Buying a Green Home

by c21commonweath_ldowling 30. April 2015 12:54

 

The term ‘green’ is increasingly appearing in home listings, but what does this somewhat vague term actually guarantee? It’s up to buyers to look closely and determine whether the house they’re looking at has environmentally-friendly features that align with their goals as a homeowner.

The first thing to think about when searching for a green home is why this type of house appeals to you. If you want a home that will reduce your utility bills, you should look for houses with Energy Star rated appliances, double pane windows, and good insulation. If you are concerned about sustainability, look for houses that maximize space and are built using recycled materials. You should also think about how long you plan to stay in your new home. Single-family green-certified homes cost $34,800 more on average than other single-family homes, and while the energy savings will eventually pay off, that usually doesn’t happen for about a decade.

How to Find the Right Green Home

You can start determining whether a home will be environmentally-friendly before you even walk in the door. First, think about the location. If you’ll have to drive a long distance to get to work or to access important amenities, the air pollution and cost of gas will cancel out some of the home’s environmental benefits. If, however, the house gives you easy access to your work, public transportation, or bike-friendly roads, you may be able to reduce air pollution.

The landscaping can tell you a lot about the house, too. Look for houses that only have native plants, as these will be able to thrive with less water and fertilizer than non-native plants. Strategically placed trees may also contribute to a house’s energy efficiency because their shade can reduce the need for air conditioning in the summer.

The next thing to look at is the house’s orientation. If it was built to maximize sun exposure, it will require less heating during the winter. Pay attention to the window placement as well—large windows that let in a lot of natural light will reduce your need to use artificial lights during the day.

Inside the house, look for features like energy efficient appliances, low-flow plumbing, recycled materials, wood from sustainable forests, and dual pane windows.

Not sure how to tell if a home’s orientation, landscaping, and features are working to its advantage? Work with a realtor who has sold green homes before and knows what to look for. You may also want to pay for an energy audit to learn how effective the house’s insulation is and how much you will likely spend on utilities.

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Property Taxes in the Boston Area

by c21commonweath_ldowling 15. April 2015 12:43

 

Calculating the cost of buying a new home? Don’t forget to factor in the annual property tax. Property tax is calculated differently depending on what state you live in, so if you’re thinking about moving to Boston, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Massachusetts laws and the average property tax rates in the greater Boston area.

In Massachusetts, a homeowner’s property tax is a percentage of the fair cash value of their house on January 1st of the current year. ‘Fair cash value’ simply means the price that a willing buyer could be expected to pay a willing seller, and an assessor typically determines that value by looking at the market price of similar properties sold in the last year and projecting the value to January 1st. The property tax will then be applied to the following fiscal year (which runs from July to June), and taxes are collected each quarter. So, for example, a property tax value based on a January 1, 2015 assessment would be paid during the July 2015-June 2016 fiscal year, with the first preliminary tax payment due on August 1st, 2015.

If you are a Massachusetts homeowner and you believe that your home has been overvalued in the annual assessment, you can submit an abatement application by the third quarter tax due date (February 1st). If an assessor determines that you are correct and the initial assessment was not accurate, you will receive a refund or credit based on the difference between the original proposed property tax value and your new, more accurate property tax value.

Once the correct assessed home value is determined, each town and city in Massachusetts determines what proportion of that total value local homeowners will pay per $1,000. For instance, if you owned a house that was valued at $350,000 in Framingham, where this year’s property tax rate is $18.29, you would divide $350,000 by $1,000 and multiply your result by $18.29 to get $6,401.50.

A town or city’s property tax rate is something that many buyers take into consideration when looking for a house in the Boston area. As of 2014, property tax rates for the greater Boston area range from $10.44 (in Woburn) to $21.20 (in Bolton). However, you also have to think about the average single family home prices in the area you want to live. If you find a town with a relatively low tax rate but houses with high assessed values, you can still end up with a relatively high tax bill. Ultimately, an area’s property tax rate is just one piece to think about in the bigger picture of purchasing a home.

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Tips for Buying a Condo in Boston

by c21commonweath_ldowling 1. April 2015 12:31

Space is at a premium in Boston, and if you’re hoping to buy a home in a central location like Beacon Hill, Back Bay, or South End, a condominium unit might be your most affordable (and most readily available) option. Condos in Boston appeal to many different types of buyers, from young professionals and families who are looking for a low-maintenance first home to empty nesters who are downsizing and like the amenities that many condos offer.

Purchasing a condo is a big decision, so take the time to do your research before getting locked into a mortgage. Keep the following tips in mind as you start condo-hunting in Boston.

