How Does Your Home Compare to Others on the Market?

How Does Your Home Compare to Others on the Market?
Real estate agents use comparable sales or "comps" (properties recently sold in the area) to see what the market bears for a listing price or value range marketing. But what makes a home a good comp? A few things must line up in order for the agent to utilize the comp to justify your listing price. The same neighborhood, school district, similar street and, of course, similar housing features and size. If these things align, then a comp can be used to provide a current estimated value of your home.  Ideally, using a comp from a home that is the same model in the same subdivision is key. Even better is if a sold comp closed escrow very recently. Taking comps from many weeks or months before can weaken the comp.  The expertise of a highly knowledgeable real estate agent can save you many hours of research and headaches. Most people don't really know how to compare real estate properties, which is why they hire an agent. Good agents take the work out of selling your home and give you solid reason to understand why the agent is pricing the home at a particular price.  Location, upgrades, amenities, sale date, extras, foreclosures, short sales, and unique nuances of the home all affect the listing price and how your home is compared to a comp.  Taking a closer look at each of these shows exactly what people in your area might be looking for when it comes to buying a home. For instance, a higher price on a home that has a pool can indicate that this is a family neighborhood and buyers put an increased value on amenities that create family/social fun. Your home may not have a pool but it might have another type of amenity: tennis courts, gym, or putting green.  Agents look at both what is similar and what makes your home stand out. They search for the best characteristics to showcase and, when comparing your home to others that have sold, they look to see how yours stacks up from a buyer's perspective.  Agents can add value to a home that might not have, say, for instance, the pool. Instead, your home might have an extra bedroom or den complete with floor-to-ceiling, high-quality bookcases. Reviewing the comps can provide a lot of insight about sales in your neighborhood. Physically viewing the properties can be even more eye-opening. Agents who routinely work in the neighborhood may have an excellent grasp of which homes will sell fastest. It's not a lucky guess.

They've been inside these homes and have seen the notable upgrades or the tragic flaws of a home. They also know which homes were foreclosures or short sales. Generally, a foreclosed home is in poor condition. However, a short sale can be in much better condition. Both of these sales are at discounted rates. So, if a comp is used from one of these types of sales, your agent will take careful consideration to evaluate the distinct differences that may increase the value and, ultimately, the listing price on your home.

Written by Phoebe Chongchua

How to Appeal Your Property Tax

How to Appeal Your Property Tax
As surprising as may seem (if you're not a cynic), property taxes do not always get adjusted according to market values. In fact, the National Taxpayers Union estimates that as many as 60% of properties are assessed at a higher rate than their actual market value. Furthermore, since many local governments are hurting for cash, property taxes are likely to be increased as municipalities seek ways to bridge budget gaps.

It is possible to appeal or otherwise protest property taxes; people typically undertake the process when they feel their taxes have been assessed at too high a rate. Most appeals are not successful - estimates state that only between 20% and 40% of appeals are accepted. However, well-researched cases increase one's chances of succeeding.

The first step to appealing a property tax assessment is to double check your assessment letter. Such letters are usually mailed to homeowners on a yearly basis, but depending on where you live, it may only be every two or three years. This assessment is conducted by the local government - not a private appraiser - and the value given in the appraisal is not necessarily the current market value. The letter will also include general information about the property like the lot size, number of bedrooms, date of construction, and some sort of legal description. If you are ever interested in finding out what is on record about your home, you can contact your local government.

One of the most important details in appealing a property tax appraisal is getting in under the deadline. A challenge to the appraisal should be filed immediately because the deadline is counted based on the date the letter was sent out. Most municipalities give home owners less than 30 days to file an appeal. However, the length of this period can vary from state to state, and even within a state, so be sure to check with your local government to find out exactly how long you have to file. After filing your initial challenge, you need to begin building your case. Start by considering any discrepancies in you appraisal. The size of the lot might be wrong, or it might be the number of bathrooms. It might even be something apparently inconsequential like the number of fireplaces the home has. If there are any factual problems, start with those.

Next, you need to do some research to figure out the actual value of your home. There are several ways to go about this, but choosing more than one method will offer a fuller picture and a stronger case. First, you can work with a REALTOR® to find properties that are very similar to yours. Finding three or more comparable properties - "comps" as real estate agents call them - can help you determine what the real market value of your home is. Second, you can use sites like to get a sense of what similar homes in your area are selling for. Finally, you can also hire a private appraiser. While this does cost money (usually between $350 and $600), the word of an expert does carry a lot of weight in court.

The last step is to actually present your case. To do so, contact your count assessor's office. You can often speak to the assessor informally on the phone, but if that doesn't work out or you are unsatisfied the results, you may request a formal review. If you go this route, you must be meticulous about meeting deadlines and following procedure, as even minor issues can be cause for the denial of your appeal. You will receive a decision in writing and this process generally takes between one and three months.

Finally, if the review does not go well, you can choose to appeal to an independent board. This does not require the help of a lawyer and the filing fee is usually quite small, around $10 to $25. However, this process can become extremely time-consuming. If you reach this stage, you are more likely to see a reduction in your assessment. Written by Simon Campbell

What Buyers Really Want In A Home

What Buyers Really Want In A Home

Size matters, according to the recent survey by The National Association Of Homebuilders. It seems buyers are now seeking homes that are approximately 2,000 square feet, but the problem is half of U.S. homes are nearly 40 years old and don't have many of the amenities buyers want.

