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4 Ways to Make Smart Tech Upgrades to Your Garage

When it comes to upgrading your home with the latest technology, your garage is likely to be the last thing on your radar. But as electric vehicles and even self-driving cars are hitting the road across the country, real estate listings are touting smart garages in high-tech cities like Palo Alto, California and Austin, Texas. Not to mention the simple fact that garage tech can boost security and convenience for your home, no matter what kind of car you drive. Here, we outline four of the simplest things you can do to make your garage smarter.

1. Learn about internet-connected devices you can install in your garage.

There are all kinds of benefits to installing internet-connected systems in and around your garage — from opening and closing your garage door remotely, to using cameras to monitor your garage, to checking up on your car from anywhere in the world. How’s that for convenience?

These internet-connected devices don’t have to be complicated, either. In fact, they’re designed for your ease of use. You can find smart add-ons for your existing garage door opener, or if you want to go all out (and potentially obtain additional security and other features), you can purchase a brand new, high-tech garage door system with all the bells and whistles. 

2. Install motion-sensor lights and security cameras near your garage and other entryways.

Since most thieves like to do their dirty work in the dark, motion-sensor lights can be an effective deterrent to a garage break-in. And if you have security cameras installed too, the police may be able to better identify the perps — if anything ever does happen.

Plus, these easy upgrades can add major market value to your home if you’re looking to put it on the market in the future.

3. Think about the future.

You may still be driving a gas-powered car, but plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles are becoming increasingly attractive and affordable to modern car-buyers — especially as states like Texas are offering rebate programs for vehicle replacements to EVs. If you think there’s a chance that you could make the switch in the near future, it’s a good idea to get your garage ready by installing an appropriate outlet or 240-volt battery charger. Many cities and states (including Texas) also offer assistance to help drivers purchase and install a charging station at home. You could also enjoy reduced utility charges, depending on where you live.

Keep in mind that driverless cars will be a common sight in American garages too, as lawmakers are clearing the way for the new technology in Austin and Arlington. Experts have suggested that this shift will transform the real estate market, including the size and functionality of garages.

4. Make sure your homeowners’ insurance is up to snuff.

It’s pretty obvious that your garage door is one of the more exposed areas of your home —when it comes to potential intruders, but also when it comes to bad weather. If a covered incident like a windstorm, fire, break-in, or vandalism occurs, standard homeowners insurance has your back. 

Just be sure to purchase enough insurance coverage to completely rebuild your home from the ground up in case catastrophe happens, since your policy will only pay out the maximum limits you choose. The last thing you want after a disaster strikes is extra bills to pay just to get your home back in working order.

Return on Investment

Going all out with brand new, high-tech garage devices is admittedly an investment up front. But when it comes to peace of mind knowing your home and your family are safe, a smart garage could be worth every dime — not to mention the fact that it could boost your resale value in an increasingly connected world. 

Haden Kirkpatrick is the director of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance, where he is responsible for initiatives related to product and service innovation. He is constantly thinking about technology changes impacting the insurance industry, and following innovation taking place in high-tech hot spots such as Palo Alto, California and Austin, Texas.

When Buying a Short Sale Home is the Right Fit

 

Purchasing a home can feel overwhelming at times, but a short sale home offers a unique opportunity for a prospective buyer. A short sale occurs when a homeowner owes a lender more than their home is worth, and the lender agrees to let the owner sell the home and accept less than what is owed. Lenders may agree to a short sale because they believe it will net them more money than going forward with a lengthy and costly foreclosure process.

Short sales do differ in a number of ways from conventional home sales. Here are a few things to consider if you’re thinking about buying a short sale property.

  • Short sale homes sell for less, but not significantly less than market value.
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Buyers hoping to snap up a home for half the market value will be disappointed. The selling price for short sales averages about 10 percent less than for non-distressed properties. The bank is looking to recover as much of the value of the home as possible, so they will not accept offers that are significantly under market value. That said, with savings that can equal tens of thousands of dollars, a short sale is a great way to get more house for your money.

