4 Financial Reasons to Buy Now

by THE KCM CREW

As Dean Hartman said last week, the purchase of a home is a personal decision. However, we want to give everyone four great financial reasons why you should not wait before taking the plunge into homeownership.

Interest Rates Are Increasing

Interest rates have increased almost 3/4 of a point in the last six months. Most experts expect rates to continue to increase through the year. Interest rates along with price determine the overall cost of a home. Even with prices softening, if interest rates rise, it may be less expensive to buy now rather than wait.

The 30-Year Mortgage May Disappear

There has been much debate regarding government’s role in providing support for homeownership. There are several experts who believe If Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s roles are eliminated, or even limited, it may be the end to the 30-year mortgage. This concern is addressed in MSN Real Estate’s Is it curtains for the 30-year mortgage?

QRM Requirements Could Be Much More Stringent

Here are proposed changes to the requirements for a ‘qualified residential mortgage’:

Certain mortgage types would be eliminated
You would need to put a minimum of 20% down
You would need a minimum 690 FICO score
The ratios of income to both the mortgage payment and overall debt would become much more conservative (28% and 36%)
There would be loans available to purchasers who don’t qualify under the new rules. However, they will probably be more expensive to the buyer (both in rate and costs).

Rents Are Expected to Increase

The supply of available rentals is decreasing and the demand is increasing. That will lead to an increase in rental costs throughout the year. The Wall Street Journal this week quoted a report by Reis, Inc:

“Expect vacancies to continue declining, and rents rising through the rest of 2011 at an even faster pace.”

Bottom Line

You may be waiting on the sidelines to see if prices will continue to depreciate before you purchase a home. The mortgage expense is a major piece in the overall financial picture of homeownership. Make sure you consider it when timing your decision.

Contact Chrisha Mitchell, 708-966-9282 to buy|sell|rent|invest

What Affects Credit Scores? 7 Misconceptions

By: Gwen Moran

Published: October 22, 2010

If you’re trying to raise your credit score to get a good rate for a refinance or HELOC, you might be surprised by what affects—or doesn’t affect—your score.

More money improves your credit score
False. Your level or sources of income don’t affect your credit score, although lenders may look at it when making loan decisions, according to the Fair Isaac Corp., the company that issues the commonly used FICO credit scores.

Ownership of several credit cards can hurt your credit score
Mostly false. Having many credit lines isn’t necessarily a bad thing, says credit expert Liz Weston, author of Your Credit Score. Multiple lines give you a favorable debt-to-available-credit ratio. But use them correctly: It’s best to keep any balances below 10% or 20% of the total credit line, she says. Anything more will affect the ratio of debt-to-available-credit, which can decrease your credit score.

Opening and closing credit lines can hurt your credit score
True. New credit applications can decrease your credit score, so be careful about applying for new credit cards or personal loans before applying for a HELOC, second mortgage, automobile loan, or other large line of credit.

Surprise: Closing existing credit lines may also hurt your credit score, since it’ll damage your debt-to-available-credit ratio. A good rule is not to make any credit changes in the months leading up to a major credit request, such as for a HELOC.

Consolidating credit lines will help your credit score
Mostly false. Although it may seem like a good idea to move all your balances to one card, that can actually hurt your credit score, since your debt-to-available-credit ratio will spike on that card, says Weston.

However, credit expert Harrine Freeman says such a slight decline isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for a loan, especially if the card has a lower interest rate and will allow you to pay off the balance sooner. Your score will increase as soon as that ratio goes down.

Changing jobs can hurt your credit score
Partly true. Taking a new job or losing your job doesn’t affect your credit score. However, if you have a spotty employment history, lenders may hold that against you in making a loan. Dips in income may signal that it could be difficult to pay bills in a timely manner.

Co-signing for others can hurt your credit score
Partly true. Simply co-signing on a loan for someone else may not affect your score, but if that person is late on paying the loan, it’s likely to show up on your report, says Freeman. And that’s a nasty surprise if you didn’t know the person was late.

Judgments and liens aren’t considered in your credit score
False. If you’ve had a judgment or lien filed against you, it’s considered in your payment history, which represents 35% of your score.

