Hydrangeas You Can Grow in Pots

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Paraplu’

‘Paraplu’ bears showstopping, doubled flowers that range from candy pink to hot pink. Give it moist, well-draining soil and part sun to sun in zones 5 to 9. Maturing at about 3 feet, it’s excellent for containers.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Paris Rapa’

Maturing at just 1 to 3 feet tall, Cityline ‘Paris’ is a bigleaf, dwarf hydrangea developed in Germany. This shrub takes partial shade to full sun in zones 5 to 9. The intensely red-pink flowers become green with age.

Cityline ‘Rio’ Hydrangea

Stunning Cityline ‘Rio’ is another bigleaf hydrangea that’s wonderful in containers. Growing 2 to 3 feet high, it’s an early bloomer, bearing blue flowers with handsome green “eyes.” It requires regular watering in partial shade to full sun.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Quick Fire’

Hardy, dwarf ‘Little Quick Fire’ is a bigleaf hydrangea for zones 3 to 9. It grows 36 to 60 inches in height and thrives in part sun to sun. Use this easy-to-grow shrub in larger containers.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Pistachio’

‘Pistachio’ is a reblooming hydrangea for gardens or large containers. The reddish blooms have a chartreuse tinge that isn’t affected by soil pH.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bobo’

Grow this 3-foot-tall hydrangea in full to part sun in zones 3 to 9. This dwarf shrub bears abundant white blooms that stay white in any soil.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bombshell’

‘Bombshell’ is a beauty: a petite hydrangea that bears white flowers almost non-stop from summer to fall. Give it part sun and consistently moist soil; it grows quickly and is hardy in zones 3 to 9.

8 Grave Mistakes to Never, Ever Make With Your HELOC

heloc-donts

A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, has long been a popular way to tap the equity in your home and get your hands on a quick infusion of cash. In the past, one big plus of using a HELOC—rather than an unsecured loan or credit card—was that you could deduct the interest you paid on up to $100,000 of the balance.

But under the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the rules have changed. And if you’re not clear on how the new law affects you, you could make some mistakes with your HELOC that could cost you big-time! Once you make these errors, it can be difficult or impossible to undo them. So, it’s crucial that you’re clear on what you can (and can’t) do with a HELOC today.

To help, here are some common mistakes people make with HELOCs so you know what not to do—at tax time or anytime.

1. Not understanding the new HELOC rules

If you opened your account before Jan. 1, 2018, you could take out a HELOC and spend the money on anything. Whether you spent this cash to fund a child’s college tuition or foot the bill for a wedding or even a new boat, you could deduct the interest on this loan as an expense in your itemized tax deductions, just like you deduct the interest on your regular mortgage.

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changed all that. Now, you can deduct the interest only to the extent that the balance on your HELOC is used to buy, build, or substantially improve the home that secures this debt. This applies to all HELOCs; it doesn’t matter when you took out your HELOC or when you spent the money; there is no provision grandfathered in.

Now, if you file your tax returns and take a deduction for HELOC interest expenses, you need to show proof of what you want to write off, according to Ralph DiBugnara, president of HomeQualified in New York City.

If you can’t prove that this interest was paid on a loan used to buy, build, or improve your home, the IRS could disallow your deduction—and you could potentially face back taxes and penalties.

2. Using the wrong funds to pay for home improvements

As tempting as it may be to try to get credit card rewards and a tax deduction on the interest, don’t count on using your non-HELOC credit cards and cash to pay for home improvements, and then using your HELOC to pay off the balance.

While no specific IRS guidelines have been issued on this point, “I would err on the side of caution,” says Kevin Michels, a financial planner in Draper, UT. “Taking out a $10,000 HELOC to pay off a credit card you used to make a home improvement technically isn’t using your HELOC proceeds to make a home improvement. It’s using the proceeds to pay off a credit card.”

To be safe, spend your HELOC funds directly on qualifying expenses.

3. Not knowing what qualifies as a ‘substantial’ home improvement

If you’re trying to use your HELOC for qualifying purposes, or trying to track the percentage of your HELOC balance that qualifies as home improvement expense, make sure you know what kinds of expenses you can use. To qualify, the improvements must increase the value of your home.

