Monday, November 3, 2014

5 trends coming to the smart home in 2015

The future of the connected home is continuing to evolve, and with more startups pitching products, the ship date of older crowdfunding campaigns hitting customer homes and big name companies warming to the space, I’m starting to see a few trends come together for 2015. I’m sure we’ll see more at CES in January, but based on conversations I’ve had and products I saw at our Structure Connect show last week, here are a few things you can expect on the connected home front. Full Article

Bluetooth makes lighting a snap: At long last, products are coming on the market that will let you use Bluetooth to control light bulbs, outlets and more. These products are using mesh networking to make installing a connected light switch as easy as sticking a new plate to the wall using double-sided tape. 

To talk to your home, you’ll talk to your phone: Since our phones are equipped with awesome natural language processing already, big companies such as Nest and Apple and small ones like Nucleus and Ubi will use them to let people control their homes via voice. 

Low-power Wi-Fi is coming even if the standard isn’t ready: Two companies, Homeboy and Roost were offering different products that took advantage of low-power Wi-Fi. The benefits of such a set up are pretty obvious — you don’t need a fancy hub to control a device and it can work for almost everyone. The Roost is a connected battery that lasts for about 5 years and can convert an existing smoke detector into a connected smoke detector. 

You won’t need a home hub to automate your house: This year’s hot device, the home hub that combines a bunch of radios with a software platform to let people control multiple connected devices is going away.

Get ready to pay: The business models that have been lacking in several popular services are beginning to crystalize. From Linden Tibbets. the CEO of If This Then That disclosing that he plans to have consumers pay for premium IFTTT services, to an in-depth discussion from IControl’s CEO on business models for the smart home, it’s clear that while companies have been focused on the user experience, the revenue models aren’t far behind.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

5 Serious Tips to Attract the Serious Fall Home Buyer

Home sales typically cool down along with the weather in the fall and winter months – but realtors say that some savvy sellers can quickly sell a property for a decent price this time of year. 
Because fewer people are on the market in the fall means you have less competition. Plus, people on the prowl for houses at this time of year tend to be more serious shoppers, compared to the browsers and neighborhood nosy bodies who might make a day of hitting open houses just for fun in the spring. 
“People who are house hunting now are the real buyers,” says Billy Wynn, a San Fernando Valley, California, realtor. “They wouldn’t be out there if they didn’t need to be.” Full Article

Take photos ASAP.If you live in the Northeast and are thinking of listing your home in the next few months, get a few shots of the exterior now. That way, when you’re ready to list, you won’t be stuck with photos of bare trees and a lawn under several inches of snow.
In general, it’s better to list your property earlier in the fall anyway. “Thanksgiving is a dead week, and things are slower during the holidays,” says Michael Corbett, a real estate expert with Trulia. “Not only are buyers home celebrating with their families but realtors are, too.”
Price your home correctly. Yes, it’s a seller’s market right now but the pace of price increases is slowing. Bidding wars are becoming less frequent and tend to occur when homes are underpriced, realtors say. The best way to sell a home quickly is to price it correctly at listing. Otherwise it may sit on the market until you cut the price, which could push you into the competitive spring selling season with a stale listing.
Keep it warm. Have all the curtains drawn back to provide as much light into the home as possible. That, combined with a constantly open front door that lets in potential buyers, can make for a chilly house. Be sure to keep an eye on the thermostat so that the temperature remains comfortable. Even better than turning up the heat: Start a fire in your fireplace, to show off that feature, says Zillow’s real estate expert Brendon DeSimone.
Go easy on the holiday decorations. You may want to put your holiday cheer on hold this year, at least when it comes to sprucing up the homestead. Holiday decorations add clutter and religious-themed d├ęcor could turn off some buyers. A simple understated wreath or a basket of acorns and gourds is plenty. “Nobody wants to see ten inflatable ghosts on your lawn for Halloween,” says David Fogg, a real estate agent in Burbank, California. 

Refocus on curb appeal. 
Even in the dead of winter, curb appeal matters, though you don’t have the benefit of lush plants. It might be worth an extra coat of paint on your shutters and doors to help them pop against the bleaker winter background. Also, make sure there aren’t 
Clear out non-holiday related clutter, too. Start now; the process can take longer than you think. Remove as many personal items as possible to make it easier for potential buyers to see themselves living there. Aim to clear away about 50 percent of your belongings. Get rid of anything you haven’t used in a year, and put extra furniture or other large items in storage.