Similarly, while most utility companies don’t report payment history to credit bureaus, your account will likely be reported if it is seriously delinquent and referred to a collection agency.

Additional details on how to manage your FICO score are available on the FICO site.

Gwen Moran is a freelance business and finance writer from the Jersey shore. She’s the co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Plans and writes frequently about real estate.

wwww.bairdwarner.com/chrisha.mitchell

It Pays to Support Responsible Homeownership

By: Dona DeZube

Helping others become homeowners protects your home’s value and builds stronger communities.

When people move from renting to owning a home, they’re more likely to vote, get involved in community groups, and care about their home’s appearance. The children of homeowners do 23% better in school, according to a 2001 study by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. And a steady flow of first-time homebuyers makes it easier to sell your own starter home when you’re ready to move up to a larger property.

Make housing affordable
One way to make more people homeowners is to make housing more affordable. All U.S. homeowners benefit from policies like the mortgage interest tax deduction. Many use government-backed mortgage insurance to lower loan costs. A variety of public and private programs offer low-cost loans and downpayment assistance to help Americans become homeowners. Help prospective homeowners save a downpayment by donating to sites like EARN, a non-profit that uses donations to match funds saved by low-wage earners.

Reduce foreclosures and preserve home value
Foreclosure matters because it hurts all homeowners. In 2009, foreclosures will cause property values to decline an average of $7,200 for about 70 million homeowners, resulting in a $502 billion loss in home equity, the Center for Responsible Lending estimates. Each foreclosure within 1/8th of a mile of your home lowers your property value about 0.744 percent, CRL says.

“One of the sad lessons of the [recent past] is that we aren’t alone,” says Nicolas P. Retsinas, director of the JCHS. “It’s clear that if the family next door loses their home to foreclosure, my home’s value will go down. Therefore, I have a vested interest in ensuring that people become homeowners and that homeownership is sustained over time.”

One effective tool against foreclosure is educating homeowners before they buy. The Joint Center found that loan delinquencies fell 13% with homeownership counseling. People who go through pre-purchase and post-purchase counseling and learn about mortgages, family budgeting, and home maintenance are less apt to face foreclosure, says Michael Berti, senior homeownership specialist at the Rural Ulster Preservation Company in Kingston, N.Y.

Support groups that help homeowners
One way to do your part to help other homeowners is by donating your time or money to some of the many non-profits that promote responsible homeownership.

Habitat for Humanity partners with new homeowners to build affordable housing. Habitat homes aren’t free. Homeowners work hundreds of hours, get homeownership counseling, and make mortgage payments.

The United Way supports many local programs that build affordable housing, help families build financial assets, and teach financial management skills. If you donate to United Way, you can direct your contribution to those causes.

HomeownershipSF, in San Francisco, tries to intervene where people facing foreclosure have the resources to catch up on their loan. If “the home can’t be saved, we try to get a first-time homebuyer we’ve worked with into the home as quickly as possible to stabilize the neighborhood,” says Interim Director Christi Baker.

Government programs support homeownership
Supporting federal state, and local programs that help create homeowners is another way you can expand responsible and affordable homeownership.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Federal Housing Authority provide mortgage loan insurance or guarantees that let people buy homes with only a small downpayment and borrow at lower interest rates.

Government-sponsored groups Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and government-run Ginnie Mae buy and securitize mortgage loans made by banks, freeing up money, so banks can keep lending.

Sites like Govtrack and RollCall help you stay on top of laws that affect homeowners.

HUD’s HOME program provides financial support to state and local housing authorities to build and renovate for-sale and rental housing for lower-income Americans.

In U.S. cities of all sizes, the HOPE VI program has funded plans to replace deteriorating public housing with new low-rise, mixed-income homes. These developments sell most homes at market rates, but designate a percentage for use by low-income homeowners.

