Escrow & Closing

Where Do I Get Information About Closing Costs?

For more on closing costs, ask for the "Consumer's Guide to Mortgage Settlement Costs," Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Public Information Department, P.O. Box 7702, San Francisco, CA 94120 or call (415) 974-2163.
What Contingencies Should Be Put in an Offer?

Most offers include two standard contingencies: a financing contingency, which makes the sale dependent on the buyers' ability to obtain a loan commitment from a lender, and an inspection contingency, which allows buyers to have professionals inspect the property to their satisfaction.

A buyer could forfeit his or her deposit under certain circumstances, such as backing out of the deal for a reason not stipulated in the contract.

The purchase contract must include the seller's responsibilities, such things as passing clear title, maintaining the property in its present condition until closing and making any agreed-upon repairs to the property.

 

Preparing to Sell

How Do I Prepare My House to Sell?

Doing whatever you can to put your house's best face forward is very important if you want to get close to your asking price or sell as quickly as possible. Short of spending a lot of money, here are several ideas for making your home show better:
  • Sweep the sidewalk, mow the lawn, prune the bushes, weed the garden and clean debris from the yard.
  • Clean the windows (both inside and out) and make sure the paint is not chipped or flaking. And speaking of paint, if your home was built before 1978, new federal law gives a buyer the right to request a lead inspection. If you think you might have some problems, do the inspection yourself beforehand and make any fixes you can.
  • Be sure that the doorbell works.
  • Clean and spruce up all rooms, furnishings, floors, walls and ceilings. It's especially important that the bathroom and kitchen are spotless.
  • Organize closets.
  • Make sure the basic appliances and fixtures work. Get rid of leaky faucets and frayed cords.
  • Make sure the house smells good: from an apple pie, cookies baking or spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove. Hide the kitty litter.
  • Put vases of fresh flowers throughout the house.
  • Having pleasant background music playing in the background also will help set your stage.


What Repairs Do I Have to Make?

If you want to get top dollar for your property, you probably need to make all minor repairs and selected major repairs before going on the market. Nearly all purchase contracts include an inspection clause, a buyer contingency that allows a buyer to back out if numerous defects are found or negotiate their repair.

The trick is not to overspend on pre-sale repairs, especially if there are few houses on the market but many buyers willing to buy at almost any price. On the other hand, making such repairs may be the only way to sell your house in a down market.

What Information Do I Have to Disclose to Potential Buyers?

In most states, it is the seller, but obligations to disclose information about a property vary.

Under the strictest laws, you and your agent, if you have one, are required to disclose all facts materially affecting the value or desirability of the property which are known or accessible only to you.

This might include: homeowners association dues; whether or not work done on the house meets local building codes and permits requirements; the presence of any neighborhood nuisances or noises which a prospective buyer might not notice, such as a dog that barks every night or poor TV reception; any death within three years on the property; and any restrictions on the use of the property, such as zoning ordinances or association rules.

It is wise to check your state's disclosure rules prior to a home purchase

How Do I Set the Selling Price?

It's very important to price your home according to current market conditions. Because the real estate market is continually changing, and market fluctuations have an effect on property values, it's imperative to select your list price based on the most recent comparable sales in your neighborhood.

A so-called comparative market analysis provides the background data upon which to base your list-price decision. When you prepare to sell and are interviewing agents, study each agent's comparable sales report (the data should be no more than three months old).

If all agents agree on a price range for your home, go with the consensus. Watch out for an agent whose opinion of value is considerably higher than the others.

When is the Best Time to List a House for Sale?

As soon as you decide to sell it.

If you want to get the best price for your house, the key is to give yourself as much time as possible to sell it. More time means more potential buyers will probably see the house. This should result in more offers; it also gives you time to consider more options if the market is slow or initial interest is low.

 
Property Value

Where Can I Find Housing Market Statistics?

A real estate agent is a good source for finding out the status of the local housing market. So is your statewide association of Realtors, most of which are continuously compiling such statistics from local real estate boards.
For overall housing statistics, U.S. Housing Markets regularly publishes quarterly reports on home building and home buying. Your local builders association probably gets this report. If not, the housing research firm is located in Canton, Mich.; call (800) 755-6269 for information; the firm also maintains an Internet site. Finally, check with the U.S. Bureau of the Census in Washington, D.C.; (301) 495-4700. The census bureau also maintains a site on the Internet. The Chicago Title company also has published a pamphlet, "Who's Buying Homes in America." Write Chicago Title and Trust Family of Title Insurers, 171 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60601-3294.



