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  • 9 Home Improvements That Can Help (and Hurt) Value
    by rtstaff@realtytimes.com (Matt James) on April 19, 2018 at 7:59 pm

    Home improvement can be taken as very demanding action, but there are also some ways of home improvement you can do yourself. Therefore, before you start with any, see what improvements are the most needed in your home. Nowadays, a big attraction is an energy-efficient home which saves a lot of energy and reduces energy costs. On the other hand, maintenance problems and pest or bug infestations are a major turn off and should be looked into ASAP. We bring you several great pieces of advice you can use to improve your home's value and feel more comfortable and cozy. 1. Water Filtration System A water filtration system in your kitchen is a small addition that will appeal to many home buyers and is used for purifying the water. When you have a water filtration system installed in your house, you don't have to buy bottled water anymore. The best thing is that it's not expensive at all, and everyone can afford it. 2. Removing Old Carpets Besides looking old, old carpets might also be hiding contaminants and allergens which means you have bad air quality in your home. Sometimes the best option for testing an indoor air quality is to call a professional company because they will surely do a great job. Wooden floors are an excellent way to bring the touch of outdoors in your home. Great examples of environmentally friendly natural products are tile or laminated floors. By replacing your old carpets with a hard surface floor, your house will be easier to clean, and you'll have more time to do things you like. 3. Replacing Popcorn Ceiling It is no secret that homes with popcorn ceilings are outdated so get rid of this popcorn ceiling fast. To be sure that it does not contain asbestos, it would be best to hire professionals to test it. Replacing Popcorn Ceiling is as simple as buying a solution to soften the texture from the hardware store and scraping the popcorn away. 4. Bathroom Remodeling Remodeling bathrooms is a great way to add more value to your home. If a full rebuild is not in your budget, you can invest in many small changes that will freshen up your bathroom. Replace the dated wallpaper, old lighting, add some fancy cupboard knobs or change the faucet and shower heads. 5. Kitchen Remodeling Just like the bathroom, a big kitchen update can do wonders. Stained sinks and old appliances are all things to look at. If replacing the kitchen cabinets is too much for you, you can always give them a new look by adding a new varnish or paint layer and swap those old doorknobs with modern ones. 6. Maintenance and Repairs Maintenance is an ongoing process, no matter if you plan to live in your house for a long time or move soon. Repairing or replacing broken appliances or fixtures will avoid further damage. Certain things are not to be left, and for example, leak spots on the ceiling can cause great damage to your roof if not taken care of immediately. If your home is up for sale, a sign of poor maintenance will make the home seekers wonder what else is wrong with the house. 7. Water Heater Upgrade An old water heater can be a turn off for some home buyers, but you can find water heaters that come with a tankless model. This kind of water heaters are more efficient as they only heat up the water that you need. 8. Appliance Updates Nowadays, energy-efficiency is becoming trendy. Appliances with an energy star label use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than other conventional appliances. New models look great, and many are stainless steel which is a bonus. If you do not have the money for buying modern devices, upgrade the lighting to energy star. 9. Update Fixtures Fixtures in your home include curtain rods, light fixtures, doorknobs, switch plates, outlet covers, etc. Make sure that these are updated because sometimes it's the small detail that counts. For example, outlet covers and switch plates look more attractive when made of metal. These changes are easy to do yourself and aren't so expensive, just be sure you choose the right color which looks great combined with other furniture in your home. Matt James is a freelance writer specialized in home improvement, smart technology, architecture & design. He has a love of outdoors and spending time with his dog Cooper. You can reach him on Facebook and Instagram. […]

  • Inside Tips On Outdoor Kitchens
    by rtstaff@realtytimes.com (Realty Times Staff) on April 19, 2018 at 7:58 pm