How to get involved
You can support responsible homeownership in many ways. Retired construction contractors France and Bill Moriarity travel the country in their RV managing Habitat construction projects. “We like it because it’s a hand up, not a hand out,” France Moriarity says. Habitat volunteers don’t need construction skills and can sign up to work as little as one day at a time. Groups can volunteer together. Organizations like Rebuilding Together and NeighborWorks America sponsor once yearly volunteer events that help lower-income homeowners repair their homes.

In San Francisco, Gregg Lynn convinced 150 people from his professional network to donate a percentage of their income to EARN. Follow his lead by asking your professional network, trade association, or social group to contribute.

Dona DeZube has been writing about real estate for over two decades. She lives a suburban Baltimore 1970s rancher on a 3-acre lot shared with possums, raccoons, foxes, a herd of deer, and her blue-tick hound.

Chrisha Mitchell, Realtor at 708-966-9282

7 Mortgage Interest Deduction Myths

By: Dona DeZube

Published: February 16, 2011

Think losing the mortgage interest deduction would be no big deal? We bust seven myths to show why the cost is bigger than you think.

Myth #1: The mortgage deduction is just for rich people.
The mortgage interest deduction helps mostly middle- and lower-income families.
65% of families who use it earn less than $100,000 per year.
91% earn less than $200,000 per year (that’s where most economists draw the line between rich and middle-class).
Only 9% earn more than $200,000 per year.
This myth may have arisen because of a related fact: If you buy a house, you’re much more likely to accumulate wealth by the end of your life. Home owners have an average net worth of $200,000, while the average renter’s net worth is $5,000, according to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances.

Myth #2: I’m not affected by the mortgage deduction because I don’t own a home.

If the mortgage interest deduction goes away, home values would fall by 15%, the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® estimates. When home values fall, tax revenues follow suit, giving your local government two choices:

Raise property taxes. Not only will home owners pay more in taxes, renters won’t escape unscathed either as landlords raise rents to cover their costs.
Cut services that everyone—renters and owners—enjoys.
Myth #3: Switching to a 12% mortgage interest credit would be a wash for most.

One proposal floating around Congress is to replace the mortgage interest deduction with a 12% nonrefundable mortgage interest tax credit. (Deductions reduce your taxable income; credits reduce your tax liability.) This plan would increase taxes for many home owners.

Example: If you paid $10,000 in mortgage interest, and you’re in the 25% bracket, you’d pay $1,300 in extra taxes.

The $10,000 deduction you have now saves you $2,500 on your taxes (25% x 10,000).
The 12% credit would save you only $1,200 (12% x 10,000) on your taxes.
In this scenario, if the mortgage interest deduction is changed to a 12% credit, you’d lose $1,300 (the current $2,500 savings minus the $1,200 you’ll save under the 12% plan).
Myth #4: Not that many people take the mortgage interest deduction.

There are 75 million American home owners, and 38.5 million of them take the mortgage interest deduction. The average mortgage interest tax deduction is $12,200, and a typical benefit for home owners is $3,050 a year.

The mortgage deduction is a key benefit to first-time home owners and trade-up buyers because you pay the most mortgage interest when you first take out a mortgage. (You won’t pay equal amounts of principal and interest until year 13 or later, depending on your interest rate.)

People with large families also get a lot of bang from mortgage interest deductibility—they buy relatively big houses for their big families.

Myth #5: Getting rid of the deduction won’t affect me or my housing market.

It will mean lower property values for all American home owners, including the one-third who own their homes outright and the 12 million who take the standard deduction.

Even if you don’t have a mortgage, getting rid of the MID will affect how much home you can afford to buy—and how much a buyer will pay for your home.

Myth #6: People will still buy my house without the mortgage interest deduction.

Yes, people will still value home ownership, but it will be harder for them to buy your house. The mortgage interest deduction makes it cheaper to buy a home because it saves real money at tax time.

If you bought a home last year with a $200,000, 30-year, 5% fixed-rate mortgage and you’re in a 25% tax bracket, you’d save about $2,500 from the mortgage interest deduction alone in the first year you own your home. That’s money you can use to pay down other debts, save for your children’s college education, or put away to buy a move-up house.

Myth #7: Solving the U.S. budget problems requires everyone to sacrifice.