Monday, October 20, 2014

30-year mortgage rate falls to lowest in 16 months

 Average U.S. mortgage rates tumbled this week. The 30-year loan hit its lowest level since June 2013 as Treasury bond yields marked new lows amid concern over global economic weakness.
It was the fourth straight week of declines for mortgage rates, making it more affordable to borrow to buy a home.
Mortgage company Freddie Mac said Thursday that the nationwide average for a 30-year loan dipped to 3.97 percent from 4.12 percent last week. The average for a 15-year mortgage, a popular choice for people who are refinancing, fell to 3.18 percent from 3.30 percent. Full Article

Monday, October 13, 2014

Tips For Buying and Selling A Home at the Same Time

And you thought buying or selling a home was scary. Either one can be, of course, but there’s nothing like doing both at once to foster a flurry of “what ifs.” What if I buy a new house, but my old one doesn’t sell? What if I sell my old house, but can’t find a new one? And what if I try to do both at once and end up going completely crazy in the process? Full Article  

Don’t worry, you won’t, as long as you take the time to think things through. Depending on your particular situation, it may make more sense to buy first, then sell — or just the opposite. Either way, here are some of the factors to consider:

Buy First, Then Sell
  • Can search for new home without pressure
  • No need to find interim housing
  • Risk of double mortgage payments
  • Equity from current home unknown
Sell First, Then Buy
  • Equity is immediately available
  • No double mortgage payments
  • Risk of having to find interim housing
  • Pressure to buy can lead to rash decisions

Clean It Up

Clearly, buying and selling concurrently comes with its own brand of stress, but with a little pre-planning you can keep it under control. Simply put, you should get as much done to your old house before you even start looking for your new one. At a minimum:
  • Get rid of stuff. You don’t want to be hauling junk to the dump while the clock is ticking.
  • Fix what you can. If necessary, hire an inspector to determine what needs doing and get it done. Quibbling with potential buyers over who’s going to pay for what is counter-productive.
  • Disclose what you don’t — fix, that is. If you don’t want to take on a major repair, be sure to disclose the problem to the buyer. It may be better to accept a lower offer than to have the deal fall apart. 

Tools of the Trade

Regardless of the route you choose, you can ease the process in others ways, too. One is through a bridge loan, a short-term loan that “bridges” the gap between buying your new house and selling your current one. (Watch out, though: Bridge loans often carry high fees and interest rates.) Other options include taking out a home equity loan or borrowing against a 401(k).

You can also structure your deals to include contingency clauses, in which you agree to sell your current home contingent on purchasing your new one and/or agree to buy your new home contingent on selling your old one. Just be aware that most sellers prefer contingency-free offers: If your offer is contingent on selling your current home and a competing offer has no such constraints, many sellers will go for the free-and-clear sale.

The Reality of Rent-backs

If you’ve sold your current home but can’t move into your new one (or haven’t even found it yet), you may be able to negotiate a rent-back with the buyer. In a nutshell, that means you can stay in “your” home as a tenant who pays rent to the new owners. If the buyer is amenable, you’ll not only have the proceeds from the sale, but also more time to plan your next step.

The problem, of course, is that the buyer calls the shots. They’ll probably want you to cover their mortgage payment and other costs, which, assuming your house has appreciated, are probably quite a bit higher than you’re used to paying. Add in the utilities, renter’s insurance, and other expenses, and it may make more sense to find a rental apartment — or redouble your efforts to find your new home.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Here are the best places to buy and sell houses

Top sellers' markets today are largely in the West, where inventories are low and demand and jobs are strong. Sellers in these markets have the most negotiating power, and final sale prices generally come in at or above asking. Full Article

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

3 Tips to Sell Your House in the Fall

Although the real estate business tends to slow down in the fall, the season still can be an attractive time to put a home on the market. If you want to sell your house in the next few months, it can be done.
Potential buyers—such as empty nesters orMillennials who aren’t worried about moving after the school year has started—will compete for fewer homes on the market and will likely want to seal a deal before the holiday season kicks into high gear.
Here are three tips to help make your home more attractive in autumn, so you can sell your house before winter comes. Full Article 

1.  Clean Up

As many regions slowly shift from a sellers’ market to a moderate or buyers’ market, you’ll want to do everything you can to make your house look its best.
Pay particular attention to eliminating clutter and safety hazards that can crop up with cooler weather:
  • Make sure your yard, walkways and gutters are free of leaves and debris.
  • Mow your lawn so it looks neat.
  • Trim trees so unexpected winds don’t knock down branches that could damage your home or hurt anybody.
  • If it is rainy, be sure you have a good doormat so visitors can wipe their feet and not traipse mud and water through the house.
  • If you already have snow, be sure stairs and walkways leading to your front door are not icy.
  • Wash decks and wipe down windows so they sparkle instead of appear streaked by rain.
  • Vacuum and wash down the fireplace, especially if it hasn’t been used in months.
  • If you live in a region where it’s still warm enough to use the patio, make sure the area is inviting and arranged with the views from indoors in mind.
  • Above all, make sure your doorway and the rest of the house is clear from knick knacks, bicycles and toys that make your home appear cluttered.

