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A How-To Guide to Buying a House Quickly

by The Hat Team


If you are in the market to purchase a home right now, I am sure you would like to be moved in and settled by the time the holidays arrive.  Does that sound too good to be true?  Well, no promises, but there are steps you can take to buy a home fast.

Whether you are buying a house for the first time, or you have navigated the home buying process before, chances are you know that it can be lengthy and complicated.  But there are certain strategies you can use that will speed things up. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Chose the right type of house.  There are certain types of homes you will want to avoid if you’re in a hurry.  Co-ops, for example, can be problematic because it can take six to eight weeks to get a board interview scheduled, finalized and approved.  You should also avoid bank-owned homes or foreclosures, which generally take much longer to close.  The fastest way to go is to focus on condos or new developments. Closings for condos and new developments can take as few as three to four weeks to happen.
     
  • Get pre-approved for a mortgage.  This is a strategic move that will give you a head start so that when you do find a house you want to purchase; you will already be approved for a mortgage loan and can make an offer right away.  This will also help you to stay within your budget when looking at homes because you won’t want to waste time looking at properties that cost more than what you are pre-approved for. How to Get a Mortgage Pre-Approval
     
  • Have your documents in order and ready to go.  Get all the paper work that you will need organized so that it is ready and waiting when you find the right home.  Generally, a home buyer will need the following: federal tax returns for the past two years, supporting information such as W-2, 1099, or other tax forms for the past two years, two months’ worth of bank statements for your checking, savings, 401K, retirement and other accounts, and pay stubs from the past month. Homebuyers: What to Bring to Your Closing
     
  • Find the right Realtor to guide you through the process.  You will want an experienced, professional Realtor like Sandra Nickel who knows the area well and can use their expertise to get you into a home quickly.
     
  • Offer to shorten contingency deadlines.  Don’t risk waiving home inspection or financing contingencies, but consider a shorter time frame to effect a faster closing.
     
  • Be prepared for your move.  Don’t wait until you have closed on your new home to start packing and preparing for your move.  Start early so that as soon as you close, you are ready to go!

If you are in the market to buy or sell a home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of Professionals assist you with all your real estate needs!  Call them today at 334-834-1500!

Photo Credit: veteransunited.com

Tying Up Loose Ends When You Move

by The Hat Team

Let’s face it - moving is overwhelming no matter how well you prepare.  There are what seem like a million little pieces that all must fall into place to make a move go smoothly. And even then, it is stressful.  You are upending your life; putting everything you own into boxes and bags, and making big changes.  So, it’s easy to understand how some tasks fall through the cracks and are forgotten.  Here are some important things that many people forget to do (or don’t even realize need to be done) when moving:

  • Cancel recurring charges for local memberships. During the chaos of moving, the last thing you are likely to think about are membership fees for things that may not transfer to your new place of residence, like a gym membership.  And if those fees are automatically charged to your credit or debit card you need to cancel those memberships at least a month before you move so that you don’t continue to get charged even when you’re not there to use them any longer.
     
  • Call your car insurance company. Per the Department of Motor Vehicles,  it is vital to check on your car insurance when moving, as states have varying levels of required coverage.  In fact, insurance rates can even vary from neighborhood to neighborhood in the same city.  So, make sure you call your insurer before you move to see if you need to update or change your coverage at your new address.
     
  • Change your address early.  Changing your address is easy using the Online Form provided by the U.S. Postal Service, but don’t wait until the last minute to do it! If you want to be sure that your mail arrives at your new home in a timely manner, complete the form about two weeks before you move. 
     
  • Take care of your finances.  During the whirlwind of moving, it’s easy to forget the everyday tasks that are a normal part of your routine…like paying bills.  It’s also easy to lose track of paper bills among all the boxes you’ve packed.  Take the time to set up auto pay for things at your new home like mortgage/rent, phone, utilities etc.  This can help assure an on-time payment during a hectic time.  Designate a spot for mail both in the home you’re packing up and in your new home so that paper bills aren’t lost in the shuffle.
     
  • Change your billing address on credit cards.  Don’t get caught by surprise when your billing address doesn’t match the address on your credit card because you forgot to change it when you moved.  Some transactions now require that you put in your billing zip code when using your card, so if that has changed, then you need to change it on your credit cards as well.  The last thing you want is to deal with a transaction being denied and then finding out it was simply because you hadn’t changed the address on your card.

Yes, moving is stressful. But taking care of these often overlooked tasks will make it a little bit easier!