    Outdoor kitchens make dining al fresco at home more appealing than ever. A rebounding trend in outdoor living reveals more and more properties feature outdoor kitchens that once were the province of only the very wealthy. Today, moving the home’s indoor central meeting place outdoors creates an open-air living space that’s both accessible and inviting as any indoor room. Great for gatherings and socializing, having a kitchen and dining area outdoors also eliminates some of the indoor mess and hassle of food preparation and makes for a more inclusive cooking experience. You can create outdoor living space that is an organic part of your yard or a discrete, open-air self-standing room or suite for your home. With features ranging from simple and functional to more extravagant, an outdoor kitchen investment comes with a return that’s at least equal to a major kitchen remodel - 80 percent or more. Talk to your real estate agent about the return on your investment in an outdoor kitchen in your specific neighborhood. If you are enterprising, hands-on and have budget constraints, you can put ideas into play yourself. If you need a truly professional look, hire a contractor to design and build the area. Here are a few elements to keep in mind when crafting your outdoor living space: Outdoor kitchen appliances   Durability is paramount for any outdoor appliance and should be a primary concern, especially if you live in a harsh climate (cold, wet, dry or hot), even if you cover your appliances in inclement weather. Cooking fuels are commonly gas or charcoal, but outdoor kitchens can incorporate a wood-burning oven, outdoor fireplace, or a fire pit. Barbecue fans might opt to include a smoker or mesquite grill. Higher end outdoor kitchens often include ample counter top space, drawers and cabinets for storage, as well as a sink, and refrigeration. Existing utility connections could narrow your choices, but you can run a natural gas line to the outdoor kitchen. Adequate plumbing pressure is a must in order to accommodate hot and cold running water. Outdoor kitchen living space   The living space that frames your appliances helps set the tone for outdoor living. If you have an existing deck or patio, you could develop that space into a living area. If you install an island and bar area with stools or opt for a simple outdoor dining set, consider protecting your space from the elements, just as you would your appliances. Some kitchens incorporate a roof, covered archway or pergola; others could need only an ample patio umbrella to also protect diners from weather. Special roofs and over coverings can allow you to cook outdoors year round – even in inclement weather. Outdoor kitchen flow   To build functionality into your outdoor kitchen, consider the flow of space just as you would your indoor entertaining areas. Keep your cooking area accessible to your indoor kitchen, when possible, to experience less running around with dishes and ingredients you keep inside the home. Put seating near your cooking area, but not so near as to interrupt the flow of the chef. Outdoor kitchen ambiance   Keep lighting in mind when it comes to evenings. It’s a lovely time to relax outside after the sun goes down, and inviting lighting enhances the experience. Create a mood with built in lighting and strands of hanging lights. Gas and traditional tiki torches are an option that maintains that outdoorsy atmosphere. Overall, the design of your outdoor kitchen should compliment your home, especially adjacent areas. […]

  • What's Wrong With Oklahoma?
    by rtstaff@realtytimes.com (Blanche Evans) on April 18, 2018 at 8:22 pm

    As the two-week Oklahoma teacher's strike ended last week, it's clear that the rabidly red state has some serious problems, namely that oil money doesn't trickle down like economics are supposed to. Ignoring the benefits of its central location, relatively mild climate and abundant natural resources, Oklahoma stubbornly refuses to make its state attractive to any business except oil. Take the wind industry, for example. Once on track to be the number one source of wind-generated energy by 2030, according to the Department of Commerce, Oklahoma decided instead to cut the industry's last tax incentive in 2017 in House Bill 2298. Meanwhile, oil and gas production tax rates have plummeted, from an average seven percent to two percent for new wells for the first three years, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute. At 7 percent, Oklahoma's tax rate is well below that of other major energy states, says the OPI, compared to 8.3 percent in Texas and North Dakota, 13.3 percent in Louisiana, and 13.4 percent in Wyoming, according to a 2017 report by the Covenant Group. According to forecasts from the Oklahoma Tax Commission the new subsidy will cost Oklahoma $333 million in lost gross production tax revenue, says the OPI. Are oil companies going to refuse to drill if they have to pay 7 percent? And if it's causing such a shortfall that teachers have to march to get lawmakers attention, isn't that a good enough reason to review the governor's budget? And that brings us back to the teachers. According to The Guardian, Oklahoma ranks 49th in state teacher pay. The state offered teachers a raise just in time to stop the strike, but the teachers soldiered on because they are striking for the children. State spending per pupil has dropped by 26.9 percent since 2008 and is also the last time teachers got a raise. Students are making do in many areas with outdated and duct-taped schoolbooks, four-day school weeks and school closings. Legislaters fight back with a Catch-22 - the budget shortfall doesn't allow the state to meet the teachers' demands. What the lawmakers fail to realize is that catering to the oil and gas industry is preventing other jobs from coming to Oklahoma, which is starving the mostly rural state. One of the three busiest trucking highways in the nation goes smack through the middle of the state, I-40, coming east from Memphis, Federal Express's hub, and west from Barstow, California, outside of Los Angeles and a major highway intersection of I-15, California State Route 58, U.S. Route 66 and I-40. Intersecting with I-75 at Henryetta, Oklahoma, and I-35 in Oklahoma City, 1-40 creates a nice triangle to and from Dallas, home to DFW international airport. Yet, when one drives through Henryetta, there's little commerce, just fast food restaurants and a duck decoy manufacturer. Nearly equidistant to Tulsa and Oklahoma City, it just doesn't make sense why Henryetta isn't a huge town, teeming with manufacturing, packaging and shipping jobs, but to date, its only claim to fame is as the birthplace of Troy Aikman. The trickle down of poo continues with the housing industry. According to Zillow, the median home value in Oklahoma is $116,900, less than half the national median and the median list price per square foot in Oklahoma is $99. And yet, nearly 12 percent of OK homeowners are underwater on their mortgages. Californians, foreign investors and retirees smell the blood in the water. You can buy property cheaply, pay almost nothing in property taxes (another problem) and live like it's 1970. Just don't expect any updates. […]

