What to Consider When Buying a Home Near a School—Do Your Homework!

house-near-school

After days of searching, you’ve finally found your dream home. But it sits across the street from a school—which could be good or bad. With school in session 180 days a year, buyers should weigh the advantages and disadvantages of living near a school before making a final decision.

“Every buyer is unique. Most with young, school-age kids usually shop for specific school districts and want to be close to their elementary school. Buyers with middle- and high-school-age children are more district-driven, with location being secondary,” says Mark Schreier, a Realtor® with Century 21 American Homes in Syosset, NY.

Here are some pros and cons to think about when considering buying near a school.

Pro: Your children can walk to school

Most parents dread the drive-through crunch when dropping off and picking up kids from school every day. Living near a school means you can skip the drive and just walk—getting a little outdoor exercise as a bonus.

Con: Streets are clogged with traffic

Living near a school can mean dealing with heavy traffic, including idling cars and buses shuttling kids to and from school. And it may not be just twice a day.

Schreier says neighbors can expect traffic issues during special events such as parent-teacher conferences, plays, and sporting events.

“If you live near a high school, expect there to be more frequent car crashes since students new to driving are more likely to have accidents,” says Beatrice de Jong, broker associate and consumer trends expert at Opendoor, in Los Angeles.

Pro: Access to playground after school

Public parks can sometimes be located a distance away. Living near a public school gives kids, even if they don’t attend the school, access to the playground when school is out for the day. This could include swings, monkey bars, and handball and basketball courts.

“School parks usually have a track and or playground for them to use,” says Schreier.

Con: Neighborhood parking rules may not be enforced

One of the biggest gripes neighbors have about living near a school is the lack of parking enforcement and inconsiderate parents parking in, or blocking, neighborhood driveways.

“Some streets near schools have no-parking rules during school hours, parking issues from staff if school doesn’t have a private lot,” says Schreier.

Pro: Schools are typically located in safe neighborhoods

Safety is a priority for schools, and many schools have daily police patrols and tight security measures to keep their campuses secure. This can be an added benefit for home buyers looking for a safe community.

“Schools are typically in very safe neighborhoods with parks and local law enforcement nearby,” says de Jong.

Schools also promote a sense of community. She says schools can liven up a community, providing social activities for adults and kids, such as crafts fairs and sporting events.

Con: Heightened noise level

Often when buyers think of schools, they think of the noise. Living near a school can bring all kinds of noises, like the ping of metal bats, kids shooting hoops on the basketball court, cheering at games, band practice, and more.

“The PA system usually broadcasts outside the school, which could be a noise issue for some,” says Schreier.

Pro: A good school district means higher resale value

Buyers with kids will make a beeline toward neighborhoods with good school districts. That in turn has additional benefits for sellers.

“Homes in highly rated school zones are in higher demand for buyers, and fetch higher resale prices,” says de Jong.

She says since good school districts drive up price tags on homes, buyers can usually find cheaper or bigger homes just outside of the school zone.

Con: More kids are walking in the neighborhood, trespassing

Living near a school means an abundance of kids all over the neighborhood. This can rob a homeowner of peace and privacy.

“There will be a higher volume of kids walking around in the afternoon, which could lead to a noisy environment or loitering or even trespassing on your property,” says de Jong.

Schreier says if you want to buy near a school but noise, parking, and traffic [are] a concern to you, consider buying a few blocks away.

“You will get all the same conveniences but less of the issues,” says Schreier.

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‘Help, My Husband and I Can’t Agree on a House!’

husband-wife-house-disagree

My husband, Rob, and I have been together almost 20 years, and never once in those two decades have we agreed on a house.

I hate a cookie-cutter home. Those rows and rows of suburban abodes all look like they were cut from the same mold, slapped with a few coats of gray and white paint and given a granite countertop or two and some new appliances. Voila, instant house! It’s the kind of place I walk into and immediately want to leave.

The problem? This is the kind of house my husband loves.

This disagreement is a problem—especially since marrying in 2003, we have lived in five different houses in three different cities and two different countries. In other words, we house hunt more than your average couple. So this problem keeps cropping up. Here’s more on why, and how, we’ve struck a balance that I hope will help other couples do the same.

