Today’s buyers are more aware of details like windows constructed with triple-pane glass. It’s common knowledge that those favorable Energy Star ratings mean decades of lower utility bills.

One low-cost way homeowners with a Scottsdale house for sale can capitalize on buyers’ safety concerns is by installing some exterior lighting. It’s a feature rated as “essential” or “desirable” by 80% of buyers in one study. Addressing the same issue: security systems. When a house for sale features a wireless home security system in its listing, even buyers whose safety concerns are less than top-of-mind will take note.

Before making any improvements, it’s only sensible to have a discussion with your Scottsdale Realtor®.

Even before you’re fully committed to putting your Scottsdale house up for sale, I’m ready to offer a no-obligation assessment of your home and how to best take advantage of today’s active market!

Scottsdale Staging is a Home’s “Packaging”

3-25-stagingStaging is to a Scottsdale home what packaging is to a supermarket product: a vital element that can supersede all others. Product managers rely on advertising and marketing efforts to create awareness among consumers, just as homeowners use their Realtor’s marketing know-how (the listing, web page, signage and all their other advertising initiatives) to bring Scottsdale prospects to the door. Then, just as well-designed, attractive packaging is what finally moves a product off the shelf, it is first-class staging that can transform casual lookers into Scottsdale home buyers.

The goal of staging is to draw observers in; to help them picture whether the property’s spaces have all the nuances of what in their own mind’s eye constitutes a welcoming home. Bottom-line studies continue to verify that, staged correctly, homes sell more quickly. Although there are few absolute staging dos and don’ts, (after all, staging is an art); we can point to a number of probably don’ts. They’re relatively easy to avoid:

Failing to Incorporate the Outside

No matter how beautiful a home is once you open the door, prospective home buyers want to be proud of their new Scottsdale digs. Even if it will be marketed as a fixer-upper, a welcoming exterior is always a welcome surprise. If, on the other hand, dirty windows, dry grass, and cracks in the sidewalk greet buyers, that first impression can be counted on to drive offer numbers in the wrong direction. Staging efforts need to encompass the whole enchilada!

Neglecting the Little Things

When it comes to staging, nothing is completely unimportant. Light fixtures, cabinet knobs, faucets, drawer pulls—even electric outlet covers—all contribute to the cumulative impression a Scottsdale home conveys. It doesn’t mean that every tiny detail needs to be replaced; only those that are conspicuously damaged or dirty need to get attention.

Failing to Capitalize on Natural Light

As photographers know, “It’s always all about the light!” The fewer dim corners, the better. Staging a home to accentuate its rooms’ natural light is important, and where needed, boosting with lamps and overheads.

Forgetting the Nooks and Crannies

Assume that prospects see everything. Before a showing, a last quick walk-through of the whole home is a good idea. Check for stray items that are out of place, and be sure all is properly swept and neatened.

Opting Not to Use a Professional Stager

If the whole prospect of diligent staging isn’t appealing, it makes good business sense to hand it over to a Scottsdale staging professional. Pro stagers see every detail with a trained eye, and work to create a rich atmosphere—not just a collection of rooms.

From a buyer’s first glance at your listing to its ultimate sale, each step of the way is an opportunity to propel the process. The first one of those steps is choosing the Scottsdale Realtor® who will add energy and expertise to the campaign: I hope you’ll consider me!

The Phoenix Mortgage Payment Detail that Many Overlook

3-25-mortgage paymentIt can be a true three-ring circus as you close in on signing day for your new Phoenix home. Sometimes there’s a near-simultaneous sale of the previous house that demands attention. There are the timing issues connected with moving out and then moving in. You may be dealing with furnishing the new house, school schedules, and sometimes work requirements have to be juggled; and everything seems to be happening at the same time.

Amidst all the details you are attending to, there is one that appears so simple that it may not get as much consideration as it deserves. Seeming almost like a non-decision, this one actually has major implications. It’s a true ‘sleeper.’

The subject is your decision on how you want to time the new mortgage payments for your new Phoenix home. It turns out that “once a month” is not necessarily the best answer.

Many lenders offer a variety of mortgage payment options, and they vary in ways that can make a surprisingly great financial difference over the long haul. No matter how busy you get, this is a decision which deserves some serious attention (and probably a hand calculator).