2. Create Autumn Curb Appeal

If your house’s exterior looks drab, you may want to consider painting it a warm color,planting seasonal flowers, or placing pumpkins strategically along your walkup to accent your home’s appeal with instant color.
Potential buyers will make an instant judgment when they see your home, and you want to be sure it’s positive.
While you don’t want to go overboard with fall decorations that detract from the home itself, a few displays like a festive front-door wreath—and lighting so people can clearly see the path to your front door—can make your home feel fresh, even in the fall.

3. Keep the House Cozy

Entering a cold house could leave an unfavorable impression. So warm up your home with a fresh coat of paint and set the thermostat at a comfortable temperature.
Another way to warm up a home is with light, especially as days get shorter leading into winter. Be sure to open blinds and curtains so plenty of light illuminates the home’s interior.
A few embellishments like red, orange or golden yellow pillows can breathe new life into dull sofa—or a fall centerpiece can highlight a certain area of the home.
While you don’t want your home to look like the latest department store display, well-chosen embellishments that give potential buyers the impression you’ve paid attention to the fine details and taken care of any problems with the home will help you put your best face forward.
And remember, there’s nothing wrong with trying to sweeten the deal with the comforting aroma of a freshly-baked, cinnamon-laced apple pie or pumpkin cupcake to leave a lasting impression of your home as the potential buyer takes a bite.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Home Buying 101: First-Time Home Buyer’s Guide

There are so many things to consider when buying your first home. Do you need a real estate agent (I’ll go on the record and answer that with a firm “yes”)? How do you choose a neighborhood? How do you put in a fair and reasonable offer without paying too much? How do you get a mortgage? What type of mortgage should you get? Should you get a home inspection? How much money will you need once you own the home? Full Article

All great questions. All of which I had no idea how to answer the first time I bought a home.
But you, lucky reader, don’t have to be as ill-informed as I was. Nope. You can have those and many other questions answered by the new Home Buying 101 guide from the Quicken Loans Zing Blog. It’s the first in a series of guides for homeowners  that will help you make important decisions, when you need to make them.

Home Buying 101 is offered as a Slideshare (below) and as a PDF that you can view, download and print, if so desired.

The beautifully-designed guide takes you through the entire process, from beginning to end, and includes all kinds of great info such as a first-time home buyer glossary, some quizzes to help test your knowledge, and even some common abbreviations used in the real estate industry.
The 2014 home buying season is just around the corner. As soon as our lovely nation thaws from the worst winter since the Ice Age (I’m looking out the window at snow piles that are taller than me), Americans will begin buying and selling homes like nobody’s business. Mortgage rates are still near historic lows and home values are on the rise across the country. It’s a perfect recipe for a great home buying season, and our guide will help you be prepared.
Check out our guide and let us know what you think. Did we miss something? Let us know and we’ll add it. We promise. Happy home hunting!

Friday, September 19, 2014

September Home Maintenance Checklist

Ever wondered why "fall cleaning" isn't as popular as "spring cleaning." The air on brisk September mornings inspires us to button up the home in preparation for cooler days and longer nights. Full Article 

Add weatherstripping to doors and windows:Weatherstripping can be plastic, foam, felt or metal; its job is to seal small gaps, keeping moisture and cold air outside where they belong.
Check storm windows:If you have storm windows that are cracked or dirty, repair and clean them now — prior to autumn installation.
Fight winter with plywood:Find a couple of scrap sheets of plywood and set them aside. When the weatherman predicts a cold snap, set the boards against the exterior basement vents on whichever side of your house bears the brunt of your prevailing weather patterns. This bit of scrappiness could help prevent frozen pipes. Be sure to remove the boards once the weather warms up — those vents are there for a reason.