Why my husband and I have different tastes in homes

Perhaps the root to this problem comes from our childhoods: Rob grew up in a 1970s home that calls to mind “The Brady Bunch” home, a ranch with central air conditioning and a sprawling footprint.

The house my husband grew up in.

My childhood home, on the other hand, was a 1920s house in Dayton, OH, with a small backyard, red brick front, and a series of built-ins on the inside.

The house where I was born
The house where I was bornAshley Brown

We moved when I was 11, but I remember the home clearly: a  sunroom surrounded by windows, and a round table in the kitchen jutting out from a built-in hutch replete with thick shelves and heavy panels. It had a finished basement I was terrified to enter, a room over the garage with wall-to-wall bookshelves, and a sewing room beside the master bedroom that wasn’t big enough to be a bedroom and wasn’t small enough to be a closet.

In 1990, my family moved into a brand-new home. My father hired the contractor, and he and my mother built the home to their specifications. And yet, the house was still riddled with the same problems that most places have. It had leaks and peeling paint, and problems with the roof when the wind blew too hard. It was as much a money pit as an old house, if not more.

My second house, new construction

Although we lived in that new house for just five years, the memory of it stayed. So why would I trade character and quirkiness for a cookie-cutter house that is guaranteed to be just as unpredictable?

How we compromised on our first rental

When Rob and I rented our first place together in Boston, he fell in love with a place that looked all new inside—white walls, a minimalist aesthetic. I wanted something Victorian and colorful, with history and maybe a ghost or two.

The place we settled on had a little of both. Some new construction to suit him and lots of old character to suit me.

Our first rental together

How we compromised on our first real estate purchase

When buying our first house, we butted heads yet again, and again ended up meeting in the middle. We bought an old triple-decker built in the late 1800s, but with the kind of gutting inside that made it palatable to Rob. Granite countertops for him and an ancient, peeling porch for me. Perfect!

The first house we bought
The first house we boughtZillow

Eight years ago, when we moved to New Jersey, I walked into one house and fell in love. The oven from the 1940s, the ancient wallpaper, the original stained-glass windows from the 1920s—this was definitely up my alley.

All my husband saw, however, were weekends wasted examining ancient plumbing, leaks that would reveal much bigger problems, electric wiring that would cost a small fortune to replace.

Our house in New Jersey
Our house in New JerseySasha Brown-Worsham

How we strike the right balance today

After my husband relocated for work, we decided to rent a house in the English countryside. We looked at 20 homes and settled on a manor built in 1867 because I couldn’t live without it. I dreamed of this house my entire childhood, steeped in Jane Austen and Frances Hodgson Burnett.

And luckily, Rob loves it, too. Now. But every few weeks, when something breaks—and something always does—he shares how happy he is that we don’t own it. When the pipes run cold, the heat stops pumping, or the water heater leaks into his closet in the space that used to be the dumbwaiter, he is always glad the problem isn’t ultimately ours. Still, we are lucky we get to live here, even if only for a few years.

Our home in England
Our home in EnglandAlan Worsham (@alan_hw_drone)

We are scheduled to move back to the States in two years. We are already in hot discussions about our house hunt. The photos my husband sends are of houses built in 2010. They have pools in the backyard and open floor plans with a lot of light and neutral paint schemes. I am still enamored with the old Victorians with wraparound porches and fireplaces in every room. I am from Massachusetts, I tell him. When you think of my house, think of Louisa May Alcott, of cold nights by warm fires. My husband’s dream is more palm trees and built-in outdoor grills.

How it all resolves itself is anybody’s guess. We have two years—and our whole life together—to keep making these compromises and to keep discovering the way two people with opposing visions can come together.

In any marriage there are compromises. My husband hates broccoli and I love it, but I eat broccoli only when he is out of town. I hate action movies and death metal, so he watches those movies and attends those concerts without me.

There is constant give-and-take between us, so why should our housing be any different?

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How to Price a Home in a Seller’s Market: Go Low, or Shoot for the Stars?

price-house-sellers-market

How to price a home in a seller’s market may be a question that’s top of mind if you’re listing your home. Much of the United States right now is a seller’s market—which spells potential for major profits. Lucky you!

