13 Tips for Home Wildfire Protection

All it takes is for one ember to fall on your roof. Don’t let it happen.

How do most homes ignite during a wildfire? A floating ember or piece of burning wood touches down on a roof, gutter, in a vent, under a deck, or on a porch and ignites leaves and debris, says the National Fire Protection Association. Or else, a surface fire simply takes the fast lane to your home via dry vegetation.

With that in mind, fortify your home like the castle it is with these 13 wildfire-repelling steps. But keep in mind that no product or technique is a failsafe against a raging fire.

#1 Check Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

If you don’t already have working smoke detectors or haven’t tested them recently, make that your No. 1 job. Now.

#2 Check Fire Extinguishers

And if you don’t have them, get them. 

#3 Get a Bucket, Shovel, and Hose Ready

Have an easily accessible bucket, shovel (to dig a trench to protect against encroaching ground fire), and connected garden hose to help you defend the area around your home.

#4 Invest in Rain Barrels

An extra source of water can’t hurt. And rain barrels save on your water bills, too.

#5 Clear Yard of Debris

Keep gutters, porches, and the lawn free of debris, leaves, and fallen branches. If a fire threat is imminent, remove furniture and decorations from decks and porches, including welcome mats.

#6 Plant Fire-Resistant Shrubs and Annuals

Like irises, rhododendrons, hostas, and lilacs, which have high-moisture content. Your local Cooperative Extension Office can advise you on appropriate species for your area.

#7 Remove Tree Branches Lower Than 6 Feet

Fires tend to start low and rise. For that reason, don’t plant shrubs directly under trees; they can combust and cause the fire to rise up the tree. By the way, spacing out all plants and shrubs is a good practice, too.

#8 Remove Tree Limbs Near Chimneys

Keep them at least 10 feet away. Embers from burning limbs could fall in. 

#9 Set Up a Protective Perimeter

Create a 100-foot perimeter around your home, free of dry leaves, grass, and shrubs that fuel wildfires. Keep petroleum tanks, cars, and wood piles outside of this safe zone.

#10 Use Rocks Instead of Mulch Next to the House

Lay a six-inch swath of decorative rocks closest to the home and then use mulch from there. This also helps repel insects, like termites, (bugs like wood) and facilitate rain water drainage.

#11 Use Non-Flammable Fencing

If you have wood fencing around your home, replace any three-foot sections that attach to the home with metal or other non-flammable fencing material. A metal gate or decorative fencing piece is stylish as well as fire-unfriendly.

#12 Cover Chimneys and Vents With Flame-Retardant Mesh

And it’s cheap to do. They cost just few dollars from hardware or home improvement stores.

#13 Check Your Siding

Fire-resistant or non-combustible siding like stucco or brick provides the best protection against fire. Make sure your siding, whatever type, is in good repair, because if the plywood or insulation are exposed, the home is more vulnerable to flames.

Some experts recommend spraying homes with fire retardants, which can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the product, region, and size of the project. But some of the chemicals used to make flame-retardants have toxic properties. Although you might have less exposure to chemicals used on your home’s exterior than those inside, toxicity issues could still be a factor.

Most important, if a wildfire is on its way, evacuate. And have an evacuation plan worked out with your family before the worst happens.

Related:  Grease Fires and Other Unexpected Home Disasters

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Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

You’ll Be Glad You Did These 4 August Tasks When January Comes

Go ahead and get that energy audit. And schedule snow plowing.

Take a few minutes out of your pool time this month to do these four tasks.

Then you’ll have more time to eat popcorn in front of the fire next January.

#1 Call the Snow Plow Now

If you live in snow-prone areas, now’s the time to get your name on the snow-plow contractor’s schedule. By the time your car’s buried in the driveway, their rosters will be full.

#2 Schedule Furnace Service

Get ready for sweater weather — and beat the rush — by scheduling the annual fall service for your furnace now. If you don’t already have one, ask about your HVAC company’s twice-a-year maintenance plan. Often, you can get discounted rates, not just for the service plan, but for larger repairs, too.