Insulation speculation:This is a good time to check the condition of insulation and see if you need more, especially if you live in an older home. You can purchase unbacked or loose-fill insulation if you are just beefing up what is already there. If you are adding batted insulation to a spot that has none, remember that the foil-backed side is the vapor barrier, and it must face the heated area.
Check gutters:Do a quick visual check to make sure gutters are clear — they'll be performing double duty soon with rainstorms and falling leaves.
Keep mice out: September inspires nesting in mice as well as humans. Mice are looking for a winter home now, and that newly insulated attic would be just the spot. Make sure all exterior vents are screened, and that there are no gaps underneath garage doors. If you are careless about leaving doors and windows open this time of year, you'll be setting mousetraps later. Pet doors are another favorite access point for rodents.
Caulk exterior: Think of caulk as weatherstripping in a tube. Any gap on the outside of your home can be a candidate for caulking. Look at transition spots: corners, windows, doors, areas where masonry joins siding, or places where vents and other objects protrude from walls. Carefully read manufacturer's directions to make sure the caulk you buy will work where you plan to use it, and don't forget to purchase a caulking gun. Early fall is a good time for this task because caulk becomes difficult to apply when the temperature falls.
Got wood?:If you have a wood stove, it's not too early to lay in a supply of firewood. Though most of us buy whatever's local, bear in mind that soft woods like fir and cedar burn faster and create hazardous creosote in the chimney, thus requiring more system maintenance and more wood. Hardwoods such as oak, hickory and maple are slow, hot, clean burners. Wood piles attract insect and animal pests, so stack wood away from the house. Wood dries best when it's protected from rain and has air circulating around it, so under the roof of a wall-less carport would be an ideal wood storage spot.
Clean dryer vent: This is another one of those tasks that should be on your to-do list every six months. Scoot your clothes dryer away from the wall, unplug it, and vacuum behind it. (If it's a gas dryer, turn off the gas supply to the dryer at the appliance shutoff valve.) Unhook the tube that leads to the vent and clear as much lint from the tube as you can. Grab a shop vacuum, go outside, and tackle the outside dryer vent as well.
Inspect your roof and chimney: If your roof isn't too steep, and isn't covered with slate or tile, you may be able to carefully walk on it on a dry day. Look for broken or missing shingles, missing or damaged flashing and seals around vent pipes and chimneys, and damage to boards along the eaves. Also peer down your chimney with a flashlight to make sure no animals have set up house in it. If you can't get on your roof, perform this inspection with a ladder around the perimeter. Pay close attention to valleys and flashings — many leaks originate in these spots. Some patches and roofing cement now can prevent thousands of dollars of water damage later in the winter.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

5 Tips to Win a Bidding War for Your New Home

Housing inventory hit a nearly two-year high last month, with 2.28 million unsold homes on the market nationwide. That’s an encouraging sign during a historic dry spell.
But macro trends are cold comfort for potential homebuyers on the ground. There are still plenty of communities where low inventory and rising prices mean bidding wars are common.
Multiple offers can be incredibly stressful. Buyers are forced to pare their expectations and fight for an edge in what’s essentially a zero-sum game. No one wants to see their dream home swarmed by cash buyers or inflated offers.
The good news is it’s not always about the bottom line. Sellers may take less if it means a faster closing, fewer headaches or helping someone they connect with.
Here’s a look at five tips that can help prospective buyers in a bidding war.

Come Prepared

You might only get one shot at this. Needless to say, it isn’t the time to let your uncle take his new real estate license out for a test run. Lean on an experienced buyer’s agent who’s handled multiple-offer situations.
Sellers and listing agents want to see you’ve got a mortgage preapproval and can close on the loan quickly. Buyers can include documents that showcase their ability to cover closing costs and a sizable down payment. Others might make a larger-than-normal earnest money deposit to underscore their seriousness.
The goal is conveying legitimacy and ease.
“The seller’s biggest fear is the deal falls apart at the last second,” says Neil Brooks, a real estate agent with HomeSmart Real Estate in Scottsdale, Ariz. “If you can share with that seller’s agent that you’re going to make the transaction go smoothly and worry-free, that’s going to help.”
This is also not the time to find out that problems with your credit could be an obstacle to buying the home you want. Checking your credit about six months before you expect to buy can give you time to correct any errors or improve on any issues that could put a damper on your plans. (You can check your credit reports for free from once a year, and you can use free tools to check your credit scores from sites like
Pay in Cash
If you can manage, nothing says “easy” quite like an all-cash offer; such offers account for about 40% of recent home sales.
There’s no mortgage process, no underwriting approval and no worrying about financing falling through.
That’s certainly not an arrow in every buyer’s quiver, but cash offers will often put a swift end to any bidding war.
Be Careful with Contingencies
Purchase offers often contain clauses that make the sale contingent on an appraisal or on the buyer’s ability to sell their current home. Sellers can see them as potential roadblocks.
Buyers with the cash to cover a low appraisal or two mortgage payments may want to consider waiving those contingencies.
Real estate agents may also suggest including an “escalation clause” in the contract. These basically say the buyer agrees to exceed the highest competing offer by a specific dollar amount. For example, you’ll pay an extra $5,000 on top of the most lucrative offer, or up to an additional $10,000 in increments of $2,000.
Good agents will also try to discern the seller’s preferred closing date and work that timeframe into the contract.
You may be able to press your lender for a quicker turnaround on your loan file. That’s not always possible, and it’s likely to depend in part on how quickly you can provide financial documentation at the outset.
Sell Yourself
Sometimes it’s about more than just the numbers. Many agents urge their clients to write a personal note to the seller. Be specific in conveying what you love about the home and your plans for it.
“Even though you have a process that’s mostly anonymous, you’re trying to create a bond that puts yourself in the best light,” says Duan Rockette, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services in St. Charles, Mo.
Rockette says that personal touch has helped clients win bidding wars time and again, even when their offer was the least competitive.
No Regrets
Homebuying is invariably an emotional experience. The time constraints and competitiveness of a multiple-offer situation only heighten the tension.
It’s important to step back and be honest with yourself. What’s more devastating – missing out on your “dream home” or overpaying by $20,000 to get it?
The goal – at least, ideally – is to avoid regret either way, says Christian Harris, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services in the ultra-competitive Seattle market.
“You want to make sure that, at the end of the day, you’re not going to regret your decision,” Harris says. “You want to make sure you can sleep at night.” Full Article 