NAHB says that only about one-third of the current homes on the market have 2,000 or more square feet of livable space. NAHB writes on its website, "Existing homes, on the other hand, are more likely to be under 1,600 - or even under 1,200 - square feet, a size relatively few buyers say they want."

So what does this mean for sellers whose homes might not be in that 2,000 square-foot-sweet spot? Will buyers just shun your home and continue on to find the home that meets their square footage requirements? Well, that depends.

Size, like location, is a very important consideration. However, both of these areas are often open for negotiation and buyers may consider sacrificing one aspect in order to achieve a more important amenity.

For instance, if the home is smaller than the buyers were originally looking for but is in an area that has the best school district and the potential for expansion, then suddenly this home becomes more appealing.

However, in order to market a home properly, you have to find out who your target is. If you reference this recent survey, then you can assume size matters. If your home falls short in this area, look for other great amenities to highlight. Make sure you and your agent have good marketing flyers that play up the features of your home.

Another great thing to do is to show what's possible with the home. If you had ever considered remodeling and had received ideas from a remodeling firm, you can let buyers know what options you had considered. This can give them an idea of how to use various areas of your home. Maybe they need a den and you have an area that could be easily turned into a small den or office loft. Helping buyers see the possibilities will open up their minds to opportunities and help them not rule out your home simply because its current condition doesn't meet all their needs.

As with any home, the way you show it is going to be a big influencer. With small homes this can be extra important because if the home is crowded with furniture and clutter it will look even smaller and maybe even give a claustrophobic feeling.

Remove any furniture that doesn't complement the home. The furniture should showcase the home, its architecture, and style without engulfing it. In my experience, this means that you will likely remove several pieces of furniture because often, over the years, people add lots of pieces that they actually don't need. Taking them out could give the home a refreshing, open airy feel.
Ultimately, remember, even if your home is smaller than what many buyers want, it doesn't mean you won't find that perfect buyer, it just might be that you need to emphasize the fantastic amenities that come in small packages!

Written by Phoebe Chongchua

Rental Increases Should Prompt More Home Buying Moves

Rental Increases Should Prompt More Home Buying Moves

Rents are still going through the roof, just not as quickly.
Rents were up for the third consecutive year in 2012, when they rose a bit slower than in 2011, but forecasts call for rent increases in 2013 to match 2012's increases, according to MPF Research.

That puts more pressure on housing consumers to buy and lock in housing costs to beat both the rising cost of rent and the growing costs of owning a home.

Buyers who move now can still enjoy record low interest rates, distressed property bargains and relatively affordable home prices.

However, most renter movement in the apartment sector consists of households opting for one apartment over another.

Loss of renters to the owner-occupied housing market sector is having only a very small impact on apartment sector fundamentals, according to MPF Research.

"While the number of apartment renters opting to buy is rising a little, it remains far below the levels apartment operators were accustomed to prior to the recession," said Greg Willett, MPF Research vice president.

"Families that have been renting single-family homes, rather than apartments, comprise a big portion of the first wave of homebuyers seen in the cycle. By far the biggest component of the apartment resident base, particularly within large urban areas, consists of young singles living alone or young-couple households. Single-family homes just aren’t the right housing option for many of them, regardless of shifts in the pricing relationship," Willett added.

MPF Research said apartment rents climbed 3.0 percent in 2012, down from 4.8 percent in 2011, but a bit above the long-term norm of 2.5 percent recorded during the past two decades.

An increase of 3.0 percent is similar to the average results posted during shorter past periods when occupancy was sustained at strong and generally stable levels, according to MPF Research.

Those shorter periods of annual price increases of 3.0 percent came in 2005 through the middle of 2008, and earlier in the middle to late 1990s.

Among large individual metros, top markets include three San Francisco Bay Area markets - San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland - where rents rose 8 percent, 7.7 percent and 7.1 percent, respectively.

Other top rent increases were in the Denver-Boulder area where rents rose 5.9 percent in 2012; 5.1 percent in Nashville and New York; 4.8 percent in Houston; 4.6 percent in Charlotte; 4.4 percent in Portland and 4.3 percent in the Seattle-Tacoma area.

MPF also said property owners and operators didn't push as hard for higher rents in 2012 as they did a year or more ago. They'd rather hold onto existing tenants.

"Many on the operations side of the apartment industry have focused on sustaining their very tight occupancy levels during a period when job growth and new household formation have been fairly sluggish at the same time that renter movement has begun to inch up from the unusually low levels experienced in the previous few years," Willet said.

The average apartment occupancy rate of 94.9 percent at the end of 2012, was up a tiny bit from 94.7 percent at the end of 2011. The rate was 92 percent in 2009, when the nation's apartment occupancy rate bottomed, MPF reported.

MPF says look for 2013's rental market performance to be similar to the strong 2012 marlet.
"Most places are starved for new product right now, so properties that will complete over the coming year appear likely to do incredibly well, generally without hurting the results for the existing stock," Willett said.

Written by Broderick Perkins