However: Some sellers may see this as an opportunity to set the bar high—maybe too high—when it comes to their list price. Others may decide on a lower asking price, in hopes of generating a bidding war.

So which pricing strategy works best in a seller’s market? Every approach has its pros and cons, so here’s how to determine the best one for you.

First, assess the landscape

Before you go about setting your list price, you’ll want to survey your area to see whether you’re truly in a seller’s market, says Seth Lejeune, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway in Collegeville, PA.

For a quick assessment, you can check out where your city ranks on realtor.com’s Market Hotness Index, which uses the latest housing data to show which cities are heating up for home sellers.

For a deeper look at your market, however, you’ll have to analyze a few key variables:

  • Average days on market (DOM). This measurement shows the median age of real estate listings in your area. “If houses are selling in your neighborhood in less than 10 days, it’s a strong seller’s market,” Lejeune says. You can find what the average DOM is in your city using realtor.com’s Local Market Trends tool.
  • Asking vs. final home price. In seller’s markets, bidding wars can often erupt among buyers, which means that sellers may enjoy a final sales price equal to their asking price, or more. So, if a home is listed at $450,000 and sells for $450,000 or higher, that’s a seller’s market. In a strong seller’s market, the final sales price is typically at least 10% higher than the asking price. You can compare the listing prices vs. the closing prices in various cities across the country at realtor.com/local.
  • Home prices over time. Rising home prices over time are a sure sign of a seller’s market. You can determine whether home prices are rising or falling in your city by looking at your ZIP code’s “market price curve” on BuilderOnline.com.

Pricing strategy No. 1: Listing at market value

To assess your home’s “fair market value”—i.e., what your house is actually worth in today’s market (not just what it’s worth in your head)—you can enter your address in realtor.com/sell to get a ballpark figure for your home’s value.

To hone that number further, check what comparable homes recently sold for in your area. Good agents can help you synthesize this info into an asking price that you can justify and stand by, which is important once the negotiations on a home get rolling.

“If you’re working with a real estate agent who understands the market, you have to trust their comps,” says Lou Nimkoff, president at the Orlando Regional Realtor Association.

Even in a seller’s market, Lejeune generally recommends that sellers list their house at market value. “You have to forget the noise, especially if you’re looking to sell in a reasonable period of time,” he says. “For most sellers, it’s always the best strategy, regardless of the status of the market.”

The bottom line: By listing at market value, you’ll be in a good position to get a full-price offer relatively quickly.

Not in a rush to sell? Keep reading.

Pricing strategy No. 2: Listing high

If you’re not on a tight timetable to sell, you could price your home above market value—typically 5% to 10% more—to see if you can nab a great offer. But that approach has its flaws.

For starters, “The last thing you want to do is price your home too high and then have it just sit on the market,” says Nimkoff. When that happens, your house can become stigmatized in the eyes of home buyers, which can make it even more difficult to sell, Nimkoff says.

You might also have trouble closing the sale if your lender’s appraisal of your home’s price doesn’t come in at that same high number.

“Even if you find a buyer that’s willing to pay you $400,000 for a $300,000 house, a lender may not loan that much money,” Nimkoff says. “So, unless you have an all-cash buyer, it would be next to impossible to close the sale.”

That being said, some people have success selling over asking price by targeting investors with the ability to make cash offers, says Dan Burz, an agent at Douglas Elliman in New York and New Jersey.

The bottom line: By listing above market value, your home might sell at a premium—but there’s a greater risk that it doesn’t sell, especially if you’re unwilling to reduce the price.

Pricing strategy No. 3: List low

One way to get your property more exposure, Nimkoff says, is to set the list price below market value—generally 5% to 10% under—in an effort to attract more buyers and potentially spark a bidding war. “If you price low, you can probably get multiple offers within one to two days,” says Nimkoff.

A bidding war is a good problem to have if you’re a seller, but “the more offers you receive, the more options you have, which can make choosing the best offer challenging,” Nimkoff says.

For some sellers, the most appealing offer is the one with the fewest contingencies; for others, the best offer is the highest bid. It depends on your priorities.

