The start of a new year always compels people to take a fresh look at their goals, from health and career to relationships and finance. But with historically low mortgage rates, increased home sales and price growth, and a tight housing inventory, the time is right to also make some homeownership resolutions for 2021.
Home buyers, is this the year you work to improve your credit score, pay down some debt, or save for a down payment?
Home sellers, we’ve laid out plans for you to get top dollar for your property, including timing your home sale, making your property stand out from the crowd, and investing in your extra living space.
And even if you’re staying put for awhile, homeowners, you can resolve to improve your status quo by evaluating your home budget, finalizing your home maintenance schedule, or maybe investing in a second property.
So no matter your homeownership status, we’ve got some ideas and advice for you to make this year your best one yet. Read on to learn more.
Resolution #1: Qualify for a better mortgage with a higher credit score.
Your credit report highlights your current debt, bill-paying history, and other key financial information. Importantly for your home-buying journey, it is also used by lenders and companies to calculate your credit score, which partly determines if you are qualified to obtain a mortgage. Therefore, before you start house-hunting, make sure your finances are in the best possible shape by checking your credit report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion (via AnnualCreditReport.com). You can also obtain your credit score for free from some banks and credit card companies.
Your credit score will be a number ranging from 300-850.1 Generally speaking, a credit score of 740 or higher is considered very good to excellent.2 If your FICO score drops below 740, you might need to work at boosting your score for a few months before you begin house-hunting. Ways to do this are to pay your bills on time every month, keep your credit card balances low, and avoid applying for new credit.
Resolution #2: Improve your credit health by paying down debt.
Do you have student loans, credit card debt, or car payments tying up your income each month? That debt is hurting your “buying power,” or the amount of home you can afford. Not only is it money that you can’t spend on your new home, but your debt-to-income ratio also affects your credit score, which we discussed above. The less debt you have, the higher your FICO score and the better mortgage you can obtain.
If you can, pay off some debt in its entirety—like a low balance on a credit card. Then apply that “extra” money you previously paid on that credit card to pay off bigger debt, like a car loan. Even if you can’t pay off all (or any) of your debt in full, reducing the balances of each account will help you qualify for the best possible mortgage terms.
Resolution #3: Create a financial safety net before applying for a mortgage.
Don’t forget that buying a home requires some cash as well. A down payment is typically 7% of a home’s purchase price, and closing costs currently average $3,700.3,4 You’ll also need money for moving expenses and any initial maintenance tasks that might pop up. And as the pandemic taught us, you never know when an unforeseen event might cause a job loss, drop in income, or health scare, so having some liquid savings will ensure that you can still pay your mortgage if a crisis occurs.
Dedicate some effort to building up your reserves. Cut down on unnecessary expenses, and consider having a portion of each paycheck automatically deposited into your savings account to avoid the temptation to spend it.
Resolution #4: Decide on the right time to sell your home.
If you’re looking to maximize profit on the sale of your home, selling earlier in the year makes sense. Listing prices historically increase early in the year, peak in May, plateau through June, and decrease for the remainder of the year.5 And, according to the National Association of Realtors, “[w]ith both mortgage rates and the number of homes available for sale expected to remain relatively low, home prices are likely to continue to increase. [In] mid-January, home prices typically begin a quick ramp-up in a normal year.”5
But sales price isn’t the only thing to consider. You might not be ready to sell your home yet because you don’t want to uproot your kids during the school year or because you need to tackle some minor upgrades before placing your home on the market.
This means that there is no one month or season that is the perfect time to sell your home. Instead, the right timeline for you takes into account factors such as when you’ll earn the highest profit, personal convenience, and whether your home is even ready to put on the market. A trusted real estate professional can talk you through your specific needs to clarify when to sell your home.
Resolution #5: Boost your home’s resale value by making your property shine.
Housing inventory is at historic lows across the country, and that means the market is fiercely competitive.6 Selling your home in 2021 has the potential to net you a huge return right now, and you can maximize that amount with some simple fixes to make sure your property outshines your neighbors’ for sale down the street.