  • Get The Home You Want, Millennials: Smart Strategies For First-Time Homebuyers
    by rtstaff@realtytimes.com (Jaymi Naciri) on April 18, 2018 at 8:19 pm

    Hey, Millennials. Come on into the real estate market! We really need you to buy some homes so we can keep chugging along. Oh, wait. Prices are rising and so are interest rates, plus inventory is scary low. Hmmm. Well, come on in anyway, wontcha? It's not easy to buy a home in a hot market where inventory remains at historic lows - and that covers a lot of areas across the country at a wide range of different price points. But it's especially hard right now for Millennials, who aren't exactly getting a warm welcome from the market that has been begging them to participate. "I think it's fair to say this is the most competitive housing market we've seen in recorded history," Danielle Hale, chief economist for Realtor.com, told Curbed. "There's record low inventory and strong interest from buyers in getting into the housing market. Millennials are reaching prime homebuying age - in 2020, the greatest proportion of that generation will be turn 30 - just as baby boomers are looking to downsize. This has created especially fierce competition for smaller homes, the type of starter homes that most first-time buyers desire. This dynamic can be especially frustrating for young adults because they may be bidding for the same smaller home as someone from an older generation who can lean on the accumulated wealth of decades of homeownership." But that doesn't make buying impossible - just a bit more challenging. Get a leg up by following a few smart strategies. Work with the right REALTOR® This is not the right time to give your brother-in-law's cousin's neighbor who just got his license a shot. Having a competitive edge is more important than ever, and you need a savvy, experienced, and well-connected real estate agent to help you buy a home. Work on your down payment You may be competing against buyers who are coming in with an all-cash offer, which you're going to have a hard time standing up to. But, there are ways you can make your offer look better. Remember that if it comes down to a multiple-offer situation for your home, sellers won't just compare the offer prices. They'll look at your down payment and the terms, and you need to have better terms than the next guy. You may only have 3.5% down, and that may be all you need to qualify for your FHA loan, but that doesn't mean the seller will embrace you. "Your down payment is a key part of the offer you present to the seller," said Money Crashers. "The general rule of thumb is simple: the larger the down payment, the stronger the offer. More precisely: the greater the down payment's share of the total purchase price, the more likely the seller is to accept." If you're ready to buy and there's no time to get a second job or go into hyper-savings mode, you can always take advantage of down payment assistance programs like the National Homebuyers Fund or hit up a relative. "If you're struggling to pool enough cash for your down payment, a generous relative or friend can help by giving you money," said NerdWallet. "But the money must be a true gift, not a disguised loan, and it must be documented properly through financial statements and a gift letter. If the gift is really a loan that you have to pay back, lenders won't accept it." Be flexible on the closing If another potential buyer is insistent on a 30-day close, but you could close earlier, later, and even rent back to the seller if need be, you just might end up with the house you want. Flexibility is key to submitting a winning offer, so make sure you have a Plan B - a place to stay for a few days or longer if you're going to be between houses, and a mover/storage option squared away. Look in adjacent neighborhoods Yeah, you have your heart set on a specific neighborhood. But if it's just not happening, consider the next neighborhood over. Experts say they have great potential upside. Consider the worst house on the block Buying the ugly duckling is a top strategy for investors, and one that can get buyers in the door (literally!) if they're having trouble purchasing move-in-ready homes. "When your budget as a first-time buyer doesn't stretch to a house in perfect condition in a neighborhood you adore, you might consider buying a home that needs work. Or maybe you've watched fixer-upper TV shows and think you could handle sweat equity. Either way, real estate experts say buying a house that needs renovating can make sense as long as you are realistic about the process," said the Washington Post. "A fixer-upper can be a smart investment, particularly if you can buy a property under market value and then increase its value with the right projects. While some home buyers prefer move-in-ready homes, they are stuck with the choices the previous homeowner or builder picked for their countertops, fixtures and floors. Not only do buyers of fixer-uppers get to select their finishes, they also can make sure the work is done the way they want." If you're worried about how you're going to pay for all those renovations, ask your real estate agent or lender about a 203(k) loan, which rolls renovation funds into your mortgage. "An FHA 203k loan, (sometimes called a Rehab Loan or FHA Construction loan) allows you to finance not one, but two major items 1) the house itself, and; 2) needed/wanted repairs," said The Mortgage Reports. "Because the lender tracks and verifies repairs, it is willing to approve a loan on a home it wouldn't otherwise consider." The loan addresses a common problem when buying a fixer home: lenders often don't approve loans for homes in need of major repairs." Waive contingencies before you submit your offer? Note the question mark. Your real estate professional may caution you against this strategy. But, lenders like Better Mortgage are making it work with a program that "allows buyers in select markets to not only underwrite their finances, but also get the appraised value of their home before they submit an offer. That means they have the option to waive both financing and appraisal contingencies to make their offer as competitive as cash." […]