Learn everything you can about the HOA

Most condos have some version of a homeowner’s association (HOA), a group of property owners who work together to maintain common areas and resolve issues. When you buy a condo, you will be required to join their HOA and pay monthly or yearly dues that go to the upkeep and emergency reserve fund for the complex. Those dues can change, and in some cases additional expenses can be tacked on for large maintenance projects, such as roof repair, so ask to look at the last couple years’ worth of financial records to see if there have been steep increases in the HOA rates. Keep an eye out for other red flags in these records, such as lawsuits against the HOA or owners who are four or more months’ delinquent on their dues.

You may also want to request a copy of the minutes for the last HOA meeting, or simply sit in on the next one. This will give you a better sense of how the association addresses and resolves issues, and whether there seem to be any major conflicts between neighbors. Make sure that no one condo owner has a majority voting stake in the association, as this can lead to a problematic power differential.

Talk to the neighbors

If you really want to get the inside scoop on condo living, talk to some of neighbors at the complex you’re touring. Use this as an opportunity to ask about any concerns you may have, such as the noise level between units with shared walls or the dynamics of the HOA. Since the neighbors aren’t the ones trying to sell you the unit, you will hopefully get frank and honest answers about the aspects of the complex that they like and dislike.

Make your wish list

There’s no getting around it: as the demand for condos in Boston increases, so does the average asking price. However, you’ll likely get a better deal if you’re able to be flexible. Pay attention to the amenities that each condo complex offers; typically the more ‘extra features’, the higher your monthly HOA dues, so think about whether you really want to live in a facility with a business center and a pool if you’re never going to use them.

To help find the condo that’s best for you, make a list of features that you won’t compromise on and others that would be nice but aren’t necessary. For example, maybe you need to be within walking or biking distance of Tufts, but you don’t mind moving into a unit that doesn’t have its own fitness facility. Share your list with your realtor so that he or she can help you find a condo that meets your needs and stays within your budget.

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Agent Safety Check List for Open Houses and Private Showings

by c21commonweath_ldowling 19. March 2015 11:18

Real estate agents can never be too careful about personal safety. As several recent news stories highlighted, the safety of agents and sellers is at risk during Open House events, which happen to be one the most important parts of the selling process, and private showings. Women—who comprise upwards of 60 percent of all US agents, according to the National Association of Realtors—are seen by some as especially at-risk.

Open House sign.Fortunately, there are several ways for agents to protect sellers’ personal privacy and belongings when homes are shown and many more tips to enhance personal safety. Here’s a pre-Open House safety check list that every agent should memorize:

ü  Use sign in sheets – and require I.D.s

Even when people are reluctant to share their contact information, requiring visitors to provide a form of identification when entering a home puts everybody on notice that safety is an important priority for the homeowner, the agent and guests.

Open House sign in sheet.

ü  Hide jewelry and electronic devices

This includes expensive jewels worn by agents during private showing. If a seller is reluctant to store all jewelry, consider displaying inexpensive ‘faux’ pieces in lieu of pricier items.

Pearl necklace.

ü  Hide prescription medication

Pharmacology thievery is on the rise. This step should include removing medication from bathroom cabinets and placing them in a secure location. 

Prescription medication.

ü  Use video surveillance

Sellers should be advised to use discreet indoor surveillance in areas where jewelry, medication, electronic devices and other valuables are kept. This will provide assurance to the seller and in the case of an attempted theft, evidence that can be used to apprehend the perpetrator. (Note: Use of a ‘this-home-is-under-video-surveillance’ warning can also be posted on the sign-in sheet.)

Video surveillance technology.

ü  Develop ‘exit’ strategies

Agents on private showings should always be prepared to flee at the first sign of danger. They also should have their mobile phones set for a possible emergency 911 call.

Emergency exit sign.

ü  Consider self-defense classes

Agents can learn simple techniques to disable an assailant for just long enough to flee from the threat of significant harm.

Woman punching.

ü  Buddy-up

Agents who are concerned about a private showing are advised to bring a colleague or friend with them while providing a tour of the property.

ü  Share your schedule

Make sure your manager, your loved ones and your colleagues know when you are on a private showing. If you feel funny about the showing, consider having a friend or loved on call you during the showing.

ü  Trust your instincts 

Chances are, if you’re not feeling comfortable about a would-be buyer, there’s a good reason why.

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App Update: Mobile Solutions for Real Estate Agents

by c21commonweath_ldowling 16. March 2015 17:55

Mobile devices deliver information and opportunity at your fingertips. Here’s a rundown of the latest ‘hot’ apps that will help Commonwealth agents move homes! 