If you are in the market to buy or sell a home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of Professionals assist you with all your real estate needs!  Call them today at 334-834-1500!

Photo Credit: braybray.co.uk

Enjoy the Advantages of Downsizing

by The Hat Team

 

Have you recently become an empty nester with a home spacious enough for a large family?  Maybe it’s time to consider downsizing.  There are numerous perks to downsizing to a smaller home:

  1. SAVING MONEY. You will not only save on your monthly mortgage payment in a smaller home, you will also save money on frivolous living.  One of the advantages of downsizing your home is that you can stop wasting money on furniture and home décor that are used to fill space rather than to fulfill a function.  Filling a smaller space will allow you to prioritize what items are important and necessary for you.
     
  2. LESS STRESS. After working hard all week to pay the bills, it’s no fun to have to spend your weekend doing chores.  A smaller home equals fewer chores and less upkeep. This will free up time to enjoy leisure activities and relaxation.
     
  3. SAVE ENERGY. If you live in a large home, you know that energy costs can be expensive.  Smaller homes will not only save you money on heating, cooling and water costs, it will also allow you to reduce your carbon footprint.
     
  4. FREE TIME FOR TRAVEL. With additional disposable income and less upkeep needed, a smaller home will afford you the time and cash for travel and adventure.  Weekend getaways or even long trips are less of a hassle now that you don’t have to worry about being house-poor.
     
  5. A NEW BEGINNING. Downsizing can be the beginning of a new chapter in your life.  If being an empty nester has you feeling down, a lifestyle change might be just what you need to start focusing on how you want to spend your time, money and energy. 

If you are ready to downsize, let professional Realtor Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team help you sell the house you’re in and find a new home to better suit your needs!  Contact us today at 334-834-1500!

Photo Credit: aarp.org

Understanding Important Tools in Real Estate: Comparables

by The Hat Team


If you are not familiar with real estate terms, the vernacular can be confusing and overwhelming.  It truly is like learning a new language!  But we are here to help. Today we will talk about comparables (or comps). 

Comparables (comps) is a real estate appraisal term that refers to properties that are similar to the property of which the value is being sought.  They are properties in the same area that are around the same size, in similar condition, and have similar features.  Whether you are buying or selling a home, you can learn a lot by comparing similar homes. 2 Important Facts About Real Estate Comparables or Comps

Buyers will use comps to help them decide what price to offer on a home, while sellers will use them to determine the best list price for their home.  Realtors utilize comps on a regular basis to keep track of the local market.

One major key for a comp is proximity.  When trying to price a home or find out its value, it’s vital that the homes you are comparing it to are close by.  The market can be different in other locations, so the comparable property should be as close as possible.  The same neighborhood is best.  If the same neighborhood isn’t an option, you can branch out, but not too far.

Homes that are currently “pending” make the best comps.  This is because a deal has already been made on a pending home, so it reflects current stats on the market, which fluctuates frequently.  When looking for comps, it’s important to stick with sales in the past three months and never more than six months ago.  If a home was sold over six months ago, that data is not up to date with the current market.

Another important aspect of a good comp is the home’s features.  It’s vital that the homes being compared have similar features.  Consider things like views, upgrades, number of bedrooms, location of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, square footage, size of lot, etc. How to Find Real Estate Comps to Determine House Value

Keep in mind that there may be information that your Realtor is privy to that you are not when it comes to comparables.  If you don’t understand why a similar home is determined to be worth more or less than yours, your Realtor can explain it to you.  There are many conditions that can influence the value of a home. Also remember that comps are estimates, not appraisals.  They are not written in stone, but they are a useful tool for both buyers and sellers.

If you are in the market to buy or sell a home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of Professionals assist you with all your real estate needs!  Call them today at 334-834-1500!

Photo Credit: mashvisor.com


Congratulations!  You’ve just moved into your new house!  It’s exciting, but it’s also a huge transition.  It takes time to make a new house feel like home. Here is a guide to help you get started:

  1. Be active.  If you have moved to a new area where you don’t know anyone, you may be tempted to isolate yourself.  After all, you have unpacking to do and maybe a new job to start. But try to resist that temptation.  Staying socially, physically and communally active triggers significant feelings that create the sense of home.  Make sure you take time to exercise; join a community such as a church, the school PTA or a book club and shop locally to get to know your surroundings.
     
