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Why Zillow “Zestimates” Are Inaccurate

If you have searched for houses on the internet in recent years, you have probably come across Zillow’s “Zestimate” tool. The “Zestimate” is an automated approximation of a home’s value. Many buyers and sellers have begun to view this tool as a great way to determine a property’s value, but how much should you rely on Zestimates to determine the value of your home?

The “Zestimate” tool uses sales data from tax records and Multiple Listing Services to determine an average value for each property. It finds homes priced similarly to yours, pulls the price per square foot information from the tax records, and then multiplies that price with your house’s tax records.

The negative thing about this algorithm is that tax records are commonly innacurate. If you’ve made home additions that weren’t permitted by the county, the added value of these won’t be taken into account in the tax record. The algorithm doesn’t “know” of any upgrades you’ve made in your house either. Those things you’ve spent your valuable time and money on are factors that you probably want to be considered into your home’s deserved price. Another thing Zestimates do not account for is the distribution of the square footage in your home in relation to its layout; some buyers would be willing to pay more for a ranch home than a two-story. Last, the location of your home is another factor that doesn’t get factored into the Zestimate; some cities are growing rapidly, and the housing prices rise or fall in accordance to this.

Even though Zillow’s Zestimates are handy to give the general (uninformed) public a basic ball-park figure for their house, they do not account for other important factors that would affect its true price. A Realtor is truly your best resource for comparative and knowledgeable home pricing. They know exactly how the housing market, area, home layout, additions, upgrades, and everything else would impact your home’s best price and its sale. After all, it is their job!

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What to Remember When You List Your Home

The decision to list your home is already hard, but then you have to worry about all the other things that come with that decision. But don’t fret-we’re here to help you with this.

  • Probably the single most important thing to remember when you list is to find a good, qualified realtor (and we’re not just saying that because we’re biased!) Your realtor can help you with the whole home-selling process, from real estate jargon to technical legal aspects.
  • Fix up your home. Make sure the standard of your curb appeal is up to par. Walk through your home with a new perspective for things that you see every day, but might not actually realize need repairing or fixing up. Inspect the tiny yet important details, like the door and window frames, floors, and everything else. Take into account the age of your big items, such as your air conditioning unit, your roof, gutters, water heater, etc. Pull your records. Hire a home inspector to walk through and let you know what needs repairing so that you won’t be surprised later on. If you decide to renovate or repair yet have a limited budget when you list, decide what you will get the biggest return on investment for, and what buyers will be most geared towards.
  • Look at the comps for your area. Sure, you might love that outdoor fireplace you lovingly placed on your back patio, but for buyers it may not be worth that extra money. Yes, you lived in your home and created memories there, but stay objective about what your home is really worth. Pricing your home too high compared to the surrounding homes may be a pitfall; buyers won’t want to pay a lot more for your house compared to what the neighbors’ homes are worth. Be reasonable, and don’t price based off of emotion. Your agent can help you out a lot with the adequate pricing of your home. They are the expert, after all.
  • Clean your home. give it a good deep clean before it starts being shown, and also remember to put away all your clutter. And make sure it stays this way, because you will get unexpected drop-by showings at some point at least. Stage it as well, either by yourself or by a professional staging company.
  • Account for some unexpected costs. Minor renovations, closing costs, staging costs, etc. might arise, so prepare yourself mentally and financially.
  • Don’t assume anything. Not everyone is going to love that same blue paint that you adore. Just because you originally fell in love with your house the minute you saw it doesn’t mean that everyone else will too. Also, don’t set up any expectation of the time frame your home will sell in- it might fly off the market, or it may take a bit of time.
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Features Considered When Buying a House

There are a multitude of things to look at when you are in the process of buying a house: the architecture of the house itself, the details, the updates and renovations, and more.