How Is a Home's Value Determined?

You have several ways to determine the value of a home.
An appraisal is a professional estimate of a property's market value, based on recent sales of comparable properties, location, square footage and construction quality. This service varies in cost depending on the price of the home. On average, an appraisal costs about $300 for a $250,000 house.

A comparative market analysis is an informal estimate of market value performed by a real estate agent based on similar sales and property attributes. Most agents offer free analyses in the hopes of winning your business.

You also can get a comparable sales report for a fee from private companies that specialize in real estate data or find comparable sales information available on various real estate Internet sites.



What Is the Difference Between Market Value and Appraised Value?

The appraised value of a house is a certified appraiser's opinion of the worth of a home at a given point in time. Lenders require appraisals as part of the loan application process; fees range from $200 to $300.
Market value is what price the house will bring at a given point in time. A comparative market analysis is an informal estimate of market value, based on sales of comparable properties, performed by a real estate agent or broker. Either an appraisal or a comparative market analysis is the most accurate way to determine what your home is worth.



What Standards Do Appraisers Use to Estimate Value?

Appraisers use several factors when estimating a home's value, including the home's size and square footage, the condition of the home and neighborhood, comparable local sales, any pertinent historical information, sales performance and indices that forecast future value. For detailed information on appraisal standards, contact the Appraisal Institute at 875 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 2400, Chicago, IL 60611-1980; (312) 335-4458.



What's a House Worth?

A home ultimately is worth what someone will pay for it. Everything else is an estimate of value. To determine a property's value, most people turn to either an appraisal or a comparative market analysis.
An appraisal is a certified appraiser's estimate of the value of a home at a given point in time. Appraisers consider square footage, construction quality, design, floor plan, neighborhood and availability of transportation, shopping and schools. Appraisers also take lot size, topography, view and landscaping into account. Most appraisals cost about $300.

A comparative market analysis is a real estate broker's or agent's informal estimate of a home's market value, based on sales of comparable homes in a neighborhood. Most agents will give you a comparative market analysis for free.

You can do your own cost comparison by looking up recent sales of comparable properties in public records. These records are available at local recorder or assessor offices, through private real estate information companies or on the Internet.



Are There Ways to Determine My Home's Value?

A comparative market analysis and an appraisal are the standard methods for determining a home's value.
Your real estate agent will be happy to provide a comparative market analysis, an informal estimate of value based on comparable sales in the neighborhood. Be sure you get listing prices of current homes on the market as well as those that have sold. You also can research this yourself by checking on recent sales in public records. Be sure that you are researching properties that are similar in size, construction and location. This information is not only available at your local recorder's or assessor's office but also through private companies and on the Internet.

An appraisal, which generally costs $200 to $300 to perform, is a certified appraiser's opinion of the value of a home at any given time. Appraisers review numerous factors including recent comparable sales, location, square footage and construction quality.



Will a Neighbor Problem Reduce My Property Value?

While it may not reduce the actual value, a cluttered landscape next door can detract from the positive aspects of your home. Review your local laws, which should be on file at the public library, county law library or City Hall.
A typical "junk vehicle" ordinance, for example, requires any disabled car to either be enclosed or placed behind a fence. And most cities prohibit parking any vehicle on a city street too long. It also may be worthwhile to check into local zoning ordinances. An operator of a home-based business usually is required to obtain a variance or permanent zoning change in residential areas.

In addition, if a neighbor's repair work produces loud noises, he may be breaking local noise-control ordinances, which are enforced by the police department.

Before bringing in the authorities, you may want to make a copy of the pertinent ordinance and give it to your neighbor to give them a chance to correct the problem.


How Can I Increase the Value of My Property?

The biggest factor that can affect property value — market conditions — are outside of your control. But other factors — including the condition of the property, certain home improvements and neighborhood stability and safety — are not.
For example, specific home improvements can increase your property value above the cost of the improvements themselves, such as remodeling a kitchen, adding a bathroom, finishing a basement or upgrading landscaping. Just be sure that quality pays with remodeling. A bad remodeling job will do little to boost your property value.

If you live in a high-crime area, an organized community watch program not only will lower the crime rate but can enhance property values, too. It also helps to live in an area where other homeowners are upgrading their homes, which can help pull up your property value, too.

The bottom line is to measure the cost of any improvements you want to make against the overall values in your neighborhood. If you over-improve for the neighborhood, you may not necessarily recover your costs or boost your property value significantly.

 

All information on this page is 2000 Inman News Features, unless otherwise noted.