The bottom line: This strategy can backfire if you receive only one offer for asking price or less. That’s less likely to happen in a seller’s market, but it’s always a possibility. There’s also less wiggle room for you to negotiate if you receive a lowball offer.

Should You Buy a House With Termite Damage? Pros and Cons of a Pest-Infested Property

termite-damage

Picture this: You’ve found the home of your dreams, made an offer, and it was accepted—but during the home inspection you discover that the house has termite damage. Termites! This will very likely leave you feeling both concerned and disgusted.

If you’re a buyer, any infestation is disheartening. But should it be a deal killer? If you find yourself in this predicament, here are some things to consider.

Where is the damage located?

One major factor that can help you determine whether to move forward with the purchase is exactly where the damage is located. Trey McCallie,principal broker at Urban Toolbox Real Estate in Lexington, KY, suggests that a buyer can purchase a home with termite damage as long as it’s not in the floor joists or any of the main supports of the home.

The damage is considered minimal if it’s primarily on the surface of wood structures. Any deeper and you may have a seriously costly problem on your hands.

Are you a first-time home buyer?

Termite-ravaged homes will usually come with a significant discount, which can appeal to newbies, who are often looking for a bargain. But McCallie says first-time home buyers should think long and hard before purchasing a home with termite damage. Why?

“First-time homebuyers typically have very little savings to tackle a major structural issue, because they are spending most of their money on the down payment,” he says.

Are the causes of the infestation fixed?

Besides fixing the damage, buyers need to ensure that the seller has fixed the parts of the home that led to the infestation.

“For example, termites see wood in direct contact to the soil—like siding, stairs, or door frames—as a food source, an entryway into the home, and also as shelter,” says Jeff Fisher, a real estate agent at PropertySimple in Scottsdale, AZ.

He says that moisture near the home’s foundation, in the form of clogged gutters, broken downspouts, or overflowing AC condensation lines, which can all result in water pooling near the home’s foundation, should also be eliminated. “Overgrown vegetation, firewood, and other wood stored near the foundation can also attract termites and should be addressed.”

Can the damage be eradicated?

Most damage, when found, can be treated and fixed. It is possible for more caustic species like the Formosan termite to damage a house beyond repair if it remains untreated for many years, but situations like this are very rare, according to Orkin pest control company.

“The majority of termite infestations can be treated by a pest control company, giving you assurance that the infestation will be eliminated and that the home will be protected against future termite infestations,” says Charlie Jones, EVP of Operations with Arrow Exterminators in Atlanta, GA.

If the termite damage in your potential home is extensive, Jones says you should consider having a structural inspection performed by a licensed contractor to determine if the damage is cosmetic (Sheetrock scarring, pinholes in walls, minor baseboard damage) or structural. If the damage is affecting the house’s structure, it will be more expensive.

How are your bargaining skills?

A termite infestation turning up during a home inspection might seem like a bummer, but it can be used as a major bargaining chip to help you knock down the price of the home.

Randy Mintz, a real estate agent at R.E. Shilow Realty Investors in Baltimore, says that if a buyer is already under contract, it is in the seller’s interest to work out a deal, allowing the buyer to use the discovery of the termite damage as leverage to get a better price.

“Generally speaking, I would advise a client to go ahead and buy a house with some termite damage, but to use it to their advantage as a negotiating tool,” he says.

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6 Myths About Pests Your Exterminator Wishes You Would Stop Believing

exterminator-myths-mousetrap-cheese

If you hate creepy-crawlies, an exterminator can sound like your saving grace. However, these pest control professionals are not miracle workers. Even though they’ll show up to assess your situation, spray, or set traps, you also need to do your part to prevent an infestation.

But did you know that some of your bug-busting methods could be doing more harm than good? There’s a chance you’re wasting money on practices that will backfire or hinder your exterminator’s hard work.

If your exterminator had a direct line to your house, here are the myths the pro would tell you to stop believing ASAP.

Myth No. 1: Mice can’t resist cheese in traps

One of the most common myths in pest control is that cheese should be used to bait mice and rodents. But it turns out that mice like cheese about as much as your kids like vegetables.