In your home, you might need to tackle a minor remodeling project, such as upgrading the flooring or adding a fresh coat of paint. According to the National Association of Realtors’ 2019 Remodeling Impact Report, simply refinishing existing hardwood floors recoups 100% of the cost at resale, and completely replacing it with new wood flooring recovers 106% of costs.7
Outside, you might consider improving your curb appeal by removing a dead bush, trimming a tree that blocks the front window, or power-washing your moldy driveway and sidewalks. In fact, real estate agents say cleaning the exterior of your house can add $10,000 to $15,000 to a home’s sale price.8 And according to a Virginia Tech study, improving a home’s landscaping may increase its value by 10 to 12%.9
A good agent should provide custom-tailored suggestions to ensure your property pops inside and out. Ask us about our local insider secrets that will make your home stand out from others on the market.
Resolution #6: Invest in your “extra” living space to meet current buyers’ needs.
Due to COVID-19, more people are staying at home to work, go to school, exercise, and stay entertained. And these lifestyle changes are showing up in home buyer preferences. For example, according to one study, buyers are looking more and more for homes with formal, outfitted home offices, private outdoor spaces, and updated kitchen appliances.10
So if you’ve got an underutilized room, consider turning it into an office, home gym, schoolroom, or multi-purpose room to meet current home buyer needs and attract better offers on your home. Got some underwhelming space outside? You could turn it into an outdoor entertainment area by adding a firepit, upgrading the patio furniture, or installing a grilling area. Be sure to consult with a local real estate professional before investing in a renovation, however, as each market’s buyers have different tastes.
Resolution #7: Evaluate your household budget to reflect financial changes.
After this past year, in particular, your financial picture may have changed. Maybe you were furloughed, had your hours reduced, or got a new job further from home. Perhaps you’ve kept the same job, but you’re now working remotely. A work-from-home arrangement could mean less money spent on gas, tolls, a professional wardrobe, and dining out for lunch.
But this could also mean new (or increased) expenses now that you’re working at home, such as new tech-related purchases, faster Wi-Fi, and higher energy bills. January marks the perfect opportunity to update your income and expenses and review last year’s spending habits, tweaking as needed for 2021.
For more specific ideas, contact us for our free report “20 Ways to Save Money and Stretch Your Household Budget.”
Resolution #8: Save money now (and earn more later) with a home maintenance plan.
Having a schedule of regular home maintenance projects to tackle will save you money now and in the long-term. You’ll avoid some surprise “emergency fixes,” and when you’re ready to eventually sell your home, you’ll get higher offers from buyers who aren’t put off by overdue repairs.
Even if nothing necessarily needs fixing right now, you can lower your energy costs by maintaining and upgrading your home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, simple fixes add up: replace five most frequently used bulbs with ENERGY STAR ones to save $75/year; repair leaky faucets to save $35/year; replace older toilets with low-flow models to save $100/year; and seal air leaks to save $83-$166/year.11
For a breakdown of home maintenance projects to tackle throughout the year, contact us for our free report “House Care Calendar: A Seasonal Guide to Maintaining Your Home.”
Resolution #9: Invest in real estate for a better standard of living.
Even if you don’t plan on leaving your current residence, real estate is a great way to improve your quality of life in 2021.
Have cabin fever from the long quarantine? A vacation home in a getaway location you love lets you safely spread your wings. And if you have been looking for a second stream of income, an investment property might be your answer. Just be sure to consult with a real estate professional to get a realistic sense of a property’s true income potential.
Want more information on how a second property fits into your 2021 plans? Request our free report, “Move Up vs Second Home: Which One Is Right For You?”
LET US HELP YOU WITH YOUR 2021 GOALS
Without a plan and a support system, 55% of Americans will break their new year’s resolutions.12 Whether you’re looking to buy, sell, or stay put in your home, it helps to connect with a trusted real estate agent to keep you motivated and on track.
As local market experts, we have the knowledge, experience, and networks to help you achieve your homeownership goals, whatever they may be. Reach out to us today for a free consultation and commit to a happy and prosperous new year.