  2. Surround yourself with living things.  A move can be difficult, especially if you are grieving the place you left.  It’s not uncommon for people to become depressed after moving to a new home.  Combat those feelings by cultivating relationships with living things. Start a garden, spend time with your children and pets or volunteer in the community.  Volunteer Opportunities in Montgomery
     
  3. Comfort yourself with colors.  Decorate with a palette of colors that lift your mood.  Choose colors that promote calm, happy feelings.  For example, earth tones create a welcoming, comfortable atmosphere that evokes feelings stability, reassurance and ease, while light pastel colors stimulate feelings of peacefulness, calm and cleanliness. 14 Calming Paint Colors
     
  4. Surround yourself with the familiar. Even before you are completely settled into your home, placing familiar items such as family pictures and heirlooms in your new space can make it feel more like you.  Some other ways to make you feel at home: cook favorite meals, burn candles with favorite scents and/or play your favorite music.
     
  5. Unpack. This may seem obvious, but it’s not unusual for people to still have boxes cluttering the house months after moving in.  Take your belongings out of the boxes right away and begin decorating and arranging furniture. The sooner you do this, the sooner this once strange place will feel like home! The Best Way to Unpack After Moving

If you are in the market to buy or sell a home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of Professionals assist you with all your real estate needs! Call them today at 334-834-1500!

Photo Credit: pinterest.com

Scaling Down for an Empty Nest

by The Hat Team


Facing the dilemma of what to do with your empty nest can be overwhelming. You are not only dealing with the emotional turmoil of no longer having your children at home, but now you have this BIG, empty house as well.  You might already be considering a move to a smaller house, but the thought of giving up the home where you raised your children has you feeling melancholy.  Your current home likely holds a lot of wonderful memories for you. But remember, it’s just a house. There are a lot of perks to downsizing:

  • Your house will be easier to maintain and you will spend less time cleaning.
     
  • You will spend less money on everything from your mortgage, taxes and insurance to your heating, cooling, and electricity. 
     
  • Having less debt will eliminate the financial stress that comes with a huge mortgage payment.
     
  • A home that doesn’t drain your resources and energy will give you peace of mind.  And that is priceless.
     
  • A smaller home has a positive impact on the environment because it requires less resources to build and maintain.
     
  • You will have more free time for living the life you want.
     
  • It will force you to declutter and cut back on your belongings and keep you from buying more. The Ridiculously Thorough Guide to Decluttering Your Home
     
  • If decorating is not your thing, a smaller house will make it less overwhelming for you.
     
  • When the time comes to sell, a smaller, more affordable home will appeal to a larger percentage of the population.

Scaling down doesn’t mean you should move into one of the tiny houses that are trendy right now.  It might be just going from four bedrooms/three baths to three bedrooms/two baths.  A professional Realtor can assist you in finding a smaller home that will suit all your needs and provide you with a happier, more peaceful lifestyle. 12 Life-Changing Benefits of Living in Small House

If you have an empty nest and you are ready to sell your LARGE home for a smaller home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of professionals assist you with all your real estate needs!  Call them today at 334-834-1500!

Negotiation - A Guide for Home Sellers and Home Buyers

by The Hat Team


It seems that negotiation has become a lost art in the world of real estate, and that’s unfortunate because the truth of the matter is, if you don’t ask…you don’t get. While sellers want the highest price and buyers want the best deal, they must meet somewhere in the middle for the deal to close. Negotiation is a crucial part of selling or buying a home because it is the largest asset people own and there is a lot of money at stake. Here is a simple guide for what sellers and buyers might ask for in real estate negotiations:

  • Price

Negotiating the best price means different things for sellers and buyers.  The seller wants the highest price and the buyer wants to pay as little as possible.  For a successful transaction, they must compromise and come up with a price that is acceptable to both.

  • Closing Costs

Prepaid closing costs are paid by buyers for their mortgage.  These are funds that the mortgage lender holds in escrow for expenses like taxes and insurance.  A buyer may ask a seller to cover some or all their closing costs either with a flat dollar amount or up to a percentage of what’s an allowable contribution for a lender.  If a buyer asks the seller to do this, they are likely going to pay a higher asking price. What is Escrow and Why is it Needed?

  • Closing Date

Sometimes sellers want to get out of a home quickly because they need the money from that house they are selling to put toward a new real estate purchase.  The closing date will also affect the buyer’s monthly cash-flow because when a buyer closes on a house, they skip the next month’s mortgage payment, therefore they may want to negotiate to close at the beginning of a month.