“For example, repairs that simply maintain the home in good condition, like painting, do not count,” says Michels. “The money must be spent on improvements that increase the value, like remodeling a kitchen, building an addition, or constructing a deck.”

But in some cases, fixing and maintaining projects can be construed as material improvements. For example, normally paint is part of maintenance and repair and does not qualify. However, if you add a room to your house, you can count all the expenses of adding the room, including the paint.

4. Using your HELOC funds for mixed purposes

Technically, you can use some of your HELOC funds for vacations, eating out, and general household spending, and some of it for major home improvements, and still deduct the interest on the portion that is for the home improvements.

“If you take out a $50,000 loan and spend half of it on remodeling your kitchen and the other half to pay off debt, you can still deduct 50% of the interest,” says Michels.

Co-mingling funds for different purposes is seldom a good idea, however. It can get messy. What if you’ve made purchases and payments from a HELOC account for qualifying and nonqualifying purchases over a period of years? Talk about complicated!

Because the new tax law for HELOCs does not have provisions grandfathered in, there’s no doubt many taxpayers will find themselves trying to determine what percentage of their HELOC balance qualifies in the next several years. For previous purchases, you’ll have to do the best you can. Save records and documents, in case you are ever audited and need to show how you arrived at the percentage of your HELOC balance that qualifies for the interest deduction.

Going forward, however, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble if you use your HELOC fund for one purpose at a time, whenever possible.

5. Deducting interest when the HELOC is not secured by the same home on which you spent the money

According to the IRS, in order to take the deduction, you must not only spend the money to buy, build, or substantially improve your home, the HELOC must be secured by that home. If the HELOC is secured by a different real estate property, the interest on your HELOC is not deductible.

6. Deducting interest on loans over the IRS limits

Even if you use HELOC funds for qualifying purposes, the amount of the debt on which you can deduct interest may be subject to one of these limits:

  • $100,000 home equity loan or line of credit limit: You can deduct interest on only up to $100,000 of home equity debt. If you have a home equity line of credit balance of more than $100,000, you can deduct interest only on $100,000 of that debt.
  • $750,000 cap on total mortgage debt: You can generally deduct interest only on your first $750,000 of mortgage debt, including first mortgages and HELOCs. The cap is higher—$1 million—if you obtained the qualifying mortgage debt and HELOCs before Dec. 15, 2017.
  • Total debt limit based on the purchase price of the home: In addition to the above caps, you can deduct interest only on your total home mortgage debt. That includes your first mortgage and any HELOC, up to the total amount you paid for your home. So if you paid $250,000 for your home and took out a $25,000 HELOC, you can deduct the interest on only up to $275,000.

7. Not taking deductions to which you are entitled

Since HELOCs have become more complicated, you might think it’s better to not deduct any interest from this loan at all. But being afraid to take legitimate deductions is a costly, and unnecessary, mistake. If you used your HELOC for qualifying expenses to buy, build, or substantially improve your home, these deductions are worth taking, so save your receipts and records. Don’t miss out!

8. Considering only the tax aspects of having a HELOC

Even if you can’t deduct the interest, getting a HELOC can still be a cost-effective way to borrow money.

“The average rate is in the 4% range, so it’s still a less expensive way to borrow than a credit card would be,” says DiBugnara. “The closing costs are very minimal, they are quick to close on, and they offer an interest-only payment option.”

In addition, with a home equity line of credit, you pay interest only on your outstanding balance. You can pay it down when you have extra money, knowing you can take money out again when you need it.

“As long as you’re making that money work for you—for instance investing in other property—and your rate of return is greater than your cost of the HELOC, it’s a good tool,” says DiBugnara. “I think if you’re taking out a HELOC for other purposes, you should be conscious that you’re not getting a tax break, but that you are using the HELOC for the purpose you got it for.”

5 Sweet Tax Deductions When Selling a Home: Did You Take Them All?

selling-deductions

You may be wondering if there are tax deductions when selling a home. And the answer is: You bet!

Sure, you may remember 2018’s new tax code—aka the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—changed some rules for homeowners. But rest assured that if you sold your home last year (or are planning to in the future), your tax deductions when you file with the IRS can still amount to sizable savings.