According to a Manchester Metropolitan University study, mice don’t like cheese at all—in fact, they prefer cereal, dried fruits, and chocolate. And a nonscientific study by the BBC revealed that when given a choice, mice were most likely to choose peanuts or grapes, and never chose the cheddar. Have we blown your mind?

“The real down and dirty is that mice are nibblers and prefer grains, kibble, and items that can be easily nibbled on,” says entomologist Mike Duncanat Truly Nolen Pest Control. “Roof rats, on the other hand, prefer fruits and nuts. Norway rats, which are burrow rodents, prefer meats and fruit in their diet.”

Myth No. 2: A clean home won’t have pest problems

You definitely want to do your best to keep your home clean, but it’s a mistake to think that pests infest only homes that are dirty.

Critters aren’t just looking for loose crumbs or dirty dishes. Scot Hodges, vice president of technical services and professional development at Arrow Exterminators, says they are also looking for shelter and water.

“Insects will be driven inside your home due to too much rain or dry weather,” Duncan says. “They will use any crack or unsealed space around windows or doors to get inside.”

Insects can also catch a ride in on grocery bags, packages, luggage, or furniture.

Myth No. 3: Citronella candles repel mosquitoes

Mosquitoes can spread all manner of illnesses, including West Nile and Zika viruses, so you need all of the protection you can get.

“Citronella candles and plants have gained popularity as a mosquito deterrent for good reason: They smell good and they do have some repellent properties that may keep some mosquitoes away from your immediate surroundings,” says Nancy Troyano, entomologist and director of operations, education, and training at Ehrlich Pest Control. “But none of them can protect you from being bitten by a mosquito in the way that an EPA-approved insect repellent can.”

So how do you know your bug repellent is EPA-approved?

“Look for the EPA approval on the label, and search for active ingredients such as DEET or oil of lemon-eucalyptus,” Troyano says.

Myth No. 4: Over-the-counter sprays can do the same thing an exterminator can

It may be cheaper to treat an infestation with a can of bug spray from your local hardware store, but it’s not necessarily as effective as calling a professional. According to Troyano, well-intentioned homeowners can often make problems worse.

“These are often repellent products, which means that they are designed to repel pests away from an area,” she explains. “Using these products may indeed chase a pest out of one area, but send it scurrying to another area of your home, spreading the problem even further than its original location.”

These sprays address the immediate problem, but not the cause, making them a solution only for the short term.

Myth No. 5: Ultrasonic rodent repellent devices work

Who doesn’t love mess-free pest control? Nothing is simpler than plugging a device into a wall that sends out ultrasonic pulses that only mice and other insects can hear.

But according to Judy Black, vice president of quality assurance and technical services at Orkin, there is no peer-reviewed research to prove that ultrasonic devices do anything to repel any type of pests.

“While some pests do ‘hear’ in the ultrasonic range, this does not mean that they are repelled by sounds generated in those wavelengths,” says Black.

Tim Horgan, service manager at Debug Pest Control in Chepachet, RI, says some of his customers have had success with these repellent devices, but most people admit they don’t work.

“The devices might annoy rodents, but ultimately rodents will choose shelter over freezing to death, even if there is an annoying sound,” Horgan says.

Myth No. 6: Hedge apples can repel or control pests

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but it definitely won’t have that effect on pests, unfortunately for those seeking nontoxic solutions.

“Hedge apples, also known as Osage oranges, have been rumored as a pest repellent, but there is an absence of scientific research to validate that claim,” says Black. “While insect deterrent compounds have been extracted from hedge apples in laboratory studies, there is no valid evidence to confirm that Osage oranges are pest repellents.”

How Much Does Probate Cost? Real Estate Fees and Other Expenses

how-much-does-probate-cost

Probate is the legal process of sorting and distributing someone’s personal property when they die. The last will and testament is taken into account and executed according to the deceased’s wishes. This often includes real estate, as well as other high-ticket items like cars or valuable jewelry.

But what happens when the deceased didn’t bequeath a home to an heir? Typically, this prompts a probate sale in which an estate attorney or family representative must sell the property to liquidate the asset and distribute the money from the sale to the family.

“A probate sale is the sale of a property after the owner’s death when the late owner did not specify an heir to inherit the property,” says David Reischer, a real estate attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com. “A property is relinquished to the court, which then appoints the closest living relative as the executor who will sell the house.”

