Category: Buying & Selling Homes

Bob Vila Radio: Pinpointing Property Lines

Where exactly does your land begin and end, do you know? Few homeowners do. But with a few simple pointers, it's often easy to determine. Read on to learn how.

If you’re thinking of building out toward the edges of your lot, you first need to determine the exact location of your property lines. The only legally binding way to do that is to hire a professional surveyor. Still, there are several ways you can do a little detective work yourself.

How To Find Property Lines


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Listen to BOB VILA ON HOW TO FIND YOUR PROPERTY LINES or read the text below:

One is to pay a visit to your local zoning department. For a few bucks, they’ll give you copies of plats, the official maps that show the precise dimensions of your property. The location of streetlights can be another tipoff. They’re frequently installed directly on property lines. Same goes for expansion cuts that contractors add to sidewalks.

You can also poke around the approximate corners of your property to see if you can locate survey “pins”. Those are thin, iron bars, usually two or three feet long, that the original surveyors of your property drove into the ground (they often have a plastic cap that peeks out from the turf). Don’t necessarily assume, though, that survey pins tell the whole story. They’re sometimes inadvertently moved by contractors or city workers.

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How To: Find Property Lines

Before you start building or planting toward the margins of your property, head off disputes with the folks next door by first figuring out where your space begins and ends.

How to Find Property Lines


Good fences may make good neighbors, but accidentally erecting one on a neighbor’s property can lead to hard feelings, or even a lawsuit. Whether you want to build an addition, figure out who’s responsible for tree removal, or plant a border hedge, you need to know where your yard legally ends and the next guy’s begins. Here, we’ve put together the most common methods for figuring this out. Some are simple and inexpensive, adequate for satisfying your curiosity. Others demand skills and will cost a few bucks, but may be necessary for certain construction projects. Read on to learn how to walk the line—and ensure that your house and landscaping stay on your side of it.

Check Sidewalks and Streetlights
Examine the lines that are cut in the sidewalk in front of your house. Often, the contractor who poured the sidewalk started and stopped on the property lines, so those cut lines may coincide with the edges of your property. As well, the appearance of the concrete on your side of the property may be slightly different from that on your neighbor’s side. Streetlights, too, are often placed on property lines. While these visual clues are good indications of property lines, if you intend to build or install something on your land, you’ll need additional verification.

Visit the Local Zoning Department
The zoning department is the municipal office that records plats: the maps, drawn to scale, that show land division. Unless your home was built more than a hundred years ago, you can probably obtain a copy of your block and lot plat for a minimal fee. This will give you the exact dimensions of your lot—in other words, the property you legally own—in relationship to other lots on your block.

Retrace the Surveyor’s Steps
When the surveyors were laying out the original plat, they determined a starting point for all the lots on your block. You can retrace the original surveyor’s steps by locating the starting point, which will be labeled on the plat as either the “common point” or the “point of beginning” (POB). It is often the center point of a side street. The original surveyor’s measurements will all be listed on the plat. With a long measuring tape, follow the plat as you would a treasure map, measuring your physical property as you go. Your measurements should correspond with the ones on the plat.

How to Find Property Lines - Using a Metal Detector


Locate a Hidden Survey Pin
Survey pins are thin iron bars, two to three feet long and sometimes capped with plastic, which the original survey crew inserted on the property lines. If you have access to a metal detector, move the device over the ground along the sidewalk to the curb to locate the survey pin. Pins may be buried just under the surface, or up to a foot below. A few days before you dig, however, you must call 811, the free, federally designated number that will route you to your local utility company. Ask the utility company to come out and mark any buried lines so you don’t unintentionally hit one. There’s no charge for this service, but if you damage a buried utility line, you could end up having to pay to repair it.

Beware of Moved Survey Pins
Survey pins are not foolproof markers. Over the years, previous owners, utility workers, or even a tree-removal company may have dug up a survey pin and reinserted it nearby, or just tossed it aside. Your actual property line, however, does not change just because someone messed with the survey pin. For example, if you locate survey pins 60 feet apart on opposite sides of your property but the plat says your lot is 50 feet wide, one of those pins may have been moved, and your property is still just 50 feet across.

Dig Out Your Deed for Additional Info
In older neighborhoods, property owners may have purchased or sold off portions of their yards. Locating a survey pin won’t give you this information, but the most recent legal description recorded on your deed will list any such changes. If you don’t have a copy of your deed filed with your homeowner records, get one at the register of deeds office, often located within your county courthouse.