You may have heard that design is best left to the professionals, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t give it a go yourself. If you have a good eye for design and the skills to create something truly unique, taking on a project as a non designer can be beneficial. However, it’s important to have a good idea of what you are doing and what you want to achieve.
Top Design Tips for Non Designers
Taking on a new design project as a non designer can be daunting, but there’s nothing to say that you can’t create a fantastic logo or banner. Regardless of what you are designing, think carefully about the colors you are using and the layout of text, images and graphics. You should want your design to be unique and intriguing, but you don’t want it to be complicated and confusing. Remember advertisers (the clients your designing for) want a return on investment. So you’ll soon know if your designs are working or not. If you’d like to find out about measuring ROI – read this Ultimate Banners article.
Content Outreach Manager
Are you thinking of renting out your home? In that case, you need to ask these 10 questions to anyone wanting to rent your house:
1. When are you planning to move in?
This is the question that shapes the rest of your engagement with the potential tenant. The answer here will help you determine whether or not the tenant’s timelines synchronize with yours. If, for example, a tenant wants to move in a month from now but you want to rent it out sooner than that, then there is no point in engaging the person any further.
2. Why are you relocating?
If the tenant is moving into your property after falling out with their previous landlord, you need to know what led to the fallout. Was it because of dishonoring their rent obligations? Was it because of neglecting their other tenant responsibilities as per the lease agreement? The answers they give will tell you whether or not to let them rent your property. In the same vein, ask them how long they have lived in the previous apartment and how long they intend to live in yours. If you establish that they have a habit of hopping from one apartment to another within unreasonably short durations, politely decline their application.
3. Have you ever been evicted for any reason?
This question seeks to clarify the #2 question even further. Maybe they weren’t evicted in their immediate former home, but you cannot conclude that they have never been evicted in the past. Ensure that they give you sufficient details about their journey since they started renting.
4. How stable are you financially?
If they are unstable, chances are that they will give you problems with the rent. Experts say that a good tenant is the one whose monthly rent doesn’t exceed 40% of their total monthly earnings. That is to say that if you expect the tenant to pay $1000 in monthly rent, they should be earning at least $2500 per month. And because monthly income isn’t a perfect indicator of financial stability, make a point of running a credit check to determine how much debt the tenant is in. If your new tenant is in the Gig economy, you might want to ask more questions if they are financially stable.
5. How many people will you be living with?
The last thing you want is to rent your house out to an individual, only to realize later that he brought in his extended family and some of his friends to live with him. There is nothing wrong with housing a needy friend or relative, except that more people mean more wear and tear to your property. Besides, overcrowding in homes is listed by most fire departments and health professionals as a major health and safety risk.
6. Do you own any pets or support animals?
If yes, how many do you have? This is important to know if you have a renting policy that doesn’t allow pet ownership. If you have a set monthly/annual deposit for pets or a limit as to how many pets a tenant can have, make it clear to them beforehand.
7. How clean is your criminal record?
As a tenant’s credit history is significant to your property’s financial future, so is their criminal history to your - as well as your other tenants' - security. Don’t underestimate the number of ex-convicts looking for rental homes in the US today. In 2015, a tenant screening by SmartMove showed that at least 22% of all tenants-to-be had a criminal record. Even if you don’t have a problem renting out to an ex-convict, having this information with you is necessary when planning your rental unit's overall security.
8. Are you prepared to pay all moving costs upfront?
Some landlords require tenants to pay a security deposit, one month rent deposit, and first month rent in full upon signing the lease. If you are such a tenant, or if there are other moving costs attached to your house, then let the tenant know beforehand.
9. What kind of a neighbor can you describe yourself as?
A new tenant can be so unruly that they force their neighbors to end their lease earlier than intended. If they like to play loud music or bring home too many friends, you need to know so that you can append a rule within the lease that will keep their unruly behavior in check.
10. Do you have any follow-up questions?
This sounds obvious but it is very important. You need the tenant as much as they need your property, so you will be wrong not to give them the chance to ask you the follow-up questions they could have. This presents you with the opportunity to appeal to the tenant.