ShowingTime 

This newer app offers a one-stop online tool for everything an agent needs to schedule showings, manage leads and analyzing conversions. Be sure to check out the “Lead Alert” feature, which captures buyer inquiries and shares them in real time.

 ShowingTime

Auction.com

This app helps realtors find value-add properties that are ideal for restoration or are have owners suffering from financial distress. Newly updated for iPhone, this app provides an easy-to-use dashboard for searching and instant—yes, instant— bidding on fixer-uppers, foreclosed homes and short sale opportunities.

Auction.com

Sign PDF Pro 

This is the ultimate on-the-go app because it removes the hassle of ensuring that important transactional paperwork has been signed and delivered. Simply put, this app eliminates the need for printers, scanners, and fax machines. Tablet users won’t even need a pen as buyers and sellers can sign with their fingertips.

Sign PDF Pro

Quicken Mortgage Calculator 

Quicken’s app makes it easy for agents to get instant information on real-time mortgage rates, amortization data and affordability, among other features.

Quicken Mortgage Calculator

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Spring Sales Season Starts Now!

by c21commonweath_ldowling 13. March 2015 15:56

Given the Bay State’s epic winter weather in late January through mid-February, the idea of talking about spring seems almost cruel. While we understand the inclination to hibernate, in less than two months, the spring selling season will be here. Here are some great tips to get ahead of the curve so that this year, you are the early bird who gets the worm!

Remember: 60 percent of homes are bought and sold between May and August and early listings are most likely to create buyer interest. Here’s what you need to know. 

Tip #1:  Identify sellers and buyers now!

Are your key referral email and snail-mail lists up to date? If yes, then it’s time to send out a mass mailing (along with posting on all of your social media pages) to your ‘A Team’ of former clients and highly-networked folks. Your message should be simple as 1-2-3:

(1) Are you or anybody you planning to buy or sell a home this spring?

(2) Are you up-to-date on the continued inventory shortage in Massachusetts?

(3) Do you want to get a head start on the spring market?

These three questions will get you on the way to a successful spring season.

Tip #2:  Line up contractors for sprucing and repairs

This winter, the onslaught of ice dams, frozen pipes and roof damage creates extra urgency to line up go-to-home-repair pros in advance—and to advertise their availability to prospective clients.

The simple rule of thumb is that every repair, even small fixes, such as leaky faucets, floor updates and fresh coats of paint – add value to homes. Sellers who don’t work with a qualified agent that offers repair services may find themselves losing time while waiting to list their property – or losing dollars at closing. 

Tip #3:  Spring cleaning starts now

Clutter is the enemy of any great open house. The same goes for dust, mildew, and stains. Agents who want their clients to hit the ground running should line up ‘Pod’ storage services for sellers to store excess furniture, home furnishings and other elements that detract from a great showing. They should also have cleaning services on the speed dial to ensure the home is pristine once the listing goes live.

Bonus Tip: 

Buyers’ representatives should take their clients immediately to a preferred mortgage broker professional to establish loan pre-approval. This step ensures that buyers know the appropriate price range for their search and also showcases the readiness of the buyer to make a valid offer. Pre-approval also allows buyers to plan for tax season and still have enough left over for an appropriate down payment (or to line up secondary down payment financing from relatives, etc., if funds are tight.) Loan pre-approval allows a buyer to make an offer at a moment's notice, which is critical in a tight market.

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Best Time to Sell Your House in Boston?

by c21commonweath_ldowling 15. January 2015 12:55

Think spring is the best time to put your house on the market in Boston? Although it may seem most logical to post a listing after the snow has melted and the holidays are far behind, it can actually be to your advantage to put your house on the market in late winter.

Spring is typically the season when the most home sales are made around the country, with May being the peak month for Massachusetts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s when you should first start thinking about selling. Based on a study of 1.1. million home listings in 19 major markets between 2011 and 2013, The Washington Post reported that houses put on the market between December 21 and March 21 have a distinct advantage over houses put on the market in the spring , summer, and fall. Nationwide, homes put on the market during the winter were 9% more likely to sell within 180 days and at a smaller discount to the original asking price than homes put on the market during any other season.  In Boston, there was a 14% advantage for listings posted during the winter versus listings posted during the summer.

Why the advantage? There’s simply less competition during the winter. Many sellers are reluctant to prepare their houses for staging or start the repairs needed to make their house move-in ready during the winter, but serious buyers typically start looking after the holidays. With more buyers looking and fewer houses on the market, sellers are more likely to receive a good offer—or even multiple bids—in a shorter amount of time.