#3 Get a Home Energy Audit

Save money this winter by scheduling a professional energy audit now. Not only will you learn where your home is prone to energy loss, your auditor may recommend inexpensive ways to save money (like caulking around the baseboards). Energy.gov has info on how pro and DIY energy audits work. Find energy auditors through the Resiential Energy Services Network.

#4 Plant Trees

Trees increase home value, so give yours the best start by planting them at the right time. In zones 4-8 (which is most of the United States), that’s late summer and early fall. This gives them time to establish roots before next summer’s heat and drought. 

Related: When’s the Best Time to Plant Trees?

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Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

United Against Racial Injustice

My heart goes out to the family and friends of our fellow Minnesotan George Floyd, and to everyone deeply affected by this grave injustice. We know there is much work to do, and we must awaken to that fact and never turn away.

Here’s a message from Edina Realty’s CEO Greg Mason:

Statement from Edina Realty Home Services CEO Greg Mason

It has been just over a week since we learned of the tragic killing of fellow Minnesotan George Floyd. Our hearts go out to his family, his friends, and to everyone in our communities who have been deeply affected by this grave injustice.

The events of the past week have served to shine a spotlight on how much work we have to do when it comes to equality. To that end, we have signed a statement with 50 other Minnesota companies to stand united against acts of racism and violence. We pledge: change has to start today, and it needs to start with us.

So, as a company, we’re reflecting on all the ways we can do better in serving diverse communities by promoting inclusion and equality, but also by helping to identify—and remove—historical barriers. We know there is work to do. We’re listening and we’re here for it.

Greg Mason

Greg Mason
CEO, Edina Realty Home Services

How to Disinfect Your Home in the Time of Coronavirus

A bleach solution or rubbing alcohol is your best bet for keeping your home sanitized.

There’s everyday clean, guest clean, and then there’s COVID-19 clean.

To get down the absolute nitty gritty on how to disinfect your home, you’ll want your big guns: bleach, rubbing alcohol, and hot water.

The Best Disinfectants

For your high-touch surfaces, the Centers for Disease Control recommends a bleach solution diluted with water, or a 70% alcohol solution.

Follow this bleach recipe: 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water.

Make sure to properly ventilate when disinfecting with bleach.

And check to see if your bleach has expired. Who knew it could? After about 9 months to a year, and if it smells less bleachy, it’s lost its disinfecting power. Time for a new jug.

Tip: Don’t mix bleach with anything other than water; otherwise, it could set off a dangerous chemical reaction. For instance, bleach + alcohol is a deadly combo.

How to disinfect your home if you don’t have bleach? Regular old rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol or ethyl alcohol) works, so long as it’s at least 70% alcohol, according to the CDC. The alcohol concentration will be listed on the bottle. Rubbing alcohol you buy should already be diluted, unlike bleach.

Is There a Such a Thing as Too Much Disinfectant?

According to an EPA fact sheet, studies have found that using some disinfectant products can cause germs to become resistant.

The EPA has issued a list of disinfectants on the market that it believes are effective in killing COVID-19. Look for the EPA registration number on the product and check it against this list to ensure you have a match.

Erica Marie Hartman, an environmental microbiologist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., whose research focuses on resistance, confirms soap, bleach, and alcohol are your best bets.

What about the various disinfecting wipes on the market (at least if you can find them)? Hartman says the active ingredient in many of those is an ammonium compound, which could become resistant to viruses over time.

Surfaces That Need Your Attention

With your preferred disinfectant, wipe down high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, light switches, tables, remotes, banisters, toilets, sinks, and faucets daily or more often, if someone in your home is sick.

Contact time is another key aspect of surface sanitizing. “Disinfection isn’t instantaneous,” says Hartman. [For a bleach solution], you want to leave it on the surface for 10 minutes before wiping it off. ” 

By the way, new research from scientists at the National Institutes of Health, among other agencies, shows that at least some coronavirus can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

But a report in “The Washington Post” notes that the most likely period for infection from the virus on surfaces is in the first 10 minutes to one or two hours.