  • Short sale properties are sold “as is”.
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The lender will not be making repairs to the home. Any improvements that need to be made are most likely going to be the responsibility of the buyer. A savvy buyer’s agent/broker will get contractor bids for any necessary repairs and use those to help negotiate a lower sales price with the bank.

  • A short sale will take longer than a conventional home sale.
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Once you and the seller have mutual acceptance on an offer, you need to allow 60 to 90 days for the lender approval process. There are often long stretches when the offer is slowly winding its way through the bank’s system, so buyers need to be patient.

  • If you have to sell your home first, a short sale is probably not the best fit.
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Lenders generally will not take contingent offers on a short sale.

  • A short sale is one real estate transaction that you shouldn’t attempt on your own. 
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Short sales are complicated transactions that involve a different process and significantly more paperwork than a standard real estate sale. An agent/broker that is unfamiliar with short sales can write an offer in such a way that they inadvertently cause their buyers to lose the deal. An experienced short sale agent/broker will protect your interest and help the process move forward smoothly.

 

The bottom line: As long as you can be patient, and are working with an agent/broker who understands the process, buying a short sale is a great way to purchase the house you want at a price you’ll love.

How Staging Your Home Well Impacts Its Value

 

For more than 20 years, the benefits of staging a home have been well documented. Numerous studies show that staging helps sell a home faster and for a higher price. According to the National Association of REALTORS®, 88 percent of homebuyers start their search online, forming impressions within three seconds of viewing a listing. When a home is well staged, it photographs well and makes the kind of first impression that encourages buyers to take the next step.

Studies also indicate that buyers decide if they’re interested within the first 30 seconds of entering a home. Not only does home staging help to remove potential red flags that can turn buyers off, it helps them begin to imagine living there. Homes that are professionally staged look more “move-in ready” and that makes them far more appealing to potential buyers.

According to the Village Voice, staged homes sell in one-third less time than non-staged homes. Staged homes can also command higher prices than non-staged homes. Data compiled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development indicate that staged homes sell for approximately 17 percent more than non-staged homes.

A measurable difference in time and money

In a study conducted by the Real Estate Staging Association in 2007, a group of vacant homes that had remained unsold for an average of 131 days were taken off the market, staged, and relisted. The newly staged properties sold, on average, in just 42 days, – which is approximately 68 percent less time on the market.

The study was repeated in 2011, in a more challenging market, and the numbers were even more dramatic. Vacant homes that were previously on the market for an average of 156 days as unstaged properties, when listed again as staged properties, sold after an average of 42 days—an average of 73 percent less time on the market.

Small investments, big potential returns

Staging is a powerful advantage when selling your home, but that’s not the only reason to do it. Staging uncovers problems that need to be addressed, repairs that need to be made, and upgrades that should be undertaken. For a relatively small investment of time and money, you can reap big returns. Staged properties are more inviting, and that inspires the kind of peace-of-mind that gets buyers to sign on the dotted line. In the age of social media, a well-staged home is a home that stands out, gets shared, and sticks in people’s minds.

What’s more, the investment in staging can bring a higher price. According to the National Association of REALTORS, the average staging investment is between one percent and three percent of the home’s asking price, and typically generates a return of eight to ten percent.

In short, less time on the market and higher selling prices make the small cost of staging your home a wise investment.

Interested in learning more? Contact your real estate agent for information about the value of staging and referrals for professional home stagers.

Introducing the NEW Windermere.com

Around the halls of Windermere, we’ve decided that 2018 is the year to hit #refresh; it started with the launch of the refreshed Windermere brand earlier this year and today it continues with the unveiling of our refreshed website! The new Windermere.comis a result of a lot of research and input from our agents, franchise owners – and most importantly – consumers. As you can probably tell, we couldn’t be more excited! Let’s dig in. 

Where we innovated:

Through the research process we discovered that over 85 percent of all traffic on our website occurs on our home page, search results, and property detail pages. This made it fairly easy for us to figure out what we wanted to focus on with the refresh. Plus, we heard from our regular site visitors that they felt those were the areas that needed the most improvement. Done, done, and done. 