  • Location: Where your house is located is important; just as important are the features shared about its location. Some buyers might be looking for public transport. Some might want great parks, nearby restaurants, or shops. Most buyers will want to find a good neighborhood. Whatever the case, buyers need to know everything there is to know about where the house is located, because different buyers want different things.
  • The Lot: Lot size is usually pretty important to buyers, but lot steepness is just as important. Would you be able to add on to your house if you wanted a patio or deck in the future? Would the level of steepness ever affect water runoff in your yard, or the house’s foundation? Another thing buyers might consider is the house’s position on the lot in terms of direction it’s facing. The lighting and bills for heating and cooling will all be affected by this. Last, the proximity of the house to the ones next to it will play into buyers’ decisions.
  • Driveway Dimensions: Buyers need to know if their car will even fit in the driveway and the garage before they buy the house. Some buyers also have multiple cars they need to fit on the driveway, so driveway size may be an important factor. Another factor is the availability of street parking, especially if the driveway is smaller than desired. Some neighborhoods and communities may have strict rules about this.
  • Senior and Handicap Friendly: Many Baby Boomers are currently down-sizing, and looking for one-story houses that would allow them to age with the house. Some buyers need wheelchair access for when their friends or family visit, and maybe a bedroom on the main floor. These things are important to list if you’re selling.
  • Stair Size: Steepness and length of stairs are to be considered by buyers. No one wants stairs that are hard to climb.
  • Storage and Organization: Buyers look for storage space, especially if they are moving from a smaller house into a larger one. Basements, garages, attics, closets, pantries, and spare rooms are important for storage needs. On the same hand, these same buyers will look for built-in shelves, closets, renovations, and generally anything that would easily allow them to have improved and better organized storage.
  • Size of Rooms: The room’s defined purpose is key here (and we already know that if you’re selling it’s important to have clearly defined room purposes), so there might be a difference between labeling something as an office and labeling it as a spare bedroom. Buyers will mentally place their furniture in the rooms to see if it fits beforehand. Following this same point, if you’re selling, the layout and flow of your rooms can have a big impact on potential buyers. They will at least subconsciously realize if there’s a “flow” to the rooms or not; the easier the rooms are to walk through on a normal path, the better. Buyers also will look for how easy the flow is of going from an indoor space to an outdoor one.
  • Height and Type of Ceilings: Some of this depends on each individual buyer; some like high ceilings, or vaulted, or maybe tray. Ceilings are especially important to consider if you or the buyer has a tall person who will live in the house.
  • Size of Windows: Some people like and look for big windows more than others, but everyone likes at least some natural lighting.
  • Bathroom Numbers: This will probably be a very important factor in buying a house. Even an extra half bath on the main can be a determining factor in buying a house.
  • Kitchen Characteristics: Many buyers will look for an updated kitchen. If you’re selling, or will in the future, your kitchen is one of the best rooms to update in terms of return on investment. However, some things are sought after depending on personal taste, such as stainless steel, double ovens, and granite counter tops.
  • Location of Laundry: Laundry is a common and necessary occurrence, especially for bigger families. Convenience of the laundry room location will most likely be important for buyers to consider.
  • Heating and Cooling: Is the house’s system up to date and running smoothly?
  • Energy Efficiency and Eco-Friendliness : Since some buyers look specifically for these, they’re important to mention if you’re selling. buying a house buying a house
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Tips to Help You Sell Your Home

Sometimes it may be hard to look at your home objectively- like an outsider, someone who doesn’t have time and cherished memories invested in the house. However, anyone viewing your house for the first time will see things about it that you probably don’t. Here are some ways to spruce up your home and to give attention to those things your normally might not.

