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An ongoing series of informational entries

How Do HOAs Work?

March 23, 2017

When you purchase a home, there's a good chance you'll have to pay a homeowners association fee, especially in gated communities, townhouses, condominiums, and other similar planned neighborhoods. The idea is to keep common areas clean and maintained, and there's usually an HOA board that is responsible for setting the rules and regulations.

Each HOA is different, but most have the same core elements. You'll typically pay your HOA fees either monthly or annually, and it's an important factor to consider when you're weighing your options for a new home. So what is typically included in your HOA fees?

First, the fun stuff Amenities are typically the big perk of living in a community with an HOA. While you lose out on some of the freedom of living without an HOA, you instead get community amenities like a maintained pool, gym, clubhouse, tennis courts, and other amenities. The HOA fees pay for cleaning and maintenance, so-in theory-you'll always have a clean pool whenever you want to use it.

Protecting the community HOA fees often contribute to insurance for the community amenities, as well as a fund for unexpected repairs to damaged community property-think damage from weather or accidents.

General maintenance Your HOA fees will go toward maintaining the general safety and upkeep of the community. This means things like elevator maintenance for condominiums, snow removal, and trash/recycling services.

Be active in the association There may be a board of directors, but homeowners associations exist for the betterment of the entire community, and every voice matters. HOA meetings-and the amenities they support-provide great opportunities to meet your neighbors and make your community a better place.

Three ways to ease your fears about making a move

March 31, 2017

With low inventory in many markets throughout the country, many homeowners are afraid to sell their homes because they're concerned that they may not be able to find a new one. This can be a real problem, but if you are seeking to sell-whether to upgrade or find a new neighborhood-there are a few ways to combat the low inventory.


Look to buy first In most markets it is a real mistake to put your home up for sale before you start looking for your new property. Identify the geographic area where you are interested in buying. Even if you don't see anything on Zillow, it doesn't mean you can't or won't find the right home.


Think outside the box Be proactive! Keep in mind that there are probably many people like you who want to make a move but are afraid as well. Have your real estate agent send a letter to the neighborhoods in the geographic areas where you want to live. The letter should be heartfelt and personal while announcing that you are ready to buy a home in that neighborhood. You could find a home to buy that may not even be currently listed or for sale.


Protect yourself legally Each state varies in how the purchase process is conducted. Talk to your real estate professional about adding a clause in the purchase contract for the home you are selling that will enable you to not sell the home if you cannot find a suitable home to buy.

Harrisburg Named as the 34th Best Metropolitan Place to Live

April 7, 2017

U.S. News & World Report ranked Pennsylvania’s Capital City 34 out of 100 best metropolitan places to live by US news. The list ranks the country’s most populous metropolitan areas based upon quality of life, affordability, and employment opportunity. Harrisburg, an economically emerging city situated along the banks of the Susquehanna River, offers its residents a metropolitan opportunity with a small town-feel uniquely different than many of the east coasts metro areas.

With housing costs less than half the cost of the national average, relatively low crime rate and an abundance of local and regional entertainment, Harrisburg’s value ranks exceptionally high in terms of quality of life. Outdoors enthusiasts enjoy biking and running along the river banks as well as the city’s vicinity to the Appalachian Trail, limestone watersheds and rolling mountains. Residents also enjoy annual festivals along Front Street, a variety of dining opportunities, an influx of breweries, and a thriving creative culture with many coffee shops and venues hosting concerts and shows.

Job opportunity poses no challenge to Harrisburg’s residents. Large service companies such as Hershey Foods, Rite Aid and health services offer a breadth of options. In addition many companies such as First National Bank, Sacunas, and WebPageFX have moved their regional or national headquarters into the downtown area, further strengthening Harrisburg’s marketing and financial services sectors. Aside from the private sector, the state and federal government employ a large number of those who call Harrisburg home.

Harrisburg is uniquely positioned central to Philadelphia, New York, Washington D.C. and Baltimore allowing quick access to major metro markets. Whether it be for a weekend getaway or weekday business purposes, Harrisburg’s public transportation and access to major highways will get you to any of these destinations in just a few hours.