Consider the Metes and Bounds Survey
If your deed features a metes and bounds survey—a survey that describes the exact distances and directions from one established point on your property line to the next—you’ll have all the information you need to locate your property lines. Unfortunately, this type of legal description is notoriously difficult to comprehend unless you’re a surveyor.

The metes and bounds survey cites a starting point, located at one of corners of your property. From there, the survey will give you detailed directions and distances to help you locate the rest of the corners and boundary lines of your property. It’s similar to a connect-the-dots game, except you do it on foot, not on paper. You’ll need a long measuring tape as well as a good-quality directional compass so you can move systematically from point to point.

But egad! You’ll find that a metes and bounds survey reads like a Shakespearean play. A typical survey may tell you to “commence” from the point of beginning (POB), “running thence westerly 100 feet, thence southerly at an interior angle of 55 degrees to a point,” and so on until it brings you back to the original starting point.

Bring in a Professional Surveyor
Before you drive yourself too crazy with the metes and bounds survey, know that the only legally binding method to determine exact property lines—essential, for example, if you intend to build an addition to your house—is to have a professional survey. Local building codes will determine how close to your property line you can legally build. A professional survey could cost from a few hundred to more than a thousand dollars, depending on the size of your property and the complexity of the survey. Costly, perhaps, but adding to your dream house while keeping in your neighbors’ good graces is priceless.

Boost Your Curb Appeal with 4 Doable DIY Projects

Selling your home is a lengthy process, but it can be made easier with proper preparation. Follow these four steps to spruce up your façade and make it absolutely irresistible to potential buyers.

Curb Appeal Tips - Make an Entrance


When it comes to putting your house on the market, you spend much of your time considering how to stage your rooms to look as homey as possible. But while your interiors are crucial to the selling process, your exteriors are just as important to making a memorable first impression. With simple DIY maintenance and a few easy updates, you can boost curb appeal for maximum selling success.

Curb Appeal Tips - Sell Your House Quicker


Keep It Clean
A well-kept yard is the first sign that you’ve taken good care of the house during your time as owner. If the grass looks uncut or overrun, the whole property won’t look as attractive to buyers. Spend an afternoon clearing away fallen leaves, broken branches, and dead plantings to ensure your entrance suggests, “Welcome home.”

A power washer will come in handy, as it can rid the driveway, garage door, fencing, and garden paths of dirt and debris and leave them looking as good as new. You might also consider washing the inside and outside of the windows—not only to get them sparkling, but also to ensure your spaces are flooded with as much natural light as possible.

Take a look at the window trim and inspect the siding; if it’s looking a little worse for the wear, consider making the necessary repairs. Leaving them in disarray can make a home look older or in worse condition, which is not a characteristic most buyers are searching for.

Grow a Garden
Don’t underestimate the appeal of an lush-yet-manicured property. Even if your home is sitting on a small suburban plot of land, you can still beautify the yard you have:

• Trim the shrubs carefully for a streamlined look.
• Incorporate color by planting seasonal flowers, and ridding the yard of weeds.
• Mulch planting beds—the wood chips will promote garden growth as well as prevent weeds from sprouting.
• Consider planting a low-maintenance ground cover to fill bare areas.
• Remedy dead areas of the lawn by laying down sod.

And don’t feel limited to keeping your greenery in the yard! Window box installations can add a touch of classic curb appeal. Available in a variety of materials, sizes, and styles, there are options for every price range, making this an easy project you can achieve in an afternoon. Finally, place potted plants in visible areas like the entryway. In all of this, minimalism is key; you want to enhance the space, not add clutter to it.

Invigorate the Entry
Your entrance should make visitors feel comfortable and truly welcome. Inspect your entry, starting with the flooring. Fasten loose boards in wood floors, fill any cracks or corners of concrete, and repaint any areas as necessary.

Purchase a new doormat; then, while you’re at it, consider updates for your storm door, overhead sconces, knobs, knockers, and kickplates, too. An inexpensive fixture update can make all of the difference. Greet potential buyers with accents that are simple yet sophisticated, in order to appeal to the widest variety of people. Statement house numbers and a distinctive mailbox can offer the perfect finishing touches for a memorable entrance and exit.