  • Financing Contingencies

When there is a financing contingency in place for a real estate transaction, it can tie up a seller’s property for a required 30 to 60 days.  For this reason, many sellers prefer buyers coming to the table with cash offers. If you are competing with cash buyers, you can shorten the closing timeline substantially by getting pre-approved for a home loan prior to making an offer.   Mortgage preapproval shows that your finances are in order and you can afford the home.  5 Things You Need to Be Pre-Approved for a Mortgage

  • Home Warranty

As a buyer, you can request a home warranty.  As a seller, you can offer one.      This home protection plan covers things like appliances and systems such as the hot water heater or air conditioning, in the event they need repair or replacement.

  • Leaseback

The moving process is stressful and labor intensive.  Sometimes a seller will need extra time to get into their new home.  When this happens, buyers can offer a zero-cost rent-back for 30 to 90 days to persuade the seller to accept their offer over others. 

  • Home Repairs

With a home that needs a lot of updating there comes ample opportunity for negotiation. Buyers need to consider the cost of bringing the home up to current standards and use the estimate of that cost to request a lower asking price.  The seller, on the other hand, can specify that the house is being sold “as is” and not offer any repairs.

  • Appraisal Contingency

A seller can push for a buyer to waive the appraisal contingency. However, if for some reason the appraisal falls short of the expected amount, buyers need to be prepared for the amount they might have to pay should the bank only be willing to lend them money based on the appraised value. How an Appraisal Contingency Can Protect You

  • Furniture

Personal property such as patio furniture, window treatments and chandeliers is all up for grabs. The buyer can ask for these things to be included in the contract.  Sellers need to determine what they are willing to leave behind.  And any exclusions need to be specifically listed in the contract as well.

  • Appliances

Depending on the market, sellers don’t always leave every appliance for the buyer.  They may include the dishwasher, stove and built in microwave in the contract but not the refrigerator, washer and dryer.  Sometimes they don’t want to give everything away up front so that they can use these as items for negotiation.

  • Inspection

When buyers waive inspection, they often find themselves with "buyer's remorse", but they can try to shorten the time frame for inspection, from ten days to five.

  • Condo/Co-op Assessments

These are fees that are used to maintain common areas in a community. If there is an open assessment, it can become a negotiation between the buyer and seller as to who will pay for it.

If you are in the market to buy or sell a home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of professionals assist you with all your real estate needs!  Call them today at 334-834-1500!

Making an Offer on a Home - Tips for Success

by The Hat Team


You’ve found the perfect home, and now it’s time to make an offer.  This is a decision that should not be taken lightly. It requires some thought and strategy. It’s vital that you plan carefully and have your finances in order prior to making an offer on a home.  Here are some things to consider when you are preparing to make an offer:

  1. GATHER INFORMATION - While your Realtor can assist you in deciding on an offer price, it’s important that you understand what you are getting into. This is likely the largest financial investment you will make, so you need to know what is going on. Take advantage of your Realtor’s expertise and learn about the Current Market so that you will be aware of what’s going on in your area. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if there is something that you don’t understand.
     
  2. GET PRE-APPROVED - Before you make an offer, get pre-approved for a mortgage loan.  Not only will this help you determine how much you can spend on a home, it will also make you appeal to the seller because they will know that you have already been financially vetted and you can afford the home.  That means the sale is less likely to fall through. How to Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage Home Loan
     
  3. TURN ON THE CHARM - People can get very sentimental when it comes to selling their homes.  Being friendly and showing a seller how much you love their home can sometimes influence them to choose you over other prospective buyers. Write a letter letting them know the reasons why their home will be the perfect home for you and your family. 
     
  4. DON’T MAKE AN INSULTING OFFER - While everyone wants to get the best deal possible, a lowball offer is risky. You might end up offending the seller and creating a situation where they just say no and are unwilling to negotiate.  This one reason why it’s important for you to understand the market value of the home. Allow your Realtor to guide you in deciding what a reasonable offer is.  You can still offer lower than the asking price and leave room for negotiation.
     
  5. NEGOTIATE OTHER THINGS BESIDES MONEY - Not all real estate negotiations involve the home price.  You can ask for things like a home warranty, home improvements to be made, closing costs, and new appliances.  If the seller will only accept the asking price, but is willing to negotiate other terms, you can still come out with a great deal on your new home. 5 Things to Negotiate When You Buy Your First House
     
  6. TRY TO BE FLEXIBLE - Things may come up that require some flexibility on your part. For example, the seller might need continue living in the home for a month or two while they look for a new home. Your willingness to rent the home to them for that time period could make you stand out over other buyers.