Harrisburg’s outstandingly low living costs, bubbling job opportunity and access to the great outdoors/regional entertainment continue to grow and sustain Harrisburg into 2017 as a great place to live, work and play. 

Five Things that Factor into Comps

April 14, 2017

You may think that sale price is the only factor when you're looking at comps and trying to set a price for your listing. But it's actually a bit more complicated. Here are five things that affect comps that you might not be aware of.

New construction nearby: Because of low prices for lots and varying prices in home building materials, new homes can actually be cheaper and cost less per square foot than existing homes. If there's a lot of new construction nearby, that can affect the price for your own listing.

Renovations: Recently renovated homes typically sell for more than homes that haven't been updated in a while. If you've recently upgraded your home-especially sought-after upgrades like the kitchen or master bath-your home should be priced appropriately.

Developable lots: Not all lots are created equal. Even if the square acreage is the same, a lot that's easily developable will get a better price than a hilly or rocky lot that needs a lot of preparation.

Listing price vs. sale price: Whether sellers actually get their asking price depends greatly on the market. When you're pricing your home, it's important to look at sales prices, not just listing prices. The listing price doesn't always accurately reflect what a home will sell for.

Location: Nearby amenities, safety, schools, and noise levels can vary greatly within a neighborhood. Homes in more desirable parts of the neighborhood will sell for a higher price, all else being equal.

Improve or Move?

April 21, 2017

Unless you built a custom home, you probably have a long list of things you'd like to improve in your current home. Browsing online listings might get you in the mood to upgrade to a new home, or you might be thinking about renovating your current home after binging on HGTV. The answer to renovation vs. relocation depends greatly on what you're trying to fix.

Thinking about a new kitchen? If you're dreaming of a chef's kitchen with new appliances and beautiful cabinets, renovating your own kitchen gives you incredible ROI and is less costly than moving. You'll increase the value of your own home if you ever decide to sell, and there's a great sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a custom renovation.

Need more space? If you're running low on bedrooms, there may not be a lot of options. Converting an existing room to a bedroom doesn't create any new space. If you're in a condo, an addition is probably impossible. And additions can be expensive even if it's a possibility. Moving is usually the best option.

If the neighborhood isn't ideal You may have seen some potential for your neighborhood when you first moved there, but perhaps it still isn't welcoming the shops and restaurants you expected. If that's the case, consider moving. There's no sense in waiting years for the neighborhood to improve, especially if you can move to a house in the same price range in a more preferred part of the city.

Thinking about buying soon?  Make sure your credit is in order

April 28, 2017

There's no more important time to work on your credit score than when you're about to apply for a mortgage. Improving your credit can save you a ton of money-we're talking about thousands of dollars over the life of the loan. Here are the actions you can take that will have a notable impact on your score.

Pay down your credit card balances Credit utilization is one of the biggest factors in determining your credit score. Your credit utilization should at least be less than 30 percent of your limit, and it's even better if you can get it below 15 percent. This rule applies to both individual cards and your overall credit limit.

It may even be worthwhile to use some of the cash funds you were planning to use for a down payment to pay off credit card balances.

Do no harm While you certainly want to improve your score if possible, at the very least you'll want to keep it steady. Avoid opening new lines of credit if you're applying for a mortgage in the very near future. This will cause a hard inquiry to show up on your credit report.

Take care of negative items It's good practice to check your credit report for negative items a few times a year-you can get one free report from each of the three major bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) per year.

If you find any negative items (collections, late payments, etc.), write a letter to the original creditor. Explain the circumstances that led to the negative item, and request that it be removed from your report. It can be surprisingly effective, and removing a negative item will improve your credit score in a hurry. You can find some good templates for a request letter online.

Questions to Ask Your Home Inspector

May 5, 2017

When you buy a [city] home, you need to know exactly what you're buying. Imagine how frustrated you'd be to find out that the hot water heater wasn't working-in the middle of a shower! This is why you should have a home inspection before you buy your home. A home inspection is an important part of buying your home. Before you hire a home inspector, ask candidates a few questions to make sure you hire a trustworthy inspector.

