Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Home Sellers: Cut to the Chase in Home Repairs and Enhancements

2011 opens as a strong buyer’s market so home sellers must be on their toes to give their homes maximum appeal. Not only should sellers complete the home repairs they know must be made, they should also hire a certified home inspector to thoroughly and impartially evaluate their properties.

If this inspection results in a fix-it list, review the list with your real estate professional to establish necessities and priorities. Depending on your budget and objectives, you may want to repair only items that could cause significant deterioration to your property, such as a leaky roof. Ideally, the closer you can get your home to “move-in-ready” status, the more likely you are to attract today’s cautious and discerning buyers.

Among the most common repairs and enhancements yielding immediate buyer appeal include:

• Paint inside and outside in neutral colors

• Steam clean or replace carpets

• Polish or replace hardwood floors

• Clean or re-grout kitchen and bathrooms

• Replace light fixtures

• Change light bulbs throughout and replace wall-switch covers

• Repair dripping faucets

• Fix sticking doors

• Repair broken fencing

Home sellers wanting to do more should consider the findings of Remodeling magazine’s 2010-’11 Cost vs. Value Report, released in December 2010. The survey used input from REALTORS in 80 cities to rank home remodeling projects according to those that bring the greatest cost recovered at sale.

Many of the top projects focus on exterior replacements, as replacements are generally less expensive than other types of projects and they add all-important curb appeal – essential for today’s competitive market or any other.

The Top Five projects in the Cost vs. Value Report include:

No. 1 – Entry door replacement (steel)

No. 2 – Garage door replacement (four-section door, reuse existing motorized opener)

No. 3 – Siding replacement (fiber-cement siding)

No. 4 – Kitchen remodel (minor: new cabinet doors, drawers and hardware, plus new energy-efficient appliances, flooring, counters, sink and faucet)

No. 5 – Deck addition (wood)

When the dust clears and projects are complete, be sure that you and your real estate professional document your repairs and enhancements, and share the report with prospective buyers. Walk prospects through the enhancements and include their costs.

A home in good condition demonstrates pride of ownership. Taking the time to make enhancements helps ensure your home is presented in its best-possible light, primed for sale.

Bill Mercer can be reached at (406) 581-5574. 
Prudential (dba) is an independently owned and operated member of The Prudential Real Estate Affiliates, Inc., a Prudential company. Equal Housing Opportunity.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thinking About a Second Home????

Second Home Ownership: Could It Be For You?

Hollywood stars are not the only ones with homes in both California and New York. Farmers escape the Heartland for the sandy Floridian shores, too. Second home ownership has become an extremely popular trend in today’s real estate market. Why? Because demographics and technology are converging to create a historic opportunity for buyers and sellers. As Baby Boomers rush toward retirement, second homes suitable for play now and retirement later have enormous appeal.

Today, thanks to technology, second homes are becoming a place to work as well as play. Second homes may be located in resort areas. Others may be located near a second work environment for those who commute frequently between different business destinations. And the second home phenomenon stretches from Alaska to Florida, from Hawaii to Nova Scotia, and all points in-between.

How you use a second home is up to you, but if it’s something you’ve been considering, now is the time to get the information you need to make an informed decision. A qualified real estate professional can help guide you through financial considerations, assist you in finding the right community and even refer you to a resort property specialist for the destination of your dreams. Your real estate professional may be able to get you the information and advice you need to use the equity in your current home to finance the down payment on a second home, for example.

For many, a second home in a vacation or resort area can be an income property when not in use. Ennis, Montana is a very popular destination for fly fishing, hunting, skiing, and biking, which makes it a year round destination. A real estate professional will help you consider property management options that can be a crucial financial factor as well as important to peace-of-mind.

Married couples, generally over age 35, with or without children are almost twice as likely to own second homes as single persons. And the fastest growing segment of second home buyers are age 35 to 54, without children at home.

Some of the best locations are not more than two to three hours away from major metropolitan areas by car or plane. For example, many Montanans gravitate to the Madison Valley…one hour from Bozeman and Yellowstone. San Franciscans retreat to Lake Tahoe and Angelenos head for Palm Springs. Many people who live in the West also have second homes there.

What makes a second home location ideal? Natural beauty is great, but don’t forget about cultural and social resources, as well as first-rate golf, tennis and other popular sports facilities. Ennis, Montana has a golf course, tennis courts, as well as prime hunting and fishing.

Second homes are a discretionary purchase, and everyone wants to feel secure in their environment And locations such as Ennis, Montana, with it’s friendly neighbors and low crime rate removed from most urban problems, continue to be attractive. And be sure to look at each property with an eye toward tomorrow, because the vacation homes likely to appreciate the most are the ones that Boomers can play in today and retire in tomorrow.

Call Bill Mercer for some ideas on 2nd home ownership in the Ennis, MT and the Madison Valley, MT area.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Make Your Offer Stand Out

Make Your Offer Stand Out

Real estate consumers are realizing that there has rarely been a better time to buy a home. In fact, historically low mortgage rates coupled with lower home prices have even sparked bidding competition in markets around the country.