Home owners already pay 80% to 90% of the federal income tax collected. If mortgage interest deductibility disappears, you and your fellow home owners could foot 95% of federal income tax.

If you’re at the beginning of your mortgage, losing the mortgage deduction will cost you a bundle:

$26,685—a 15% drop in value for the median home valued at $177,900.
A proportionally smaller gain in overall home equity over your lifetime, because your home now starts from a lower value.
Dona DeZube has been writing about real estate for more than two decades. She lives a suburban Baltimore 1970s rancher on a 3-acre lot shared with possums, raccoons, foxes, a herd of deer, and her blue-tick hound.

Click here to view Chicagoland homes!

4 Financial Reasons to Buy Now

by THE KCM CREW on APRIL 12, 2011

As Dean Hartman said last week, the purchase of a home is a personal decision. However, we want to give everyone four great financial reasons why you should not wait before taking the plunge into homeownership.

Interest Rates Are Increasing

Interest rates have increased almost 3/4 of a point in the last six months. Most experts expect rates to continue to increase through the year. Interest rates along with price determine the overall cost of a home. Even with prices softening, if interest rates rise, it may be less expensive to buy now rather than wait.

The 30-Year Mortgage May Disappear

There has been much debate regarding government’s role in providing support for homeownership. There are several experts who believe If Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s roles are eliminated, or even limited, it may be the end to the 30-year mortgage. This concern is addressed in MSN Real Estate’s Is it curtains for the 30-year mortgage?

QRM Requirements Could Be Much More Stringent

Here are proposed changes to the requirements for a ‘qualified residential mortgage’:

Certain mortgage types would be eliminated
You would need to put a minimum of 20% down
You would need a minimum 690 FICO score
The ratios of income to both the mortgage payment and overall debt would become much more conservative (28% and 36%)
There would be loans available to purchasers who don’t qualify under the new rules. However, they will probably be more expensive to the buyer (both in rate and costs).

Rents Are Expected to Increase

The supply of available rentals is decreasing and the demand is increasing. That will lead to an increase in rental costs throughout the year. The Wall Street Journal this week quoted a report by Reis, Inc:

“Expect vacancies to continue declining, and rents rising through the rest of 2011 at an even faster pace.”

Bottom Line

You may be waiting on the sidelines to see if prices will continue to depreciate before you purchase a home. The mortgage expense is a major piece in the overall financial picture of homeownership. Make sure you consider it when timing your decision.

Contact Chrisha Mitchell, 708-966-9282 to buy|sell|rent|invest

Celebrating Earth Day Begins at Home

By: Courtney Craig

Published: April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day! There are many ways to green up your life, but many of the most important improvements you can make are right in your own home.

Happy Earth Day! There are many ways to green up your life, but many of the most important improvements you can make are right in your own home. We’ve searched the Internet for offers, contests, and tips for making your home a greener place–not just on Earth Day, but every day.

Recyclebank’s Green Your Home Challenge: Log on to this online challenge, which asks you to complete green actions around your home. The more actions you complete, the more points you earn. You even get bonus points for referring friends to the contest. At the end of the contest, a grand prize winner will win a green home kitchen makeover, complete with brand-new Energy Star-qualified appliances. Smaller prizes will be awarded to 10 first-place winners and 100 second-place winners.

Lowe’s Earth Day giveaway: The home-improvement chain is celebrating Earth Day by giving away 1 million trees on Saturday, April 23. Show up early to get your sapling.

Home builder company giveaway: Today, KB Home street teams, festooned in green, at select locations will be handing out vouchers, which you can redeem for a $10 gift card. Through Sunday, April 24, at KB Home communities, you also can enter a sweepstakes to win a $2,500 cash prize. All Energy Star-qualified homes built by KB Home now come with an energy performance guide that estimates that home’s average monthly energy cost.

Facebook’s A Billion Acts of Green: Pledge to do your part by announcing your green activity of choice through social media. This Facebook page lets you commit to your choice of green acts, such as eliminating toxic cleaning products, changing to CFLs or LEDs for home lighting, and/or getting a home energy audit.