Not All Floors Can Handle Bleach

For your nonporous floors, like those in the bathroom, the CDC recommends mopping with the bleach solution. 

Avoid bleach on hardwood and other porous floors because of staining. Instead, use a disinfecting wet mop cloth without bleach.

Cleaning Isn’t Disinfecting

From the you-might-be-surprised files: Disinfecting with bleach isn’t actually cleaning. If you also need to clean your countertops of dirt and grime, do that first with soap and water. Then use the bleach solution or rubbing alcohol to combat the virus.

Killing Microbes on Clothes

Most washing machines today do a bang-up job on dirty clothes with cold water, which is best for energy savings. But, and especially if you have a sick person in your house, the hot-water setting followed by a high-heat dry for about a ½ hour to 45 minutes is best for virus eradication.

Don’t forget about your laundry hamper. Wipe it down like you would other surfaces. You can also use a reusable liner bag, which you can launder with the clothes.

What If I’m Selling My House, and Inviting More Germs In?

How to disinfect your home when it’s for sale? Virtual showings and tours are the ideal, and your agent can set those up.

However, if there’s a need to have someone come in, talk to your agent who will work with you to establish a hygienic protocol, including requiring visitors to wash hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer when they arrive, and to remove shoes or wear booties before entering. Removing shoes not only reduces dirt coming in, but potentially germs.

In addition, many agents are eliminating open houses.

After any showings, practice your surface wipe-down routine.

Finally, when you work with disinfectants, practice some self care. “Alcohol and bleach can be very aggressive on your skin, so wearing rubber gloves can help protect your hands,” Hartman says. 

Related: 9 Cleaning Tasks That Homeowners Tend to Overlook

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Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

Is Your Home Older Than Its Years?

Would you throw away $20,000? You are if you’re letting your home age faster than it should. Here’s a simple maintenance strategy to keep your home young.

You know how Dr. Oz says that if you keep your body fit and your mind nimble, you’re likely younger than your chronological years? The same principle applies to your house.

An out-of-shape house is older than its years and could lose 10% of its appraised value, says Mack Strickland, an appraiser and real estate agent in Chester, Va. That’s a $15,000 to $20,000 adjustment for the average home.

But good maintenance can even add value. A study out of the University of Connecticut and Syracuse University finds that regular maintenance increases the value of a home by about 1% each year.

So if you’ve been deferring maintenance, or just need a good strategy to stay on top of it, here’s the simplest way to keep your home in good health.

Focus on Your Home’s #1 Enemy

If you focus on nothing else, focus on moisture — your home’s No. 1 enemy.

Water can destroy the integrity of your foundation, roof, walls, and floors — your home’s entire structure. So a leaky gutter isn’t just annoying; it’s compromising your foundation.

Keeping moisture at bay will improve your home’s effective age — or as Dr. Oz would say, “real age” — and protect its value. It’ll also help you prioritize what you need to do. Here’s how:

Follow This Easy 4-Step Routine

1. When it rains, actively pay attention. Are your gutters overflowing? Is water flowing away from your house like it should? Is water coming inside?

2. After heavy rains and storms, do a quick inspection of your roof, siding, foundation, windows, doors, ceilings, and basement to spot any damage or leaks.

Related: How to Tell if You Have a Drainage Problem

3. Use daylight savings days or the spring and fall equinox to remind you to check and test water-related appliances like your washer, refrigerator, water heater, HVAC (condensation in your HVAC can cause leaks) or swamp cooler, and sump pump. It’s also a great time to do regular maintenance on them. Inspect any outdoor spigots and watering systems for leaks, too.

4. Repair any damage and address any issues and leaks ASAP.

Don’t procrastinate when you spot minor leaks or drips inside your house. Ongoing small leaks can slowly erode pipes and fixtures, and even cause mold and mildew issues you won’t notice until it’s too late.

Say you’ve got a bit of cracked caulk around the kitchen window. It may not seem like much, but behind that caulk, water could get into your sheathing, causing mold damage and rot. Before you know it, you’re looking at a $5,000 repair that could have been prevented by a $4 tube of caulk and a half hour of your time.