Monday, June 30, 2014

4 Smart Steps to Take Before Buying Your First Home

Becoming a homeowner can be a daunting process for anyone, especially young adults or those without experience making such big purchases. Rushing through this long-term, multi-step financial process -- deciding how much home you can afford, fixing any blemishes on your credit report and saving for a down payment -- can prove tremendously costly. Years before you even think about hiring a real estate agent and starting an in-person home search, you need to take the time to prepare yourself financially

If you intend to buy a house, here are four steps to help lead you down the path to homeownership. Full Article

1. Consider where you want to live.

Don’t buy a home where you live now, just for the sake of homeownership. For many twenty- and thirtysomethings still exploring their career paths, buying a home can really limit their freedom. If you’re serious about becoming a homeowner, make sure the city you decide to buy in is a place you won’t mind sticking around for a while. Experts often advise would-be buyers to plan on staying in a new home no fewer than five to seven years. “You’re going to spend thousands of dollars to get into the home. To get out of it is going to be equally expensive and may possibly cost more when you do it in less than five years or in a down market,” says Keith Gumbinger, vice-president of, a publisher of mortgage information and rates.
2. Determine how much home you can afford.
Once you’ve decided where you want to live, use a home search Web site, such as or, to get a detailed look at the market, recommends Eric Tyson, co-author of “Home Buying for Dummies.” It’ll provide perspective on the types of properties for sale and what sellers are asking for. Seeing exactly how much homes cost will help you determine how much you can actually afford and how much you'll need to save for a down payment. If homes in your desired neighborhood are outside your price range, you can delay buying until you save more money, or you can downsize the type of home you’re looking to buy, or search in a different neighborhood.

3. Boost your credit.

Your credit score plays an important role in qualifying for a mortgage. A score of 740 or above will help you secure the best interest rates. In the Washington area, for example, that’s about 4% for a $200,000, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with a 20% down payment, according to (Look up mortgage rates in your area.) If your score is lower than 740, however, expect to pay a higher rate. For that same loan in the D.C. metro region, if your credit score ranges from 680 to 699, the lowest rate you’d be able to get is about 4.25%.

4. Start saving for a down payment.

In addition to building stellar credit, you should also save enough for a down payment of at least 20% of the home price to snag the best mortgage terms. That amount saves you from having to pay for private mortgage insurance, or PMI, which protects the lender if you default on the loan (read more about this in What It Takes to Buy a Home). Even with an excellent credit score, if you put just 5% down on a home that costs $201,700 (the national median existing home price as of April 2014), private mortgage insurance will cost you an additional $92.61 each month, according to
That down payment’s not chump change; 20% of $201,700 amounts to $40,340. For many young adults with starting or even mid-level salaries, it can take many years to stash away that much. Start saving now!
You should keep the cash liquid because you're aiming to use it in the next few years. We stored our funds in a regular savings account to give us direct access to it. You might also consider a short-term certificate of deposit. Neither option will earn you much right now, but your money will be safe from market losses and easy to tap as soon as you need it. In the meantime, here are the 10 Best Ways to Earn More Interest on Your Savings.

What’s next?

Once you’ve completed these steps, you should be ready for the second phase, which includes finding a trustworthy real estate agent, getting preapproved for a mortgage loan, viewing potential homes in person and making an offer on a home. We’ll have more on these steps in an upcoming Starting Out column.