Want a full rundown of all the deductions (as well as tax exemptions or other write-offs) at a home seller’s disposal? Check out this list to make sure you miss none of them.

1. Selling costs

These deductions are allowed as long as they are directly tied to the sale of the home, and you lived in the home for at least two out of the five years preceding the sale. Another caveat: The home must be a principal residence and not an investment property.

“You can deduct any costs associated with selling the home—including legal fees, escrow fees, advertising costs, and real estate agent commissions,” says Joshua Zimmelman, president of Westwood Tax and Consulting in Rockville Center, NY.

This could also include home staging fees, according to Thomas J. Williams, a tax accountant who operates Your Small Biz Accountant in Kissimmee, FL.

Just remember that you can’t deduct these costs in the same way as, say, mortgage interest. Instead, you subtract them from the sales price of your home, which in turn positively affects your capital gains tax (more on that below).

2. Home improvements and repairs

Score again! If you renovated a few rooms to make your home more marketable (and so you could fetch a higher sales price), you can deduct those upgrade costs as well. This includes painting the house or repairing the roof or water heater.

But there’s a catch, and it all boils down to timing.

“If you needed to make home improvements in order to sell your home, you can deduct those expenses as selling costs as long as they were made within 90 days of the closing,” says Zimmelman.

3. Property taxes

This deduction is capped at $10,000, Zimmelman says. So if you were dutifully paying your property taxes up to the point when you sold your home, you can deduct the amount you paid in property taxes this year up to $10,000.

4. Mortgage interest

As with property taxes, you can deduct the interest on your mortgage for the portion of the year you owned your home.

Just remember that under the 2018 tax code, new homeowners (and home sellers) can deduct the interest on up to only $750,000 of mortgage debt, though homeowners who got their mortgage before Dec. 15, 2017, can continue deducting up to the original amount up to $1 million, according to Zimmelman.

Note that the mortgage interest and property taxes are itemized deductions. This means that for it to work in your favor, all of your itemized deductions need to be greater than the new standard deduction, which the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled to $12,200 for individuals, $18,350 for heads of household, and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly. (For comparison, it used to be $12,700 for married couples filing jointly.)

5. Capital gains tax for sellers

The capital gains rule isn’t technically a deduction (it’s an exclusion), but you’re still going to like it.

As a reminder, capital gains are your profits from selling your home—whatever cash is left after paying off your expenses, plus any outstanding mortgage debt. And yes, these profits are taxed as income. But here’s the good news: You can exclude up to $250,000 of the capital gains from the sale if you’re single, and $500,000 if married. The only big catch is you must have lived in your home at least two of the past five years.

However, look for the rules of this exemption to possibly change in a future tax bill.

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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

This section of the Municipal Solid Waste infographic reads, "In the United States in 2017, 267.8 million tons of trash were generated.139.6 million tons ended up in landfills."

Recycling Basics

Recycling is the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products. Recycling can benefit your community and the environment.

Benefits of Recycling

  • Reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators
  • Conserves natural resources such as timber, water and minerals
  • Increases economic security by tapping a domestic source of materials
  • Prevents pollution by reducing the need to collect new raw materials
  • Saves energy
  • Supports American manufacturing and conserves valuable resources
  • Helps create jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries in the United States

Steps to Recycling Materials

Recycling includes the three steps below, which create a continuous loop, represented by the familiar recycling symbol.

  • There are several methods for collecting recyclables, including curbside collection, drop-off centers, and deposit or refund programs. Visit How do I recycle… Common Recyclables

    After collection, recyclables are sent to a recovery facility to be sorted, cleaned and processed into materials that can be used in manufacturing. Recyclables are bought and sold just like raw materials would be, and prices go up and down depending on supply and demand in the United States and the world.

    Step 2: Manufacturing

    More and more of today’s products are being manufactured with recycled content. Common household items that contain recycled materials include the following:

    • Newspapers and paper towels
    • Aluminum, plastic, and glass soft drink containers
    • Steel cans
    • Plastic laundry detergent bottles

     

    Recycled materials are also used in new ways such as recovered glass in asphalt to pave roads or recovered plastic in carpeting and park benches.