Making an offer on a home is not just about the money; it’s also about appealing to the seller while at the same time doing what is right for you. It can be complicated, but it is worth it when the right house comes along!

If you are in the market to buy or sell a home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of professionals assist you with all your real estate needs!  Call them today at 334-834-1500!

Starter Home - A Guide for First-Time Homebuyers

by The Hat Team


Purchasing your first home is a huge milestone…and not one that should be taken lightly.  It’s a big commitment and you want to make sure you get it right.  It’s important that you educate yourself before you begin the home buying process so that you can find the right property and procure the financing for it. 

Here are some things you should know as a first-time homebuyer:

  1. PEOPLE INVOLVED IN THE HOME BUYING PROCESS

Entering the home buying process for the first time might feel a little overwhelming. You will have a lot of questions, but don’t worry, there will be people who will guide you through.The first thing to do is to find an . Your Realtor will assist you in finding your starter home, making an offer, and negotiating with sellers. Another person you should meet with prior to starting your home search is a mortgage lender. Your mortgage banker will help you complete your loan application along with determining the amount you qualify for. Getting pre-approved for a mortgage is an important step that will set you on the right course for buying your first home. 3 Essential Reasons to Get a Mortgage Preapproval

  1. STARTING YOUR HOME SEARCH

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying in relation to real estate. It exists for a reason. Because location is one of the most important aspects in choosing a home.The first thing you must do when searching for your starter home is determine the area you want to live in.You should take many things into consideration when making this decision. Do you want city, suburban, or country living?What is the reputation of the school system?Are there shopping, dining and entertainment activities nearby?The answers to these questions aren’t just important for you when you’re living there, but may also have an impact on resale value. Remember, this is your starter home; not necessarily your forever home. So, you should take resale value into consideration when choosing the location. Once you’ve determined WHERE you want to look, you can create a list of what you’re looking for in a home.You may have to compromise on some things, but going into your search knowing what you want will make things less confusing. Home Buying Wish List

  1. FINANCIAL IMPLICATIONS

When buying your starter home, there may be some expenses that you didn’t anticipate.  Don’t risk being blindsided by unexpected expenses.  Do your research and make sure you know what you are getting into.  Here are some costs you may not have thought of:

  • Closing costs
  • Home inspection
  • Moving expenses
  • Setting up your new house

Remember that your Realtor and Mortgage Banker are there to answer questions you may have, so don’t hesitate to take advantage of their expertise!

If you are considering the purchase of your starter home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of professionals assist you with all your real estate needs!  Call them today at 3234-834-1500!

What is Title Insurance and Why Do You Need It?

by The Hat Team


When you are purchasing a home, especially if you are a first-time homebuyer, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the things you need to think about.  Something like title insurance is probably not even on your radar. It’s a fee that will appear on your closing document and chances are you don’t even know what it’s for.  If that’s the case, we’ve got you covered.  Here are five things you need to know about title insurance:

  1. Like other insurance policies, title insurance is something that protects you financially should there be a loss.  In this case it protects you with regard to property ownership. It not only ensures that the property you are purchasing will be legally transferred to you from the previous owner, it also protects you from possible future Title Defects.  There isn’t a monthly premium with title insurance; it is a one-time fee paid at closing.  This one-time payment will protect the insured from title defects for the life of the loan.
  2. Title insurance is important because while a title research company will look into the history of ownership of the home to be sure there are no title defects, there is always a possibility that an issue could arise later due to several reasons such as improperly recorded documents, mistakes in ownership history or other legal matters that occurred prior to your purchase of the home.
  3. There are two types of title insurance; one that protects the home owner and one that protects the mortgage lender.  Your lender will require that you purchase the lender’s policy to protect them from any loss should a problem arise.  The owner policy protects you and will cover legal fees or other losses that occur due to a title defect. You are not required to get an owner policy, but it’s well worth it to have it in place just in case something goes wrong in the future.
  4. It can be frustrating to pay for insurance that you might never use, but it is risky to not have it in place. Think of it as paying for peace of mind.  With title insurance, you will be protected from catastrophic circumstances should a title defect be found.  You could not only lose a lot of money; you may even lose your home.
  5. Title insurance is purchased when closing on your home. You have the option of buying it from whatever company you choose, but if your lender has a preferred company, you may find it less expensive to add your owner’s policy onto your lender’s policy. Average Cost of Title Insurance 2019

If you are in the market to sell or buy a home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of professionals assist you with all your real estate needs!  Call them today at 334-834-1500!

Photo Credit: wsj.com

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