First, there is an English language oddity to straighten out: it’s about the prefix “bi.”

If you think “bi” is a prefix that means ‘two,’ you’re right—but it also has two meanings:

  • ‘Bimonthly’ means twice a month (but not once every two months).
  • ‘Biweekly’ means every other week.

At first glance, “every other week” and “twice a month” seem to be the same thing; but they’re not. The difference is significant, because there are 52 (not 48) weeks in a year. As everyone comes to realize sooner or later, there are 4.3 weeks in an average month (not four). So the number of mortgage payments you will make could be 12 (if you go with the standard ‘once a month’ mortgage payment), or 24 (a bimonthly mortgage payment), or 26 (the biweekly choice).

Most people who choose either of the ‘bi’ payment choices consider a mortgage payment amount that’s exactly half of the monthly amount. If you choose the bimonthly plan, you might save a bit on interest by paying the first half a little bit early. But most lenders just hold the money and apply both payments at the end of the month—if so, the advantage disappears.

The real significant difference arises if you are offered a biweekly option. You can use any of the online mortgage sites to work out the precise details for yourself. Because you are making two extra payments a year, for instance, what would have been a 3.8% 30-year $225,000 loan for a Phoenix home actually turns into a 26-year loan. All else being equal, you’d own your Phoenix home free and clear four years earlier—and save more than $23,000 in the process!

No matter how hectic a house hunting and moving process becomes, it’s part of my job to help my clients keep the important details and decisions front-and-center. Getting the best answer to the mortgage payment choice is one of them; and of course, another best answer is to give me a call!

 

Phoenix Parents Consider Home Rental for College-Bound Kids

3-25-reentalFor many Phoenix parents of high school seniors, these are hold-your-breath days—the time of year when college acceptance letters begin showing up in Phoenix mailboxes. If all goes well, after settling on a school, next comes tackling the array of decisions that follow. Chief among them: where he or she will live. Many parents tend to take the common course, assuming that a college dorm is automatically the best answer—but a college’s room-and-board plan is actually only one of the possibilities. In fact, it may not be the best financial, social or developmental choice for parent or student. Renting a house can be an intriguing alternative. Here are three of the reasons why some Phoenix parents decide a home rental makes more sense:

1. Cost

Sharing a home rental is often significantly less expensive than renting an apartment—or even a dorm room. Prices vary, but it’s more than possible to end up paying as much as $4,500 per semester for student housing. If your student lives on campus during the summer, fall and spring terms, that would create a $13,500 bill for the year’s housing (the equivalent of paying more than $1,000 in rent per month). Considering that most dorm rooms are tiny, that translates into a much higher cost per square foot than does a shared home rental.

Renting even a one-bedroom home near campus can give your child more space and quiet time to study without interference from fire alarm-pulling pranksters or noisy roommates. Every student is different, and having a place to escape the hustle and bustle of campus life can provide some kids with the extra focus they’ll need for success.

2. Safety

When students live in crowded dorms, many parents worry that they are more likely to catch colds or other communicable diseases. Being packed into a dorm with hundreds of people who may or may not behave responsibly is a dire way to view dorm life, but that is some parents’ view. When their child lives on his or her own or teams with a select group of roommates, some parents breathe easier.

3. Responsibility

With a home rental, any student will learn more about responsible adulthood than when campus authorities assume parental-like responsibility for day-to-day living. Students who are on their own may be wholly or partially enrolled in school cafeteria programs, or may learn to shop for and prepare their own meals. Household and maintenance chores will be theirs to handle, rather than being the province of college employees. In that way, a college home rental can serve almost as a youngster’s “starter home.” They will graduate from college with a rental history, self-sufficiency skills, and home stewardship experience that will prepare him or her to better care for their own home later in life.

Of course, it’s not universally the best answer to the student housing problem: every institution and child combination are different, and different youngsters respond to independence and responsibility in differing ways. But if you haven’t thought about the possibility, it could be worth looking into.

If I can help with a referral to a rental agency—or if you’d like to consider buying—do give me a call!