    Step 3: Purchasing New Products Made from Recycled Materials

    You help close the recycling loop by buying new products made from recycled materials. There are thousands of products that contain recycled content. When you go shopping, look for the following:

    • Products that can be easily recycled
    • Products that contain recycled content

    Below are some of the terms used:

    • Recycled-content product – The product was manufactured with recycled materials either collected from a recycling program or from waste recovered during the normal manufacturing process. The label will sometimes include how much of the content was from recycled materials.
    • Post-consumer content – Very similar to recycled content, but the material comes only from recyclables collected from consumers or businesses through a recycling program.
    • Recyclable product – Products that can be collected, processed and manufactured into new products after they have been used. These products do not necessarily contain recycled materials. Remember not all kinds of recyclables may be collected in your community so be sure to check with your local recycling program before you buy.

     

    Some of the common products you can find that can be made with recycled content include the following:

    • Aluminum cans
    • Car bumpers
    • Carpeting
    • Cereal boxes
    • Comic books
    • Egg cartons
    • Glass containers
    • Laundry detergent bottles
    • Motor oil
    • Nails
    • Newspapers
    • Paper towels
    • Steel products
    • Trash bags 

      United States Environmental Protection Agency

     

How To Make An Offer On a House You’ve Fallen in Love With

money-fanned-in-front-of-house

If you’re pondering how to make an offer on a house, congratulations! You’re well on your way to becoming a homeowner. How to make an offer usually comes down to working with a good agent, determining how much you can really afford to pay, and knowing how much the home is worth.

When a home is listed, attention is always drawn to the listing price and whether it matches comparable prices in the area. But when a buyer makes a proper offer to buy a home, matching the seller’s list price isn’t the only concern.

In some cases, terms included in the offer can represent thousands of dollars in additional value (or additional costs) for buyers. These terms are important and should be carefully reviewed. Here are some other important items to consider for an offer to buy a home:

How much should you offer?

Oftentimes, you’ll hear the amount of your offer should be a certain percent below the seller’s asking price or an amount less than you’re really willing to pay. In practice, your offer depends on the basic laws of supply and demand: If multiple buyers are competing for a home, sellers will likely get full-price offers and a house may go for over asking price. If demand in your area is weak, an offer below the asking price might be a savvy strategy.

How to make an offer on a house

The process of making offers varies around the country. In a typical situation, you’ll complete an offer sheet that your REALTOR® will present to the owner and the owner’s representative. The owner may accept the offer, reject it, or make a counter-offer.

Because counter-offers are common (any change in an offer is considered a counter-offer), it’s important for buyers to remain in close contact with REALTORS® during the negotiation process so that any proposed changes can be quickly reviewed.

How many inspections should an offer include?

A number of inspections are common in real estate transactions. They include checks for termites, surveys to determine boundaries, appraisals to determine value for lenders, title reviews, and structural inspections.

Structural inspections are particularly important. During these examinations, an inspector comes to the property to determine if there are material physical defects to the home and whether expensive repairs and replacements are likely to be required in the next few years.

Such inspections for a single-family home often require two or three hours, and a buyer should always attend. This is an opportunity to examine the property’s mechanics and structure, ask questions, and learn way more about the property than is possible with an informal walk-through.

What Do All Those Real Estate Listing Terms Really Mean?

real-estate-terms

Call it what you will—jargon, shorthand, lingo—but every industry including the real estate world, has its own language, a collection of terms that are essential to understand if you hope to play ball. And the real estate business is no different. In fact, there are probably more terms in the housing biz than just about anything short of neurosurgery. That’s why when you read a real estate listing, you may end up scratching your head over a whole bunch of puzzling terms. Allow us to clear things up, by explaining what these things really mean in plain old English.

Common real estate listing terms:

Active

This means that a property is currently on the market and available for sale. It may have received offers, but none have yet been accepted, which means that the opportunity is wide open for you to make a proposal.

Closed (CL)

The property is sold and no longer available.