Remember: Sell When You’re Ready

While the late winter months might have a statistical advantage for sellers, that doesn’t mean you should rush to post a listing in January or February if you’re not ready. It’s great if you can post a listing during the winter season, but you should be ready to work with a realtor to create a listing with a floor plan, high-quality photos (take them when the weather’s nice if possible), and compelling copy. Make sure you give yourself enough time to make any necessary repairs (or to have a contractor make repairs) and to stage your home so that it looks its best when buyers start knocking. You’ll be most successful if you do some planning and prepping to make your home as appealing to potential buyers as possible, regardless of the season.

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First Time Buyer’s Guide to Owning a Rental Property

by c21commonweath_ldowling 17. December 2014 15:34

So, you’ve decided to invest in a rental property and supplement your income. This can be a wise decision for your future and your family’s future, provided all your ducks are in a row. Being a landlord isn’t as easy as collecting a check every month. Be sure to read our guide to buying a rental property before you proceed with your first purchase of a secondary residence.

Secure Financing

If you’ve already purchased a home for yourself, you know how important it is to secure financing first. Estimate the price range in which you’d want your rental property to fall, and plan your down payment accordingly. Remember that you’ll pay less for insurance if your down payment is 20% or more. Get pre-approved for the amount you’d want to spend on your property before you go out looking. This will save you a load of time and trouble and give you the power to negotiate as soon as you spot a property you want.

Determine the Location

Location is key when investing in a property that you will rent. Make sure the property is in a desirable neighborhood for renters. Your budget will likely determine the type of renters your property will attract. Consider amenities, transportation, entertainment, and proximity to universities or corporate offices to meet the needs of your target market. Also consider schools if your rental property will be suited to families. Take into consideration the property taxes of the area and how much this will subtract from your rental income.

Calculate ALL Expenses

When you get an estimate of the monthly rent you can charge for a prospective property, remember to consider all the payments you will need to make including property taxes, insurance, repairs, HOA fees, investment in upgrades and more. Also remember that your property may not always be occupied and plan to have emergency funds set aside in case you can’t find a tenant for a couple of months. An emergency fund is also a great idea for any major surprise repairs like plumbing or HVAC.

Prepare to Invest Time

Maybe you have the money to pay a property management firm and walk away, but if this is your first property, that’s not likely. You want to retain as much of your profit as possible. As such, be sure you have the time to invest in your property after closing the sale to make it look great and to advertise to renters. Be prepared to make repairs whenever your tenants need them. The sturdier the materials you use in your property, the longer they will last, and less of your time will be required.

Set Goals & Determine Your Pay-Off Date

Once you’ve determined that a property is a good investment as far as monthly revenue goes, determine the pay-off date. How long will it take you to turn a profit? If you’re keeping a rental property just to resell it at a later date for a higher price, you don’t need to worry so much about a quick pay-off. If your goal is to make extra money on a monthly basis, the time it takes you to pay off the mortgage can be a decision-maker when it comes to choosing between a few final candidates.

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Commonwealth Community Profile: Framingham

by c21commonweath_ldowling 8. December 2014 14:22

Framingham owns a special place in American history. The U.S. Census shows more than 68,000 people live in the Metro West bedroom community, but Framingham is governed through town meeting form of government. This makes Framingham “the biggest town in America.”

Few people know that Framingham has a rich Colonial history. The town founders originally named the town Framlingham in 1700 (talk about a tongue-twister!), but at some point, the town dropped the “L” and the name Framingham stuck. In terms of American history, the town had a prominent role in the early Abolitionist movement and the Revolutionary War. It also was the hometown of Crispus Attucks, one of the people killed in the “Boston Massacre” in 1770.

After WWII, Framingham gained new fame as one of the state’s largest growth areas at the time when returning veterans opted to build single-family homes outside of the city. Framingham soon became known for its retail mall (“Shopper’s World”), schools and low-cost homes.

Home to Framingham University and Massachusetts Bay Community College, Framingham offers a vibrant downtown area with a variety of shops and restaurants. Many notable people have called Framingham home, including Red Sox Nation radio personality “Framingham Lou” Merloni, Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt, actress Nancy Travis and artist Ezra Ames. Residents enjoy low crime rates, recently-renovated public schools, easy transportation access to Boston and Worcester (bus, MBTA commuter rail to South Station and Back Bay), and numerous parks, public athletic facilities, and historical sites.

Framingham also offers a wide range of real estate opportunities at many different price points. With a median listing price of $335,000 according to Zillow.com, up 6.2% since 2013, and a location midway between Worcester and Boston, Framingham is an ideal place for commuters and families.

For more information about Framingham listings, contact manager Bruce Klemer at (508) 879-0555.