Color with Care
It might be a challenge to sell your house if it’s in dire need of a new hue. Potential buyers could be turned off by uncommon, fading, or bright shades, so you need to consider your best strategy for updates—whether it’s a whole-house paint job or simply shutter and column accents. Traditional hues, such as classic white, creamy off-white, warm taupe, light blue, blue-gray, or pale yellow, will draw buyers in and help them visualize how they will fit into the space. When in doubt, take a look at the colors of surrounding homes; in a selling situation, it’s typically better to fit in than stand out.

House hunters form opinions extremely quickly, so it’s smart to put your best foot (or, in this case, footpath) forward. With these few outdoor upgrades, you can ensure that they will enter your home with a positive attitude and an open mind, which can easily mean the difference between “For Sale” and “Sold.”

Behind the Scenes of 5 Celebs’ “New” Old Homes

While many celebrities move in and out of unmemorable super mansions, these house-hunting stars recently snagged dwellings as nuanced and compelling as their best on-screen roles.

Stars, they’re just like us! When on the hunt for real estate, celebrities enjoy jaw-droppingly large budgets, sure, but they also look for many of the same features prized by us mere mortals—things like original architectural details, generous floor plans for growing families, and maybe even a fixer-upper opportunity. With springtime home-buying season in full bloom, scores of actors have made recent moves into new addresses. And while there’s something to be said for any property that costs over a million bucks, we’re particularly impressed by the handful of celebs who chose “new” old homes.



Joseph Gorden Levitt Paul Revere Williams Home


Young Hollywood favorite Joseph Gordon Levitt spent $3.25 million on this 1940s home designed by Paul R. Williams (the very architect responsible for the West Coast homes of Hollywood royalty like Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball). Located in the beautiful Franklin Hills section of Los Angeles, the three-bedroom, four-bathroom house has all the right bones: high ceilings, natural light, and period details galore. Time capsule-like in its unchanged state, the mid-century gem hadn’t changed hands since 1957! Select areas, including the kitchen, may be ripe for an update, but we trust the place is in good hands.



Lena Dunham Greek Revival


Though she may be a reluctant Los Angeles resident, Lena Dunham obviously has great taste in California real estate. The New York City-based creator of Girls finally bit the bullet and bought a home in Hollywood—but not just any home. The beautiful 1919 Greek Revival is picture-perfect. Featuring cozy rooms with Swedish hardwood floors and beautiful casework—not to mention a saltwater pool and detached guest house—this quaint home packs loads of charm.



Jessica Chastain New York Apartment


Opulent is an understatement when it comes to Jessica Chastain’s preposterously fancy new Manhattan digs. The Zero Dark Thirty star purchased the three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bathroom duplex across from Carnegie Hall for $5.1 million. Painstakingly restored, the home features no shortage of gorgeous original details, from inlaid parquet floors to Tiffany glass transom windows set over doors of solid mahogany. In a city where space comes at a absorbinent premium, the rambling 3,200 square foot apartment and its 14-foot ceilings give the elegant star more than enough room to breathe.



Bruce Willis Central Park West Apartment


A real estate connoisseur, Bruce Willis knows how to find amazing properties, whether it’s ranch in Idaho or a humongous New York duplex like this one. The 6,000-square-foot apartment looks through oversized windows onto the trees in Central Park and throughout, it features fine details ranging from crown molding to ceiling coffers. With six bedrooms and four and a half baths, there’s plenty of room, no matter how big the Die Hard star’s family gets.



Jason Segal Los Feliz Home


With Spanish Colonial flair to spare, this $1.4 million spread in Los Feliz, CA, will soon be home to How I Met Your Mother alum Jason Segal. Bright colors abound, even in the turquoise-and-gold stenciling on the main staircase. Vaulted ceilings showcase exposed beams, while arched doorways open into cavernous spaces with canyon views. Perhaps most stunning of all is the multi-level outdoor space made private by an abundance of tropical foliage.

How To: Get Your Security Deposit Back

When it's time to get your security deposit back, even the most conscientious renters can run into snags. Fortunately, as a tenant, there are steps you can take now to make the process go smoother once you're ready to move on.

How to Get Your Security Deposit Back


Oh, wait… you WANTED your security deposit back?!

Well, buckle your seat belt, responsible former tenant: You are entitled to that money, not the man who avoided your calls about a clogged toilet for a year. Unless you invited stampeding deer to your last soirée, the majority of landlords and management companies don’t make a fuss about returning your deposit. Most state laws require tenants to return apartments to their previous condition, along with normal wear and tear—a delightfully vague term that more often than not works to tenants’ advantage.