Active with contract (AWC)

This means that even though there’s an accepted offer on the home, the seller is looking for backup offers in case the primary buyer falls through. While any seller can entertain backup offers as a precautionary measure as long as this is made clear in the contract, this term most often crops up with short sales, since they can often fall through, and it can be helpful if a second buyer is waiting in the wings.

Under contract (UC)

The seller has an agreed-upon contract with the potential buyer. That doesn’t mean that it’s a done deal by any means, however (more on that next).

Contingent

contingent status means that the seller has accepted an offer and the home is under contract.

But the sale is subject to, or conditioned upon, certain criteria being met by the buyer and/or seller before the deal can close. Examples of contingencies are home inspections, attorney review, the buyer’s financing, appraisal, and title search, among other reasons.

These contingencies fall away as tasks are completed, says Melanie Atkinson, a Realtor® with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Tampa, FL. Sometimes a property will continue to be shown when it is contingent, and the seller may entertain a backup offer. So if the home in question is your dream home, it may be worth offering up a deal that the seller can’t refuse.

Deal pending (DP)

This means the seller has an accepted offer and an executed contract, and all the contingencies have been met, so the home is pending sale. This is the escrow period, when both buyer and seller are working toward a closing. The status will show as pending until the closing. Even though a sale is highly likely, some pending properties may still accept backups. If your offer is accepted as a backup, you’re in line to go under contract if the first sale falls through.

Pending, showing for backup

This means the property’s owners are actively taking backup offers in case the first one falls through.

Pending, subject to lender approval

The seller has an accepted offer but is waiting to see if the buyer’s bank will agree to it, says Realtor Dawn Rivera with Realty World-Viking Realty in Fremont, CA. If not, it could end up back on the market, so go ahead and inquire if you’re interested.

Back on market (BOM)

A property that has come back on the market after a pending sale. This means that the home fell out of escrow, perhaps due to contract issues, says Tania Matthews, an agent with Keller Williams Classic III Realty in Central Florida.

Expired

The property listing with the agent has expired and is no longer active, usually because it didn’t sell, says Matthews. That could mean the seller is still open to accepting an offer, so it’s worth touching base if your curiosity is piqued.

Temporarily off the market (TOM)

The owner has removed the property from the listings for an undetermined period, usually because work is being done on the house or because the home cannot be shown. It should return to active soon enough, so it’s certainly worth piping up if you’re smitten.

Withdrawn

A property was withdrawn from the realty market. This might be for a variety of reasons: The sellers may have decided they want to stay put, or they may just not have received any offers they liked. So if you adore what you see in the listing, it certainly can’t hurt to inquire.

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5 Types of Real Estate Agents You’ll Meet: Which One Is Right for You?

types-of-realtors

Whether you’re buying or selling a home, finding the right real estate agent to partner with can be a daunting task. A lot’s at stake, and there’s certainly no shortage of characters in this business.

Trust me, I speak from experience: As a real estate agent in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., for the past four years, I’ve encountered a range of personalities. Each has particular strengths and weaknesses—not only in dealing with clients, but depending on the market they’re in.

Finding the best real estate agent largely boils down to pinpointing that special someone who not only makes you feel comfortable, but is primed to excel in your housing climate. To help steer you toward a professional with the right stuff, here’s a rundown of some of the most common characters you’ll meet, as well as their pros and cons.

1. The veteran

Who it is: An agent who has many years or even decades of experience in the business.

Pros: Veteran agents can provide sage advice based on the breadth of knowledge they’ve built up over the years. Having dealt with just about every issue that can affect a sale, they can help you navigate any complicated problems that may arise.

Cons: Experienced real estate agents are usually in high demand, working with several clients at once. Because their time is limited, they may not be available for last-minute showing requests, or other pressing issues. For sellers, they’re also less likely to budge on their commission, which hovers around 5% to 6% of the final sales price of a house.

Best for: These drill sergeants are a good fit for buyers and sellers who want a lot of direction. If this is your first time buying or selling a home, this might be the best agent for you.

2. The rookie

Who it is: An agent who acquired his real estate license recently, for example, within the past one or two years.