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3 W's Wednesday - Kathy Murray

by c21commonweath_ldowling 19. November 2014 14:51

Welcome to the first 3 W's Wednesday post from Wendy English and the Medfield Office!

Each week Wendy will be talking with a real estate professional about a favorite topic - real estate!

This week's post features Kathy Murray, top producing, high end Realtor from Century 21 Commonwealth.

Kanty Murray, Top Medfield Realtor

What - What do you do?

KM - "I am a dedicated, full time real estate professional and am very passionate about my career. My family loves to joke that my only topic of conversation is real estate! I have to admit that it is a struggle to turn it off at times. A Realtor wears many hats. As a seller's agent, I provide the same level of service for all of my clients, whether I am marketing a $200,000 condo or a $1.7 million luxury home. One of the things I firmly believe in when presenting a home for sale is staging and preparing the property by taking care of any deferred maintenance. In this day of click and delete, beautiful pictures bring buyers over the threshold, and in order to get the best price and not leave money on the table, it is just so important. I provide my sellers with a full day of free staging, not just an initial consultation, and access to my team of contractors. I hire professional photographers and architects to draw floor plans, and have the budget to advertise across all media. I pride myself on accompanying showings, providing regular feedback and otherwise staying in constant contact with my clients. When it comes to offers, I am an experienced negotiator, and have a good reputation with my colleagues and competitors. I believe the best deal is a "win-win" for everyone, and can manage a transaction so it will close. It doesn't hurt that I work for the number one firm in my market, and have a fantastic manager who is always available for me.

As a buyer's agent, I consider myself an educator more than a salesperson. I love the buy side, and am very patient! I have worked with folks for two and three years before finding the right home. I have a team of home inspectors, insurance agents, attorneys and other professionals with whom I work closely. A smooth, stress free transaction equals a happy client, which is important to me. The bonus is that most of my business is by referral.

If I am not out in the field, you will find me in my office working on mailings, ads for the newspaper or my magazine, updating social media and all of the other tasks required to run a real estate business. In my spare time, I am usually reading about it! I never tire of learning and keeping up to speed on real estate law, finance, home inspection issues, marketing, and the many, many facets of this business."

Why - Why do you do what you do?

KM - "I grew up in the construction business, so even though I never really planned to become an agent, I suppose it was inevitable that I would work in real estate. My father was a developer who over the years built over 400 homes in Medfield and the surrounding towns. As a child, I loved to study blueprints and draw houses, and if I wasn't doing that, I was rearranging the furniture in my room. Even then, I loved houses and "staging", although we didn't call it staging back then. I also enjoyed going to the job sites. For me, there is nothing like the smell of lumber! In 1982 when I was a freshman in college, I decided to get my real estate license and work part-time. Of course the business was very different back then! We had rotary phones and every two weeks we looked forward to the "big MLS book" of new listings, which had one tiny black and white photo of each house. This was before the internet of course. People would walk in to the office, and you would take them out in your car with your map, the route highlighted in yellow. Back then, there was no buyer agency and consumers did not have access to listings. Wow have times changed! The internet, and of course the advent of the smart phone have revolutionized the process, and along with it our role as real estate agents.

I decided to go "full-tilt" in 2001, when my youngest daughter started kindergarten, and except for the occasional day off, I am always working on my business. Ask any full time Realtor what the hours are, and if they are successful they will tell you it's 24/7. Dedicated real estate agents are always working in some capacity, and if the do take a vacation, you will usually find them off by themselves on the phone with a client! As they say though, if you love what you do, it isn't work! I do what I do because real estate is who I am. The icing on the cake is that I get to work for myself with the help and support of a fantastic office, and every day is different. Mostly rewarding though, is the privilege of getting to know and helping so many wonderful people each year."

Where - Where is your favorite home for sale?

KM - "That's easy! Right now I have an absolutely breathtaking listing at 113 Pine Street in Medfield, built by Unique Homes, an award-winning local firm. It is in my opinion just as remarkable as the Boston Show House they designed and built awhile back in town. I have been in almost every home in Medfield over the years, and I can say with authority that the quality of this house is unparalleled. Where do I begin? The exterior elevation, the open floor plan, the magnificent windows, the spectacular mill work, the oversize doors and beautiful hardware...I could go on and on about the materials and workmanship in this home. It is priced $100,000 below appraised value at $1,699.000. There is a discerning buyer out there who will be very lucky to call this home!"

Find Kathy Murray online at MedfieldRealtor.com

See her photos, floorplan and details on her favorite home here 113pinest.c21.com


113 Pine Street Medfield, MA

Wendy English
Wendy English, blog author & host of The Neighborhood radio show

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