Relocating from Scottsdale is at Hand, Identifying the ‘Where’

3-11-relocationOnce you’re mentally prepared for the relocating experience (to self: “it’s definitely the right move”), where is the first order of business. Perhaps you’ve outgrown your Scottsdale home anyway—the family simply needs more space. Perhaps relocating is necessary for work reasons; or now that the kids have moved out, you’re ready to downsize. No matter what the reason for relocating from Scottsdale, thoroughly evaluating the possible destination communities before deciding to buy couldn’t be more important.

While your real estate agent can be an invaluable resource in guiding you to the right home within your target area, the original question—designating the search perimeter—is pretty much in your wheelhouse. If you are not already committed to an area because friends or family make it an easy decision, one way to think about narrowing your choices is to recognize and prioritize the elements most important in your day to day living:

If you have kids, the quality of the school districts will play a major role in relocating. The web offers a number of rating and comparison sites (to find them, just search for ‘school district ratings’). How you winnow the field will be different depending on the age of your children and your own priorities. Once you’ve narrowed the field, you can get an inside look at where your kids might be studying if you include tours of potential schools in your house hunting forays. See if you can seek out parents of current students to get their take on the school’s performance: it’s the bottom line.

It may not be a major concern in all neighborhoods here in Scottsdale, but remember that safety is paramount—so you want to choose a community that is comfortable for you. Again, the web makes this research much easier than in years past. Many police department websites include crime maps where you can find both nonviolent and violent crime statistics organized by zip code. Before relocating—in fact, even before you begin your property search—make sure the target areas are safe!

You might not be a resident of the new community just yet, but you can act like one during your research phase. Hang out at a local park; take a stroll through the neighborhood. Have a family dinner at a nice restaurant, and breakfast at the local diner (be sure to pick up any flyers that are laid out on the counter). Look for community events, like fairs or festivals. These simple experiences will give you a sense of the community—one that should make your move less intimidating. Just a little time spent in the neighborhood can help you decide whether the area feels right to you.

Population densities and traffic profiles can differ widely from what you are used to here in Scottsdale. Some are pedestrian-friendly, others in a nearly permanent state of gridlock. Picture your daily commute, whether you’re heading to work, taking the kids to school, or both. How close are grocery stores, restaurants, and retailers? Are doctors’ offices, salons, and other services handy—or a painful 25 minutes away? Looking beyond the house and at the community as a whole can make relocating the success you hope it will be.

If you have to leave Scottsdale, the most fundamental stress-reducer is the one that comes first: the expert handling of the sale of your Scottsdale home. Do give me a call: after all, that’s where I come in!

Selling Your Phoenix House Means Raising its Emotional IQ

3-11-emotionaliqWhen it comes to selling your Phoenix house, the first attributes that will bring in prospective buyers will be found in your listing description: size, location, and all the details that either match prospects’ wish lists (or don’t). Price is in there, too. Next comes curb appeal, which can turn on or turn off prospective buyers. Although it is often the second “at bat” you get when you are selling your Phoenix house, it’s not usually decisive. The third attribute can be just that—a bunch of factors that can hook your ultimate buyers.

Call it your home’s “emotional IQ.” Everything else is important, but emotion plays a powerful role in selling your Phoenix house. That’s because home is, well, home—where people hang their hats, raise their kids, and spend their precious downtime. When potential buyers come to your house, they may think they are checking out four walls and a roof, but they are much more likely to be seeking a place that tugs at their emotions.

All very well and good, but how do you up your home’s emotional IQ (and snag the sale in the process)? Look objectively at your home, then think about the emotional plays that will get them where it count—through their senses. Give your home a quick sensory scan, looking for things that cue all five:

Sight.

Is your home clean? Is it decorated and staged (but not so much that potential buyers can’t imagine themselves in it)? Make sure your home is as spotless as possible, and warm but not personal. When room entrances are arranged to feel open, they look welcoming: a strong way to please the eye.

Sound.

Does your home sound like a home? There’s nothing less emotionally pleasing than doing a walkthrough of a perfectly empty shell of a house. Attractive floor coverings (rugs and throws) can eliminate the unbroken echo of footsteps—and make your home feel more inviting; less clinical. And don’t forget a drop or two of 3-in-1 oil or WD40 for squeaking doors!

Smell.