Pros: New to the field, rookies bring fresh energy and enthusiasm to their job. Because beginners usually have fewer clients than more seasoned agents, they may be able to spend more time with you than an experienced agent who’s juggling multiple clients. Also, if you’re selling your house, newbies may be willing to take a smaller commission, which can save you big bucks.

Cons: Lack of experience can cause rookies to slip up—and some mistakes can cost you a lot of money. If the person flubs the sales contract, for example, you may not have much negotiating power if big issues are discovered during the home inspection.

Best for: Home buyers and sellers who want an agent’s undivided attention or who are hoping to save a bit on the commission. It also helps if this isn’t your first time buying or selling a home, since you’ve been around this block and know the basics.

3. The shark

Who it is: Cutthroat by nature, these agents are blunt and fearless when it comes to negotiating on your behalf.

Pros: Because sharks are unafraid to show their teeth, you can rest assured that they’ll fight to get you the best deal.

Cons: Since sharks aren’t sensitive by nature—and have no hesitation serving up brutally honest advice (“All your amateur artwork needs to come down if you have any hope of selling this home, guys”)—they can be difficult for some clients, and even other real estate agents, to work with.

Best for: People with thick skins in competitive real estate markets where tough negotiation skills are necessary to get the edge.

4. The charmer

Who it is: Born salespeople, charmers get along with everyone!

Pros: These skilled schmoozers can deftly navigate all kinds of potential conflicts between buyers and sellers.

Cons: Smooth talkers aren’t always great listeners, so you may need to really spell out what you want.

Best for: Home buyers and sellers with some handicap such as a poor credit score or a home that needs repairs, where establishing trust and rapport with all involved can help push a deal through.

5. The techie

Who it is: Typically a millennial, the techie agent utilizes mobile apps, social media, and the latest technology to help home buyers and sellers navigate today’s changing marketplace.

Pros: The techie is a whiz at using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media platforms to find and sell homes. This prowess is especially useful for home sellers, since 44% of home buyers begin their house search by looking at properties online, according to the National Association of Realtors®’ “Real Estate in a Digital Age 2017 Report.”

Cons: Some techies spend more time sitting at their computers than they do marketing and showing properties. They also have a tendency to geek out and use language that you might not understand.

Best for: Home sellers in sluggish markets where it’s hard to drum up interest—as well as home buyers in fast-paced markets who want to get ahead of the curve.

How to choose the right real estate agent for you

You’ll want to meet with at least three real estate agents face to face to gauge their personalities before deciding whiom you’re going to hire. You can search for agents in your area on realtor.com, and you can also read real estate agent reviews from previous clients on the site.

Real Estate Agent, Broker, Realtor: What’s the Difference?

realtor-in-red

Whether you want to buy or sell a home, you’ll want some help. So who should you hire? Real estate professionals go by various names, including real estate agent, real estate broker, or Realtor®. So what’s the difference?

Sometimes these titles are used interchangeably, but rest assured, there are some important differences, as well as varying requirements for using particular titles.

Here’s a rundown of the real estate professional titles you’ll come across, and what they mean.

Real estate agent

A real estate agent is someone who has a professional license to help people buy, sell, or rent all sorts of housing and real estate.

To get that license, states require individuals to have prelicensing training. The required number of training hours can vary significantly by jurisdiction. In Virginia, for example, real estate agents must take 60 hours of prelicensing training, while in California they need 135 hours of license coursework.

Once that training is done, aspiring agents take a written licensing exam. This exam is typically divided into two portions: one on federal real estate laws and general real estate principles, the second on state-specific laws.

Once they pass their exam, they’ve earned a license, the title of a “real estate agent,” and they might join a brokerage where they can begin working with home buyers, sellers, and renters.

Real estate broker

real estate broker is someone who has taken education beyond the agent level as required by state laws and passed a broker’s license exam.

Similar to real estate agent exams, each state sets its own broker education and exam requirements. The extra coursework covers topics such as ethics, contracts, taxes, and insurance—at a more in-depth level than what’s taught in a real estate agent prelicensing course.

Prospective brokers also learn about real estate legal issues and how the law applies to operating a brokerage, real estate investments, construction, and property management.