  • Make your curb appeal appealing: It’s your home’s first impression after all. Trim hedges and bushes, weed your yard, and add flowers. Also, give your front door a fresh coat of paint if needed, and buy a new mailbox if it’s necessary.
  • Clean until it’s spic and span: Both in the obvious and not-so-obvious, overlooked places such as the tops of high surfaces, baseboards, and by wiping down appliances and hardware. Clean your carpets (especially if you have pets), and if you have hardwood flooring underneath, then feel free to remove the carpeting.
  • Be conscientious of smells: You might be “nose-blind” to your home’s normal yet unique smell, but be aware of cooking anything extra aromatic before you know someone will be coming inside your home. Also realize that pets may add their own smell to your home that others may be more aware of than you.
  • Check for scuff marks, stains, discoloration, etc.: Check your walls, moldings, doors, outlets, etc. for these. Paint them or replace them accordingly.
  • Neutral is best: Speaking of painting, stick with neutral colors. If you have any “loud” or generally unappealing-colored walls in your house, you might want to think about repainting them to appeal to the tastes of buyers. Neutrality also applies for decorations; anything that is too eccentric or strange might turn people away.
  • De-clutter: Anything that deflects from all of your home’s nice features is unnecessary to have in sight. This also goes along the lines of having too many personal items around, such as pictures and monogrammed decorations; buyers want to be able to picture themselves living there. Also, get rid of, or put away bulky furniture that takes up too much space. This will make any room look much bigger. It will also improve the natural “flow” of the room, the walking pathways.
  • Organize: Closets are an important thing you should organize. Buyers will want to know how much space they will have to work with. Buy some organizers, dividers, etc.; anything that will save you space and make the closet look better. You can also remove some clothes and put them in storage temporarily, so the closet looks less full and more organized.
  • Natural is key: Let light inside your house as much as you can; natural lighting is better than any other kind. Having more light is also better, so use lamps to light up darker spaces. Another natural element you can use is plants. These can give a breath of fresh air to a room, fill in empty spaces, and make for great decorations.
  • Improve outdoor spaces: Your deck, porch, patio, and any other spaces outside you could spend time in are important. Place some plants around, clean off the grill and outdoor furniture, and clear leaves and debris off.
  • Make your bathrooms really nice: Think of a spa or a nice hotel; roll and stack some washcloths and towels. Add candles, flowers, and coordinating mats, towels, and curtains. Replace your toilet seat, and also lower it. Also, re-grout if need be.
  • Replace hardware for an updated feel: This is an easy, inexpensive task, but it can make a big difference in the general look of the room.
  • Make rooms purposeful: If the buyer can picture a clear use for each room, then it will make them feel more confident about buying. 
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Common Home-Buying Mistakes

There are some common mess-ups that occur during home-buying. Whether these mistakes be emotionally-based, financially-based, or just from lack of knowledge, they can still be nipped in the bud before they occur.

  • Trying to find a house by yourself: An agent knows what they’re doing; it’s their job. They can find you the best houses based on your price point, pros and cons, and the comps around the area. Of course you’ll probably still browse Trulia, Zillow, etc., but never let those be your only way to find houses. Let your agent also be your go-between with the listing agents you might come in contact with. They will know how to negotiate strategically, should you decide to place an offer.
  • Keep your cool: Both sides of the spectrum are no-nos: acting out of desperation or hesitating too much. Don’t talk yourself into buying a home impulsively that isn’t completely right for you, or that is too expensive for your budget. But on the other side of this, you also don’t want to wait too long because of fear or unreasonable uncertainty. Also, be sure not to get TOO attached to a house before you buy it. Try to find a few houses you like so that if you lose one you won’t be devastated. Also, if you happen to find a house you like and get caught up in a bidding war, do not overpay for what the house is actually worth. You’ll regret it in the long run. 
  • Check out neighborhood by-laws and HOA fees: There might be some unexpected and unwanted rules and HOA fees. 
  • Understand the current housing market: Ask your realtor about things you don’t understand about it, to get a better grasp of monetary figures you’ll be presented with. 
  • Be sure your finances are in order: Saving enough for a down payment is awesome, but you also probably need to have saved two or three months of mortgage payments. Account for unexpected emergency expenses, closing costs, and property taxes as well. Next, make sure you’ve been pre-approved for a loan by a lender in order to be taken seriously. Also, know the expected price of your homeowner’s insurance before home-buying. 
  • Get a home inspection on the home you’re buying: This is good in case the seller doesn’t disclose everything, and also to know what you can ask the seller to fix before you close on the house.