The nose is a powerful emotive factor. Aromas can evoke nostalgia, bringing on the feeling of well-being that comes with familiarity—but it can also sound alarm bells. Make sure the air doesn’t carry strong chemical or perfume smells. Better to throw a few cookies into the oven before walkthroughs arrive. It makes it easy for potential buyers to imagine themselves living, working, eating, and enjoying time in your home.

Touch.

Look for surfaces potential buyers may touch, and make them clean and inviting. Importantly, door latches and light switches should feel sound and serviceable.

Taste.

No—nobody can really taste a home, but selling your house may come down to leaving your personal taste at the door. It’s risky to forget to focus on the most tasteful place of all—the kitchen. The old real estate agent trope that gorgeous kitchens sell houses is more true than not, so if yours is hopeless, you may judicious to spend your upgrade dollars in a modern, open kitchen space.

How does your home’s emotional IQ add up? If you’re lacking in just one area, congratulations. You know what to fix, and a few subtle tweaks will help a lot. If you’re lacking in many areas, give me a call! I may be able to recommend some quick fixes, or point to a home staging professional. Don’t forget: Whether buying or selling your house, things can get emotional. Take a deep breath, remember the real purpose of a home, and be ready to move!

Advances in Senior Housing Meet Demographic Shift

3-11-seniorlivingAs the demand for age-restricted senior housing continues to grow nationwide, it’s certain to influence more than just the new home builders whose bread and butter depends on paying attention to such trends. It’s also likely to influence the character of neighborhoods as a whole, Scottsdale’s included.

The numbers tell a story that’s been written about for years. As Scottsdale’s baby boom generation joins their cohort’s arrival into retirement age over the coming decades, they will become part of the wealthiest generation of senior home buyers in history. Senior housing developers are very well aware of that fact, but its full impact has only really begun to be felt recently. One evidence: the National Association of Homebuilders reports that starts of age-restricted homes nearly doubled between 2012 and 2013.

Part of the reason may be cultural—but it’s also possible that improvements in health and longevity could be involved. Today’s older generation views senior housing through a different lens than did their forebears, which means that new senior housing communities are taking on a look that’s considerably different from retirement neighborhoods of the past. There are multiple influences that are shaping the new senior housing mold. Among them—

  • Many senior citizens continue to hold jobs. Earlier forecasts of dire results from predicted shortfalls in retirement savings don’t seem to be working out that way, since a great number of seniors are showing marked determination to put off full retirement indefinitely—regardless of financial need. Delaware’s Benchmark Builders reports that more than half of the residents in their age-restricted communities still work at least part-time, a trend being echoed throughout the nation. Developers are moving senior housing out of the Sun Belt and closer to urban areas to facilitate easy commuting (some are even incorporating office facilities as part of resident amenities!).
  • A number of housing projects are being designed to provide a patchwork of age-specific sections. While grandparents may enjoy living on a street or block devoted to neighbors in their age bracket, in the best of all worlds, they also would choose to be close to children and grandchildren. Some new housing developments are setting aside sections for young families close to senior housing blocks.
  • Options for active older home buyers are crucial. In 1960, activity choices in many retirement communities began and ended with shuffleboard. Increasingly, senior housing projects are aimed at buyers who have no intention of pursuing a sedentary lifestyle. They look for active environments, with walking trails and easy access to amenities beyond the community. Indoor walking tracks, lap pools, hiking and biking trails and exercise equipment are becoming must-have features.

Today’s typical senior as part of a financially powerful demographic, is changing the look of retirement neighborhoods. But independent thinking has long been a notable characteristic of the boomer generation—so it also follows that not every Scottsdale senior will make that lifestyle choice.

Senior or not, I’m always standing by to further your next residential move!

St Patrick’s Day: Perfect Day for Selling a Phoenix Home?

3-11-stpatsMany people don’t fully understand why it is that St. Patrick’s is the perfect day for selling a Phoenix home, or for buying one. But if ever there were a right time to explain it, this is it. There is one drawback to any such explanation, though: namely, that it makes so little sense.