  1. What does your inspection cover? Not all inspections are the same. Ask for copies of previous home inspections so you can see exactly what they will check inside the [city] home. If you are concerned about something specific, like a leaky faucet in the bathroom, mention that to the inspector so they can check it out.
  2. Are you licensed or certified? If you live in a state that licenses home inspectors, ask to see their license. At the very least, choose a home inspector who belongs to American Society of Home Inspectors. This shows a level of professionalism and education that you can trust.
  3. What kind of report will you give me? You should expect a written report detailing what the inspector found. Most inspectors will give you a typed report within a week of the inspection. Make sure the inspector will be available to explain anything on the report that doesn't make sense to you.
  4. Will I be able to attend the inspection? If the inspector refuses to let you be present during the home inspection, find someone else. This is your chance to know exactly what you are buying and what potential repairs you or the seller will have to make.

Bathroom Trends for 2017

May 12, 2017

Staying on top of the latest trends in home decor isn’t for everyone, but even for traditionalists, it can be fun to incorporate some new ideas. Here are five bathroom decor trends that are appearing in 2017.

Geometric Patterns: Many homeowners are selecting bold patterns in geometric shapes, like chevrons, triangles, or hexagons. These patterns can add intrigue and continuity to your tile or shower curtain.

Plants: Even the best-designed bathrooms can benefit from some small plants. If you have a windowless bathroom, there are some low-light options that can survive with little maintenance.

Dark Colors: This can be tricky to achieve, but it comes with a big pay off. While traditional bathrooms are often painted with brighter whites and greys, opting for darker colors can make a bathroom seem more luxurious and relaxing. Imagine sinking into a deep bath with dim lighting—that might convey the appeal of a darker palette.

Brass Hardware: Trends often come back around, and this year, brass fixtures of the ‘70s are popular once again.

Minimalism: The massive master bathroom is still great, but there’s also some appeal in smaller bathroom designs. Minimalism allows for smaller spaces to feel more intimate, but still airy and open.

What Affects Property Values?

May 19, 2017

Some the features that increase property values are obvious-like a remodeled bathroom, a modern kitchen, or a sought-after neighborhood. But here are a few features and circumstances you have not have realized can affect property values.

  1. The neighbors: Not every neighborhood or community has an HOA that can keep the neighbors from going overboard with decorations or neglecting to care for their home. Homes adjacent to crazy neighbors can potentially be undervalued.
  2. Trendy groceries and coffee: Recent statistics suggest that if your home is a short walk from popular grocery stores like Whole Foods or coffee chains like Starbucks, it can actually appreciate faster than the national average.
  3. Mature trees: A big beautiful tree in the front yard is enviable, and it's not something that can be easily added to any home. Homes with mature trees tend to get a little boost in value.
  4. Parking: This isn't too much of an issue if you live in the suburbs or in a rural area, but residents in dense cities can have real problems with parking, and homeowners might need to rent a spot just to guarantee a place to park each night. That's why having guaranteed parking in urban areas will raise property values.
  5. The front entrance: First impressions matter to buyers-many will cross a home off their list within 10 seconds of stepping through the front door. An appealing front door, a friendly entryway, and a functioning doorbell are all necessities for getting top dollar.

Reconsider These Choices When You're Designing Your Kitchen

May 26, 2017

The kitchen is one area of the home that sees the most wear and tear. All the water, heat, and food spills add up quickly so it’s important to focus on quality and lasting appeal when you’re choosing materials for a kitchen remodel. Here are a few things you should avoid:

Cheap Laminate Countertops: The bottom rung of laminate is extremely susceptible to wear and tear. It can melt if you forget to place a hot pad under a pan that’s fresh out of the oven and the edges can chip off from repeated exposure to moisture and heat.

Flat Paint: A flat or matte finish is great in rooms with lower traffic, but it’s a bad idea in the kitchen where the walls are regularly exposed to splatters and spills. You need paint that can withstand an occasional heavy scrubbing, so opt for gloss or semi-gloss finishes.