Happy home-buying!

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Common Home-Selling Mistakes

There are some common mess-ups that occur during home-selling. Whether these mistakes be emotionally-based, financially-based, or just from lack of knowledge, they can still be nipped in the bud before they occur.

  • Not understanding or improving your home‘s first impression: First, make sure your house looks good from the first appearance- the outside. Trim bushes and shrubs, mow the grass, freshen up the pine straw and mulch, and make sure the paint looks fresh enough. Next, when anyone sees your home, they want to be able to picture themselves living there. Take down the pictures, personalized plaques, and anything that is just too much. Remove any clutter, and be sure and clean and tidy up your house. 
  • Attempting to go the for sale by owner route: since it’s “low-cost” it may seem more tempting to do. However, this is the worst mistake you can make. Real estate agents generally know what they’re doing, and they can help you with the buyers’ end of things, the contracts, real estate jargon, and so much more. The stress, time, and confusion are not worth having in the long run; hire a realtor.
  • Find a qualified agent: Research your agents beforehand. Usually, the ones who know the area and the comps surrounding your house are better qualified. The best ones are also expert negotiators, and will host open houses if you ask them to.
  • Disclose everything: To avoid lawsuits, disclose everything you’re supposed to. Be upfront about the condition of your house; most things would be found in a home inspection anyways.
  • Make a fair, reasonable, price: Know the comps directly surrounding you. These are important for knowing the right price point for your home. If your house is more renovated than the ones around you, don’t set your expectations too high for how much you will make back. 
  • Don’t be too picky with the first offer: Remember that offers are negotiable, so the potential buyer will most likely put theirs in lower than they are actually willing to pay. Another way to make up for a low offer is to request the buyer pay for repairs or closing costs. Listen to your agent as well; they will probably know the right price, and if you’re expecting too much.

Happy home-selling!

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Setting the Right Price to Sell Your Home

If you’re selling your house, one of the first steps you’ll take is setting an asking price; a maneuver that requires the ability to find the perfect balance between attracting solid offers and ultimately receiving the top dollar.

If you’re working with a realtor or other industry professional, you’ll probably hear talk of fair market value, which typically means the highest value an educated buyer will pay. Fair market value is usually not the asking price.

Many agents will begin by conducting a competitive market analysis of your house and give you an estimate of the fair market value of your home. The analysis takes into consideration comparable home sales, typically over the last year, taking into consideration similarities and differences between the other homes and yours. It will also consider the housing market in your area. If you’re in a hot sellers’ market like several communities throughout metro Atlanta, you’ll have the advantage.
As you work with your agent and set your price, you’ll want to ask yourself (and your agent):

1. What are the facts relative to my house for this market? Be careful when you consider pricing to focus on the factual data available versus emotional connections.

2. What are the market conditions for your specific neighborhood and community? Not all communities are created equal in this market. Not all neighborhoods within a community are created equal. It can be a complex equation to get your price just right.

3. How does my house stack up against the competition? This one is very tricky. It’s often helpful to take a step back and view your house as if you were an upcoming buyer. Your real estate professional can also help you evaluate this. Your agent, as well as friends, relatives, and neighbors, can assist you by pointing out your house’s advantages and disadvantages form a more objective viewpoint.

4. Am I being realistic? You absolutely want top dollar for your investment, but be careful to separate this from the emotional attachment you may have to your home. Also consider your motivation for selling your home.

Here are some other things to thoughtfully consider as you evaluate putting your house on the market:

Some upgrades and home improvements warrant being included in your asking price consideration. Kitchen renovations, bathroom renovations, and some others should be factored in. Some are lifestyle additions that you and your family enjoyed while you lived in the home. Also, the more personal the improvement-a swimming pool, a sunroom, purple floors- the less likely it will be viewed favorably by potential buyers. While you may be able to recoup some of your investment, it won’t give you 100% of what you paid. Your real estate agent can help you evaluate what return percentage you can expect on your home’s improvements.