Earth911 offers tips on spring cleaning your garage: Follow these tips for staying organized, motivated, and eco-conscious while cleaning out a notoriously grungy and not-so-green part of your home.

Earth911 also has ideas for reusing items in your garden: Learn how to use a few common household items that could easily end up in a landfill to help your garden flourish.

Finally, The Greenists offer a simple tip for greening up all facets of your life: Use less. See how many opportunities you can find around your home to put this simple idea into practice:

Could you air-dry your laundry instead of using the dryer?
Would you use washable rags instead of paper towels for cleaning?
Have you tried making your own cleaning products?
How will you celebrate Earth Day?

Invest a Tax Refund in Your Home $3,000 Projects

By: John Riha

Published: April 4, 2011

Four great, summary ways to invest your $3,000 tax refund in your house.

Boring? Hardly. Upgrading and maintaining your home preserves its value, giving you a nice return on your investment. Plus, you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labors every day.

With summer on the horizon, here are four outdoorsy ideas for spending your refund.

Add outdoor lighting

Show your house in its best light, even in the evening, with an outdoor lighting scheme. You’ll enhance your home’s architectural features and play up landscaping details, plus you’ll be adding safety and security to your property.

Here’s a quick price check on a professionally installed system:

7 LED outdoor lighting fixtures to illuminate 100 feet of walkway: $2,275.
A transformer to convert household current into low-voltage: $400.
Two motion-detector security lighting fixtures: $300.
Total: $2,975

Install a patio

A backyard patio is an inexpensive way to add some sweet living area to your home.

For a professionally installed brick or concrete paver patio that’s 12 by 16 feet–plenty of space for a table, chairs, and barbecue equipment—you’ll pay about $15 per square foot, or $3,000 total. Expect a payback of 30% to 60% on your investment (plus many hours of great outdoor living).

Other paving materials include limestone, slate, and granite. Concrete is a less expensive option that costs $6 to $12 per square foot, installed.

Upgrade your deck

Make your deck more livable with upgrades that add shade, increase privacy, and provide convenience.

Shade sails provide soft, diffuse shade for areas not covered by trees and building overhangs. They’re made of weatherproof materials that never need maintenance, and come in various shapes. Professional installation of a 12-foot triangular sail costs about $3,000, including the sail and support posts.
Cable railings are thin stainless steel cables stretched between posts. They open up views and add a contemporary feel. Expect to pay $70 per lineal foot for the railings plus pro installation.
Built-in planters add visual texture and help define separate areas of your deck. Integrate their construction with built-in benches to add seating. You’ll spend $150 to $250 per lineal foot for cedar or redwood planters and benches, including materials and installation.
Replace your air conditioning

Hoping the old unit holds on for another year? New central air conditioning units require 30% less electricity and lower energy bills by 30% more than AC units made just a few years ago. You also may qualify for a $300 energy tax credit. Prices for a new energy-efficient central air conditioner start around $3,000.

John Riha has written seven books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He’s been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. His 1972 suburban house has been an ongoing source of maintenance experience.

Click here to view Chicagoland homes!

How to Assess the Real Cost of a Fixer-Upper House

By: G. M. Filisko

Published: August 24, 2010

When you buy a fixer-upper house, you can save a ton of money, or get yourself in a financial fix.

1. Decide what you can do yourself
TV remodeling shows make home improvement work look like a snap. In the real world, attempting a difficult remodeling job that you don’t know how to do will take longer than you think and can lead to less-than-professional results that won’t increase the value of your fixer-upper house.