That does not seem to make much difference to a lot of real estate industry marketing supply companies. I can bear witness to that fact, in the form of the postcards and various art pieces that are pitched to Realtors en masse ahead of every St. Pat’s. As you might guess, they are green (usually very green), and almost without exception bear some rendition of a four leaf clover. Also rainbows, pots of gold, wee leprechauns wearing green top hats with buckles on them, and sometimes horseshoes (to indicate the Luck O’ the Irish, of course).

What could this have to do with selling a Phoenix home, or buying one? That’s very hard to pin down. There is the simple good will postcard, that says, “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” with no further connection. That’s a nice thought, certainly, and not risky. Who wouldn’t want to have a happy St. Patrick’s Day? There is one with a good-looking home at the end of a rainbow, with a wee little leprechaun holding a “Welcome Home!” sign—certainly a strong connection between selling a Phoenix home and the celebration.

One of the best ones is the poster that features two shades of green, a cartoon three-leaf clover (mistake there, if you ask me) upon which is printed in Celtic-looking letters, “You don’t need to have the ‘Luck of the Irish’ to sell your home.” You have to like that one, because it doesn’t discriminate against people who aren’t Irish (the closer you get to St. Patrick’s Day, the more you run the risk of seeming to snub the non-Irish among us).

There is one postcard with a lady bug crawling over clover leaves emblazoned with a sentimental poem, but the emotionality of the poetry is tempered by the heading, “For all Your Real Estate needs just give me a call!” Balance is important on St. Patrick’s Day…but it’s not clear that the card with the green beer mugs got that message (which is “Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Remember, parade watching is like real estate. Location, location, location.”).

One that also tips the scales in the direction of crass commercialism is the picture of the big pot o’ gold brimming with gold coins. It says, “It takes more than Luck to sell your home.” I’m not sure what the St. Pat’s message is for that one—that selling your Phoenix home requires you to go out, find a leprechaun or rainbow, and wangle a pot o’ gold? It’s simply not the case.

If you ask me, an experienced Realtor with a great marketing plan and a reasonable price will do the trick better than pots o’ gold or four-leaf clovers. Still, that can’t keep me from wishing you a terrific St. Patrick’s Day, as too!

Buying a House in Phoenix May Require a Momentum Shift

3-4-buyahouseIt can feel a little like a trip to the shore in springtime, before the summer sun has warmed the water. The water might be okay—but it also might be bone-chilling! Most Phoenix residents will choose caution, and stick their toe in, first…

Deciding whether to buy a house when you have been renting for a while means taking a much more significant plunge. And there’s no way to test the waters, either: you’re either going to buy a Phoenix house or, you aren’t. It’s in or out. And it’s also a deeply personal decision.

Momentum can be a deciding factor. Many people defer buying a home because it comprises such a major change. Especially if they are satisfied with their current rental—and even more if buying a house would make them homeowners for the first time —it would seem to require a major event to get them motivated.

There actually has been something like a major event, but it’s a slow-moving one that doesn’t rate banner headlines in the newspapers. It’s not an earthquake, or fire, or outbreak of war or pestilence. It’s simply a finding by the Federal Reserve. They published it in their triennial Survey of Consumer Finances. It states:

“In the past 15 years, the net worth of the typical homeowner has ranged between 31 and 46 times that of the net worth of the typical renter.”

It’s a simple fact that homeowner equity is a substantial component of homeowner wealth. And you can’t build equity without…well, buying a house!

Many thoughtful would-be Phoenix homeowners have hesitated during the last few years as the logical result of the tumble of residential real estate. If you didn’t have to sell your home, that part of the financial turmoil may have caused scare headlines, but was an otherwise abstract event. But if you had to move and sell, it could have been painfully real (unless you immediately bought another house at an equally depressed price level).

The real estate recovery that is still under way is a less jarring, slow-moving event—much less of a headline-maker. But the financial reality the Fed points to is surprisingly relevant. It was conducted in 2013, after the housing industry meltdown. Homeowner wealth registered a full 36 times the net worth of renters. Evidently, the financial wisdom of buying a house seems to remain a constant, no matter what!

Buying a house in Phoenix is a traditional way of building a solid financial picture, but it’s also a source of pride and family cohesiveness. If you have been thinking about wading into homeownership this spring, I hope you won’t hesitate to give me a call. I have all the information you’ll need to decide if the water feels fine to you!