A much happier homepage:

We started with a total redesign of the Windermere.com homepage, which now better reflects the updated Windermere brand that we invested so much energy into earlier this year. The homepage is also now “location-aware” which means it will display listings that are geographically located closest to you. Because if you’re in Fort Collins, Colorado, you probably don’t want to be looking at listings in the suburbs of Boise. Catch our drift?

Mobile site, fast as lightning:

Next on the list to fix was our mobile site. We threw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater and started from scratch. The result is an ultra-fast, highly-optimized mobile site that we think might even offer a better user experience than our desktop site (although it’s next to impossible to pick which is better; please don’t make us do it). 

Sexy search results:

OK, you probably wouldn’t normally describe search results as sexy, but it’s arguably one of the most important pages on our website, so we spent a lot of time here. What you see in your search results, and how those results are presented, has a major impact on your home search experience. We completely revamped how search results show up, as well as what you see when you click through to see a specific home. Is it the greatest search makeover of all time? Possibly. 

Major eye candy:

As we all know, photos and videos are the beginning and end of everything these days, so we’ve placed even greater emphasis on those stunning images on our new property detail pages. We’ve also made it super easy for you to share listings that you love with your friends via social media, email, etc. because #sharingiscaring. 

That’s it, go check it out:

Without further ado, we cordially invite you to check out our brand new website for yourselves by going to Windermere.com. If you’re someone who regularly uses our site, we hope you love it. If you’re someone who doesn’t typically use our site to search for homes, we hope you’ll give us a shot. If you feel like it’s completely on point, please let us know by emailing friend@windermere.com. If you don’t, we’d still love to hear from you! After all, any feedback is good feedback – but please, play nice.

Happy home searching!

Hosting the Right 4th of July Meal for You

 

The 4thof July is a day of patriotism, revelry, and family. It gives friends and families an opportunity to gather for a day of relaxation, celebration, and of course, food! There’s nothing quite as quintessentially “summer” as a 4thof July cookout. With that in mind, we decided to look at a few ways to best set up this tastiest of traditions.

 

The Traveling Picnic

  • A classic setup. With burgers and brats on the grill, folks can come and go as they please with paper or plastic plates to limit the damage.
  • For prep work, this is the least intensive option. The more expansive your outdoor space, the better, but even small touches can help promote positive social interactions.
  • Consider ways to accentuate your yard with spaces for folks to set down their food. The opportunity to stand and chat with a hand free (or a hand with a drink) puts everyone at ease.

 

The Extended Table

  • Indoors or outdoors, if your family loves to cook together, then everyone will want to take a seat and eat together.
  • The hassle of cobbling together a make-shift space for your brood is a stress not worth your time. If you’re short on storage space (or don’t think it’ll get use otherwise), foldup tables are easily available for rental from most party stores. 
  • It’s the 4thof July, so go all-out with decorations! There’s no need to be bashful – a stylishly loud tablecloth can be a talking point all evening!

 

The Couple’s Night

  • Not everyone has the opportunity to get together with their family for the 4th, but the evening can be special nonetheless.
  • If you and your significant other are accustomed to a big bash, the best pathway to enjoying your alternative 4this aiming for a completely new experience.
  • A few well-placed candles, particularly with red-white-and-blue holders, can set the mood pleasantly, and make a well-cooked meal for two on the deck a new tradition.

Building Your Home’s Amenities Into Experiences

The value of a home is more than what it can be bought and sold for – it also lies in how it makes you feel. Security and comfort are vital components, as well as convenience; however, what many buyers are looking for in a home in 2018 are amenities that deliver a luxury experience. With that in mind, we decided to take a look at a few ways a home can add an “experience” that sets itself apart.

 

Indoor-Outdoor Pools

  • In much of the country, an outdoor swimming pool isn’t that uncommon. The simple luxury of a private space for recreation can be the centerpiece of a home’s charm.
  • Expanding that possibility is the indoor-outdoor pool, which segments a pool into a covered, indoor region, as well as an outdoor area.
  • Anyone who loves spending time in the water but lives in too cool a climate to use a pool year-round can enjoy an indoor oasis in the winter that flows seamlessly into an outdoor space in the warmer months.