Do you really have the skills to do it? Some tasks, like stripping wallpaper and painting, are relatively easy. Others, like electrical work, can be dangerous when done by amateurs.
Do you really have the time and desire to do it? Can you take time off work to renovate your fixer-upper house? If not, will you be stressed out by living in a work zone for months while you complete projects on the weekends?
2. Price the cost of repairs and remodeling before you make an offer
Get your contractor into the house to do a walk-through, so he can give you a written cost estimate on the tasks he’s going to do.
If you’re doing the work yourself, price the supplies.
Either way, tack on 10% to 20% to cover unforeseen problems that often arise with a fixer-upper house.
3. Check permit costs
Ask local officials if the work you’re going to do requires a permit and how much that permit costs. Doing work without a permit may save money, but it’ll cause problems when you resell your home.
Decide if you want to get the permits yourself or have the contractor arrange for them. Getting permits can be time-consuming and frustrating. Inspectors may force you to do additional work, or change the way you want to do a project, before they give you the permit.
Factor the time and aggravation of permits into your plans.
4. Doublecheck pricing on structural work
If your fixer-upper home needs major structural work, hire a structural engineer for $500 to $700 to inspect the home before you put in an offer so you can be confident you’ve uncovered and conservatively budgeted for the full extent of the problems.

Get written estimates for repairs before you commit to buying a home with structural issues.

Don’t purchase a home that needs major structural work unless:

You’re getting it at a steep discount
You’re sure you’ve uncovered the extent of the problem
You know the problem can be fixed
You have a binding written estimate for the repairs
5. Check the cost of financing
Be sure you have enough money for a downpayment, closing costs, and repairs without draining your savings.

If you’re planning to fund the repairs with a home equity or home improvement loan:

Get yourself pre-approved for both loans before you make an offer.
Make the deal contingent on getting both the purchase money loan and the renovation money loan, so you’re not forced to close the sale when you have no loan to fix the house.
Consider the Federal Housing Administration’s Section 203(k) program, which is designed to help home owners who are purchasing or refinancing a home that needs rehabilitation. The program wraps the purchase/refinance and rehabilitation costs into a single mortgage. To qualify for the loan, the total value of the property must fall within the FHA mortgage limit for your area, as with other FHA loans. A streamlined 203(k) program provides an additional amount for rehabilitation, up to $35,000, on top of an existing mortgage. It’s a simpler process than obtaining the standard 203(k).
6. Calculate your fair purchase offer
Take the fair market value of the property (what it would be worth if it were in good condition and remodeled to current tastes) and subtract the upgrade and repair costs.

For example: Your target fixer-upper house has a 1960s kitchen, metallic wallpaper, shag carpet, and high levels of radon in the basement.

Your comparison house, in the same subdivision, sold last month for $200,000. That house had a newer kitchen, no wallpaper, was recently recarpeted, and has a radon mitigation system in its basement.

The cost to remodel the kitchen, remove the wallpaper, carpet the house, and put in a radon mitigation system is $40,000. Your bid for the house should be $160,000.

Ask your real estate agent if it’s a good idea to share your cost estimates with the sellers, to prove your offer is fair.

7. Include inspection contingencies in your offer
Don’t rely on your friends or your contractor to eyeball your fixer-upper house. Hire pros to do common inspections like:

Home inspection. This is key in a fixer-upper assessment. The home inspector will uncover hidden issues in need of replacement or repair. You may know you want to replace those 1970s kitchen cabinets, but the home inspector has a meter that will detect the water leak behind them.
Radon, mold, lead-based paint
Septic and well
Pest
Most home inspection contingencies let you go back to the sellers and ask them to do the repairs, or give you cash at closing to pay for the repairs. The seller can also opt to simply back out of the deal, as can you, if the inspection turns up something you don’t want to deal with.

If that happens, this isn’t the right fixer-upper house for you. Go back to the top of this list and start again.

More from HouseLogic
What you need to know about foundation repairs

Budgeting for a home remodel

Tips on hiring a contractor

Other web resources
This Old House remodeling cost estimates

Check the average return on different remodeling projects

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer whose parents bought and renovated a fixer-upper when she was a teen. A regular contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Click here to view Chicagoland homes!
or call Chrisha at (708) 966-9787 for more information.

Cleaning House Secrets of a Truly Deep Clean

By: Jane Hoback

Published: January 14, 2011

Deep clean your house and you’ll brighten rooms and help maintain your home’s value.

De-bug the light fixtures
See that bug burial ground within your overhead fixtures? Turn off the lights and carefully remove fixture covers, dump out flies and wash with hot soapy water. While you’re up there, dust bulbs. Dry everything thoroughly before replacing the cover.