Trendy Backsplash: If you watch any home remodeling show, you’ll certainly see kitchens with expensive, elaborate backsplash designs and materials. Those trends can be pricey to pursue and can look dated in a hurry. Subway tile is a cheaper, classic option that you’ll never regret, plus you’ll have more room in your budget to purchase quality materials to be used elsewhere.

Cheap Flooring: Just like the countertops, your kitchen floor needs to be strong enough to take some abuse. Cheap flooring easily scuffs and peels (especially from moisture). Quality flooring is worth the investment.

What to Build Under the Stairs

June 2, 2017

Hidden Homeowner Costs

June 9, 2017

Budgeting for buying a home can be difficult enough when you're just weighing mortgage options and a purchase price. But there are many other factors that go into the cost of home ownership. Some of them are one-time expenses that you'll pay during the home buying process, while others will be recurring costs for as long as you own the home.

Closing costs

There are several smaller fees that add up to a rather large sum when you're going through the closing process-loan fees, attorney fees, underwriting fees, and more. They typically add up to 2-5% of the purchase price. For a $300,000 home-roughly the national median-that's in the neighborhood of $10,000, so be sure to budget for it.

Appraisal

Your lender will require an appraisal, and the appraisal fee (a few hundred dollars) comes out of your pocket. Inspection

The few hundred dollars you'll pay for a home inspection is money well spent, but it's something you have to keep in mind during the purchase process. You'll have the peace of mind of knowing the house is free from any major issues, and you're making a smart, solid investment.

Insurance

Although homeowners insurance isn't legally required, it'll almost certainly be required by your lender. Further insurance, such as flood insurance, may also be required (depending on your location).

Home Owners Association

If you're living in a property or community with shared spaces, you'll almost certainly have an HOA fee. This pays for things like trash removal, maintenance of common areas, and for recreational facilities like gyms and swimming pools.


Avoid These Two Big Mortgage Mistakes

June 16, 2017

We all know that searching for and viewing potential homes is the fun part of the home-buying process. The not-so-fun part? The mortgage.

But if you don't pay attention to the details, your mortgage can end up dragging down the enjoyment of your new home and cause some major regrets. Here are a few mistakes to avoid to ensure that you love your mortgage terms as much as your hew home.

Don't find your home first: Shopping around for the best mortgage rate should be the first step in the home buying process. You may even want to talk to a mortgage broker a full year before you plan to buy. It'll give you time to get your affairs in order to qualify for the best rate, could save you thousands of dollars in the long run, and you won't feel rushed to accept an unattractive loan because you're worried you'll miss out on your dream home.

Don't forget your real budget: There's often a big difference between what a lender says you can afford and what you can actually afford. Your debt-to-income ratio doesn't include the money you spend on hobbies, or the cost of commuting to work, or maintenance and utility costs. Really sit down and examine your spending before committing to the loan amount the lender is offering. You won't enjoy your home nearly as much if it's eating into your favorite hobbies.


Priority Tasks For Your Move In

June 23, 2017

Moving into a new home is an exciting time, and you're probably daydreaming about decor and paint schemes and new furniture. But before you get into the fun stuff, there are some basics you should cover first.

Change the locks

Even if you're promised that new locks have been installed in your home, you can never be too careful. It's worth the money to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that no one else has the keys to your home. Changing the locks can be a DIY project, or you can call in a locksmith for a little extra money.

Steam clean the carpets

It's good to get a fresh start with your floors before you start decorating. The previous owners may have had pets, young children, or just some plain old clumsiness. Take the time to steam clean the carpets so that your floors are free of stains and allergens. It's pretty easy and affordable to rent a steam cleaner-your local grocery store may have them available.

Call an exterminator

Prior to move-in, you probably haven't spent enough time in the house to get a view of any pests that may be lurking. Call an exterminator to take care of any mice, insects, and other critters that may be hiding in your home.

Clean out the kitchen

If the previous occupants wanted to skip on some of their cleaning duties when they moved out, the kitchen is where they probably cut corners. Wipe down the inside of cabinets, clean out the refrigerator, clean the oven, and clean in the nooks and crannies underneath the appliances.