Small issues—chipped paint, matted carpet, or the occasional nail hole—all fall under normal wear and tear. Meanwhile, such things as stains and burns, broken windows, and pet odors are definitely considered your responsibility. And if these are not addressed before you move out, you can expect repair costs to be deducted from your deposit.

With that in mind, here are a few actions you can take over the course of your tenancy to help ensure a smoother return of your security deposit as you make your way out the door:

1. Photograph Preexisting Flaws
Before you even move in, snap pictures of anything that looks awry. These photographs are likely to be your only proof that certain flaws were preexisting.

How to Get Your Security Deposit Back - Floorplan


2. Be a Responsible Steward
Little problems are bound to arise when you’re occupying a rental. Don’t sweep these under the rug, literally or figuratively. Little problems get bigger. If you don’t deal with a problem now, by the time you’re ready to move, it may have become big enough to dominate any discussion about the security deposit.

3. Clarify What “Clean” Means
Cleaning fees are commonly subtracted from security deposits, but if you’re willing to put in some effort, there’s no reason you can’t get back the full amount. A month or two before the lease expires, talk with your landlord about the condition in which he expects you to leave the place. He might simply hand you a prepared checklist, and yes, that’s somewhat of a drag. But at least you’ll know where to focus your energy so that you won’t under- or—the horror!—overclean.

4. Actually Clean 
Ugh. You knew this one was coming. All the dirt you brought into the apartment? Well, it’s your dirt, technically, and you’re responsible for getting it out of there. Mop the floors, wipe the cabinets, clean the oven, scrub the bathroom, and so on. Shoot for a hotel level of clean. Even if you fall short—and let’s be honest, that’s a distinct possibility—the apartment will be clean enough to satisfy the powers that be.

5. Make Sure the Check Can Find You
Be sure to give your new address to your former landlord. We can’t stress this enough. It’s important because in many states, if a landlord cannot contact you, he’s legally allowed to keep the deposit.

6. Check In 
In some states, landlords must return security deposits within three weeks of your move-out date. But—how do we put this?— even the most responsible management company isn’t going to rush on your behalf, especially if you never asked for the money in the first place. So make the call, and be polite.

8. Wait
Yawn. What’s on Netflix? It’s reasonable to expect a check within two months. For now, it’s a waiting game.

In most cases, a little preparation and a lot of Windex are all you need. If you are still waiting after two months—yikes—we recommend sending a formal demand letter (talk to your lawyer about that one). But we really hope it doesn’t come to that. In the meantime, good luck!

The New Homeowner’s Survival Guide

If you've recently taken the home-buying plunge, our survival guide is a must-read that will help you avoid common pitfalls, budget your time and money, and glide smoothly into the joys of owning your own home.

New Homeowner Tips


So you’ve bought your first house—congratulations! You’ve searched for and found a place that you love. You’ve secured a mortgage and successfully dealt with real estate brokers, lawyers, home inspectors, and insurance agents. You’ve learned about closing costs and the volumes of paperwork that must be signed, in triplicate, with a notary public as witness. No doubt, this has been an exciting time for you, and a very busy one. Believe it or not, there’s still more to do! So to help you through it all, we’ve prepared this handy guide.

We hope you’ll take away two essential things from this guide: an awareness of what you can expect in the first year of living in your new home, and some sound advice on being prepared for the most important aspects of being a new homeowner.


Homeowner’s Insurance
If you have a mortgage, homeowner’s insurance was probably required for the loan. But it’s smart to reassess your insurance needs within the first six months of owning your home. You may discover you have too much (or too little) coverage. Once the dust has settled, take a critical look at your policy and solicit a second round of quotes from insurers.

Most mortgage companies require your taxes and homeowner’s insurance to be escrowed, which means that the mortgage company totals those expenses, then charges you one-twelfth of the sum each month. (Some mortgage companies allow you to opt out of escrow, for a fee.) If you don’t have escrow, remember to budget for your tax and insurance expenses! If you do have escrow, take pains to make sure that the mortgage company is making all payments on your behalf in a timely manner; after all, it’s your house and your credit that are on the line. Also, double-check the accuracy of the estimate made by your lender’s escrow department. If there’s a shortfall, you can expect a bill for the difference at the end of the year. And if that estimate was way off, the bill you receive could be a real whopper.