Another common issue is that your home may have lessened in value since you purchased it, which is the case for many homeowners in today’s market. Some sellers want to recoup as much of their original investment as possible with housing sales trending upwards. This can be a slippery slope. Make sure you have objective, comparable and recent data-sold comps, pending sales and other data- to prove what the true market value is. Research shows that listing your house for as little as 1-3% above market value can actually reduce the buyer’s perceived bargaining power, causing your house to stay on the market longer.

Evaluate and be honest about your priorities. Are you more concerned with selling quickly or getting the most money possible? Unfortunately, this is a case where it is one or the other; rarely is it both. You’ll also want to contemplate your price and determine objectively whether you would pay that amount if you were a buyer.

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Common Real Estate Misconceptions

If you’re buying or selling a house, you’ve probably heard some commonly held real estate misconceptions such as these:

The appraisal shows the home’s definite market value:
Almost always, the appraisal actually comes in under the market value.

You’ll need to put 20% down to buy:
This is a classic misconception; today, you can put as little as 3% down for a home depending on your credit, income, and statistics to support you.

The best time to buy is Spring:
Years ago when these supporting statistics were counted, the market was mostly full of families with children who needed to find a home based around the school year. Today, however, there are many buyers who aren’t families with kids. Winter is actually a great time to sell your home, because that’s when inventory is low.

If a buyer is interested in a house, they’ll put an offer in no matter what the asking price is:
Even though negotiations are a common occurrence in real estate, buyers will see them as a pain they’ll have to deal with. This could potentially prevent them from pursuing their interest in the home. If a house is initially priced unreasonably high, they’ll see it as something that will occur throughout the entire transaction.

Since everything’s online, you don’t really need an agent:
Yes, a lot of the information for available houses out there is online, but there are still some things that you should have an expert helping you with. The terms, contracts, and negotiations can be very confusing, especially if you’re a first-time home buyer, etc. It helps to have someone who wants to help you, and will be an objective voice of reason when the going gets rough.

You’ll get the same exposure and service from every agent:
Not every agent is going to work for you in the same ways. You need a local agent with the right marketing system and tools which effectively get the job done. It’s also necessary that they can negotiate the highest possible price and have a commitment to excellence.

Open houses aren’t necessary to sell:
This goes along with the previous point; sellers figure that since everything is online, buyers can simply see everything they need to know from there. However, that is just not the case. Seeing pictures of the home in 2-D is much different than actually being there and seeing it in person. real estate misconceptions real estate misconceptions  real estate misconceptions 

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Should You Add On, Or Buy a New Home?

Sometimes there are seemingly too many factors to consider in the decision to add on to your current home or to buy a new home. Here are some key points to consider in this important decision:

Understand What You Can Expect
Living with an on-going renovation is more stressful for some people than others. It’s a constant battle with dust, clutter, and general chaos. However, if you can keep in mind that it’s not permanent, it might be worth it in the long run. Also, looking at the current housing market is helpful. Right now it’s taking just over two months for the average home to sell. There are seemingly small things you could tweak to attract potential buyers that aren’t renovations.

Assess Your Monetary Situation
Understanding your finances is key. Ask yourself how much equity is in your home, if any, and if you would need that to buy a new house or renovate your current one. Also understand that renovating might be more expensive than you had originally thought, due to busier contractors and rising building materials.

Choose Your Renovations
What is it that you really want and need to renovate? Would you have to build on to the exterior of the house, or would you build inside your home? How would this affect your living arrangements and whether you would need to temporarily stay somewhere else?

Look for Your Local Building and Zoning Codes
Before you start renovating, find out if what you’d like to do is even allowed. For instance, if you want to build an addition, check to make sure you haven’t already used up the maximum percentage of lot size allowed by your city.

Don’t Make Your House Stand Out Too Much
In essence, don’t make your house look too better or different than the rest of the ones in your neighborhood. You must think about the value your home will need to have for future buyers; they might not want to spend what it will be worth, especially if they’re looking in your neighborhood for a reason. Consult with a realtor for researching more about this. new home