To help you with this routine, we have several guides with specifics and tips:

Once you settle into a routine, it becomes easier to handle other maintenance tasks, which will only do more to protect and enhance your home’s value. Plus, you’ll get to know your home better, which will help you spot other one-off problems, such as termites and other wood-destroying insects, that can cause costly damage.

If You Want to Take Home Maintenance to the Next Level…

If you’re a geek about home maintenance like we are, and you want to do more than water patrol, these ideas will help you keep your house in great shape.

Give yourself an incentive to do maintenance. Maintenance is your springboard to sexier projects like a kitchen remodel or basement makeover. So plan a room-per-year redo. This way you’re maintaining, fixing, and improving. For example:

In your basement:

  • Check for dark stains that could signal plumbing leaks. If you find any leaks, fix them.
  • Check your ductwork for leaks that are wasting energy.
  • Clean the lint out of the dryer vent. The machine will last longer, and you’ll help prevent fires.
  • Caulk and seal basement windows to stop air leaks.
  • Once your space is moisture sealed, you can start converting it into a family room or other livable space.
  • Add a basement ceiling.
  • Brighten it up with paint.

In your kitchen:

  • Clean out all the cabinets, then wipe them down. It’s a great way to purge and get organized.
  • Take a good look under your kitchen sink. Remove all the wastebaskets and cleaning supplies to help you spot any leaks, and fix them.
  • Pull out the fridge to give that yucky alcove a thorough cleaning. Check the drip pan for moisture that can spawn mold growth.
  • Update cabinet hardware and adjust hinges if necessary.
  • Re-caulk the seam between your backsplash and wall to keep moisture out. To give your whole kitchen a low-cost facelift, how about a new backsplash?
  • Re-paint the walls using paint with a tough, semi-gloss sheen that stands up to repeated cleanings and resists moisture.

Keep a maintenance fund. Some sources say you should save 1% to 3% of your initial house price annually to pay for maintenance. On a $200,000 house, that’s $2,000 to $6,000 a year. Yeesh, that’s a big nut.

Alternatively, make it a goal to save enough money to do a major replacement project, so the bill won’t catch you off guard. Probably the biggest single replacement project you’ll have is your roof or siding.

You can build up this fund over several years by paying yourself a monthly assessment — whatever you can manage. Keep it in a separate account to avoid the temptation to tap it for hockey tickets or other impulse buys.

If you need to replace the roof before you have a fund, an equity loan is an option. But consider very carefully.

If you’re practicing maintenance in the way we’ve outlined here, you won’t need $2,000 per year to manage your home’s natural aging process. Some routine tasks, such as cleaning rain gutters and changing furnace filters, could cost you $300 or less per year.

Your house takes care of you — not just for shelter but as a financial asset. Return the favor and keep it hale and hearty by caring for it with regular maintenance.

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Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

What You Need to Know to Get Coronavirus Mortgage Relief

Coronavirus Mortgage Relief
It’s a confusing time, but lenders are putting remedies, like forbearance, in place to help homeowners.

Mortgage lenders, and the federal agencies that regulate lenders, are putting coronavirus mortgage relief measures in place to ensure homeowners have options if they’re unable to make payments.

Your first stop in the face of financial hardship is your lender or bank.

Just keep in mind lenders are working to figure out and implement the new mortgage relief polices outlined by the regulatory agencies. So you might read one thing from the FHFA, a federal regulator, but your bank might be doing something else.

In addition, due to the number of homeowners affected by the pandemic, lenders are dealing with a crush of calls and online queries. Be patient, persistent, and prepared to spend time on hold.

Your Mortgage

Federally Backed Mortgages
If you have a mortgage backed by Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veteran’s Administration (VA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Fannie Mae, or Freddie Mac, your loan servicer must offer you deferred or reduced mortgage payment options – called forbearance — for up to six months. This means you don’t have to pay your mortgage and you won’t be charged late fees, penalties or interest while you can’t pay.

Loan servicers for FHA, Freddie, and Fannie must provide an additional six months of forbearance if you request it.