You’ll need to get all utilities into your name, so make a list and work through it. Call the electric, phone, and gas companies. Contact the county for your sewer and water, if it supplies both. Does the town pick up garbage/recycling, or do you need to contract for that yourself? If you want Internet and broader TV service than an antenna will get you, research your options and start calling for the best bargain. With all the digital entertainment options available, you may decide to cut the cord on cable.

Triple-Check Your Billing Address
Make extra sure each service provider has your contact information recorded correctly—down to the last digit of your zip code. If you don’t receive bills due to some administrative error, you may come home to find your water turned off.

Get on Utility Provider Budget Plans
With so many new variables, the first year in a new house is usually challenging financially. Get on budget plans where you can. Many utility providers will estimate your use for the year, and then break your bills into 12 equal payments. This reduces fluctuations in your charges throughout the year, which can be helpful. Money can feel extra tight after the big move.

New Homeowner Tips - Bills


Some work is more easily done before you get all your stuff in the house. If timing and budget allow, consider doing painting or floor refinishing before your move-in date. Do you need help with cleaning? If you want professional help with anything, bundle that into your move-in budget.

Don’t fret if there’s no money left for these things right away. Sometimes it’s better to live in a house awhile before deciding on paint colors, carpeting, or a new kitchen backsplash. A home is a work in progress, and it takes time to get the feel for a new place. Doing too much at once can be overwhelming and can kill the joy of the experience. Feel free to take a slow approach and live in your house as is for six months to a year or more. Who knows—you might just grow to love that vintage 1950s tile in the bathroom and use it as the inspiration for your interior design.

New Homeowner Tips - Moving



Change the Locks
You can throw out the keys got at the closing—right after you change the locks! You have no idea who has copies of those keys, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. So, before you do anything else, call a locksmith or do it yourself—just do it.

Set Up the Move
Will you hire someone or do it yourself? If you’re hiring movers, get as many references as you can and at least three quotes. Make sure anyone you consider has insurance. If you’re doing it yourself, reserve your truck. Get one that’s slightly bigger—and reserve it for slightly longer—than you think you’ll need. That’s one place you can reduce stress.

Related:  Moving 101—10 Ways to Make the Best of Any Move

If you’re packing your own boxes, pack them room by room, and label them very clearly, so they can be taken immediately to the right place after being unloaded. Make some quick signs for each room that correspond to the box labels. If you organize your move effectively, with any luck, you’ll be able to park in the garage by the end of the week.

Set manageable goals for yourself. You probably have several wonderful years, if not decades, to enjoy your new home, so you don’t need to finish unpacking in one day. Decide how many boxes you’ll unpack each day—one or two is completely acceptable—and stick to that number. If you’ve unpacked them and still have energy, turn your focus to another task, like hanging window treatments or shopping for drawer organizers.


Service Checks
Plan to have a service check on your HVAC, hot water heater, fireplace, and/or chimney, and any major appliances that require it. Check any filters, and replace if necessary. In short, evaluate all of your home systems.

Go through all the breakers in your electrical box and label them. Label the incoming and outgoing pipes, as well as the shut-off valves, for your water and sewer service. Taking a little bit of time now will make it much easier to diagnose and fix any problems that may arise in the future.

New Homeowner Tips - Gardening



If you have a lawn, you’ll need to purchase some lawn-care equipment or hire a landscaping service. Start researching lawn mowers and learn how to use a string trimmer. If you don’t have them already, acquire a rake, shovel, and some pruning tools, at the very least. If you decide to fertilize your lawn, you’ll want to purchase a spreader or hire someone for the job. Your new neighbors should have good references.

Related: Ultimate Lawn Care Guide—12 Steps to a Prize-Winning Yard

Utility Location
Before you start any new landscaping, call a utility location service to come mark where all your services are in the yard. You do NOT want to break a water main or cut off your electricity while you’re planting a tree or installing a fence. It’s worth making yourself a map to keep on file for reference in the future.

Yes, moving into your first home is a lot of work. But you’ll reap so many rewards—you’re building equity, lightening your tax load, and establishing roots in a community. With any luck, some of those new neighbors will become lifelong friends. Congrats, again, on your new home!

Hire a Photographer If You Want to Sell Your House

When it's time for you to sell, a professional real estate photographer can help make sure that your listing really stands out from the crowd.

Real Estate Photography Tips - Interior


You don’t think twice about commissioning professional photos of your children, right? Even if you don’t have any immediate plans to move, it’s wise and cost-effective to hire a real estate photographer. The reason is that in today’s real estate market, when so many house hunters are browsing image-laden listings online, better-quality photos attract more interest, helping you to sell your house more quickly and for a higher price than you might have gotten otherwise.