 

Creative Wine Cellars

Credit: Spiral Cellars / SpiralCellars.com

  • Who among us wouldn’t love a wine cellar? It’s an opportunity for self-expression that echoes back upon centuries of vintage creativity.
  • Not every home has the space to build a traditional wine cellar, but a bit of creativity can open the door to other possibilities.
  • The underground, spiral cellar, as pictured above, is one way to add a stylish centerpiece to your home that will undoubtedly create a unique experience for your guests.

 

Outdoor Home Theater

Credit: Pinterest / Realtor.com

  • The indoor home theater is far from passé but building upon that experience with an outdoor theater can take your movie nights to the next level.
  • The key to� this design is versatility. If you live in a sun-kissed state you can construct a lightly covered space for viewings. An artful canopy or raised trellis can be the enclosure.
  • Wetter or dustier climates pose a greater challenge, but a retractable awning is a multi-functional feature that can transform your yard into a private cinema no matter the weather.

The Risks and Rewards of Purchasing a Bank-Owned Home

The process of purchasing a home directly from a lender can be long and arduous, but could very well be worth it in the end. If you have your sights on a particular home or are looking to find a deal on your first, working directly with the lender may be your only option. Purchasing a bank-owned home is not for the faint of heart, here are some tips for negotiating the REO process:

1. Be prepared: The condition of bank-owned properties are often poor and hard to show. Past owners may have departed on bad terms, leaving the home in poor condition with foul smells, missing appliances, wires taken from breakers, gas fireplaces gone, even bathrooms without toilets and sinks.

2. Understand the costs: Maintenance or repairs may be necessary, since these homes have been vacant for an unknown period of time–sometimes months or years. Keep in mind, when they were occupied the owners could have been under a financial hardship, preventing them from doing regular seasonal care or repairs when needed. Remember as well that the bank is trying to sell the house immediately, so you will receive a financial break in the price rather than a willingness to negotiate on the maintenance and repair issues.

3. Accept the unknown: In traditional real estate transactions, homeowners fill out Form 17 regarding important information about the history of the house. A bank owned home is either exempt or marked with “I don’t know” throughout the document. Not having the accuracy of this 5-page disclosure form could leave you with a lot of unanswered questions on the history of the home.

4. Know what is non-negotiable: The pricing on the house may not get much lower. Some of these properties can be “a dream come true” if you get them at an amazing price, or they could be your worst nightmare. Do your due diligence researching any property, and conduct all necessary inspections to safeguard yourself. Some major repairs may be negotiable, but will likely not reduce the home price.

5. Make a clean offer: The higher the price you can offer, the better. Include your earnest money, keep contingencies to a minimum, and suggest a reasonable closing date. The simpler your offer is, the higher chance you have of the bank accepting your offer or countering in a reasonable time period.

6. Be patient: Consult with a professional who handles bank owned home purchases to help you negotiate the pathway to homeownership. The process of purchasing a bank-owned, foreclosed or short-sale home is typically longer than a typical real estate sale.

What’s in a Condo? The In-Between Style of Home That Might Be the Right Fit for You

Condominium homes are a great, low-maintenance choice for a primary residence, second home, or investment property. This alternative to the traditional single-family home has unique issues to consider before buying, as well as unique benefits. Here’s some background information to help you decide whether purchasing a condo is a good match for you.

Increasingly, condos are not just for first-time homebuyers looking for a less expensive entry into the housing market. Empty-nesters and retirees are happy to give up mowing the lawn and painting the house. Busy professionals can experience luxury living knowing their home is safe and well-maintained while they are away on business.  If you are considering buying a condominium for a home, here are a few things you should know:

Condominium basics:

With condominiums, you own everything in your unit on your side of the walls. Individual owners hold title to the condominium unit only, not the land beneath the unit. All owners share title to the common areas: the grounds, lobby, halls, parking areas and other amenities. A homeowners’ association (HOA) usually manages the complex and collects a monthly fee from all condominium owners to pay for the operation and maintenance of the property. These fees may include such items as insurance, landscape, and grounds upkeep, pool maintenance, security, and administrative costs.