How much does probate cost?

The overall cost of probate will vary depending on the estate’s value.

“Typically the cost will be from 3% to 7% of the estate plus various fees. I’ve seen estate costs from as little as $5,000 to as much as $50,000,” Reischer says.

If you’ve just been appointed executor of a home that’s going through a probate sale, here are the fees you should be aware of.

Attorneys fees

According to Chris McDermott, a broker at McDermott Realty in Jacksonville, FL, the biggest costs in a probate sale are usually the attorneys fees. However, these fees can vary greatly depending on the state in which you live and the cost of the asset going through probate.

According to Nolo, a legal website, the state of Florida, as one example, uses the following fees:

  • Value of estate up to $40,000: $1,500
  • $40,000 to $70,000: $2,250
  • $70,000 to $100,000: $3,000
  • $100,000 to $1 million: $3,000, plus 3% of the value over $100,000
  • $1 million to $3 million: $3,000, plus 2.5% of the value over $1 million
  • $3 million to $5 million: $3,000, plus 2% of the value above $3 million
  • $5 million to $10 million: $3,000, plus 1.5% on the value above $5 million
  • More than $10 million: $3,000, plus 1% of the value above $10 million

Court costs

Court fees are usually set by state law and will vary based on location.

“Typically, court fees range between a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars,” Reischer says. “A more complicated estate will require more paperwork to be filed and will thus be on the higher end of the range.”

Costs to secure the real estate/insurance premium

One of the first things the executor needs to do is keep all easily movable valuables—such as cash and jewelry—safe until they can be turned over to the people who inherit them.

To do this, they will need to secure the property with new locks or alarm codes, according to Matthew F. Erskine, managing partner of Worcester, MA–based Erskine & Erskine, which handles estate planning and trust administration.

“Also, call the insurance agent and add the estate as a named insured to the policy, both for the property and for any motor vehicles,” says Erskine, who estimates that this process will cost between $500 to $1,000.

Cost to make required repairs

If someone in the family wants to purchase the property, they’d typically buy it from the estate.

“This is less expensive than selling it to a third party,” Erskine says, “since they will be taking the property as is, and there will be no broker’s commission on the transaction.”

However, if no one wants the property, he says it will need to be prepared for sale. The cost to make repairs—both cosmetic or mandatory—could range from $1,000 to $50,000.

There are certain building and zoning code-based upgrades that are triggered by the sale.

“For example, an older house may have 40-amp or 60-amp electrical service, which is a fire hazard when you have a lot of electrical appliances, and will need to be upgraded to 100-amp service—and that may cost several thousand dollars,” adds Erskine.

Other considerations include removing hazardous materials like lead paint or asbestos insulation.

Cost of getting the property appraised

The executor will also be responsible for arranging an appraisal of the property which will determine the minimum price for listing the property. This can cost anywhere from $0 to $5,000.

“When there is a sale to family member, charities as beneficiaries, or the potential for a dispute on the value of the home, getting an appraisal is a must,” says Erskine.

Cost to have property cleaned out

If the house is going to go up for sale, the furniture and other tangible property will need to be removed.

“Often the family will assist with this, but there is always some stuff no one wants, so they’ll need to hire a service to remove the remainder and either buy it, donate it, or dump it,” Erskine says.

He estimates this cost to be between $750 to $1,500. Sometimes more.

“I once had an estate with a two-bedroom ranch where we had five full-size dumpsters worth of trash,” he says.

Carrying costs

It can take a significant amount of time to complete a probate sale.

“A probate sale can take up to six to 12 months to finalize, depending on the complexity of the situation and the size of the assets,” says Mike Hills, vice president of investment brokerage at Denver-based Atlas Real Estate. That’s why carrying costs like mortgage payments, real estate taxes, and utilities should be taken into account— they’ll all need to be paid during the probate sale.

Other fees

McDermott says you should also expect to pay 5% to 6% of the sale price in real estate broker fees. However, Erskine warns this amount could go as high as 10%. The executor may also receive a fee, which is usually set by the court.

“Also, title fees will cost 1% to 2% to conduct closing and issue title insurance,” McDermott says.

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