For advice, we reached out to Brian Balduf, CEO and founder of VHT Inc., a national firm that links homeowners with professionals who are skilled in the art of creating glamour shots of home exteriors and interiors. (If you’re curious about the economics here, know that VHT charges $100 to $500 for a portfolio.) There are many good reasons for commissioning professional real estate photography. Five especially opportune situations are listed below, along with one type of photo that, according to Balduf, should never be taken.

Completed renovations. Before the paint chips and the carpet frays in the home addition you’ve completed or in the kitchen you’ve remodeled, look into real estate photography as a way of capturing that project in its best possible light. Remember to snap your own “before” photos to highlight the improvements.

Real Estate Photography Tips - Exterior


Details and polish. Buyers want to see points of distinction up close. “What makes your house different from the one next door?” asks Balduf. “If you think it’s the fireplace, get high-quality shots of what makes it special.” In other words, identify your home’s selling points, then make sure the real estate photography emphasizes them.

Capture the best light. Even the best apps on the fanciest smartphone cannot match a photographer’s skill and expertise in correcting for deep shadows, fluorescent lighting, and miscellaneous other factors that typically compromise the work of an amateur. If there is a showcase room in your house that looks best at a certain time of day—late afternoon, for example—then schedule your appointment with the photographer during those hours.

Front and façade. Studies indicate that house hunters online pay the most attention to façade photos. The real estate photographer is very likely to understand that for a stunning shot of the exterior, it’s best not to capture a panorama of the nondescript driveway and unadorned garage door. “Obtuse angles often work best,” says Balduf.

Professional ambitions. If you’re considering a career (or a sideline gig) in real estate sales, home design, or property development, then you may be able to advance your career goals even as you source beautiful photos of your own home. Not only should you be sure to include these images in your professional portfolio, but you should also expand your network of contacts by hiring a different real estate photographer each time you complete a new renovation.

Finally, Balduf warns that there is one set of photographs a seller ought never to include in a real estate listing: unfinished remodeling projects. “You see what it could be,” he says, but house hunters see only what it isn’t.

The Right 5 Questions to Ask a Prospective Selling Agent

These 5 questions will help you figure out whether the agent vying for your listing is really the one who can get your house sold.

How to Choose a Realtor


Groomed and energetic, the real estate agent seated on your sofa seems like a perfect fit for the job of helping you sell your property. She loves your house and neighborhood, and having promptly delivered a complimentary marketing analysis, she hints that she may already have a buyer in her back pocket.

But how can you be sure that she’s capable of making a sale in a timely manner and for the best possible asking price? The questions that follow will help you identify the top-performing realtors among the handful of professionals you are considering.

Related: 10 Simple Home Staging Tips Every Seller Should Know

1. What percentage of her listings does the agent actually sell? 
This number, the agent’s sell-through rate, is the percentage of houses an agent successfully sells within a given time period out of all the listings she represents. Check to find out how this agent’s rate stacks up against the average maintained by the local realty association. Consider only those candidates whose sell-through rate exceeds the norm.

2. Among the sales the agent has made, what is the median ask-to-sale ratio?
This figure lets you know to what extent the agent discounts her listings to make deals. Realtors are notorious for initially setting a high asking price, then later recommending a lower figure. If you discover the agent routinely sells houses at a discount of 5 percent or more, that means her modus operandi may set you up for a disappointing sales price.

How to Choose a Realtor - Sold Home


3. How will the agent market this house to its most likely buyers?
Whom do you envision as the most likely buyer of the house you are selling? If you think your place would appeal most to an existing homeowner in the area, that’s a good reason to opt for an experienced agent with ties to the community and a network of local connections. If, however, you would like to reach first-time buyers, an agent who is more adept with online marketing, even if she is less experienced, might prove more effective. If you think your property would appeal most to younger house hunters, ask the agent you are vetting whether she has a social media strategy or whether she intends to cross-post the listing. Knowing that 92 percent of home buyers rely on online sites like Zillow and Trulia, many agents expect houses to sell themselves on the Web, when in fact more aggressive tactics generate better results.

4. In online listings, what key metrics does the agent collect, and to what end?
Agents collect an array of metrics from online real estate listings. Perhaps the most important is known as the conversion rate: What proportion of those who look at the listing ultimately go ahead and ask to see the place? And here’s a follow-up question: When a given listing has a low conversion rate, how does the agent diagnose and fix the listing so that it invites more interest?