A good home in a solid location may attract ample attention only hours after being listed. Home buyers can make their offers stand out from the rest through one or more of the following strategies:

Price. Obviously, price tends to be the primary consideration for sellers. When you’re competing for a home, to get an edge, think about adding a clause stating that you will beat the highest offer by “x” dollars up to “x” amount. Cash offers can be more attractive to sellers as well. Although sellers will receive their money at closing whether buyers pay with cash or take out a loan, cash offers don’t require lender approval.

Financing. It’s not enough to be pre-qualified. Pre-qualification only tells how much you can afford. Pre-approval goes a step further. Your lender will thoroughly evaluate your application—including verifying employment information and financial disposition—then clear you for a loan of a determined amount. Having your loan pre-approved gives you a sizeable advantage by putting you on equal footing with cash buyers.

Good Faith Deposit. Buyers offering a larger-than-customary amount of “earnest money,” a deposit that accompanies an offer, may get a seller’s attention. By committing more money up front, buyers demonstrate greater sincerity and motivation to close the transaction. Your real estate professional can guide you as to the appropriate sum for your specific transaction.

Contingencies. Consider minimizing contingencies, those clauses that allow buyers to back out of a contract if certain conditions are not met. For example, it’s common for buyers to make the purchase contingent upon their securing satisfactory financing. Obviously, offers with the fewest conditions tend to be more attractive to sellers.

From a contingency standpoint, first-time buyers are often better prospects for a seller’s home than move-up buyers. That’s because first-time buyers’ offers are not contingent upon the sale of a present home. Even if a move-up buyer has an offer in hand, that buyer’s offer may be contingent on another contingency, and so on down the line. If one transaction derails, they all might.

Considerations for Short-sale and Foreclosure Transactions – Bank-owned properties represent a significant portion of today’s housing inventory. Competition can be most keen for these homes as their prices can run 10% to 20% below current market value.

Banks conduct extensive research to set these prices and generally base them on current market value less the cost of required repairs. Make your offer based on your own check of comparable sales and other due diligence. Banks won’t get offended by a low offer, yet a realistic offer will more likely keep you in the running.

Remember, patience is essential when buying bank-owned property as the process can take up to six months and longer.

Work with Bill Mercer, your local Prudential Real Estate sales professional to buy your dream home or investment property. His or her knowledge, skill and expertise will help you make sound real estate decisions today or any other time.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

First Time Home Buyers

Today’s first-time homebuyers are presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. Mortgage rates in early December stood near lows last seen during the Truman administration while home prices were well off their peaks of previous years. The combination made housing affordability, as measured by the National Association of REALTORS®, the highest since NAR® launched its Affordability Index in 1973.

Housing inventory is also abundant in many markets, enabling first-timers to secure good homes and pave the way to their financial futures. Indeed, homes and their long-term virtues of shelter, wealth-building and personal and civic pride are available at bargain-basement prices that won’t, or can’t, last.

Naturally, first-timers have many questions about home buying, starting with costs. With research and the services of a licensed real estate professional, these consumers can demystify the process and place themselves on the fast track to homeownership.

Knowledge is power – Nine out of every 10 home searches today begin on the Internet. With just a few mouse clicks, you can peruse neighborhoods, search countless online listings and take virtual tours packed with detailed photographs. The process gives you working knowledge of home availability and pricing in your local markets so by the time you sit down with your real estate sales professional you’re well on your way.

Also visit informative websites such as, and, and check the local newspaper for homebuyer seminars.

Affordability – Costs involved in the purchase of a home – mortgage, down payment and closing expenditures – can be overwhelming to first-time homebuyers. By looking at your income and debt ratio, your real estate professional can help you calculate how much you can afford each month in mortgage payments. But before determining your price range, you should also take into consideration other factors that will affect your monthly budget once you are a homeowner, such as property taxes, insurance, utilities and maintenance. And if your down payment is less than 20 percent of the cost of the home, you will be responsible for private mortgage insurance.

Mortgage payment – In today’s buyers market, you may face competition for your dream home. To establish your spending limit and gain the ability to move quickly on a home, get pre-approved for a loan before you start looking. The fact that your loan has already been approved is of great value to the seller because it shortens the purchase process, and there is less of a chance that the buyer will back out of the sale. This process will also help you identify any credit challenges you must address prior to your purchase.

If you don’t have a specific mortgage lender in mind, ask your sales professional for a recommendation.

Down payment – The down payment amount varies depending on the value of the home you choose and your mortgage lender. First-time homebuyers may also qualify for down-payment assistance programs and grants available through their states and municipalities. Contact your state housing finance authority, county housing and community development office for an application.

Closing costs must be factored in as well. These include origination fees charged by the lender, title and settlement fees, taxes and prepaid items such as homeowners insurance or homeowner association fees. All told, buyers should spend no more than 28% of their income on housing costs, according to Fannie Mae. Your real estate professional will be able to explain your options.

Making offers – Make sure you visit several different homes to get a feel for the marketplace. Visit the ones you like again to see things you might have missed. Work with your real estate professional to get all of your questions answered before making an offer. And remember there are no silly questions. Make sure you understand and are comfortable with every aspect of the transaction.

Indeed, home ownership remains a sound financial decision for most and a key component of long-term financial planning. First-time buyers who seek homes for all the right reasons – a place to raise a family, build for the future and face life’s opportunities and challenges – can secure their dreams and build for their futures at some of the most attractive values in years.

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