As a result, “brokers have in-depth knowledge of the real estate business,” says Jennifer Baxter, associate broker at Re/Max Regency in Suwanee, GA.

To sit for the broker’s exam and obtain licensure, real estate agents must already have a certain level of experience under their belt—typically, three years as a licensed real estate agent.

There are three types of real estate brokers, each with subtle differences in the role they perform:

  • Principal/designated broker: Each real estate office has a principal/designated broker. This person oversees all licensed real estate agents at the firm and ensures that agents are operating in compliance with state and national real estate law. Like real estate agents, principal brokers get paid on commission—taking a cut of the commissions of the sales agents they supervise (although many principal brokers receive an annual base salary).
  • Managing broker: This person oversees the day-to-day operation and transactions of the office and typically takes a hands-on approach to hiring agents, training new agents, and managing administrative staff. (Some principal/designated brokers also serve as managing brokers.)
  • Associate broker: This real estate professional—sometimes called a broker associate, broker-salesperson, or affiliate broker—has a broker’s license but is working under a managing broker. This person typically is not responsible for supervising other agents.

Realtor

In order to become a Realtor—a licensed agent with the ability to use that widely respected title—an agent needs to be a member of the National Association of Realtors®.

As a member, a person subscribes to the standards of the association and its code of ethics.

“Essentially, the NAR holds us to a higher standard,” says Peggy Yee, a Realtor in Falls Church, VA. Membership in the NAR also comes with access to real estate market data and transaction management services, among other benefits.

Listing agent

listing agent is a real estate agent who represents a home seller. These professionals help clients who are selling with a wide range of tasks, including pricing their home, recommending home improvements or staging, marketing their home, holding open houses, coordinating showings with home buyers, negotiating with buyers, and overseeing the home inspection process and closing procedures.

Generally, listing agents don’t receive a dime unless your home gets sold. If it does, the typical agent commission is 5% to 6% of the price of your home (which is typically split between the listing agent and the buyer’s agent), but a listing agent’s fee can vary depending on the scope of services offered and the housing market.

Buyer’s agent

True to their name, buyer’s agents represent home buyers and assist their clients through every step of the home-buying process, including finding the right home, negotiating an offer, recommending other professionals (e.g., mortgage brokers, real estate attorneys, settlement companies), and troubleshooting problems (e.g., home inspection or appraisal issues).

Fortunately for home buyers, they don’t need to worry about the expense of hiring a buyer’s agent. Why? Because the seller usually pays the commission for both the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent from the listing agent’s fee.

Rental agent

In addition to helping people buy and sell homes, many real estate professionals help consumers find properties to rent. But what these agents do depends on the location—whether it’s a large city or a small town—and the agent.

Sometimes a rental agent will guide your search from the very start, helping you find the right neighborhood, apartment size, and price range, and then go with you to open houses. More likely, though, you’ll already have a lot of that information decided, and the agent will send you listings that might be of interest to you.

Once you’ve decided on a rental and have been approved by the landlord or management company, your agent should help you read and understand your lease.

“Most tenants can find a place without a real estate agent, but they forget to seek out someone who can help them understand what they’re signing when they sign a lease,” says Dillar Schwartz, a real estate agent in Austin, TX.

Rental agents will also represent landlords to help them find tenants—but the fee an agent will charge a landlord depends on what market they work in. In many places, the landlord pays the real estate agent to help find a desirable tenant. In more competitive rental markets, however, the tenant may be responsible for the real estate agent fee, sometimes called a “broker fee.” These fees can be as low as $50 to $75 for a credit check or application, but more common rates are one month’s rent or 15% of the annual rent on the apartment.

How to find the right professional for you

Many people find a real estate broker to help them through word of mouth or online. You can search for a variety of real estate professionals in your area at realtor.com’s Find a Realtor database, which includes their sales performance, specialties, reviews, and other helpful information. It’s a good idea to talk to at least three people in person, and ask the agents some key questions to find out if they’re a good fit for you and the transaction you’re looking for.

Backyard Landscape Designs For Spring 2020!