5. Will you sign a three-month contract?
Because the market undergoes so many rapid shifts, the last thing you want is to be locked into a long-term contract with a realtor who has given up on selling your house. For a talented agent representing a well-priced home, three months is long enough to get at least one qualified offer.

Selling to Seniors: How to Win Over Older Home Buyers

Looking to sell to an older home buyer? Thoughtful improvements both inside and outside the home could help seal the deal.


In the past, retirees have fled south, eschewing the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest in favor of sunnier, more benign climates. But for older folks today, it’s a different story: Aging baby boomers might be downsizing, but with greater frequency, they are opting not to relocate geographically.

What does all this mean for home sellers? Traditional enticements, such as a generously sized backyard, may not be effective in drawing interest. Rather, thoughtful improvements like grab bars and wheelchair ramps might, in fact, do more for the marketability of your real estate listing.

• Design counts. No matter how practical the improvement, if it flies in the face of buyers’ style sensibilities, you are not likely to see a return on your well-intentioned investment. Translation: Instead of awkwardly propping a plywood ramp over the stairs on your front porch, take the time (and spend the extra money) to usher in accessibility without alienating those who don’t want or need assistance.

• Enlist pros. When building home conveniences to facilitate the day-to-day lives of seniors, don’t ignore the expertise of architects and/or landscape designers, especially if your remodeling work includes the addition of an access ramp. On the one hand, an architect can make sure the project adheres to standard specifications. On the other hand, a landscape designer can minimize the extent to which the curb appeal of your property is impacted as a result.

Related: Senior Moment: Boost Home Value by Enabling Independent Living

• Bragging rights. One homeowner had an elevator installed—in her ranch house. The lift ensured that her husband could reach the finished basement, often the venue for family get-togethers. The elevator also proved handy in the course of entertaining, as serving platters and dirty dishes could be easily carted between the kitchen and party space. A $20,000 investment, reports the homeowner, the elevator is as much an accessibility measure as it is a lifestyle amenity.

• Integrate accessibility. No longer purely practical, accessibility features have taken on aesthetic value, too. Makers of bathroom fixtures and finishes now offer such things as wheelchair-height toilets with sculptural panache, or grab bars that look like classy towel hangers. If you insist on accessible elements in line with the quality of choices made elsewhere in the home, the accessible features will be obvious to those who need them, transparent to those who don’t.

Don’t “Fall” Down: Surviving Autumn’s New Real Estate Rules

Whether you're buying or selling, these familiar tips may help you navigate the unfamiliar territory that characterizes real estate this season.

Fall 2013 Real Estate Tips


Well, that didn’t last long. The buoyant housing market of this past spring has already sputtered out, and mounting evidence suggests that autumn won’t go easy on either buyers or sellers. Real estate activity fluctuates in keeping with a slew of factors; in the best times, those factors strike a delicate balance.

Right now, things are a bit off kilter: Mortgage rates are high, and the number of homes for sale is low. New data from the agency Redfin show that in the spring, 50 percent of survey respondents thought it was a good time to buy. Months later, at the beginning of fall, only 25 percent retained a positive outlook.

The only certainty is uncertainty, as the market changes gears again and again over time. Those looking to buy or sell a home this season are wise to ignore countrywide trends. Focus not on what you have no hope of changing, but on those elements that are within your power to control.

Tips for Sellers
Rattled by higher mortgage rates and unexpected fees, buyers are likely to be attracted to any guarantees you can give them. Set a firm move-out date, commit to paying a percentage of closing costs, or promise a sweetener—say, $1,000 towards new appliances. Meanwhile, assure buyers that your house is a solid investment: For instance, create a chart illustrating the stability of home values in your neighborhood over the past several years.

Related: Selling This Fall? Court Millennials and Empty-Nesters

Tips for Buyers
Gain as much clarity as possible as to what closing costs you can expect. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides a comprehensive list that should enable you to generate an accurate estimate. Plus, heed the following best practices and money-saving strategies:

  • Clamp down on spending to insulate yourself from undesirable swings in your credit rating.
  • See if you can combine your auto and home insurance to get a lower rate.
  • Negotiate a lower rate for a midweek move.

Anticipating costs and, when possible, minimizing them affords home buyers a rare bit of breathing room in this unpredictable housing climate.