Not sure who backs your own loan? Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have loan look-up sites where you can find out who owns it, and how to get in touch with them.

In addition, here are direct links to some lenders and banks’ Covid-19 resources:

Mortgages Not Federally Backed
If your mortgage is one of the 5 million in the United States not backed by a federal entity, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which includes a coronavirus mortgage relief mandate, doesn’t apply. But regulators have encouraged those lenders to work with borrowers who can’t pay their mortgages, and most banks and other lenders are suspending mortgage payments or offering forbearance.

The level of relief you get will depend on who owns your loan. Contact your lender to find out what’s available.

Regardless of the type of loan you have, you must apply for coronavirus mortgage relief through their mortgage servicer. That’s the entity that collects your monthly payments and decides how long the assistance will last. When you reach your mortgage servicer, you’ll need to explain your situation and provide information about your income, expenses and assets.

Foreclosure and Evictions

Federal officials have imposed a nationwide halt to foreclosures and evictions for more than 36 million Americans with home mortgages backed by the FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac.

The moratorium only affects borrowers with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, VA, and RHS (Rural Housing Service loans through the USDA). This doesn’t apply to the roughly 35% of mortgages held in bank portfolios and private label securities. But some individual lenders are offering relief.

Some cities, counties, and states, including Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Texas, have placed a moratorium on foreclosures. Check with your city, county and state governments. Find state-by-state tallies online.

Housing Counselors

Another tool in your relief toolbox are housing counselors. Counselors can provide independent advice on buying a home, renting, defaults, foreclosures, and credit issues. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s look-up tool lets you can find counselors in your state.

Your Credit

The CARES Act forbids lenders from dinging your credit score for missed payments on federally backed mortgages and student loans during your forbearance period. The federal government is also encouraging private lenders to suspend reporting late payments on eligible mortgages. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has more advice about protecting your credit.

By law, you can get a free annual credit report from each of the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Note that these reports don’t include credit scores. Equifax offers six free credit reports every 12 months through December 2026 if you sign up for a myEquifax account.

Your Student Loan

The CARES Act includes immediate relief for those who can’t make their monthly payments on federally held loans due to coronavirus. All loan payments (both principal and interest) are suspended through Sept. 30, 2020, with no penalty. You don’t need to apply for this program or contact your lender. It’s automatic.

If you keep making payments, they’ll be applied entirely toward the principal. These suspended payments will count towards any student loan forgiveness already in effect.

Here’s a list of servicers — and their phone numbers — for loans backed by the U.S. Department of Education.

Some loans under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program and some Perkins Loans not owned by the Department of Education aren’t eligible for suspended payments. Nor are private student loans owned by banks, credit unions, schools, or other private entities. If you can’t make payments, contact your loan servicer to find out what options are available. Many are offering ways, like forbearance, to postpone payments.

Not sure who your servicer is? Look on your most recent statement and contact the servicer immediately.

If your student loan is already in default, the relief act immediately suspends wage garnishments or tax refund deductions. They’ll resume after the suspension ends.

Find out more about student loan relief at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Your Taxes

The IRS has pushed back the deadline for filing and payment of federal taxes to July 15, 2020. Many states are following suit. Check with your state tax agency, or see this list from the American Institute of CPAs for details on deadlines.

Related: Tips to Get Filing Ready for (Delayed) Tax Deadline

Your Real Estate Transaction

If you’re going to be buying or selling a home in the near future, find out if your county recording office can complete the deal online.

In addition, more than half of states, many under emergency state directive, allow for remote online notarization of documents. This makes it safe and easy to complete real estate transactions under social distancing orders. The number of states allowing remote notarization could grow as pandemic legislation expands.

Your Appraisal

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have provided detailed appraisal alternative guidelines, so homeowners and appraisers can practice social distancing on Freddie and Fannie loans through May 17, 2020.

FHA, VA, and RHS are also allowing variations on the usual appraisal protocol. Check with your servicer for details.