Vacuum heat vents and registers
Dirt and dust build up in heat vents and along register blades. Vents also are great receptacles for coins and missing buttons. Unscrew vent covers from walls or pluck them from floors, remove foreign objects, and vacuum inside the vent. Clean grates with a damp cloth and screw back tightly.

Polish hardware
To deep clean brass door hinges, handles, and cabinet knobs, thoroughly wipe with a damp microfiber cloth, then polish with Wright’s or Weiman brass cleaner ($4). Dish soap shines up glass or stainless steel knobs. Use a Q-tip to detail the ornamental filigree on knobs and handles.

Replace grungy switch plates
Any amateur can wipe a few fingerprints off cover plates that hide light switches, electric outlets, phone jacks, and cable outlets. But only deep cleaners happily remove plates to vacuum and swipe the gunk behind. (OK, we’re a little OCD when it comes to dirt!) Make sure cover plates are straight when you replace them. And pitch plates that are beyond the help of even deep cleaning. New ones cost less than $2 each.

Neaten weather stripping
Peeling, drooping weather stripping on doors and windows makes rooms look old. If the strip still has some life, nail or glue it back. If it’s hopeless, cut out and replace sections, or just pull the whole thing off and start new. A 10-ft. roll of foam weather stripping costs $8; 16-ft. vinyl costs about $15.

Replace stove drip pans
Some drip pans are beyond the scrub brush. Replacing them costs about $3 each and instantly freshens your stove.

Jane Hoback is a veteran business writer who has written for the Rocky Mountain News, Natural Foods Merchandiser magazine, and ColoradoBIZ Magazine.

facebook

Negotiate Your Best House Buy

By: G. M. Filisko

Published: June 4, 2010

Keep your emotions in check and your eyes on the goal, and you’ll pay less when purchasing a home.

Here are six tips for negotiating the best price on a home.

1. Get prequalified for a mortgage
Getting prequalified for a mortgage proves to sellers that you’re serious about buying and capable of affording their home. That will push you to the head of the pack when sellers choose among offers; they’ll go with buyers who are a sure financial bet, not those whose financing could flop.

2. Ask questions
Ask your agent for information to help you understand the sellers’ financial position and motivation. Are they facing foreclosure or a short sale? Have they already purchased a home or relocated, which may make them eager to accept a lower price to avoid paying two mortgages? Has the home been on the market for a long time, or was it just listed? Have there been other offers? If so, why did they fall through? The more signs that sellers are eager to sell, the lower your offer can reasonably go.

3. Work back from a final price to determine your initial offer
Know in advance the most you’re willing to pay, and with your agent work back from that number to determine your initial offer, which can set the tone for the entire negotiation. A too-low bid may offend sellers emotionally invested in the sales price; a too-high bid may lead you to spend more than necessary to close the sale.

Work with your agent to evaluate the sellers’ motivation and comparable home sales to arrive at an initial offer that engages the sellers yet keeps money in your wallet.

4. Avoid contingencies
Sellers favor offers that leave little to chance. Keep your bid free of complicated contingencies, such as making the purchase conditional on the sale of your current home. Do keep contingencies for mortgage approval, home inspection, and environmental checks typical in your area, like radon.

5. Remain unemotional
Buying a home is a business transaction, and treating it that way helps you save money. Consider any movement by the sellers, however slight, a sign of interest, and keep negotiating.

Each time you make a concession, ask for one in return. If the sellers ask you to boost your price, ask them to contribute to closing costs or pay for a home warranty. If sellers won’t budge, make it clear you’re willing to walk away; they may get nervous and accept your offer.

6. Don’t let competition change your plan
Great homes and those competitively priced can draw multiple offers in any market. Don’t let competition propel you to go beyond your predetermined price or agree to concessions—such as waiving an inspection—that aren’t in your best interest.

More from HouseLogic
Determine how much mortgage you can afford

Keep your home purchase on track

Plan for a stress-free home closing

Other web resources
More negotiating tips

Develop a homebuying strategy

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has to remind herself to remain unemotional during negotiations. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Click here to view Chicagoland homes!