The owners of the units in a condominium are all automatic members of the condo association. The association is run by a volunteer Board of Directors, who manage the operations and upkeep of the property. A professional management company may also be involved in assisting the board in their decisions. The condo association also administers rules and regulations designed to ensure safety and maintain the value of your investment. Examples include whether or not pets are allowed and the hours of use for condominium facilities, such as pools and work-out rooms. Should a major expense occur, all owners are responsible for paying their fair share of the expense.

The pros and cons of condominium living:

The condominium lifestyle has many benefits, but condominium ownership isn’t for everyone. Part of it depends on your lifestyle. Condominium living may not be optimum for large families with active kids. The other factor is personal style. By necessity, condominium associations have a number of standardized rules. You need to decide whether these regulations work for you or not. Here are some points to keep in mind if you’re considering condominium living.

Cost: Condominium homes typically cost less than houses, so they’re a great choice for first-time buyers. However, because condominiums are concentrated in more expensive locations, and sizes are generally smaller than a comparable single-family home, the price per square foot for a condominium is usually higher.

Convenience: People who love living in condominiums always cite the convenience factor. It’s nice to have someone else take care of landscaping, upkeep, and security. Condominium homes are often located in urban areas where restaurants, groceries, and entertainment are just a short walk away.

Luxury amenities: May condominiums offer an array of amenities that the majority of homeowners couldn’t afford on their own, such as fitness centers, clubhouses, wine cellars, roof-top decks, and swimming pools. Lobbies of upscale condominiums can rival those of four-star hotels, making a great impression on residents.

Privacy: Since you share common walls and floors with other condominium owners, there is less privacy than what you’d expect in a single-family home. While condominiums are built with noise abatement features, you may still occasionally hear the sound of your neighbors.

Space: With the exception of very high-end units, condominiums are generally smaller than single-family homes. That means less storage space and often, smaller rooms. The patios and balconies of individual units are usually much smaller as well.

Autonomy: As a condominium owner, you are required to follow the laws of the associations. That means giving up a certain about of control and getting involved in the group decision-making process. Laws vary greatly from property to property, and some people may find certain rules too restrictive. If you long to paint your front door red or decorate your deck with tiki lanterns, condominium living might not be for you.

Things to consider when you decide to buy:

Condominium homes vary from intimate studios to eclectic lofts and luxury penthouses. The right condominium is the one that best fits your lifestyle. Here are a few questions to ask to determine which condominium is right for you.

How will you use it? 

Will your condominium be your primary residence? A second home? An investment property? While a studio may be too small for a primary residence, it might be a perfect beachfront getaway. Also, consider how your lifestyle may change over the next five to seven years. If you are close to retirement, you may want to have the option of turning a vacation condominium into your permanent home.

Where would you like to live?

Some people love the excitement and sophistication of urban living. Others dream of skiing every weekend. Whether it’s the sound of the surf or the lure of the golf course, a condominium home affords you the ability to live a carefree lifestyle in virtually any setting.

What amenities are most important to you?

The variety of condominium amenities increases each year. Decide what you want, and you can be assured of finding it. Most urban and resort condominiums have an enticing array of extras, from spas to movie screening rooms to tennis courts.

What are your specific needs?

Do you have a pet? Some associations don’t allow them; others have limitations on their size. Parking can be a major issue, especially in dense, urban areas. How many spaces do you get per unit? Do you pay extra if you have more vehicles?

Finally, once you’ve found a property you like, examine the association’s declaration, rules, and bylaws to make sure they fit your needs. The association will provide you with an outline of their monthly fees and exactly what they cover so you can accurately budget your expenses.

Review the association board’s meeting minutes from the past year to get an idea of any issues the association is working on. An analysis of sales demand and property appreciation compared to like units may help ensure that you make the best possible investment.