Look Out For Scams

Fear breeds scams. And scammers are out in full force during the pandemic. Beware of third parties offering mortgage assistance and other help. Seek help from your lender directly.

For information on circulating scams and guidance on identifying them, visit the Federal Trade Commission website.

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Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

My commitment to you during COVID-19

I understand there is a vital need for many to purchase and sell homes or refinance amidst the pandemic. Real estate services are considered an essential business in both Minnesota and Wisconsin during this time, but please be assured that we are making every attempt to do things virtually whenever possible. The health and safety of our communities and clients are a top priority, and during these unprecedented times, I’m doing my part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

I am open for business and here for you, but our offices have temporarily closed. I continue working remotely, offering virtual showings and appointments, and I’m ready to help with all your real estate needs while practicing prudent social distancing. Edina Realty employees are also working remotely and fully equipped to offer support throughout your transaction. Simply give me a call, send an email or reach out via direct message for help with your home buying, selling, mortgage, title, insurance and warranty needs.

I continue to safely market and show homes for sale. I am focused on providing remote and virtual solutions for my clients at this time. However, should you require an in-person appointment, I can still conduct careful private showings while practicing social distancing. Private showings are limited to one person or family at a time. Sellers are being asked to clean and disinfect homes before and after showings, and visitors are asked not to touch surfaces.

At this time, in-person open houses are suspended. To prevent gatherings of too many people, in-person open houses have been temporarily suspended throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota. However, you can still participate in virtual open houses or video tours of homes for sale. Reach out to further discuss all the options available to view and market homes.

We continue to perform closings in our closing centers. However, Edina Realty Title has implemented the following precautions:

  • To ensure social distancing, we will separate buyers and sellers into different rooms during closings
  • In some cases, closings may be conducted from your car in an Edina Realty Title closing center parking lot
  • Sellers are being encouraged to pre-sign whenever possible. Buyers must close in-person due to notarized signature requirements
  • Closings are conducted only at our closing centers or other title closing centers
  • Closing attendees are limited to clients and closers only (no agents or mortgage consultants)
  • All non-essential materials and refreshments have been removed from the closing rooms
  • Surfaces are being regularly cleaned and sanitized

Edina Realty has assembled a COVID-19 task force. Our task force meets daily to integrate the latest recommendations from government and industry officials, allowing me to keep things running smoothly for your real estate needs.

A very special thank you to the exceptional people in our communities. My deepest gratitude to all the first responders, medical professionals, law enforcers, government officials, grocery store workers, truck drivers and other essential workers putting themselves in harm’s way to support our communities. You are incredible and I appreciate you.

What Home Buyers and Sellers Should Know about COVID-19

I know there is still a need for many people to purchase and sell homes during this time, even during this COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic that is affecting us all. Your safety is a top concern and we are taking several precautions as we continue to provide the highest level of service possible during this unprecedented time.

I would like you to know the steps we are taking to help prevent the spread of the virus and changes you may notice while working with us. Here are some key points:

  • We remain open for business, but our offices have temporarily closed. Edina Realty Home Services agents and employees continue working remotely to assist you. Simply reach out at any time for help with your home buying, selling, mortgage, title, insurance and warranty needs.
  • At this time, all in-person Edina Realty open houses are suspended until safety recommendations are lifted. Agents will be conducting virtual open houses, video tours and careful private showings.
  • Meetings are being held via teleconferencing, video conference and with various technologies to avoid the need for in-person group gatherings.
  • At this time, we will continue to perform closings and have several precautionary measures in place to limit interactions and ensure the safety of everyone involved.

For an EXPANDED DESCRIPTION on what we are doing to help prevent spreading COVID-19 please follow this link.

Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns regarding your housing needs during this time. Please be safe, stay informed, don’t panic, and refer to the CDC’s website for up-to-date information and recommendations.

~Brian

How to Use Comparable Sales to Price Your Home

Before you put your home up for sale, understand how the right comparable sales help you and your agent find the perfect price.

How much can you sell your home for? Probably about as much as the neighbors got, as long as the neighbors sold their house in recent memory and their home was just like your home.