  • Property Survey Always Wise, Often Required
    by rtstaff@realtytimes.com (Benny L. Kass) on April 17, 2018 at 8:08 pm

    Question: At our settlement recently, a lawyer charged us $150 for a survey. When we questioned this charge, we were told it was a lender's requirement and we could do nothing about it. Just what is a survey? Answer: I hope the lawyer at least gave you a copy of the survey and fully explained it to you. It is important to distinguish between a survey and an appraisal -- both of which are usually charged to the buyer. An appraisal assists the mortgage lender in assessing the value of the house so as to determine whether a mortgage should be made and in what amount. Generally, the appraisal will analyze the condition of the house, its location, structural soundness and comparable sales in the area. A survey, on the other hand, goes to the question of the marketability of the house. There are, however, several kinds of surveys: (1) location, (2) boundary, (3) if involving a commercial property, an American Land Title Survey, commonly referred to as an ALTA survey. The typical survey that the homebuyer gets at the settlement (escrow) is the location survey. Oversimplified, all it does it show where the improvements (the house, fence, shed) are located as they relate to the boundary lines. The survey typically will inspect the area and then submit the survey. Usually, this will cost a few hundred dollars. It does not, however, show you where the actual boundaries are. To do this, you will need to order the Boundary Survey. Here, the survey will -- in addition to showing the location of improvements -- determine where the property corners are, and then prepare a more detailed presentation. Often, however, it is very difficult to locate the corners of a piece of property. Years ago, great-grandma Smith told her attorney "the end of my property is where the oak tree stands." And that's what her deed -- and all successor deeds read. However, the old oak tree was demolished years ago. To be precise, the survey will have to do a lot of research, legwork and measurements. So such a survey will be more expensive. The location surveyor determines whether the house is within the property borders, whether there are any encroachments on the property by neighbors and the extent to which any easements on the property may affect legal title. Lenders always insist on obtaining a clear "lender's" title insurance policy covering the face value of the mortgage. Title companies will issue an exception to title unless a survey has been ordered, and thus surveys are usually required. My own belief is that everyone buying a house should obtain a survey whether or not the lender requires it. You can at least start with the location type. It is a good idea to learn, for example, whether there are any building restrictions affecting your right to add a porch or a fence. Equally important, does the next door neighbor have any possible claims of adverse possession? If the survey shows an encroachment -- one way or the other -- on a next door property, a potential buyer must investigate very carefully before taking title. But, here are some suggestions involving the survey process. First, location survey prices vary considerably. I've seen them as low as $130 and as high as $300, for the same single-family house. Ask your settlement attorney for an estimate. If it seems too high, arrange for your own survey and make sure a copy of the survey gets to your lender well in advance of settlement. It must be done by a qualified, licensed surveyor. Next, ask your sellers who did their survey. Unfortunately, most lenders will not honor a survey if it is more than six months old. But inquire from the prior surveyor whether the old survey can be updated and whether this will save you some money. Some of the more reputable surveyors are happy to get your business and will give you a break in the price. Additionally, if you are refinancing your existing home, some lenders and title insurance companies are willing to accept a survey affidavit instead of a new survey. You will have to sign an affidavit that no improvements have been made to the property since you originally purchased it. These affidavits are available at a minimum cost. You should also go to the local government surveyor in the land records office where your property is located. They are quite helpful and may be able to assist you with boundary questions, easement issues and such. If you are buying a condominium unit, you will not have to obtain -- or pay for -- a separate survey of your unit. That survey has already been done as part of the plans which were recorded with the condominium documents. But that does not excuse you from carefully reviewing the condo plats and plans. For example, are there limited common elements that impede your access to the roof? Do you have a limited common element? Finally, if you are considering installing a fence -- or even a swimming pool -- in the future, you will want stakes posted, it will cost you additional dollars. You should make the necessary arrangements for stakes at the time you order the survey. And don't forget to get a copy of the survey from your settlement attorney. […]