Limestone Fire Pit

This built-in fire pit is veneered in house brick lined with a fire brick interior and finished with a four-piece thermal bluestone coping. Design by Bob Hursthouse

Open Fire Pit

Set in the Santa Monica Mountains, this adobe-style home encircles a large pool and courtyard with an open-flame fire pit situated right in the middle. Design by Lewin Wertheimer; Photo by Douglas Hill

Natural Stone Fire Pit

Lush landscaping combined with a built-in barbecue, large seating area and fire pit create the ideal place to entertain family and friends. Design by Kevin Smith

L-Shaped Fire Pit

This Yard Crashers backyard renovation included adding a water feature, a cooking area and this custom, L-shaped fire pit.

Mini Golf

Creating a backyard putting green is much cheaper than going out for mini golf. Plus, you can pick up the putter anytime you want. Design by Scott Cohen

Basketball Court

This fun and functional outdoor space is ready to play. Landscape designer Scott Cohen created a half-size basketball court next to an outdoor living space, sun deck and swimming pool.

Fireside Retreat

On its own irregular bluestone patio, this intimate outdoor space features a custom masonry fireplace, lush plantings, rustic wood pergolas and plenty of cozy seating for guests. Design by Barry Block

Are You Waiting for House Prices to Drop During the Next Recession to Buy a Home? Why You Could Have a Very Long Wait

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It’s unclear when the next recession will come. But a recent report argues that when it does the U.S. housing market is unlikely to adversely affected in any major way.

Researchers at First American Financial Services, a title insurance company, examined how the country’s housing market has fared historically during recessionary periods. Based on what’s happened in past recessions, the report argues that the next recession is unlikely to prompt a major downturn in housing.

“While the housing crisis is still fresh on the minds of many, and was the catalyst of the Great Recession, the U.S. housing market has weathered all other recessions since 1980,” wrote Odeta Kushi, deputy chief economist at First American and the report’s author. “In fact, the housing market may actually aid the economy in recovering from the next recession — a role it has traditionally played in previous economic recoveries.”

Using its own data along with information from Freddie Mac and the National Association of Realtors, the report maps out how the housing market has traditionally fared in economic downturns. In most other cases, home price appreciation continued at an even pace, and existing-home sales growth only edged downward slightly, Kushi wrote.

So what made the Great Recession different? The housing boom that preceded the last recession was largely driven by an explosion in both home-building activity and mortgage credit. Home buyers were able to get mortgages with no documentation of their income and no down payment, and many loans had introductory 0% interest periods that made them cheap to start but more expensive as time wore on.

These homeowners were over-leveraged. “The housing crisis in the Great Recession was fueled heavily by the fact that job loss was paired with a significant share of homeowners who didn’t have much equity in their homes,” Kushi wrote.

And because developers constructed so many homes, their home values quickly sank when the bubble burst, exacerbating the situation further.

The growth in home prices seen during the current economic expansion has not been fueled by increased access to mortgage credit. Rather, it’s a simple reflection of supply and demand: Many Americans want to become homeowners, but the supply of homes available for sale is very low, pushing prices upward.

While this has made the prospect of buying a home unaffordable for millions of Americans, it has also meant that those who are homeowners have seen their home equity grow substantially in recent years. That decreases the likelihood that they would be underwater on their loan if home prices were to dip in a recession.

“Were we to have a recession, I’d argue housing would provide a cushion because the shortage of supply at the entry-level suggests builders could actually continue to build,” Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae’s chief economist, told MarketWatch in December.

There still are red flags that homeowners should be on the lookout for when it comes to how a potential recession might affect the housing market. For starters, many Americans have taken out cash-out refinance mortgages on their homes as their home values have grown. That’s whittled away the equity these people have in their property, leaving them more vulnerable to owing more than their home was worth in the potential event the home prices drop.

Another issue: Many Americans who fell behind on loan payments and modified their mortgages in the wake of the recession to avoid foreclosure have since redefaulted. Were these people to lose their jobs in a recession, they could easily fall into foreclosure. Research has shown that foreclosures exacerbate economic downturns — and they can have a ripple effect through a local market, causing other homes to drop in value.

And at the local level, certain local housing markets could prove more resilient in the event of recession, depending on the strength of the local economy relative to what’s going on at a national level.

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