Knowing how much homes similar to yours, called comparable sales (or in real estate lingo, comps), sold for gives you the best idea of the current estimated value of your home. The trick is finding sales that closely match yours.

What makes a good comparable sale?

Your best comparable sale is the same model as your house in the same subdivision—and it closed escrow last week. If you can’t find that, here are other factors that count:

Location: The closer to your house the better, but don’t just use any comparable sale within a mile radius. A good comparable sale is a house in your neighborhood, your subdivision, on the same type of street as your house, and in your school district.

Home type: Try to find comparable sales that are like your home in style, construction material, square footage, number of bedrooms and baths, basement (having one and whether it’s finished), finishes, and yard size.

Amenities and upgrades: Is the kitchen new? Does the comparable sale house have full A/C? Is there crown molding, a deck, or a pool? Does your community have the same amenities (pool, workout room, walking trails, etc.) and homeowners association fees?

Date of sale: You may want to use a comparable sale from two years ago when the market was high, but that won’t fly. Most buyers use government-guaranteed mortgages, and those lending programs say comparable sales can be no older than 90 days.

Sales sweeteners: Did the comparable-sale sellers give the buyers downpayment assistance, closing costs, or a free television? You have to reduce the value of any comparable sale to account for any deal sweeteners.

Agents can help adjust price based on insider insights

Even if you live in a subdivision, your home will always be different from your neighbors’. Evaluating those differences—like the fact that your home has one more bedroom than the comparables or a basement office—is one of the ways real estate agents add value.

An active agent has been inside a lot of homes in your neighborhood and knows all sorts of details about comparable sales. She has read the comments the selling agent put into the MLS, seen the ugly wallpaper, and heard what other REALTORS®, lenders, closing agents, and appraisers said about the comparable sale.

More ways to pick a home listing price

If you’re still having trouble picking out a listing price for your home, look at the current competition. Ask your real estate agent to be honest about your home and the other homes on the market (and then listen to her without taking the criticism personally).

Next, put your comparable sales into two piles: more expensive and less expensive. What makes your home more valuable than the cheaper comparable sales and less valuable than the pricier comparable sales?

Are foreclosures and short sales comparables?

If one or more of your comparable sales was a foreclosed home or a short sale (a home that sold for less money than the owners owed on the mortgage), ask your real estate agent how to treat those comps.

A foreclosed home is usually in poor condition because owners who can’t pay their mortgage can’t afford to pay for upkeep. Your home is in great shape, so the foreclosure should be priced lower than your home.

Short sales are typically in good condition, although they are still distressed sales. The owners usually have to sell because they’re divorcing, or their employer is moving them to Kansas.

How much short sales are discounted from their market value varies among local markets. The average short-sale home in Omaha in recent years was discounted by 8.5%, according to a University of Nebraska at Omaha study. In suburban Washington, D.C., sellers typically discount short-sale homes by 3% to 5% to get them quickly sold, real estate agents report. In other markets, sellers price short sales the same as other homes in the neighborhood.

So you have to rely on your real estate agent’s knowledge of the local market to use a short sale as a comparable sale.

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Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

Saint Paul Home & Patio Show Ticket Giveaway

Saint Paul Home & Patio Show
Tickets to the Saint Paul Home & Patio Show at Saint Paul RiverCentre, February 14 – 16, 2020

I’m happy to giveaway a limited number of tickets to this upcoming show where you can review home-related products and services, experience stunning project displays, connect with industry experts and enjoy informative presentations from renowned home professionals that can help you conceptualize your next home project.

Hurry, you can request up to four free tickets (up to a $36.00 value) to the St. Paul Home and Patio Show at Saint Paul’s RiverCentre on February 14th through the 16th. Just fill in the information on the form below to submit your request for tickets. To ensure your tickets arrive before the event I suggest you submit your request no later than Monday, February 10, 2020.

Please note there is absolutely no obligation whatsoever, and I will not share your information with any third parties. Just enjoy the show and have fun!

— THE EVENT IS OVER

Tickets are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information about the event visit the Home and Patio Show site.